Cinema and Media Studies Alfred Hitchcock
by
Sidney Gottlieb
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0005

Introduction

Alfred Hitchcock (b. 1899–d. 1980) is unquestionably one of the most well-known and important filmmakers to date. His career spanned the silent and sound eras, and although he was known primarily as a maker of suspenseful thrillers, his works also include distinctive elements of comedy, romance, melodrama, documentary, and expressionism, and reflect his lifelong interest in experimental and avant-garde filmmaking. He made over fifty feature films and hosted the long-running television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955–1962), expanded to the Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962–65). The series established him as a household name and an instantly recognizable figure: droll and macabre, menacing yet enchanting. He also directed twenty films for television. He was and remains one of the most influential of all filmmakers. To name only a few individual examples, The 39 Steps (1935), The Lady Vanishes (1938), and North by Northwest (1959) are often-imitated spy thrillers mixing intrigue and romance; Vertigo (1958) is a model study of obsessive love and deception; and Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963) have left a lasting imprint on contemporary horror films. More generally, Hitchcock is widely considered to be the archetypal auteur, popular at the box office, critically successful, and in many ways a filmmaker’s filmmaker, a model of how one could be dedicated to what he called “pure cinema,” even while working in a studio system primarily geared toward profit and entertainment.

Biographies

Despite constant reminders that we should trust—and pay more attention to—the tale, not the teller, and be wary of trying to make direct connections between the director’s life and his films, there is a persistent temptation to read Hitchcock’s films as veiled autobiography and to look at the details of his life and personality as explanations of and guides to the films. Not surprisingly, given that Hitchcock was a complex and in many ways secretive person, the biographies present strikingly different pictures. Spoto 1983 gives much evidence to confirm his “dark” portrait, and few would dispute Freeman 1984 with its emphasis on how difficult the end of Hitchcock’s life and career was. McGilligan 2003 gives a balanced picture and adds much detail to our knowledge of Hitchcock’s life and personal relationships. Taylor 1978, an authorized biography written with the cooperation and assistance of Hitchcock and his family, is informative and uncontroversial. Hitchcock’s daughter, Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, recalls fond memories of her father and turns much-needed attention to his lifelong personal and professional partnership with Alma, his wife (see O’Connell and Bouzereau 2003). Chandler 2005 assembles a picture of Hitchcock from many anecdotes told by and about him.

  • Chandler, Charlotte. It’s Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock, A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

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    Based on interviews conducted over a number of years with Hitchcock, as well as his family members and many associates. Basically a collection of anecdotes, many of which add fascinating bits of information to our knowledge of Hitchcock, his working methods, and his films.

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  • Freeman, David. The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock: A Memoir Featuring the Screenplay of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Short Night. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1984.

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    Grim picture of Hitchcock struggling to keep working to the end. Includes a version of the screenplay of The Short Night, one of his final projects, left unfinished.

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  • McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Regan Books, 2003.

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    Meticulously researched, taking into account much material unearthed since Spoto’s biography. Intended in part to balance Spoto’s approach by showing that there was more to Hitchcock’s life and films than darkness.

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  • O’Connell, Pat Hitchcock, and Laurent Bouzereau. Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man. New York: Berkley Books, 2003.

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    Family biography, written by Hitchcock’s daughter, foregrounding the role of her mother, Alma, in Hitchcock’s life and work.

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  • Spoto, Donald. The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983.

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    As the title suggests, Spoto emphasizes the dark elements in Hitchcock’s films, especially violence, vulnerability, and a pessimistic view of life, and in his own personality and real-life treatment of people. Extensive production background, contextual material, and interpretive analyses as well as biographical narrative.

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  • Taylor, John Russell. Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Pantheon, 1978.

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    The “authorized” biography, in that it was written with the cooperation of Hitchcock and his family. Respectful and well-documented.

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Hitchcock’s Writings and Interviews

From the beginning to the end of his career, Hitchcock wrote articles and gave interviews, certainly aimed at promoting himself and his films, but also in part to formulate his thoughts on the art of film and identify his characteristic themes, techniques, and concerns. Truffaut 1984 shaped a week-long conversation with Hitchcock into a comprehensive volume containing Hitchcock’s most extensive commentary on his films and his thoughts about cinema in general. Bogdanovich 1997 includes an interview nearly as extensive, and Schickel 1995 is a handy collection of some of Hitchcock’s most important and oft-repeated pronouncements. Gottlieb 1995 gathers many of Hitchcock’s most important writings, and a follow-up volume, Gottlieb 2003, assembles a selection of interviews with Hitchcock throughout his career. Auiler 1999 reprints memos, notes, and other production-oriented documents written by Hitchcock, providing a valuable backstage view of Hitchcock at work.

  • Auiler, Dan. Hitchcock’s Notebooks: An Authorized and Illustrated Look Inside the Creative Mind of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Spike, 1999.

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    Far-ranging collection of archival material, including many documents capturing Hitchcock’s indefatigable attention to story ideas, music and sound effects, and production details.

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  • Bogdanovich, Peter. “Alfred Hitchcock.” In Who the Devil Made It. By Peter Bogdanovich, 471–557. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

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    The most extensive interview with Hitchcock other than Truffaut’s, with which it often overlaps, but nevertheless usefully supplements.

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  • Gottlieb, Sidney, ed. Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

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    Gathers otherwise hard to access writings by Hitchcock throughout his career.

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  • Gottlieb, Sidney, ed. Alfred Hitchcock: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003.

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    Selection of interviews with Hitchcock ranging from early to late in his career. Hitchcock discusses a broad range of topics, including his working method, recurrent themes, and key sequences in his films.

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  • Schickel, Richard. “Hitchcock on Hitchcock: An Interview.” In Perspectives on Alfred Hitchcock. Edited by David Boyd, 17–41. New York: G.K. Hall, 1995.

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    Compilation of Hitchcock’s comments on some of his most important themes, techniques, and selected films.

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  • Truffaut, François. Hitchcock. Rev. ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984.

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    Edited transcript of a week-long conversation between Hitchcock and Truffaut, an extremely knowledgeable admirer of Hitchcock. Essential reading, giving a film-by-film commentary, innumerable personal anecdotes, and fascinating observations about Hitchcock’s approach to and ideas about cinema. Heavily illustrated.

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Hitchcock and His Collaborators

Although he did not often give much credit to the people he worked with, it is increasingly clear that the “Hitchcock touch” was the creation of more than one person. The important contributions of his collaborators are now beginning to be acknowledged and examined, in part because of the influx of reminiscences by people he worked with, and also in part because a new generation of film critics and scholars is no longer beholden to the auteur approach to film studies, which tended to emphasize the creative control of one person. Despite the fact that Hitchcock is often thought of as primarily a “visual” director, there is much-deserved interest in his screenwriters. Montagu 1980 recalls what it was like working with Hitchcock in the 1920s and 1930s on scripts, visual details, and the overall structure of films. Barr 1999 highlights the role of Eliot Stannard, Charles Bennett, and Launder and Gilliat in Hitchcock’s early films, and DeRosa 2001 concentrates on Hitchcock’s work with John Michael Hayes on five key films of the 1950s. Other screenwriters speak eloquently for themselves about working with Hitchcock: Jay Presson Allen in an interview (see Allen 2002), and Evan Hunter, Arthur Laurents, and Joseph Stefano in a round table discussion (see Srebnick 2009). Hitchcock’s complex and often problematic relationship with leading women in his films is the subject of a round table discussion with five of them (Garrett 1999) and another study of Hitchcock’s darker side by Spoto 2008. Morris 2009 turns our attention to the early career of the most important woman and perhaps the most important collaborator in Hitchcock’s life, Alma Reville. Schmenner and Granof 2007 surveys the contributions by often unrecognized and unappreciated technicians to the most memorable and otherwise important visual details of key Hitchcock films.

  • Allen, Richard. “An Interview with Jay Presson Allen.” In Framing Hitchcock: Selected Essays from the Hitchcock Annual. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Christopher Brookhouse, 206–218. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002.

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    Focuses on Allen’s relationship with Hitchcock during work on the screenplay of Marnie, with particular attention to the “rape” sequence and how it should be interpreted.

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  • Barr, Charles. English Hitchcock. Moffat, Scotland: Cameron & Hollis, 1999.

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    While giving detailed critical analyses of all the films Hitchcock directed before moving to America in 1939, Barr repeatedly emphasizes the contributions of his screenwriters (Eliot Stannard, Charles Bennett, and Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat) to the individual films and Hitchcock’s conception of “pure cinema.”

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  • DeRosa, Steven. Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes. New York: Faber and Faber, 2001.

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    Thoroughly engaging account of the development of the screenplays for Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry, and The Man Who Knew Too Much, with overdue demonstration and recognition of Hayes’s contributions to the Hitchcock touch in these films.

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  • Garrett, Greg. “Hitchcock’s Women on Hitchcock: A Panel Discussion with Janet Leigh, Tippi Hedren, Karen Black, Suzanne Pleshette, and Eva Marie Saint.” Literature/Film Quarterly 27.2 (1999): 78–89.

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    Engaging discussion of Hitchcock’s relationship with and method of directing women in featured roles in some of his most important later films. Numerous anecdotes, and useful reminder that what one person finds creepy, another finds charming.

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  • Montagu, Ivor. “Working with Hitchcock.” Sight and Sound 49.3 (1980): 189–193.

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    Valuable reminiscences of personal and production anecdotes by one of Hitchcock’s collaborators on key films from the 1920s and 1930s.

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  • Morris, Nathalie. “The Early Career of Alma Reville.” In The Hitchcock Annual Anthology: Selected Essays from Volumes 10–15. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Richard Allen, 41–69. London: Wallflower Press, 2009.

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    Shines a light, at long last, on Hitchcock’s lifelong partner and collaborator, his wife, who was an experienced editor and continuity writer even before Hitchcock began working in films, and was also a key sounding board and script consultant for much of his career. Contains an essay on film by Alma and a profile of her, both from the 1920s.

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  • Srebnick, Walter. “Working with Hitch: A Screenwriter’s Forum with Evan Hunter, Arthur Laurents, and Joseph Stefano.” In The Hitchcock Annual Anthology: Selected Essays from. Volumes 10–15. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Richard Allen, 15–39. London: Wallflower Press, 2009.

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    Fascinating recollections of working with Hitchcock on some of the key films of his later period, especially Rope, Psycho, and The Birds.

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  • Schmenner, Will, and Corinne Granof, eds. Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2007.

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    Well-illustrated examples of how throughout his career a full ensemble of collaborators, especially production and art designers, contributed to the distinctive “look” of Hitchcock films.

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  • Spoto, Donald. Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies. New York: Harmony Books, 2008.

