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Hitchcock -- Unparalled Master of Suspense

 
 
Reply Tue 24 May, 2005 07:13 pm
When it comes to suspense films, Alfred Hitchcock would have to be the gold standard for me.

Everything from the clever plot twists, the brilliant directing, and his intuitive ability to draw you in, and manipulate you enough to have you experience a particular scene in a particular way. He knew how much to reveal, how much not to reveal.

What are some of your Hitchcock favorites? What films or scenes made an impact you?

One that springs to mind for me is the scene in "The Birds," in which Tippi Hedren is sitting on a bench, having a cigarette, outside of a school. Behind her several big, black, menacing birds are slowly lining up on a jungle gym. In the background, you can hear the innocent singing of the children inside the school.

We the audience can see the potential danger -- but she can't. The singing becomes nerve-wracking. Why won't she turn around? If only she'd TURN AROUND!!!!

Wow, what a scene. Of course, that film was full of such scenes, masterfully done.

Any others you'd like to relate?
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Lightwizard
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 May, 2005 07:52 pm
I've probably stated too many times on this forum that Hitchcock's "Vertigo" is my favorite film. It does draw us into the immediate intrigue after Jimmy Stewart's tragic opening scene on the roof. His friend hiring him to tail his wife and find out where she goes, intimating that she is not altogether sane begins weaving the fabric of deceit. This has to have one of the best surpise endings of any suspense picture as Stewart begins to realize fate has played an ugly trick. There are scenes that are haunting like when Stewart and Kim Novak are in the redwood forest, the museum sequence and the first apperance of Novak as his lost love emerging from an eerie green haze. Brilliantly photographed and a real shocker -- what an ending!
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Stray Cat
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 May, 2005 08:10 pm
Yes, that scene in the redwood forest was both romantic and eerie at the same time. Had a real mystical quality to it.

And how about the scene where Jimmy Stewart is trying to follow Kim Novak up the stairs of the bell tower? He keeps looking down and we see how the ground is getting farther and farther away. Eventually, he's literally dragging himself up the stairs, still determined to follow her!

I could feel his pain!! Or, maybe I should say, "anxiety!"
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Brandon9000
 
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Reply Tue 24 May, 2005 08:39 pm
What about Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climbing down the faces of Mt. Rushmore in "North by Northwest," or the scene in which Norman Bates' "mother" confronts Vera Miles in the basement in "Psycho," or The scene in which Jimmy Stewart is keeping the murderer Raymond Burr at bay with flashbulbs in "Rear Window?" You are exactly correct, Stray Cat. Hitchcock was The Master. Have you read the long, long interview Francois Truffaut conducted with Hitchcock over several days? I have that book around here somewhere.
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Lightwizard
 
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Reply Tue 24 May, 2005 08:39 pm
Especially in his state of mind! The tragic betrayal of what seems to be a romantic love story in the beginning as when one first sees it they believe and want Stewart to find a way to possess Novak. Of course, we know he has some psychological flaws that drives the obession and his desire to possess is his undoing.

The "key" scene in "Notorious" and the wine cellar is real anxiety. With a cast like that who could go wrong? Well, maybe not wrong but rarely as right as Hitchcock. Every scene counts in that movie -- there just isn't any extreneous footage. Hitchcock really didn't need color but when he used it like in "Vertigo," it glowed. Ernie's in San Francisco was filmed in its romantic intimacy and when we first see Novak floating by, we know we are in for a mysterious and unforgettable trip.
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Stray Cat
 
  1  
Reply Tue 24 May, 2005 09:27 pm
No, I haven't read that interview Brandon, but I'd like to. I'm sure it's fascinating.

Regarding "Rear Window," I thought it was brilliant that Hitchcock had us experience watching the neighbors the very same way Stewart was experiencing it. In other words, we could see what the neighbors were doing, and we could tell quite a bit about what was going on in their lives, without hearing any dialogue (e.g., "Miss Lonely Heart," "The Dancer," etc.)

It made us feel as though we were right there with Stewart, and I think, unconciously, feel "sympathetic" toward him. When Raymond Burr and his wife have an argument, we can tell there's an argument going on. But how many directors today would feel the necessity to put us in the room with Raymond Burr, so we can literally hear what he and wife are arguing about...and in so doing, would destroy the "kinship" we feel with Stewart?

