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San Francisco Chronicle (29/Sep/1985) - Suspense Master Hitchcock Lives Again as a Droll Host



Suspense Master Hitchcock Lives Again as a Droll Host

By now, Alfred Hitchcock, who died in 1980, has taken his place in the pantheon of movie-making greats as the heavyset Englishman who taught the industry how to keep audiences in suspense through such classics as North By Northwest, Psycho, The Birds and at least a dozen other films. A footnote to that fabulous career was the TV series named after him, for which he provided the amusingly droll, black-humor introductions and closings, and which he on rare occasion directed himself (20 times). From this Universal series sprang a new monthly mystery magazine named after Hitchcock and a series of suspense anthologies which are still published today. Of the new Alfred Hitchcock Presents... this young disciple of the Master said: "It's no big mystery. We're returning to the past to recapture a special kind of storytelling, the kind many of us in this business grew up on. All of the yarns, based on the Hitchcock original scripts, are contemporary: new dialogue, different situations, updated characterizations. But, and this is the big but, we've kept the essence of these tales, their surprise twists and underlying cynicisms. We've tried to retain their spirit and retell them the way Hitchcock might have done were he alive and here today." To ready himself for this Herculean task, Christopher Crowe re-ran cassettes of the old Hitchcock shows for months. Most of what he saw were the half-hour programs of mystery, suspense and horror (and occasionally fantasy) that ran on CBS and NBC from 1955 to 1962. After that, the series expanded to one hour, changed its title to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and persisted on CBS and NBC until September 1965. Alfred Hitchcock Presents started for Crowe in a round-about way back in 1983 when he produced a TV pilot for Universal called Nightmares. It was more in the vein of Twilight Zone with four stories, all tinged by the supernatural or suspense-horror. It was a good film with plenty of bite - so much bite with its knife-slasher killer and its giant rat in the attic that Universal decided it played better as a feature and cancelled the series idea. Although Nightmares did well in theaters, "the residual feeling afterward," recalled Crowe, "was that we should've done the series after all. Here was proof there was a market for anthologies. One day at a production meeting someone jokingly said, 'Let's do Hitchcock again.' Nobody took it seriously. But then I thought about it, and we ping-ponged the idea back and forth. And that led to the production of the two-hour Hitchcock pilot film that was aired last May."