Alfred Hitchcock
BBC Radio 4 interview


date: Oct 19, 1959

interviewer: Roy Plomley

main topics: beginnings, present cinema condition

link to audio: BBC


Alfred Hitchcock: I'm a very good listener. From the early age, I was a devotee of symphonic music. You know, the Albert Hall on Sunday and the Queen's Hall and so forth. You know, I'm a Londoner and I was quite a devotee of the theater from the very early age.

Roy Plomley: Were films the ambition from your school days, or like most of us, did you just happen to get into them?

I would say that apart from being the devotee of the theater and the concert, films also had an important part in one's amusements. But my interests became a little more deep beyond, shall we say, the fan magazine stage. I think my reading at the time, where films were concerned, was the trade magazine. So I really got deeply interested in pictures.

Were films your first job?

No, my first job was technical engineering job. I had studied engineering and I was in the estimating department of the cable company. Eventually then, I gravitated to the advertising department where having taken a course of art at the University of London, I was able to express myself there. And through that, I went into the designing of what were in those days of silent films, the art titles. They were rather naive affairs, when I look back at them. The title would say: John was leading a very fast life, and I would draw a candle with a flame at both hands underneath. From there, I went into writing scripts and then art direction and eventually into direction.

What was the first picture you directed?

The very first picture I directed was called The Pleasure Dome. It was a melodrama and it was made in Munich, Germany, and I had to direct in German.

Was that difficult? Was your German pretty good or did you have to improvise?

I would say it was enough to order a good meal. But it was silent pictures, so one wasn't involved in the final points of dialogue, or anything like that.

And then the few years later, you directed the very first British sound film.

That's right. That was called Blackmail.

You made quite a number of varied films before you settled down to specialize in suspense pictures. Which film was the turning point? Which one made you say: this is what I can do and what I want to do.

I really think that the film The Lady Vanishes pretty well set the pattern.

When you went to work in Hollywood, did you find any major adjustments necessary? Your old films have always been very British in background and character.

Not at all, because you see, the first film that I made in America was an English film. It was called Rebecca. And I have made many English films since the second film I made was called Foreign Correspondent. That was all laid in London and Holland. The thing that I began to learn was the fact that the audience is the same all over the world, and not to make the films for one audience, but to make them for the world audience.

You worked as a freelance, don't you? So did you have a complete freedom from interference, did you work just the way you wanted to, from the first idea right up to the finish line?

Oh yes.

Which has been your favorite film? Which has given you the most satisfaction?

I actually make many types of films. In other words: an adventure story, a psychological thriller... I think my favorite is called Shadow of a Doubt because this film combines many elements: the element of suspense, the element of the local atmosphere of a small town, quite an amount of character, and also the enjoyment of having worked with Thornton Wilder.

Yes, I remember it well. The pattern of the film industry is changing very fast. An audience, as they say, are losing the cinema habit, there are fewer films. What do you think will be the future pattern?

I think that audience is now having become selective. The assembly line has gone. I think each film stands on its own merits. I think one has to tackle it in terms of making a film that will attract audiences for its special virtues. Not just another movie. As you say, the habit has gone. The nearest I could compare would be to say the publishing of the new book, or a play. Now, if it's successful, it has a good run. If it isn't successful, then it's gone.

To cut out the present rather ridiculous release system where every film, whether it is a masterpiece or a piece of crap, all is played for one week.

Well, that's ridiculous as you know. Why would a film have its run when there are people who are willing to pay to see it over a period of weeks. Just as the stage play!

You have moved into the television field as well, haven't you?

A little sideline. Yes, of course that doesn't compare at all to making pictures in any way.

Well, you told us about the last film you have been making. Are you planning another one?

I'm planning a psychological film. It is called Psycho. It is in a niche of, shall we say, a rather gentle horror.

And as usual, are you going to be in it yourself for just a brief appearance?

Oh, I always make a brief appearance. And now of course, especially in America, one visit makes you so familiar that I have to get into the picture and out as quickly as possible so it doesn't spoil the story.

You have a reputation in the studios for being a practical joker. Would you say it is justified?

Not today. As a matter of fact, the practical jokes that I used to enjoy were always benevolent ones. They were never of a burning-the-seat of-another-person kind. As a matter of fact, I gave it up because they were rather too generous. They were expensive. I don't do it anymore.