"Some of our most exquisite murders have been domestic, performed with tenderness in simple, homey places like the kitchen table."
...and here is the Master of Suspense. While Hitchcock happens to be one of the better-known directors of the 20th century, he surely is the only master of enigma. Spoto has done an admirable job in depicting the life of a man always shrouded in mystery.
The book follows Hitch from his childhood. A rather unattractive mother's boy, he was an outcast at public school. It continues his story from humble beginnings, through the discovery of genius, and ends at his death in 1980, at the age of 81. Throughout the pages, Spoto covers Hitchcock's life in detail, including his many quirks, obsessions bizarre sense of humour.
Hitchcock's life was indeed bizarre - his personality and obsessions manifesting themselves in his over-eating and his dry, often macabre sense of humour. However, as the author rightly points out, the director also revealed this side of himself through the images of his movies. This makes a fascinating study once you have read the book and you'll never view Hitch's films at face value again.
Because of her desire to protect her father's privacy, Hitch's daughter, Pat, refused Spoto any assistance in the writing of this book. He went instead to a veritable legion of actors and screenwriters who knew him and worked with him. The result is an extremely revealing and often very dark portrait of a man whose character was as shadowed as his films.
But not all is dark and foreboding. There are several amusing anecdotes, which highlight Hitch's macabre sense of humour. Like the time he had a dummy made in his own likeness and sent it floating on its back down the Thames river as a publicity stunt for his movie "Frenzy" in 1972.
My own personal favourite is the story of a woman who accosted him and complained that the "Psycho" shower scene so frightened her daughter that the girl would no longer shower. His laconic reply was, "Then, Madam, I suggest you have her dry cleaned."
He also did not suffer actors gladly. While he did have his stable of favourites that he worked with, he once claimed that actors were cattle. Later he said, "I didn't say that actors are cattle - I said they should be treated as cattle." Another story says that when an actress asked Hitchcock if her right or left profile was better, he told her, "My dear, you're sitting on your best profile."
Some of Spoto's claims I can't help but treat with a little scepticism. I do know that Hitch had a fascination with murder but the tender way in which he presents it in his films is classic Hitchcock. However, the author's statement that scenes in Hitch's movies reflect kind of voyeurism, I feel that with his trademark camera pans through windows, the director was trying to give the audience a bird's eye view of the scene - no more and no less. It is his way of allowing us to enter the private lives of his characters.
When all is said and done, this is a fascinating book of a fascinating man. A genius in his own time, but also a frustrated enigma, with a taste for the truly macabre. I highly recommend this book to anyone remotely interested in learning about the man behind the mystery, although it is a little heavy at times.
I'll leave the last word to the Master of Suspense himself:
"Television has brought back murder into the home - where it belongs.