Tuesday 19 January 2016

Every Hitchcock film watched, rated and ranked by a man with nothing better to do



This post has proved so vital to the future of mankind that it's been pumped up to book length, and now exists in physical form as HITCHOLOGY: A Film-by-Film Guide to the Style and Themes of Alfred Hitchcock.

To buy HITCHOLOGY, click the large obvious words below!



At the beginning of 2015 I made a decision to finally do something useful with my life. I considered training as a doctor, joining the UN peacekeeping force or volunteering to undergo medical trials for life-saving drugs, before dismissing such fripperies and landing upon my true calling: I would selflessly watch every film Alfred Hitchcock ever directed, then write a few words about each one, assign them an arbitrary number of stars and shuffle them into a vague order of preference. My knighthood is merely a formality at this stage.

Here, then, are my findings from the past thirteen months, 52 features and two short films (I also watched - but haven't included - the musical film revue Elstree Calling, of which Hitch only directed part and which he abruptly stated was "of no interest whatsoever". Turns out he was bang on). The films are presented in reverse order of non-rubbishness in an attempt to elicit a false sense of excitement as the reader approaches the end, although the number one film will almost certainly come as a surprise to precisely nobody.

If you'd like to follow in my heroic and Herculean footsteps but can't quite be arsed to watch all 54 films, I can recommend avoiding anything before, say, number 40 on this list because life is short and you'll be dead soon. Everything after that though, especially from number 20 onwards, is essential viewing for every living human being and you should be ashamed of yourself if you haven't had a go on them. So here we go; if you make it all the way to the end you'll be rewarded with one of my favourite photos of Mr Hitchcock ever taken. Bon voyage!

UK, 1930
The Boyle family have almost as dreadful a time of the Irish Civil War as we do watching them. Restricted by the source material and this new-fangled sound technology (despite having totally made it his bitch in the previous year's Blackmail), Hitchcock turns out a tediously-told soap opera filmed with all the energy of half a pint of weak stout. The kind of thing you should only watch if for some reason you're on a mission to watch every film Hitch directed, no matter how abysmal. «

UK, 1928, silent
Another early duffer. Some nice, Hitch-y touches, but it's sloppily plotted and almost every character is a dick or an idiot or both. «

UK, 1928, silent
Tedious farce which signposts its ending in the first ten minutes and makes you sit through acres of lumpy old bollocks before its big non-reveal. «

US, 1941
Hitchcock's only attempt at flat-out comedy contains precisely one good gag. Frenzy is funnier. In fact Paul Blart: Mall Cop is funnier. «

UK, 1930
Sluggish, poorly-plotted whodunnit which makes the basic error of focusing entirely on the investigator and almost completely ignoring all the suspects, thereby leaving the audience utterly in the dark about who anybody's talking about. Herbert Marshall is good value though, the great plummy toff. ««

UK, 1931
Edmund Gwenn and his Yorkshire-via-Wandsworth accent are the best things in this forgettable early effort. The plot's sordid secrets and Phyllis Konstam's cleavage evidently aroused Hitch's sensibilities, but there are basic errors here that you wouldn't expect from the man who had already made The Lodger and Blackmail««

UK, 1944, short
The second of Hitchcock's wartime shorts (I would love to see Hitch wearing his wartime shorts) is a primer on the political turmoil in WWII-era Madagascar at best; the dull reminiscences of a boring old man at worst. ««

UK, 1927, silent
Hitchcock wants to take us - via spoilt rich kid and victim of blind, stupid loyalty Ivor Novello - on an odyssey from the heights of privilege (public school rugby team) to the depths of misery (having to shack up with some black people) and back again. But it's hard to sympathise when Novello's character is so dull and his journey rarely takes him outside the bosom of high society. Too few intertitles make this an often confusing and drawn-out watch, although there are some lovely visuals scattered throughout. ««

UK, 1949
Somewhere in the depths of Hitchcock's filmography sits this leaden costume drama, a curio which looks as baffled as the rest of us about what it's doing there. There's almost no evidence of Hitch's presence, bar a handful of impressive long takes and the whiff of Rebecca and Notorious hanging around Margaret Leighton's treacherous, heroine-poisoning housekeeper. The scenes in which Ingrid Bergman sports a pink bonnet that makes it appear as if she's emerging head-first from a giant vagina do surprisingly little to lighten the mood. ««

