Hitchcock-a-thon: Final thoughts

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After a mad 52 days the Hitchcock-a-thon is at its end. It’s been great discovering some overlooking gems that I otherwise wouldn’t have sought out. But, like every artist, Hitchcock also made plenty of films worth skipping over. And there’s some that can truly be classified as awful. It’s time from one last big round-up. Here is my personal list of every Hitchcock feature film ranked from worst to best.


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52. Waltzes from Vienna (1934)

An unbelievably dreary period drama about Johann Strauss Jr that somehow manages to be both sickly and flavourless. Hitchcock was barely getting any other film offers at the time and it shows. By his standards, it’s uncharacteristically passionless.

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51. Number 17 (1932)

 At 63 minutes the nicest thing you can say about Number 17 is “as least it’s over with quickly.” Not that it feels like it. The jumbled story makes it hard to know what’s going on while the paper-thin, unlikeable characters will ensure you don’t care anyway.

topaz50. Topaz (1969)

There are tectonic plates with better pacing than this Cold War spy story. With hastily written scenes and multiple alternative endings, Topaz represents Hitchcock at his sloppiest and his most world-weary.

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49. Jamaica Inn (1939)

Hitchcock’s tale of Cornish smugglers is desperately limp. The only small enjoyment you might squeeze out of it is the ludicrously camp performance by Charles Laughton as the pantomime-ish villain, who takes overacting to new levels.

under48. Under Capricorn (1949)

Another failed period drama, this time in 1830s Australia. Bright colours and swooping camera shots can’t distract from the hopelessly melodramatic script. A complete waste of Ingrid Bergman and Joe Cotten. And one doesn’t simply waste Ingrid Bergman.

Cham147. Champagne (1928)

Hitchcock called Champagne the worst film of his career. It’s certainly difficult to defend. Betty Balfour manages to inject a bit of fizz as the millionaire’s daughter forced to learn the hard knocks of life, but everything else is flat.

mur146. Murder! (1930)

Who killed Edna Druce? More importantly: why should I care? This thespian-filled whodunit barely functions as piece of drama and stumbles even more as a murder mystery. Hitchcock was still finding his feet as silent cinema moved into talkies.

rich145. Rich and Strange (1931)

Possibly the of the most disjointed film in Hitchcock’s canon. Noël Coward style marital antics for the first half; a harsh seaward journey with rough sailors for the second. Problem is: neither half is great, thanks to the oafish main characters.

juno144. Juno and the Paycock (1930)

A compelling story and strong performances lie under the surface of this early Irish talkie. But you have get past horribly grating audio and stunted, theatrical pacing to uncover its merits. Only diehard Hitchcock fans should attempt.

secret143. Secret Agent (1936)

The great John Gielgud looks bored out of his mind in this early spy thriller. Madeleine Carroll and Peter Motherfuckin’ Lorre both try to liven things up and the script throws some interesting themes in play, but as a whole it’s underwhelming.

torn curtain42. Torn Curtain (1966)

Aside from one tense murder scene, this Cold War spy story is as dull as ditch-water. Paul Newman and Julie Andrews look lost as the leads and the two hour running time feels dragged out. Torn Curtain was one of Hitchcock’s most unhappy directing jobs. It shows.

harry41. The Trouble with Harry (1955)

Some laud Hitchcock’s off-kilter comedy as a success in dark deadpan humour. I find it tiresome. Pretty cinematography and the first of many great collaborations with Bernard Herrmann make it watchable. But only just.

skin140. The Skin Game (1931)

If you were generous you might call The Skin Game a slow-burner. If you were cruel you might say it never ignites at all. While this story of feuding rural families can’t be called thrilling, Phyllis Konstam provides the film with an essential dose of human drama.

virtue339. Easy Virtue (1928)

A smashing last 20 minutes aren’t enough to make up for an hour of faffing around. Isabel Jeans springs into life as the falsely-slandered heroine for film’s final act and gives a simultaneously witty and tragic performance. Why couldn’t we have had that earlier?

paradine38. The Paradine Case (1947)

While not as irredeemably awful as some have claimed, The Paradine Case takes an interesting idea about a lawyer’s infatuation with the woman he’s meant to represent, only to run it into the ground. Great actor Gregory Peck at his most uninteresting.

