Alfred Hitchcock is a legendary English director who became as well-known as most actors. Throughout his career, he gave multiple interviews and made cameo appearances in 39 of his movies. You can see him appear in the background as a pedestrian or train passenger. Next time you watch one of his films, pay extra attention.
He was even once featured in “before and after” pictures in a newspaper ad for a weight-loss product. Between 1955 and 1965, he was hosting “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” and the ad certainly helped increase his profile. Altogether, the director’s movies garnered 46 Oscar nominations, and his film “Rebecca” won for Best Film. Hitchcock got into cinema when silent films were a thing but started using more innovative ways of movie-making. This is the impressive career of the master of suspense- Alfred Hitchcock.
Alfred Hitchcock was born on August 13, 1899, in Leytonstone, Essex. He became a renowned director, but he didn’t have the most glamorous upbringing. Little Alfred struggled with obesity throughout his life, as a result of a glandular condition. His parents were extremely strict, and the young boy spent a lot of time alone, drawing maps and inventing games.
When Hitchcock was a young teen, he lost his dad. At 15, he went to study at the London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation, which qualified him to become a draftsman. He got a job working at a telegraph company, and he developed a huge interest in cinema (which was a new thing). Every day after work, he would educate himself about film by watching them and studying cinema trade newspapers.
Starting at the Bottom
He attempted to join the army after World War I, but he was rejected because of his weight. However, he was later able to sign up as a cadet in the Royal Engineers for a brief period of time. After the war, he started writing short stories, and they were published in his company’s in-house magazine.
His love for storytelling helped spark an interest in photography, as well as in the new art of film. He landed a job as a title card designer in 1920 for a company that is now known as Paramount Pictures. Hitchcock worked his way up the ladder, and, within five short years, he was already producing silent films. In his later years, the director referred to silent films as the “purest form of cinema.”
A Talking Film
In the mid-1920s, Hitchcock took a trip to Germany where he picked up new techniques used in modern film making. After making a few mediocre movies, Hitchcock finally earned his first commercial and critical success with “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog” (1927).
Hitchcock’s first-ever thriller was “Blackmail” in 1929; it was one of the most successful British movies of that entire year. The movie began as a silent film, and, during filming, it was changed to sound. This made “Blackmail” the first-ever British film to have synchronized sound. The silent version and sound version of the film with both released in theaters.
Move to America
Thanks to Hitchcock’s success in England, David Selznick from Hollywood reached out to him. By 1939, the director moved his family to California and started working on a new movie, “Rebecca” (1940). The movie went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Hitch didn’t exactly love America. However, he did enjoy the resources that were available to him in American Studios.
In 1943, towards the end of World War II, the director went back to England and produced two movies in French for the Free French forces. Then, in 1945, he worked on a documentary about concentration camps. As you can imagine, the images were so shocking that it was shelved. In 1985, it was finally published as “Memory of the Camps.” It was re-released in 2014.
The Meaning of Fear
Hitchcock returned to America after the war. He continued his long and successful film career. He quickly developed his talent and created psychological films. If you enjoy horror, you are probably fascinated by the way his mind works. He once explained his thoughts on fear and how it’s a natural feeling:
“Fear isn’t so difficult to understand. After all, weren’t we all frightened as children? Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the Big Bad Wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf. This fright complex is rooted in every individual.”
Not for Kids!
In 1960, Hitchcock’s most memorable film, “Psycho,” was released. Interestingly, it wasn’t until 1984 that the film received its “R” rating. It was given an “M” rating in 1968, meaning it’s appropriate for more mature viewers. But it was resubmitted in 1984 and lowered to an “R” rating so that children under the age of 17 needed a parent to accompany them.
There is a pretty good reason for that. I mean, have you see “Psycho”?! It’s not exactly a children’s movie. I can’t believe it took over two decades to receive an R rating. A lot of 60s kids must have had nightmares!
Blondes Have More Fun
If you look at his movies, Alfred Hitchcock had a tendency to hire blonde actresses. His reasoning was, “Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints,” according to “The Guardian.” The director’s female protagonists led to the label “icy blonde.”
Basically, Hitchcock thought that blondes appear less suspicious than brunettes. Therefore, when a woman with blonde hair does something unexpected or deceitful, it comes across as more shocking to the audience. In addition to making the perfect victim and symbolizing heroism, another reason he preferred blondes is for a more technical reason. They simply photograph better in black and white.
