Splendidly written by Patrick McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock : a Life in Darkness and Light  offers a total portrait of the director of Psycho. And there are 1 001 manners to read the 1 001 pages (and even a little more...) of this fascinating biography. In this interview with Patrick McGilligan, we have decided to interest us more specially in the "Master of Suspense" that was Hitchcock...

Pierre Charrel : As you recall in the annexes to Alfred Hitchcock : A life in Darkness and Light, the biography of the director of Psycho holds a lot of weight. Perusing all, we find a certain number of biographies such as that by Donald Spotto. To what extent do you esteem Alfred Hitchcock : A life in Darkness and Light contributes to a new reading compared to previously published biographies? Did you have the opportunity to exploit so far unexplored sources ?

Patrick McGilligan : Starting out on this project, I was daunted by the many other books about Hitchcock.  In fact, I had resisted doing a book about Hitchcock for many years, despite the entreaties of my editor. Finally I surrendered a little and said I would go back and read the three most important biographical works that already existed : Truffaut’s interview book with Hitchcock; the authorized biography by John Russell Taylor; and the “dark” biography by Donald Spoto. My knowledge of my craft had evolved over the years, and now, so did my assessment of the three books. While all three have virtues, now I saw they also had gaps and dubious assumptions and areas they had lightly skimmed over. I told my editor that I thought I could write a substantially new book about Hitchcock taking into account everything that had been written before, but including new research and interviews shedding light on these mistaken or neglected areas of his life and films. It is also important that, in the intervening years since the last of these books, new archival deposits (including his own records and those of key collaborators) and other articles and books had come along poking into corners of Hitchcock’s career that had never been incorporated into a larger biography. This question cannot be answered simply, except to say that I had no idea what I would find when starting out. But my strengths are research and reporting, and those were not the strengths of the earlier books. Once Hitchcock’s life was investigated closely, from birth to death, there were surprises and revelations in every period of his life - and over-all a portrait emerged that was completely different from the previously imagined Hitchcock. This became clearer by stages but was definitively clear by the end of the job. I would say the result was partly owed to unexplored sources (too numerous to mention here, but they are fully listed in the book), partly to a composite use of previously published material, and partly to my own thematic interests and ideas, which are consistent in all my books.

Pierre Charrel : You show a great deal of interest in the director’s young formative years in London. Are there traces of Alfred Hitchcock’s childhood and youth in his films and notably what constitutes what we may call his crime universe?

Patrick McGilligan :  For me, everything begins at the beginning. After I signed a contract to write a book about Fritz Lang I flew to Vienna for the first time.  When I was working on my Jack Nicholson biography, I journeyed to the small town where he was born and raised on the New Jersey shore. One of the things that convinced me to do a new Hitchcock biography was the paucity of documentation surrounding the years before he entered the film industry at age 21. So the first thing I did was travel to London and go to the area where he grew up and begin to look for people who had known him, his church and school (St. Ignatius, a Jesuit school for boys) and other public records, and corroborating material.

I can tell you this was the most expensive part of the book, because it entailed the most time and risk and actual cost. In my profession I always believe someone somewhere is alive who may still bear witness ; I always believe that records or photographs or documents exist in some dank basement or musty attic ; in other words I believe there is treasure to be found. This unshakeable belief is probably as important as anything else to my success in making discoveries.

His childhood and youth were crucial to forming his “crime universe,” as you put it, starting with his roots in an area dominated by the specter of Jack the Ripper - a sexually twisted serial killer never conclusively arrested or imprisoned (The Ripper is the indirect subject of The Lodger and then becomes a lifelong preoccupation, with variation, in many films up through Psycho and Frenzy).

I could give you many examples of nuggets that were found dating to his pre-film years that help to explain and predict the Hitchcock of later years.  Here is one :  it always bothered me that reprinted in all the previous books and articles was one short story, “Gas", attributed to the young Hitchcock. But only one - what writer writes only one story and then stops? Especially a fertile talent like Hitchcock who - and it is an important theme of my book - was first and foremost a writer.

