Often controversial, raunchy, and shaped like a balloon, Alfred Hitchcock, the “Master of Suspense,” is generally considered to be one of the great filmmakers of all time. His achievements include a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Academy Award Nominations, and inventing the “Thriller” genre of film.
In his long career, he made many movies. Here are, in this writer’s humble (yet awesome) opinion, the twenty best, starting with:
20. Family Plot
We shall begin with the end, and if that doesn’t make any sense, too bad. Family Plot was Hitchcock’s last film, released in 1976. It revolved around two con artists posing as a psychic and a con man taxi driver (okay, maybe the guy wasn’t posing, but the woman definitely was) being hired by a rich old lady to find her long lost nephew, heir to her fortune, and who she feels bad about because she convinced her now dead sister to give him up for adoption. The nephew clearly didn’t take that very well, murdering his foster parents, faking his own death, and turning to a kidnapping related gemstone heist thing (It’s complicated.) This movie was scored by an up and coming composer who already had two Academy awards on his mantelpiece: John Williams. Since this was Hitchcock’s last film, obviously, it was the only time those two titans of the film industry had ever collaborated.
19. Torn Curtain
Torn Curtain, released in 1966, follows the adventures of Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, husband and wife, rocket scientist and assistant, and super spy and…lady from Sound of Music. Newman and Andrews travel to East Germany pretending to be defectors in an attempt to learn what the Commie scientists know about anti-missile defense systems. This leads to a dramatic chase, followed by wrong crate related shooting shenanigans before an escape to Sweden. This movie almost didn’t happen, as Hitchcock fought with the studio over actor choice, and over the score, and the MPAA, who gave it an “M” rating, and the script writer, who got so pissed at Hitchcock, he did the worst thing any author could do to a person-base an assholish or ridiculous character in one of their stories on him. Don’t believe how harsh that is? Read Dante’s “Inferno” keeping in mind that the whole thing was one big burn against the Catholic Church.
18. Stage Fright
This 1950 film started off pretty straightforwardly for a Hitchcock film. Jonathon comes to Eve with horrible news: his secret lover Charlotte has framed him for the murder of her husband! He’s on the run from the law, and Eve agrees to hide him while she works to clear his name. But then plot twists happen, and then someone gets decapitated. Yeah. Best part? Probably when someone kills a man with a fire curtain. Yes, definitely that.
17. I Confess
There’s nothing better than confessing to murder to a priest in confessional, then turning around and accusing him of that same murder. The priest can’t tell what he knows in his own defense, and the real murderer gets off scott free. That’s the situation Father Logan finds himself in this 1953 movie. But, the real murderer is shot to death, and the priest gets the girl (at least, he does in flashbacks, he’s a priest now, remember.) Provides interesting insight as to what the Catholic Church thought a “Scandal” was in the 1950’s, even though we’re betting that child molestation wasn’t a recent thing.
Two men murder a friend of theirs and stick his body in a wooden chest. Why? Because they think it will prove them intellectually superior to the guy they killed, or something. Don’t ask me, I don’t know. Anyway, the murderers invite a bunch of their other, not dead friends over for a party, with the dead man in the same room. James Stewart eventually figures it out because of wrong hat related chicanery, and the movie ends when he shoots a bitch. One of the first psychological thriller movies.
A thief with serious emotional problems steals from Sean Connery. Sean wasn’t having any of that, but instead of turning her over to the cops, being Sean Connery, he blackmails her into marrying him. They embark on a honeymoon cruise that’s made altogether more delightful when Sean rapes his new wife. Eventually, he feels bad, and finds out that when she was six, she killed a man with a fireplace poker. Possibly terrified, he says he’s sorry, and Marnie decides to try to make the marriage work. It’s about as close to a “storybook” ending as you can expect from a Hitchcock movie. The best part is Sean Connery. Not the woman slapping and forced sex, that we expect from Sean. What’s good is that he feels bad about it afterword. That’s unheard of in Sean Connery lore.
It’s a spy movie made in 1946, guess who the bad guys are. Nazis, of course. Hitler is dead and the war is over, but some war criminals have fled to Rio de Janeiro and are plotting nefarious Nazi related schemes. It’s up to Cary Grant to stop them, and to do this, he enlists the help of a woman who’s slept with all the Germans, even the women. She marries one of the Nazis, and they find bottles of uranium concealed as wine hidden in this guy’s basement, probably for aforementioned nefarious schemes. The two eventually fall in love, and escape from the Nazis, leaving the cuckolded Nazi husband to receive Nazi justice. A postwar movie set at the time the movie was released, dealing with the delicate subject of German war criminals hiding in South America after the conflict ended by shooting them in the face.
13. Mr. and Mrs. Smith
A couple of things may blow your mind about this film. One, there is no Brangelina, in fact, neither of them were even a twinkle in their father’s penis. Also, this is a Hitchcock brand comedy. I know, right? That’s what I said. Two people find out they aren’t actually legally married like they’d thought, but rather than just getting married again and solving the problem, they choose to split up and fight like they were still married. The wife tries to see other people, but the husband keeps screwing it up, until in the end there’s a slapstick fight at a ski lodge that ends with the couple back together. Basically a romantic comedy with everyone in formal wear all day.
12. The Wrong Man
An innocent man is mistaken for an armed robber, and through a serious of unfortunate circumstances, the crimes are put on him. Luckily for Henry Fonda, the real robber is caught in the act, exonerating him, but not before his wife had gone crazy and had to be institutionalized. Based on true story. Seriously, this crap actually happened to a state Congressman, including a loopy wife.
