Jump to: navigation, search

The Times (04/Sep/2008) - Hitchcock's 50 most memorable moments

(c) The Times (04/Sep/2008)

Hitchcock's 50 most memorable moments

Sir Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar, but is generally accepted as the best British film director of all time. Here our film critics have a stab at choosing his 50 most memorable cinematic moments.

Is Alfred Hitchcock the best British film director of all? While Michael Powell was vilified after Peeping Tom, and David Lean fell in love with his own importance, Hitch never lost his bearings. That self-deprecating chink of black humour is evident to the very end.

Like Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and Ernst Lubitsch, Hitch survived the invention of sound and the switch from Europe to Hollywood. He made Britain’s first “talkie”, Blackmail (1929). After smash hits such as Rebecca (1940) and Psycho (1960), he became a national icon in America, presenting his own hit TV show. His name on posters started looming as large as the titles.

The irony is that Hitchcock seemed unaware of his influence on film grammar. He was a PostModernist who travelled from German Expressionism to gaudy American Gothic. His true genius was to borrow ripping yarns from John Buchan, Patricia Highsmith and Daphne Du Maurier and make them his own.

Hitchcock could never be accused of high art. His obsession with buxom blondes in peril coupled with memories of the creepy backstreets of Leytonstone was all the art he ever needed. He is not as complicated as you might think, which for my money is an excellent reason for calling him the greatest.

