Between January and March 2022, I watched all Alfred Hitchcock’s films in chronological order and came up with a ranking of them from worst to best. In this five part article, I’m sharing the reviews I wrote as I went along and the final ranking on which I settled. In part 1, I’m looking at the bottom of the barrel, the worst entries in the Master’s filmography.

All entries contain spoilers.


Well, here it is. Something I thought I’d never see. A Hitchcock film worse than Juno and the Paycock. I was prepared for the fact that Number Seventeen is a somewhat quirky entry in the Hitchcock filmography but I was also aware that many people have a soft spot for it, or even consider it among his finest British films. Having watched the film, it amazes me that anyone has a kind word to say about Number Seventeen. Hitchcock didn’t want to make the film and retrospectively called it “a disaster.” I’m very much with Hitchcock on this one.

Number Seventeen is based on the burlesque thriller play by Joseph Jefferson Farjeon. The play was always intended as a spoof of the mystery thriller genre, with a deliberately convoluted plot, clichéd events and stock characters, and the film’s defenders often accuse its detractors of not “getting it” and of taking the material at face value. I was aware of the comedic nature of Number Seventeen going in but I didn’t find any of it remotely funny and the deliberately incomprehensible plot quickly becomes annoying if you’re hoping to connect with the film in any conventional way. Perhaps that’s the key to why some people think this is a masterpiece. Perhaps it is futile to expect anything conventional at all. But as characters reveal they are not who or what they purported to be again and again and events pile up without any real structure or sense, Number Seventeen becomes harder and harder to enjoy. It’s like a tedious checklist of clichés rather than an artful parody or subversion of them.

Attempting to follow the plot of Number Seventeen is all but pointless. I read a synopsis after the film was over to try and clarify what I had just watched and it still makes little sense. The acting is mostly mediocre or, in the case of Leon M. Lion’s overtly comedic Ben, excruciating and even at just over an hour in length the film seems to drag. Its potentially atmospheric old dark house setting is wasted as the characters seem intent on just hanging about on the stairs, while the train chase that closes the film (and is often cited as its saving grace) is frustrating in that its potential is wasted because the lack of any emotional engagement means there is no suspense at all.

I can picture those who loved Number Seventeen reading this review and rolling their eyes at yet another person who has misunderstood this supposed masterpiece. But I went in to Number Seventeen well-armed to understand it for what it is trying to be. I just happen to think it fails to achieve those goals. Earlier in my chronological Hitchcock adventure I would’ve put money on Juno and the Paycock coming out at the bottom of my ranking but I’d much rather watch that again. It seemed to me that Juno and the Paycock was a bad adaptation of what might be a decent play. Number Seventeen feels like a bad adaptation of a bad play.


Hitchcock kicked off the 1930s with what remains his most maligned film, at least by those few people who have seen it. Based on Sean O’Casey’s tragi-comic play about a poor family living in the Dublin slums during the Irish Civil War, Juno and the Paycock’s irreverent tone seems like a decent match for Hitchcock and you can see why he took to the play and wanted to film it. What’s harder to imagine, given the play’s reliance on florid speeches, is that Hitchcock originally planned a silent version. The onset of sound scuppered this plan, and hard to imagine though it is I’d be intrigued to see how a silent version would’ve turned out because the sound version emerged as so static and stagebound that nothing can really save it.

I’ve seen plenty of films that are essentially filmed plays that still work really well but Juno and the Paycock has to struggle with early sound cinema limitations on top of being uncinematic at a basic level. Add to this the decision to cast non-Irish actors in some key very-Irish roles, something I object to less on modern grounds than just on the basic fact that it doesn’t work at all. Edward Chapman, later to become Norman Wisdom’s foil Mr. Grimsdale, is quite terrible and pointedly unIrish in the central role of Captain Boyle, while Sidney Morgan as his friend Joxer is a bit better but still pointedly an Englishman playing broad Irish. There are some decent performances, including a young John Laurie (Scottish) as the wayward son Johnny, and Sara Allgood (Irish. Hooray!) as the titular matriarch Juno, but nothing that comes close to elevating the production anywhere close to watchable.

