Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock Whelan (13 August 1899 – 29 April 1980) was an English filmmaker and producer, who pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in his native United Kingdom in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood. In 1956 he became an American citizen while retaining his British citizenship.
Hitchcock directed more than fifty feature films in a career spanning six decades. Often regarded as the greatest British filmmaker, he came first in a 2007 poll of film critics in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper, which said: "Unquestionably the greatest filmmaker to emerge from these islands, Hitchcock did more than any director to shape modern cinema, which would be utterly different without him. His flair was for narrative, cruelly withholding crucial information (from his characters and from us) and engaging the emotions of the audience like no one else. MovieMaker has hailed him as the most influential filmmaker of all time.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Pre-war British career
- 3 Hollywood
- 4 Themes, plot devices and motifs
- 5 Technical innovations
- 6 Signature appearances in his films
- 7 Psychology of characters
- 8 Style of working
- 9 Awards and honours
- 10 Fame
- 11 Television and books
- 12 Filmography
- 13 Frequently cast actors and actresses
- 14 Frequent collaborators
- 15 External links
Early life[edit | edit source]
Hitchcock mosaic at Leytonstone Station.Hitchcock was born on 13 August 1899 in Leytonstone, London, the second son and youngest of three children of William Hitchcock (1862–1914), a greengrocer and poulterer, and Emma Jane Hitchcock (née Whelan; 1863–1942). He was named after his father's brother, Alfred. His family was mostly Roman Catholic, with his mother and paternal grandmother being of Irish extraction. Hitchcock was sent to the Jesuit Classic school St Ignatius' College in Stamford Hill, London. He often described his childhood as being very lonely and sheltered, a situation compounded by his obesity.
Hitchcock said he was sent by his father on numerous occasions to the local police station with a note asking the officer to lock him away for ten minutes as punishment for behaving badly. This idea of being harshly treated or wrongfully accused is frequently reflected in Hitchcock's films.
Hitchcock's mother would often make him address her while standing at the foot of her bed, especially if he behaved badly, forcing him to stand there for hours. These experiences would later be used for the portrayal of the character of Norman Bates in his movie Psycho.
Hitchcock's father died when he was 14. In the same year, Hitchcock left St. Ignatius to study at the London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation in Poplar, London. After graduating, he became a draftsman and advertising designer with a cable company.
During this period, Hitchcock became intrigued by photography and started working in film production in London, working as a title-card designer for the London branch of what would become Paramount Pictures. In 1920, he received a full-time position at Islington Studios with its American owner, Famous Players-Lasky and their British successor, Gainsborough Pictures, designing the titles for silent movies. His rise from title designer to film director took five years.
Pre-war British career[edit | edit source]
Hitchcock's last collaboration with Graham Cutts led him to Germany in 1924. The film Die Prinzessin und der Geiger (UK title The Blackguard, 1925), directed by Cutts and co-written by Hitchcock, was produced in the Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam near Berlin. Hitchcock also worked as an art-director on the set of F. W. Murnau's film Der letzte Mann (1924). He was very impressed with Murnau's work and later used many techniques for the set design in his own productions. In his book-length interview with François Truffaut, Hitchcock/Truffaut (Simon and Schuster, 1967), Hitchcock also said he was influenced by Fritz Lang's film Destiny (1921).
Hitchcock's first few films faced a string of bad luck. His first directing project came in 1922 with the aptly-titled Number 13. However, the production was canceled due to financial problems and the few scenes that were finished at that point were apparently lost. In 1925, Michael Balcon of Gainsborough Pictures gave Hitchcock another opportunity for a directing credit with The Pleasure Garden made at UFA Studios in Germany. Unfortunately, The film was a commercial flop. Next, Hitchcock directed a drama called The Mountain Eagle (released under the title Fear o' God in the United States). This film was also eventually lost. In 1926, Hitchcock's luck changed with his first thriller, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. The film, released in January 1927, was a major commercial and critical success in the United Kingdom. As with many of his earlier works, this film was influenced by Expressionist techniques. Hitchcock had witnessed first-hand in Germany. Some commentators regard this piece as the first truly "Hitchcockian" film, incorporating such themes as the "wrong man".
Following the success of The Lodger, Hitchcock hired a publicist to help enhance his growing reputation. On 2 December 1926, Hitchcock married his assistant director, Alma Reville at the Brompton Oratory. Their only child, a daughter Patricia, was born on 7 July 1928. Alma was to become Hitchcock's closest collaborator. She wrote some of his screenplays and (though often uncredited) worked with him on every one of his films.
In 1929, Hitchcock began work on his tenth film Blackmail. While the film was still in production, the studio, British International Pictures (BIP), decided to make it one of the UK's first sound pictures. With the climax of the film taking place on the dome of the British Museum, Blackmail began the Hitchcock tradition of using famous landmarks as a backdrop for suspense sequences. In the PBS series The Men Who Made The Movies, Hitchcock had explained how he used early sound recording as a special element of the film, emphasizing the word "knife" in a conversation with the woman suspected of murder. During this period, Hitchcock directed segments for a BIP musical film revue Elstree Calling (1930) and directed a short film featuring two Film Weekly scholarship winners, An Elastic Affair (1930). Another BIP musical revue, Harmony Heaven (1929), reportedly had minor input from Hitchcock, but his name does not appear in the credits.
