Thursday, June 21, 2012

Favourite Hitchcocks

The Guardian has an article in one of the latest papers asking, What's Your Favourite Hitchcock?  The writer lists several in his article and then the commenters take over.   It's impossible to say any one movie by Hitchcock is your favourite. A whole range of them have things you're glad he did, even if there are things you wish he hadn't. So here are some comments about a big bunch of them that I've enjoyed - or haven't.

The ones I'm not desperate to see again, first.

I've never been able to go back to Pscyho or Frenzy because I was scared out of my wits by the first, as a teenager, and I hated Frenzy*when it first came out.  No doubt there are some plusses in it, but I'm not sure that I'll chase it up any time soon. Family Plot was a mess, and even the performances are pretty rough really. The car without brakes scene is one of Hitch's low points. The Birds is just nonsense from go to whoa; worst is the non-ending. For once Hitchcock seemed to be short of an idea. [1.8.12 Though see this post by Xan Brooks]

Let's get onto some goodies:
North by Northwest - almost perfect in every way, even if Cary Grant is only a year or two younger than Joyce Landis as his mother.
Rear Window - immensely watchable: wonderful duo in the leads, and a great cast of 'tenants' in the apartments. [I wrote about this again in November 2015]
Vertigo - this turned out to be a revelation when I caught up with it again. Apart from the long opening exposition scene, and the impossibility behind the story, it's just a dream movie.
The Man Who Knew Too Much - both versions have climaxes that are just a bit too much, but the lead-ups in each case are wonderful. And the casts! - even Doris Day does well in the second version.
The Wrong Man, and I Confess. Hitchcock's 'film noir' period, you might say; two slightly oddball movies, but still full of brilliant moments: as is often the case with Hitchcock, the movies are somehow better than their stories.
The Trouble with Harry: Hitchcock has a field day with black humour, and Mildred Natwick is just one of the many delights in this movie.
To Catch a Thief.  So-so. The story is a bit weak, and there is some dreadful back projection. Even Cary Grant can barely save this one.
Dial M for Murder Hitchcock hardly deviates from the play that this is based on. Surprisingly it works well (the play is excellently-crafted), and the fact that it was made as a 3-D movie barely counts. For another play that Hitchcock managed to turn into a fairly decent movie, check out Juno and the Paycock, one of the least Hitchcockian movies of the lot, except for the way in which the performances work in the ensemble scenes. Hitchcock was always good at shooting scenes around a table - it would be interesting to consider how many there are and how they vary - and there's a wonderful one in this movie.
Strangers on a Train - absolutely fabulous, as is the other movie in which homosexuality features strongly: Rope.  
This book is a great source
of information about Hitchcock
and his movies. 
Stage Fright. A slightly over-the-top performance from Richard Todd (one of the many leading men to disappoint Hitchcock over the years because their performances didn't sync with Hitchcock's intentions), a definitely over-the-top performance from Marlene Dietrich (even a song shot almost entirely in one take). The movie is made more delightful by a brief appearance from Joyce Grenfell, and the total hamming of Alistair Sim.
I haven't seen The Paradine Case since the 50s or 60s so can't comment on it, and I've never seen Under Capricorn. 
Likewise it's a long-time since I've seen Notorious or Spellbound, but I remember them as intriguing movies, which I'd like to catch up with again. The former has a great supporting cast; the Dali dream sequences in the latter were severely hampered by the producer's mucking around with them. [Saw Notorious again in August 2015]
Lifeboat is intriguing; not so exciting on a second viewing as when I first saw it years ago, but Tallulah Bankhead's chewing of the scenery is matched by Walter Slezak's hammy performance as a sleazy German attempting to sabotage the situation. The rest of the cast are great.
Shadow of a Doubt is good, but the best thing about it for me is the supporting cast. I find Teresa Wright too intense now.  Her family, however, are, as is so often the case, a delight. They're cast for their comic abilities rather than anything else and they bring their performances off superbly. This is the case with Suspicion too, where the English supporting players bring something to the movie that is essentially Hitchcockian - almost more than the suspense factor, I think. I like the movies as a whole, but since we know how it's going to end, now, it doesn't quite have the punch it once had.
It would be interesting sometime to discuss the comic roles in Hitchcock movies - as well as the 'table' scenes.  
Saboteur is full of great stuff (supporting cast again, particularly the circus troupe) even though Hitchcock wasn't much impressed with Robert Cummings in the lead role.  
I've never seen Mr and Mrs Smith, but I did catch up with Jamaica Inn on the Internet recently. It was an appalling copy of the movie, but that didn't make much difference. This is also one of Hitchcock's worst, in spite of Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara and Robert Newton all giving in-your-face performances. The Daphne du Maurier story is treated badly, and the filming is uninspiring. 
I last saw Foreign Correspondent decades ago, and remember vividly the plane crashing into the sea sequence, and also a shot of dozens of umbrellas filmed from above: one of those Hitchcock joke moments in which the hero 'vanishes'.
Rebecca, and The Lady Vanishes. Utterly wonderful movies. One with all that Hollywood could offer in the way of technical expertise, the other filmed a bit more off the cuff in England (with model trains at one point). Both have top notch leads, and wonderful supporting casts. As different as possible - one is all dark and gloomy, with little humour, the other is all froth and bubble in spite of its serious subject.  
Young and Innocent is based on a Josephine Tey story - 'based' only in the sense that one of the characters still appears by name; the rest is pure Hitchcock. Not a bad movie, and another one in which a marvellous family around a table appears. And a delightful child at a petrol pump. 
Now we start to head back into ancient days, with only one major movie still to look at: The 39 Steps. Not quite a total rewrite of Buchan's book, it's basically is a riff on the original idea with wonderful scenes and excellent playing from the leads. John Laurie appears at his best (after being given a dull, melodramatic part in Juno and the Paycock), and there are plenty of other excellent supporting actors.  
The remainder are a mixed bunch: I think I've seen Blackmail, but can't remember enough to comment; Sabotage has its points (and like Saboteur includes newsreel footage that fits into the action) but to me it's most memorable for the performance of the boy who gets blown up on the bus.  
The remainder are mostly films in which Hitchcock is either restrained by the studio's intents, or 
working with material that he doesn't find compatible.  
So what's my favourite....too difficult a choice!

*Update 12.10.18. I caught up with Frenzy a few weeks ago. Though it still has a couple of very unpleasant and grotesque scenes, it's not a bad movie, and Jon Finch is better than I'd remembered in the main role. But it peters out at the end rather suddenly, even though the 'plot' is worked through.


Raymond said...

Hi Mike
I agree with almost all your love/hate reviews of Hitchcock. My favourite is Rear Window (in my all-time top 5 movies list). And on repeated viewings Vertigo was indeed mesmerizing as an art film, esp on a big screen (Tree of Life similar in this respect). Hitch was such a composer. But I really love The Birds as a parable for our relationship with nature (see the restaurant scene) and the set-pieces are great. And Psycho has a wicked sense of humour in places.

Raymond said...

By the way I have a copy of Spellbound if you want to borrow it. It's very good and the brief Dali sequence is just short of brilliant.

Mike Crowl said...

I think I'm just too much of a wuss to revisit Psycho. Too many bad memories, including my mate hiding under the seat (yup! actually happened) when we were watching it at the cinema. I remember it did have some humour; Hitchcock hardly made a movie without humour - except some of the very early pieces.
Well, I'd be really pleased to see your copy of Spellbound. I'll get in touch with you about it.