Commentary (2009) - The Trouble with Alfred Hitchcock
- article: The Trouble with Alfred Hitchcock
- author(s): Terry Teachout
- journal: Commentary (01/Feb/2009)
- issue: volume 127, issue 2, page 43
- journal ISSN: 0010-2601
- publisher: Commentary, Inc
- keywords: "Hitchcock" - by François Truffaut, "Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies" - by Donald Spoto, "The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock" - by Donald Spoto, Alfred Hitchcock, Cahiers du Cinéma, Cary Grant, Donald Spoto, Ernest Lehman, François Truffaut, Ingrid Bergman, James Stewart, Kim Novak, North by Northwest (1959), Notorious (1946), Noël Coward, Psycho (1960), Rear Window (1954), Rebecca (1940), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Sight and Sound, Strangers on a Train (1951), The 39 Steps (1935), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Thornton Wilder, Tippi Hedren, To Catch a Thief (1955), Vertigo (1958)
In November of last year, Cahiers du Cinéma, the influential French film magazine, asked 78 French-speaking critics and scholars to choose the greatest film directors of all time. Alfred Hitchcock received the second-highest number of votes, just behind Jean Renoir but ahead of Fritz Lang, Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel, F.W. Murnau, and Howard Hawks. The same group gave Hitchcock's Vertigo the number-eight spot on a list of the 100 best films.( n1)
No eyebrows were raised by the inclusion of a director of thrillers on so stellar a list of what the French refer to as cinéastes. Nor is anyone known to have expressed surprise in 2002 when Sight & Sound, the British film magazine, published the results of the latest in a series of top-10 polls that it has been conducting at decade-long intervals since 1952. On that occasion, an international panel of film critics ranked Vertigo at #2 on their list of great films, just behind Citizen Kane, while a similar group of film directors placed it at #6.
What is most noteworthy about Hitchcock's inclusion on these lists, however, is that it is a comparatively recent development. It was not until 1982, for instance, that Vertigo first made Sight & Sound's top ten. By then it had become commonplace to speak of Hitchcock as a great artist, though such talk had been rare in his own lifetime. To be sure, James Agee, the much-admired film critic of Time and the Nation, had gone so far as to suggest that his films were comparable in qu...
- ↑ The rest of Cahiers du Cinéma's top ten films, in descending order, were Welles's Citizen Kane, Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter and Renoir's The Rules of the Game (tied), Murnau's Sunrise, Jean Vigo's L'Atalante, Lang's M, Singin' in the Rain, Marcel Carné's Children of Paradise, and Ford's The Searchers.
- ↑ Hitchcock, like most golden-age Hollywood directors, was not a "writer" in the conventional sense of the word. Though he worked closely with his screenwriters to develop the scenarios of his films, he rarely wrote any of their dialogue.
- ↑ Significantly, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho were all scored by the film composer Bernard Herrmann, who exaggerated only slightly when he claimed that Hitchcock "only finishes a picture 60 percent. I have to finish it for him." For a discussion of Herrmann's contribution to the dramatic effect of Hitchcock's films, see my essay "Hitchcock's Music Man" (COMMENTARY, February 2007).
- ↑ Harmony, 352 pp., $25.95.