Of the things we can say with some certainty about Alfred Hitchcock, he sure made a meal out of fear.
“I’m full of fears,” he said, “and I do my best to avoid difficulties and complications. I like everything around me to be clear as crystal and completely calm.”
One story Hitch often milked referred to a time when he was five years old and in trouble with his father, William Hitchcock, an East London greengrocer.
The nature of the trouble is unknown, but William thought it enough to send his son to the police station.
Alfred was banged up for 10 minutes. “That’s what we do to naughty boys,” the police told him.
The impact of the experience? Some argue that Alfred inherited his father’s cruel streak, realised in pranks on colleagues.
But he also claimed to be “terrified of policemen” (in addition to fears of eggs, women, heights, failure and on-set disruptions, be they from interfering producers or needy actors).
Whether the tale was true or part of Hitch’s self-mythologising is debatable. He was big in body and reputation, but few directors hid in plain sight so well.
Seeming as familiar as his pencil sketch of himself, Hitch appeared in his films. He spawned an adjective (“Hitchcockian”) and gave birth to an academic industry devoted to his films, which are often read as celluloid confessionals.
But he kept his inner life private. Hitch was thought to have had sex with one woman – his wife Alma Reville – and then not for at least 30 years.
“Suspense is like a woman,” he said. “The more left to the imagination, the more excitement.” Little wonder he became the “Master of Suspense”, a self-construct that was both the making of him and a trap.
Next: Early Years