Some directors are masters of their craft. Just like Charlie Chaplin was the master of silent comedies, Alfred Hitchcock was the master of the suspense thriller. Hitchcock started making movies in Great Britain around the time that “talkies” started becoming popular. In fact, he was one of the first directors to really experiment with the new medium, using it for dramatic effect instead of just voices (see Blackmail). When he made his way to America, he continued his tradition of breaking the boundaries of film for dramatic effect. Not only did his movies introduce interesting and new camera techniques, but the plots of his movies also included new and fresh twists and turns. In this humble viewer’s opinion, Alfred Hitchcock is one of my top five favorite directors of all time, if not the most favorite. He knew what he was doing and what he did, he did exceptionally well. This week’s two films showcase just a small fraction of Hitchcock’s directorial excellence.
North by Northwest
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 136 minutes / 2.27 hours
What is interesting to note about Alfred Hitchcock, is that he never won a Best Director Oscar. Sure, he was nominated five times, but he never won it. Even his films were largely ignored by the Academy. Only one of his films won Best Picture (Rebecca), and it’s probably one of his least known (he was new to Hollywood at the time). Further to the point, his most famous work, Psycho, was near the end of his career, which had already included the aforementioned Best Picture, Rebecca, two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, and North by Northwest. And yet, a common theme seen throughout his films is the idea of the “wrong man”, or someone who is falsely accused of something and is put on the run because of the misunderstanding. North by Northwest exhibits this theme to a tee.
What’s the worst way to get from New York to South Dakota? Well, if you’re Madison Avenue advertising man, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), that route involves a severe case of mistaken identity. As a result, he heads to Chicago to try and find the man that everyone thinks he is and to clear his name. Of course, Chicago might be a little more urban than a cornfield, even with the bi-plane trying to shoot at you. And yet, that’s not even the end of the journey! Along the way, he meets up with Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who helps him in varying degrees until they both find themselves on Mount Rushmore, clinging for their lives to the faces of stony presidents while the men who are after Roger shoot at them both. Let’s just say, this isn’t the best way to end a day.
Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours
For many years, Citizen Kane was considered the best film of all time. With the recent revision of the Sight & Sounds poll, Vertigo has now jumped to this distinguished spot. Of course, the American Film Institute recognizes Hitchcock’s influence on American cinema, and has placed four of his films on their top 100 lists. With North by Northwest at #55, Rear Window at #48, Psycho at #14, and Vertigo at #9, he’s just one film behind Steven Spielberg, who has five films on the same list. And yet, Vertigo is interesting not only as a suspenseful mystery thriller, but also because of the camera technique that it popularized: the dolly zoom, otherwise known as “The Vertigo effect”. Needless to say, should the American Film Institute come out with an updated list, I would not be surprised to see Vertigo sitting at #1.
Watching your partner plummet to his death from many stories above the streets of San Francisco would give any self-respecting detective acrophobia (otherwise known as a fear of heights). Now that he has retired from the force, John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) has taken to working as a private investigator. His first client? An old friend who wants Scottie to follow his wife around to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself. As Scottie follows Madeleine (Kim Novak) around, he eventually witnesses her death as well. This death hits Scottie much harder, as he had become obsessed with her as he investigated. But, what’s this? He soon comes across a woman who looks very similar to Madeleine, and his obsession continues. This time, he’s not going to let her get away, but there’s something strange about this coincidence.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Hitchcock highlights
Bacon #: 2 (The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style / Martin Scorsese -> Oliver Stone: Inside Out / Kevin Bacon)