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    Tends to dissolve the dividing line between cinema and life in examining the centrality of beautiful and often abused and otherwise victimized women in Hitchcock’s films alongside much evidence of, and some speculation about, his adoration and manipulation, on camera and off, of the women who played these roles.

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Overviews of the Films

Given the ever-growing, widely dispersed, and often highly specialized mass of critical works on Hitchcock, it is extremely handy to have single volumes that attempt to cover his entire career. Sloan 1993 includes annotated citations of Hitchcock criticism up to 1990 and full summaries of each film. The alphabetically arranged entries in Leitch 2002 are authoritative and informative as well as extremely user-friendly. Haeffner 2005 focuses on several key themes and Sterritt 1993 on several key films as entry points to the study of Hitchcock. Durgnat 1974, Spoto 1992, and Mogg 1999 proceed chronologically, film by film, and can be read cover to cover or consulted chapter by chapter. Conrad 2000 basically considers Hitchcock’s many films as one unified body of work, and ranges freely among them in giving his overview. The first edition of Wood 2002 covered only selected films from the 1950s onward, but the additional essays and introductions in the revised edition make the volume much more comprehensive.

  • Conrad, Peter. The Hitchcock Murders. London: Faber and Faber, 2000.

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    Independent-minded and resolutely antiacademic approach to Hitchcock’s entire body of work, which he allies with modernism in general and surrealism in particular. Particularly interesting comments on the literary origins of the films, key recurrent visual motifs, and the centrality of murder, broadly defined as a fascination with violence and the forbidden.

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  • Durgnat, Raymond. The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock, or The Plain Man’s Hitchcock. London: The MIT Press, 1974.

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    Detailed film-by-film analyses of all the films except for Family Plot. Occasionally unreliable on details, but strikingly original and provocative comments throughout. Particularly interesting cross-references relating each work to additional films by Hitchcock as well as other directors.

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  • Haeffner, Nicholas. Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Pearson Education Limited, 2005.

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    Accessible and intelligent compact introduction to Hitchcock’s life, approach to filmmaking, and recurrent themes and issues in his films. Good appreciation of highly stylized formal as well as “realistic” dimensions of the film and attention to Hitchcock’s portrayal of women, control of audience response, and ongoing legacy.

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  • Leitch, Thomas. The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Facts on File, 2002.

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    Extremely handy reference guide, with reliable facts and compact, thoughtful critical judgments and interpretations covering all of Hitchcock’s films, actors, technicians, screenwriters and other collaborators, and numerous motifs and themes.

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  • Mogg, Ken. The Alfred Hitchcock Story. London: Titan, 1999.

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    Expertly written and widely knowledgeable brief essays on each film, covering key production and technical details, recurrent themes, and connections with literary works and other Hitchcock films. Lavishly illustrated with posters, production stills, and candid shots of Hitchcock at work.

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  • Sloan, Jane E. Alfred Hitchcock: A Guide to References and Resources. New York: G. K. Hall, 1993.

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    Comprehensive listing and summaries of critical work on Hitchcock up to 1990. Also includes detailed plot descriptions of each film.

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  • Spoto, Donald. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures. 2d ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

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    Accessibly written and well-informed critical summaries of each of the films. Well-illustrated, with a sampling of storyboards and many shots from films and pictures of Hitchcock at work.

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  • Sterritt, David. The Films of Alfred Hitchcock. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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    Introductory overview of his career followed by close readings of six key films from different periods: Blackmail, Shadow of a Doubt, The Wrong Man, Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds. Recurrent focus on philosophical and moral issues raised by the films.

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  • Wood, Robin. Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. Rev. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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    Reprints Wood’s Hitchcock’s Films (1965), later essays, and several layers of introductions to and commentaries on his evolving critical “take” on Hitchcock. Answers better than any other critic why and how we should take Hitchcock seriously. Recurrent focus on gender, presentation and critique of patriarchal power, complex manipulation of sympathy, the chaos world, and the therapeutic function of art.

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Critical Studies Organized by Periods of Hitchcock’s Works

As many critics have noted, there is continuity and unity in Hitchcock’s long career and extensive body of work, but it is also useful to study him by periods or stages, defined in various ways. He made twenty-three films in England before moving to America, and his British films are examined as a group by Barr 1999, Ryall 1996, and Yacowar 1977. Garncarz 2002 focuses on Hitchcock’s early training in filmmaking in Germany, discussing films he assisted on as well as directed on his own. Simone 1985 considers Hitchcock’s wartime films of the 1940s as a linked series; Leff 1987 organizes his study around the films Hitchcock made with Selznick in the 1940s; and the essays gathered by Raubicheck and Srebnick 1991 center on five films from the end of the 1940s to the mid-1950s that were withdrawn from circulation and then later rereleased together. Freedman and Millington 1999 collect essays on selected films Hitchcock made in America that reflect on key aspects of American culture, and Corber 1993 reads Hitchcock’s films of the “long 1950s” (a period that extends beyond the chronological end of the decade to include Psycho) as part of a complex discourse on gender, sexuality, and power.

  • Barr, Charles. English Hitchcock. Moffat, Scotland: Cameron & Hollis, 1999.

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    Countering a critical commonplace—namely, the superiority of Hitchcock’s American films—Barr examines the British films both as a training for what was to come and as remarkable achievements worth reexamining and reevaluating. Much attention to the literary backgrounds of Hitchcock’s approach to cinema and the underappreciated (by him and his critics) contributions of his screenwriters.

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  • Corber, Robert J. In the Name of National Security: Hitchcock, Homophobia, and the Political Construction of Gender in Postwar America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993.

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    Often strained but always provocative analyses of key Hitchcock films of the 1950s in the context of social and political repression and oppression.

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  • Freedman, Jonathan, and Richard H. Millington, eds. Hitchcock’s America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    Nine essays examining Hitchcock’s films of the 1940s and 1950s as reflections on his new home country, given that he had moved to California in 1939. Topics covered include domesticity, therapeutic culture, the “crisis of masculinity,” and the shaping of the American character.

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  • Garncarz, Joseph. “German Hitchcock.” In Framing Hitchcock: Selected Essays from the Hitchcock Annual. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Christopher Brookhouse, 59–81. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002.

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    Extensively researched examination of Hitchcock’s early work in Germany and the lingering effects of these experiences on his working methods, style, and overall definition of cinema.

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  • Leff, Leonard J. Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick in Hollywood. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987.

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    Persuasively demonstrates the many ways Hitchcock benefitted from his producer’s often annoying oversight. At the heart of the book is a meticulous examination of the development of the screenplays for Rebecca, Spellbound, Notorious, and The Paradine Case.

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  • Raubicheck, Walter, and Walter Srebnick, eds. Hitchcock’s Rereleased Films: From Rope to Vertigo. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

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    Assorted essays on the five key Hitchcock films from 1948 to 1957—Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo—which were unavailable for viewing for years.

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  • Ryall, Tom. Alfred Hitchcock and the British Cinema. 2d ed. London: Athlone, 1996.

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    Examines Hitchcock’s films up to his move to America in 1939 in their social, political, and cinematic context in England.

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  • Simone, Sam P. Hitchcock as Activist: Politics and the War Films. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1985.

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    Analyzes Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur, Lifeboat, and Notorious as wartime films deeply engaged in analyzing and propagandizing against the threat of Fascism.

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  • Yacowar, Maurice. Hitchcock’s British Films. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977.

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    Film-by-film analysis of the works of Hitchcock’s British period. One of the few sources of detailed analysis of Hitchcock’s silent films.

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Collections of Critical Essays

Each of the volumes listed in this section attempts to give an overview of Hitchcock’s career by including essays on a variety of topics from different critical perspectives. LaValley 1972 and Boyd 1995 are broadly focused and are particularly useful as basic introductions to the study of Hitchcock. The first edition of Deutelbaum and Poague 1986 and the substantially revised version Deutelbaum and Poague 2009 are very comprehensive, and the introductions and bibliographies for each section are useful for beginning and advanced researchers. The range of contemporary Hitchcock criticism is well captured in both Allen and Ishii-Gonzalès 1999 and Allen and Ishii-Gonzalès 2004, as well as in the Hitchcock Annual (Gottlieb and Allen 1992–), selected essays of which are anthologized in Gottlieb and Brookhouse 2002 and Gottlieb and Allen 2009.

  • Allen, Richard, and S. Ishii-Gonzalès, eds. Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1999.

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    Twenty-one essays from a variety of critical perspectives, focusing on such topics as Hitchcock’s authorship, social and political aspects of his films, Vertigo and feminist film theory, and Hitchcock’s view of the future.

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  • Allen, Richard, and S. Ishii-Gonzalès, eds. Hitchcock: Past and Future. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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    Contains sixteen essays representing a range of contemporary critical approaches to Hitchcock, emphasizing such topics as the defining marks of him as an auteur, French critics on Hitchcock, issues of identity in his films, and the recurrent theme of death.

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  • Boyd, David, ed. Perspectives on Alfred Hitchcock. New York: G.K. Hall, 1995.

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    Useful overview provided by a long interview with Hitchcock by Richard Schickel and selections from books by Wood 2002 (cited under Romance)and Leitch 1991 (cited under Humor), followed by six essays on individual films, including Blackmail, Notorious, and North by Northwest.

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  • Deutelbaum, Marshall, and Leland Poague, eds. A Hitchcock Reader. 1st ed. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1986.

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    Twenty-five essays, mostly focusing on individual films covering Hitchcock’s entire career. Extensive section introductions add much information about Hitchcock’s evolution and critical reception. Very handy bibliographies for each section.

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  • Deutelbaum, Marshall, and Leland Poague, eds. A Hitchcock Reader. 2d ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

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    Revised edition of Deutelbaum and Poague 1986, leaving out five essays from the first addition and adding six new ones. Updated and expanded introductions and bibliographies.

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  • Gottlieb, Sidney, and Richard Allen, eds. Hitchcock Annual. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992–.

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    Ongoing yearly book-length collection of scholarly and critical essays from a variety of perspectives on all aspects of Hitchcock’s life, work, and influence.

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  • Gottlieb, Sidney, and Richard Allen, eds. The Hitchcock Annual Anthology: Selected Essays from. Volumes 10–15. London: Wallflower Press, 2009.

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    Fifteen essays from the Hitchcock Annual. Includes sections on historical perspectives, with an emphasis on early Hitchcock and his wartime work; central themes; individual films (Murder!, Under Capricorn, Vertigo, and Marnie); and an overview of Hitchcock criticism.

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  • Gottlieb, Sidney, and Christopher Brookhouse, eds. Framing Hitchcock: Selected Essays from the Hitchcock Annual. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002.

