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 3, I’m looking at the 3 and a half and 4 star films.

You can find the other parts of this article at the following links:

PART ONE
PART TWO

All entries contain spoilers.

30. SUSPICION

The premise of Francis Iles’ Before the Fact, the novel on which Suspicion is based, is a tantalisingly clever one: the study of a murder as seen through the eyes of the eventual victim. It sounds like the perfect fodder for a Hitchcock classic but the puritanical production code at the time, coupled with the studio’s reluctance to let star Cary Grant be cast as a murderous villain, conspired to scupper this promise. To what extent the end result is down to studio interference and to what extent it was Hitchcock’s original vision is unclear, as some sources claim there is evidence to show the finished product was much closer to Hitchcock’s intended outcome than he would later admit. What is clear is that the climax of Suspicion is deeply unsatisfying, which is a problem in a film that relies so strongly on building up to a reveal. What is less clear is just how Hitchcock could’ve ended this thing better.

Before we get to the ending though, there’s the small matter of the rest of the film to consider and there is much to admire here. Suspicion reminds me a little of Rebecca, in that both films are set in England, the opening 25 minutes or so of both films are focused on a blossoming romance, then they both switch to focus on a wife (in both cases Joan Fontaine) probing into her new husband’s dark secret. These superficial similarities are undercut by the differences between the films. Suspicion was made for RKO, the smallest of the big studios, so it is a noticeably more modest production than the comparatively opulent Rebecca, which makes its chilling atmosphere of foreboding feel more dime store thriller than classic gothic novel. These are not flaws however, as this is exactly where most of Suspicion’s charm come from. It’s gripping in a salacious, page-turning way, something that can be devoured guilt-free by all but the snobbiest of viewers. The major difference, however, is that Rebecca’s secret is a great one and Suspicion’s is a feeble concession.

Also like Rebecca, Suspicion was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, although unlike Rebecca it did not win. Joan Fontaine did walk away with Best Actress though, for her compelling take on a woman living in constant fear of the man she loves, while Cary Grant probably only missed out on a nomination for his excellent turn as the sinister Johnnie because he happened to be nominated for Penny Serenade that year. The cast is filled out with other previous Hitchcock collaborators May Whitty (who, after being so wonderful in The Lady Vanishes, sadly has little to do here) and Nigel Bruce, who gets a wonderfully comic supporting role as blustering bumbler Beaky. Also notable is Auriol Lee as Johnnie’s crime novelist friend. Lee was primarily a stage actor but her performance here suggests a screen career would’ve been viable. Sadly, there is a grim twist to her real life story, as she was killed in an automobile accident on her way home from filming this very role.

Suspicion has such an enjoyable slow build, its cast are so excellent and its screenplay so well balanced that it’s a shame the wheels come off the wagon so badly with that ending but, like a Columbo episode with a disappointing solution, too much is wrapped up in the conclusion for it not to cast a pall over all that’s gone before it. However, I’ve read around the possible endings that were considered and I’ve come to the conclusion that the ending Hitchcock ultimately went with is closer to the correct one. It is just executed in such a hurried, awkward way that the whole film deflates as a result. The ending of the source novel has Johnnie serving his wife Lina a glass of milk that she suspects is poisoned. Secretly knowing that she is pregnant, Lina willingly drinks the milk to save herself and her unborn child from a life with the killer she loves. I don’t like this ending at all and I think it would’ve made for too grim a conclusion to Suspicion. However, the one Hitchcock proposed and which many critics have pined for over the years, has Lina writing a letter to her mother telling her that she suspects Johnnie is trying to kill her. She then asks Johnnie to post it for her, after which she is served that same glass of potentially fatal milk and glugs it down. We then cut to Johnnie, walking along the street whistling happily. He opens up a mailbox and pops in Lina’s letter, thereby unwittingly incriminating himself. Once you get over the pleasing irony of this ending though, it makes absolutely no sense. Who murders their wife and then diligently ensures they carry out that errand she asked them to do?

