Alfred Hitchcock’s career spans five decades, beginning during the silent era in England and lasting until the 1970s. Initially seen as just a showman because of tricks used to shock audiences, Alfred Hitchcock’s work was not revered until the late 1960s. His films are undeniably complex, combining suspense, thrills, disturbing concepts, romance, music, and humor to create timeless works.
So when organizing an Alfred Hitchcock movie night, what do you watch? Do you start with The Lodger, a 1927 silent film or The Lady Vanishes, a 1938 spy thriller? Or maybe Rebecca (1940), Hitchcock’s first Hollywood feature? You can also choose between Suspicion (1941), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), or Rope! (1948). Then there are the Hitchcock classics: Strangers on a Train, The Birds, Psycho, North by Northwest and Rear Window.
It took a while, but I’ve selected three films that are perfect for a fun evening with the Master of Suspense.
The 39 Steps: The Early Thriller
The 39 Steps, released in 1935, is the film that earned Hitchcock recognition in the United States. The 39 Steps also establishes key Hitchcockian elements, such as an innocent man on the run (later perfected in North by Northwest), a blonde leading lady, and an unexpected conclusion. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) has been accused of murdering Annabella, a spy (Lucie Mannheim). She discovered a plot to steal British military secrets by an espionage group called, “The 39 Steps”. Although in hiding, Hannay, with the assistance of Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), the typical Hitchcockian woman, must reveal Annabella’s discovery before they too become victims. The 39 Steps is an exciting film that uses the medium to craft an intriguing spy thriller.
The Trouble With Harry: A Comedy of Sorts
Hitchcock always incorporated humor in his films and The Trouble With Harry best shows Hitchcock’s slightly off-kilter sense of humor. You see, the trouble with Harry is that he’s dead, and the quirky residents of a small Vermont town don’t know what to do with his body. Shirley MacLaine stars as Harry’s ex-wife, Jennifer, in this 1955 dark comedy that is one of his most unusual films. The dialogue is very tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes quite surprising for its time. At one point, Jennifer says, “He looked exactly the same when he was alive, only he was vertical.” The Trouble With Harry marks Hitchcock’s first collaboration with composer Bernard Herrmann, who would collaborate with Hitchcock on eight films.
Vertigo: The Masterpiece
Gorgeous images, James Stewart and Kim Novak’s powerful performances, and Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score in Vertigo will change your life. While Psycho (1960) may be Hitchcock’s most popular movie, it is Vertigo, a tragically wonderful film that is Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Released in 1958, Vertigo must be seen two or three times before its complex exploration of human nature is even somewhat understood. John “Scottie” Ferguson (Stewart), a retired San Francisco detective suffers from acrophobia. He is hired as a private detective to follow Madeleine (Novak), who is supposedly possessed by a spirit. Scottie develops an obsession with Madeline that is oddly beautiful, disturbing, and perplexing to watch. But once the film’s plot seems established, Hitchcock throws out a curveball that only generates more mystifying questions and creates a cinematic wonder.
Published: The Mount Holyoke News
Reprinted with permission
October 25, 2007