Category Archives: Alfred Hitchcock Films

To Catch A Thief-1955

To Catch A Thief-1955

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Cary Grant, Grace Kelly

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Reviewed July 24, 2016

Grade: A-

Cary Grant starred in a resounding five Alfred Hitchcock films in his day and 1955’s To Catch A Thief is smack in the middle of Hitchcock’s prime period of masterful pictures. Grace Kelly (her third and final Hitchcock film) co-stars making this film a marquee treat as both actors were top notch in their heyday and had much chemistry in this film. While not my all time favorite of Hitchcock films, To Catch a Thief has mystery, a whodunit, and some of the most gorgeous cinematography of the French Riviera. In fact, the breathtaking surroundings are my favorite part of this film.

Grant plays John Robie, aka. “The Cat”, an infamous jewel thief who has now gone clean. He currently spends his days quietly atop the French Riviera growing grapes and flowers and keeping out of trouble. When a new jewel thief begins to strike wealthy tourists, Robie is immediately under suspicion by the police. He is forced to prove his innocence by catching the real thief in the act as the thief uses the same style to steal as Robie once did. In the midst of this drama, Robie meets the beautiful heiress Frances (Kelly) and her interfering mother Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis), leading to romance.

Despite the fact that Grant could be old enough to be Kelly’s father, we immediately accept Robie and Frances as the perfect couple- she sophisticated, stylish, and rich, he equally sophisticated and cool, with a bad boy edge. In this way, To Catch A Thief has a strong romantic element, and a glamorous and wealthy tone. After all, the subject matter at hand- jewels- equates to lavish set decorations, women dripping in expensive jewelry, and a posh resort among the gorgeous French waters.

The supporting characters are interesting too. A triangle of sorts emerges as Frances plays catty with a young girl, Danielle, eager for Robie’s affections. Danielle, much plainer looking than Frances, though no shrinking violet, holds her own in a match of wits with Frances as they bathe in the water one afternoon. Frances’s mother Jessie, is wonderful comic relief as she attempts to push Robie and Frances together- always searching for a handsome suitor for her daughter. Finally, insurance man H.H. Hughson also contributes to the comic relief as he begrudgingly provides Robie with a list of wealthy visitors with jewels. In their playfully awkward lunch- delicious quiche is the meal of the day- at Robie’s place, Robie proves how Hughson himself is a thief of sorts in order to accomplish what he needs to get from Hughson.

Despite all of the positive notes, there is something about To Catch A Thief that prevents it from being among my all-time favorite Hitchcock films. Perhaps it is because I never had a doubt as to Robie’s innocence and the caper- if dissected- is a bit silly. I get the sense that the audience is supposed to question all along whether Robie is truly reformed or playing a game and is really back to his dirty deeds, but I wasn’t fooled. This is a very small gripe and To Catch A Thief is a wonderful film.

The way the film is shot is almost like being in the French Riviera. Countless coastal shots of the skyline will amaze the viewer with breathtaking awe of how gorgeous the French country is and how romantic and wonderful it is. This is my favorite part of To Catch A Thief. In fact, the visuals of the film rival the story as the costumes created by costume designer and Hitchcock mainstay, Edith Head, are simply lovely. And who can forget the costume ball at the films near conclusion?

Though the story might be the weakest and lightest elements of the story,  who cares? The visuals more than make up for any of that as To Catch A Thief will please loyal fans of Hitchcock’s vast catalog.

 

Rebecca-1940

Rebecca-1940

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine

Top 100 Films-#63

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Reviewed February 18, 2017

Grade: A

The only Alfred Hitchcock film to win the coveted Best Picture Oscar trophy, Rebecca is a very early offering in the famous director’s repertoire. His heyday being well ahead of this film (the 1950’s and 1960’s saw his best works), Rebecca is a blueprint of fine things to come and on its own merits is a great film. Shot in black and white, the film is a descent into mystery, intrigue, and madness, with a gothic look to it.

Laurence Olivier stars as rich widower Maxim de Winter, whose first wife, title character Rebecca, has died some time before the story begins. In a clever twist, the character of Rebecca is never seen, but takes on a life of her own through the tellings of the rest of the cast. Joan Fontaine plays a nameless, naïve young woman who meets the sophisticated Maxim and marries him, becoming the new Mrs. de Winter. This development is met with disdain by the servants who work in the grand de Winter mansion, named Manderley, a character in its own right.

Housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) in particular, is cold and distant from Maxim’s new wife, and begins to reveal an obsession with the deceased Rebecca, creating jealousy and intimidation for Fontaine’s character- so much so, that, she begins to doubt her sanity and decision making capabilities.

Rebecca is a fantastic, old style film, that provides layers of mystery and wonderment thanks to Hitchcock’s direction. The mansion that is Manderley is central to the story as is the obsession that creepy Mrs. Danvers has with Rebecca. She keeps the dead woman’s bedroom neat and tidy, a sort of shrine to her memory, so much so that, despite the time the film is made, 1940, a lesbian element is crystal clear to attention paying audiences. This aspect may have not been noticed at the time, but in more recent times, this is quite obvious.

The film is also a ghost story of sorts since the central character, Rebecca, is never seen. Could she be haunting the mansion? Is she actually dead or is this a red herring, created to throw the audience off the track? Is the new Mrs. de Winter spiraling out of control? Is she imagining the servants menacing actions? Is Maxim in on the torment or simply seeking a replacement wife to his true love? The pertinent questions not only are asked of the character, but of the audience themselves as they watch with bated breath.

