By Michael Cohen
I will not watch the Oscars this Sunday night because they hold no artistic or cultural relevance. How did I arrive at this conclusion? Remember: The greatest director in the history of the medium—Alfred Hitchcock—never won the coveted award for Best Director. The immortal Mel Gibson won for Braveheart and the world-renowned Michel Hazanavicius won for The Artist. Drop the mic!
Instead of suffering through hours of self-promotion and undeserved recognition for movies produced by the execrable Weinstein brothers, I will go through my voluminous collection of DVDs and pick out one or two of Lord Alfred’s masterpieces. The list of candidates for this year’s coveted Alfie include the following:
Forget about Citizen Kane, Godfather I and II. I love this movie. Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, the eerily sympathetic Raymond Burr, and the greatest on-screen kiss in the history of cinema. Dialogue that crackles with wit and sophistication in a backlot recreation of a Greenwich Village apartment complex. The Master at the top of his form.
Strangers on a Train
Farley Granger and Robert Walker’s “chance” meeting on a train leads to murder. Walker shines as the demented Bruno Antony. The end of the film—when a carousel goes as haywire as Antony—thrills every time. Be sure to look for Raymond Chandler’s name in the credits!
Shadow of a Doubt
Joseph Cotten plays that creepy family member who we all try to avoid in this psychological thriller that takes place in idyllic Santa Rosa, CA. Shot on location, Hitchcock presents consummate evil against the backdrop of sunny suburban sprawl. Don’t miss Cotten’s star turn at the dinner table when he offers this demonic monologue: “The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands dead, husbands who’ve spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and leave their money to their wives, their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands. Drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge. Playing all day and all night. Smelling of money. Proud of their jewelry but of nothing else. Horrible, faded, fat, greedy women… Are they human or are they fat, wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old?” Thornton Wilder co-wrote the screenplay, which captures the small-town rhythms of Our Town.
This one always starts a debate. With a screenplay written by West Side Story’s Arthur Laurents—and an uncredited assist from Ben Hecht—Hitchcock took a gamble that he deemed an “experiment that didn’t work out.” He shot the film in one continuous take with breaks only when he needed to reload the camera, which he covered for by moving behind a chair or focusing on someone’s back. He tried to capture the essence of live performance on film. While many deem it an artistic failure, I find the film endlessly fascinating. Loosely based on the Leopold-Loeb thrill killing, Jimmy Stewart, John Dall, and Farley Granger make a terrific ensemble.
Who can’t watch Anthony Perkins chew the scenery as Norman Bates one more time? Shot in three weeks in 1960 with a television crew on a budget of $800,000, Hitchcock created a movie for the ages, which took in more money at the box office than any of his other projects and made the “slasher” genre a staple for the next 50+ years.
Deemed by many critics and film historians to be Hitch’s best effort—and one of filmdom’s greatest—I find Vertigo’s plot convoluted and absurd. Talk about willful suspension of disbelief! Jimmy Stewart plays the dumbest detective in the history of cinema. In 2012, the British Film Institute pronounced Vertigo to be the greatest film of all time, displacing Citizen Kane’s 50-year reign at the top. As much as I want to dislike it, I still find it haunting. Bernard Herrmann’s score radiates longing and loss as much as the visuals. Who else but Alfred Hitchcock would direct such an ode to necrophilia in the guise of popular entertainment? And the Oscar for the best film of 1958 went to … Gigi (with a record nine Oscar wins), about a young woman trained to be a prostitute for a rich guy. Oscar irrelevance is not a recent development.
On Sunday night, I’ll start with Rear Window and finish with Strangers on a Train. Do yourself a favor and do the same.