"You gentlemen aren't really trying to kill my son, are you?"
Nominated for three Academy Awards, North by Northwest is funny, suspenseful, romantic, and full of action. There’s no grim, serious, psychological drama in this Hitchcock classic, and instead this thriller is all about plane crashes, international espionage, and romantic trysts in train cars. With Cary Grant at his smoothest, Eva Marie Saint at her sexiest, and James Mason at his sneakiest, this one will make a newbie wonder why she didn’t start watching Hitchcock movies earlier. This flick is bound to come up in almost any conversation about the filmmaker, so this is a must-watch for a movie-phile wanting to join in on the chitchat before a screening of Hitchcock.
"Mother-m-mother, uh, what is the phrase? She isn't quite herself today."
Since the new flick Hitchcock is about making the movie Psycho, it only makes sense to include this one in the list. For one thing, it will be helpful to know what movie they're all taking about, and it's also worth seeing how close the resemblances are between James D’Arcy and Anthony Perkins and between Jessica Biel and Vera Miles. From what we've seen in some of the stills released, the resemblance is bordering on creepily similar. Psycho is one of Hitchcock's best known flicks, it was a pop-culture phenomenon, it has scares that make us jump even after dozens of repeat viewings, it’ll have most people opting for baths over showers for at least a few days, and it has one of the best twist endings in the history of people telling stories, let alone the history of movies. (Suck it, Rosebud!) This one is not just for those interested in Hitchcock, but really for anyone who likes scary movies.
"A woman never goes anywhere but the hospital without packing makeup, clothes, and jewelry."
Audiences shouldn’t like a creepy voyeur who spies on his neighbors with a telephoto lens, but with Rear Window it’s not a problem. The creepy voyeur is played by James Stewart, and Jimmy Stewart is one of the most likable actors in the history of ever. Besides, if the creepy voyeur catches a murderer, the end justifies the means, right? Grace Kelly is great as one of Hitchcock’s classic icy-cool blondes, and Thelma Ritter is the perfect no-nonsense nurse, who calls Jimmy Stewart’s Jeff on all his crap. The very best thing about Rear Window though, is that it's one of those rare movies that will have most any viewer literally yelling “get out of there!" at the characters on screen, and that's always fun.
While all previous movies are must-sees for being conversant in Hitchcock, the next two movies are an either/or situation. To keep this list under eight hours only one can be included, but it’s up you to decide which one you want to watch. So here are your A and B options.
"Beautiful, mysterious woman pursued by gunmen. Sounds like a spy story."
Option A: One of Hitchcock’s older movies, The 39 Steps is a lot of fun with some stockings, spies, and sandwiches thrown in for good measure. It was made relatively early on in his career, but it's full of what became classic Hitchcock themes, like mistaken identity and an innocent man becoming notorious after being accused of a horrible crime. This one is a good addition to the list because, since it was made so much ealier, it gives a broader spectrum of Hitchcock’s work. Mostly though, it’s just super fun to watch, it fits within the same themes as the other movies, and it's a great way to wind down a Hitchcock movie marathon.
"You shouldn't keep souvenirs of a killing. You shouldn't have been that sentimental."
Option B:Just recently, Vertigo ousted Citizen Kane on the British Film Institute’s list of the 50 Greatest Films of All Time, so it makes sense if a Hitchcock newbie wants to put this one on the list. Unlike the other movies we've listed, Vertigo is psychological and dark and moody and heavy and romantic and tragic. This is undoubtedly a great movie, but if you’re just looking for eight hours of fun movie watching and the opportunity to have something to contribute to the conversation when Hitchcock comes up, we’d say stick to The 39 Steps. If you want to be conversant in Great Films instead of fun movies, watch Vertigo.
This list will get you through a conversation after a screening of Hitchcock, but don’t try to play yourself off as an expert after watching four flicks. After all, graduate-level courses are offered on Hitch, and you don’t want to find yourself masquerading as an expert with someone who has written academic papers about The Trouble with Harry.