He’s the hyper-Homer of modern anxieties, the reigning champ of theorized and cross-examined pop cinema, but Hitchcock’s work—
substantially represented in Film Forum’s Essential Hitchcock retro, beginning its four-and-a-half week blitz this Friday—might best be taken as a half-century-long river of unsettling questions and complacency persecution. Everyone has fave points of immersion; here’re some of mine:
The 39 Steps (1935): “What are the 39 Steps?!” Mr. Memory, in agonizing close-up, helpless in the throes of his cognitive gift.
Secret Agent (1936): We thought it was soundtrack atmosphere, but it was only a corpse slumped on the organ keys.
Suspicion (1941): Cary Grant, lying through half-lidded eyes: How could anyone trust him again?
Lifeboat (1944): The slow, almost postcoital withdrawal from the boat’s gunwale for all concerned after they had, en masse, thrown Walter Slezak overboard.
Dial M for Murder (1954): The scissors. He had to fall on the scissors.
Rear Window (1954): Raymond Burr sees the ring, and looks right up into the binoculars/ camera: Hollywood cinema’s premier moment of voyeuristic jeopardy.
The Wrong Man (1956): The bank tellers, electrified with fearful certainty.
Psycho (1960): Janet Leigh’s boss passing in front of her car, looking at her, then looking back again: Bernard Herrmann’s thum, thum . . . thum-thum!
The Birds (1963): ” . . . and they covered her . . . ” Suzanne Pleshette’s tattered body, legs splayed up the steps.