3 of the Best Thrillers of All Time – Ronald Phillips New York
Movie buffs are an opinionated lot. One dares not mention Cecille B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments to a film fanatic like Ronald Phillips New York without expecting an argument about the relative merits of Charlton Heston as opposed to, say, Yul Brynner.
Despite the varied opinions, there are some movies in the Thriller genre that are universally acknowledged as classics. To borrow a term from the recording industry, these are “Certified Classics” and have been known to reduce even the most cynical to jelly when they appear on the screen.
These Thrillers, in chronological order, are:
The 39 Steps (1935)
Alfred Hitchcock’s first masterpiece, this film is still considered by many to be the quintessential Hitchcock thriller. Based on John Buchan’s novel, it stars Robert Donat as Richard Hannay, an Englishman who is falsely accused of murder while visiting the Scottish moors. No sooner has he cleared himself than he finds that someone else has been murdered in his flat and then that this woman was killed because she knew where a vital list of British spies could be found. He becomes involved in a cat-and-mouse game with foreign agents who are trying to get their hands on this list so they can pass it on to their bosses before England can decode it.
He manages to outwit them by using the “39 Steps” (a secret agent group), but only after several exciting chases around the Scottish countryside, including on foot, by train, by car, and even in a biplane.
The Thirty-Nine Steps has been remade several times, most recently as a color version starring Kenneth More which was released recently.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Hitchcock himself considered this film to be his finest work. It stars Joseph Cotten as Charles Oakley, who is visited by his nephew Charlie Newton (Teresa Wright) at Christmas time, only to find that she knows far more than she should about how her uncle’s former girlfriend met her death.
His suspicions aroused, he follows his niece back to Santa Rosa, where she reveals herself as an undercover agent for Scotland Yard. But before he can get out of Santa Rosa, he becomes the prime suspect in a series of murders.
The film is notable for Hitchcock’s use of “subjective tone,” wherein the protagonist experiences what Charlie is thinking and feeling—something that had never been done in this fashion previously.
Berlin Express (1948)
This highly successful murder mystery was later remade as Numbered Woman (1949), with Lawrence Tierney playing the part originated by Robert Ryan. The story begins aboard a train en route from Paris to Berlin, where ex-OSS agent Frank Fenton (Ryan) must transfer secret documents. After an unexplained killing on the train, the contents of Fenton’s briefcase are missing; he is forced to stay behind in Berlin after the others on the train have been evacuated.
In Berlin, he is taken captive by a Nazi organization led by a woman who turns out to be his former lover. He escapes and joins up with a French agent (Charles Korvin) in search of the missing documents. They finally find them being used as part of a plot to assassinate two major foreign leaders attending a peace conference in Paris.
Frank Lovejoy costars as an American journalist assisting Fenton and his companion uncover the conspiracy.