Praised as the first true Hitchcock masterpiece, this is a great spy thriller, though I wouldn’t actually label it as one of Hitchcock’s best. What I would say is that this is probably the film that sealed Hitchcock as the main director of the thriller genre, because it is a strong thriller and also because it was a box office hit. The story follows Robert Donat’s character, who’s on the run for a crime he had nothing to do with. Enter Madeleine Carroll who at first provides an excellent foil but then also becomes a willing love interest. It’s a great movie with two wonderful performances by Donat and Carroll. In addition to being one of the first Hitchcock films to use the “wronged” man as a theme, it also is probably the first use of something later coined as the MacGuffin, a plot device that is used to move the story along but actually, it’s of no true significance to the story. Here, the MacGuffin would be the formula inside the mind of Mr. Memory. The 39 Steps is a fast-paced thriller that really keeps the audience guessing right until the very end…and one of the best of British Hitchcock.
Posts Tagged: Alfred Hitchcock
A classic Hitchcock film that has a perfect cast but somehow doesn’t get the due it deserves. Made at the end of what I would call one of Hitchcock’s “off” periods (his biggest stinker Under Capricorn comes right before this one in 1949 and in 1951, Hitchcock makes Strangers on a Train which saves his ailing career). This film features many of the trademarks Hitchcock aficionados have come to know and love in his later films…the “wronged” man, the love interest, fair amounts of humor for comic relief, and a thrilling ending. So, why is it not up there with Rear Window and North by Northwest? Well, it’s not glitzy. Even though it’s about the theatre industry in London, it doesn’t shine like Hitchcock’s better-known works. I would say that has to do mostly with the acting. All of the performances here seem adequate but not stunning. Wyman and Sim are spot-on when playing the father-daughter act, but aside from that, they all seem lost in the script. Regardless, it’s a must-see for all thriller fans!
One of Hitchcock’s best uses of big finales…this one taking place on the Statue of Liberty (OK, not the REAL Statue, but this IS a movie from the 1940s!). Later in his career, he would shoot suspenseful scenes at the United Nations, Mount Rushmore, and the Golden Gate Bridge, and earlier in his career…back in England…he shot a great scene in Blackmail at the British Museum. The ending, somewhat, makes up for this one being a little slower than us Hitchcock fans had become accustom to. Saboteur is a good Hitchcock film and a great spy thriller, though I feel it could have used a little more time at the editors. Again, we have a plot that revolves around a wronged man…this time, it’s Robert Cummings who gets falsely accused for an act of sabotage and spends most of the movie running from the police and the REAL bad guys. This is a must for any thriller fans. And, of course, for all Hitchcock fans, but don’t be surprised if you’re not just a tad disappointed.
The second film Hitchcock made in America was really his attempt to help the WWII effort in England (it was made before America entered the war). Joel McCrea plays a naïve, inexperienced journalist who somehow gets caught in a spy ring. By far, the best part of this one is the ending, among the windmills of (what is supposed to be) Holland. Unfortunately, Hitchcock never worked McCrea again…they made a good team. McCrea seemed comfortable with the material and Hitchcock used his character well. Not one of the major Hitchcock films, but a must-see regardless.
If you read my annotation on The Birds, you know Tippi Hedren is not my favorite actress. But, compared to her lackluster performance in The Birds, she shines here. It’s the script in Marnie that I have trouble with. When this one came out in 1964, it didn’t do as well as expected and was not raved by the critics. As with Vertigo, both the public opinion but mostly the critical opinion, time has been kind with Marnie. Some critics now hail it as one (with Vertigo) of Hitchcock’s masterpieces. I would not go that far. Yes, Hedren is better, but she’s still not good enough to carry a film. The plus here is that unlike The Birds’ Rod Taylor (who is just so-so), Sean Connery provides a stronger counterpart for Hedren’s weak-ish acting. But, a masterpiece? Have these critics seen Notorious or Shadow of a Doubt? As I said, Marnie’s biggest issue, in my humble opinion, is the script. The screenplay here is lagging considerably, especially in the middle. The film starts off well and moves along at a good pace. Then, somewhere around the time Connery begins helping Hedren with her many problems, the story almost comes to a halt. Hitchcock saves it with a tense ending, but I admit I do expect more from The Master than just a good beginning and ending. So, you might be asking, why do I keep writing reviews for films that I’m not in love with? Well, first of all, I like them. They are great movies. They are just not up to Hitchcock’s usual HIGH standards.
In Dial M for Murder, Hitchcock shoots an entire film on one set. In Rope, he not only just uses one set, he also experiments with long takes…using only 5 or 6 takes to complete a full-length feature. Where did he get these ideas from…? Well, in 1944, four years before Rope and ten years before Dial M For Murder, there was Lifeboat. Based on a John Steinbeck story, this film takes place IN A BOAT at sea. A ship has gone done (it happens before the movie even begins) and we see Tallulah Bankhead in a small-ish dingy, adrift. As the film progresses, more and more people find their way to the lifeboat, including a German, who might or might not be captain of the ship that bombed the American ship, sinking it. For an hour and a half, this film deals with the way these people all get together and relate with each other and the impending doom they face if not rescued. A well done, thought provoking film…that is more drama than thriller, but tense enough to be something from The Master of Suspense.