The climax and finale to Rebecca is fantastic. As the arguably haunted mansion is engulfed in flames and the sinister Mrs. Danvers can be seen lurking near the raging drapes, the truth comes to the surface leaving a memorable haunting feeling to audiences watching. Rebecca is a true classic.

Rope-1948

Rope-1948

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Jimmy Stewart, Farley Granger, John Dall

Top 100 Films-#33

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Reviewed May 21, 2016

Grade: A

Rope is one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films and a film that rather flies under the radar amongst his catalogue of gems.  Made in 1948, the film- set as a play (and based on a 1929 play), using one set only- and appearing to be one long take- it is an understated film. All of the action takes place inside a luxurious Manhattan apartment, with a gorgeous panoramic skyline in view. Intelligent with subtle nuances that in current viewings are not as subtle, the tiny (nine) cast is fantastic at eliciting a fine story that never seems dated.

Starring Hitchcock stalwart, Jimmy Stewart, the film features Farley Granger (Strangers On A Train) and John Dall. Granger and Dall portray Phillip and Brandon, two college students who strangle a fellow student as an experiment to create the perfect murder. Immediately after the murder they host a dinner party for friends, including the father, aunt, and fiancée of the victim, all in attendance. Stewart plays Brandon and Phillip’s prep school housemaster,  Rupert Cadell, who is suspicious of the duo. To further the thrill, the dead body is hidden inside a large antique wooden chest, in the center of their living room, as their housekeeper unwittingly serves dinner atop the dead body.

The film is macabre and clever and quite experimental. The very first scene is of Phillip strangling the victim, David, with a piece of kitchen rope, which is an unusual way to start off a film. Typically, there would be more buildup and then the climax of a murder, but Hitchcock is far too intelligent to follow the rule book. Phillip is ironically the weak and submissive one, despite actually committing the crime. Brandon is dominant and keeps the whimpering Phillip in check by coaxing him to be calm and in control. The fact that many of the guests have a relationship with the deceased, munching on their dinner while wondering why David is not attending the party, is gleeful irony. Plenty of drinks are served and as Phillip gets drunker and drunker, he becomes more unhinged.

The film reminds me in some aspects of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, also based on a play and largely featuring one set- both dinner parties with alcoholic consumptions, secrets and accusations becoming more prevalent as the evening goes along.

The chilling way that the plot unfolds over the course of one evening as Rupert slowly figures out that what he had previously taught Brandon and Phillip in an intellectual, hypothetical classroom discussion, has been taken morbidly serious by the two.

The homosexual context is hard to miss in this day and age, but remarkably, went way over the heads of the 1948 Production Code censors, who had no idea of what they were witnessing. Clearly, Phillip and Brandon are a gay couple who live together and this Hitchcock has admitted to in later years. If watched closely, one will notice that in any shot where Brandon and Phillip are speaking to one another, their faces are dangerously close to each other, so that one can easily imagine them kissing. This is purely intentional by Hitchcock.

Rope is a daring achievement in innovative filmmaking and one that should be viewed by any aspiring filmmaker, or anyone into robust and clever camera angles, story, and seeking an extraordinary adventure in calm, subtle, great story, and more.

Strangers on a Train-1951

Strangers on a Train-1951

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Farley Granger, Robert Walker

Top 100 Films-#27

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Reviewed April 11, 2016

Grade: A

A thrill-ride per minute film, classic suspense story, filled with tension galore, Strangers On A Train is a great Alfred Hitchcock film from 1951, which began the onset of the “golden age of Hitchcock” lasting throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. Apparently a British version of the film exists somewhere, but I have yet to see it. The American version is a brilliant, fast-paced experience involving complex, interesting characters, including one of the greatest villains in screen history, and a plot that is riveting and heart-pounding. Who can forget the important ominous phrase “criss-cross”?

The film begins with a clever shot of two pairs of expensive shoes emerging from individual taxi cabs. Both are men, well-to-do, and stylish.  They board a train and sit across from each other, accidentally bumping feet. We are then introduced to the two main characters- tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and wealthy Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). They engage in conversation and immediately we are aware that Bruno is assertive, Guy the more passive individual. Ultimately, Bruno manipulates Guy into thinking they will exchange murders- Bruno will kill Guy’s unfaithful wife Miriam, while Guy will murder Bruno’s hated father.  While Bruno takes this dire “deal” seriously, Guy thinks that Bruno is joking.

An interesting psychological complexity of the film is the implied relationship between Guy and Bruno. Certainly there are sexual overtones as a flirtation and bonding immediately develops while they converse on the train. They are complete opposites, which makes the relationship compelling- the devil and the angel, if you will. The mysterious connection between these two men fascinates throughout the entire film.

Robert Walker makes Bruno a delicious villain- devious, clever, manipulative, and even comical at times. He is mesmerizing in his wickedness- so much so that the audience roots for him. The fact that Hitchcock wisely makes victim Miriam (wonderfully played by Laura Elliot) devious, only lends to the rooting value of Bruno during her death scene. His character, although dastardly and troubled, almost rivals Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter as a lovable, but evil, villain. Later in the film when Guy is playing tennis, he gazes into the stands to see the spectators turning left and turning right in tandem with the moving tennis ball, and the audience sees a staring straight ahead Bruno immersed in the sea of swaying heads. It is a highly effective, creepy scene.

The pairing of Guy and girlfriend Anne (a seemingly much older Ruth Roman and, interestingly despised by Hitchcock) does not really work. Could this be a result of the implied attraction between Bruno and Guy? Or is this a coincidence? The casting of Roman was forced upon Hitchcock by the studio, Warner Brothers.

