This month, we honor the birth of Alfred Hitchcock and the 50th anniversary of Vertigo, one of his masterpieces. Hitchcock found actual filming a bore, but loved pre-production and transferring images from his mind to paper. Dozens of memorable visuals come to mind — PSYCHO: water swirling down drain, stabbings. NOTORIOUS: passing of the key, nibbling love scene. VERTIGO: dizzying elasticity of dimensions, mistlike reappearance of Madeline to obsessed Scotty. NORTH BY NORTHWEST: crop duster and Mount Rushmore scenes.
Hitch appears in 37 of his films. Here, FSR presents a guide to finding him in the ones he made after his U.S. debut.
Rebecca (1940) – Man passing telephone booth with George Sanders inside (rare — cut from most prints)
First American film. Hitch was painstaking, methodical, and tricky. Joan Fontaine was unsure of herself and Hitchcock intensified those insecurities revealing to her that Olivier really wanted Vivien Leigh in the part.
Foreign Correspondent (1940) – Man walking on sidewalk
Joel McCrea recalled Hitchcock’s habit of drinking champagne at lunch. “One day, there was a long scene with me just standing there, talking. When it was over, I expected to hear ‘Cut!’ I looked over and there was Hitchcock snoring …. So I said ‘Cut!’ He woke up and said , “Was it any good?” I said, ‘The best in the picture,’ and he said, ‘Print it!’”
Mr. And Mrs. Smith (1941) – Man walking past Robert Montgomery on street
Hitchcock’s only comedy.
Saboteur (1942) – Man standing by newsstand
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) – Man playing cards aboard train
Hitchcock identified with Hume Cronyn’s character, obsessed with committing fantasy murders and living with an (unseen) sick, demanding mother. Hitch’s own mother was later portrayed as possessive and tyrannical in Notorious.
Lifeboat (1943) – Man in “before and after” newspaper ad for Reducing Weight
Hitchcock said of Tallulah Bankhead “She stood up to being doused by 5,400 gallons of water, and got a round of applause from stagehands.” However, the reason for applause was Bankhead’s lack of panties climbing up the ladder to climb into the water tank. “The whole point about Tallulah,” said Hitchcock, “is that she has no inhibitions.”
Spellbound (1945) – Man exiting elevator carrying violin
Gregory Peck’s character cries “Unlock the doors! You can’t keep people in cells!” “When I was six years old, I did something that my father considered worthy of reprimand,” recalled Hitch. “He sent me to the local police station with a note. The officer on duty read it and locked me in a jail cell for five minutes, saying, ‘This is what we do to naughty boys.’ I have since gone to any lengths to avoid arrest and confinement…”
Notorious (1946) – Man at party drinking champagne
Hitch: “I wanted to make this film about a man who forces a woman to go to bed with another man because it’s his professional duty.” Grant and Rains externalized Hitchcock’s two sides.
The Paradine Case (1947) - Man carrying cello case
Rope (1948) – Man crossing street
Under Capricorn (1949) Man listening to speech; Man on stairs of Government House
Stage Fright (1950) – Man turning on street to look at Jane Wyman
Strangers on a Train (1951) – Man boarding train with bass fiddle
Detail-freak Hitchcock personally selected the wet leaves, orange peel, gum wrapper, and crumpled paper for sewer debris as Robert Walker bends down to retrieve a cigarette lighter.
I Confess (1952) – Man walking across top of flight of stairs
Hitch: “Working with Montgomery Clift was difficult because he was a method actor and a neurotic as well.”
Dial M For Murder (1954) – Man in class reunion photograph
Filmed in 3-D, prints released flat. Strangulation and stabbing-with-scissors scene caused him so much anxiety, Hitch lost 20 pounds. “Nicely done,” he said after Take One, “but there wasn’t enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without hollandaise sauce.”
Rear Window (1954) – Man winding clock
Hitch: “… We had to build a set containing 32 other apartments [Stewart] sees from his window … We never could have gotten them properly lit in a real location.” A foot fetishist, he spent half an hour directing a close-up of Grace Kelly’s shoes — a shot never used in the film.
To Catch a Thief (1955) – Man sitting next to Cary Grant on bus
Calling his scenarist during filming of final rooftop sequence, Hitch said “Look at them all down there. They think we’re discussing something important … But I only wanted to find out whether you’re as frightened of heights as I am.”
The Trouble With Harry (1956) – Man walking in front of exhibition
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – Man watching acrobats from bank
Hitchcock directed the actor playing an assassin watching his target, “Look lovingly at him, as if you’re glancing at a beautiful woman.”
The Wrong Man (1957) – Man who narrates prologue
Hitchcock took no salary.
Vertigo (1958) – Man crossing street
Best example of Hitchcock’s frequent motif: making a woman over into his own fantasy. Said Stewart, “I didn’t realize … what an impact it would have, but it’s an extraordinary achievement by Hitch. And I could tell it was a very personal film for him even while he was making it.”
North by Northwest (1959) – Man who misses bus
Background shots filmed at Mt. Rushmore, actual chase filmed at Paramount.
Psycho (1960) – Man in cowboy hat outside an office
“It was very grueling,” said Janet Leigh, “to stand in a shower getting drenched for a week.”
The Birds (1963) – Man leaving pet shop with two white dogs
“I felt that after Psycho,” said Hitchcock, “people would expect something to top it.”
Marnie (1964) – Man walking through hotel corridor
Torn Curtain (1966) – Man sitting in hotel lobby with baby on his lap
Topaz (1969) – Man in wheelchair at airport
Frenzy (1970) – Man listening to speech
Family Plot (1976) – Man whose silhouette is seen through a window talking to another man
Hitchcock and nemesis, Selznick, agreed on one thing: “Nothing matters except the final picture.”
The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, by Donald Spoto, 1983
David O. Selznick’s Hollywood by Ronald Haver, 1980
Trivia Unlimited, April 1980
Tallulah! The Life and Times of a Leading Lady, Joel Lobenthal, 2004