is undoubtedly one of the most gifted and talented directors the film world has ever seen. Rightly known as the “Master of Suspense,” Hitchcock has been able to utilize his fascination with the human psyche to create films that are wholly unique and bearing his distinctive hallmarks. His films, mainly featuring characters having a great sense of guilt, fear, or desire, involve events that at first seem normal only to relentlessly spiral out of control. He is one of the best directors able to control his viewers’ emotions, allowing them to only feel what he wants them to feel in each particular scene. With an eclectic and staggering filmography that has seen him direct sixty-seven motion pictures, selecting Hitchcock’s best films is surely a tough task. Nevertheless, below are the five Alfred Hitchcock films that I believe showcase an unrivaled filmmaking genius at the top of his game.
1. Rear Window (1954):
Telling the tale of a photographer who is forced to remain within the confines of his apartment after a serious leg injury whilst suspecting a neighbor of committing murder, Rear Window is without a doubt Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest motion picture. It features a strong cast that includes the charismatic and lovable James Stewart as the photographer L.B. Jefferies and the stunningly-beautiful Grace Kelly as Jefferies’s girlfriend Lisa Fremont. What makes this film such a delight to watch is how Hitchcock is masterfully able to present that most human of qualities, voyeurism, through a narrative that is gripping, engaging, and thrilling until the final frame. The production design of Jefferies’s apartment as well as the neighborhood is full of life and almost hypnotic that the viewer cannot help but join Jefferies as he spies on those around him. Rear Window’s ultimate triumph, however, is how fresh and energetic it all seems almost sixty years later. It is surely the most definitive Alfred Hitchcock motion picture.
2. Psycho (1960):
Viewed as the mother of all horror films, Psycho is yet another masterpiece that solidifies Hitchcock’s place amongst the greatest of directors. The film revolves around a secretary who steals a large sum of money, flees town, and arrives at an isolated motel run by a young man suffering from a domineering mother. The secretary, perfectly played by Janet Leigh, soon grows suspicious of the motel owner, portrayed on the screen by the amazing Anthony Perkins. This is one of Hitchcock’s most complex films, especially for a horror film, as it is one that deftly studies themes such as temptation, lust, deception, and mental illness. It is filled with many shocking and surprising twists that have lost none of their magic even after countless viewings. Hitchcock’s smart use of the film’s music adds yet another element of terror in the picture, making every scene a tense and nervous affair. Ultimately known for its iconic and brilliantly directed shower scene, Psycho stands tall as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most groundbreaking and pioneering motion pictures ever.
3. Vertigo (1958):
As his most dizzying and bewildering motion picture, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is one of the famed director’s most distinguished in his illustrious and long career. Its story follows a retired San Francisco detective, who suffers from a dreadful case of acrophobia, as he is asked to investigate the mysterious activities of another man’s wife, only to helplessly fall under the woman’s spell. The most admirable aspect of Vertigo is Hitchcock’s ability to make the viewer as delirious and confused as his main character, John Ferguson, magnificently brought to the screen by the delightful James Stewart, as he follows his friend’s wife, played by the gorgeous Kim Novak. The film, featuring a fantastic score by Bernard Herrmann, instantly grips the viewers’ attention and pulls them into a massive web of mystery and confusion that does not let up until the final frame. Indeed, the plot is masterfully brought to the screen by Hitchcock and is presented in such a smart way that it keeps one guessing throughout. Vertigo also makes viewers struggle with their feelings towards characters that suffer from tragic and heartbreaking circumstances far beyond their control, one of Hitchcock’s many signature topics. It is this exquisite combination of emotions and themes, in fact, which makes Vertigo such a riveting and enduring experience.
4. North by Northwest (1959):
Arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s most entertaining film, North by Northwest is certainly one of his more ambitious motion pictures. An advertising executive is mistaken by a group of foreign spies to be a government agent and is ruthlessly chased all across the United States, desperately looking for some sort of way to survive this unexpected ordeal. Cary Grant, as the unfortunate executive Roger Thornhill, gives one of his most unforgettable performances and is instantly iconic. But, it is the multiple extravagant action sequences that Hitchcock employs throughout the film that take center stage. One such sequence involves Grant’s Thornhill being pursued by an airplane across an expansive and deserted field, an awe-inspiring and glorious scene that continues to amaze to this day. In addition, the film’s script, written by Ernest Lehman, is well-structured, energetic, and full of twists that the viewer does not see coming. Needless to say, North by Northwest is one of Hitchcock’s timeless classics.
5. Strangers on a Train (1951):
A mischievous and deliciously-seductive picture, Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train is really one of the master’s most suspenseful pictures. Two strangers, Bruno(Robert Walker) the psychotic socialite and Guy (Farley Granger) the professional tennis star, meet on a train by accident. Bruno then challenges Guy with the craziest of ideas; they would each commit the other person’s murder, creating the perfect crime. The chemistry between Walker and Granger is simply electric and makes the film thoroughly enjoyable. However, it is Alfred Hitchcock who is the movie’s true star. Here is a motion picture that perfectly shows the legendary director’s astonishing ability to effortlessly mix humor with anxiety, creating a film that keeps viewers intensely focused on the screen. No better scene demonstrates that than what has been called the most intense tennis match on film ever. Strangers on a Train is also one of my favorite Hitchcock pictures because he wastes no time before forging ahead with the smart and thrilling plot and complicated characters, providing viewers with an unforgettable motion picture.
With films that have ranged from such genres as romance, suspense, and mystery, throughout nearly forty years, Alfred Hitchcock has been able to cement his place in cinema history. He is a director whose unexplainable fascination with young vulnerable women has enabled him to provide us with many wonderful and mesmerizing characters we cannot help but sympathize and connect with. A visionary whose camera acts like a fly on the wall capturing his characters in the most intimate of moments as well as telling stories that do not easily leave our memories, if ever. A filmmaker whose keen directorial style and love of suspense has given us films that leave us helplessly hanging onto the edge of our seats, every time we revisit them. The above five films, I believe, powerfully demonstrate Alfred Hitchcock’s ideas in a manner that is eloquent, poignant, and expressive.
So, do you agree with the selection? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!