Thursday, November 3, 2011


Alfred Hitchcock is probably my all time favorite director, followed
closely by Billy Wilder.  I have enjoyed Hitchcock films my entire
life, both as a kid and later as a cinema student, when I learned more about the man and his maverick techniques.

      Hitchcock’s style was unique and easily recognizable, so much so
that Mel Brooks tenderly paid homage to it in his film High Anxiety.
Hitch (as he was known to colleagues) pioneered numerous innovative
shooting and editorial techniques to create suspense. When asked how
he created suspense, Hitchcock once said that seeing a bomb, for example,
then watching it explode did little in the way of creating suspense. Instead,
one created suspense by cutting between the bomb set to go off, a clock,
and, say, the fearful eyes of the intended victim.  He was able to do this by
first, meticulously creating a storyboard depicting his shots, scene by scene.
     Also, by allowing our eyes to be that of the camera and by moving slowly
around his subjects, he engaged us in a form of voyeurism.  We felt the
actors’ fear, their anxiety. And let me assure you, his characters usually
had much about which to feel fearful.
    A common thread running through his films was that of a man wrongly
accused of a crime (ie. The Thirty-Nine Steps, Saboteur, The Wrong Man,
North by Northwest, and Strangers on a Train) and Hitchcock’s
experiences as a child came into play here.
     He apparently had a lonely, isolated childhood, made worse by his
obesity. Lots of time for his imagination to grow and fester, I would imagine.
When he was a child his father “punished” him by sending him to the local police station with a note asking that he be “locked up for ten minutes for his
”infraction”. This was undoubtedly done as a way to teach a lesson that
wouldn’t be easily forgotten. If that was the case, it worked. It developed in Hitchcock a lifelong fear of being locked up and a distrust of the police in general.
 His Jesuit upbringing influenced him as well and many of his films dealt with religious,
 or at least morally ethical dilemmas (Vertigo, I Confess)

    In addition to his “man-on-the-run-having-been-wrongly-accused” themes,
Hitchcock’s films shared other similarities. Most of them starred “icy
blondes” such as: Eva Marie Saint, Vera Miles, Doris Day, Grace Kelly
and Tippi Hedren, with Grace Kelly said to have been his personal
favorite. His daughter, Patricia, appeared in bit parts and his wife,
Alma, was the editor of most of his films. Another element common to his
pictures was the use of well known places of interest such as The Statue of
Liberty in Saboteur, Mt. Rushmore in North by Northwest, Royal Albert
Hall in The Man Who Knew Too Much and the Forrest Hills Tennis Stadium
in Strangers on a Train. (Incidentally, Robert Walker’s performance as socio-
path, Bruno Antony in this film, is chilling).
     Hitchcock also introduced what came to be known as the “MacGuffin”: vague,
unimportant devices whose sole purpose was to move the story forward.  These
might come in many forms ranging from a formula whispered by a diplomat (Foreign
Correspondent), to hidden microfilm (North by Northwest), to a bottle of wine
containing uranium (Notorious).

      It’s difficult to state my favorite Hitchcock film, I’ve enjoyed so many. If pressed,
I would probably have to say that The Lady Vanishes, Shadow of a Doubt, The
Man Who Knew Too Much (the second version starring Jimmy Stewart and
Doris Day), and North by Northwest are amongst my favorites. Hitchcock’s
unique blend of psychological suspense, sexual undercurrents, and ironic
humor are what made him an icon. (Though he never achieved an Oscar for a
particular movie, he did ultimately receive a Lifetime Achievement award).
    Hitchcock’s “signature” was the cameo appearances he made in all his
films.  See if you can “find Hitch” by ithmatching the film below with the scene
in which he turned up.

1.  THE LADY VANISHES                     A. Being pushed in a wheelchair at an airport

2.  STRANGERS ON A TRAIN               B. In the center of a crowd wearing a “bowler” hat

3.  THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH C. Walking down the street carrying a trumpet

4.  LIFEBOAT                                       D. Missing a bus during the opening credits

5.  TO CATCH A THIEF                         E. Winding a clock in a songwriter’s apartment

6.  SHADOW OF A DOUBT                   F. In a crowded Victoria Station, smoking a

7.  THE BIRDS                                     G. At “a hunt”, walking a horse across the screen

8.  DIAL M FOR MURDER                     H. In a Moroccan market place watching

9.  NOTORIOUS                                    I. In before and after pictures in a newspaper ad*

10.REAR WINDOW                               J. Coming out of an elevator

11.PSYCHO                                         K. Behind a door marked “Registrar of Births 
                                                                and Deaths”
12. TOPAZ                                            L. Through a window wearing a cowboy hat

13. FRENZY                                          M. Boarding a train carrying a bass fiddle

14. TORN CURTAIN                                N. Seated in a hotel lobby holding a small child

15. FAMILY PLOT                                  O. In a class reunion photo

16. NORTH BY NORTHWEST                 P. On a train playing cards

17. VERTIGO                                         Q. Seated on a bus beside Cary Grant

18. REBECCA                                        R. Posting a letter at a mail box

19. SUSPICION                                      S. At a big party sipping champagne

20. SPELLBOUND                                  T. Leaving a pet store with two white terriers

*Note of trivia: The ad in question was for "Reduco Obesity Slayer".


1F; 2M; 3H; 4I; 5Q; 6P; 7T; 8O; 9S; 10E; 11L; 12A; 13B; 14N; 15K; 16D; 17C; 18G; 19R; 20J

If you’d like to learn more about Alfred Hitchcock, I would recommend reading “The Dark Side of Genius” by Donald Spoto. It’s the most comprehensive book on Hitchcock I’ve read to date.

Have a great weekend and thanks for joining me on this week’s journey along,



1 comment:

  1. So interesting (as usual)! My favorite is "The Man Who Knew Too Much". Que sera, Mom taught me that song and I used to sing it to her all the time :)