Fall 2019


Hooked on Hitch

As this Taschen volume makes clear, the Master of Suspense remains appealing to cineastes young and old, with 50-plus features underscoring his timeless ingenuity

By Steve Chagollan

Alfred Hitchcock: The Complete Films (Taschen)

There's the oft-repeated notion that Alfred Hitchcock regarded his actors as mere chess pieces to be maneuvered this way and that for his meticulously constructed cinematic schemes. But as Alfred Hitchcock: The Complete Films (Taschen), edited by Paul Duncan, makes clear, the Master of Suspense was also a master of eliciting indelible performances.

Joan Fontaine, who played the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca (1940), practically owed her film career to the director (she won an Oscar for Hitchcock's Suspicion a year later), as did the woman who played her tormentor, Judith Anderson. It could be argued that Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotton, Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart tackled their most memorable parts under Hitchcock's tutelage, while Anthony Perkins was never able to shake the specter of Psycho's Norman Bates.

With more than 20 English features already under Hitchcock's belt, Hollywood was the biggest beneficiary of his talent when he arrived in the U.S. in 1939, as the British film industry waned and war with Germany loomed. His imprint was such that having his name above the title in credits and one-sheets became a given. The filmmaker also established his own brand, fortified by cameo appearances in his movies and as host of the TV anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-65), for which his sketched silhouette provided a whimsical logo.

Individual chapters on each of Hitchcock's movies is accented by a brief bio of select collaborators who helped Hitchcock achieve his vision, including composer Bernard Herrmann, DP Robert Burks and screenwriter Ernest Lehman.

Hitchcock's penchant for cinematic experiments is also well documented, such as staging most of Lifeboat in a 31-by-10-foot craft on the Fox lot, or shooting Rope to look as if it were one continuous take. The glass of milk, ostensibly laced with poison, Cary Grant holds as he ascends the stairs in Suspicion is ominously lit from within by a light bulb; the shower scene in Psycho required 78 camera shots to "fill 45 seconds of scream time."

Those who have immersed themselves in the work of Hitchcock's previous biographers might already be familiar with much of what's in this handsome volume. But it's exhaustively researched and filled with Taschen's usual treasure trove of lush movie stills, behind-the-scenes photos and telling pull quotes that underscore Hitchcock's insight in holding the audience's attention, and keeping them in their seats. "The length of a film," he once proclaimed, "should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder."



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