20 - 26 September 2013 #674

The films of Alfred Hitchcock

Sophia Pande

Sometimes this “Must See” column suffers due to a sheer lack of good, current films to review. During these fallow periods I do resort to reviewing the classics so that people have a chance to watch or re-watch all those spectacular films that they may have inadvertently missed or perhaps forgotten.

So it is in that spirit that I would like to revisit the brilliant and disturbing films of Alfred Hitchcock, that auteur who, while undeniably a formal genius, was also deeply and irreparably perverse, disturbed, and horrifyingly cruel to his leading ladies who are now memorably referred to as the “Hitchcock Blondes”.

Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, and Tippi Hedren were all his coveted leading ladies, in films such as Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), The Birds (1963), and Marnie (1964). With their perfect, even features, coiffed blonde hair, and impeccable style these women were to become iconic in their portrayals of damaged women with perfect veneers, often objectified by their sadistic and misogynist lovers played by actors such as Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.

It is difficult to mention any one film that stands out in Hitchcock’s very prolific career – at least for me. While there have been instant classics like the four films mentioned above, there have also been a few lamentable misses, which I will leave you to decide for yourselves, since naming and discussing them would require a whole other column.

There are also the gems like Rebecca(1940), a gothic horror film adapted from that famous novel by Daphne Du Maurier starring Laurence Olivier (as Maxim de Winter) and Joan Fontaine (as his naïve and petrified wife) with Judith Anderson in an unforgettable role as the terrifying Mrs Danvers. There is also the taut and very creepy Rope (1948), which seems to take place as one long unraveling of a murder, without cuts, and with just a living room as the setting. Equally brilliant are films like Strangers on a Train (1951), Psycho (1960), and of course The Birds (1963).

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of these Hitchcock films is that more often than not, even the most “gimmicky” ones (like The Birds) still stand the test of time, horrifying us even 50 years later with their sheer perversity and intensity. Anyone who ever took a college level course on Hitchcock will testify to wanting to throw up everything in their system every time they re-watch James Stewart picking out clothes for Kim Novak in Vertigo as he tries to mould her to become his former dead lover, going to the extent of dying her dark hair platinum blonde.

The myth around Hitchcock, therefore, understandably, still persists. Recently there have been two biopics of him, both of which came out in 2012, titled The Girl and Hitchcock, neither of which are particularly intuitive. Still, at the end of your own Hitchcock marathon, you can watch them (but only at the end!) and so continue to speculate with your family and friends about the legacy left behind by this great but terribly strange man.

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