Gary Collinson selects his Five Essential Films of Alfred Hitchcock…
Without question, legendary director Alfred Hitchcock is among the very best filmmakers in history, and in my opinion the greatest British directing talent of all time. The Master of Suspense enjoyed a long and hugely influential career across six decades, beginning in the silent era and leading to a dominance of British cinema and celebrated Hollywood career. In this time Hitchcock produced a number of cinematic masterpieces, demonstrating true genius of his craft, and his body of work includes enough quality movies to fill several of these lists.
Alas, there can be only five, so here (after much struggle) are what I consider to be the Essential Films of Alfred Hitchcock…
5. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
With the next four entries unquestionable, the decision of what to include in fifth place (and therefore, what to exclude) proved most difficult. Shadow of a Doubt makes it due to Joseph Cotten’s performance as Uncle Charlie, a.k.a. the Merry Widow Murderer, who seeks refuge from the police with his sister’s family in small-town America. Hitchcock’s personal favourite, the film is filled with suspense as niece Charlie (Teresa Wright) comes to suspect her uncle, who then sets about to make her his next victim. Perhaps a little dated, but with nail-biting tension through-out.
4. Vertigo (1958)
Based on Boileau-Narcejac’s novel D’entre les morts (The Living and the Dead), Vertigo stars James Stewart as retired police detective ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, who happens to suffer from a fear of heights. Scottie is approached by a former acquaintance Gavin Elster to investigate the bizarre behaviour of his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak). Scottie falls in love with Madeleine but believes she has committed suicide until he meets another young woman, Judy, who bears a striking resemblance to the deceased. Packed with twists and turns and a genuinely shocking ending, Vertigo initially failed to meet with critical and commercial success but is now recognised as one of Hitchcock’s finest mysteries.
3. Rear Window (1954)
I found it immensely challenging to decide the order between Vertigo and Rear Window, as James Stewart provides another captivating performance as L.B. Jeffries, a photographer confined to his apartment due to a broken leg. Stewart – in addition to Hitchcock’s masterful direction – thoroughly engages the viewer into Jeffries’ voyeuristic world as he spies on his neighbours, and comes to suspect that a salesman in the opposite apartment may have murdered his wife. Grace Kelly co-stars as Stewart’s sceptical love interest. Gripping from start to finish, and it is a testament to Hitchcock’s overall body of work that this film is not higher.
2. North by Northwest (1959)
Hitchcock had been playing with and refining the ‘chase’ through-out his career, and by 1959 he had the formula tweaked to perfection. North by Northwest was Hitchcock’s fourth and final collaboration with star Cary Grant, and the screen legend delivers a classic performance as the innocent man caught up in a MacGuffin that sees him pursued across the country. The movie expertly blends action, suspense and humour, and includes one of the most famous and iconic scenes in cinema history as Grant is chased by a crop-dusting plane, in addition to a memorable finale on Mount Rushmore. A true classic in every sense of the word.
1. Psycho (1960)
After the double-header of Vertigo and North by Northwest, Hitchcock wanted to make a small, low-budget film using the crew from his television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The result is Psycho (based upon Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name), a chilling film that shocked audiences worldwide and ultimately revolutionised the horror genre. Hitchcock’s fascination with the ‘mother-son relationship’ is taken to the extreme with Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a disturbed young motel proprietor with a murderous split personality and penchant for drag. Quite simply, one of the greatest films of all time.
Read more of my Psycho thoughts here.
As I said in the introduction to this list, narrowing Hitchcock’s best movies into such a small number is a near-impossible task, and solely dependent on personal taste. While I think my selection provides a good cross-section of his filmography, I’m also 100% sure there are many who would disagree.
Honourable mentions have to go to other classics such as The 39 Steps (1935), Rope (1948), Strangers on a Train (1951), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and The Birds (1963). I’ve also got a soft spot for Lifeboat (1944) and The Trouble With Harry (1955), but now I’m just being greedy.
Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your comments on the list…
Gary Collinson is a writer and lecturer from the North East of England. He is the editor-in-chief of FlickeringMyth.com and the author of Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen.