The Bank Holiday weather was excellent, so I spent a good part of it outdoors, but I still managed to catch the Sky documentary about Alfred Hitchcock, introducing a season of his films. In half an hour, the programme provided a good summary of some of the reasons why the portly film director was one of the most influential movie-makers of the twentieth century.
Film pros such as Stephen Frears waxed lyrical about the way in which Hitchcock’s visual imagination, coupled with his artistic and technical skills, enabled him to create so many suspenseful scenes. The point was made that Hitchcock didn’t bother much with dialogue, but rather focused on set pieces – the crop-dusting sequence in North by North West and the shower scene in Psycho are classic examples. This is something which perhaps differentiates the thriller from the conventional mystery, where dialogue is often highly important (yes, it’s a generalisation, but I think it’s broadly true.)
Another key point was that humour played an important part in many Hitchcock films. Thrillers which are unrelentingly bleak can be wearisome, and I'd guess that the wit of the films is one of the reasons why they have lasted so well.
It isn’t just movie-makers who can learn from the Master of Suspense. Novelists keen to fathom the craft of building tension (and I’m one of them) can hardly fail to benefit from studying Hitchcock’s techniques. Even in his supposedly weaker films, such as Frenzy and Family Plot, there are many clever touches. I’m planning to record one of the Hitchcocks I’ve managed to miss over the years, Notorious, and another that I haven’t seen for a very long time, To Catch a Thief. Something to look forward to.