Every pair of married lovebirds has to ask: if you had to do it all over, would you get married again? The luminescent Carole Lombard asks Robert Montgomery that very question and he responds “no,” leaving us all to wonder if his eyes, brain, and loins are still in functioning order. It turns out that a paperwork glitch grants him his wish—they’re not legally wed after all, and Carole hands him his hat in high dudgeon, giving him no choice but to woo her back. It certainly seems improbable that this marital conundrum is brought to you by cynical master Alfred Hitchcock, but we should be so lucky as to still have romantic comedies like this: you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Montgomery try to punch himself in the nose, or Lombard handle acres of prime slapstick dialogue with the fierce energy of a tornado. A caveat: Mr. & Mrs. Smith is an anniversary movie only for those who would answer that question—“Would you marry me all over again?”—with an emphatic yes. Otherwise, your yearly celebration of conjugal bliss might end in separate bedroom assignments.
Alfred Hitchcock’s unassailable Gothic classic is merely the first of his many biopsies on marriage and the secret poisoning within them. Filled with superb set pieces and supporting performances, it all boils down to Joan Fontaine’s nameless heroine, nervously thrust into both an aristocratic milieu and an uncommunicative union she has no business occupying. Reportedly, Hitchcock (with the help of costar Laurence Olivier) subtly abused Fontaine on the set of Rebecca, a ploy that not only made her performance realer than real, but made the entire film, inside and out, a working metaphor for a dysfunctional marriage.
Vertigo is San Francisco’s house movie, so famously entangled in the city’s landmarks that for years now, tourists have easily found guided tours of the places featured in the film, in the order in which they’re seen. Of course, the substance of the film is something else—James Stewart, two Kim Novaks, a ghost, a fear of heights, and a psychosexual obsession so subtly but clearly delineated by director Alfred Hitchcock that this film remains one of the most perverse in Hollywood history.
Like you, James Stewart is laid up—with an absurdly phallic leg cast—and so, bored, he spies on the movie-like dramas unrolling in his neighbors’ apartment windows, until one of them seems to become a murder mystery (viewed, as they usually are, from a safe, dark distance). One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most valuable essays on discomfiture and audience implication. It’s not a celebration of healing per se, but being helpless has never been so riveting.