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Silent Hitchcock

The formative years of an ambitious young filmmaker

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"The silent pictures were the purest form of cinema" - Alfred Hitchcock (in Hitchcock-Truffaut)

Alfred Hitchcock's first nine films as a director were made in the silent era. And although he was the first British director to embrace sound, with his tenth film, Blackmail (1929), he never lost his fascination with the power of storytelling with images.

The young Hitchcock served his directorial apprenticeship in Germany, where he was able to observe directors like F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, at the height of German expressionism. That movement, with its highly stylised lighting, design and performances, and its attraction to dark and mysterious subjects, would have a lasting impact on the young director.

It was in Germany that he directed his first two films, the dark melodrama The Pleasure Garden (1925) and The Mountain Eagle (1926, now sadly lost). His third, The Lodger (1926), was perhaps the most noticeably expressionist of all his films, with the style well-suited to its story of a misty London haunted by a vicious serial murderer.

The Lodger seems now to indicate the direction of Hitchcock's later career as the 'Master of Suspense', but the director's silent career also produced two comedies, including the charming The Farmer's Wife (1928), the fascinating boxing melodrama The Ring (1927) and the skilful The Manxman (1929), his last fully silent work.

The legacy of Hitchcock's silent days can be seen in much of his later work - in the legendary shower sequence of Psycho (US, 1960) or the opening of Rear Window (US, 1952), where the camera slowly glides past each window of an apartment block to spy on the inhabitants - and he never lost the desire to tell stories in images rather than words.

Mark Duguid

Related Films and TV programmes

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Hitchcock thriller that was the first feature-length British sound film

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Hitchcock melodrama about a millionaire feigning ruin

Thumbnail image of Downhill (1927)Downhill (1927)

Hitchcock melodrama: a boy's decline after expulsion from school

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Hitchcock melodrama about a divorced woman rejected by society

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Uncharacteristically warm-hearted Hitchcock rural comedy

Thumbnail image of Lodger, The: A Story of the London Fog (1926)Lodger, The: A Story of the London Fog (1926)

Hitchcock's first thriller: a lodger is suspected of murder

Thumbnail image of Manxman, The (1929)Manxman, The (1929)

Hitchcock's last silent film: a melodrama set on the Isle of Man

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First feature from a new young talent - one Alfred J. Hitchcock

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One of Hitchcock's best silents: a boxing melodrama with a twist

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