British director Alfred Hitchcock, known as the “master of suspense,” is one of the great directors of the 20th century. His career, which included 50 films, started in silents and ended with his final movie “Family Plot” in 1976. The Hitchcock twist? He appeared as a cameo in most of them.
Hitchcock’s films address the joint themes of evil and salvation, as well as tap into modern anxiety. Often, an ordinary person is suddenly thrust into extraordinary circumstances, forced to rise to the challenge. Or, the innocent are singled out for torment. In fact, his shots are framed to create fear and uncertainty as the camera mimics the viewer’s uneasy gaze.
Yet, that sly Hitchcockian humor is a key part of the entertainment.
Peacock, which debuted yesterday, offers both free and paid tiers. Happily, four Hitchcock films are available on the free tier, while 10 others are available to watch on Peacock Premium, which costs $4.99 a month with ads and $9.99 a month without ads. Some films, such as “Rear Window” and “Psycho,” are considered classics. However, not all the greats are here — “Notorious,” “The 39 Steps” and “North by Northwest” are noticeably absent.
These 14 selections are ranked in order of overall excellence, an eclectic example of his art:
1. Rear Window (Free Tier)
A broken leg forces a globetrotting photographer indoors. But it’s what he sees outside his Greenwich Village window — the good, the bad and the murderous — that counts. A study in curiosity and rear-window ethics starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter. Considered one of his masterpieces.
2. Shadow of a Doubt (Premium Tier)
A noir mystery set in a small city in Santa Rosa, California, Hitchcock deemed it his personal favorite. Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) comes to visit his sister and favorite niece (Teresa Wright). The charmer has a nasty habit of murdering rich widows — but who’d think ill of such a nice guy? The final scene is unforgettable, as is the doubling between virtue and venality.
3. Vertigo (Free Tier)
A haunting tale of obsession as a police officer tries, literally, to recreate a lost love. It combines elements of stalking, mind games and primal fears, shot against the backdrop of a gorgeous San Francisco. Kim Novak plays the object of Jimmy Stewart’s desire in one of Hitchcock’s masterworks.
4. Psycho (Free Tier)
Norman Bates and the Bates Motel. That should be enough to send shivers down your spine. Two words: Shower scene! There’s mystery, misdirection and unexpected twists — which will leave you on the edge of your seat.
5. The Man Who Knew Too Much (Premium Tier)
There are two versions, a 1934 black-and-white gem starring a menacing Peter Lorre, and this one, the 1956 Technicolor remake. Same premise. Here, an American couple has their son kidnapped in Morocco. But it’s Hitchcock, so nothing is as it seems. Spies are everywhere — and as the tension mounts, so does one of his best scenes. No dialogue, just the brilliant editing of a concert at the Albert Hall.
6. The Birds (Free Tier)
This horror film is set in a peaceful coastal town. Without warning, the people of Bodega Bay are inexplicably subjected to violent bird attacks. And as hysteria mounts, the town goes looking for a scapegoat.
7. Rope (Premium Tier)
Inspired, in part, by the infamous Leopold and Loeb case, it’s constructed as though the film is one shot, happening in real time. It’s the debate surrounding Nietzsche’s philosophy and the sheer arrogance of the lead killer — serving dinner on a chest that holds a body — that makes this crime thriller so disturbing.
8. Family Plot (Premium Tier)
This is Hitchcock’s final movie, but retains all the elements that made him fun to watch. Two couples are searching for a missing heir. One is a cab driver (a young Bruce Dern) and his psychic girlfriend, the other, a pair of sophisticated thieves and kidnappers. It’s got a few twists and a crazy dangerous out-of-control car ride — shades of “North by Northwest” — but an entertaining story line. It’s a fitting end to a half-century career.
9. Frenzy (Premium Tier)
The subject matter — a serial killer/rapist — is harrowing, but handled as both mystery and commentary. London women are terrorized by a man who escapes detection by implicating his friend. It’s creepy and unnerving — but it grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go.
10. Saboteur (Premium Tier)
Shot during WWII, the plot centers on Kane, an innocent man (Robert Cummings) wrongly accused of starting a fire, an act of sabotage that kills his friend. To prove his innocence, Kane goes on the run. It’s a film for its time — when anti-Americans conspirators were a genuine threat. Not one of the director’s best, but a respectable part of the canon.
11. Marnie (Premium Tier)
Critics are divided on this Sean Connery-Tippi Hedren film about a glamorous blonde thief and the man who falls for her. It delves into psychological waters and the male-female coupling gets dicey at times. Still, Hedren gives a solid performance as a woman trapped inside a childhood trauma.
12. The Trouble With Harry (Premium Tier)
A one-off for Hitchcock, “Harry” is a romantic comedy, not a classic Hitchcock whodunit. The dead body of Harry is found in a small Vermont village. But the story is about the resident’s odd reactions as they consider what to do with the corpse. It’s also Shirley MacLaine’s film debut.
13. Torn Curtain (Premium Tier)
It’s 1966 and this indifferent political thriller is about a fake defection to Russia to learn how much the Soviets know about anti-missile systems. The only plus here is Paul Newman, who plays a scientist/spy. It also has one of the most tortuous cinematic fight scenes, proving just how hard it is to kill someone.
14. Topaz (Premium Tier)
This espionage thriller is also set in the Cold War era, 1962, and involves a CIA agent utilizing a French agent and a Cuban official to confirm the Soviets are placing nuclear warheads in Cuba. It’s too confusing, larded with plots and subplots, like the existence of “Topaz,” a Soviet spy organization with French intelligence. Give it a pass.