Hitchcock. The name is the stuff of Hollywood legends…and he remains one of the most intriguing personalities in Hollywood history.
Known as the Master of Suspense, Hitchcock was the Steven Spielberg of his day. Can you tell which is the real Hitchcock? Hint, he’s the one in black and white. Sir Anthony Hopkins (on the left) plays Hitchcock in the 2012 film of the same name.
By the mid-1950s, Alfred Hitchcock was already acknowledged by Tinsel Town as a master of suspense and had created some of the best movies ever made.
Films like Notorious, Rear Window, and Suspicion put the director well above his peers of the day. The director also popularized the term “MacGuffin” and the technique. Recently the filmmaker returned to theaters, this time in the biopic Hitchcock, and while the movie hasn’t exactly set the box office on fire, it has gotten Hollywood talking about (another) Oscar nomination for Sir Anthony Hopkins and his co-star Helen Mirren.
So what’s the attraction to this old school filmmaker?
A Star on Both Sides of the Camera
Through his 1950s TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Hitchcock made himself a star. The tubby and bald Hitchcock (always dressed in a formal dark suit and tie, like a mortician) had a dry and wicked sense of humor.
He spoke in a thick British accent, and gracefully introduced each of the short thrillers his program showcased. He was unlike anything else American TV audiences had ever seen, and the show made him famous as a television host, completely independent of his fame as a director.
By the late 1950s Hitchcock was solidly established as one of Hollywood’s most dependable money-makers. So it may come as a shock to learn that Paramount Studios had virtually no faith in Hitchcock’s next project—an adaptation of a book about murder and madness in a rundown motel. In fact, it made no sense to any studio execs why the Robert Bloch novel shocker titled Psycho was such a labor of love for Hitchcock.
That’s the story behind the new Hitchcock—the tension between “Hitch” and the studio honchos as Hitchcock tries to get his cinematic classic made. What will the master director risk in order to gamble on making a modern masterpiece? And how will the public react to such a risky piece of filmmaking?
How Psycho Broke the Mold
Psycho was revolutionary for Hollywood filmmaking on many levels. Here are a few ways Hitchcock challenged the format of the day:
- The female is lead is killed off only a half hour into the film.
- The movie boldly showed a bathroom shower scene (very daring for 1960) and the murder there.
- It was a big-studio feature that chose black-and-white photography at a time when nearly all Hollywood films had switched to color.
Two years before Psycho Hitchcock made another future classic, the psychological drama Vertigo. The film, about a former police detective obsessed with the image of his late wife, has been championed by today’s most respected directors, including Martin Scorsese, who presided over a careful 1996 restoration of the original film. The film is probably best known for its dramatic use of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge as a setting for some of the movie’s key scenes.
The Greatest Movie…Ever?
Recently the respected British film magazine “Sight & Sound” announced the results of its 2012 poll of film directors and critics. Since 1952, and in each decade following, the magazine has conducted the poll, which asks film folks to list the greatest films ever made. Critic Roger Ebert has called it “by far the most respected of the countless polls of great movies—the only one most serious movie people take seriously.”
This year’s poll created a sensation when the long-established top film of all time, Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, was dethroned by a Hitchcock film—and it was not Psycho (which many fans consider his most powerful work). Instead, the film that was most universally admired in the “Sight & Sound” poll was 1958’s Vertigo, starring Hitchcock-favorite James Stewart and Kim Novak.
A Living Legacy
Alfred Hitchcock received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, but never won a Best Director Oscar, nor did any of his films ever win “Best Picture.” No matter; for anyone interested in learning movie making and film production, Hitchcock remains an important and inspirational figure. The 57 films he made over the course of his 54-year career are treasured as some of Hollywood’s finest and most enduring creations.
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