In 1933, Hitchcock was once again working for Michael Balcon at Gaumont-British Picture Corporation. His first film for the company, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), was a success and his second, The 39 Steps (1935), is often considered one of the best films from his early period. This film was also one of the first to introduce the concept of the "MacGuffin", a plot device around which a whole story seems to revolve, but ultimately has nothing to do with the true meaning or ending of the story. In The 39 Steps, the Macguffin is a stolen set of design plans. (Hitchcock told French director François Truffaut: "There are two men sitting in a train going to Scotland and one man says to the other, 'Excuse me, sir, but what is that strange parcel you have on the luggage rack above you?', 'Oh', says the other, 'that's a Macguffin.', 'Well', says the first man, 'what's a Macguffin?', The other answers, 'It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.', 'But', says the first man, 'there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands.', 'Well', says the other, 'then that's no Macguffin.'").
Hitchcock's next major success was in 1938 with his film The Lady Vanishes, a clever and fast-paced film about the search for a kindly old Englishwoman Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), who disappears while on board a train in the fictional country of Vandrika (a thinly-veiled version of Nazi Germany).
By 1938, Hitchcock had become known for his observation, "Actors are cattle". He once said that he first made this remark as early as the late 1920s, in connection to stage actors who were snobbish about motion pictures. However, Michael Redgrave said that Hitchcock had made the statement during the filming of The Lady Vanishes. The phrase would haunt Hitchcock for years to come and would result in an incident during the filming of his 1941 production of Mr. & Mrs. Smith where Carole Lombard brought some heifers onto the set — with name tags of Lombard, Robert Montgomery, and Gene Raymond, the stars of the film — to surprise the director. Hitchcock said he was misquoted: "I said 'Actors should be treated like cattle'."
At the end of the 1930s, David O. Selznick signed Hitchcock to a seven-year contract beginning in March 1939, when the Hitchcocks moved to the United States.
Hollywood[edit | edit source]
The suspense and the gallows humor that had become Hitchcock's trademark in film continued to appear in his productions. The working arrangements with Selznick were less than optimal. Selznick suffered from perennial money problems, and Hitchcock was often displeased with Selznick's creative control over his films. In a later interview, Hitchcock summarised the working relationship thus: [Selznick] was the Big Producer. [...] Producer was king, The most flattering thing Mr. Selznick ever said about me - and it shows you the amount of control - he said I was the "only director" he'd "trust with a film". Selznick loaned Hitchcock to the larger studios more often than producing Hitchcock's films himself. In addition, Selznick, as well as fellow independent producer Samuel Goldwyn, made only a few films each year, so Selznick did not always have projects for Hitchcock to direct. Goldwyn had also negotiated with Hitchcock on a possible contract, only to be outbid by Selznick. Hitchcock was quickly impressed with the superior resources of the American studios compared to the financial restrictions he had frequently encountered in England.
Hitchcock's fondness for his homeland resulted in numerous American films set in, or filmed in, the United Kingdom, including his penultimate film, Frenzy.
With the prestigious Selznick picture Rebecca in 1940, Hitchcock made his first American movie, set in England and based on a novel by English author Daphne du Maurier. The film starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. This Gothic melodrama explores the fears of a naive young bride who enters a great English country home and must adapt to the extreme formality and coldness she finds there. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1940. The statuette was given to Selznick, as the film's producer. The film did not win the Best Director award for Hitchcock.
There were additional problems between Selznick and Hitchcock. Selznick was known to impose very restrictive rules upon Hitchcock who was forced to shoot the film as Selznick wanted. At the same time, Selznick complained about Hitchcock's "goddamn jigsaw cutting", which meant that the producer did not have nearly the leeway to create his own film as he liked, but had to follow Hitchcock's vision of the finished product. The film Rebecca was the fourth longest of Hitchcock's films, at 130 minutes, exceeded only by The Paradine Case (132 minutes), North by Northwest (136 minutes), and Topaz (142 minutes).
Hitchcock's second American film, the European-set thriller Foreign Correspondent (1940), based on Vincent Sheean's Personal History and produced by Walter Wanger, was nominated for Best Picture that year. The movie was filmed in the first year of World War II and was apparently inspired by the rapidly-changing events in Europe, as fictionally covered by an American newspaper reporter portrayed by Joel McCrea. The film mixed actual footage of European scenes and scenes filmed on a Hollywood back lot. In compliance with Hollywood's Production Code censorship, the film avoided direct references to Germany and Germans.
1940s films[edit | edit source]
Hitchcock's films during the 1940s were diverse, ranging from the romantic comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) to the courtroom drama The Paradine Case (1947), to the dark and disturbing film noir Shadow of a Doubt (1943).
In September 1940, the Hitchcocks purchased the 200-acre (0.81 km) Cornwall Ranch, located near Scotts Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Ranch became the primary residence of the Hitchcocks for the rest of their lives, although they kept their Bel Air home. Suspicion (1941) marked Hitchcock's first film as a producer as well as director. Hitchcock used the north coast of Santa Cruz, California for the English coastline sequence. This film was to be actor Cary Grant's first time working with Hitchcock, and it was one of the few times that Grant would be cast in a sinister role. Joan Fontaine won Best Actress Oscar and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for her "outstanding performance in Suspicion". "Grant plays an irresponsible husband whose actions raise suspicion and anxiety by his wife (Fontaine)". In what critics regard as a classic scene, Hitchcock uses a light bulb to illuminate what might be a fatal glass of milk that Grant is bringing to his wife. In the book upon which the movie is based (Before the Fact by Francis Iles), the Grant character is a killer, but Hitchcock and the studio felt Grant's image would be tarnished by that ending. Though a homicide would have suited him better, as he stated to François Truffaut, Hitchcock settled for an ambiguous finale.
