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The Spectator (1997) - Is Hitchcock's reputation deserved?




Harrington comments that motion picture director Alfred Hitchcock was a "light entertainer of great professional skill and a splendid joker," but not a genius.


No, says Michael Harrington. He was a light entertainer of great professional skill but no 'genius'

Alfred Hitchcock's reputation is a mystery worthy of the old showman himself. When his film Vertigo was re‑released two weeks ago, it was greeted by film reviewers with a kind of deferential ecstasy worthy of a hitherto lost opera by Puccini. Currently the BBC is running a season of his films, though the best of them, such as The Lady Vanishes and Rear Window, are a regular feature of the television film repertoire. These pictures are trumpeted in the Radio Times and elsewhere as the work of a major artistic figure, though this assessment of Hitchcock is different from what it was during the most successful period of his career.

How did he come to be taken seriously? The truth about Alfred Hitchcock is that he was a light entertainer of great professional skill and a splendid joker. He never produced work of the originality, depth and power required for the title of 'genius', nor is it clear that the films he made should be attributed to him in the exclusive way that, say, the Sherlock Holmes stories can be attributed to Conan Doyle or Saint Joan to George Bernard Shaw. Film directors are not authors.

Take Vertigo, for example, which starred James Stewart and Kim Novak. When it came out in 1958 it was generally rejected by critics and the public as a botched job. Hitchcock gave away the secret of the plot two thirds of the way through, and Kim N...

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