Alfred Hitchcock: 50 Years Of Movie Magic

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Alfred Hitchcock: 50 Years of Movie MagicAlfred Hitchcock is among the few directors to combine a strongreputation for high-art film-making with great audience popularity. Throughouthis career he gave his audiences more pleasure than could be asked for. Theconsistency of quality plot-lines and technical ingenuity earned him therecognition of being one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. His filmsearned him the reputation of being the “master of suspense”, and after viewingtwo of his more popular films, Psycho and The Birds, it is evident why. Thereis a distinction between surprise, which lasts only a few seconds, and suspensewhich captivates one’s attention the entire length of a film. This is somethingthat Hitchcock realized early on, and applied into his movies. He is one of thefew directors whose name on a marquee is as important, if not more so, than anyactor who appears in the film itself. Both his style of directing, and that ofthe movies that he has directed are very unique, making him stand out in thefilm industry. He pioneered the art of cinematography and special effects,which along with his cameos, are what he is most often associated with.

Hitchcock led a long and prosperous life in the movie industry, starting as ateenager and making movies up until his death in 1980, while working on the 54thof his career (Sterrit 3).

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Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born on August 13, 1889 in London, England.

As a child his parents were very strict with him and they imposed severe andunusual punishments upon him, as what they considered to be discipline. One ofthese incidents scarred him for life. As punishment for arriving home late onenight, young Alfred’s father had a policeman friend lock the boy up in a cellfor five minutes, “in order to teach him where naughty little boys who come homeafter 9 o’clock would eventually end up.” (Phillips 27). Throughout his careerhe used the innocent man being arrested and imprisoned in his films, and claimedthat forever after he had a fear of the police (Spoto 16). Fear was also a bigpart of his childhood, which later was evident in many of his movies. “Fear? Ithas influenced my life and my career.” (18) explains Hitchcock, he also had afear of being alone and of darkness which once again appeared in many of hismovies. “…fear you see is an emotion that people like to feel when they knowthey are safe.” (39).

Hitchcock led a life of fantasy, and spent much of his time alone,entertaining himself because he did not have many friends growing up. He livedlife as if he was on the outside looking in. Much like a person watchingtelevision or a director directing a picture. Reading was also a part ofHitchcock’s life from a young age. The novels Bleak House and Robinson Crusoewere two that stuck with him over the years. He also really enjoyed Edgar AllanPoe, stating that “Very likely it’s because I was so taken by the Poe storiesthat I later made suspense films.” (39). In 1915 he started work for the HenleyTelegraphy Company. He soon began to study art at the University of London,which led to being promoted to Henley’s advertising department to design cableads. But Hitchcock’s true love was the movies. He hunted all over the famousWardour Street trying to obtain a position in film-making. In 1920 a co-workerat Henley’s helped him put together a portfolio and he was hired instantly byThe Famous Players-Lasky as a title designer for silent films. For two yearsHitchcock wrote and designed for popular British movie directors. The hardworking Hitchcock was recognized by his employers as well as leading actors ofthe day. In 1922 the director of Always Tell Your Wife, a film in progress, gotvery sick and had to leave the movie. The lead actor Seymore Hicks had to takeover the duties of direction, but was stumped on ideas. The young Hitchcockassisted him with the rest of production, and a legacy had been born (Rohmer 4).

Hitchcock’s solo directorial debut, The Pleasure Garden was released inJanuary of 1927, but it was not until three weeks later that the illustriouscareer of Alfred J. Hitchcock really took off. In February of 1927 The Lodgerwas released and it attracted mass audiences because of the rave reviews itreceived early on. It marked the first time in British film history that adirector got more praise than did any of his stars (Kapsis 20). Besides beingHitchcock’s first acclaimed motion picture, The Lodger is also note worthybecause it was the movie in which one of the greatest movie traditions of alltime would begin; the famous Hitchcock cameo appearance, a unique trademark ofhis films for the next fifty years. In April of 1926, Michael Balcon toldHitchcock he wanted to make a movie of the 1913 mystery novel The Lodger, andfelt that Hitchcock’s sense of character and narrative would be perfect (Spoto84). So early in his career, Hitchcock already had a reputation for the trueart of film-making.

