Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Book Review: "English Hitchcock" by Charles Barr

With a few exceptions, the films made by Alfred Hitchcock during the early part of his career in England are too often relegated to a footnote in his filmography, or are even misunderstood by people coming to them expecting to see work more clearly recognizable as that of the same director who made films such as North by Northwest and Psycho.

In English Hitchcock (Cameron Books, 2000), film scholar Charles Barr offers the most comprehensive study of this period of Hitchcock's career, which is actually quite varied and interesting for those studying the evolution of the director's work. Barr covers every film, though he does so by grouping certain films together for the purposes of comparison, an approach that helps to clearly demonstrate the relationship between films that at first seem to bear little in common with each other. He pays special attention to Hitchcock's literary influences, as well as his screenwriting collaborators, Eliot Stannard and Charles Bennett.

Barr does an excellent job of tracing Hitchcock's journey in filmmaking from his time as an apprentice in the British film industry and formative directing work, to his professional struggles with studio-assigned projects during the early '30s, and his eventual success with suspense thrillers such as The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps before accepting the call to come to Hollywood. Through his careful analysis, Barr also offers an appreciation of such lesser-known and less-examined titles as The Farmer's Wife and Number Seventeen, which are worth a second look.

English Hitchcock provides a much-needed critical context in which to view this important, if sometimes erratic and seemingly disparate, group of films that Hitchcock directed during his time in England.

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