I think the main problem I have with The Birds is Tippi Hedren. I honestly don’t think she works in this movie. I think she evolves some and is better in her second Hitchcock film, Marnie, but here, she’s stiff and very unnatural. Hitchcock apparently saw her in a TV commercial and, in his quest to find a perfect replacement for his favorite leading lady, Grace Kelly, thought Tippi would fit the bill. Really, Mr. Hitchcock? Tippi couldn’t even polish Princess Grace’s shoes in The Birds. Oh well, what’s done is done. Tippi plays a spoiled San Francisco woman who meets an attractive man by happenstance and ends up following him to his mother’s home on the Northern coast of California. Shortly after she arrives, local birds begin to congregate and behave strangely. Eventually, this strange behavior turns into an all-out war, with all types of birds attacking the humans. For suspense, this one is top notch. But, between Tippi’s “off” performance and the dated look of some of the bird scenes (in 1963, the technology Hitchcock used was cutting edge), this one is not one of my favorites in Hitchcock’s long list of classics. But, I still love it.
Montgomery Clift as a priest? Really? I like Mr. Clift but I think that’s a tad of a stretch. And, apparently Monty thought so as well because he never seems quite comfortable in his vestments. Pushing that aside, this is a well-done thriller by the man who knows them best, Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. Unlike most Hitchcock films, there are some times in this one where Hitchcock asks us (the audience) to suspend our disbelief. I mean that there are quite a lot of “coincidences” that we are just supposed to believe are meant to be. All in all, a solid thriller with a cast of interesting character and one semi-unbelievable priest. Actually, since I like Clift as an actor, I wish he would have worked with Hitchcock again. I think they would have worked better together if Monty had a role he felt more suited for.
The “wrong man” (or “wronged”) man has always been a running theme in Alfred Hitchcock’s films. From 1935’s classic The 39 Steps right up to Frenzy in 1972, Hitchcock had been thrilling audiences as they follow along a story about a man accused of something he didn’t do. In 1956, Hitchcock made the ultimate “wronged man” movie…giving it a very appropriate title and look. The look was that of a documentary…black and white (but that was still pretty common in the mid-50s), dark, humorless (which none of Hitchcock’s prior films had been), cameo-less (no Hitchcock peeking around a corner in this one), and lacking the fast-pacing of most of Hitchcock’s films up to that point. The director chooses everyman Henry Fonda to play his hero—the “wrong man—this time around. Fonda is perfect in this role since he’s adapt at morphing into any type of persona. Cary Grant, a Hitchcock regular, would have been way to sleek for this role. Jimmy Stewart, even, would have lacked the ability to enter the character with his tall, imposing stance. Fonda has the right look and build to play someone that just might look like the other guy…someone who is the ideal husband and father but could also look slightly sinister in the right light. The film starts off by showing Fonda’s routine…work as a musician in a nightclub until early morning then home where wife (also perfectly played by Vera Miles) is already sleeping…discussion with wife about money problems in morning…etc. Once Fonda finds himself in a mistaken identity mess when he is spotted in an insurance office as a former robber and arrested, Hitchcock mixes the plot with quite a bit of police procedures which offer insight into not only what criminals go through but also how law enforcement officers handle the daily grind. If you want to watch the quintessential Hitchcock film, rent North by Northwest, another “wronged” man film and much more typical of The Master of Suspense’s technique. If you want to watch a good film where Hitchcock experimented with the art of cinema and his own style, watch this one!
OK — it’s not Hitchcock’s finest hour. But, this is his last film and he was not in the best of health when he made this one, so a little “understanding” is in order here. In 1976, when Family Plot was released, Hitchcock had been working as a filmmaker for more than six decades, had over 50 features under his belt, and was well into his 70s. Not that shabby of a career in a business that does not exactly promote longevity. So, we can forgive Family Plot for not being his finest work…but still a more-than-decent thriller. I don’t want it to sound like I feel Family Plot is an awful film. It most definitely is not. It’s a sharp, clever caper/romantic/psychic thriller that would be a shining moment for any mainstream director. It’s just Hitchcock’s work has held him up to such high standards that a film like this doesn’t exactly live up to his Rear Window or Psycho days. Oh well, getting past all this, like I said, this is a captivating and entertaining film that does have its fair share of thrills and surprises. It has several “Hitchcockian” scenes where the Master comes back to life and uses the camera to increase suspense like the good old days of North by Northwest. Basically, the plot revolves two interwoven stories: one revolves around a psychic who uses her “powers” to scam clients out of money and the other about a kidnapper and his wife. There are some pretty clever plot elements…like the way the kidnappers hide their hostages…and a lot of typical Hitchcock comic relief…provided mostly by the psychic and her befuddled boyfriend who works as her sometimes-assistant and a sometimes-cab driver (even though he claims he’s really an actor). A must for all Hitchcock/thriller fans…but not the one to start with if you want to get the feel of the Master’s best work.