(Sir) Alfred Hitchcock Essay - Critical Essays

Hitchcock, (Sir) Alfred


(Sir) Alfred Hitchcock 1899–1980

British director.

Hitchcock's name is synonymous with the sophisticated, graceful thriller. His films demonstrate a consistent view that transforms the ordinary into the exotic. An outstanding technician, Hitchcock uses the camera to advance his story and mood, introducing dialogue only when it is absolutely necessary. His plots shun conventional terror gimmicks, centering instead on common anxieties and human weaknesses.

Hitchcock's first job in the cinema was as a designer of title cards for silent films. Subsequently, he rose to script writer, art director, and assistant director. In 1925, Hitchcock directed his first feature, The Pleasure Garden. However, The Lodger was the first film to display his inimitable style. Motifs to reappear included his interest in cinematic effects, the "transference of guilt" whereby an innocent character is accused unjustly of a crime, and the inevitable appearance of Hitchcock himself. Blackmail, Hitchcock's first sound feature, brought him international fame and led a string of spy thrillers, culminating in The Lady Vanishes and The Thirty Nine Steps. Products of his peak creative period, they demonstrate a developing talent for manipulating audience reaction by suspense. At the same time, there surfaced his macabre humor as a means of increasing anxiety.

In 1939, David O. Selznick lured Hitchcock to Hollywood. Hitchcock's first Hollywood film, Rebecca, dealt with another recurring Hitchcock motif: a woman haunted by the memory of another. As an indication of his American work, Rebecca introduced a new psychological aspect which took several directions. One, the insinuation of unfounded suspicion, is developed in later films, including Suspicion and Shadow of a Doubt. Later work demonstrated his interest in psychodrama. Such films as Vertigo and Marnie explore the depths of a female psyche, while causing the audience to alternately embrace and disdain the heroine.

Hitchcock's British chase films of the 1930s reemerged in much altered form in the 1950s. Many critics find these films his finest works, since they provide an ideal setting for Hitchcock's fascination with technical challenges. In particular, these films allowed him an opportunity to place endangered protagonists in settings symbolizing order, such as Mount Rushmore, in North by Northwest. By disturbing that which is traditionally stable, Hitchcock brings out his theme of a world in disorder, increasingly penetrated by evil.

While encompassing a wide variety of thematic materials, Hitchcock eschewed the "whodunnit" genre by studying the evil inherent in what one already sees. The mass appeal of his films occasionally led reviewers to treat them as popular entertainment instead of cinematic art. However, their appeal to the French new wave filmmakers has inspired many viewers to reevaluate Hitchcock's work in terms of his visual narrative and technical ingenuity.

[The Thirty-Nine Steps] neatly converts its essential implausibility into an asset by stressing the difficulties which confront its hero when he tries to tell outsiders about the predicament he is in. (p. 44)

In the last two years, by making a specialty of melodrama, the English cinema industry sometimes appears to have taken its motto from the words of a song popular in the U.S. a year ago, "Here Come the British with a Bang, Bang." The Thirty-Nine Steps is the most effective demonstration to date of Director Alfred Hitchcock's method of artful understatement and its success, which has already been sensational abroad, should be a lesson to his Hollywood imitators. (pp. 44-5)

"Cinema: 'The Thirty-Nine Steps'," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time, Inc. 1935), Vol. XXVI, No. 13, September 23, 1935, pp. 44-5.

Otis Ferguson

"The Lady Vanishes" is a typical work of that genius in the art of motion pictures, Alfred Hitchcock, the overstuffed and delightful gentleman from London. But Hitchcock chooses to use his genius where it will do the least harm to the most effect, and so while everything he does has such speed and clarity it's a pleasure to sit there over and over and watch him work, he works frankly in surface motion. There is human interest and sympathy because his people are always right; but the action is violent, the need for it somehow unreal, and emotion does not mature….

The story is almost unimportant: boy and girl find lady, have to shoot their way out, saving the nation and getting married. But it's just the thing for Hitchcock, who has more fun with the people on that train than a barrel of monkeys—the fun more liberally interjected than usual into throttled guitar players, false compartments, drugs, guns and evil. It's as much comedy as straight plot, in fact, and some of the exploration of the English mind is as neat as you'll see, done with relish and droll good humor, planted not only in dialogue and perfect delivery but in the concept of type and situation….

