Part 2: Alfred Hitchcock The Director and Master of Suspense

Hitchcock was a master of suspense. Few have adequately copied the cinematography and perspectives of his movies.

I could have listed a few more, but I’ll leave them and his TV shows for future posts. Also, while the posters are listed in chronological order, I’m going to discuss them from least to most favorite.

#6 Notorious (1946) – In order to help bring Nazis to justice, U.S. government agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) recruits Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the American daughter of a convicted German war criminal, as a spy. As they begin to fall for one another, Alicia is instructed to win the affections of Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains – Casa Blanca), a Nazi hiding out in Brazil. When Sebastian becomes serious about his relationship with Alicia, the stakes get higher, and Devlin must watch her slip further undercover.

Grant and Bergman had undisputed screen chemistry which they repeated in a much lighter film, Indiscreet. Claude Rains gives a touching performance, showing us that even really bad guys have a heart that can be broken. You can see the entire film on YouTube as it’s public domain now.

#5 Rebecca (1940) – Story of a timid young woman (Joan Fontaine) who marries a fascinating widower only to find out that she must live in the shadow of his deceased wife, Rebecca (never seen), who died mysteriously several years earlier. The young wife must come to grips with the terrible secret of her handsome, cold husband, Max De Winter (Laurence Olivier). She must also deal with the jealous and obsessed housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson in a truly wicked performance), who will not accept her as the mistress of the house.

Joan Fontaine had a true talent for portraying demure, timid and exceedingly kind roles like her roles in The Women (1939) and Jane Eyre (1943), yet while she was every bit a lady in her public life, no one who had seen her interviewed would use any of those terms to describe her. As for Lawrence Olivier this performance reminded me much of his version of Jane Austin’s Darcy in Pride and the Prejudice (1940); both his Maxim and Fontaine’s Mrs De Winter made for great chemistry and screen moments. The movie can be seen in its entirety on YouTube because it’s public domain.

#4 North By Northwest (1959) – This classic suspense film finds New York City ad executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) pursued by ruthless spy Phillip Vandamm (James Mason – Disney’s Captain Nemo) after Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent. Hunted relentlessly by Vandamm’s associates, the harried Thornhill ends up on a cross-country journey, meeting the beautiful and mysterious Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) along the way. Soon Vandamm’s henchmen (you might recognize Martin Landau in the clip – TV’s Mission Impossible & Ed Wood) begin to close in on Thornhill, resulting in a number of iconic action sequences.

This movie had stunning architecture with the Wright like cliff house and the dramatic scenery of Mount Rushmore, though today we can easily see when Hitch overlaid film to create a few of his climactic scenes. None the less, despite being a tad campy and my not liking any of Eva Saint Marie’s weak performances, those of Grant, Mason along with Hitch’s direction make it a very entertaining watch.

#3 Vertigo (1958) – An ex-police officer Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) who suffers from an intense fear of heights is hired to prevent an old friend’s wife Madeleine Elster (Kim Kovack) from committing suicide, but all is not as it seems. Even Stewart’s really ‘nice guy next door’ persona can’t resist succumbing to Kovack’s sexual magnetism on screen. Hitchcock’s haunting, compelling masterpiece is widely considered to be one of his masterworks.

The only reason it’s not my #2 pick is because I truly liked Stewart being paired with Grace Kelly in Rear Window; to me they were a more believable couple, plus Thema Ritter was in it, too. Yet, Hitch masterfully takes us directly inside of Scottie’s fears and Madeleine’s vulnerabilities, keeping us captivated to the end.

#2 Rear Window (1954) – A newspaper photographer Jeff Jefferies (James Stewart) with a broken leg passes time recuperating by observing his neighbors through his window. He sees what he believes to be a murder, committed by Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr TV’s Perry Mason), and decides to solve the crime himself. With the help of his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) and girlfriend Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly), he tries to catch the murderer without being killed himself.

Hitch makes his audience experience voyeurism first hand, allowing for an intriguing romance to sizzle between Stewart and Kelly, while giving Ritter space to have a comedic moment or two amidst the suspense.

#1 To Catch a Thief (1955) – God! Do I LOVE this movie!!! Notorious cat burglar John Robie aka Le Chat – The Cat (Cary Grant) has long since retired to tend vineyards on his French Riviera estate. When a series of robberies are committed in his style, the police become suspicious of his ‘retirement’ and John must clear his name. Thanks to the help of insurance investigator H.H. Hughson’s (John WilliamsSabrina 1954) list of potential victims, people who own the most expensive jewels currently in the area, John begins following the first owner, young Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly).

When her rowdy mother Jessie Steven’s (Jessie Royce Landis) jewels are stolen, Francie suspects John, cooling their budding romance. John Michael Hayes’ screenplay adaption was marvelous and delightfully naughty at times; the double entendre dialogue between Grant and Kelly is absolutely delicious and quite racy for U.S. audiences. Though being one of Hitch’s more lighthearted movies, the suspense is still very much there as are designer Edith Head’s incomparable cast wardrobe – Oh the gowns! Such a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that Hitch has appeared in all of his films, too.

This was a lot of fun kids…

I’m Outta Here! ~ Zadie G

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