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Hitchcock’s British Films

Maurice Yacowar

Publication Year: 2010

Originally published in 1977 and long out of print, Maurice Yacowar’s Hitchcock’s British Films was the first volume devoted solely to the twenty-three films directed by Alfred Hitchcock in his native England before he came to the United States. As such, it was the first book to challenge the assumption that Hitchcock’s “mature” period in Hollywood, from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, represented the director’s best work. In this traditional auteurist examination of Hitchcock’s early work, author Maurice Yacowar considers Hitchcock’s British films in chronological order, reads the composition of individual shots and scenes in each, and pays special attention to the films’ verbal effects. Yacowar’s readings remain compelling more than thirty years after they were written, and some—on Downhill, Champagne, and Waltzes from Vienna—are among the few extended interpretations of these films that exist. Alongside important works such as Murder!, the first The Man Who Knew Too Much, Secret Agent, The Lady Vanishes, and Blackmail, readers will appreciate Yacowar’s equal attention to lesser-known films like The Pleasure Garden, The Ring, and The Manxman. Yacowar dissects Hitchcock’s precise staging and technical production to draw out ethical themes and metaphysical meanings of each film, while keeping a close eye on the source material, such as novels and plays, that Hitchcock used as the inspiration for many of his screenplays. Yacowar concludes with an overview of Hitchcock as auteur and an appendix identifying the director’s appearances in these films. A foreword by Barry Keith Grant and a preface to the second edition from Yacowar complete this comprehensive volume. Anyone interested in Hitchcock, classic British cinema, or the history of film will appreciate Yacowar’s accessible and often witty exploration of the director’s early work.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

With the republication of Maurice Yacowar’s Hitchcock’s British Films, both traditional Hitchcocko- Hawksians and younger post- whatever turks will have cause to rejoice. This, the first book devoted to the twenty- three films directed by Alfred Hitchcock in his native En gland...

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Preface to the Second Edition

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pp. xi-xiv

I have mixed feelings as I reread my thirty- three- year- old book for reissue. There are bits I almost suspect someone else must have written. There my odd “Good point!” is outnumbered by “Where did he get that?”
Is it still “my” Hitchcock? Yes, because when one of these films pops up I’m riveted afresh. Though I usually see what I saw then, I’m...

Acknowledgments to the First Edition

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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. 1-8

Alfred Hitchcock is considered one of the world’s greatest filmmakers because of his sublimely cinematic imagination, his technical and thematic experimentation, and that run of masterpieces from Rear Window (1954) through The Birds (1963)...

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The Pleasure Garden (1925)

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pp. 9-17

Hitchcock’s first complete feature film—The Pleasure Garden— was made by an already experienced hand. Hitchcock began as a title designer and writer when the American Famous Players– Lasky company opened an office in London in 1920. From his typically unpretentious...

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The Mountain Eagle (1926)

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pp. 18-19

Of Hitchcock’s second feature film, The Mountain Eagle, it appears that nothing remains but the six stills in Truffaut’s book. Hitchcock directed the film in 1926, again for Michael Balcon in the Emelka studios in Munich. Hitchcock again worked with Eliot Stannard on...

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The Lodger (1926)

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pp. 20-28

Despite the expertise of at least The Pleasure Garden and perhaps The Mountain Eagle too, it is The Lodger that most— including Hitchcock— consider the first characteristically Hitchcock film.1 Certainly the director’s lighting and editing effects have richened. More...

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Downhill (1927)

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pp. 29-36

Upon the Hitchcock- Novello team’s success in The Lodger, Hitchcock was assigned to direct the film of the play Downhill in which Novello starred and which Novello wrote with Constance Collier, under the pseudonym David L’Estrange. Downhill was released in...

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Easy Virtue (1927)

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pp. 37-40

Easy Virtue is probably Hitchcock’s most unfamiliar feature film. It has not enjoyed even the dismissal given Waltzes from Vienna and Champagne. In his book- length study of Hitchcock, Durgnat gives Easy Virtue one sentence,1 possibly because the film was not available...

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The Ring (1927)

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pp. 41-46

With The Ring Hitchcock makes a fresh start. He filmed his own story and screenplay, and for a new studio, British International Pictures. The result is a lively film with at least two points in common with the earlier work.1 Again Hitchcock develops a pattern of circles...

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The Farmer's Wife (1928)

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pp. 47-57

Having proved his skill on his original The Ring, Hitchcock returned to adaptation for the phenomenally successful stage comedy The Farmer’s Wife by Eden Phillpotts, based on his novel Widecombe Fair. Hitchcock tells Truffaut that the play ran for some 1,400 performances...

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Champagne (1928)

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pp. 58-63

Hard upon the brilliance of The Ring and The Farmer’s Wife, and but a year before The Manxman and Blackmail, Hitchcock produced what may be his worst feature film, Champagne. Bioscope gave it brief praise, perhaps grateful for Hitchcock’s enlivening the British...

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The Manxman (1929)

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pp. 64-75

If Champagne suffers from the unresolved tension between the moralist and the light romantic, The Manxman explores the tension between the moralist and the passionate romantic. Hitchcock frames the film with the moral he took from the title page of his...

