Corrections or additions?
This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the October 10, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
At the Movies: Hitchcock
Think of Alfred Hitchcock as the Elvis Presley of the
Putting aside the obvious disparity in physical beauty, and the fact
that Hitchcock made good movies and Elvis made dumb ones (but hey,
Hitch couldn’t sing "Hound Dog" to save his life), Elvis
and Alfred Hitchcock have something very important in common:
fame and influence, like that of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, has risen
dramatically in the past 20 years despite the inconvenient fact that
he is dead.
As a kind of popularity yardstick, fire up the computer and head on
out to Amazon.com. Type in the name "Francis Ford Coppola"
and run a search to come up with a total of 39 titles of books by
or about the director of "The Godfather" and "One From
The Heart." Typing in the name "Steven Spielberg,"
the most famous director alive today, yields a mere 86 titles. But
type in "Alfred Hitchcock" and Amazon.com comes up with 435
different books by or about the director and his work. (I’ll leave
it to you to check out Elvis.)
County Theater in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a non-profit art movie
house, is devoting four evenings in October to screenings and
of the life and work of Alfred Hitchcock. Film scholar Warren Day
leads the "Delving Into Hitchcock" series.
The series begins Wednesday, October 10, with Day leading a film forum
entitled, "Everything You Need to Know About Cinema You Can Learn
From Hitchcock." Day will lead a discussion and show film clips
from such Hitchcock classics as "Notorious" and "North
by Northwest," as well as clips from some of his early British
films such as "Sabotage." Hitchcock’s 1951 film,
On A Train" will be screened on Monday, October 15, and Day will
be on hand to introduce the film, lead a discussion, and answer
Additional screenings, without discussion, are offered Sunday and
Wednesday, October 14 and 17.
On Monday, October 22, Day will lead another film forum, entitled
"Inside the Mind of Alfred Hitchcock." Using clips from such
films as "The 39 Steps" and "The Birds," Day will
try to uncover just what Hitchcock had to say about the nature of
evil and innocence and the dark side of morality.
Day will again be on hand for the screening of a recently restored
print of the 1954 film "Rear Window" on Wednesday, October
24. He will also show a portion of a documentary on the making of
this Hitchcock classic and discussion will follow. Additional
without discussion, are offered October 25, 28, and 29.
Day’s shows each begin at 7 p.m. And although each one can be enjoyed
on its own terms, together the four evenings will provide an in-depth
look at the technique and mind of one of the world’s great directors.
County Theater is a non-profit, community-owned
founded in 1993, that presents a full program of art and independent
films. "Delving Into Hitchcock" is a part of its Fall
Although many of the films shown at County Theater are available on
VHS or DVD, County offers a rare opportunity for film lovers to see
these films the way they were intended to be seen — on the big
"I’m not on the staff of County at all, but I’ve done a number
of things there," says Day, in a phone interview from his office.
"It’s really great that we have something like the County where
you can go and see these types of films on the big screen in 35mm.
Even seeing them on DVD isn’t sufficient, although it is better than
broadcast television and videotape. But DVD is only 450 lines
and a 35mm is 2,000 lines resolution. So you see the difference."
Alfred Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone, England, in 1899, and began
his filmmaking career in 1919 by illustrating title cards for silent
films at Paramount’s Famous Players-Lasky Studio in London. He worked
in England until 1939, directing such early successes as "The
Man Who Knew Too Much," "The 39 Steps," and "The Lady
He then emigrated to the United States, making his Hollywood debut
in 1940 with "Rebecca."
Day says he chose to screen "Rear Window" and "Strangers
On a Train" as examples of Hitchcock at his best. "A lot of
people consider `Rear Window’ to be Hitchcock’s most accomplished
film," he explains. "It has great stars, a great script. He
was really clicking on all cylinders when he made it."
"Rear Window" is a thriller starring James Stewart who plays
an injured photographer, confined to a wheelchair and stranded in
his apartment, who uses a pair of binoculars to spy on the
He comes to suspect that a murder has been committed in a neighbor’s
apartment. The film also stars Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter. Day
says it epitomizes the kind of psychological cat-and-mouse game that
Hitchcock devised to play with his audiences.
"`Rear Window’ is a prime example of Hitchcock turning the movie
back onto the audience," he explains. "Of course, on one
it’s about a guy with a broken leg who simply enjoys looking at his
neighbors from his rear window. But the movie also resonates on deeper
levels. It’s really a film about voyeurism, about finding
in the problems of your neighbors. And one of the questions that
is asking in the film is — Why is it that we as a society come
to see movies about the problems of other people and why do we find
this so entertaining? Thelma Ritter has a line in the film that says
flat-out, `We are a nation of Peeping Toms.’ Also, the movie literally
begins with a window curtain going up, as if we were the voyeurs.
It really is Hitchcock making the audience very uncomfortable about
going to see movies in the first place."
