This article was originally published in The Concordian, Feb 14, 2012, vol 29, issue 21
There are directors, and then there are auteur directors – those whose creative voices resonate throughout all their work. Among the greatest auteurs are Howard Hawks, François Truffaut, Jean Renoir, and last but not least, Alfred Hitchcock.
Rightly credited as ‘the king of suspense’ by critics and audiences alike, the stories ‘the Hitch’ made were not only intricately webbed, they were also filled with witty dialogue and the so-called “MacGufffins” – details in the story that revealed a larger theme in the film. The director’s wife, Alma Reville, is said to have had a huge influence on him, and her opinion in the production mattered more than anyone else’s in the production crew. “After they moved to the U.S. in 1940 she worked on all of Hitchcock’s films, most often uncredited. She was credited though, for writing the screenplays of Suspicion and Shadow of a Doubt, and the latter was Hitch’s favourite of all of his films, suggesting that he was very happy with Alma’s work,” says Peter Rist, professor of Film Aesthetics at Concordia.
Hitchcock’s specialty was stories of humour and suspense in which creepy male characters and gorgeous Venus blondes lose their minds and/or their lives. “Hitchcock always said that he likes to get the mystery out of the way so that he could focus on getting the audience emotionally involved with the characters and action, especially through the workings of suspense,” says Rist. Films like Psycho and The Birds have embedded the popular vernacular and scenes such as Janet Leigh’s piercing scream, or the birds’ vicious attack on Tippi Hendren while she is stuck in a telephone booth, have become iconic. Not to mention that characters like Norman Bates and the bloody birds still provide excellent nightmare material.
From February 10 to March 1, the Cinéma du Parc is presenting a retrospective of Hitchcock’s work. Among the films presented are most of his celebrated movies, such as Rear Window (1954), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), Dial M for Murder (1954), The Birds (1963) and many of his more underrated works, like Suspicion (1941) and Saboteur (1942), which will be presented in 35mm – a rare treat for film connoisseurs which ought not to be missed.
Suspicion (1941) is Hitchcock’s first collaboration with leading man par excellence, Cary Grant and second with actress Joan Fontaine who previously starred in his Rebecca (1940). Fontaine’s role as a young scared wife in Suspicion earned her the Academy Award for Best Leading Actress. The movie tells the story of Lina McLaidlaw (Fontaine), a shy girl who is swept off her feet when she meets a handsome stranger on a train, Johnny Aysgarth (Grant). Soon, the two get married but there is something shady about Johnny’s past, and when his business partner is mysteriously killed, Lina becomes obsessed with the idea that he might be a murderer. She soon learns that women’s intuition is not always a lady’s best friend.
Rear Window (1954), based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, stars James Stewart as Jeff, a photographer with a broken leg, who has been confined to a wheelchair and whose only amusement comes from looking out the window and into the homes of his neighbours. One morning, Jeff notices the wife of one his neighbours has mysteriously disappeared. Aided by his beautiful girlfriend Lisa (the sweet Grace Kelly), he decides to untangle what appears to be a gritty homicide. The entire film takes place in Jeff’s apartment, and as Rist tells me, “It is arguably the most brilliant example of point-of-view editing.”
North by Northwest(1959) is Hitch’s most stylish spy thriller, and probably somewhat propelled the Bond image – a handsome womanizer (Cary Grant) on the run aided by his wit, and of course by a beautiful woman (Eva Marie Saint). Roger Thornhill (Grant) is mistakenly kidnapped by agents of an abstruse organization whose goal is to bootleg a microfilm containing government secrets. The organization’s boss, Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) believes Thornhill to be a spy named George Kaplan who has to be eliminated because his interference will damage Vandamm’s plans. The story gets more complicated when a woman (Saint) is thrown in the mix.
Psycho (1960) is among Hitchcock’s creepiest. Starring Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, a young woman who, on the spur of a moment, steals 40
000$ from a client of the firm where she works, the movie follows her run, tragically ended at a motel by the road ran by a creepy young man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who is tyrannized by his mother. Bates is one of Hitch’s most memorable characters, and was later used in three sequels starring Perkins, which have since been long forgotten, but the original movie maintains its legacy as one of the best films ever made.
The Alfred Hitchcock retrospective is running at Cinéma du Parc from Feb 10 to Mar 1. For full schedule, go to http://cinemaduparc.com
By Radina Papukchieva
Follow me on twitter @Papukchieva