Alfred Hitchcock changed the way we watch films, yet he remains a complete unknown

Plus: Can it be true that Agatha Christie had a mole in MI5?


Alfred Hitchcock must be the best-known, yet unknown, director of the 20th century. A household name who directed more than 50 films, he was in front of the camera as often as he was behind it: making cameo appearances, starring in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, rendering himself as much of a star as his actors.

He certainly changed the way we watched films. Before Psycho, you simply turned up at the picture house and watched the film from whichever point it was at. You stayed till you’d seen the beginning of the next screening, and then left. Hitchcock was the first director to demand absolute commitment to the story. Psycho had set start times, and audiences were begged not to give away the ending.

The film that was almost never made – so shocking and trashy was the Robert Bloch novel on which it is based – is such a pop culture mainstay that the Bates Motel now appears in theme parks, complete with knife-wielding Anthony Perkins lookalikes. No one but Hitchcock could have produced so many films which simultaneously appalled censors, delighted audiences, and impressed critics. He was the ultimate mixer of high and low art: fiercely conscious of the mass appeal of cinema, and yet turning out artistic masterpieces, sometimes twice in one year.

Hitchcock has finally been reappraised, and is the subject of not one, but two recent biopics; The Girl, which aired over Christmas on television, and now Hitchcock, which opens this weekend, starring Anthony Hopkins as the Master of Suspense and Helen Mirren as his brilliant, underappreciated wife, Alma.

Though both have their virtues, neither comes close to giving us a comprehensive view of the man. Was he really a misogynist, or did he just hate particular women who rejected him? Was he a cuddly, petulant man-child who loved his wife even as he yearned for younger, blonder models or was their marriage a business relationship in all but name? Was he fat because he didn’t care what people thought of him, or because he consumed calories to cheer himself up? And did he resent the lack of respect he felt Hollywood had for him? He never won a Best Director Oscar, which (as with the same omission for Stanley Kubrick) makes the Academy look like they were in a parallel universe to the rest of us.

The release of two biopics in two months is probably more than we need, and yet it turns out to be insufficient, since the real Hitchcock remains hidden as much as the MacGuffin that animates so many of his movies.

Another Agatha Christie mystery?

Can it be true that MI5 investigated Agatha Christie over her wartime novel, N or M? The mystery is over the identity of a spy, codenamed N or M, investigated by the detective couple Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. It features a boring old Army man called Major Bletchley. On its publication in 1941, intelligence chiefs apparently had kittens at the idea Christie might have a spy at the code-breaking centre, Bletchley Park, to whom the Major was a not-very-subtle reference. The military insight Major Bletchley supplies in N or M? is largely bluster. Even the most paranoid of readers would struggle to see insider knowledge in his mutterings about the North-West frontier. Code-breakers can rest easy.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Letter from the Political Editor: Phone and data laws to be passed in haste

Andrew Grice
The first lesson of today is... don't treat women unequally?  

Yvette Cooper is right: The classroom is the best place to start teaching men about feminism

Chris Maume
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice