After a very substantial career in his native United Kingdom in both silent films and talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood and, in 1956, became an American citizen, also retaining his British citizenship.
As a director, he was among the most consistently recognizable by the general public, and was one of the most successful of his era. He continues to be one of the best-known and most popular filmmakers of all time.
Hitchcock began his directing career in the United Kingdom in 1922. From 1939 onward, he worked primarily in the United States. In September, 1940, Hitchcock had purchased a mountaintop estate for the sum of $40,000. Known as the 1870 Cornwall Ranch or "Heart o' the Mountain" which was located at the end of Canham Road. The Ranch was perched high above Scotts Valley, California, and the Hitchcocks resided there from 1940 to 1972. The Hitchcocks became close friends with the parents of Joan Fontaine, after she starred in his film, Rebecca. Years later, after a break-in at his estate, Hitchcock replaced all of the accumulated paintings with studio-made copies. The family sold the estate in 1974, six years before Hitchcock's death.
Hitchcock and family also purchased a second home in late 1942 at 10957 Bellagio Road in Los Angeles, just across from the Bel Air Country Club.
Rebecca was the only Hitchcock film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (though the award did not go to Hitchcock), four other films were nominated. In 1967 he was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement. He never won an Academy Award for directing.
Hitchcock was born on 13 August 1899, in Leytonstone, London, the second son and youngest of three children of William Hitchcock (1862-1914), a greengrocer and poulterer, and Emma Jane Hitchcock (née Whelan; 1863-1942). His family was mostly Roman Catholic, being of Irish extraction. Hitchcock was sent to the Jesuit Classic school St. Ignatius College in Enfield, London. He often described his childhood as being very lonely and sheltered, which was compounded by his weight issues.
It is widely known that as a child, Hitchcock was once sent by his father to the local police station with a note asking the officer to lock him away for ten minutes as punishment for behaving badly. This idea of being harshly treated or wrongfully accused is frequently reflected in Hitchcock's films.
Hitchcock's mother would often make him address her while standing at the foot of her bed, especially if he behaved badly, forcing him to stand there for hours. These experiences of Hitchcock would later be used for the portrayal of the character of Norman Bates in his movie Psycho.
Hitchcock's father died when he was 14. In the same year, he left the Jesuit-run St Ignatius' College in Stamford Hill, his school at the time, to study at the London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation in Poplar, London. After graduating, he became a draftsman and advertising designer with a cable company.
During this period, Hitchcock became intrigued by photography and started working in film production in London, working as a title-card designer for the London branch of what would become Paramount Pictures. In 1920, he had received a full-time position at Islington Studios with its American owner, Famous Players-Lasky and their British successor, Gainsborough Pictures, designing the titles for silent movies.
In 1925, Michael Balcon of Gainsborough Pictures gave Hitchcock an opportunity to direct his first film, The Pleasure Garden made at UFA Studios in Germany. The commercial failure of this film threatened to derail his promising career. Hitchcock rebounded in 1926 and made his debut in the thriller genre with the film, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. The film was a major commercial and critical success when it was released in January 1927 throughout the United Kingdom. As with many of his earlier works, this film was influenced by Expressionist techniques that Hitchcock had witnessed first-hand in Germany. This film was the first truly "Hitchcockian film, incorporating such themes as the "wrong man".
Following the success of The Lodger, Hitchcock began initial efforts to promote himself in the media, and hired a publicist to help enhance his growing reputation as one of the British film industry's rising stars. On 2 December 1926, Hitchcock married his assistant director, Alma Reville at the Brompton Oratory. Their first child, daughter Patricia, was born in 1928. Alma was to become Hitchcock's closest collaborator. She wrote some of his screenplays and (though often uncredited) worked with him on every one of his films.
In 1929, Hitchcock began work on his tenth film Blackmail. While the film was still in production, the studio decided to make it one of the UK's first sound pictures. With the climax of the film taking place on the dome of the British Museum, Blackmail began the Hitchcock tradition of using famous landmarks as a backdrop for suspense sequences. In the PBS series The Men Who Made The Movies, Hitchcock had explained how he used early sound recording as a special element of the film, emphasizing the word "knife" in a conversation with the woman suspected of murder.
