Stanford Theatre Celebrates Hitchcock

'Hitchcock and Other Masters of Suspense' festival runs through the summer
Alfred Hitchcock's iconic suspense films, like 'North By Northwest,' are celebrated at the Stanford Theatre.

Publicists called him "the master of suspense," but Alfred Hitchcock certainly had competition. The Stanford Theatre's spring retrospective, "Hitchcock and Other Masters of Suspense," demonstrates the iconic director's range: from civilized movies of intrigue, to films that are absolutely blunt instruments.

From 1935's The 39 Steps (April 27-29) to 1954's North By Northwest (June 1-3) we see the sort of debonair thriller Hitchcock pioneered: all the ones where the villain has a polite exchange of views with the hero, before preparing to toss him out of an airplane. But this retrospective also offers J. Lee Thompson's harrowing Cape Fear (1962), the home-invasion movie that should have ended them all. There's nothing civilized about Cape Fear's rapacious jailbird Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), any more than there's anything holy about the mad preacher Mitchum plays in The Night of the Hunter (April 25-26).

The two-month-long fest includes 38 films—ranging in dates as early as 1931's Frankenstein (April 20-22) to 1966's glossy Arabesque (May 16-17). Arabesque and Charade (May 16-17) are examples of Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) considering the the 1960's spy film as a musical carried out by different means. The modes are as different as the French Riviera swank of Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (May 25-27) and a double bill by H.G. Clouzot, France's most cold-sweat-inducing director.

Clouzot's The Wages of Fear (June 6-7) was given an impressive remake by William Friedkin as Sorcerer. The original is even more brutal. A team of no-hopers stuck far from Paris have their first job offer in a long time: to pilot truckloads of rotted, unstable nitroglycerin over bad roads. As a driver observes, hit a bump and your testicles will be hanging in the trees like cherries.

Compared to this essential drama of man's fate, Clouzot's Diabolique is almost a chamber drama. At a slimy boarding school, a wife (Vera Clouzot) and a mistress (Simone Signoret) are both sick to death of the petty tyrant of a headmaster whom they share. They decide to drown him... but then the body vanishes. The source authors, a pair of writers known as Boileau-Narcejac, later wrote the source work for Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Fritz Lang's (Metropolis) cynicism and paranoia matched Hitchcock's sympathies as few directors did. His Ministry of Fear (April 18-19) is about a team of Nazis pursuing an innocent man (Ray Milland) through blacked-out wartime England; the climax is lit only with the light from a bullet hole piercing a door.

On Dangerous Ground (May 2-3) is Nicholas Ray's astonishing film noir about a vicious LAPD cop (Robert Ryan) on the edge of breakdown who is sent deep into snow country to apprehend a subject—there he falls for a blind lady (Ida Lupino) who brings back his humanity.

Ultimately there are 16 films here by Hitchcock, canonical viewing for the film scholar, also as much fun to watch as any movies ever made. Strangers on a Train and Shadow of a Doubt (May 11-13) is the pairing to see first if you've never seen a Hitchcock film. Strangers stars Robert Walker as Bruno, the louche murderer who cooks up an ingenious way to take care of annoying relatives. And there are few movies of betrayal as strong as Shadow of a Doubt, about the troubled friendship between a small town girl (Teresa Wright) and her namesake uncle (Joseph Cotten) who is perhaps a serial killer. Notorious (May 4-6) is a spy film as cold as a le Carré novel, with Grant as a self-loathing U.S. agent pimping out a Florida party girl (Ingrid Bergman). The Birds is the blueprint for all zombie movies—someone could compare and contrast shots of the attacking seagulls pecking their way into a makeshift bunker with the assault of the zombies in Night of the Living Dead.

There's a meme at large, a Maya Angelou quote: "When someone tells you who they are, believe them." Not so fast, in Hitchcock's case. He marketed himself as a tranquil, honest businessman in the field of surprises. The undertones in his work are anything but facile. New viewings make one marvel at the strangeness, the matchless craftsmanship and the influence he had on generations of filmmakers.

Hitchcock and Other Masters of Suspense
Apr 6-Jun 10
Stanford Theatre, Palo Alto

Find Movie Theaters & Showtimes

Zip Code or City:   Radius: Theaters: