I have the reputation of being a big Hitchcock’s fan. Not the biggest, but maybe one of the biggest. Anyway, this is not a contest. In fact, I’m telling you this because, today, I’m going to explain to you why I love Hitchcock’s films that much. Let me tell you right now that there are many reasons because Hitchcock is my favourite movie director and I have seen 42 of his films.
First, because Hitchcock was known as “The Master of Suspense”, it’s obvious that I love the suspense that we find in many of his films. In fact, I like the way this suspense is set in the story. Hitchcock knew how to keep our attention from the beginning until the end with that magical tension. It’s effective. Of course, this suspense can stress or scares us, but it’s a good stress because it makes us want to know what will happen next! In my opinion, the Hitchcock’s film with the best suspense is “Rear Window” (1954). I remember, the first time I watched it, I was very anxious (especially during the scene when Grace Kelly goes into Lars Thorwald’s apartment). I liked that because I never had such a feeling before while watching a movie. It was almost like tasting a new food! Well, after many viewings, there is less suspense, but it remains an excellent film. The first viewing is always the best one.
Second, what I like about Hitchcock’s films is the humour that we can find in many of them, even if they are not comedies at first. It can be black humour or not. It’s always a very British humour and I love British humour. It makes the movie even nicer to watch and it creates a diversity in it. For me, the funniest Hitchcock’s films are The Lady Vanishes, To Catch a Thief, The 39 Steps, Rear Window, Waltz From Vienna and so on. There is always a funny thing in a Hitchcock’s film. It can be at many moments in the film or just in a few scenes. In the same vein, many Hitchcock’s films are very well-written. That’s important for me, because I have a big interest in screenwriting and I prefer watching movies with a great screenplay. The screenplays of Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt, Rebecca, The Lady Vanishes, North by Northwest, etc. are some of his bests. There are also some memorable quotes in some of his films. My favourite one is “Eyes for an eye… and a tooth for a toothbrush!” said by Michael Redgrave in The Lady Vanishes. And how can we forget all those famous Thelma Ritter’s quotes in Rear Window? For example: “When two people love each other, they come together – WHAM – like two taxis on Broadway.”
Third, I like the fact that Hitchcock’s filmography is big. I mean REALLY big. From the 20’s to the 70’s, Hitchcock directed more than 50 films and that doesn’t include the episodes he directed for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The master was busy! What’s nice about this big filmography is to see the evolution of his films. From The Lodger to Family Plot, all his films are different, but you can always tell that THIS is a Hitchcock’s film. Well, there are some exceptions, like Waltz from Vienna, a very underrated musical. I would like, during one weekend, to watch them all in chronological order!
Fourth, another thing I love about Hitchcock is the stars he chooses for his films, many great actors and also some beautiful discoveries. Many of my favourite actors starred in one or many Hitchcock’s films. I can think of Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, James Stewart, Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Michael Redgrave, John Gielgud, Margaret Lockwood, Pete Lorre, Vera Miles, Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Nova Pilbeam, etc. Also, Hitchcock knew how to direct those stars and, because of that, we can see many great performances by these actors and actresses. Unfortunately, only one of them won an Oscar. It was Joan Fontaine for her wonderful performance in Suspicion (1941), also starring Cary Grant. What I also like about Hitchcock’s casting is that it made me discover many underrated and unknown actors and actresses, particularly in his early British films. I am so happy to know some stars that not everybody knows. That’s kind of a privilege. I can think of Ivor Novello, Anny Ondra, Joan Barry, Harry Kendall, Lillian Hall Davis, Percy Marmont, etc. Those stars are not too well-known because most of the time they never had a Hollywood career. And we all know that Hollywood is like the Mecca of cinema.
Fifth, a very precise thing that I love about Hitchcock’s films is to notice the elements that are present in many of his films: the stairs, the cold blonde, the churches, the possessive mother, the innocent victim, the famous MacGuffin, the mental disease and more. I also like the fact that, in many Hitchcock’s films, a simple object becomes very important for the development of the story. These are some examples: the keys in Notorious and Dial M for Murder, the lighter in Strangers on a Train, the glass of milk in Suspicion, the color red in Marnie, etc. Those elements create a new tension in the story which is another good way to keep the public’s attention.
