Greta Garbo

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Silent Film of Alfred Hitchcock

     The Kinematograph Yearbook of 1928 include with the screen credits then acquired by Alfred Hitchcock those of his having been assistant and scenarist to director Graham Cutts on the films "Woman to Woman", "Blackguard" and "Passionate Adventure". The periodical credits Hitchcock as the director of "Pleasure Garden" (1926) after his joining Gainsborough Pictures in 1925. During filmed interviews late in his career, Hitchcock reflects that he had been trained in American silent film, despite the studios having been located in England- that the influence of Murnau and Eisenstien had only been subsequent.

Interestingly, in his recent academic paper Silent Hitchcock, author Robert Murphy, instructor at De Montfort University, Leicester, asks how important a silent film director Alfred Hitchcock was by wondering if Hitchcock had been killed with F.W. Murnau, that is if he had only made silent film and ended with Blackmail, which would have been his tenth silent, would his films still be studied or overlooked. Oddly, the author has chosen Hitchcock, who in fact often repeated camera set ups in his American sound films that he had previously used in lower budget British silent films, returning to redo elements of scenes and motifs he had used earlier- an ostensible reason for this being that he collaborated as a director on scripts with his wife both in England and in the United States which may have brought a sentimentality when the production costs of his films were much larger.
Murphy, in Silent Hitchcock, surveys Hitchcock's silent career, beginning by noting that "The Mountain Eagle" (1926) is a lost film. "All that survives of 'The Mountain Eagle' are the six stills reproduced in Truffaut's book of interviews with Hitchcock and we have no way of knowing if the film was as terrible as Hitchcock thought it was." It was in fact based on an original script rather than a popular novel or stage vehicle. The film stars actress Nita Naldi.
  Robert Murphy sees a more extensive use of location shooting when Hitchcock left Gainsborough studios for British international Pictures, and indeed, Hitchcock would continue to incorporate famous outdoor settings during climatic scenes, frequently as a backdrop for the McGuffin throughout his entire career, but while assessing Hitchcock s a silent director,he adds, "If Hitchcock makes use of outdoor realism, he by no means abandons Expressionism, though there's a refining down into something more akin to subjective Impressionism.
    When I wrote to Professor Murphy mentioning that we were looking at the  films of Hitchcock during an online college course offered here in the United States, he was kind enough to reply that he was glad that his essay had been of use.
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