I take no pleasure in rubbishing Juno and the Paycock. When a film is so roundly panned, I always hope I can be the exception and find something in it that many others didn’t (as I managed to do with Champagne) but Juno and the Paycock is pretty much exactly what I expected: a strained, draggy filmed play that is as dull and unremarkable as its reputation. Without his opening credit, you’d never know it was Hitchcock. Get thee to the bottom end of the list!


The Farmer’s Wife, supposedly a comedy, seems to have quite a few champions among critics but Hitchcock was not a fan of the film himself and sadly, neither was I. The film begins promisingly enough, with a widowed farmer making a list of potential new wives from the local single women and then heading out to bumble his way through a variety of unjustifiably overconfident proposals. The problem is that none of these proposals, or any of the comedy that surrounds them, are actually funny. The film is repetitive, with the farmer receiving a refusal and then becoming perplexed and angry. In fact, the scenes are more nasty than anything, with the answers of “no” resulting in the farmer becoming wild-eyed and vigorously berating the women. We don’t see what he says but the shots of him angrily yelling are long and quite visceral, yet never funny. If Hitchcock pulls away from intertitles again in these shots, that tendency is not adhered to throughout. The Farmer’s Wife is quite wordy, with some of the best gags being in the witty but overabundant (for a silent film) dialogue. But nothing can really save the film for me and if you don’t see the inevitable ending coming a mile away, it’s ruined on the poster for you.

The Farmer’s Wife also marks an unfortunate reduction in Hitchcock’s stylistic brilliance, with the repetitive plot mechanics leaving little room for invention (he does manage to insert a couple of good moments, such as the farmer’s potential brides materialising in a chair in front of him as he makes his list). The run of films from The Pleasure Garden through to Downhill showed a rapid growth in Hitchcock’s directorial flair but The Farmer’s Wife scuppers it and unfortunately the following Easy Virtue continued that downturn.


Under Capricorn was Hitchcock’s second film for his own production company Transatlantic Pictures and it kicked off a very brief second British period for him. A critical and commercial failure, Under Capricorn represents an odd backwards step into the sort of hoary melodrama Hitchcock had largely left behind. It is generally considered one of his weakest films, although there are many who argue it is one of his best and most interesting. Given how I’ve uncovered several unpopular films that I’ve loved while going through the Hitchcock catalogue, I had high hopes this might be a hidden gem. Sadly, it was not to be.

Despite its Australian setting and the presence of Hollywood stars Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton, Under Capricorn feels very much a British film, stripping away the Hollywood glamour for a more dialogue-heavy, deliberately paced costume drama. Though it is shot in Technicolor, there is something grubby and dour about Under Capricorn which clashes with those bold colours. The story is tedious, the dialogue dreary and the performances unremarkable. A stuffiness that Hitchcock’s 30s British classics had largely shaken off is back with a vengeance here, with the necessary passion struggling to break through. Hitchcock again uses long takes to probe the goings-on in a large gothic house but this directorial assurance is undercut by pedestrian storytelling. The characters never come to life and so the audience struggle to care about their various scandalous entanglements.

I don’t have much to say about Under Capricorn really. It simply bored me in a way that Hitchcock’s previous Transatlantic Pictures experiment Rope did not. I love a good costume drama, a good melodrama, a good Hitchcock anomaly. This just wasn’t a good example of any of those things. “At least I’ve seen it now” will have to serve as my sole consolation.


It has been noted in many reviews that the “Strange” portion of the Rich and Strange title is very much warranted and I can’t disagree. It’s very hard to tell what Rich and Strange wants to be. It’s a comedy but rather a sour one, its uneven tone not helped by an awkward segue into a peculiar romance with almost destroys the central couple’s marriage, before the film drifts towards a disaster movie style climax capped with a racist joke. By this time, confusion, boredom or frustration have probably become the dominant feelings in most viewers. I must admit, the sheer oddness of Rich and Strange did stave off boredom in my case but that didn’t necessarily make it a good viewing experience.

Ultimately, Rich and Strange feels like a film that needed a much bigger budget if its globe-trotting plot was to work at all. Some of the shots of the places the central couple visit recall the then-popular City Symphonies but Hitchcock fails to convincingly integrate this footage in an immersive way and so I never felt like I went on a voyage. The characters in whose company we spend the whole film are also grating. Joan Barry, whose voice was previously heard in Blackmail, does a decent job as the wife but Harry Kendall is woefully inadequate and unlikable as the husband.