A French spy is able to uncover that the Soviet Union is putting nuclear weapons on Cuba. He does this by having sex with a Juanita (literally her name) before escaping the country. He returns to the United States to discover a far more serious problem (at least to the French-the Cuban Missile Crisis was a mighty big problem for the US) a ring of Soviet spies was operating within the French Intelligence Service itself, passing NATO secrets to Moscow from Paris. The group, called Topaz, was having sex with our hero’s wife and twisting their mustaches about it. Eventually, people get shot, some by their own hand, and the day is saved-maybe. Supposedly based on a true story, but you know, crazy.
Considered his last great movie, 1972’s Frenzy follows the story of a serial killer who strangles women with his necktie before disposing of them in potato sacks. After the killer murders a man’s girlfriend, the man is wrongly suspected of the crime, and is forced to prove his own innocence by killing the crap out of the killer, or at least attempting to.
9. The Man Who Knew Too Much
An American family is on vacation in Morocco (bad choice) when they fall ass first into a clandestine ring of assassins planning to murder a foreign dignitary. They kill a French intel officer tracking them and kidnap Jimmy Stewart’s son to force him to keep quiet. Instead, Jimmy and partner in parentage Doris Day foil the assassination attempt, and force all the assassins to fall to their deaths by their own doing.
8. Strangers on a Train
Two men meet on a train. They are strangers, having never seen each other before. Bruno suggests to Guy that if they each murdered a person close to them that was giving them trouble (Guy’s wife, and Bruno’s father) that no one would ever be able to prove anything, since there was no motive. Guy gets freaked out and leaves, with Bruno thinking he agreed to the plan, strangling Guy’s wife. Then he persists after Guy to kill his father, threatening to frame him for the murder of his wife if he doesn’t. Ends in a dramatic fight scene, followed by proof that amusement park rides as innocuous as carousels can still kill people.
7. Dial M for Murder
A man is pissed that his wife is sleeping around on him, so he blackmails a petty criminal into murdering her. Things go bad, and the wife kills the would-be murderer in self defense. The husband tries to salvage the situation by framing her for murder, figuring if his goon couldn’t kill her, why not let the government do it for him? But his wife’s lover goes on the case, and eventually clears her name.
6. The 39 Steps
One of Hitchcock’s earliest classics, The 39 Steps is a story of a guy who is forced into a spy conspiracy when a woman spy tells him of it before being killed. Now he’s on the run from the law, who think he killed the woman spy, and from the conspirators, who want to silence him. People with photographic memories get involved, and some woman is swept up in the whole deal when our hero gropes her on a train.
5. The Birds
Quick, what’s the most horrifying thing you can think of? I bet you weren’t thinking of thousands of goddamn birds swooping around, attacking and even killing folks. But that’s what Uncle Alfred masturbated to, apparently, because they goddamn did it in this movie. An entire town is besieged by the Avian mafia, who blow up gas stations and kill teachers through swarming tactics. Eventually, the people win by…driving away from town really fast. Wow, really? That’s something I would do, not a hero from a movie.
Norman Bates is a secluded nutjob who has an alternate personality, his own mother. When he’s Mother, he wears a dress and a wig and kills people. Psycho is perhaps Hitchcock’s most famous film, particularly known for the first graphic on screen murder in movie history, the shower scene. We find out later that Norman’s mom was murdered by Norman himself ten years ago, along with her lover, in a jealous rage. He then adopted the personality of his mother, killing 4 more people including the shower murder before being caught. At the same time, Norman himself had no idea he was doing this, believing his mother to still be alive and conversing with her. So yeah, creepy as all hell.
After a rooftop chase, Jimmy Stewart the detective almost falls off a high rooftop, actually witnessing another cop fall to his death. As a result, he develops vertigo: he becomes physically ill if he experiences the sensation of being in a high place. He’s forced to retire, but is brought on as a private detective to follow around the wife of a rich former college roommate, who he fears wants to kill herself. It comes out that it’s all an elaborate hoax: the rich dude wanted to kill his wife, so he hired a body double to enrapture Jimmy Stewart and pretend to commit suicide by jumping off a building, utilizing his vertigo to actually drop off the real wife. Jimmy eventually finds out, and drops the body double off the same roof, curing his vertigo in the process.
2. North by Northwest
Imagine you’re a 5th Avenue guy who’s mistaken for a superspy and kidnapped. Did we mention the superspy doesn’t even exist, and is in fact a ruse kept up by the government to protect their real agents? Yes, you can see how that might be a problem. Now he’s on the run from shady organizations, the law, and the superspy organization, who want to kill him, arrest him for a murder he didn’t commit, and either kill him or hide him respectively. In the process, Cary Grant is forced to contend with the Red Baron in a cropduster plane, a fem fatale who is alternately trying to kill him or sex him up, and eventually is forced to drop a couple dudes off the side of Mt. Rushmore.
So, that’s a very awesome movie, what Hitchcock film could possibly top that? Well, I’ll tell you, here’s the greatest of the Hitchcock films…
1. Rear Window
I had my reservations about this movie. After all, the protagonist is a dude in a wheelchair, and how exciting can that be? But, it came around for me. A photographer breaks his leg on the job, and since these were the olden days, he was confined to a wheelchair in his apartment. Bored out of his mind, he engages in the time honored tradition of spying on his neighbors. But this pays off when he believes he witnesses a man murdering his wife. Lacking proof, he continues to spy on Mr. Thornwald, eventually compiling enough circumstantial evidence (including his girlfriend breaking and entering) to get the guy, who doesn’t take it well and tries to drop Jimmy out the Rear Window in question. It’s the perfect amount of tension, involves no cross dressing, the plot is easy to understand, and Jimmy Stewart isn’t using an annoying accent, well, AS annoying of an accent. What’s not to like?
By Ben Adelman