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Associated Press

Happy Birthday, Alfred Hitchcock, Master of Suspense Films

August 13, 2009
by Sarah Amandolare
Known for thrillers like “Rear Window” and “The Birds,” Alfred Hitchcock is a master of bringing audiences to the edge of their seats. Although he became known for his precision on set, Hitchcock was a bit of a wild child while growing up in London.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Early Days

Hitchcock was born in London into a rather strict household. His mother, Emma Whelan Hitchcock, and father, poultry dealer and fruit importer William Hitchcock, were staunch Catholics and sent Alfred to private Jesuit schools. But the future director had other things in mind, namely escape. “As a young boy he was possessed by wanderlust, and by the time he was eight he had ridden every bus line in London and explored all its docks and shipping terminals.”

William Hitchcock did his best to rein in his son, and even had him locked up in a jail cell for 10 minutes to teach him a lesson. But Alfred used the experience to his advantage, often using his police phobia as film inspiration later in his career.

Alfred attended a Jesuit preparatory school called St. Ignatius College in an electrical engineering program, and then began coursework at the University of London. However, his education was cut short when Alfred had to begin working to help support his family. He started as a technical clerk for a manufacturing company, but willed his way up the ladder to the advertising department.

In 1923, he’d become a scenario writer for Gainsborough Pictures in Islington, England, but it hadn’t come without a fight. Two years earlier, when he heard that the Famous Players-Lasky Company planned to build studios in London, Hitchcock decided to fix up film title cards, which he found unattractive, to impress the big wigs. However, to get his finished work to company execs, Hitchcock first had to convince an “army of secretaries and assistants.”

His first suspense film, “The Lodger,” was released in 1926, and wholly convinced critics and audiences. The story told of a man mistaken for Jack the Ripper.

Hitchcock’s Notable Accomplishments

Hitchcock’s first sound film, “Blackmail,” was released in 1929. He used a technique called “subjective sound,” which distorted some words to emphasize others, building suspense.

His 1934 film, “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” was noteworthy for establishing Hitchcock’s preference for delving into family relationships while telling a suspenseful story.

The 1959 film “North by Northwest” is considered one of Hitchcock’s best, from script to score to cast, including stars Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. The “quintessential chase movie” displayed Hitchcock’s trademarks: “ingenious shots, subtle male-female relationships, dramatic score, bright Technicolor, inside jokes, witty symbolism and above all masterfully orchestrated suspense.”

The Rest of the Story

Hitchcock was nominated for several Oscars in the Best Director category, but never won, prompting some to call him the best director who never won an Academy Award.

Although some of Hitchcock’s critics felt “his films lacked substance,” his fans and supporters felt he was “an all-round specialist.” It is hard to deny Hitchcock’s talent, but he also seemed to will himself to succeed. He was known for being a “meticulous” planner, never improvising or deviating from his plan.
With his wife, film editor Alma Revile, Hitchcock had one daughter, Patricia, who showed up in some of his most famous movies. Hitchcock died at age 80, on April 29, 1980.

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