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Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light
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Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light

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by Patrick McGilligan

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Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light is the definitive biography of the Master of Suspense and the most widely recognized film director of all time.

In a career that spanned six decades and produced more than 60 films – including The 39 Steps, Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds – Alfred Hitchcock set new


Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light is the definitive biography of the Master of Suspense and the most widely recognized film director of all time.

In a career that spanned six decades and produced more than 60 films – including The 39 Steps, Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds – Alfred Hitchcock set new standards for cinematic invention and storytelling. Acclaimed biographer Patrick McGilligan re-examines his life and extraordinary work, challenging perceptions of Hitchcock as the “macabre Englishman” and sexual obsessive, and reveals instead the ingenious craftsman, trickster, provocateur, and romantic.

With insights into his relationships with Hollywood legends – such as Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, and Grace Kelly – as well as his 54-year marriage to Alma Reville and his inspirations in the thriller genre, the book is full of the same dark humor, cliffhanger suspense, and revelations that are synonymous with one of the most famous and misunderstood figures in cinema.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
It's the story of Hitchcock the professional that McGilligan has chosen to emphasize. What anchors this biography is tale after tale of "the farsighted preparation and hard, hard work" that went into making those 53 great, good and indifferent films. Hitchcock may have been a glutton for rich food and fine wine, as we learn, but he had an even larger appetite for infinite detail in getting a film ready to shoot: months of scriptwriting and revision, laying out shot sequences, planning sets, costumes and camera angles. — Robert Sklar
Publishers Weekly
Director Hitchcock is in a class by himself. His legendary films, including Rear Window, The 39 Steps and Notorious, coupled with his TV show, Alfred Hitchock Presents, aired his singular brand of evil and salvation. In this enthralling, scholarly and candid appraisal of the artist, McGilligan, a biographer of James Cagney and Jack Nicholson, neatly reveals the man behind the camera. A quiet Catholic boy from London's East End, Hitchcock (1899- 1980) began as a production designer on silent films and eventually became Britain's premier movie director. David Selznick tapped him for Hollywood, and although their relationship was stormy, it spelled success. Hitchcock, who claimed, "I'm not interested in logic, I'm interested in effect," quickly redefined the medium. He told his stories visually, invented innovative camera angles and reveled in suspense tales. Always, he was aided by his wife, Alma, an invaluable partner on every project. A Hitchcock film "characteristically mingled light with darkness," possibly because its creator was so conflicted. Hitchcock adored gossip, dirty jokes and icy blondes, though, sexually impotent, he could not consummate his desire; his voyeurism instead played out on screen. He relished the occasional cruelty, but it did not obscure his genius or his generosity. He worked tirelessly for the British war effort, though America was committed to neutrality until Pearl Harbor, and was deeply loyal to old friends. McGilligan has crafted an inside look at this unique director and the studio machinations that sustained him. Film buffs will relish how power and creativity play out in Hollywood. The rest will learn how obsession can produce art. 32-page b&w photo insert not seen by PW. Agent, Gloria Loomis. (Oct.) Forecast: There are loads of books available on Hitchcock, but the market may be ripe for a new one; nothing groundbreaking has come along in the past four or so years. Taschen is publishing the heavily illustrated Alfred Hitchcock by Paul Duncan in November, which, paired with McGilligan's book, could make a smart display. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this ambitious biography, McGilligan (Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast) notes that Alfred Hitchcock was not only a master of suspense but also "the ultimate magician of the cinema." Drawing on original interviews with the director's friends and associates, as well as documents from Hitchcock's archives, he uses contradiction as a theme throughout. While Hitchcock maintained a professional atmosphere on the set, for instance, he was famously aloof toward actors ("cattle") and could be petty and vindictive to loyal collaborators. Hitchcock was also devoted to his longtime wife and trusted critic, Alma Reville, yet he enjoyed voyeurism and propositioned, then sexually harassed, actress Tippi Hedren. The films themselves, including Hitchcock's best-remembered entries from his personal "golden age" of the 1950s, are also addressed, but primarily through details and anecdotes. Those looking for more analysis of themes and motifs, then, should seek out Fran ois Truffaut's interviews (Hitchcock) and Robin Wood's eccentric but informative Hitchcock's Films Revisited. McGilligan's is a more balanced portrait than Donald Spoto's The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, and it offers broader coverage of the director's productive late period than can be found in John Russell Taylor's Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock. For large public and academic film collections.-Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Master of Suspense finally gets an authoritative life. From his subtitle to his closing remarks, McGilligan (Clint: The Life and Legend, 2002, etc.) makes no secret of his agenda: to correct the excesses of Donald Spoto’s notorious The Dark Side of Genius, which presents a Hitchcock whose deepest creative energies were driven by fear, lust, and sadism. McGilligan’s Hitchcock, though not above hitting on actresses from Joan Fontaine to Brigitte Auber, is a devoted family man, generous to his relatives, generally kind to his associates (very few examples of his well-known proclivity for practical jokes on display here), level-headed in most of his business decisions, and always the consummate professional. From the short stories he published for his engineering firm’s trade magazine around 1920—material on which McGilligan is especially illuminating—to the trademark cinematic motifs (absurd MacGuffins, dominating mothers, staircases, light-footed shifts from comedy to melodrama) he recycled from film to film, Hitchcock comes across as inveterately playful, determined not so much to exorcise his private demons as to give audiences a shiveringly good time. Most of the colleagues who worked on the early British films from The Pleasure Garden (1925) to Jamaica Inn (1939) are no longer available to interviewers, but McGilligan, who has spoken with everyone available, taps as well into a torrent of Hitchcock scholarship, supplemented by explorations of numerous archives. His research is staggering, though often vaguely or incompletely documented. Apart from providing one-stop shopping for information on masterpieces from The 39 Steps to Psycho, he provides fascinating new insightson the origin of the sobriquet "Master of Suspense," the identity of the first Hitchcock blond, even such a forgettable film as Torn Curtain, from Hitchcock’s abortive attempt to rope Vladimir Nabokov into writing the screenplay to the actual screenwriters’ race to remove their names from the finished film’s credits. Master-ful. (32 pages b&w photos, not seen) Agent: Gloria Loomis/Watkins Loomis

