The Man Who Knew Too Much

It was thirty years ago today that Alfred Hitchcock left this world and made his way up to the Great Director’s Chair in the sky. Over the course of the previous sixty years he had directed a half century of films and many of these are still considered amongst the best ever made. He was particularly successful in the thriller genre and this earned him the sobriquet of The Master of Suspense for his innovative use of this storytelling device. Many films and, especially, thrillers rely on some elements of surprise within the plot and Hitchcock used such moments in the final act of films such as Vertigo and Psycho. But it is his use of suspense for which he is renowned. In this well-known tale from Francois Truffaut’s interview with him, Hitchcock brilliantly illustrates the difference between surprise and suspense with this example. As he explains to the French director:

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

So, next time you’re watching a Hitchcock film keep an eye out for scenes that contain either surprise or suspense. I’m sure you’ve seen a few of his films over the years and the two I mention above are definitely worth checking out. So is Rear Window, which is one of the best films ever made about voyeurism. I’m also a big fan of his adaptation of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps. This was one of the most successful films he made in Britain before he went on to an even more successful career in Hollywood. It features many themes that he would draw upon throughout his career such as mistaken identity, political intrigue and innocent people finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. He also draws upon the romantic comedy genre and the excellent rapport between the two leads would also fuel many of the most popular films he made in the States. He also had a penchant for blonde-haired leading ladies with Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren and Kim Novak playing some of his most popular heroines. I don’t know what he’d make of Lady GaGa, but she mentions the titles of three of his films in her hit, Bad Romance. Here’s a cover of the song by another blonde named Lissie

Bad Romance (Lady GaGa cover) – Lissie

Image courtesy of Film Industry Bloggers


One thought on “The Man Who Knew Too Much

  1. Hitchcock was brilliant filmmaker, to be sure. I always preferred his comedies – To Catch A Thief or The Trouble With Harry, for example. Even North By Northwest has plenty of humor, tho cloaked in drama & suspense. The creativity he brought to the planning & production of Rope is legendary, tho the film is not among my favorites of his.

    Did you ever see Alfred Hitchcock Presents, his television show? That was a wonderful show from the late 50s/early 60s. Right up there with The Twilight Zone, only more cerebral than sensational in its drama. Certainly worth seeking out.

    As for humor, if you are a fan of Bill Murray, be sure to check out The Man Who Knew Too Little – plenty of nods to Hitch amongst the Murray moments.

    As for the track – love me some Lissie, but can’t abide the Gaga. I’d sooner have a case of shingles than listen to Gaga…

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