Hitchcock is a one-man show, getting every detail straight in his head and the way he wants it before the first camera starts rolling. He is almost an academy, too, because no one can study the deceptive effortlessness with which one thing leads to another without learning where the true beauty of this medium is to be mined.

Otis Ferguson, "War and Other Pieces," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1938 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 86, No. 1245, October 19, 1938, p. 307.

Franz Hoellering

Precise and without pretensions, ["The Lady Vanishes"] is the best spy thriller in a long time: growing suspense from beginning to end, no empty threats, no sticky romantics, no stupid explanation, no misleading clues—every minute is used to advance the plot, which has an almost mathematical logic. Of course, a whole arsenal of old tricks is employed, but with authority and irony. By this quantity is changed into quality. About the excellent use of the comic relief provided by two English sport enthusiasts one could write an essay. Besides being an excellent story, presented with technical perfection, the picture vividly conveys the ruthless, machine-like methods of an organization which has the features of a modern totalitarian system. Our compliments to Mr. Hitchcock: the thriller addict leaves this film not only highly satisfied but with no pricks of conscience at having been taken in again by trash.

Franz Hoellering, "Films: 'The Lady Vanishes'," in The Nation (copyright 1939 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 148, No. 2, January 7, 1939, p. 45.

Thomas Burton

"Rebecca," the novel by Daphne du Maurier, for all its great popularity, limped badly and never really came completely to life…. But in the motion picture version all this is brushed aside by the understanding and literary style of a greater craftsman than Miss du Maurier.

Alfred Hitchcock has made of "Rebecca" one of those perfect things—one of those masterpieces that we remember, like his other perfect cinema entertainments "The Thirty-nine Steps" and "The Lady Vanishes." The novel is all there…. Hitchcock touches [the young girl] with a spark of genius and she moves in terror—flits before you a live, living person whom you pity and with whom you share some obscure dread. You become extremely susceptible to her fears. And Lord! but this Hitchcock has a sense of humor. There is no one making motion pictures today who can touch him for sly wit, fancy touch, or good rib-loosening laughter…. There is a delicate, instinctively alert intelligence in every scene….

Like the simple poems of A. E. Housman, this story gives you the feeling that you are face to face with a master, yet to analyze the why of it is hard. The simple direct statement tricks you into thinking it is done with ease—yet behind every statement is the great skill and cunning of its creator.

Thomas Burton, "Books into Pictures," in The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright © 1940 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXII, No. 7, June 8, 1940, p. 21.

John Mosher

"Suspicion" may just mean Joan Fontaine and Cary Grant to a big majority, but the select should be advised at once that it is also a screen version of Francis Iles' "Before the Fact." This eclectic minority may seethe at the treatment accorded one of the beautiful murder stories of the day…. As Mr. Hitchcock didn't rewrite the story, I suppose, but only directed what material was given him, he wouldn't seem much to be blamed.

Though there has been an insistent effort to make this novel of embezzlement and murder a cozy screen tale of domestic life in prewar England, with all the trouble really a notion in the wife's meandering mind and marital love a pretty boon abloom at the end, Mr. Hitchcock again and again manages to suggest the true Iles spirit and make of his smiling Cary Grant a plausible poisoner, a wavy-haired killer. For my part, I can't see that the wife who is so ready to believe the worst of her mate is such a lovely spirit. Just because her husband turns out to be bad about money, it doesn't mean he's a murderer, as any heiress knows.

The polish of the piece is a pleasure.

John Mosher, "Freshening Up Cary Grant," in The New Yorker (© 1941 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XVII, No. 41, November 22, 1941, p. 98.

Manny Farber

"Shadow of A Doubt" has a good deal of the peculiar, almost revolting emotion movie director Alfred Hitchcock tries to capture by suggesting that the most ordinary circumstance may turn up something sinister—the census takers at your door may be part of a widespread plot, the next time you cross the street somebody may push you in front of a truck. Hitchcock threatens your very possible world with the impossible so often in this movie that at the end, in addition to the emotion mentioned, you are not sure of anything….

Unfortunately, Mr. Hitchcock's people here tend to resemble figures on a Saturday Evening Post cover or actors in a stock-company production of Tarkington. Not that they are made...

(The entire section is 282 words.)

