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The Four Ways In Which Mr Alfred Hitchcock Made Us Anxious

March 2019Words by Mr Colin Crummy

Ms Grace Kelly and Sir Alfred Hitchcock on the set of Dial M for Murder, 1954. Photograph by Warner Brothers, courtesy of Taschen

Being wrongly accused of a crime you didn’t commit. Fear of falling. Coming under inexplicable sustained attack from wildlife of a usually peaceable character. These are either notes from your last therapy session or you’ve just been watching the films of Sir Alfred Hitchcock, who mined audience anxieties to create cinematic masterpieces.

In The 39 Steps, for instance, a man is wrongfully accused of murder and must find the criminal himself, and in Vertigo, the film begins with a death from a great height. Then, of course, there’s The Birds, which swiftly turns from romcom to two-winged horror show, Sir Alfred has excelled at exploiting our most primal fears.

An unparalleled knack for manufacturing perturbation is not, of course, the only achievement of Sir Alfred Hitchcock, but suspense and fear have been the foundation of his most acclaimed work. Sir Alfred was “the best architect of anxiety the cinema has ever seen,” writes Mr Paul Duncan, in Alfred Hitchcock: The Complete Films, a new book on the late British filmmaker.