Creator: Alfred Hitchcock
“People believe that the cinema has to, by necessity, be horizontal in its form. That is, go to a great many places and locales. That is not so. It should be possible to make an interesting film in a closet with the door shut. The idea is to reveal human nature and behavior with your camera moves. This presupposes, of course, an interesting story and characters worth revealing.”
— Alfred Hitchcock
The acknowledged master of cinematic suspense
, "Hitch" is one of the most famous directors of all time, if not the
most famous. Most people have probably seen one of his films at some time. He was "Sir Alfred" for a brief four months before his death in 1980. He also produced and hosted the television anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents
from 1955 to 1965, although he only actually directed a handful of the show's episodes. Many of his films are adaptations of novels or short stories. Made frequent use of the 'MacGuffin
' and popularized the term.
Although considered one of the greatest directors of all time today, for much of Hitchcock's career, he was regarded as a "mere entertainer"
rather than an artist. The French New Wave
critics, especially François Truffaut
, played a major role in correcting this, the long term result being that it brought attention to the director as the key artist on a film, more than producers and actors, in other words. Hitchcock was regarded as the major exemplar as this.
Most people consider either Vertigo
to be his Magnum Opus
, although Hitchcock himself regarded Shadow of a Doubt
as his personal favorite. North By Northwest
, Rear Window
, and The Birds
are also frequently cited as favorites among fans.
Played by Anthony Hopkins
, a film by Sacha Gervasi
about the making of Psycho
. Hopkins certainly looks the part◊
while the significant artistic contributions of his wife, Alma (Played by Helen Mirren
), are given their belated due as well.
The Hitchcock style went on to typify a certain kind of thriller. The Stanley Donen-directed Charade
, for instance, was referred to by one reviewer as "the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made". Also, the Italian giallo
film movement essentially stemmed from the Hickcockian style.
To see a list of all of his movies, click here
He's also somewhat well known for making the shortest-ever acceptance speech at the Academy Awards
(on receiving the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968): "Thank you very much, indeed."
Tropes in the films of Alfred Hitchcock:
- All There in the Manual : The book-length interviews Francois Truffaut did with Hitchcock, generally known as Hitchcock/Truffaut was the first in-depth study on a film-maker pertaining to craft and technique and style. Several critics and film-makers like Steven Soderbergh consider it among the greatest books on films. It remains the starting point for all kinds of Hitchcock information, though later generations have tried to correct some of Hitchcock's tendencies for obfuscation.
- Auteur License : Hitchcock was one of the few who achieved this in The Golden Age of Hollywood, though he had to struggle for it in his early years. Even in England, The Lodger had its ending change because of its dark story. In America, Suspicion where he hoped to cast Cary Grant in an unconventional role resulted in Executive Meddling. From Notorious onwards, Hitchcock served as his own producer even if he never actually took credit as producer, always favoring Directed by Alfred Hitchcock as his mantle.
- Enforced Method Acting: Ironic because Hitchcock actually disliked Method Acting or what was then known as Method Acting. He made more than fifty films over several decades, and generally did not make this a practice but some examples stand out.
- In the attic scene in The Birds, Hitchcock had crew guys hurling real gulls and crows at Tippi Hedren...for five straight days of shooting. As a result, she was plagued by dreams of flapping wings. The birds themselves had been fed whiskey to make them more aggressive. Needless to say, this was long before the No Animals Were Harmed certificates.
- The story of Rebecca called for Joan Fontaine to be nervous around the other actors, so Hitchcock told her that no one else on set liked her. Laurence Olivier did hate her, repeatedly telling Hitch, "She can't act, old boy!". This was more because of Joan Fontaine's inexperience at the time than anything else. For Suspicion, for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress, he relied on her more. Fontaine enjoyed working with Hitchcock on the whole.
- For Vertigo, Kim Novak was not his first choice, and most of the costumes were selected for Vera Miles(she appeared in The Wrong Man and played Marion Crane's sister later in Psycho). So Kim Novak's stiffness and discomfort as Madeleine emphasized by costumes for another actress actually helped her in that role.
- Hitchcock was a notorious practical joker and was never tired of making jokes and shocking his cast and crew. When filming The 39 Steps he needed a shocked reaction from Madeline Carroll. He achieved this by pretending to pull his cock out.
- Freudian Excuse (you have to ask?) : Hitchcock was heavily influenced by Freud and probably defined a lot of popular conceptions about it. That said, his genuine interest in psychoanalysis was sparked by his conversations with Joseph Stefano, the screenwriter of Psycho, who had undergone analysis and who later collaborated on Marnie one of the most sophisticated and interesting explorations of psychoanalysis in film history and truer to the source than most movies.
- That said his films abound in visual gags and cues that are incredible, vulgar, Freudian jokes.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Examples are too numerous to list.
- Info Dump: Unfortunately, his American films usually have this with the assumption that American Viewers Are Morons. The psychologist's monologue at the end of Psycho is a famous example. However, as noted by many scholars and critics, Hitchcock did work for much of his life under the strictures of The Hays Code and while he resisted it, he did make small concessions if necessary.
- Missing Episode:
- Hitchcock's first film, a 1923 release called The White Shadow, was thought lost for more than 80 years—until its first three reels were found as part of a private collection in New Zealand.
- 1927's The Mountain Eagle is not known to survive in any form, despite exhaustive searches of film archives. Check your attic. In his interviews with Truffaut, Hitchcock was dismissive of the film, insisting that it was not a very good film and that the succeeding film, The Lodger was his first major work.