The story was for a journal at a company called Henley’s where Hitchcock worked prior to entering the film business. Henley’s itself had apparently vanished. I told my researcher (a very good London researcher helping me) that we must find the records of Henley’s and see if there were any other stories or issues of the purported publication. This was only a hunch, and for months my researcher reported back that Henley’s had ceased to exist and we should stop looking. I told her to keep searching until the book was done and one day, lo and behold, she stumbled across the company under a new name in a suburb with an official in the building who was aware of the Hitchcock connection and who volunteered to explore the vaults to see if there was anything further relating to his stint there.

To make a long story short (obviously not my forte !), we located years of issues of the journal and it was actually co-founded and edited by Hitchcock. We found a half dozen more short stories signed by him that prefigure ideas and motifs of his films. He wrote much of the amusing filler. There were published photographs of Hitch and reports of him at various company outings. It greatly changed the portrait of him as a young man - and of his interests and activities.

Through school and company records, also, I was able to trace Hitchcock’s relationships with two well-known criminal figures of England in the 1920s - the accused murderess Edith Thompson and the Irish nationalist Reggie Dunn. Young Hitch took dancing lessons from Edith Thompson’s father and went to Jesuit school as a boy with Reggie Dunn.) Thompson was involved in a domestic murder triangle; Dunn committed a political assassination - both were convicted and put to death, though Thompson, interestingly, claimed her innocence and Hitchcock believed she had been wronged - i.e. “the wrong man.” Along with serial murderers these are the main strands of his crime films : domestic murders and terrorist plots. So from Jack the Ripper to wrongly accused murderers and fanatical terrorists, yes, Hitchcock poured his childhood and his youth into the crime universe of his films.

Pierre Charrel : In your portrait of Alfred Hitchcock’s youth, you also insist on the future director’s interest in different forms of artistic expression : the cinema, of course, but also literature or the plastic arts. Why finally did Hitchcock opt for the cinema in the aftermath of the first world war ?

Patrick McGilligan :  Hitchcock loved the theater including serious drama but also musicals especially, and was seeing all variety of plays from the earliest age. He enjoyed opera and vaudeville-type revues and prided himself on knowing all the popular songs of his time, spouting the lyrics at parties. (Songs are integrated into many of his plots, especially in the english half of his career.) He was a dedicated museum-goer too and briefly studied painting and art. (He was a decent artist, and of course started in film as a scenic designer and as someone who wrote and designed the “intertitle” screen cards ; he always could sketch shots and scenes in a pinch.)

He couldn’t live without newspapers and magazines and was a rabid bookworm who read widely in literature but particularly suspense, crime, comedic fiction and history. And of course I mentioned that he was a budding, clever writer. Also, it is worthwhile to add, his only schooling after St. Ignatius came in mechanical and electrical engineering, and at Henley’s Hitchcock became an expert, first, at calculating the sizes and voltages of electrical cables, and later he graduated to the sales section where he learned design and salesmanship, for which he had a knack.

Cinema was a new, young, modern art that combined all these passions. Motion pictures had captured his interest from boyhood, and he saw everything that played in London - foreign films too - with a particular interest in Hollywood. He himself said later that he was an “Americophile,” coining a word. He wasn’t being unpatriotic, just farsighted ; the British Film industry was perpetually weak economically and artistically. Hollywood ruled the world. He not only read the american screen magazines but he read the industry trade papers. When Paramount announced that it was opening a branch producing operation in Islington in 1919, to be run by seasoned Americans imported from Hollywood, it was a foregone conclusion that Hitchcock would apply for a job. The portfolio he prepared, with his art, drawings and written scenes, must have been impressive. And even though he started at the bottom, the door opened to a glorious future.