  • #50 Jamaica Inn (1939) - The kidnap of Mary Yellan
    Charles Laughton’s sleazy Justice of the Peace terrifies young Maureen O'Hara in his murky Cornish mansion. The corpulent star, spookily reminiscent of the director himself, steals the picture.
  • #49 The Wrong Man (1956) - The arrest
    Manny’s growing terror as he is wrongly booked and processed by the police is beautifully synched to a growing cacophony of confusion and noise. The intensity is almost intolerable as Manny is finally locked up in jail where his fellow prisoners are heard, but never seen.
  • #48 Notorious (1946) - The wine cellar
    Caught by Ingrid Bergman’s husband as they try to discover the secrets hidden in his wine cellar, Cary Grant snatches an illicit kiss from Bergman as an alibi. By the way she melts in his arms, it’s clear that she’s in love, despite his cruelty.
  • #47 I Confess (1953) - Opening sequence
    Hitchcock, at his most literal and his most mischievous, opens with a montage of Quebec at midnight, deserted, unexceptional, but for a lone distant figure (Hitch himself) and a series of bold signs marked with the word “Direction”. The signs eventually lead to an open window, inside which is a dead body.
  • #46 The Lady Vanishes (1938) - The dining car on the train is uncoupled
    It’s teatime. Every English traveller on this European express duly turns up in the dining car to eat crumpets. The comedy of Victorian manners is Hitchcock at his scathing best.
  • #45 Suspicion (1941) - The glass of “milk”
    Fragile heiress Lina (Joan Fontaine) isn’t feeling well. The threat of murder from her money-grabbing husband Johnnie (Cary Grant) is getting her down. Johnnie offers to bring her a glass of milk. He walks slowly up the stairs with the milk, actually poison, on a tray. The milk, famously, is lit from within by a bulb.
  • #44 Marnie (1964) - The rape of Marnie
    Compulsive thief Marnie (Tippi Hedren) reveals to new playboy husband Mark, on the first night of their honeymoon cruise, that she is chronically frigid. Mark says this is OK. Three minutes later, he bursts into her bedroom and pushes her on to the bed. Marnie freezes, the camera blurs, and Bernard Herrmann’s strings go crazy.
  • #43 Secret Agent (1936) - Death of a tourist in the Swiss Alps
    A ghastly moment between secret agents John Gielgud and Peter Lorre as they quibble over who should push a suspect German spy over the cliff. You can’t slip a cigarette paper between the irony and the sadism. Hitchcock spikes the scene with images of the innocent victim’s dog whining for his master back home. Cruel.
  • #41 Notorious (1946) - The drunk-driving scene
    A sloshed Ingrid Bergman takes mysterious party guest Cary Grant for a late-night drive. The subtext is sexual – he’s determined not to lose his cool; she is determined to crack his calm exterior.
  • #40 Rope (1948) - Maid and the body
    Off camera there is a heated discussion between the dinner party guests; meanwhile the camera rests on the maid as she potters about tidying up around the truck which conceals the body. Discovery of the crime seems inevitable.
  • #39 Psycho (1960) - Arbogast interviews Norman Bates
    The office walls in the Bates motel are covered with stuffed birds in alarming poses. Norman is being interrogated about Marion Crane with a brilliant shot of Norman’s head stretched out looking like one of his mounted feathered friends.
  • #38 Lifeboat (1944) - Starring Alfred Hitchcock...
    Perhaps the most ingenious of all Hitchcock’s cameo appearances: he appears in a newspaper that one of the rescued passengers is reading. Hitchcock is the “before” photograph in a diet advertisement.
  • #37 Rope (1948) - Giveaway guilt
    A nervous Farley Granger gives away his guilt with his stricken expression when he sees that John Dall has tied a pile of books with the very rope they used to murder their classmate.
  • #36 Topaz (1969) - The blood dress
    The killing of Juanita is a stunning and pivotal moment. It is shot from above; as she sinks to ground her purple gown billows out like a pool of blood.
  • #35 Spellbound (1945) - Dream sequence
    Hitchcock himself was barely involved in the most memorable scene: the dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali. Giant eyes float in space, a sinister faceless man in a tuxedo stalks the subconscious.
  • #34 The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) - Concert at the Embassy
    James Stewart searches an embassy in London while Doris Day sings for a foreign prime minister. The camera “follows” her voice as the song drifts, weaker and weaker, down empty corridors and stair-wells to the keyhole of the room where her son is kept hostage.
  • #33 Shadow of a Doubt (1943) - “Fat, greedy women”
    The camera slowly closes in on the face of Joseph Cotton’s serial killer as he launches into a hate-filled rant about wealthy widows. “Horrible, faded, fat, greedy women. Are they human or are they wheezing animals?” Chilling.
  • #31 Suspicion (1941) - Johnnie takes Lina for a hair-raising spin
