The Life and Legacy of Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most famous film directors of all time. He was as mysterious as the plots of his movies.

Sir Alfred Hitchcock was born on August 13, 1899, in London, England, to William and Emma Hitchcock. His father was a poultry grocer, and his mother was a homemaker. Hitchcock spent his youth reading and studying.

Sir Alfred Hitchcock

Early Life and Career Beginnings

Upon graduating high school, Hitchcock enrolled in the University of London to study engineering. During his schooling, Hitchcock worked for a local cable company as a technician.

In 1920, at the age of 21, Hitchcock was hired by a London film studio as a draftsman, where he designed title cards for the Famous Players-Lasky Company. Hitchcock took his work seriously and grabbed the attention of all who came in contact with him. Within three years, he had climbed the corporate ladder from draftsman to script scenario writer to art director to assistant director. In 1925, just five years after entering the motion picture field, Hitchcock produced and directed his first film, “The Pleasure Garden.”

With his career soaring, Hitchcock married Alma Reville in 1926, a film editor, writer, and advisor.

In 1927, Hitchcock’s name was thrown into the media after producing “The Lodger,” a short feature about Jack the Ripper. He was labeled “one of the best” by the media, as his newly released film became an instant success.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
The Lodger (1927):

The Lodger focused on dismal topics such as murder and suspicion and even touched upon sexual attraction. This film was prepared in the painstaking style that made Hitchcock famous. He was dedicated to his art from the very beginning of his career. He even created storyboards with mock-ups of every shot in a film before shooting.

Both of Hitchcock’s first movies had been silent films, and he longed for more. So, in 1929, he put his director’s hat back on and produced “Blackmail,” Britain’s first-ever highly successful speaking movie.

Hitchcock concentrated all his efforts on producing “thrillers.” During the early 1930s, he directed four classic suspense films, including “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and “The 39 Steps.”

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934):
The 39 Steps (1935):

Hitchcock had directed a total of nine silent films and was one of Britain’s leading directors when he made his first partially sound film, Blackmail, in 1929. Thirteen Hitchcock sound films followed, including Murder! (1930), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936), and The Lady Vanishes (1938).

By this point, he had become known as Britain’s top film director.

Hitchcock’s Hollywood Debut

Hitchcock and his wife left England behind them in 1939, setting their sights on Hollywood, on the advice of “Gone With the Wind” producer, David Selznick. The United States was years ahead of London, offering advanced film making technology, which Hitchcock took immediate advantage of. During his first year in California, Alfred Hitchcock released “Rebecca,” for which he later won an Academy Award for best picture.

Rebecca (1940):

Ironically, Hitchcock never received a Best Director award for this film or for any of the four other films that were nominated over the years.

In America, Hitchcock was cranking out more than one movie a year, but this prolific nature abated after his direction of Psycho in 1960. Just a few of his classic pictures of this period were Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), and North by Northwest (1959), all of which were concerned murder and/or espionage and their effect on personal and social relationships.

After the 1940’s, Hitchcock made good on his promise to himself to begin producing films as well as directing them.

Hitchcock decided to participate in his own works, often walking into a scene, playing a wordless bit part, and existing. This subtle dry-wit move would become Hitchcock’s signature in the movie-making industry. In a similar move, after receiving a standing ovation for winning the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his contributions as a producer in 1967, he leaned to the microphone and uttered, “Thank you,” before slowly walking off the stage.

However, as a result of his unending public appeal, Hitchcock did not attract the serious critical attention he deserved.

Homecoming: Revisiting English Roots

In the early 1970s, Hitchcock returned to his native England, where he produced “Frenzy.” The 1972 film was well received in his homeland, and the public cried for more. While living in England, Hitchcock was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Hitchcock began to suffer from severe arthritis pain in the late 1970s, and his health took a sudden turn for the worse when his kidneys began malfunctioning. The 80-year Hitchcock worked on, determined to finish his final film. Shortly after wrapping up production on the “Family Plot,” Alfred Hitchcock went home to rest. He died of kidney failure on April 29, 1980.


Since his death, Hitchcock has been recognized as one of the greatest film directors of all time. His methods of suspense and shock are studied at film schools around the world.

Like many writers, artists, and celebrities, Hitchcock created an aura of mystery around himself, rarely revealing anything to interviewers that was more in-depth than a list of “technical tales” about the challenge of shooting various scenes. Yet he obviously enjoyed the appreciation of other filmmakers and considered self-promotion to be one of the keys to his professional success.

The only film aside from The Birds and Psycho that was financially successful in Hitchcock’s later years was Frenzy (1972), a tale of a psychopathic murderer who could only combat his impotence by strangling women to death. Some critics accused Hitchcock’s later films lacked the dynamic power that emanated from his earlier works. Some even began to downplay Hitchcock’s role in his earlier successes, claiming that the screenwriters Hitchcock employed were responsible for giving his films’ characters realistic personalities and motivations. Most of the Western world, however, regards Alfred Hitchcock as The Master of Suspense.

Throughout his long career, Hitchcock made 53 feature-length films. He worked with scores of actors, including Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly, not to mention technicians, composers, publicists, and studio administrators, and he created some of America’s most popular and cherished films to date. Yet he frequently complained about his loneliness and his fear of death, even as he was still hailed, even in the last moments of his life, as one of the film industry’s greatest directors of all time. Perhaps the darkness of his nature not only led Alfred Hitchcock to attain worldwide acclaim but also prevented him from enjoying it. 

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