Alfred Hitchcock had a long, productive career making fine movies with his distinctive trademarks, each including a cameo by the portly "Master of Suspense" himself. Some of them were masterpieces; all of them are entertaining. Here's a list of nine of the best Alfred Hitchcock movies.
Made during his early career in Britain, The 39 Steps is stamped with Hitchcock movie hallmarks - an innocent man on the run, unwillingly accompanied by an icy blonde who's not sure she can trust him. It's a spy mystery that jaunts across the streets of London to the Scottish countryside, with a tight plot and clever dialogue. There's good chemistry between Robert Donat as the plucky Canadian hero and Madeleine Carroll literally handcuffed together. Donat is delightful when he is mistaken for a political candidate and has to give a rousing, impromptu speech - a scene Hitchcock would repeat in subsequent films.
Suppose you're chatting with a charming old lady on a train. You doze off -- and the lady vanishes. What's more, no one on the train will believe that she was ever there. That's the problem Hitchcock sets plucky Margaret Lockwood and fellow traveler Michael Redgrave, the only other passenger willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. A great cast with Dame May Whitty as the disappearing Miss Froy and a stable of terrific comic English actors rounds out the mystery, and the fun. There's always sly or macabre humor in Hitchcock films, but The Lady Vanishes may be his most amusing movie - one of the last he made in England, and a box-office success that helped ensure his welcome in Hollywood.
Tense espionage thriller with Hitchcock's favorite actor, Cary Grant, as an upright American agent and Ingrid Bergman as the daughter of a German spy. Bergman - at heart an American patriot - is a notorious party girl and a drinker. Grant recruits her as an agent to infiltrate a Nazi plot in Rio, and of course falls in love with her. Despite a passionate kissing scene that runs three minutes, they can't quite manage to trust each other. Cary lets her go off to serve her country in the arms of the chief local Nazi, Claude Rains. Terrific sexual tension and nail-biting suspense, along with great examples of Hitchcock "McGuffins" (in this case a key and some wine bottles) that serve both as plot devices and symbols.
Yet another chance Hitchcock meeting of strangers on a train - this one with a strong homoerotic subtext and a particularly nasty murder. Professional tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) meets idle rich boy Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), who turns out to know quite a bit about Guy - enough to propose a bizarre double murder. He'll get rid of Guy's coarse and cheating wife, and Guy will do away with Bruno's domineering dad, who's withholding the trust fund. The idea is that they'll each have alibis and escape detection. Walker is truly creepy; there are some unforgettable camera angles and set shots; and a terrifying climax with an out-of control carousel. Thrilling stuff.
No trains here, but Hitchcockian voyeurism and obsession are on full display. Photographer Jimmy Stewart is laid up with a broken leg, spying on his fellow New Yorkers in a courtyard surrounded by apartment houses. Seen from his rear window, they're funny, lonely, lively and possibly deadly, in the case of the mysterious traveling salesman whose sickly, nagging wife suddenly disappears. Stewart enlists the help of his gorgeous girlfriend, elegant Grace Kelly as a Park Avenue fashion model/designer, to solve the mystery. A bizarrely original plot, ingenious set and heart-pounding suspense highlight Rear Window, along with a fascinating look at the open windows of New York apartment life in the days before air conditioning.
I favor North by Northwest, but many see Vertigo, a brooding exploration of obsession, failed nerve and lost love as Hitchcock's masterpiece movie. It's filmed in a dreamlike haze on the oddly empty streets of San Francisco, as Jimmy Stewart pursues Kim Novak, another elegant Hitchcock blonde, who seems to slip in and out of her dead great-grandmother's persona. Here again is the central Hitchcock motif of a pair of lovers who are made for each other, but can't quite come to a place of trust, and for good reason. The plot's a little iffy, but that's not the point in this almost surreal tale. You'll find yourself thinking back on its slow, dreamy scenes for days after you see it.