Hand color tinted photo of Alfred Hitchcock from the 1963 movie, The Birds
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, KBE (13 August 1899 – 29 April 1980) was an English filmmaker and producer. He pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in his native United Kingdom in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood. In 1956 he became an American citizen while remaining a British subject.
Over a career spanning more than half a century, Hitchcock fashioned for himself a distinctive and recognisable directorial style. Viewers are made to identify with the camera which moves in a way meant to mimic a person’s gaze, forcing viewers to engage in a form of voyeurism. He framed shots to manipulate the feelings of the audience and maximise anxiety, fear, or empathy, and used innovative film editing to demonstrate the point of view of the characters. His stories frequently feature fugitives on the run from the law alongside “icy blonde” female characters. Many of Hitchcock’s films have twist endings and thrilling plots featuring depictions of violence, murder, and crime, although many of the mysteries function as decoys or “MacGuffins” meant only to serve thematic elements in the film and the extremely complex psychological examinations of the characters. Hitchcock’s films also borrow many themes from psychoanalysis and feature strong sexual undertones. Through his cameo appearances in his own films, interviews, film trailers, and the television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he became a cultural icon.
Hitchcock directed more than fifty feature films in a career spanning six decades. Often regarded as the greatest British filmmaker, he came first in a 2007 poll of film critics in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, which said: “Unquestionably the greatest filmmaker to emerge from these islands, Hitchcock did more than any director to shape modern cinema, which would be utterly different without him. His flair was for narrative, cruelly withholding crucial information (from his characters and from us) and engaging the emotions of the audience like no one else.” MovieMaker has hailed him as the most influential filmmaker of all time, and he is widely regarded as one of cinema’s most significant artists.
Hitchcock was born on 13 August 1899 in Leytonstone, London, the second son and youngest of three children of William Hitchcock (1862–1914), a greengrocer and poulterer, and Emma Jane Hitchcock (née Whelan; 1863–1942). He was named after his father’s brother, Alfred. Hitchcock was raised Catholic and was sent to the Jesuit Classic school St Ignatius’ College in Stamford Hill, London. His mother and paternal grandmother were of Irish extraction. He often described his childhood as being very lonely and sheltered, a situation compounded by his obesity.
Hitchcock said he was sent by his father on numerous occasions to the local police station with a note asking the officer to lock him away for ten minutes as punishment for behaving badly. This idea of being harshly treated or wrongfully accused is frequently reflected in Hitchcock’s films. Hitchcock’s mother would often make him address her while standing at the foot of her bed, especially if he behaved badly, forcing him to stand there for hours. These experiences would later be used for the portrayal of the character of Norman Bates in his movie Psycho.
Hitchcock’s father died when he was 14. In the same year, Hitchcock left St. Ignatius to study at the London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation in Poplar, London. After graduating, he became a draftsman and advertising designer with a cable company.
During this period, Hitchcock became intrigued by photography and started working in film production in London, working as a title-card designer for the London branch of what would become Paramount Pictures. In 1920, he received a full-time position at Islington Studios with its American owner, Famous Players-Lasky and their British successor, Gainsborough Pictures, designing the titles for silent movies. His rise from title designer to film director took five years.
Pre-war British careerHitchcock’s last collaboration with Graham Cutts led him to Germany in 1924. The film Die Prinzessin und der Geiger (UK title The Blackguard, 1925), directed by Cutts and co-written by Hitchcock, was produced in the Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam near Berlin. Hitchcock also observed part of the making of F. W. Murnau’s film Der letzte Mann (1924). He was very impressed with Murnau’s work and later used many techniques for the set design in his own productions. In his book-length interview with François Truffaut, Hitchcock/Truffaut (Simon and Schuster, 1967), Hitchcock also said he was influenced by Fritz Lang’s film Destiny (1921).
Hitchcock’s first few films faced a string of bad luck. His first directing project came in 1922 with the aptly titled Number 13. However, the production was cancelled due to financial problems and the few scenes that were finished at that point were apparently lost. In 1925, Michael Balcon of Gainsborough Pictures gave Hitchcock another opportunity for a directing credit with The Pleasure Garden made at UFA Studios in Germany; unfortunately, the film was a commercial flop. Next, Hitchcock directed a drama called The Mountain Eagle (possibly released under the title Fear o’ God in the United States). This film was also eventually lost. In 1926, Hitchcock’s luck changed with his first thriller, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. The film, released in January 1927, was a major commercial and critical success in the United Kingdom. As with many of his earlier works, this film was influenced by Expressionist techniques Hitchcock had witnessed first-hand in Germany. Some commentators regard this piece as the first truly “Hitchcockian” film, incorporating such themes as the “wrong man”.
