If you were to find yourself on the corner of Prospect St and 36th St NW in the Washington D. C. district of Georgetown in the 1950s or ’60s, a cursory glance down a perilous flight of stairs would have you thinking twice about continuing your merry little jaunt. The seventy-five steps would later be christened The Exorcist Steps, thanks to the dramatic finale of the late William Friedkin’s 1973 Horror classic. However in the decades pre-plunging priest, this vertiginous staircase was known locally as the Hitchcock Steps, so suspenseful would be your descent, and so ingrained in the public’s consciousness was the director.

The shadow of Alfred Hitchcock looms large over cinema. His fifty-three films (and assorted shorts, television episodes, and so on) serve as influential landmarks of the film industry and, over his six decades, drew a line in the Hollywood sand between innovators and imitators. Vanguarding his way across the silent era via the first British film to use sound, through the melodrama and MacGuffins of the American era, his films defined genres and delighted audiences in their millions. His name, with nebulous synonymity, means SUSPENSE!

Much (much) has been written on the director’s craft and legacy over the years, and today we find ourselves sitting down with the latest critical appreciation of the man and his movies, Hitchology by Neil Alcock. A fascinating and genuinely funny look at the director, his films, the herds of actors he worked with, and an industry and society in the process of ever-accelerating change.

Taking us through Hitch’s filmography film by film (including welcome stops on the way into his television work, his wartime propaganda, etc.), the book details the director’s career with insight and alacrity. The author wears his clear passion and evident expertise incredibly well, yet welcomes the reader with a keen sense of the initial wonder on discovering the director’s work for the first time.


I can’t think of a better introduction to the world of Alfred Hitchcock. Indeed, this is the book I would have wanted to have read in my Film Studies course, just after having had my mind blown by seeing Vertigo for the first time. Instead, after devouring dozens of books on Hitch, and after I completed my dissertation on the construction of gender in Hitchcock’s British films (the sole highlight of which was the cover photo of Hitchcock in drag, dressed as Lady Agatha – the Countess of Windblown), I had read more words on Hitchcock than on anything else. And despite this – I learned much from the book. Notably the century or so of change in the film industry, and its effects on Hitchcock and his work, which is ably woven into the fabric of each film’s write up.

Though you can drop in on your favourite Hitch film on a chapter by chapter basis, I found the book worked best as a linear record of a director whose audience grew alongside his ambition. Starting in the dark depths of the silent era (including a well earned pummelling of Juno and the Paycock), the richness of the research and contextual understanding builds a world too small and an industry too confining for the young director. Transatlantic studio battles are well drawn, blame apportioned fairly, and when the break for America comes, and the subsequent struggles with Selznick are done with, the independence Hitchcock has yearned for arrives with triumphant excitement. It’s a remarkable story, very well told here.

There is also a necessary distance from which these truths are observed. Hitchcock’s dark side has been well examined over the years, and his treatment of his leading ladies (including the editor and Hitch’s wife Alma Reville) is here too called out, never excused nor made light of. While it is not the purview of this book to examine Hitchcock’s actions on and off the screen in detail, it is a welcome element of Alcock’s work that he signposts feminist critics throughout so we can continue our discovery.

What cannot be overstated is how funny this book is. Regular readers of the author’s work (The Incredible Suit’s Blog-a-long-a-Bond is a highlight of the Golden Days of ribald bloggery) will know that perspicacity and punnery sit comfortably side by side here. Having eaten Hitchcock’s weight in knowledge of the director I noticed hundreds of knowing asides and contextually rich wordplay throughout, but never at the expense of clarity. New kneelers at the Atlar of Hitch are as welcome as old Hitch bores like me.

Endearing, insightful and literally laugh out loud funny, Hitchology is an essential guide to one of the most important directors to ever command the seventh art.

Support your local bookshop by finding the book here, or use any one of these larger, less local bookshops. And follow the author here, and maybe playfully pester him about doing a book on Kubrick, or Bond next…