Suspense & Style: Hitchcock’s Hot Summer Whodunits

A Girls’ Guide to Classic Hollywood: Part II

It’s been one long, hot summer so far, and the good news is, we’re only one-third of the way through! There’s plenty of time for a few more movie nights.

Continuing our star tour of the classics, allow me to present two films directed by master-of-suspense Alfred Hitchcock. Along with their director, these two movies have two talented women in common: Grace Kelly and Edith Head, the award-winning costume designer. Head, a close, personal friend of Hitchcock, received 8 Academy Awards (out of 35 nominations) over the course of her career, designing costumes for the biggest stars in dozens and dozens of films. Kelly was one of her favorites, and who can blame her? The fashion alone makes these movies worth a watch!

It’s tough to say which of his extensive collection is the best of Hitchcock’s career; they’re almost all excellent! For the purposes of this post, though, let’s stick with a summery theme:

Two hot movies in hot climates, each with its own twist of plot to quench your thirst for thrill.

Rear Window (1954)

Sometimes it’s too hot to do anything but people-watch. Confined to a wheelchair due to a broken leg, professional photographer, and determined bachelor, L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries passes the summertime by staring out the windows of his New York apartment. His neighbors live their lives across the courtyard in full view: a pair of newlyweds who keep the shades drawn, a sexy dancer who prefers to be less-than-dressed, a lonely older woman who talks to herself. Over time, Jeff notices a series of odd events in the home of a traveling salesman whose invalid wife vanishes overnight. Piecing together the facts and solving the alleged crime takes time and the help of a beautiful accomplice, Jeff’s girlfriend, fashion consultant Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly).

Suspense & Style: Hitchcock’s Hot Summer Whodunits

Jeff: Is this the same Lisa Fremont who never wears the same dress twice?
Lisa: Only because it’s expected of her.

Hitchcock’s mastery as a director may begin with his handling of actors in their scenes, but it has just as much to do with his handling of audiences and their points of view. In Rear Window, the viewer sits beside Jeff, a fellow voyeur, a conspiring peeping tom. Staring may be socially unacceptable, but would you do it anyway if you thought no one would catch you? And how would you feel were you to notice someone across the alley peering through binoculars back at you?

Suspense & Style: Hitchcock’s Hot Summer Whodunits

A reformed jewel thief is the primary suspect in a series of new burglaries in the south of France. John Robie, “The Cat” (Cary Grant), determines that the only way to prove his innocence is to anticipate the the new thief’s next move and get there first. “I’ll catch him with his hand in the jewel box!” With the help of an insurance salesman, Robie finds the perfect target: a wealthy American widow and her beautiful, refined daughter, Francie (Grace Kelly). Bemoaning the fact that her daughter is “too nice,” Francie’s mother says, “I never should have sent her to that finishing school; I think they finished her there.” But don’t be fooled by her perfect posture and exquisite fashion sense; Francie has a few tricks up her sleeve, too. The mystery, of course, is the identity of the new thief. But it’s also fun to wonder whether clever, mischievous Francie will be able to catch a thief for herself, as well.

The movie includes several impressive chase scenes, all of them leaving the audience holding its breath in the proverbial passenger seat of a getaway car. One of these sequences, with Kelly fast and reckless at the wheel on hairpin turns along the pink and gold cliffs near Cannes, is often cited as art foreshadowing life; Princess Grace would eventually die in a car crash in the Riviera in 1982.

Both of these movies are excellent candidates for a good girls’ night in. Just be sure to wear your most elegant pajamas!

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1 Comment

  • Reply August 3, 2012


    I adore Grace Kelly, Hitchcock, and both of these movies! Grace, in my opinion, is one of the prettiest, classiest actors Hollywood has ever seen, along with another Audrey I’m sure you’re familiar with. :)