Following the success of The Lodger, Hitchcock hired a publicist to help enhance his growing reputation. On 2 December 1926, Hitchcock married his assistant director, Alma Reville at the Brompton Oratory in South Kensington. Their only child, daughter Patricia, was born on 7 July 1928. Alma was to become Hitchcock’s closest collaborator. Alma’s contribution to his films (some of which were credited on screen) had always been privately acknowledged by Hitchcock, as she was keen to avoid public attention.
In 1929, Hitchcock began work on his tenth film Blackmail. While the film was still in production, the studio, British International Pictures (BIP), decided to convert it to sound. As an early ‘talkie’, the film is frequently cited by film historians as a landmark film, and is often considered to be the first British sound feature film. With the climax of the film taking place on the dome of the British Museum, Blackmail began the Hitchcock tradition of using famous landmarks as a backdrop for suspense sequences. In the PBS series The Men Who Made The Movies, Hitchcock explained how he used early sound recording as a special element of the film, emphasising the word “knife” in a conversation with the woman suspected of murder. During this period, Hitchcock directed segments for a BIP musical film revue Elstree Calling (1930) and directed a short film featuring two Film Weekly scholarship winners, An Elastic Affair (1930). Another BIP musical revue, Harmony Heaven (1929), reportedly had minor input from Hitchcock, but his name does not appear in the credits.
In 1933, Hitchcock was once again working for Michael Balcon at Gaumont-British Picture Corporation. His first film for the company, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), was a success and his second, The 39 Steps (1935), is often considered one of the best films from his early period. This film was also one of the first to introduce the concept of the “MacGuffin”, a plot device around which a whole story seems to revolve, but ultimately has nothing to do with the true meaning or ending of the story. In The 39 Steps, the Macguffin is a stolen set of design plans. Hitchcock told French director François Truffaut:
There are two men sitting in a train going to Scotland and one man says to the other, “Excuse me, sir, but what is that strange parcel you have on the luggage rack above you?”, “Oh”, says the other, “that’s a Macguffin.”, “Well”, says the first man, “what’s a Macguffin?”, The other answers, “It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.”, “But”, says the first man, “there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands.”, “Well”, says the other, “then that’s no Macguffin.”
Hitchcock’s next major success was his 1938 film The Lady Vanishes, a fast-paced film about the search for a kindly old Englishwoman Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), who disappears while on board a train in the fictional country of Bandrika.
By 1938, Hitchcock had become known for his alleged observation, “Actors are cattle”. He once said that he first made this remark as early as the late 1920s, in connection to stage actors who were snobbish about motion pictures. However, Michael Redgrave said that Hitchcock had made the statement during the filming of The Lady Vanishes. The phrase would haunt Hitchcock for years to come and would result in an incident during the filming of his 1941 production of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, where Carole Lombard brought some heifers onto the set with name tags of Lombard, Robert Montgomery, and Gene Raymond, the stars of the film, to surprise the director. Hitchcock said he was misquoted: “I said ‘Actors should be treated like cattle’.”
At the end of the 1930s, David O. Selznick signed Hitchcock to a seven-year contract beginning in March 1939, when the Hitchcocks moved to the United States.
HollywoodThe suspense and the gallows humour that had become Hitchcock’s trademark in film continued to appear in his productions. The working arrangements with Selznick were less than optimal. Selznick suffered from perennial money problems, and Hitchcock was often displeased with Selznick’s creative control over his films. In a later interview, Hitchcock summarised the working relationship thus:
(Selznick) was the Big Producer… Producer was king, The most flattering thing Mr. Selznick ever said about me — and it shows you the amount of control — he said I was the “only director” he’d “trust with a film”.
Selznick loaned Hitchcock to the larger studios more often than producing Hitchcock’s films himself. In addition, Selznick, as well as fellow independent producer Samuel Goldwyn, made only a few films each year, so Selznick did not always have projects for Hitchcock to direct. Goldwyn had also negotiated with Hitchcock on a possible contract, only to be outbid by Selznick. Hitchcock was quickly impressed with the superior resources of the American studios compared to the financial restrictions he had frequently encountered in England.
