This thread is an ode to Alfred Hitchcock.
When I was young and Psycho was premiering in the theaters, I arbitrarily formed the idea that Hitchcock indulged in gratuitous violence. In retrospect, Hitch was more restrained than any modern director that comes to mind. This unjust prejudice upon my part stopped me from appreciating his work until much later in life.
Now that I am entirely disabused of that ignorant notion, I am glad to bring him into discussion at this forum. I have come to think that Hitch was on a par with other directing greats like Orson Wells and David Lean. The image quality present in his films was outstanding. He was one of the true masters of black and white movie making. One of my favorite jokes was that they would colorize Psycho and that it would be a smash hit. How ironic that when a color version was finally reshot they used the exact same musical score. How not-so-ironic that the color version was not a smash hit.
To this day, Psycho remains on of the finest examples of his work. With seamless intercuts (pun intended), it spans from the intensely cerebral to the utterly visceral. The amount of psychological content in the movie was streets ahead of other movies of in its time. Some examples:
The Score; The short stroke violins that predominate the entire first half of the movie are superb in how they allow the tension to be built incrementally yet inexorably. The shrieks of the string section during the shower scene serve as surrogate screams that deftly tightrope the divide between gratuitous violence and high impact film making. All said and done the music is rather austere and serves to discreetly ornament the plot instead of dominate it as compared to Lawrence of Arabia or 2001: A Space Oddessey.
The Cinematography; The blinding outdoor desert scenes finally succumb to the darkened skies of northern California. Similarly, the exterior shots convert to almost exclusively interior scenes. Among them the conversation between Perkins and Leigh over sandwiches in the room with all of the mounted heads is outstanding. Any obligatory mention of the shower scene cannot fail to mention how the audience never sees any actual stabbing, merely the motions. Far more telling is the gradual detachment of the shower curtain from it’s rod. This splendid visual metaphor for breaking the slender thread of life is unsurpassed in modern cinema.
Black and White versus Color Photography; Psycho fairly screams (as it were) to be filmed in black and white. Color would have distracted the eye during the scenes of violence and detract from the more important composition values. The eye is instinctively drawn to the color red and its retinal nervous signals are transmitted faster than other colors. Using the more neutral grayscale tones Hitch managed to maintain the integrity of the overall image while eschewing what could easily be garish and lurid.
The Thirty-Nine Steps: A commendable work for its time, its tension far exceeded “Lady on a Train” and others by him from that same era. The movie fully redeems itself with the train scene on the Firth of Forth bridge, one of the greatest engineering marvels.
Saboteur: The second (American) version remains one of my favorite in his entire library. The desert scene when the protagonist is attempting to break out of his handcuffs is excellent. The final Statue of Liberty scene is fairly nerve wracking as well.
Notes; In an interview, Hitchcock stated that his classes in engineering and drafting at the Royal Academy in London stood him in good stead all of his professional career. To me this is obvious in the well constructed aspect of so many of his film scenes. The aforementioned shower curtain is one of them. That sequence was no sort of accident, it reeks of deliberation and finesse.
Well, that wraps it up for the OP. Please check in with all sorts of wonderful trivia, like where in a given movie he appears (as he did in nearly all of them). I’m looking forward to what Eve has to contribute. I know that we have several other film critics here at the boards, so let’s have some fun.