Alfred Joseph Hitchcock (August 13, 1899 — April 28, 1980) was a genius. His contribution to the world of cinema is unparalleled within the genre of the suspense thriller, which he is responsible in part for defining. This writeup examines Hitchcock's philosophies about film making, and some of the formulas which he developed over the course of his 53 films.

Hitchcock's attitude toward fear and its dramatization was based largely on experiences he had during his childhood in England. When he was a young boy, his father sent him down to the local police station with a note. Young Alfred gave the note to the constable, and was then locked in a holding cell for five minutes. When the cell was opened, the constable told him, "This is what we do to naughty boys." This experience, among others, left Hitchcock psychologically scarred at a very impressionable age, but developed a sense of humor and an appreciation for practical jokes that earned him something of a reputation later in his personal life.

He firmly believed that the world was not a safe place to live in. Terrible things happen to ordinary people every day - even in broad daylight - and we are powerless to do anything about it. The evil in mankind can rear its ugly head at almost any time, regardless of where you are. No one is immune, and there is no such thing as an "innocent man." To Hitchcock, everybody is guilty of something. Everyone has good and evil in them, and "good people" are capable of committing evil deeds, if the circumstances are right. In Alfred Hitchcock's world, no one is safe - no one.

In dramatizing this fear, Hitchcock employs a technique he calls the "Bomb Theory." This scenario runs as follows: Two men are sitting at a table discussing baseball. They talk for about five minutes, when suddenly, there is a huge explosion, which gives the audience a terrible shock, which lasts for about about fifteen seconds. According to Hitchcock's Bomb Theory, when the scene opens, you show the audience that there is a bomb under the table, which is set to go off in five minutes. While the men are sitting casually discussing baseball, the audience is squirming in their seats, thinking Don't sit there talking about baseball... there's a bomb under the table! Get rid of it! The audience is overwhelmed with the sense to warn the characters of the danger which they perceive, and which the characters are not aware of. Hitchcock's method transfers the menace from the screen to the minds of the audience, until it becomes unbearable - at which point there is a climax. An important footnote to this theory: You must never let the bomb go off and kill anybody. Otherwise, the audience will be very mad at you.

A variation of the Bomb Theory is employed in Rope (1948). At the beginning of the film, the audience learns that there has been a murder, and that the body has been put inside a large wooden trunk. During the course of the film, the dinner guests arrive and, as an inside joke to the murderers, dine on the trunk. Among the guests is the victim's father, friends and fiancee. While all this is going on, and the guests are wondering why the victim has not arrived at the party, the audience is anxiously thinking, Look in the trunk! They killed him and put his body in the trunk! It's two feet away from you! Look! Eventually Jimmy Stewart figures it out, and the "bomb" is defused. Another example, in Marnie (1964): Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren) is robbing money from the safe, in a split-shot, with the maid mopping the floor outside in the corridor. As Marnie tip-toes out, trying to escape without the maid hearing her, her shoe drops off on the floor. The maid does not react, and Marnie escapes undetected. The bomb is the maid discovering Marnie's presence, but the bomb does not go off — and we soon afterward learn that the maid is hearing impaired... one of Hitchcock's jokes, and thus a tension breaker.

The Bomb Theory is what made Hitchcock "The Master of Suspense." He lets the audience know everything about the menace's presence in advance, while the characters usually know virtually nothing. As the characters stumble haplessly into the trap, the emotion of suspense is created. Hitchcock was never so concerned with the details of his films as he was with their style. His attitude of "style is everything" comes across with his definition of "MacGuffin." The MacGuffin is "the thing that the spies are after, which nobody else cares about" - what we would normally term a catalyst. The plot of the film is simply a vehicle for Hitchcock to wave his magic wand of suspense. In Notorius (1946), the MacGuffin is Uranium-235 that the Nazis want so they can build an atom bomb. In North By Northwest (1959), it's the microfilm ("government secrets") that Vandamm (James Mason) is taking out of the country. To Hitchcock, the MacGuffin is really nothing at all. It's not important what the MacGuffin is - it could be anything - and Hitchcock generally reveals its identity sometime before the end of the film, so that its revelation is not a part of the dramatic conclusion.

Hitchcock employed much the same formula for most of his films. His favorite premise is that of mistaken identity, or the "wrong man" theme. In North By Northwest, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken to be a spy, which turns his life upside down. In Frenzy (1972), Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) is set up by his friend Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) to take the fall for a series of "necktie" murders. In Vertigo (1958), Judy Barton (Kim Novak) poses as the deranged and suicidal Madeline Elster, luring John "Scotty" Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) into playing the alibi for a murder set up. Hitchcock has many variations on this theme throughout his filmography.