Hitchcock reveals his “mommy complex”, a common theme in his films, as we learn that there is something off with Bruno’s mother, played by Marion Lorde, but the exact oddity is tough to pin down. She and Bruno comically joke about bombing the White House, which gives the scene a jarring, confusing edge. Is she the reason that Bruno is diabolical?

The theme of women’s glasses is used heavily in Strangers On A train. Miriam, an eyeglass wearer, is strangled while we, the audience, witnesses the murder through her dropped glasses. In black and white, the scene is gorgeous and cinematic and continues to be studied in film schools everywhere. Later, Anne’s younger sister Barbara (comically played by Hitchcock’s daughter Pat Hitchcock), who also wears glasses, becomes an important character as Bruno is mesmerized by her likeness to the deceased Miriam, as a mock strangulation game at a dinner party goes horribly wrong.

The concluding carnival scene is high intensity and contains impressive special effects for 1951. The spinning out of control carousel, panicked riders, combined  with the cat and mouse chase scene leading to a deadly climax is an amazing end to the film. Strangers On A Train lines up as one of Hitchcock’s best classic thrill films.

Rear Window-1954

Rear Window-1954

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-James Stewart, Grace Kelly

Top 100 Films-#50

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Reviewed January 2, 2016

Grade: A

There are several Alfred Hitchcock films that I love dearly and Rear Window is very high up on that list.

The film is a unique experience in that much of the filming is through the point of view of  main character L.B. Jeffries, played with conviction by James Stewart who is a fixture in several of Hitchcock’s great films. Wheelchair-bound and confined to his Manhattan apartment, he has nothing more to do than spy on an apartment full of neighbors across the street. He witnesses a crime and a cat and mouse game ensues.

What is great about this film is the viewer gets to know the series of neighbors L.B. watches and glimpse into their lives, some happy lives, some sad.

Rear Window is shot sort of like a play. The chemistry between Stewart and Grace Kelly is nice, but quite secondary to the great main story. Rear Window can be watched repeatedly and enjoyed with each subsequent viewing.

Notorious-1946

Notorious-1946

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman

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Reviewed August 10, 2015

Grade: A-

Notorious is a classic Alfred Hitchcock film from 1946, a time period that preceded his golden age of 1950’s and 1960’s brilliant works, but is a marvel all the same. Perhaps not as wonderful as future works, but that is like comparing prime rib to filet mignon, if you will. Shot in black and white, the subject matter is a familiar one for Hitchcock fans- political espionage. The film contains elements common with Hitchcock’s films- a romance mixed together with a suspenseful plot.

Starring two greats of the time (and Hitchcock stalwarts), Carey Grant and Ingrid Bergman, one is immediately enthralled by the chemistry between the characters they play- T.R. Devlin and Alicia Huberman. Devlin, a government agent, recruits Alicia, per his bosses, to spy on a Nazi sympathizer, Alex Sebastian (Claude Raines), who is affiliated with her father. Her father, having been convicted and sentenced to prison, has committed suicide. Alicia’s allegiance is clearly questioned as she goes to drastic measures to prove her loyalty and complete the hated assignment. The film gloriously is set between Miami and the gorgeous Rio De Janiero, where much of the action takes place at Alex’s mansion.

Clearly a blueprint for his later works, Hitchcock experiments with creative camera shots and angles- specifically the wide and high shot overlooking an enormous ballroom. I also love the airplane scene- subtle, Hitchcock treats the audience to background views of Rio, from the window of the airplane, as Devlin and Alicia carry on conversation. The plane is slowly descending for landing, which allows for a slow, gorgeous glimpse of the countryside and landscape in the background. Subtleties like these that may go unnoticed that make Hitchcock such a brilliant director.

The character of Alicia is worth a study. Well known for his lady issues, did Hitchcock hint at her being an oversexed, boozy, nymphomaniac? Personally, I did not think the character was written in a sympathetic fashion, though to be fair she is headstrong and loyal in the face of adversity. She parties hard, drives at 65 miles per hour while intoxicated, and falls into bed with more than one man. It is also implied that she has a history of being promiscuous. Made in 1946, this must have been controversial during that time period. The sexual revolution was still decades away.

Notorious also features one of the most sinister female characters in Hitchcock history in the likes of Madame Sebastian (Leopoldine Konstantin). The woman is evil personified and her actions are reprehensible. She is arguably the mastermind behind all of the dirty deeds as well as a fan of slow, painful death by poisoning.

My favorite scene is without a doubt the wine cellar scene. To me, it epitomizes good, old fashioned suspense and edge of your seat entertainment. A cat and mouse game involving a secret rendezvous, a smashed bottle, a key, champagne, and the great reveal enrapture this scene, which goes on for quite some time and is the climax of the film.

Perhaps Notorious is not quite as great a film as Vertigo, Psycho, or The Birds, but is a top-notch adventure/thriller in its own right, that ought to be watched and given its due respect.

Frenzy-1972

Frenzy-1972

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Jon Finch, Barry Foster

Top 100 Films-#24     Top 20 Horror Films-#8    

Frenzy_movieposter

Reviewed May 16, 2015

Grade: A

Frenzy is a latter day Alfred Hitchcock film that returns the masterful director to his roots of London, England, Hitchcock’s country of origin, and where his early films were made. As with numerous other Hitchcock stories, the protagonist is falsely accused of a murder and struggles mightily to prove his innocence before time runs out and he meets his doom. The film is quite British, with an entirely British cast, and mixes in a humorous side story of the primary investigator’s wife, a horrid cook, who prepares exotic, yet tasteless meals for her husband. This comic relief perfectly balances the heavy drama encompassing the main murder story as Frenzy is one of Hitchcock’s most violent and graphic. Made in 1972- post movie sanctions, he was able to get away with much more explicit content.

