Probably no contemporary film director was better known to the general public or more admired by his colleagues and critics than Alfred Hitchcock. Born in London, Aug. 13, 1899, he began his directorial careerin the silent era with The Lodger (1927). Hitchcock’s work during the nextdecade – Blackmail (1929), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935), and The Lady Vanishes (1938) – established him worldwide as the preeminent director of witty suspense thrillers. It also established his personal trademark: the seemingly casual appearance in all his films of his own portly figure. Hitchcock, who received a knighthood in 1980, died on Apr. 29 of that year.
His first film after moving to Hollywood in 1939 was the immensely successful romantic thriller Rebecca (1940). Subsequently, Foreign Correspondent (1940) successfully harked back to his British style. Although Shadow of a Doubt (1943) won praise for its handling of an American setting and Notorious (1946) was popular with critics and public alike, many of Hitchcock’s admirers were disappointed by other American works, such as Suspicion (1941), Saboteur (1942), Lifeboat (1943), Spellbound (1945), and Rope (1948).
The witty, ingenious Strangers on a Train (1951), with its sensational merry-go-round sequence, and North by Northwest (1959), which treated thriller conventions humorously, were both praised as a return to form. The popularity of the intervening films exceeded their critical esteem – Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief(1953), and a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). What critics missed in them, while acknowledging their technical mastery, was the wit and sense of milieu that had distinguished Hitchcock’s British suspense thrillers.
Increasingly, however, after the appearance of Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963), it was recognized that Hitchcock was going beyond suspense to plumb greater depths of terror. Some critics have emphasized the Catholic content of Hitchcock’s work, others, the Freudian. Whether or not such explications stand scrutiny, the critical ascendancy of American-period Hitchcock now seems secure, and the director’s technical wizardry remains unassailable. Hitchcock alsoenjoyed success as the host (1955-65) of the popular television suspense series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and as the editor of such short-story collections as Stories To Be Read with the Lights On (1973).
The director’s last films were “Topaz” (1969), “Frenzy” (1972), and “Family” (1976).