The British comedian Paul Merton isn’t exactly renowned as a film critic, but I found his BBC 4 documentary about the films that Alfred Hitchcock made in the UK to be eminently watchable. I’m a long-time admirer of the Master of Suspense, and I wasn’t sure about how Merton would tackle the subject, but a love of humour unites the two men and Merton’s analysis was amiable and interesting in its focus on some of Hitch’s less celebrated films (many of which I must admit I’ve never seen.)
Hitch was seen explaining that he only ever filmed one ‘whodunit’, because he didn’t find it satisfactory to have his audiences concentratiing on the solution to a puzzle, rather than on emotional engagement with the characters. I think he had in mind some of the highly cerebral detective stories of the Golden Age (step forward Ronald Knox?) but I’d take issue with the suggestion that all whodunits of the past, let alone the present, lack an emotional pull.
However, there’s no doubt that the key to Hitchcock’s genius is his ability to involve viewer in the build-up of suspense. So often we know something that the protagonist does not. I was interested by his statement that he erred in Sabotage (one of the movies I haven’t seen) by having the bomb actually go off and kill someone, rather than being discovered in the nick of time. Among the other films mentioned was Young and Innocent – I own an omnibus DVD which includes this one, but have never got round to watching it, perhaps because the title put me off. I ought to give it a chance.
Hitch’s use of dramatic settings for climatic scenes was emphasised, as was his range of camera tricks and techniques. I learned that many of his early ‘talkies’ were based on stage plays, until his career took a leap forward with the first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Among the movies that this programme has encouraged me to seek out is his first ‘talkie’, Blackmail. And the witty script made it good viewing for its own sake.