Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life

Few film directors are as recognizable to the general public by name, visage and voice as the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980). He carefully cultivated his public persona through numerous interviews, films that rarely ventured out of his chosen genre and even by playing a comedic version of himself as host of the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. There are dozens of full-length biographies devoted to Alfred Hitchcock (including Donald Spoto's 600-page The Dark Side of Genius and Patrick McGilligan's 800-page Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light), but Peter Ackroyd's Alfred Hitchcock offers a concise, urbane and streamlined overview of Hitchcock's life and work in just 260 pages, while still delivering psychological insights about the man and thoughtful evaluations of his films.

"By his own account he was afraid of everything," writes Ackroyd (Charlie Chaplin). But rather than being crippled by these fears, "Hitchcock projected his anxiety into his films." Sometimes his work reduced his anxiety--Hitchcock created his most vivacious picture, North by Northwest, while despairing over his wife's cervical cancer treatment. Other times, his anxiety fed his films--like Psycho. However, when Paramount balked at producing the dark and violent thriller, Hitchcock waived his director's fee in favor of a 60% ownership of the film, shot it with a TV crew and made a fortune.

With neuroses and quirks that spanned his real and reel lives, Alfred Hitchcock is a fascinating subject, and Ackroyd's biography is an engaging, tightly packed and witty overview of the man and his 53 films. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

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