Saboteur (1942) was the first of two films that Hitchcock made for Universal, a studio where he would continue his career during his later years. Hitchcock was forced to use Universal contract players Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane, both known for their work in comedies and light dramas. Breaking with Hollywood conventions of the time, Hitchcock did extensive location filming, especially in New York City, and depicted a confrontation between a suspected saboteur (Cummings) and a real saboteur (Norman Lloyd) atop the Statue of Liberty.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Hitchcock's personal favourite of all his films and the second of the early Universal films, was about young Charlotte "Charlie" Newton (Teresa Wright), who suspects her beloved uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) of being a serial murderer. Critics have said that in its use of overlapping characters, dialogue, and closeups it has provided a generation of film theorists with psychoanalytic potential, including Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek. Hitchcock again filmed extensively on location, this time in the Northern California city of Santa Rosa, California, during the summer of 1942. The director showcased his own personal fascination with crime and criminals when he had two of his characters discuss various ways of killing people, to the obvious annoyance of Charlotte.
Working at Century Fox, Hitchcock adapted a script of John Steinbeck's that chronicled the experiences of the survivors of a German U-boat attack in the film Lifeboat (1944). The action sequences were shot on the small boat. The locale also posed problems for Hitchcock's traditional cameo appearance. That was solved by having Hitchcock's image appear in a newspaper that William Bendix is reading in the boat, showing the director in a before-and-after advertisement for "Reduco-Obesity Slayer". While at Fox, Hitchcock seriously considered directing the film version of A.J. Cronin's novel about a Catholic priest in China, The Keys of the Kingdom, but the plans for this fell through. John M. Stahl ended up directing the 1944 film, which was produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starred Gregory Peck, among other luminaries.
Returning to England for an extended visit in late 1943 and early 1944, Hitchcock made two short films for the Ministry of Information, Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache. These - made for the Free French - were the only films Hitchcock made in the French language, and "feature typical Hitchcockian touches" In the 1990s, the two films were shown by Turner Classic Movies and released on home video.
In 1945, Hitchcock served as "treatment advisor" (in effect, a film editor) for a Holocaust documentary produced by the British Army. The film, which recorded the liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps, remained unreleased until 1985, when it was completed by PBS Frontline and distributed under the title Memory of the Camps.
Hitchcock worked for Selznick again when he directed Spellbound, which explored the then-fashionable subject of psychoanalysis and featured a dream sequence designed by Salvador Dalí. Gregory Peck is amnesiac Dr. Anthony Edwardes under the treatment of analyst Dr. Peterson (Ingrid Bergman), who falls in love with him while trying to unlock his repressed past. The dream sequence as it actually appears in the film is considerably shorter than was originally envisioned, which was to be several minutes long, because it proved to be too disturbing for the audience. Some of the original musical score by Miklós Rózsa (which makes use of the theremin) was later adapted by the composer into a concert piano concerto.
Notorious (1946) followed Spellbound. According to Hitchcock, in his book-length interview with François Truffaut, Selznick sold the director, the two stars (Grant and Bergman) and the screenplay (by Ben Hecht) to RKO Radio Pictures as a "package" for $500,000 due to cost overruns on Selznick's Duel in the Sun (1946). Notorious starred Hitchcock regulars Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant, and features a plot about Nazis, uranium, and South America. It was a huge box office success and has remained one of Hitchcock's most acclaimed films. His use of uranium as a plot device led to Hitchcock's being briefly under FBI surveillance. McGilligan writes that Hitchcock consulted Dr. Robert Millikan of Caltech about the development of an atomic bomb. Selznick complained that the notion was "science fiction" only to be confronted by the news stories of the detonation of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in August 1945.
After completing his final film for Selznick, The Paradine Case (a courtroom drama that critics found lost momentum because it apparently ran too long and exhausted its resource of ideas), Hitchcock filmed his first color film, Rope, which appeared in 1948. Here Hitchcock experimented with marshalling suspense in a confined environment, as he had done earlier with Lifeboat (1943). He also experimented with exceptionally long takes — up to ten minutes long. Featuring James Stewart in the leading role, Rope was the first of four films Stewart would make for Hitchcock. It was based on the Leopold and Loeb case of the 1920s. Somehow Hitchcock's cameraman managed to move the bulky, heavy Technicolor camera quickly around the set as it followed the continuous action of the long takes.
Under Capricorn (1949), set in nineteenth-century Australia, also used the short-lived technique of long takes, but to a more limited extent. He again used Technicolor in this production, then returned to black and white films for several years. For Rope and Under Capricorn. Hitchcock formed a production company with Sidney Bernstein, called Transatlantic Pictures, which became inactive after these two unsuccessful pictures. Hitchcock continued to produce his own films for the rest of his life.
1950s: Peak years[edit | edit source]
In 1950, Hitchcock filmed Stage Fright on location in the UK. For the first time, Hitchcock matched one of Warner Brothers' biggest stars, Jane Wyman, with the sultry German actress Marlene Dietrich. Hitchcock used a number of prominent British actors, including Michael Wilding, Richard Todd, and Alastair Sim. This was Hitchcock's first production for Warner Brothers, which had distributed Rope and Under Capricorn, because Transatlantic Pictures was experiencing financial difficulties.
