WolfmanOz at the Movies #7

Hitch

Alfred Hitchcock was born on August 13, 1899 and died on April 29th, 1980.

If ever there was a filmmaker who defined a genre i.e. the suspense thriller, it was Alfred Hitchcock, where he is known as the Master of Suspense, and, arguably, the most influential film director in cinema history; and, yet, incredibly, so many of today’s generation have not even heard of him !

His film career spanned from the 1920s to the 1970s, where he directed 53 movies, many of which are some of the finest ever made. In most of his films he made a cameo appearance which helped identify him as one of the few filmmakers behind the camera that the public instantly recognised; as well as hosting and producing the television anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

His reputation as a film director blossomed in the 1930s with such classics as The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938), and, although both are a little dated now they still stand up remarkably well.


Eventually, Hollywood beckoned and he moved to America where his first film there was the splendid Rebecca (1940) which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, although he didn’t win for Best Director. He never won a competitive Oscar, although he was nominated 5 times. He did win the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968 where his acceptance speech was “Thank you . . . very much indeed”.

Over the years, his techniques became more and more pronounced where such elements as the innocent man is accused and pursued, the cool blonde, untrustworthy characters, single sets, use of famous landmarks, sexy dialogue full of innuendo, voyeuristic camera movements and the Macguffin plot device all combined to produce a Hitchcockian style that continues to be studied and referenced today.

Classics in the 1940s include Foreign Correspondent, Suspicion, Shadow Of A Doubt, Lifeboat (a particular favourite of mine), Spellbound and Notorious.

But by the early 1950s it appeared his once great talent was fading, but then, with the release of Strangers On A Train in 1951 began a creative period for 12 years that has probably been unmatched by any film director for such a period of time.

Strangers On A Train was based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith where 2 men casually meet on a train where one of whom speculates on a foolproof method to murder; he suggests that two people, each wishing to do away with someone, should each perform the other’s murder.

He followed it up with I Confess, Dial M For Murder, Rear Window, To Catch AThief, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much and The WrongMan.

And now we come to 1958 where he embarked on 4 films that IMO that are his finest.

First there was Vertigo (1958). A commercial disappointment when first released but now ranked as one of the greatest films ever made.

James Stewart plays a former police detective suffering from acrophobia who becomes obsessed with a woman (Kim Novak) he has been hired to shadow.

Then in 1959 came North By Northwest, arguably the most purely entertaining and enjoyable of all his films where Cary Grant plays an advertising executive who is mistaken for a government secret agent. For me, Eva Marie Saint gave the defining sexy and ice-cool blonde performance in a Hitchcock film, surpassing even Hitch’s own favourite in Grace Kelly.

And we now come to 1960 with the release of Psycho.

So much has been written about this movie there’s little more I can add, except my Mum reliably informs me that she nearly gave birth to me in the cinema after Janet Leigh took a shower !

When I mentioned this to my Mum yesterday she was relieved that I was not comparing her to Norman Bates’ mother !

3 years passed and Hitch then came up with The Birds (1963) based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, where, for no known reason, wave of birds start gathering, watching and attacking people.

Today, it is still a very unsettling movie with a perfectly ambiguous ending.

The quality of his output would then fade, and by 1976 he made his final film Family Plot.

Alfred Hitchcock is in my 3 favourite film directors of all time, and I’m forever revisiting his films for their sheer entertainment and enjoyment they give plus the marvellous craft he bestowed on them.

Enjoy.

22 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #7”

  1. Thanks, Wolfman. I love Hitchcock’s movies too. He also loved Westies, so we have that in common.

    Watched the remake of Rebecca the other night. A pale, insipid imitation with ridiculous plot twists and devices. 1/10, if that. The new version of Dial M for Murder wasn’t bad at all, mainly due to the supporting cast (Suchet and Mortenson).

    Quite a few of Hitchcock’s devices were re-used in other movies. The one’s that come to mind are Rear Window and What Lies Beneath, and M. Knight Shyamalan’s cameos in his own movies.


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  2. I’m perhaps indulging the ancestral Germanic streak in my genes (‘Why do they call him Curly when he has no hair?’) but I could never understand why Tallulah uses her entire bracelet for a fishing lure when she could have used just a little gem or a garter tab or something.

    And William Bendix, you know from the opening credits that he’s going to die. Other than that, decent flick.


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  3. Thanks Wolfman….my favourite Hitchcock movies…

    Rope (I think one of his finest and one of the creepiest)
    Strangers on a Train
    Dial M for Murder
    Rear Window
    North by Northwest
    Vertigo


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  4. “Rope” is an exercise in movie technique. It appears to be one continuous take (long-shot), something not possible; with the cameras of the time only holding ten minutes of 35mm film in their magazines.

