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Dial H For Hitchcock: An In-Depth Discussion About ‘The Master of Suspense’

Alfred Hitchcock, known by many as the “Master of Suspense” is one of the most influential filmmakers of the 21st century. He has a reputation for high-art filmmaking with an enormous popularity. To this day his films continue to capture and fascinate audiences of all ages and though this is not common for a lot of directors of yesteryear, his films continuously influence the way we regard creating film and story for the big screen.

With brilliant and slick thrillers like North by Northwest, Psycho or Rear Window, Hitchcock created films like no other. He started his career in the 1920s as a title card illustrator for silent films and would work his way up to sound and color several years later, eventually creating his own stamp on cinema.

Image Credit: Bio.True Story

On this day April 29 of 1980, Alfred Hitchcock passed away from kidney failure. With respect to this innovator and the affect he’s had on all of us, our writers Andrew Rogers and Tania Hussain sit down to talk about their favorite films, share with readers their overall love for the director, while discussing how his films have played an important role in today’s popular culture.

Tania Hussain: If you had to be stranded on an island with a TV and DVD player, which one Hitchcock movie would you take?

Andrew Rogers: (laughs) Hmm…

TH: You have no internet, so you can’t stream any movies!

AR: (laughs) I was going to say Psycho but I feel like being stranded on an island with Psycho would just be so horrible, like it would freak you out because you’d feel there’s somebody else on the island.

TH: (laughs) That’s so funny and very true.

AR: And with Rear Window, you’d feel there’s someone constantly watching you.

A still from ‘Lifeboat’, another limited-setting film of Hitchcock’s, similar to ‘Rope’ and ‘Dial M For Murder”. Image Credit: Wikipedia

TH: There’s always something, right? (laughs) It would be so weird to have all those around you and be so scared.

AR: You know what would be appropriate? Lifeboat.

TH: I have not seen that. I guess I’ll be left stranded. (laughs)

AR: I kind of love Lifeboat.

TH: I really love Strangers on a Train! Have you seen that one?

AR: No, I haven’t [but] it’s in my DVD collection.

TH: If I had to be on that island with just one Hitchcock movie, I’d probably take that one. It’s got romance, wit, suspense and elements of dark and light between both characters, Bruno (Robert Walker) and Guy (Farley Granger). Both of these characters share a common view in the unnatural and bizarre–one is having an affair whilst married and wants out of the union; and the other has a complex with his father, but they both share this shared dream of escaping the life they have. Bruno has got to be one of Hitchcock’s finely molded complex characters, besides Norman Bates [of ‘Psycho‘]. Bruno hides a lot behind that persona and one of the interesting things [that] Hitchcock proves is we don’t really know everyone we meet. We don’t understand them in that initial meeting, and for these two characters in the film to meet and then have a conversation that is rather dark seems so off. He says he’d kill his wife for Guy, if he kills his father and you wonder, how out of his element is he? He clearly can’t be trusted. It’s a great film about double-crossing, obsessions and an interesting study in complex characterization.

Hitchcock directed more than fifty feature films in a career spanning over six decades with a big chunk of Hollywood’s finest at his side. The director had the opportunity to work with many major stars from the early 20s to the late 70s, such as Cary Grant, James Stewart, Doris Day, Gregory Peck, Grace Kelly, Joseph Cotten, Ingrid Bergman, Carol Lombard, Ray Milland, and Janet Leigh, just to name a few.

Still from ‘Rebecca’ of Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) trying to persuade Mrs. De Winter (Joan Fontaine) to leap to her death. Image Credit: Wikipedia

Andrew Rogers: I think my three favorites–I didn’t realize this until I actually went and looked, but they’re all movie adaptations of the same author which I thought was very interesting. It’s Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and then The Birds. All three of them were written by Daphne du Maurier [and] I felt that was really interesting. That partnership is something I really like. I’ve read Daphne’s books and they’re very gothic and Hitchcock himself is very gothic, so I think that pairing goes really well.

Tania Hussain: I liked Rebecca too! I haven’t read any of her work but I found that to be a particularly creepy film. I find [that] Hitchcock’s older films were actually really creepy for that time. [He] was always building on top of his suspense meter. Plus his movies always add a bit of comedy which I think is really great because it brings up the dark comedy genre with subtlety, which I love. My absolute favorite might just be Rear Window though. I’m iffy on Vertigo being named Best Film of All Time. Did you hear about that?

AR: Yeah. I like it but it’s hard to say. Maybe there’s something deeper that I’m missing and I need to watch it again to sort of get that. I always kind of resist what the critics say, so maybe that’s natural to me. I personally prefer Rear Window; Psycho is great for what it is–it’s very campy, and I love that.

TH: Vertigo is great in its own right. It’s a psycho-obsessive-sexual thriller and everybody loves those (laughs). But there’s something there that I’m not really sure about and getting per se. The truth is, the film has a great story with this odd character; Jimmy Stewart’s character evolves into this obsessed man who kept this woman all to himself and formed her to his liking. It’s really dark and Hitchcock picks up on closeted desires which is an interesting element to play with. I feel like that is something people do enjoy watching because one of the stages of love is infatuation, so in that sense I would get it and understand the mass appeal. But I’m not sure to have it [be] named Best Film of All Time. I love Rear Window so much.

AR: Me too.

In Hitchcock’s 1954 classic Rear Window, the director playfully explored the role of voyeurism with the film and examined not just the obviousness, but gave an immaculate illustration to audiences alike about loneliness, obsessions and a sharp assessment of man’s psyche. We’re all a little voyeuristic, whether it be watching people walk on by as you sit on a park bench or even waiting in traffic. Voyeurism is characterized by observing the lives of others, not always for sexual satisfaction. In some ways, it is a process through which people gain more contentedness from watching others than living their own lives. In terms of Hitchcock’s look at this human experience, voyeurism is nothing more than opening your window to take a peak at others and the filmmaker has made voyeurs out of his whole audience with this classic.

Jimmy Stewart as L.B Jeffries watching his neighbors from his apartment window in Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Image Credit: Hitchcock Wiki

Rear Window is one of the most universally regarded films and finds James Stewart as L. B Jeffries confined to a wheelchair in his upper story apartment after an accident. He begins to amuse himself by watching others through his window in the building opposite, and illustrates his own perception of each of these inhabitants from the mere glimpse he catches of their lives. As he continues peering in on his neighbors, one day he observes something that forces him to take action and become  a participant after thinking he sees one of his neighbors Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), commit a murder.

Tania Hussain: Was [Hitchcock] in Rear Window? Watch him be the creepy old man peering through the young woman’s window as she changes her clothes. (laughs)

Andrew Rogers: (laughs) His cameo was apparently one of his most controversial appearances because it’s the only time he breaks the fourth wall and actually acknowledges the audience. It’s where he’s winding the clock in the songwriter’s apartment, and then turns to look at the camera and gives a sort of, ‘What are you looking at?’ sort of look. He acknowledges the fact that he’s there but most times he’s really subtle about his appearance and unless you know what he’s going to look like, you’ll find him but this was different.

Hitchcock’s witty appearances in his films became his own trademark. Over the years, audiences enjoyed looking out for the director and seeing how he would set himself against the milieu and plot. Of his entire filmography, he made appearances in 39 of his films even though it started out as an accident. Short an actor in one of his first films, the director decided to take it upon himself and fill the small role. In a 1966 interview with a London newspaper, Hitchcock said, “I always give a little thought to my appearances and come on as early as possible–don’t want to hold them in suspense for the wrong reason! I’ve been in all my films on and off. Missed a few. Only cancelled one. It got into the press ahead of time… I was going to walk along with a girl and talk to her–in deaf-and-dumb language. My hands would be working very fast. And she turns around and slaps my face.”

Andrew Rogers: The reason I love his work is, I feel like –what’s so brilliant about him and maybe why Vertigo ended up at the top, it might not necessarily be the best movie of all time but it’s a good demonstration of his style and how his style has influenced directors today because I definitely think Quentin Tarantino is influenced by him. Just, any horror or suspense film that you watch today, you can feel the Alfred Hitchcock influence because before him the definition of what was scary was totally different and then he comes out with these movies where you can literally have someone walking down a hall with no music and it’s terrifying. He does that so well.