This is what I mean when I say that Hitchcock knew you didn't have to hear what they were saying to know what was going on, and he knew how to manipulate the audience.

And yes, Lightwizard!! That wine cellar scene! Another "high anxiety" moment!!

I also have some thoughts about Psycho, but I've gone on so long, I'll post them later!
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Lightwizard
 
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Reply Wed 25 May, 2005 10:45 am
Of course, all of Hitchcock's climactic scenes are high anxiety.

The final scenes in "North by Northwest" start out with the matchbook tossed onto the floor of James Mason's modern abode and the closeted Martin Landau getting wise to Eva Marie Saint. The famous dust cropper scene is also spine-tinglingly dramatic. This was edge-of-the-seat, nail-bitting stuff when I first saw it.
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Lightwizard
 
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Reply Wed 25 May, 2005 10:57 am
(But it's still entertaining every time I see it!)
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Stray Cat
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 May, 2005 09:22 am
Just some thoughts about Psycho:

In the shower scene where Janet Leigh is murdered, we see her lying in the tub and she sort of reaches out to the audience. At that point, the camera pulls away from her as if "in horror." I know that particular shot has been much commented on, but I've always thought it was very effective. The she reaches for the shower curtain, grips it and pulls it down.

There is no sound but the running water. Her agony is beyond screaming at that point, and she is dying. Then we see the small stream of blood and water swirling down the drain.

When I think how overdone this scene would probably be today!!! Lots of horror movie shrieking, dramatic "death throw" shots, not to mention the gory "gross out" factor that so many film makers seem to think is a necessity today. IMO, Hitchcock achieved so much more with the "clean," silent death of Janet Leigh.

Then there is the scene where the private investigator, hired by Janet's sister enters Norman's house and climbs the stairs looking for him. Norman then appears and stabs the man. At this point, Hitchcock uses a "bird's eye" or overhead shot. Apparently these types of shots are rarely used, but Hitchcock uses it to great effect here.

We see the look of horror on the man's face, then see him falling down the stairs. Seems to me, when we usually see "a falling down the stairs scene," it's shot from the bottom of the stairs -- or from the side. But in this scene, we are perched right above Norman and the P.I., so we get the full effect of the man falling "alllll the way" down the stairs. It's much more terrifying that way.

I'm just using these scenes in Psycho as examples (of course, there are many more) that Hitchcock was always keenly aware that the camera was the "eye" of the audience.
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Lightwizard
 
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Reply Thu 26 May, 2005 12:19 pm
Although "Psycho" wasn't the first serial killer movie (perhaps "M" enjoys that honor) but it spawned the modern serial killer/slasher flicks. Hitchcock, however, in making "Psycho" has the distinction of directing the antithesis of these films with second in line "The Silence of the Lambs." Can anyone think of any earlier efforts along these lines besides "M?"

"The Spiral Staircase" would be one -- it's Hitchcokian device was putting the viewer into the killer's head, looking out of his eyes.
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Stray Cat
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 May, 2005 12:45 pm
How about the very first film Hitchcock made, a silent called, "The Lodger?"

To be honest, I've never seen it. Turner Classic Movies ran it two or three months ago, but unfortunately, I missed it!

However, I believe it concerns a "Jack the Ripper" type killer who is renting a room in a Lodging House.

I think I need to email TCM and ask them to show that one again! It would be fascinating to see this very first effort of Hitchcock's.
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Lightwizard
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 May, 2005 01:58 pm
Right you are and that films was remade in 1932 in the first sound version and again in 1944.

Hitchcock returned to the theme with "Frenzy," about a serial killer strangling his victims with a necktie. In the meantime, there have been so many and most of them are mediocre. It's surprising how many filmmakers, except for Brian De Palma, seem to ignore the master's finesse for the suspense thriller. De Palma's "Dressed to Kill" was his best and consciously paid homage to Hitchcock, even including it's own version of the shower scene. His others, like "Obsession," are good but they lack something essential. Terry Gilliam's "Twelve Monkeys" even sets up a Hitchcock storytelling technique utilitzing time travel. I would have like to have seen Hitchcock do more with sci-fi other than "The Birds." That's an underrated Hitchcock effort, I think -- I can watch it again and again and still enjoy the superlative storytelling.
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 May, 2005 02:44 pm
Stray Cat wrote:
Just some thoughts about Psycho:

In the shower scene where Janet Leigh is murdered, we see her lying in the tub and she sort of reaches out to the audience. At that point, the camera pulls away from her as if "in horror." I know that particular shot has been much commented on, but I've always thought it was very effective. The she reaches for the shower curtain, grips it and pulls it down.