    Not a bad yarn and it can be fun for the tech nerds to spot the filmic “devices” used to hide the reel changes.

    “North by Northwest” is also “different ” because of the “out-doorsy” look, even if some of that was really shot on huge sound-stages. Three-strip Technicolor cameras are HUGE and heavy, a LONG way removed from HD “Go-Pros”. A “fun” thriller, cleverly crafted.


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  5. Frenzy is my favourite.
    With no Production Code raindrops to dance between,
    there’s no longer any need to be clever, but he’s Hitch, so it’s grimy not grubby.


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  6. lotocoti says:
    February 3, 2022 at 10:16 am
    Frenzy is my favourite.
    With no Production Code raindrops to dance between,
    there’s no longer any need to be clever, but he’s Hitch, so it’s grimy not grubby.

    I’ve always thought the Production Code actually encouraged (not by design) the skilled directors and writers to get around it with wit and style.

    Films were better then than they’re now.


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  7. “I’ve always thought the Production Code actually encouraged (not by design) the skilled directors and writers to get around it with wit and style.

    Films were better then than they’re now.”

    Correct.


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  8. I’ve always thought the Production Code actually encouraged (not by design) the skilled directors and writers to get around it with wit and style.

    Absolutely.
    Without the Code or in the wrong hands,
    films like The Apartment wouldn’t bear remembering.


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  9. Thanks, Wolfman.

    I think North by Northwest is still my favourite Hitch movie, even if only because I’ve tramped all around Mt Rushmore. I could hardly wait to get into the restaurant and “be there”. I was very disappointed when I learned that not one single second of footage was actually shot at Mt Rushmore!

    Then, of course, there’s the famous blooper where a kid sticks his fingers in his ears before the gun is fired. (This clip ends with Hitch’s much copied innuendo shot …)

    Close second would have to be Psycho. The (in)famous shower scene reportedly took 6 days to film, despite only lasting three minutes on air. The implied violent end for Janet Leigh is represented by the blood swirling down the shower drain. It was in fact, as most people know, Hershey’s chocolate syrup.


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  10. I re-watched The Thirty Nine Steps on Youtube the other day, and for a film that was made nearly ninety years ago, it is remarkably entertaining and well made. I’d watch it again any day over 98% of contemporary releases.

    I find his films to be uneven in quality, especially the early ones and the very late ones. But when he hits the spot, oh boy!

    As for the Academy Awards (spit), the list of great films and great film-makers and actors who missed out is very long indeed. I suspect that politics (not the electoral kind) has always had a lot to do with who got the gongs.


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  11. Famously, Hitchcock made a very brief cameo in his most of films.
    My favourite is the one where he is about to step on a bus in North By Northwest and the door slams shut in his face and takes off!

    For the film Lifeboat Hitchcock was trying to work out how to make a cameo appearance.
    For obvious reasons he couldn’t just be a passerby, nor could he be in the relatively small lifeboat.
    He considered being a dead body floating in the water, but eventually decided on a photo of him appearing in an ad for weight loss in a newspaper which someone was reading.


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  12. johanna says:
    February 3, 2022 at 3:45 pm
    I re-watched The Thirty Nine Steps on Youtube the other day, and for a film that was made nearly ninety years ago, it is remarkably entertaining and well made. I’d watch it again any day over 98% of contemporary releases.

    I find his films to be uneven in quality, especially the early ones and the very late ones. But when he hits the spot, oh boy!

    As for the Academy Awards (spit), the list of great films and great film-makers and actors who missed out is very long indeed. I suspect that politics (not the electoral kind) has always had a lot to do with who got the gongs.

    100% spot on.

    The list of people (in front and behind the camera) who missed out on an Oscar is bewildering . . . many are some of the greatest names in cinema.

    In addition to Hitch, you have for directing – Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Howard Hawks, Ingmar Bergman to list just a few.

    As for actors/actresses you have Cary Grant, Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, Glenn Close and Deborah Kerr.

    I gave up on the Oscars many a year ago.


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  13. I re-watched The Thirty Nine Steps on Youtube the other day, and for a film that was made nearly ninety years ago, it is remarkably entertaining and well made. I’d watch it again any day over 98% of contemporary releases

    I did too!

    Thanks Wolfie. We love Hitch. All time favourite film of the other half is North By Northwest.

    Rear Window – going from having the audience feel like sleuths to voyeurs and back again; great suspense and cinema.


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