    Penniless cad Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) wants to murder new wife Lina (Joan Fontaine) for her cash. He takes her for a clifftop spin and drives at breakneck speed. Suddenly her door flings open. He reaches over. Is he going to push her? The door shuts. Lina is safe.
  • #30 Strangers on a Train (1951) - Miriam’s murder in reflection
    Bruno begins his brutal strangulation of the promiscuous Miriam Haines (Kasey Rogers). Only here, the entire 25-second murder shot is seen through the reflection on Miriam’s fallen spectacles.
  • #29 Notorious (1946) - Cary the hero
    Cary Grant rescues Ingrid Bergman from a slow, lingering death by poisoning, carrying her out of the house in front of her husband and the suspicious German agents. It’s a supremely tense climax.
  • #28 Rebecca (1940) - Mrs de Winter’s first taste of Manderley
    The eerie arrival of a tense Laurence Olivier and the even tenser Joan Fontaine at Manderley for the first time is a blast of broody atmospherics.
  • #27 Strangers on a Train (1951) - The crisscross scene
    Robert Walker’s psychotic Bruno is one of Hitchcock’s most chilling villains. The scene in which he suggests the “criss cross” murder swap with Guy, Farley Granger’s hapless tennis star, is perfectly staged. “Oh what’s a life or two? Some people are better off dead, Guy.”
  • #26 Saboteur (1942) - The Statue of Liberty dangle
    A wrongly accused factory worker, Barry Kane (Robert Cummings), confronts anarchist agent Frank Frye (Norman Lloyd) on top of the Statue of Liberty. Frye falls, but is saved by Kane’s grip on his sleeve. Unfortunately, Frye’s sleeve rips, stitch by slow sadistic stitch. Bye bye, Frye.
  • #25 Stage Fright (1950) - Jonathan’s ghoulish confession
    Formerly doe-eyed actor Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd), trapped below stage with platonic buddy Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), finally admits to being a homicidal maniac. Long shots show Wyman’s eyes getting bigger, more tear-stained and slightly terrified. Seconds later Jonathan is decapitated by falling scenery.
  • #24 The Birds (1963) - The “God” shot
    As the town goes up in flames, the camera looks down from on high. A single bird swoops into view, then another and another, until the screen is smothered with them. A demonic Hitchcock moment.
  • #23 The 39 Steps (1935) - Hannay’s cleaner finds dead body
    A beautiful stranger whom Robert Donat saves from a music-hall brawl ends up with a knife in her back in his apartment. The close-up scream of his horrified cleaner melts into a railway tunnel with a shrieking train steaming out of it.
  • #22 Sabotage (1936) - The London bus bombing
    Terrorist mastermind Verloc (Oskar Homolka) sends his innocent young brother-in-law Stevie (Desmond Tester) on a bus to Piccadilly Circus with a timed bomb in a parcel. Stevie is delayed, and in a scene of heavily ratcheted tension (and a certain eerie prescience), the bomb explodes, killing Stevie and destroying the bus.
  • #21 The 39 Steps (1935) - Richard Hannay’s impromptu speech
    Hotly pursued by two hatchet-faced spies for a secret he doesn’t possess, hero Hannay (Robert Donat) nips into a Scottish assembly meeting and is welcomed as the keynote speaker. “I know what it feels to have the whole world against me,” begins his speech which, in a wry Hitchcockian dig, seduces the gullible crowd.
  • #20 Blackmail (1929) - Chase through the British Museum
    The first movie to display Hitchcock’s penchant for filming iconic landmarks. Here petty criminal and sleazy extortionist Tracy (Donald Calthrop) is chased by the police on to the domed roof of the Museum’s reading room. He falls through the glass and dies.
  • #19 Dial M for Murder (1954) - Margot’s murder is badly botched
    Oily, avaricious husband Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) has bribed petty criminal Swann (Anthony Dawson) into strangling his wealthy wife, Margot (Grace Kelly). But things go badly awry thanks to an innocuous pair of craftwork scissors that Margot plunges into Swann’s back.
  • #18 Torn Curtain (1966) - The fight and murder scene
    The savage scene in which Paul Newman kills the communist, who jeers Newman even as the last breath is beaten out of him, is as ruthless and unvarnished as anything in the Bourne series.
  • #17 The 39 Steps (1935) - The murder of Mr Memory
    A needle match between vanity and self-preservation. Will Mr Memory rise to Robert Donat’s challenge from the stalls of the Palladium theatre – “What are the 39 steps?” – or will the world’s most famous talking encyclopaedia fudge the answer to save his skin?
  • #16 Psycho (1960) - Marion Crane’s car journey to the Bates motel
    The camera flickers nervously between the rear-view mirror, the increasingly lonely roads, and Janet Leigh clinging to the steering wheel. Bernard Herrmann’s score comes into its own.
  • #15 Strangers on a Train (1951) - Opening shot
    Two sets of male feet are seen hurrying to catch a train. By looking at their shoes you get to know their personalities before you see them.
  • #14 The Lady Vanishes (1938) - The disappearance of Miss Froy