Although it may seem unsatisfying to some, a more ambiguous ending would’ve worked best for me. Rather than confirm or deny that Johnnie is a killer, allow the uncertainty that has dogged Lina throughout the film to continue, resulting in a superficial happily ever after that can never quite be such a thing because of the continued suspicion. Some have noted that this is exactly what the film offers, since Johnnie provides no evidence to prove he isn’t a murderer beyond the vulnerability of his final declarations. But the scene is so earnestly delivered that the viewer is prodded to believe him, thereby fulfilling the studio’s wishes of not tarnishing Grant’s reputation. There’s no release of tension, just a brick wall of anticlimax that leaves so many unanswered questions. There needs to be an additional note of disquiet somewhere in there to leave audiences with an ambiguous chill. Instead we get the weirdest happy ending ever and it severely hurts the film. I enjoyed much of Suspicion very much but it is ultimately a failure and its crumbling discourages further viewings.

29. I CONFESS

Although it is rarely seen or discussed, I remembered liking I Confess on my first viewing and all these years later I still do, though not quite as much. But for the most part, I Confess is an interesting, very well made film that doesn’t quite do its more interesting themes justice. It’s a very handsome and occasionally quite atmospheric film which follows a priest through the dilemma of hearing a murderer confess their sin, a problem which becomes personal when the priest himself is suspected of the crime. This neat premise is diluted by a parallel plot in which a married woman and former lover is implicated and her attempts to help the priest muddy the waters further.

I Confess is solidly enjoyable but it does have some problems. The main issue is its central character, Father Logan, portrayed by Montgomery Clift. There were reports from the set that Clift’s approach to acting clashed with Hitchcock’s directorial style but there’s not much evidence of this, given that Clift does very little acting at all. Father Logan is such a non-character, a cipher for the film’s central dilemma, and Clift has nothing to work with in the role. He is a little too perfect, dealing with his dilemma with a dull stoicism and a glazed expression. This approach ties in with another problem, which is the film’s heavy handed religious themes. At several points during the film we see Father Logan explicitly compared to Christ by way of huge, looming statues at crucial moments in his predicament. The comparison, though unsubtle, would at least have made more sense if Logan had been convicted and executed as he was in the source play. But, given the extreme delicacy with which religious leaders were treated by the Production Code of the time, this ending did not make it to the screen and the power of the story is severely blunted as a result.

There are interesting character sketches elsewhere to make up for Logan’s lack of personality, chiefly Brian Aherne’s fun-loving Crown Prosecutor and O.E. Hasse’s desperate murderer, while Karl Malden manages to make a strong impression as the inspector on Logan’s case, even though his role feels similarly underwritten. The main joys of I Confess, though, are in Hitchcock’s direction. From the shadowy, noirish opening scenes of the aftermath of a murder to the reverently sombre church scenes, it’s a visually interesting piece. Perhaps most interesting of all are the flashback sequences as Anne Baxter’s lovelorn Ruth recalls her affair with Logan. Hitchcock presents parts of these memories in exaggerated soft focus and evokes a fake idealism which, like the flashback in Stage Fright, we can attribute to the narrator of the scenes more than we can to reality. Visually, they recalled the then recently released Summer Interlude by Ingmar Bergman, whose own idealistic scenes lead to a less than happy conclusion, and I wondered if Hitchcock may have been influenced by Bergman’s breakthrough film.


28. WALTZES FROM VIENNA

It’s really annoying when people reduce a director to their most well-known works, to the extent that they act confused if a film deviates from that pattern. When people bemoan the absence of gangsters in a Scorsese film or sneer at comedy in a Bergman film, the irritation comes not so much from them obviously not knowing much about the varied output of those directors, but rather from the fact that they would rather boil their canons down to something repetitive. They don’t just think these great artists’ filmographies are one-note, they actually want that to be the case, and complain when it’s not. If they had their way, we wouldn’t have Smiles of a Summer Night or Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, we’d lose The Last Temptation of Christ and A Lesson in Love. And we certainly wouldn’t have Waltzes from Vienna.

