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Dial H for Hitchcock

by The Concordian February 14, 2012

There are directors, and then there are auteur directors—those whose creative voices resonate
throughout all their work. Among the greatest “auteurs” are Howard Hawks, François Truffaut,
Jean Renoir, and of course, Alfred Hitchcock.
Rightly-credited as “the king of suspense” by critics and audiences alike, the stories “the Hitch” made were not only intricately webbed, but they were also filled with witty dialogue and the so-called “MacGufffins”—details in the story that revealed a larger theme in the film.
Hitchcock’s specialty was stories of humour and suspense where creepy male characters and gorgeous Venus blondes lose their minds and/or their lives. “Hitchcock always said that he likes to get the mystery out of the way so that he could focus on getting the audience emotionally involved with the characters and action, especially through the workings of suspense,” said Concordia film aesthetics professor Peter Rist. Films like Psycho and The Birds have been embedded in the popular vernacular and scenes such as Janet Leigh’s piercing scream, or the birds’ vicious attack on Tippi Hedren while she is stuck in a telephone booth have become iconic. Not to mention that characters like Norman Bates and the bloody birds still provide excellent nightmare material.
Until March 1, Cinema du Parc is presenting a retrospective of Hitchcock’s work. Among the roster are most of his celebrated movies, such as Rear Window (1954), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), Dial M for Murder (1954), The Birds (1963) and many of his more underrated works, like Suspicion (1941) and Saboteur (1942), which will be presented in 35mm—a rare treat for film connoisseurs that ought not to be missed.
Suspicion is Hitchcock’s first collaboration with leading man par excellence Cary Grant, and second with actress Joan Fontaine who previously starred in his Rebecca (1940). Fontaine’s role as a young scared wife in Suspicion earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress, making her the only actor to win an Oscar for a film directed by Hitchcock. The movie tells the story of Lina McLaidlaw (Fontaine), a shy girl who is swept off her feet when she meets a handsome stranger on a train, Johnny Aysgarth (Grant). Soon, the two get married but there is something shady about Johnny’s past, and when his business partner is mysteriously killed, Lina becomes obsessed with the idea that her husband might be a murderer. She soon learns that women’s intuition is not always a lady’s best friend. Rear Window, based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, stars James Stewart as Jeff, a photographer with a broken leg who has been confined to a wheelchair and whose only amusement comes from looking out the window and into the homes of his neighbours. One morning, Jeff notices the wife of one his neighbours has mysteriously disappeared. Aided by his beautiful girlfriend Lisa (the sweet Grace Kelly), he decides to untangle what appears to be a gritty homicide. The entire film takes place in Jeff’s apartment, and as Rist said, “It is arguably the most brilliant example of point-of-view editing.” North by Northwest is Hitch’s most stylish spy thriller, and probably somewhat propelled the Bond image—a handsome womanizer (Cary Grant) on the run aided by his wit, and of course by a beautiful woman (Eva Marie Saint). Roger Thornhill (Grant) is mistakenly kidnapped by agents of an abstruse organization whose goal is to bootleg a microfilm containing government secrets. The organization’s boss, Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) believes Thornhill to be a spy named George Kaplan who has to be eliminated because his interference will damage Vandamm’s plans. The story gets more complicated when a woman (Saint) is thrown in the mix.
Psycho (1960) is among Hitchcock’s creepiest. Starring Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, a young woman who, on the spur of a moment, steals $40,000 from a client of the firm where she works, the movie follows her run, tragically ended at a motel run by a creepy young man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who is tyrannized by the ghost of his mother. Bates is one of Hitch’s most memorable characters, and was later used in three sequels starring Perkins, which have since been long forgotten, but the original movie maintains its legacy as one of the best films ever made.

The Alfred Hitchcock retrospective is running at Cinema du Parc until March 1. For the full schedule, go to www.cinemaduparc.com.

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