The New Yorker:

Alfred Hitchcock’s mind is full of plans; nothing else can get in.

By Russell Maloney
September 3, 1938 

The vogue for Alfred Hitchcock’s cinema melodramas is mainly a local phenomenon. “The 39 Steps,” his best-known job of direction, has, in the past three years, been revived thirty-one times by various theatres on Manhattan Island, and is to be shown again this month. Other Hitchcock imports—“Secret Agent,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “The Woman Alone,” and “The Girl Was Young”—also are more or less hardy perennials. His latest picture, “The Lady Vanishes,” now completed and awaiting release, seems as likely to survive as any of the rest. In England, Hitchcock’s compatriots took these films right in their stride; they went to see them once, expressed a temperate admiration, and let the matter drop. On these shores, however, Hitchcock has become the chief support of that sizable group of defeated cinema-goers who attend a new production with the mistrust born of much disillusionment and who would far rather go to see one of their old favorites again. These people count it a poor month in which New York doesn’t offer them at least one Hitchcock revival.

Hitchcock’s pictures are melodramas with painstakingly realistic backgrounds. They have the same simple, inexhaustible interest as the familiar stories of Defoe, Stevenson, and the elder Dumas. All Hitchcock tries to do is tell a story. This is a modest ambition, but it presents a surprising number of personal and technical problems. He has many a time had to pacify actors and actresses outraged because he kept the camera on the line of the narrative instead of upon them. Sylvia Sidney, for example, was surprised and hurt when she found that her big scene in “The Woman Alone,” the scene in which she stabs her husband, was to consist mostly of a series of closeups showing only her hands. Nine times out of ten, Hitchcock says, tricky camerawork simply distracts the audience’s attention from the story; the tenth time, when he considers an unusual shot to be the best means of making his point, he will demand apparent impossibilities of his technical staff. One scene in “The Girl Was Young” was a complicated “crane shot,” in which the camera’s eye went, in a single uninterrupted motion, down the main staircase of a hotel, across the lobby, and into the dining room, finishing with a closeup of a man’s eyes. 

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