David Lardner

One of the most remarkable of a number of remarkable things about "Lifeboat," written by John Steinbeck and Jo Swerling and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is that the characters in it are not reformed or even radically changed by their experience, which consists of being torpedoed and compelled to endure considerable hardship in a lifeboat before they are rescued. I'm afraid that in less competent, and in fact most, film-producing hands, this experience would have been represented as a rather salutary one and at least some of the people involved would have begun mending their ways by the end of the picture. I don't say that perilous circumstances do not sometimes lead people to resolve to lead better lives if God or...

(The entire section is 430 words.)


As a study of psychoanalytic procedure, "Spellbound," the latest creation of Old Master Hitchcock, wouldn't merit a footnote in Freud. But when the film stops trying to be esoteric and abandons arcane mumbling for good, rousing melodrama, it moves along in the manner to which Hitchcock has accustomed us. I don't think anybody could take seriously the proposition, advanced in "Spellbound," that an amnesia victim could install himself with no trouble whatever as a substitute for the head of a high-class sanitarium…. (p. 69)

Few amnesia victims of our time have held on to anonymity quite as grimly as Mr. Peck, and since his tenacity is spread over almost two hours, the film needs plenty of Hitchcock...

(The entire section is 242 words.)

James Agee

"Spellbound," Alfred Hitchcock's surprisingly disappointing thriller about psychoanalysis, is worth seeing, but hardly more…. I felt that the makers of the film had succeeded in using practically none of the movie possibilities of a psychoanalytic story, even those of the simplest melodrama; and that an elaborate, none-too-interesting murder mystery, though stoutly moored to the unconscious, merely cheapened and got in the way of any possible psychological interest. To quite an extent the psychological pretensions cluttered up the murder mystery too…. There are some frightening shots of the kinds of striated whiteness which mysteriously terrifies the patient—the mark of forktines on a table cloth, for instance;...

(The entire section is 271 words.)

Manny Farber

"Spellbound" is a soupy, synthetic movie that will probably hold your attention. For one thing it deals, as few movies have, with the analysis of a man … who is said to be suffering from paranoia, schizophrenia and a guilt complex. What is more, it reveals the basic situation in psychoanalysis wherein the patient lies on a couch and says whatever comes into his mind, regardless of the consequences. It is also fairly accurate about some of the questions an analyst asks, some of the things a patient says, and both their reactions. The attitude is always youthful and wide-eyed and the movie as slow-motion and unbelievable as a story in the Woman's Home Companion. The plot … is worked out with excessive care to...

(The entire section is 458 words.)

Robert Hatch

Alfred Hitchcock might be grateful to us all if we would forget "The Lady Vanishes" and "The Thirty-Nine Steps." We pay him the compliment of believing that in his chosen field of melodrama he is a craftsman and stylist, and as a result we raise the passing mark. The later, or Hollywood, Hitchcock might be willing to trade us his reputation for a little charity, and that's the deal we may eventually make.

It would not be easy, however, to indulge him in the case of "Rope," for he seems to offer it as vintage Hitchcock…. [It] develops a portentous theme—one that goes far beyond cops and robbers, spies and crown jewels to examine good and evil and to hint of very dark corners in the human soul. It...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

Richard Winnington

When, nearly ten years ago, Alfred Hitchcock broke away from his Daphne du Maurier phase with Shadow of a Doubt, there were premature congratulations. He was first in with the real location melodrama, and it looked as if he might have returned to his older and more entertaining style. The succeeding Hitchcock films, popular, adept and replete with useless trick effects, have been, however, peculiarly depressing in that their hollowness has derived from Hitchcock himself, and not—as in the cases of some other expatriate directors—from Hollywood….

Strangers on a Train … to some extent restores the situation and recalls the old virtuoso of the art of suspense. Here again fear and...

(The entire section is 261 words.)

Derwent May

Gracelessness is the word one wants to describe the overall quality of Alfred Hitchcock's latest film, Rear Window; and no word could be sadder. For what are the qualities that we associate with classic Hitchcock if not, precisely, the elegance of proportion, the ease and sureness of manner? Here, however, the unevenness runs from beginning to end, the intermittent brilliances and delicacies serve only to emphasise it.

Rear Window has a situation which promises intricacy and then fails to provide it. (p. 89)

The thriller … leans back for long stretches on a rather half-hearted plot of love and character: Jefferies doubting until this happens whether his society...

