In 1939, Hitchcock was asked to list his ten favorite films and he obliged with a very interesting selection. Not only were the films considerably happier and more innocent than what we think of as Hitchcockian fare but they were also 90% silent. Ha! Take that, talkies!
It has been suggested that Hitchcock chose predominantly American films in order to ingratiate himself with his new employers. If that was the case, why didn’t he choose newer films? It seems odd to select a predominantly silent movie list at a time when the art was seen as creaky and corny. Other historians think he chose the list at random. That may be the case but these are the films he had floating around his brain? I think the selection reveals a lot about Hitch, don’t you?
Anyway, let’s take a look at that list. Of the films, one is a talkie, two are missing and presumed lost and the other seven not only survive, six of them have also been released on home media. Hurray for us!
(In alphabetical order. Click on film’s title to read my full review.)
The Enchanted Cottage (1924): Hitch could be sentimental, as is shown by this extremely sensitive romance about an injured veteran and a homely village woman. The pair of them discover that their honeymoon cottage is enchanted and that they have been transformed to reflect their inner beauty. Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy star.
Forbidden Fruit (1921): Hitch likes DeMille pictures, especially modern Cinderellas. Also, crime. This is one of the modern romances with storybook/historical flashbacks that were DeMille’s trademark in the late 1910s- mid-1920s. Agnes Ayres of The Sheik fame stars as a seamstress who poses as a lady just as her burglar husband is planning to rob the mansion where she is staying. Mostly notable for its lavish see-through Cinderella ball scene.
The Gold Rush (1925): Hitch likes Chaplin, hardly surprising as everyone likes Chaplin. The Gold Rush is also one of Chaplin’s darker silents. It includes theft, murder and cannibalism. Tee hee! And, yes, it is indeed the one with the bread roll dance. As an added bonus, I also cover Chaplin’s sound reissue of the film and the controversy surrounding it. Ooo, controversy!
The Last Command (1928): Hitch likes Emil Jannings. He also likes beautiful cinematography and one of the best finales of the silent era. This is yet another Russian-themed romance from 1920s Hollywood. William Powell plays a supporting roles, as does Evelyn Brent, though the latter basically just shouts or scowls the whole time. The finale lives up to expectations (I shall reveal no more) but the middle bits are kind of meh.
Saturday Night (1922): Hitch really loves DeMille pictures, especially this forgotten fractured fairy tale about what happens after Happily Ever After. Saturday Night is often dismissed as lesser DeMille but don’t miss it! It’s about a rich couple and a poor couple who play swapsies and end up married to one another. Chaos ensues as the culture clash that was covered over by the heat of infatuation comes to the surface.
Scaramouche (1923): Hitch likes swashbucklers, exquisitely shot. Also, murder. This was the film that made Ramon Novarro a star and he earned it! It is easily his best performance and he absolutely kills in his French Revolution duds. The supporting performances are equally impressive, the movie looks great… Why are you still here? Go see it!
Variety (1925): Hitch likes Emil Jannings (again!), tales of jealousy and murder, as well as the unchained camera. This is the most obviously Hitchcockian of Hitch’s picks. Jannings plays a veteran trapeze artist who is overwhelmed by jealousy when his much younger wife starts stepping out on him. Recently restored, this German film now includes a prologue that had previously been censored.
Hitchcock’s lone talkie choice was I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, a 1932 Paul Muni vehicle that explores and exposes the abuses and corruption of chain gangs in the American south. Intense stuff with plenty of grit, very much in the 1930s Warner Bros. style.
Missing and presumed lost:
Sentimental Tommy (1921): Hitch likes rags-to-riches stories, director John S. Robertson and leading lady May MacAvoy. (No copies are known to exist. Check your attics!)
The Isle of Lost Ships (1923): Hitch likes stories of falsely accused men on the run. This is shocking. It stars Milton Sills and Anna Q. Nilsson, who were so good together in Adam’s Rib. Want! (No copies are known to exist. Check your attics!)
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Rereading your review of Saturday Night, I think I discovered something dumber than naming an Irish character Shamrock O’Day. What about naming an Arab character Ramadan like In Son of the Sheik lol?
But yeah, Hitch’s picks are excellent. All of the ones I have watched were marvelous.
Or Clara Bow being named “Hula” in, um, “Hula”
Yeah, silent era naming practices were, um… But Hitch’s taste is splendid!
I’m surprised that he didn’t list a Fritz Lang movie. I’ve seen a couple of places list either Destiny or M as Hitchcock’s favorite film. I wonder if that’s just an unfounded rumor that gets spread around because it fits the narrative of what we would expect from Hitchcock.
Well, I know my favorite films change over the years. It stands to reason that Hitch’s taste would change too. This is from the New York Sun. Maybe they caught him in a weird mood. 😉
A very interesting list! Some of the specific films are surprising (not that I’ve seen many of them), but it makes sense that Hitchcock admired silents, since his own work is so heavily visual. It reminds me of a quote from François Truffaut in 1962: “If, overnight, the cinema had to do without its soundtrack and become once again a silent art, then many directors would be forced into unemployment, but, among the survivors, there would be Alfred Hitchcock and everyone would realize at last that he is the greatest film director in the world.” Thanks for sharing this!
Glad you enjoyed! I found Hitchcock’s DeMille selection to be particularly interesting. We all admire what we can’t have and Hitch’s attempt at the DeMille-style hedonistic romantic comedy (Champagne) landed with a thud.
This is this is an interesting list for sure. Love the Gold Rush because I have fond memories of seeing it with my dad and both of us laughing with the cabin scene. Emil Jannings as a former trapeze artist?? How think we’re the ropes?:)
Yeah, Jannings was not exactly the most convincing as an acrobat but as a murderously jealous husband? Oh yeah!
That Truffaut quote is especially interesting because so many non-silent film watchers assume movies are somehow deficient without spoken dialogue and sound effects. I once read a paper in which someone said “sound is important because before that all they had was [GASP!!1] silent movies.” Moving images without sound are still movies. Vice versa? Not at all.
But yes, it comes as no surprise that Hitchcock was enamored of silent film. His greatest films told story predominantly through image, Vertigo especially so. It reminds me of the 2001: A Space Odyssey episode of Renegade Cut where the host Leon Thomas states we tend to be more dialogue focused then image focused when watching movies nowadays and how this is not the way to go when dealing with cinema.
Agreed! Every film studies class needs a sign on the wall that says “Silent Movies are not Talkies without Sound”
I think this attitude is the key to the problems with most modern silent films and their 1:1 line of dialogue to title card ratio. Tell the story visually, people!
Very interesting list! I’m glad The Gold Rush is among it
Thank you! Yes, Hitch had great taste 🙂
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