Film director and producer
August 13, 1899
April 29, 1980
Most notable works
The 39 Steps
The Lady Vanishes
North by Northwest
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock (1889 - 1980) was a British horror film director, often referred to as "The Master of Suspense", and he is one of the most famous film directors ever. In a career spanning six decades he directed over fifty feature films, many of which are now regarded as cult classics, the most notable ones being Blackmail (1929), The 39 Steps (1935), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Rebecca (1940), Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963).
He started working in the British film industry at the start of the 1920s as a title designer before progressing to become a director. He directed 23 films during the first phase of his career in England, including The Ring (1927), Downhill (1927) and Blackmail (1929), one of the first British sound films.
He married fellow worker Alma Reville in 1926.
By the late 1930s, his profile was rising internationally and he moved to Hollywood in 1939 to work for David O. Selznick on Rebecca (1940), which won an Academy Award for Best Picture. A series of well-received films during the 1940s led to Hitchcock briefly forming the independent company Transatlantic Pictures before entering his "golden decade" making Warner Bros.- and Paramount Studios films during the 1950s.
Throughout his career, Hitchcock strove to maintain a highly visible public profile and remains one of the world's most easily recognisable film directors. As well as licensing his name for use by publishers, he hosted more than 350 episodes of television anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955 - 1962) and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962 - 1965). After the release of Psycho (1960), he signed to Universal Pictures for whom he made 6 films before his death in April 29, 1980.
Although often regarded as a skilled movie maker by many, the French New Wave critics of Cahiers du Cinéma once argued that Hitchcock films should be regarded as artistic masterworks and he then soon became a key figure in the emergent Auteur Theory.
Alfred Joseph Hitchcock I was born in Leytonstone, Essex, on Sunday, August 13, 1899, and was the youngest of the 3 children of William Hitchcock and Emma Jane.
By 1908, Alfred's father had followed his brothers into the fishmongery trade and moved his family to Salmon Lane in East London. A few years later, 11-year old Alfred was enrolled at St. Ignatius College, a Jesuit Catholic secondary school in Stamford Hill, London.
Following the death of his father in 1914, Hitchcock began working at W.T. Henley's Telegraph Works Company Ltd. It was here that he developed his artistic skills and eventually joined the company's advertising department. During this period, he frequently visited London theatres and cinemas, and began considering a career in the arts.
Great Britain (1920 – 1939)
In April 1919, the American company Famous Players-Lasky announced its intention to open a new modern film studio in Islington, London. Following the opening of the studio in 1920 and the announcement of the first planned productions, Hitchcock managed to gain a part-time position designing intertitle cards. An enthusiastic worker, he soon picked up other film production skills, including scenario writing and set design.
His future wife, Alma Reville, had entered the film trade several years earlier and began working at the Islington Studios around the same time. However, it would be a couple of years before he felt comfortable enough to begin courting her. They eventually married in December 1926 and their only daughter, Patricia, was born in July 1928.
By 1922, Famous Players-Lasky was suffering financial problems and began winding down their British operations, leasing out their studios and staff to other film producers. It was during this period that Hitchcock became an assistant director, achieving commercial success on the Balcon, Freedman & Saville production, Woman to Woman (1923), directed by Graham Cutts.
Producer Michael Balcon formed Gainsborough Pictures in 1924, taking over ownership of the Islington Studios. Impressed with the enthusiastic young Hitchcock, Balcon arranged a partnership deal with German studios UFA and Emelka, giving Hitchcock the opportunity to study German film production techniques and then to direct his first full-length feature film, The Pleasure Garden (1925).
Hollywood (1939 - 1980)
Between 1940 and 1947, Hitchcock remained under contract to Selznick, for whom he directed four films, including Rebecca (1940) and Notorious (1946). During this period, he also made six films for other studios, in a loan-out arrangement which financially benefited Selznick — these included Suspicion (1941) for RKO, Shadow of a Doubt (1943) for Universal, and Lifeboat (1944) for 20th Century Fox.
During World War II, Hitchcock renewed his friendship with Sidney Bernstein and worked on a number of projects for the British Ministry of Information. With the end of his Selznick contract in sight, Hitchcock and Bernstein began planning a new production company which would allow the director to work independently of the studio system and Transatlantic Pictures was officially launched in April 1946.
Hitchcock's first two films for Transatlantic — Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949) — proved commercially unsuccessful and the company's distribution partner, Warner Bros., took over production of Stage Fright (1950) prior to Transatlantic being dissolved during the filming of I Confess (1953). The success of Strangers on a Train (1951) led to Hitchcock signing a short contract with Warner Bros., culminating with Dial M for Murder (1954) which starred Grace Kelly.
Hitchcock had previously signed with talent agency MCA and Lew Wasserman negotiated an extremely favourable contract with Paramount Pictures for the director — as well as providing a considerable degree of artistic freedom, the rights to most of the films reverted back to Hitchcock. The films from this period include classics such as Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959) (the latter being an MGM production).
Wasserman anticipated the impact that television would have on entertainment and in the mid-1950s persuaded Hitchcock to host a television series. Although initially somewhat reluctant, the series Alfred Hitchcock Presents helped turn the director into a popular culture icon.
|Truffaut and Hitchcock (1962)|
At roughly the same time as his profile was being raised by his television series, a group of influential French film critics writing for Cahiers du Cinéma began championing Hitchcock as an auteur director whose work was worthy of serious critical appraisal. Up to that point, most film critics had regarded Hitchcock as merely a talented maker of popular entertainment films. François Truffaut's subsequent book on the director, based on a series of interviews conducted in 1962, helped cement Hitchcock's reputation.
The final film under his Paramount contract proved too controversial for the studio and Psycho (1960) was instead financed and produced by Hitchcock with Paramount only handling the film's distribution. Despite concerns raised by many of the director's colleagues, the film was a huge success and the "shower scene", with it's shrieking Bernard Herrmann score, has become one of the most iconic scenes in 20th century cinema.
In the early 1960s, Hitchcock cemented his partnership with MCA by transferring the rights to Psycho and his television series in return for shares in the company and, by the end of 1962, MCA had gained control of Universal Pictures. Hitchcock would remain with Universal for the rest of his career and was one of the largest shareholders in the studio.
Hitchcock's first two films for Universal — The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964) — failed to match the success of Psycho and two subsequent personal projects — Mary Rose and Kaleidoscope — were blocked by the studio's management. Instead, the studio encouraged Hitchcock to return to the spy thriller genre but both Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969) faired extremely poorly at the box office.
Frenzy (1972), which was filmed in London, was regarded as a return to form for the director, although the declining health of both Alfred and Alma (who suffered a stroke during the film's production) meant that his years as a filmmaker were coming to an end.
Family Plot (1976) was released to warm reviews but production on his 54th film, an adaptation of Ronald Kirkbride's novel The Short Night, were abandoned when it became obvious to Hitchcock that he was now physically incapable of directing another motion picture.
|AFI Life Achievement Award|
In 1978, the visibly frail Hitchcock became the seventh recipient of the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. During his acceptance speech, he paid a moving tribute to his wife: "I share my award, as I have my life, with her."
At the end of 1979, he received an honourary knighthood in the Queen's New Year Honours List.
Alfred Joseph Hitchcock passed away at 9am on Tuesday, April 29, 1980.
Filmography of Alfred Hitchcock
- The Pleasure Garden (1925)
- The Mountain Eagle (1926)
- The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
- The Ring (1927)
- Downhill (1927)
- Champagne (1928)
- Easy Virtue (1928)
- The Farmer's Wife (1928)
- Blackmail (1929)
- The Manxman (1929)
- Juno and the Paycock (1930)
- Murder! (1930)
- The Skin Game (1931)
- Rich and Strange (1931)
- Number Seventeen (1932)
- Waltzes from Vienna (1934)
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
- The 39 Steps (1935)
- Secret Agent (1936)
- Sabotage (1936)
- Young and Innocent (1937)
- The Lady Vanishes (1938)
- Jamaica Inn (1939)
- Rebecca (1940)
- Foreign Correspondent (1940)
- Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)
- Suspicion (1941)
- Saboteur (1942)
- Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
- Lifeboat (1944)
- Spellbound (1945)
- Notorious (1946)
- The Paradine Case (1947)
- Rope (1948)
- Under Capricorn (1949)
- Stage Fright (1950)
- Strangers on a Train (1951)
- I Confess (1953)
- Dial M for Murder (1954)
- Rear Window (1954)
- To Catch a Thief (1955)
- The Trouble with Harry (1955)
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
- The Wrong Man (1956)
- Vertigo (1958)
- North by Northwest (1959)
- Psycho (1960)
- The Birds (1963)
- Marnie (1964)
- Torn Curtain (1966)
- Topaz (1969)
- Frenzy (1972)
- Family Plot (1976)