Thursday, 20 January 2011


Alfred Hitchcock. The great British director whose most famous films were created in the US, with American cast and crew. Sounds familiar? You could say that he is the Christopher Nolan of his heyday (although Batman of course features many British actors). Hitchcock’s movies always top various “best of” lists, Psycho is often cited as the greatest film ever made. His real contribution to the film industry is his pioneering suspense techniques used together with a moving camera, creating a sense of voyeurism. He was famous for casting beautiful blondes in his films and the rumours revolving around his relationships with them. He is also one of the first directors to include himself in his works: look carefully and you might spot his portly figure as “the man on the bus” or “the man on the telephone” in all his films.

I decided not to include films like Psycho, the Birds and Vertigo in this list because they are the best known ones, instead here are some films that are just as good and a little more obscure.

1.     Rebecca. 1940.
With: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine.

“Rebecca” is based on the acclaimed novel by Daphne du Maurier. It is also the first film that I saw Laurence Olivier in. I don’t know whether I’ve been affected by his reputation, but I thought his acting was perfect. He has the right balance of softness and rigidity in his character, Max de Winter, a widowed aristocrat with a dark secret. Joan Fontaine also makes a plausible protagonist - a young girl with no money or connections who falls deeply in love with Max and is then constantly haunted by his deceased wife, Rebecca. Not literally, of course, there are no actual ghosts here, but rather people’s memories and affections that seem to transcend death. The main villain, Mrs Denvers is beautifully portrayed as a strict, black-clad housekeeper. This is one of Hitchcock’s oldest films but it has a surprisingly bone-chilling atmosphere and great tension, an early signpost of his future title as the Master of Suspense.

2.     Dial M for Murder. 1954.
With: Grace Kelly, Ray Milland

This film is based on a play of the same name, which can be seen in its set-up: the whole story takes place in one room. The most interesting thing about this film is that it tells the story of a murder from the murderer’s perspective. We follow his logic as he plans his misdeed and we (at least I did) sympathise when things go out of hand. A well-acted and performed film, “Dial M for Murder” stars Grace Kelly as an unhappy adulteress, frolicking around in lacy dresses. A tiny bit predictable, it is, nevertheless, an entertaining film to watch if you want a bit of quality old-school action. 

3.     To Catch a Thief. 1955.
With: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly

This is such a delightful film! Not quite a thriller, not much suspense either but a lot of laughs and beautiful scenery of the French Riviera. Cary Grant is a one-time jewellery thief, “the Cat”, trying to catch a new thief who is emulating the Cat’s style. In the process, he meets a beautiful and rich American girl who decides that the whole thieving affair would make a rather exciting addition to her holiday. The best in this film are the dialogues between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. And her outfits. And his tartan swimming trunks. If you like films like The Thomas Crown Affair and Ocean’s 11, this might be something for you!

4.     North by Northwest. 1958.
With: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint.

I swear that Cary Grant’s character here was the prototype for Don Draper in Mad Men – both are dashing ad-men, who like their women and whiskey and are quick-witted. “North by Northwest” is a comedic thriller about a confused identity, spies and lies. This is where the famous scene with the attacking crop-duster takes place. It is full of great, tongue-in-cheek one-liners, much like the old James Bond films. I also found a funny trailer to it, Hitchcock himself is the narrator.

5.     Marnie. 1964.
With: Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery.

According to the trailer, also ironically narrated by Hitchcock, this film can be described in many ways: it is a sex story, a mystery, a detective story, a romance, a story of a thief, a love story and more. The film has many Freudian undertones in it: childhood memories that traumatised one of the characters; the sexual drive and the death drive are clearly at hand here. Sean Connery is supposed to be the saviour of the confused and mentally unstable Marnie, but he cannot overcome his own desires and the results are rather messy. You don’t really know who to sympathise with here, both central characters are deeply flawed and can be quite repulsive at times. This is one of Hitchcock’s later films, which can be seen in the increased dynamism of the story and a pretty liberal treatment of sex, in comparison to “Rebecca” for example. 

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