With the film Strangers on a Train (1951), based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, Hitchcock combined many elements from his preceding films. Hitchcock approached Dashiell Hammett to write the dialogue but Raymond Chandler took over, then left over disagreements with the director. Two men casually meet and speculate on removing people who are causing them difficulty. One of the men takes this banter entirely seriously. With Farley Granger reprising some elements of his role from Rope, Strangers continued the director's interest in the narrative possibilities of blackmail and murder. Robert Walker, previously known for "boy-next-door" roles, plays the villain.
MCA head Lew Wasserman, whose client list included James Stewart, Janet Leigh and other actors who would appear in Hitchcock's films, had a significant impact in packaging and marketing Hitchcock's films beginning in the 1950s.
Three very popular films starring Grace Kelly followed. Dial M for Murder (1954) was adapted from the popular stage play by Frederick Knott. Ray Milland plays the "suave and scheming" villain, an ex-tennis pro, who tries to murder his innocent wife Grace Kelly for her money. When the murder goes awry and the assassin is killed by her in self-defense, he manipulates the evidence to pin the murder of the assassin on his wife. Her lover Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings) and police inspector Hubbard (John Williams) work urgently to save her from execution. Hitchcock experimented with 3D cinematography, although the film was not released in this format at first. However, it was shown in 3D in the early 1980s. The film marked a return to Technicolor productions for Hitchcock.
Hitchcock moved to Paramount Pictures and filmed Rear Window (1954), starring James Stewart and Kelly again, as well as Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr. Here, the wheelchair-using Stewart, a photographer based on Robert Capa, seems obsessed with observing his neighbours across the courtyard, and becomes convinced one of them (Raymond Burr) has murdered his wife. Stewart tries to sway both his glamorous model-girlfriend (Kelly) and his policeman buddy (Wendell Corey) to his theory, and eventually succeeds. Like Lifeboat and Rope, the movie was photographed almost entirely within the confines of a small space: Stewart's tiny studio apartment overlooking the massive courtyard set. Hitchcock uses closeups of Stewart's face to show his character's reactions to all he sees, from the comic voyeurism directed at his neighbors to his helpless terror watching Kelly and Burr in the villain's apartment.
The third Kelly film To Catch a Thief (1955), set in the French Riviera, stars Kelly with Cary Grant again and John Williams. Grant plays retired thief John Robie who becomes the prime suspect for a spate of robberies in the Riviera. An American heiress played by Kelly surmises his true identity, attempts to seduce him with her own jewels, and even offers to assist him in his alleged life of crime. "Despite the obvious age disparity between Grant and Kelly and a lightweight plot, the witty script (loaded with double-entendres) and the good-natured acting proved a commercial success." It was Hitchcock's last film with Kelly because she married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 and the residents of her new homeland refused to allow her to make any more films.
The successful remake of Hitchcock's own 1934 film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, in 1956 followed, this time starring Stewart and Doris Day, who sang the theme song, "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" (which won the Oscar for "Best Music", and became a big hit for Day). Stewart and Day, distraught over the kidnapping of their son, struggle with both their emotions and their urgent quest to find their child and stop an assassination, until the song helps re-unite the family. Hitchcock's final film for Warner Brothers, was a low-key black and white production based on a real-life case of mistaken identity reported in Life Magazine in 1953. This was the only film of Hitchcock's to star Henry Fonda. Fonda plays a Stork Club musician mistaken for a liquor store thief who is arrested and tried for robbery while his wife (newcomer Vera Miles) emotionally collapses under the strain. Hitchcock told Truffaut that his lifelong fear of the police attracted him to the subject and was embedded in many scenes.
Vertigo (1958) again starred Stewart, this time with Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes. Stewart plays "Scottie", a former police investigator suffering from acrophobia, who develops an obsession with a woman he is shadowing (Kim Novak). Scottie's obsession leads to tragedy, and this time Hitchcock does not opt for a happy ending. Though the film is widely considered a classic today, Vertigo met with negative reviews and poor box office receipts upon its release, and marked the last collaboration between Stewart and Hitchcock. The film is now placed highly in the Sight & Sound decade polls. It was premiered in the San Sebastián International Film Festival, where Hitchcock won a Silver Seashell.
Late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s[edit | edit source]
By this time, Hitchcock had filmed in many areas of the United States. He followed Vertigo with three more successful films. All are also recognized as among his very best films: North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963).
In North by Northwest, Cary Grant is Roger Thornhill, a Madison Avenue ad executive who is mistaken for a government agent. He is hotly pursued by enemy agents across America who try to kill him, one of whom is foreign agent Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who is really an American agent. She seduces Thornhill, sets him up, but then falls in love with him and aids his escape.
Psycho is considered by some to be Hitchcock's most famous film. Produced on a highly constrained budget of $800,000, it was shot in black-and-white on a spare set. The unprecedented violence of the shower scene, the early demise of the heroine, the innocent lives extinguished by a disturbed murderer were all hallmarks of Hitchcock, copied in many subsequent horror films. After completing Psycho, Hitchcock moved to Universal, where he made the remainder of his films.
The Birds, inspired by a Daphne du Maurier short story and by an actual news story about a mysterious infestation of birds in California, was Hitchcock's 49th film. He signed up Tippi Hedren as his latest blonde heroine opposite Rod Taylor. The scenes of the birds attacking included hundreds of shots mixing actual and animated sequences. The cause of the birds' attack is left unanswered, "perhaps highlighting the mystery of forces unknown".
The latter two films were particularly notable for their unconventional soundtracks, both orchestrated by Bernard Herrmann: the screeching strings played in the murder scene in Psycho exceeded the limits of the time, and The Birds dispensed completely with conventional instruments, instead using an electronically-produced soundtrack and an unaccompanied song by school children (just prior to the infamous attack at the historic Bodega Bay School). Also notable was that Santa Cruz was mentioned again as the place where the bird-phenomenon was said to have first occurred. These films are considered his last great films, after which it is said his career started to lose pace (although some critics such as Robin Wood and Donald Spoto contend that Marnie, from 1964, is first-class Hitchcock, and some have argued that Frenzy is unfairly overlooked).
Failing health took its toll on Hitchcock, reducing his output during the last two decades of his career. Hitchcock filmed two spy thrillers. The first, Torn Curtain (1966), with Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, was a Cold War thriller. Torn Curtain displays the bitter end of the twelve-year collaboration between Hitchcock and composer Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann was fired when Hitchcock was unsatisfied with his score, so John Addison was hired in Herrmann's place. In 1969, Topaz, another Cold War-themed film (based on a Leon Uris novel), was released. Both received mixed reviews from critics.
In 1972, Hitchcock returned to London to film Frenzy, his last major triumph. After two only moderately successful espionage films, the plot marks a return to the murder thriller genre that he made so many films out of earlier in his career. The basic story recycles his early film The Lodger. Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), volatile barkeeper with a history of explosive anger, becomes the likely perpetrator of the "Necktie Murders", which are actually committed by his friend Bob Rusk (Barry Foster), a fruit seller. This time Hitchcock makes the victim and villain twins, rather than opposites, as in Strangers on a Train. Only one of them, however, has crossed the line to murder. For the first time, Hitchcock allowed nudity and profane language, which had before been taboo, in one of his films. He also shows rare sympathy for the Chief Inspector and his comic domestic life. Biographers have noted that Hitchcock had always pushed the limits of film censorship, often managing to fool Joseph Breen, the longtime head of Hollywood's Production Code. Many times Hitchcock slipped in subtle hints of improprieties forbidden by censorship until the mid-1960s. Yet Patrick McGilligan wrote that Breen and others often realized that Hitchcock was inserting such things and were actually amused as well as alarmed by Hitchcock's "inescapable inferences". Beginning with Torn Curtain, Hitchcock was finally able to blatantly include plot elements previously forbidden in American films and this continued for the remainder of his film career. Family Plot (1976) was Hitchcock's last film. It related the escapades of "Madam" Blanche Tyler played by Barbara Harris, a fraudulent spiritualist, and her taxi driver lover Bruce Dern making a living from her phony powers. William Devane, Karen Black and Cathleen Nesbitt co-starred. It was the only Hitchcock film scored by John Williams.
Last film work and death[edit | edit source]
Near the end of his life, Hitchcock had worked on the script for a projected spy thriller, The Short Night, collaborating with screenwriters James Costigan and Ernest Lehman. Despite some preliminary work, the story was never filmed. This was due, primarily, to Hitchcock's own failing health and his concerns over the health of his wife, Alma, who had suffered a stroke. The script was eventually published posthumously, in a book on Hitchcock's last years.
Hitchcock died from kidney failure in his Bel Air, Los Angeles, California home at the age of 80. His wife Alma Reville, and their daughter, Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell, both survived him. His funeral service was held at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills. Hitchcock's body was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.
Themes, plot devices and motifs[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Themes and plot devices in the films of Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock returned several times to cinematic devices such as suspense, the audience as voyeur, and his well-known "McGuffin", an apparently minor detail serving as a pivot upon which the narrative turns.
Technical innovations[edit | edit source]
Hitchcock seemed to delight in the technical challenges of film making. In the film Lifeboat, Hitchcock stages the entire action of the movie in a small boat, yet manages to keep the cinematography from monotonous repetition (his trademark cameo appearance was a dilemma, given the limitations of the setting; so Hitchcock appears in a fictitious magazine for a weight loss product). Similarly, the entire action in Rear Window (1954) either takes place in or is seen from a single apartment. In Spellbound, two unprecedented point-of-view shots were achieved by constructing a large wooden hand (which would appear to belong to the character whose point of view the camera took) and out-sized props for it to hold: a bucket-sized glass of milk and a large wooden gun. For added novelty and impact, the climactic gunshot was hand-colored red on some copies of the black-and-white print of the film.
Rope (1948) was another technical challenge: a film that appears to have been shot entirely in a single take. The film was actually shot in 10 takes ranging from four and a half to 10 minutes each; a 10 minute length of film being the maximum a camera's film magazine could hold. Some transitions between reels were hidden by having a dark object fill the entire screen for a moment. Hitchcock used those points to hide the cut, and began the next take with the camera in the same place.
Hitchcock's 1958 film Vertigo contains a camera technique developed by Irmin Roberts that has been imitated and re-used many times by filmmakers, wherein the image appears to "stretch". This is achieved by moving the camera in the opposite direction of the camera's zoom. It has become known as the Dolly zoom or "Vertigo Effect."
Signature appearances in his films[edit | edit source]
- Main article: List of Hitchcock cameo appearances
Hitchcock appeared briefly in many of his own films, usually playing upon his portly figure in an incongruous manner, for example, seen struggling to get a double bass onto a train.
Psychology of characters[edit | edit source]
Hitchcock's films sometimes feature characters struggling in their relationships with their mothers. In North by Northwest (1959), Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant's character) is an innocent man ridiculed by his mother for insisting that shadowy, murderous men are after him. In The Birds (1963), the Rod Taylor character, an innocent man, finds his world under attack by vicious birds, and struggles to free himself of a clinging mother (Jessica Tandy). The killer in Frenzy (1972) has a loathing of women but idolizes his mother. The villain Bruno in Strangers on a Train hates his father, but has an incredibly close relationship with his mother (played by Marion Lorne). Sebastian (Claude Rains) in Notorious has a clearly conflictual relationship with his mother, who is (correctly) suspicious of his new bride Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman). And, of course, Norman Bates' troubles with his mother in Psycho (1960) are well known.
