Lindsay Grossman
Updated Aug 13, 2015 @ 12:54 pm

Today marks what would have been director Alfred Hitchcock’s 116th birthday. In his lifetime, he made some of the greatest films of all time. He knew how to thrill audiences and understood that humor and romance were equally important. Whenever I see his films listed on top movie roundups, it’s always the same ones: Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and Rear Window. While those are all epic, they are not my favorites. I have a particular fondness for the underrated Hitchcock, his earlier movies that set the tone for his more renown works. So to honor his birthday, here are a few of the lesser known films every Hitchcock fan should watch, ASAP.

The Lady Vanishes! (1938)

This might very well be my favorite Hitchcock film. Made in 1938, the film was one of the director’s last British productions. I first saw it in my teens and instantly fell in love. Hitchcock chose leads that were about to become huge British stars: Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave.

It’s a simple concept. Lockwood’s character is taking the train, on her way to her wedding. An elderly woman helps her into the train after she’s bumped on the head and they sit next to each other. When Margaret Lockwood wakes up from a nap, the woman is gone and everyone around her insists that she was never there to begin with. With the help of Redgrave’s character, she figures out what’s really going on.

There’s romance, suspense and intrigue. And it all takes place on a train, as all classic thrillers should.

Young and Innocent (1936)

Made one year before The Lady Vanishes!, Young and Innocent (also known as The Girl Was Young) is another one of my favorites. I think it’s partly because I related to its charming lead, played by Nova Pilbeam. Don’t you just love her name? She was 18 at the time she shot this film, but you wouldn’t know it. She projects maturity and poise, playing Erica, a policeman’s daughter who befriends an escaped convict. Her co-star, the escaped convict, Robert Driscoll, was played by the handsome and witty, Derrick De Marney.

There’s lots of hijinks to be had, what with Erica hiding him from her policeman father and helping clear him of his crimes. This film could serve as a template for the later Hitchcock films, except this one focuses on the female perspective – always a good thing.

Do yourself a favor and watch the full film, now in the public domain, right here.

Strangers on a Train (1951)

By 1951, Hitchcock was already becoming a breakout director in Hollywood. And that’s when he starts ratcheting up the creepy factor, in a way Hitchcock only knows how to do. This film is eerie—it terrified me the first time I saw it. Still, what Hitchcock understood was that true suspense comes from situations that could really happen. The premise of this film surrounds a crazy idea between two strangers who meet on a train: what if they each committed a murder for the other? When one of them does commit the murder, the other is left with a deadly problem. In Strangers, one of the characters is shaded by a twisted relationship with his mother, a plot point that paved the way for a later Hitchcock scene-stealer. Norman Bates, heard of him?

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

One of Hitchcock’s best films, as well as one of his most overlooked, The Man Who Knew Too Much was actually a remake of Hitchcock’s earlier film of the same name. Starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day, this story is absorbing from the get-go. Stewart’s character stumbles upon an assassination attempt, and as a result, his son is kidnapped. So Stewart and Day spend the rest of the film trying to find him. I think its pretty safe to say, this is more than just a carbon copy of its 1930s predecessor. (The cast alone is makes it a classic). Also, it happens to feature one of my favorite songs sung by the amazing Doris Day: “Que Sera Sera.” The lyrics are my happy place.

(Images via Universal Pictures)