Tag: Alfred Hitchcock

It’s hard to deny it: The Birds is funny.

Hitchcock’s 1963 masterpiece certainly does not seem like a comedy on paper. A horrific polemic on the end of humanity, the film ought to draw screams, not giggles. And yet something about it is simply hilarious. Rather than feeling sympathy towards Melanie Daniels and company as they fight their way through hordes of monstrous birds, modern audiences can often be found laughing at their feeble attempts at survival.

April 11, 2019 / / Main Slate Archive

It was the great Alfred Hitchcock himself who coined the term MacGuffin. Simply put, a MacGuffin is a plot trigger used to propel a movie’s storyline along. It is why a movie’s characters do what they do, go where they go, but apart from this, it holds little or no importance. It exists to create an engine for sending characters on their movie mission. In North by Northwest, for example, the MacGuffin is Cary Grant’s James Mason. In Notorious, characters keep making reference to “secret papers” and to some sort of “sand” hidden in a wine bottle. Is it plutonium? We are never told and Hitchcock assures us that a MacGuffin is “the thing that the characters on the screen worry about, but the audience don’t care.”

July 19, 2018 / / Main Slate Archive

Vertigo (1958) remains the top contender for the best film of Hitchcock’s impressive oeuvre. In the film, John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) suffers from vertigo after pursuing a robber over rooftops and plummeting nearly to his death. After his near-fatal accident, he is hired to investigate Madeline (Kim Novak), the wife of an old college friend, who is acting strange, almost possessed. As Ferguson pursues Madeline, he not only saves her from drowning, but ultimately falls in love with her. But his vertigo prevents him from saving her life a second time when she appears to throw herself from a church tower. The second half of the film follows Ferguson as he recovers from a mental breakdown and meets Judy, a woman with such a striking resemblance to Madeline (Judy is also played by Kim Novak) that Ferguson becomes obsessed and remakes her in Madeline’s image.

There’s no doubt: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) was director Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite of his own films. I was surprised to learn this; I would have assumed it was North by Northwest (1959) because Cary Grant was his favorite actor to work with. But Hitchcock confirmed that Shadow of a Doubt was his favorite in an interview with talk show host Dick Cavett in 1972. But why was this film Hitchcock’s favorite? Hitchcock’s daughter, Pat, said, “this was my father’s favorite movie because he loved the thought of bringing menace into a small town” in the documentary Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock’s Favorite Film (2000). The film also held sentimental value for Hitchcock, as he injected many personal touches and also enlisted the help of his wife to write the screenplay.

December 22, 2017 / / Main Slate Archive

I never lose interest in the work of my favorite director, Alfred Hitchcock. His films hold up under repeated scrutiny. They feel as fresh on the fifteenth viewing as they do on the first. As I have written elsewhere, Hitchcock’s smaller efforts are superior to the greatest efforts of other directors. The might be said of Woody Allen’s work. Both directors became such masters of their craft that they could elevate even an apparently minor story to the realm of the sublime.

May 8, 2017 / / Main Slate Archive

Coming at a unique moment in cinema history, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1962) is like nothing else on film: a mesmerizing mixture of suburban sheen, suspense and terror that all but abandons any notion of plot completely, made by an artist who had at that point risen to the very top of his profession and yet had to overcome multiple disappointments and obstacles to complete the project.

Having begun his lengthy, legendary career in England during the Silent Era almost four decades earlier, Hitchcock was riding high by the 1960s, enjoying a string of successes and, more importantly, unprecedented control over his work. In addition to supervising and contributing to his television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the filmmaker closed out the 1950s with the masterful, moody Vertigo (1958) and the comic thriller North By Northwest (1959), following them with a small-budget movie that went on to become one of the most famous, analyzed and imitated in history: Psycho (1960). Playfully and radically thwarting expectations and bringing a new level of intensity and violence to the silver screen, Psycho anticipated (some would say invented) an entire genre: the slasher film. Never one to rest on his laurels, Hitchcock’s next movie would again push the storytelling envelope and presage yet another genre that would soon come to dominate the cinematic world: the disaster film.

September 19, 2016 / / Main Slate Archive

If we had to pick a single film from Alfred Hitchcock’s individually unique and brilliant filmography to stand as his cinematic signature, it would undoubtedly be Rear Window. It is the most literal expression of his fondness for our ‘peeping tom’ nature and a great example of his expert coalescence of suspense and humor. Disguising what is primarily a love story, the murder mystery in Rear Window is a classic Hitchcockian tale seen completely from the point of view of the protagonist.

May 25, 2016 /

On November 14, 1941, an enemy German torpedo destroyed the Royal Navy aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal (91). In America, British director and producer Alfred Hitchcock, and the British-starring cast of Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Nigel Bruce, Cedric Hardwicke and Dame May Whitty attended the premiere of their film SUSPICION. For a film filled to the brim with all things British (cast, director, producer, author, setting) those involved would prefer to present a triumphant Britain in the midst of World War II. American audiences, eleven days before Thanksgiving, were not skipping to the cinema with their families to see something saddening.

The last frame in the last Alfred Hitchcock film involves Barbara Harris winking to the camera. It’s as perfect a last shot a director could ask for, especially one like Hitchcock. The erstwhile Master of Suspense made a career out of delicious irony, nods to the audience, and playing with expectations. His whole career is like a dry British joke; even his most serious films include some kind of off-kilter humor. FAMILY PLOT is a weird movie; it’s the classic “Anastasia” fairy tale turned on its head. It has certain Hitchcock elements, including a morbid sense of humor and meticulously crafted sequences.

November 25, 2015 / / Main Slate Archive

The premise of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN plays into director Alfred Hitchcock’s love for the perfect murder. DIAL M FOR MURDER, REAR WINDOW, ROPE, and VERTIGO each explore murderers who meticulously plot a murder so they do not get caught. These are elaborate, contrived plans that rely on accuracy, predictable behavior and a dash of right place, right time.