UK, 1950
Dull and miscast, with only a fun but pointless scene between Alastair Sim and Joyce Grenfell to raise the spirits. Also I've never understood the appeal of Marlene Dietrich. She sounds like Phyllis off Coronation Street««

US, 1966
A strangely cold and flat affair, Torn Curtain runs out of good ideas half way through and fills the rest of its interminable running time with bad ones, most of which take twice as long to unfold as necessary. Paul Newman and Julie Andrews have all the chemistry of a pair of damp socks. ««

US, 1947
Overlong and underplotted legal drama with plenty of legal but precious little in the way of drama. Constantly on the verge of making a point about the honour and duty of love and the law but never quite getting there, this is only really worth watching for Gregory Peck's immaculate suits and hair, and Charles Laughton's disgusting windbag judge. ««

UK, 1927, silent
Slight but curious early silent, in which the director who would eventually allow untold horrors to befall innumerable heroines pits two headstrong women against each other, surrounding them with weak, flawed men. Notable for some ingenious visual flourishes (a marriage proposal acceptance delivered over the phone is conveyed to the audience entirely via the reactions of the eavesdropping operator), and perhaps Hitchcock's first overbearing mother. «««

US, 1941
In all fairness, if my husband was a lying, cheating sociopath and possibly a murderer BUT was Cary Grant, I'd be stupidly in love with him too. «««

UK/Germany, 1926, silent
Hitchcock's first completed feature escalates from frothy, London-based romance to fever-fuelled crimes of passion in the tropics in just one silent, zippily-edited hour. A morality play about two couples and their interweaving destinies, The Pleasure Garden contains many of the thematic tropes with which the 25-year-old director would become synonymous: adultery, betrayal, love, lust, madness, marriage, melodrama, misogyny and murder, to alphabetise but a few.

But it's the sleight-of-hand storytelling that's most impressive in retrospect: Hitch employs foreshadowing and subtle visual motifs to knit the drama together, and alongside editor (and wife-to-be) Alma Reville, he shows a preternatural command of cutting and dramatic irony to create suspense. Even his obsession with voyeurism is present and correct - the opening scene of his 54-film canon gives us a dirty old man leering through opera glasses at the legs of a chorus line, then thrusts us into his point of view before we've barely had chance to register disgust. This guy is one to watch. 

UK, 1931
A darkly cynical romcom: one-third frothy travelogue, one-third adultery drama, one-third survival movie. Gags about being drunk improbably give way to unsavoury depictions of inscrutable, cat-skinning Chinamen, but Hitch - even at this early stage - firmly believes nothing he could come up with is as ludicrous as the concept of marriage. «««

US, 1964
Wholly unpleasant but strangely compelling psychosexual nonsense that feels like the ham-fisted evil twin to Vertigo's classy, subtle freakshow. Tippi Hedren is near-intolerable and Sean Connery's character is barely human, so it's mostly as a morbidly fascinating peek through the fingers into the darkest depths of Hitchcock's psyche that this remains watchable. «««

UK, 1929, silent
A middling Hitchcock silent, this steamy melodrama benefits from enthusiastic leads and gorgeous photography, not least of Anny Ondra. Amazing shots of the Isle Of Man, which were actually done in Cornwall, fact fans. «««

UK, 1932
Great to see Hitchcock, who would come to use cinema as his own personal train set, construct the entire climax of this early talkie using an actual train set. Forget LEGO; this is The Hornby Movie«««

UK, 1936
Near-plotless spy flick almost completely derailed by Peter Lorre going absolutely mentile throughout, casting everyone else into the shadow of his pube-haired loon. Hitch keeps the action going and the dialogue is witty enough to maintain the interest, but the bafflingly sloppy ending is emblematic of the weak script. «««

US, 1955
Grace Kelly and Cary Grant are inhumanly beautiful and immaculately attired (we'll overlook Grant's stripy top on account of his uncanny ability to wear trousers) but this is sub-par Hitchfroth. «««

US, 1955
I think the lesson we can all learn from this is that upon meeting a gorgeous, elfin princess like Shirley Maclaine, the opening line "I'd like to paint you nude" is a surefire winner and definitely won't get you slapped into next week. «««

