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The Globe and Mail (30/Apr/1980) - Sir Alfred Hitchcock



Sir Alfred Hitchcock

Sir Alfred Hitchcock, knighted in December, had a disarmingly (and deceptively) brief explanation for the success of his films. "The device," he said, "is simply this: I place the normal hero in a perfectly outrageous situation, and then let him try to get out of it." It was a device which, in 55 years of directing, carried him through 53 feature films and a long-running television series, and established the "Master of Suspense" as a household name.

A master craftsman, he plotted his movies on paper down to the finest detail before the shooting started, treating the actual filming as almost incidental. Actors were treated firmly, but indulgently. "They really are children," he explained. "You could hardly expect them to be adult when at least a third of their lives is spent in make-believe." Hitchcock's films are a catalogue of obsessions; his characters are racked by guilt, by anxiety, by mother fixations, by a sense of being trapped by forces beyond their control. The plot was everything, but the excuse for the plot - the secret which set the characters in motion, a tool Hitchcock dubbed the "MacGuffin" - was almost irrelevant, paling beside the famous Hitchcock scenes: the murder in the shower, the chases atop the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore, the scramble to stop the cymbals from clashing in Albert Hall.

His films sparkled with wit and black humor. He dragged murder from the dark, secluded corners and flung it into the middle of bustling crowds on sunny afternoons, reasoning (correctly) that the incongruity would increase the suspense. He delighted in toying with the audience's emotions and expectations. His villains were often sympathetic; his heroes were often egocentric and bullheaded, traits Hitchcock moderated by placing likable actors like James Stewart and Cary Grant in the roles. He abhorred predictability. "The big problem," he said at one point, "is to avoid cliches." He created some of the best ones.