Sixth, this is more an aesthetic element: the costumes in some Hitchcock’s films are just stunning. This is due to his work with Edith Head of course! The best “representation” of this was certainly Grace Kelly. Her dresses in To Catch a Thief and Rear Window are so beautiful. Because of those wonderful costumes, Hitchcock’s films have everything to be perfect in a visual way.
Talking of visual, the seventh thing that I love about Hitchcock’s films are those memorable scenes that are visually strong. Some of them have no dialogues, but they are so effective that they grab your attention anyway. I can think of the plane scene in North by Northwest, the shower scene in Psycho, the murder scenes in Dial M for Murder and Strangers on a Train, the Albert Hall scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), the dream sequences in Vertigo and Spellbound, the final bird attack in The Birds. Most of the time, these are scenes where the sound dimension becomes very important. These are often the most memorable scenes of the films. We all know that the shower scene in Psycho is maybe THE most famous scene in cinema’s history. Anyway, those epic scenes are another reason why Hitchcock’s films are so memorable. And let’s not forget the director’s cameos! My favourite one is the one in Young and Innocent (1937).
There are many reasons why I love Hitchcock’s films and I will finish with this one: I love the music in Hitchcock’s films. It is a very orchestral music and, sometimes, it adds spice to the movie. I love watching Hitchcock’s films, but I also love listening to Hitchcock’s movie soundtracks. Bernard Hermann is very well-known for his work with The Master of Suspense, but some other compositors composed beautiful scores for Hitchcock’s films: Franz Waxman, Maurice Jarre, Dimitri Tiomkin, Miklos Rozsa and even John Williams for Family Plot! You can now listen to the very nice and jazzy Rear Window‘s score composed by the one and only Franz Waxman. 🙂
Now that you know the reasons why I love Hitchcock’s films, I would like to talk to you more precisely about my favourite Hitchcock’s film: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). The original 1934’s version was also very good, but I prefer the second one. I love this movie because it has everything I love about a Hitchcock’s film: a great suspense, a great casting (I love Doris Day and James Stewart is my favourite actor), humour (the restaurant scene in Marrakesh), a memorable scene (the Albert Hall scene), some beautiful costumes (Doris Day’s dress during the dinner scene), great music (Bernard Hermann’s score is glorious, and how can we forget “Que Sera Sera”?), etc. I also love the fact that the first part takes place in an exotic country: Morocco. And did you know that it was the only time Hitchcock accepted to take off his jacket on the set? Well, I guess the weather was very hot! Another interesting thing about this film is the use of three languages: American English, British English, and French. It’s nice to see the contrast. That’s why it’s a movie you have to watch in its original language. Sooner, I was talking about Jimmy Stewart. Well, in this movie (in the restaurant scene) he really makes me think of my father. He is tall, so he doesn’t know how to sit! This is SO my father. Finally, this is kind of our family’s Hitchcock because it is also my mother’s favourite one and it’s the Hitchcock’s film that made my sister want to watch more of his films. Before that, she really wanted to know nothing about Hitch!
I now invite to watch the official clip of “Que Sera Sera”, sung by Doris Day because it shows some parts of the film and it’s also a very pretty tune. Doris Day doesn’t only sing it to sing it. It eventually becomes something highly important in the story!
It’s time to let you know what are my ten most favourite Hitchcock’s films. That’s a difficult exercise because I have seen many of them and I love many of them. Anyway, it goes like this:
1- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
2- Strangers on a Train (1951)
3- Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
4- Rear Window (1954)
5- To Catch a Thief (1955)
6- The Lady Vanishes (1938)
7- Frenzy (1972)
8- Rebecca (1940)
9- Spellbound (1945)
10- The Birds (1963)
Honorable mention to North by Northwest, Notorious, Dial M for Murder, Young and Innocent and many others!
Now that you had the kindness to read this very long text (!), I suggest you finish that in a pleasant way by watching my Hitchcock’s timeline. It presents, in chronological order, ALL the Hitchcock’s films, from White Shadow to Family Plot. It’s interesting to see the evolution. The first music you’ll hear is The Wrong Man‘s score composed by Bernard Hermann and the second one is Topaz‘s score composed by Maurice Jarre. Well, that was one of the rare not very good Hitchcock’s films, but at least the music was great…