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    Twenty-one essays from the first nine volumes of the Hitchcock Annual. Includes sections on early Hitchcock, key themes and images, films of his “major” phase (Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, and Family Plot), and his legacy.

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  • LaValley, Albert J., ed. Focus on Hitchcock. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972.

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    Handy collection of Hitchcock’s comments on directing, the debate among key critics about his importance as a filmmaker, and brief critical essays on selected films, including Strangers on a Train, The Wrong Man, and Psycho. Ends with detailed analysis of the crop duster sequence in North by Northwest.

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Critical Studies

The following subheadings group selected critical studies of Hitchcock according to several key subject matters or shared critical approaches. The section ends with A Hitchcock Miscellany, containing somewhat more specialized studies that do not easily fit into broader categories

Production History

While most attention gravitates toward experiencing, understanding, and appreciating the finished films, critics and audiences are rightly fascinated by the process of creating these works. Auiler 1999 contains a wealth of archival material, allowing a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Hitchcock at work, a topic that Hitchcock himself discusses in various pieces reprinted in Gottlieb 1995. Bouzereau 2010 in an engaging and informative coffee-table book and Krohn 2000 in a detailed scholarly study reproduce much production material and integrate this into their examinations of Hitchcock’s life and working method. Leff 1987 focuses on Hitchcock’s Selznick years, and is in large part a close analysis of the building of the screenplays of several key films of the 1940s. Rebello 1990 and Auiler 1998 provide comprehensive information about and analyses of the creation of two of Hitchcock’s most important films, Psycho and Vertigo respectively. Increasingly, DVD versions of the films, like those in the Masterpiece 2005 and Premiere 2008 collections, contain informative “Making of” featurettes, supplementary production material, interviews with collaborators and critics, and authoritative and insightful commentaries.

  • Auiler, Dan. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

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    Extensively researched and accessibly written production history of what is increasingly thought of as Hitchcock’s most important film.

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  • Auiler, Dan. Hitchcock’s Notebooks: An Authorized and Illustrated Look Inside the Creative Mind of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Spike, 1999.

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    Extremely valuable selection of production material usually only accessible in archives, including: storyboards; transcriptions of meetings with writers, actors, and production people; story ideas and sections early versions of scripts; memos; and notes on unfinished projects. Heavily illustrated.

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  • Bouzereau, Laurent. Hitchcock, Piece by Piece. New York: Abrams, 2010.

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    Overview of Hitchcock’s life and career, with thematically arranged sections on such topics as his typical male and female characters, his villains, and the “Hitchcock touch.” Lavishly illustrated, with photos and facsimiles of many production documents.

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  • Gottlieb, Sidney, ed. Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

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    Hitchcock’s comments on film production run through this volume, but are gathered in particular in the long section headed “Technique, Style, and Hitchcock at Work,” pp. 233–325.

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  • Hitchcock, Alfred, dir. Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection. DVD. Universal Studios, 2005.

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    Collection of fifteen DVDs, primarily of Hitchcock’s later works (Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, and Family Plot). Much supplementary material, including commentaries and featurettes on production history.

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  • Hitchcock, Alfred, dir. Alfred Hitchcock: Premiere Collection. DVD. MGM, 2008.

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    Collection of eight DVDs, with commentaries by Hitchcock scholars, audio interviews, and detailed “Making of” featurettes. Includes The Lodger, Sabotage, Young and Innocent, Rebecca, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Notorious, and The Paradine Case.

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  • Krohn, Bill. Hitchcock at Work. London: Phaidon, 2000.

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    Behind-the-scenes look, based on archival material extensively reproduced herein, at how Hitchcock made his films. Scrupulous attention to the evolution, from story idea through multiple scripts and serendipitous interventions by censorship officials and studio officials, highlights the numerous contributions of collaborators and institutional forces of all kinds to the films that Hitchcock usually took sole credit for.

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  • Leff, Leonard J. Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick in Hollywood. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987.

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    Detailed examination of Hitchcock’s collaboration especially with David Selznick and Ben Hecht and the evolution of the screenplays for Rebecca, Spellbound, Notorious, and The Paradine Case.

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  • Rebello, Stephen. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. New York: Dembner, 1990.

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    Fascinating examination of the production history of perhaps Hitchcock’s most memorable and influential film. Detailed analysis of the source novel, evolution of the screenplay, production design, shooting, and marketing of the film.

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Formalist Readings

Hitchcock often identified himself as a “formalist”; that is, as an artist concerned primarily with art, interested more in style and structure than subject matter. Critics are still divided over this, some agreeing with Hitchcock (often to his detriment, arguing that he is less of an artist because he lacks serious engagement with life), and others suggesting that he is such a major figure in film history because of his masterful integration of form and a profound and provocative “take” on life. The following studies illustrate the range of formalist approaches to Hitchcock, and share an emphasis on the close study of the details and design of his films. Sharff 1991 and Sharff 1997 are primarily interested in the structural intricacy and harmony of several Hitchcock films. Rothman 1982 mobilizes shot-by-shot analysis to disclose Hitchcock’s effective manipulation and control of audience response and constant insertion of himself into the films. Pomerance 2004 persuasively confirms the premise that even the tiniest and often unnoticed details have significance. Bellour 2000’s attention to micro and macro structures of repeated and varied elements in Hitchcock’s films has had a deep impact on a generation of Hitchcock scholars. Wood 2002, Barr 1999, and Walker 2006–2007, each in his own way, apply Bellour’s method in their analyses.

  • Barr, Charles. English Hitchcock. Moffat, Scotland: Cameron & Hollis, 1999.

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    Barr’s comments on Hitchcock’s technical development, evident in his films made in England, frequently hinge on detailed analyses of complex structural patterns of visual repetition and harmony in sequences in such films as The Pleasure Garden, The Lodger, and The Farmer’s Wife.

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  • Bellour, Raymond. The Analysis of Film. Edited by Constance Penley. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

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    Collects a variety of Bellour’s essays on Hitchcock, each based on extremely detailed shot-by-shot analyses of key sequences that reveal the structural intricacy and integrity of the films, much of which replicates the codes and conventions of a cinematic apparatus that envelopes even innovative artists like Hitchcock.

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  • Pomerance, Murray. An Eye for Hitchcock. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

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    Intensely and minutely personal, but also frequently revealing analysis of six key films—North by Northwest, Spellbound, Torn Curtain, Marnie, I Confess, and Vertigo—based on details and patterns that are often overlooked, but have far-reaching meaning and help construct an overall “symphonic” effect.

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  • Rothman, William. Hitchcock—The Murderous Gaze. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

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    Intensely close analysis of five major Hitchcock films—The Lodger, Murder!, The 39 Steps, Shadow of a Doubt, and Psycho—with a particular emphasis on how Hitchcock repeatedly announces his controlling presence in the film. Contains many frame illustrations.

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  • Sharff, Stefan. Alfred Hitchcock’s High Vernacular: Theory and Practice. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

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    Close formalist analysis of Notorious, Family Plot, and Frenzy.

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  • Sharff, Stefan. The Art of Looking in Hitchcock’s Rear Window. New York: Limelight Editions, 1997.

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    A close look at Hitchcock’s most detailed study of the art of looking. Shot-by-shot analysis highlighting the film’s carefully orchestrated structure and harmony.

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  • Walker, Michael. “Hitchcockian Narrative: A Provisional Structural Model.” Hitchcock Annual 15 (2006–2007): 122–163.

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    Proposes a ten-stage model of narrative development, and shows how closely it is followed in sixteen Hitchcock films, from The Lodger to Torn Curtain.

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  • Wood, Robin. “Symmetry, Closure, Disruption: The Ambiguity of Blackmail.” In Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. Rev. ed. By Robin Wood, 249–274. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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    Meticulous demonstration of how carefully established symmetry in a key sequence, as well as in the overall plan of the film, whereby the “end answers the beginning,” underlies the complexity of the film’s patterns of identification and critique of patriarchal domination.

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Romance

Three major studies of Hitchcock’s entire career place romance at the core of his films, but each defines that term somewhat differently. Brill 1988 relates the themes and structure of Hitchcock’s films to archetypal romances, emphasizing perilous but ultimately successful quests and struggles for love and survival. Allen 2007 allies Hitchcock’s blend of skepticism and affirmation with philosophers and artists of the romantic and romantic-influenced tradition. Wood 2002 sees Hitchcock as a profound analyst of the complex joys and dangers of romantic relationships.

  • Allen, Richard. Hitchcock’s Romantic Irony. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

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    Consistently insightful and well-argued demonstration of the numerous ways that Hitchcock is both inside and outside his characters and subjects, engaging and disengaging us through his use of intricately visual details, editing patterns, and color design. Nothing is more fundamentally Hitchcockian than this precise control of sympathetic identification and detached analysis.

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  • Brill, Lesley. The Hitchcock Romance: Love and Irony in Hitchcock’s Films. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.

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    Without denying the torturous pains experienced by lovers in many Hitchcock films and the director’s often grim irony, Brill emphasizes more positive elements of romance that dominate Hitchcock’s work as a whole: successful quests, the destruction of larger –than-life villains, rebirth and redemption, and the achievement of love and trust.

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  • Wood, Robin. Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. Rev. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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    Reprints Wood’s Hitchcock’s Films (1965), later essays, and several layers of introductions to and commentaries on his evolving critical “take” on Hitchcock. Repeatedly suggests that Hitchcock is a “political” artist, and his fundamental and recurrent concern is with “sexual politics.”

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Humor

Perhaps the most characteristic element of Hitchcock’s persona, conveyed especially in his appearances as the host of his television program but also in his writings and interviews, is his dark sense of humor. Naremore 2004 identifies this as a defining and recurrent element of his films. Hennelly 2009 relates Hitchcock’s “grotesque humor” to the carnivalesque tradition. Both Smith 2000 and Leitch 1991 examine Hitchcock’s humor in the context of broader aspects of his artistry; Smith by showing how it is integrated with his careful management of tone and point of view, and Leitch by relating it to Hitchcock’s ongoing playful reinvention of himself as a director. Apart from comic touches throughout his films, Hitchcock made two films identifiable as comedies: Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) and The Trouble with Harry (1955). Polan 1991 discusses the former in the context of a genre we don’t often associate Hitchcock with but probably should: screwball comedy.

  • Hennelly, Mark M., Jr. “Alfred Hitchcock’s Carnival.” In The Hitchcock Annual Anthology: Selected Essays from Volumes 10–15. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Richard Allen, 123–145. London: Wallflower Press, 2009.

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    Examination of an early (The Ring), mid-period (Strangers on a Train), and late (Frenzy) work in the context of the theorist Bakhtin’s notion of the “carnivalesque.” This approach yields much insight into Hitchcock’s humor, grotesque realism, recurrent settings, and images of food and eating.

