Friday, October 15, 2021

Top 5 Alfred Hitchcock Movies Of All Time

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Sir Alfred Hitchcock, or rightfully called ‘The Master of Suspense,’ left behind his masterpieces to be admired even decades after their release. He was known to be an artistic genius who rose to fame quickly and on his own accord. Born in London, he was a director and producer, who got his break after he earned a gig as a title-card designer for a studio.

After that, he worked for a few years in studios, sometimes as an assistant director or a production manager. It was in 1925 that Alfred Hitchcock directed The Pleasure Garden, the first movie that credited him as the director, even though it didn’t do well. Through The Lodger (1927), Alfred Hitchcock saw success for the first time and then embarked on a string of movies directed over several decades, many of which are now celebrated as iconic classic films.

Alfred Hitchcock
Image Source: Wikimedia

Hitchcock created through his films a turn in the road of cinema. Even now, the “Hitchcockian” style of film-making is replicated in several movies, to simulate the same feeling of thrill and horror in the audience. But the beauty of Hitchcock’s creations is that they were unique, with plot devices and camera work like never seen before. He made his scenes interesting in the way he deployed the frame, color, sound, and especially, the sinister, giving his viewers a movie experience they don’t forget.

Alfred Hitchcock’s movies usually had complex characters (mostly male), witty dialogues, past trauma, and infliction of violence in some form. Psychology was a detrimental element to all his movies, along with bizarre endings. Hitchcock’s movies can be called dark and disturbing, even compared to today’s standards. Many of his scenes have that portentous feeling, amplified with slow zooms and light noises, making the viewer jumpy and vulnerable.

Back then, there weren’t sophisticated enough cameras, lights, and equipment, but Hitchcock worked with what they had. He created realistic characters with emotional turmoil, mental dilemmas or childhood trauma, he subtly played with intimate scenes, and he built the story up step by step with great attention to detail, before ending it all with a wild finish. He loved putting his characters in tricky situations to keep the audience captivated. He was known for playing with lighting, color, and noise, whether it was the final scene in Rope (1948), and slowly zooming the camera in on the actor’s face, or the final scene in Psycho (1960). No matter what, Hitchcock never disappointed through his work.

Here are some of the most highly rated and celebrated movies of Hitchcock’s career, all of which are a testament to the perfectionist film-making of Alfred Hitchcock:

1. Vertigo (1958)

Image Source: The Imaginative Conservative

A psychological thriller, and one of the best of the genre, Vertigo is based on obsession and fear. Through an ingenious and subtle way, Hitchcock built an air of mystery throughout the movie, and was successful in inducing among the viewers, a sense of ‘vertigo.’ This movie has been the subject of detailed analysis because of its unique direction. For instance, the “spiral” has been known to be a key element in the movie. They are not only present on the poster, but also in the opening credits, Madeleine’s hairdo, through the camera shots and even in the subtle music and sounds, and are meant to represent a web of lies, along with the protagonist’s acrophobia. This movie is subtle in its connotations and metaphors; all brought out through the masterful use of frames.

James Stewart in The Birds
Image Source: Wikipedia

The story begins with a detective, John Ferguson (aka Scotty, played by James Stewart), who develops acrophobia, the fear of heights due to a traumatic incident. As he tries to heal himself through exposure therapy, he is approached by an old friend, Gavin Elster who asks him to follow his alluring, yet enigmatic wife, Madeleine (played by Kim Novak) because he believes her to be haunted by the ghost of her great-grandmother, Carlotta Valdes who died by suicide. Scotty agrees and begins to follow her as she goes around the city of San Francisco. In a startling turn of events, he ends up saving her life multiple times, before discovering towards the end that nothing had been what it seemed. James Stewart and Kim Novak have done a splendid job under the skillful direction of Alfred Hitchcock. At the heart of it, Vertigo is a film about deception, and you must not miss out on watching this piece of art.

Click here for trivia on this movie.