By the mid-1930s, Hitchcock was making a name for himself and gaining a reputation as one of the greatest film producers in Britain. He demonstrated his talent through the success of his movies, such as “The 39 Steps” (1935), “Sabotage” (1936), and “The Lady Vanishes” (1938). The director was a genius at creating tension as well as a fast-moving plotline. Instead of tying down the audience with detail, he created tense, dramatic scenes.
Hitchcock pioneered many things, including the use of famous backdrops, either well-known landmarks in a city or the wilderness of the Scottish moors in “39 Steps” (1935). Later on in his career, he used plenty of prominent landmarks, including Mt. Rushmore in “North by Northwest” in 1959, and the Statue of Liberty in “Saboteur” in 1942.
“The Mountain Eagle” was one of the director’s earlier films, but chances are you never saw it. It made it to the top of the British Film Institute’s list of most desired lost films. All copies of the film vanished, and all that remains are pictures and a lobby card that was found at the flea market.
It was Hitchcock’s second film after “The Pleasure Garden,” and, reportedly, Hitchcock was pretty happy that the movie disappeared. He even referred to it as a “very bad movie.” Supposedly, the movie is about a widower who competes with his crippled son and a man he hates over the schoolteacher. I guess there is no way to confirm or deny this, but I’ll take Wikipedia’s word for it.
Married His Co-Worker
During his first job working at the Telegraph Company, Hitchcock met his wife, Alma Reville. The pair tied the knot in 1926, and he worked closely with her at the beginning of his career. She was a writer, script supervisor, editor, and assistant director on a number of his early films, and, after each take, he would ask for her opinion.
She became less involved with shooting as Hitchcock’s career progressed, but they would still consult each other when it came to major decisions regarding casting, scripts, and editing. Remember the classic shower scene in “Psycho”? Well, she was the one who convinced her husband to add famous music in the now-iconic scene.
Quite the Prankster
Hitchcock was known for his practical jokes. At times, pulling pranks became part of his creative process for his movies. While shooting “The 39 Steps,” Hitchcock handcuffed the two leads together and told them he lost the key. They were attached to each other for more than an hour before finally finding the key.
Hitchcock claimed that he was interested in “the drama of being handcuffed” as the main theme in the film, and the “ordeal” was to help the actors develop chemistry. He also dared a crew member to spend an entire night locked in handcuffs. Only after accepting the challenge did he find out that the director secretly gave him a laxative. Hitchcock was also known for putting whoopee cushions under his co-worker’s chairs.
Before Alfred Hitchcock, it was considered to be offensive to show bathrooms in movies. The director thought the taboo was trivial and made the first American movie to feature a toilet on screen in “Psycho.” Thanks to that infamous scene, movie bathrooms have since become a common horror/thriller trope and basically a universal symbol of terror.
It should be noted that even after the release of “Psycho,” it was considered inappropriate to feature toilets on screen. Even when “The Brady Bunch” was airing, their bathroom never showed the toilet on screen. It honestly just looked like their bathroom didn’t have a toilet; it’s pretty weird. Things have definitely changed.
Paramount’s Biggest Set
The set of “Rear Window” (1954) was not a regular movie set. Hitchcock built the apartment complex specifically for the film. Apparently, it holds the record for the largest indoor set that has ever been built at Paramount Studios. In its entirety, the complex took six weeks to construct, and it even included a drainage system for the rain scene.
On top of that, it also had a special wiring mechanism to achieve the complex lighting for the interior and exterior. The movie is a Technicolor mystery film, and it looks like the director’s hard work paid off. Many fans, critics, and scholars consider it one of the best Hitchcock movies.
Coining a Term
Hitchcock started off in silent film. He had a way of bringing his special understanding of its visual nature into the movies. He was a strong believer that the visual aspect needs to come before dialogue and sound. Just as he wished, it’s the images in his films that are most memorable.
The director also had a way of keeping audiences engaged with the heart-stopping tension he created. Hitchcock’s exciting thrillers landed him the title “Master of Suspense.” The term “Hitchcockian” is also an adjective that can be used to describe suspense thrillers that use similar techniques. His other nickname is simply Hitch.
Getting Around the Rules
When Hitchcock first began making Hollywood movies, he got frustrated with the strict guidelines surrounding movie content regulations and had to find new creative ways to get around the rules. When it came to “Psycho,” he sent the censors to the extremely graphic scenes of violence and nudity so that he wouldn’t have to cut the more subtle scenes that were essential.
