Intense action, epic length adventures, and unprecedented technology have swept America, growing at the heart of what is considered a great film. But Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock worked with neither science fiction nor adventure. His magic was more subtle, like the confident walk of a man who has just buried his wife in the backyard. Hitchcock held the simple magic…of suspense.
The renowned British filmmaker has been the master of suspense for over fifty years, with just as many feature films. In his career, beginning 1925, he directed features such as The Lady Vanishes, The Rope, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. Today’s generation may view these as old films, but to the true thriller buff, they’re classics.
Most ears feel a tinge of familiarity when the titles Psycho and The Birds are mentioned. Their horror sequences are well noted in the history of film. Unlike Nightmare on Elm Street and The Blair Witch Project, Hitchcock’s movies didn’t use any of the usual tricks. His gift was realism, the relationship each moment has with what is human in each of us.
The horror of Psycho’s shower scene results from his innovative use of point of view; he makes the audience choose a character and live the scene through their eyes. Some are Norman Bates, stabbing his latest motel intruder, and others are Marion Crane, the unsuspecting young woman who dies apart from her love. Either way the audience is uncomfortable. And to think that this movie was originally made in black and white.
Take note: Alfred Hitchcock was not a horror filmmaker. His primary aim was suspense, an end achieved through a device he popularized, the “MacGuffin”. MacGuffins generally refer to details that motivate the characters and drive the action of his thrillers. In Rear Window his device was a mysterious plot of land in which something was buried. This land motivates L. B. Jeffries’ window seat investigation into the life of Lars Thorwald. This bit of soil carries the viewer’s curiosity from beginning to end.
Hitchcock is also distinguished by his top-notch cast. He repeatedly collaborated with some of the most beloved actors of his time: Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Grace Kelly. Of more interest, however, are Hitchcock’s repeated cameo appearances. He made cameos in 39 of his 52 major films, providing his audience with even more to anticipate on their theatre visits. Hitchcock has since become a style.
Unfortunately, to those of the 3D age, Hitchcock is just a name. But make no doubt, in the twentieth century Hitchcock’s name marketed books, magazines and a television series. He cannot be compared to famed horror writer Stephen King, nor to Walt Disney and his empire. He neither created new worlds, nor new dimensions. Yet he is worth celebrating for what he did do. Of his mission in life he only said this: “To scare the hell out of people”.