2. The Birds (1963)

The Birds
Image Source: Wikipedia

The Birds, a horror-thriller genre, centers around a theme that remains unique to this very day that is the viciousness of birds. This movie’s graphics and visual effects may appear amateur now, but Hitchcock’s tasteful direction more than makes up for it. He managed to portray birds as not only dangerous but killers who can inflict violence and even murder people by creating an elaborate trap. Alfred Hitchcock’s storytelling abilities do not falter in this horror movie at any point. He focuses on building the characters and letting the audience get to know them, and ultimately, empathize with them. He makes a point of view from both sides- the humans and the birds. What’s interesting is that nowhere in the movie are the bird attacks explained, they remain a mystery, open for interpretation. Hitchcock did state in an interview that the birds turned against people in an attempt to punish them for overlooking nature, and not giving it its due importance. But this theme is not brought out in the movie, even though it was central in the story the film is based on, written by Daphne du Maurier.

The movie is about sudden attacks caused by birds in a town in California. Our protagonist Melania (played by Tippi Hedren), is a young socialite who meets Mitch (played by Rod Taylor) in a pet store, where he went to buy lovebirds. However, after a short spat, Mitch leaves. But Melanie, in an attempt to make up with him and pursue him, buys the lovebirds and travels to Bodega Bay to deliver them, where all of them fall prey to violent bird attacks.

Tippi Hedren in The Birds
Image Source: Blogspot

This movie also has an interesting story behind it, which exposes Alfred Hitchcock’s deviant side. Tippi Hedren was a model, who debuted through this movie after she was discovered by Hitchcock. She revealed much later that Hitchcock had become obsessed with her, tried to pursue her, and sexually harassed her after her rebuffs. He made shooting a nightmare for her, and in numerous shots, she was attacked by real birds that had been brought on set for the shoot of the movie. She suffered so many wounds; they had to take a week off of shooting to let her recover. In 2012, a TV film came out, called The Girl, which revolved around Hitchcock and his obsession over Tippi. Another fun fact: Dakota Johnson is Tippi Hedren’s granddaughter.

Click here for trivia on this movie.

3. Strangers On A Train (1951)

Strangers On A Train
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Alfred Hitchcock loved experimenting with themes of crime and innocence. They are a major element brought out in many of his movies, especially in this one. Strangers on A Train delves into one of my favorite elements of the Hitchcockian style, simply because of how neatly it comes out on the screen and makes the movie a reel of shocking twists and turns- an innocent man accused of a crime he isn’t guilty of.

The movie’s visuals are impressive, and many of them were tricky shots that Hitchcock expertly directed. They’re chilling and crisp, much like the story, which plays out like a dance between the two characters, with tension building up rapidly until the very end. Hitchcock employed ways to make the insane look charming, and the innocent look dull, a technique he mastered in.

Guy and Bruno, played by Farley Granger and Robert Walker respectively, are two strangers who meet on a train. Guy is a tennis player who wants to get rid of his wife, Miriam, to marry the woman he truly loves. While Bruno, a smooth-talking gentleman, wants to get rid of his father. They get to talking, and Bruno suggests they swap murders so that they aren’t caught due to a lack of motive and also get the job done. Guy plays along, but after leaving the train, he forgets all about it. Until his wife, Miriam, ends up dead. And now Bruno is adamant about getting Guy to meet his end of the bargain, or else he’ll frame him for Miriam’s murder.

Robert Walker in Strangers on A Train
Image Source: Wikimedia

What’s interesting is that it is pretty evident how much of a psychopath Bruno is, yet you still find yourself drawn to him. His witty dialogues and charming demeanor, mask, and somehow also enhance his killer nature. On the other hand, Guy is just an innocent man trapped in a situation he can’t get out of. The final scene is difficult to watch, even more so because the danger in it was real with no use of stuntmen, and according to Alfred Hitchcock could have easily turned this movie from thriller to horror. Make sure you see this classic with someone around because Bruno’s murderous eyes are enough to make anyone jittery. Also, watch out for Patricia Hitchcock, daughter of Alfred Hitchcock, in the role of Barbara.