Hitchcock making his cameo appearance in ‘To Catch a Thief’ with Cary Grant. Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Tania Hussain: He was one of the very first to introduce how scary silence can be and that forms the thought of what’s coming next for this character. It’s a great anchor for building tension and having the watcher on edge. In Rear Window there’s this brilliant scene where Jimmy is watching Raymond Burr’s character through the window, and the lights go off and we’re wondering where he went but then you see him lighting this cigarette and really, he’s watching Jimmy and you can tell because of the faint cigarette light. Probably the creepiest thing ever.

AR: Yeah, I remember that scene. It’s terrifying.

TH: At that point, Jimmy’s character is basically made out. I close my curtains a lot sooner because of that movie. (laughs)

AR: That movie is the reason I close my curtains and blinds at night because I don’t want somebody watching me while I sleep. (laughs)

TH: (laughs) You’re probably one of those guys with a giant barrier and an alarm, and it looks almost like you’re on lock-down in a panic room so no one watches you.

AR: Yes! I have to have blinds on my window. And I close them as soon as it gets dark. I’ve got this fear now that one day I’ll look through my window at night and there’ll be a face there.

TH: Oh dear God. (laughs)

AR: And that’s the fear that Alfred Hitchcock has instilled in me.

TH: (laughs)

AR: The other thing he does really well is takes a traditional plot and kind of turns it on its head. Like in Psycho, we think the main character is Janet Leigh and for the first half of the movie, you think she’s the main character and we follow her around, see her check into this hotel and finally goes to take a shower and he kills her early on in the movie. All of a sudden it’s like this person you’ve been relating to and thinking the all movie is going to be about is gone; it’s something that made his films so controversial. I’m seeing the films we’re mentioning on Wikipedia and they received a lot of mixed reviews and I can see why. He really pushed the envelope. He did things you don’t traditionally see in a movie and now we see he was setting a standard for other movies. At the time it was totally odd.

TH: It set him apart from other directors in his time. He created his own identity because of that and directors today take a big chunk out of his history when making films. Kevin Williamson did something similar with in that Psychostyle in Scream, marketing Drew Barrymore as the main character but she got killed within 15 minutes of that film and it drives you to think, who’s next.

AR: I loved Scream. I think it’s a very; it does play off Hitchcock and mocks the genre of horror the same way Hitchcock did. He would take stereotypes and throw them in your face. Psycho was very sexualized and violent, considering it released in the 1950s, the things that were in that movie were disturbing. Still disturbing today but like, they’re normal right now because of other movies but back then the stuff he did was crazy.

Kim Novak and James Stewart embrace in 1958’s ‘Vertigo’. Image Credit: Universal Pictures

TH: Yeah in Vertigo, it starts off as simple mystery, as much as an oxymoron as that sounds but it dives deep into this psychological spiral and these characters become twisted. Jimmy Stewart’s character is really quiet at first but then he meets this woman and shows this great vulnerable side. He has this sort of sexual hold on her and it’s obsessive and dark, and at the same time it’s fetishistic, almost scopophilic and kind of creepy because he makes her into this person she’s clearly not–she’s in the image of what he wants, and what he knew and because of that need, she should satisfy him. That sort of deviant affection translates to some elements of film today and considering it was the 50s, it was such a cookie cutter time but for Hitchcock to break that mold and throw these characters portrayed by wholesome actors into such roles was very impressive. Almost groundbreaking. It definitely opened possibilities for story.

AR: Another interesting thing he did which plays off the Psycho idea, was that in Rebecca—it’s sort of the same thing as Vertigo, it’s almost like a blend of Vertigo and Psycho, now that I’m thinking about it but it came out before both of them–but the movie is called Rebecca, and yet you never ever see ‘Rebecca’ in the movie. I’m pretty sure, there’s nobody cast as Rebecca.

TH: You’re right.

AR: In the book, that’s how it plays off and you only ever hear talk of her through other people. It’s kind of like that same idea, the obsession, the sexualization. He set a standard.

