John Lyttle on film

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The Independent Culture
You watch the new print of North by Northwest (starring Cary Grant, below right) and instantly realise they don't make 'em like that anymore. And who can you blame? Well, the director, Alfred Hitchcock. It was, after all, the master of suspense who brutally did away with his own brand of elegant dread by ushering graphic gore into the mainstream with Psycho, making restrained, discreet, high-style movies like North look old-fashioned overnight - less exercises in thrills than relics from another Hollywood age; the age when bullets didn't make the victim bleed, and single beds were de rigueur, even for happily married couples.

That's what happens when you let the monster that is the masses off the leash. The rip-off merchants swarm in, and they know in their brittle, exploitative bones that it's easier - not to mention lazier - to shoot a demented stabbing than labour over a love scene, a one-liner, or a chase sequence with a crop duster, a lonely road and a handsome star in a Brooks Brother suit. Not that Hitchcock didn't try to turn back the clock. Marine, Topaz, and that final fling, Family Plot, try for airborne amusement and are dragged to earth by low-brow expectation. Restless audiences kept looking for the shower stall, the man cross-dressed as his own mother, the preserved body in the fruit cellar. The Master wanted to cook souffle, but the public had decided they wanted a hamburger chef. A terrible fate for any gourmet, but exactly what you'd expect after the man made such a meal of bloody red meat, served up raw.