Evil Robert Mitchum comes to a small, sleepy town posing as a preacher to try and win over the hearts and bank accounts of unsuspecting ladies, preferably the desperate ones. Enter Shelley Winters with no husband and two kids, making the perfect target. The best thing about this movie is Robert Mitchum. Normally a good actor who is able to play any kind of role (cowboy, cop, soldier, good guy, bad guy, etc.), this movie took the “bad guy” role to new heights. Here his devilish acts focus around children. Even with a subject matter that can be very touchy, Mitchum gives this role his all. The end result is one of the creepiest, meanest and most ruthless characters in American cinema.

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Hitchcockian, according to Wikipedia, is “a general term used to describe film styles and themes similar to those of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.” Being a Hitchcock fan, this term is like nails on a chalkboard for me…when misused. And, trust me, 99% of the time, it is misused. Brian De Palma is often called “Hitchcockian.” Um, excuse me…no, he’s just a copy-cat. Basically, the term has been tossed around by film critics since the Hitchcock era to signify any decent thriller. Hitchcockian has become WAY too over-used. It should not be used for ANY thriller…good or not. Hitchcock had a certain style, a certain elegance to his films that very few (if any) filmmakers have been able to duplicate over the years. Les Diaboliques is Hitchcockian. First of all, it was made in 1955, when Hitchcock was still alive and well and avidly working (the 1950s was probably his best and most accomplished decade). The story of Les Diaboliques is about two women (the wife and the mistress) who kill a man, only the have the dead body turn up missing. There are certain key differences between this film and Hitchcock’s work, of course, such as Les Diaboliques is devoid of the usual Hitchcock humor. But, on the whole, this is a great thriller…so Hitchcockian that the Master himself felt a little jealous of French director Henri-Georges Clouzot…maybe not jealous per se, but let’s just say Les Diaboliques was such a good thriller that Hitchcock felt some pressure. Do I think Hitch broke a sweat? Well, considering that he was and always will be the one and only Master of Suspense, I think he had very little to worry about.

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Hitchcock delves into the genre of legal dramas with this one…with Gregory Peck as a British barrister who defends a woman he is convinced is innocence…mostly because he’s in love with her. Peck is miscast here, not even trying to fake an English accent. We know he can pull off a good “lawyer” act (as he does flawlessly in To Kill a Mockingbird), but he just doesn’t even seem to be trying here. Laughton and Barrymore are hardly used at all…I’m sure they were just cast for big name appeal…their roles are both minute, especially Barrymore’s. The one saving grace to this film is the plot. It’s a strong story that holds up through the years. Not packing as much of a “thriller” punch as most Hitchcock titles, this one is more about the drama and less about the suspense, though there is a crucial piece of plot that is revealed in the end. Compared to titles like Billy Wilder’s legal classic Witness for the Prosecution, the ending is not as intense, but the movie on a whole is a fine legal drama.

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At 143 minutes, this is Hitchcock’s longest film. In comparison, North by Northwest is 136 minutes. Anyone who has seen North by Northwest knows there is not a slow second in that film. I don’t think even Hitchcock could say that about Topaz. Set in 1962, Topaz takes place in New York and Cuba, dealing with Cuban/Russian – American/French relations. At times, it is a sharp, clever movie that is as fast-paced as Hitchcock ever was. Sadly, though, more often than not, it tends to drag through the “information” scenes (scenes with TOO much dialogue and too much information that has to be conveyed to the audience). The romance between the French spy (or is he a spy?) and Juanita falls flat. But, there are some moments that one can only describe as PURE Hitchcock. Juanita’s death scene is one of Hitchcock’s best ever. And the sequence in Harlem is also top-notch suspense. With a little more time in the editing room, Topaz could have been one of Hitchcock’s best. Watch it…with the fast forward button not too far from reach.

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You know how all parents say that they do not have a favorite child. But, you KNOW they do. And, with a favorite, there’s always one that…just rubs them the wrong way. The one they think “what happened here?” all the time. Torn Curtain is my not-so-favorite child. Alfred Hitchcock was, to me, the filmmaker of all filmmakers. I like and admire other directors but Hitchcock will always be tops. And, then there’s a movie I have to justify and even recommend to people like this. It’s not that Torn Curtain is a bad film. It’s a good spy thriller. But, I’d come to expect Hitchcock to not make just GOOD films. I want to see perfection, like I’d usually seen in the past. Torn Curtain most definitely is not perfection. It’s a flawed film that eventually does work, but it takes more effort than it should. From what I know about the making of this one, I know Hitchcock and Paul Newman did not get along. And Hitchcock did not want to cast Julie Andrews. Sure, Hitchcock had been “forced” to work with actors he wasn’t that dazzled with before (think Kim Novak in Vertigo) but usually there was one star he was excited about…which got him through the movie. This time, both of his stars were not his favorites. Did that affect the film? Was Hitchcock so blinded by disappointment for the actors that he could not see his way to make a better film? Well, that’s one way to look at it. The story here is about an American scientist who fakes defecting to East Germany in order to get at the mathematical formula of a famed scientist on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The film has some great moments in it…the most notable being the killing of an East German agent who finds out the scientist is not legitimately defecting. Sadly, though, the great moments are too far and few between to call this a great Hitchcock movie. Thankfully, the Master of Suspense did redeem himself six years later with Frenzy. I’m not even going to acknowledge Topaz, which came in-between… Topaz, sadly, is another one of my unloved Hitchcock children.

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Honestly, Rope is far from my favorite Hitchcock film. It is slow-ish and more “talkie” than most other Hitchcock movies…relying more on dialogue than action for its suspense. But, after viewing it again recently, I found that even one of the less satisfying films by the preeminent thriller director Hitchcock is STILL better than most of the thrillers made today. The story is loosely based on the Leopold and Loeb murderers…the two University of Chicago students who decided commit the perfect murder to prove they can because they are intellectually superior humans. So, at the beginning of the film, a murder takes place. And the rest of the film is a will-they-get-caught-or-won’t-they as they entertain guests (including the victim’s parents!) in the same room where the body is hidden. This is one of the films Hitchcock used as an experiment. It’s his first film in color and, like Dial M for Murder’s attempted use of 3-D, the director tries something he’s not done before here. He uses ONLY nine takes to film the almost hour and a half film. These long takes, on their own, do a great job of building to and adding to the suspense. We almost feel like we’re right there…in the apartment…one of the guests watching this story unfold. So, instead of choosing one of the more lame and overly-predictable thrillers made today, try this one. I cannot say it’s Hitchcock’s best but it sure beats most everything else!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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