The Hitchcockian Way

I have adored Hitchcock movies for so long, I can’t even remember which one I saw first . . . probably North by Northwest. That’s certainly the one I’ve seen the most. I’ve had different favorites at different times: the aforementioned North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Psycho, Rear Window . . . By this point I couldn’t really name a favorite, maybe just point to a few that aren’t it.

When Andy moved to Guatemala with his family in 1997, old suspense movies and radio shows were just one of many things we both enjoyed. And, of course, Hitchcock’s movies and television programs figured prominently in many an evening’s entertainment (along with the likes of Wait Until Dark, Dead Ringer, The Bad Seed, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and anything with Vincent Price).

I believe it was the summer of 2001, which I spent in Colorado Springs with Andy, when AFI aired their “Top 100 Movie Thrills” TV special. We ate it up, and decided on the spot to watch every single one of the top 100 (that we hadn’t both already seen). 9 of those movies were Hitchcock films, and I believe Rebecca, Notorious, Stage Fright, Psycho and Vertigo were among the Hitch movies I saw for the first time that summer. Other notables included The Manchurian Candidate, Gaslight and Laura. I actually don’t think we covered a lot of ground as far as that list was concerned, between one thing and another, but that is neither here nor there.

It has long been my ambition to own every movie that Hitchcock ever made, but for a long time my goal was even more basic than that. I wanted to at least watch every single Hitchcock movie. The lack of either a civilized cable service or well-stocked video stores in a third-world country made that difficult enough at the outset, and Hitchcock films have been depressingly slow to be released on DVD.

Plus, there are just so many of them, it doesn’t make sense to buy them unless one is buying in bulk. And here we encounter another failing of “Hitchcock on DVD” availability: the incredibly poor selection of so-called “Essential Hitchcock” collector sets. Few if any of these since the inception of DVD has included more than one or two Hitch movies made after his first big success in 1935, and the bulk of the set is inevitably rounded out with the ones you’ve never heard of.

I forgot to mention earlier that somewhere along the line I saw one of Hitchcock’s pre-break-out films, Sabotage, and Oh, brother! My ambition vis-a-vis Hitchcock films thinned out at that point to a desire to see/own all of his more or less well known stuff beginning (with a few notable exceptions) in the post-1940 era.

Anyhow, the point of my rambling here is this: Everyone in circulation has to take turns writing a contribution to the monthly newsletter, and I signed up for the month of October with mystery/suspense as a general topic. I probably don’t even need to tell you what I decided to write about . . . my article appears beneath the fold.

Well, researching and writing about Hitchcock got me thinking again about my old desire to own more of his films, and I started hunting around on for good collections. An evening of poking and prodding revealed an offer I couldn’t refuse, and (with Rachel’s unexpected blessing) I bought two collections with a total of 23 Hitchcocks between them at about $5.50 a film. Score.

They are: Foreign Correspondent (1940), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), Suspicion (1941), Saboteur (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rope (1948), Stage Fright (1950), Strangers on a Train (1951), I Confess (1953), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), The Trouble with Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), The Wrong Man (1956), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969), Frenzy (1972), Family Plot (1976)

Of these 23 I have seen 13 (most only once). A quick perusal of the list reveals that there are a mere 7 remaining Hitchcock movies that I wish to own, and shall hopefully acquire at my leisure as opportunity allows: The 39 Steps (1935), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Rebecca (1940), Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946) and To Catch a Thief (1955). Of these, I have never seen The 39 Steps or Lifeboat, but I am particularly anxious to see the latter.

Five of the above seven (not Lifeboat or To Catch a Thief) were released in a set by the Criterion Collection in 2003. They originally sold for $124.95. I’m not sure if they can still be acquired at list price or not, but as near as I can tell they cannot be purchased now for anything less than $200 . . . and prices range as high as $700. I have seen all but one of these movies and I find it hard to believe that they are so rare and hard to come by as to be worth such exorbitant amounts. Nevertheless, Criterion is the shiz when it comes to movies, and it is somewhat infuriating to see most of the remaining titles I seek packaged so neatly and priced so far out of reach . . . especially after paying so little for the other (many undoubtedly better) films.

Anyway, I’ll stop rambling about that for now . . . drop beneath the fold and enjoy the article. I had a lot of fun researching and writing it, and I got to do it while I was at work, so it was just generally a good afternoon.