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  • Leitch, Thomas M. Find the Director and Other Hitchcock Games. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1991.

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    Original and very rewarding use of the concept of “games,” broadly defined, to get to the heart of Hitchcock’s wit, directorial method, carefully fashioned persona, and cinematic seriousness. Counters the usual sense of Hitchcock as being easily identifiable and somewhat formulaic by emphasizing his constant reformulation of the structure of his films.

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  • Naremore, James. “Hitchcock and Humor.” In Hitchcock: Past and Future. Edited by Richard Allen and S. Ishii-Gonzalès, 22–36. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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    Brief but groundbreaking examination of Hitchcock’s black humor, defining it as one of the distinctive elements of modernism.

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  • Polan, Dana. “The Light Side of Genius: Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith in the Screwball Tradition.” In Comedy/Cinema/Theory. Edited by Andrew S. Horton, 131–152. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

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    Persuasive demonstration that looking at Hitchcock in the context of the screwball comedy genre usefully deepens our sense of his range of tone, and subject and also expands our awareness of this genre’s engagement with important personal, interpersonal, and cultural issues.

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  • Smith, Susan. Hitchcock: Suspense, Humour and Tone. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 2000.

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    Insightful analysis of one of Hitchcock’s most familiar qualities––suspense––and one of his most obvious but critically neglected characteristics: humor. Overall emphasis on Hitchcock’s careful manipulation of audience attention and response.

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Music/Sound Design and Other Arts

As a visual artist—and someone who began his career as an art and set designer—Hitchcock was influenced by, and has had a deep effect on, a wide range of painters, discussed and illustrated in fascinating detail by Païni and Cogeval 2000. Peucker 1999 notes not only how Hitchcock drew from paintings and statues in creating some of his memorable images, but also how frequently works of art appear in his films. Nourmand and Wolff 1999 collect numerous examples of posters and lobby cards advertising Hitchcock films, further identifying and disseminating important images from the films. Jacobs 2007 calls attention to the art of living spaces in his groundbreaking study of Hitchcock’s architecture. And for all that Hitchcock defined “pure cinema” in visual terms, music and sound are essential elements in the overall design and effect of his films. Weis 1982 provides an excellent model for incorporating a consideration of music, sound, and dialogue in a comprehensive analysis of Hitchcock’s films. Sullivan 2006 focuses on music and Hitchcock’s often uneasy relationship with his composers throughout his career. Brown 1982 gives an overview of Hitchcock’s working partnership with Bernard Herrmann, his most important composer, and Cooper 2001 concentrates on the music in arguably their joint masterpiece, Vertigo.

  • Brown, Royal S. “Herrmann, Hitchcock, and the Music of the Irrational.” Cinema Journal 22.2 (1982): 14–49.

    DOI: 10.2307/1225034Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Occasionally sketchy and technical, but nonetheless a suggestive and expert analysis of Herrmann’s approach to composing and how he in effect “completed” the Hitchcock films he worked on by adding emotional depths and evocations of the irrational.

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  • Cooper, David. Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo: A Film Score Handbook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001.

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    Specialized study of the style, structure, and meaning of the music for one of Hitchcock’s most important films.

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  • Jacobs, Steven. The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: 010 Publishers, 2007.

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    Alerts us to the often unexamined but carefully articulated design and critical significance of the living spaces of Hitchcock’s characters. Well-illustrated, with photographs and sketches of floor plans.

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  • Nourmand, Tony, and Mark H. Wolff, eds. Hitchcock Poster Art: From the Mark H. Wolff Collection. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1999.

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    Full-color reproductions of US and foreign posters and lobby cards for nearly all of Hitchcock’s films. Important elements of the promotion and marketing of the films and a good indicator of the iconography associated with Hitchcock and his works.

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  • Païni, Dominique, and Guy Cogeval, eds. Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences. Montreal: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2000.

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    Situates Hitchcock in the company of Romantic, Symbolist, and Surrealist visual artists, and counterpoints his images with those of a wide range of painters. Contains eighteen provocative essays and hundreds of illustrations.

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  • Peucker, Brigitte. “The Cut of Representation: Painting and Sculpture in Hitchcock.” In Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays. Edited by Richard Allenand S. Ishii-Gonzalès, 141–156. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1999.

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    Relates the numerous images of dismemberment in Hitchcock films to analogues in other visual arts. Many comments also on the presence of works of art in the films, especially paintings.

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  • Sullivan, Jack. Hitchcock’s Music. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

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    Comprehensive examination of the role of music in Hitchcock’s films throughout his career and his working relationship with composers.

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  • Weis, Elisabeth. The Silent Scream: Alfred Hitchcock’s Sound Track. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982.

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    Pioneering work turning attention to the importance of music, sound effects, and dialogue in the films of a director commonly approached in terms of visual effects.

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Sociopolitical Approaches

Hitchcock’s films have attracted much attention as exercises in inventive cinematic style and as psychologically-minded case studies of aberrant individual behavior, but this should not distract us from Hitchcock as a shrewd analyst of, and commentator on, social and political themes and problems. His films of the 1930s and 1940s––that is, the period leading up to World War II and the actual wartime years––lend themselves particularly well to this kind of approach. Hark 1990 and Miller 1999 focus on Hitchcock’s presentation of the “amateur” spy, a figure both detached and engaged, reflecting Hitchcock’s own mixed feelings about political activity. In a follow-up essay, Hark 1999 shows how Hitchcock retains some of this ambivalence even in his wartime films of the 1940s, while Simone 1985 is less hesitant to describe Hitchcock as an activist in the 1940s, making films with clear propaganda intentions and value. Wood 2009 highlights Hitchcock’s powerful analysis and critique of fascism, broadly defined to include far more than Naziism. Hitchcock’s interest in contemplating and representing the tensions in and dilemmas of American society did not end when the fighting stopped, and just as the above-mentioned critics insist that his films of the 1930s and 1940s need to be examined as war films, Corber 1993 and the essays collected in Freedman and Millington 1999 define his films of the next long decade as Cold War films. The usefulness of that designation is challenged by Leitch 1999, who uses Hitchcock as a reference point in arguing that critical studies claiming that an artist is “political” need to do far more than basically assume that he or she is captive to the prevailing political ideology.

  • Corber, Robert J. In the Name of National Security: Hitchcock, Homophobia, and the Political Construction of Gender in Postwar America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993.

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    Often strained but always provocative analyses of key Hitchcock films of the 1950s in the context of social and political repression and oppression.

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  • Freedman, Jonathan, and Richard Millington, eds. Hitchcock’s America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    Nine essays examining Hitchcock’s films of the 1940s and 1950s as reflections on his new home country, given that he had moved to California in 1939. Topics covered include domesticity, therapeutic culture, the “crisis of masculinity,” and the shaping of the American character.

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  • Hark, Ina Rae. “Keeping Your Amateur Standing: Audience Participation and Good Citizenship in Hitchcock’s Political Films.” Cinema Journal 29.2 (1990): 8–22.

    DOI: 10.2307/1225330Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sensible and insightful emphasis on the contradiction of Hitchcock’s skepticism about organized political action and institutions, but frequent representation and endorsement of individual development away from complacency and toward responsible engagement and action. Key Hitchcock films, especially of the 1930s and 1940s, show that active spectatorship is an essential part of maintaining a democracy.

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  • Hark, Ina Rae. “‘We Might Even Get in the Newsreels’: The Press and Democracy in Hitchcock’s World War II Anti-Fascist Films.” In Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays. Edited by Richard Allen and S. Ishii-Gonzalès, 333–347. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1999.

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    Suggests that during the particularly urgent threat of Fascism during the 1940s, Hitchcock tried to envision in his films an effective way of countering this threat by group as well as individual action. Concludes that Hitchcock remains skeptical about the press and even well-intentioned public sentiment as reliable bulwarks of democracy.

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  • Leitch, Thomas. “It’s the Cold War, Stupid: An Obvious History of the Political Hitchcock.” Literature/Film Quarterly 27.1 (1999): 3–15.

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    Persuasively correlates reductive interpretations of Hitchcock as a filmmaker bound by and reflective of political orthodoxy to an interpretive method hampered by rigid orthodoxies of its own. Leitch doesn’t disavow the importance of political readings of Hitchcock, but attempts to redirect them.

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  • Miller, Toby. “39 Steps to ‘The Borders of the Possible’: Alfred Hitchcock, Amateur Observer and the New Cultural History.” In Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays. Edited by Richard Allen Richard and S. Ishii-Gonzalès, 317–331. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1999.

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    Places The 39 Steps in the broad context of spy novels and films, and sees it as a complex and ambivalent reflection of and commentary on 1930s discourse on race, class, gender, and national security.

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  • Simone, Sam P. Hitchcock as Activist: Politics and the War Films. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1985.

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    Analyzes Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur, Lifeboat, and Notorious as wartime films deeply engaged in analyzing and propagandizing against the threat of Fascism.

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  • Wood, Robin. “Hitchcock and Fascism.” In The Hitchcock Annual Anthology: Selected Essays from Volumes 10–15. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Richard Allen, 97–122. London: Wallflower Press, 2009.

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    Countering the common notion that Hitchcock was either apolitical or generally conservative, Wood traces his sustained analysis and critique of fascism, both foreign and American, especially in his films of the 1940s. Extensive attention to Lifeboat.

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Philosophical and Religious Approaches

Hitchcock is taken seriously as an artist in part because his films are powerful presentations of existential conditions like loneliness and vulnerability, evocations of a world in which God is either nonexistent, indifferent, or cruel, as well as effective dramatizations of ethical dilemmas. Hurley 1993 and Rohmer and Chabrol 1979 highlight evidence throughout the films of Hitchcock’s Catholic upbringing and Jesuit education. Sterritt 2010 argues that Hitchcock challenges the notion of a theodicy, or, that there is a just God despite the presence of evil and unjust suffering in the world. Frequent entries on The MacGuffin website highlight Hitchcock’s affinities with Schopenhauer, and Allen 1999 allies Hitchcock’s characteristic ambiguity and ambivalence with romantic and post-romantic thinkers and artists. Yanal 2005 and the essays collected in Baggett and Drumin 2007 display the wide range of philosophical issues portrayed in Hitchcock’s films. Singer 2004 likens Hitchcock to a philosophical commentator on the human condition, and Žižek 2009 focuses on the extent to which one of the most memorable characters in a Hitchcock film, Scottie Ferguson in Vertigo, is, in effect, a philosopher as well as a lover.

  • Allen, Richard. “Hitchcock, or The Pleasures of Metaskepticism.” In Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays. Edited by Richard Allen and S. Ishii-Gonzalès, 221–237. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1999.