Pierre Charrel : If the name of Alfred Hitchcock is now synonymous of crime movies, your biography reminds us that this wasn’t obviously the case in his lifetime. In the 30s, 40s, Alfred Hitchcock was often referred to as  "a master of melodrama". At what point did he come to be known as "a master of the thriller" ? And which film(s) in terms of the general public and film critics has(have) made of him the specialist of this genre ?

Patrick McGilligan :  The Lodger and Blackmail surely established him, early in his career, as a king of the crime film, a specialist in the genre, although of course he could also boast of directing a true range of pictures, including comedies, musicals and one outstanding boxing film (The Ring) before his reputation became cemented as the “Master of Suspense". I go into the derivation of “Master of Suspense” at some length in my book, but suffice to say that Hitchcock himself - the ultimate self-promoter - had a hand in fashioning the tagline. “Master of Melodrama", while alliterative, did not have quite the same ring.

Add Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Psycho and Frenzy - not to mention his crime - and suspense-oriented television show which tremendously boosted his popular profile - and to the public and critics his name began to become synonymous with sensational crime films. It was his niche, and his image, and Hitchcock was justly proud of it. The way he advertised himself in cameos, and the manner in which he could talk fluently about his technique and his ideas - not just camera moves, but crime and punishment - added to his mystique in this regard.

Hitchcock became known as the “Master of Suspense” really at the height of his powers in the 1950s and 1960s. But he knew the tagline was a reduction of the whole, and that he was more than a “Master of Suspense". The truth is that his films were a reflection of his life - as explored in my book - and his personality, his values and beliefs, his character. The real greatness of Psycho cannot be replicated even in a shot-by-shot remake because the missing ingredient will always be Hitchcock himself, the originality of the individual.

What makes a film hitchcockian ? I mean especially the films that overlap genres like The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Foreign Correspondent, Rear Window and North by Northwest. It is the unique blend of the dark comedy, sexy romance, sophisticated politics, and nail-biting suspense - plus his cameo - done with a certain style and technique that became his familiar signature. All of these together make the films “hitchcockian", not just the crime or thriller qualities.


Pierre Charrel : When analysing the crime films by Alfred Hitchcock, you insist on his recurring themes. What immediately springs to mind is "the falsely accused", a subject that the director addresses at the same time in his british silent movies as in the later Hollywood period. Which other themes has Hitchcock made part and parcel of his crime films ?

Patrick McGilligan :  There are as many themes are there are articles and books about the themes ; the extent and variety of them are still being discovered. Many of the themes are conscious, and this is one of the things I like about Hitchcock - he was a conscious artist in terms of his techniques and ideas. He knew there were layers to his films. The first layer, he might say, was entertainment for the mass audience - I believe they are referred to humorously, in quite a different context, as the “moron millions” in Saboteur. He was very proud of this layer, proud of making money for his producers and studios, proud of box-office hits. Beneath this was the topical layer of references to headlines and history and real-life personalities. Deeper down still was the personal fancies and fixations - everything from bathroom humor to scenes involving food or parties or dancing - even sports like boxing or tennis that figures in Strangers on a Train (he followed boxing and tennis and the latter was one of the few sports he played, as a young man ; there is a picture of him on a tennis court with his racquet in my book). Deepest down are the serious themes or motifs that he himself sometimes pooh-poohed when confronted with evidence of them. Many of these revolve around crime and justice and redemption and recur in multiple ways. The Wrong Man is sometimes “the wrong woman", for example.  But also “the wrong man” says something profound about Hitchcock’s catholicism and his distrust of earthly justice (the police are usually bumblers) and courts and laywers, and his trust in God’s higher wisdom.  Most of his worst villains end up not in jail or in the hands of police but dead from their own hand or final violent actions.

Pierre Charrel : Certain of these themes may explain why, when it comes to characters, Hitchcock isn’t really interested in policing and the character of the detective. On the other hand, aren’t the criminal and, to a lesser extent, the judge, nearer to his heart ?

