The Master of Suspense. Hitchcock. He was a master filmmaker, and one whose greatest work was often overlooked by the Academy. He lost Best Director five times. His only film that won Best Picture was 1940s Rebecca. Some of the greatest films of all time, including Rear Window, Vertigo, and Psycho, weren’t nominated for Best Picture. In his works, there are several brilliant performances that were also overlooked by the Academy. Here are some of the greatest Hitchcock performances that sadly got overlooked by the Academy.
Robert Walker, Strangers on a Train (1951)
1951 was a strong year for male performances. Humphrey Bogart finally won an Oscar for The African Queen, beating two iconic performances from Marlon Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Montgomery Clift (my personal favorite, A Place in the Sun). While I might never accept the fact that Clift didn’t win this year, and never received an Oscar at all, there is only one performance that could have won that year that I would find acceptable. Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train is one of the greatest performances in an Alfred Hitchcock film. Walker plays Bruno Antony, a rich psychopath who immediately ingratiates himself on Farley Granger’s tennis star, Guy Haines. Antony comes up with a plan for the perfect murder- Haines will kill Antony’s father, and Antony will kill Haines’s wife, allowing Haines to marry the woman he really loves. When Walker is introduced, he appears dapper and charming, if a bit clingy. We don’t realize his true madness until we see him with his mother, and hear him discuss his hatred of his father. Walker possesses a coldness as well, which allows him to murder a total stranger with intense hatred. Strangers on a Train seems to be completely overlooked when people discuss the great films of 1951, and that is tragic. More people need to see this gem, even if just to see Robert Walker’s chilling performance.
James Stewart: Vertigo (1958)
James Stewart often played charming men of integrity, as seen in his Frank Capra films. There is, however, a dark side to his characters. George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life is a terrific friend, loving husband and father, and responsible citizen. He is also a man we see reach the brink of desperation, and truly considers suicide. We are lucky that Alfred Hitchcock gave Stewart the opportunity to reach deeper into this darkness in Vertigo. As Scottie, Stewart plays a man haunted by witnessing the death of a fellow policeman. He develops vertigo, and a severe fear of heights. Retired from his job, he is hired privately to investigate Madeleine, the mysterious wife of an old friend. Scottie becomes obsessed with and falls in love with her. Stewart plays part of this role with his old “Jimmy Stewart” charm. He wants to protect this tragic woman, and even saves her life. This is the Jimmy Stewart that we all know and love. It’s not until he learns the truth about Madeleine that we realize how dark and obsessive Scottie really is. When it appears that Madeleine has committed suicide, he becomes even more obsessed with a woman who looks a great deal like her. Stewart still seems kind and protective, even though, by this point, his character is extremely creepy. When he pushes this new “Madeleine” to dye her hair and style it exactly like the dead woman, we start to feel uncomfortable. This is a side of Stewart not seen in any other film. At the finale of the film, we see a brutal side of him. Even though we understand his rage, he is still frightening. For playing this kind of role, and breaking away from his “great guy” image, Stewart deserved an Oscar nomination.
Anthony Perkins: Psycho (1960)
Norman Bates. Even people who haven’t seen Psycho know his name. Hitchcock used the novel, written by Robert Bloch, as his source material. The general plot of the film is similar to that of the book, but the character of Norman, as played by Anthony Perkins, is very different. In the novel, Bates is an unattractive, middle-aged man. He is very coarse and frightening. The brilliance of the film is the casting and performance of Anthony Perkins. Perkins is a young, slender, and very attractive man. When Marion Crane meets him at the Bates motel, he has a shy smile, and can’t bring himself to say the word “bathroom” when showing Crane her room. As they eat and discuss his mother, he seems like a sweet, loving son, concerned about his mother. Even when his temper flares, when it is suggested that maybe he put his mother away “someplace” he still reins in his anger. It is this charm that disarms us, and allows us to feel pity for him, and hope he will be safe, even with the turn-of-events in the film. The final moments of the film, with Perkins not saying a word, are chilling. In a year when Burt Lancaster finally won an Oscar, Jack Lemmon charmed us in The Apartment, it is wrong that Anthony Perkins wasn’t given any recognition. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is one of the greatest performances put on film.