Book Review — “Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life”

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Does the world really need ANOTHER Alfred Hitchcock biography? After the hundreds of thousands of words by his more-or-less autobiographers (Francois Truffaut, Peter Bogdanovick, chief among them) who interviewed him in person and added analysis, of others from Robin Wood to Donald Spoto and William Rothman (“The Murderous Gaze”), is there anything new to say about the Master of Suspense?

No. Or at least, “not really.” British writer-by-assignment Peter Ackroyd, whose best known credits are quick “biographies” of Shakespeare and, um, London, isn’t breaking new ground and on occasion, gets his facts wrong in his new book “Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Biography.”

But get past his sometimes clumsy constructions and the general cut-and-paste-other-people’s research nature of his “Nice work if you can get it” assignment, and the breezy, fairly thorough brevity of “A Brief Biography” wins you over.

Here’s a birth to death tale that hits the highlights, dismisses some theories about the man (lifelong fear of the law, overt perversion), or at least gives them no more weight than they probably deserve.

Having access to half a century of serious Hitchcock scholarship, and Youtube — for all those “screen test” clips, bits of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and the like — one can compile a fairly comprehensive biography of the filmmaker. And every passing year passes further judgment on the movies which endure, and those which fade. His light entertainments and his “gotcha” thrillers — “Shadow of a Doubt,””Foreign Correspondent,” “Strangers on a Train”, “North by Northwest,” and of course, the Holy Trinity — “Psycho,” “Rear Window” and “The Birds” — are as fresh as ever.

Much of the rest fades in impact, though “Spellbound,” “Notorious,” “Rope” and “The Birds” have their champions.

Every so often, the working glass gourmand who loved playing the audience like a fiddle earns a revival, and he lives on in film schools — the great master of montage and storyboarding, the great treater of actors as “cattle.”

“A Brief Biography” fits the times, a shorter summary of all that’s said and known about him, an appreciation of his films and how and why they came to be, saving most of us the tedium of the heftier Hitch tomes and getting right to the juicy stuff.

Yeah, he came on to Tippi Hedron, but there are no accounts of him trying that stuff with earlier starlets. No, he wasn’t paid $129,000 per episode (in 1950s dollars) for “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

But for a Hitch bio Greatest Hits, “A Brief Biography” will do.

 

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