The number of reviews of Waltzes from Vienna that begin with “This is a Hitchcock film?!” or “A Hitchcock movie without a murder?” is dispiriting and I tend to get no further in reading them. That’s not to say I don’t read and enjoy reviews that I disagree with. There are plenty of legitimate reasons you could cite for disliking Waltzes from Vienna and plenty have done so eloquently and convincingly. But if you kick off your review with “Where’s the MacGuffin?” you’re immediately demonstrating that your criticisms are founded on a reductive basis and your argument crumbles before it’s even begun. There was never meant to be espionage or suspense in Waltzes from Vienna so stop trying to hold its director hostage, especially over work from an era before he became primarily famous for that kind of film.

For the record, Hitchcock hated Waltzes from Vienna and chose it as one of his worst films, a film he only agreed to make so he could keep working after numerous box office disappointments. Also for the record, I didn’t hate Waltzes from Vienna. I didn’t even dislike Waltzes from Vienna. In fact, I think I sort of loved Waltzes from Vienna. The fascinating thing about working chronologically through these early Hitchcock films is you never know when a hidden gem is going to pop up. It happened several times during the silent era Hitchcocks but, after an amazing start to the sound era with Blackmail, I began rather losing hope for another little-known treasure among a series of clunky early sound films. Waltzes from Vienna was the last chance for such a thing before the more famous Hitchcock films began. And to my surprise, it delivered a final early jewel.

Waltzes from Vienna comes from a time when films based around operettas were very popular. This era and most of those films are now comparatively forgotten but Waltzes from Vienna is a superlative example. In keeping with the style, it is light as a feather, upbeat, good-humoured, melodramatically romantic and driven by music. A loose telling of Johann Strauss II’s composition of The Blue Danube, the film wraps the musical tale in a love triangle and a conflict between a father and son, with a movingly edgy Edmund Gwenn standing out as Johann Strauss the Elder, jealously bullying his son to quell his aspirations of greatness. The rest of the cast is good too, a refreshing change from some of the stiff performances in the Hitchcock films that immediately preceded Waltzes from Vienna. Jessie Matthews was a regular fixture in the operetta genre and makes for a winningly conflicted leading lady, while Fay Compton’s Countess is an alluringly flirtatious rival for her and Frank Vosper enjoys devouring the scenery as the Countess’s bumbling, pompous husband.

Crucially, Hitchcock seems to have received a bigger budget for this film and he puts it to good use. While some of his then-recent films had felt stagebound, Waltzes from Vienna is handsomely cinematic, lovingly evoking its period detail in a modest but effective way that could almost claim to be lavish if you’re willing to give yourself over to it to that extent. And the film builds to a rousing finale in which The Blue Danube receives its rapturous public debut. It’s a winning structure and the story is peppered with moments of farcical comedy which are always charming and sometimes genuinely funny.

Although it’s usually written off as an anomaly in the Hitchcock canon, many critics have noticed how Waltzes from Vienna kicks off Hitchcock’s preoccupation with waltzes which would return in later films such as Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train and Torn Curtain. Waltzes from Vienna also, for me, shows Hitchcock’s directing getting tighter and more interesting again after several uneven efforts. Apparently this was an unpleasant experience for Hitch but that doesn’t show through on screen. I had such a wonderful time with Waltzes from Vienna that I’ve controversially placed it just above The Lodger in my ranking. I’m so glad I took the time to finally watch this least-seen of Hitchcock’s films. It’s an underappreciated gem.

27. THE MANXMAN


The Manxman was another great surprise on this chronological Hitchcock journey. I knew it had a fairly decent reputation but for me this immediately stood out as Hitchcock’s finest film of the silent era, unseating The Lodger from the top spot. I wouldn’t say The Manxman is the culmination of everything Hitchcock learned on his early films because those visual flourishes that were so crucial to films like Downhill and Champagne, and which would continue to characterise his work in the sound era, are largely absent here. What The Manxman represented to me instead was a director who had grown confident enough in his abilities to not have to lean into those showier techniques. Instead, The Manxman is a smoothly told piece of melodrama that entertains thoroughly without drawing attention to itself.