TH: Yes, he set this precedent in filmmaking and he became this artist of sorts. So much so that now when you see films today, many are heavily influenced by that style. It’s great. Even with a remake like Disturbia, they took certain elements of his films and introduced it to a new audience. They’ve done it with A Perfect Murder too, remake of Dial M For Murder; and even now with [A&E’s] Bates Motel. With Bates Motel, they get to take this complex character like Norman Bates and in some ways humanize him while creating a new persona for his story. It’s interesting because it makes for a new found love for Hitchcock’s film, having some wonder how did Norman get this way, who exactly is he. And even in the movie, Anthony Perkins appears to be this really shy character and you wouldn’t imagine he’s the guy. Realistically, that sort of behavior from an individual is downright scary.

Alfred Hitchcock portrayed in a spoof of ‘The Birds’ in the episode titled ‘A Streetcar Named Marge’ in 1992’s “The Simpsons”. Image Credit: 20th Century FOX

Hitchcock’s constant influence on popular culture has expanded over the years and made its way through literature, television, film and music. There’s no doubt directors and writers today have looked to the classic auteur for filmmaking techniques and creating their own stamp on film with such knowledge and admiration. From the likes of Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino, to the Coen Brothers, all of whom have created films over the years with that ‘Hitchcockian’ vibe. One such example can be simply seen in the classic Blood Simple by Ethan and Joel Coen who produced a film with a nostalgic outlook covering the best of Hitchcock’s themes and motifs, tied with dark comedy and suspense. Hitchcock’s themes and motifs are so common, in fact, that a Wikipedia article actually exists which outlines those themes.

The Simpsons have constantly paid homage to Hitchcock over the years with references to The Birds, Rear Window, Sabateur, Psycho, Spellbound, North by Northwest and most recently, Strangers on a Train for their Halloween special, “Treehouse of Horror XX”. The segment was called “Dial M for Murder or Press # To Return To Main Menu” but had a plot that parodied Strangers on a Train and pushed a Hitchcock looking character off Mt. Rushmore, where Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint scramble for freedom in the film, North by Northwest‘s final scene.

Lady Gaga admitted in an interview with MTV, that her song “Bad Romance” paid homage to Alfred Hitchcock with the lines, “I want your Psycho, your Vertigo shtick/Want you in my Rear Window, Baby, you’re sick.” Gaga went on to explaining how she would want the deepest, darkest and sickest parts of her lover that they’re afraid to share with anyone because she would love them that much. Though many fans were unclear of what those lyrics truly meant, it opened the door to a new audience in wonderment.

Hitchcock was an expert with articulating themes and motifs. His filmography is a a wicked one as he has continuously chose to highlight the fears and desires we all keep hidden within ourselves. In a film like Notorious, Hitchcock examines the simplicity of trust and twists it on its head as being withheld or given up too freely; in The Birds, we see mass hysteria and fear over something we notice everyday; Psycho examines the morbid behavior of a man whose co-dependent relationship with his mother alters his perception and personality. When an audience watches a Hitchcock movie, they are entering into the psyche of the director and the way he wants us to view his films. Hitchcock was once noted as saying, “The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them.”

Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten in 1943’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’. Image Credit: Hitchcock Wiki.

Tania Hussain: I love Notorious. Have you seen that one?

Andrew Rogers: No I haven’t.

TH: That was the film that introduced me to Hitchcock. I must have watched it a gazillion times growing up, it’s so great and has an amazingly written script. I think another one that really got my passions for Hitchcock going was Shadow of a Doubt. It was with Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright. He was this charming man who would marry women and then kill them for their money. The relationship he had with his niece was kind of awkward because they were so close but it seemed almost abnormal. Perhaps it was because it was a different time and our family culture back then had a great tightness to it and now we’re so accustomed to a Flowers in the Attic sort of attitude (laughs). But it raises the thought again that there are people out there, even family that we think we know so well but really they are hiding so much of themselves behind that persona.

AR: But that’s constant gothic though; the sort of incestuous relationship is very, within the gothic realm–that’s an element of it and it almost adds to the creepiness because you don’t–I think the fact that you can’t draw a line that distinctly says what the relationship is, is almost  like extra creepy and it’s tasty. I think Hitchcock knew that very well. There’s no doubt in my mind, but thriller, suspense, mild horror, but like gothic. He was very aware of the gothic genre.

