The Films of Alfred Hitchcock
The Pleasure Garden
The Mountain Eagle
The Farmer's Wife
Juno and the Paycock
The Skin Game
Rich and Strange
Waltz from Vienna
The Man Who Knew Too Much (January 9/17)
It's ultimately not difficult to see why Alfred Hitchcock chose to remake The Man Who Knew Too Much more than 20 years later, as this version of the film comes off, for the most part, as a sluggish and momentum-free drama that overstays its welcome even at a paltry 75 minutes. The narrative follows married couple Bob (Leslie Banks) and Jill Lawrence (Edna Best) as they're embroiled in a plot to murder a foreign dignitary, with the pair forced to keep silent about the impending assassination after their young daughter is kidnapped by a group of criminals (led by Peter Lorre's Abbott). The strong setup is employed to consistently underwhelming and uninvolving effect by Hitchcock, as the director delivers an aggressively talky first half that emphasizes "clever" dialogue over suspenseful sequences and character development - with, in terms of the latter, the movie littered with one-dimensional, far-from-sympathetic protagonists. (Lorre, on the other hand, is appropriately creepy as the scheming villain.) And although Hitchcock peppers the proceedings with a handful of memorable interludes - eg a pretty fantastic moment in which two characters surreptitiously communicate by singing messages along with a hymn - The Man Who Knew Too Much remains wholeheartedly unable to grab the viewer's interest even as it builds towards an expectedly action-heavy third act. (It's worth noting that the climactic opera house sequence, so phenomenal in the remake, falls disappointingly flat here.)
The 39 Steps
Based on the book by John Buchan, The 39 Steps follows Robert Donat's Richard Hannay as he agrees to help a spy (Lucie Mannheim's Annabella Smith) hide out from pursuing assassins - with her subsequent death forcing Richard himself to go on the run. The bulk of the ensuing narrative details Richard's ongoing efforts at evading his pursuers and clearing his name, with the character ultimately receiving reluctant help from Madeleine Carroll's Pamela. There's certainly plenty within The 39 Steps worth admiring and enjoying - eg Richard's initial escape aboard a Scotland-bound train is quite exciting - and yet the movie never quite manages to amass any real momentum or tension, with filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock's somewhat lackadaisical approach draining the proceedings of its suspense. It's an underwhelming vibe that's perpetuated by Donat's less-than-frantic turn as the laid-back central character, with Richard's consistently cavalier demeanor preventing the viewer from wholeheartedly working up any real interest in his perilous plight. The lack of chemistry between Donat and Carroll's respective characters only compounds the hands-off feel, and it's clear, too, that the abrupt and anticlimactic finale ensures that the whole thing ends on a decidedly forgettable note - which finally confirms The 39 Steps' place as a fairly palpable misfire from Hitchcock.
Young and Innocent
The Lady Vanishes
Rebecca (November 19/06)
Alfred Hitchcock's first American feature, Rebecca casts Joan Fontaine as a sweet and naive (and unnamed) young woman who finds herself falling for wealthy widower Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). Problems ensue after Maxim takes his bride-to-be home to his palatial estate, where his sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) takes an immediate disliking to the new mistress of the house. Rebecca moves at an extraordinarily deliberate pace and is by and large fairly uneventful, but there are - as expected - a number of genuinely electrifying moments spread throughout the film's overlong running time (with a mishap at a costume ball undoubtedly the most obvious example of this). Hitchcock - along with cinematographer George Barnes - has infused the film with an unmistakably (and irresistibly) gothic sensibility, which does ensure that Rebecca remains endlessly fascinating in terms of its visceral qualities. The meandering storyline, however, ultimately prevents the film from living up to its reputation as one of Hitchcock's best (and it goes without saying that the overly talky third act surely doesn't help matters).