(The entire section is 220 words.)

FrançOis Truffaut


I am convinced that [Rear Window] is one of the most important of all the seventeen Hitchcock has made in Hollywood, one of those rare films without imperfection or weakness, which concedes nothing. For example, it is clear that the entire film revolves around the idea of marriage. When Kelly goes into the suspect's apartment, the proof she is looking for is the murdered woman's wedding ring; Kelly puts it on her own finger as Stewart follows her movements through his binoculars from the other side of the courtyard. But there is nothing at the end that indicates that they will marry. Rear Window goes beyond pessimism; it is really a cruel film. Stewart fixes his...

(The entire section is 515 words.)

Andrew Sarris

[Both To Catch a Thief and The Trouble With Harry] drag along from scene to scene without much inner motivation.

Of the two films, To Catch a Thief is much more successful because of its superior cast and brighter sense of fun…. The Trouble With Harry is the more ambitious film of the two, and consequently, the nobler failure. It doesn't come off because even the little touches are done badly.

The chief interest of both productions is their conscious ridicule of chases and corpses, two of the staples of melodrama. Hitchcock has always had a sense of comic counterpoint in his melodramas, but, never before, has he attempted to invert his melodramas into...

(The entire section is 269 words.)

Penelope Houston

[The Trouble with Harry] opens with a characteristic flourish, an incisive transition from tranquility to violence…. Unlike The Ladykillers, which broke wholly with reality, or Bunuel's Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz, with its ambiguous terrors. The Trouble with Harry establishes a setting neither entirely fantasticated nor disturbingly close to the real. (pp. 30-1)

Relaxed and deliberate, The Trouble with Harry spins out its single joke—the calm acceptance of the fact of violence that is the basis of comedie noire—with an alert regard for the possibilities of a situation…. Although the corpse is kept persistently in the foreground, the film...

(The entire section is 343 words.)

Penelope Houston

A good deal of Alfred Hitchcock's interest in film-making seems these days to consist in setting himself technical problems for the satisfaction of overcoming them….

In The Wrong Man … Hitchcock has filmed his first true story, a precise and documented account of a case of mistaken identity. The problem here is to achieve a particular atmosphere of factual suspense, a spider's web entanglement of circumstantial detail enmeshing the bewildered and passive victim….

After [a] gripping and splendidly circumstantial opening, the film's extreme slowness becomes an increasing dramatic liability…. The dramatic thread [breaks] somewhere in the middle of the film, and Hitchcock...

(The entire section is 209 words.)

James Agee

Notorious lacks many of the qualities which made the best of Alfred Hitchcock's movies so good, but it has more than enough good qualities of its own. Hitchcock has always been as good at domestic psychology as at thrillers, and many times here he makes a moment in a party, or a lovers' quarrel, or a mere interior shrewdly exciting in ways that few people in films seem to know…. [He is] resourceful, and exceptional, in his manufacture of expressive little air pockets of dead silence. He has a strong sense of the importance of the real place and the real atmosphere…. There is perhaps no telling how much of all this should be credited to Ben Hecht's screen play; but it seems safe to credit a good deal of the...

(The entire section is 194 words.)

Ernest Callenbach

Hitchcock is said to be very pleased with [Psycho], and well he might be. In it he has abandoned the commercial geniality of his recent work and turned to out-and-out horror and psychopathology. The film begins with a drab, matter-of-fact scene in a hotel bedroom…. It imperceptibly shifts to a level of macabre pathology, unbearable suspense, and particularly gory death. In it, indeed, Hitchcock's necrophiliac voyeurism comes to some kind of horrifying climax…. So well is the picture made, moreover, that it can lead audiences to do something they hardly ever do any more—cry out to the characters, in hopes of dissuading them from going to the doom that has been cleverly established as awaiting them. (p....

(The entire section is 271 words.)

Charles Higham

At heart, [Alfred Hitchcock is] a practical joker, a cunning and sophisticated cynic amused at the French critical vogue for his work, contemptuous of the audience which he treats as the collective victim of a Pavlovian experiment, perennially fascinated by his own ability to exploit the cinema's resources. His narcissism and its concomitant coldness have damaged those films whose themes have called for warmly sympathetic treatment: The Ring, I Confess, and The Wrong Man are obvious examples of stories which, demanding humanism, have been treated with a heartless artificiality.