There’s an interesting mix of silent and sound styles in Rich and Strange, with a great opening scene that plays out without dialogue and illustrates the hustle-bustle grind of the commute home from work. There are also intertitles throughout, the like of which the growing dominance of sound had all but eradicated by this time. But all this ends up feeling like a director pining to return to the silent cinema he had so convincingly mastered by the time of The Manxman. Blackmail had been a doozy of a first sound film but Rich and Strange still plays like Hitchcock is feeling his way through the early sound era. It’s an inevitable transition but the films from this time have, in my book, mostly been curious failures.


An adaptation of a Noel Coward play, Easy Virtue starts off promisingly with an opening shot in which what appears to be a giant seed pod turns out to be a judge’s wig. The courtroom scene that follows appears to be setting up something akin to what would later be considered a “Hitchcockian” thriller, with a flashback featuring a vicious husband, an impetuous lover, potential infidelity, gunplay and mistaken assumptions of criminality. But this is all merely a precursor to a plot about the social stigma of being a divorced woman. There’s still potential in this theme and it makes for a fascinating glimpse into 1920s attitudes on divorce, particularly as it comes from a sympathetic viewpoint. But the story itself is a little flat and the melodrama of a divorcee trying to hide her past from her new mother-in-law never exploits the full potential of that scenario.

Easy Virtue has some promise and I liked it much better than its predecessor The Farmer’s Wife. Unlike Downhill, it actually has something to say about contemporary attitudes and the hedonistic upper classes but there is none of the brilliant visual ingenuity that saved that earlier film. After the promising opening, Hitchcock mainly seems to be trundling along as a director for hire, unable to insert much of himself into scenes of family discord. The ending is actually quite satisfying, its tragic note feeling entirely appropriate in its creation of a circular narrative, and the final line and delivery could possibly have sat alongside the likes of “Mr. Demille, I’m ready for my close-up” or “This is Mrs. Norman Maine” as iconic, female-focused closing moments. If only it had been appended to a better film.


Based on a play by John Galsworthy, The Skin Game is generally considered one of Hitchcock’s worst films. It wasn’t absolute bottom-of-the-barrel stuff for me but it does suffer greatly from a fairly boring plot about a battle over land between two rival families. The Skin Game is often accused of being stagey but with this film Hitchcock has noticeably moved on from the creaky Juno and the Paycock and Murder! He makes the dialogue-heavy, static script feel much more cinematic, with one brilliant scene at an auction that makes early use of whip pans to capture the urgency of the to-ing and fro-ing between the bids. The Skin Game also benefits from a very good central performance by Edmund Gwenn, the actor best known for his Oscar-winning turn as Father Christmas in Miracle on 34th Street. Gwenn collaborated with Hitchcock several times over the years. In fact, he made as many films with Hitchcock as those more famous collaborators James Stewart and Cary Grant. But Gwenn’s appearances are all in less celebrated works, and not always in the lead role, so their collaboration is also less celebrated.

If The Skin Game is a more handsome and cinematic film than Murder!, it also lacks the playful spirit that made that film entertaining for at least a portion of its runtime. The Skin Game is sluggish for most of its length, save for that auction scene and a hard pivot into melodrama towards the end which feels desperate. Notably, Hitchcock’s adaptation changes a key detail to make the story more tragic than Galsworthy’s source play, and the final shot gives the story a satisfyingly sour ending, but ultimately it’s a long old slog to get there, even at only 82 minutes. So though it is clearly a better-made film, The Skin Game has landed below the more enjoyable Murder! in my ranking.


The Trouble with Harry seems to have gained a reputation over the years as a pretty decent little comedy, even amongst those who allow their reactions to be governed by their reductive views of what a Hitchcock film should be, because at least this one has a corpse. Unfortunately, for me The Trouble with Harry is as lifeless as that same body.