Hitchcock’s fondness for his homeland resulted in numerous American films set in, or filmed in, the United Kingdom, including his penultimate film, Frenzy.
With the prestigious Selznick picture Rebecca in 1940, Hitchcock made his first American movie, set in England and based on a novel by English author Daphne du Maurier. The film starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. This Gothic melodrama explores the fears of a naive young bride who enters a great English country home and must adapt to the extreme formality and coldness she finds there. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1940. The statuette was given to Selznick, as the film’s producer. The film did not win the Best Director award for Hitchcock.
There were additional problems between Selznick and Hitchcock. Selznick was known to impose very restrictive rules upon Hitchcock, forcing him to shoot the film as Selznick wanted. At the same time, Selznick complained about Hitchcock’s “goddamn jigsaw cutting”, which meant that the producer did not have nearly the leeway to create his own film as he liked, but had to follow Hitchcock’s vision of the finished product. Rebecca was the fourth longest of Hitchcock’s films, at 130 minutes, exceeded only by The Paradine Case (132 minutes), North by Northwest (136 minutes), and Topaz (142 minutes).
Hitchcock’s second American film, the European-set thriller Foreign Correspondent (1940), based on Vincent Sheean’s Personal History and produced by Walter Wanger, was nominated for Best Picture that year. The movie was filmed in the first year of World War II and was apparently inspired by the rapidly changing events in Europe, as fictionally covered by an American newspaper reporter portrayed by Joel McCrea. The film mixed actual footage of European scenes and scenes filmed on a Hollywood back lot. In compliance with Hollywood’s Production Code censorship, the film avoided direct references to Germany and Germans.
Hitchcock’s films during the 1940s were diverse, ranging from the romantic comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) to the courtroom drama The Paradine Case (1947), to the dark and disturbing film noir Shadow of a Doubt (1943).
In September 1940, the Hitchcocks purchased the 200-acre (0.81 km2) Cornwall Ranch, located near Scotts Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The ranch became the primary residence of the Hitchcocks for the rest of their lives, although they kept their Bel Air home. Suspicion (1941) marked Hitchcock’s first film as a producer as well as director. Hitchcock used the north coast of Santa Cruz, California for the English coastline sequence. This film was to be actor Cary Grant’s first time working with Hitchcock, and it was one of the few times that Grant would be cast in a sinister role. Joan Fontaine won Best Actress Oscar and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for her “outstanding performance in Suspicion”. “Grant plays an irresponsible husband whose actions raise suspicion and anxiety in his wife (Fontaine)”. In what critics regard as a classic scene, Hitchcock uses a light bulb to illuminate what might be a fatal glass of milk that Grant is bringing to his wife. In the book upon which the movie is based (Before the Fact by Francis Iles), the Grant character is a killer, but Hitchcock and the studio felt Grant’s image would be tarnished by that ending. Though a homicide would have suited him better, as he stated to François Truffaut, Hitchcock settled for an ambiguous finale.
Saboteur (1942) was the first of two films that Hitchcock made for Universal, a studio where he would continue his career during his later years. Hitchcock was forced to use Universal contract players Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane, both known for their work in comedies and light dramas. Breaking with Hollywood conventions of the time, Hitchcock did extensive location filming, especially in New York City, and depicted a confrontation between a suspected saboteur (Cummings) and a real saboteur (Norman Lloyd) atop the Statue of Liberty.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Hitchcock’s personal favourite of all his films and the second of the early Universal films, was about young Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright), who suspects her beloved uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) of being a serial murderer. Critics have said that in its use of overlapping characters, dialogue, and closeups it has provided a generation of film theorists with psychoanalytic potential, including Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek. Hitchcock again filmed extensively on location, this time in the Northern California city of Santa Rosa, California, during the summer of 1942. The director showcased his own personal fascination with crime and criminals when he had two of his characters discuss various ways of killing people, to the obvious annoyance of Charlotte.