Hitchcock heroines tend to be lovely, cool blondes who seem proper at first but, when aroused by passion or danger, respond in a more sensual, animal, or even criminal way. As noted, the famous victims in The Lodger are all blondes. In The 39 Steps, Hitchcock's glamorous blonde star, Madeleine Carroll, is put in handcuffs. In Marnie (1964), the title character (played by Tippi Hedren) is a kleptomaniac. In To Catch a Thief (1955), Francie (Grace Kelly) offers to help a man she believes is a burglar. In Rear Window, Lisa (Grace Kelly again) risks her life by breaking into Lars Thorwald's apartment. The best known example is in Psycho where Janet Leigh's unfortunate character steals $40,000 and is murdered by a reclusive psychopath. Hitchcock's last blonde heroine was - years after Dany Robin and her "daughter" Claude Jade in Topaz - Barbara Harris as a phony psychic turned amateur sleuth in his final film, 1976's Family Plot. In the same film, the diamond smuggler played by Karen Black could also fit that role, as she wears a long blonde wig in various scenes and becomes increasingly uncomfortable about her line of work.
Some critics and Hitchcock scholars, including Donald Spoto and Roger Ebert, agree that Vertigo represents the director's most personal and revealing film, dealing with the obsessions of a man who crafts a woman into the woman he desires. Vertigo explores more frankly and at greater length his interest in the relation between sex and death than any other film in his filmography.
Hitchcock often said that his favorite film (of his own work) was Shadow of a Doubt.
Style of working[edit | edit source]
Writing[edit | edit source]
Hitchcock once commented, "The writer and I plan out the entire script down to the smallest detail, and when we're finished all that's left to do is to shoot the film. Actually, it's only when one enters the studio that one enters the area of compromise. Really, the novelist has the best casting since he doesn't have to cope with the actors and all the rest." In an interview with Roger Ebert in 1969, Hitchcock elaborated further: Once the screenplay is finished, I'd just as soon not make the film at all... I have a strongly visual mind. I visualize a picture right down to the final cuts. I write all this out in the greatest detail in the script, and then I don't look at the script while I'm shooting. I know it off by heart, just as an orchestra conductor needs not look at the score... When you finish the script, the film is perfect. But in shooting it you lose perhaps 40 per cent of your original conception.
Storyboards and production[edit | edit source]
Hitchcock's films were strongly believed to have been extensively storyboarded to the finest detail by the majority of commentators over the years. He was reported to have never even bothered looking through the viewfinder, since he didn't need to do so, though in publicity photos he was shown doing so. He also used this as an excuse to never have to change his films from his initial vision. If a studio asked him to change a film, he would claim that it was already shot in a single way, and that there were no alternate takes to consider.
However, this view of Hitchcock as a director who relied more on pre-production than on the actual production itself has been challenged by the book Hitchcock At Work, written by Bill Krohn, the American correspondent of Cahiers du cinéma. Krohn, after investigating several script revisions, notes to other production personnel written by or to Hitchcock alongside inspection of storyboards, and other production material, has observed that Hitchcock's work often deviated from how the screenplay was written or how the film was originally envisioned. He noted that the myth of storyboards in relation to Hitchcock, often regurgitated by generations of commentators on his movies was to a great degree perpetuated by Hitchcock himself or the publicity arm of the studios. A great example would be the celebrated crop spraying sequence of North by Northwest which was not storyboarded at all. After the scene was filmed, the publicity department asked Hitchcock to make storyboards to promote the film and Hitchcock in turn hired an artist to match the scenes in detail.
Even on the occasions when storyboards were made, the scene which was shot did differ from it significantly. Krohn's extensive analysis of the production of Hitchcock classics like Notorious reveals that Hitchcock was flexible enough to change a film's conception during its production. Another example Krohn notes is the American remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, whose shooting schedule commenced without a finished script and moreover went over schedule, something which, as Krohn notes, was not an uncommon occurrence on many of Hitchcock's films, including Strangers on a Train and Topaz. While Hitchcock did do a great deal of preparation for all his movies, he was fully cognizant that the actual film-making process often deviated from the best laid plans and was flexible to adapt to the changes and needs of production as his films were not free from the normal hassles faced and common routines utilised during many other film productions.
Krohn's work also sheds light on Hitchcock's practice of generally shooting in chronological order, a practice which he notes often sent many of his films over budget and over schedule and, more importantly, differed from the standard operating procedure of Hollywood in the Studio System Era. Equally important is Hitchcock's tendency to shoot alternate takes of scenes. This differed from coverage in that the films weren't necessarily shot from varying angles so as to give the editor options to shape the film how he/she chooses (often under the producer's aegis). Rather they represented Hitchcock's tendency of giving himself options in the editing room, where he would provide advice to his editors after viewing a rough cut of the work. According to Krohn, this and numerous other information revealed through his research of Hitchcock's personal papers, script revisions and the like refute the notion of Hitchcock as a director who was always in control of his films, whose vision of his films did not change during production, which Krohn notes has remained the central long-standing myth of Alfred Hitchcock.
