A-List: Unappreciated Hitchcock Films
By Sean Collier
September 2, 2008
A few summers ago, I was employed by an idyllic, wondrous educational program called the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts. Essentially a state-run artists' colony for teenagers, PGSA puts all the best drama geeks, band nerds and the like through a rigorous audition process, before selecting the most precocious and preposterously talented of the bunch and throwing them into a veritable six-week paradise of creation. Or as close as you can come to paradise in Erie, Pennsylvania, anyway.
Aside from calming fretting parents, Xeroxing zines, and patrolling the campus shrubbery to prevent any young lovers from making it past second base, I helped out with some film criticism classes. Part of my job was to come up with a film series to keep the kids occupied (and, again, away from adolescent groping) every now and then. Being a lifetime Alfred Hitchcock devotee, I decided to see how the young scamps reacted to the master's works of suspense and dark humor. I figured they'd be way into Psycho, but taper off after a film or two.
I was wrong.
Every time I tried to tell them it'd be the last film in the series, dozens of kids would beg me to find a night to fit in another film. They sat rapt through Vertigo, they giggled through Rear Window, they cuddled on the lawn when we did an outdoor screening of The Birds. Despite very limited exposure to films released before 1990, they instantly attached to Hitchcock's movies. (Horrifying factoid: people born in the '90s can now vote, smoke, and go to strip clubs. Anyway.)
Like all good film snobs, I think a lot of the output of the '30s, '40s and '50s holds up well today. Hitchcock, though, is truly eternal. Psycho could've been made last year. Rear Window WAS made last year, they just called it Disturbia. These films simply don't age.
Just about everyone has seen a few of Hitch's films, but his output was much more vast than many people realize. A great number of true gems have probably escaped your radar thus far; thankfully, I have come to spread the gospel according to Hitch. With a reminder that "Drama is life with the dull bits cut out," The A-List presents the most under-appreciated films by Alfred Hitchcock.
When Rope does get attention, it's mainly as a technical wonder – decades before such a thing was technically possible, Hitchcock attempted to make the vast majority of the film one continuous shot. He comes awfully close to succeeding, too – the narrative plays out in real time, and the vast majority contains no cuts. To change film reels, however, he is forced to zoom in on a character's back and back out, to create the illusion of an unbroken shot; today, it's a bit distracting, but forgivable given the circumstance. Beyond that achievement, however, Rope is a master class in suspense and tension, with brilliant character work by the trio of Jimmy Stewart, John Dall and Farley Granger. There's intriguing subtext about society's acceptance of homosexuality at work, too, though the film's message on the subject is ambiguous. (It took me a while to believe the homosexuality theory – but if you don't buy it at first, start the movie over and listen to the dialogue with your eyes closed.)