I guess praising director Alfred Hitchcock is de rigueur - a phrase I’m not really sure I understand. Whatever the case, everyone knows Hitchcock is a great director. But not everyone knows that he made 54 films (Audience: “Let’s see, there’s Psycho, The Birds, umm, Charade….“) Now hold on there, Hitchcock didn’t direct Charade–that was Stanley Donen. (Audience: “But doesn’t it have Cary Grant?”) Yes, but it’s still not directed by Hitchcock.
That’s right, 54 films, and imagine how crestfallen I was (Sound of crest falling: “Splat!”) when I realized I had seen barely one-fourth of them – and I call myself a Hitchcock fan. I thus set out on a quest to see how many of his films I could watch, with emphasis on the ones I had not yet seen. I invite you to accompany me, virtually speaking, on some important stops on my journey, and maybe even undertake a similar project yourself.
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Biggies and The Silents
Several of his more important films I had never seen: Lifeboat and The Lady Vanishes, to name two. I think it may also be de rigueur to say these are great (see, I’m getting more comfortable with the phrase!), but I won’t go into them here – all I have time to say is, if you haven’t seen them, see them.
And most of his first British films are available in a collection of the director’s early stuff , and that made my project a lot easier. Now, be advised, not many of the earliest ones are thrillers, really there’s just The Lodger. The rest of his silents are fairly traditional comedies, dramas and comedy-dramas, and most are nicely put together and interesting. And I found it particularly intriguing that his The Manxman is a favorite of a colleague of mine.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Clinkers and I Used to Avoid These
I was especially interested in the ones with the lesser reputations, including some that have been called “perfectly awful.” I saw them, both of them in fact. Admittedly, I found one to be pretty bad: Juno and the Paycock. The other, Jamaica Inn, is a pirate movie, and it’s not just about pirates: Charles Laughton sort of commandeered Hitchcock’s film, and it’s actually really good. It’s well known that the film left a bad taste in Hitchcock’s mouth, and I think his comments about the experience may have infected critics. After all, who wants to disagree with Hitchcock? But some have gone so far as to rank it among the worst films of all time! Don’t listen to them, listen to me: it’s a fun, fairly exciting and well-made movie, and I find any opinion to the contrary, to quote Sir Humphrey Pengallon (Charle s Laughton’s character in the film) “preh-poss-tr’ss.”
I also watched Hitchcock’s only screwball comedy, Mr. & Mrs. Smith. There’s no suspense in this film, and there’s certainly no murder in the shower (although there’s a lot of shaving – and with a straight razor! – so it’s not for the squeamish). It stars Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard, and it’ll probably make you wish both Montgomery and Lombard had lived a lot longer.
The real discovery for me, though, was Marnie. I had avoided this one ever since I saw a commercial for it as a kid. I didn’t want to see James Bond – yes, it stars Sean Connery, then at the height of his Bond career – pretending to be a businessman and amateur psychologist. This film turned out to be a rather harrowing psychological thriller, and it’s frighteningly well-acted, both by Connery and his co-star, ‘Tippi’ Hedrin, whom I will hereby cease to underrate, despite her quotation marks.
One name that keeps turning up in the (often fantastic) documentary making-of extras on the DVD editions of many of these films is Laurent Bouzereau. Author of a really fun book of Alfred Hitchcock memorabilia, trivia, and history, Alfred Hitchcock Piece By Piece, Bouzereau has also put together some of the best documentary extras I have ever seen offered on any disc: the Marnie interviews reveal some connections the film has with Dallas, and the “making of” featurette offered with Saboteur has some interview footage with Norman Lloyd that is an absolute treasure. This little-known actor turns out to be really important in a couple of Hitchcock films, and super important for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series. It also doesn’t hurt that he is also articulate and loaded with humility.
Hitchcock Trivia Time!
What actor in Hitchcock’s Spellbound went on to pastor a church in Dallas? The prize is some liverwurst. That, and a box of de rigueur.