Alfred Hitchcock: Five Films for Newcomers
Oh come on. Who needs a beginner crash course on this guy? He's one of the most revered filmmakers of all time. Well, every day calls for a new opportunity for someone to explore the passageways of the great historical archive of cinema. So, analyzing Alfred Hitchcock allows us to do this article a little bit differently than normal. Usually, we would look at five of the best works of an individual and then rank them in order of accessibility or acclaim. Hitchcock's career is so across the board, you can really pick five completely different films that may not even be his best works. It's all about what you can learn with these films. We can absolutely use his birthday as an excuse to talk about his classics. Let's dive into five films to watch for newcomers to the works of Alfred Hitchcock.
5. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
It's obviously no secret that Hitchcock was very much active during the silent film era, but this fact may be news to someone unfamiliar with his works. After all, you don't regularly hear about his silent projects as much as his most acclaimed works. There's no better place to start than The Lodger: a deemed the first true Hitchcock film. This tale of a serial killer in London was far from abnormal at the time (many pre-code films got pretty dark), but you may notice Hitchcock's knack for building suspense from very early on here.
Believe it or not, this is the only Hitchcock film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. That's not why Rebecca is here, nor is its recent acclaimed status being resurrected (as a masterpiece of gothic cinema during the golden age). Rebecca is important, because it still isn't quite a film that Hitchcock had complete control over (like he eventually would). Producers had more of a say during this time, especially David O. Selznick. Watching Rebecca is witnessing a tug-of-war between a filmmaker and a studio producer, both of whom were powerful in their own right. Further research into the making of this film is absolutely worth the time, considering the many feuds both icons had.
It's good to become familiar with Hitchcockian noir films, of which preluded his thrillers and horrors. For me, it doesn't get any better than Notorious: a spy game of cat-and-mouse involving the submersion of ones self with the enemy. This is also a good starting point to recognize the many familiar faces that will be popping up in the works of Hitchcock (who was an early director that teamed up with the usual suspects often). Here we have Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman (amongst others): two of the best performers that can switch from charismatic to threatening with ease.
We're going to jump a bit ahead here before heading backwards into the greatest Hitchcock era. We have to bring up his horror era, though. To do so, we must look at the most obvious example, because it is his greatest triumph in the genre. Psycho is a horror masterpiece, straight up. It's much more important than that, though. It was a game changer that worked as a catalyst to abolish the Hollywood Code. It went against many rules, including guaranteeing the safety of lead characters, how a story unfurled, and the flushing of a toilet on screen (believe it or not, this was ground breaking). Psycho is a savage viewing, with an even more savage legacy.
We hop back to the '50s, and relish in the greatest years of Hitchcock's career. We can put so many films here. Rear Window. Strangers on a Train. To Catch a Thief. Dial M for Murder. North by Northwest. Where do we start? We have to go with Vertigo, though. It is on a completely different level, especially with a modern reevaluation. Firstly, it completely holds up as one of his finer suspense thrillers (with many beautifully executed twists and turns). It's also just a polished work of art. From the bigger picture (many experiments with lighting, camera pans and zooms, and even animation) down to the little details (many examples of stairs and spirals, including the whirl of a hairstyle), Vertigo is masterful. It's one of the greatest cinematic cases of feeling delirious. It begs multiple rewatches due to its intricacy, grace, and devastation. It simply is the best place to start if you want to explore Alfred Hitchcock's legacy.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.