For a man who was largely behind the camera, Londoner Alfred Hitchcock was and is extraordinarily and instantly recognizable. Not many film directors are themselves the star attraction, but with Hitchcock that was undoubtedly the case.
People went to the cinema to see — and still go to the cinema to see — one of fifty “Alfred Hitchcock” films. And in the 1950s and 1960s, their televisions brought him into their home, with Alfred Hitchcock Presents, from which these stills were taken.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Running between 1955 (Hitchcock was then 56) and 1965, Hitchcock hosted (plus had created, plus produced) the show. It was a compilation of stories intended to thrill and intrigue. And it was especially well known for its intro.
The screen started with a silhouette of Hitchcock’s profile (who drew it? Hitchcock drew it). Hitchcock himself enters into view, as a silhouette and steps in front of the drawing. Elegantly, he says with beautiful understatement, “Good Evening.”
For each story, Hitchcock would set the scene with a short and laconically witty speech, sometimes on a barren stage, sometimes on the set. In the USA, he spoke in English, but Hitchcock also recorded French and German versions.
The director also closed the show, but with less humour, more tying together the disparate threads into a satisfying resolution. And in particular, at the behest of censors, he would emphatically state that any ne’er-do-well who’d apparently got off scot-free had in fact got his (or her) comeuppance.
Originally taking up a mere 25 minutes, the show later doubled and, in 1962, became The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. But perhaps slightly surprisingly, of the 267 episodes, Hitchcock himself only directed 17. No shortage of talent, though: guest stars included Walter Matthau, Steve McQueen, Vincent Price, Robert Redford, Robert Vaughn, and Bette Davis.
The show was a ratings hits, and it also spun out several books, including the brilliantly titled Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do on TV, made up stories that the censors had nixed. (Mind you, some of those cut were later made part of the show…)
Artistically, was it a success? Well, it was twice Emmy Award nominated (both Hitchcock-directed episodes), let’s put it that way. And The Writers Guild of America have a view. In their assemblage of “The 101 Best-Written TV Series of All Time,” Alfred Hitchcock Presents is tied for #79. With Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now there’s a mystery…