Well-known locales are used in many of Hitchcock's films. He does this to emphasize the fact that evil exists in the most moral places and revered halls of the world. Starting with The British Museum in London (Blackmail, 1929) and including The Statue of Liberty (Saboteur, 1942), Mount Rushmore (North By Northwest, 1959), and scores of other famous places, Hitchcock set these iconic locations as backdrops to his dramas of terror. The moral commonplace of these locales is used to intensify the presence of evil, a technique Hitchcock uses to his greatest advantage.

Hitchcock made an invaluable contribution to the motion picture industry during his lifetime. His philosophies, techniques, and style make him one of the cinematic greats, along with Orson Welles, John Huston, Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and others. His career spanned a unique period in the film industry that is gone forever, and we are fortunate to have the majority of his work to study and enjoy, and to preserve for posterity.

Filmography (Feature length) - Director

The British Period
Number 13 (unfinished, 1922)
The Pleasure Garden (1925)
The Mountain Eagle (1926)
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926)
Downhill (1927)
Easy Virtue (1927)
The Ring (1927)
The Farmer's Wife (1928)
Champagne (1928)
The Manxman (1929)
Blackmail (1929)
Juno and the Paycock (1930)
Murder! (1930)
The Skin Game (1931)
Mary (1931)
East of Shanghai aka Rich and Strange (1931)
Number 17 (1932)
Strauss' Great Waltz (1934)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
The 39 Steps (1935)
Secret Agent (1936)
Sabotage aka A Woman Alone (1936)
Young and Innocent (1937)
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Jamaica Inn (1939)

The American Period
Rebecca (1940)
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
Suspicion (1941)
Saboteur (1942)
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Lifeboat (1944)
Spellbound (1945)
Notorious (1946)
The Paradine Case (1948)
Rope (1948)
Under Capricorn (1949)
Stage Fright (1950)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
I Confess (1953)
Dial M for Murder (1954)
Rear Window (1954)
To Catch a Thief (1955)
The Trouble With Harry (1955)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
The Wrong Man (1957)
Vertigo (1958)
North by Northwest (1959)
Psycho (1960)
The Birds (1963)
Marnie (1964)
Torn Curtain (1966)
Kaleidoscope (1967)
Topaz (1969)
Frenzy (1972)
Family Plot (1976)

Filmography source: IMDb
©2024, 2001, 1989 panamaus

Gorgonzola says You might mention that Alfred Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in every one of his movies.

panamaus says I might, but this isn't intended to be a comprehensive biography of Sir Alfred - merely an examination of his film making philosophy and the formulas he used. And as it happens, he didn't make a cameo in all of his films, only most of them, beginning with The Lodger in 1926. But that's the subject of another writeup by another author, methinks. (hint hint, dear reader)

borgo says "Okay then, here they are." to panamaus and Gorgonzola

Of the 54 movies Alfred Hitchcock directed he made cameo appearances in 37 of them. I know I’ve tried to spot him several times while watching one of his masterpieces but was never successful. Working backwards – here they are.

Family Plot
His infamous silhouette can be spotted through the door of the Registrar of Births and Deaths about 41 minutes or so into the movie.

Sir Alfred can be seen in the middle of a crowd wearing a bowler hat about three minutes into the movie. He’s the only one not applauding the speaker.

Topaz He can be seen being pushed along in a wheelchair the airport about half an hour into the movie. .Inexplicably, he gets up from the chair, shakes hands with some dude and exits stage right.

Torn Curtain Big Al can be seen pretty early on the flick. Watch for him sitting in the lobby of the Hotel d’Angleterre with a blond haired baby.

Okay, keep your eyes glued to the left part of the screen about five minutes or so into the movie. See that guy entering from the left of the hotel corridor right after Tippi Hedren goes by. That’s him.

The Birds,
Watch for the part when, paired with Tippi Hedren again, she enters the pet shop.See that guy leaving with the two white terriers. There he goes!

Psycho About four minutes into this classic you’ll see Janet Leigh return to her office. Gottta be quick as you look through the window in her office. There’s Sir Alfred wearing a cowboy hat of all things!

North By Northwest
Don’t blink your eyes during the opening credits ‘cause Alfred can be seen missing a bus.

If you’re watching in color, he’s the guy in a gray suit walking in the street about eleven minutes into the flick. If you’re watching in black and white, he’s the guy in a gray suit walking in the street about eleven minutes into the flick.

The Wrong Man Pretty simple one - he’s providing the narration for the film’s prologue. (Courtesy of Catchpole - He had intended to make a cameo appearance at the Stork Club but decided to cut himself out during editing.)

