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Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense

January 11, 2013 - April 24, 2013


“Hitchcock is one of the greatest inventors of form in the history of cinema.”—Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol

In the 2012 edition of the influential Sight and Sound critics’ poll, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo replaced Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane as the “greatest film of all time.” It was just the latest evidence of Hitchcock’s elevation in the cinephile canon, where he has become not a genre-bound Master of Suspense but, in Ian Christie’s words, “the Old Master.” A notion of mastery has long been central to the reputation of this filmmaker who declared that every film should “exist pictorially in the director’s mind from beginning to end” before shooting begins. Yet the Old Master moniker seems a touch too reverential for a director who often tweaked authority with comedy, and whose famous technical control gave form to uncontrollable emotions.

Born not long after cinema itself, Hitchcock (1899–1980) got his start in England as a titles designer for silent pictures; by the time he decamped for Hollywood in 1939, he was Britain’s most acclaimed director. For viewers more familiar with his American work of the 1940s and 1950s, this series is a chance to discover the delights of the British Hitchcock. Screenings continue through April, and seeing so many of his films together gives a vivid sense of the director’s particular preoccupations. The secret correspondences between the guilty and the so-called innocent; love and degradation; policemen and blondes—returning again and again to themes, motifs, and images, Hitchcock’s work doubles back on itself, like that spiral in the opening credits of Vertigo.

In the spring, in conjunction with the Silent Film Festival, we will present a complementary series of Hitchcock silents recently restored by the British Film Institute. Check back for details.

Juliet Clark

Friday, January 11, 2013
7:00 p.m. The 39 Steps
Alfred Hitchcock (U.K., 1935). The 39 Steps is one of the most satisfying of the British Hitchcocks, a thriller filled with wry humor and sophisticated romance. Robert Donat’s Richard Hannay is an innocent abroad, drawn along in a dangerous intrigue in part by his own desire to know too much. (87 mins)

Friday, January 11, 2013
8:45 p.m. Sabotage
Alfred Hitchcock (U.K., 1936). Sabotage is a prescient thriller that puts London on bomb alert well before the real siege of WWII. “The profoundest film of Hitchcock’s thriller period, and perhaps of his career”(Raymond Durgnat). (76 mins)

Saturday, January 12, 2013
6:30 p.m. The Man Who Knew Too Much
Alfred Hitchcock (U.K., 1934). A British couple on holiday in St. Moritz become unwitting pawns in international espionage when they are handed a message from a dying Secret Service agent. “Hitchcock in fine form weaving dry British humor into a story of heart-pounding suspense”(Leonard Maltin). (75 mins)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
7:00 p.m. Rebecca
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1940). Hitchcock’s first American film is a superbly polished adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s story of a young bride (Joan Fontaine) whose marriage is haunted by the spirit of her husband’s first wife, Rebecca. Costarring Laurence Olivier. (130 mins)

Friday, January 18, 2013
7:00 p.m. Young and Innocent
Alfred Hitchcock (U.K., 1937). A constable’s daughter falls in with a hapless writer (Derrick de Marney), falsely accused of murdering a movie star. Their search for the real killer crisscrosses the class categories of the ever-so-English countryside. A delightful British comedy-thriller renowned for “an abundance of poetic, funny, or terrifying shots” (Rohmer & Chabrol). (82 mins)

Friday, January 18, 2013
8:40 p.m. The Lady Vanishes
Alfred Hitchcock (U.K., 1938). On a transcontinental train, an elderly lady mysteriously vanishes, to the concern of one young woman—and hardly anyone else. Hitchcock’s seamless blend of humor and thrills is “directed with such skill and velocity that it has come to represent the quintessence of screen suspense” (Pauline Kael). (96 mins)

