Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), was a film director famous for skillfully wrought suspense thrillers. He was essentially concerned with depicting the tenuous relations between people and objects and rendering the terror inherent in commonplace realities.

Born into a working class family in London, Alfred Hitchcock attended St. Ignatius' College to prepare for the ministry. However, rebelling against his Catholic upbringing, he fled to the Bohemian seacoast in 1921. He soon involved himself in motion picture production, receiving valuable training with the British division of Famous Players Lasky. In 1923 he began writing scenarios for the Gainsborough Film Studios.

Hitchcock's first film, The Lodger (1925), an exciting treatment of the Jack the Ripper story, was followed by Blackmail (1930), the first British talking picture. Some think that Hitchcock's next films, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), and The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935), were responsible for the renaissance in British movie making during the early 1930s.

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Fame Spread in Hollywood

In 1939 Hitchcock left England with his wife and daughter to settle in Hollywood. For the most part, his American films of the 1940s were expensively produced and stylishly entertaining. These included Rebecca (1940), based on a best-selling suspense novel; Suspicion (1941), about a woman who believes her husband is a murderer; Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the tale of a small-town psychopath diabolically masquerading as a Good Samaritan; Lifeboat (1944), a heavy-handed study of survival on the open seas; and Spellbound (1945), a murder mystery about psychoanalysts. Less ambitious but more accomplished was Notorious (1946), praised for its rendering of place and atmosphere. Hitchcock's first decade in Hollywood ended with two interesting failures: The Paradine Case (1947) and Rope (1948).

Hitchcock Became Master of Suspense

Beginning with the bizarre Strangers on a Train (1951), Hitchcock directed a series of films that placed him among the great artists of modern cinema. His productions of the 1950s were stylistically freer than his earlier films and thematically more complex. His most significant films during that time were I Confess (1953), Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), The Trouble with Harry (1956), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), and North by Northwest (1959).

Psycho (1960) was Hitchcock's most terrifying and controversial film, and made an entire generation of moviegoers nervous about taking a shower. The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), and Family Plot (1976) were Hitchcock's final and less brilliant films. Hitchcock also expanded his directing career into American television, with a series that featured mini-thrillers (1955-1965). Because of failing health, he retired from directing after Family Plot. He was knighted in 1979 and died soon afterward in Los Angeles on April 29, 1980.

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Hitchcock Renaissance in the 1990s

Hitchcock's films enjoyed newfound popularity in the 1990s. After a restored print of Vertigo was released in 1996 and became surprisingly successful, plans were made to re-release other films, such as Strangers on a Train. According to Entertainment Weekly, as of 1997 plans were underway to remake as many as half a dozen Hitchcock films with new casts, an idea that met with mixed responses from Hitchcock fans.

Further Reading on Alfred Hitchcock

The finest critical study of Hitchcock's films is by the French critic and film maker François Truffaut, Hitchcock (1966; trans. 1967). Other valuable treatments are Robin Wood, Hitchcock's Films (1965; 2d ed. 1969), and George Perry, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock (1965). For analysis of Hitchcock's work from his silent films to the early 1960s see the relevant chapter in John Russell Taylor, Cinema Eye, Cinema Ear: Some Key Film-makers of the Sixties (1964).

Additional Biography Sources

Nashawaty, Chris, "Deja View, " Entertainment Weekly, Dec. 6, 1996.

Ryall, Tom, Alfred Hitchcock and the British Cinema, 2nd ed., Athlone, 1996.