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    Convincing exploration of Hitchcock’s characteristically dual perspective, simultaneously or alternately accepting and calling into question “the reality of appearances.” This results in films that are fundamentally ambiguous, sometimes unstable and terrifying, other times freely shifting and exhilarating.

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  • Baggett, David, and William A. Drumin, eds. Hitchcock and Philosophy: Dial M for Metaphysics. Chicago: Open Court, 2007.

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    Nineteen essays on Hitchcock’s films as provocative explorations of important ethical issues and philosophical concerns, such as the origins of evil, the experience of horror, and the fundamental irrationality of life.

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  • Hurley, Neil. Soul in Suspense: Alfred Hitchcock’s Fright and Delight. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1993.

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    Thorough analysis of Catholic, and specifically Jesuit, elements present throughout Hitchcock’s works.

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  • Rohmer, Eric, and Claude Chabrol. Hitchcock, The First Forty-Four Films. Translated by Stanley Hochman. New York: F. Ungar, 1979.

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    The first book-length study of Hitchcock (originally published in 1957), persuasively arguing for his importance as a deeply philosophical and religious (specifically Catholic) artist as well as master of film form.

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  • Singer, Irving. Three Philosophical Filmmakers: Hitchcock, Welles, Renoir. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.

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    Uses Hitchcock’s writings and interviews as well as his films to assert Hitchcock’s value as, far more than an entertainer, a thinker who offers valuable commentaries on not only cinema but such topics as epistemological uncertainty and human loneliness, incommunicability, and vulnerability.

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  • Sterritt, David. “The Destruction That Wasteth at Noonday: Hitchcock’s Atheology.” Hitchcock Annual 16 (2010): 102–126.

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    Focuses primarily on The Wrong Man, Psycho, The Birds, and Frenzy to illustrate Hitchcock’s recurrent concern with the overwhelming evil and irrationality of life, challenging the notion of a just God.

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  • The MacGuffin.

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    A valuable and constantly updated site for information on all aspects of Hitchcock’s life, work, and influence. The editor and author of much of the material has a particular interest in cinematic and literary influences on Hitchcock, and frequently draws attention to connections between Hitchcock and the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860).

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  • Yanal, Robert J. Hitchcock as Philosopher. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005.

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    Argues in general that cinema is an apt vehicle for philosophical reflection, and that Hitchcock is a particularly expert analyst of such philosophical topics as the nature of evil, the impediments to knowledge, and the problem of other minds (that is, the importance of, but difficulties involved with, fully knowing and acknowledging other people).

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  • Žižek, Slavoj. “The Drama of a Deceived Platonist.” In The Hitchcock Annual Anthology: Selected Essays from volumes 10–15. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Richard Allen, 211–222. London: Wallflower Press, 2009.

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    Draws much-needed attention to the conceptual as well as emotional dilemmas that lie at the heart of Vertigo: the unreliability of perception (which afflicts the film’s spectators as well as the film’s protagonist), the unstable dividing line between the subjective and the objective, and the difficulties of longing for the ideal but living in a world of copies of copies.

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Postmodern Approaches

Hitchcock’s films lend themselves well to postmodern analysis, especially because of their ambiguity, subversiveness, reflexivity, and highly articulated but in many respects open and unstable structures. And Hitchcock, the quintessential auteur, is a key target for critics preoccupied with the shaping, even determining, power of ideology, generic conventions, and industrial practices, and the corresponding “death of the author.” Bellour 2000 and Cohen 2005 trace intricate patterns and repeated images, themes, and actions throughout Hitchcock’s works, without attributing all this primarily to what used to be assumed was his independent and unique creativity. Morris 2002 illustrates how instability of meaning, a key principle of deconstruction, is a central ingredient of Hitchcockian suspense. Samuels 1998 applies Lacan and Lacan-influenced psychoanalytic and feminist critical methods to selected Hitchcock films, and Lacan and other postmodern theorists loom large in the essays collected in Žižek 1992.

  • Bellour, Raymond. The Analysis of Film. Edited by Constance Penley. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

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    The essays collected here analyze and respect Hitchcock’s stylistic and structural brilliance, but repeatedly assert how the films are shaped by prevailing ideological conditions, and are in effect bound to certain inescapable formulae.

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  • Cohen, Tom. Cryptonomies. Vol. 1, Secret Agents. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

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    An often impenetrable and convoluted, at other times provocatively imaginative, always intensely detailed and speculative examination of tiny details that run through the films and establish a unified system of incredible complexity and richness. Vol. 2 is War Machines

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  • Morris, Christopher. The Hanging Figure: On Suspense and the Films of Alfred Hitchcock. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.

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    Using models from contemporary theories of deconstruction, Morris intelligently and lucidly broadens the notion of Hitchcockian suspense by noting that it applies to the characteristic nervous, but also exhilarating, uncertainty about meaning in, and the meaning of, the films. The viewer of the films, like the beleaguered protagonists, is challenged by unruly signification.

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  • Samuels, Robert. Hitchcock’s Bi-Textuality: Lacan, Feminisms, and Queer Theory. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    Offers a careful examination of, and expansion beyond, postmodern approaches to Hitchcock, exemplified by such influential critics and theorists as Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, Jacques Lacan, Laura Mulvey, and Slavoj Žižek.

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  • Žižek, Slavoj, ed. Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock). London: Verso, 1992.

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    Sixteen essays, plus an introduction by the editor, written from a variety of postmodern critical perspectives, ranging from studies of objects, places, and spatial design in Hitchcock’s films to analyses of guilt, desire, the gaze, and images of death.

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Feminist Approaches

It is not surprising that a filmmaker who once suggested that the foundation of an engaging drama was to “torture the women,” and overall espoused an aesthetics based on manipulating audiences, would be the subject of feminist inquiry––and often criticism––because of his recurrent representations of victimized, disempowered, and abused women, and frequent attention to “looking” in (and at) the films as an evocation and enforcement of patriarchal power. The reference point for much feminist work is Mulvey’s 1975 assertion that classical cinema is founded on the male gaze of desire and control. Vertigo is one of Mulvey’s central examples, and not surprisingly, this film figures prominently in feminist analyses of Hitchcock. In her analysis of Vertigo, Keane 2009 attempts to point out and overcome the limitations of Mulvey’s critical framework. Rothman 2004 emphasizes the often overlooked centrality of women in this film as something other than a love object and subject of the gaze. White 1999 gives an extensive overview of contemporary feminist approaches to Hitchcock, using Vertigo as a test case. Hemmeter 2002 uses the test case Shadow of a Doubt (1943), which is seen as a story of a young woman’s maturation and escape from victimization. Samuels 1998 uses, but attempts to correct and expand on, the work of such theorists as Lacan, Kristeva, Mulvey, and Butler in demonstrating Hitchcock’s insight into feminine psychology and sexuality. A key dividing line in feminist studies of Hitchcock is whether one sees him as complicit in or otherwise reinforcing oppression and misogyny, or as an analyst and critic of those forces. Wood 2002 and Modleski 2005 are two of the most articulate, outspoken, and persuasive proponents of the latter position, illustrated by careful analyses of selected works from all periods of Hitchcock’s career.

  • Hemmeter, Thomas. “Hitchcock the Feminist: Rereading Shadow of a Doubt.” In Framing Hitchcock: Selected Essays from the Hitchcock Annual. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Christopher Brookhouse, 221–233. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002.

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    Interprets Shadow of a Doubt not as a tale of the crushing and inescapable power of patriarchy, but as a critique of an oppressive and ultimately self-destructive system. Young Charlie is a character study of a pressured but extremely resourceful woman in the process of stepping beyond the murderous grasp of Uncle Charlie and what he represents.

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  • Keane, Marion. “A Closer Look at Scopophilia: Mulvey, Hitchcock and Vertigo.” In A Hitchcock Reader. 2d ed. Edited by Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, 234–249. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

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    Argues that Mulvey’s emphasis on the active male gaze and the passivity of the main women figures in Vertigo oversimplifies the variety of gazes and patterns of identification in the film.

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  • Modleski, Tania. The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory. 2d ed. New York: Methuen, 2005.

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    Close readings of seven films examining Hitchcock’s representations of women and careful control of the audience’s response to their character and predicament. Modleski rejects approaches that oversimplify Hitchcock’s complex treatment of women, and suggests that while he repeatedly dramatizes their abuse and victimization, he often exposes and critiques these processes.

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  • Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16.3 (1975): 6–18.

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    Deeply influential study using Vertigo and Rear Window as classic examples of what she considers to be the defining male gaze in conventional cinema: voyeuristic, attempting to exert control, but also evoking obsession and anxiety.

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  • Rothman, William. “Vertigo: The Unknown Woman in Hitchcock.” In The “I” of the Camera: Essays in Film Criticism, History, and Aesthetics. 2d ed. By William Rothman, 221–240. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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    Allies Vertigo with the genre of the melodrama of the unknown woman, which places a woman’s struggle for identity at the center of interest and also highlights how her desire for recognition and acknowledgment is Hitchcock’s as well, always leaving marks of himself in the film.

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  • Samuels, Robert. Hitchcock’s Bi-Textuality: Lacan, Feminisms, and Queer Theory. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    Highly technical and sophisticated analysis of Hitchcock films as a wellspring of insight into gender, especially female subjectivity and bisexuality. Indebted to, but also meant as a corrective to, Lacanian theories of ethics, consciousness, and the cultural positioning of women.

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  • White, Susan. “Vertigo and Problems of Knowledge in Feminist Film Theory.” In Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays. Edited by Richard Allen and S. Ishii-Gonzalès, 279–298. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1999.

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    Detailed and accessible survey of often complex feminist analyses of Vertigo, outlining key issues in these approaches and divergent ideas in the ongoing debate about gender relations and problems of representation.

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  • Wood, Robin. “Male Desire, Male Anxiety: The Essential Hitchcock.” In Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. Rev. ed. By Robin Wood, 371–387. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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    Answers the central question “Can Hitchcock be saved for feminism?” with a resounding “yes.” Here and elsewhere in his book, Wood focuses on Hitchcock’s ambivalence about women, and how his films represent, but also powerfully analyze and critique, patriarchy and male desire and hysteria.

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Queer Studies

It has become commonplace to note that a parallel to the question of whether or not Hitchcock’s films are misogynistic is the question of whether or not they are homophobic. Hepworth 1995 emphasizes the latter, as does Corber 1993, who argues, not always persuasively, that Hitchcock’s major films of the 1950s are part of a system of repressive social control. Price 1992 sees homosexuals everywhere in Hitchcock’s films, and relates sexual orientation to the representation and treatment of women in the films. Miller 1990 is less concerned with accusations of homophobia than in carefully examining strategies for representing the unrepresentable—in this case, homosexuality—in Rope. White 2004 provides a balanced and informative overview of recent studies of Hitchcock and homosexuality, ending with a lesbian reading of Stage Fright (1950), a perspective adopted by Knapp 2009 in her analysis of Marnie (1964). Samuels 1998 sees innate, although often repressed, bisexuality represented in what he calls the “bi-textuality” characteristic of Hitchcock’s films. Wood 2002 interrogates the nature and causes of homophobia, and highlights Hitchcock’s complex attitude toward and treatment of homosexuality in his films.

