British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was born 124 years ago today on a Friday the 13th. That latter fact seems only fitting since Hitchcock’s style has forever become associated with suspense and terror.
While his most well-known films came out in the 1950s and 1960s, Hitchcock’s career lasted from the early 1920s to the late 1970s. He got his start in the film business as a designer of silent movie title cards. By the time he directed his first feature in 1925, he had also tried his hand at production design and writing. This variety of experience during his apprenticeship allowed him to develop into a meticulous craftsman. During this early phase of his career, he would also cross paths with Alma Reville, a screenwriter, editor, and assistant director who was soon to become Hitchcock’s wife and closest creative collaborator throughout his life.
Hitchcock’s legacy is closely bound to the suspense-thriller, a genre he first explored with The Lodger in 1927 and then took to in earnest by the 1930s. While other genres occasionally pop up in his filmography (ex. Easy Virtue is a light comedy about a zany heiress, Strauss’ Great Waltz is a musical biopic, and The Paradine Case is a straightforward courtroom drama), it was the suspense film that made him famous and so he largely stuck to it throughout his career. Recurring themes and stylistic elements throughout his work include individuals wrongly accused of crimes, playing with audience sympathies, dark humor, sexuality, voyeurism, doppelgangers, and dramatic irony.
During and after his long life, Hitchcock could easily be described as the face that launched a thousand academic dissertations, psychological studies, and plenty of controversy, particularly regarding his working relationship with actress Tippi Hedren in the 1960s. Whatever one’s views, his influence over the cinema remains strong. Films which evoke his particular brand of stylish suspense have earned the moniker “Hitchcockian.”
Alfred Hitchcock was an iconic filmmaker celebrated for his mastery of suspense and terror. Generations of filmmakers have been inspired by his work.