Down137. Downhill (1927)

1920s heart-throb Ivor Novello gives a strong performance as a falsely accused schoolboy in this a bleak depiction of “polite society”. Shame about the crudely stereotyped supporting characters and the clunky visual symbolism.

smith136. Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Hitchcock’s attempt at a wacky, screwball American comedy is harmless enough, but certainly can’t be described as “funny”. Carole Lombard is a fiery lead, but the script doesn’t give her (or anyone) much to work with.

farm135. The Farmer’s Wife (1928)

This placid, rural comedy is likely to bore many viewers to tears. While it’s neither funny nor suspenseful, it has a certain quaint charm that earns it a space in my heart. Also Jameson Thomas gives me serious mustache envy.

stage34. Stage Fright (1950)

Even the effortlessly cool Marlene Dietrich isn’t enough save Stage Fright from mediocrity. The film’s claustrophobic climax is an intense high note in an otherwise uneventful drama about deception in the theatrical world.

icon33. I Confess (1953)

A stone-faced Montgomery Clift ensures an unwavering solemnity in this tale of a falsely accused Catholic priest. It doesn’t fully captivate as a drama thanks to the by-the-numbers script. At least Quebec looks pretty.

sab132. Saboteur (1942)

Hitch’s first American take on his 39 Steps formula has some big blockbuster set-pieces and ticks the “innocent man on the run” boxes, but lacks flare. It needed a more compelling lead couple or a tighter script to push it into North by Northwest territory.

fam31. Family Plot (1976)

Even as one of his lighter films, the last project from the Master of Suspense lacks the the joyful corniness of To Catch a Thief or North by Northwest. As a mystery-based romp it serves it’s purpose, but as a final swansong we’re left wanting more.

corr30. Foreign Correspondent (1940)

This big budget blockbuster showcases what Hitch is capable of when handed an enormous paycheck and allowed to let his imagination run wild. There are a few flabby bits that don’t work, but overall it’s a rollicking wartime adventure with a strong sense of historical urgency.

spell29. Spellbound (1945)

They don’t come much pulpier than this. There’s a lot to enjoy in Ingrid Bergman’s Hitchcock debut, if you can get over the ludicrous plot devices. Hitchcock’s spun better mysteries in his time, but how many others have a fantasy sequence by Salvador Dalí?

ring128. The Ring (1927)

Hitchcock masters fast-paced editing and rich visual symbolism in The Ring, also notable for being the only original screenplay he ever personally wrote. It’s a masterpiece in technical terms, but the characters aren’t as well defined as in some of his other silents.

sus127. Suspicion (1941)

Cary Grant shows an unexpected dark side alongside Joan Fontaine in her Oscar winning performance. It’s a excellent examination of psychological entrapment and paranoia…right up until the end. Then it pulls a major cop-out. Shame.

frenzy26. Frenzy (1972)

A second wind for the aging director in the final stages of his career. With scenes of explicit sexual violence, there’s an underlying nastiness to Frenzy that makes it difficult viewing, but there’s no denying its brutal effectiveness.

manwhoknew25. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

A solid remake of Hitchcock’s own 1934 film.  While it lacks the off-the-wall zaniness of the original, it goes through the motions with gusto. And when you’ve got James Stewart as your lead the film’s always going to have a certain something.

m24. Dial M for Murder (1954)

The dialogue has a slightly mechanical quality in this 3D adaption of the successful stage play, but a suave performance from Ray Milland holds it all together. Grace Kelly isn’t at her absolute strongest in her Hitchcock debut, but she’s still a smash.

hitch223. The Pleasure Garden (1925)

There’s a lot to admire in Hitchcock’s lively first feature film. There are some slight pacing issues, but there’s sophisticated themes in play about marital mistrust, helped along by a talented cast and an absurdly cute dog.

catch22. To Catch a Thief (1955)

It doesn’t come much flirtier than this. The dream pairing of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly is the biggest draw to this camp, frothy romp of a film. Both Grant and Kelly have given stronger performances, but rarely are they this unabashedly fun.

sab121. Sabotage (1936)

If you like your spy films unrelentingly serious, Sabotage might be the Hitchcock for you. It’s an emotion-driven drama that expertly plays off the political paranoia building in Europe before the outbreak of World War II with great effect.

bmail120. Blackmail (1929)

Britain’s first talkie also serves as a farewell tribute to the silent era. There are a few jarring editing moments as Hitchcock struggled to film his feet in the new world of sound, but the central story is gripping with a superb performance from Czech star Anny Ondra.