His fastidiousness and attention to detail also found its way to each film poster for his films. Hitchcock preferred to work with the best talent of his day—film poster designers such as Bill Gold and Saul Bass—and kept them busy with countless rounds of revision until he felt that the single image of the poster accurately represented his entire film.
Approach to actors[edit | edit source]
Similarly, much of Hitchcock's supposed dislike of actors has been exaggerated. Hitchcock simply did not tolerate the method approach, as he believed that actors should only concentrate on their performances and leave work on script and character to the directors and screenwriters. In a Sight and Sound interview, he stated that, 'the method actor is OK in the theatre because he has a free space to move about. But when it comes to cutting the face and what he sees and so forth, there must be some discipline'. During the making of Lifeboat, Walter Slezak, who played the German character, stated that Hitchcock knew the mechanics of acting better than anyone he knew. Several critics have observed that despite his reputation as a man who disliked actors, several actors who worked with him gave fine, often brilliant performances and these performances contribute to the film's success.
Regarding Hitchcock's sometimes less than pleasant relationship with actors, there was a persistent rumor that he had said that actors were cattle. Hitchcock later denied this, typically tongue-in-cheek, clarifying that he had only said that actors should be treated like cattle. Carole Lombard, tweaking Hitchcock and drumming up a little publicity, brought some cows along with her when she reported to the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. For Hitchcock, the actors, like the props, were part of the film's setting.
In the late 1950s, French New Wave critics, especially Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut, were among the first to see and promote Hitchcock's films as artistic works. Hitchcock was one of the first directors to whom they applied their auteur theory, which stresses the artistic authority of the director in the film-making process.
Hitchcock's innovations and vision have influenced a great number of filmmakers, producers, and actors. His influence helped start a trend for film directors to control artistic aspects of their movies without answering to the movie's producer.
Awards and honours[edit | edit source]
|Academy Award nominations|
|1940||Rebecca||Best Director||John Ford – The Grapes of Wrath|
|1941||Suspicion||Best Picture||Darryl F. Zanuck – How Green Was My Valley|
|1943||Lifeboat||Best Director||Leo McCarey – Going My Way|
|1945||Spellbound||Best Director||Billy Wilder – The Lost Weekend|
|1954||Rear Window||Best Director||Elia Kazan – On the Waterfront|
|1960||Psycho||Best Director||Billy Wilder – The Apartment|
|1972||Frenzy||Best Director||Spectator at Opening Rally - Teaser|
Rebecca, which Hitchcock directed, won the 1940 Best Picture Academy Award for its producer David O. Selznick. In addition to Rebecca and Suspicion, two other films Hitchcock directed, Foreign Correspondent and Spellbound, were nominated for Best Picture. Hitchcock is considered the Best Film Director of all time by The Screen Directory website. Sixteen films directed by Hitchcock earned Oscar nominations, though only six of those films earned Hitchcock himself a nomination. The total number of Oscar nominations (including winners) earned by films he directed is fifty. Four of those films earned Best Picture nominations. Spellbound won the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score. Actress Joan Fontaine won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Suspicion, the only Academy Award–winning performance under Hitchcock's direction.
Six of Hitchcock's films are in the National Film Registry: Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, and Psycho; all but Shadow of a Doubt and Notorious were also in 1998's AFI's 100 best American films and the AFI's 2007 update. In 2008, four of Hitchcock's films were named among the ten best mystery films of all time in the AFI's 10 Top 10. Those films are Vertigo (at No. 1); Rear Window (No. 3); North by Northwest (No. 7); and Dial M for Murder (No. 9).
Alfred Hitchcock received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1979.
Hitchcock was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in the 1980 New Year's Honours. Although he had adopted American citizenship in 1956, he was entitled to use the title "Sir" because he had remained a British subject. Hitchcock died just four months later, on 29 April, before he could be formally invested.
Fame[edit | edit source]
Hitchcock became famous for his expert and largely unrivaled control of pace and suspense, and his films draw heavily on both fear and fantasy. The films are known for their droll humour and witticisms, and these cinematic works often portray innocent people caught up in circumstances beyond their control or understanding.
Hitchcock began his directing career in the United Kingdom in 1922. From 1939 onward, he worked primarily in the United States. In September, 1940, Hitchcock had purchased a 200-acre (0.81 km2) mountaintop estate for the sum of $40,000. Known as the 1870 Cornwall Ranch or 'Heart o' the Mountain', the property was perched high above Scotts Valley, California, at the end of Canham Road. The Hitchcocks resided there from 1940 to 1972. The Hitchcocks became close friends with the parents of Joan Fontaine, after she starred in his film, Rebecca. Years later, after a break-in at his estate, Hitchcock replaced all of the accumulated paintings with studio-made copies. The family sold the estate in 1974, six years before Hitchcock's death.
Hitchcock and family also purchased a second home in late 1942 at 10957 Bellagio Road in Los Angeles, just across from the Bel Air Country Club.
Rebecca was the only Hitchcock film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (though the award did not go to Hitchcock); four other films were nominated. In 1967 he was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement. He never won an Academy Award for direction of a film.
Television and books[edit | edit source]
Along with Walt Disney, Hitchcock was among the first prominent motion picture producers to fully envisage just how popular the medium of television would become. From 1955 to 1965, Hitchcock was the host and producer of a television series entitled Alfred Hitchcock Presents. While his films had made Hitchcock's name strongly associated with suspense, the TV series made Hitchcock a celebrity himself. His irony-tinged voice and signature droll delivery, gallows humor, iconic image and mannerisms became instantly recognizable and were often the subject of parody.
