Cary Grant. Grace Kelly. The French Rivera. Separately, all three things look pretty darn good. Together…watch out. Director Alfred Hitchcock knew how to capitalize on the beauty of all three when he made To Catch a Thief—Grant is never more handsome, Kelly is never more beautiful, and the Rivera is so alluring it just seems to call out to you to come and dive into its beaches. The story of the film revolves around a series of recent cat burglaries, which may or may not have been done by former thief Grant. Kelly plays a young socialite who enjoys teasing and seducing Grant, especially after she finds out he used to be a burglar. Hitchcock also teases the audience here—much of Thief’s dialogue is done tongue-and-cheek. Grant is perfect for that “light” tone…he has already proven in other Hitchcock movies (Suspicion and Notorious) that he can play the dark, brooding leading man. In Thief (and then later North by Northwest), Grant takes on a more satirical, even jovial persona that makes him more appealing to the audience and to his leading lady. Watching To Catch a Thief is just pure fun…fun to watch Grant and Kelly play cat-and-mouse and fun to imagine yourself in the midst of picturesque France.
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Alfred Hitchcock’s first film made in America, with producer David O. Selznick of Gone with the Wind fame, sealed the director’s fate as an established and successful filmmaker. Rebecca won the Best Picture Oscar in 1940, even though Hitchcock was overlooked as Best Director. This is not to say the film is without flaws. Joan Fontaine is supposed to play the innocent, naïve female lead, but she always seems much too old and sophisticated for the part, even though she does her best to seem demure. Aside from that, the film is a great thriller…one that will stand the test of time as a solid Hitchcock thriller. Laurence Olivier is pretty perfect as Maxim de Winter—we buy him as a tormented man—and Judith Anderson shines as the evil, sinister Mrs. Danvers. And, of course, Hitchcock’s camera captures the right tone and mood from the Daphne Du Maurier novel, allowing us to see Manderlay as a place of both happiness and nightmares.
When director Alfred Hitchcock shot Frenzy, he was in his early 70s and was at the end of a filmmaking career that began in the 1920s in England. After Hitchcock left Britain behind for a career in America (his first film in the U.S. was 1940’s Rebecca), he rarely looked back. Frenzy is a return to London, with the film shot there and starring an all-British cast. This movie does not boast any glitzy movie stars or any of the Hitchcock elegance of many of his previous films, but displays a rather dark, violent side unlike anything the director had shot before. The finished product results in a taut and intelligent thriller, one of the best of Hitchcock’s career and definitely the best of his later films. The movie begins with a body found, washed ashore in the Thames River. The corpse has a necktie around its neck, identifying the murder as another “necktie” serial killing. Through a series of twists and wrong turns, an innocent man is accused of the murders, which has been a common Hitchcock plot line over the course of his career (The Wrong Man and North by Northwest, in particular). The difference here is that early on in the film, the audience becomes privy to who is the guilty party and who is being framed. Knowing this before most of the cast, we are left squirming in our seats, waiting for the characters to catch up with what we already know. Also, unmasking the villain towards the beginning of the film allows the audience to focus less on plot and more on character and the cinematic style that makes Frenzy a magnificent thriller.
This is one of the films that sealed Alfred Hitchcock’s destiny early on in his career, along with The 39 Steps. The beginning opens a little confused and disorganized but once Hitchcock moves the action to a train, everything comes into place. The story is simple enough with a woman going missing on a train. The one woman who talked with the vanished lady makes it her mission to find out what happened to this missing woman. All of the tell-tale Hitchcock signs are here…mistaken identity, the “wronged” man/woman, and, of course, a little romance and humor. Some elements of the film almost seem “screwball” in how outlandish they are, but since it is a good story with good characters, we allow Hitchcock to take us along for the ride.
