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 (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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!