    Hitchcock was infatuated with trains. The scene in which Margaret Lockwood wakes to discover that the old spinster in the opposite seat has not only disappeared but may never have existed is a vintage piece of disorientation.
  • #13 Rebecca (1940) - Mrs Danvers urges suicide
    Judith Anderson is magnetic as the creepy Mrs Danvers who pours persuasive reasons into Joan Fontaine’s ear to commit suicide when Maxim rejects his new wife. A terrific portrait of pure malevolence.
  • #12 Young and Innocent (1937) - Tea and jazz at the Grand Hotel
    Technically the best travelling camera shot in Hitchcock’s portfolio. We film idlers in the lobby of the Grand Hotel, before being gently ushered into an equally grand tearoom. Still riding the same take, the camera creeps across 50 yards of dancefloor and settles exactly 4in away from the twitchy eyes of the jazz band drummer. Need we ask whodunnit?
  • #11 North by Northwest (1959) - The amazing denoument
    Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are chased across the presidents’ heads on Mount Rushmore. They cling by their fingernails to the side of the mountain. Grant stretches out his arm for her to grab on to and as he pulls her up it cuts to them in a Pullman car on a train as he’s pulling her up into the upper bunk. They’ve just got married. It’s a wonderful ending.
  • #10 Rebecca (1940) - Maxim de Winter spills the beans
    In a cottage on the Manderley estate, icy millionaire Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) reveals to naive new wife Joan Fontaine that he despised the first Mrs de Winter – Rebecca – confessing to his part in her macabre death.
  • #9 The Birds (1963) - Climbing frame
    Beleaguered heroine Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) takes a cigarette break in the school playground. A lone crow sits on the climbing frame behind her. She lights up, then three, then four, then seven more birds land. Finally Melanie watches a flying bird swoop onto the frame, which is now home to a thousand sinister black crows. She flees.
  • #8 Frenzy (1972) - Blaney’s revenge
    Jon Finch’s hapless Blaney smashes an iron bar into the skull of the sleeping serial killer who framed him for murder, Rusk (Barry Foster), only to discover that it is the head of a murdered girl. This is Hitch at his most brutal and sadistic.
  • #7 Vertigo (1958) - Judy falls from the bell tower
    Detective Scottie (James Stewart), realising that lover Judy (Kim Novak) was involved in the murder that ruined his retirement, drags her up a convent bell tower. She confesses. They kiss. He’s about to forgive her when a spooky nun emerges from the shadows, scaring Judy off the tower. Hitch at his most callous.
  • #6 Rear Window (1954) - Lisa is caught in Thorwarld’s apartment
    Immobilised photographer L. B. Jeffries (James Stewart) sends his socialite girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) into the garden of suspected killer Thorwarld (Raymond Burr) to dig for evidence. Lisa, however, sneaks into Thorwald’s flat. Thus, in a scene of nauseating tension, Jeffries can only watch as Thorwald returns, grabs Lisa and turns off the lights.
  • #5 North by Northwest (1959) - The crop-dusting scene
    Cary Grant is flattened into the dust as the little biplane circles and renews its attack. He finds temporary cover in a field of maize, but then the plane unleashes a cloud of choking chemicals. The explosive conclusion is superb.
  • #4 The Birds (1963) - Silent escape from Bodega Bay
    After being pecked into a semi-delirious mess, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is carried very, very slowly by her boyfriend Mitch (Rod Taylor) and his icy mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) out of their house and through a sea of cackling, squawking, homicidal birds. They slip into Melanie’s sports car and drive away very, very slowly.
  • #3 Vertigo (1958) - Judy is transformed into Madeleine
    Bullied by the unhinged former detective Scottie (James Stewart) into new hair, new clothes and new eyebrows, a brittle Judy (Kim Novak) emerges into her green-lit bedroom the spitting image of Scottie’s dead crush Madeleine (also Novak). Scottie, inflamed with morbid desire, gives Judy the creepiest kiss in movie history.
  • #2 Psycho (1960) - The discovery of “Mother” in the basement
    The most famous “jump moment” in Hitchcock’s oeuvre. We are Vera Miles’s eyeballs as she crosses the room in the basement and finds Mrs Bates sitting in a chair with her back to us. She reaches out her hand to touch the old woman... aaaaargh.
  • #1 Psycho (1960) - The shower scene
    One of the best known (and most influential) of Hitchcock’s scenes. Janet Leigh’s character takes a shower at the Bates motel, unaware that an assassin is creeping up to the curtain. The real horror comes from Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking violins as a silhouetted figure lunges at poor Leigh, helpless in the throes of the manic stabbing. The white light is blinding, every detail harsh. The dissolved edit between the plughole and Leigh’s eye is a thing of beauty.