The mechanics of creating terror and amusement in an audience are all Hitchcock properly understands. The...

(The entire section is 930 words.)

Peter Bogdanovich

The Birds could be called a hybrid of Shadow of a Doubt and Psycho. It combines the former's character-exploration with the latter's shock-effects, and emerges as one of Alfred Hitchcock's most striking and formidable achievements. On any level, a masterpiece….

The Birds is a modern fable about the complacency of Man and the uncertainty of his position in the universe. Life is going carelessly by, but out of nowhere comes a dreadful enemy—one that no amount of reasoning can put down. Without explanation, seemingly without reason, the enemy strikes and persists until it has won. Man is powerless under its force; his struggles, however valiant (and Hitchcock feels that...

(The entire section is 251 words.)

Ernest Callenbach

[The Birds] is disappointing. The film has been made, it seems to me, on two mistaken assumptions. One is that a frightening film can be made in naturalistic color, and the other is that an attack by birds carries the emotional impact of a really horrific situation….

No doubt Hitchcock's reasoning was that the pastoral loveliness of Bodega Bay, rendered in soft color, would make us feel more attachment to the scene when it is abruptly threatened by thousands of attacking gulls and crows: so beautiful a little town, to have such a thing happen in it! Yet the effect is precisely the reverse: it reduces the scene to postcard dimensions, so that we care less rather than more, because it is only...

(The entire section is 336 words.)

Penelope Houston

What interests Hitchcock? Not precisely character: he creates it, and his flair for casting sustains it, but it is character directed to the ends of a limited dramatic situation, star personality cut to size, Not, certainly, professional crime, the mechanics of a bank robbery or the operations of a spy ring. Professionalism hints at routine, and Hitchcock's is the art of the unexpected—a celebration of that jarring moment when, walking in the dark down a staircase which you know every foot of the way, you suddenly hit bottom one step too soon. When Hitchcock talks of his own technique, it is often in terms of a deliberate avoidance of cliché. (p. 161)

What does, then, interest this bland,...

(The entire section is 534 words.)

John Russell Taylor

Hitchcock's career to date falls neatly into four phases: the silent period (nine films); the 1930s in Britain (fourteen films); the 1940s in America and Britain (thirteen features and two shorts); and the period since then, beginning with Strangers on a Train (twelve films). To indulge in drastic oversimplification, these phases represent respectively: apprenticeship; the perfection of a style; appreciation of the limitations of that style and an erratic quest for a new style; and final maturity. (p. 171)

Even for The Lodger allowances have to be made; to enjoy it fully requires an exercise of deliberate 'thinking-back', to see it in the context of the British cinema of the time…. In...

(The entire section is 1963 words.)


To stay with the audience, Hitchcock set out to win it over by reawakening all the strong emotions of childhood. In his work the viewer can recapture the tensions and thrills of the games of hide-and-seek or blindman's bluff and the terror of those nights when, by a trick of the imagination, a forgotten toy on the dresser gradually acquires a mysterious and threatening shape….

[This] brings us to suspense, which, even among those who acknowledge Hitchcock's mastery of it, is commonly regarded as a minor form of the spectacle, whereas actually it is the spectacle in itself.

Suspense is simply the dramatization of a film's narrative material, or, if you will, the most intense...

(The entire section is 834 words.)

Leo Braudy

Hitchcock cares little about the minor springs of plot—what he calls the "MacGuffin," the gimmick—because he is dealing with more inclusive rhythms. "To me, the narrator, they're of no importance." And this narrative sense, Hitchcock asserts …, is the most important part of his directional method. (pp. 22-3)

Hitchcock's films frequently approach the problem of detachment and involvement through separate but complementary treatments that night almost be called "genres." In "comedies" like The Lady Vanishes, North by Northwest, or Torn Curtain, the central characters are a romantic couple, with whom the audience automatically sympathizes. They serve as audience surrogates in a...

(The entire section is 607 words.)


What Hitchcock has done in Topaz is exciting to anyone who believes that an artist's work has coherence, a progression, and a deepening of fundamental themes. (p. 17)

In Hitchcock's curious and largely unsuccessful Torn Curtain, a statement of some kind about modern political morality seemed to be competing with the personal story for significance. Hitchcock is not a socially-oriented director, though certain social motifs (especially fear of the police) trace back to the beginnings of his career. His movies almost invariably center around a man-woman relationship; whatever outward plot there is usually is no more than a counterpoint or a poetic extension of the basic theme.


