Livia’s working on a project that involves Alfred Hitchcock movies, so we’re going to be watching some of them. I’ve seen most of the films Hitchcock is famous for, but not all of them. First up are one that I saw many years ago and one that falls into the Movies I’ve Missed (Until Now) category.
VERTIGO – I was in high school or college the last time I saw this one, which tells you how long ago it’s been. I recalled liking it a lot, though. For the very few of you who haven’t seen it, James Stewart plays a former homicide detective in San Francisco who has retired from the force because his fear of heights caused another cop to get killed during a chase after a suspect. An old friend of Stewart’s asks him to tail the friend’s wife, who has been having blackouts. The friend is worried something may happen to her. Reluctantly, Stewart agrees. Tragedy ensues, but it’s followed by an intriguing mystery that turns the movie on its head.
This film still looks great. The shots of the Golden Gate Bridge are spectacular, and many of the other shots are staged in a striking, very effective fashion. And I’m a big fan of Jimmy Stewart and love to listen to him talk, no matter what he’s saying. However, other than that the movie really doesn’t hold up very well. The pace is glacial, and it’s not suspense-building glacial. It’s more a matter of “Okay, how many lengthy shots of Stewart’s character driving and driving and driving do we really need?” On top of that (and yes, I know, where do I get off criticizing the Master of Suspense?), the movie tips its hand ’way too early. Yes, even if you’ve never seen it before, you’ll likely guess the big twist early on, but despite that I think it’s a mistake to bring the movie to a screeching halt halfway through so that one of the characters can sit down and explain everything that’s been going on. Even a viewer who thinks he or she has figured out might still have a little doubt at that point, but not afterward. And then I found the ending a real letdown. Dramatic, yes, but it leaves so much unresolved that could have been resolved and made the ending even more dramatic. So overall, if you’ve never seen VERTIGO I think it’s probably worth watching, but this time around I considered it pretty disappointing.
SHADOW OF A DOUBT – This is the one that somehow I had never seen until now. It was reportedly Hitchcock’s favorite of his films, and I liked it quite a bit, too. It’s a somewhat uneasy but highly entertaining mix of small-town Americana and serial killer thriller, as a young woman (the lovely Theresa Wright) tries to figure out whether her charming uncle (Joseph Cotton, who will always be Jed Leland from CITIZEN KANE to me) is really a murderer. There’s a great supporting cast in this one and a lot of humor despite the grisly subject matter. Macdonald Carey strikes me as an odd casting choice for the FBI agent who’s the hero. Wallace Ford, who played the taxi driver in HARVEY, is much better as Carey’s partner. This is one of the few movies I’ve seen where I was really uncertain how it would end, so I think Hitchcock deserves that Master of Suspense label on this film. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely check it out.
There’ll be more Hitchcock coming up.