Working at 20th Century Fox, Hitchcock adapted a script of John Steinbeck’s that chronicled the experiences of the survivors of a German U-boat attack in the film Lifeboat (1944). The action sequences were shot on the small boat. The locale also posed problems for Hitchcock’s traditional cameo appearance. That was solved by having Hitchcock’s image appear in a newspaper that William Bendix is reading in the boat, showing the director in a before-and-after advertisement for “Reduco-Obesity Slayer”. While at Fox, Hitchcock seriously considered directing the film version of A.J. Cronin’s novel about a Catholic priest in China, The Keys of the Kingdom, but the plans for this fell through. John M. Stahl ended up directing the 1944 film, which was produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starred Gregory Peck, among other luminaries.
Returning to England for an extended visit in late 1943 and early 1944, Hitchcock made two short films for the Ministry of Information, Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache. Made for the Free French, these were the only films Hitchcock made in the French language, and “feature typical Hitchcockian touches”. In the 1990s, the two films were shown by Turner Classic Movies and released on home video.
In 1945, Hitchcock served as “treatment advisor” (in effect, a film editor) for a Holocaust documentary produced by the British Army. The film, which recorded the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, remained unreleased until 1985, when it was completed by PBS Frontline and distributed under the title Memory of the Camps.
Hitchcock worked for Selznick again when he directed Spellbound, which explored psychoanalysis and featured a dream sequence designed by Salvador Dalí. Gregory Peck plays amnesiac Dr. Anthony Edwardes under the treatment of analyst Dr. Peterson (Ingrid Bergman), who falls in love with him while trying to unlock his repressed past. The dream sequence as it actually appears in the film is considerably shorter than was originally envisioned, which was to be several minutes long, because it proved to be too disturbing for the audience. Some of the original musical score by Miklós Rózsa (which makes use of the theremin) was later adapted by the composer into a concert piano concerto.
Notorious (1946) followed Spellbound. According to Hitchcock, in his book-length interview with François Truffaut, Selznick sold the director, the two stars (Grant and Bergman) and the screenplay (by Ben Hecht) to RKO Radio Pictures as a “package” for $500,000 due to cost overruns on Selznick’s Duel in the Sun (1946). Notorious starred Hitchcock regulars Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant, and features a plot about Nazis, uranium, and South America. It was a huge box office success and has remained one of Hitchcock’s most acclaimed films. His use of uranium as a plot device led to Hitchcock’s being briefly under FBI surveillance. McGilligan writes that Hitchcock consulted Dr. Robert Millikan of Caltech about the development of an atomic bomb. Selznick complained that the notion was “science fiction”, only to be confronted by the news stories of the detonation of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in August 1945.
After completing his final film for Selznick, The Paradine Case (a courtroom drama that critics found lost momentum because it apparently ran too long and exhausted its resource of ideas), Hitchcock filmed his first color film, Rope, which appeared in 1948. Here Hitchcock experimented with marshalling suspense in a confined environment, as he had done earlier with Lifeboat (1943). He also experimented with exceptionally long takes — up to ten minutes long. Featuring James Stewart in the leading role, Rope was the first of four films Stewart would make for Hitchcock. It was based on the Leopold and Loeb case of the 1920s. Somehow Hitchcock’s cameraman managed to move the bulky, heavy Technicolor camera quickly around the set as it followed the continuous action of the long takes.
Under Capricorn (1949), set in nineteenth-century Australia, also used the short-lived technique of long takes, but to a more limited extent. He again used Technicolor in this production, then returned to black and white films for several years. For Rope and Under Capricorn, Hitchcock formed a production company with Sidney Bernstein called Transatlantic Pictures, which became inactive after these two unsuccessful pictures. Hitchcock continued to produce his own films for the rest of his life.
1950s: Peak years
In 1950, Hitchcock filmed Stage Fright on location in the UK. For the first time, Hitchcock matched one of Warner Bros.’ biggest stars, Jane Wyman, with the sultry German actress Marlene Dietrich. Hitchcock used a number of prominent British actors, including Michael Wilding, Richard Todd, and Alastair Sim. This was Hitchcock’s first production for Warner Bros., which had distributed Rope and Under Capricorn, because Transatlantic Pictures was experiencing financial difficulties.
With the film Strangers on a Train (1951), based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, Hitchcock combined many elements from his preceding films. Hitchcock approached Dashiell Hammett to write the dialogue but Raymond Chandler took over, then left over disagreements with the director. Two men casually meet and speculate on removing people who are causing them difficulty. One of the men takes this banter entirely seriously. With Farley Granger reprising some elements of his role from Rope, Strangers continued the director’s interest in the narrative possibilities of blackmail and murder. Robert Walker, previously known for “boy-next-door” roles, plays the villain.
MCA head Lew Wasserman, whose client list included James Stewart, Janet Leigh and other actors who would appear in Hitchcock’s films, had a significant impact in packaging and marketing Hitchcock’s films beginning in the 1950s.
Three very popular films starring Grace Kelly followed. Dial M for Murder (1954) was adapted from the popular stage play by Frederick Knott. Ray Milland plays the scheming villain, an ex-tennis pro who tries to murder his unfaithful wife Grace Kelly for her money. When she kills the hired assassin in self-defense, Milland manipulates the evidence to pin the death on his wife. Her lover, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), and Police Inspector Hubbard (John Williams), work urgently to save her from execution. Hitchcock experimented with 3D cinematography, although the film was not released in this format at first. However, it was shown in 3D in the early 1980s. The film marked a return to Technicolor productions for Hitchcock.
Hitchcock then moved to Paramount Pictures and filmed Rear Window (1954), starring James Stewart and Kelly again, as well as Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr. Stewart’s character, a photographer based on Robert Capa, must temporarily use a wheelchair; out of boredom he begins observing his neighbours across the courtyard, and becomes convinced one of them (Raymond Burr) has murdered his wife. Stewart tries to sway both his glamorous model-girlfriend (Kelly) and his policeman buddy (Wendell Corey) to his theory, and eventually succeeds. Like Lifeboat and Rope, the movie was photographed almost entirely within the confines of a small space: Stewart’s tiny studio apartment overlooking the massive courtyard set. Hitchcock used closeups of Stewart’s face to show his character’s reactions to all he sees, “from the comic voyeurism directed at his neighbors to his helpless terror watching Kelly and Burr in the villain’s apartment”.
The third Kelly film, To Catch a Thief (1955), set in the French Riviera, paired Kelly with Cary Grant again. Grant plays retired thief John Robie, who becomes the prime suspect for a spate of robberies in the Riviera. An American heiress played by Kelly surmises his true identity, attempts to seduce him. “Despite the obvious age disparity between Grant and Kelly and a lightweight plot, the witty script (loaded with double-entendres) and the good-natured acting proved a commercial success.” It was Hitchcock’s last film with Kelly. She married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956, and the residents of her new land were against her making any more films.
Hitchcock successfully remade his own 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1956, this time starring Stewart and Doris Day, who sang the theme song, “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” (which won the Oscar for “Best Original Song” and became a big hit for Day). They play a couple whose son is kidnapped to prevent them from interfering with an assassination.
The Wrong Man (1957), Hitchcock’s final film for Warner Brothers, was a low-key black-and-white production based on a real-life case of mistaken identity reported in Life Magazine in 1953. This was the only film of Hitchcock’s to star Henry Fonda. Fonda plays a Stork Club musician mistaken for a liquor store thief who is arrested and tried for robbery while his wife (newcomer Vera Miles) emotionally collapses under the strain. Hitchcock told Truffaut that his lifelong fear of the police attracted him to the subject and was embedded in many scenes.
Vertigo (1958) again starred Stewart, this time with Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes. Stewart plays “Scottie”, a former police investigator suffering from acrophobia, who develops an obsession with a woman he is shadowing (Novak). Scottie’s obsession leads to tragedy, and this time Hitchcock does not opt for a happy ending. Though the film is widely considered a classic today, Vertigo met with negative reviews and poor box office receipts upon its release, and marked the last collaboration between Stewart and Hitchcock. The film is ranked second (behind Citizen Kane) in the 2002 Sight & Sound decade poll. It was premiered in the San Sebastián International Film Festival, where Hitchcock won a Silver Seashell.
Late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s
By this time, Hitchcock had filmed in many areas of the United States. He followed Vertigo with three more successful films. All are also recognised as among his very best films: North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963).
In North by Northwest, Cary Grant portrays Roger Thornhill, a Madison Avenue advertising executive who is mistaken for a government secret agent. He is hotly pursued by enemy agents across America, one of them Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who turns out to really be an American double agent.
Psycho is considered by some to be Hitchcock’s most famous film. Produced on a highly constrained budget of $800,000, it was shot in black-and-white on a spare set. The unprecedented violence of the shower scene, the early demise of the heroine, the innocent lives extinguished by a disturbed murderer were all hallmarks of Hitchcock, copied in many subsequent horror films. After completing Psycho, Hitchcock moved to Universal, where he made the remainder of his films.