The title-theme of the show pictured a minimalist caricature of Hitchcock's profile (he drew it himself; it is composed of only nine strokes) which his real silhouette then filled. His introductions before the stories in his program always included some sort of wry humor, such as the description of a recent multi-person execution hampered by having only one electric chair, while two are now shown with a sign "Two chairs--no waiting!" He directed a few episodes of the TV series himself, and he upset a number of movie production companies when he insisted on using his TV production crew to produce his motion picture Psycho. In the late 1980s, a new version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents was produced for television, making use of Hitchcock's original introductions in a colorised form.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents was parodied by Friz Freleng's 1961 cartoon The Last Hungry Cat, which contains a plot similar to Blackmail.
"Hitch" used a curious little tune by the French composer Charles Gounod (1818–1893), the composer of the 1859 opera Faust, as the theme "song" for his television programs, after it was suggested to him by composer Bernard Herrmann. Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra included the piece, Funeral March of a Marionette, in one of their extended play 45 rpm discs for RCA Victor during the 1950s.
Hitchcock appears as a character in the popular juvenile detective book series, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. The long-running detective series was created by Robert Arthur, who wrote the first several books, although other authors took over after he left the series. The Three Investigators—Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Peter Crenshaw—were amateur detectives, slightly younger than the Hardy Boys. In the introduction to each book, "Alfred Hitchcock" introduces the mystery, and he sometimes refers a case to the boys to solve. At the end of each book, the boys report to Hitchcock, and sometimes give him a memento of their case.
When the real Hitchcock died, the fictional Hitchcock in the Three Investigators books was replaced by a retired detective named Hector Sebastian. At this time, the series title was changed from Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators to The Three Investigators.
At the height of Hitchcock's success, he was also asked to introduce a set of books with his name attached. The series was a collection of short stories by popular short-story writers, primarily focused on suspense and thrillers. These titles included Alfred Hitchcock's Anthology, Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories to be Read with the Door Locked, Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum, Alfred Hitchcock's Supernatural Tales of Terror and Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbinders in Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock's Witch's Brew, Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery, Alfred Hitchcock's A Hangman's Dozen and Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful. Hitchcock himself was not actually involved in the reading, reviewing, editing or selection of the short stories; in fact, even his introductions were ghost-written. The entire extent of his involvement with the project was to lend his name and collect a check.
Some notable writers whose works were used in the collection, include Shirley Jackson (Strangers in Town, The Lottery), T.H. White (The Once and Future King), Robert Bloch, H. G. Wells (The War of the Worlds), Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain] and the creator of The Three Investigators, Robert Arthur.
Hitchcock also wrote a mystery story for Look magazine in 1943, "The Murder of Monty Woolley". This was a sequence of captioned photographs inviting the reader to inspect the pictures for clues to the murderer's identity; Hitchcock cast the performers as themselves; such as Woolley, Doris Merrick and make up man Guy Pearce, whom Hitchcock identified, in the last photo, as the murderer. The article was reprinted in Games Magazine in November/December 1980.
Filmography[edit | edit source]
Films[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Alfred Hitchcock filmography
- Number 13 (1922, unfinished)
- Always Tell Your Wife (1923, short)
- The Pleasure Garden (1925)
- The Mountain Eagle (1926, lost)
- The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
- The Ring (1927)
- Downhil (1927)
- The Farmer's Wife (1928)
- Easy Virtue (1928)
- Champagne (1928)
- The Manxman (1929)
Frequently cast actors and actresses[edit | edit source]
- 6 films: Leo G. Carroll: Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Spellbound (1945), The Paradine Case (1947), Strangers on a Train (1951), and North by Northwest (1959)
- 4 films: Cary Grant: Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), To Catch a Thief (1955), and North by Northwest (1959)
- 4 films: James Stewart: Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and Vertigo (1958)
- 4 films: Edmund Gwenn: The Skin Game (1931), Waltzes from Vienna (1934), Foreign Correspondent (1940), andThe Trouble with Harry (1955)
- 3 films: Ingrid Bergman: Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), and Under Capricorn (1949)
- 3 films: Grace Kelly: Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955)
- 3 films: John Williams: The Paradine Case (1947), Dial M for Murder, (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955)
- 3 films: Patricia Hitchcock: Stage Fright (1950), Strangers on a Train (1951), Psycho (1960)
Frequent collaborators[edit | edit source]
Actors and actresses[edit | edit source]
- Sara Allgood
- Murray Alper
- Ingrid Bergman
- Paul Bryar
- Donald Calthrop
- Leonard Carey
- Leo G. Carroll
- Edward Chapman
- Hume Cronyn (also as writer)
- Violet Farebrother
- Bess Flowers
- Farley Granger
- Cary Grant
- Clare Greet
- Edmund Gwenn
- Gordon Harker
- Tippi Hedren
- Tom Helmore
- Patricia Hitchcock (daughter)
- Ian Hunter
- Isabel Jeans
- Hannah Jones
- Malcolm Keen
- Grace Kelly
- Phyllis Konstam
- John Longden
- Percy Marmont
- Basil Radford
- Jeffrey Sayre
- James Stewart
- John Williams
Screenwriters[edit | edit source]
- Charles Bennett
- James Bridie
- Joan Harrison
- John Michael Hayes
- Ben Hecht
- Ernest Lehman
- Angus MacPhail
- Eliot Stannard
- Joseph Stefano
[edit | edit source]
- Alfred Hitchcock at the Internet Movie Database
- Alfred Hitchcock at AllMovie
- Alfred Hitchcock at Wikipedia
|This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Alfred Hitchcock. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.|
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