Friday, January 25, 2013
7:00 p.m. Rear Window
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1954). Dour photojournalist Jimmy Stewart sits with a broken leg by his window, watching the lives of his big-city neighbors played out in pantomime in Hitchcock’s brilliant meditation on cinema and voyeurism. With Grace Kelly, Raymond Burr, and Thelma Ritter. (114 mins)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
7:00 p.m. North by Northwest
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1959). Hitchcock dubbed this exhilarating comedy-thriller “my final word on the chase film.” Cary Grant is your basic grey-flannel-suited adman, until he is mistaken by the police for an assassin and by an international spy ring for a double agent. (136 mins)

Friday, February 1, 2013
9:00 p.m. Suspicion
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1941). Joan Fontaine is a shy, sensitive lass who marries a dashing gambler (Cary Grant), but begins to fear that he’s a murderer, in Hitchcock’s devilish thriller. “A supreme example of Grant's ability to be simultaneously charming and sinister, and of Hitchcock’s skill with neat expressionistic touches” (Time Out). (99 mins)

Friday, February 8, 2013
9:00 p.m. Saboteur
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1942). In Hitchcock's wartime thriller, Robert Cummings is a factory worker framed for espionage, battling time and the law to uncover the real saboteur. The script, cowritten by Dorothy Parker, keeps things moving from coast to coast, and is considered a practice run for North by Northwest. (108 mins)

Saturday, February 16, 2013
8:30 p.m. Strangers on a Train
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1951). A tennis star (Farley Granger) meets a stranger who offers to kill his unfaithful wife for him, as long as he then kills the stranger’s hated father, in Hitchcock’s polished adaptation (cowritten by Raymond Chandler) of a Patricia Highsmith novel. “A gripping, palm-sweating piece of suspense” (Variety). (101 mins)

Friday, February 22, 2013
9:00 p.m. Shadow of a Doubt
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1943). Joseph Cotten is the urbane Uncle Charlie, hiding out in the small-town home of his sister Emma in this blend of satire and mystery. Is Uncle Charlie the Merry Widow Killer hunted by the police, or is he innocent as he claims? (108 mins)

Friday, March 1, 2013
7:00 p.m. Spellbound
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1945). Analyst Ingrid Bergman probes the guilt-ridden psyche of Gregory Peck and finds clues to a murder in this Hitchcock whodunit. Dream sequences designed by Salvador Dalí. (111 mins)

Friday, March 1, 2013
9:10 p.m. Notorious
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1946). Trying to infiltrate a group of Nazis in Latin America, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman find themselves entangled in a cruel love affair. Hitchcock's polished, perverse thriller exploits an espionage plot to explore the nature of love and loyalty. (101 mins)

Sunday, March 3, 2013
5:00 p.m. Under Capricorn
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1949). Imported 35mm print! Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton star in this colonial gothic/romantic melodrama, “easily one of Hitchcock’s half-dozen greatest films . . . senselessly neglected just because it isn’t a thriller” (Dave Kehr). Cinematography by the legendary Jack Cardiff. (117 mins)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013
7:00 p.m. The Paradine Case
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1947). Italian actress Alida Valli stars as an elegant woman accused of killing her blind husband, with Gregory Peck the unhappily married lawyer hired to defend her. Per Hitchcock: “the degradation of a gentleman who becomes enamored of . . . a nymphomaniac.” With Charles Laughton and Louis Jourdan. (115 mins)

Friday, March 8, 2013
7:00 p.m. Rope
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1948). Hitchcock’s tale of two young men who attempt the perfect murder was infamously shot to resemble one long, continuous take. “Not merely a stunt that is justified by the extraordinary career that contains it, but one of the movies that makes that career extraordinary” (New York Times). (80 mins)

Friday, March 8, 2013
8:40 p.m. I Confess
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1953). Montgomery Clift is a priest who hears a killer’s confession and is himself accused of the crime in Hitchcock’s sober and often compelling reflection on crime, punishment, and forgiveness. Shot on location in Quebec City. (95 mins)

