I can’t get enough of Alfred Hitchcock, whether it be re-watching his films over and over, reading about his films, reading about his life, and so on. In 2009 I read Donald Spoto’s 80’s biography on Hitchcock, and in 2011 I read the famous Francois Trauffaut interview. Alfred Hitchcock has been my favorite film director since I saw Psycho at age ten, and I’m just as fascinated with him today as I was then.
But this huge tome of a book, Patrick Mcgilligan’s biography, Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, was almost too much to handle at first, both literally and figuratively. It’s not only close to 1,000 pages, but the font is super tiny. Oh, yes, this one’s as definitive a biography as it gets. So I decided not to read this one all the way through. I read it in small sips, sometimes a couple times a week, sometimes once a week. It took me twenty-six months to finish!
You might think taking more than two years to read one book is insane, and that it probably took that long because it was boring or uninteresting. No, it’s the opposite in fact. I savored every page of this book, loved every anecdote, every detail. Closing it for the final time made me want to watch all of Hitchcock’s movies again, and check out some of the early films I have yet to see. Alfred Hitchcock was an artist, one of the most creative, daring, funny, terrifying visionaries of the twentieth century. And this book does the man justice in every possible way.
A Life in Darkness and Light is insane in its detail, it really is, taking us through Hitchcock’s life from 1899 to 1980, sometimes by the day. What’s your favorite Hitchcock movie? You’ll find pages and pages on all fifty-three of them, even the most obscure ones, even films like The Mountain Eagle, and shorts he made in the 1940s, that have long since disappeared. You’ll read about how he met the great Alma Reville, and how the two shared a decades-long partnership that went far beyond just a marriage.
The friendship and at times bitter rivalry between Hitchcock and David O. Selznick, the famous producer of Gone with the Wind, and Hitchcock’s first film in the United States, Rebecca, is enough material for a book all its own, and Mcgilligan digs deep into what these two men meant to each other. Having worked in the feature film casting industry, I loved all the talk about the actors for each film he made, like his working relationships with James Stewart and Cary Grant, and how his attempt to woo Grace Kelly back from Monaco for one more film was never to be.
The end of the book goes into great details about projects he invested time in that never came to fruition, most famously The Short Night, which would have been another Cold War thriller attempt, and also a mid-60s version of Frenzy that was never made, which would have been a more experimental, violent horror film told from the point of view of the killer.
The book is just one juicy tidbit after another, written by someone who seems to have spent eighty years as Hitchcock’s shadow. And unlike some of the other biographies I’ve read, this one treats Hitchcock fairly. It examines the controversies, his unhealthy obsessions, as the book should. But never does Mcgilligan blast the man in such a way that makes him look like a monster.
I loved this book. Loved it, loved loved it. In fact, Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light was so great that I have to pose the question: what nonfiction book about Alfred Hitchcock will ever top it?