When it comes to underrated Hitchcock comedies, I’m a big champion of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which is often seen as the only other “pure” Hitchcock comedy. There are other contenders in his catalogue though. Despite not finding it at all funny, I’d say The Farmer’s Wife qualifies as a Hitchcock comedy, as does the charming Champagne. And though their overriding thriller elements mean they’re not usually classed as pure comedies, the likes of The Lady Vanishes, Stage Fright and even Rear Window are more effective at getting laughs from me than The Trouble with Harry. An unfunny comedy can sometimes work in other ways if its plot or characters are strong enough to carry it. Sadly, that is not the case here.

What The Trouble with Harry does have is a great premise. A body is discovered in a woodland clearing in a small Vermont hamlet. The old sea captain who discovers him is convinced he has accidentally killed the man during a hunting misadventure. But when his attempts to cover up his inadvertent crime implicates other residents of the hamlet, it becomes clear that everyone thinks they themselves were responsible for the death of the erstwhile Harry. Who was really responsible for Harry’s death and what will the consequences be? It’s a lovely set up for a blackly humorous farce but The Trouble with Harry never really gets going. The folksy, slow-paced approach Hitchcock has opted for finds the film dragging after a matter of minutes.

There are some notable elements of The Trouble with Harry. It marked the first film in a very fruitful collaboration between Hitchcock and composer Bernard Hermann, who would go on to provide scores for some of Hitchcock’s most famous films including Vertigo and Psycho, wherein the music is every bit as iconic as the visuals. Apparently Hermann’s score for The Trouble with Harry was Hitchcock’s personal favourite, although I can’t say it really jumped out to me. The Trouble with Harry also marks the final collaboration between Hitchcock and Edmund Gwenn, the actor with whom Hitchcock worked on three previous films. Future star Shirley Maclaine also debuts here, “and Introducing…” credit and all. Finally, The Trouble with Harry is notable for being absolutely ravishing. Cinematographer Robert Burks, a frequent Hitchcock collaborator who had really made the likes of Dial M for Murder and Rear Window pop visually, makes the autumnal colours of The Trouble with Harry utterly captivating. The opening scenes are absolutely idyllic, and even when the corpse is discovered, the shot of the body framed by the lifeless, shoe-clad feet of Harry is one of the most memorably beautiful in the whole Hitchcock canon.

All of this quality makes The Trouble with Harry frustrating because I really wanted a better film to unfold against this stunning backdrop. Instead, it sputters along sluggishly, never building much from its initial idea. To make a slow-paced, character focused comedy like this work, the screenplay has to be sharp as a tack. John Michael Hayes unfortunately turns in something more akin to his feeble To Catch a Thief screenplay than his masterful one for Rear Window. The characters are all quirk and no substance. They don’t react like real human beings. On discovering that he has apparently killed a man by mistake, Edmund Gwenn reacts as if he’s misplaced his favourite tie. This is presumably a choice, with the casual manner with which Harry’s death is treated being part of the gag. But there’s nothing to grab onto and the dialogue is not nearly witty enough to get away with such archness.

Ultimately, The Trouble with Harry is the sort of film that could’ve been absolutely brilliant with the right screenplay but, despite a few surprisingly racy innuendos (“She’s a well-preserved woman… and preserves have to be opened someday, hm?”), there’s little of interest here. The conversations are dull, the characters poorly crafted gameboard pieces and the story a non-starter. I didn’t go in to this one with high hopes after not thinking much of it when I first saw it years ago. But if anything The Trouble with Harry fell short of even these limited expectations.


Topaz and Torn Curtain are two Hitchcock films that are often lumped together due to their consecutive release dates, their shared Cold War themes and their poor critical reputations. My recent rewatch of Torn Curtain was a real surprise, in that I absolutely loved it, and as a result I approached Topaz with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. I’d never seen Topaz before but I knew that there were some who claimed it as a hidden gem and an unfairly maligned film, exactly the way I felt about Torn Curtain. Having now watched Topaz, the best I can say is that it’s nowhere near as bad as some people would have you believe. I didn’t, however, particularly take to the film either.

Despite their shared themes, Torn Curtain and Topaz are very different films. Torn Curtain has a central focus of two star actors while Topaz takes a much looser approach, switching focus to minor characters for extended periods. I loved this about Topaz and some of the best scenes were those that shifted away from Frederick Stafford’s nominal lead character. A sequence in Harlem starring the magnetic Roscoe Lee Browne is the film’s highlight, playing like a mini-film within a film, and Hitchcock shows restraint in his playing of this material, resisting the urge to put big trademark flourishes in a film that doesn’t really employ them elsewhere. Rather, Topaz is a sober, methodical film and its pleasures are in watching the unfolding of the intricate plot. Sadly, these pleasures do not, for me at least, extend to the film’s two hour plus runtime.

