5. The Trouble with Harry (1955)
A dead man is found in some woodland by a series of people who collectively agree to dispose of the body for a variety of reasons.
The funniest Hitchcock by quite a margin, The Trouble with Harry is full of gallows humour, razor-sharp one-liners and a steadily escalating farcical plot. Poor departed Harry is hurriedly buried and exhumed a total of three times in the movie as our guilty gang wrestle with their consciences and try to outwit the law. There’s a curious possible supernatural element in there as well, but you have to look for it.
The technicolor photography looks particularly dazzling here with the autumnal New England location, though many scenes had to be filmed on sound stage recreations because of difficulties with the sound recording. Shirley MacClaine makes a dazzling film debut and Edmund Gwen entertainingly alternates between twinkling and panicking about their macabre situation.
4. Rebecca (1940)
Following a suspiciously sudden marriage proposal, a young woman becomes the second Mrs de Winter and is swept off to her husband’s Cornwall mansion.
Handsome, atmospheric and dark, Hitchcock arrived in Hollywood with a bang and aimed to be noticed. Rebecca became the only Hitchcock film to win Best Picture, though Hitch himself missed out on Best Director here on the first of many unjust occasions.
Some of the darkness of Daphne du Maurier’s novel is lifted, but the whole thing retains a wonderfully gothic sensibility, not to mention some mischievous Hitchcock additions like the implication that Mrs Danvers had unrequited romantic feelings for Rebecca. Joan Fontaine is sublime as one of literature and film’s most put-upon characters, but Judith Anderson steals the show as a spectral Mrs Danvers.
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3. Rope (1948)
Two students murder a friend and hide his body in a chest just before they host a party in their apartment.
Rope is one of the great film chamber pieces and a masterclass in careful blocking, ingenious use of space and making the most of your cast’s talents. It’s also more meta Hitchcock as he stops just short of getting his characters to reel off a list of his own movies.
Rope‘s stage origins are clear, but the film flies by with its audience enraptured and, weirdly, rooting for two murderers to get away with it. James Stewart is the perfect unassuming sleuth ready to pick apart the stories of his suspects and watching for signs that macabre conversations have shifted from the purely theoretical into chilling reality.