Idyllic small-town America turns ugly in this Hitchcock masterpiece, the film which the director himself even considered his favorite. The film begins with Joseph Cotten’s character Uncle Charlie, one of the most devious and sinister characters in cinematic history, heading from the East Coast to stay with his sister in Santa Rosa, CA. Teresa Wright plays his niece and namesake, who at first is excited about her uncle’s appearance but soon discovers that evilness hides under the surface of his kind persona. In the beginning, there is doubt in the minds of the audience about the accusations against Charles. But, as the audience grows more and more suspicious, so does Wright’s character. Santa Rosa becomes a character itself by lending a “perfect” atmosphere around the town while something purely devilish is brooding within. This is one of the darkest Hitchcock films, mostly because of the way Cotten portrays Charles with cool, calculated depravity.
When British director Alfred Hitchcock’s success in movies finally led him to Hollywood, he enjoyed a string of hits in the late 1930s and early-to-mid-1940s. After the romantic masterpiece Notorious, the director’s career hit a slump that lasted years, finally ending with the critical and public triumph of Strangers on a Train. The film is one of Hitchcock’s finest works…it encompasses everything a thriller should plus all of the usual “Hitchcockian” elements that make an ordinary thriller extraordinary. The title says it all…two men meet randomly on a train. One is a well-bred spoiled drifter (Robert Walker) and the other an estranged husband (Farley Granger) who desperately wants to leave his philandering wife behind and start his life over with a new love. Hitchcock’s use of camera and light are top-notch here. Scenes where Granger catches Walker spying on him are magnificent, with Walker increasingly portrayed as a psychopathic just by the camera techniques Hitchcock uses. There is a reason this film put Hitchcock back on the map as one of the best directors in the world…rent this one and see for yourself!
This film is one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s more underrated films, especially since its only notoriety comes from introducing the song Que Sera Sera to the general public. Even though the famed director often copied styles and plot lines from some of his previous movies, The Man Who Knew Too Much stands alone as being the only true remake Hitchcock ever filmed—it is an updated version of Hitchcock’s own 1934 thriller of the same title. Taking the story of the 1934 film and enhancing it with location and character changes, the 1956 film is a terrific example of how a good film can become a great film. The movie stars Doris Day and James Stewart as an American couple visiting the French Morocco with their young son. After befriending a British couple, they soon find themselves embroiled in a series of terrifying events, including the kidnapping of their son. In addition to Hitchcock’s filmmaking, both Day and Stewart (appearing in his third of four collaborations with Hitchcock) make this film much more than just a standard thriller. The scene in the Royal Albert Hall in London stands out as one of the most intense, nail-biting scenes of pure suspense ever filmed. There is no dialogue and the scene lasts several minutes, but the anxiety of Day’s performance along with the climatic direction by Hitchcock keeps the viewer glued to the screen.
Over the course of his career, Hitchcock followed his trademark “thriller” genre fairly closely. He made one totally non-suspenseful work early in his career (Mr. and Mrs. Smith from 1941 is a screwball, romantic comedy) and some of his works had more intense thrills than others did. On the whole, though, Hitchcock’s films made his audience sit on the edge of their seats and Notorious (1946) is no exception. Yet, it is somewhat unique since it is the closest Hitchcock ever came to making an outright dramatic love story. Starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman (both of whom had worked with Hitchcock prior to this film), Notorious is a masterpiece on every front. It works perfectly as a thriller and passionately as a love story and it features both supreme directing and stellar acting performances. Bergman plays the daughter of a former Nazi who is convicted for his wartime crimes. Her father’s connections place Bergman in a perfect position to play spy for the U.S. government, which she does under the watchful eye of governmental agent Grant. A love affair between Bergman and Grant cools off after her assignment involves her becoming more than just an acquaintance with one of her father’s friends. Hitchcock’s sense of style is unmatched in this film. The camera movements add to both the intensity of the romance (following Grant and Bergman from room to room as they continue their embrace) and the drama of the suspense (following a key in Bergman’s hand).