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The Best Alfred Hitchcock Films: Classics From The Master of Suspense
Within the list of true film making geniuses, Alfred Hitchcock ranks among the highest. One of the best of all time, he truly was the master of suspense and had an ability to scare the audience, then make them laugh, right before blowing their minds with a remarkable twist.
Below are ten of the best Hitchcock films I've seen, all of which are critically acclaimed and groundbreaking in their own way.
Rear Window (1954)
Starring Hitchcock favorite James Stewart, and the immortal Grace Kelly, Rear Window is perhaps the most innovative film on this list. The film takes place mainly within the same room, as Stewart’s character is confined to his apartment, which just so happens to look over another complex, providing quite the view! He begins watching those living around him from a distance, and some of what he sees leads to a suspenseful mystery that unfolds at a perfect and enjoyable pace. Some of the scenes involving Grace Kelly venturing out into the surroundings, while Stewart helplessly looks on are truly suspenseful, as we are forced to watch from his perspective and feel the same tension he feels. An enjoyable and thrilling classic, Rear Window is a must see for Hitchcock fans.
The 39 Steps (1935)
The oldest film on this list, The 39 Steps is likely not known to many, but to Hitchcock enthusiasts and British film buffs it is widely considered one of his finest. Centering around a man who is framed for murder and a British spy plot, The 39 Steps was way ahead of its time in many ways. Able to create suspense in so many ways, using some fantastic camera work in an era when tools were limited, and not to mention with the help of a brilliant script, Hitchcock creates a truly gripping story. What is also great about this film, is that in between the action, the film has a very entertaining romantic element, which also proves to be very amusing at times also. There is a great deal of charm to the film, much of which comes from leading man Robert Donat. There is a great chemistry between he and Madeline Carroll and this only adds to the films character. This one is a great example of the phrase “an oldie, but a goody”.
North By Northwest (1959)
In terms of pure film-making, and the craft of suspense, action and special effects, North By Northwest is probably Hitchcock’s best example. The iconic “crop-dusting” scene, where Cary Grant attempts to outrun a chasing plane, was way ahead of its time and this theme can be seen constantly throughout the film. A classic case of mistaken identity, leads to a fantastic cat and mouse type of film, that includes charm, romance, action and suspense. If you’re looking for one of Hitchcock’s less “dark” films, and would like some pure entertainment, then North By Northwest would be a good start.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Another lesser known Hitchcock film, this film was actually nominated for an Oscar and is critically acclaimed as one of his best. The story revolves around young girl, who finds out that her Uncle is suspected to be a murderer. Of course, she doesn't believe it at first, but as she begins to see things and observe her Uncle more she begins to feel a “shadow of a doubt” about his innocence. A film that I believe is often used as inspiration for modern movies such as Disturbia, Shadow of a Doubt will keep you guessing and is also a showcase of some fantastic acting and really chilling performances. There are scenes in this film that were some of the darkest you would ever see in the 1940’s and like so many other of Hitchcock’s movies, were way ahead of their time. If you want to go back and see some of his earlier work, this, along with The 39 Steps would be a great start.
The Birds (1963)
Probably one his most famous films, in many ways The Birds is a ridiculous concept, one that is usually reserved for B-Movie garbage in the modern era. It is a testament to Hitchcock’s genius that he was able to create one of his most terrifying films out of such a concept. I have always thought that one of the reasons he was able to do so is that he did not have millions of dollars of CGI and special effects at his disposal, which in my opinion only lessen the horror of a film. The film is relatively simple, as a city becomes the victim of some horrifying attacks at the hands of a large group of birds, that is largely unexplainable but continually more vicious. While the concept may seem bizarre, when you sit and think about it, it is far more possible than many other horrifying cinema situations. I have a feeling that if you check this one out you may not feel the same about the cute birds that sit on the street light outside your house for a couple weeks at least!
Dial M For Murder (1954)
Here is another Hitchcock classic starring Grace Kelly, and that fact alone makes this one worth the watch. Outside of that though, this is definitely one of Hitchcock’s absolute best films in terms of pure plot. To get into plot details would be giving too much away, but let’s just say that the twists and turns just never stop, and the clever attempts of both the villains and heroes are incredibly entertaining and great to watch unfold. There is murder, mystery, false accusations, fugitives and so many classic situations that are copied in modern cinema over and over. Hitchcock does a great job of making sure you’re never quite certain of what the outcome will be, and there is a great sense of desperation to the film. Definitely a classic suspense thriller that I would consider a must see.
Strangers on a Train (1951)
A personal favorite of mine, Strangers on a Train is in my opinion the best, but least known film on this list. The story starts with a seemingly innocent meeting between two men (you guessed it, on a train), one of whom has some disturbing ideas on how to solve some mutual problems they both face. What ensues is a cat and mouse thriller that is truly innovative and often quite chilling. After watching Strangers on a Train, I had a completely new view on many modern films and where they got their inspiration from. So many modern movies have imitated the plot devices, suspenseful situations and chilling camera shots that appear throughout “Strangers” and I challenge you to watch it and look for scenes that look familiar from modern day movies. It is important to mention the truly fantastic and psychotic performance of Robert Walker in this film. A very underrated performance in my opinion, and one of the best I have seen.
Commonly touted as Hitchcock’s best (I personally would disagree, but it is certainly up there!), Vertigo is a very different film to many of Hitchcock’s other efforts, and is unique in a lot of ways. Whereas Hitchcock is best known for thrillers and suspense, Vertigo leans more in the direction of psychological mystery, and is a little slower than most of his others. However, in terms of plot, Vertigo is fantastic, and is one of those films where you think you know what is happening but are never quite sure. Full of twists and turns, Vertigo will keep you guessing, and does a great job portraying fear, desperation and confusion that the characters face as the film develops. It’s slower pace, and long run time may be discouraging for some, but for those who commit to it, Vertigo is a great work of art.
Not much needs to be said about Psycho, one of the greatest horror suspense films ever made. With some of the most iconic moments and scenes in the history of cinema, most readers will at least be aware of the films existence. While dated, even to this day the film remains truly terrifying to any viewer, and is also very underrated as a psychological thriller. The movie broke ground in many ways, often controversially, through its violence and also its plot devices that would previously have been frowned upon. I will not give too much away, but I think everyone is aware of the ultra-iconic shower scene, and this is just one of the classic moments in this chilling film. Some of the struggles Hitchcock faced in trying to controversially get the film made are being portrayed in the upcoming film “Hitchcock” starring Anthony Hopkins.
That wraps up the list. Hopefully you get a chance to check some of these out. Also, look out for trailers for the new Hitchcock film starring Anthony Hopkins!
Here's a challenge for those interested! Alfred Hitchcock is known for famously appearing in tiny cameos in all of his films - anyone who can describe the scene/character where he appears in each of the ten films above gets huge props from me!
Thanks for reading!