The Birds, inspired by a Daphne Du Maurier short story and by an actual news story about a mysterious infestation of birds in California, was Hitchcock’s 49th film. He signed up Tippi Hedren as his latest blonde heroine opposite Rod Taylor. The scenes of the birds attacking included hundreds of shots mixing actual and animated sequences. The cause of the birds’ attack is left unanswered, “perhaps highlighting the mystery of forces unknown”.
The latter two films were particularly notable for their unconventional soundtracks, both orchestrated by Bernard Herrmann: the screeching strings played in the murder scene in Psycho exceeded the limits of the time, and The Birds dispensed completely with conventional instruments, instead using an electronically produced soundtrack and an unaccompanied song by school children (just prior to the infamous attack at the historic Bodega Bay School). These films are considered his last great films, after which it is said his career started to lose pace (although some critics, such as Robin Wood and Donald Spoto, contend that Marnie, from 1964, is first-class Hitchcock, and some have argued that Frenzy is unfairly overlooked).
Failing health took its toll on Hitchcock, reducing his output during the last two decades of his career. Hitchcock filmed two spy thrillers. The first, Torn Curtain (1966), with Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, was a Cold War thriller. Torn Curtain displays the bitter end of the twelve-year collaboration between Hitchcock and composer Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann was fired when Hitchcock was unsatisfied with his score. In 1969, Topaz, another Cold War-themed film (based on a Leon Uris novel), was released. Both received mixed reviews from critics.
In 1972, Hitchcock returned to London to film Frenzy, his last major triumph. After two only moderately successful espionage films, the plot marks a return to the murder thriller genre that he made so many films out of earlier in his career. The basic story recycles his early film The Lodger. Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), a volatile barkeeper with a history of explosive anger, becomes the prime suspect for the “Necktie Murders”, which are actually committed by his friend Bob Rusk (Barry Foster). This time, Hitchcock makes the victim and villain twins, rather than opposites, as in Strangers on a Train. Only one of them, however, has crossed the line to murder. For the first time, Hitchcock allowed nudity and profane language, which had before been taboo, in one of his films. He also shows rare sympathy for the chief inspector and his comic domestic life. Biographers have noted that Hitchcock had always pushed the limits of film censorship, often managing to fool Joseph Breen, the longtime head of Hollywood’s Production Code. Many times Hitchcock slipped in subtle hints of improprieties forbidden by censorship until the mid-1960s. Yet Patrick McGilligan wrote that Breen and others often realised that Hitchcock was inserting such things and were actually amused as well as alarmed by Hitchcock’s “inescapable inferences”. Beginning with Torn Curtain, Hitchcock was finally able to blatantly include plot elements previously forbidden in American films and this continued for the remainder of his film career.
Family Plot (1976) was Hitchcock’s last film. It related the escapades of “Madam” Blanche Tyler played by Barbara Harris, a fraudulent spiritualist, and her taxi driver lover Bruce Dern making a living from her phony powers. William Devane, Karen Black and Cathleen Nesbitt co-starred. It was the only Hitchcock film scored by John Williams.
Last film work and deathNear the end of his life, Hitchcock had worked on the script for a projected spy thriller, The Short Night, collaborating with screenwriters James Costigan and Ernest Lehman. Despite some preliminary work, the story was never filmed. This was due primarily to Hitchcock’s own failing health and his concerns over the health of his wife, Alma, who had suffered a stroke. The script was eventually published posthumously, in a book on Hitchcock’s last years.
Hitchcock died on 29 April 1980, 9:17AM. He died peacefully in his sleep due to renal failure in his Bel Air, Los Angeles, California home at the age of 80, survived by his wife and their daughter. His funeral service was held at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills. Hitchcock’s body was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.
FameHitchcock became famous for his expert and largely unrivaled control of pace and suspense, and his films draw heavily on both fear and fantasy. The films are known for their droll humour and witticisms, and these cinematic works often portray innocent people caught up in circumstances beyond their control or understanding.