Patrick McGilligan :  Generally, Hitchcock is not interested in characterizing the policeman or detective, because generally he doesn’t care about the procedural details of police solving the crime. After all, remember, he doesn’t trust the judgment of policemen or think they’re very smart as a breed - in his films. (In real life, he was adamant against capital punishment.) There are exceptions, like Frenzy, where the Chief Inspector and his wife are stand-ins for Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock, talking through the case as though they were writing the script. (The Chief Inspector too has caught “the wrong man” but is suffering second thoughts.)

In his private reading Hitchcock was fascinated by judges, but he doesn’t often get close to them as characters either. Nor lawyers really. The Paradine Case is perhaps the exception that proves the rule. For someone who grew up under the shadow of Jack the Ripper (who, remember, was never caught by the police), perhaps it was natural for Hitchcock to gravitate more to the villains. He had some memorable ones in his films - too many to mention - with striking physical tics or traits (missing fingers, cross-dressers) - often they were faintly amusing or sympathetic killers who clumsily try to explain themselves to the audience in various ways. Even the German lording it over the passengers of Lifeboat is the life of the party until he incites his own doom. Incidentally, not celebrating the brilliance or higher morality of police was one of the ways in which Hitchcock was rare, iconoclastic and subversive in his films, and one reason why many of his crime films still seem “modern” to young audiences.

Pierre Charrel : Still on the subject of the character of the criminal in Hitchcock’s films, what, according to you, characterises his villain ?

Patrick McGilligan :  No matter how charming they might be on the surface, typically his villains were deranged or fanatical. The accidental or onetime murderer didn’t much interest Hitchcock; he preferred the compulsive or serial villain. His villains often have the opportunity to surrender to justice but prefer “self-murder". The casting is always important, usually ingenious, at the worst clever. He was disappointed, for example, to have Otto Kruger foisted on him for Saboteur. (Yet he makes the most of him.) Who would have thought of Claude Rains - even better, the actress playing his mother (Madame Konstantin) - for Notorious ? Or Robert Walker for Strangers on a Train ?

One feels a pang of pity for Hitchcock’s villains, often. I think of Herbert Marshall, pushing himself away from the airplane wing to drown himself in the sea at the end of Foreign Correspondent. The audience feels almost as badly as his daughter (Laraine Day) to see him sacrifice himself, even though he has caused so much damage and distress - worldwide !

Pierre Charrel : On numerous occasions you refer to Alfred Hitchcock’s political commitment. You remind us that he denounced - in his spy films or his unfinished documentary on german concentration camps - both Nazism and Stalinism, namely political systems in which the individual is crushed by an almighty state, which is not a far cry from Hitchcock’s film approach to the theme of "the falsely accused". These films depict a hero who is the victim of a police state and warped justice. In this context, would it be legitimate to assume that Alfred Hitchcock adopted an anti-totalitarian stance ?

Patrick McGilligan :  Hitchcock was definitely an anti-Nazi and (later) an anti-Communist, so his personal stance was anti-totalitarian. But I don’t think his films depict heroes who are victims of a police state. The protagonists are more the victims of mistaken identity and simple-minded police work.

Often the films warn against spies or terrorists, but they rarely make a serious comment on the virtues or defects of the government either in England (during his english period) or America. Hitchcock did make a handful of very political films - the WWII documentaries and films like Lifeboat and Notorious - and political sophistication informs the context of many of his films. He stood with left-liberal friends and collaborators but he didn’t think of himself as a political person and avoided sweeping political statements, both in interviews and in his films.

Pierre Charrel : Still on the subject of Alfred Hitchcock’s crime films, you underline the director’s concern with each precise detail in their construction. Preoccupied with an intricate wind up of the mechanism of suspense, he notably defined the principle of "MacGuffin". Should we also attribute to him other innovations in terms of crime storytelling ? And have these left a lasting imprint on crime films ?

Patrick McGilligan :  Was Hitchcock an innovator in terms of crime storytelling ? I don’t think so ; he wouldn’t make that claim himself. But crime storytelling was still young when he started out, and certainly he forged a path for crime storytelling in film. Mainly he did so as the epitome of the form, however, not as an innovator.

