Hitchcock: Viewed Through Modern Eyes

In an earlier post I described how despite British and Hollywood film being part of my course at university I’d never properly seen a Hitchcock film. As I aim to change that, this post will be regularly updated with short reviews of each film I watch.

The reviews will be as spoiler-free as possible, mainly concentrating on a brief synopsis and analysing how the films stand up to modern viewing decades after they were originally made.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

A strange mix of both comedy and mystery, but the central plot and subsequent twists are actually rather good. Being Hitchcock’s last film before moving to the States it does have a somewhat antiquated feel, but this only adds to the charm. One for a Sunday afternoon.

Suspicion (1941)

One of the finest Hitchcock films in terms of suspence and intruige. As the title suggests, the plot centres around an uncertanty in the narrative to which neither the protagonists or the audience know the answer for the majority of the running time. Aided by great performances from Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine, this is a timeless classic.

Saboteur (1942)

This spy thriller looks its age, but maintains a strong narrative throughout. A story of a man trying to prove his innocence, it keeps you on the edge of your seat at times but falls flat through plot holes at others. Given its age some parts feel very loose and dated, including a strange climatic sequence that Hitchcock thought would work better without a score. It doesn’t.

Spellbound (1945)

An interest tale of Psychoanalytics, which at the time was a brave new idea, but now makes for a badly aged film. Ingred Bergman certainly plays her part well, albeit at the expense of a dated stereotype. The central love story with Gregory Peck is decent enough, but the narrative and overall concept are sadly lacking by today’s standards.

Notorious (1946)

A wonderful espionage story where neither Ingrid Bergman’s central character nor the audience ever know quite who to trust. With a real romantic triangle at the heart of the plot, it’s unlike many other of the director’s films with the nuclear backdrop adding another element of tension. One of the best, and well ahead of its time.

Rope (1948)

Based on a play and like watching one. Set in a single apartment for the entire length of the film, it’s a tense, nervy affair with much dark humour. Intense central performances from Farley Granger, John Dall and particularly James Stewart have you on edge throughout. Never quite knowing who the protagonists are gives another dynamic that adds to the tension further. One of the best.

I Confess (1953)

The premise is simple and laid out from the start: a man confesses a murder to a Catholic priest who, bound by religion, can’t utter a word of this confession. It’s a good set-up and with method actor Montgomery Clift as the leading man it generally plays quite well. Despite the heavy subject matter, there’s none of Hitchcock’s dark humour here though, or the expected level of suspense. In places it falls flat, notably the believability of the two leads’ relationship, but the overall narrative and visuals are enough to make it well worth a watch.

Rear Window (1954)

Much like Rope previously, much of the narrative is contained to one small room. Set against a sweltering summer heat, James Stewart’s character is confined to both his wheelchair and tiny apartment overlooking his neighbours with the tension rising throughout. The story he and the viewer sees unfolding from his window is a voyeuristic marvel. Cinema at its best.

To Catch A Thief (1955)

Billed as romantic comedy first, then thriller second, it’s certainly one of Hitchcock’s more lightweight films. Probably a bit too underwhelming by modern standards, it does have a certain charm (provided mostly by the scenery) that just about carries it through with decent performances from the affable Grave Kelly and Cary Grant.

The Trouble a With Harry (1955)

Reviews of this film range from savagely critical to calling it a lost masterpiece. The truth is it’s somewhere in between. Hitchcock’s one true black comedy, it ironically ends up being more of a love story with a few dark laughs. Unfortunately wooden performances from the leads make it a struggle throughout, and as a comedy it’s neither clever, nor laugh-out-loud.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Remake of Hitchcock’s own 1934 thriller, and certainly worth doing. It’s a genuine pacy edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller, even by modern standards. James Stewart and Doris Day are excellent as the leads, with some wonderful settings including a famous scene in The Albert Hall. One of the best.

Vertigo (1958)

Much maligned at the time of release, this is now considered a classic. For a thriller it’s certainly a slow burner, but the twist revealed two-thirds of the way through (at Hitchcock’s insistence, despite studio pressure not to) gives the film a pacy last act that keeps you gripped. James Stewart is fantastic as always, as is the storyline, making this an absolute must-see.

Psycho (1960)

It is hard to review this film without giving too much away, but it’s fair to say this deserves its place as not just one of Hitchcock’s best but possibly one of the greatest films ever made. Bravery in the narrative, combined with pitch perfect horror and suspense makes this a breathtaking watch. And, of course, a twist to rival any out there.

The Birds (1963)

A film which set the precedent for future generations. Many traits which are now expected in modern horror can be traced here; there’s the slow build, background noise, jerking camera and quick edits followed by long lingering shots, all long before they were commonplace. Naturally some aspects look dated, notably where mechanical props and yellow screen combine, but make no mistake this is still a masterpiece. In fact the imagery in the final third of the movie will stay with you forever. An absolute classic.

Topaz (1969)

One of Hitchock’s later films, but one that strangely hasn’t aged as well as most. Centred around a Cold War spy plot – something that itself is reasonably hard to relate to nowadays – it’s hampered by a slow plot and some terrible acting, coupled with several off-putting mock accents. Aside from a couple of trademark set pieces and shots, which do redeem something, you’d struggle to recognise it as the director’s work.