Hitchcock began his directing career in the United Kingdom in 1922. From 1939 onward, he worked primarily in the United States. In September 1940, Hitchcock had purchased a 200-acre (0.81 km2) mountaintop estate for the sum of $40,000. Known as the 1870 Cornwall Ranch or ‘Heart o’ the Mountain’, the property was perched high above Scotts Valley, California, at the end of Canham Road. The Hitchcocks resided there from 1940 to 1972. The Hitchcocks became close friends with the parents of Joan Fontaine, after she starred in his film, Rebecca. Years later, after a break-in at his estate, Hitchcock replaced all of the accumulated paintings with studio-made copies. The family sold the estate in 1974, six years before Hitchcock’s death.
Hitchcock and family also purchased a second home in late 1942 at 10957 Bellagio Road in Los Angeles, just across from the Bel Air Country Club.
Rebecca was the only Hitchcock film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (though the award did not go to Hitchcock but to producer David O. Selznick); four other films were nominated. In 1967, he was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement. He never won an Academy Award for direction of a film.
Television and booksAlong with Walt Disney, Hitchcock was among the first prominent motion picture producers to fully envisage just how popular the medium of television would become. From 1955 to 1965, Hitchcock was the host and producer of a television series entitled Alfred Hitchcock Presents. While his films had made Hitchcock’s name strongly associated with suspense, the TV series made Hitchcock a celebrity himself. His irony-tinged voice and signature droll delivery, gallows humor, iconic image and mannerisms became instantly recognisable and were often the subject of parody.
The title-theme of the show pictured a minimalist caricature of Hitchcock’s profile (he drew it himself; it is composed of only nine strokes) which his real silhouette then filled. His introductions before the stories in his program always included some sort of wry humor, such as the description of a recent multi-person execution hampered by having only one electric chair, while two are now shown with a sign “Two chairs–no waiting!” He directed a few episodes of the TV series himself, and he upset a number of movie production companies when he insisted on using his TV production crew to produce his motion picture Psycho. In the late 1980s, a new version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents was produced for television, making use of Hitchcock’s original introductions in a colorised form.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents was parodied by Friz Freleng’s 1961 cartoon The Last Hungry Cat, which contains a plot similar to Blackmail.
“Hitch” used a curious little tune by the French composer Charles Gounod (1818–1893), the composer of the 1859 opera Faust, as the theme “song” for his television programs, after it was suggested to him by composer Bernard Herrmann. Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra included the piece, Funeral March of a Marionette, in one of their extended play 45 rpm discs for RCA Victor during the 1950s.
Hitchcock appears as a character in the popular juvenile detective book series, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. The long-running detective series was created by Robert Arthur, who wrote the first several books, although other authors took over after he left the series. The Three Investigators—Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Peter Crenshaw—were amateur detectives, slightly younger than the Hardy Boys. In the introduction to each book, “Alfred Hitchcock” introduces the mystery, and he sometimes refers a case to the boys to solve. At the end of each book, the boys report to Hitchcock, and sometimes give him a memento of their case.
When the real Hitchcock died, the fictional Hitchcock in the Three Investigators books was replaced by a retired detective named Hector Sebastian. At this time, the series title was changed from Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators to The Three Investigators.
At the height of Hitchcock’s success, he was also asked to introduce a set of books with his name attached. The series was a collection of short stories by popular short-story writers, primarily focused on suspense and thrillers. These titles included Alfred Hitchcock’s Anthology, Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories to be Read with the Door Locked, Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum, Alfred Hitchcock’s Supernatural Tales of Terror and Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbinders in Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock’s Witch’s Brew, Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery, Alfred Hitchcock’s A Hangman’s Dozen and Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful. Hitchcock himself was not actually involved in the reading, reviewing, editing or selection of the short stories; in fact, even his introductions were ghost-written. The entire extent of his involvement with the project was to lend his name and collect a check.
Some notable writers whose works were used in the collection include Shirley Jackson (Strangers in Town, The Lottery), T.H. White (The Once and Future King), Robert Bloch, H. G. Wells (The War of the Worlds), Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain and the creator of The Three Investigators, Robert Arthur.
Hitchcock also wrote a mystery story for Look magazine in 1943, “The Murder of Monty Woolley”. This was a sequence of captioned photographs inviting the reader to inspect the pictures for clues to the murderer’s identity; Hitchcock cast the performers as themselves; such as Woolley, Doris Merrick and make up man Guy Pearce, whom Hitchcock identified, in the last photo, as the murderer. The article was reprinted in Games Magazine in November/December 1980.