Even the “MacGuffin” was not his invention, as Hitchcock easily admitted in interviews (Probably it came from the Scot in his 1930s circle - Angus MacPhail.) He was more a borrower and blender of the best or favorite ideas from others, both in terms of crime storytelling and filmmaking. But one does not have to be original to score a lasting influence. And by borrowing from the best, and striving to be the best, Hitchcock established a template and made himself the brand name in the field.

Pierre Charrel : Your biography makes quite a lengthy analysis of Hitchcock’s staging choices. You insist on the great care the filmmaker took with the visual dimension of his films and you underline that Alfred Hitchcock was an extraordinary creator of images. Which shots and sequences of his crime films do you judge to be the most remarkable ? Also have certain images created by Alfred Hitchcock left a lasting influence on the crime film ?

Patrick McGilligan : Film critics and scholars love Top Ten lists.  Everyone would agree that the Top Ten list of unforgettable sequences from famous films - sequences quoted in innumerable documentaries about cinema art - would include, for example, the Odessa Steps sequence of Battleship Potemkin. Surely Hitchcock is the only filmmaker who would end up having at least two on that imagined list : Cary Grant dodging the cropduster from North by Northwest, and Janet Leigh meeting her fate in the shower in Psycho. Those two sequences are among his most remarkable creations, and others might beg to add the symphony hall climax of The Man Who Knew Too Much (the original version), the plane-crash climax of Foreign Correspondent, the carousel exploding in Strangers on a Train, or  … take your pick. Hitchcock lavished attention on these set-pieces, he spent an inordinate amount of time and money planning, storyboarding, rehearsing, photographing and finally editing them - most involved elaborate special effects polished in postproduction - and his lavish care paid off in their immortality.

Pierre Charrel : You evoke the influence exerted by certain film directors, Fritz Lang - in the German period - or Henri-Georges Clouzot on Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers. Are these the only directors who influenced his form of crime cinema ?  

Patrick McGilligan :  His strongest influences, Alfred Hitchcock himself said many times, were the Soviets (for editing theory and technique) and the Germans (for their mastery of artificial, stylized reality). In the case of the Soviets, it was not simply montage that affected him - montage is easy to pinpoint in his work - but the early experiments of Kuleshov as reported by Pudovkin. Hitchcock knew editing principles and made an entire film (Rear Window) that demonstrate their viability and power. In the case of the Germans, he wasn’t impressed by Fritz Lang really, it was more F.W. Murnau, whom Hitchcock watched set up an intricate shot for The Last Laugh when he worked in Berlin in the 1920s - and whose mastery of mise en scene, as well as his "floating camera", stayed with him as an inspiration for the rest of the career.

Later, it is true, Hitchcock watched the Italian neo-realists and Henri-Georges Clouzot also, because he prided himself on staying up to date on trends and developments in the international cinema. Still later, he watched Antonioni’s films with great interest.) However, even though he made one film clearly influenced by the Italians (The Wrong Man) and another derived inspired partly by Clouzot (Vertigo), these were more passing fancies that he absorbed into his continuing explorations. The Soviets and the Germans cast the longest shadows.

Pierre Charrel : Alfred Hitchcock : A Life in Darkness and Light stresses the constant struggle the film director was made to wage against censorship. If the latter sometimes led him to renounce certain script writing and formal ideas he had in mind, you also demonstrate that he often managed to circumvent the dictates of censorship. Did the burden of censorship bridle Alfred Hitchcock ? Was it finally a source of stimulation as far as he was concerned ?

Patrick McGilligan :  The answer is both :  Censorship stymied Hitchcock at times, stimulated him at other times. Certainly american censorship hurt the distribution of his english films in the U.S. and defeated any hopes he might have had for Suspicion or I Confess, for example.  (You’ll have to read my book for the full details in the case of the latter two.) Other times he relished the battles and negotiations and was cunning about subverting the Hollywood censors (who were often Catholics, like him, and he knew how to flatter and gull them).

