Family Plot

Bruce Dern at a graveside

If you were idly flicking through the TV channels on a wet afternoon and hit upon Family Plot, chances are you wouldn’t immediately think it was a Hitchcock movie – it looks more like an episode of Columbo. That bright TV lighting, those mid-range actors who look like they’re trying not to be fingered as this week’s criminal, one who’s once again not as smart as the man in the mac. I’ve looked up Bruce Dern, Karen Black, Barbara Harris and William Devane and not one of them ever did make an appearance on Columbo but they don’t quite fit the standard Hitchcock bill either, or not the bill containing Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, … Read more

Stage Fright

Jane Wyman and Marlene Dietrich

When the conversation turns to Alfred Hitchcock films, Stage Fright doesn’t often come up. Notorious, Psycho, Strangers on a Train, The 39 Steps, North by Northwest, Vertigo and even The Birds all regularly make an appearance. Stage Fright not so much. And yet it’s a fascinating film, not least because in it Hitchcock tries to do something different with his formula. All the usual elements are here – the innocent man, mistaken identity, flat-footed cops, the mystery blonde – but everything has been given a distorting twist, inside a movie which itself is set in a world with a distorted relationship to reality, as if all the characters in it have somehow become … Read more

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Bob consoles wife Jill

Here’s the original 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, the thriller Alfred Hitchcock would remake in 1956 with James Stewart and Doris Day in the lead roles. He later said this first version was “the work of a talented amateur, and the second was made by a professional.” However, ever a master of misdirection, it’s actually the first one that Hitchcock preferred. He found the second too polished. Unlike the second, this is a very British affair, with Leslie Banks and Edna Best as the married couple whose holiday in St Moritz is interrupted when a friend is shot and killed in front of them (in one of the most … Read more

Rear Window

James Stewart and Grace Kelly in Rear Window

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 8 January François Grimaldi takes Monaco, 1297 On this day in 1297, dressed as a monk, François Grimaldi (more properly Francesco, since he was Italian) was admitted to the castle at Monaco. Known as Il Malizia, “the cunning”, Grimaldi’s plan was simple – get inside, open the gates and then let his men rush the guards. This he did, and once his men, including his cousin, Rainier, were in he took control. For four years he ruled over Monaco, until he was chased out by the Genoese. He was the first of the Grimaldi clan to try and establish a claim … Read more

North by Northwest

Cary Grant pursued by a plane in North by Northwest

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 31 October Mount Rushmore completed, 1941 On this day in 1941, the sculpture of four US presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln – was finished on a granite face near Keystone, South Dakota. Sculpted from a mountain known to the Lakota Sioux as the Six Grandfathers, the depiction of the four presidents was masterminded by Gutzon Borglum and carved (after dynamiting to remove the big stuff) by up to 400 workers, each head measuring around 60 feet (18 metres). The gigantic frieze was conceived and created for reasons of promoting tourism, rather than overarching patriotism, and … Read more

The Lodger

Ivor Novello in The Lodger

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 30 September Jack the Ripper Kills Twice, 1888 On this day in 1888, the London serial killer known as Jack the Ripper killed two women, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes. Stride had had her throat cut; Eddowes had also had her throat cut, part of her nose was missing, her right earlobe was hanging off and she had had her abdomen cut open and one kidney had been removed. They were victims number three and four of a five-kill run that had started on 31 August and run its course by 9 November of the same year. The Ripper’s identity was … Read more

The 39 Steps

Madeleine Carroll handcuffed to Robert Donat in The 39 Steps

There are several filmed versions of John Buchan’s novel. The other two notables have Kenneth More and Robert Powell in the lead. But this one, in spite of its antiquity, is the best. It stars debonair, pencil-moustached Robert Donat as the innocent man forced into going on the run after accidentally getting caught up at the wrong end of someone else’s spying caper. The “innocent” theme was something Alfred Hitchcock was already comfortable with in 1935 and one which he’d return to repeatedly, most notably in North by Northwest. If you’ve read John Buchan’s original book, you’ll know The 39 Steps is a taut thriller full of derring-do, a rattling good read even … Read more

Strangers on a Train

930 strangers on a train blu ray x01

Remakes are always being mooted – one far-fetched internet rumour had Ricky Gervais starring in one of them – but whatever eventually pops out, it’s unlikely to eclipse this warped 1951 original, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Patricia Highsmith, surely one of cinema’s most misanthropic couplings. Hitchcock, as book after book delights in telling us, loved torturing blondes. The lesbian Highsmith, on the other hand, loved to torture homosexuals – see The Talented Mr Ripley, for example. And it’s Highsmith who comes out on top in this thriller about two men agreeing to swap murders. Robert Walker plays Bruno Anthony, the psychotic ball of mother-love who wants his horrible father dead. … Read more