In This Article Alfred Hitchcock

  • Introduction
  • Biographies
  • Hitchcock’s Writings and Interviews
  • Hitchcock and His Collaborators
  • Overviews of the Films
  • Critical Studies Organized by Periods of Hitchcock’s Works
  • Collections of Critical Essays
  • Influence

Cinema and Media Studies Alfred Hitchcock
by
Sidney Gottlieb
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 July 2018
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

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

    E-mail Citation »

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

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