Celebrate 100 years of Hitchcock's thrills
Tuesday, August 03, 1999

Celebrate 100 years of Hitchcock's thrills

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        This month marks the centennial anniversary of one of the great artists in the history of film, Alfred Hitchcock.

        Among legendary directors, Hitchcock enjoys unique status; his reputation as a master of suspense and psychological terror only has grown in luster since his death in 1980. And, unlike other great directors of his generation, he remains popular with a mass audience.

        Born Aug. 13, 1899 in London, Hitchcock began making movies in the mid-1920s. By the late '30s, he was a star on the strength of such films as The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Thirty-Nine Steps and The Secret Agent.

        From 1951-60, he created the enormously popular films that are still widely seen today. They include Rear Window (1951), To Catch a Thief (1955), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960).

        Hitchcock went on to lend his name to a successful TV series and short-story magazine. But it is the more than 50 films he directed that earned him a permanent place on the roster of the century's most influential artists.

        As historian David Thomson wrote in his Biographical Dictionary of Film (Knopf, $40), “Hitchcock became a way of defining film, a man exclusively intent on the moving image and the compulsive emotions of the spectator.”

        Amid the notable centenaries of 1999 — which also marked the 100th birthdays of James Cagney and Ernest Hemingway — Hitchcock's anniversary has spawned a flurry of celebrations at film schools and film-industry institutions. The Cincinnati Film Society recently concluded a series devoted to Hitchcock movies.

        Thanks to the extensive video library of Hitchcock works, fans can compile their own home festivals, either to review classic titles or to discover some of the lesser-known works from a long, prolific career.

        Here are a few often-overlooked choices to consider:

        • Blackmail (1929) — The first sound movie made in England deals with a woman who gets tangled up in a murder investigation by her detective boyfriend. It offers an early example of what would become distinctive Hitchcock themes, including a woman with something to hide.

        • Young and Innocent (1937) — Another mystery that helped establish the Hitchcock style, this witty film follows a girl who helps a wrongly accused man prove his innocence.

        • Shadow of a Doubt (1943) — Teresa Wright stars as a young woman who slowly realizes her charming uncle Charlie is really a psychotic killer. Deeply creepy and hypnotic at the same time. See it as a pre-Psycho warm-up.

        • The Trouble With Harry (1955) — Shirley MacLaine stars in a mordant black comedy about how a small town copes with an inconveniently dead body. The funniest Hitchcock film. This is also the first time that composer Bernard Herrmann, who went on to write the unforgettable Psycho score, worked for the master.

        • Marnie (1964) — A peculiar plot in which Tippi Hedren plays a cold-blooded career thief whose employer, Sean Connery, essentially blackmails her into marrying him. Complex undercurrents abound.

        • Frenzy (1972) — Hitchcock's penultimate film is a look at a man accused of strangling women in London. Though not up to the standards of Hitchcock's best work, it offers a disturbing reprise of familiar themes — a wrongly accused man, a psychotic killer, ambiguous sexual relations and moral confusion.

        Margaret A. McGurk is Enquirer film critic. Write her at 312 Elm St. Cincinnati 45202; fax to 768-8330; e-mail to mmcgurk@enquirer.com.


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