When he was asked to reshoot the opening sexual scene, Hitchcock pretended he didn’t understand and asked them to deliver instructions personally. When the censors didn’t show up, he managed to keep the scene the way it was. Sneaky, sneaky!
Shortest Oscar Speech
Hitchcock earned five Academy Award nominations for Best Director for his movies, but surprisingly, he never won the award. Still, the Academy wanted to honor the director, and in 1967, they gave him the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his lifetime of achievement. He certainly deserved it, that’s for sure.
He gave a memorable speech, which was also the shortest acceptance speech in the history of the Oscars, saying, “Thank you… very much indeed.” Despite not winning Best Director, the movies he created were nominated for 46 Oscars and five wins! That’s pretty impressive on its own if you ask me.
“North by Northwest”
Hitchcock collaborated with Jimmy Stewart on four different films. The director even blamed Stewart for the initial negative reception of “Vertigo.” When it was time to film “North by Northwest,” Hitchcock wanted to work with a different actor, but he didn’t want to tell Stewart. Instead, he delayed filming until the actor was no longer available and cast Cary Grant.
In the movie “North by Northwest,” Hitchcock had a really cool idea. He wanted Cary Grant’s character to hide in Lincoln’s nose on Mount Rushmore when he was running from the bad guys. Unfortunately, The National Park Service didn’t allow it because it would be disrespectful to the monument. Hitchcock had no choice but to cut the scene.
Vertigo Aged Well
There was no point for aspiring actors to audition for Hitchcock movies. The director was known to work with already established actors whom the audience would immediately recognize. That way, they can focus on the plot rather than the actors.
When “Vertigo” first came out in 1958, it was largely slammed by the critics. However, that’s not how it’s looked back on today. Contemporary critics look at the film in a whole new light. According to a 2012 “Sight and Sound” critics poll, it’s an even grander film than “Citizen Kane” and is also the best film ever made. Wow! That’s quite the compliment.
The United Nations Building in New York City had strict guidelines when it came to allowing movies to shoot on its ground. The policies made it off-limits to Hitchcock for “North by Northwest.” To compensate, he requested the studio build a model of the lobby for the interior scenes, and put up hidden cameras across the street from the exterior shots.
No extras were used for those parts. The people who appear in those scenes are regular people who walked into the shot. If you’re good at paying attention to detail, you may have noticed one passer-by doing a double-take when he saw actor Cary Grant casually walk past him.
The Secret Twist
Alfred Hitchcock was so insistent on keeping the twist ending of “Psycho” a secret. Not only did he buy the rights to the novel by Robert Bloch, but, apparently, he asked his secretary to buy every copy of the book, she could find to prevent spoilers. Hitch made the cast and crew swear not to say a word.
He even went as far as to keep the press out of screenings and took out newspaper ads begging the audiences not to ruin the movie. The ads read: “Please do not give away the ending. It’s the only one we have.” Seeing the lengths, he went through to ensure the ending wouldn’t be spoiled shows the director’s commitment.
Five Lost Hitchcocks
Even though they weren’t exactly lost, five of Hitchcock’s movies were unavailable to the public for three decades. The director bought back the rights to “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “Rope,” “Vertigo,” “Rear Window,” and “The Trouble with Harry” after their first run. This basically means that the only way they can be screened again is if he were paid royalties.
After his death, he willed the rights to his daughter Patricia; she kept them for five years before ultimately releasing the rights. Reportedly, she sold the rights for $6 million and started cinema releases as well as home videos. Fans still dubbed these films the “Five Lost Hitchcock’s.”
Hitchcock’s 1927 film “The Lodger” marked a few firsts for the director. Most notably, it was the first film he made a cameo in. Hitchcock referred to it as his first true suspense film, and it was also his first-ever commercial hit. Everything went uphill from there for the director. After that, he made a cameo in all his films.
The only time Alfred Hitchcock’s voice is ever heard on the big screen is his narration for the movie “The Wrong Man.” This was also the first one of his films that was based on true events… even though some details were left out deliberately to heighten the tension.
Prolonging the Thrill
A MacGuffin is a literary device that is used to drive the plot and keep the readers hooked because there is a goal or an object that the protagonist will pursue at almost any length, but there is no explanation why. Hitchcock loved to use this method in his films and popularized the term and idea in “Number Seventeen” and “The 39 Steps.”
Hitchcock also attempted to stretch out the suspense in a scene for as long as he possibly could to keep the audience hooked. To achieve this, he would switch between camera shots and made good use of shadows, which helps create tension.
