Alfred Hitchcock’s Signature in “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”
Alfred Hitchcock is known throughout the world as a great director and producer. He is thought of as the “Master of Suspense” who created such films as Psycho, Dial M for Murder, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. However, Hitchcock hosted a hit television show entitled, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. Alfred Hitchcock directed several episodes for this series, including “The Perfect Crime”, “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret”, and “Back for Christmas”. In each of these episodes, Hitchcock employed several techniques, such as the use of suspense, the twist, simple storylines, and close-up camera angles, that have come to be known as Hitchcock’s “signature”.
“Alfred Hitchcock Presents” ran from 1955 to 1962 before switching to an hour-long format entitled “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” until 1965. The show aired in the days of “classic television”, alongside sitcoms like “I Love Lucy” and other drama series like “The Twilight Zone. ” Hitchcock always credited the writers for the show’s success, but a writer can only do so much. It takes a fantastic director to bring a fantastic story to life. Since its first airing, viewers came to expect stories of mystery, suspense and horror when they first heard Hitchcock make his ironic, and sometimes humorous, introductions.
Because of these brief appearances, the famed cinematic director became instantly recognizable around the world. Although Hitchcock struggled with moving from the big screen of films to the small screen of television, which was considered “career suicide” at that time, the final decision was a success. (Mysterynet. com) Three episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” which Hitchcock himself directed, stand out as particularly “Hitchcockian. ” The three episodes, “The Perfect Crime”, “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret”, and “Back for Christmas”, were directed by Hitchcock and have the “Hitchcock touch” that is so familiar to fans.
In “The Perfect Crime”, first aired on October 20, 1957, a criminologist, Mr. Courtney, awaits the perfect crime. He has a special place on a bookshelf, among all of the souvenirs of other cases, for a souvenir of the perfect crime. It takes a defense lawyer, Mr. Gregory, to point out that Mr. Courtney was wrong about a particular case, and incidentally put an innocent man to death. However, Mr. Courtney does not believe it. He is too arrogant to accept that he had, indeed, made a mistake. In the end, Mr. Courtney murders Mr. Gregory to save his reputation. He makes Mr.
Gregory into a vase, and places it on his bookshelf as a souvenir of the perfect crime. However, this was not the perfect crime, since Mr. Courtney got caught. The episode is outlined in a way that the characters do not tell the viewer how the story ends. Hitchcock himself tells the viewers what happened to Mr. Gregory and Mr. Courtney. This happens frequently throughout the series. The story of the episode takes place in one room, save for flashes of what really happened in regards to the innocent man who was accused. This way of telling a story is known as a “story within a story.
” This is quite an effective way for Hitchcock to successfully tell the story. If the characters were only retelling what happened, the episode would be dull, and if the story took place in “real time”, it would not be as interesting. There is nothing special about telling a story in “real time”, but the accusations of Mr. Gregory toward Mr. Courtney add a second crime to the story, instead of only the initial crime. This particular episode is chock-full of wrongdoings and no one was above suspicion. “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret”, originally aired on December 23, 1956, was not so cut-and-dry as “The Perfect Crime”.
In “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret”, a mystery writer believes that there is something wrong with her neighbors, the Blanchards. The writer has never seen Mrs. Blanchard, and she comes up with several wild theories, until Mrs. Blanchard stops by to say “hello. ” When Mrs. Blanchard steals a silver cigarette lighter from the writer’s home, the writer believes that Mrs. Blanchard is a kleptomaniac, and this is why Mr. Blanchard keeps such a close eye on her. When the police find the dead body of a woman, the writer believes that Mr. Blanchard had finally had enough of his wife’s stealing, so he killed her.
However, Mrs. Blanchard then stops by, and with the cigarette lighter. This is how the episode ends. Unlike in “The Perfect Crime”, Hitchcock does not clarify the ending for the viewer. The episode is deliberately left open-ended, forcing the viewer to draw his or her own conclusion. The point of this story was that sometimes things are not always as they seem. Repetition was a key element of the story. Every time the writer came up with a strange theory, the theory would be dispelled when Mrs. Blanchard showed up. This repetition could also confuse a viewer. For example, at the end of the episode, Mrs.
Blanchard shows up with Mr. Blanchard, but Mr. Blanchard looks slightly different than in previous scenes. One cannot be completely sure that Mr. Blanchard is the same person, or that Mrs. Blanchard is the same person for that matter. This is only another example of how Hitchcock keeps the viewer guessing, and mixes it up a bit. Most of the “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episodes become predictable after viewing a few episodes. They all follow the same outline, which can get dull. Leaving “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret” open-ended put a little mystery back into the series.
The viewer is not even sure that a crime took place. Perhaps Hitchcock knew that the series was getting predictable, perhaps not, but this episode surely kept the audience in place for the next time the show aired. “Back for Christmas”, which aired on March 4, 1956, is yet another example of Hitchcock’s directing ability. This episode is about a couple preparing for a trip to California. Hermione tells her friends that she and her husband, Herbert, will be back for Christmas because she has a surprise for him. Meanwhile, Herbert is busy digging a hole in the basement for a wine cellar.
Before Herbert and Hermione go on their trip, Herbert kills Hermione and buries her in the hole in the basement. It turns out that the hole really was not for a wine cellar. Herbert goes to California on his own, planning to stay there permanently. He then receives an invoice from a company that is going to excavate the hole he buried his wife in for the wine cellar. This excavation was Hermione’s surprise for Herbert. This episode was quite ironic, but predictable. From the first scene that showed Herbert digging the hole, the viewer knew that it was not for a wine cellar, but for a body.
This is what an audience has come to expect from Alfred Hitchcock. However, the viewer keeps watching to find out how Herbert executes his plan. Despite this predictability, the work was classic Hitchcock. The plan was set up from the beginning, it was almost foiled, and Herbert managed to pull the murder off just to be found out later. The viewer did not get to see what ultimately happed to Herbert, or even if the excavation company found Hermione’s body, but the viewer can assume that Hermione was found and Herbert was arrested. However, Herbert could have called the excavation company and told them to call it off, and save his own skin.
In the end, the fate of Herbert is left to the imaginations of the viewers. Except in “The Perfect Crime”, Hitchcock did not reveal the fates of the characters. The viewer is left to assume the fates of the characters. A viewer tends to want to make up his or her own ending, this leads to a more satisfying viewing experience. This is what Hitchcock knew and did. Perhaps this was why rating for “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” were so high. Hitchcock’s techniques were groundbreaking in its time and many directors since have imitated the style.
Hitchcock’s use of the suspense, the twist, simple storylines, and close-up camera angles are key elements of Hitchcock’s directing and the use of these elements have become iconic and deeply associated with Alfred Hitchcock. The presence of suspense is in all three of the episodes, and is well-known to anyone who has ever heard of Alfred Hitchcock. It is used to varying degree, but it is there. It would not be a Hitchcock story without it. For example, in “The Perfect Crime”, the viewer really notices the suspense when Mr. Gregory accuses Mr. Courtney of putting an innocent man to death.
The suspense builds throughout the telling of the truth, and comes to a climax when the accusing begins after the story has been told. The suspense, either in Hitchcock’s films or in the television episodes he directed, is always subtle. Hitchcock never beats the viewers over the head or insults the viewers’ intelligence with obvious suspense like that seen in badly directed horror movies today. Nothing in a Hitchcock story is exaggerated to the point of stupidity. Hitchcock’s work can be described as “smart suspense”, the so-called equivalent to “smart comedy”.
The twist, another well-known technique of Hitchcock’s, is only present in two of the episodes, “The Perfect Crime” and “Back for Christmas”. The viewer believes he or she is going to witness one event, and then it turns out to be another. For example, the viewer is lead to believe that Herbert will get off scott-free in “Back for Christmas”. However, then comes the invoice for the excavation of the spot where he buried his wife. Also, in “The Perfect Crime”, the viewer expects Mr. Gregory to tell his story and leave, but in reality, Mr. Gregory never leaves Mr. Courtney’s apartment, alive anyway.
The twist is absent in “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret”. There is no twist at the end of the story, not even an explanation, only what seems to be a cliffhanger and the viewer to some degree expects a disclaimer at the bottom of the television screen that says, “to be continued”. However, perhaps the twist is present. Perhaps the twist is that every time the writer comes up with a theory about what happened to Mrs. Blanchard, Mrs. Blanchard makes an appearance. If this is the case, then there are several small twists in the episode rather than one big twist for the finale, like is expected.
Hitchcock once stated, “Some of our most exquisite murders have been domestic, performed with tenderness in simple, homey places like the kitchen table. ” (Spoto, 54) Simplicity was a necessity for Hitchcock. Simplicity is a key element of any Hitchcock work. All of the storylines for the episodes are simple. The viewer can easily follow along with each of these stories. Except for “The Perfect Crime”, the stories are linear and very simplistic. “The Perfect Crime” had a few flashback scenes, but even those were easy to follow. The viewer knew exactly what was happening at each point in the episode.
The simplicity of the stories help to increase the suspense. If the stories were difficult to the point of confusion, the suspense would be lost on the viewer. The viewer would be too busy trying to make sense out of the story. Another element of Hitchcock’s directing is the use of close-ups. Hitchcock was a fan of using close-ups to achieve more emotion. This occurs in every discussed episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. The close-ups do, indeed, show more emotion. For example, the last scene of “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret” shows the writer opening the door to find Mr. and Mrs. Blanchard.
Just moments before, the writer received a call from the police informing her that they had found the body of Mrs. Blanchard. The camera zoomed in on the writer’s face, showing deeply-rooted confusion and anxiety. If the camera had not zoomed in on the writer’s face at that moment, the viewer would not have been able to feel the emotions the writer was feeling because the viewer would not have been able to clearly see the writer’s face. The use of the close-up is also present in “Back for Christmas”. In the last scene of this episode, the camera zooms in on Herbert’s face, showing that Herbert was anxious and downright scared.
Herbert was scared, of course, because the excavation company would surely find his wife’s body buried in the basement. Even though the camera was squared with Herbert’s face, Herbert seemed to be staring off into space. The viewer could surely feel the fear in that man at that moment. The camera also zoomed in on the invoice Herbert received from the excavation company. The invoice said that they would excavate and line with concrete the hole Herbert had dug, supposedly for his wine cellar. Had the camera not zoomed in on the invoice, the audience would either have no idea what was happening, or Herbert would have to read it out loud.
Of course, the audience had to know what was happening, and it would have been awkward for Herbert to read the invoice out loud to himself. This is one particular instance where the use of the close-up was needed, and well executed. Another example of the close-up is in “The Perfect Crime”. There are several close-ups throughout this episode, but the ones that stand out are at the end, when Mr. Courtney and Mr. Gregory are fighting and when Mr. Courtney strangles Mr. Gregory. When the two men are fighting, the viewer can see the anger on both men’s faces, and the homicidal gleam in Mr.
Courtney’s eye. Mr. Courtney is furious at being accused of putting an innocent man to death, and he is determined to save his reputation. Without the close-up, this interpretation would be scattered, or even impossible. When Mr. Courtney strangles Mr. Gregory, Mr. Gregory’s face is zoomed in on. The viewer can practically see every pore on the man’s face. One cannot read his eyes, because they are closed, but the viewer can certainly see the pain and fear on his face. One can imagine being in that situation. The viewer cannot get away from the sight. Because the camera is so close to Mr.
Gregory’s face, the viewer has no choice but to bear the agony right along with Mr. Gregory. Like in his films, Hitchcock managed to successfully employ the directing techniques of using the twist, suspense, simplicity and the close-up, in the episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” he personally directed. Hitchcock had honed the use of these techniques, and used them in all of his work. These techniques are used by directors today, and critics comment frequently that particular films are reminiscent of Hitchcock because of the use of these techniques.
Like the cameo appearances he made in every one of his films, these four techniques became Alfred Hitchcock’s signature. ? “Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV Show. ” Mysterynet. com. 2005. 23 Jan. 2009. http://www. mysternet. com/hitchcock/ahp. shtml ? Haley, Michael. The Alfred Hitchcock Album. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1981. ? Perry, George. The Movie Makers: Hitchcock. London: Macmillan London Limited. 1975. ? Spoto, Donald. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures. NewSample Essay of Edusson.com