On Set With Alfred Hitchcock: Amazing Behind the Scenes Photos of the Master at Work

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock KBE (13 August 1899 – 29 April 1980) was an English filmmaker who was one of the most influential figures in the history of cinema. In a career spanning six decades, he directed over 50 feature films, many of which are still widely watched and studied today. Known as the “Master of Suspense”, he became as well known as any of his actors thanks to his many interviews, his cameo roles in most of his films, and his hosting and producing the television anthology Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955–65). His films garnered 46 Academy Award nominations, including six wins, although he never won the award for Best Director despite five nominations.

Hitchcock initially trained as a technical clerk and copy writer before entering the film industry in 1919 as a title card designer. His directorial debut was the British-German silent film The Pleasure Garden (1925). His first successful film, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), helped to shape the thriller genre, and Blackmail (1929) was the first British “talkie”. His thrillers The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) are ranked among the greatest British films of the 20th century. By 1939, he had international recognition and producer David O. Selznick persuaded him to move to Hollywood. A string of successful films followed, including Rebecca (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and Notorious (1946). Rebecca won the Academy Award for Best Picture, with Hitchcock nominated as Best Director; he was also nominated for Lifeboat (1944) and Spellbound (1945). After a brief commercial lull, he returned to form with Strangers on a Train (1951) and Dial M for Murder (1954); he then went on to direct four films often ranked among the greatest of all time: Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960), the first and last of these garnering him Best Director nominations. The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964) were also financially successful and are highly regarded by film historians.

The “Hitchcockian” style includes the use of camera movement to mimic a person’s gaze, thereby turning viewers into voyeurs, and framing shots to maximise anxiety and fear. The film critic Robin Wood wrote that the meaning of a Hitchcock film “is there in the method, in the progression from shot to shot. A Hitchcock film is an organism, with the whole implied in every detail and every detail related to the whole.” Hitchcock made multiple films with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, including four with Cary Grant in the 1940s and 1950s, three with Ingrid Bergman in the last half of the 1940s, four with James Stewart over a ten-year span commencing in 1948, and three with Grace Kelly in the mid-1950s. Hitchcock became an American citizen in 1955.

In 2012, Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Vertigo, starring Stewart, displaced Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) as the British Film Institute’s greatest film ever made based on its world-wide poll of hundreds of film critics. As of 2021, nine of his films had been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, including his personal favourite, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). He received the BAFTA Fellowship in 1971, the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1979 and was knighted in December that year, four months before his death on 29 April 1980. (Wikipedia)

Hitchcock on the set of Blackmail (1929) with the film’s star Anny Ondra. Blackmail was started as a silent in spring 1929, before the decision was taken to make it a full talkie. The only problem with this was the Czech star Ondra’s heavy accent, which was unsuited to her role as a West London shopkeeper’s daughter. Hitchcock is pictured here conducting a sound test. He came up with the novel solution of using English actor Joan Barry to stand off camera and speak Ondra’s lines.
This is a rare picture of Hitchcock on location at the British Museum with cameraman Jack Cox, shot outside as blackmailer Tracy (Donald Calthrop) tries to evade the police by running into the museum. Hitchcock didn’t have permission to film inside the museum so reconstructed it with special effects. Although he has his back to the camera, the director is clearly recognisable.
This is the large street set for the opening scenes of Rich and Strange (1931), in which the character of Fred (Henry Kendall) is seen leaving his humdrum job and returning to his suburban home. Spot the tiny but again unmistakable figure of Hitchcock with his hands on his hips surveying the set in the centre of the image.
On the St Moritz set of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). The film opens in St Moritz, Switzerland (where Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville honeymooned), recreated here in the studios of Lime Grove, London. Edna Best plays a competitive sharpshooter (Doris Day took the role in Hitchcock’s own 1955 remake and becomes a semi-retired singer instead). St Moritz didn’t feature in the remake, where the opening scenes are shifted to Morocco (Hitchcock shot much of this on location in North Africa).
Scouting for an ideal smalltown American location led Hitchcock to Santa Rosa, California for Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Unfortunately, the residents were so pleased that their town was picked to feature in the director’s film that they repainted all the houses, which the film crew duly had to re-age to make the town look authentic again.
The elaborate setup of Rope (1948), the story of two student killers who host a party in the apartment where the body of their victim is concealed. For Hitchcock’s experiment in long, unbroken takes, the walls and furniture of the apartment set had to be moved by out-of-shot prop men to accommodate the roaming camera.
On set with Janet Leigh for Psycho (1960). In contrast to the glossy production values of his previous film, North by Northwest (1959), Hitchcock shot Psycho cheaply in only 30 days, in black and white, and using the television crew from his series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62). Unusually for a film at the time, but standard practice for television, Hitchcock used two cameras for many scenes, enabling him to edit together shots from different angles without interrupting the flow of his actors’ performances.
On location for The Birds (1963). Originally set in Cornwall, Hitchcock changed the setting of Daphne du Maurier’s short story to Bodega Bay in Northern California. For his earlier du Maurier adaptation, Rebecca (1940), he also used California (the rugged coastline of Catalina) but this time to pose as the Cornish landscape around Manderley.
By the River Thames for the filming of Frenzy (1972), Hitchcock’s first film to be shot in Britain since portions of the second Man Who Knew Too Much (1955). In the trailer a dummy of his corpse is seen floating down the river, while Hitchcock’s traditional cameo appearance comes at the beginning of the film as a crowd gather outside London’s County Hall.

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