I remember as a kid, weekly, our family would sit down to the “Alfred Hitchcock Show”! Along with the “Twilight Zone” hosted by Rod Sterling, these shows were not to be missed.
Additionally, Mr. Hitchcock’s distinctive “drawn” profile at the closure of each mystery is something one isn’t soon to forget.
The movie, I think, I recall best is the one entitled “The Birds.” I found the show so terrifying as a child, I was reticent about going outside. My mother assured me the birds where we lived did not carry such overwhelming demonic tendencies. In fact, she made certain that I understood birds in general did not behave in such fashion as demonstrated in the well-known Hitchcock film.
But let us suppose that birds did behave in such a fashion. The thought that birds could cloud the sky with their presence and descend upon humans as prey was quite a role reversal of sorts. Thus began my introduction to Alfred Hitchcock. Other movies followed: some produced at earlier dates than The Birds and others at later dates. Nevertheless, I would have to count “The Birds” as the most memorable for me of the Hitchcock films.
Herein, we will review Hitchcock’s films. One of Hitchcock’s earlier films was the famous “ 39 Steps”. This film starred Madeline Carroll and Robert Young. The film was produced in 1935. Hitchcock, it is rumored was “quite smitten” with Ms. Carroll. He also placed the actress in his move “Secret Agent” where the opening scene displays the normally well put-together (at the time) Madeline Carroll with a face full of cold cream!
Hitchcock even involved himself in the silent film industry: “The Lodger” premiered in 1927 as a Hitchcock silent film. The very first film made with sound was “Blackmail” in the year 1929. Both of these British films relied on a “romantic” plot. The films are similar in that both involve a couple whose connection is delayed romantically due to the intervention in the plot line of a third party.
Romance develops in “The Lodger” between beautiful Daisy (Bunting) and a gentleman lodger (thus, the name of the move.) There is a growing suspicion as to The Lodger’s identity as he makes nightly trips into London. Speculation has it that this lodger is the “Avenger.” The “Avenger” in the film is a serial murderer. Thus, the tension is created in the movie. Daisy’s suitor becomes more and more jealous of this gentleman Lodger. Her suitor is a policeman by the name of Joe Betts. The Lodger, is thus, falsely arrested. The misunderstood Lodger, by the end of the story is rescued from an angry mob of people as it is finally revealed that the Lodger is not the Avenger. The Lodger’s true identity is that of the brother of the Avenger’s first victim. The gentleman Lodger, in the end was merely seeking revenge on the Avenger.
“Blackmail” is similar in structure to “The Lodger.” Alice and Frank (who is a policeman) are not immediately connected romantically, as their relationship is put “on hold” by two males. Alice discretely visits an artist’s lodgings (behind Frank’s back). She is forced to kill the artist when she is attacked. Frank is assigned to the murder investigation. During his investigation, Frank finds a glove left by Alice at the scene and withholds the evidence. Alice’s behavior and subsequent guilt sets the stage for the movie. In theory, the audience identifies somewhat with Alice’s impropriety as well as her guilt.
In “39 Steps” made in 1939, there are two women involved and man as opposed to two men and one woman. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is “picked up” by Annabella. Annabella ends up being a double agent. Needless to say, she is a woman whose morality is in question. Annabella will work for any nation that will pay her to spy. She is seeking a safe place for the night from her pursuers. She, thus, spends the night in Hannay’s apartment; however, by morning, Annabella has become a fatality. Hannay is forced to go “on the run” and seeks to clear himself of a crime he did not commit. He, along the way, meets Pamela (Madeline Carroll). Pamela and Hannay are captured by the spies who committed the crime against Annabella. The two, Pamela and Hannay, escape the criminals while being bound together by handcuffs.
In 1939, Hitchcock decided to leave England to reside permanently in the United States. Hitchcock felt he could make better films in Hollywood. Thus, the films made between 1940 and 1950 are produced with classic Hollywood style: realistic in nature with linear plots. Three very important films made during this time frame were: “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943); Spellbound (1945); and Notorious 1946).
Hitchcock wanted to capture the spirit of an American movie; thus he hired Thornton Wilder to help write “Shadow of a Doubt. Consequently, “Shadow of a Doubt” is written in a very traditional American way: from an age of innocence to one of experience. Charlie Newton (Teresa Wright) feels that she and her family have “lost spirit,” therefore, she sends for her Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) to “cheer things up” a bit. Uncle Charlie, however, turns out to be a murderer with a disagreeable perspective upon the world.
In addition, Uncle Charlie attempts to take charge of the Newton household. Charlie, herself, gains this insight in regard to her Uncle. She finally is able to get him away from the family, keeping the whole affair a secret but at the sake of her own innocence.
