26 May 2009

You Know You Really Like A Director If...(Part Two)

You know you really like a director if you can make a top ten list of your favorites from among his films. In the second in an occasional series of looks at my favorite directors I present my ten favorite Alfred Hitchcock movies. In part one I offered my ten favorite Woody Allen films.

Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense and it is an appropriate moniker. Yet it’s also limiting. He did ever so much more. His films had action, adventure, comedy, drama and romance as well as suspense. He directed classic horror stories, dark comedies and spy stories. Most of all he was an unmatched storyteller. His career began in England during the silent era and ended in Hollywood during the 1970’s.

I defy anyone to come up with a better list of stars than the ones Hitch worked with over the years. Just for starters: Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Joel McCrea, Robert Montgomery, Ray Milland, Sean Connery, Paul Newman, Robert Donat, Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Montgomery Clift, Charles Laughton, Ingrid Bergman, Janet Leigh, Joan Fontaine, Grace Kelly, Vera Miles, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak, Carole Lombard and Shirley MacLaine. Impressed yet?

Hitch was an innovative director. His use of the camera to tell the story, particularly evident in films like Vertigo and Notorious, was at once stunning and unobtrusive. Set pieces in particular highlighted his storytelling prowess. But his choices were all about moving the story forward rather than drawing attention away from it. Hitch the director was like athletes who make the spectacular seem routine.

He made everyone else around him seem better at their jobs. Actors gave better performances. Cinemaphotographers were more artistic and screenwriters more clever by half. (Or was it him?). And just to prove beyond any doubt what a crock the Academy Awards are, Hitchcock never -- no, not even once -- won a best director Oscar.

Here’s my top ten.

1.Vertigo (1958). It’s in many critical top ten greatest films lists including my own. It’s a story of one man’s obsession with one stunning blond. The city of San Francisco is the other beauty in the story. Stewart and Novak star, as does the city by the bay. Technicolor at its best.

2.Notorious (1946). Like a lot of Hitch films it gets better with each viewing. In my humble opinion Grant gives his best ever performance. See my post from last month for more.

3.Foreign Correspondent (1940). I esteem this film more than most people do. I believe it his most underrated. More stunning camera shots in this film than most directors manage in a career. The then timely story of a reporter covering what turns out to be the outbreak of World War II. Joel McCrea’s only Hitch film and I wish like hell he’d been in a few more.

4.Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941). Hold on a second, a screwball comedy? Hitch directing one of the great screwball comedies of all time (and it is) is like Picasso writing a terrific novel or Willie Mays throwing a touchdown pass. No fair! Final proof that Hitch could do it all. Montgomery and Lombard starred.

5.Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Reportedly his favorite film. Joseph Cotton is a killer on the lam who hangs out with his unknowing extended family in Santa Rosa, California which plays the role of Anytown U.S.A. Teresa Wright is the adoring niece who slowly comes to see Uncle (Cotton) for what he really is. The sneak.

6.Psycho (1960). I assume you know the story of the young man who own has a strange relationship with his deceased mom. He operates a motel and Janet Leigh drops in takes a shower. Oh the humanity! It was ground breaking then and still a wonder today.

7.I Confess (1953). Another underrated film. Monty Clift is the priest suspected of murder. See my post from last Summer for more.

8.Strangers on a Train (1951). Hey fella, let’s swap murders! That’s the premise and my God with Robert Walker’s uber creepy performance it sure as shinola works. Rife with symbolism.

9.Rebecca(1940). A great romance, the world’s eeriest housekeeper a big house, icky George Sanders. For more see my recent post on this, the only Hitchcock film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Fontaine is fab.

10.The Trouble With Harry(1955). New England in the fall never looked lovelier. A dark (but not too dark) comedy with an interesting cast including Maclaine, John Forstyhe, Edmund Gwenn and Jerry Mathers but not as the beaver. There's also a dead fella named Harry that brings everyone together. Fun stuff.

And you know you really, really, really like the director if after the top ten list you can offer a half dozen honorable mentions, like so:


Kate Gabrielle said...

Vertigo as #1? Hmm... Interesting... I don't actually think that would have made it into my top 15 Hitch movies! I like it a lot, but I think his underrated ones (like Foreign Correspondent) are actually better...

You've got me thinking now... I will definitely fall asleep tonight narrowing my own favorite Hitchcock films down to 10! Perhaps I will do my own list on my blog this week. Hey, maybe it could turn into a catchy tag & you could win another Pulitzer! :)

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

I like this concept. In fact, I'm going to steal--that is, adopt it--in an upcoming post of my own.

Luxlucky said...



Anonymous said...

I absolutely love Hitch, my favorite director, and I'm glad to see Vertigo get the attention it deserves, since it's usually overshadowed by Psycho. Also, glad to see love for Rebecca.

Btw, when people ask me about my favorite Hitch films, it's really hard to choose, but my answer is always this. Vertigo, I think is the most well-made film Hitch made, but Notorious is the one I'd take to a desert island with me, and you're absolutely right, it IS Cary Grant's best performance.

Also, when I watch Shadow of Doubt, I often feel keenly just how under-appreciated Joseph Cotten was. The man was genius, and I wish we could have seen more of him in Hitchcock films.

I'm surprised to see I Confess, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and especially The Trouble With Harry on your list. Most people would not include them, which makes your list very interesting, indeed.

One film that you left out which would come in my top 5 is The Lodger. Absolutely brilliant, magnificent, and criminally under-watched, as is the case with most of Hitch's silents. I would also include Blackmail and Rear Window, and perhaps even the flawed Suspicion. Oh, so many greats to choose from!

The Dude said...

Personally, I would have had North by Northwest & Rear Window on my Top 10 from Hitchcock, but this is, however, your personal opinion. (Anyone who can create a great deal of suspense yet never leaving your location in the process, is a down right genius!) Now I have to go diggin' around in my collection to re-watch the titles I own! Nice list.

The Dude said...

I can't believe you left Rear Window and North by Nortwest out of your top ten and only leave them as honorable mentions. Anyone who can create a great deal of suspense yet never let the protagonist leave his apartment is just beyond brilliant. Which also reminds me of recommending Rope as well. Nice list.