The 1894 novel by Hall Caine on which the film is based is said to be a soapy affair and that is clear from the story we see here. We’ve seen love triangles between best friends and the woman they both adore many times before and the material may not seem promising but the key is in how the story is told, just as the masterful melodramas of Douglas Sirk could’ve been irredeemable in the hands of lesser directors. Taking advantage of the ravishing Cornwall landscapes (standing in for the Isle of Man, where the story is set), Hitchcock provides an immersive backdrop to this story of loyalty, passion and longing. The cast is absolutely fantastic, with Anny Ondra emerging as a forerunner for the famous Hitchcock blondes of later years with a multi-faceted performance that starts out playful, turns intensely passionate and ends with all the life drained away by circumstances and the cruel gender politics of the time which essentially remove her needs and desires from the equation altogether. Equally fine are Carl Brisson as the man who loves her and thinks she loves him, and Malcolm Keen as the man she does love but whose loyalty to his friend, not to mention his lofty career ambitions, scupper their chances of happiness.

These plot threads are all pulled together in an unlikely finale which, if you can give yourself over to the melodrama, is still remarkably effective. I found The Manxman extremely powerful and sometimes almost unbearably sad. Its characters shamble through their tragic story making wrong choices and prodded into poor decisions by cruel twists of fate. They do not act maliciously and, in fact, care for one another very deeply but that can’t stop them barrelling towards emotional ruin. The final shots of the film are hauntingly sad and stayed with me long afterwards. If you have no stomach for melodrama, The Manxman may not be for you but I thought it was terrific and a real sign of how Hitchcock had found his feet as a director.

26. THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934)

The original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much is considered by some to be the first real Hitchcock classic. For me, there are earlier films that are deserving of consideration and I’d put Blackmail above The Man Who Knew Too Much in terms of quality. But there is little argument against this being a turning point for Hitch. After a series of awkward and/or commercially unsuccessful early sound films (although I still think Waltzes from Vienna is due serious reappraisal), The Man Who Knew Too Much was finally a project in which Hitchcock was fully invested. It kicked off a run of British thrillers that pretty much established Hitchcock’s subsequent association with the genre, the majority of which were made in collaboration with screenwriter Charles Bennett, another of those oft-overlooked Hitchcock collaborators. Though there is arguably better to come, I have a real soft spot for this 30s British period of Hitchcock’s filmography.

While The Man Who Knew Too Much emerges as a minor classic, there’s still a good degree of early sound era clunk to it. There’s a lot of plot to pack into its slim 75 minutes so the film pretty much tumbles headlong into the story with a short introductory scene that establishes the characters before the first gunshot is fired. Though it does feel a tad rushed and some of the initial direction is a bit choppy by later standards, this pacy approach and slender runtime very much end up working in The Man Who Knew Too Much’s favour. There isn’t an ounce of flab on the film. From the get-go there’s action and intrigue, with just enough character work to make us care about the central couple and their kidnapped daughter. And Peter Lorre is immediately eerie and compelling as the main villain. Lorre was already trilingual at this stage but none of those languages were English so he learned his part phonetically, an incredible feat in any case but especially when the results border on the iconic.

The Man Who Knew Too Much establishes a tone that would often stand Hitchcock in good stead, pitched somewhere between comedy and thriller and able to switch effortlessly between the two without showing the join. There’s an amazing sequence here in which, not wanting to attract the attention of the police with the sound of gunshots, a battle ensues in which the opponents throw chairs at each other. It’s one of several great set pieces, including an extended final siege sequence which was not included in Hitchcock’s Hollywood remake a couple of decades later. But the highlight is still that phenomenally tense sequence at the Albert Hall, where Edna Best (also excellent) tries to prevent an imminent assassination. I’m intrigued to remind myself how effective this sequence is in the remake because in this film it is exceptional and probably stands as the greatest scene Hitchcock had shot up to this point.

I enjoyed the hell out of The Man Who Knew Too Much and it’s emphatically put me in the mood to gobble up these Hitchcock/Charles Bennett thrillers across the next few evenings and it’s exciting to see the version of Hitchcock most people know really starting to take shape.