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Paperback Edition
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.78(d)

Read an Excerpt

Alfred Hitchcock
A Life in Darkness and Light

Chapter One


He might saw a woman in half, as one of his favorite real-life murderers did. Or, with a wave of his wand, scare a swarm of birds out from under his English gentleman's hat.

All of his tricks were in a single trunk plastered with travel stickers -- his life, as it were. There were umbrellas, door keys, tiepins, rings and bracelets, a glass of poison, a ticking bomb, long kitchen knives and a host of other glittering stuff. Sometimes it seemed that he juggled only a handful of items with endless hypnotic variation. But just when you thought he'd shown you all he had, he reached into the deep bottom of the trunk and found something there to mesmerize you afresh.

Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was the ultimate magician of the cinema, an illusionist as pleased by his own mastery as he was by his audiences' reactions. He perfected a mask of jovial sangfroid, but he couldn't have been happier when the audience collectively sighed, laughed, screamed -- or wet their seats.

His name was as English as trifle. The "Alfred" stood in honor of his father's brother. The "Joseph" was a nod to the Irish Catholicism of his mother -- the name of the carpenter of Nazareth and husband of Mary.

The "Hitch" was a derivative of Richard, Coeur de Lion, most popular of the Angevin kings. "Richard" was popular throughout the kingdom in variants, among them Dick, Rick, and Hick; the initial R was commonly nicked into H. The "Cock" meant "little" or "son of," as in "son of Richard," or "son of Hitch."

Little Hitch.

He shortened the name for friends and introductions. "It's Hitch," he drawled, relishing the trap about to be sprung, "without the cock." As he made a game of identity in his wrong-man movies, Alfred Hitchcock made a game of his identity in life.

Few directors forged their careers as resolutely, as self-consciously, as Alfred Joseph Hitchcock. Starting from boyhood, he was drawn slowly but steadily toward his métier -- just as steadily as his family moved along East End suburbs, down the river Lea, in the last years of the nineteenth century, toward the greater opportunity of central London.

