From the Master of Suspense, here are the Final Four of the 10 Hitchcock films people ought to know about. If you’d like to know the others, please click here.
7. Marnie (1964)
Tippi Hedren returns (post-The Birds) in the title role of a kleptomaniac who loves horses.
She’s a Hitchcock blonde who adopts and sheds identities (and hair colors) like a snake shedding its skin. So she steals ten large from the tax consultant she worked for, switches names and hair dyes, and merrily goes on her way to Baltimore, where her mother lives in a rowhouse in what looks to be a neighborhood ripe for gentrification.
Marnie seeks a no-ties, financial freedom that her mother never had. There are horrors from the past that haunt Marnie, which have made it nearly impossible for her to let her guard down around men. However, after handsome Mark Rutland (played by the swoon-worthy Sean Connery) hires her as a typist, Marnie becomes like his personal project. And when Marnie snags more dough from Mark’s business, he tracks her down and blackmails her into marrying him. Talk about your bizarre forms of intervention. And since Marnie is, of course, frigid, the natural response is for Mark to rape her on their honeymoon. Thus adding a personal touch to Marnie’s salvation.
The true horror Marnie’s situation is revealed at the end. And as for Mark, it’s hard to figure out whether he’s truly in love with Marnie or just freaking obsessed beyond words.
8. Torn Curtain (1966)
Torn Curtain is a political thriller in which Hitchcock dipped his toe into the paranoid waters of the Cold War era. Michael Armstrong, an American physicist and rocket scientist (played by Paul Newman), travels to Copenhagen with his assistant/fiancé Sarah in tow (played sans spoonfuls of sugar by Julie Andrews).
Then Michael tells Sarah he’s going to Stockholm. Sarah secretly follows him to—surprise!—East Berlin. And since Michael is treated by East German government types like the best thing since sliced bread, Sarah naturally concludes that he’s defected.
But, of course, it’s not that simple. Michael is part of an ambitious and dangerous game. The details of which I shall not reveal, because that would ruin everything if you’ve never seen this film. What ensues is a highly suspenseful and elaborate game of spy versus spy—with rocket science folded into the mix. The movie also has one of the most grueling fight scenes ever between Newman and one of the bad guys.
The question throughout the story is: who can Michael and Sarah trust?
If you haven’t seen the film, prepare for a slow-moving, but interesting, effort. Each scene builds the plot’s tension as tight as a fully compressed metal spring, but doesn’t quite deliver as well the director’s other, better-known movies. Given the subject matter, the film should work better than it does. One of the best parts, other than the big fight, is Hitchcock’s willingness to cast Andrews against type. Also be on the lookout for an uncredited appearance by Peter Lorre as a cab driver.
9. Topaz (1969)
This film is an interesting, if ultimately unmemorable, adaptation of a Leon Uris Cold War spy thriller. It was marketed with a “ripped from the headlines” slant, as the story concerned a French spy, Andre Devereaux, who gets involved in finding proof that the Cuban Missile Crisis is being set up.
The plot involves Devereaux getting photos of documents by having someone else bribe an assistant to the main Cuban dictator guy, Rico Parra (played by John Vernon, looking as mean as ever).
Then Devereaux flies off to Cuba, despite his wife’s accusations of adultery—which as it happens are true. (Hey, he’s the French James Bond. What did you expect, lady? Hearts, flowers, and white picket fences?) The spy who loved his mistress, Juanita (and maybe his wife, too, for all I know) finds her shacked up with Parra, of all people. That puts Juanita in the perfect position to lead the resistance movement. And use other people to take photos of the actual missiles. Unfortunately, … well, the less said about Juanita the professional mistress/resistance leader, the better.
And I haven’t even gotten to the secret Soviet organization known as “Topaz”. Or all the sneaky spy techniques Devereaux uses after he returns to Paris to nail the sucker who leaked documents to the KGB. Or that Devereaux’s wife leaves his ass, thus putting the lie to the notion that French women abide adultery. At least, they don’t according to Leon Uris, who wrote the book on which this was based.
One of the things I remember most clearly about this film was the use of color: yellow, white, and red were each supposed to have a specific meaning, as I recall from my student days while studying film analysis. Couldn’t tell you what those meanings were now to save my life, but I do remember the colors.
The movie is also notable for having alternative endings. In both versions, the Topaz leader is revealed, but only in the British version does he make tracks to Mother Russia. In the French and the U.S. versions … feel free to see for yourself. But you can just imagine. Perhaps you’re better off doing so, because no one seems to like this one at all! 🙂
10. Family Plot (1976)
In this, Hitchcock’s final film, he treads once again into dark comedy with a thriller component. It’s a charming tale about Blanche the fake psychic and her boyfriend George, who are hired to find a boy given up for adoption, because his guilt-ridden aunt wants him to be her heir. Too bad the boy grew up to be a vicious criminal who killed his adoptive parents and faked his own death.
The now-grown boy (played by William Devane) now kidnaps millionaires for fun and profit—well, mostly profit—along with live-in squeeze Fran (played by Karen Black). Among their spoils are a huge diamond hidden in a chandelier.
The plot is a bit of over-the-top fun, in which the murderous kidnapper tries to kill Blanche and George—only to have the scheme backfire (no pun intended).
The events leading to the climax and conclusion are somewhat wacky, as well as suspenseful. The end has an ambiguous twist to it that may strike some as a trifle too cute. On the whole, this may not be Hitchcock’s best movie, but it merits at least a nod (and a wink), if only for the pun in the title and the unusual deviation from the Hitchcock norm.