Alfred Hitchcock always had a mature if mischievous attitude towards sex and nudity, for example, and I don’t think it’s any accident that his greatest run of films starting with Strangers on a Train through to The Birds coincides with the erosion of censorship and the beginning of a sea change in social mores that would allow him to venture ever more boldly into taboo areas on the screen. As I say in my book, he surely would have preferred to have the Lodger enter the room where  Daisy (June) is bathing in The Lodger, and have his way with her, and that it took society thirty years to catch up with some of Hitchcock’s modern impulses.

Pierre Charrel : On numerous occasions you refer to the close links that bound Alfred Hitchcock’s crime films and crime literature. The director often adapted crime novels and plays. He also frequently used the collaboration, when composing a scenario, with writers from the scene of crime literature. You remind us that Alfred Hitchcock was a fervent reader of the genre. He even supervised anthologies of crime short stories. Which authors and which forms of crime literature did Alfred Hitchcock particularly affection ?

Patrick McGilligan :  One must recall that Marie Belloc-Lowndes was not happy with his version of The Lodger (nor was Hitchcock), and that Grahame Greene attacked Hitch in his reviews for illogicalities and absurdities in his stories, stating his preference for the films of Fritz Lang.  Hitchcock tossed out much of Josephine Tey’s novel which he adapted (changing the title) into Young and Innocent and then took even more liberties with the Ethel Lina White book that became The Lady Vanishes. The 39 Steps, a beloved book in England, Hitchcock also changed utterly. He clashed bitterly with Raymond Chandler tossing out his draft for Strangers on a Train. The original authors of both Rear Window and Frenzy spoke out against his trespassing. Evan Hunter, scenarist of The Birds but an estimable novelist in his own right, wrote a book severely criticizing the director.

The only author whose fiction Hitchcock brought to the screen more than once - three times actually - was Daphne Du Maurier, and she was not a particular favorite of his, he insisted in interviews. It was happenstance, and two of the Du Maurier films (Jamaica Inn and Rebecca) were jobs of work that were compromised by other people. Also, Du Maurier was not a crime writer per se.

The best guide we have to Hitchcock’s preferences among crime fiction writers are the ones he sought out or adapted for his television show. The list turns out to to be heavy on writers with whom he had a previous association (Mrs. Bellow Lowndes and Ethel Lina White, for example, and several stories by Rear Window author Cornel Woolrich) and everyone else from H.G. Wells and Rebecca West to Julian Symons, Eric Ambler, John Mortimer and Roald Dahl. (Mostly Britishers, but there were also up-and-coming Americans, like young Ray Bradbury.) The TV stories and their authors, as well as those in his magazine, were undoubtedly his fondest favorites, with the caveat that all came in a short form. There is no question, however, that Hitchcock enjoyed and championed short crime fiction. He did not endear himself to authors who did not accept his primacy as director. As someone whom some top writers looked down upon, early in his career - that is the reason he was so grateful to Thornton Wilder for his good work on Shadow of a Doubt - Hitchcock might have had good reason to gravitate to Dale Collins, Edwin Greenwood, Helen Simpson, Philip Macdonald, Michael Hogan, and Whitfield Cook. They were professionals with whom he enjoyed writing scripts. When not writing films they were novelists, true - crime novelists some of them - minor novelists perhaps, but friends whose company - and books - he treasured.

Pierre Charrel : Your biography also shows us that even if Alfred Hitchcock had a keen taste for crime fiction, he was also fascinated by real news items. Certain criminal cases, moreover, inspired certain of his films. How would you explain this interest in real crimes ? What is the contribution of the latter as compared to those imagined by crime novelists and short story tellers ?