The Bad Cops
When Alfred Hitchcock was a young child, his father had him locked up in a jail cell at a police station for a few minutes, warning him that “This is what happens to people who do bad things.” But it resulted in Hitchcock developing a lifelong fear of the police, which he portrayed through his movies. Cops aren’t exactly heroes when it comes to his movies; they were usually depicted as the bad guys.
In more than half a dozen of Hitchcock’s films, there is a recurring theme of an innocent man accused of a crime. In the words of Hitchcock, “the theme of the innocent man being accused… provides the audience with the greatest sense of danger.”
Another motif that Hitchcock liked to use in his movies was the strong domineering mother who is intrusive and controlling to the point where she literally drives her sons crazy. These tormenting mothers show up in almost all of his films. However, nobody really knows the exact reason he is so fascinated by this type of character.
Hitchcock was known to have unusual relationships with his female stars, but that was usually ignored because the director was just awkward in general. But there is speculation that Hitchcock had a difficult relationship with his own mom. It makes sense; inspiration needs to come from somewhere.
In 1988, after Hitchcock’s death, The United States National Film Preservation Board was founded. It selects special films to be preserved in the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress. The chosen films are either culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant, and seven of Hitchcock’s films have been included in the registry to date.
The first of Hitchcock’s films to be included was “Vertigo” in 1989, and his most recent addition was in 2006 for his movie “Notorious.” The fact that some of his works will be preserved forever further proves how influential and talented this man was. I wonder if he ever realized that Hollywood would continue to learn from him and respect him forever.
Innovative Sound Effects
For the film “The Birds,” Hitchcock hired Bernard Herrmann, who composed the music for “Psycho.” However, he didn’t bring him on board to compose music; instead, he wanted him to focus on the noises and sounds that birds make before attacking so that he can make the movie scarier!
For his film “Rear Window,” Hitchcock wanted to make it look more authentic by using a unique technique. Basically, all the sound in the film is diegetic. That means that all of the sounds were natural, besides for the orchestrations. Hitchcock used this method about 20 years before it was widely used.
Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick worked on a number of films together, and their relationship was described as ‘turbulent.’ It has been speculated that Hitchcock’s animosity for Selznick inspired the villain in “Rear Window” (played by Raymond Burr).
The look of the character was based on Selznick. Apparently, Hitchcock would teach Burr how to imitate Selznick’s mannerisms behind his back. I don’t know how I feel about this; it seems a little mean, but who wouldn’t want to inspire one of Hitchcock’s characters?! Especially a villain? I mean, at the end of the day, it’s his vision, and whatever comes out of that mind of his is a work of art.
The 3D Fab
In the 1950s, 3D movies were becoming popular. Warner Brothers forced Hitchcock to shoot his film “Dial M for Murder” using 3D cameras. To make the movie appear more interesting, he added a pit to the floor on set. This allowed the camera to move even lowers and capture angles of the objects in the front.
Ironically, when the movie was almost ready to come out, the 3D fad was just about over. Therefore, Hitchcock’s film, “Dial M for Murder,” was shown mostly in 2D. It was the only one of the director’s films to be filmed this way. It was an interesting change, but Hitchcock had his own way of doing things.
Disney Ruined It
Alfred Hitchcock had so many ideas, and he wasn’t always able to get his projects off the ground. One of these projects was an unmade movie that would have been titled “The Blind Man.” Hitchcock even had a cast in mind; he wanted Jimmy Stewart to star as the lead. However, one of the most significant scenes of the film was set to be shot in Disneyland.
Unfortunately, Walt Disney did not approve; he had already seen Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and was disgusted by it. By not allowing him to film there, Walt Disney effectively killed the entire project. But who can blame him? Disneyland is the happiest place on earth and child friendly. Have you seen “Psycho”? It’s quite the opposite.
The Vertigo Effect
One of the many things Hitchcock was known for was his innovations. For his movie “Vertigo,” the director invented a camera shot called the dolly zoom; it is now referred to as the Hitchcock zoom or the Vertigo effect. Basically, the camera lens zooms in while the camera moves away, or the other way around.
So, if the camera moves closer, the background becomes dominant, and if it’s farther away, the emphasis switches to the foreground subject (like a person). Originally, the reason for the shot was to portray to the audience exactly what the main character was experiencing whenever his fear of heights acted up.