Hitchcock always prided himself as being the total film-maker, planningand having total control over every aspect of his films, from casting topublicity. Hitchcock loved to be publicized, and some critics feel that theoriginal intent of his unusual camera shots were no more than a publicity stuntat first. Regardless, Hitchcock brought cinematography to new levels,pioneering the point-of-view shot, which among other things was recognized forits ability to bring about viewer-character identification (Sterrit 11).

Hitchcock’s cameos, which he admitted to have borrowed from Charles Chaplin in AWoman of Paris (Kapsis 21), was just another example of Hitchcock’spersonalization and perhaps little “gimmicks” of his films. He did not justbecome characters like did colleagues Orson Welles or Woody Allen, but hispresence and style was always recognized.

During the first decade of his career Hitchcock toyed with a variety offormats including theatrical adaptation, romance, musical, and of course,thrillers. It was not until 1934 when Hitchcock filmed The Man Who Knew TooMuch that Hitchcock started making thrillers on a regular basis. That filmmarked the first is a secession of six thrillers which would become known as theclassic “thriller sextet”. Following the 1938 release of The Lady Vanishes,Hitchcock was voted to be the best director of that year by New York filmcritics (23).

Throughout the 1940’s his reputation continued to flounder with the hitmovies Spellbound (1944 [in which artist Salvador Dali painted some scenery]),and Notorious (1946). The 1950’s was the beginning of Hitchcock’s mostproductive and popular era. Movies like Dial “M” for Murder (1954), Rear Window(1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and North By Northwest (1959) were onthe big screen and the Hitchcock name was everywhere. In 1955 the televisionprogram “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” was also released. The style and reputationthat came with the Hitchcock name was visible in every movie, in every scene.

North By Northwest to this point had gone where no other film had gone before.

The airplane chase in the cornfield became one of the most famous sequences inmovie history, and really identified Hitchcock as a cinematographer and adirector. Well, it is only fitting that the most famous murder-thriller movieof all time be the next released.

Psycho (1960) became Hitchcock’s biggest commercial hit ever. Producedat just over $800,000, it grossed over $20 million (Bowers 1391). Psycho is thestory of murder and deception, but at the same time (although slightlyambiguous) it is the story of split personality and not letting go. Suspense(and in some cases fear) is built up throughout the entire movie, making theviewer forget that there are only two actual scenes of violence. Psycho is afilm that takes place more in the mind of the viewer than on the screen. Themovie is based on a novel with the same name by Robert Bloch, which was afictionalization of a real event in Wisconsin (Bowers 1393).

Marion Crane is the first character that is really introduced. She isupset because her and her boyfriend Sam can not get married due to financialdifficulties. Marion’s boss entrusts her to deposit $40,000 of a client’s money.

The next time we see Marion she is packing a bag and has the money with her,obviously planning to leave with it. Even though she is a thief, the audienceis still sympathetic towards her because of her situation. Marion trades in hercar for a new one and leaves Phoenix heading towards California, where her andSam plan to get married. When Marion pulls over for the night, the first viewof the now famous Bates motel and mansion. A figure of an old woman is visiblein the window. As Marion wanders around the motel she meets Norman, theproprietor, and also sees his hobby of stuffing birds. After she is taken toher room, she is sitting on her bed (with the bathroom and shower clearlyvisible in the background) and she hears an argument between Norman and hismother. Marion then decides to take a bath before bed, and the most famousmurder scene in movie history takes place. The infamous shower sequence,totally takes the viewer by surprise. Marion who appears to be the maincharacter is killed off in the first third of the movie. This scene requiredover 60 still shots, 70 setups, and over a week of attempts; all for a less thana minute on screen. True Hitchcock genius, you never actually see the knifestrike Marion, but the loud, high pitched screeching music, and the close-ups ofher face and the knife sends chills through the body. An investigator comes outto the motel, and becomes the next victim. Soon the audience learns that thereis no Mother Bates, when one of the other investigators discovers her body inthe basement, where she is attracted by Norman, the split personality, dressedin his mother’s clothing. The movie has foreshadowing and imagery through out,such as the credits splitting apart, and all the use of mirrors, implying thatperhaps other characters are split also (Spoto 357), and the presence of theshower and all the stuffed birds in the background. As William Blowitz said”The star of this picture is Alfred Hitchcock.” (Kapasis 83).

