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 or Psycho 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 in Hitchcock, 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".To see a list of all of his movies, click here.
The Ace: For audiences around the world and film-makers and scholars, Hitchcock is the quintessential example of the director as Artist and Entertainer, who combined craftsmanship with a strong, distinct personality. He was championed in the late 50s and 60s by critics in Europe and America as the exemplar of the Auteur Theory.
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.
Cool Old Guy : His actual personality was closer to this especially among the many young film-makers like Francois Truffaut and Peter Bogdanovich who he befriended in later life. Even then actors loved to work with him because of his great charisma and elegance. James Stewart noted that on the set Hitchcock would discuss "food and travel" in-between takes and kept his actors mostly at ease, always reminding actors who were confused about their role that "it's only a movie!"
Many actors enjoyed his company and treasured working with him, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint and Janet Leigh loved working with him.
Deadpan Snarker: The man was known to have an absolutely cutting sense of humor, as well as a contempt for anyone who interfered with his own creative process. One of his most famous quotes was "I never said actors are cattle. I said actors should be treated like cattle." In response, Carole Lombard, Hitchcock's friend and star of Mr. and Mrs. Smith(Not the recent Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie movie) brought cows to the set on hearing this story.
Hitchcock was a famous Troll and liked to play this up but in actual fact he was Happily Married to Alma Reville, his wife for several decades, who served as continuity supervisor and 'eminence grise' in all his movies.
Dude, Where's My Respect? : While a phenomenal box-office success, Hitchcock's contemporaries and critics at the time dismissed him as an "entertainer" at best, not to be taken seriously. He never won a single Best Director Oscar, and Only one of his films won Best Picture, Rebecca. Only one actor won an Oscar(Joan Fontaine, for Suspicion). In the Academy's defense, Hitchcock's generation was The Golden Age of Hollywood and the competition was good. There's also the fact that Hitchcock never directed what can be considered Oscar Bait.
When Hitchcock won the Lifetime Achievement Award, he gave the shortest speech in Oscar history("Thank You") which according to Peter Bogdanovich was his Take That for snubbing him so long.
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.
Flanderization : A natural consequence for someone with such a large public profile is a great deal of misinformation which has piled up over the years, some of it encouraged by Hitchcock himself. The latest research into the archives on his productions present a more complex picture of how he worked. Here are some of the common myths about Hitchcock.
It was commonly believed that Hitchcock planned his movies in meticulous detail, that he was a control freak extraordinaire at least as much as Stanley Kubrick. Recent research such as the book Hitchcock At Work notes that his films often departed from his storyboards and his movies tended to go over-budget and over-schedule more often than not. At least three of his films, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, the second The Man Who Knew Too Much started without a complete script. Hitchcock did prepare extensively on a film but was never shy of changing his plans, like any good, and great, director.
A good example of Hitchcock creating this image of The Perfectionist is North by Northwest. The famous cropduster sequence was shot without storyboards and wasn't greatly prepared. During the editing of the film, he hired artists to create new storyboards to match the scenes he had shot, for use as promotional material.
While Hitchcock tended to have little tolerance for people he felt were below their best, he was a gentlemen to actors who he liked. Hitchcock favored actors requiring as "little direction" as possible. When Doris Day who acted in the second The Man Who Knew Too Much asked Hitchcock why he hadn't given her "directions" or any notice, Hitchcock told her that she did everything so well, she didn't need direction.
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.
Implacable Man : On the set, Hitchcock rarely showed his temper, expressing his disapproval by indifference and Passive-Aggressive Kombat. Also the image typified by his introductions for Alfred Hitchcock Presents where the famous ugly stories are introduced with good cheer and refinement.
Insufferable Genius : Has this reputation today. In his lifetime, nobody believed he was a genius, merely an entertainer, only getting recognition in his last ten years. As a director and producer, he was a gracious host, great company and an incredible wit, who charmed everyone who came his way.
