8. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
Hitchcock’s silent film breakthrough almost sounds like a parody of his later career; a London serial killer hunts blondes and a shifty lodger at a boarding house may be the culprit.
So many of Hitchcock’s trademarks arrived fully formed here in his silent film breakthrough. You have murder, suspicion, untrustworthy cops and blonde women as a plot devices. Even in the 1920s Hitchcock was a technical innovator – here to show that the Lodger is pacing his upstairs room in a silent film we get a shot of shoes moving over a glass floor.
It’s not an especially complex plot and the tight censorship laws prevented Hitch from keeping any amount of fascinating ambiguity by the film’s close (the good guys win, the bad guys lose, no-one’s true morals are left in doubt) but it’s a surprisingly modern looking film; inter-titles aside, the editing and shot construction wouldn’t look out of place in his films from three decades later.
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7. North by Northwest (1959)
An ad man is mistaken for a spy by a sinister group and is pursued across the USA.
Hitchcock has done plenty of spy movies before and used the genre to establish some of his hallmarks (The 39 Steps introduced both the Hitchcock Blonde and the MacGuffin for instance) but North by Northwest is his biggest, best and most fascinating take on espionage. The set pieces never got bigger or more elaborate than Carey Grant being chased by a crop duster and tangling with goons around the noses of the Mount Rushmore presidents, and Eve Marie Saint and James Mason are great as the femme fatale and arch villain respectively.
Hitchcock went a bit meta here by taking an expensive, star-driven spy extravaganza and making what actually happens in it (and why) incidental by intentionally obscuring key information from the audience. This is his only film where the whole plot is arguably a MacGuffin, but who really cares what secrets the bad guys are hunting wrong man Thornhill for when the chase is this tense and fun?
6. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
A teenager begins to suspect that her uncle who has come to stay out of the blue is a murderer of rich widows.
A lesser-known Hitch picture for many, but purportedly the director’s personal favorite, this is full of his trademarks: sinister relatives, multiple murders, delicious black comedy and crawling tension throughout.
Hitchcock was previously stymied by censorship which prevented him from making his antagonists as sinister as he would have liked (The Lodger and Suspicion had to have any moral ambiguity removed by their respective conclusions). This is a dark, suspenseful tale set in seemingly benign American Suburbia and encased in German Expressionist shadows. Joseph Cotton is the ultimate screen creepy uncle and the trickle of clues and, yes, shadows of doubts in this mystery keep you on the edge of your seat right to the end.