Patrick McGilligan :  Real-life crimes inspired Hitchcock as much if not more than crime fiction. Film after film drew on true crimes that he had long followed in the newspapers and in talks with friends and in his own imagination. Perhaps this was the inevitable consequence of having grown up in an era where there was as yet no radio or television - much less the Internet - and the headlines came “wet from the press” with newsboys shouting on the streets. Crimes were big news, local or English crimes the biggest news, and the crimes were discussed at school and around the supper table. Crimes like that of Jack the Ripper were still being discussed in Hitchcock’s boyhood, though the Ripper was long dead or dormant. Today there is much more competition for the attention of little boys growing up. "Wronged woman” Edith Thompson (whom he knew), the American Earle Leonard Nelson (who helped inspire Shadow of a Doubt) the Londoners John Haigh and John Christie, Wisconsin psycho-killer Ed Gein - these and others were cases that fascinated him and that contributed role models for characters in his films.

Pierre Charrel : Your biography also accentuates the importance of television in Alfred Hitchcock’s work. You recall that the series Alfred Hitchcock Presents wasn’t only for him "a publicity stunt". He, on the other hand, committed himself to the task by directing several episodes. Did his experience in television allow him to explore new formal and thematic roads and thus constitute a specific episode in his life’s work ?

Patrick McGilligan :  Hitchcock’s television work has been vastly under-rated, probably because of the longtime unavailability of his series and the assumption that he was not a creative force in the programming. Records prove the opposite, that he was steeped in the selection of stories and scriptwriters and directors and actors. He himself directed eighteen episodes during the seven-year run of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He also organized a second program, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and directed several one-offs for other series. That is the equivalent of a half dozen features, and some of the half-hour shows in particular are pure gems. Hitchcock managed to be “cinematic” on the small screen and the scripts were unusual and provocative.

The best of the shows he directed should really be considered “short films,” not standard television. Several things about Hitchcock’s TV show were important to his career and his creativity. We know from The Trouble With Harry but also from quite a few other films of his that his sense of humor - sometimes light, often dark, frequently subversive or risqué - is a vital ingredient of his best work. Alfred Hitchcock Presents gave free rein to that side of his cinematic personality. Some shows are grimly hilarious.Television allowed Hitchcock to try out ideas (and personnel) in a low-budget, popular format. Psycho, for example, can be considered the ultimate Hitchcock television show, for a number of reasons.

There are a couple episodes of the series that were specific dry runs for scenes, casting or ideas in Psycho, and he brought the “look” of his series to Psycho with his TV cameraman and crew. A third reason why the show played a significant role in Hitchcock’s life is that it offered him a new level of celebrity - and with that new celebrity came the power to make some of his greatest films. He was deeply involved in the writing and performance of his vignettes on the show. Cameo appearances in his films made him a darling of critics. The vignettes (droll introductions and wrap-ups) on his television shows made him a household name - with a face and figure and costume as instantly recognizable as any movie star - with the general public.

Pierre Charrel : To conclude this exchange, could you tell us if a french translation of your biography of Fritz Lang - the other master of the crime films in the first half of the 20th century - is to be expected soon ? And for your next work, will you continue in the field of the crime genre, in one way or another ?

Patrick McGilligan :  Right now a french publisher is considering publication of my Fritz Lang book. It would be a good thing to do ! There are a few other books of mine, especially “Tender Comrades,” my book of interviews with Hollywood blacklistees, which would also have relevance to french readers - and devotees of crime films.

I have just finished a new biography of film director Nicholas Ray, in time for 2011 in the U.S., the centenary of his birth. Crime films (They Live by Night, In a Lonely Place, On Dangerous Ground, etc.) were one of his occasional specialties, although in Hollywood it is almost de rigueur for a director to make crime films.

Entretien réalisé par courriel le 10 mai 2011. 

- Warm thanks to Patrick McGilligan for its very high availability. As well as Bertrand Tavernier for his indispensable collaboration. And Nathalie Baravian Editions Actes Sud.
- Translation by Ann et Dominique Lafosse

Par Pierre Charrel - le 13 février 2012