The Man Who Knew Too Much
Watch for the scene in the Moroccan marketplace, see that guy with his back turned to the camera watching the acrobats just before the murder? Wave hello/goodbye to Alfred!

The Trouble With Harry
It takes about 20 minutes or so for Herr Hitchcock to make his brief appearance. Look for a parked limo and an older gentleman looking at some paintings. That’s not him. The guy that walked past him though, that’s him.

To Catch A Thief
Cary Grant is sitting on a bus about 10 minutes or so into the movie. Sitting to his left is a portly gentleman. Say “hi” Mr. Hitchcock!

Rear Window
Gotta be on your toes to spot him this time!. About ½ hour into the movie there’s a scene that takes place in the songwriter’s apartment. Hey! Who’s that guy winding the clock? Why I’ll be – it Sir Alfred!

Dial M for Murder
Another really hard one! Check your watch. At about 13 minutes into the film you’ll see a class reunion photo. He’s on the left side (sly devil!)

I Confess
Get your popcorn early if you want to see Alfred. Right after the opening credits he can be spotted crossing the top of a staircase.

Strangers on A Train
Early on in the movie you’ll notice a man boarding a train. He’s carrying a double bass fiddle. Wanna make a bet as to who that is? That’s no Stranger on a train as the title implies. That’s good o’ Alfred.

Stage Fright
Look for the scene where Jane Wyman is disguised as Marlene Dietrich's maid. See that guy turning around and giving her the once over. Say hello to Mr. Hitchcock.

Under Capricorn
Nice try Mr. Hitchcock. Did you really think we could be fooled? You appear a couple of times in this one. Within the first five minutes your spotted in the town square during a parade. “Bout 10 minutes later your one of the three guys on the steps of the Government House.

Ya gotta wait about 55 minutes or so and once again ya gotta be quick. Look for a neon sign in a view from the apartment window. There’s his trademark!

The Paradine Case
Once again carrying a musical instrument, this time a cello as he leaves the train and Cumberland Station.

Where’s the best place to get lost sometimes? Why, at a party of course! About an hour or so into the film there’s a party being held at Claude Rains mansion. Sir Alfred wolfs down some champagne and makes a hasty exit.

Keep your eyes peeled for a guy coming out of an elevator at the Empire Hotel about 40 minutes into the movie. Once again he’s carrying a musical instrument. This time it’s a violin case and he’s smoking a cigarette.

Hitchcock, you diabolical bastard you! Your image appears in the "before" and "after" pictures in the newspaper ad for something called the “Reduco Obesity Slayer”.

Shadow of A Doubt
There’s a part in the movie where there’s a train on the way to Santa Rosa. Who do you think that is playing cards.

About an hour into to the movie the saboteur’s car stops in front of front of Cut Rate Drugs. The dude standing in front of the store is Sir Alfred.

¾’s of an hour into the film a gentleman is dropping a letter into the village postbox. We all know who that is.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith
About half way through the movie a guy passes by Robert Montgomery in front of his building. Hi Al!Midway through, passing Robert Montgomery in front of his building.

Foreign Correspondent
Pretty early on the flick, the foreign correspondent in the form of Joel McCrea leaves his hotel. Sitting in the lobby, wearing a coat and a hat and reading a newspaper, there’s Alfred Hitchcock.

In the last part of the movie a man emerges from a telephone booth. That’s not him, that’s George Sanders. The guy walking near the phone booth, that’s Alfred Hitchcock.

The Lady Vanishes
But Mr. Hitchcock doesn’t. Near the end of the movie there’s a shot in Victoria Station. Within that shot Mr. Hitchcock can be seen wearing a black coat and smoking himself a cigarette.

Young and Innocent
Sir Alfred gets behind the camera in this one, literally. There’s a scene outside the courthouse where a guy holds a camera. Good ol’ Al.

The 39 Steps
Less than 10 minutes into the movie a couple bolts from the movie theater. Watch out for the litterbug. That’s Mr. Hitchcock tossing away some of his trash.

About an hour or so into the film there’s gonna be a scene at the house where the murder was committed. Al is the guy strolling by without a care in the world.

Some little kid is breaking his chops as he tries to read a book in the subway.

Easy Virtue
Look for a scene with a tennis court. See that guy walking past carrying a walking stick? That’s him.

The Lodger
In what was to become an on going practice, Alfred Hitchcock makes his first film appearance appearing at a desk in a newsroom. He later shows up in a crowd watching an arrest.

Thanks to our friends at for the info.

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