After Charlie, does “come of age” she is able to work with a young detective tracking the case of the “Merry Widow Murderer,” determined to be Uncle Charlie. The young detective has been investigating the case and at the same time courting Charlie. Charlie Newton and her detective suitor are both knowledgeable in the fact that the Newton family as well as the town have been spared the details regarding Uncle Charlie.
In “Spellbound and “Notorious” the women characters do not fare so well as the young Charlie in “Shadow of Doubt”. One woman is a professional and the other woman is a spy.
“Spellbound” is the first of Hitchcock’s films to deal with psychoanalysis. The primary emphasis of the film, however, is the romance between Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. Constance falls in love with Gregory Peck’s character who is suffering from amnesia. Peck’s character believes he has killed the person whose identity he has acquired. Constance solves the mystery by way of psychoanalysis along with “female” intuition.
“Notorious” employs the three character design. Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), and Devlin (Cary Grant) are not brought together until Alexander Sebastian (Claude Raines) is removed from the story line. Alicia agrees to spy on behalf of the United States as a way to make up for the treason incurred by her father. She is to spy on Alexander Sebastian, an old suitor of Alicia’s who happens to be part of a Nazi group of agents located in Rio. Alicia, thus marries Sebastian as a way of infiltrating the Nazis. This is Alicia’s story, anyway, as told to Colonel Prescott. Prescott is the head of United States Intelligence. The real reason for the marriage is that Devlin (who is the man Alicia has “fallen in love”) appears to be indifferent.
Alexander Sebastian, is no doubt the most interesting of the characters in “Notorious.” Sebastian, being the story’s villain is left at the end, by his wife and her lover, Devlin, thus facing the consequences of having married a spy.
The next decade, (1950 to 1960), Hitchcock created three of his masterpieces: “Rear Window” (1954); “Vertigo” (1958); and North by Northwest (1959).
“North by Northwest” is a romance-suspense film while “Rear Window” and “Vertigo” are quite different.
In “Rear Window” L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart), a photojournalist is confined to a wheel chair. He watches the private lives of his neighbors through his window. Lisa Freemont (Grace Kelly) wants to marry Jeff. Jeff finds Lisa to be “too perfect”: too beautiful and sophisticated. Lisa helps solve a murder mystery by breaking into the apartment of a suspected murderer in order to attain information and evidence. Lisa handles herself effectively in a “rear window” world that is equally as dangerous as “Jeff’s world.”
“Vertigo” is a different type of film than “Rear Window.” Scotty (James Stewart) becomes obsessed in changing Judy (Kim Novak) into the “perfect” woman. Scotty convinces Judy to wear a gray tailored suit and dye her hair platinum blonde. He literally takes the “spirit” out of Judy. However, Judy, complies with Scotty’s scheme because she loves him. By the end of the film, Scotty is most upset about the fact that Judy’s former lover created the image of Judy of which Scotty had initially “fallen in love.”
“Psycho” (1960); The Birds (1963); and Marnie (1964) are three significant works of the 60s decade.
“Psycho” begins with Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) demanding her lover marry her. She also steals money from one of her employer’s clients. (The client has made an advance so Marion feels justified in the theft.) The money is “earmarked” for her lover who is not financially well off. The first half of the movie Marion must contend with her lover, her employer’s client, a highway patrolman who appears suspicious; and a used car salesman named “California Charlie.” Marion deals with each of these individual characters (somewhat successfully) only to run into Norman Bates (played by Anthony Perkins.) And, as many know, who are acquainted with the “legendary” film, Marion meets her tragic fate during the “shower scene,” halfway through the film.
Melanie Daniels (played by Tippi Hedren) is repeatedly attacked in the film, “The Birds”. The last assault occurs in an attic scene. This memorable scene is often compared to the “shower scene” in “Psycho”.
Melanie’s character is portrayed as a strong, independent woman; however, the “attic scene” diminishes that depiction to some degree.
Throughout the course of the movie, Melanie pursues Mitch Brenner (played by Rod Taylor.) During the first bird attacks, Melanie takes care of Rod’s sister and incapacitated mother. Later, however, Melanie is the one who is helpless and is left to the care of Mitch (as well as a “caring” Mother.)
Marnie Edgar (played by Tippi Hedren) defies a “male” world. Marnie “hates” men and she steals from her employer. She is captured by Mark Rutland, her employer, who blackmails Marnie into marrying him. Mark attacks Marnie on the “honeymoon” night and then tries to cure her by way of amateur psychoanalysis. Significant changes were made to the story line, by Hitchcock, from the original book version written by Winston Graham.
Whatever film one observes, there is a trait in the Hitchcock characters, namely the women, in which the audience can identify. For instance, even though the character may be a thief, there is a vulnerable side. In the earlier Hitchcock films there is a suspended romantic involvement which keeps the audience curious. All in all, the films are rich in scope, and most enduring.