“A blot on an honorable career” is how New York Times (NYT) criticBosley Crowther announced the release of Psycho in 1960, and by the end of theyear he had it on his list of 10 best for the year (Sterrit 100). In hisoriginal review Crowther says that Psycho is “…obviously a low budget job.”and “It does seem slowly paced for Mr. Hitchcock and given over to a lot ofsmall detail.” (NYT film review). He also said that the stunts were exaggerated.

“The consequence in his denouement falls quite flat for us. But the acting isquite fair.” is how he describes the other aspects of this film; the film whichbest describes the mastery of Alfred Hitchcock. Philip T. Hartung who reviewedPsycho for Commonweal magazine in September of 1960, had a different opinion ofit; “Hitchcock pushes everything as far as he can go: the violence, the sex, thethrills and the gore.” All of the literature used in this report all agree onone fact: Psycho is a movie beyond its years and is one of the best in moviehistory. Although none of his movies did or would ever compare to the successof Psycho, his next release The Birds (1963), is another classic example ofHitchcock’s true genius.

Inspired by a unusual occurrence of “crying” birds, who bit someresidents along the San Francisco coast, The Birds is another scary, and trulyremarkable movie (Discover 37). Again the use of special effects and uniquecamera angles are found in this Hitchcock classic. This movie also comes from anovel by Daphne du Maurier, who’s storytelling abilities make a reader believe,much like Hitchcock himself (DeWitt 249).

The Birds begins in San Francisco where Mitch Brenner meets MelanieDaniels. She has a crush on him and decides to visit him weekend house.

Melanie arrives in town, where all the birds have already begun to gather. Thebirds behave strangely, and cause the people to be threatened. The birds attackall over Bodega Bay, seemingly unprovoked. In one scene a flock of birdsplunged down upon a gas station where a worker is frightened and drops the gaspump. The gas continues to flow from it, and is set on fire, when a passer-bydrops a match on the ground causing a immense damage. In a later scene thechildren are trapped in the school, and as the teacher attempts to lead them totheir homes, believing the birds have flow away, they turn a corner and aresuddenly surrounded. The birds come together and strike, while the children runand scream for their lives. Some of them trip and are either pecked to death ortrampled. Throughout the movie the birds wreak havoc all along the coast of SanFrancisco. All the remaining people escape the town, and the birds move in andseem to claim as their own, as though they were a conquering army. The moviejust ends without any real idea of what happens next, something that Hitchcockhad never done before.

According to Bosley Crowther who reviewed the movie in April, 1963 forNYT “The cast is appropriate and sufficient to this melodramatic intent. TippiHedren is pretty, bland and wholesome as the disruptive girl. Rod Taylor isstolid and sturdy as the mother-smothered son.” He goes on to say that thenarrative elements of this film are clear and naturalistic, and he thinks thescenery is very well suited to the movie. “Mr. Hitchcock and his associateshave constructed a horror film that should raise the hackles on the mostcarageous and put goose-pimps on the toughest hide.” ( Crowther qtd NYT). It israther obvious that Mr. Crowther enjoyed this picture at first viewing more thanhe did Psycho.

Hitchcock always believed that developing an artistic reputation was farmore important than fame, and that as much as you put in, that is how much youget out. The remarkable life and career of Alfred Hitchcock demonstrate truthin his words. He put everything he had into all his movies, making sure thatevery detail, no matter how minute, was perfect. Alfred Joseph Hitchcock diedin 1980 while working on what would have been his 54th motion picture. Hisunique style and breakthrough ideas will stand for all time, and he will alwaysbe remembered as one of the greatest directors of all time.

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