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  • Leopold Huber

The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock – the “Master of Suspense”




Alfred Hitchcock was an English cinema director, producer and screenwriter. Known as the “Master of Suspense”, he had a career spanning six decades, during which he directed fifty films, many of which became wildly successful and received dozens of awards. Hitchcock's most famous pieces were ”Psycho”, ”The Birds” and ”North by Northwest”. His works became an inspiration for many aspiring film directors and writers, and still influence modern- day motion pictures. In this article I will be exploring the life of this brilliant and eccentric man.


Early Life

Alfred Hitchcock was born on 13. August 1899 in Leytonstone, as the son of Emma Jane and William Hitchcock, a greengrocer. He had an older brother and sister named William and Ellen respectively. When he was six, his family moved to Limehouse and ran a fishmonger and a fish and chip shop there. At the age of seven, Hitchcock attended the Howrah House Convent in Poplar, his first school. In the year of 1910, Hitchcock’s family moved to Stepney and Hitchcock was enrolled in St Ignatius College. The school was infamous for its discipline and cruel punishments, and it was in this environment where Hitchcock, according to himself, developed his sense for fear, tension and terror. In 1913, Hitchcock left for the London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation in Poplar. But disaster struck the following year when Hitchcock’s father died at 52 and he had to start working as a technical clerk to support his family, only attending local night schools in the meantime. In 1916, he enrolled in the University of London for design and drawing classes and in 1919, he became a founder of a newspaper called “The Henley Telegraph”, for which he wrote several short stories.


Early Career

His first film released to the public, was published in 1923 and called "Always Tell Your Wife", which he co-directed with its star Seymour Hicks. That was followed by "The Mountain Eagle" in 1926 and "The Lodger: The Story of the London Fog" in 1927. Hitchcock regards "The Lodger" as his first “real” work. In 1926, Hitchcock married his editor, Alma Reville. In the

following years, Hitchcock directed many films, the most noteworthy one at the time being the thriller "Blackmail", one of the year’s biggest hits in England and Hitchcock's first talking film. "Downhill", "Easy Virtue", "The Ring", "The Farmer’s Wife", "Champagne", "The Manxman", "Juno and the Paycock", "Elstree Calling", "Murder!", "The Skin Game", "Rich and Strange" and "Number Seventeen" were other noteworthy pieces. While many of the motion pictures were successful, none of them were internationally released.

This would all change though in 1934, when Hitchcock signed a multi-film contract with Gaumont-British, a British publishing company, and created his first international success "The Man Who Knew Too Much" the same year. The following year, he directed his second international movie, "The 39 Steps", which granted him widespread recognition in the US.


Hollywood and the Peak of his Career

In 1939, the American producer David Selznick signed Hitchcock into a multi-year contract and Hitchcock moved to Hollywood with his family. Life magazine announced him to be the "greatest master of melodrama in screen history" that same year. His first film in Hollywood was called "Rebecca" and won Best Picture at the 13th Academy Awards, though the award was given to Selznick. For the next few years, Hitchcock directed many more films in Hollywood, such as, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith", "Shadow of a Doubt" and "Suspicion", which was Hitchcock's first motion picture where he acted as both producer and director.

Hitchcock remained in Hollywood developing films until 1944, when Hitchcock returned to the UK to make propaganda films for the British government. After the war ended, Hitchcock started making smaller films, during which he founded a production company called "Transatlantic Pictures". He also founded an anthology series, "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", in 1955, which ran for a decade.


Hitchcock’s Peak Years: 1954-1964

During the decade between 1954 and 1964, Hitchcock developed his most famous films yet. His two most iconic ones from the time period being "Psycho" and "The Birds".


"Psycho" is Hitchcock’s most iconic and influential film. It was based of the 1959 novel and was and shot in black-and-white on a spare set using crew members from "Alfred Hitchcock Presents". The immense violence of the film led to a new genre in horror movies and its tension techniques are still used today. It became a massive success in many countries and broke box office records. It was Hitchcock’s most successful film and earned him 150 million US Dollars.

"The Birds" was Hitchcock’s second biggest success. It was based upon a short story by Daphne du Maurier. In "The Birds", a small town is mysteriously attacked by a swarm of

birds. Hitchcock said it was his most technically challenging film as every shot was sketched in advance and a combination of trained, mechanical and wild birds was used. Many injuries occurred on set due to the birds.


Late Career and Death

Due to his failing health, Hitchcock produced less and less films over the years, with his final one being "Family Plot", filmed in 1976. He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the Queen of England in 1980, but he couldn’t attend the ceremony due to his health.

Alfred Hitchcock died of kidney failure on the 29th April, in his Bel Air home.




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