A neck-tie murderer, who also rapes his female victims, is on the loose in London. In the opening sequence we see a dead woman floating in the Thames river during broad daylight, nude, except for a neck-tie that she has been strangled with. A crowd of spectators races to see what all the fuss is. We then meet the central character of the film- down on his luck bartender Richard Blaney, who is fired from his job as a bartender by his hateful boss. Blaney has a loyal girlfriend in Babs, a bar maid at the same local watering hole. Babs is sexy, yet plain. He also has a successful ex-wife, Brenda, who runs a dating company. Blaney regularly sponges money and dinners from Brenda. Also in the picture is successful fruit-market trader, Bob Rusk, who is a friend of Blaney’s. All four of these central characters have much to do with the main plot.

As events begin to unfold, the film is not a whodunit as traditionally it could have been. Instead, the audience knows very quickly who the murderer is and his motivations, which is an interesting twist in itself. Regardless of this knowledge, the film is quite compelling as a classic Hitchcock horror thriller.

It is interesting for Hitchcock fans to compare this film with many of his earlier works. Released in 1972, at a point in film history where aforementioned censors were much more lax, it is the first Hitchcock film to feature nudity. It is also the film of Hitchcock’s that features the most brutal rape/murder scene of all, surpassing the shower scene from Psycho, in my opinion. The victims ordeal is prolonged, as she begins praying, thinking she will only be raped, at first unaware that her attacker is also the neck-tie murderer and her life is running short. This leads to a sad, gruesome outcome for her.

One of the most interesting murder scenes actually takes place off camera and is an ingenious idea by Hitchcock. The neck-tie murderer lures a victim to his apartment complex under the guise of being a friend of hers. They walk upstairs to his unit and go inside, all the while the camera remains poised outside of the apartment so the viewer only imagines the horrors occurring inside. The camera then slowly goes back down the stairs and out onto the street and looks up at the murderer’s window. The fact that the victim is one of the principal characters makes ones imagination run wild as to what is transpiring inside the apartment and the viewer is filled with grief. This is a brilliant choice by Hitchcock and so terribly effective to the story.

Another great scene is the potato truck sequence. As the neck-tie murderer has dumped his victim, like garbage, into a potato sack, he is panicked to realize that she has taken his pin from his jacket and presumably clenched it in her fist as a clue, despite her demise. What will he do now? The long scene features the murderer inside the potato truck attempting to unclench his pin from her hand and escape the moving truck without being caught. It is my favorite scene in Frenzy.

Frenzy is a return to triumph for Hitchcock, after the complex Topaz and Torn Curtain, underappreciated political thrillers made a few years before this film. He returns to the horror genre like gangbusters throwing some good, sophisticated British humor into his recipe for good measure. What a treat this film is.

Marnie-1964

Marnie-1964

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren

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Reviewed October 3, 2014

Grade: A

 When evaluating a myriad of Alfred Hitchcock films,  Marnie certainly stands as one of the more complicated of his films, and in recent years has earned higher praise than at the time of release- a la Vertigo. It contains one of the most complex and psychological Hitchcock characters of all time and is as much a character study as a psychological thriller.

Tippi Hedren stars as Marnie Edgar, a troubled young woman who travels from one financial company to another using a false identity and her good looks to insinuate her way into a clerical job, without references- she then, over time, steals thousands from the companies when her trust is gained. Eventually, she is caught by Mark Rutland, a handsome, wealthy widower and a client of one of the firms, played by Sean Connery. Infatuated with Marnie, he strikes a deal with her- marry him and he will not turn her over to the police. Marnie sends most of her stolen money to her crippled mother, Bernice, in Baltimore- played by Louise Latham. Why Bernice is crippled, avoids affection with Marnie, why Marnie despises most men, and is terrified of the color red make up the film’s mysterious nature. Diane Baker is compelling as Lil, the snoop, sister-in-law to Mark and somewhat nemesis of Marnie.

The film features three scenes I am enamored with each time I watch- in one scene, Marnie hides and waits in the bathroom until all the employees have gone home for the night; she carefully steals money from her employer’s safe and prepares to leave- suddenly she notices an unaware cleaning woman with her back to Marnie yet blocking the exit. How will Marnie escape unnoticed? The surprise in this scene is wonderful. Hitchcock plays the scene with no music, which adds to the level of tension- brilliant. In an emotional scene later in the film, Marnie’s horse, Forio, is injured and a sobbing Marnie must choose between killing her beloved friend or let him suffer until a veterinarian can be summoned. It is a heart-wrenching scene. The third scene takes place at a racetrack as Marnie and Mark are enjoying one of their first dates together, before Mark learns the truth about Marnie- the date is ruined when a former victimized employer of Marnie’s recognizes and makes accusations towards her. Marnie turns from sweet girl to ice queen seamlessly.

A huge controversial aspect of the film is that, while not shown, it is heavily implied that Mark rapes Marnie on their honeymoon. The next morning Marnie attempts suicide, but is rescued by Mark. This scene had to have been filmed carefully as to not make Mark hated. Perhaps saving Marnie the next morning lessens what he did the night before in the eyes of the audience? This is open to debate. Hedren is fantastic at showing the complexities of the character of Marnie throughout the entire film and does a wonderful job in a difficult role. As excellent as Hedren is, I have difficulty buying her as a poor, icy criminal and this comes up each time I view the film. Could this be a result of having identified Hedren as the sophisticated, glamorous, socialite in The Birds made a year earlier so many times? This is quite possibly so.

