An Ode to Overlooked Hitchcock
For the master of suspense’s most celebrated films: Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, lies another tier to his impressive filmography. These works have been lost to time, gone out of favour, or outshone by the titans of the filmography they share. They embody the unique stylings that would immortalise Hitchcock's career and remain entertaining discoveries. This is an ode to overlooked Hitchcock.
The Lady Vanishes, 1938
The pinnacle of Hitchcock’s British achievements, and another classic mystery set on a train, (why is it that they make such fascinating plot devices), The Lady Vanishes is endlessly entertaining fun. It tells the journey of socialite Iris Carr (Margaret Lockwood), on the way to marriage, when she befriends an elderly traveller (Dame Mae Whitty), who seemingly disappears shortly after. With the help of musicologist Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), they set out for clues. Redgrave is as witty as he is posh; Lockwood is preppy but convincing. The set of characters provide irresistible fun. There are the two Brits who detest the train being held up because there’s a cricket match at the end of the line and the two Italian travellers, one morbidly robed, who deny any sight of the lady, despite sharing her cabin. A nun in high heels threatens to reveal the mystery. If anything was to detract, it would be the mishandling of pace in the most climactic points. In many ways, The Lady Vanishes has held up well with time. There are moments where we occasionally cut to a dangerous shot of the train roaring along. The knocking rails constantly underpins the tension. The leads are well-aware of foreign espionage and never fall into the temptation of gaslight. Certainly, a true delight.
Watch if you liked: The 39 Steps
Shadow of a Doubt, 1943
The same way David Lynch’s Blue Velvet would explore the underbelly of middle America forty years later, Shadow of a Doubt intends to upset the façade of nostalgic ideals in small town life. Charlotte (Teresa Wright), at once naïve, then courageously capable, is eager to meet her elusive uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten), but upon his arrival begins to suspect his motives. There is a persuasiveness in Wright’s performance that propels the conviction of her character’s psyche along. There are a myriad of shots from Charlotte’s perspective that ground us between the walls of her suburban home. A constant state of suspicion, and tension, especially in the midpoint make it one of the more traditionally ‘Hitchcockian’ films on this list.
Watch if you liked: The Man Who Knew Too Much
Before the single-setting experiment of Rope, there was Lifeboat. During the Second World War, several survivors of a merchant ship torpedoed by Nazis find themselves in the same lifeboat as the man who sunk it. The attention to camera angles, along with the bickering characters, and the schemes they suspect, or devise, create a heightened sense of perspective. The chemistry between the ensemble fuels the relatively light plot. Tallulah Bankhead is the standout. Lifeboat is a great actor-driven mystery, almost in the likes of Agatha Christie, and an enjoyable feast. That is if you can stand the incessant rocking of the boat.
Watch if you liked: Rope
Hitchcock’s developing maturity, a critically-acclaimed script and the screen presence of Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains combine to brew Notorious into an admirable achievement. It is a mix of spy and film noir; espionage plots involving Nazis in Brazil, and conspirators becoming entangled in that web. No stranger to crafting love amidst danger, the international intrigue raises the stakes, and makes that famous kiss all the more iconic. The trove of thematic analysis and contextual relevance, like the patriotism that envelopes each character, might lie beneath the text, but the visual appeal is something to marvel. It is one of Hitchcock’s best acted films. Claude Rains would receive an Academy Award nomination. It is also home to plenty of tantalising shots, courtesy of cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff. The most memorable sequence involves a crane. It starts high above a ballroom, slowly drawing into the clenched fist of Alicia (Bergman), and the crucial wine cellar key. Delightful and rich in character, it's a great film to watch and rewatch.
Watch if you liked: Spellbound
Following a series of flops in his late career, Frenzy would be a return to form. The penultimate work in his catalogue, and a return to his homeland, it follows the case of a serial strangler roaming the streets of London and the police’s implication of the wrong man. In a change of pace, he casts lesser known performers and it works to great realistic effect. Any creative liberty that was dampened or circumvented during his Hollywood era is on full display. The work is brutal and gritty. There is humour to be found too. A moment where the chief inspector attempts to savour his wife’s ‘gourmet’ meal is one of Hitchcock’s funniest scenes. In an instance of cinematic ingenuity, just as we realise a murder will soon be committed, the camera pulls back, down the stairwell and out through the street, quietly leaving the scene of the crime. It plays as a prime example, not only of creative intuition, but career longevity and should be essential viewing for all Hitchcock fans.
Watch if you liked: Dial M for Murder but want something more British