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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (06/May/1980) - Alfred Hitchcock



Alfred Hitchcock

"I deny that I ever said actors are cattle," said Alfred Hitchcock, after Carole Lombard protested the alleged remark by driving some oxen onto his shooting set. "What I said was that actors should be treated like cattle."

They called him the master of suspense, and indeed he was. But his 54 motion pictures were more than just top-quality entertainment. They were the epitome of stylish craftsmanship — chic, suspenseful combinations of intrigue, wit and a delicious sense of the macabre.

Director Hitchcock's best work — films like "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934), "The 39 Steps" (1935), "Rebecca" (1940), "Spellbound" (1945), "North by Northwest" (1959) and "Psycho" (1960) - were marked by a stylish, often stunning use of unorthodox camera angles, flawless composition and masterful manipulation of audience point-of-view. And even the "bad" Hitchcock pictures were at least partially redeemed by those same qualities.

Mr. Hitchcock's virtuosity as a director manifested itself in many ways. But not the least of his talents was the ability to elicit wonderful performances from both the sublime and the ridiculous of Holly* wood. That he coaxed superb acting from Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stew-art and Anthony Perkins was not surprising; that he did the same for Janet Leigh, Dons Day and "Tippi" Hedren was remarkable.

"Always make the audience suffer as much as possible," advised Mr. Hitchcock. And for 50 years, his audiences never tired of such delightful suffering, punctuated on screen by a brief glimpse of his rotund self in the beloved cameo appearances which became as much a trademark as the pouting silhouette of his lower lip.

Mr. Hitchcock was endearing — and enduring. His characters' dilemmas were existential, not moral or supernatural — no creatures from outer space, no shock-valuable gore, and no significant special effects. His protagonists, for the most part, were not heroes but ordinary people confronted by something presumably harmless turned suddenly menacing: a flock of fine feathered enemies in "The Birds" or a nervous motel clerk in "Psycho," probably 'the best horror film of all time.

Mr. Hitchcock was one of the few British directors who made a smooth transition from England to Hollywood. Though nominated five times, he never received an Oscar for directing — nor ever seemed to be bothered by it.

His death last week at age 80 is inevitably saddening, but it would be hard to imagine a fuller, more productive life. And because celluloid survives its creators, Mr. Hitchcock's wondrous work lives on. This is partly because of the mystical immortality of all film and partly because of the special kind of motion pictures Alfred Hitchcock made.

"Most films are slices of life," he once mused. "Mine are slices of cake."