Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock by Jack Mitchell
Alfred Hitchcock

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock (August 13, 1899 - April 29, 1980) was a British movie director who later became an American citizen but still kept his British citizenship. He mostly made mystery and suspense movies. Despite having a successful career, Hitchcock never won an Academy Award.

Career

Hitchcock started his career in England, starting with silent movies in the 1920s. In the 1930s, he made some successful movies like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938). He then moved to the United States, to work in Hollywood. His first American movie was Rebecca (1940), which won an Academy Award.

Some of his best known movies from the 1940s are Spellbound (1945) and Notorious (1946), which were inspired by psychoanalysis. His first movie in color was the experimental Rope (1948). Strangers on a Train (1951) was based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith. In the 1950s, he made three popular movies with Grace Kelly: Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955). In 1956 he made a new version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, starring James Stewart and Doris Day. He returned to black-and-white, briefly, with The Wrong Man (1957). Then came Vertigo (1958), which some consider his best suspense movie. It was followed by three more successful movies: North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963). After that he only made 5 more movies: Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969), Frenzy (1972) and Family Plot (1976). In 1971 he became the very first winner of the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award. This is an award for lifetime achievement.

In 1945 Hitchcock made a documentary about the Holocaust.

Hitchcock appeared very quickly in small roles in most of his movies.

He also hosted a TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Personal life

Hithcock was born in Leytonstone, Essex. He was a Roman Catholic. He was married to Alma Reville, who helped write some of his movies. They had a daughter, Patricia. He died in Bel Air, Los Angeles.

Themes and devices

Hitch-at-work;1975-FamilyPlot;SF-On-Location
Hitchcock at work on location in San Francisco for Family Plot

Hitchcock preferred the use of suspense over surprise in his films. In surprise, the director assaults the viewer with frightening things. In suspense, the director tells or shows things to the audience which the characters in the film do not know, and then artfully builds tension around what will happen when the characters finally learn the truth.

Hitchcock took pride in his ability to sustain suspense. Once at a French airport, a dubious customs official looked at Hitchcock's passport, which was marked simply PRODUCER. The official frowned and asked, "And what do you produce?" "Gooseflesh," replied Hitchcock.

Further blurring the moral distinction between the innocent and the guilty, occasionally making this indictment clear, Hitchcock also makes voyeurs of his "respectable" audience. In Rear Window (1954), after LB Jeffries (played by James Stewart) has been staring across the courtyard at him for most of the film, Lars Thorwald (played by Raymond Burr) confronts Jeffries by saying "What do you want of me?" Burr might as well have been addressing the audience; and in fact, shortly before that Thorwald turns to face the camera directly for the first time — at this point, audiences invariably gasp.

One of Hitchcock's favourite devices for driving the plots of his stories and creating suspense was described as a "MacGuffin" by the director himself. Hitchcock described the "MacGuffin" as a red herring: a meaningless, unimportant detail that solely existed to serve as a reason for the story to exist.

Hitchcock also uses the number 13 in his films. Adding up various dates, street addresses, license plates, and other numbered items brings up the number 13 on a regular basis. Psycho (1960) provides several good examples. Norman Bates moves to select room 3, then room 1. The most recent date of entry in the logbook on check-in adds up to 13.

Hitchcock seemed to delight in challenging himself. In Lifeboat, Hitchcock has the entire action of the movie take place in a single lifeboat. He faced a bit of a dilemma as to how to make his trademark cameo appearance; his solution was to appear in a fictitious newspaper ad for a weight loss product.

Rope (1948) was another technical challenge that Hitchcock set for himself: a film that appears to have been shot entirely in a single take. The film was actually shot in eight takes of approximately 10 minutes each, which was the amount of film that would fit in a single camera reel; edits were hidden by having an object fill the entire screen for a moment. Hitchcock used that point to cut, and began the next take from the same point, from which the object or the camera moved.

His 1958 film Vertigo contains a camera trick that has been imitated and re-used so many times by filmmakers, it has become known as the Hitchcock zoom.

Recognition

Hitchcock did not rank highly with film critics of his own day. Except for Rebecca, none of his films won an Academy Award for Best Picture. As a producer, Hitchcock received one Best Picture nomination for Suspicion (1941). He was nominated as Best Director for five of his films: Rebecca, Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Rear Window, and Psycho. Still, the only Academy Award that he ever received was the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, for quality in producing, in 1968. Hitchcock was made an Knight Commander of the British Empire on January 3, 1980 by Queen Elizabeth II just four months before his death in Los Angeles.

Images


Alfred Hitchcock for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.