Wardrobe And Studio
In “Dial M for Murder,” the mental state of Margot, the female lead, is reflected through her clothing choice. At the start of the movie, she wears bright colors, which usually signifies happiness. But as the movie goes on, her clothes become darker, suggesting a more negative mood.
Hitchcock hated filming on location, according to his daughter Patricia. Apparently, he felt that getting the right light there was difficult; plus, the film needed to be redubbed because of the noise. He preferred to film in the studio, where he was comfortable and had complete control.
In Hitchcock’s film “Spellbound,” there is a dream sequence created by Salvador Dali, the surrealist painter. The director wasn’t very impressed with the way dream sequences were being done in movies. Instead of the traditional blurred dream sequence, Hollywood was used to, Hitchcock tried something different.
Hitch explained in a 1962 interview that he selected Dali because of the “architectural sharpness of his work,” but he also realized that Dali had some unique ideas. The director “wanted to convey the dream with great visual sharpness and clarity, sharper than the film itself.” They created about 20 minutes of footage, and it was edited down to fit the film.
The only one of Hitchcock’s film that did have “the end” shown after the movie concluded was “The Birds.” This was actually done on purpose. Hitchcock wanted to give the audience an ending that isn’t necessarily the end. That way, after leaving the movie, a never-ending sense of fear follows them.
The movie “Rope” is 80 minutes long, and it’s meant to take place in real-time. But in the film’s actual time frame is just over 100 minutes. The film was shot in ten takes that lasted from about 4.5 minutes to 10 minutes. Ten subtle edits were used to make it look like the movie was shot in one continuous shot.
“Strangers on a Train” is about two strangers who meet on a train: a young tennis player and a charming psychopath. Sounds like my kind of movie. This particular film had two different endings. One version was shown by Hitchcock himself to preview audiences, and the other one was featured in theaters. The preview version concluded with Anne getting a phone call from a guy letting her know that he’s all right.
However, Warner Brothers forced Hitchcock to add an extra scene because they felt that it was too abrupt. Hitchcock wasn’t satisfied with either ending; he wanted the movie to end before the last scene in the preview.
Hitchcock’s second to last film, “Frenzy,” was the first movie shot in London since “Stage Fright” in the 1950s. It is the only movie that Hitchcock directed that received an X rating in the UK, and it was his most commercially successful film since “Psycho.” It’s a horror movie about a serial killer, my fave!
Basically, the “Necktie murderer” haunts London, where he strangles women. Richard Blaney, a character who lost his ex-wife to the killer, is the main suspect. This actually sounds like a movie I would watch in 2020. If Alfred Hitchcock was still around, he would be the perfect writer for shows like “Criminal Minds.”
Financed Psycho Himself
It wasn’t smooth sailing when it came to the creation of the iconic horror film “Psycho.” Paramount wasn’t so sure about the project, so Hitchcock needed to pay for the movie out of his own pocket and gave up his director’s paycheck for 60% ownership of the movie. This unique arrangement came back as a hefty paycheck for the director.
Paramount doesn’t even own the movie anymore. Since 1968, it’s been a Universal title. Hitchcock bought the rights for Robert Bloch’s book for only $9,000. He chose to purchase it after seeing the amazing reviews it got in “The New York Times.” He also made the bid anonymously so that he could keep the project a secret.
Three Norma Bates
Norma Bates is a classic character. She has been featured and referenced throughout pop culture as a domineering mother with an odd relationship with her son. In 2013, the series “Bates Motel” was released depicting a young Norman Bates being raised by Norma, and it is a lot. It really stayed true to Hitchcock’s suspenseful style.
As we know, the character originated with Robert Bloch, but Hitchcock was the first one to bring the intense character to the screen. In “Psycho,” three different actresses recorded Norma Bates’s dialogue. This was intentional; Hitch wanted to mix them all together to find the right tone for each particular scene.
As we mentioned, “Psycho” was a movie based on Robert Bloch’s novel, but where did the author get such a dark idea? As it turns out, the book was inspired by Ed Gein. If you don’t know who Ed Gein is, you probably don’t want to. He was a vicious, Wisconsin serial killer. Aside from murder, his actions were so disturbing that I can’t even write about them here.
His crimes also inspired other fictional murderers, including Leatherface in “The Chainsaw Massacre” franchise and Buffalo Bill in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Bloch lived just 40 miles away from where Ed Gein’s committed his murders, so it’s not too surprising that his crimes made their way into a novel.