Biography of Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock was a British director who earned the nickname "The Master of Suspense" during his career. He was a cinematic innovator and is still considered one of the greatest directors of all time. Hitchcock directed more than 50 films over the course of his career, most of which are classified as psychological thrillers. He was a keen technician as well as a master storyteller, and his desire to challenge himself, as well as an interest in the relationship between audience and story, led him to develop a signature "Hitchcockian" style that was all his own. Among his most notable films are Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, and North by Northwest.

Hitchcock was born in 1899 in Leytonstone, part of the London county of Essex, to a greengrocer and his wife. While he was notably private about his upbringing, he once shared an anecdote about being locked in a cell at the local police station by his father who wanted to teach him a lesson for misbehaving. While he was only in the cell for a few minutes, the young Alfred found the incident incredibly affecting, and perhaps gives his viewers a window onto his vivid depictions of claustrophobia and mistaken identity. After studying engineering in school, Hitchcock got a job as a technician at an electric cable company. Shortly thereafter he began to design advertisements, before officially starting his filmmaking career in 1920 at an American studio in London, where he designed titles. In his spare time, he wrote screenplays. Hitchcock's proficiency with both the technical and the narrative can be attributed to these early days working for the studio. Hitchcock married Alma Reville in 1926, a film editor who would become an important collaborator and influence.

Hitchcock's first film, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, was released in 1926, and depicted a serial killer similar to Jack the Ripper. In 1929, Hitchcock made one of the first "talkies" in England, Blackmail, before having his first big commercial success with The Man Who Knew Too Much. Later championed by David O. Selznick, a Hollywood producer, based on the strength of his English films, Hitchcock began making movies in the United States in 1939, signing a 7-year contract. Rebecca was based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel and starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine; it won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1940. After working for Selznick for a number of years, Hitchcock began to make films with the company Transatlantic, starting with Rope in 1948, an adaptation of a Patrick Hamilton play. Notably, Rope was filmed in only 9 shots, each clocking in at 10 minutes. Through the 1950s, Hitchcock directed Strangers on a Train, Dial M For Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief, and worked with major stars, like James Stewart and Grace Kelly. With Paramount Pictures, Hitchcock made Vertigo, North By Northwest, and Psycho. Then with Universal, he directed The Birds and Marnie, both starring Tippi Hedren.

Over this period of time he became one of the most well-known and acclaimed directors, and was recognized for a style that was grounded in filmic techniques and deft editing more than dialogue or acting. He often uses oblique camera angles to menace the characters and viewers, rapid editing to heighten the chaos of a horrifying scene, parallel editing, and shots from the perspective of his characters in order to generate tension and an understanding of the characters emotions. He also became known for various other signatures within his films, such as featuring himself in small cameos in the background of scenes, and casting “cool,” classically beautiful, often blonde women in his lead roles. Driving his thrillers were deeply rooted childhood fears, such as claustrophobia, fear of heights, fear of open spaces, and fear of retribution. He has also been criticized, however, for relying on illogical story lines and wild coincidences, and more recently has been noted for an oppressive attitude toward women (in Psycho, for example, the lead actress is punished for her indiscretions with violence).

In 1980, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Alfred Hitchcock. Over a long and successful career, he won 2 Golden Globes, was nominated for 5 Oscars, and received numerous lifetime achievement awards. He died in 1980 in California.


Study Guides on Works by Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock’s first Hollywood movie was Rebecca, based on the novel by author Daphne DuMaurier. It became the only Hitchcock movie ever to win the Oscar for Best Picture. After what must have seemed an unlikely twenty-year stretch in which he...

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 suspense film Dial M for Murder presents a textbook case for why 3-D movies failed to catch fire in the 1950s and then again failed again to catch fire during a brief resurgence in the 1980s and has failed to become the...

When Alfred Hitchcock released Vertigo in 1958, it was met with ambivalence and near rejection by critics and audiences. Vertigo defied easy categorization and explored themes related to sexual perversity, erotic obsession and a shifting...

Released in 1946, Notorious is a rather uncharacteristic Hitchcock film, in that it does not employ many of the horror-filled tropes of his other films, but it is nonetheless considered to be one of his greatest works and touted as one of his...

In 1957, mystery novelist Robert Bloch was inspired to write Psycho after studying the grisly details of the crimes committed by serial killer Ed Gein, who notoriously slaughtered nearly 40 women over 10 years. Simon and Schuster published Bloch's...

Rear Window is based on a story from the February 1942 issue of Dime Detective Magazine called "It Had to be Murder", written by Cornell Woolrich (under the pseudonym William Irish). Alfred Hitchcock, who was a longtime fan of Woolrich's pulp...

An early Hitchcock film, Rope is not among the Master of Suspense's best known films, but it is certainly notable, and includes many Hitchcockian innovations of horror and suspense. Rope is perhaps most memorable as a notable experimentation in...

So far, To Catch a Thief has not yet managed to become one of those films regarded as a rather lightweight addition to the canon of Alfred Hitchcock at the time of its original release that a later generation rediscovers and decides is high art....

It is typical to get believe that Alfred Hitchcock gave the title Vertigo to his 1958 suspense film due to the unusually kinky character portrayed by Jimmy Stewart penchant for getting dizzy whenever he looks down from tall heights. In fact,...