25. THE PARADINE CASE

When producer David O. Selznick brought Hitchcock to Hollywood at the start of the 1940s, theirs was a partnership of great promise and right off the bat it produced the Best Picture Oscar winning Rebecca, enshrined as a classic Hollywood film forever. But from that first film onwards, Hitchcock and Selznick clashed, with Selznick’s constant interference stifling Hitchcock and driving him to distraction. Ultimately, Selznick and Hitchcock would only make three films together and their subsequent collaborations never recaptured the magic of Rebecca. The Paradine Case was their final film together and by all accounts Hitchcock seemed thoroughly bored by the whole production. Selznick badgered Hitchcock throughout the process, installing himself as editor, rewriting the screenplay (and taking sole screenwriting credit for himself, despite the extensive work of James Bridie and Ben Hecht) and demanding constant reshoots. In the end, the budget for this comparatively modest courtroom drama ballooned to almost as much as that spent on Gone With the Wind.

Selznick’s interference and Hitchcock’s indifference have long caused The Paradine Case to be seen as a lesser Hitchcock and it is often picked out as the director’s worst film. But, compromised vision though it may be, I actually really like The Paradine Case. I’ve always had a soft spot for courtroom dramas and The Paradine Case is a solid, fairly unusual example. Many critics complain that we don’t get anywhere near a courtroom for over an hour but that time is not wasted, with Hitchcock setting up the scenario of a happily married lawyer falling under the spell of his mysterious new client. Others bemoan the lack of a big Witness for the Protection style twist or “You can’t handle the truth” melodramatic flourish, but The Paradine Case is a much more sober affair than that. It focuses on the relationships between the characters as much as on the murder trial, with Ann Todd standing out as the sweet-natured wife watching her husband slip away from her. She gets the film’s best speech, delivered outside the courtroom.

The courtroom proceedings themselves are sufficiently involving and reach a satisfying conclusion, bringing Gregory Peck’s carefully controlled performance to an emotionally affecting head. Hitchcock used an innovative technique to shoot the courtroom scenes, with four different cameras trained on each of the key players simultaneously, allowing him to shoot in long takes to then be edited into smoothly flowing scenes. Multiple cameras had been used before but always pointed at the same subject. This new approach gives the courtroom sequences an increased realism even as the melodrama reaches its peak.

Aside from Todd and Peck, the cast of The Paradine Case is adequate but not performing at the top of their game. Charles Coburn’s avuncular presence seems at odds with the tone, while Charles Laughton’s wild-eyebrowed judge is a tad too larger-than-life, coming from the same place as Laughton’s previous scenery-chewing performance for Hitchcock in Jamaica Inn. Alida Valli, credited as just Valli and claimed as a new Selznick star, is suitably icy and mysterious as Mrs. Paradine but the script gives her surprisingly little to work with. The Academy, meanwhile, looked past all these performances to instead bestow a Best Supporting Actress nomination on Ethel Barrymore for her role as Laughton’s haunted wife. This nomination for what feels like a vague, barely three minute sketch has continued to bewilder those who watch The Paradine Case but the history books show that there was more to Barrymore’s performance, including a critically lauded scene in a museum that was included in the cut shown to Oscar voters. It secured Barrymore’s nomination but by the time the film reached the public, the scene had been lopped out by the cut-happy scissors of Selznick. The footage, along with other scenes featuring Barrymore, was subsequently destroyed.

It’s easy to see why The Paradine Case has the reputation as a weak film. It’s a little self-serious, very talky and feels long even in Selznick’s butchered cut. But this stuffiness and overlength also gives the film a pleasing sense of Hollywood grandeur that fans of classic cinema may enjoy. The themes of destructive passion are gripping and Peck and Todd are both extremely good in their central roles. While Hitchcock aficionados may be frustrated by the obvious compromises, there are still enough Hitchcockian moments to keep fans happy. I would actually go as far as to say that I enjoyed every minute of The Paradine Case, undoubtedly flawed as it is. It’s neither the disaster many have it pegged as nor the underappreciated masterpiece of its staunchest defenders.

24. FAMILY PLOT

Hitchcock’s final film is a terrifically fun little comedy thriller that delivers plenty of intrigue and twisty plot turns without ever taking itself too seriously. In fact, Family Plot comes closer at times to not taking itself seriously enough. There are some pretty wacky scenes, salty little bits of innuendo and even a fourth wall break in the mix. I remember the first time I saw the film I found all these things rather off-putting but returning to it after many years with the dim recollection of what was waiting for me, I actually found the whole thing rather delightful. The quality of the film aside, it appeals to me that Hitchcock ended his career with something that puts a higher premium on fun than anything else. Well into his 70s by this point, I can just imagine him sitting in his chair and saying “Sure, wink directly at the camera. Why the hell not?!”

