Friday, February 12, 2010

Hitchcock's Ten Best Scenes

This list could obviously be much, much longer. But for the sake of argument here are my top ten scenes from Hitch.

10. The final scene from The Birds (1963) Pure silence as the few survivors skedaddle out of town. What remains are birds, the triumph of nature over civilization.

9. The opening scene in Strangers on a Train (1951)Since I picked an ending scene, here's an opening one. Hitchcock cuts between two pairs of feet running for a train, then edits in the intersecting tracks to create the perfect visual metaphor for the film to come.

8. The windmill sequence in Foreign Correspondent (1940)A windmill in Holland that turns the wrong way. Joel McCrea, playing intrepid reporter, John Jones, enters this seemingly innocuous space and discovers a spy ring. My favorite example of something ordinary in a Hitchcock film hiding something sinister.

7. The auction scene in North by Northwest (1959)I like this scene so much more than the crop-duster scene. In it Roger Thornhill gets himself arrested in order to escape the clutches of Vandamn. It's the most remarkable combination of humor (Cary Grant is hysterical), suspense, and romance (there's great electricity between Grant and Eva Marie Saint).

6. Mrs. Danvers burns down Manderley in Rebecca (1940)
Hauntingly beautiful. The glow of Manderley in the distance, then the shots of Mrs. Danvers running through the burning building. Iconic images.

5. The first appearance of Madeleine in Vertigo (1958)
Jimmy Stewart sits at the bar in Ernie's Restaurant and watches as Kim Novak, lit almost as though she were already a ghost, emerges from the shocking red wallpaper.

4. Lars Thorwald peers back in Rear Window (1954)
Grace Kelly has just been caught in the murderer's apartment across the way and Jimmy Stewart can only watch helplessly. When the cops arrive she signals that she's wearing the dead wive's wedding ring. Pan to Raymond Burr, who looks from the ring directly across the way at Stewart, and the audience. Brilliance.

3. The shower scene in Psycho (1960)
Not so much for the scene itself, although it is of course one of the best shot and edited murder sequences ever put on film, but for Hitchcock's willingness to kill off the heroine of the film before the halfway mark. A total shock that changed cinema forever.

2. The crofter and his wife in The 39 Steps (1935)
Richard Hannay is on the run in the Scottish Highlands when he spends a night at the house of a miserable, money-hungry crofter and his sad wife, played beautifully by Peggy Ashcroft. It's a quintessential Hitchcock scene, in which the audience knows the many layers of what each character is feeling, and the suspense and drama emerges from that knowledge. It's complex, frightening, and most importantly, an emotional moment, in which we are given a brief glimpse into a tragic life.

1. The kiss outside the wine cellar in Notorious (1946) Much like the sequence in The 39 Steps, this mini-masterpiece in Notorious, in which spies Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman search through the winecellar for proof of plutonium and then kiss when they are caught by Bergman's husband, played by Claude Rains, is set up by its multiple layers. The kiss is both a ploy, and completely real. Claude Rains' shame on watching the act, exacerbated by the presence of his servant, makes you wonder which is worse, the sexual betrayal or the political one. It all comes together in this one scene, where the physical manifestation of love suddenly trumps politics, danger, and identity.


  1. I think it is radical, though, to choose a different scene besides the crop duster scene. I don't think the one you chose is better. I mean, its just different and great in a different way. Its tough because North By Northwest is such an amazing movie*

    But...the scene there from Rear Window....amazing. Just amazing. But then again if I had to choose my favorite Hitchcock movie that would be it.

    They are all good choices, really.

    *(which, obviously, can be said about a whole host of Hitchcock movies. This must have been hard to narrow down.)

  2. The crop duster scene, on the big screen, for the first time viewer, was probably amazing, but for some reason, it totally bores me now. There are no layers. It's just a man in a field with a plane, which is what makes it awesome in the first place, but that's all there is--doesn't do it for me anymore.

  3. The playground scene in The Birds probably ranks just outside the top ten. Hitch had already established the kind of deadly threat the birds posed to Bodega Bay residents, but to have them mass outside a school while innocent kids were singing inside?