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Alfred Hitchcock
Topic Started: Jan 25 2006, 08:11 AM (20,140 Views)
Laughing Gravy
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Lately, I've been reading Patrick McGilligan's extensive bio of Hitchcock, A Life in Darkness in Light. Excellent background material on the making of the films and on the life of the Master of Suspense.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how the reviewers at IMDB rate Hitch's films, particularly in regard to each other. Here's the first batch with the average score (on a scale of 1 to 10), covering the British period.

The Pleasure Garden (1925) 6.4
The Mountain Eagle (1926) Lost
The Lodger (1927) 7.5
Downhill (1927) 6.3
Easy Virtue (1928) 5.8
The Ring (1927) 6.2
The Farmerís Wife (1928) 6.6
Champagne (1928) 6.6
The Manxman (1929) 6.5
Blackmail (1929) 7.0 (First talkie)
Juno and the Paycock (1930) 4.6
Murder! (1930) 6.5
The Skin Game (1931) 5.7
Rich and Strange (1931) 6.1
Number Seventeen (1932) 6.1
Waltzes from Vienna (1933) 6.8
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) 7.0
The 39 Steps (1935) 7.9
Secret Agent (1936) 6.8
Sabotage (1936) 7.2
Young and Innocent (1937) 7.2
The Lady Vanishes (1938) 8.1
Jamaica Inn (1939) 6.3

I'm not as familiar with the silents as I should be, but I do know and like The Lodger. Our local UHF station in the early '70s bought a package of British '30s films for its Late Late Show, and that's where (amidst a lot of boring dreck) I first saw Hitch's 1934-38 output. The 39 Steps is my favorite, and Young and Innocent is an underrated treat.

Any other comments?

"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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DickFlint
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LG: I'm with you on Young and Innocent. It is virtually unkown and excellent, particularly the scene with the Drummer Man. Over the years. my position has changed on the other 2 from that era, and now I like The Lady Vanishes better than The 39 Steps. However, these are three of the best Hitchcocks from any era.
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panzer the great & terrible
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Yup. Like he said.
Life is just a bowl of cherries, it's too mysterious, don't take it serious...
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Laughing Gravy
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Nobody wants to argue for the original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, eh?
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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panzer the great & terrible
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Not me. If I was asked for a one word description of that one, the word would be "mess."
Life is just a bowl of cherries, it's too mysterious, don't take it serious...
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Laughing Gravy
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Well, okay then. Let me ask about Juno and the Paycock. Never seen it, heard it was good (read the play, of course), but it got a big drubbing here. Anybody?
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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The Batman
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I have THE LODGER and MURDER! as a double feature on a "limited edition" DVD, from a company called WHIRLWIND MEDIA.

I have watched THE LODGER and enjoyed it. Have not got around to MURDER! quite yet.

The disc also features a radio dramatization of THE LODGER, from 1940; as well as a 1930 newsreel and a 1930 Felix the Cat cartoon called "Two-Lip Time". Also included are filmographies, bibliography and a feature called "cameos". Not sure what that is about yet.
Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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Frank Hale
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Iíve seen about half these, and generally agree with the relative standings. But in absolute terms I would drop them a point or two across the board.

I assume these ratings are for general watchability rather than technical points of interest.

I would drop Sabotage a bit; itís not as good as Young and Innocent, and thereís no way Blackmail is as good as The Man Who Knew Too Much.

I just happened to have seen Jamaica Inn for the first time last Saturday. Very nice sets, intriguing individual performances, and a couple of good Hitchcock moments, but on the whole pretty slow.
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George Kaplan
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There is a 1990 interview with Nova Pilbeam (is that a great name, or what?), who appeared in both The Man Who Knew Too Much and Young and Innocent, at www.geocities.com/filmspinner/Super_Nova_Speaks.htm. She refers briefly to the collapsing mine shaft scene from Young and Innocent that is thrilling to watch even today.

Like many of Hitchcock's early efforts, The Man Who Knew Too Much suffers because of its uneven pacing (though it moves rapidly compared to Number Seventeen and Murder!). And the cheap look of the sets and backdrops, which signal a miniscule budget, make the movie seem hopelessly dated, especially to those who like to compare it to the color version. Some of the acting, too--notably Nova's, that sweet daffy kid--is antique, even by 1930's standards.

But the Hitchcock touch is present here and there. When Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay) is shot during a dance, for example, he doesn't clutch his chest and reel melodramatically; he simply pauses, says something like, "Oh," and glances down at his shirt, where a dark stain appears. Then, with an apology, he lets others ease him to the floor, where he expires. It's as if he is distressed at having to do anything as ungentlemanly as dying in the middle of a dance floor. Lovely scene.

