Alfred Hitchcock made some of the most iconic films of all time. Suspenseful, full of intrigue, romance and scandal, he frightened, fascinated, and terrorized audiences over a long and successful career. He also worked with some of Hollywood’s most glamorous and likable stars, from Grace Kelley and Jimmy Stewart to Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier. He gave us a fear of bathtubs and then of showers. He made solitary walks in the country sinister, transformed birds into villains, and gave us the finest collection of bad guys the silver screen has ever seen, from the empathetic to the nefarious. His characters were never what they first appeared to be, always more than we thought, and quite often shocked us with their sudden shifts in behavior. He introduced us to lonely boys running remote motels, clever jewel thieves, depressed ex-policemen suffering from vertigo, spies on the run, cases of mistaken identities, crime-solving teenagers, priests protecting someone else’s secret, and more blonde heroines than you’d find on a beach in California.
Hitchcock is known for taking chances that at times paid off and sometimes didn’t. His films are all unique but have similar characteristics. He liked using some of the same actors multiple times, and was a master of “the power of suggestion,” often getting around the restrictive “moral movie codes” of the time in unexpected ways. He constantly pushed the envelope but knew when to hold back. Fearing Psycho would be too gruesome in color, he chose instead to film it in black and white. But he also tackled taboo topics such as homosexuality, cross-dressing, and psychotic behavior. He shocked us with Marnie, scared us with Psycho, and stunned us with the ending of Vertigo.
Hitchcock was a perfectionist, a bit of a madman behind the camera, and employed some interesting tactics to get wonderful performances out of his cast. Some looked back on him with fondness, others with a mixture of anger and bitterness. Some of his films he considered masterpieces, others he dismissed as muddled messes… but each has something to say about society, the director, and humanity. From exotic locations to remote motels, from the macabre to the humorous, once you’ve seen a Hitchcock film, you’ll never forget it. ■