Though stylishly directed (obviously) and teeming with snappy dialogue, Foreign Correspondent remains a strangely uninvolving thriller - something that's due in no small part to the egregiously deliberate pace and undeniably overlong running time. Joel McCrea stars as Johnny Jones, a wisecracking reporter who finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy with global implications. Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock has peppered Foreign Correspondent with several expectedly impressive set pieces - including a famous sequence in which an assassin works his way through a crowd toting black umbrellas - and yet the film never quite becomes anything more than a sporadically intriguing curiosity. McCrea's strong performance is hampered by the ridiculousness of his character, a figure who doesn't seem to break a sweat during moments of high intrigue and proposes to a woman mere days after meeting her. The action-packed conclusion is admittedly quite thrilling, although - like many of Foreign Correspondent's positive attributes - its impact is severely diluted by the talky and seriously padded-out vibe.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur (July 16/07)
Relentlessly uneven and ultimately quite dull, Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur casts Robert Cummings as Barry Kane - a factory worker who must go on the run after a shady figure frames him for a deadly fire that kills a colleague. In an effort to clear his name, Barry - along with shoe-horned love interest Pat Martin (Priscilla Lane) - embarks on a cross-country journey from Los Angeles to New York and subsequently comes across a whole host of quirky characters along the way. Director Alfred Hitchcock - working from Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison, and Dorothy Parker's screenplay - has infused the proceedings with an episodic structure that proves to be disastrous, as the majority of Barry's encounters (including separate run-ins with a blind pianist and several circus freaks) are ultimately far from engrossing. Cummings' inability to transform his character into a wholly compelling figure only exacerbates Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur's various problems, although there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of Otto Kruger's turn as the film's exceedingly sinister villain. That being said, Hitchcock's expectedly masterful directorial choices provide the film with brief flashes of electricity - with the most obvious and overt examples of this being a chase through a crowded movie theater and the climactic confrontation atop the Statue of Liberty. Yet such sequences are invariably rendered moot by the overly talky script and general ambiance of pointlessness, ensuring that even the most avid Hitchcock fan will have a tough time embracing the film.
Shadow of a Doubt
Lifeboat (July 30/16)
Saddled with as thin a premise as one could envision, Lifeboat ultimately comes off as a disappointing endeavor that boasts few elements designed to capture and sustain the viewer's interest - with the narrative, which follows several shipwreck survivors as they attempt to cope with an increasingly perilous situation, suffering from a palpable lack of momentum that grows more and more problematic as time progresses. Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock's typically strong directorial choices ensure that, at the very least, Lifeboat never quite morphs into the dull drama one might've feared, with the passable vibe heightened by strong performances and a handful of engrossing sequences. (There is, in terms of the latter, a very tense interlude detailing the buildup to the amputation of a character's leg.) It's clear, however, that the biggest problem here is an almost total lack of compelling characters, as scripter Jo Swerling's ongoing efforts at transforming the movie's protagonists into sympathetic figures fall continuously flat - with the talented cast, which includes Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, and Hume Cronyn, unable to alleviate the film's decidedly less-than-engrossing atmosphere. The anticlimactic finale ensures that Lifeboat ends on a less-than-enthralling note that's admittedly right in line with everything preceding it, and it's finally impossible to label the movie as anything more than a cinematic experiment that just doesn't work.
Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound
A sporadically intriguing yet hopelessly bloated thriller, Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound follows psychiatrist Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) as she attempts to ferret out the mysterious past of an amnesia-afflicted patient (Gregory Peck's John Ballantyne) - with the romance that eventually ensues between the two characters complicating matters considerably. (It doesn't help, either, that John is eventually accused of murder.) Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock does an effective job of initially luring the viewer into the decidedly lush proceedings, as Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound boasts an appealing visual sensibility that's heightened by Ben Hecht's unapologetically melodramatic screenplay. The promise of the movie's early sequences gives way to a thoroughly underwhelming midsection, however, with Hecht's script placing a growing emphasis on sequences of a talky and decidedly less-than-engrossing nature. (There are, for example, far too many instances in which the characters engage in long, hopelessly dull conversations revolving around psychiatry and psychoanalysis.) The far-from-captivating atmosphere is compounded by an almost painfully overlong running time, and while the inclusion of a few unexpected third-act revelations briefly perks one's interest, Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound stands as a rare misfire within Hitch's otherwise solid body of work.
Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious
Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious follows Ingrid Bergman's Alicia Huberman as she's asked to spy on a Nazi sympathizer (Claude Rains' Alexander Sebastian), with complications ensuing as Alicia's handler, Devlin (Cary Grant), finds himself growing more and more attracted to his charge. Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, as expected, does a superb job of infusing Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious with an almost palpable sense of mood and style, with the director's penchant for memorable visuals going a long way towards heightening the movie's thoroughly cinematic atmosphere. It's a vibe that's perpetuated by everything from Roy Webb's lush score to Ted Tetzlaff's gorgeous cinematography to the uniformly effective performances, with, in terms of the latter, Grant and Bergman's chemistry together ensuring that one can't help but root for their characters' triumph over Rains' nefarious (yet somewhat sympathetic) Sebastian. (This is despite the almost ludicrous manner by which Alicia and Devlin fall in love, as it seems to happen entirely during the pair's trip from the States to Germany.) Despite it's many positive attributes, however, Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, which progresses at a seriously deliberate pace, suffers from a watchable yet rarely engrossing vibe that persists throughout the overlong running time - with the movie boasting only a small handful of truly captivating sequences. (The absolutely enthralling climactic stretch, for example, is in no way indicative of most of that which precedes it.) It would be far too harsh to label Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious an all-out bomb, but it's equally difficult to refer to the movie as a wholeheartedly effective (and affecting) success.
The Paradine Case
Strangers on a Train
Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess (July 30/16)
A passable yet underwhelming thriller, Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess follows Montgomery Clift's Father Michael Logan as he receives a confession of murder from a local parishioner (O.E. Hasse's Otto Keller) and is subsequently accused of the same crime by Karl Malden's dogged police officer. It's a fairly promising setup that is, at the outset, utilized to strong effect by filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, as the director kicks things off with a stylish opening sequence and peppers much of the first act with compelling, intriguing elements. And while Clift is good (but stiff) in the central role, Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess benefits substantially from the efforts of a more-than-capable supporting cast - with, especially, Malden and Keller delivering solid work as the inquisitive cop and the smug murderer, respectively. The movie's watchable vibe begins to dissipate somewhat as it progresses into its generic, run-of-the-mill midsection, as scripters George Tabori and William Archibald emphasize the procedural-like efforts of the police to solve the crime and, eventually, the trial that ensues (ie it begins to feel like a '50s set episode of Law and Order). The viewer is, as a result, more and more tempted to write off Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess as an erratic misfire as it progresses, and yet it's the sporadic inclusion of captivating moments, as well as Hitchcock's dependably striking visuals, that ultimately keeps things interesting - with the admittedly engaging (and comparatively action-packed) third act ensuring that the film ends on a palpably positive note.
Dial M for Murder
Based on a play by Frederick Knott, Dial M for Murder follows Ray Milland's Tony Wendice as he conspires to murder his wife (Grace Kelly's Margot) after learning that she's been sleeping with a mutual friend (Robert Cummings' Mark) - with Tony's plan predictably going awry almost from the get-go. There's admittedly never a point at which it isn't completely obvious that Dial M for Murder has been adapted from a stage play, as the movie, which rarely leaves Tony and Margot's cramped apartment, possesses a dialogue-heavy vibe that's perpetuated by a pace that's best described as deliberate. It's just as clear, however, that filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock's stylish direction, coupled with a uniformly superb assortment of performances, goes a long way towards keeping things interesting even through the narrative's more uneventful stretches, and there's little doubt that the movie benefits substantially from the periodic inclusion of palpably electrifying moments - with the film's high point unquestionably the prolonged sequence in which murderer Charles Swann (Anthony Dawson) attempts to execute Tony's convoluted plan. The sequence is so stirring and so engrossing, in fact, that the film can't help but subsequently settle into a pronounced lull, with the emphasis on the police's investigation, led by John Williams' unflappable Chief Inspector Hubbard, ensuring that Dial M for Murder does fizzle out to a slight degree before recovering for a thoroughly entertaining final half hour. The superb conclusion confirms the movie's place as a completely watchable yet less-than-consistent effort from Hitchcock, and it's worth noting, too, that the film's 3-D presentation is actually not as terrible as one might've feared.
Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window
Undoubtedly one of Alfred Hitchcock's most well-known efforts, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window casts James Stewart as L.B. Jefferies - a photographer who finds himself confined to a wheelchair following a work-related injury. L.B.'s newfound hobby of peeping on his neighbors eventually leads him to suspect the mysterious man (Raymond Burr's Lars Thorwald) across the way of murder, though his loyal girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and cop buddy Thomas (Wendell Corey) initially remain unconvinced. There's little doubt that Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window takes an awfully long time to get going, as Hitchcock - working from John Michael Hayes' screenplay - has infused the proceedings with an exceedingly deliberate sensibility that admittedly proves effective in fleshing out the various characters. And while the relentlessly stagy and undeniably inauthentic atmosphere occasionally does threaten to become oppressive - particularly during sequences of a distinctly melodramatic nature - it does become increasingly clear that the sporadically kitschy vibe remains an indelible part of the film's enduring success. It's only with the nail-biting third act that Rear Window finally becomes the compelling piece of work that one might've anticipated, with the inevitable confrontation between L.B. and Lars benefiting substantially from Hitchcock's expectedly masterful directorial choices (ie the short-lived battle plays out in silence as L.B. attempts to disorient his attacker with repeated hits from a flashbulb). While there's no denying that Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window is very much a product of its time, the film surely remains one of the most memorable and downright essential examples of the slow-burn thriller genre.
To Catch a Thief
The Trouble with Harry
Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (March 23/14)
Though clearly much, much longer than necessary, Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much is a decent thriller that's ultimately saved by its stellar performances and absolutely enthralling last act. The narrative follows Benjamin (James Stewart) and Josephine (Doris Day) McKenna as they stumble upon an assassination plot while vacationing in Morocco, and although he attempts to immediately report the crime to the police, Benjamin finds himself forced to take matters into his own hands after his young son (Christopher Olsen's Hank) is kidnapped by the perpetrators. Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much gets off to an awfully slow start that nevertheless holds some promise, as filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, working from John Michael Hayes' script, does a typically strong job of drawing the viewer into the proceedings at the outset - with the movie certainly benefiting from the inclusion of several engrossing sequences (eg Benjamin's encounter with a dying whistleblower). It's just as clear, however, that the movie takes a palpable turn for the worse as it progresses into its padded-out midsection, as Hitchcock spends far too much time focused on Benjamin's continuing efforts at solving the mystery behind both the kidnapping and the conspiracy. The viewer's waning interest is instantly revived once the infamous Albert Hall sequence rolls around, with the effectiveness of this wordless interlude - which is just about as tense and suspenseful as anything cooked up by Hitchcock - paving the way for a thoroughly engrossing stretch that proves impossible to resist. The end result is a decidedly erratic effort that boasts more than enough positive elements to warrant a hearty recommendation, with Hitchcock's superlative visual choices and Stewart's typically captivating performance often compensating for the palpably overlong running time.
