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Presenting Alfred Hitchcock

Published: 4/29/2012
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Thirty-two years after Alfred Hitchcock's death Apr. 29, 1980, Sir Anthony Hopkins is making a new Hitchcock movie. No, not a long-lost thriller from the great filmmaker's pen – it's a biopic of the man himself. But as we all know, biopics rarely tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They often leave out crucial information, and sometimes they invent for the sake of a good story.

We don't know yet just what information new movie Hitchcock will get right and what it will fabricate or embellish, but in preparation for the silver screen story of one of Hollywood's greatest legends, we offer five facts. Commit them to memory, and later this year you'll be able to school your friends on the real story when you watch Hopkins play Hitchcock.

1. When Hitchcock was 5, his father punished him for misbehaving by sending him to the police station with a note asking them to lock him up for 10 minutes. As Hitchcock told it, the police followed through, putting him behind bars briefly and offering a lecture – and he never forgot it. Wrongful accusation and harsh punishment were frequent themes in his films.

2. Hitchcock was notorious for his supposed dislike of actors, but he denied believing that actors were "like cattle," as he was reported to have said. His meticulous attention to detail did lead to clashes with actors, who struggled with the discipline it took to shoot scenes over and over until they were perfect (and when you're talking about scenes like the long, continuous shots in the Farley Granger thriller Rope, each of which was up to 10 minutes long, that's a lot of discipline). Hitchcock was public about his disdain for stars who couldn't hack it or commit 100 percent to his difficult production schedule.

3. Another notable example of Hitchcock's perfectionism comes from his classic horror film Psycho, starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. The iconic scene – just three minutes long – took seven days to shoot. Leigh, the unfortunate bather, spent most of that time in the shower. A popular rumor has Hitchcock turning cold water on Leigh to enhance her screams, but Leigh insisted that the director was generous with the hot water – and her screams were just great acting.

4. The term "MacGuffin" – a misleading piece of information in a film that seems important, but doesn't contribute to the plot – was popularized by Hitchcock. He explained the nonsensical concept with this equally nonsensical story: "It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says 'What's that package up there in the baggage rack?,' and the other answers 'Oh, that's a MacGuffin.' The first one asks 'What's a MacGuffin?' 'Well,' the other man says, 'It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.' The first man says 'But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,' and the other one answers 'Well, then that's no MacGuffin!' So you see, a MacGuffin is nothing at all." Makes perfect sense, right?

5. If you're a fan, you probably know that Hitchcock made cameos in the majority of his films. In Lifeboat he appears in a newspaper photograph; he carries a double bass in Strangers on a Train; he mails a letter in Suspicion; and he shows up in a class reunion photo in Dial M for Murder. The trend began with Hitchcock filling in for obscure extras, but as fans caught on and became delighted with his appearances, he made them more prominent – and he also began to place them early in the film, often within the first few minutes, to prevent moviegoers from watching so avidly for his cameo that they forgot to pay attention to the plot.

Written by Linnea Crowther

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