The Master of Suspense: The Hollywood Years

Recently we did a post on the beginning of Hitchcock’s film career, today let’s take a look at his Hollywood years.


Hitchcock’s Hollywood 

In 1939, Hitchcock began his career in Hollywood when he signed a contract with David O. Selznick for seven years. The first Hollywood film that Hitchcock released was titled Rebecca. The film was released in 1940 and starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca wasn’t the last novel that Hitchcock would adapt into a film. Rebecca won an Academy Award for the Best Picture and Hitchcock was nominated for best director, but unfortunately didn’t win.

Although we now know Alfred Hitchcock as the Master of Suspense, he did direct some diverse films in his lifetime. During the early years of the war Hitchcock directed the comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941). He also used his directorial skills to produce the film noir Shadow of a Doubt that was released in 1943.

During 1941 Hitchcock also directed the film Suspicion that stars Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. Suspicion was the first film that Hitchcock had worked with Cary Grant and a life long friendship began. This film was also monumental for Hitchcock because it was the first film that he was also the producer in addition to the director. After a brief stint into non fiction film making Hitchcock returned to creating suspense films after the war.

While still working with David O. Selznick, Hitchcock began working on the film Notorious in 1946. Finally Hitchcock’s career with Selznick was coming to an end, in 1947 The Paradine Case was released. This film marked the last film under the Selznick contract and Hitchcock was ready to move on to bigger films.

A New Era 

Once his Selznick contract ended, Hitchcock was able to move onto more experimental film. In 1948 the film Rope was released, this was Hitchcock’s first color film. In addition to this being his first experiment with color, Hitchcock used long takes to create one of the first films primarily using tracking shots. This was the first film that he worked with James Stewart, another life long relationship began.

Continuing to pioneer film techniques Hitchcock began work on one of his most famous movies Rear Window, which was released in 1954. Another film to star James Stewart as well as the beautiful Grace Kelly. Hitchcock primarily experimented with the set on this film creating one massive courtyard for the film to take place. Seen from the eyes of a man who can’t leave his house, Jeff Jeffries observes his neighbors from the comfort of his own home. In addition to the massive set, the film also tries to use natural sounds and music throughout to create a realistic tone.

At the height of Hitchcock’s career he began working on what is now considered one of the best films of all time, Vertigo. Starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, the film was released in 1958. Despite the film doing poorly upon release Vertigo has only grown in popularity since it’s release. Taught in schools around the world, emphasizing his unique and legendary techniques, Vertigo is one of the films that Hitchcock is primarily known for.

One of the most legendary techniques that Hitchcock developed during filming is now known as the “Hitchcock Zoom.” This technique is technically referred to as a dolly zoom because the camera is pulled away while filming at the same time the lens zooms into the subject. Hitchcock pioneered this technique that is still used today.

During Hitchcock’s peak years he began working on Psycho (1960). Also one of Hitchcock’s most well known films, it’s production story is just as famous. The film was produced on an extremely tight budget of $800,000. We all know the film for it’s classic black and white throwback, but this was done to save the filmmaker money. The film was a raging success making around fifteen million dollars solely for the director. Psycho is considered one of the greatest horror films of all time and can easily be considered Hitchcock’s greatest work.

Post Psycho

After his success with Psycho Hitchcock began working on a film title The Birds(1963) which is based on another Daphne du Maurier novel. The film starred Tippi Hedren who would also work with Hitchcock on his next film title Marnie(1964). Hitchcock continued to work on various projects despite his declining health. Some of the projects included screen plays, the film Frenzy (1972) and his last film titled Family Plot. 

Unfortunately for Hitchcock his health began deteriorating, making it difficult to continue working. At the age of 80 Hitchcock died on April 29th 1980. Alfred Hitchcock was cremated and his remains were then scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

Known as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Alfred Hitchcock pioneered the film industry. With his unique and interesting techniques he has created a legacy that will never be forgotten. Whether you know him for Psycho, The Birds, or Vertigo there is no denying that he is one of the most influential filmmakers of all time.