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American Film (1980) - Lehman at Large: Hitch

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  • magazine article: Lehman at Large: Hitch
  • author(s): Ernest Lehman
  • journal: American Film (01/Jul/1980)
  • issue: volume 5, issue 9, page 18
  • journal ISSN: 0361-4751
  • publisher: Nielsen Business Media
  • keywords: Alfred Hitchcock




It happened this morning.


They took it all away from him. They took all his toys away and said, "Enough now ... rest."

He did not want to rest. He wanted to go on playing. To the very end, he never stopped wanting to delight us, to manipulate us and excite us and tantalize us and move us and fascinate us and enthrall us and fill us with dread and laughter and curiosity. He was a mischievous child clothed in the black serge garb of a world-weary sophisticate, and he took marvelous enjoyment in playing his games and letting us watch.

The tributes, the accolades, the unending procession of honors served him in only one way: They gave him new opportunities, which he pounced upon, to mock his own importance, which was, is, and always will be, so staggering that he could never fully comprehend it. Secretly, the homage of the world amused him. What was all the fuss about? It's only a movie.

Oh yes, he did become irritable now and then when some of the pickier cineastes would complain that his films didn't have sufficient content, that they didn't say enough, that there was no deep or lofty moral to the tale. He did not enjoy being criticized for failing to score touchdowns, when the game he was playing happened to be baseball, or cricket.

He made his artistic choices in the belief that whatever gave him personal pleasure as he created it was something sorely needed by the world. Let Crane Plumbing make the kitchen sink. He preferred wit, romance, laughter, irony, discreet sexuality, adventure, dramatic tension, and, here and there, a little suspense. It was not that he had nothing to say. He had plenty to say, and he said it in private with bite and humor to those who knew him intimately. He perceived the world clearly for what it is, and what it isn't. He saw himself and others without any illusions concerning the human mix of strengths and frailties. But included in this overview was his conviction that the world needed no instruction from the likes of him, no lectures, no interpretation.

If everyone else knew as much about life as he did, and as little, and reacted to the joys and pains of living with more or less the same set of emotions, it followed quite naturally from this assumption that if he needed made-up stories, elegantly told, to heighten and palliate the experience of being alive, so would everyone else need them. And they did. And he provided them. All of his long and productive life, he certainly did.

He used to liken a movie to a bedtime story, being told to a little girl by her uncle as she sits in his lap gazing up at him with rapt attention. He is the uncle. She is the movie audience. He pauses. Always, he knows exactly when to pause. The little girl's eyes widen with suspense. What happens next? she wants to know, has to know. And so he continues. He never lets her down.

How rewarding it has been, how reassuring, practically all of all our lives, to have been in the lap, in the hands, under the spell, of this giant, this genius, this gentle man. And now, this morning, he pauses...

Hitch ... what happens next?