English film director and producer Alfred Hitchcock was a pioneer of cinema, carving out a legacy for himself in the genres of suspense and psychological thrillers. His method of storytelling through withholding information from the audience makes his movies entertaining till the end. And these breakthrough techniques paved the way for generations of filmmakers to come.
Hitchcock directed more than 50 feature films in his career, and I’ve seen nearly all of them. So in honor of his birthday today, here’s my list of personal favorites — The Best of Alfred Hitchcock (and where to look to spot his trademark cameo appearance in each).
1. Rear Window (1954) – Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr, Rear Window is an exceptional, suspenseful film. The story is confined almost entirely to the four walls of a studio apartment and the scenes observed across the courtyard from the window.
Cameo: Hitchcock is seen winding the clock in the songwriter’s apartment (00:26:10).
2. North by Northwest (1959) – Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason, this mysterious story of mistaken identity features a memorable opening title sequence created by graphic designer Saul Bass. North by Northwest is often referred to as the first feature film to use kinectic typography. This film also features some of Hitchcock’s famous innuendos.
Cameo: Hitchcock can be seen missing a bus at the end of the opening credits (0:02:09).
3. Dial M for Murder (1954) – In this film – starring Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams and Ray Milland – Hitchcock experimented with 3D for a depth effect in one scene. However, it’s reported that the public had grown weary of 3D when the film released, so it was only shown in a few screenings.
Cameo: Hitchcock can be seen on the left side in the class-reunion photo on the wall (00:13:13).
4. Notorious (1946) – Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, Hitchcock regulars, are caught in the middle of a plot about Nazis, uranium and South America. Working undercover, they risk it all to reveal the truth.
Cameo: At the big party in Claude Rains’s mansion, Hitchcock can be seen drinking champagne and then quickly departing (01:04:44).
5. The Birds (1963) – Bodega Bay, California sets the stage for a sudden, unexplained series of attacks by birds. Jessica Tandy stars as “Tippi” in this horror film, loosely based on the 1952 story “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier.
Cameo: A man walking dogs out of the pet store at the beginning of the film. They were two of Hitchcock’s own Sealyham terriers, Geoffrey and Stanley (00:00:02).
6. Strangers on a Train (1951) – Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, Hitchcock directed this suspenseful tale starring Farley Granger and Robert Walker. The premise: Two men meet casually on a train, and one speculates on a foolproof murder plot.
Cameo: Look for Hitchcock boarding a train with a double bass instrament case, just as Farley Granger’s character gets off in his hometown (00:10:34).
7. Vertigo (1958) – Kim Novak plays the blonde lead opposite James Stewart in this entertaining thriller. Hitchcock used the camera technique dubbed as the “Vertigo Effect” where the camera moves in the opposite direction as the zoom to create a sense of the image stretching.
Cameo: Hitchcock can be spotted in a grey suit walking in the street with a trumpet case (00:11:40).
8. Psycho (1960) – This horror film is based on a novel of the same name by author Robert Bloch. There are many icons of the genre within Psycho, including the infamous shower scene. However, the depiction of violence and sexuality brought controversy to this film during its release.
Cameo: Through the window as Janet Leigh’s character returns to her office, you can see Hitchcock wearing a cowboy hat (00:06:35).
Cameo: Spot Hitchcock from a distance, mailing a letter at the village post office (00:46:54) and walking a horse across the screen at the hunt meet (00:00:04).
10. To Catch a Thief (1955) – Grace Kelly‘s third and final appearance in a Hitchcock film, alongside co-star Cary Grant, To Catch a Thief is set in the French Riveria. It’s more lighthearted and witty than many of Hitchcock’s other films, but loaded with double-entendres.
Cameo: The not-so-subtle appearance of Hitchcock… sitting to the left of Cary Grant’s character on the bus (00:00:10), as shown in the picture at the beginning of this post.
11. Spellbound (1945) – Exploring the realms of pscyhoanalysis, Spellbound features a dream sequence (pictured above) which was designed by surrealist painter Salvador Dali. This film, starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, also entangles romance with suspense in the way that Hitchcock does so well.
Cameo: Look for Hitchcock exiting an elevator at the Empire Hotel, carrying a violin case and smoking a cigarette (00:43:15).
12. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – This remake of Hitchcock’s own 1934 film of the same name, starred Doris Day and James Stewart. It won an Academy Award for Best Song for “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” performed by Doris Day.
Cameo: Hitchcock is watching acrobats in the opening scene at the Moroccan marketplace. His back is facing the camera (00:00:33).
If you’re a fan like me, stay tuned for the upcoming (Sept. 25) release of the “Masterpiece Collection” of Hitchcock on Blu-Ray, 15 movies of digitally remastered suspense — I can hardly wait! Which is your favorite Hitchcock film? If you’ve seen them all, let me know which one you think I should watch next.
Enjoy the plot-twisting thrill – Meredith