Director Talk: Alfred Hitchcock

Posted: September 30, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Director Talk

Ian:  Welcome back to another Director’s Talk with Ian, Fogs, and PG Cooper.  And today we have a guest joining us for this chat, HT Schuyler who also posts at PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews.  For this talk we’ve decided to take on one of the ultimate movie giants: Alfred Hitchcock.  Hitch is about as legendary as they come for filmmakers with a vast repertoire and a distinct style, as well as just being a genius in his craft.  So I’m going to start off by throwing out a pretty general question to the panel: When you first hear the name Hitchcock, whats the first image or thought that comes to your mind?

Cooper: My first image is kind of lame, but it’s his cameo in North by Northwest when he runs to the bus but ultimately doesn’t make it. Why? Because this was the first Hitchcock film I watched and so it was also my first time seeing him cameo.

Fogs: I think of the shower scene in Psycho, no doubt.

HT: I always think of this one picture of him holding the film marker for Psycho, looking as triumphant as ever.

Ian:  I’ve got to agree with Fogs, I always think of that shower scene. Either that or maybe the outline of his profile.  That must be from the old TV show I think?  Alfred Hitchcock Presents?

A few weeks ago, the famous Sight and Sound poll results were released, and Hitch’s Vertigo was announced as the greatest movie of all time, dislodging Citizen Kane from the top spot since 1962. Lets talk about that for a second.  Is Vertigo the movie that should be there?  Does Hitchcock deserve that top spot?  Does this film in particular deserve it?

Fogs: I love Vertigo, I really do. I think it’s easily one of Hitchcock’s best, and definitely one of the greatest movies of all time. It also made a huge leap forward between AFI lists, as well. On the first “100 Years” listing, it was in the 60s, and then on the tenth anniversary it wound up #9. So somehow it got turbo charged in this last decade. Probably something to do with the age makeup of the critics involved in contributing to the lists.
Is it worthy of number one? Yeah, definitely, but that’s not to say that I’d have it there personally, even though I have an immense affection and respect for it. I would probably side with a movie that has a larger pop culture footprint… either The Godfather, Casablanca, or The Wizard of Oz, say.
Cooper: Vertigo is not my favourite Hitchcock film, but it’s up there, and I don’t object to it being listed as number one. It wouldn’t be my number one film of all time, hell I don’t think it make my top twenty-five, but that doesn’t mean Vertigo isn’t an excellent film worthy of being called one of the greatest.
HT: I’m honestly just happy to see a Hitchcock film as number 1, regardless what it is. I do personally think that Vertigo is not his best, as I think both Rear Window and Psycho are superior films, but as it stands, I have no issues with Vertigo being the top of the list.
Ian:  Fogs, your point on the new AFI list has made me think about how highly Vertigo seems to have jumped in people’s opinions in general over the last decade or so.  And HT, it does seem suiting that he’d be at the top.  Yet the Oscars kept neglecting him….
HT: Well, the Oscars seem to have a history of ignoring greatness…
Cooper: Agreed. Look how long it took Scorsese and Spielberg to win, or that Kubirck never won an Oscar (not counting his award for the effects in 2001). A lot of his films weren’t initially seen as the masterpieces they are today, namely Vertigo, but also Shadow of a Doubt and Strangers on a Train. Plus, his three films that did score him a Best Director nomination (RebeccaRear Window, andPsycho) had to go up against films which were adored by critics and the public (The Grapes of WrathOn The Waterfront, and The Apartment).
Fogs: Those ARE three great films. That’s a good point
Cooper: I’m actually not too fond of The Grapes of Wrath, not that I’d call it bad, but it’s kind of dull. On The Waterfront I like, but I like Brando’s performance more than I like the film as a whole. The Apartment…I’m not going to criticize because I really enjoy that movie, though not it enough that it warrants winning Best Picture and Director over Psycho.
Ian:  Putting the Oscars aside for a second, lets talk about Hitchcock’s moniker for a second; the “master of suspense”.  Does he deserve this nickname?  And if so, which sequences from his movies best outline why?
Fogs: Absolutely, he is. So many of his films focused on a protagonist who didn’t fully realize what was going on… who they were up against, or what they were involved in, etc. And no one was able to work that angle like Hitchcock. He was definitely the master. I might go with Vertigo, where you as a viewer realize that well, spoiler free, Kim Novak is “playing” Jimmy Stewart, but he kind of doesn’t know it yet… and you’re not sure what it’s building to. For me, that’s a very intense passage of film. Stewart is very dark and almost imbalanced as a character. I love that movie, and I think its very very suspenseful.
Cooper: I agree with Fogs. In addition to VertigoRear Window is a great example. There’s one location throughout the entire film and yet you’re constantly on edge.
HT: I would say he absolutely deserves the nickname, for a few reasons. Yes not all of his movies are straight up suspense features, but his ones that are (Rear Window, Psycho, Rope, The Birds, Strangers on a Train etc) handle the suspense so well, they really get under your skin. There is one mind-blowing scene in Psycho that is so simple, yet so brutally effective and suspenseful, all due to how Hitchcock decided to shoot it. Norman Bates is talking to his “mother”, who is apparently in her room. The camera slowly climbs up the stairs and then goes to the right hand corner of the upstairs hallway, giving an almost birds eye view of the situation. It gives the viewer the impression that they are looking down at the scene, but they can’t fully see Norman or his mother, and are left wondering what could possibly be happening in the room that is just out of their eyesight.