Topaz is elaborately plotted but it’s easy enough to follow as long as you’re concentrating. The issue for me became maintaining that concentration in a film that grew duller as it progressed. Unlike Torn Curtain, which piles set-piece upon set-piece, Topaz has an early dramatic peak and then sputters to its climax in a tired third act that fails to bring the necessary entertainment value to its tying up of the plot strands. I’m not a viewer who demands constant action. In fact, I love inaction. I love people in rooms talking. But the success of this depends on how engaged I am with what’s being said and by the end of Topaz the answer was not very.

I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from watching Topaz. It’s the sort of film that some people will adore but to me it felt like the one film I’ve seen where Hitchcock becomes awkwardly tangled up in the tedious intricacies of the politics rather than establishing them as a backdrop to something more exciting. There’s a phenomenal shot in Topaz in which a woman who has been shot slowly sinks to the floor. Shot from above, her long, flowing dress opens out on the floor like a widening pool of water, momentarily looking like it’s swallowing her up in its dark waters. It’s a virtuoso moment but it ultimately became a metaphor for my experience with Topaz, which I enjoyed less the more it opened out and swallowed itself up. It’s an interesting anomaly in the Hitchcock catalogue but, when deciding on its place in my ranking, I ultimately decided I’d prefer to watch the soap bubble that is To Catch a Thief than sit through Topaz again, which says a lot.


I was quite looking forward to getting round to rewatching To Catch a Thief as, even though I remembered being quite underwhelmed by it the first time, it was a Hitchcock film I’d largely forgotten and I was hoping my views on it might’ve changed. They had. This time I really didn’t like it!

To Catch a Thief has always had a reputation for being lightweight Hitchcock but critics generally tend to quite like it, with the overriding conclusion seeming to be that it coasts by on charm. I understand that, although what many take for charm I felt was more like smarm; the sort of cringey, innuendo-drenched swagger that makes me hate the Bond franchise so much. To Catch a Thief actually starts quite promisingly, with a series of thefts by a cat burglar erroneously leading police to pursue former jewel thief Cary Grant. Evading the cops, Grant sets out to prove his innocence while also avoiding the attentions of his former criminal acquaintances who are furious that his supposed crimes have brought them unwanted attention as well. This exciting set up sadly falls apart very quickly with the introduction of love interest Grace Kelly in a phenomenally tedious, flabby second act.

To Catch a Thief looks stunning, with beautiful location shoots in the French Riviera giving the film a travelogue feel. The sluggish pacing of the film may have been a deliberate choice in order to let audiences drink in these surroundings but with so little intrigue in the story itself, the whole thing becomes frustratingly languid. In keeping with the exotic scenery, this feels like Hitchcock on holiday. I don’t mind that there are none of the trademark scenes of suspense here, since To Catch a Thief is obviously meant to be a lighthearted caper rather than a nailbiting thriller, but John Michael Hayes’s script seems to have forgotten to put in any real action whatsoever. The romance, meanwhile, is feeble, occasionally bordering on pathetic. Though its frankness may have been unusual for its time, it has not worn well and modern audiences may well hope for more than jokes about whether you want “a leg or a breast” or juvenile scenes of Grant dropping casino chips down the cleavage of a woman and then smirking like a schoolboy.

Hitchcock has a promising cast here, with Grant, Kelly and John Williams all having been excellent in previous films by the Master. But here they flounder as they try and make the drippy dialogue work. Kelly in particular, having been so wonderful in her two previous Hitchcock collaborations, is just irritating here and it’s visibly due to the material she has to work with. Grant is at his most bland, autopiloting though a role that leans heavily on his natural charm to the point that cracks show incredibly early on. Aptly for a film called To Catch a Thief, Jessie Royce Landis steals every scene she’s in as Kelly’s roguish mother and her chemistry with Grant would be put to good use later down the line in North by Northwest, only this time she would be playing HIS mother.