lod419. The Lodger (1927)

Many people consider The Lodger to be the first “true” Hitchcock film and it’s easy to see why. Ivor Novello is haunting as the mysterious visitor in fog-covered London and the film is first Hitchcock to explicitly make the thematic connection between sex and death.

marnie18. Marnie (1964)

The accusations of harassment surrounding the production of Marnie make it a tricky watch, not helped by the deeply problematic ending. But there are times where the film verges close to masterpiece territory, particularly with Tippi Hedren’s career topping performance.

life17. Lifeboat (1944)

The self-imposed restrictions of shooting the whole movie inside one small vessel work marvellously well towards creating a sense of claustrophobia in Hitchcock’s last wartime drama. As an examination of trust and human interaction it excels.

manx116. The Manxman (1929)

One of the most unfairly overlooked of Hitchcock’s films, partly because he himself dismissed as “banal”. But the love-triangle story is at its best here, taking the time to make you care about all three of the characters and not providing any easy answers.

inn15. Young and Innocent (1937)

Easy to dismiss as a beat for beat retread of The 39 Steps, but this deeply English thriller is just too damn fun to overlook. The subtly erotic dialogue between Derrick De Marne and Nova Pilbeam is easily some of the best from Hitchcock’s early years.

rope14. Rope (1948)

The “all in one take” gimmick doesn’t quite work in this cat-and-mouse murder thriller, but so much else is done right, it’s an easy flaw to forgive. James Stewart is solid in his Hitchcock debut, but it’s John Dall as camp killer Brandon who steals the show.

shadow113. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Hitchcock often maintained that this visually symbolic tale of evil creeping into tranquil suburbia was the greatest of his films.  There’s a few niggling plot points that trip up the story, but the mounting paranoia is well executed and Joe Cotton is a magnificent villain.

toomuch112. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

After five years of dud after dud in the early thirties, The Man Who Knew Too Much feels like a jolt of lightning in Hitchcock’s career. Peter Motherfuckin’ Lorre leads the strong cast through through Hitchcock’s first true voyage into pulp.

vertigo11. Vertigo (1958)

I’m of the minority opinion that the critical reception of Vertigo, initially dismissive, has now swung back too far in its unreserved adoration of this psychological mystery. Vertigo is still a great achievement, but I wouldn’t rank it as one Hitchcock’s absolute best.

3910. The 39 Steps (1935)

The quintessential “innocent man on the run” thriller that set the template for so many Hitchcock films to come. Often regarded as the best of Hitchcock’s British years, it captures a pure spirit of adventure better than almost any other film of the time.

wrongman9. The Wrong Man (1956)

A rare detour into neorealism for Hitchcock in his only film explicitly based on a true story. There doesn’t appear to be an easy way out for Manny, played superbly by Henry Fonda, in one of the director’s more overlooked masterpieces.

reb28.Rebecca (1940)

The only Hitchcock film ever to win the Oscar for Best Picture is a superb way to kick off the director’s Hollywood career. It’s Hitchcock’s most successful film about the theme of marital mistrust as well as his only collaboration with the great Laurence Olivier

north7. North by Northwest (1959)

One of the most ridiculous films in the director’s canon, but also one of his most flat-out enjoyable. This absurd spy fantasy is a joy from start to finish with several excellent sequences along the way: most famously, the crop duster chase scene.

Strangers6. Strangers on a Train (1951)

A superb concept about “swapping” murders expertly delivered in this tense thriller, helped by the powerhouse performances by Farley Granger and Robert Walker. It has been argued that Strangers on a Train heralded in the Golden Age of Hitchcock. Agreed.

birds5. The Birds (1963)

Tippi Hedren dazzles in her first feature film and Hitchcock’s only example of paranormal horror. Hitchcock keeps the terror alien by never fully revealing the reason behind the feathered fury and with a chilling use of sound effects.

van14. The Lady Vanishes (1938)

A film I could watch every week for the rest of my life. There hasn’t been a more sparkling lead Hitchcock couple than Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave. The central mystery is exciting and the wonderful array of supporting characters is icing on the cake.

notorious3. Notorious (1946)

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman give the performances of their career in what is Hitchcock’s most elegant film. As fusion of romance and spy drama, it finds the balance perfectly. But it’s Claude Rains who holds the film together with his understated performance.

window2. Rear Window (1954)

James Stewart and Grace Kelly are at the top of their game in Hitchcock’s best exploration of voyeurism and mounting suspicion. The confines of a New York apartment, stagnating in the summer heat, prove the perfect setting to one of his most suspenseful scenarios.

psy1. Psycho (1960)

An obvious choice for the number one slot, but there’s no escaping just how outrageously good Psycho is. The balance Hitchcock strikes between what he reveals to the audience and what he keeps concealed makes his most famous film also his best.

