By Dan MacIntosh
If you asked the average movie fan about Alfred Hitchcock, he or she’d most likely associate him with Psycho—especially due to that familiar film’s famous shower scene—or, perhaps, The Birds. However, such associations would barely scratch the surface of this man’s illustrious and productive career. The master directed films for sixty years, and during that time attached his name to fifty films. The fact that a high percentage of these films were also critical favorites—many considered classics, even—speaks to the man’s unquestionable cinematic genius.
Those that wisely choose to attend the scheduled six Hitchcock films screening at Riverside’s Fox Theater through August 30, will not see blood running down the drain during that unforgettable Psycho scene, nor will they witness the nefarious flock of fowl from The Birds mercilessly attacking humans. But for those that haven’t yet explored Hitchcock’s vast catalogue of suspense films, will have a wonderful opportunity to do a little catch-up work. It will be so doggone entertaining, however, that it won’t feel like work at all.
This Hitchcock sextet retrospective primarily focuses on the filmmaker’s 50s work, as the only picture not released during that creative decade is 1941’s “Suspicion.”
There is good reason to recommend each and every one of these collected films, but two works in particular stand just slightly above the rest.
The Wrong Man, first and foremost, stands out from Hitchcock’s usual murder stories in that it was based on a real incident. Henry Fonda stars as a man falsely accused of a crime (hence the title), and this screenplay was inspired by a Life magazine article called “A Case of Identity.” Fonda, as the long suffering victim in this scenario, has never been better.
Secondly, Strangers on a Train plays with a very plausible murder plot: If two men agree to commit the other man’s murder, in a kind of criss-cross homicide plan, neither one would be immediate suspects in their respective cases, as neither actually one knew their victims. Juicy idea, right?
Rounding out the series there is Dial M for Murder, which stars the beautiful Grace Kelly and was filmed on one of Hitchcock’s most claustrophobic movie sets. For I Confess, Hitchcock cast Montgomery Clift as a Catholic priest, which was surely an artistic stretch for this fast living movie star. Suspicion stars one of Hitchcock’s favorite male leads, Cary Grant, in a story where Grant’s character acts quite suspiciously throughout. In fact, he’s so suspicious, his wife (played by Joan Fontaine) begins to believe he’s planning to kill her for insurance money. (This was long before almost every 48 Hours episode, by the way). With Stage Fright, Hitchcock brings the theater world onto the big screen for a story that stars the exotic Marlene Dietrich.
Summertime is now known as the movie season for big budget blockbusters. It seems as though the only rule followed during this period is ‘always bigger, always louder.’ Either something’s getting blown up, or a super hero (oftentimes wearing tights) is saving the day. Upping the score, many of these films have both super heroes and explosions. The trouble with such simplistic guidelines is that a lot of these movies end up appealing to the lowest common denominator. It’s almost as though, if a fourth grader doesn’t ‘get it,’ it doesn’t get made.
Movie fans that like to leave a little to the imagination are sometimes left out in the cold. Some of us don’t want or need everything spelled out, or spilled out like guts. Instead, some of us like to use our brains as well as our eyes when it comes to appreciating a move.
One big reason why Alfred Hitchcock movies are just as relevant and entertaining in 2013, as they were back in the 50s, is because this director knew how to tell a compelling story. Much like great novels from almost any era, Hitchcock’s stories are just as enjoyable now, as when they were first released. They make you ask questions like: What would I do if a stranger propositioned me with a murder plot while riding together on a train? Or how would I handle being falsely accused of a crime? Would I exhibit the same human dignity Henry Fonda displayed during The Wrong Man, or would I simply come unglued?
There are few films that live up to the description of timeless, but most of Hitchcock’s works belong in such an exclusive category. Expect to get less bang, but a whole lot more brain for your buck at Fox Theater’s Alfred Hitchcock retrospective.
Hitchcock Fridays Film Festival at Fox Riverside, 3801 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside. (951) 779-9800; www.foxriversidelive.com. Every Friday thru Aug 30, 7:30PM. Tickets $9; $6 for students or seniors w/ID. Reserved seating; call or come early.