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Alfred Hitchcock

April 1, 1996

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The Master of suspense, the virtual inventor of the thriller genre. Hitchcock has been called such names and more. He combined sex, suspense and humor to make some of the best motion pictures in the history of cinema. Born in Leytonstone, England on August 13, 1899, Hitchcock first started out in films writing title sequences for silent films at Paramount. It was there where he learned editing, screenwriting and directing. He arose to assistant director in 1922. After many uncompleted films, which he made in his homeland England, his first completed film was the 1925 feature, The Pleasure Garden. Needless to say, it did not make a lasting impression on cinema. His breakthrough movie was The Lodger (1926). It was the first example of a typical Hitchcock plot. An innocent person is falsely accused of a crime and becomes involved in a world full of intrigue.

Hitchcock was always a man who used technical devices in films for impressive purposes. Take his first sound film, Blackmail (1929). In one of the characters conversations, he distorts all but one of the person's words. The word he does not distort is "knife". After a string of forgettable silents and talkies during the 20's and 30's, Hitchcock hit it big in Britain with The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The 39 Steps (1935), two very big critical and commercial successes. It was not until the classic train mystery, The Lady Vanishes (1938), that American producer David O. Selznick became interested in Hitchcock's independent directing style. After Hitch finished one last film in England, he moved to Hollywood and directed the ambitious Rebecca (1940), a film that was not of his usual directing style. Foreign Correspondent (1940) was the first film from Hollywood that featured Hitch's recognizable touch.

Despite a few lapses into some totally forgettable material (notably the late 40's), the next three decades would be good for Hitch. With films like Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Lifeboat in the 40's, and Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958) in the 50's, Hitch grew into a household name and was one of the most respected film directors of his time. His peak came in 1960 with the box-office horror film, Psycho. No one at the time had seen anything like it, and in some other director's hands it would have remained hated and forgotten for many years. However, thanks largly to Hitchcock's magnificent handling of subjects that were taboo at the time, it was the highest grossing film of that year.

Sadly, Hitch never really recovered from the worldwide success of Psycho, and he started losing his touch. His next film, The Birds (1963) was very popular, but not what Hitch would have liked to be remembered for. His last two films Frenzy (1972) and Family Plot (1976), though not commercial hits, were fitting ends to a career that had spanned more than six decades. After gaining knighthood in 1979, he died on April 28, 1980. He never received an Academy award for best director. The reason I like him so much is because he was one of the few filmakers in his day that dared mention art. But, then again, he made a lot of money for his studios, so you can understand why he wasn't dropped by the mainstream Hollywood production machine.

My rating on a scale of 1 to 10: 10


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