By Peter Bogdanovich | Peter Bogdanovich December 22, 2012 at 1:39AM
We continue going through the Hitchcock pictures in my movie card-file--films of his that I saw between January, 1952 and December, 1970--with my various impressions of each, a couple of them wildly contradictory (see Vertigo), which is not surprising since I went from age 12 to age 31. But what is perhaps most interesting is that my opinions today are pretty close to those expressed in the cards, and I have felt no particular need to make many 2012 comments or amplification. For more on the Master of Suspense, see the Hitchcock chapter in my Who the Devil Made It (1997), currently also available as an e-book; it includes the extensive interviews I did with Hitch between 1961 and 1975. The Hitchcock File - Part 1 concludes with a full list of all the Hitchcock pictures covered in my index.
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951; d: Alfred Hitchcock).
1957: Excellent* (Very exciting, well written, suspenseful Hitchcock thriller about a wealthy playboy and the “perfect” murder he concocts: clever, witty, taut, with a brilliant performance by Robert Walker.)
Added 1962: (One of Hitchcock’s slickest and most expert works, concerned again with innocence and guilt in ambiguous terms; wry, witty, macabre, superbly directed. As always, the master proves himself a supreme entertainer as well as a committed, personal artist.)
Added 1968: (Always filled with surprises and masterful craft.)
REBECCA (1940; d: Alfred Hitchcock).
1957: Excellent (Elaborately produced, expertly directed, written, acted story of a timid young woman (Joan Fontaine) who marries a moody, mysterious Englishman, moves into his estate and is haunted by the memory of his first wife, Rebecca, who died strangely a year before; Laurence Oliver is superb as the man; Judith Anderson, George Sanders head the fine supporting cast.)
Added 1962: (Hitchcock’s first American film, a truly brilliant piece of direction, invested with depth and meanings in a basically melodramatic plot; his theme of guilt pervades the work and the inner levels are often disturbing and always provocative.)
VERTIGO (1958; d: Alfred Hitchcock).
1958: (Long, talky, confusing Hitchcock suspense film; with occasional moments of the old excitement, beautiful photography of San Francisco, little else.)
Added 1962: Exceptional* (One of Hitchcock’s most personal and truly exquisite achievements: a complex, tragic love story about a man whose love of an illusion is destroyed by reality --- the most striking vision of that conflict ever put on the screen. Magnificently conceived, executed with subtlety, and striking control, very well acted by James Stewart, Barbara Bel Geddes, with a completely directed and effective performance by Kim Novak.)
Added 1963: (This is really a deeply disturbing, awe-inspiring work, among Hitchcock’s most beautiful, serious and impressive films.)
Added 1965: (What a daring and uncompromising film this is: a real and shattering tragedy, in which the final words, “God help us”, take on an epic meaning. Certainly it is the most romantic and mystic story of love ever put on the screen, new levels of understanding opening on every viewing. As the woman was supposed to have been possessed by a long-dead spirit, so the man is obsessed by an illusion created to deceive him; no one gets what he wants in this film, and all the love is of no avail. Among the great films of all time.)
SPELLBOUND (1945; d: Alfred Hitchcock).
1958: Very good* (Fascinating, masterfully constructed Hitchcock thriller about a lady psychoanalyst, an amnesia victim with a guilt complex and, of course, murder. Witty, suspenseful, sophisticated, visually exciting and thoroughly effective.)
Added 1963: (Guilt figures importantly in all of Hitchcock’s work and this one is no exception; it is not one of the master’s best pictures, but is still a striking and compelling example of the director’s middle period.)
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959; d: Alfred Hitchcock).
1959: Exceptional* (No one mixes suspense with sex and sophisticated comedy more delightfully, more brilliantly than Hitchcock, and he is in top form in this superb, entertaining fantasy-thriller. The situations are absolutely wild, the plot is outrageous and purposeful self-parody: consistently cinematic, with sequences and effects that more “artistic” directors would do well to study. Unrelentingly fast, constantly exciting; the playing is outstanding, especially Cary Grant’s, and the script’s originality, zest, freshness and invention is striking. As only he can, Hitchcock has created a slick, witty, taut, sexy entertainment, made from a point of view that is uniquely, vibrantly his.)