In 1933, Hitchcock was once again working for Michael Balcon at Gaumont-British Picture Corporation. His first film for the company, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), was a success and his second, The 39 Steps (1935), is often considered one of the best films from his early period. This film was also one of the first to introduce the concept of the "Macguffin", a plot device around which a whole story seems to revolve, but ultimately has nothing to do with the true meaning or ending of the story. In The 39 Steps, the Macguffin is a stolen set of design plans. (Hitchcock told French director François Truffaut: "There are two men sitting in a train going to Scotland and one man says to the other, 'Excuse me, sir, but what is that strange parcel you have on the luggage rack above you?' 'Oh,' says the other, 'that's a Macguffin.' 'Well,' says the first man, 'what's a Macguffin?' The other answers, 'It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.' 'But,' says the first man, 'there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands.' 'Well,' says the other, 'then that's no Macguffin.'")
Hitchcock's next major success was in 1938 with his film The Lady Vanishes, a clever and fast-paced film about the search for a kindly old Englishwoman (Dame May Whitty), who disappears while onboard a train in the fictional country of Vandrika (a thinly-veiled version of Nazi Germany).
By 1938, Hitchcock had become known for his famous observation, "Actors are cattle. He once said that he first made this remark as early as the late 1920s, when he thought about stage actors who were snobbish about motion pictures. However, Michael Redgrave said that Hitchcock had made the statement during the filming of The Lady Vanishes. The phrase would haunt Hitchcock for years to come and would result in a funny incident during the filming of his 1941 production of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, when Carole Lombard brought some heifers onto the set — with name tags of Lombard, Robert Montgomery, and Gene Raymond, the stars of the films — to surprise the director.
At the end of the 1930s, Hitchcock was at the zenith of his artistic talents, and he was in a position to negotiate his own career options when David O. Selznick signed Hitchcock to a seven-year contract that began in March 1939, when the Hitchcocks moved to the United States.
With the prestigious Selznick picture Rebecca in 1940, Hitchcock made his first American movie, although it was set in England and based on a novel by English author Daphne du Maurier and starred Sir Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. This Gothic melodrama explores the fears of a naïve young bride who enters a great English country home and must grapple with the problems of a distant husband, a predatory housekeeper, and the legacy of her husband's late wife, the beautiful, mysterious Rebecca. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1940. However, the statuette went to Selznick as the film's producer, and the film failed to win the Best Director award for Hitchcock.
There were additional problems between Selznick and Hitchcock. Selznick was known to impose very restrictive rules upon Hitchcock, thereby hindering his creative control. Hitchcock was then forced to shoot the film as Selznick had wanted, immediately creating friction within their relationship. At the same time, Selznick complained about Hitchcock's "goddamn jigsaw cutting," which meant that the producer did not have nearly the leeway to create his own film as he liked, but had to follow Hitchcock's vision of the finished product. The film was the third longest of Hitchcock's films at 130 minutes, exceeded only by The Paradine Case at 132 minutes and North by Northwest at 136 minutes.
Hitchcock's second American film, the European-set thriller Foreign Correspondent (originally titled Personal History), was also nominated for Best Picture during that year. The movie was filmed in the first year of World War II and was inspired by the rapidly-changing events in Europe, as fictionally-covered by an American newspaper reporter portrayed by a wise-cracking Joel McCrea. The film cleverly used actual footage of European scenes and scenes filmed on a Hollywood backlot. Because of Hollywood's Production Code censorship, the film avoided direct references to Germany and Germans.
