How Alfred Hitchcock Became The King of Suspense

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the most innovative filmmakers in history. Today, directors at film schools around the world pore over every frame of Hitchcock’s films to learn how to make films.

But where do you go for inspiration if you’re a young Alfred Hitchcock and you don’t have a Hitchcock to study?

Hitchcock studied mechanics, electricity and acoustics at St. Ignatius College in London. He learned his lessons well. He became an unparalleled technician; a genius at creating tension and sparks; a craftsman who used sound brilliantly, as an almost visual element.

In his very first sound film, 1929’s film “Blackmail”, Hitchcock uses the sound to advance the story–emphasizing a young woman’s anxiety by gradually distorting all but one word-“knife”-of a neighbor’s dialogue in the morning after the killing.

Hitchcock’s Expressionistic film style was unique in Hollywood, perhaps reflecting the fact that he didn’t start there. Hitchcock’s first job in film was illustrating title cards for silent films at Paramount’s Famous Players-Lasky studio in London. His first directing effort, “The Pleasure Garden” was shot in Munich; like many of Hitchcock’s early films, including “The 39 Steps” and “The Lady Vanishes” it was shot outside the Hollywood system.

But in 1940, Hitchcock began shooting movies for Hollywood. He made a string of well regarded films in the 40’s, but it is the period between 1950-1960 for which he is most revered. This stretch of Hitchcock’s career includes masterpieces like “Dial M For Murder”, “To Catch A Thief”, and his unforgettable indictment of the American justice system, 1956’s “The Wrong Man”.

Hitchcock’s films, from “Rear Window” to “North By Northwest” to “Psycho” and the recently restored “Vertigo” form a body of work which is a rare treasure: not only worth watching for their craftmanship, but eminently watchable films.

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