Horror Ten Spot: Best Hitchcock Scenes!
For reasons I've yet to be let in on, world-class cinematic auteur Alfred Hitchcock is the subject of two new moment-in-time biopics. HBO's THE GIRL paints Hitch in quite an unflatteringly light, while Sacha Gervasi's HITCHCOCK looks a little lighter if not more honorary. But despite the cleavage regarding the man's personal character, we can all agree the man is a master filmmaker, and in many ways the progenitor of the modern day form. We can dispute all day about the man's morality, but his work? Inarguable. So, it's with that we take on a mighty herculean task with this week's top ten. You ready to relive 10 of Hitch's all time best filmed scenes? Let's roll 'em!
In perhaps his first great example of suspenseful mastery - a young boy unwittingly delivering a bomb to a bus in the 1936 film SABOTAGE - remains a classic example of Hitch's talent. It's literally a ticking clock scenario, as we the audience are given the bomb's detonation time. Hitch toys with us by repeatedly showing clocks winding down to said explosion point. And since the boy is in a public square, completely oblivious of what he holds, the collateral damage of the bomb exploding offers a horrific what-if situation. Of course, the result is just as shocking as the setup was tense. Trivially, Hitch regretted ending the scene the way he did, as it lent the exact shock value he wanted to avoid. If done over, he would have offered audience relief.
Since the entire conceit of ROPE (one of my favorite Hitch joints btw) is to appear as if the film plays out in one single continuous take, we could technically cite the whole film as one of Hitch's greatest "scenes." That said, the opening and closing scenes are really quite magnificent. As we pan to a window to start and immediately cut inside an apartment, we see a man being strangled to death by two men with a rope. They cram the corpse into a credenza then inconspicuously host a party in the apartment, serving food and drinks right off the dead man's grave. But when Jimmy Stewart shows up in the end and lays down a harsh diatribe, the neon signs blinking in and out of the apartment, Hitch tightens the ROPE with a satisfactory finale.
Damn, who knew the OG 007 had to force his way into a broad's shorts?! Japing aside, it's Tippi Hedren as the titular MARNIE who becomes victimized by Sean Connery in a very disturbing, if only suggestive rape scene. "But I do want to go to bed, Marnie. I very much want to go to bed." Marnie just stands there still, silent, un-aroused, eyes lifeless...Connery advances and shreds her clothes off. A sweet embrace follows suit, then a tender kiss, and as Marnie gives in, Connery pushes her naked body back onto the bad, a lustful glint in his eye, and basically has his way with her. It's no I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, but for 1964, pretty damn harrowing.
For a foreigner, Hitch sure tackled American landmarks more fearlessly than any of his native counterparts ever did. The jaw-dropping Statue of Liberty cliffhanger sequence in the early work SABOTEUR is a perfect example of such, and I have to believe such a set-piece made him want to up the ante when we shot the Mount Rushmore scene in NXNW. Glad he did! In any event, the statue of liberty scene is f*cking awesome to this day, and must have been flat out heart-stopping in 1942. The action is basically a chase scene that culminates in a dude hanging from Ms. Liberty's torch. As the seam of his jacket slowly tears, suspense mounts into a fatal finale.
With all of Hitch's dalliances with death, few ring as memorable as what Grace Kelly pulls on her assailant in DIAL M FOR MURDER. When the dastardly Anthony Dawson skulks in Kelly's apartment in the dark, sneaking up on buxom blond from behind (as she's on the phone with Jimmy Stewart), he swaddles a necktie around her throat from behind with intentions to kill. A struggle ensues, and with her life slowly leaking out, Kelly suddenly reaches for pair of large desk sheers...quickly jabbing them into Dawson's back. He recoils, smarts, and ultimately succumbs. This is a masterfully crafted scene; the shot selection, the lighting, the music, the suspense, all of it.
Can't blame Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak would give any man VERTIGO! That said, Hitch uses the titular dizziness as a great visual tool, with cool in camera optical FX to make us the viewer feel like Stewart the lead...completely panicked! One specific scene crystallizes this motif, the oft-cited tower sequence. When Stewart chases Novak up a vestibule tower, jarring zoom-down, pull-up shots stir a sense of vertigo in us, which, given Stewart's affliction, is emotionally motivated as well. And if that wasn't bad enough, Novak's fine frame falling past the window into our purview is sure to make your heart drop upon first showing. Imagine seeing that shite for the first time in 1958!
Anyone who saw THE GIRL on HBO knows just how harrowing the final attack in THE BIRDS was to achieve, especially for actress Tippi Hedren, who was brutally assaulted by real birds during the shoot. Not that I lend credence to the lecherous claims the film makes about Hitch as whole, but as a fastidious filmmaker, yeah, I buy the multiple takes and the physical torment and exhaustion created as a result. But if we're talking verisimilitude, there's never a false note onscreen. It's like Marilyn Burns in the OG TEXAS CHAINSAW, at some point "acting" is no longer the case. Hedren, like Burns, was truly LIVING the horror in the moment. And it translates on screen!
In possibly Hitch's finest hour, at least technically, many scenes are worthy of feting. The master heightens an overt voyeurism and male gaze he'd been subverting for years in movies and delivers them full bore in REAR WINDOW, a work of A-grade entertainment. The mystery, the suspense, the claustrophobia, the tension, all the notes are played virtuosically. But if I had to single out a specific moment, I'd go with the shot where Thorwald (Raymond Burr) suddenly discovers LB (Stewart) spying on him in the apartment across the way. The POV shot pans back and forth innocuously, and when it swings back into focus, Thorwald's ugly mug staring dead into the camera is an ultimate gasp moment. It was in 1954 and still is now almost 60 years later.
Pick your poison with NORTH BY NORTHWEST, one of the best on-the-run, missing-identity suspense-thrillers ever crafted. I could have just as easily cited the climactic showdown atop Mount Rushmore, what a lofty idea executed to near perfection. Instead though I've gone with the iconic crop duster sequence, in which Cary Grant makes a mad dash for his life through a windrow of corn. The images of Grant running with the plane on his tail are legendary. But that's not all. After being rained on by some insecticidal dust, Grant makes another run for it, only to come this close to being run over by a car. Not to be outdone, Hitch goes pyro when the plane crashes into gas-tanker and exploding into flames.
Come on now, this is a goddamn horror site, you already knew what the top spot was! The infamous shower scene in PSYCHO, in which Hitch bumps off his leading lady (Janet Leigh) a half hour into the picture, is just as shocking narratively as it is visually (even more so in 1960). Of course, as always the case with Hitch, meticulous planning went into this scene, some 90 different cuts inter-spliced throughout, each dancing off the harsh sting of Bernard Herman's searing string arrangement. The best part? We don't see one iota of bodily penetration. Hitch creates something far more sinister in the viewer's mind than what we're actually shown. He actually holds the mirror up and reflects the evil in ourselves. The power of editing!