Rightwing Film Geek

Joe Queenan on Hitchcock

When I got home, I read the Hitchcock essay that I referred to in my last post. It was a piece written for Movieline by Joe Queenan and reprinted in his book “If You’re Talking to Me, Your Career Must Be in Trouble.”¹ I knew I had to wait to quote an excerpt from his essay as a separate post, because he made the point I wanted to make so much funnier than I could.

His point about Hitchcock, contra Ben Shapiro’s claim that he started with good premises but had no follow-through, is … well … the exact opposite. That Hitch began with ludicrous premises and made great films out of them. Here is Queenan, a wonderful film critic as humorists go:

It’s hard to look at SPELLBOUND today without chortling at its pop Freudianism, and the same is true of VERTIGO, REBECCA, NOTORIOUS and SUSPICION, all of which are wonderful motion pictures whose abiding appeal is not diminished by the fact that they are, at heart, really quite ridiculous stories.

Look at his subject matter. Most serious moviemakers will move heaven and earth to get to the point in their careers where they can film the important works of Western literature; JANE EYRE, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, MADAME BOVARY, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Hitchcock started out with writers like Daphne DuMaurier and worked his way down. His dalliances with the masters were few, far between and futile

bad books were what Hitchcock made good movies from. Hitchcock was always and forever in the alchemy business, taking what the English call “penny dreadfuls” — heavily plotted, convoluted thrillers — and turning them into visual masterpieces

one aspect of Hitchcock’s movies that has not received sufficient critical attention is the fundamentally idiotic nature of his stories. If you were Ingrid Bergman and your boss, the head of the Green Manor loony bin, told you he was stepping down and handing over the reins to a famous psychoanalyst no one had ever met or even seen a photograph of, wouldn’t you find that a bit strange? … If you were a comely young woman who had just spent 15 minutes chatting with the decidedly quirky Norman Bates, would you then strip to your black slip and brassiere and take a shower? If you were a timid dumpling being slowly driven insane by a psychotic housekeeper with overtly lesbian tendencies, mightn’t it have occurred to you to corner Laurence Olivier and say “Look, honey, if it’s all the same to you, couldn’t we just can that bitch?” … No, it’s all quite mad, isn’t it; and yet, so devilishly clever. Hitchcock simply had no equal in making the most absurd plot lines seem plausible, perhaps even realistic.

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¹ Blurbed by Dave Barry: “If you’re a fan of informed viciousness — and who isn’t — you will love this book.”

January 18, 2010 - Posted by | Ben Shapiro, Joe Queenan

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