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 Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

Alfred Hitchcock:
Can You Spot Him?

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Friday the 13th of August 1899, Alfred Hitchcock was born, a fitting birth date for the man who was to become known as The Master of Suspense. Long before movie casts learned to perform as they do today, in front of a green screen where images are later placed by computers, Hitchcock was scaring our pants off by transferring images from his mind to paper and then to film. Dozens of memorable visuals come to mind --
PSYCHO: water swirling down drain, car sinking into lake. NOTORIOUS: passing of the key, nibbling love scene. VERTIGO: dizzying elasticity of dimensions, misty reappearance of Madeline to obsessed Scotty. NORTH BY NORTHWEST: crop duster and Mount Rushmore scenes. Hitchcock himself appears in all of these films, and many more. Can you spot him?
Alfred Hitchcock Hiding
Hitchcock Hiding
  • REBECCA (1940) Man passing telephone booth with George Sanders inside. (rare -- cut from most prints). First American film. Hitch was painstaking, methodical, and tricky. Hitchcock took advantage of Joan Fontaineís natural insecurities by telling her that Olivier really wanted Vivien Leigh in the part. This sneaky tactic helped Fontaine perfect the role of a naÔve young bride, out of her element.

  • FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) Man walking on sidewalk. Joel McCrea recalled Hitchcock's habit of drinking champagne at lunch. "One day, there was a long scene with me just standing there, talking. When it was over, I expected to hear 'Cut!' I looked over and there was Hitchcock snoring .... So I said 'Cut!' He woke up and said , "Was it any good?" I said, 'The best in the picture,' and he said, 'Print it!'"

  • MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941) Man walking past Robert Montgomery on street. Hitchcock's only comedy.

  • SABOTEUR (1942) Man standing by newsstand.

  • SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) Man playing cards aboard train. Hitchcock identified with Hume Cronyn's character, obsessed with committing fantasy murders and living with an (unseen) sick, demanding mother. Hitch's own mother was later portrayed as possessive and tyrannical in Notorious.
  • Hitchcock cameo in Lifeboat
    Hitchcock cameo in Lifeboat
  • LIFEBOAT (1943) Man in before and after newspaper ad for Reducing Weight. Hitchcock said of Tallulah Bankhead "She stood up to being doused by 5,400 gallons of water, and got a round of applause from stagehands." However, the reason for applause was Bankhead's lack of panties climbing up the ladder to get into the water tank. "The whole point about Tallulah," said Hitchcock, "is that she has no inhibitions."
  • SPELLBOUND (1945) Man exiting elevator carrying violin. Gregory Peck's character cries "Unlock the doors! You can't keep people in cells!" "When I was six years old, I did something that my father considered worthy of reprimand," recalled Hitch. "He sent me to the local police station with a note. The officer on duty read it and locked me in a jail cell for five minutes, saying, 'This is what we do to naughty boys.' I have since gone to any lengths to avoid arrest and confinement..."

  • NOTORIOUS (1946) Man at party drinking champagne. Hitch: "I wanted to make this film about a man who forces a woman to go to bed with another man because it's his professional duty." Grant and Rains externalized Hitchcock's dual nature.

  • THE PARADINE CASE (1947) Man carrying cello case.

  • ROPE (1948) Man crossing street.

  • UNDER CAPRICORN (1949) Man listening to speech. Man on stairs of Government House.

  • STAGE FRIGHT (1950) Man turning on street to look at Jane Wyman.

  • STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) Man boarding train with bass fiddle. Detail-freak Hitchcock personally selected the wet leaves, orange peel, gum wrapper, and crumpled paper for sewer debris as Robert Walker bends down to retrieve a cigarette lighter.

  • I CONFESS (1952) Man walking across top of flight of stairs. Hitch: "Working with Montgomery Clift was difficult because he was a method actor and a neurotic as well."

  • DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) Man in class reunion photograph. Filmed in 3-D, prints released flat. Strangulation and stabbing-with-scissors scene caused him so much anxiety, Hitch lost 20 pounds. "Nicely done," he said after Take One, "but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without hollandaise sauce."
  • Hitchcock cameo in Rear Window
    Hitchcock cameo in Rear Window
  • REAR WINDOW (1954) Man winding clock. Hitch: "... We had to build a set containing 32 other apartments [Stewart] sees from his window ... We never could have gotten them properly lit in a real location." A foot fetishist, he spent half an hour directing a close-up of Grace Kelly's shoes -- a shot never used in the film.
  • TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) Man sitting next to Cary Grant on bus. Calling his scenarist during filming of final rooftop sequence, Hitch said "Look at them all down there. They think we're discussing something important ... But I only wanted to find out whether you're as frightened of heights as I am."

  • THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1956) Man walking in front of exhibition.

  • THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956) Man watching acrobats from bank. Hitchcock directed the actor playing an assassin watching his target, "Look lovingly at him, as if you're glancing at a beautiful woman."

  • THE WRONG MAN (1957) Man who narrates prologue. Hitchcock took no salary.

  • VERTIGO (1958) Man crossing street. Best example of Hitchcock's frequent motif: making a woman over into his own fantasy. Said Stewart, "I didn't realize ... what an impact it would have, but it's an extraordinary achievement by Hitch. And I could tell it was a very personal film for him even while he was making it."
  • Hitchcock cameo in North By Northwest
    Hitchcock cameo in North by Northwest
  • NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) Man who misses bus. Background shots filmed at Mt. Rushmore, actual chase filmed at Paramount.
  • Hitchcock cameo in The Birds
    Hitchcock cameo in The Birds
  • PSYCHO (1960) Man in cowboy hat outside an office. "It was very grueling," said Janet Leigh, "to stand in a shower getting drenched for a week."

  • THE BIRDS (1963) Man leaving pet shop with two white dogs. "I felt that after Psycho," said Hitchcock, "people would expect something to top it."

  • MARNIE (1964) Man walking through hotel corridor.

  • TORN CURTAIN (1966) Man sitting in hotel lobby with baby on his lap.
  • TOPAZ (1969) Man in wheelchair at airport.

  • FRENZY (1970) Man listening to speech.

  • FAMILY PLOT (1976) Man whose silhouette is seen through a window talking to another man.
  • Although Hitchcock loved preparing for a film, he found actual filming boring. However, he was a perfectionist and his philosophy was: "Nothing matters except the final picture."

    Directors are as trendy as the times dictate and few retain the ability to remain on top, appealing to all generations. Hitchcock is surely one.

    Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
    "A Balloon In Cactus"
    July 27, 2009 column

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