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Hitchcock-a-thon: The Paradine Case (1947)

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In 1934 Hitchcock went from his worst film of the decade to one of his best. Now in the ’40s he reverses the trend. Straight off the back of the magnificent Notorious, Hitchcock began work on his final collaboration with Selznick – The Paradine Case. While it’s still miles better than the string of crap Hitch produced in the early ’30s, it’s a ponderous film that doesn’t live up to the potential of the premise.

In his second and final film with Hitchcock, Gregory Peck plays Anthony Keane – a London attorney hired to defend Mrs. Paradine (Alida Valli) against accusations that she murdered her husband, a blind war-veteran. Keane starts to fall for his mysterious client which threatens both his career and his relationship with his wife, Gay (Ann Todd). Is Mrs. Paradine as innocent as he believes, or is she playing him like a chump?

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The Paradine Case cost over $4,000,000, a monumental sum for the time. It ended up nearly as expensive as Gone With the Wind,  which was on a huge blockbuster scale. But this is a low-key courtroom drama; where the hell did all the money go?

Not on the script, I hope. The screenplay (which Selznick constantly rewrote much to Hitch’s annoyance) hints at some interesting relationships and themes, but feels over-stretched and flabby.

At least some of the acting is strong. Especially from Ann Todd as Keane’s love-suffering wife and Charles Laughton turns in a surprisingly underplayed performance as Judge Horfield.

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I’m very sad to say that it’s Peck who sticks out as the weak link. Based on other Peck films- not least of all his phenomenal performance in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – we know the man can do much better, but here he feels awkward and stilted. Initially Laurence Olivier was signed on to play Peck’s part before dropping due to other commitments. It would have been great to see him work with Hitchcock once again and he light have been able to add some va-va-voom to the role. Unlike Peck, he would have certainly been able to give a convincing English accent.

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Overall, The Paradine Case is bland and forgettable, but isn’t as awful as many critics make it out to be. The fact it stands as Hitch’s weakest film of the decade only goes to show how great the ’40s were for Hitchcock hits.

Hitchcock-a-thon: Jamaica Inn (1939)

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With the overseas critical and box office success of The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes, Hollywood offers were flooding in. After visiting LA Hitchcock finally accepted a seven-year deal with Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick. There was time for one last British film before he left. Unfortunately, the finished product proved to be a step back in style to his sub-par films of the early ‘30s.

On the rocky coasts of Cornwall, in the early 1800s, a ruthless gang of smugglers lure ships to their doom and pilfer what they can find from the wrecks. Their hideout is Jamaica Inn owned by gang member Joss (Leslie Banks) and his wife, Patience (Marie Ney). Patience’s niece, Mary (Maureen O’Hara), comes to live with her aunt in the suspicious inn. Jamaica? No, she went of her own accord. Ho ho! Actually it’s because her mother died. Oh. Awkward.

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I…I’m sorry for your loss

After saving the life of Traherne (Robert Newton), an undercover law-officer, they seek the help of the magistrate Sir Humphrey Pengallon (Charles Laughton). Little do they know that Sir Humphrey is the villainous mastermind behind the gang.

Jamaica Inn is a feeble film. Uninteresting heroes, bland dialogue and a story almost entirely lacking in drama. The only potential enjoyment to be had is with Laughton’s ridiculously camp performance. The man knows how to chew the shit out of the scenery.

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Actually, he chews a lot of things

Many of the problems came from the production history. Though Hitchcock got on well with Laughton on a personal level, his dual role as star and producer meant they often clashed professionally. Hitchcock had wanted to reveal Sir Humphrey as the true villain towards the end of film, but Laughton demanded more screen time so it’s learned very early on – even given away on the film’s posters. A change which Hitchcock called “completely absurd”. But his hands were tied.

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Geddit?

Jamaica Inn ended up a surprise box office hit, but was berated by the critics. Not that Hitch cared. He was Hollywood-bound. Jamaica Inn lasts as a sad blip in his five year winning streak.