In September of 1940, the Hitchcocks purchased the 200-acre Cornwall Ranch, located near Scotts Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains in northern California. The Ranch became the primary residence of the Hitchcocks for the rest of their lives, although they kept their Bel Air home. Suspicion (1941) marked Hitchcock's first film as a producer as well as director. Hitchcock used the north coast of Santa Cruz, California for the English coastline sequence. This film was to be actor Cary Grant's first time working with Hitchcock, and it was one of the few times that Grant would be cast in a sinister role. Joan Fontaine won Best Actress Oscar and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for her outstanding performance in Suspicion. Grant plays an irresponsible husband whose actions raise suspicion and anxiety by his wife (Fontaine). In a classic scene, Hitchcock uses a light bulb to illuminate what might be a fatal glass of milk that Grant is bringing to his wife. In the book upon which the movie is based ("Before the Fact" by Francis Iles), Grant is a killer, but Hitchcock and the studio felt Grant's image would be tarnished by that ending. Though a homicide would have suited him better, as he stated to Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock settled for an ambiguous finale.
Saboteur (1942) was the first of two films that Hitchcock made for Universal, a studio where he would continue his career during his later years. Hitchcock was then forced to utilize Universal contract players Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane, both known for their work in comedies and light dramas. Hitchcock made the most of the situation and had received remarkably good performances from the two lead actors. Breaking with Hollywood conventions of the time, Hitchcock did extensive location filming, especially in New York City, and memorably depicted a confrontation between a suspected saboteur (Cummings) and a real saboteur (Norman Lloyd) atop the Statue of Liberty.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Hitchcock's personal favourite of all his films and the second of the early Universal films, was about young Charlotte "Charlie" Newton (Teresa Wright), who suspects her beloved uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) of being a serial murderer. In its use of overlapping characters, dialogue, and closeups it has provided a generation of film theorists with psychoanalytic potential, including Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek. The film also harkens back to one of Cotten's best known films, Citizen Kane. Hitchcock again filmed extensively on location, this time in the Northern California city of Santa Rosa, California, during the summer of 1942. The director showcased his own personal fascination with crime and criminals when he had two of his characters discuss various ways of killing people, to the obvious annoyance of Charlotte.
Working at 20th Century Fox, Hitchcock had adapted a script of John Steinbeck's that had chronicled the experiences of the survivors of a German U-boat attack in the film Lifeboat (1944). Since the action sequences were confined to the small boat, the film was clearly the most confined of Hitchcock's films. The locale also posed problems for Hitchcock's traditional cameo appearance. That was solved by having Hitchcock's image appear in a newspaper that William Bendix is reading in the boat, showing the director in a before-and-after advertisement for "Reduco-Obesity Slayer". While at Fox, Hitchcock seriously considered directing the film version of A.J. Cronin's novel about a Catholic priest in China, The Keys of the Kingdom, but the plans for this fell through. John M. Stahl ended up directing the 1944 film, which was produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starred Gregory Peck, among other luminaries.
Returning to England for an extended visit in late 1943 and early 1944, Hitchcock filmed two short films for the Ministry of Information, Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache. The films were made for the Free French, were the only ones Hitchcock made in French, and feature typical Hitchcockian touches. In the 1990s, the two films were shown by Turner Classic Movies and released on home video.
In 1945, Hitchcock served as "treatment advisor" (in effect, a film-editor) for a Holocaust documentary produced by the British Army. The film, which recorded the liberation of Concentration Camps, remained unreleased until 1985, when it was completed by PBS Frontline and distributed under the title Memory of the Camps.
Hitchcock again worked for Selznick when he had directed Spellbound, which explored the then-fashionable subject of psychoanalysis and featured a dream sequence designed by Salvador Dalí. Gregory Peck is amnesiac Dr. Anthony Edwardes under the treatment of analyst Dr. Peterson (Ingrid Bergman), who falls in love with him while trying to unlock his repressed past. The dream sequence as it actually appears in the film is considerably shorter than was originally envisioned, which was to be several minutes long, because it proved to be too disturbing for the audience. Some of the memorable and original musical score by Miklos Rozsa (which employs the theremin) was later adapted by the composer into a concert piano concerto.
