Ten Favorite Hitchcock Films

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Someone on Facebook (sorry, can’t remember who) posted a link the other week to a website (sorry, can’t remember which) that had ranked all Hitchcock films from good to bad with some slightly bizarre decisions.  That made me think that it would be rather nice to revive the “ten favorite” series of posts with a Hitchcock entry.  As with previous entries, I don’t pretend these are the best Hitchcock films, or the most worthy, just ten personal favorites.

Downhill (1927)

Downhill (pictured above) is one of the Hitchcock silent films that very few people have seen, and which garners relatively little attention.  The film tells the story of a schoolboy (played by 35 year old Ivor Novello) who finds himself wrapped up in a scandal through no real fault of his own and whose life then goes on a downward spiral.  Not much of a story really, but that doesn’t matter a great deal as this is a film where Hitchcock experiments more than usual for the period and, while the plot is almost non-existent, there are some directorial flourishes that make it really worth watching.  Novello is too old for the role, and certainly lacks the intensive on-screen persona he brought to The Lodger, but Hitchcock effectively makes something out of nothing and this little oddity is well worth a watch.

The Ring (1927)

This silent film from the same year is a favorite partly for sentimental reasons – it was the first silent film I saw at the cinema.  I actually saw it by mistake.  I had gone to the local arthouse cinema to see Wilde starring Stephen Fry, but had read the times wrong in the newspaper and found myself faced with the BFI reissue of The Ring.  Luckily for me, the opening of this tale about boxing is stunning and drew me in.  I can’t say my concentration was fully given over for the entire 110 minutes, but it certainly sparked an interest in silent film that I had not had before, and for that The Ring will always hold a special place.

Young and Innocent (1937)

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What a wonderful film Young and Innocent is, and yet it seems to be pretty forgotten these days.  When I was a kid, it was shown on television with alarming regularity, although neither my mum or myself ever learned the title at the time, always referring to it as “that film with the bloke with a twitch.”  My analysis skills even at that early stage were, clearly, stunning!  Young and Innocent is very much in the mode of The Thirty-nine Steps and,  like so many innocent-man-on-the-fun Hitchcock films, is rather episodic in nature.  It’s also great fun, and the wonderful shot near the end of the film where the camera slowly closes in on the villain remains stunning.

Jamaica Inn (1939)

I’m not sure why  people don’t like Jamaica Inn.  This tale of smuggling and adventure might not be very Hitchcockian, and Charle Laughton is laughably over the top, but this is wonderful hokum, ideal for a rainy afternoon with a pot of tea and a slice of Victoria Sandwich.

Rebecca (1940)

Hitchcock’s final British film was Jamaica Inn, based on a book by Daphne du Maurier, and his first American film was based on a book by the same author.  Many will cite the 1950s films for Universal as the peak of Hitchcock’s career, but films like Rear Window, Vertigo and others all seem to be rather self-conscious attempts at making a Hitchcock film.  Rebecca manages to be a remarkable piece of cinema, but without that self-conscious element and, for me, that makes it in the top three films that Hitchcock made.  Outside of this film I don’t care much for either Laurence Olivier or Joan Fontaine, but here they are perfectly cast and the movie is a joy from the first shot to the last.

Saboteur (1942)

I confess that Saboteur evaded me until only last year, when I finally got around to watching it.  I hadn’t intentionally avoided it, but I’d just never sat down to see it.  It’s not Hitchcock’s most original film – it’s another “wrong man” movie – but it’s difficult to see how it could have been done any better, and it certainly deserves to be better known than it is.  What’s more, the finale is one of Hitch’s best.

Spellbound (1944)

I have always like Spellbound, from the first time I saw it as a kid.  Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck are superb together and, while the script is littered with psychobabble in places, it remains literate and totally engrossing.  It’s a wonderfully romantic movie as well, not just because of the Bergman/Peck combination but also because of the wonderful score by Miklos Rosza.

I Confess (1951)

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Rather like Jamaica Inn,  I Confess has always come in for rather a lot of criticism over the years, although it appears to be held in higher regard than it used to be.  Montgomery Clift is superb as the tortured priest who is unable to disclose the name of the murderer because he was told it in confession, and therefore becomes a suspect himself.  There are moments when the script becomes a little creaky (it’s based on a 1902 play), and the pace slackens just a little bit too much, but this is still wonderful stuff and still packs quite a punch.