- My Beloved Smother : A common theme among his bad guys (and sometimes his heroes as well) is highly domineering mothers. Taken up to eleven in Psycho which defined this trope for all time.
- Pigeonholed Director: Perhaps the most famous tone, even today he is associated with the suspense thriller genre and all its tropes. This was a problem on some of the few films which departed on the formula. Under Capricorn was a 19th Century romance set in Australia (albeit filled with dark passion and emotional trauma), starring Ingrid Bergman, The Wrong Man was a Ripped from the Headlines story about a real case and was more a working class drama, while The Trouble With Harry was a genuine comedy (with some macabre and grotesque touches). All these films were box-office failures.
"I'm a typed director. If I made Cinderella, the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach."
- Police Are Useless: A traumatic childhood incident when his father used the local police to teach him a lesson worthy of J. Walter Wetherman caused him to enact revenge in all his films. Though Dial M for Murder and Frenzy are notable exceptions.
- Production Posse: Amassed a sizable one over his long career. His wife Alma Reville served as script supervisor on his first film and played a key role in all his films, Joan Harrison was another important producer(she was in charge of Alfred Hitchcock Presents), Robert Boyle was his preferred Production Designer, Robert Burks was his most common cinematographer(certainly in the 1950s), George Tomassini was editor(till he died after Marnie), and most famously Bernard Herrmann and Saul Bass.
- In addition to his collaboration with James Stewart, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly and several other actors of course.
- Several of the actors had Undying Loyalty to Hitchcock. A prime example of this is actor Norman Lloyd, who later went on to play Dr. Daniel Auschlander on St. Elsewhere and Dr. Isaac Mentnor on Seven Days, who worked for Hitchcock as an associate producer and director on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. At the time, Hitchcock was the only person willing to give him any type of gainful employment. Other than that, he had been blacklisted in the entertainment industry for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and identify suspected communists and as a result, had been branded as a communist himself.
- Likewise screenwriter Angus Mac Phail(who he credited for coining the McGuffin) had trouble with alcoholism and Hitchcock arranged him to work on The Wrong Man to help his friend out.
- Signature Style: No film director has a more recognizable and identifiable style than Hitchcock. His films were so unique that it was said you could tell it even if you missed the credits and promos.
- Action Survivor: There is a Hitchcockian pattern of an ordinary man or woman, through one bad turn, falling into extraordinary circumstances and fighting his or her way out: Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, The Wrong Man, Vertigo, North By Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much.
- Ambiguously Gay: Numerous villains, henchmen, thugs, goons and mooks in his films fall into this category, bearing in mind that these films were made in a different era of Hollywood and American culture. Cases in point: Rope, North By Northwest, Strangers on a Train.
- Author Appeal: Most female main characters will be blondes. Although Hitchcock himself pointed out that his films were subversions and critique of the Dumb Blonde stereotype popular in the 50s.
- Black Comedy: Frequently.
- Claustrophobia: Lifeboat, Rope.
- Creator Cameo: He appears in every film in a nonspeaking role. This habit became so famous that he confined his appearances to the first fifteen minutes of his films so that audiences would not be distracted watching for him among the extras. In The Wrong Man, he appears personally in silhouette and introduces the film, apparently because it was based on a true story. In Lifeboat, since it's set entirely within the titular lifeboat, he appears in a weight-loss advert in a newspaper - he had recently lost a substantial amount of weight and was the model for both the before and after shots. In Family Plot, his last film, he isn't (technically) on screen at all - only his silhouette appears, cast on frosted glass, in a fashion reminiscent of the opening of Presents.
- Depraved Homosexual: Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, the Leopold and Loeb stand-ins in Rope, Bruno in Strangers on a Train, and Martin Landau's character in North By Northwest.
- Dramatic Irony: Hitchcock placed his heroes in formal social gatherings, where they conceal something dark and horrible and yet can’t tell a soul: Saboteur, Notorious, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Shadow of a Doubt.
- MacGuffin: Number Seventeen, The 39 Steps, Psycho, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North By Northwest.
- The Oner: Notorious, Rope, Young And Innocent.
- The Peeping Tom: The Lodger, Notorious, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho.
- Police Are Useless: The Wrong Man, Rope, Rear Window.
- Scenery Porn:
- Silence Is Golden: Even movies Hitchcock directed after the silent era occasionally manage to create drama without dialogue. Hitchcock was a painter and was very interested in visuals, almost to the point of expressing disdain for acting and dialogue.
- That's What She Said: Yes, even Hitch wasn't above them. Possibly has the first FILMED instance of a "That's What She Said" joke.
- Vertigo Effect: He basically invented the Tracking Zoom technique.
- Wrongly Accused: The Wrong Man. Also The Lodger, The 39 Steps, Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief, North By Northwest, and Frenzy. Subverted in Stage Fright and averted in Shadow of a Doubt.
- Suspense was his chief weapon in capturing and keeping the attention of the audience. Almost all of his films contain a situation where the viewer knows more than (some of) the characters, or can see something or someone coming that a character is unaware of. No spoilers(!)!
- Rope for example is real time evening of an entire dinner party, held in the same room where there is a dead body in a cupboard. The guests are completely oblivious. Only the viewers and the two men who murdered him (their hosts) know it, which makes the seemingly normal conversation that takes place meaningful for us and them.
- Trope Namer: MacGuffin (via one of his screenwriters) and helped popularize "Fridge Logic" when describing a scene in Vertigo. note