An acquaintance of mine who is also a movie buff is a huge Alfred Hitchcock guy. Apparently there’s a box-set collection of every one of his movies and this friend has it. Having only watched a few Hitchcock movies I asked for recommendations, put them in the Netflix queue, and have watched several over the last few months. My youngest daughter actually watched Vertigo with me, she and my wife both fell asleep during The Man Who Knew Too Much, and they were both in and out of the other options. (But it’s still pretty cool that my 16-year-old daughter watched Vertigo with me.)
Now that my season with Hitchcock is coming to a close now is as good a time as any to document some of my reactions to these movies for the proverbial “record.” Ultimately my rating is a combination of my own opinion and what I’ll just call “Family Score.” These are not in any particular order:
Torn Curtain (1966)
Torn Curtain stars Paul Newman as an American scientist that publicly defects to East Germany. I’m OK with Paul Newman and I love Julie Andrews. What I’m not OK with is Newman and Andrews waking up together in the same bed in the very first scene — with all its implications. I mean, that’s Mary Poppins! It’s Maria! That being said, I do think Torn Curtain is actually a pretty good movie. Family Score: Unfortunately, I never got over the first scene and for the most part spent my time with Torn Curtain disoriented and in shock. Julie Andrews-as-not-Mary-Poppins-but-also-not-Maria creeped the whole family out and that’s just not right. 3 out of 5 stars.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
I liked this movie. There were some location shots that were reminiscent of Hitchcock’s work in North By Northwest as well as some comedic moments that worked in a way contemporary dramas work today. Even though I’m not a big James Stewart fan, he and Doris Day do a great job as a vacationing family that stumble on to an assassination plot in Morocco. There’s a famous orchestra scene that might go on a little too long, but you get a lot of things that make Hitchcock Hitchcock in this movie. Family Score: It couldn’t keep my wife awake. Daughter never gave it a chance. By no means is this a viable recommendations for a Saturday at home. 31/2 out of 5 stars.
James Stewart is the only actor I recognized in this feature and he doesn’t walk into the frame until the 28-minute mark. Rope is Stewart’s least favorite collaboration with Hitchcock. The entire movie takes place in a single apartment in only 10 takes. Because of that it’s fun to try to find the places where the director cut the scenes. It’s an amazing piece of filmmaking and maybe the most “Hitchcockian” of the movies I’ve watched. The premise is diabolical and strikes the chords you would expect of a psychological thriller. If you read the back story of Rope you will better appreciate its technical achievement. Family Score: Both daughters and my wife passed after repeated invitations to watch Rope (probably because of the title). The DVD sat by the television for weeks. Only for the most artsy. 4 out of 5 stars.
North by Northwest (1959)
This feels like the most commercially driven and commercially successful movie out of the ones I watched. It’s also the one that “beats” like a contemporary thriller. In some ways it’s the opposite of Vertigo, which is much more quiet and introspective. I like Cary Grant in the lead role but it’s one my favorites, Eva Marie Saint, that really makes North by Northwest pop in my opinion. She is flawless. This is the also the movie in the Hitchcockian canon that I’m most likely to watch again. Family Score: By the time I made it to this point I had completely lost my family. But it’s my fault for not beginning the series with something more familiar. I watched North by Northwest alone one Saturday morning. 31/2 out of 5 stars.
If there was ever a movie that didn’t need a plot to be great it is Vertigo. If asked I could probably remember what it is about but that’s not what’s most important to me about this film. Vertigo is without a doubt a frame-by-frame masterpiece. There is one seen during which Kim Novak’s character is looking at a painting in a museum. The scene itself may be less than a minute, but Hitchcock spent a week filming it in order to get the light exactly the way he wanted it. It’s that attention to detail that makes art. You watch Vertigo in the same way you would stare at a Van Gogh or Rembrandt. You take it in. You allow it to work the way its creator intended it to work. Family Score: Not only did my youngest daughter watch it with me, but she watched with me twice. 5 out of 5 stars.