Falk’s previous books (Anthony Hopkins, Albert Finney) were biographies in the classic sense: here he delves into archives and first hand interviews to paint a vivid portrait not so much of Hitch the man, as Hitch the filmmaker. Tracing Hitchcock from his roots as a designer of silent movie titles to the waning of his career in the 60s and 70s, Falk has landed on a subject which simultaneously tells the story of cinema itself.
Illustrated with stills and lesser-known publicity shots, Mr Hitchcock also uses occasional sidebars on key characters and commentators from Hitch’s career. And although Falk admits he’s not adding anything startlingly original, his selections from existing biographies are well-judged.
Successfully drawing together the strands of Hitchcock’s career, the early films and Hitch’s British roots are thoroughly explored. So too the director’s controversial transition to Hollywood and his rare ability to play the studio system for his own ends.
With only 30 pages to go, Falk still hasn’t touched on Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho or The Birds. Yet all Hitch’s films are satisfyingly covered, placed in the context of the director’s developing and oft-imitated talent. Hitch’s quirks and penchants - for blonde leading ladies - also feature.
Reassuringly Falk avoids the tiresome film-book vogue for sketching how each film was made and listing the newspaper reviews of the day. Rather, this is an account of Hitchcock’s collaborations – with actors, composers, designers and producers – and the director’s genuine contributions to 20th century cinema.
Good, too, is the contextualization of the films. Falk neither assumes we’ve seen the films nor talks down to us. As for the blockbuster generation who need an intro to Hitchcock, there are sparky asides: mentioning Hitch’s 1930s film Mr & Mrs Smith, Falk’s anxious we don’t confuse it with “the execrable 2005 film” – Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie – “of the same name”.
Plenty of facts, then, but Falk only occasionally ventures his own views. Pity, as his comments entertain and pique our interest. So, Jamaica Inn (1939) is enjoyable for the wrong reasons - “ripe ham…like a very tasty pig roast”. Yet Saboteur (1942) – surely one of Hitch’s lesser known efforts – is “a cracking, breathless thriller with…set pieces that rank alongside Hitchcock’s most memorable”.
Mr Hitchcock is a handsome book. Less of a recommendation are the several typos the editors should have spotted. But quibbles aside, this is an illuminating and entertaining read that deserves to stand as an intelligent introduction to one of cinema’s most enduring talents.
Impressively balanced, the book’s strength is Falk’s deft weaving of anecdote and fact, creating a satisfying substance out of less than 200 pages. Putting it down, you’ll want to see Hitch’s movies again. And what better tribute can there be than that?