He was born the son of a greengrocer in London�s East End at the turn of the last century, but by the mid-1930s he was well on his way to achieving worldwide fame and popularity as one of history�s most influential film directors. Alfred Hitchcock (b. 1899 � d. 1980) revolutionized, popularized and legitimized the suspense thriller during a career in motion pictures and television that spanned more than five decades.

The best part about Hitchcock�s films is that, while they are tense, exciting, and full of surprises, they are also smart, thought-provoking, and loaded with intriguing insights into the human psyche. His movies feature a recurring motif of fractured identity. For instance, the main character of Rebecca has no name of her own. We never learn who she is at the beginning of the film, and she soon marries widower Maxim de Winter and becomes only �the Second Mrs. de Winter� for the duration of the story. In Vertigo, private detective Scottie Ferguson loses his grip on reality when his inability to face his deepest fear results in personal tragedy. Notorious has the daughter of a Nazi saboteur infiltrating a group of her father�s friends as a double agent. And in North by Northwest, Roger Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies and mistaken for a murderer by the police at the same time.

Deeper themes aside, Hitchcock�s movies are also just a lot of fun to watch. He once said, �Some films are slices of life, mine are slices of cake.� Hitch (as his friends called him) had a bone-dry sense of humor (he suggested that his tombstone read �This is what we do to bad little boys.�) and a penchant for practical jokes.

The great director made brief cameo appearances in every single one of the 62 movies he made between 1927 and the end of his career in 1976. In one film, he walks out of a pet store with a few dogs. In another, he wrestles a large cello case onto a train. In yet another, he rushes up to board a bus only to have the doors slammed in his face. In a few, he appears only in photographs. Hitch always tried to insert these amusing appearances as early in the film as possible, because he knew that savvy fans would be watching for him and he didn�t want to distract too much from the story.

During his long and illustrious career he worked with some of the brightest stars in Hollywood. His leading men included Laurence Olivier, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, and Sean Connery. Among the great actresses he directed are Joan Fontaine, Ingrid Bergman, Doris Day, Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak, Vera Miles, Janet Leigh, and Julie Andrews. Gentleman or not, Hitch clearly preferred blondes.

Despite directing an Oscar-winning performance (Joan Fontaine in Suspicion) and 1940�s winner of �Best Picture� (for Rebecca, awarded to producer David O. Selznick), Hitchcock himself won almost no awards for his incredible efforts. Throughout his lifetime he was nominated for 6 Oscars, 3 awards at the Cannes Film Festival, 6 awards from the Directors Guild of America, 2 Emmys, and 2 Golden Globes. Of those, the only award he actually collected was a Golden Globe for his TV show �Alfred Hitchcock Presents.� Nevertheless, his movies continue to startle and delight a large audience even today, more than 25 years after his death.

For more information about Hitchcock, have a look at one of our biographies about him (you�ll find him sandwiched, rather unfortunately, between Emperor Hirohito and Adolf Hitler back in the Biographies Section). Kids interested in a good mystery can read one of several books in the series endorsed and inspired by the man himself: Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, located in the Junior Series section. And, of course, be sure to check out one of the classic movies he directed (our collection is listed below). I personally recommend Rear Window and North by Northwest as perhaps the best of a good bunch. Whether you�ve seen them many times before or you�re just getting started, a Hitchcock film is sure to please.

The 39 Steps (1935) DVD, Rebecca (1940) VHS, Suspicion (1941) DVD, Notorious (1946) VHS, Rope (1948) DVD, Strangers on a Train (1951) DVD, Dial M for Murder (1954) DVD, Rear Window (1954) DVD & VHS, To Catch a Thief (1955) VHS, The Trouble with Harry (1955) DVD, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) DVD, Vertigo (1958) DVD & VHS, North by Northwest (1959) DVD & VHS, Psycho (1960) DVD & VHS, The Birds (1963) DVD, Topaz (1969) VHS

~ by Jared on October 11, 2006.

2 Responses to “The Hitchcockian Way”

  1. Good times, my friend. Dang good times. Oh no, you made me say it.

    I recently bought Stage Fright: “It’s not cause I wouldn’t…it’s not cause I shouldn’t…” Hehe.

    After taking the Hitchcock film studies class, I’d have to say that Rear Window and Rope are my favorites because of the themes they explore (fetishism, voyeurism in the former, and extreme Nietzschean philosophy put into practice in the latter). Fun stuff, no doubt =D


  2. …And you still need to get a copy of my complete Suspense collection somehow…


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