Vertigo (1958) & North By Northwest (1959)

I place these two final films together because their inclusion here is probably not going to surprise anyone.  As mentioned earlier, these films are Hitchcock consciously making a Hitchcock movie – particularly in the case of North By Northwest.  If Hitchcock’s intention at this stage was simply to entertain, then he totally succeeds in both cases.  What’s more, the leads in both films are perfectly chosen: it’s hard to think of anyone other than James Stewart playing the role of Scottie in Vertigo, and who else but Cary Grant could have found himself running away from that plane during the crop-dusting scene.  It’s scenes like that which betray Hitchcock’s attempts to out-Hitch himself, playing on his own trademarks by this point, and yet he manages to do it so well.  The pacing of both films is expertly judged, and the two-hour plus running times just fly by.

So, did Hitchcock not make great films after 1959?  Yes, of course, but the last two entries in my above list were probably as good as it got.  Many will, of course, cite Psycho, but I’ve never been totally convinced that it’s the masterpiece that everyone tries to persuade me it is.  A good film, yes – even a fun film in many ways – but for me it oversteps the mark, and goes from self-consciously making a Hitchcock film to almost self-parody.  Both The Birds and Frenzy nearly got included as well, but neither are personal favorites at the time of writing.  I used to like Frenzy  very much, but on a recent viewing I was curiously disappointed.  And let’s not forget Hitchcock’s forgotten horror film – Topaz.  Horror as in horrific, that is.  Never watch it alone.  You won’t last ten minutes before you switch it off and find something to watch which does make sense instead!

 

On the Move!

Over the past few months, this blog has had a number of posts made with regards to issues relating to mental health and portrayals of it within film, television etc.  In order to get this blog back to its original purpose, I’ve decided that a separate site be created for the mental health comments and reviews etc.  That blog can be found here:  mentalhealthmediame.wordpress.com/

The posts already here on these issues will remain, but will also be copied over to the new site.

Naive Nick’s Mental Health Pledge

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Are those with mental health conditions meant to be jumping for joy at Nick Clegg’s announcement today that a target would be set that all sufferers will have access to talking therapies within eighteen weeks should the current coalition find themselves still in power after the next election?  This will, apparently, mean that around £120m of extra funding (more about the “extra” later) will be spent over the next two years – this will, I guess, go towards restoring some of the funding that has been cut over the last four years since the coalition  has been in power.

For me, the whole thing smacks of empty rhetoric, grave naivety and a cynical touting for votes.  No-one is going to moan that waiting times are going to be cut or that more spending on mental health will take place, but the ridiculous simplicity with which mental health is being treated is rather insulting to those who are suffering from these conditions.  It’s thought that up to 10% of sufferers die as a direct or indirect result of their condition.  Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK.  If those stats were related to a form of cancer, there would be a considerable outcry if a waiting time for treatment was reduced to eighteen weeks.  Reduced.  God knows how long the wait must be now if you’re not one of the lucky few who lives in the right postcode.

The lack of understanding of mental illness by those spouting these latest wonders is only too evident with the announcement that suicidal patients will get the same priority as those with a suspected heart attack.  That’s all very nice, but people with a suspected heart attack ring 999 – people who are suicidal do not.  Suffering from a mental health condition for up to eighteen weeks without access to certain treatment might be enough to turn someone suicidal in the first place. And there’s also this strange notion that people are either suicidal or they’re not – something which fails to take into account that people might be fine one day and not the next.  That MPs are simplifying conditions in this way is insulting – the least they could do is try to understand the issue in the first place.   But to do so, and to acknowledge the complexities doesn’t make for such rousing speech-writing.

And how about reviewing the benefits process for those with mental health conditions.  The Personal Independence Payment form might give an indication of how serious a physical disability is, but it’s a joke when it comes to mental health, with half of the questions not even applying to people with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, and the like.  Can we use the loo?  Well, yes, thank you very much – but why aren’t you asking us about issues of concentration that prevent us doing things, or panic attacks that might stop us going to a supermarket.  And, wait for this one folks, if you can’t use public transport due to your condition you might be awarded a free bus pass.  I kid you not.