There is no sound but the running water. Her agony is beyond screaming at that point, and she is dying. Then we see the small stream of blood and water swirling down the drain.

When I think how overdone this scene would probably be today!!! Lots of horror movie shrieking, dramatic "death throw" shots, not to mention the gory "gross out" factor that so many film makers seem to think is a necessity today. IMO, Hitchcock achieved so much more with the "clean," silent death of Janet Leigh.

Then there is the scene where the private investigator, hired by Janet's sister enters Norman's house and climbs the stairs looking for him. Norman then appears and stabs the man. At this point, Hitchcock uses a "bird's eye" or overhead shot. Apparently these types of shots are rarely used, but Hitchcock uses it to great effect here.

We see the look of horror on the man's face, then see him falling down the stairs. Seems to me, when we usually see "a falling down the stairs scene," it's shot from the bottom of the stairs -- or from the side. But in this scene, we are perched right above Norman and the P.I., so we get the full effect of the man falling "alllll the way" down the stairs. It's much more terrifying that way.

I'm just using these scenes in Psycho as examples (of course, there are many more) that Hitchcock was always keenly aware that the camera was the "eye" of the audience.

What about that scene in "Strangers on a Train," where we see the strangulation murder of Farley Granger's ex-wife reflected in the lenses of her fallen glasses?
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Lightwizard
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 May, 2005 03:15 pm
Brilliant shot, that one!
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Stray Cat
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 May, 2005 09:03 am
You're right Brandon! The killer in that one had that purring voice -- which came in handy when he persuaded the ex-wife to take a trip across the lake with him. Rather than showing the actual murder, we see the muted images reflected in the glasses. Who would have thought of something like that? Except a genius like Hitchcock?

You got me thinking, Lightwizard, when you asked about early films depicting a serial killer type. I thought of "Night Must Fall" which is a British film that was done in the early thirties. It's not a Hitchcock film, but it was very good. It also featured the same kind of "Charming Cockney Killer" that you see in Frenzy.

But I'd have to say that one of the best films I've seen featuring the serial killer theme would be "No Way To Treat A Lady" starring Rod Steiger. He was absolutely brilliant in that one. I only saw the film once, well over five years ago, and yet I can still recall certain lines he said. What a powerful and memorable performance.

Wonder if he won the Academy Award for that role? If not, he certainly should have.
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Lightwizard
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 May, 2005 11:41 am
Are you referring to the 1937 Richard Thorpe directed film with Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell? I remember one murder but not a serial killer.
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LionTamerX
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 May, 2005 11:46 am
One of my favorite uses of the "birdseye" shot was in Topaz (?) Where the woman is shot and as she falls, her dress spreads out like an oozing bloodstain.

Not one of Hitchcock's best movies, but I love that shot.
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Lightwizard
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 May, 2005 11:56 am
The assassin being done away with using a shovel and the gas stove is my favorite in "Topaz."
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 May, 2005 12:00 pm
Isn't that "Torn Curtain?"
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Stray Cat
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 May, 2005 12:14 pm
I think you're right, Brandon!!! But Lightwizard, you're absolutely right about "Night Must Fall." I was thinking he was a serial killer, but now that I think of it, I guess it was only the one murder he'd commited.

So I've thought of another one -- by Hitchcock -- although this wasn't really an "early" film -- it was done in the... ummm....forties, I think. And that would be "Shadow Of A Doubt." Joseph Cotton plays the charming uncle who shows up for a visit -- and turns out to be the "Merry Widow Murderer." At least, I think that's what they called him.

I especially remember the scene where the niece is in the library, finds the newspaper articles about the "Widow Murderer" and realizes it's her one and only beloved uncle -- then she looks at the inside of the ring he gave her -- and realizes it's inscribed with the initials of one of his victims. While all this is happening, in the background is the sound of the waltz music that was his "theme song."

Great Stuff!
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