Masters of Suspense: Alfred Hitchcock and Daphne du Maurier

Give them pleasure. Same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.

      --Alfred Hitchcock in an interview with the American Film Institute
Alfred Hitchcock, universally acknowledged as “The Master of Suspense”, was born in the suburbs of London on August 13, 1899. Hitchcock’s first job within the film industry was as a title-card designer for the Famous Players Lasky film company. Hitchock went on to hold roles as assistant director, script writer, art director, and editor before directing his first solo film in 1925. In 1926, Hitchcock’s third film, The Lodger, was his first big success and established him as a maker of thrillers. Over the next fifty years, Hitchcock completed fifty additional feature films.
Hitchcock’s suspense films can be categorized into three major themes that span throughout his British period (which is roughly from 1925 to 1939) and his American period (1940 to 1976). These categories are the accused man, the guilty woman, and the psychopath. The accused man theme, which can be seen in many of his films, including The 39 Steps, Spellbound, To Catch a Thief, and North by Northwest, involved a double chase where the police pursue the falsely accused hero who in turns chases the true villain. The guilty woman theme appears in Sabotage, Rebecca, Notorious, Vertigo, and Marnie. What is interesting about these two themes is rarely does the accused man turn out to be guilty (two of the main exceptions are Shadow of a Doubt and Stage Fright), however, the guilty woman is never innocent (in Dial M for Murder, Grace Kelly’s character is innocent of murder, but she is guilty of adultery). The third theme of Hitchcock’s suspense films is the story of the psychopath as seen in Psycho, Shadow of a Doubt, and Rope. The psychopath theme is sometimes combined with the falsely accused man theme, such as in Strangers on a Train and Frenzy.
Three of Hitchcock’s suspense films (Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and The Birds), which span the British and American periods, were adaptations of popular Daphne du Maurier works.
Daphne du Maurier is the author of 17 novels and works on biography, history, and short stories. She was born on May 13, 1907 in London—her father was the famous actor Sir Gerald du Maurier, and her grandfather was the writer George du Maurier. While du Maurier has often been characterized by many as a romance author, many of her works contain an element of suspense or the gothic in them. Isolation, decaying landscapes, the supernatural, villains, and murder are common gothic themes used throughout du Maurier’s works.
"The Masters of Suspense: Alfred Hitchcock and Daphne du Maurier" film series will be held at the Headquarters Library and will feature the following films:
Monday, December 7, 7:00-9:00
Jamaica Inn (1939)
“Irish orphan girl Mary is sent to stay with Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss in Cornwall. Joss is the landlord of Jamaica Inn and also the head of a gang of pirates who lure ships to their doom on the rocky coast. Mary soon finds herself in trouble when she discovers the truth. Starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara.” [98 minutes]
Monday, January 25, 7-9
Rebecca (1940)
“Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), still troubled by the death of his first wife Rebecca, falls in love with a shy ladies' companion. They get married, but the second Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine) discovers that Rebecca still has a strong hold on everyone in the house, particularly on Mrs. Denvers, the housekeeper, who begins driving the young wife to madness. [130 minutes]
Monday, February 22, 7-9
The Birds (1963)
Wealthy reformed party girl Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) enjoys a brief flirtation with lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a San Francisco pet shop and decides to follow him to his Bodega Bay home. Bearing a gift of two lovebirds, Melanie quickly strikes up a romance with Mitch while contending with his possessive mother and boarding at his ex-girlfriend's house. One day, during a birthday party for Mitch's younger sister, a flock of birds attacks the children in what seems to be a random incident. In fact, it signals the beginning of a massive avian assault on the residents of the town--a mysterious assault that no one can explain.” [119 minutes]