It’s significant that that infamous climactic wink is reprised by Hitchcock himself on the film’s poster. It’s telling the audience upfront to have fun with this one. There’s still plenty of room in the plot for murder, kidnapping and the usual criminal concerns associated with Hitchcock’s most famous works but there’s also phoney psychics, reluctant pipe-smoking amateur detectives, hapless assassins, priceless stolen jewels hidden in plain sight, and one of the craziest out-of-control car scenes you’ll ever see. Hitchcock’s previous film, Frenzy, had also been a black comedy but with the grim elements taking precedence. Family Plot aims instead to provoke smiles with its light approach, its appeal characterised by a slightly jagged-edged charm.

Although there are other small roles here and there, Family Plot is essentially a four-hander, its story split between two couples. William Devane and Karen Black are the kidnapping jewel collectors and they play it well, especially Black whose unique appeal is used terrifically here. But it is the casting of the other couple, the phoney psychic and her taxi driver boyfriend, that is Family Plot’s masterstroke. Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern bring these characters wonderfully to life, their dysfunctional chemistry making for a rivetingly unusual lead couple. Both actors, though beloved in certain circles, are underrated in my book. I adore Harris (as did Hitchcock, who had been keen to work with her for some time) and this is one of her signature roles. She is one of those actors who is able to show she’s having fun with a role without once taking you out of the experience. Her psychic readings, in which she channels a spirit guide called Henry, are hilarious, especially when she snaps out of them and earnestly asks “What happened?” as if she hasn’t been controlling it all along. Dern, meanwhile, is great as the boyfriend dragged along on the adventure, his surprisingly adept detective skills proving invaluable.

There are a couple of other notable collaborators here. Ernest Lehman, who previously collaborated with Hitchcock on North by Northwest, writes the screenplay, while the score is by none other than John Williams. Williams strikes just the right note for a light but potentially deadly caper, delivering one of his more subtle scores. Hitchcock’s direction, meanwhile, is pleasingly laidback for a swan song. He hits all the right notes but there are no real virtuoso moments or big set pieces. The main set piece is probably when Dern and Harris find themselves in an out of control car going down a mountain road. It’s an extremely fun scene but quite honestly it’s directed like something out of a Herbie film. After the excellent location work and real settings of Frenzy, the trademark Hitchcock back projection is here in force again and it’s actually quite endearing and exciting to have it back.

While it’s unlikely that Family Plot is many people’s favourite Hitchcock film, I do think it’s a great time and I had a blast watching it. It’s ended up at number 24 in my ranking, which is very impressive now that the list consists of 52 films. What a lovely way to close my Hitchcock festival.


23. THE WRONG MAN

The Wrong Man is an excellent film that I have long had down as a 5 star classic. On this rewatch, only my second viewing of the film, I did downgrade it to 4 stars but I still think it’s a brilliant piece of work. I can well see how I initially gave it a 5 star rating. In its sombre, sometimes almost clinical examination of a wrongly-accused man going through the process of investigation, the mounting up of circumstantial evidence, arrest and imprisonment, The Wrong Man makes you live every step of the nightmare alongside Henry Fonda’s Manny Balestrero. A more melodramatic reading of this same material would no doubt have given Fonda endless speeches protesting his innocence and chastising the justice system for its shortcomings but The Wrong Man is based on a true story and sticks quite closely to the facts of the case. Therefore, Fonda plays Manny as a wide-eyed, haunted man watching helplessly as the net closes around him. It’s a chilling watch that keeps you on the edge of your seat despite the deliberately slow way in which it all unfolds.