During the filming of Marnie, the set was reportedly fraught with tension, mainly between Hedren and Hitchcock, who refused to speak with each other throughout filming. This may have added to the overall tension the film has and Hedren appears anxious throughout. Could this be art imitating life? As the ending nears, Marnie and Mark align together and form a team as they try to avoid the police altogether- Mark more or less becoming an accomplice. The final reveal seems rushed, takes place mostly in flashbacks, and wraps up quickly as Marnie has apparently blocked much of her childhood from her memory, which seems far-fetched. Still, Marnie is a complex, psychological classic Hitchcock film from his heyday.

The Man Who Knew Too Much-1956

The Man Who Knew Too Much-1956

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-James Stewart, Doris Day

Top 100 Films-#38

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Reviewed September 25, 2014

Grade: A

The Man Who Knew Too Much is a classic Alfred Hitchcock film from 1956 starring James Stewart and Doris Day, who share tremendous chemistry. They play a successful married couple- Ben and Jo McKenna, he a Doctor, she a well-known singer, who travels on a lovely trip to Morocco, with their young son Hank in tow. They are a traditional American family on vacation abroad that the viewer trusts and believes in from the on-set of the film. Suddenly, they are approached by a Frenchman named Louis Bernard, who seems a bit too curious about Ben and his work. Jo is immediately suspicious of the mysterious man and this begins a series of events involving mistaken identity, an assassination attempt on England’s Prime Minister, and the couple traversing to London in an attempt to locate Hank, who has been kidnapped by criminals.

As with other Hitchcock films- think North by Northwest, the motivations of the assassins are unclear and one might argue, unnecessary. Why are they attempting to assassinate a political figure? Is there money to gain? Is there power to be obtained? These questions are never answered- the film is really not about that, but rather about Ben and Jo’s predicaments. The villains- primarily an innocent seeming English couple and a sneering, rat-like assassin, are one-dimensional characters as their motivations are not revealed. A remake of a 1934 version with the same title, but far superior, the film is a suspense/ political thriller. Some interesting comparisons to other Hitchcock films released around the same time that I continue to notice with each passing viewing; North by Northwest– the ordinary man falling into international intrigue and Vertigo– Jo is dressed in almost identical fashion to Madeleine/Judy- a classic, sophisticated grey suit with a pulled up bun hairstyle; the musical scores are extremely similar- almost identical in instances; Vertigo’s bell tower is reminiscent of Ambrose Chappel in The Man Who Knew Too Much. Stewart’s Ben climbs up the bell tower in The Man Who Knew Too Much whereas in Vertigo is terrified of heights, let alone climbing. These are fascinating tidbits to note for any Hitchcock fan. Impressive to me is Doris Day’s performance, which is her greatest. Known for lightweight, romantic comedy, fluff roles, she turns in a wonderfully emotional and dramatic role and is quite effective in her own right.

The six minute climactic final sequence, set at a musical concert at Royal Albert Hall, is among the best in film history and uses no dialogue. This technique is jaw-dropping as one realizes just how much transpires within the six minutes, solely on physical action and facial expressions alone- the entire plot of the film reaches a searing crescendo- quite literally. Day is particularly strong in this sequence. James Stewart, in his fourth turn in a Hitchcock film, is charismatic as always playing the every man tangled in a web of deceit and espionage.  He takes charge, but is identifying to the audience- he can be your friend or neighbor and we trust his character- he is a successful doctor after all. The now legendary song from the film “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” is an important part of the finale and remains with the audience in a happy yet terrifying way long after the curtain closes on the film. The Man Who Knew Too Much is exciting, suspenseful, interesting, and fun- just what a Hitchcock film should be.

The Birds-1963

The Birds-1963

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor

Top 100 Films-#2     Top 20 Horror Films-#2     

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Reviewed September 20, 2014

Grade: A

The Birds is one of Director Alfred Hitchcock’s finest works. Made in 1963, following Psycho, it continues Hitchcock’s run of successes, both commercially and critically. Set in northern California (in both San Francisco and Bodega Bay) it tells the story of unexplained bird attacks in a peaceful small bay town.

Tippi Hedren plays Melanie Daniels, a wealthy socialite from San Francisco, who drives to Bodega Bay to romantically pursue a love interest, Mitch Brenner. Mitch, played by Rod Taylor, is a successful attorney who meets and shares a flirtation with Melanie the day before at a San Francisco pet store. He regularly visits his mother (Jessica Tandy) and sister (Veronica Cartwright) in Bodega Bay. Once Melanie arrives in town birds begin periodically attacking the locals living in the sleepy community.

The Birds is a film that holds up incredibly well and is as exciting and horrifying today at it has ever been in the past. One intriguing aspect of the film is that it offers no rhyme or reason for the bird attacks, which keeps the viewer guessing from the moment a gull swoops down and attacks innocent Melanie- It is completely mysterious and open to interpretation- are birds fed up with being caged? Are the love birds that Melanie purchased the cause of the attacks? Do the birds hate humans? Why do they attack the children? Why do they peck the eyes of their victims out? One could spend hours debating these questions. A major creative success of the film is its elimination of a musical score. The eerie silence mixed in with the loud sounds of the birds attacking is a haunting dynamic.