There’s not much else to say about To Catch a Thief really. It’s such a hollow, unimaginative film, squandering a good, lighthearted premise with bad storytelling and plodding direction.


Well, this was pretty bad! When sitting down to watch Spellbound, you have to make a few allowances. This film came from a time when psychoanalysis was a hot topic and its filmic representations needed to be fairly rudimentary in order to explain this relatively new phenomenon to an audience unfamiliar with its basics. In this respect Spellbound is fairly interesting, giving us a glimpse of a different time. Unfortunately, that’s probably the only way in which Spellbound is interesting. This very silly film was once taken extremely seriously, nominated for several Oscars including Best Picture (the last Hitchcock film to receive a Best Picture nod) but it has aged extremely poorly.

Even making concessions for the era, which I am more than willing to do, Spellbound remains dramatically inert, narratively implausible and tediously bloodless. Though its stars Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman apparently had an affair during production, none of their real life chemistry transfers to the screen, and with psychoanalysis no longer having the novelty value it once did, there is very little to prop Spellbound up for modern audiences as it rapidly dissolves into tediously shallow analyses of ludicrously literal dream imagery.

Hitchcock always liked his symbols and generally used them quite well but Spellbound is particularly heavy handed in this respect, from its ethereal images of opening doors to its Salvador Dali-conceived dream sequence which fails to convince as an actual dream or a surrealist flourish of much artistic merit. The story itself, in which Gregory Peck’s troubled imposter assumes the identity of the new director of a psychiatric hospital and manages to just waltz in and take over, is riddled with holes and leaves many unanswered questions at the end, not in an intentionally ambiguous way but in a “Hang on a minute, what about…?” way.

While Spellbound undoubtedly takes itself very seriously, there are the usual Hitchcockian moments of humour sprinkled throughout. These should be a relief in such a deathly dull film but instead they clash violently. In particular, a closing fourth-wall break by a minor character follows quickly on the heels of a shock suicide, completely undermining its effect. Suicide was rarely allowed to be depicted in films of this era, which must’ve increased the effect of this vividly depicted example, although even the way this final shock moment is presented feels extremely silly and artificial now. It’s easy to see how Spellbound was once held in high regard but it’s a film ravaged by time and further damaged by poor directorial choices and rather stiff performances by its more than capable stars.


It’s easy to see why Murder! is a film that splits critics, rather than an accepted Hitchcock classic. Having, with Blackmail, absolutely nailed the transition from silent to sound, Hitchcock understandably seems to be struggling to maintain that level of quality at this point. Juno and the Paycock’s stagey feel has diminished a little in Murder! but there is still a heavy dose of that clunky, artificial early-sound feel hanging over it. This time the source material was a novel, not a play, but the results remain stagey.

There is a noticeable return of Hitchcock’s stylistic ingenuity to some extent here. While Juno and the Paycock had virtually been a filmed play, Murder! includes some effective cinematic moments, including an opening pan through a village disrupted by the titular crime and a scene in a jury room in which the cajoling of eleven jurors to one holdout becomes a repetitive, chorus-like chant. Murder! is at its best in these early scenes, with the aftermath of the murder, the introduction of the troupe of actors at the centre of the mystery and the subsequent court case of the accused woman all playing out with trademark Hitchcockian wit. The devious closing scene of the film also suggests that the staginess of the production may have been a self-referential choice rather than just an effect of the transitional era, although this is probably letting Murder! off too easily.

The major problem with Murder! is that it grows duller just when it needs to get more interesting. The set-up is good and that long jury room scene is great, with shades of 12 Angry Men’s later analytical-but-still-dramatic approach. The tortured reflections of Herbert Marshall’s doubtful juror are nicely realised but his subsequent investigation to prove the innocence of the woman he’s helped condemn is where the film begins to drag. Several plot points become ludicrous (with one key one also being racist) and you quickly realise that the mystery itself is the weakest part of Murder! and a whodunnit where you really don’t care about the solution or any of the characters quickly becomes less than entertaining.

Murder! has points of interest and is a good film for a chunk of its runtime, thanks to its playful approach and sometimes incisive script. But ultimately it slips into tedium long before its conclusion and the direction the plot takes is very unfortunate. It emerges as an early Hitchcock curio but I found it weaker than the bulk of his silent work.

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