Hitchcock: Hey, Sometimes He Was Less Than Perfect

The famous scene in Suspicion: great visual!
I'm currently reading through A Year of Hitchcock: 52 Weeks the Master of Suspense by Jim McDevitt and Eric San Juan. I don't share McDevitt and San Juan's adulation of Hitchcock--however, I appreciate their analysis which focuses on the art of story and film rather than on meaning (in other words, they don't over-intellectualize Hitchcock).

Besides which, one of them makes a great point in his review of Suspicion.

The story behind Suspicion is that Hitchcock originally wanted Cary Grant to be a killer, but the studio balked, so he had to switch to the current ending at the last moment. The authors of A Year argue that this is pure folklore. Hitchcock always intended the ending as it now stands. He started to put about the rumor of studio interference when the ending was panned by critics.

Why is the ending criticized? Because (and having seen the film several times, I agree with this), "[The ending] is not entirely unpleasing as it is, but given the way Johnny is portrayed--as a calculating conniver--Hitchcock's [supposed] suggested ending would have been more in line with the story, not to mention far more satisfying."

I don't necessarily agree that it would have been more satisfying: a con turns out to be . . . a murderous con. Ho hum. But I do agree that it would have made far more sense.

I also totally buy that Hitchcock didn't see this while he was making the film and revised history to blame the studio after the fact.

Why? Because of Psycho.

To me, Psycho shows the same defect as Suspicion, only with Psycho, Hitchcock got away with it, it being a story that doesn't really hold together, no matter how many times you see the film. The beginning and the end feel like two different films; the murderer's motives are over-explained when Hitchcock would have been better served ignoring motive (since psychopaths may not make sense, but they do show consistency, and trying to explain Norman just highlights his character's utter inconsistency). If Psycho hadn't been acclaimed--and Hitchcock turned unnecessarily into a demigod by French intellectuals--I'm sure Hitchcock would have found someone to blame for misleading him.

Don't get me wrong. I love Hitchcock films. I've seen Rear Window so many times, I've put myself on a Rear-Window-Time-Out. I think Notorious is one of the finest Cary Grant films ever made. And I personally consider Shadow of a Doubt to be one of the best films of all time.

The excellently scripted, acted, and filmed uncle-niece
relationship in Shadow of a Doubt.
But that shows my writer's bias. The scriptwriter for Shadow of a Doubt is Thornton Wilder, and the superb storytelling shows. It isn't a flawless script but it is possibly the best out of all Hitchcock's films--deep without slowing down, complex yet tidy. (I'm excluding Rebecca which came ready made.)

My view is grounded in bias: I want story, and I'll take it at the expense of almost everything else. However, although I don't care for Psycho, considering it massively overrated, and although I think that Hitchcock's payoffs are sometimes less impressive than proponents of Hitchcock try to argue, I can't really fault him.

Hitchcock was a director/a camera/an eye before anything else. 

A good film needs a good story, but the truth is, many filmmakers become filmmakers because they love visuals. Their modus operandi isn't the same as the modus operandi of the intellectuals and critics that cause them grief; their modus operandi is images: what we see, how we see, what we are guided to see. And Hitchcock truly was a master here. The fact that he also attempted--to varying degrees--to tell a decent story (and wasn't afraid, until the intellectuals got hold of him, to tell a simple story) is to his credit. I consider most of his films to be classics--just, some are better than others.

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