Leytonstone, where Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born, was north of the Thames and south of beautiful Epping Forest, where Tennyson lived when he wrote "Locksley Hall." A hamlet attached to Leyton (Lea Town), Leytonstone (Leyton's Town) was once the fiefdom of rich merchants who built grand houses on estates that bordered country meadows and marshlands. Eventually the rich moved away, abandoning their mansions and estates to make way for vast numbers of cheap houses built by greedy developers for the nineteenth-century explosion of city workers. By the turn of the twentieth, the area was thriving commercially, booming with shops, churches, and schools, and fast losing its rural character. The population of Leytonstone doubled twice after the 1861 census.

Like Stratford, where Hitchcock's father, William, was born, and West Ham, home of his mother, Emma Jane Whelan, Leytonstone was part of the outer London county of Essex. The Essex boomtowns owed their existence largely to the Great Eastern Railway Line, which offered cheap "workmen's fares" to central London (about six miles from the Leyton station), and proximity to the river Lea. Down the Lea a tremendous variety of agricultural goods traveled through a series of locks leading to Regent's Canal, en route to the docks and warehouses of the Thames. The Hitchcocks owed their livelihood to the worker boom, the railway, the boats, and the river Lea.

William Hitchcock was born in 1862 to Joseph Hitchcock, a "master greengrocer" in Stratford. Part of West Ham, Stratford was separated from Bow in Middlesex by the Lea, over which stretched the Bow Bridge, the first stone bridge built in England. Joseph Hitchcock was already among the second generation of Hitchcocks to thrive in greengrocering. Besides William, Joseph Hitchcock had at least six other sons and daughters: Mary (known as Polly), Charlie, Alfred, Ellen, Emma, and John.

Polly, the eldest, married a man named Howe, and bore two children. Charles, the eldest son, fathered five, including Teresa and Mary, Hitchcock's cherished older cousins, whom he treated as aunts. Charles's son John, a Catholic priest, was known to all as Father John; he served as head of the parish of Our Lady and St. Thomas of Canterbury in Harrow, from 1929 to 1944, and is remembered there for doubling the size of the church and erecting a modern school.

Of the director's namesake, William's brother Alfred, not much is known, except that he was a bulwark of the family business. Alfred was to run a fish shop on busy Tower Bridge Road, immediately south of the Thames, and spearhead the London side of operations.

Ellen married a man from Cork and died giving birth to their third child. Her husband became legendary in the family as the first relation to emigrate to America, while the daughter who survived Ellen's death, also named Ellen, briefly moved in with the Leytonstone branch when the future director was a young boy.

Through shipping and intermarriage the Hitchcocks were well aware of the wider world, especially outposts of the United Kingdom. When she was just twenty years old, Emma left in 1899 for South Africa to marry James Arthur Rhodes. Taken off the boat in Durban harbor in a large wicker basket (like the kind that figures into the climax of Torn Curtain), Emma was then carried to safe ground on the backs of Zulu warriors. Like other Hitchcocks, Aunt Emma was a devout Catholic; she attended Mass for much of her life via rickshaw. The longest-lived and the farthest-flung, intrepid Aunt Emma became a favorite of young Alfred Hitchcock.

The baby of the original brood, John Fitzpatrick, had a pair of devilish eyes that twinkled in an angelic face. The burgeoning family fortune bought him education at the Douai School for Boys in Woolhampton ...

Alfred Hitchcock
A Life in Darkness and Light
. Copyright © by Patrick McGilligan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Patrick McGilligan is the author of Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light; Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast; and George Cukor: A Double Life; and books on the lives of directors Nicholas Ray, Robert Altman, and Oscar Micheaux, and actors James Cagney, Jack Nicholson, and Clint Eastwood. He also edited the acclaimed five-volume Backstory series of interviews with Hollywood screenwriters and (with Paul Buhle), the definitive Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, not far from Kenosha, where Orson Welles was born.

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Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Frankly color ruined the mystery story and dialogue disappeared for sound effects and visuals
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I answer questions akked in the question den