Born in Leytonstone, East London, in 1899, Alfred Hitchcock directed more than fifty movies across six decades, and is as legendary as anybody in the crime thriller genre. Perhaps the most-famous film director ever, his timeless work is endlessly analysed.
1/ Many of Hitchcock’s films feature heroes who are wrongly accused. Film historians have suggested this relates back to an incident when the five-year-old Hitchcock was sent by his disciplinarian father, a grocer, to a police station with a note asking that he be locked up for bad behaviour.
2/ Hitchcock always suggested that he found filming a chore, and famously likened actors to cattle – in a sarcastic response, Carole Lombard bought some cows along with her when she reported for duty on set. Hitchcock said he saw the entire completed film in his head before he shot it, right down to the edits, and shooting lost 40 per cent of his original conception of it.
3/ The director’s practical jokes were legendary – he once served a meal of blue food to bewildered guests. But as his reputation has taken on darker hues, many of his more sinister jokes are perhaps more apocryphal. For example, Hitchcock reportedly bet his floor-manager he couldn’t stay handcuffed overnight in an empty studio, and when the fellow agreed, Hitchcock offered him a snifter of brandy to fortify him through the night – however, the alcohol was laced with laxative.
4/ Hitchcock worked with an incredible rosta of writers in his career, including Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Parker – his cameo in Saboteur was originally intended to be shared with Mrs. Parker – Ernest Lehman, Ben Hecht and John Michael Hayes. A young writer called Evan Hunter wrote The Birds – Hunter later become successful as crime writer Ed McBain.
5/ The director’s favourite of his own movies was Shadow Of A Doubt, starring Joseph Cotton as the sinister Uncle Charlie. Two of the scriptwriters on that film were Thornton Wilder, who wrote the theatre repertory mainstay Our Town, and Hitchcock’s own wife, Alma Reville.
6/ For Rear Window Hitchcock built an extraordinary indoor set: forty feet high and 185 feet long, complete with more than one thousand arc lights. The courtyard of the five-storey apartment block set was actually the excavated basement of the studio. There were 31 apartments built for the movie, complete with running-water and electricity apartments, and many were fully-furnished.
7/ Psycho was something of an experiment for Hitchcock after a string of glossy, expensive movies such as North By Northwest. He filmed it in black and white to keep down costs, and used the crew of his television show. The shower-scene, perhaps the most-famous scene in the history of movies, lasts 45 seconds and includes 70, ahem, cuts.
8/ His cameo appearances in his own movies are well-known, but he appears in only 39 of his 52 surviving films – the joke really took off when he went to America. His first was in UK film, The Lodger, where he faces away from the camera. The longest appearance is in Blackmail, in which he appears on the London Underground. In Lifeboat, he appears in a newspaper advert, and he often made an appearance with a musical instrument case in tow. In Psycho II, which was made three years after his death, his silhouette appears at the Bates Motel, as a homage. And his daughter, Patricia, often appeared as an actress in his movies.
9/ Hitchcock’s appetite for blonde leading ladies is well documented. His famous quote is: ‘Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.’ Among his most actresses were: Tippi Hedren, Janet Leigh, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak and Eva Marie Saint. Many acres of print have been devoted to his alleged obsession with cool blondes, and his reputed manipulation and control of his leading ladies. Tippi Hedren said that Hitchcock ruined her career when she rejected his affections.
10/ Hitchcock had always wanted to film a French novel, which became the classic Les Diaboliques. Frustrated, he turned to another novel by Boileau-Narcejac, which became Vertigo. Hitchcock had worked several times with James Stewart, but their last collaboration was on that film. Over the years, Vertigo’s reputation has increased and it’s often cited as one of the best films ever made, but when it was released n 1958, it was reviewed badly and suffered at the box-office. As a result, Hitchcock went out of his way to avoid working with Stewart again, delaying production of North By Northwest until his former leading-man wasn’t available. Vertigo also has perhaps the greatest film poster ever.