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Laughing Gravy
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And of course, there are scenes like that in every Hitch picture.

I had the good fortune of watching Foreign Correspondent for the first time last night; what a treat to see upper-echelon Hitchcock I haven't seen before. It's always fun, of course, to "connect the dots" and link the film to earlier and later Hitchcock pictures, and this is most closely related to The 39 Steps, Notorious, and North by Northwest. The assassination on the steps is the highlight of the film, but small things -- McCrea getting his sleeve caught in the workings of the windmill, for example -- stand out, too. And the scene atop the tower, with the building suspense as McCrea is about to be pushed out at any second, was simply Hitch at the top of his form. At first, I thought McCrea was miscast (I found myself wondering what Robert Donat or Cary Grant would've done with the part), but he grew on me. I was surprised that the film didn't end with a chase scene across some national monument, though!

Also, I should mention the great Robert Benchley, who is terrific in the film. He receives a credit for contributing to the dialog, and I assumed that was for writing his own material, but on watching the film, I noted many, many instances of Benchlian dialog popping out of the mouths of various cast members ("Cancel my rhumba lesson"). Delightful!
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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George Kaplan
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The windmill scene in Foreign Correspondent--beautifully shot and edited. And how about that plane crash! I've watched it half a dozen times, and it still makes my skin crawl. Much of the sequence was lifted and plunked into a serial I saw recently, but I can't remember which one!
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Laughing Gravy
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And with that cue, shall we move on to Hitchcock's "middle period"?

Rebecca (1940) 8.4
Foreign Correspondent (1940) 7.8
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) 6.6
Suspicion (1941) 7.5
Saboteur (1942) 7.3
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) 8.2
Lifeboat (1944) 7.7
Spellbound (1945) 7.6
Notorious (1946) 8.3
The Paradine Case (1947) 6.3
Rope (1948) 7.9
Under Capricorn (1949) 6.1
Stage Fright (1950) 7.0
Strangers on a Train (1951) 8.3
I Confess (1953) 7.1

Rebecca's a classic (and an Oscar winner), but I'd drop it below some of the other films on this list. Notorious, for one thing -- if that movie isn't a 10.0, what is? Rope is over-rated (it always is). I've always liked Lifeboat better than most folks I know, and Shadow of a Doubt slightly less. Strangers on a Train is one of my favorites.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Inspector Duff
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The book mentioned in the original post (Life in Darkness...) is excellent. I got it as a Christmas present several years ago and it's definitely very re-readable.

I can't comment too much on the British period because I haven't seen too many of those films. Of the ones I have, The Lady Vanishes is my favorite.

The "Middle Period" is primo Hitch in my opinion. It's hard for me to rank because how do you compare Lifeboat (an excellent movie) with Notorious (an equally excellent movie made in a different style). Is it fair to rank Mr. and Mrs. Smith lower just because it's a comedy? It's a very enjoyable movie in its own right.

From the list I would say Foreign Correspondent is the most underrated and most fun. My vote for most overrated is from the later period (Vertigo). I know it's a classic, but it just doesn't excite me all that much. Kim Novak does zilch for me as an actress. Give me Bergman or Kelly any day :)
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George Kaplan
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Rope is interesting the way (I imagine) an autopsy is interesting: hard to watch, and hard not to watch. The actors look petrified most of the time (after all, who wanted to fluff a line in the ninth minute of a ten-minute take?). Later on, Hitchcock would wonder aloud why he even made the movie, since its long unedited takes violated the principles that, for him, constituted "pure cinema."

But I agree with you, Inspector Duff: it seems pointless to rank Hitchcock films because nearly every one of them was in the nature of an experiment--in style, if not in subject. And the ones he says he tossed off, like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, are some of his most beloved. Even films over which he had less control are graced by magnificent performances--think of Judith Anderson in Rebecca, or of Robert Walker and Marion Horne in Strangers on a Train.

The one I return to again and again from this period is Notorious.

I think the McGilligan book is the best of the Hitch bios. Others that Balconeers might enjoy are Hitchcock at Work by Bill Krohn (Phaidon, 2000) and Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco by Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal (Santa Monica Press, 2002).
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Black Tiger
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About Rope: there is an off-Broadway revival of the original play the film was based on. The material is much edgier in the stageplay and quite powerful as a live performance. This is one of those cases where a watered-down film version of a play just didn't translate as well to the screen - even with a master like Hitch at the helm.
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