Sunday, March 10, 2013
5:00 p.m. Lifeboat
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1944). Imported 35mm print! Tallulah Bankhead and William Bendix are among the characters adrift on a lifeboat in the Atlantic during World War II in Hitchcock’s controversial wartime film, “a microcosm of the war” for the director. With short Bon Voyage. (122 mins)

Sunday, March 10, 2013
5:00 p.m. Lifeboat

Thursday, March 14, 2013
7:00 p.m. Vertigo
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1958). IB Tech print! Introduction by film scholar Doug Cunningham. Detective Jimmy Stewart combs the Bay Area looking for the secret behind Kim Novak’s beauty in Hitchcock’s sinister ode to voyeurism, death, and amorous fixation. Voted best film of all time in 2012 Sight and Sound poll. “Perhaps the finest film starring San Francisco” (San Francisco Chronicle). (128 mins)

Sunday, March 24, 2013
5:00 p.m. The Man Who Knew Too Much
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1956). This remake of Hitchcock’s own 1934 spy film stars Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day as an American couple caught up in a spy ring and an assassination attempt while visiting Technicolor Marrakech. “One of the suspense master’s best pictures” (San Francisco Chronicle). (120 mins)

Friday, April 5, 2013
7:00 p.m. The Wrong Man
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1956). Hitchcock adopts the semidocumentary fashion of film noir to spin off the frightening possibilities when an innocent man, New York jazz player Manny (Henry Fonda), is named as the guilty party in a holdup. (105 mins)

Thursday, April 11, 2013
7:00 p.m. The Birds
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1963). The Birds does for our fine feathered friends what Psycho did for showers, as a seaside community (Bodega Bay) is terrorized when seemingly normal birds turn suddenly and inexplicably malevolent. Noted for its rapid montage of attack sequences and Bernard Herrmann’s score, composed entirely of manipulated bird sounds. (120 mins)

Saturday, April 13, 2013
6:30 p.m. Rich and Strange
Alfred Hitchcock (U.K., 1931). New imported 35mm print! An inveterately bored couple use an unexpected inheritance to “suffer a sea change,” in Shakespeare’s words, and suffer they do, as one courts a gold-digger and the other a “gentleman” in Hitchcock’s early sound film, both suspense and comedy, both rich and very, very strange. (81 mins)

Saturday, April 13, 2013
8:15 p.m. Marnie
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1964). Sean Connery is a wealthy magnate attracted to icy blonde Tippi Hedren—not only for her beauty, but because she’s a thief. Hitchcock’s controversial psychological mystery, part thriller, was for the director an exploration of “the fetish idea.” (130 mins)

Friday, April 19, 2013
9:00 p.m. Foreign Correspondent
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1940). An apolitical reporter (Joel McCrea) in Europe during World War II gets drawn into an international espionage plot in Hitchcock’s quick-moving wartime entertainment, “the best spy thriller of all time” (American Cinematographer). None other than Josef Goebbels called it “a masterpiece of propaganda.” (120 mins)

Saturday, April 20, 2013
8:30 p.m. Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1960). Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, and a hotel shower star in Hitchcock’s legendary, groundbreaking thriller. One of the most influential horror films ever made. Score by Bernard Herrmann and title design by Saul Bass. (109 mins)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013
7:00 p.m. Frenzy
Alfred Hitchcock (U.K., 1972). A man accused of rape and murder plans a deadly revenge on the real killer in this disturbing London-set thriller. “Hitchcock at 73 proved he could still excite. . . . Although his vision of life here is bleak to the point of hopelessness, he is more comically macabre than ever” (Andrew Sarris). (116 mins)

Series curated by Susan Oxtoby. Thanks to the following for their assistance with this retrospective: Fleur Buckley, British Film Institute; Rob Stone, Library of Congress; Chris Chouinard, Park Circus; Paul Ginsburg, Universal; Marilee Womack, Warner Bros.; Kristen MacDonald, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Anita Monga, Stacey Wisnia, and Lucia Pier, San Francisco Silent Film Festival.