Since it’s almost Halloween, what better time to pick some favorite movies from the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock!
Here’s my list of Hitchcock movies. Some of them, like The Birds, may feel very dated because today’s computer-generated special effects make the technology of the day when those films were made look dated. But if you focus on the story and cinematography rather than special effects, the movies still hold up quite well.
This is a powerful love story and a study of obsession in a police officer who has to retire after developing an acute fear of heights. He’s contacted by a friend from his school days who asks him to follow his wife to see where she’s been disappearing to. While following her, the ex-cop falls in love. But it’s a love not meant to be. When he later sees a look-alike who looks so much like his lost love that it can’t be a mere coincidence, and he begins to piece together clues that reveal an accident may have been something more sinister. Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak star.
This movie was intentionally shot in black and white because, as the story goes, Hitchcock felt it’d be too gory in color. Compared with what’s on television and in movies these days, that statement alone is practically a shock to the system. But when you boil it down to the story, it’s a terrifying tale of building suspense until the final reveal. That final reveal, in fact, was so critical that Hitchcock instituted a policy that was at the time unheard of: once the film started, no one was allowed to go in. Before Psycho, filmgoers simply showed up whenever. But Hitchcock knew that you had to watch from the beginning or else you’d be wondering where star Janet Leigh had wandered off to if you joined midway through the picture.
3. The Birds
What if birds suddenly decided to turn on humanity? That question becomes the main plot of the movie. Inexplicably, a small town becomes the focal point for attacks and Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren star as a couple falling in love in the midst of the chaos. The end of the movie used to bother me a great deal because it didn’t feel like an ending until I rethought it and realized it’s a clear statement of who won the war.
This particular film isn’t likely to be as high on many Top 10 Hitchcock lists, but I like it because of the experiment it contained: Hitchcock wanted to make a film shot one reel at a time, meaning the film would have to be shot in 10-minute segments at a time without edits (or with as few as possible). So it has the feeling of a stage play. In any case, it’s about two friends who murder a mutual friend, then invite the victim’s loved ones to a dinner party where the food is served off an old chest that just happens to contain the body. Jimmy Stewart plays their former schoolmaster who begins to suspect something is wrong.
5. The Man Who Knew Too Much
Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart play an American couple who encounters a mysterious man in Morrocco. The man’s death drags them into an international assassination plot and their son is kidnapped so they won’t reveal details of the plot. The assassination is to take place in the Royal Albert Hall at the moment of a big cymbal crash. After foiling that plan, they must still find their child before it’s over.
6. Shadow of A Doubt
Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia said this was her father’s favorite film because he loved the notion of introducing mayhem in a small town. A girl nicknamed Charley who dreams of something exciting happening in quiet Santa Rosa, California learns her wish is about to be granted: her uncle Charlie, for whom she was named, is coming for a visit. But Charlie is bringing a horrible secret with him: he’s a serial killer and she becomes his next target when she figures out that secret.
7. Rear Window
This time, Jimmy Stewart, a frequent Hitchcock collaborator, portrays a photographer who winds up stuck at home after breaking his leg during an assignment. So, while he’s confined, he decides to spy on his neighbors, something that any of us might do without any evil intent. But Stewart quickly realizes it’s one of his neighbors with the evil intent to murder his own wife. But can the recuperating photographer and love interest Grace Kelly prove it before they become the next victims?
8. Strangers on a Train
Criss-cross. Two strangers meet on a train and both have someone in their lives they wish wasn’t. But one of the strangers is a bit on the unstable side and proposes they kill the other’s nemesis. The other stranger doesn’t take it seriously but learns not only that the other guy wasn’t joking when he finds himself a murder suspect.
9. The Trouble With Harry
It took me a while to warm up to this one, to be honest, because the suspense isn’t framed around a thriller but rather a black comedy. It turns out Harry is a dead man and no one is entirely sure who killed him or why his repeatedly-buried body keeps reappearing.
10. Torn Curtain
Paul Newman stars as an American scientist and Julie Andrews stars as his fiancé in this political thriller. Newman’s character receives a secret message and plans to sneak to East Berlin in the height of the Cold War to commit espionage. When Andrews’s character realizes her love hasn’t been entirely honest with her, she decides to follow and winds up in the middle of a spy thriller.
There are my 10 top picks.