Good Thing Hitchcock Got Better
Hitchcock has been hailed by many as one of the greatest directors to have ever lived. Known as the Master of Suspense, the man who managed to make the world afraid to take a shower, Hitchcock made more than just a string of great films — he managed to weave an entire bracelet of successes.
That having been said, it’s a good thing he kept practicing. Because it’s the opinion of this writer that his first string of films not only missed the mark, but proved that practice does make perfect.
Before Hitchcock started making the movies we’ve come to know and love as his classics, he was making black and white films back in his home country of England. I’m sure to get some flack for this, but Hitchcock’s original black and whites remind me of the early black and white films that John Wayne was featured in — nearly unwatchable.
I don’t mean to say that Hitchcock’s early films are unwatchable in the sense that they are terrible or poorly directed. I use that phrase in the sense that they aren’t accessible to anyone. I developed an interest in Hitchcock’s films at the earlier age of twelve. By the time I was thirteen, I had seen Hitchcock’s classics like Dial M for Murder, Psycho, The Birds, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Rear Window. I had also tried more than once to watch some of his earlier black and white films, like the original The Man Who Knew Too Much (with Peter Lorre), The Thirty-Nine Steps, and Secret Agent. But I couldn’t connect with them, much less understand them. To this day, I remember the ending scene of The Thirty-Nine Steps and how it’s stayed with me, but I also remember not having a clue what was going on or how the audience had gotten there.
The only exception to this is The Lady Vanishes. It was the last black and white film he made in England before moving to Hollywood, and I feel that it’s the first film that indicates that he’d finally hit his stride. To this day, it remains one of my favourite Hitchcock films.
Good films, really good films, should be able to connect in some way to every viewer. I remember feeling the suspense of Dial M for Murder, of shouting out loud as Grace Kelly fumbles blindly for the scissors on the desk as she’s strangled to death. I remember the tightness in my chest as Jimmy Stewart sits chairbound and helpless as his girlfriend tries to outrun a murderer in Rear Window. And I still get chills when I think of the scene where Doris Day stumbles during a performance in The Man Who Knew Too Much, realizing her kidnapped son is in the same house. Age-appropriate films or not, these were things that stuck with me as a viewer. Hitchcock didn’t make movies to scare adults. He made films to impress everyone. And, despite my young age at the time, he made a profound impression on me. I suppose everyone has to start somewhere. But compared to his early films, the only direction Hitchcock had to go was up.
And up, he certainly did.