Alfred Hitchcock is the immortal master of suspense. His films centered around seedy and nefarious characters. These movies are timeless, and they have often set the standard in many of the conventions of the genre. A career spanning five decades of filmmaking and a portfolio consisting of dozens of motion pictures, Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most celebrated (and often imitated) directors ever.
I was in awe of Mr. Hitchcock from the very first time I watched Psycho on VHS as a teen. Prior to that screening I hadn’t seen any other Hitchcock film, but I was so completely captivated by Psycho that I quickly started viewing other films from his repertoire: The Birds, Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest, and many others. There are some classics from his catalogue of films that I still have yet to see.
Hitchcock thoroughly enjoyed his craft. He loved working with attractive young starlets who were some of the biggest names in showbiz at the time like Janet Leigh (Psycho), Tippi Hedren (The Birds), Kim Novak (Vertigo), Eva Marie Saint (North By Northwest), Grace Kelly (To Catch A Thief, Rear Window, Dial M For Murder), and Ingrid Bergman (Notorious, Spellbound, Under Capricorn). Alfred Hitchcock was highly respected amongst actors and many returned to work with him in future pictures. He also helped fashion some of the finest performances in the careers of Jimmy Stewart (Rear Window, Rope) and Cary Grant (North By Northwest, Notorious) as well.
In Hitchcock’s immortal film, Psycho, a new breed of monster was unleashed and a different kind of victim introduced. Where roles were once clearly established within the horror genre, they were now permanently altered and in disarray. With Psycho Hitchcock helped introduce the concept of the psychosexual or transgendered killer as depicted in the character of Norman Bates – the proprietor of the isolated Bates’ Motel. Eventually, Norman is revealed to be a disturbed individual who has developed a split personality. Aside from his own personae, Norman has created a version of his abusive mother – long since dead and mummified by the start of the movie – that reveals itself whenever Norman is sexually aroused. When confused thief, Marion Crane, arrives to rent a motel room – Norman’s attraction to her is clear and he immediately welcomes her in. Then, half way through the movie, with a blaring “reee-reee-reee” of Bernard Hermann’s haunting score – Marion is murdered in the shower. WTF?? That’s not supposed to happen? The dame always gets rescued by some dude. Well, with this particular scene, Hitchcock managed to change existing conventions and set a new precedent for films to follow. He had directed a revolution and set about a more horrifying misogynistic twist (which Hitchcock claimed was entirely unintentional). But there it was in black and white (pun intended) – women were now being victimized not because of their beauty and perceived frailty, but because they were young, sinful, sexual, flawed, and beautiful – the necessary elements to arouse and attract a predominently male audience. So Marion was essentially offed because she turned Norman on sexually. Norman was such a repressed nutbag, that getting his jollies peeking through a wall set him off on a cross-dressing/split-personality murderous rampage.
Often imitated but never duplicated (unless you want to count Gus Van Sant’s unimaginative, unoriginal, and unforgiving shot-for-shot regurgitation of Psycho in 1998), it is a testament to his gifted vision of horrifying suspense that he has become the benchmark to which future generations are measured against.