Hitchcock’s British Films

Author: Maurice Yacowar.

Given the amount of books written on Alfred Hitchcock one could be forgiven for thinking that his British films are often neglected. However, Yacowar’s seminal book originally written in 1977 is reprinted here as a revised second edition. But of course other books have also been written on Hitchcock’s British films, including Tom Ryall’s 1986 book, ‘Hitchcock and British Cinema’ and a BFI classics book on Blackmail. But these films have not gone neglected and have been given deserved attention. Of course it is the undisputed classics of the Hollywood years following his emigration to the USA in 1940 that have been given the most attention. Yacowar, in a new introduction freely admits that his thoughts may have changed over the years since the book was originally published and in in his preface to the second edition he can’t even remember why he made those observations and that his opinions may have changed over the years.

Following a forward by Keith Grant, Yacowar’s introduction puts Hitchcock’s British films into the context of his entire ouevre and states they stand out on their own in formulating his career and that many of the themes in his later films were already in place recognizing the master’s technical accomplishments early on; such motifs as legs, blondes and staircases were already beginning to appear in his first film, The Pleasure Garden (1925) which he shot in Munich, although it was a British film.

Each of his twenty-four British films made before his departure for the US are detailed in individual chapters (including the long lost The Mountain Eagle, 1926), although (as he acknowledges) his later British films such as Under Capricorn (1949), Stage Fright (1950) and Frenzy (1972) are disappointingly disregarded (as well as the Hollywood remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956 that was largely shot in London) as is often the case with the films shot in Britain. But I can see why they were omitted as the pre-Hollywood British films form a pattern from his influences of German Expressionism (The Lodger, 1926), his first (and Britain’s first) use of sound in Blackmail (1929) to his thirties established thriller classics. It may come as a surprise to many that of Hitchcock’s first seventeen films only three were thrillers until he made his first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and that set the genre of nearly all his subsequent films, although the Hitchcock style is ever present and Yacowar is at pains to point out from the outset Hitchcock had a clear vision of his directorial style, even if the technical effects are not always up to par.

In his conclusion Yacowar binds all these films together within the context of his entire ouevre effectively and the appendix is as interesting as it is curious in that it studies Hithcock’s walk-on appearances in all his films and is out of keeping with the theme of the book. For anyone interested in Alfred Hitchcock this is a must for the collection and will invite a new look at those rarer and the lesser known of his films, most of which are available in recently released DVD box sets. ‘Hitchcock’s British Films’ has been re-publsihed by Wayne State University Press.

Chris Hick

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