A Cranky Catholic
The Jesuits have a saying: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man." That motto could almost be said to describe Alfred Hitchcock, the legendary film director and TV producer who made over 50 movies in a career that spanned half a century. Born to a Catholic family in London in 1899, Hitchcock didn't begin his studies at a Jesuit school until he was a year or two older than seven, but the influence of his religious upbringing can be seen throughout his work.
Hitchcock grew up in a strict Catholic family that went to Mass regularly at a church pastored by one of Hitchcock's cousins, a priest. Hitchcock himself was, briefly, an altar boy. In 1908, he began attending St. Ignatius College, a Jesuit school.
In later years, he tended to downplay the religious significance of his education. In an interview with film critic turned director Peter Bogdanovich, Hitchcock credited the Jesuits with teaching him "organization, control, and to some degree analysis …. I don't think the religious side of the Jesuit education impressed itself so much upon me as the strict discipline one endured at the time." The religious influence at school consisted mainly of fear, he said, "but I've grown out of religious fear now."
Nevertheless, Hitchcock was a practicing Catholic for most of his life. His wife Alma, a film editor, converted to Catholicism before their marriage in 1926, and they worked and lived together until his death in 1980. They attended Mass weekly, and they quietly made several generous donations to Catholic churches and charities. In 1952, their daughter Patricia married the grandnephew of the late Cardinal William O'Connell, who had been a powerful archbishop in Boston.
Hitchcock, one of the most successful directors in British and Hollywood history, began in silent films and directed England's first talkie, Blackmail, in 1929. After a string of international hits, including The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938), he moved to the United States and directed Rebecca (1940), the first of six films for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. (He never won, though Rebecca did win the Oscar for Best Picture.)
He thrived on technical challenges. He staged entire films, like Lifeboat (1944) and Rear Window (1954), on a single set, and he shot Rope (1948) in a series of long shots, averaging eight minutes each, designed to make the entire film look like it was done in one take. He also liked to experiment with new genres and mediums, whether shooting Dial M for Murder (1954) in 3-D, creating his own TV series in 1955, or making his own version of the cheap but highly profitable B-movies of that era with Psycho (1960).
Relying on religious imagery
And while he may have grown out of what he called "religious fear," Hitchcock's films became famous for their suspense, their psychological complexity, their focus on the nature of guilt, and their power to remind the viewer that good and evil reside in the hearts of everyone. What's more, he frequently depicted these themes in ways that rely on religious imagery—churches, icons, and men of the cloth.
A recurring theme in Hitchcock's films is that of the innocent man who is accused of a crime he did not commit—what the critics call "transference of guilt." On one level, this theme echoes the way that Jesus, as an innocent victim, was falsely accused and took on the sins of the world. But Hitchcock also uses this theme to explore how even seemingly innocent people have their own dark side.