(The entire section is 627 words.)

Charles Thomas Samuels

Although Alfred Hitchcock is the most primitive of major directors, he belongs in their company. Those who emphasize his primitivism also dismiss his achievement, but his achievement is fundamental to the art of cinema—more specifically, to the art of using cinematic means for audience manipulation. (p. 295)

Most of Hitchcock's ideas about the real world are indistinguishable from the commonest pieties—which, of course, helps to explain his unique popular appeal. To begin with, he is discomforted by intellectuals. (pp. 295-96)

Occasionally in all of his films and always in the best of them, Hitchcock is the master of evocation. Intellectual emptiness and spurious realism are...

(The entire section is 1180 words.)

George Kaplan

Marnie is the culmination of Hitchcock's concept of cinema as an artificially fabricated construct; it is also among the films in which one senses him most emotionally engaged. The paradox is only apparent: it is in the nature of Hitchcock's art that it is most intense when it leaves daily reality, the "normal," behind to explore unnatural relationships and extreme mental states, especially the obsessive compulsive, in a kind of abstraction only cursorily disguised as naturalism. (p. 48)

The camera, almost invariably objective, moves to exclude some characters from the frame and include others: there is a continual sense of a world out there beyond the confines of the screen, of other lives...

(The entire section is 1382 words.)

Maurice Yacowar

I Confess is no soap bubble, but a profoundly circumspect investigation of the interrelation of good and evil, the vulnerability of virtue in the Manichean scheme of things, and the competitive tension between man's laws and God's. (p. 19)

Christian myth permeates the film. Villette is the serpent in Eden. He has two gardens, one where he first discovers Logan with Ruth, and one in town, which he hires Keller to tend. Ruth first meets Villette at sacramental occasions: her marriage to Pierre and Michael's ordination to the priesthood. Keller is a more human agent of evil, the Cain figure, a man without a country, driven by his evil compulsions to kill the things most dear to him, his wife and...

(The entire section is 564 words.)

Joseph Sgammato

When we speak of [Hitchcock's] camera, of course, we are speaking of an amalgam of director and audience: the director's eye and the eye of the beholder welded into a single screen image. The nosy, rubbernecking camera of the opening montage of Frenzy is an admission from Hitchcock that he is a thrill-seeker at heart (his is the most prominent of the gaping faces on the screen) and a reminder to his movie audience that they are no better: a serio-comic blending of 'I confess' and 'J'accuse'. It is fair warning of what is to follow: not only further titillations of the peek-a-boo variety but constant reminders of the voyeuristic impulses which are all too willingly being aroused within us by the Master of...

(The entire section is 969 words.)

Harry Ringel

Like his painter in Blackmail … Alfred Hitchcock employs pointedly nonverbal methods—and not the expositional theatrics so common to most early sound films—as brush-strokes to bring life to his murderess's dilemma…. [In] Blackmail "… sounds are linked to movements, as if they were the natural consummation of gestures which have the same musical quality…. Everything is thus regulated and impersonal; not a movement of the muscles, not the rolling of an eye but seem to belong to a kind of reflective mathematics which controls everything, and by means of which everything happens." The quote belongs to Antonin Artaud: contemporary of the young Hitchcock, and a peripheral member of the French...

(The entire section is 797 words.)

Gordon Gow

[North by Northwest] is arguably as good an indication as can be found of Alfred Hitchcock's ability to match his sense of humour to his lively suspense tactics. Strictly speaking, according to those who claim to know such things, the title is a compass point that doesn't exist. It is our cue to disregard any measure of 'reality' in the film. 'Realism' is there, of course; but not, overtly at any rate, 'reality'. Further nudges towards levity are given by the leading character, Roger O Thornhill …, who emphasises that his initials spell 'rot', and that his central 'O' stands for nothing. There is, however, a nuance to that 'nothing': the plot is one of mistaken identity, Thornhill being considered by the...

(The entire section is 444 words.)