Notorious (1946) followed Spellbound. According to Hitchcock in his book-length interview with Francois Truffaut, Selznick sold the director, the two stars (Grant and Bergman) and the screenplay (by Ben Hecht) to RKO Radio Pictures as a "package" for $500,000 due to cost overruns on Selznick's Duel in the Sun (1946). From this point on, Hitchcock would produce his own films, giving him a far greater degree of freedom to pursue the projects that interested him. Notorious starred Hitchcock regulars Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant and features a plot about Nazis, uranium, and South America. It was a huge box office success and has remained one of Hitchcock's most acclaimed films. His use of uranium as a plot device briefly led to Hitchcock's being under surveillance by the FBI. McGilligan wrote that Hitchcock consulted Dr. Robert Millikan of Caltech about the development of an atomic bomb. Selznick complained that the notion was "science fiction" only to be confronted by the news stories of the detonation of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in August 1945. These bombings led to the end of World War II.
After completing his final film for Selznick, The Paradine Case (a promising courtroom drama that critics found lost momentum because it apparently ran too long and exhausted its resource of ideas), Hitchcock filmed his first color film, Rope, which appeared in 1948. Here Hitchcock experimented with marshalling suspense in a confined environment, as he had done earlier with Lifeboat (1943). He also experimented with exceptionally long takes — up to ten minutes long (see Themes and devices). Featuring James Stewart in the leading role, Rope was the first of four films Stewart would make for Hitchcock. It was based on the Leopold and Loeb case of the 1920s. Somehow Hitchcock's cameraman managed to move the bulky, heavy Technicolor camera quickly around the set as it followed the continuous action of the long takes.
Under Capricorn (1949), set in nineteenth-century Australia, also used the short-lived technique of long takes, but to a more limited extent. He again used Technicolor in this production, then returned to black and white films for several years. For Rope and Under Capricorn, Hitchcock formed a production company with Sidney Bernstein, called Transatlantic Pictures, which became inactive after these two unsuccessful pictures. Hitchcock continued to produce his films for the rest of his life.
With the film, Strangers on a Train (1951), based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, Hitchcock combined many of the best elements from his preceding British and American films. Hitchcock approached Dashiell Hammett to write the dialogue but Raymond Chandler took over, then left over disagreements with the director. Two men casually meet and speculate on removing people who are causing them difficulty. One of the men, though, takes this banter entirely seriously. With Farley Granger reprising some elements of his role from Rope, Strangers continued the director's interest in the narrative possibilities of blackmail and murder. Robert Walker, previously known for "boy-next-door" roles, is a highly effective Hitchcock villain playing the quietly menacing Bruno who hounds Granger to carry out his part of the one-sided agreement.
MCA head Lew Wasserman, whose client list included James Stewart, Janet Leigh and other actors who would appear in Hitchcock's films, had a significant impact in packaging and marketing Hitchcock's films beginning in the 1950s. With Wasserman's help, Hitchcock received tremendous creative freedom from the studios, as well as substantive financial rewards as a result of Paramount's profit-sharing contract.
Three very popular films starring Grace Kelly followed. Dial M for Murder (1954) was adapted from the popular stage play by Frederick Knott. Ray Milland plays the suave and scheming villain, an ex-tennis pro, who tries to murder his innocent wife Grace Kelly for her money. When the murder goes awry and the assassin is killed by her in self-defense, he manipulates the evidence to pin the murder of the assassin on his wife. Her lover Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings) and police inspector Hubbard (John Williams) work urgently to save her from execution. This was originally another experimental film, with Hitchcock using the technique of 3D cinematography, although the film was not released in this format at first; it did receive screenings in the early 1980s in 3D form. The film also marked a return to Technicolor productions for Hitchcock.
Hitchcock moved to Paramount Pictures and filmed Rear Window, starring James Stewart and Kelly again, as well as Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr. Here, the wheelchair-bound Stewart, a photographer based on Robert Capa, observes the movements of his neighbours across the courtyard and becomes convinced one of them (Raymond Burr) has murdered his wife. Stewart tries to sway both his glamorous model-girlfriend (Kelly) and his policeman buddy (Wendell Corey) to his theory, and finally succeeds in getting her involved to the point of danger. Like Lifeboat and Rope, the movie was photographed almost entirely within the confines of a small space: Stewart's tiny studio apartment overlooking the massive courtyard set. Hitchcock effectively uses closeups of Stewart's face to show his character's reactions to all he sees, from the comic voyeurism directed at his neighbors to his helpless terror watching Kelly and Burr in the villain's apartment.
