Alfred Hitchcock is undeniably one of the world’s most famous and influential directors of all time. From Birds to Psycho to Vertigo, it is hard to find someone who hasn’t seen at least one of ‘The Master of Suspense’s films. As we approach the anniversary of the legendary director’s death, nearly 40 years ago on April 29th 1980, we take a look back on all things Alfred Hitchcock.
He was celebrated throughout the cinematic world for his distinctly recognisable directorial style, with shots framed to maximise the feeling of unease within his viewers, creating a sense of fear, dread or anxiety in his innovative forms of film editing.
It was this iconic style that earned him his ‘Master of Suspense’ title and paved the way for Hitchcock’s pioneering evolution of the thriller genre.
The Early Life of an Icon
Born to a William Hitchcock, a greengrocer in Leytonstone in 1899, Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was the second son and youngest of three children. Often found drawing and inventing games in his spare time, he was quiet and described as a bit of a loner – a trait that was mainly due to his size, which was large even as a child.
A story often told about Hitchcock’s upbringing, and the subsequent influence on his life and career is the story of Hitchcock’s time spent in prison.
When he was five years old, Hitchcock’s very strict, Catholic father punished the young boy for being naughty by sending him to the local police station with a note, asking the officers to lock him away for several minutes. This was Hitchcock’s only brush with the law, thanks to a deep-seated fear of authority because of this very moment.
After graduating from London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation, with fantastic draftsmanship skills under his belt, Hitchcock took a job at Henley Telegraph Company as an estimator for their manufacture of electric cable.
With a job he saw as mind-numbing, Hitchcock used his free time to attend the cinema (often by himself0, read cinema trade papers and take drawing classes at London University. This creative side shone through in Henley’s Social Club magazine, where his short stories with twist endings and caricatures were published. These published works got Hitchcock promoted to the advertising department, as a creative advertising illustrator.
The Birth of a Director
Hitchcock’s first endeavour into film was a job as a title card designer (the text in silent movies that explains actions or shows dialogue) for Famous Players-Lasky (which later became Paramount). He used this job to get his foot in the door for screenwriting, assistant director, set designer and all other aspects of filmmaking.
After a few failed attempts at directing while at Famous Players-Lasky, during which he met his future wife, Alma, Hitchcock scored a hit with The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog in 1927. The film was a major success in the United Kingdom and is regarded as the first ‘Hitchcockian’ film, heavily influenced by expressionist techniques that Hitchcock witnessed while directing The Pleasure Garden in Germany in 1926.
The 1930s saw Hitchcock make film after film, with many becoming a success both on home soil and across the Atlantic in America. His 1938 film The Lady Vanishes, won the New York Critics’ Award for Best Film, which helped catch the attention of American film producer and studio owner David O. Selznick, who extended a contract offer of three motion picture films. Hitchcock accepted and moved his now wife Alma, and ten-year-old daughter Patricia, to Hollywood.
Hitchcock was one of the first directors to which the ‘auteur theory was applied, a theory which stresses the artistic authority of the director in the filmmaking process. Such artistry is what contributed to so many of Hitchcock’s films being regarded with such icon status.
Perhaps the most well-known film from Hitchcock didn’t come until later in his career, Psycho, released in 1960, was the most shocking film of its time. With twists and disturbing themes that thrilled moviegoers across the world. The cheap budget ($800,000) gave Hitchcock motivation to be creative with his filming techniques, to such an extent that the now iconic shower scene, where the heroine is brutally murdered, is composed of more than 90 shots and 70 different angles. The scene is revered as one of the most thrilling pieces of work of all time.
Keeping with his later fashion of one-word titles and suspenseful thrillers, Hitchcock’s other most memorable films, which hold permanent places on the majority of ‘Top Films’ lists, includes Birds (1963), where a town is attacked by menacing flocks of birds, and Vertigo (1958), a story of obsession, manipulation and fear and a cycle of madness and lies.
The endless list of classics produced by the Master of Suspense is one of the many reasons he is considered to be one of, if not the, best directors of all time.
Not to be ignored are Hitchcock’s lesser known films, iconic in their own right, but often overshadowed by is creative giants. Early works such as Notorious (1946), Spellbound (1945) and The 39 Steps (1935) all have their place in film history for their technical ingenuity.
With more than 50 feature films under his belt throughout his career, there is a plethora of hidden and niche Hitchcock films that document his development to the style he was admired for.
Often cited as a pioneer and auteur, Hitchcock’s filming style is what places him in the director’s hall of fame, with signature filming techniques and styles that help identify any of his films as distinctly Hitchcockian.
He appears as a cameo in 39 of his films, often with no lines and as a brief background character in early scenes. The tradition began When filming his first major success, The Lodger (1927), when there weren’t enough extras to fill the newsroom in the opening scene.
Certain camera angles and techniques have become associated with the director’s feature films, as he creates a feel of voyeurism for the audience, with point of view shots and roving tracking to guide the audience to the subject at hand.
Hitchcock also gained a reputation for using ‘icy blondes’ as his chosen heroines, from Grace Kelly to Janet Leigh to Ingrid Bergman. He once said that blondes are thought to be innocent and glamorous – the perfect recipe for a victim. The icy attitude was for added suspense, and to confuse the audience with their lack of empathy for the poor femme fatale.
He was also noted for his rigorous planning of his productions, with every detail of every scene meticulously storyboarded, with every camera angle, sound effect and movement accounted for and unchanged throughout the filming process.
Hitchcock met his wife, Alma, while working at his first studio, Famous Players-Lasky. She worked on continuity and editing for several of his early works and the two were married in 1926 and she became his chief collaborator on all films. Alma took a backseat to the limelight as she did not want the public attention that came with her husband’s rise to fame.
The couple welcomed their first and only child, a girl named Patricia, in 1928, and the entire family moved to Hollywood when David O. Selznick offered Hitchcock a three-film contract in March 1939.
Awards, Honours and Death
Being one of the most well-noted directors in history comes with a string of awards and honours across a lifetime of hard work and dedication to the industry. Along with innumerable Oscar, Golden Globes and BAFTA nominations and awards, Hitchcock also received five lifetime achievement awards, eight Laurel Awards and has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Hitchcock became Sir Alfred Hitchcock after being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in the 1980 New Year Honours.
In the first few months after his knighthood, Hitchcock worked on a script for a new spy thriller, The Short Night, but the project never came to fruition due to the director’s rapidly declining health. In April of 1980, he passed away in his home of renal failure at 80 years old.
The Hitchcock Floor at Arthouse Hotel
Arthouse Hotel, close to Liverpool’s city centre and just minutes walk to the vibrant and ever-growing nightlife, pay special homage to Hitchcock’s legacy and the impact he left on the cinematic world with an entire floor dedicated to his most iconic films.
Choose from eight Hitchcock themed rooms, sleeping between four and six guests, and indulge in the luxury of a bygone era of cinema.
Experience an elegant take on Bates Motel in Pyscho, or indulge in Notorious, there’s glamour in Suspicion and dark decadence in The Birds.
Be enchanted in Spellbound or experience life on the run in Stage Fright, there’s also the mystifying magnetism of Vertigo and a 1920s vibe in Easy Virtue.
There’s stylish accommodation for everyone whatever your favourite Hitchcock film, and with an amazing location in the heart of cultural Liverpool, there is no better place for group accommodation that the Arthouse Hotel.
Call on 0151 601 8801 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your stay at Liverpool’s best movie theme hotel.