My favorite scene of The Birds features Melanie sitting on a wooden bench in the schoolyard enjoying a cigarette. Behind her is a deserted jungle gym. She barely notices a tiny bird innocently fly past her and land on the jungle gym. She continues smoking her cigarette. The viewer sees what Melanie cannot- as slowly hundreds of birds land on the jungle gym behind her. Without music this scene is deadly silent and very dramatic as it switches from close-ups of Melanie to long shots of the birds gravitating behind her. Another interesting aspect of The Birds is the character relationships- Mitch’s mother Lydia is afraid of losing her son so she initially despises Melanie; Mitch’s ex-girlfriend, schoolteacher Annie Hayworth strikes up a close friendship with Melanie- one might expect them to be rivals. A hysterical mother lashes out at Melanie, calling her evil, blaming her for the attacks. One wonders, amid the long periods of calm, when the next attack will occur- and we know it will. We look for clues as to what triggers the attacks and we find none. This makes for brilliant and suspenseful film making. They hardly come better than the masterpiece that is The Birds.

Psycho-1960

Psycho-1960

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins

Top 100 Films-#1     Top 20 Horror Films- #1

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Reviewed October 24, 2015

Grade: A

Psycho is the film to end all films and not just within the horror genre- at the time of release it transcended the art of film to a new level and has influenced generations of films since, and still holds up incredibly well today. It is certainly one of the greatest Alfred Hitchcock films and one of the greatest films ever made,  in my opinion. Hitchcock took a huge risk and dove from the thriller genre to the horror genre with Psycho.

The story involves a young woman named Marion Crane, superbly played by Janet Leigh. Marion lives in Phoenix, Arizona and sees her boyfriend (the dashing John Gavin) for frequent afternoon rendezvous at cheap motels when he is in town, because they are both struggling financially. She is presented with an opportunity, via her job, to steal $40,000 and flee the state to start a new life with her beau. She seizes the opportunity. On the run, she stops at a run down Bates motel where she meets owner Norman Bates, hauntingly played by Anthony Perkins. Perkins and Leigh have an amazing chemistry together and the audience picks up on it- is it romantic? Is there mysteriousness to it? Something is clearly odd about Norman. They bond over a quiet meal of sandwiches at the motel while discussing life and his ailing mother.

The famous shower scene and the shocking twist at the conclusion of the film are now almost taken for granted since most people know about them already, but I can only imagine the shock when viewers were first treated to these two delights. To this day both are still suspenseful to watch. When I saw this film for the first time I fortunately did NOT know the ending and I am glad I didn’t because my breath was taken away. To kill off the star of the film halfway through was a novel idea and mind blowing at the time of release (1960). This act literally had audience’s mouths hanging open in disbelief and saying, “what now”? “How can this be followed”? This act would later influence the original Scream film and surprise audiences all over again. Per Hitchcock, no one could enter the film after it had started and viewers were persuaded not to reveal the ending- oh how I wish that occurred these days.

A very important aspect to the success and longevity of Psycho is the chemistry between Perkins and Leigh who got along famously while shooting Psycho, and more importantly, the likability of Norman Bates. There is a rooting value for him even though he is the villain. When Marion’s car is only halfway submerged in a lake containing her dead body, we root for the car to completely sink because Norman does and the concerned look on Norman’s face has a sincerity to it that affects the audience. Norman is troubled and wounded and the audience does not know why at this point in the story.

Let’s not forget the likability of Janet Leigh. The audience sympathizes with her predicament. She is hopelessly in love with her man, steals money, is conflicted, and at her core is a nice, decent, kind woman.

Halfway through the film Marion’s sister Lila, played by Vera Miles, is introduced as well as a detective and the film becomes more of a suspense/mystery as they search for Marion and investigate the Bates hotel and Norman Bates himself. Miles then takes center stage as the lead in the film, which is intriguing in itself.

The film then returns to horror at the terrific and terrifying conclusion, which will shock first time viewers. The musical score (especially the shrill strings) is incredibly effective and was a huge influence on horror films to come (Friday the 13th immediately comes to mind). Psycho is a film that can certainly be enjoyed and studied over and over again.

Vertigo-1958

Vertigo-1958

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-James Stewart, Kim Novak

Top 100 Films-#6

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Reviewed August 5, 2014

Grade: A

 Over the years Vertigo has easily become one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films and I learn, appreciate, or see something new with each repeated viewing. It is an absolute masterpiece. The primary appeal to Vertigo is its mystique and dream-like quality and provides a beautiful cinematic experience. It is ominous, psychological, and gloriously complex, even confusing at times, but that makes it wonderful. The colorful opening visuals are dynamic and groundbreaking.

The story involves a retired detective, Scottie, played by Hitchcock stalwart Jimmy Stewart. Scottie suffers from vertigo, which hinders his daily life. After an incident in which a police officer is killed and Scottie blames himself and his vertigo for causing the death, he whiles away the days brooding and keeping companionship with Midge- a college friend whom he was once engaged to.

One day he is hired by another college friend to follow his wife, played tremendously by Kim Novak, who is acting strangely and periodically disappearing, having an obsession with a painting of a woman from years past. From this point the plot twists and turns in great mysterious fashion and mixed in is a romantic, bizarre, obsessive, love story. Is Scottie in his right mind? Will his vertigo continue to haunt him? What is the secret to Madeleine and Judy? Is Midge as sweet as she appears?

The score to Vertigo is haunting and unforgettable and adds so much mood and ambience to the film. Set in San Francisco, several location shots are featured- Golden Gate Bridge, downhill streets, the Mission, Red Wood forest.

As with all Hitchcock films, all sets and details in the film are perfect from paint brushes, coffee mugs, and curtains and furniture, to the gorgeous bright red décor of the restaurant heavily featured in the film. How exquisite does Kim Novak look in the film??

