The Hitchmania project commenced way back in February of this year. It began with his first released motion picture, The Pleasure Garden, and finally wrapped with Family Plot. Through the course of over 50 years, he made 53 films. He was also involved in other productions and a television series.
From the British silent features to the classics, Hitch walked through several genres and conceits. He was perhaps his own biggest critic and made no bones about disliking many of his own pictures. He had his favourites (Shadow of a Doubt) and his self-described disasters (Number Seventeen). He had actors and actresses he preferred and actors and actresses that he did not.
Much in the same way, audiences are allowed their favourites. That brings Hitchmania to what is perhaps its inevitable culmination: the ranking of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. As someone who generally avoids lists and ranking, yours truly is taking to this list with all the disinclined obligation of digging a grave. It has to be done because it has to be done. In light of that, I’ve decided to produce a tally of the top dozen Hitchcock films. And I’ve decided to divide that list in half to shamelessly milk this unpleasantness for all it’s worth.
A few interesting factoids from inside the mind of my own admittedly mundane rating system. Out of 54 reviewed features, a dozen of them received a four “maple leaf” rating. That’s 22 percent, a pretty damn good average. Only two films fell short of being recommended outright: Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Number Seventeen. And even those two pictures are far from the disasters that come out on a rather routine basis. Of the top 12 Hitchcock pictures, three of them star James Stewart. Grace Kelly and Cary Grant appear in two of them.
Enough dithering. Here are the first six selections for the Top 12 Alfred Hitchcock movies:
This 1934 picture was essentially a culmination of ideas from previous Hitchcock outings, representing perhaps the first real entry for the Master of Suspense. It’s certainly where his ideas began to coagulate in one place, taking elements from The Lodger and Blackmail and pushing them out into the open. Throw Peter Lorre in the mix and you’ve got a classic on your hands.
This “based on a true story” film is all about the role coincidence can play in the lives of average men. Hitch was fascinated by a story he’d read in Life and he brought it to the screen with Henry Fonda in the lead role. The result is a thriller that meditates on faith, suffering, guilt, and innocence all at once.
This is arguably Hitchcock’s sleekest and funniest British film. It is certainly one of his most entertaining. The director uses a pile of conveniences and even contrivances to make things happen, but it all speaks to the larger point: no matter how prepared one might be, there’s very little that can stop the sinister from happening in the end.
9. Rope (1948)
Alfred Hitchcock’s first feature in Technicolor finally breaks him from the Selznick mould and lets him loose. Full in his freedom, so to speak, he would choose to bind himself to a series of long takes and a confined-space yarn that is among his most chilling pictures. This is no mystery or whodunit. It’s purely macabre.
While The Man Who Knew Too Much gave Hitchcock the chance to fully realize a villain, this picture allows him to play the hero. Or, more precisely, it’s Robert Donat who plays the hero. Known for his swashbuckling roles, he brings a charisma to the part that is off the page. Having to “connect” with Madeleine Carroll isn’t a big problem, either.
Bergman and Grant scorch the screen in what is arguably Hitchcock’s most sexual movie. The flick fell out of the Selznick camp due to the super-producer’s financial troubles, so that allowed the director to step in in the producer’s slot. He caught the bug for it, taking a feature that was “beneath” David O. into the stratosphere.