And why not? Alfred Hitchcock is arguably the most inflential director in the history of film. In one of the longest and most prolific directorial careers, Hitchcock directed 53 films in just over half a century, averaging around one per year. At least ten of those pictures are bona fide classics, routinely appearing on “best-of” lists around the world. As of today, Alfred Hitckcock has 11 entries on imdb.com’s top 250 films list. Alfred Hitchcocks movies, themes and directorial style have influenced countless directors, from Scorsese to Spielberg. And most importantly, his best films are as entertaining today as they were upon their initial release.
But this is all old news, isn’t it? I am not writing here to build a case in support of Hitchcock as “The Greatest Director Of All Time.” Nor do I wish to influence your opinion of his work. Many enjoy his movies, some do not. What I will endeavor to do here is review all of Hitchcock’s films, not chronologically or by some best-to-worst ratings system, but simply however I am moved to. Although I have seen all of Hitchcock’s movies before, I will view them all again for the purpose of this experiment. My intent is not to write a simple synopsis, but a detailed exploration of the major themes of each movie. This is aimed primarily at an audience that is familiar with Hitchcock’s pictures on at least a basic level, although I hope to engage newer fans and students of Hitch as well.
I will provide a brief biographical background here; if you are interested in learning more about the life of Hitchcock, there are numerous biographies available.
Alfred Hitchcock was born in 1899, in a working-class London family. He was raised a strict Catholic, which may have a bearing on some of the major recurring themes in his films. Hitchcock joined the film industry around 1920, beginning as a drawer of scenery and title cards. By 1925 he was a full-time director, and would remain so for over 50 years. He made his mark in the silent film era with films like “The Lodger” (1926). In the 1930’s came the talkies, and Hitchcock made many remarkable films during this decade, gaining notoriety outside his native England. In 1940 he was enticed to Hollywood by producer David O. Selznick. By the late 40’s, Hitchcock had gained creative control of his films, and the 1950’s marked a period of unparalleled critical and commercial success. The 1960’s saw Hitchcock move from Paramount to Universal, and by the end of the decade Hitchcock’s health and that of his wife Alma Reville, was beginning to fail. Hitchcock’s last film was 1976’s “Family Plot”. Alfred Hitchcock died in April, 1980.
MAJOR THEMES OF ALFRED HITCHCOCK
Guilt: The concept of guilt features prominently in virtually every Hitchcock film. Of course, most all of Hitchcock’s movies deal with the commission of a crime, usually involving murder, so it is not surprising that guilt and innocence would figure in the plot. But of much greater significance than criminal guilt is psychological guilt: whether real, imagined or assumed, Hitchcock’s characters often carry this burden, which affects the way they act, and interact. Hitchcock’s favorite motif is that of the innocent man falsely accused, who must elude capture while trying to find the real perpetrators of a crime or crimes. The concept of guilt is a theme which works well in movies, because it is universal; even if the specific plot devices are outrageous, the theme of guilt creates an objective correlative which everyone watching can relate to.
Relationships between men and women: While you will find a romantic pairing in virtually every Hitchcock film, the characters never have an idyllic Hollywood romance. Hitchcock tended to emphasize the disparate qualites of the sexes; there is a always a struggle of some sort occuring between the male and female characters, and only through compromise will they ever find happiness. The male protagonists in Hitchcock’s movies often find themselves at the mercy of, or dependent upon, their female counterparts, for at least a portion of the action. The men are emasculated through physical injury, or handcuffs, or by being imprisoned. By the movies’ climax, the wheel has turned, and our hero will be in a position to help the heroine, or they will be working together to nab the culprits and save the day. Hitchcock employs much humor in portraying the relationships of his principal characters.
Sex: Now that I have your attention…sex could easily fall under the male/female realtionship heading, but I make brief mention here because Hitchcock did have sexual references in virtually every film. Of course these references were seldom overt; not only because of a strict moral code imposed in earlier times, but because Hitchcock preferred subtle entendre to direct reference.
Voyeurism (audience as voyeur): Hitchcock was always keenly aware of the role of the audience member as active spectator; the very reason he is called the master of suspense, rather than mystery, is because he liked the audience members to have more information than the protagonist. Rear Window is almost certainly the greatest film ever made on the subject of voyeurism.
Various: There are numerous minor themes or motifs that others have noted, that I will mention only briefly here, because I do not see them of great significance. They may pop up later during discussions of specific films. Mothers: usually controlling and cantankerous (with the exception of Patricia Collinge in “Shadow of a Doubt”. Gentleman scoundrel: the antagonist is often civilized and genteel, primarily to elicit sympathy from the viewer. Stairs: Freudian implications aside, staircases figure prominently in many movies.
So there we have it, a brief overview. My first movie overview will be posted soon. What movie shall I start with?