US, 1953
Catholic Guilt: The Movie. Contains all the shots of Montgomery Clift striding round Quebec in a cassock you could possibly hope for, and then some. «««

UK, 1929
A juicy stew of sex, murder, betrayal and comedy, Hitchcock's (and Britain's) first talkie is as inventive with sound as The Lodger was with visuals, making you wonder exactly how big the balls were on that guy. That said, the silent version (which occasionally pops up at screenings with a fantastic live score by Neil Brand) is arguably slicker and is screaming out - albeit silently - for a BFI Blu-ray release. ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME BFI? «««

US, 1969
Overlong but pleasingly twisty globetrotting Cold War thriller. Unusual for Hitchcock to focus on politics rather than people; the experiment is probably only half successful but the film is better than its reputation suggests. Plus "Anyway, that's the end of Topaz" has to be one of the best final lines in cinema. «««

UK, 1937
Hitchcock cooks up some great moments (the mine collapse, the enormous crane shot), but they don't knit the story together as well as in The 39 Steps, of which this was the first of many near-remakes. Young And Innocent also contains far too many awful children for my liking. «««

US, 1954
Hitchcock's stagiest filming of a play since his early talkies is still cheekily cinematic in its own way, but suffers in comparison to meatier adaptations like Rope. Dial M For Murder's comically convoluted plot (which could have been written by the two murder-mystery-obsessed old geezers from Shadow Of A Doubt) renders it over-talky, and Hitch works miracles to stop it from drowning in its own dialogue. That said, it's hard not to love a film that concludes with a scene of such gloriously smug moustache combing. «««

US, 1956
All of Hitchcock's Catholic guilt and fear of the police distilled into one brutally depressing film; every shred of hope and joy is stripped from the story, rendering the "happy ending" hollow and impossible to appreciate. Powerful stuff, but hard to enjoy. «««

UK, 1927, silent
Stunningly shot and edited - much more so than many of Hitchcock's successive silents - and, considering the soap opera plot, the melodrama is pitched just right. Hard to ignore a couple of moments of deeply unpleasant racism though, and the conclusion is disappointing. «««

US, 1976
Hitchcock's final film is warmly charming and wonderfully played (mostly by William Devane's teeth), but lacks the Master's precision touch. Frenzy would have been the better film to leave us with, but this makes for a pleasing enough epilogue to an unmatched career. «««

UK, 1944, short
Nicely convoluted wartime short, deftly intertwining the Unreliable Narrator device with shameless propaganda. ««««

UK, 1939
Charles Laughton is the gas giant around which Daphne Du Maurier's twisty Cornish melodrama orbits. Undeservedly treated as a lesser Hitchcock, but the two big men ensure a far more entertaining watch than its reputation suggests. ««««

US, 1942
A slicker Americanisation of The 39 Steps, Saboteur fails to recapture that film's edge and propulsive nature but still features some tremendous wrong-man-on-the-lam action. Interesting to see the words "sabotage" and "saboteur" employed where a modern-day version would have to use "terrorism" and "terrorist". ««««

UK, 1934
Discovering that Alfred Hitchcock made a fictional musical biopic-slash-romcom about Johann Strauss II and the genesis of the Blue Danube Waltz is bonkers enough; finding out that it's actually great is almost too good to be true. Structurally immaculate (the buildup to the first performance of the Waltz is like Casino Royale's teasing of the Bond theme), genuinely funny and full of Hitch's trademark directorial flourishes, this is proof that he wasn't as inept at out-and-out comedy as Mr & Mrs Smith suggests. Top marks too to moon-faced lead Jessie Matthews, the 1930s' very own Rachel McAdams. ««««

UK, 1936
The bus sequence alone is enough to recommend Sabotage to anyone as a masterclass in montage. Hitch always felt he got the scene's climax wrong, but what does he know? Nothing, that's what. Idiot. ««««

UK, 1934
Hitchcock's second truly great film, but the first to perfect the thrills+LOLs formula for which he would become famous - largely thanks to writer Charles Bennett, who provides the first of a run of terrific scripts here. The Man Who Knew Too Much is a proto-Taken, in which the kidnapped girl's pop is a man with no particular set of skills besides chair-hurling. Peter Lorre gives great sneer as the first charming yet repulsive Hitch baddie. ««««