The third Kelly film To Catch a Thief, set in the French Riviera, stars Kelly with Cary Grant again. Grant plays retired thief John Robie who woos both Kelly and her jewels, and who becomes the prime suspect when a rash of robberies strike the Riviera. Despite the obvious age disparity between Grant and Kelly and a lightweight plot, the witty script (loaded with double-entendres) and the good-natured acting proved a commercial success. It was Hitchcock's last film with Kelly because she married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 and the residents of her new homeland refused to allow her to make any more films.
The remake of Hitchcock's own 1934 film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, in 1956 followed, this time starring Stewart and Doris Day, who sang the theme song, "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" (which won the Oscar for "Best Music", and became a big hit for Day). Stewart and Day, distraught over the kidnapping of their son, struggle with both their emotions and their urgent quest to find their child and stop an assassination, until the song helps re-unite the family.
The Wrong Man (1957), Hitchcock's final film for Warner Brothers, was a low-key black and white production based on a real-life case of mistaken identity reported in Life Magazine in 1953. This was the only film of Hitchcock's to star Henry Fonda. Fonda plays a Stork Club musician mistaken for a liquor store thief who is arrested and tried for robbery while his wife (newcomer Vera Miles) emotionally collapses under the strain. Hitchcock told Truffaut that his lifelong fear of the police attracted him to the subject and was embedded in many scenes.
Vertigo (1958) again starred Stewart, this time with Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes. Stewart plays "Scottie", a former police investigator suffering from acrophobia, who develops an obsession with a woman he is shadowing (Kim Novak). Scottie's obsession leads to tragedy, and this time Hitchcock does not opt for a happy ending. Though the film is widely considered a classic today, Vertigo met with negative reviews and poor box office receipts upon its release, and marked the last collaboration between Stewart and Hitchcock. The film is now placed highly in the Sight & Sound decade polls. It was premiered in the San Sebastián International Film Festival, where Hitchcock won a Silver Seashell.
In North by Northwest, Cary Grant is Roger Thornhill, a Madison Avenue ad executive who is mistaken for a non-existing government agent. He is hotly pursued by enemy agents across the country who try to kill him, one of whom is foreign agent Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) who seduces Thornhill, sets him up, but then falls in love with him and aids his escape.
Psycho is Hitchcock's most famous film. Produced on a highly constrained budget of $800,000, Hitchcock shot in black-and-white on a spare set. The unprecedented violence of the shower scene, the early demise of the heroine, the innocent lives extinguished by a disturbed murderer were all hallmarks of Hitchcock copied in many horror films that followed.
The Birds, inspired by a Daphne Du Maurier short story and by an actual news story about a mysterious infestation of birds in California, was Hitchcock's 49th film. He signed up Tippi Hedren as his latest blond heroine opposite Rod Taylor. The scenes of the birds attacking included hundreds of shots mixing actual and animated sequences. The cause of the birds attack is left unanswered, perhaps highlighting the mystery of forces unknown.
The latter two films were particularly notable for their unconventional soundtracks, both orchestrated by Bernard Herrmann: the screeching strings played in the murder scene in Psycho exceeded the limits of the time, and The Birds dispensed completely with conventional instruments, instead using an electronically-produced soundtrack and an unaccompanied song by school children (just prior to the infamous attack at the historic Bodega Bay School). Also notable was that Santa Cruz was mentioned again as the place where the bird-phenomenon was said to have first occurred. These films are considered his last great films, after which his career started to lose pace (although some critics such as Robin Wood and Donald Spoto contend that Marnie, from 1964, is first-class Hitchcock, and some have argued that Frenzy is unfairly overlooked).
Failing health took its toll on Hitchcock, reducing his new film production during the last two decades of his life. Hitchcock had filmed two spy thrillers, Torn Curtain with Paul Newman and Julie Andrews and Topaz (based on a Leon Uris novel), which both received mixed reviews.