Added 1961: (More and more this looks like a masterpiece; on any level, a splendid, personal achievement: Hitchcock’s American “39 Steps”, but far surpassing its predecessor.)
PSYCHO (1960; d: Alfred Hitchcock).
1960: (A striking Hitchcock tour-de-force, about a psychopathic lunatic, a girl who steals a lot of money, and what happens when they collide in a lonely motel; made with consummate skill, but cold, calculating, inhuman.)
Added 1961: Exceptional (Having outgrown the social-conscious mood, this film appears, as it was in the first place, a masterpiece of cinematic manipulation, one of the most effective thrillers ever made, brilliantly directed, edited, photographed, acted, vividly conceived, and flawlessly executed; surely it has an emotional impact unequaled in films for its pure terror.)
Added 1965: (Really a fascinating work; strangely, its effectiveness is not diminished by the amount of viewings it receives. On the contrary, despite one’s knowledge of the events in the picture, they are so masterfully executed that one reacts as was intended even though he rationally knows the outcome of everything. That is great filmmaking, by any standards; and though it is not my favorite of Hitchcock’s movies, it is, without doubt, an unqualified masterpiece.)
Added 1967: (The freedom of technique, the virtuosity of Hitchcock’s direction is, finally, the greatest in film today; not only his craft, but his incredible instincts, his artistry, is flawless. It is effectively at work in almost every moment of this tour-de-force, a virtual textbook in cinematic manipulation.)
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934; d: Alfred Hitchcock).
1960: Very good* (Early Hitchcock thriller, which he remade most effectively in 1956 [see The Hitchcock File – Part 1]. Tight, tense, exciting, often brilliantly inventive, always fascinating story of a plot to assassinate a statesman and the British couple and their daughter who get caught in the midst of it. Compared to his American films, it is just a sketch, but remains typical of his British work and exciting on its own level.)
SABOTAGE (THE WOMAN ALONE) (1936; d: Alfred Hitchcock).
1960: Good* (Gloomy, macabre, rather grisly Hitchcock thriller mixing murder and foreign intrigue spy-tactics; well acted and photographed, with several memorable sequences: the-boy-on-the-bus-with-a-bomb, the movie-theatre-murder. Exciting, chilling, but never as powerful or personal as the great man’s later, American work.)
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940; d: Alfred Hitchcock).
1961: Very good* (Long, tremendously exciting Hitchcock spy-melodrama, brilliantly directed and photographed, very well written and acted. Not one of his most personal films, but certainly as expert and fascinating as any.)
Added 1961: (Really an exciting, complex piece of work; what a master, what a subtle, remarkable artist is Mr. Hitchcock.)
2012: I saw this again recently, and it really doesn’t hold up that well all the way through; there are several memorable sequences, but the picture lacks the staying
power of his later pictures. It feels more like one of his British films.
I CONFESS (1953; d: Alfred Hitchcock).
1961: Exceptional* (Among Hitchcock’s best, a brilliantly directed, acted, written and photographed (in Quebec) tale of a priest, torn between his calling and the knowledge (learned in a confession) that one of his congregation has committed a murder, for which the priest is suspected. Truly a masterpiece, a deeply felt study of guilt: the priest is really torn between his life and his desire to become a martyr. Superbly acted by Montgomery Clift and Anne Baxter (as a woman with whom he once had an affair, beautifully evoked in an exquisite flashback sequence), this is a serious, eloquent, modern film, thinly concealed under the guise of a thriller.)
Added 1962: (This picture looks better and better and may very well be Hitchcock’s finest movie: the stunningly effective technique, the superb performances, the vital, eloquent screenplay, the perfect music, the sharp editing and brilliant photography. Hitchcock’s fascinating exploration of guilt (Baxter’s recounting of the story of her love affair is a true confessional, as much as [killer O.E.] Hasse’s is), and the subtle statement of Clift’s dilemma (evoked in three striking shots: a still of a man in handcuffs symbolizing himself as prisoner; the clothes in a store window as the life he would lead if he were to break his vows; and the long-shot of him walking,s with the statue of Christ bearing the cross in the foreground, showing his mental agony in trying to decide whether his refusal to expose the real killer is a result of his dedication or of a desire to be martyred) are only two of the provocative and stimulating ideas generated by this often ambiguous, splendid work.)