Charities have welcomed today’s news – they have little choice: more funding is better than funding cuts, no matter how modest the targets that have been set.  Just six weeks ago, The Independent ran a story stating that mental health services are “dangerously close to collapse,” and that there were 3000 less nurses working in the sector than two years earlier.  57 mental health trusts had lost £253m in funding.  And yet we should be saying “well done” and “how wonderful” to the coalition for promising to put half of that money back.   That’s hardly “extra funding.”

I confess that I have been lucky during the twenty years I have had my own condition.  When I first fell ill, I got to see a doctor within hours (this was 1995 when you could do that) and, since then, I have always been treated by my succession of GPs with respect, concern and (thankfully) good humour.  The last in that list might seem like an odd addition, but actually it highlights the importance of striking up a rapport with your GP, especially with regards to mental health conditions where, more than ever, everyone is different.  I have a great relationship with my GP, not least because she knows I’m more than willing to find the humour within the issues that I have.   It’s the way I get through.  Another doctor wouldn’t get or understand that.

The problem is that seeing your own GP (including my own) is not that easy anymore.  Often the waiting time to see your regular doctor these days is two weeks, not two hours.  If I had a severe turn for the worse with my illness, would I even contemplate seeing a doctor I didn’t know?  Probably not – and with good reason: notes on a screen are not the same as talking to someone who has seen how your condition has changed (or not) over a number of years.  Mental health conditions aren’t a series of test results, facts and figures, where X+Y = medication A.  It’s far more complicated than that – which is why some of the rhetoric used by Nick Clegg today comes across as so naive.

Any increase in mental health budgets is to be welcomed, but it shouldn’t have got this bad in the first place – and the amount of money involved doesn’t get close to making up for the cuts from the budgets over the last few years.  And, while Clegg has said he wants to work to stamp out the stigma associated with such conditions, that promise seems very empty too.  There are few, if any, signs of how he plans to do that.  Does he mean well?  Possibly.  But, as with most things he does and says, his ineptness and lack of deep understanding of the problem is laughable or offensive, depending on your mood (swing).

The Sender (1982)

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Netflix in the UK is currently showing an obscure little horror film from 1982 called The Sender.  Directed by Roger Christian, the film tells the story of a young man taken to a mental hospital after trying to drown himself.   Whilst there, the doctors attempt to find out who the man is, why he tried to commit suicide and what role his strange mother has to play in his story.   Unlike many horror films from the period, this avoids the stalk and slash formula, opting for a mystery/thriller approach instead, but wrapped up in a packaging that is unmistakably horror.  The script is intelligent, the direction solid but unflashy, and the acting above-average for a horror film of the period.

These issues alone, along with its obscurity, would make the film worth seeking out while you can.  However, there is more of interest here to the horror fan than just a decent movie.  Indeed, it seems clear that this is a predecessor and inspiration for Nightmare on Elm Street.  The horror element of the film is tied up in the fact that the young man at the centre of the narrative can “send” his thoughts and dreams to others around him, making them think and feel what he is thinking and feeling.  It’s telepathy, but almost in reverse.  It’s also Freddy Kreuger, but in reverse:  rather than entering other people’s dreams, he can make people enter his.   The whole feel of the film is very similar to Elm Street, from the invasion of dreams scenario to the eerie musical soundtrack which clearly bears similarities to the later film.  The “if I die before I wake” prayer even plays a prominent part here, too.   The connections are too many to be coincidental – and that’s before you take into account the even greater similarities between this film and the third in the Elm Street franchise.

Also of interest is that I have written a few times about the negative ways in which those with mental health conditions are portrayed in horror films.  Here, though, the portayals of patients are generally inoffensive – that’s not to say they are ideal, but for a film made thirty years ago, The Sender was clearly somewhat ahead of its time in this regard.  The young man at the centre of the story, for example, might unintentionally injure others thanks to his “sending” capabilities, and yet he is presented to us in a sympathetic way – he is shown to be a victim, not mass murderer who goes on the rampage.

All in all, this is a film that deserves to be better known, and quite why it isn’t is something of a mystery.  Even Quentin Tarantino is quoted as saying it was one of his favourite horror films of the early 1980s.  Its great to see Netflix presenting it over here in the UK (there has never been a UK DVD release), in HD no less.  These films are not often permanent fixtures, and so grab it while you can.