In 1972, Hitchcock returned to London to film Frenzy, his last major success. The plot recycles his early film The Lodger. Richard Blarney (Jon Finch), volatile barkeeper with a history of explosive anger, becomes the likely perpetrator of the "Necktie Murders", which are actually committed by his friend (Barry Foster), a fruit seller. This time Hitchcock makes the victim and villain twins, rather than opposites, as in Strangers on a Train. Only one of them, however, has crossed the line to murder. For the first time, Hitchcock allowed nudity and profane language, which had before been taboo, in one of his films. He also shows rare sympathy for the Chief Inspector and his comic domestic life. Biographers have noted that Hitchcock had always pushed the limits of film censorship, often managing to fool Joseph Breen, the longtime head of Hollywood's Production Code. Many times Hitchcock slipped in subtle hints of improprieties forbidden by censorship until the mid-1960s. Yet Patrick McGilligan wrote that Breen and others often realized that Hitchcock was inserting such things and were actually amused as well as alarmed by Hitchcock's "inescapable inferences". Beginning with Torn Curtain, Hitchcock was finally able to blatantly include plot elements previously forbidden in American films and this continued for the remainder of his film career.
Family Plot (1976) was Hitchcock's last film. It related the escapades of "Madam" Blanche Tyler played by Barbara Harris, a fraudulent spiritualist, and her taxi driver lover Bruce Dern making a living from her phony powers. William Devane, Karen Black and Cathleen Nesbitt co-starred. It was the only Hitchcock film scored by John Williams.
When Hitchcock saw the Mel Brooks 1977 comedy-spoof of his work, High Anxiety, he enjoyed it, but Brooks initially feared that Hitchcock was not pleased because he walked out of the movie when it was over. Days later, Brooks' fear proved untrue as Hitchcock had sent Brooks a bottle of champagne.
In Hitchcock's earliest appearances, he would fill in as an obscure extra, standing in a crowd or walking through a scene in a long camera shot (e.g. in his 1927 film The Lodger). He became more prominent in his later appearances, as when he turns to see Jane Wyman's disguise when she passes him on the street in Stage Fright, and in stark silhouette in his final film Family Plot (1976).
Rope (1948) was another technical challenge: a film that appears to have been shot entirely in a single take. The film was actually shot in 10 takes of ranging from four and a half to 10 minutes each; 10 minutes being the maximum amount of film that would fit in a single camera reel. Some transitions between reels were hidden by having a dark object fill the entire screen for a moment. Hitchcock used those points to hide the cut, and began the next take with the camera in the same place.
Hitchcock's 1958 film Vertigo contains a camera technique that has been imitated and re-used many times by filmmakers. It has become known as the Hitchcock zoom.
One of the more inventive aspects of Hitchcock's devices is incorporating the number 13 into scenes for its superstitious nature. For example, in Psycho, Norman Bates first chooses cabin 3, then turns to cabin 1, for Marion Crane. She is spotted driving in a car where the license plate numbers add up to 13.
Hitchcock heroines tend to be lovely, cool blondes who seem proper at first but, when aroused by passion or danger, respond in a more sensual, animal, or even criminal way. As noted, the famous victims in The Lodger are all blondes. In The 39 Steps, Hitchcock's glamorous blonde star, Madeleine Carroll, is put in handcuffs. In Marnie (1964), the title character (played by Tippi Hedren) is a kleptomaniac. In To Catch a Thief (1955), Francie (Grace Kelly) offers to help a man she believes is a burglar. In Rear Window, Lisa (Grace Kelly again) risks her life by breaking into Lars Thorwald's apartment. And, most notoriously, in Psycho, Janet Leigh's unfortunate character steals $40,000 and is murdered by a reclusive lunatic. Hitchcock's last blonde heroine was - years after Dany Robin and her "daughter" Claude Jade in Topaz - Barbara Harris as a phony psychic turned amateur sleuth in his final film, 1976's Family Plot. In the same film, the diamond smuggler played by Karen Black could also fit that role, as she wears a long blonde wig in various scenes and becomes increasingly uncomfortable about her line of work.
Hitchcock saw that reliance on actors and actresses was a holdover from the theater tradition. He was a pioneer in using camera movement, camera set ups and montage to explore the outer reaches of cinematic art.
