Every October, the local Angelika Film Centers celebrate Hitchcocktober, a mini- film festival of Alfred Hitchcock films. Probably all of their theaters do. Each year, I’m disappointed because they schedule the same movies over and over. North by Northwest is almost a given. If not NxN, then Vertigo will be shown. The Birds and Psycho are heavy in the rotation, as is Rear Window. Hey, I get it. The Angelika is trying to pull people in. What better way to do that than to show films everyone is familiar with? I say use those films to introduce people to the lesser known films in his oeuvre. The way to do that? With a double-feature.
This year, to celebrate Hitch’s 114th birthday, I am going to schedule my very own double-feature Hitchcocktober. Assuming the best case scenario the screenings will fall on a day with an extra week, that means five double features, or 10 of Hitch’s 52 films. Or, put another way almost 20% of Hitchcock’s work. Sounds like a good month to me.
The Lodger is the movie that put Hitchcock on the map. Frenzy is, arguably, Hitch’s last good movie. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been able to get through Hitch’s last movie, Family Plot. Fell asleep both times.) Both center on a serial killer. Both have memorable Hitchcockian images – the shot from below through a clear floor of the Lodger pacing in his room and the potato truck scene in Frenzy. Frenzy is also notable as the first film Hitchcock made under the MPAA ratings, which allowed him to get in a boobie shot and film the murder more graphically than he would have been under the old Production Code. Showing these two movies together would make an excellent contrast from where Hitchcock started and where he ended.
Yes, the Doris Day/James Stewart version of The Man Who Knew Too Much is better known (at least in the US, because ‘Merica), but when you have seen both movies, only the most ardent Doris Day fans will think it’s a better movie. The 1934 version is leaner, faster paced and has the female in the hero role. Which is why it is paired with Shadow of a Doubt, a 1947 thriller about a young woman (Teresa Wright) who starts to suspect her beloved Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) is a serial killer. Both movies are psychological dramas and end with a nail-biting climax.
Two firsts for Hitchcock – his first Technicolor movie (Rope) and his first and only 3-D movie (Dial M). The story lines are similar as well; both concern murder plots, one successful, on not. Rope is best known for Hitch’s experiment with 10-minute tracking shots as well as for being a flop. But, I think it is one of Hitchcock’s more daring pictures, not only because of the long shot but also because he pushed the production code boundaries with the homosexual relationship between the two main characters. Both movies have a constrained setting; watching Rope and Dial M for Murder is more like watching a filmed play than a movie. They are also interesting in that the two male leads play against type. Ray Milliand in Dial M for Murder plots the murder of his wife and James Stewart spends most of the time in Rope advocating murder. Other firsts: these were the first movies Stewart (Rope) and Grace Kelly (Dial M) made with HItchcock.
The two most comedic of Hitchcock’s movies, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is Hitch’s attempt at screwball comedy. He only barely succeeds because his leads (Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery) were two of the best actors in the genre. I talked in detail about Mr. and Mrs. Smith here. It isn’t surprising that The Trouble with Harry was a critical and box office bomb. In 1955, no one expected Hitchcock to release an absurdest comedy about small towners repeatedly digging up a body. It was one of Hitchcock’s favorites, though. The failure of The Trouble with Harry would be a mere blip on Hitchcock’s resume. In the six years following he released The Wrong Man, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho and The Birds.
The commonality between these movies is Daphne De Maurier. The former is a novel, the latter a short story. Besides being all around awesome, Rebecca is notable for being one of the few (if not only) book adaptation Hitchcock stayed true to. He was notorious for taking story ideas and bending them to his will. The Birds is a novella on my to read list so I can’t speak to how faithful Hitch stayed to De Maurier’s story. The Birds was slammed in the press but time has made it one of Hitchcock’s signature movies.
Well, my final list didn’t turn out exactly like I planned. But, as I started writing, I liked the idea of pairing movies from different phases of his career that held similar themes. Even though some of these movies might be considered obscure, they are all excellent. This is a Hitchcocktober movie festival I would change my plans to see.
What’s your favorite Hitchcock movie?