Remembering Alfred Hitchcock
A couple of weeks ago, I was given the immense privilege of writing an article celebrating the anniversary of the release of Hitchcock’s classic, REAR WINDOW. I made a point to take some time highlighting the director’s groundbreaking career over the course of that spotlight piece but, today – we’re celebrating Hitchcock’s life for today would have been The Master of Suspence’s 117 th birthday.
In the words of American Poet Laureate Samuel L. Jackson, “Hold on to your butts.” We’re digging deep today and exploring all that there is to explore about Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock. Hitchcock is one of those people that remains enigmatic decades after deciding to shed himself of this mortal coil. While many focus on the achievements of his film career, it’s not all sunshine and roses when discussing Hitch. He was known for being a ruthless director, stretching his performers, specifically his actresses, to the very limits of endurance. One of his “starlets”, Tippi Hedren, still credits Hitchcock for destroying her career; and her affection for Hollywood. He was an abusive madman; but he was also a genius and a master at his craft.
So, today, we honor him – all the good and the bad – for setting the standard and changing filmmaking forever.
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born on August 13 th of 1899 in Leytonstone, Essex to William and Emma Jane Hitchcock. His father was a greengrocer and a poultry man; his mother the loving caretaker to her three beautiful children. Alfred was said to have lived a very lonely and sheltered childhood. At age five, Hitchcock said that his father sent him to the police with a note pinned to his jacket asking the officers to lock him up for five minutes due to his bad behavior. This is where, it seems, the wheels began to turn in young Alfred’s head. The incident left him scarred and instilled a lifelong fear of authority and the police. When examining his film catalogue, it’s evident that this personal fear played a large part in several of his features. Oftentimes, his protagonists are victims of wrongful accusations and aggressive treatment by authoritarian figures.
After the death of his father, Hitchcock eventually became an advertiser for a London-based cable company, Henley’s, and was eventually drafted to fight in World War 1. Due to his portly size (or height, or undisclosed medical condition) he was limited as far as what he could do and was able to carry out his service on the home front.
During his time at Henley’s, he began to explore his creativity and it’s all glorious history from there.
He became enamored with photography and took his work to Paramount Pictures. By 1920 he received a full time position designing title cards for silent films with Islington Studios and Gainsborough Pictures. During his time there, he eventually began taking on additional duties working as an odd combination of screenwriter, art director, and assistant director on several of their films. He continued working with various silent film companies, eventually taking on the roll of director, until 1929. While working in silent cinema, he made a name for himself with such notable directors as Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau.
His tenth film, BLACKMAIL, was one of the first successful “talkies” and he was among the first directors to start experimenting with the new sound technology. To date, film historians consider BLACKMAIL to be one of the most important films ever made, Hitchcock or not, as without BLACKMAIL – we’d probably not have the sophisticated audio capabilities we have today.
1934 gave us THE MAN WHO KNEW TO MUCH, ’35 brought with it THE 39 STEPS, 1938 saw THE LADY VANISHES, and the hits kept rolling out from there on a seemingly annual basis. Very early on, it was apparent that Hitchcock was quickly becoming one of the finest filmmakers of his era (we know now that that’s shifted to being one of the best of all time).
By the end of 1939, Hitchcock signed a seven-year contract with David O. Selznick and made his way to Hollywood. It was there that he became a fully realized household name.
Hitchcock was a living legend in his own time and created such cinema greats as (I apologize for the length of this list): REBECCA, MR.& MRS. SMITH, SUSPICION, SABOTEUR, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, LIFEBOAT, SPELLBOUND, NOTORIOUS, THE PARADINE CASE, ROPE, UNDER CAPRICORN, STAGE FRIGHT, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, I CONFESS, DIAL M FOR MURDER, REAR WINDOW, TO CATCH A THEIF, THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (REMAKE), THE WRONG MAN, VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, MARNIE, TORN CURTAIN, TOPAZ, FRENZY, and FAMILY PLOT.
He was a machine, a visionary, a truly artistic man that created such amazing filmmaking devices as “the vertigo shot” and who was the first (and still best in my humble opinion) to use 3D the way it was meant to be used (in DIAL M FOR MURDER).
His imprint on the filmmaking world remains indelible and centuries from now, when our Martian overlords are sifting through the remains of what our society used to be, the name ‘Hitchcock’ will still be held in high regard.
Yes, he was a tyrant on set. He was a ruthless dictator behind the camera and he was said to have made several actors question their life choices. However, when it comes to his films and the legacy he’s left behind – one must separate the creation from the creator and revel in the suspenseful deliciousness he created for us.
So today we at Tom Holland’s Terror Time want to wish Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock the happiest of birthdays and we sincerely hope the astral plane is treating him well.
Happy Birthday, Hitch! Thank you for the 70 years’ worth of suspense.
For those of you itching for some Hitchcock-ey goodness to help you celebrate today, the killer documentary HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT is available to stream right now on HBO Go. It’s an amazing, intricate look at the legendary book of transcripts of the same name; featuring a litany of modern directors sharing their stories and experiences with Hitchcock and his catalogue.
So, take some time this weekend to honor the Master of Suspense. Throw on STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and fully rid yourself of any of that silly “trust” you had left in other people.
If we’ve learned anything from Ol’ Hitchy, it’s that no matter who you are or what you do –someone is always watching; and someone, somewhere, is out to get you.
HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT can be found on HBO, HBO On Demand, and HBO GO! Hitchcock/Truffaut can be purchased online via Amazon.com
Follow Ian on Twitter @ianjdonegan