Review by Film Critic Cecilia Cygnar
In honor of Alfred Hitchcock’s birthday on August 13 (Hitchcock died in 1980 at the age of 80…he would have been 114 this year), I thought I would examine some of the Hitchcock movies I have yet to cover. Yes, I do review a lot of Hitchcock. One, I am a true fan. Two, there is nothing else I have watched lately that even comes close to a positive review (and I watch a lot of movies). So, if you are not Hitchcock-ed-out (perish the thought), help me celebrate his birthday with two of his earlier movies, which happen to be two of my favorites.
First up, The Lady Vanishes…one of the last films Hitchcock made in his native England before coming to the US. This is one of the films that sealed Alfred Hitchcock’s destiny early on in his career, along with The 39 Steps. The beginning opens a little confused and disorganized but once Hitchcock moves the action to a train, everything comes into place. The story is simple enough with a woman going missing on a train. The one woman who talked with the vanished lady makes it her mission to find out what happened to this missing woman. All of the tell-tale Hitchcock signs are here…mistaken identity, the “wronged” man/woman, and, of course, a little romance and humor. Some elements of the film almost seem “screwball” in how outlandish they are, but since it is a good story with good characters, we allow Hitchcock to take us along for the ride.
Moving on to Hitchcock’s American films, Notorious, from 1946 is one of my top Hitchcock favorites. Over the course of his career, Hitchcock followed his trademark “thriller” genre fairly closely. He made one totally non-suspenseful work early in his career (Mr. and Mrs. Smith from 1941 is a screwball, romantic comedy) and some of his works had more intense thrills than others did. On the whole, though, Hitchcock’s films made his audience sit on the edge of their seats and Notorious (1946) is no exception. Yet, it is somewhat unique since it is the closest Hitchcock ever came to making an outright dramatic love story. Starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman (both of whom had worked with Hitchcock prior to this film), Notorious is a masterpiece on every front. It works perfectly as a thriller and passionately as a love story and it features both supreme directing and stellar acting performances. Bergman plays the daughter of a former Nazi who is convicted for his wartime crimes. Her father’s connections place Bergman in a perfect position to play spy for the U.S. government, which she does under the watchful eye of governmental agent Grant. A love affair between Bergman and Grant cools off after her assignment involves her becoming more than just an acquaintance with one of her father’s friends. Hitchcock’s sense of style is unmatched in this film. The camera movements add to both the intensity of the romance (following Grant and Bergman from room to room as they continue their embrace) and the drama of the suspense (following a key in Bergman’s hand). Cary Grant balances the line between off-putting and interested. And Bergman hits the ball out of the park with her fun-time girl falling in love with Grant, a man who is immune to her considerable charms. And the supporting cast, including a spot-on Claude Rains, makes this thriller one of the best ever.
The Lady Vanishes: 1938, not rated, 96 minutes, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, Paul Lukas and Dame May Whitty.
Notorious: 1946, not rated, 101 minutes, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains and Louis Calhern.
The Niles Library owns these titles on DVD and Blu-ray.
About this column: Cecilia Cygnar, film specialist for the Niles Library, reviews films in the library's collection.