"Strangers on a Train," Day’s other selection, shows Hitchcock
at the height of his powers. Starring Farley Granger and Robert
it is the story of a young man who meets another man on a train.
the stranger at first seems personable, things take an eerie turn
when he introduces the idea that the two strangers commit
murders" for one another, and then proceeds to put his words into
"`Strangers on a Train’ was made at the height of the Cold War
and McCarthyism in America," explains Day. "The Korean War
was raging. People were building atomic bomb shelters in their
In the midst of all this, Hitchcock did a film that showed that the
most evil person you might ever meet could be the nice chatty guy
in the expensive suit who lives in a mansion on Long Island and whom
you just happen to meet on the train. That was one of his constant
themes — that evil is often not as easy to spot as we
"Hitchcock is the only major director to have successfully
entertainment and art," says Day. "I think this is the secret
to why he has lasted so long. Throughout his career he was very
with the meaning of evil, the relationship between guilt and innocence
— how guilty people are often innocent and innocent people are
often guilty of something. This may have originated in part from his
Catholic upbringing, the concept that there is no such thing as a
truly innocent person. Hitchcock had a very strong sense of original
It may come as a surprise today that not all Hitchcock films were
immediate hits on their first release, either with the public or with
the critics. "`Rear Window’ and `Strangers on a Train’ were
when they came out," says Day. "But other films that are now
considered classics were just torn apart by the critics. Time Magazine
originally called `Vertigo’ a `Hitchcock and bull story.’ `Psycho’
was originally ravaged by the critics whereas now, just this year,
the American Film Institute named it as the number one best thriller
of all time ever made in the world."
Day cites "The Wrong Man" as another release that was savaged
by critics and is now being rediscovered. He judges it Hitchcock’s
most underrated film.
Day says the reasons for these conflicts are twofold. "Hitchcock
was simply ahead of his time," he says. "He was also
by many to be quite vulgar. `Psycho’ just shocked people. Critics
would write a bad review because they didn’t like the experience of
watching it. Of course, that was exactly how Hitchcock wanted people
to feel. Just because the movie made you feel bad doesn’t mean the
movie is bad."
Day had the opportunity to conduct an extended interview with
in 1969. "Two years before I interviewed him, I had the
to watch him do a 30-minute interview with someone else," he
"and I saw he had his routine down pat. The interviewer thought
he’d gotten something good; he didn’t realize that all he’d gotten
was a bunch of canned answers."
Two years later, Day was working for ABC television and Hitchcock
was promoting a film that he knew was not very good, "Topaz."
Day’s interview took place over 14 hours over two days. "The
why I wanted it like that was because I assumed that on the first
day all I would get was his canned answers, and I was hoping for
more interesting on the second day. This is the way it happened. He
became different. He was able to step out of his well-hewn persona
of the austere gentleman who held you at a distance."
Day clearly made a positive impression on the director. At the end
of the interview, he was presented with a gift. "He presented
me with a first edition copy of the book of interviews he did with
Francois Truffaut, and at the beginning of the book he drew that
profile of himself for me and wrote, `To Warren Day’ and signed his
Day was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and grew up in Mississippi where
his father worked as a mechanical engineer and his mother was a
He attended Vanderbilt University where he earned his master’s degree
in psychology in 1963, and then went on to Columbia University, where
he received his doctorate in 1967. He worked at ABC Television,
in the news department, before becoming a producer and then going
into public relations. He then went on to teach film at the University
of North Carolina, NYU, and Pepperdine University.
Of Hitchcock’s 53 films, there were bound to be a few clunkers.
are some films that were not very good," says Day. "Hitchcock
made a screwball comedy called `Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ with Carole Lombard
that is fairly painful to watch. The thing is, he was great on humor,
because every one of his films has some comedy in it, but I think
his comedy works best when it is a secondary thing and the comedy
is only underneath the tension and suspense. Also `The Trouble With
Harry’ is another example, it just doesn’t work."
But clunkers aside, Day believes that Hitchcock’s films will still
be studied a hundred years from now, but perhaps in a more limited
"Technology-wise with film, we’re still in the beginning stages.
I think that in hundred years we may have advanced so far technically
that it may be very hard for people to watch. Even today, look at
George Lucas, he’s doing the next `Star Wars’ film on digital tape,
there’s no film at all. And look at the past, there were some
movies made in the years 1914 to 1917, but you just try to get people
to watch them now. We’re not use to the black and white, the lack
of sound and sharp focus, they have a different kind of acting style.
People just can’t relate to them."
"But I like to think that for anyone really interested in film,
Hitchcock will always be studied," says Day. "I think the
basic principles behind his films will live on."
Then after a long pause, Day chuckles and adds, "They don’t call
him the master for nothing."
— Jack Florek
Pennsylvania, 215-345-6789. Film forum features Warren Day with
discussion and technical information on how famous scenes were made
illustrated with film clips. $7. Wednesday, October 10, 7 p.m.
Also screens Wednesday, October 17.
audience discussion led by Warren Day. $7. Monday, October 22,
screens October 25, 28, and 29.
Sunday in Scott Hall, Room 123, College Avenue campus, near the corner
of College Avenue and Hamilton Street. Thursday screenings are in
Loree Hall, Room 024, Douglass College campus, near the corner of
Nichol Avenue and George Street; with selected free events at Borders
Books, Route 18 South, East Brunswick. Admission $5; all programs
begin at 7 p.m. Call 732-932-8482 or on the Web at:
pearl fisher and his love for a beautiful woman, Thursday, October
11. A Clockwork Orange
Kubrick’s dark 1971 vision, October 12 to 14. Performance
feature starring Mick Jagger, directed by Nicholas Roeg and Donald
Cammell, Thursday, October 18.
Lumumba, October 19 to 21. W.I.S.O.R.
York City, Wednesday, October 24. Creature from the Black
3-D twist on the 1954 horror feature about the amphibious Gill-Man,
October 26 to 28.
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