US, 1943
The plot's a bit thin - girl thinks the world of uncle, girl changes her mind - but kudos to Hitch for bringing murder into the home where it belongs, and for doing it so stylishly. I want to see that slow zoom into Joseph Cotten's face at the dinner table projected a thousand feet high. ««««

US, 1945
Wacky murder mystery that sags in its middle act but boasts a cracking setup and an even better finale, where shocking revelations are matched by bonkers gimmicks: the giant prop hand is more terrifying than most of Psycho. The dream sequence, designed by none other than Salvador Dalí, lends Spellbound a touch of genuine surrealism that balances out its amateurish representation of psychoanalysis. ««««

US, 1956
Inevitably slicker and glossier than Hitchcock's own original, with some improvements (Jimmy Stewart & Doris Day rank among the greatest movie parents you'd want as your own) but less bone-dry humour. The dialogue-free Albert Hall sequence - a nod to Hitch's origins in silent cinema - is a ruddy triumph. Will test your tolerance of "Que Sera, Sera" to its absolute limits though. ««««

UK, 1972
Drags on a bit, and thoroughly nasty in places, but a refreshing twist on the Wrong Man subgenre that Hitchcock made his own. Instead of a cross-country travelogue, Frenzy restricts the action to London, making it a grim picture postcard of Hitch's home town. His attitudes towards the police seem to have softened in his autumn years - they're humanised and allowed to solve the crime here, despite initial incompetence - but his arguable misogyny has deepened, and although the second murder is masterfully only hinted at, there's a troubling relish with which he portrays the first victim's horrific fate. Directed like a ruddy boss though. ««««

US, 1944
Hitchcock invents claustrocore, populating his tiny, internalised drama with vast, all-encompassing issues. Never stagey despite its obvious limitations, Lifeboat drifts close to greatness, only not quite landing due to a couple of clichéd characters and the odd thunk of heavy-handed dialogue. I do not exaggerate when I say that Mary Anderson, as Chief Sexy Medic, may well be Hitch's most desirable woman. ««««

US, 1951
Only a couple of daft plot convolutions and the odd underwritten character deny Strangers On A Train entry to Hitchcock's first class carriage. Robert Walker is so understatedly mad and beautifully creepy as the villain that he shunts Farley Granger and Ruth Roman (and their one-note characters) to the sidings, but there's so much to love here - the shot of Walker in the tennis crowd, the nonsense with the lighter and the drain, the comically overblown climax - that Hitch very nearly gets away with it. ««««

US, 1940
Hitchcock puts his sense of humour to one side for a sumptuous melodrama featuring two of his greatest villains, one of whom is never even seen. Laurence Olivier's hero / victim and Joan Fontaine's innocent party, forced to assume the role of a dead woman, make this a twisted precursor to Vertigo, with Mrs Danvers as the leading man's uncontainable dark side. «««««

UK, 1926, silent
Hitchcock's third film is his first masterpiece (I assume, not having seen his long-lost second feature, The Mountain Eagle); a mesmerising combination of German Expressionism, Hollywood stylings and distinctly British humour. Hitch draws attention to his own visual precociousness with shots like the famous glass ceiling, but it's the early mastery of composition and editing - along with Eliot Stannard's tightly-constructed script - that speak for themselves. Even Ivor Novello's decision to occasionally act as if he has an awkwardly-shaped object stuck up his bottom can't spoil the mood. «««««

US, 1946
With impressively tight storytelling across a bare minimum of scenes, Hitchcock handles the script's various discoveries and revelations impeccably, driving the film to its perfect climax in typically classy style. Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains are untouchable. «««««

UK, 1938
A deliciously tongue-in-cheek love letter to Hitchcock's fellow countrymen, The Lady Vanishes simultaneously embraces and mercilessly lampoons the idiosyncracies of the English like a 1930s Paddington. "Snookered, it's a false bottom!" may be the greatest exclamation of stiff-upper-lipped disappointment in cinema. «««««

US, 1940
Frequently and criminally overlooked in the Hitchcanon, this belting wartime thriller racks up more inventive set-pieces, humour and diabolical intrigue than most of its modern-day counterparts; the sixteen-minute Amsterdam sequence alone is slicker and more exciting than anything Ethan Hunt or James Bond have managed recently. And rarely did Hitch gather a better supporting cast: Edmund Gwenn, George Sanders and Herbert Marshall add unforgettable sparkle to the comparatively dull leads (although Joel McCrea clambering outside hotel windows in sock suspenders is an undeniable joy). «««««