  • Corber, Robert J. In the Name of National Security: Hitchcock, Homophobia, and the Political Construction of Gender in Postwar America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993.

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    In emphasizing the often overlooked political elements of Hitchcock’s films of the 1950s, Corber pays particular attention to the representation and repression of sexual “otherness.”

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  • Hepworth, John. “Hitchcock’s Homophobia.” In Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Essays on Popular Culture. Edited by Cory K. Creekmur and Alexander Doty, 186–196. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.

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    Ranting expression of outrage at what the author takes to be knee-jerk caricatures and conventionally negative representations of gays throughout Hitchcock’s works.

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  • Knapp, Lucretia. “The Queer Voice in Marnie.” In A Hitchcock Reader. 2d ed. Edited by Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, 295–311. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

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    Approaches Marnie via the perspective of lesbian viewers, calling attention to the extent to which the film is about relations between and among women, suggests alternatives to conventional heterosexuality, and charts a female oedipal story.

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  • Miller, D. A. “Anal Rope.” Representations 32 (1990): 114–133.

    DOI: 10.1525/rep.1990.32.1.99p0010pSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fascinating study of the creative displacement of the theme of homosexuality, which could not be directly pictured or specifically mentioned in films at the time Rope was made.

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  • Price, Theodore. Hitchcock and Homosexuality: His 50-Year Obsession with Jack the Ripper and the Superbitch Prostitute. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1992.

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    Often wildly speculative but always provocative examination of all of Hitchcock’s films, attentive to anything that might be related to homosexuality, broadly defined. Particularly extensive and insightful coverage of the influence of early German films on Hitchcock.

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  • Samuels, Robert. Hitchcock’s Bi-Textuality: Lacan, Feminisms, and Queer Theory. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    The third subject mentioned in the subtitle of this book is a key part of Samuel’s recurrent attention to various figures of the “other” in Hitchcock’s films.

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  • White, Patricia. “Hitchcock and Hom(m)osexuality.” In Hitchcock: Past and Future. Edited by Richard Allen and S. Ishii-Gonzalès, 211–227. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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    Good summary of studies of Hitchcock and homosexuality, ending with a lesbian reading of Stage Fright that shows how even what we normally assume is a tightly controlled Hitchcock film can be shaped by other forces — in this case the commanding presence of Marlene Dietrich — into something not conventionally Hitchcockian.

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  • Wood, Robin. “The Murderous Gays: Hitchcock’s Homophobia.” In Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. Rev. ed. By Robin Wood, 336–357. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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    Wood explores the roots of homophobia, and examines Hitchcock’s ambivalence about homosexuals, paralleling his ambivalence about and similarly complex treatment of women in his films. Focuses on the blend of horror and fascination and sympathy in Hitchcock’s presentation of the murderers in Rope.

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A Hitchcock Miscellany

The following studies of Hitchcock do not easily fall into large clusters identifiable by a unifying subheading, but are worth calling attention to as part of a miscellaneous although nonetheless valuable assortment of critical commentaries. Cohen 1995 traces the roots of Hitchcock’s modernism to the Victorianism of his early life, while Perry 2004 emphasizes the centrality to Hitchcock of a nineteenth-century American writer he often alluded to, Edgar Allan Poe. Kapsis 1992 analyzes the construction of Hitchcock’s public persona out of publicity material, reviews, and critical treatments of his works. Vest 2003 shows the deep imprint of France on Hitchcock; most notably, French settings and themes appear throughout his works, and several generations of French critics and filmmakers defined and established his preeminence. Countering the contemporary reliance on Lacan and other revisionary psychoanalysts, Gordon 2008 uses classical Freudian psychology as the primary reference point for his approach to the recurrent figure of the mother in Hitchcock’s films. Undeterred by Hitchcock’s frequent disparaging remarks about actors, Naremore 1988 highlights the invaluable contributions of James Stewart and Cary Grant to several of Hitchcock’s most important films. Kraft and Leventhal 2002 illustrates the significance of Hitchcock’s use of California settings in some of his most important works. Walker 2005 traces the many figures in the carpet of Hitchcock’s films, identifying motifs that he both repeats and transforms.

  • Cohen, Paula Marantz. Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1995.

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    Identifies important elements of Hitchcock’s debt to late-nineteenth-century novels and values, seen especially in his recurrent focus on the family and also in his evolving methods of presenting and understanding the internal life of his characters.

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  • Gordon, Paul. Dial “M” for Mother: A Freudian Hitchcock. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2008.

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    Redresses what he considers the striking lack of fully developed Freudian analyses of Hitchcock. Begins with Shadow of a Doubt, but concentrates on key works from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. Particularly alert to the recurrence of mother figures and the pivotal relationships of both men and women with mothers.

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  • Kapsis, Robert E. Hitchcock: The Making of a Reputation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

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    Detailed study of key components of the public conception of Hitchcock, focusing on Hitchcock’s careful attempts to shape his persona via interviews, PR, and advertising; shifts in his reception by audiences and reviewers; and Hitchcock’s legacy, specifically in terms of how he attempted to construct and present himself as a filmmaker.

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  • Kraft, Jeff, and Aaron Levanthal. Footsteps in Fog: Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco. Santa Monica, CA: Santa Monica Press, 2002.

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    Concentrates on the use of San Francisco and Bay Area locations in Shadow of a Doubt, Vertigo, The Birds, and other Hitchcock films. Well-illustrated with many comparisons of real-life locations and images from the films. An engaging travelogue as well as reminder of the importance of the sense of place for Hitchcock.

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  • Naremore, James. Acting in the Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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    Includes chapters examining the acting style and persona of Hitchcock’s two favorite leading men, James Stewart and Cary Grant, focusing on their roles in, respectively, Rear Window and North by Northwest.

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  • Perry, Dennis R. Hitchcock and Poe: The Legacy of Delight and Terror. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004.

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    Extensive follow-up on Hitchcock’s own comments that he thought of his works as very much like Poe’s. Documents many parallels, including frequent use of doubles, an emphasis on voyeurism, and women victimized by men driven by erotic and murderous passion.

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  • Perry, Dennis R. Hitchcock and Poe: The Legacy of Delight and Terror. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004.

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    Some attention to Hitchcock’s interest in French culture, but primarily focuses on the response to Hitchcock’s films by French critics, which was a key element in establishing and consolidating Hitchcock’s reputation as the exemplary film auteur.

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  • Walker, Michael. Hitchcock’s Motifs. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005.

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    Essential study identifying, analyzing, and tracing the development of recurring motifs in Hitchcock’s films and selected television shows.

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Studies of Selected Individual Films

The bibliography of writing on Hitchcock’s individual films is enormous (see Sloan 1993 under Overviews of the Films), so the following is highly selective and inevitably omits key films and valuable critical works. Covered here is a cross-section of films, representing different periods in Hitchcock’s career, and essays that are not only major studies, but contain references to other important works on these films.

The Mountain Eagle

A lost film by Hitchcock, but the surviving photos and descriptions in Kuhns 1998–1999 give at least some indication of what it was about.

The Lodger (1927)

Although it was the third film he directed, The Lodger is considered by many—including the director himself—to be the first Hitchcock movie. Allen 2001–2002 discusses it in the context of the Victorian culture out of which Hitchcock emerged. Rothman 1982 links the threat of murder in the film with Hitchcock’s own manipulative direction evident throughout.

  • Allen, Richard. “The Lodger and the Origins of Hitchcock’s Aesthetic.” Hitchcock Annual 11 (2001–2002): 38–78.

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    Relates The Lodger, a pivotal work in laying out Hitchcock’s approach to filmmaking, to a Victorian aesthetics and thematics dominated by Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray.

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  • Rothman, William. “The Lodger.” In Hitchcock—The Murderous Gaze. By William Rothman, 5–55. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

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    Running commentary on the film, with many frame illustrations, elaborating on Rothman’s central assertion that what characterizes a Hitchcock film is the director’s insertion of himself into the shots, reminding the viewer of his controlling authority.

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Downhill (1927)

Hitchcock’s follow-up to The Lodger, a study of the disintegration of a young man wronged in love and friendship, filled with expressionist touches and special effects, is examined comprehensively by Vest 2004–2005, Vest 2005–2006, and Vest 2006–2007.

Blackmail (1929)

A pivotal early film featuring what came to be Hitchcock’s trademark victimized blonde woman, billed as the first British all-talkie, and famous for its inventive use of sound and music. It was made in two versions released separately: sound and silent. Ryall 1993 gives a handy overview of the making of the film. Modleski 2005 and Wood 2002 see the film as an insightful study of a woman’s victimization by the men and patriarchal institutions that surround her.

  • Modleski, Tania. “Rape vs. Mans/laughter: Blackmail.” In The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory. 2d ed with new preface. By Tania Modleski, 17–30. New York: Methuen, 2005.

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    Insightful indictment of common critical misreadings, which routinely treat the killing in the film as an act of murder rather than self-defense. This misreading is an example of the kind of patriarchal ideology that the film powerfully critiques.

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  • Ryall, Tom. Blackmail. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1993.

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    Brief but thorough and accessible production history, summary and analysis, and discussion of the film’s place in British film history.

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  • Wood, Robin. “Symmetry, Closure, Disruption: The Ambiguity of Blackmail.” In Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. Rev. ed. By Robin Wood, 249–274. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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    Although the first version of Wood’s book focused only on Hitchcock’s American films, essays added to the later edition, like this one, illustrate that even Hitchcock’s early films show his masterful control of point of view to sympathetically engage us with female characters, like Alice, who are both guilty and innocent.

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The 39 Steps (1935)

One of Hitchcock’s breakthrough films in establishing him as the master of suspense. As Glancy 2003 shows in great detail, The 39 Steps became a template for many of his subsequent films, blending adventure and romance as well as humor and a serious analysis and critique of societal and sexual politics. Rothman 1982 is less concerned with the film as a suspense thriller than as a study of the dynamics of looking and acting.

Rebecca (1940)

Hitchcock’s first film made in America, and a foreshadowing of how his subsequent works would contain elements of melodrama and the gothic, and could rightly be approached as, broadly speaking, “women’s films.” Allen 2004 examines the adaptation process, from novel to film, and the depth of Hitchcock’s interest in du Maurier and her influence on him. Berenstein 1995 relates the aura of unsettling mystery and tension in Rebecca to its queer subtext. Bronfen 2004 analyzes the significance of the settings in the film, and the far-reaching disturbances that arise when a home is unheimlich.