Gabriel Miller

Frenzy is Hitchcock's most pessimistic film. It is a portrait of a fallen world, a modern wasteland where moral values have entirely disappeared, the landscape has been defaced and polluted, and man (always, for Hitchcock, a very imperfect thing) has been beaten down and dehumanized so thoroughly that no redeeming qualities are left. (p. 1)

Frenzy develops around a thematic structure common to many of Hitchcock's films: the hero (man or woman; in this case a man) gets caught up, usually by accident, in a series of irrational events from which he must extricate himself. What he experiences in doing so generally has a therapeutic effect on him; by the end of his adventures, the hero often...

(The entire section is 351 words.)

John Simon

Though less pretentious and preposterous than Torn Curtain and Topaz, less ludicrous than Marnie, and less offensive than Frenzy, [Family Plot] is still late Hitchcock, and not very good. (p. 84)

There are moments of inventiveness, here and there. When a woman tries to escape from a man in a cemetery whose paths are laid out like lines in a Mondrian painting (Hitchcock's own simile), there is something amusingly nutty about the pair's puny convergences and divergences, when mere cutting across a lawn could put an end to it all…. Let no one tell me that Hitchcock is not expressing once again his deep-rooted dislike of women, which first struck me in his treatment of the...

(The entire section is 346 words.)

Roger Greenspun

Ultimately, Family Plot may be more fun to think about than to see—or at least, to see for the fourth time. There are moments of quite stunning intensity…. But some of the principle action sequences seem relatively lax and unfocused, and I suspect that Family Plot figures only half-heartedly as an adventure film. Indeed, it mistrusts adventure, as the best Hitchcock movies often do. Its central position is that a healthy respect for love and money offers better guidance through this vale of tears than does the secret shudder down the spine of life lived recklessly for beauty and thrills. That's practical philosophy. Like Bresson, like Ozu, Hitchcock constructs a cinema of philosophic principles....

(The entire section is 565 words.)

Robin Wood

To trace the creative drives behind Hitchcock's films to sources in psychopathology (possible, after all, to some degree with any artist) does not necessarily invalidate the emphasis placed in my book on their therapeutic impulses: indeed, it could logically be felt to strengthen this emphasis by giving the therapeutic impulses a particular focus or motivation. I still feel that the Hitchcock films I most admire are centred on a movement towards health via therapy and catharsis. I have, however, become much more keenly aware of a need to insist on sharp discriminations—a need to stress the limitations of Hitchcock's art and to distinguish the work (a small proportion of the total oeuvre) that succeeds...

(The entire section is 2578 words.)

Andrew Sarris

Hitchcock provides only one of many possible approaches to cinema. He is not and never has been a raw realist. To enjoy Hitchcock's films, one must accept the fact that he reprocesses reality into pliable cinematic images. His is, therefore, more a cinema of signs than of essences. He has never been interested in sensuality for its own sake. His vision of life is more Freudian than Jungian, in that he does not allow any possibility of heroic regeneration. Fear is far more common than courage, and helplessness more prevalent than courage. His theory of character could be faulted on Aristotelian grounds if there were any claims made for Hitchcock as a cinematic tragedian, but there are not and have never been. His most...

(The entire section is 170 words.)


With Rebecca, the "Hitchcock touch," which has previously been merely a distinguishing feature, becomes a vision of the world. Spontaneity submits to a system. This is a critical moment for an artist, for he must not develop tics, a pedagogical fury. Hitchcock was to avoid these traps. From now on, the two poles of his future work—because we can now talk of a body of work—are clear. One is fascination, moral captation—in other words, depersonalization, schism: in psychoanalytic terms, schizophrenia; in philosophic terms, amoralism; in Baudelairean terms, the assumption of evil, damnation. The other pole is its opposite: knowledge—or, more exactly, reknowledge—of self, unity of being,...

(The entire section is 2251 words.)

Vincent Canby

Though Hitchcock's work remained out of the reach of fads, except to the extent to which he cast currently popular actors in his films, he absorbed as natural and fitting all of the technical changes of the decades through which he proceeded with his natural caution, like someone crossing a mine field, not because he was afraid of being blown up but because of his aversion to disorder of any sort….

Though Hitchcock pretended to consider himself a prude as movies became increasingly gamey, I suspect that the sex in his films will never look prudish. Hitchcock was a romantic. He loved sexual euphemism—the sudden burst of fireworks in "To Catch a Thief," the train barrelling into a tunnel in "North...

(The entire section is 640 words.)