Alfred Hitchcock was born on August 13, 1899 and died on April 29th, 1980.
If ever there was a filmmaker who defined a genre i.e. the suspense thriller, it was Alfred Hitchcock, where he is known as the Master of Suspense, and, arguably, the most influential film director in cinema history; and, yet, incredibly, so many of today’s generation have not even heard of him !
His film career spanned from the 1920s to the 1970s, where he directed 53 movies, many of which are some of the finest ever made. In most of his films he made a cameo appearance which helped identify him as one of the few filmmakers behind the camera that the public instantly recognised; as well as hosting and producing the television anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
His reputation as a film director blossomed in the 1930s with such classics as The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938), and, although both are a little dated now they still stand up remarkably well.
Eventually, Hollywood beckoned and he moved to America where his first film there was the splendid Rebecca (1940) which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, although he didn’t win for Best Director. He never won a competitive Oscar, although he was nominated 5 times. He did win the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968 where his acceptance speech was “Thank you . . . very much indeed”.
Over the years, his techniques became more and more pronounced where such elements as the innocent man is accused and pursued, the cool blonde, untrustworthy characters, single sets, use of famous landmarks, sexy dialogue full of innuendo, voyeuristic camera movements and the Macguffin plot device all combined to produce a Hitchcockian style that continues to be studied and referenced today.
Classics in the 1940s include Foreign Correspondent, Suspicion, Shadow Of A Doubt, Lifeboat (a particular favourite of mine), Spellbound and Notorious.
But by the early 1950s it appeared his once great talent was fading, but then, with the release of Strangers On A Train in 1951 began a creative period for 12 years that has probably been unmatched by any film director for such a period of time.
Strangers On A Train was based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith where 2 men casually meet on a train where one of whom speculates on a foolproof method to murder; he suggests that two people, each wishing to do away with someone, should each perform the other’s murder.
He followed it up with I Confess, Dial M For Murder, Rear Window, To Catch AThief, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much and The WrongMan.
And now we come to 1958 where he embarked on 4 films that IMO that are his finest.
First there was Vertigo (1958). A commercial disappointment when first released but now ranked as one of the greatest films ever made.
James Stewart plays a former police detective suffering from acrophobia who becomes obsessed with a woman (Kim Novak) he has been hired to shadow.
Then in 1959 came North By Northwest, arguably the most purely entertaining and enjoyable of all his films where Cary Grant plays an advertising executive who is mistaken for a government secret agent. For me, Eva Marie Saint gave the defining sexy and ice-cool blonde performance in a Hitchcock film, surpassing even Hitch’s own favourite in Grace Kelly.
And we now come to 1960 with the release of Psycho.
So much has been written about this movie there’s little more I can add, except my Mum reliably informs me that she nearly gave birth to me in the cinema after Janet Leigh took a shower !
When I mentioned this to my Mum yesterday she was relieved that I was not comparing her to Norman Bates’ mother !
3 years passed and Hitch then came up with The Birds (1963) based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, where, for no known reason, wave of birds start gathering, watching and attacking people.
Today, it is still a very unsettling movie with a perfectly ambiguous ending.
The quality of his output would then fade, and by 1976 he made his final film Family Plot.
Alfred Hitchcock is in my 3 favourite film directors of all time, and I’m forever revisiting his films for their sheer entertainment and enjoyment they give plus the marvellous craft he bestowed on them.