Misblamed : There is a tendency among some of his critics to consider Hitchcock to be a little weird for the lurid subtext of his films and the tendency of his leading ladies to be put through the Trauma Conga Line with the assertion that he was a "misogynist" not far at hand. Stories taken without context, such as his on-set treatment of Tippi Hedren in Marnie do little favors.
Even Janet Leigh in Psycho despite being Stuffed In The Fridge is given a complex part for the first half of the film, where in later slasher films she would be a disposable victim. Moreover, his actresses tended to be real leading ladies, competing on more or less equal footing with actors. Even the "Hitchcock Blonde" fascination was the director's own attempt to correct the Dumb Blonde stereotype of the 50s, showing them as cool, elegant and intelligent rather than mere love objects.
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.
Never Accepted in His Hometown : Played with. Hitchcock was highly regarded in the British film industry for his technically brilliant thrillers like Film/The Lodger, FilmBlackmail, The 39 Steps but critics turned on him when he went to Hollywood. In England they were regarded as sell-out films while his earlier films were regarded as True Art. The French New Wave critics were the first to take the American films as seriously as the English films and indeed regarded them as superior. In England, the critic Robin Wood played a role in correcting this misconception, he wrote a book length study of Hitchcock which made the first detailed case for Vertigo as Hitchcock's Magnum Opus.
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."
Prima Donna Director: Hitchcock was The Perfectionist in getting what he wanted and the demands he placed on his cast and crew. He had good relations with producers so he had Protection from Editors at his peak. However, towards the end of his peak, he started to display some unsavory characteristics.
For Psycho artist Saul Bass designed the famous credit sequence and was also credited there as "Visual Consultant". François Truffaut asked Hitchcock what was Bass' role in the film and Hitchcock told him that Bass did the titles and some storyboards which he had rejected. Years later, Bass claimed that he directed the film's shower sequence and submitted several storyboards that he had drawn as evidence, which today can be seen as a Take That towards Hitchcock. While the latter did direct the scene, the storyboards provided by Bass for the shower sequence was a guidepost for a lot of the visual details that entered the final cut. They never worked together again.
Bernard Herrmann as a composer was no less of The Perfectionist than Hitchcock, believing that directors generally lacked the musical training needed to score the movies and insisted on creative control which Hitchcock agreed on all their collaborations. A public falling out happened during the recording sessions of Torn Curtain, where Hitchcock tried to interfere with his work, violating, in Herrmann's eyes, their unwritten contract.
While generally warm and gracious to his female leads, those who displeased him tended to be needled, and bullied. Farley Granger noted he bullied Ruth Roman on the set of Strangers on a Train. There's also his treatment of Tippi Hedren on the set of Marnie which remains a puzzle for his fans and his critics even today.
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.
Several of the actors had Undying Loyalty to Hitchcock. A prime example of this is actor Norman Lloyd later to play Dr. Daniel Auschlander on the NBC medical drama St. Elsewhere, 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.
Scare 'Em Straight: When Hitchcock was a child, his father once punished him by sending him down to the local police station with a note explaining his misbehavior and asking the police to lock him in a cell for ten minutes. The incident left him with a lifelong fear of the authorities. The irony of it all was that the young Hitchcock never learned what he had done to deserve that punishment. Neither his father or the police told him anything.
However, we only have Hitchcock's word for this and no way of proving if it actually happened or did not happen, or more a way for him to justify his ideas without provoking a good response.
Self-Deprecation: He was capable of it. A comment he made more than once while filming: "It's only a movie."
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.
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.
The Golden Gate Bridge and other San-Francisco-area locations in Vertigo
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.
Yandere: Allegedly towards Tippi Hedren — according to her, at least, he made a point of ruining her career because she rejected his advances. However, this is disputed by several of his other heroines. Some of Hitchcock's scholars have argued that it was more a highly jerkish attempt at Enforced Method Acting, helping her get in a role of a paranoid woman afraid of sex.