When the editor of this website suggested this post, I thought he was insane. I am an Alfred Hitchcock scholar, with 30 years of experience behind me. I have studied with one of the greatest Hitchcock scholars of the 20th Century: Marian Keane. And even after all of that, I found this a daunting task. But, we’re gonna do it: every Hollywood feature film Hitchcock made (1940-1976), ranked from worst to best. Those of you who know me won’t be surprised what my top 5 are. They have been my top 5 for decades. There is no reason why I should change them.
Note: There are 3 omissions from this period. Frenzy (1972) was not made in Hollywood, but in London. Hitch also made 2 short propaganda films for the French government: Bon Voyage (1944), and Aventure Malgache (1944). Only Hollywood features need apply.
29. Under Capricorn (1949)
Oh dear god, why? What a mess! What could have been a glorious continuation of the experiment that was “Rope”, this was about getting into Ingrid Bergman’s pants. Hitchcock was obsessed with Bergman before he entered his “Blonde phase”. They worked together on 2 films: “Spellbound”, and “Notorious”. As his second independently produced film, this “Under Capricorn” nearly sunk him, and his company. And he made it to sleep with Bergman.
The results are disastrous. A ridiculous recycling of “Gaslight”, which Bergman won the Oscar for, and the seemingly continuous one-take method of “Rope”, it was doomed to fail. It could have been a great Gothic Romance. Instead, it’s a tepid mess. There is one hilarious story associated with this film. In one of Hitch’s many seduction attempts, he cooked dinner for Bergman. He served it in his trailer. It was just the two of them. They ate, they talked, they laughed, and he fell asleep. She quietly left the trailer, and went back to her hotel. Apocryphal, or not, it’s a sweet, and slightly pathetic image.
28. Torn Curtain (1966)
By this time, the premise of “my spouse is a spy, and I didn’t know” has worn a little thin. The biggest problem with this film is the horrible miscasting of Julie Andrews. Hitch probably thought he would get the same kind of performance he got from Doris Day in the second version of “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. I love Mrs. Andrews, but she is cringe-inducingly bad. To be fair, there are some good points to this film, particularly Paul Newman. What most people seem to get a kick out of (If that is the correct term…yuck!) is the extended death scene. Hitch supposedly wanted to show how difficult it is to kill someone. Again, yuck!
27. Family Plot (1976)
This film is mostly famous for Hitch’s final cameo. You see his unmistakeable silhouette behind the glass doorfront of “The Coroner’s Office”. The film itself is a bit like a flipbook of Hitch’s past masterworks. Karen Black and Bruce Dern may have been flavor of the month but, it just doesn’t work. I must admit, many artists have gone out with more ignominious works but, Hitch was lucky. It’s tepid, and slow to get to its inevitable point, but it doesn’t sully his name, or reputation. Fascinating, and a little sleep-inducing, don’t skip this, as it is the period to Hitchcock’s career.
26. Topaz (1969)
This film is probably most famous for its ending; because it has several. No one can really agree as to which one is the best. Even Hitch couldn’t really decide which was the best. The plot is far to complicated to elaborate here but, it has to do with the untangling of a spy-ring. If you need something more specific, look up the “Sapphire Affair”. However, spoilers that way lie. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. This has all of the ingredients of a great Hitchcock film but, there is no great star to hang its hat on. A shame. This really should be one of his best films. Chalk it up to studio meddling. This should have been an independent production. However, he was on his uppers, and probably had no choice.
25. I Confess (1953)
A priest with a secret, he can’t confess: it should work, right?! If there is one golden rule, when it comes to Hitchcock, don’t give him Method Actors! I think Eva Marie Saint was one of the few exceptions. To Hitch, actors were props, that helped him tell stories. Do as you’re told, and get your paycheck. It seems harsh, but it is born out by dozens of accounts as to how he ran his films. Here comes Montgomery Clift, one of the great Method Actors. Apparently, they fought constantly!
It’s still a fascinating film about Catholic guilt, and rites, but you can see how tortured it must have been to shoot. There is a legendary moment in the film where Clift must look up at a sign. Clift kept asking Hitch “how do I look up at the sign? What is my motivation?” Hitch told him, “I don’t care how you look at it, just look at it”! That’s just the kind of director Hitch was.
24. The Paradine Case (1947)
I’m not going to say this film is boring. But, it isn’t one of Hitchcock’s best. Having had a good experience with Gregory Peck on “Spellbound”, Hitch insisted that Peck be a part of this film. Peck is not responsible for this snooze-fest. Even the emerging Louis Jordan cannot save this exercise in yawning. Hitch made this film to fulfill his contract with Selznick. Selznick brought Hitch to our shores, but they loathed each other. That’s what happens when you put together two control-freaks. Selznick was the control-freak who thought he was a genius. Hitch was the control-freak who was a genius.
23. Mr. And Mrs Smith (1941)
Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard: what a perfect combination. Carole would die in a plane crash 1 year later, making this film extremely poignant. This is Hitchcock’s only slapstick comedy. Yet, with all of the tools in his box, it doesn’t work. It isn’t awful, but it could have been so much more. There is one moment when a seemingly catatonic Robert Montgomery suddenly falls head-first into the ground. You suddenly believe that Hitch is in his element. But, other than that, nah! He had a formula, and when he stuck to it, it worked! As noble an experiment as this was…nah!
22. To Catch a Thief (1955)
This can only be described as a shag-fest between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Lord knows, she had the reputation for shagging every man in Hollywood. I have no information to confirm, or deny, this. Otherwise, I don’t know why this movie exists. It definitely got Grace shacked up with Prince Rainier. And the shots of Monte Carlo convinced my wife and I to go to there on our 10th anniversary cruise; despite the fact it is an over-priced dump. However, they do make a smashing salad Nicioise. Great to look at, not an ounce of substance.
21. Stage Fright (1950)
Why it took so long to get Marlene Dietrich onto a Hitchcock film, I will never know. They were made for each other! Unfortunately, when they did finally collaborate together, it was on one of Hitchcock’s more tepid affairs. However, this is neither artist’s fault. Dietrich had been away from the spotlight for a while. Hitch had been slaving away in his own independent hell for two films. Then, he struck a deal, and found a compromise between independence, and studio-dependence. It suited everyone very nicely. So, this film is Hitch dipping his toes back into the Hollywood pool. On a lot of levels, it works. And, it also doesn’t work. Judge for yourself. But, I can’t see how a long term association with Marlene Dietrich would not have benefitted both of them.