Originally critically panned upon its release it is now considered one of the greatest films of all time, deservedly so, and has influenced countless other films with its unique camera angles and slow, methodical pacing. The film is not always an easy watch as it is complex, to be fair, but like a fine wine, it gets better and better.

Vertigo is a layered psychological thriller that is appreciated more and more with each viewing.

Shadow of a Doubt-1943

Shadow of a Doubt-1943

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright

Top 100 Films-#40

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Reviewed June 28, 2013

Grade: A

Shadow of a Doubt is an Alfred Hitchcock film from 1943, made in black and white, that tells the story of a quaint California town with a killer in its midst. The town is idyllic and wonderful- folks go to church on Sunday and meet at the drug store for ice cream sodas. The film was shot on location in a real small town in California rather than a sound stage, adding much authenticity.

The Newton family is at the center of the thriller, led by Charlie (Teresa Wright), a young woman who idolizes her recently visiting Uncle, also named Charlie (Joseph Cotton). They are very close- almost like father and daughter. When Uncle Charlie is suspected of being the notorious Merry Widow Murderer, Charlie is conflicted. Could her Uncle be the murderer?

Shadow of a Doubt is one of Hitchcock’s simpler films and a huge plus is the town itself. It’s quiet, family oriented- what could possibly go wrong? But evil embodies the town and events slowly start to take a dark turn. A scene in which the family sits down for a quiet meal that turns into a conversation about death is famous and powerful. The train sequence is nicely shot. There is also a wonderful side plot involving two friends playing an innocent game of “how would I murder you?”, unaware of the irony of the game itself.

The film is not as flashy or complex as other Hitchcock films, specifically Vertigo, but that aspect actually works to its credit. Hitchcock adored the idea of a small town with foreboding secrets and this film is a quite the gem. Shadow of a Doubt is simply a good, old fashioned thriller, and certainly a must-see for Hitchcock fans.

Torn Curtain-1966

Torn Curtain-1966

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Paul Newman, Julie Andrews

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Reviewed July 5, 2013

Grade: A-

Torn Curtain is an under-appreciated and largely forgotten Cold War political thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock circa 1966. The fact is, the film is very good, but was troubled from the start, which presumably, has led to its poor reception and trip to film oblivion. The trouble with the film lies with the casting and otherwise is a compelling, suspenseful adventure.

Starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews- two enormous stars at the time the film was made, both were chosen by the studio, and neither did Hitchcock desire on the set. This led to conflict, especially with Newman, who disliked the script. His continued script “rewrites” and method acting annoyed the famous director.

Newman plays an American physicist, Michael Armstrong, who is attending a conference in Copenhagen. Andrews plays his assistant and fiancee, Sarah Sherman.  Michael mysteriously flies to East Germany, behind the Iron Curtain, unknowingly with a concerned Sarah in tow. This event sets off the political intrigue and espionage as Michael attempts to secure a formula and return it to the United States. But is he really a patriot or a defector, colluding with the Germans?

Presumably, the main reason for the poor reviews for Torn Curtain is the lack of chemistry between Newman and Julie Andrews coupled with behind the scenes problems with this film (both stars were unhappy throughout the shoot and Hitchcock did not want either actor in the film). In truth, there is little chemistry between the pair and I cannot help to think how delicious it would have been if Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren were cast instead! After all, this duo had great chemistry in Marnie, released just two years prior.

Despite the backstage drama, overall the film is complex, exciting, taut, and the bus escape scene is edge of your seat fantastic. The best scene though comes in the middle of the film when Michael is in East Germany. Revealed to be part of a syndicate enabling him to sneak out of the country, he goes to a remote farm, where he is involved in a tortuous fight with a security officer and a farmer’s wife. The scene is spectacular in its long length and edge of your seat drama.

The scenic locales are wonderful and the film is bright, colorful, and sharp, especially in Blu-Ray. The gorgeous opening scene is aboard a cruise-ship in the breathtaking Fjords of Scandanavia.

Frankly, I am surprised this film has not been rediscovered on a larger scale. Along with Topaz, Torn Curtain is another forgotten gem of Hitchcock’s, worthy of praise.

Topaz-1969

Topaz-1969

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Frederick Stafford, Karin Dor

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Reviewed July 8, 2013

Grade: A-

Topaz is an intriguing, suspenseful 1969 latter day Alfred Hitchcock film.  In the political thriller vein, the film typically suffers from being both overlooked and under-appreciated yet receives admiration from film buffs. It is certainly not one of his better known films and that is quite a shame. To be fair, as with many great films, it is complex and layered and requires close attention and even multiple viewings.

The issue with Topaz is that the film suffers from lack of recognizable stars- a trademark of Hitchcock films in his heyday. Frederick Stafford (Andre) and Karin Dor (Juanita) are the featured romantic couple. Despite his being married to another woman, Andre and Juanita is the couple the audience is intended to root for.

The story involves competing spies from France, the United States and Cuba all vying for government secrets concerning the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960’s. Each spy does their best to obtain the secrets, some in sinister fashion.

The French accents especially can be tough to understand, but it is a thrilling film that traverses from New York City to Cuba to France. The main protagonist is Andre and Stafford has a high level of charisma and a suave manner. The character is quite similar to James Bond. In fact, the film itself plays out like a Bond film with the exotic locales, the beautiful women, and the political intrigue. As with most Hitchcock films the set pieces and art direction are beautiful and perfect. One highlight is a particular characters death scene in Cuba. Involved in a love story throughout the film, the death is tragic yet heartfelt and very surprising.