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Blackmail (1929)

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pp. 76-89

The irresolution in The Manxman between the moral conclusion and the film’s romantic spirit is overcome in Blackmail. Indeed, from Champagne through The Manxman to Blackmail Hitchcock moves away from adherence to conventional tenets and toward the subversive spirit for which he is known...

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Elstree Calling (1930)

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pp. 90-91

From Blackmail Hitchcock went to work on the first British musical, Elstree Calling, directed by Adrian Brunel. The film is an undistinguished series of music-hall acts, featuring such stars as Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge, Anna May Wong, Jameson Thomas, Donald...

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Juno and the Paycock (1930)

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pp. 92-97

The lazy, strutting braggart, “Captain” Boyle (Edward Chapman), would rather drink with his lying, thieving buddy, Joxer Daly (Sidney Morgan), than work or attend to the needs of his family, which responsibilities fall on his wife, Juno (Sara Allgood). Lawyer Charles...

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Murder! (1930)

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pp. 98-110

Hitchcock’s third sound feature, Murder!, has suffered not so much neglect as misrepresentation. For one thing, a surprising number of commentators call the murderer the heroine’s “fiancé.” He is a friend, his passion unreciprocated. Indeed when the hero asks if she...

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The Skin Game (1931)

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pp. 111-115

As in Juno and the Paycock, Hitchcock’s adaptation stays generally close to Galsworthy’s The Skin Game. Only close comparison reveals changes and shifts of emphasis.1
The plot pits the progressive, vulgar industrialist, Hornblower (stage star Edmund Gwenn), against the traditionalist gentry, the Hillcrists...

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Rich and Strange (1932)

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pp. 116-123

After his three adaptations of well- known properties (Juno, Murder!, The Skin Game), Hitchcock took an extremely personal tangent with Rich and Strange, from a screenplay by Alma Reville and Val Valentine, based on a story by Dale Collins. Though unlike anything...

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Number Seventeen (1932)

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pp. 124-129

Hitchcock’s next three efforts were seriously marred by his studio’s financial difficulties. He directed Number Seventeen for the failing British International Pictures, then worked as producer for Lord Camber’s Ladies, a quota quickie, “a poison thing. I gave it to Benn Levy to...

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Waltzes from Vienna (1933)

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pp. 130-134

Yes, the master of suspense once made a musical: Waltzes from Vienna, an unusually free adaptation of the stage libretto by A. M. Willner, Heinz Reichert, and Ernst Marischka.1 In the United States the film was released as Strauss’ Great Waltz...

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The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

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pp. 135-145

While Hitchcock was struggling through Waltzes from Vienna, he had in his drawer the finished script for the film that would return him to form, The Man Who Knew Too Much. In five years, 1934– 38, Hitchcock would direct the six films that established “the Hitchcock...

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The 39 Steps (1935)

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pp. 146-154

The 39 Steps is Hitchcock’s most popular British film. Ralph Thomas remade it, with Kenneth More in the Robert Donat role, dooming himself to an eternity of unfavorable comparisons.
Hitchcock’s film also suffers from its reputation as entertainment. John Russell Taylor makes a typical assumption: “Any idea of the...

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Secret Agent (1936)

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pp. 155-163

The tentative resolution of The 39 Steps and the embroilment of innocents in a political tangle (Hannay, Pamela, Mr. Memory) return in Secret Agent, a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden. Secret Agent is the grimmest of Hitchcock’s 1930s...

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Sabotage (1936)

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pp. 164-172

Having based Secret Agent on Maugham’s Ashenden, Hitchcock turned to adapt Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. As secret agents communicate in code, he changed the title to Sabotage. In America the film was known as The Woman Alone and Hidden Power. Hitchcock fed...

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Young and Innocent (1937)

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pp. 173-183

Of Hitchcock’s classic British thriller period, the most underrated film is Young and Innocent. It has been praised for catching the British flavor:
Hitchcock’s direction is painstaking, revealing brilliance of characterisation and attention to detail. This is an outstanding example...

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The Lady Vanishes (1938)

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pp. 184-196

The Lady Vanishes is the high point in Hitchcock’s British period and was the most enthusiastically received. Reviewers applauded how Hitchcock’s verve and style make one overlook the logical gaps and improbabilities.1 It remains the most frequently shown British...

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Jamaica Inn (1939)

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pp. 197-203

Hitchcock’s British period formally ends with the release of Jamaica Inn on May 20, 1939. As a division point, the film seems an arbitrary choice, as Rebecca, his first film for David Selznick in America, is just as English in its cast, source, and setting. Hitchcock returned to...

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Conclusion: Hitchcock's Imagery and Art

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pp. 204-216

Of the twenty- three feature films that Hitchcock directed in his first fifteen years, none is without some interest and some lively personal character. Hitchcock was Hitchcock from the outset— perceptive, progressive, and playful in his mischievous machinations...

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Appendix: Hitchcock's Appearances

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pp. 217-226

One reason Alfred Hitchcock is the world’s best- known film director is surely his signature appearance in many of his films. But there is more than just identification when Hitchcock steps into his frame. He is very careful about how and where he will appear. The manner of...


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pp. 227-256


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pp. 257-264

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814337035
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814334942

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 17
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: Second Edition
Volume Title: N/a
Series Title: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series