Most critics and Hitchcock scholars, including Donald Spoto and Roger Ebert, agree that Vertigo represents the director's most personal and revealing film, dealing with the obsessions of a man who crafts a woman into the woman he desires. Vertigo explores more frankly and at greater length his interest in the relation between sex and death than any other film in his filmography.
Hitchcock often said that his personal favorite film was Shadow of a Doubt.
However, this view of Hitchcock as a director who relied more on pre-production than on the actual production itself, has been challenged by the book, Hitchcock At Work, written by Bill Krohn, the American correspondent of Cahiers du Cinema. Krohn after investigating several script revisions, notes to other production personnel written by or to Hitchcock alongside inspection of storyboards and other production material has observed that Hitchcock's work often deviated from how the screenplay was written or how the film was originally envisioned. He noted that the myth of storyboards in relation to Hitchcock, often regurgitated by generations of commentators on his movies was to a great degree perpetuated by Hitchcock himself or the publicity arm of the studios. A great example would be the famous cropduster sequence of North by Northwest which wasn't storyboarded at all. After the scene was filmed, the publicity department asked Hitchcock to make storyboards to promote the film and Hitchcock in turn hired an artist to match the scenes in detail.
Even on the occasions when storyboards were made, the scene which was shot did differ from it significantly. Krohn's extensive analysis of the production of Hitchcock classics like Notorious reveals that Hitchcock was flexible enough to change a film's conception during its making. Another example is the American remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much which Krohn notes went into production without a complete script which moreover went over schedule, something which as Krohn notes was not an uncommon occurrence on many of Hitchcock's films including Strangers on a Train and Topaz. While Hitchcock did do a great deal of preparation for all his movies, he was fully cognizant that the actual film-making process often deviated from the best laid plans and was flexible to adapt to the changes and needs of production as his films weren't free from the normal hassles and routines that face many other film productions.
Krohn's work also sheds light on Hitchcock's practice of generally shooting in chronological order. A practice which he notes often sent many of his films overbudget and overschedule and more importantly differed from the standard operating procedure of Hollywood in the Studio System Era. Equally important is Hitchcock's tendency of shooting alternate takes of scenes. This differed from coverage in that the films weren't necessarily shot from varying angles so as to give the editor options to shape the film how he/she chooses (often under the producer's aegis). Rather they represented Hitchcock's tendency of giving himself options in the editing room where he would provide advice to his editors after viewing a rough cut of the work so as to give him space for other possibilities in the editing room. According to Krohn, this and numerous other information revealed through his research of Hitchcock's personal papers, script revisions and the like refute the notion of Hitchcock as a director who was always in control of his films, whose vision of his films did not change during production, which Krohn notes has remained the central long-standing myth of Alfred Hitchcock.
Regarding Hitchcock's sometimes less than pleasant relationship with actors, there was a persistent rumor that he had said that actors were cattle. Hitchcock later denied this, typically tongue-in-cheek, clarifying that he had only said that actors should be treated like cattle. Carole Lombard, tweaking Hitchcock and drumming up a little publicity, brought some cows along with her when she reported to the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. For Hitchcock, the actors, like the props, were part of the film's setting.
In the late 1950s, French New Wave critics, especially Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut, were among the first to see and promote Hitchcock's films as artistic works. Hitchcock was one of the first directors to whom they applied their auteur theory, which stresses the artistic authority of the director in the film-making process.
Hitchcock's innovations and vision have influenced a great number of filmmakers, producers, and actors. His influence helped start a trend for film directors to control artistic aspects of their movies without answering to the movie's producer.
Rebecca, which Hitchcock directed, won the 1940 Best Picture Oscar for its producer David O. Selznick. In addition to Rebecca and Suspicion, two other films Hitchcock directed, Foreign Correspondent and Spellbound, were nominated for Best Picture.
Hitchcock is considered the Best Film Director of all time by The Screen Directory. Hitchcock was knighted in 1980.
Sixteen films directed by Hitchcock earned Oscar nominations, though only six of those films earned Hitchcock himself a nomination. The total number of Oscar nominations (including winners) earned by films he directed is fifty. Four of those films earned Best Picture nominations.