After an intense, gripping first hour, The Wrong Man switches tack to focus on Manny’s wife Rose, brilliantly played by Vera Miles. While working with lawyers to prove a bailed-out Manny’s innocence, Rose succumbs to intense depression which gives way to delusional paranoia. As Manny and his lawyer build a case, the life he knew before his arrest begins to slide out of reach. It’s a bleak tale, examining two of my greatest fears in wrongful arrest and encroaching mental illness, and Hitchcock treats the material accordingly. Realising his traditional cameo would add inappropriate levity, Hitchcock instead appears at the beginning of the film to address the audience directly, telling them that they are about to watch a true story. Hitchcock had tackled the wrong man trope many times before but usually in a lighthearted way, with the accused invariably going on the run to try and prove their innocence. In The Wrong Man, the accused cooperates with the system and it ends up being to his detriment.

The first time I saw The Wrong Man I found it absolutely devastating, the intense experience contributing to my 5 star rating. Unlike many of the other Hitchcock films that I haven’t seen for years, when I returned to The Wrong Man I 
remembered it extremely well. Perhaps it was inevitable that the experience would deintensify on a second viewing but that couldn’t help but make the film a little less gripping this time round. I can watch Robert Donat and Cary Grant evade their pursuers again and again without being less entertained but the methodical examination of Manny’s trip through the justice system loses a little power and a significant amount of entertainment value when you know every beat coming. Likewise, having known nothing about Rose’s breakdown, that plot strand hit me like a ton of bricks first time round. This time, while still immensely powerful, it also felt a little too quickly handled, meaning the depiction of mental illness felt a bit more melodramatic than I remembered, albeit still exquisitely performed by Miles.

The main complaint generally raised about The Wrong Man regards its ending, in which a tacked-on caption claims Rose was completely cured of her mental illness within a couple of years. Not only is this caption narratively unsatisfying, it simply isn’t true. Hitchcock claims at the beginning of the film that every word is true but this final moment is a total concession to Hollywood convention. In real life, there was no happy ending regarding Rose’s health and this makes how The Wrong Man handles the situation all the more regrettable. While it is common to blame the studio for forcing this ending on Hitchcock, some sources claim Hitchcock himself chose to include it. With existing precedents for both studio interference and Hitchcock’s occasional tendency to favour a commercially palatable route, we may never know for sure who inflicted this queasy ending onto an otherwise excellent film.

In focusing on why I ultimately downgraded The Wrong Man from 5 stars to 4, I feel I have done it a disservice by talking too much about the negatives. These negatives are actually small blips on a superb, haunting film. It may not be the Hitchcock you’ll return to the most but it’s worthy of mentioning amongst the classics, if not quite the top tier for me.

22. THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956)

I really, really enjoyed The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock’s loose Hollywood remake of one of his breakthrough British films of the 30s. For some reason I’d got it into my head that this was a very minor work, perhaps because it’s become more fashionable over time to say you preferred the original. I love the original but I think I enjoyed this one even more, although they are different enough that they could easily be watched back to back. The fourth and final Hitchcock collaboration with screenwriter John Michael Hayes, the film was apparently entrusted to Hayes on the condition he not watch or read the script of the earlier version. The result is a similarly plotted but tonally very different film.

Watching all the Hitchcock films in order helped me understand The Man Who Knew Too Much’s place in the filmography better. It nicely brings to an end the hit-and-miss Hayes-penned quartet of films that opened in the strongest way imaginable with Rear Window but then sagged with To Catch a Thief and The Trouble With Harry. Though I didn’t enjoy the latter two films, they did cement a pleasing lightness of tone characteristic of the Hayes screenplays, which is continued to great effect in The Man Who Knew Too Much. The film mixes some strong drama with surprisingly goofy comedy and Hitchcock and Hayes make it work. It can be jarring but in a fascinating and always entertaining way. The madness peaks with a bizarre comedic set piece in a taxidermist’s office that is one of the most outlandish things I’ve seen in a Hitchcock film and which culminates in Jimmy Stewart being bitten by a stuffed tiger.

