Happy Birthday, Alfred Hitchcock!

Yesterday was the Master of Suspense’s birthday. In his honor, I’ve assembled a few scenes from his less discussed works.

1. Shadow of A Doubt (1943)

This was reputedly one of Hitchcock’s favorite. Shadow of A Doubt is a character study centering around the relationship between young Charlie (Teresa Wright) and her adored Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten). The suspense lies in young Charlie’s realization that her favorite uncle is not who he seems to be. As such, this movie is a coming-of-age story in which the main character must leave childhood innocence behind by confronting some very painful truths about the people she loves. In this movie we also see one of Hitchcock’s favorite monsters: the charming, sociopathic ladies’ man who preys on vulnerable young women.

2. Rope (1948)

While Hitchcock had already been making movies in Hollywood since 1939, his post-war Vistavision movies were an aesthetic and creative departure from his previous work (Vertigo, Rear Window, Rope, The Birds, To Catch A Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, Dial M for Murder). In these, he took greater cinematic risks and worked on a much larger scale, freely playing with the full gamut of technique and glamour at his disposal. While at least three of these movies are frequently shown and are justifiably classified as his greatest, the critical opinion about Rope is less unanimous. Hitchcock chose to base his first color film on the notorious Leopold and Loeb murder case in which two young men commit a murder for the sole purpose of committing a perfect crime. Hitch took on the challenge of shooting long, continuous takes in one set in real time, thereby increasing the sense of claustrophobia and tension.

3. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 British version)

This is the earlier version of the much better known 1956 American and is the only movie Hitch ever remade. Like its later counterpart, a regular family accidentally gets caught in the middle of a spy plot, and must rely on their own wits and resources to extricate themselves.  Shot a few years before war broke out in Europe, this version successfully captures the terror of ordinary people trapped by circumstances beyond their control and marked the director’s resurgence after a string of box office failures. Here are two interesting articles that I found while researching this movie: Criterion’s 10 Things I Learned; and Sir Alfred Simply Must Have His Set Pieces by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell.  The Thompson/Bordwell piece presents a brilliant and fascinating analysis of how his silent film work influenced Hitch’s cinematic style.

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