Five of Hitchcock's films are in the National Film Registry: Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Shadow of a Doubt and Psycho; all but Shadow of a Doubt were also in 1998's AFI's 100 best American films and the AFI's 2007 update. In 2008, four of Hitchcock's films were named among the ten best mystery films of all time in the AFI's 10 Top 10. Those films are Vertigo (at No. 1); Rear Window (No. 3); North by Northwest (No. 7); and Dial M for Murder (No. 9).
Along with Walt Disney, Hitchcock was one of the first prominent motion picture producers to fully envision just how popular the medium of television would become. From 1955 to 1965, Hitchcock was the host and producer of a long-running television series entitled Alfred Hitchcock Presents. While his films had made Hitchcock's name strongly associated with suspense, the TV series made Hitchcock a celebrity himself. His irony-tinged voice, image, and mannerisms became instantly recognizable and were often the subject of parody.
The title-theme of the show pictured a minimalist caricature of Hitchcock's profile (he drew it himself; it is composed of only nine strokes) which his real silhouette then filled. His introductions before the stories in his program always included some sort of wry humor, such as the description of a recent multi-person execution hampered by having only one electric chair, while two are now shown with a sign "Two chairs--no waiting!" He directed a few episodes of the TV series himself, and he upset a number of movie production companies when he insisted on using his TV production crew to produce his motion picture Psycho. In the late 1980s, a new version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents was produced for television, making use of Hitchcock's original introductions in a colorised form.
"Hitch" used a curious little tune by the French composer Charles Gounod (1818-1893), the composer of the 1859 opera Faust, as the theme "song" for his television programs, after it was suggested to him by composer Bernard Herrmann. Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra included the piece, Funeral March of a Marionette, in one of their extended play 45 rpm discs for RCA Victor during the 1950s.
Hitchcock appears as a character in the popular juvenile detective book series, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. The long-running detective series was created by Robert Arthur, who wrote the first several books, although other authors took over after he left the series. The Three Investigators -- Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Peter Crenshaw -- were amateur detectives, slightly younger than the Hardy Boys. In the introduction to each book, "Alfred Hitchcock" introduces the mystery, and he sometimes refers a case to the boys to solve. At the end of each book, the boys report to Hitchcock, and sometimes give him a memento of their case.
When the real Hitchcock died, the fictional Hitchcock in the Three Investigators books was replaced by a retired detective named Hector Sebastian. At this time, the series title was changed from Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators to The Three Investigators.
At the height of Hitchcock's success, he was also asked to introduce a set of books with his name attached. The series was a collection of short stories by popular short-story writers, primarily focused on suspense and thrillers. These titles included Alfred Hitchcock's Anthology, Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories to be Read with the Door Locked, Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum, Alfred Hitchcock's Supernatural Tales of Terror and Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbinders in Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock's Witch's Brew, Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery, Alfred Hitchcock's A Hangman's Dozen and Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful. Hitchcock himself was not actually involved in the reading, reviewing, editing or selection of the short stories; in fact, even his introductions were ghost-written. The entire extent of his involvement with the project was to lend his name and collect a check.
Some notable writers whose works were used in the collection, include Shirley Jackson (Strangers in Town, The Lottery), T.H. White (The Once and Future King), Robert Bloch, H. G. Wells (The War of the Worlds), Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain and the creator of The Three Investigators, Robert Arthur.
Hitchcock also wrote a mystery story for Look magazine in 1943, "The Murder of Monty Woolley." This was a sequence of captioned photographs inviting the reader to inspect the pictures for clues to the murderer's identity; Hitchcock cast the performers as themselves: Woolley, Doris Merrick, and make-up man Guy Pearce, whom Hitchcock identified, in the last photo, as the murderer. The article was reprinted in Games Magazine in November/December 1980.
A 2000 episode of That '70s Show portrays the characters watching Hitchcock's movies on Halloween, and then a series of events in their lives resemble scenes from his movies.
In Joe Dante's movie Matinee, a gas station attendant recognizes John Goodman's B-movie producer character as "... the guy who makes them scary movies." After receiving an autograph, he says "Thanks, Mr. Hitchcock."