The Wrong Man
Vertigo (December 20/15)
A perpetually tedious and uninvolving effort from Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo follows former detective John Ferguson (James Stewart) as he agrees to monitor the movements of a friend's wife (Kim Novak's Madeleine) - with John's fast-growing obsession with the woman eventually leading to disastrous consequences. Vertigo's admittedly engrossing opening - the film kicks off with an exciting foot chase - gives way to an almost oppressively dull midsection in which hardly anything of interest occurs, as scripters Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor offer up an uneventful narrative revolving entirely around John's aforementioned obsession with Novak's bland character. The total lack of chemistry between Stewart and Novak is merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the movie's problems, with the bulk of the first half devoted entirely to John's pursuit of Madeleine and his eventually romance with the character. Hitchcock never gives the viewer a single reason to care about any of this and it's clear, too, that the glacial pace only compounds the film's arms-length atmosphere, with the screenplay's absence of compelling attributes ensuring that Vertigo, for the most part, feels like a short film that's been expanded to an often interminable 128 minutes. And while the movie does boast a handful of engrossing images and sequences - eg the justifiably iconic climax - Vertigo ultimately comes off as a fairly disastrous misfire that's almost entirely devoid of engrossing, attention-grabbing elements.
North by Northwest
North by Northwest follows New York City advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) as he's mistaken for a government agent and forced to embark on a epic adventure across the country, with Roger's ongoing efforts at clearing his name helped (and occasionally hindered) by a beautiful woman named Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, armed with Bernard Hermann's justifiably legendary score, does a superb job of immediately drawing the viewer into the proceedings, with the compulsively watchable atmosphere heightened by Grant's affable and charming turn as the increasingly perplexed central character. It's equally clear, however, that the film's needlessly protracted running time (136 minutes!) ensures that it begins petering out almost immediately, with Hitchcock's penchant for overlong and flat-out superfluous sequences growing more and more problematic as the thin narrative unfolds. (The majority of the movie is, lamentably, devoted to talky, uneventful stretches and a hopelessly unconvincing love story between Grant and Saint's respective characters.) Hitchcock, working from Ernest Lehman's screenplay, sporadically resuscitates one's dwindling interest with a handful of undeniably engrossing interludes (eg the justifiably legendary crop-duster scene, which remains a highlight), yet there's little doubt that the frequent lulls (eg Roger's tedious hotel-room encounter with Eve) inevitably drain the picture of its suspense and tension - with the famed Mount Rushmore finale, as a result, not faring nearly as well as one might've hoped. The end result is a tenuously engaging thriller that could've used a few more passes through the editing bay, with the otherwise unremarkable movie all-too-often elevated by Hitchcock's stylish direction and Grant's compelling performance.
Though it suffers from an overlong running time and an increasingly uneven structure, Psycho nevertheless lives up to its reputation as one of the most entertaining and suspenseful horror films of all time - with Anthony Perkins' spellbinding performance heightened by timeless set pieces, Bernard Herrmann's justifiably legendary score, and, of course, Alfred Hitchcock's consistently captivating directorial choices. The movie follows Janet Leigh's Marion Crane as she steals a chunk of money from her boss and attempts to make her way out of town, with her decision to spend a night at the infamous Bates motel, run by Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates, proving rather disastrous (to say the least). Hitchcock, working from a script by Joseph Stefano, offers up an opening half hour that boasts the qualities of a lurid melodrama and hardly even hints at the horror to follow, yet, despite the filmmaker's reliance on a decidedly deliberate pace, there's certainly something quite compelling about the central character's ongoing exploits - with the engaging vibe heightened by Leigh's strong performance and the masterful visuals. It's fairly clear, however, that the movie does suffer from a midsection that occasionally feels just a little too uneventful, as Hitchcock offers up several sequences that come off as aggressively prolonged or entirely unnecessary (eg Bates' efforts at cleaning up a dead body, which seem to unfold in real time, perfectly exemplifies the former). The appearance of Martin Balsam's private investigator, Milton Arbogast, effectively infuses the proceedings with a burst of energy, and there's little doubt that the film is subsequently propelled to its final, shocking revelation. And although the now legendary (and thoroughly needless) coda ensures that the whole thing ends with a whimper rather than a bang, Psycho's negative attributes are handily outweighed by its positives and it's certainly not difficult to see why the movie still endures more than 50 years after its original release.