  • Allen, Richard. “Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock.” In A Companion to Film and Literature. Edited by Robert Stam and Alessandra Raengo, 298–325. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230533.2004.00019.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Stresses Hitchcock’s debt to du Maurier in examining the three works by her that he adapted: Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and The Birds.

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  • Berenstein, Rhona J. “‘I’m not the sort of person men marry’: Monsters, Queers, and Hitchcock’s Rebecca.” In Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Essays on Popular Culture. Edited by Alexander Doty and Cory K. Creekmur, 239–261. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.

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    Redirects conventional attention to Rebecca away from male-female romance and toward the many indications that female-female relations and nonconventional sexuality and desire are more than the subtext of the film.

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  • Bronfen, Elizabeth. “Uncanny Appropriations: Rebecca.” In Home in Hollywood: The Imaginary Geography of Cinema. By Elizabeth Bronfen, 30–63. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

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    Convincingly argues that the home and issues of homelessness are not only central in Rebecca and the thriller genre Hitchcock is most often identified with, but also in his own life, especially at this time, as he was newly transplanted to Hollywood.

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Suspicion (1941)

Powerful study of the psychology of love and doubt, illustrating how problems of trust threaten not only romantic intimacy but also the stability of our self and the world. Both Worland 2002 and Krohn 2002–2003 examine the development of the screenplay and how Hitchcock handled fundamental ambiguities in the plot and main characters. For Miller 1983, Lina’s predicament––she is plagued by insecurity, self-doubt, and an intimate relationship with an attractive but unreliable man––is akin to that of the film’s audience.

  • Krohn, Bill. “Ambivalence (Suspicion).” Hitchcock Annual 11 (2002–2003): 67–116.

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    Fascinating examination of the often contradictory archival and anecdotal evidence about the various endings Hitchcock considered for Suspicion, revolving around whether or not the main character played by Cary Grant was truly a murderer.

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  • Miller, Mark Crispin. “Hitchcock’s Suspicions and Suspicion.” Modern Language Notes 98.5 (1983): 1143–1186.

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    Close reading of the main female character Lina’s vulnerability, misled as she is by the spectacles she witnesses, and how this helps make Suspicion also a study of the similar vulnerability of the film audience, susceptible to manipulation and unreliable or indecipherable impressions.

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  • Worland, Rick. “Before and After the Fact: Writing and Reading Hitchcock’s Suspicion.” Cinema Journal 41.4 (2002): 3–26.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2002.0018Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Thorough production history and critical analysis of the film, with particular attention to the adaptation of the source novel and the difficulties with the ending of the film.

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Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Described regularly by Hitchcock as one of his favorite films, perhaps because of its masterful portrayal of one of his most attractive and yet menacing villains, blend of humor and horror, and spellbinding dramatization of his trademark motif: bringing murder back to where it belongs, the home. Rothman 1982 focuses on the pairing — the disturbing intimacy and similarity — of the two Charlies in the film, while both Wood 2002 and McLaughlin 2009 look more broadly at Hitchcock’s representation of the family as the target, but also the origin, of monstrous threats.

  • McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader. 2d ed. Edited by Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, 145–155. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

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    Emphasizes the similarities of the two Charlies, each rebelling against the repression of the family, envisioned as not a bastion of security but a horrible trap, and the real villain of the film.

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  • Rothman, William. “Shadow of a Doubt.” In Hitchcock—The Murderous Gaze. By William Rothman, 173–244. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

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    Less reflexive than all the other analyses in his book, this chapter focuses primarily on Hitchcock’s presentation of one of his most fascinating and uncanny murderers, Uncle Charlie, and his complex relationship—for all intents and purposes, a romantic one—with his niece and namesake, Young Charlie.

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  • Wood, Robin. “Ideology, Genre, Auteur.” In Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. Rev. ed. By Robin Wood, 288–302. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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    Credits Hitchcock with making Shadow of a Doubt a boundary-breaking subversive critique of conventional family life and American values. Part of his argument that theories of the power of ideology and genre should be supplemented by recognition of the substantial but not entirely unbounded contribution of the auteur.

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Notorious (1946)

Simultaneously a perceptive study of the lingering threat of fascism and the story of a troubled romance, featuring two of his favorite performers, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Leff 1987 provides a detailed production history. Abel 2009 interprets it as a problematic reworking of many narrative conventions, and Wood 2002 persuasively argues that the all-too-common reduction of Notorious to a celebration of patriarchal domination, whether in government service or romance, is undermined by Hitchcock’s complex treatment especially of Alicia/Bergman but also Devlin/Grant.

  • Abel, Richard. “Notorious: Perversion par Excellence.” In A Hitchcock Reader. 2d ed. Edited by Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, 164–171. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

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    Convincing demonstration that the film embodies many elements of the conventional fairy tale, including its characters, setting, plot structure, and patterns of identification, but inverted or otherwise transformed to make the story unsettling and grim.

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  • Leff, Leonard J. “Notorious.” In Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick in Hollywood. By Leonard J. Leff, 174–223. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987.

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    Well-documented study of the development of the screenplay of Notorious, with particular attention to the contributions of screenwriter Ben Hecht and producer David O. Selznick.

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  • Wood, Robin. “Star and Auteur: Hitchcock’s Films with Bergman.” In Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. Rev. ed. By Robin Wood, 303–335. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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    Uses Notorious and Under Capricorn to illustrate the complexity of Hitchcock’s establishment and manipulation of identification and sympathy. A much-needed corrective to what Wood sees as the oversimplified schemas of Mulvey 1975 (see Feminist Approaches) and Bellour 2000 (see Formalist Readings).

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Rope (1948)

Hitchcock 1995 discusses Rope primarily as a technical experiment, an attempt to shoot an entire film with as few cuts as possible. More recently, it is taken by critics like Miller 1990 and Wood 2002 as one of Hitchcock’s most important representations and analyses of homosexuality.

  • Hitchcock, Alfred. “My Most Exciting Picture.” In Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb, 275–284. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

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    On the technical challenges of shooting a film in extremely long and complex sequence shots, with a continually moving camera, on a restricted set, and in color.

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  • Miller, D. A. “Anal Rope.” Representations 32 (1990): 114–133.

    DOI: 10.1525/rep.1990.32.1.99p0010pSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Links the innovative and experimental style of the film and the problems of representing images, subjects, and actions related to homosexuality, which are conventionally forbidden.

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  • Wood, Robin. “The Murderous Gays: Hitchcock’s Homophobia.” In Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. Rev. ed. By Robin Wood, 336–357. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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    Examines the coding of various psychopathic characters throughout Hitchcock’s films as gay, but uses Rope as an example illustrating the difficulty of representing “gayness” in films of his time and Hitchcock’s overall complex handling of identification with, and sympathy for, gay characters.

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Strangers on a Train (1951)

Despite deviating from the source novel, where Guy does follow through on his promise to exchange murders with Bruno, Hitchcock’s film is a haunting tale of the dark side of respectability and our irresistible fascination with those people, normally described as villains or weirdos, who live out their desires and resist society’s restraints. Barton 1995 sees Strangers on a Train as an intricately structured study of masculinity destabilized by a troubling confrontation with gay desire. Wood 2002 interprets the film as a powerful presentation of one of Hitchcock’s signature themes, the eruption of the “chaos world.”

  • Barton, Sabrina. “‘Crisscross’: Paranoia and Projection in Strangers on a Train.” In Male Trouble. Edited by Constance Penley and Sharon Willis, 235–262. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

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    Close readings of the opening sequence, Miriam’s murder, and the climactic carousel sequence as illustrations of how this film focuses on ironic couplings (in this case, of two men) and dramatic, indeed deathly, uncouplings.

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  • Wood, Robin. “Strangers on a Train.” In Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. Rev. ed. By Robin Wood, 86–99. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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    Highlights the many ways that this film illustrates how the “chaos world” ever-present in Hitchcock’s films is not only outside but inside of us, in the form of unruly and uncontrollable desires.

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Rear Window (1954)

Considered by many to be Hitchcock’s testament film, epitomizing and interrelating his favorite themes: voyeurism, murder, and the problems of male-female relationships. The essays in Belton 2000 focus extensively on the making of Rear Window, in which the set is, in effect, one of the main characters, and also examine the film’s analysis of the psychological and political aspects of voyeurism. Fawell 2001 emphasizes the positive, therapeutic aspects of the film, suggesting that it resolves many of the problems it dramatizes.

  • Belton, John, ed. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Five essays and a substantive introduction by the editor, covering the production history of the film and such key topics as voyeurism, fashion, and the film’s commentary on the social/political aspects of surveillance.

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  • Fawell, John. Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2001.

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    Accessible analysis of perhaps Hitchcock’s most successful blend of entertainment and deep meaning, focusing on the film’s playful manipulation of sympathy and point of view, reflexivity, and moving portrayal of the devastating consequences of, but also possible ways out of, isolation and loneliness.

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Television work

Hitchcock’s persona was carefully cultivated in his appearances on every episode of his long-running television show, and the nineteen short films he made for television are a substantive body of work that should be closely examined alongside his theatrical films. Grams and Wikstrom 2001 give detailed information about everything in or even remotely related to the various incarnations of Hitchcock’s show. Leitch 1999 focuses on all the television dramas directed by Hitchcock, and Potts 2000–2001 gives a detailed analysis of one of the most important of these episodes, “Revenge.”

  • Grams, Martin Jr., and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing, 2001.

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    Episode-by-episode summary and analysis of all seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including remakes of the original shows when the show was revived without Hitchcock in the 1980s. Includes long introduction and supplemental sections on Hitchcock’s television and radio work.

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  • Leitch, Thomas. “The Outer Circle: Hitchcock on Television.” In Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays. Edited by Richard Allen and S. Ishii-Gonzalès, 59–71. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1999.

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    One of the few examples of serious attention paid to one of the few remaining unexplored continents of Hitchcock’s career: his television work. Brief analyses of the television shows directed by Hitchcock and detailed comments on the importance of the persona established by his introductions to all the episodes in the long-running series.

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  • Potts, Neil. “‘Revenge’: Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Sweet Little Story’.” Hitchcock Annual (2000–2001): 146–162.

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    Detailed critical analysis of the first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, directed by Hitchcock himself, with particular attention his adjustment to the medium of television.

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Vertigo (1958)

Not particularly well-received by audiences or critics when it was released, Vertigo has since become one of Hitchcock’s most highly praised and influential films. It is a recurrent focal point in the debate between those who see Hitchcock as misogynistic and manipulative and those who see him as a subtle dramatist, analyst, and critic of various kinds of victimization and control of women by men. Auiler 1998 covers the production history of Vertigo in great detail, which Barr 2002 also surveys as part of his critical analysis of the film. Wood 2002 makes a strong case for Vertigo as one of the masterpieces of world cinema, because of its stunning, innovative, and integrated formal design and profound evocation and analysis of the agony and ecstasy of desire.

  • Auiler, Dan. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic. New York: St. Martin’s, 1998.

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    Extensively researched and accessibly written production history of what is increasingly thought of as Hitchcock’s most important film.

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  • Barr, Charles. Vertigo. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 2002.

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    Admirable blend of formal analysis, with particular attention to editing patterns and Hitchcock’s masterful control of point of view, and production history, highlighting the important contributions of Hitchcock’s collaborators on the film, especially the writers. Many frame illustrations.

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  • Wood, Robin. “Vertigo.” In Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. Rev. ed. By Robin Wood, 108–130. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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    Completely convincing analysis of Vertigo as Hitchcock’s masterpiece, because of its fully realized formal perfection, nuanced attention to the motives and desires of the main characters, and stunning insight into romantic love, which is both ennobling and dehumanizing, the path to both ecstasy and despair. See also “Male Desire, Male Anxiety,” pp. 371–87.

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North by Northwest (1959)

Often taken as one of Hitchcock’s most diverting and satisfying entertainments, recent critics view it as a penetrating analysis and critique of American values and character types. Leff 1986 provides a brief but extremely valuable production history. Naremore 1993 gathers important reviews and critical essays, and his shot-by-shot transcription allows close study of the dialogue and structure of the film. Rothman 2004 relates North by Northwest to Hitchcock’s work in general, and particularly his contribution to the evolution of the thriller, and Millington 1999 reads the film as a representation and insightful analysis of characteristically American problems, faced by individuals, society at large, and government.

  • Leff, Leonard. “Hitch at Metro.” In A Hitchcock Reader. 1st ed. Edited by Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, 41–61. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1986.

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    Compact but detailed study of the making of North by Northwest, with much attention devoted to how the intricacies of Hitchcock’s new contract with MGM affected his status as an independent producer/director and his approach to this film.

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  • Millington, Richard. “Hitchcock and American Character: The Comedy of Self-Construction in North by Northwest.” In Hitchcock’s America. Edited by Jonathan Freedman and Richard Millington, 135–154. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    Persuasively argues that North by Northwest is less about Cold War intrigues and more about the ongoing personal and cultural dilemma in America of how to forge an authentic and free self, and a truly loving couple, in an environment that pressures both men and women to become institutionalized “effigies.”

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  • Naremore, James, ed. North by Northwest: Alfred Hitchcock, Director. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1993.

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    Shot-by-shot transcription of the film, with supplementary selection of interviews with Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman, reviews, and critical essays by Robin Wood, Marion Keane, and Slavoj Žižek.

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  • Rothman, William. “North by Northwest: Hitchcock’s Monument to the Hitchcock Film.” In The “I” of the Camera: Essays in Film Criticism, History, and Aesthetics. 2d ed. By William Rothman, 241–253. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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    Brief but provocative comments on North by Northwest as a culmination of Hitchcock’s reimagination of the thriller genre, with particular attention to how the film presents but resolves the “problems” of Cary Grant (not only the role he plays in this film but his ambiguous presence in all his films with Hitchcock), Eve Kendall, and the various villains in the film.

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Psycho (1960)

Arguably Hitchcock’s most influential work, an exercise in pure cinema and an unforgettable presentation and analysis of the darkness at the heart of the human psyche, the family, and contemporary American culture. Rebello 1990 gives a thorough production history, and Kolker 2004 gathers an assortment of very useful critical material, including Hitchcock’s own comments to Truffaut about the film. Naremore’s 1973 guide is an accessible but authoritative introduction, and Durgnat’s 2002 minutely close look at Psycho provides an enormous amount of information and thoughtful and provocative commentary. Thomson 2009 records many of the ways Psycho has entered into popular consciousness and changed film history.

The Birds (1963)

Most obviously and mysteriously an apocalyptic parable about nature’s indifference to and violence against vulnerable mankind, The Birds is also a provocative study of lesser apocalypses marked by explosive tensions in male-female relations and within the family. All of these aspects of the film are discussed by Paglia 1998. Horwitz 1986 concentrates on The Birds as a fable of the devastating power of a mother figure, and Allen 2002 emphasizes ways in which feminine power in the film is figured by birds that heal and love as well as those that destroy.

  • Allen, Richard. “Avian Metaphor in The Birds.” In Framing Hitchcock: Selected Essays from the Hitchcock Annual. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Christopher Brookhouse, 281–309. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002.

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    Emphasizes ways that the “death birds” in the film, signifying damaging powers associated with hysteria and the feminine, are complemented and perhaps tentatively overridden by “love birds,” associated with the healing and sustaining powers also associated with the feminine.

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  • Horwitz, Margaret. “The Birds: A Mother’s Love.” In A Hitchcock Reader. 1st ed. Edited by Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, 279–287. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1986.

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    Focuses on the film as fundamentally about the consequences of a mother’s possessiveness and hysteria, the destructive force of which is symbolized by the attacks of the birds.

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  • Paglia, Camille. The Birds. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1998.

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    Lively analysis of the film as an apocalyptic story and study of gender relations and family dynamics. Contains a thorough summary and far-ranging critical commentary, with much material on the production history and special effects and many illustrations.

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Marnie (1964)

Controversial test case of Hitchcock’s attitude toward women, with much in it illustrating his fascination with the manipulation and abuse of women, and also much in it to indicate that the film does not so much revel in, as critique such things, generating identification with and sympathy for the confused and beleaguered main character. Moral 2002 gives a detailed production history of the film, with much attention to the adaptation of the novel and the development of the screenplay. Thomas 2009 analyzes Hitchcock’s presentation of Marnie’s root problems, particularly homelessness but also existential insecurity and patriarchal control, and how these are shared with other characters in the film.

  • Moral, Tony Lee. Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002.

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    Well-researched study of all aspects of one of Hitchcock’s most problematic late films. Extensive coverage of the source novel and genesis of the script, production work, and critical reception, with particular attention to Hitchcock’s approach to directing and his relationship with Tippi Hedren.

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  • Thomas, Deborah. “Self-Possession and Dispossession in Hitchcock’s Marnie.” In The Hitchcock Annual Anthology: Selected Essays from Volumes 10–15. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Richard Allen, 223–233. London: Wallflower Press, 2009.

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    Visual motifs in the film, especially of doors, underscore the importance of ownership, especially of one’s self or another person. Eye-opening demonstration of how the film takes on new and deeper meaning when we recognize that the main character is surrounded by others who have similar problems and backstories, and also deserve our attention and sympathy.

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Influence

Hitchcock is unquestionably one of the most influential figures in film history, perhaps most obviously in the genre of the thriller, as traced in detail by Derry 1988, and also in the contemporary horror film, lastingly indebted to Psycho, which is incessantly alluded to, adapted, and has recently been accorded the ultimate tribute of a shot-by-shot remake, examined in a dossier of essays in the Hitchcock Annual 2001–2002. The range of Hitchcock’s influence extending beyond suspense, thriller, and horror films to include noir, French New Wave, and postmodern films is examined by Orr 2005 and the essays in Boyd and Palmer 2006. Windhausen 2003–2004 points out numerous examples of how Hitchcock’s works are recurrent reference points in, and sometimes even the substance of, reflexive and experimental non-commercial art films. Hitchcock envisioned himself as an international filmmaker because his subject was the cross-cultural human predicament and experience of fear and suspense, and because his expressive method relied on a universal language of images rather than parochial and culture-specific words. It is perhaps thus not surprising, then, to note that his influence is noticeable even beyond the English-speaking world: Orr 2005 and the essays in Boyd and Palmer 2006 cover many examples of European films and filmmakers significantly indebted to Hitchcock; Silbergeld 2004 studies the presence of Hitchcock in several recent Chinese films; and his influence on Hindi cinema is discussed in a dossier of essays collected in the Hitchcock Annual 2006–2007.

  • Boyd, David, and R. Barton Palmer, eds. After Hitchcock: Influence, Imitation, and Intertextuality. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

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    Thirteen essays on how Hitchcock has been echoed and transformed by a wide range of filmmakers, including Almodóvar, Antonioni, Cameron, Chabrol, Demme, and De Palma. Focuses largely on suspense and violence.

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  • Derry, Charles. The Suspense Thriller: Films in the Shadow of Alfred Hitchcock. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1988.

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    Traces the foundational role of Hitchcock in the development of modern thrillers, broadly defined to include tales of murder, madness, mistaken identity, moral confusion, and political intrigue. Sees Hitchcock everywhere in contemporary cinema, and in most cases, rightly so.

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  • “Gus Van Sant vs. Alfred Hitchcock: A Psycho Dossier.” Hitchcock Annual 10 (2001–2002): 125–158.

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    Essays by Paula Marantz Cohen, Adrian Martin, Steven Jay Schneider, Sam Ishii-Gonzalès, and Constantine Verevis on the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho by Gus Van Sant.

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  • “Hitchcock and Hindi Cinema: A Dossier.” Hitchcock Annual 15 (2006–2007): 164–249.

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    Essays by Priyadarshini Shanker, Richard Ness, and Richard Allen on Hitchcock’s influence on Hindi cinema, including several direct remakes of Hitchcock films. Also includes an interview Hitchcock gave with the periodical Filmindia.

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  • Orr, John. Hitchcock and Twentieth-Century Cinema. London: Wallflower Press, 2005.

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    Envisions Hitchcock as at the center of cinema: deeply influenced by the films that came before him, and surrounded him, and indelibly influential on filmmakers who came after him, especially members of the French New Wave, makers of noir and neo-noir films, and postmodern directors like David Lynch.

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  • Silbergeld, Jerome. Hitchcock with a Chinese Face: Cinematic Doubles, Oedipal Triangles, and China’s Moral Voice. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004.

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    Chapters on three recent Chinese films––Suzhou River, The Day the Sun Turned Cold, and Good Men, Good Women––that reflect the formal and thematic influence of Hitchcock.

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  • Windhausen, Federico. “Hitchcock and the Found Footage Installation: Müller and Girardet’s The Phoenix Tapes.” Hitchcock Annual 12 (2003–2004): 100–125.

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    Concentrates primarily on a contemporary museum piece constructed out of segments from forty Hitchcock films, organized into thematic groupings, but also surveys other examples of cinematic installations that manipulate or replicate entire Hitchcock films or selected sequences and images.

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