Topaz, sadly, was unsuccessful at the box office due to no Hollywood names attached to it and little promotion, although it made several top ten critics lists in 1969. Topaz is certainly one of the more obscure of Hitchcock films, but an excellent one to be discovered and revered.

Family Plot-1976

Family Plot-1976

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Bruce Dern, Karen Black

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Reviewed July 18, 2013

Grade: B

Family Plot is sadly Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, made in 1976. It is certainly not one of his greats, but not bad either and a fitting way for a viewer to conclude watching his career conclude. The film is a jewel caper and a vastly different feel from many of his other, earlier films. It has a slick quality to it and reminiscent of a 1970’s television movie, which is not a knock. It simply felt more television-like than film, which likely could be because the film stars notable television stars William Devane and Katherine Helman. It also features some big film stars of the time- Karen Black, Bruce Dern, and Barbara Harris.

The film is also a departure from other Hitchcock films in that it is a macabre comedy. It is a tongue-in-cheek story of a fake psychic (Harris) and her boyfriend (Dern) who becomes involved in a search for a missing heir, jewel heist, and a murder.  All of the characters intersect as the film moves along and it contains some nice Hitchcock elements- the speeding car with no brakes down a hilly road is pure Hitchcock. The film, for me, has a slightly melancholy feel as sadly, it is the great Hitchcock’s final farewell.

Saboteur-1942

Saboteur-1942

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Robert Cummings, Priscilla Lake

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Reviewed July 21, 2013

Grade: B+

Saboteur is a very early Alfred Hitchcock film that is a blueprint for his masterpieces in years to follow. The story follows a common theme among Hitchcock thrillers- the falsely accused man. Aircraft factory worker, Barry Kane, is falsely accused of an act of sabotage that kills his best friend. Only Kane, and the audience, know the true culprit and sets out on a quest for both his innocence, and to find and capture the real culprit. The film then sets off a tale of adventure, cross country hijinks, a romance, and political espionage, quite similar to a Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest, which followed years later. This film contains some excellent scenes- the traveling carnie train adventure, the blind man, and especially the climactic chase scene atop the statue of liberty are fantastic. This film is a bit raw and the chemistry between the leads Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane poor, but a very good early Hitchcock film to be appreciated.

North by Northwest-1959

North by Northwest-1959

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint

Top 100 Films-#26

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Reviewed July 3, 2014

Grade: A

North by Northwest is a 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film, released at the heyday of its famous director (1950’s and 1960’s). It is considered one of his most commercially successful films and is mainstream fare that contains all  the elements of a great Hitchcock film- adventure, intrigue, romance, and suspense. Unlike some of his other films, his characters are straight-forward and not psychologically wounded as are some of his others, and this is not a slight, but merely makes the film “for the masses”.

Charismatic Cary Grant plays successful advertising executive Roger Thornhill. He works in bustling New York City, has a secretary, and is well respected in his circle. While enjoying drinks at the club on evening before a planned trip to the theater, he becomes a victim of mistaken identity- thought to be George Kaplan-and accosted by henchmen to a lavish mansion on Glen Cove Long Island.  After a botched attempt on his life, he is arrested and ultimately must race across the United States on the lam to find the real George Kaplan.

The wonderful locales go from New York City to Long Island to Indiana, to Chicago, to Mount Rushmore. The film is exciting from start to finish, never letting up, and features a common theme of Hitchcock’s- an “every man” falsely accused of a crime attempts to prove his innocence. Slightly different from some Hitchcock films in that there is not as much psychological analysis of the characters, but rather a good, old fashioned adventure story with many twists and turns along the way. In many ways North by Northwest is a pre-cursor to the enormously popular James Bond films as Grant brought style, sexiness, and charisma to this sleek feature.

The set style and design look just perfect. The lush Long Island estate set is flawless with a grand stair case and a well constructed library used- not to mention the exterior shot of the enormous house. The house in Mount Rushmore is sleek, quite trendy, and reeks of high sophistication. Propped on an incline and containing its own airplane runway, it is quite grand.

The chemistry between Grant and Eva Marie Saint is apparent and oozes from the screen from the moment they bump into each other on a train traveling from New York to Chicago. As they dine in the dining car-a flirtatious scene-the landscape whizzing by in the background, the comforting train whistle and background noise really works well. Their relationship is established, and the characters are intrigued and slightly mistrustful of each other, which gives the scene edge and complexities that really work.

The film features a cutting edge graphic design in the opening credits as Vertigo also did around the same period. The green colors and the sophisticated advertising style of the graphics kick the film off in a creative, ultra-cool, modern way.

Interesting to note is the implied homosexuality of Martin Landau in the role of Leonard, henchman to the main villain Phillip Vandamm, and this is exactly how Landau played the role.  During Hitchcock’s time, homosexuality was strictly prohibited in film, but his sublty shines through. Leonard’s fascination and jealousy towards Vandamm has levels of flirtation and vengefulness intertwined.

Scene after scene of North By Northwest is filled with suspense- the crop duster scene is my ultimate favorite. Shot without music, and on location in a dreary, clear, middle of nowhere field, somewhere in Indiana, it is layered with suspense that keeps going in this very long scene. Thornhill is scheduled to meet Kaplan at a designated spot. A lonely bus stop, random passing cars thought to be the intended, a deadly airplane, and an explosion all transpire. The scene is fraught with tension.

New fans of Hitchcock should begin with this one- mainstream and one of his finest, containing all the traditional Hitchcock elements where all the pieces come together perfectly. North By Northwest is a masterpiece.