"When I see a Hitchcock movie, as when I read a novel by Graham Greene, I feel I have entered a universe in which evil exists."
The new issue of American Heritage has a fine lengthy overview of Hitchcock's movies (and their collective theme of justified paranoia) by David Lehman. The above quote is one of Lehman's most telling points.
Understandably, much of the piece deals with Hitchcock's biggest successes, from Shadow of A Doubt to North by Northwest to Psycho to The Birds. But when I read an overview of the man's career I feel obliged to defend some of the films that weren't as successful commercially or critically.
FRENZY often gets treated as if it was Hitchcock's attempt to dabble in porno. Yes, it's surprisingly carnal coming from a man whose sexual icons were usually icy blondes. But its carnality and vulgarity seeme to me Hitchcock's way of saying to all his young imitators that he could be modern, too. The fault with this film is the script. The killer is far more interesting than the hero. This becomes even more of a problem because the actor playing the killer not only has the better part--he's a better actor than the hero.
THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY is one of the few times I've ever been able to sit through anything one could call "whimsical." Maybe it's the gorgeous glorious way H films the New England autumn. Maybe it's the simple charm of Edmund Gwen. Maybe it's the way a very young Shirley MacLain (in her first screen role) sweetly seduces the camera every time it comes near. Or maybe it's just the idea that a corpse keeps getting moved all over the county while local law enforcement tries to figure out what the hell is going on. Whatever, it has true charm.
MARNIE is a mess. I've always thought Sean Connery was miscast. The script wanders and pages go by without it focusing the way it should. But Tippi Hedren is convincing enough--and her backstory intriguing enough--that there's the kind of neurotic grit to the film you might find in a report by a social worker. Except for Connery the performances are excellent and that may be why, despite its considerable faults, I like it.
FAMILY PLOT demonstrates that H never lost his love for rear screen projection. There's a scene in here where the car in which stars Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris are in nearly goes off a cliff. It is so oviously a studio process shot that the entire sequence makes you resent Hitchcock. Was he just lazy? Did he really think he could fool modern audiences? Did he prefer (like John Ford in Liberty Valance) the look of the sound stage to the look of reality? That's the first thing I think of when somebody mentions Family Plot which is too bad because otherwise, for me, it's a very enjoyable movie. The A story with Dern and Harris is actually a very sweet tale of two para-hippies trying desperately to become con artists. The trouble comes with the B story, with William DeVane and Karen Black (her major career ended way too soon for me). Their acting is fine but the scriptwriters stumble badly in trying to merge this heist storyline with the A story. Still, Dern and Harris are so much fun who gives a damn that threst of the picture is so wobbly?