US, 1954
I think I'm more impressed by how Rear Window was made rather than the end product, but it's undeniably unique filmmaking (if you don't count the Christopher Reeve remake). The way Jimmy Stewart pieces a murder mystery together from the available information is a delicious reflection of Hitchcock's own storytelling technique. A film about films, full of tiny cinema screens, told by a master manipulator. «««««

US, 1963
Hitchcock's fourth masterpiece in a row (and his last) ends cinema's most phenomenal purple patch in technically breathtaking style. I still don't know if the birds attack because it's their turn to rule the world, because Melanie Daniels is a dangerous and disruptive sexual threat or because Veronica Cartwright is an excruciating brat, but I find that I care less and less with every viewing. It seems to me that Hitch just wanted to tell a story about men and women, mothers and children, and birds and bees, but thought it would be fun to frequently interrupt their efforts to work out their issues by chucking hundreds of bastard seagulls at them. «««««

US, 1960
Considering Hitchcock's rep as one of cinema's auteuriest auteurs, it's surprising how much several individuals' contributions to Psycho leap out at you: Bernard Herrmann's slicing score is the obvious one, but Jack Russell's crisp, high-contrast cinematography, George Tomasini's flawless editing and Anthony Perkins' bewitching performance all stamp their own mark on the film. Even Janet Leigh's mascara feels like it should get its own credit. There’s no mistaking the Master’s chubby fingerprints on every frame though, and each viewing throws up a previously unnoticed flourish: this time I found myself mesmerised by the clouds behind the Bates house, which seem to roil and boil with satanic fury. Did Hitch direct those clouds? Don’t bet against it. «««««

UK, 1935
Leaner, richer, funnier and cleverer than its already-impressive source material, The 39 Steps is perhaps Hitchcock's most efficient thriller. An episodic odyssey in which innocent chump-on-the-run Richard Hannay is bounced from one adventure to another like an immaculately-moustachioed pinball, it swings from tragedy to comedy with breathless economy. Hitch revisited the premise half a dozen times over the rest of his career, but could only improve upon the original (arguably) by enlisting Cary Grant, James Mason and four dead presidents. «««««

US, 1959
A Bond film from the girl's point of view, with Cary Grant as the girl and Eva Marie Saint as the secret agent using sex to further the mission. Hitchcock's slickest version of The 39 Steps surfs a rogue wave of ludicrous fun from start to finish; so concerned is it with the chase that the MacGuffin isn't so much as mentioned until 90 minutes have passed, as if Hitch felt he should probably drop it in somewhere before the end credits. Everyone talks about the grey suit (quite rightly - remember, nobody wears trousers like Cary Grant) but never forget that Roger Thornhill's yellow underpants go unchanged for the four-day duration of the story. «««««

US, 1948
Lip-smacking chamber piece about the smug entitlement of the over-privileged, and therefore never not relevant. Jimmy Stewart is incredible as the smart-arse who inadvertently radicalises a sycophantic psychopath; his final speech, in which he tries to extricate himself from his own terrible responsibility, is spine-tingling. Amazingly shot too, given the insane restrictions Hitchcock placed on himself for no other reason than to see if he could. It's almost as if he thought he was the only one superior enough to carry out such a risky endeavour. «««««

BONUS CONTENT! Listen to me wang on about Rope on the very excellent 90 Minutes Or Less Film Fest podcast, if you like.

US, 1958
There's something about Vertigo that sets it apart from every other Hitchcock - if not every other film - from the very beginning. The opening titles and music drag you down into its tragic, twisted world, and there you stay, hypnotically repulsed by exquisitely-wrought cruelty until (and beyond) its brutal finish. A tall tale about a tall tale, with manipulated actors and sadistic directors in both, Vertigo's storytelling audacity and refusal to limit the depths to which it plunges its characters make it Hitch's most awful, brilliant achievement. «««««

Congratulations, you made it! Unless of course you just scrolled to the bottom because you couldn't be arsed to read all that, in which case you are a terrible person and I hope you painfully stub your toe on something while getting up for a wee in the middle of the night.