Hitchcock’s films keep you guessing until the last minute, and captivate the audience in solid anticipation for the payoff. Yes others directors have made suspenseful films, but none have done it with such dark humor, wit and just overall genius that Hitchcock did with his films. Even his films that are not particularly suspenseful still have moments that utilize his techniques to keep an audience at the edge of their seat, such as the brilliant crop duster scene from North By Northwest. It’s his talent and style that keep the audience engaged and invested in the film, and in utter anticipation of what will happen next. To me that’s why he’s The Master of Suspense.

I mean who else is going to get that title? Wes Craven?
Ian: HT, great mention with the Pyshco house shot.  Another moment for me where I think he really shines in the suspense department is the phone scene in Dial M for Murder.  The silence in that scene is just full of tension.  Also, the scene in The Birds where they step outside and the birds are sitting all around them.  That image is so eerie, and on such a primitive level.But the moment when I really experienced the power of Hitch’s master suspense craft was when I showed Rear Window to my Grade 9 class.  At the beginning they thought it was just another dumb old movie.  But by the end they were completely on edge and enveloped in the mystery of whether or not he killed his wife.  It really reaffirmed for me how well Hitchcock can play his audience.
Cooper: It’s nice to hear about a young audience really clicking with a classic.
Ian: Now with his reputation for suspense, one major strength that Hitckcock has in his film-making tool belt is often overlooked.  And because its overlooked I think that it probably takes new viewers by surprise.  And of course I am talking about the humour in Hitch’s films.   Would you three agree or disagree with my statement?
HT: I for sure agree. All of Hitchcock’s films have a much needed sense of humour to them, helping put the audience at ease throughout all the suspense. I think combining these two techniques is brilliant.
Cooper: I’m in agreement as well. I still think the final shot to Rear Window, which mirrors the first except now Stewart’s character has two broken legs, is hysterical.
Ian:  Yeah, that is a great closing shot.  I also love the banter he likes to include.  A great example is Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest.Actually that brings me to my next question.  Who do you prefer as a Hitchcock leading man?  Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart?
Fogs: Ooooh. Good one…
I go Stewart, but it might just be because I like Vertigo more than any of Grant’s.
HT: I agree, this is a hard one. I’m not comparing the two as actors, as they are both two of the greatest actors to ever live, but I personally prefer Jimmy Stewart, mainly as I’ve seen more of his Hitchcock films that Cary Grant’s. His performances in Rear Window, Vertigo and even Rope are all phenomenal, creating very likable and distinct characters, each one memorable. I only have Cary Grant’s performance in North By Northwest to compare to, and while he does an exceptional job, I think of Stewart’s characters before his. Two incredible actors, but this one goes to Stewart.
Fogs: I’d really recommend “To Catch a Thief” then, HT. That’s a great one, and Grant is at his best. I think I actually like him better in that one than in North by Northwest!
Cooper: Like HT, the only Grant performance I’ve seen in a Hitchcock film is North by Northwest. He’s great in it, but I think Stewart’s work in Rear Window and especially Vertigo is far deeper.
Ian: They are both quite good.  If you haven’t seen Grant in Notorious you should probably do so, especially since it has stars Ingrid Bergman and the incredible Claude Rains.
I think I prefer Grant for the humour, Stewart for the more serious stuff.As for actresses, my favourite has to be Grace Kelly in Rear Window, though she is equally as great in Dial M as well.  She is really able to hold her own against Stewart in RW and manages to play the “rich girl” without being stereotypical or shallow at all.
Cooper: Kelly certainly is great in Rear Window. Then again, so is Kim Novak in Vertigo. Hurm, tough call between the two. I think I’ll still side with Grace Kelly, but Novak is a close second.
Fogs: No-Vak (Clap, Clap) No-vak (Clap, Clap)… :D
Ian: Fogs is clearly on the Vertigo bandwagon, so lets get to our Top 3 Hitchcock movies part so that I can argue with him.
Here are my three favourite Hitch films
1. North by Northwest
2. Rear Window
3. Psycho
Cooper:

1. Psycho
2. Vertigo
3. Rear Window
HT:
1.) Pyscho
2.) Rear Window
3.) Vertigo
Fogs: 1) Psycho
2) Vertigo
3) Rear Window
Cooper: Fogs, I like your list :P
Fogs: Yeah, I saw it matched yours, but I wasn’t going to change it up. I haven’t seen strangers on a train yet, but I think those three plus NxNW are his top four in some order… I like Rear Window better. Psycho and Vertigo can be a toss up for me I think they’re both awesome
Cooper: If I were to add a fourth, it be Strangers on a Train or Shadow of a Doubt.
Ian: Hmm, yeah.  Not a lot of variation here.  Though I’m surprised I’m the only one with North by Northwest. That movie is just so much fun, it won me over immediately.  Whereas Vertigo, though artistic, is a little dry.
Cooper: I was a bit underwhelmed by North by Northwest. Not that it’s bad, I just found it inferior to several other thrillers.
Ian: Well, I love it.  Its exciting, wide-sweeping, and has such great spy troupes, like the auction room, the matchbox bit, and the fake agent aspect.
Well guys, here it is:  Time for our Hitchcock confessions.  Which Hitch films haven’t you seen which you feel like you really should see?
Cooper: Notorious, Dial M for Murder, The 39 Steps, Rebecca, and Rope jump to mind.
Fogs: A while back I made a big push to catch up on a number of them, but one I didnt get around to that I really feel I need to is “Strangers on a Train”
I was really disappointed it wont be on the upcoming “Masterpiece Collection”. :(
HT:Dial M for Murder, Rebecca and Notorious.  Also Ian, I completely agree with you on North by Northwest, it’s a masterpiece.