TH: Yes, and we wonder about these characters. When we watch these films you’re actually building into these characters, understanding their motives, goals, etc, but when he adds that element and you ask, “what kind of dynamic is this?”, it makes you feel like you understood these characters but misinterpreted who they truly are. By the time the movie ends, you’re left thinking, “Wow I never thought they’d go that direction!”

AR: Before I watched any Hitchcock, I thought it would be cheesy because you think old horror and you think, cheesy. I mean, there are some parts of it that are campy because we now have special effects and now have all this stuff but when you sort of take yourself out of the element of comparing it to modern cinema, it’s really great for what it is and what it did at the time. I still think Psycho as sort of campy as that stabbing scene was in the shower, it still terrifies me. I still don’t want to shower. (laughs)

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) about to get stabbed by Norman Bates in 1960’s ‘Psycho’. This scene is one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history. Image Credit: Rex Features

TH: (laughs) Yeah, I’d rather sit in a bathtub instead.

AR: Like I’m still afraid to pull–thank God my shower here has glass doors so I can see through ’cause I’m afraid to pull the curtain back. Like there’s going to be somebody behind that curtain…

TH: (laughs)

AR: I think that’s what he does. He preys on…

TH: Simplicity.

AR: Yeah, like simple fears. We all are afraid of people watching us through windows or even birds, they’re kind of freaky.

TH: Yes. Like pigeons.

AR: (laughs) They fly and attack, and he recognizes that these are things people are afraid of [but] makes it scarier.

TH: He’s good at raising the level of fear. It’s like, these every day things we come across and we’re use to them but he injects this sort of element where things are not going to be the way you imagine them to be. That’s a great way to make an impression on the audience and confuse them. It’s about being comfortable in your zone and then he comes in and lifts the rug from right under you.

AR: He does that brilliantly. He sort of picks things that are inherently scary and prey on that. It’s not like other movies where you get this mysterious beast or things that are scary because they’re unknown…these things are scary because they’re familiar to us. Like in Rear Window, your neighbor watching you through the window and everything you do–that’s scary.

TH: Yeah and it branches out into the unknown world of how someone else projects you, what’s their motives, and it brings about doubt in you and that can be terrifying on a mental level. They’re so great that way.

Last year, Alfred Hitchcock was immortalized in the biopic, Hitchcock starring Anthony Hopkins. Though the film didn’t create quite a splash with audiences, people are still fascinated by Alfred Hitchcock’s impressive filmography as he continues to be one of the more influential filmmakers of our time.

Hitchcock was once quoted as saying, “If I won’t be myself, who will?” His works have proven the depths he has taken to be a visionary of our cinematic history, and played an important part in understanding what a true auteur is within definition of the concept’s thematic and stylistic harmonies. With this in mind, Hitchcock has been able to create a distinct vision and control the artistic statement he envisions throughout his films. That fingerprint is what sets him apart and deems him as one of our generation’s greatest filmmakers.

Alfred Hitchcock: August 13, 1899 – April 29, 1980

Hitchcock’s films can be found on the Turner Classic Movie online shop!

Andrew’s Recommendations:
Lifeboat, Psycho, Rebecca, Rear Window, Jamaica Inn, The Birds.

Tania’s Recommendations:
Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, Dial M For Murder, Notorious
.

About the Authors

___________________________________________

Andrew Rogers is Editor and staff writer here at “The Hudsucker.” He is a 24 year old law student who lives in Halifax during the school year and Toronto the rest of the year. Besides Law, his brain capacity is taken up by reality show trivia, video game walk-throughs and food factoids. Andrew is also happily in a relationship with an American boy named Elliott. Follow him on Twitter as @sublymonal.

Tania Hussain is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief here at “The Hudsucker,” and a freelance journalist at the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), an organization dedicated to strengthening the role of women journalists around the world. Currently attending Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana and studying Journalism, she is a life long learner who enjoys traveling and meeting new people. In addition to being an avid Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Presley, and baseball fan, she is a lover of pancakes, fine cheeses, film, and music. The Hoosier at heart has a passionate wanderlust for travel and road-tripping.  Follow her on Twitter as @westlifebunny.

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