Click here for trivia on this movie.

4. Rear Window (1954)

Rear Window
Image Source: Wikipedia

Entrapment- another element Hitchcock loved working with. Rear window, on the surface, seems to be just about intense neighbor snoopiness gone wrong, but it involves a disabled hero and a dangerous villain. This movie is different than the three mentioned before this because it has an ordinary story. But the storytelling is what’s remarkable, with once again, immemorable shots and acting. Another thing that I feel makes this movie so endearing is that it’s about an ordinary man (in this case, even crippled) witnessing and involving himself in something he should most definitely stay out of. Thus begins the life-death gamble. This thriller is focused on only one man, the protagonist, and throughout the movie, you will find yourself getting in his mind and developing paranoia, much like him.

A still from Rear Window
Image Source: Wikipedia

James Stewart’s versatile acting skills are here to play yet another character- Jeff. He is a photographer, who is crippled and in a wheelchair, owing to an injury. His girlfriend, Lisa, played by Grace Kelly, is genuinely in love with him, but Jeff seems passive and more interested in spying on his neighbor while sitting by his rear window in his apartment. But one day, he hears a woman’s shriek, and over the next few days, witnesses Lars Thorwald, a neighbor, with a suitcase, a suspicious look, and a missing wife. Jeff is convinced that Mrs. Thorwald has been murdered by her husband and goes to extreme lengths to find answers.

Apparently, Alfred Hitchcock had a deep resentment for David O. Selznick, a producer he had worked with on Rebecca (1940). So he deliberately made the villain Thorwald’s appearance resemble that of Selznick, along with his mannerisms and habits. He was successful at getting back at Selznick, who was angered at this blatant imitation.

Click here for trivia on this movie.

5. Dial M For Murder (1954)

Dial M for Murder
Image Source: Wikipedia

Adapted from a play, Dial M for Murder came out in 3D at the time it was released! But the 3D style wasn’t well-liked by the audience, so many theatres screened the movie in 2D. However, while shooting, Hitchcock made sure that the movie looks flattering in 3D, so he played around with shadows and angles, even more than usual. This mystery-thriller is mostly shot in one room, and so Hitchcock gets even more creative. He paid great attention to props, especially a particular murder weapon- the scissor, which Hitchcock wanted to perfect for the 3D shot.

Tony Wendice, played by Ray Milland, has come into the knowledge of his wife Margot’s (played by Grace Kelly) infidelity. He decides to get her killed, which would also benefit him because he would be the recipient of her life insurance. He hires a man to do the job, but in a bizarre turn of events, Margot ends up murdering her hitman and is then accused of this murder and arrested because of her husband’s tactics. Ray Milland is another classic Hitchcock villain. He is smart, charming with stone-cold eyes and zero empathy, all traits of a psychopath.

Alfred Hitchcock also felt that working with Grace Kelly was a breeze, and ended up casting her in two other roles. She was the perfect quintessential beautiful blonde he loved keeping in his movies for the show. Hitchcock’s films have been criticized for their female representation, or rather the lack of it, so keep that in mind when you watch the movie.

Grace Kelly in Dial M For Murder
Image Source: Wikipedia

Although Hitchcock has stated in interviews that this movie does not make him as proud as his others, I feel like that this was a masterpiece again, striking chords of marriage trouble, murder, and elaborately cooked up lies. You have to watch this to appreciate Alfred Hitchcock and his masterful directing abilities truly.

Click here for trivia on this movie.

Of course, there are several other classic Hitchcock known for, but these 5 are my top favorite. Alfred Hitchcock, though a troublesome man, was a director with brains and creativity, both of which he combined to create movies that are still talked about, analyzed, and admired.

Watch this video of Hitchcock explaining suspense to understand what went in his mind when he shot such movies:


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