Stewart, in his third of four Hitchcock collaborations, is brilliantly chosen for the role of a man who stumbles reluctantly into a nightmare adventure. Stewart was never the conventionally robust hero type so his awkward attempts to locate his kidnapped son are realistically and relatably haphazard, even when he’s doing bonkers things like escaping from a church by climbing the bell rope. Equally fine is Doris Day’s performance as the mother desperately trying to get her son back. Day brings real weight to the dramatic scenes, especially the one where she discovers her son is gone, but she’s also very funny in scenes like the one where her and Stewart communicate covertly by singing their conversation (a direct carry-over of an idea from the original film). Stewart and Day make a convincing couple and basing the film around that established family unit means
 we avoid the drippy romance of To Catch a Thief or an unnecessary rehash of Rear Window’s examination of contemporary gender roles. There is a hint of the latter here but it is subtextual, rather than laid on the line through overt discussions like in Rear Window.

The Man Who Knew Too Much begins at a leisurely pace but once the plot kicks in it moves smoothly from one great sequence to the next, and the necessity of those early character-establishing scenes becomes obvious. The result is a strong, exciting, funny adventure with characters you care about enough for the high stakes to counterbalance the sometimes flippant tone. It’s telling that a film as brilliant and enjoyable as this has entered my ranking at a comparatively lowly number 22. At this stage in the evermore impressive Hitchcock filmography it’s an enormous achievement just to make the outskirts of the top 20. 


21. BLACKMAIL

Hitchcock’s final film of the 1920s was a pivotal one. Originally begun as a silent film, Blackmail was quickly retooled to be a talkie to take advantage of the rising phenomenon of sound film. Wary of the idea, Hitchcock actually completed a silent version and a sound version of Blackmail, both of which are still available to view today. Like most early silent films, Blackmail has some obstacles to overcome. The sound isn’t always as crisp as audiences would become used to, with the odd bit of dialogue getting lost here and there. Another problem arose when Hitchcock’s leading lady, the wonderful Anny Ondra, was forced into a speaking role. Ondra had been wonderful in previous silent The Manxman so it seemed natural to cast her again, but when Blackmail became a sound film, Ondra’s Czech accent was seen as a problem. Even though she could speak fluent English, Ondra was forced into the indignity of having another actor voice her role. Even worse, as dubbing technology did not yet exist, Ondra was forced to mouth along to Joan Barry’s voice as she read the lines from just off camera.

With such a rocky production, you might expect Blackmail to be a clunky film. I certainly felt that way when I first saw it a couple of decades ago. But watching it now, especially off the back of watching the silent Hitchcock films that preceded it, it is immediately clear what a leap forward Blackmail is. A clear forerunner for many of the ingredients that would come to be known as “Hitchcockian”, Blackmail is a taut, effective thriller filled with nicely placed humour and bursts of action, culminating in its famous chase finale. Although it has the distinctive feel of a transitional silent-to-sound film, Hitchcock is already doing interesting things with the sound, from a hauntingly warped, resounding shop bell and taunting voices in the heroine’s head, to a virtuoso opening sequence showing the procedure of capturing and imprisoning a criminal in full, which makes the deliberate decision to remain silent before segueing into sound once the process is complete. This is all exceedingly impressive for what is generally acknowledged as the first British talkie. Most films from this era were still visibly floundering in their attempts to deal with basic sound synchronisation.

Given what she had to work with, Ondra is still very good in the lead role. It is distracting once you know that’s not her voice but the physicality that served her so well as a silent actor still works brilliantly here and it’s just a shame that the arrival of sound probably prevented her from further collaborations with Hitchcock. Another thing that really impressed me about Blackmail was how it approached a sequence of attempted rape. Too often, in older films, rapists were depicted as slavering maniacs who you could pretty much justify arresting for the crime before they’d even done anything. Such reductive depictions do a disservice to the seriousness of the subject but Blackmail instead gives us a character who at first appears quite nice, an upstanding, middle class gent in a suit who has a talent for painting and piano playing. In other words, the sort of person many men of that era may have been loathe to admit could commit such a crime. Hitchcock’s films are sometimes justifiably accused of misogyny but Blackmail tackles the attempted rape scene, as well as the depiction of the subsequent stigma felt by Ondra’s character, better than most films that followed, even right into the 21st century.

Nearly a century from its release, Blackmail still stands up incredibly well. Hitchcock fans delving into the back catalogue will probably find it to be one of the most satisfying early works, with numerous themes and stylistic touches that would come to characterise his more famous later work.

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