Strangers on a Train not being in the Masterpiece Collection is the main reason I probably won’t be getting it.
Cooper: I should say that I’ve warmed to North by Northwest quite a bit since first seeing it. Oh and Fogs, you gotta get on Strangers on a Train. That movie’s awesome.
Ian: Yeah, there’s a lot you guys need to see.  I myself have not seen Strangers on a Train either.  For a long time I thought I had, but then realized it was The Lady Vanishes that I saw (which also has a train).  So I guess that is the one I need to see.  Also, Lifeboat sounds intersesting,Well, we are wrapping up our talk here today, but we need to first state what we believe is Hitchcock’s signature film, the film which defines him as a filmmaker, the one which he is most well known for.  And I have a feeling there will be a lot of consensus on this one..,
Fogs: It has to be Psycho. I mean, people can argue best film/worst film… anything they want. But if you play free word association with people? 99 out of 100 times, I bet their answer is Psycho.
Cooper: I think I lean toward Rear Window. Sure, I like Psycho more, but I feel Rear Window captures Hitchcock as a filmmaker the best. In addition to being incredibly well made, the film features tension, romance, and comedy all balanced extremely well. It has everything you’d associate with a Hitchcock film.
HT: Total agreement with Cooper on this one. I do think that everyone has their own favourites when it comes to Hitchcock, be it for a personal reason or simply because some of his films are much more famous than others and have left more of a legacy. Psycho has done just that, spawning many sequels and even a TV show. Oh…and that remake thing. I would also agree that Rear Window is very iconic as well, but I would also like to point out the popularity of The Birds. Whether people have seen it or not, everyone knows some of the imagery from The Birds, and it spawned a sequel too and apparently a remake is in the works or something. My personal choice is, of course, Psycho, because he took a very controversial story, had a low budget and and chose to film in black and white, and he still managed to make it into (in my opinion) one of the greatest films ever made. It’s Psycho’s sheer genius that proves Hitchcock’s abilities, and though for everyone it’s different, it’s the first one that comes to mind for me.
Ian: No, its Psycho.  Cooper, what are you thinking? Of course its Psycho.  Psycho is beyond iconic, even for movies.
Fogs: Heheh.
Cooper: Sure it’s more iconic, but I’m arguing Rear Window captures Hitchcock as a filmmaker much more.
Ian: Well, at least I’m not the one with the deviant opinion this time.  And Fogs and I are actually in agreement! Imagine that.
Well, that wraps up our Hitchcock Director Talk.  Thanks for tuning in, and be sure to leave your comments!
Comments
  1. ckckred says:

    Nice post. My favorite by Hitchcock is Vertigo with Rear Window as a close second.

  2. Hunter says:

    Man! Y’all got to see Notorious! And Rebecca! He won best picture for that!
    Notorious is actually probably my favorite Hitchcock film, even though it’s not necessarily the most “Hitchcock-y”
    I’ve actually seen more of Hitchcock’s earlier stuff, which is probably not as intense as some of his later stuff (I haven’t seen Psycho because I’m too scared. But I will, don’t worry). Since I haven’t seen too many of his films, I’m not sure how true that generalization is but….
    Anyway, interesting discussion. It’s so hard to discuss Hitchcock because you could really go on forever because he made so many great films.

  3. alysonkrier says:

    Great talk guys. A little surprised there wasn’t that much love for The Birds, but maybe that’s just me. My top Hitchcock films would have to be Psycho, Vertigo and The Birds (cause I can watch it over and over and only love it more!). Rear Window is a very close fourth. Glad to see I’m not the only one who still needs to see Notorious.

  4. Great discussion guys. I’ve still got a lot of Hitchcock to see (mind you, his body of work guarantees that it’ll take a while to get to it all). I’m still “missing” Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window and both versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much among others. But I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing those and more; any time I notice a film is by Hitchcock it immediately goes in my queue.

    My top three so far:
    1. Vertigo
    2. North by Northwest
    3. Notorious

  5. Eric says:

    Fun stuff, guys. Count me in as another vote for all of you needing to see Notorious ASAP. I just saw it for the first time last month, and it might be in my top three for Hitchcock already. Loved it.

  6. […] Talk” discussion is up! This time Fogs, Ian, P.G. Cooper and special guest H.T. Schuyler take on the master of suspense, Alfred […]

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