|Author||William A. Drumin|
Dr. Drumin uses a thematic approach to the study of a selection of Hitchcock's work. The book is clearly grounded in the author's background as a professor of philosophy, and the writing is a little academically stilted in places, as befitting what appears to be a textbook (and at a textbook price). However, the book is highly readable, and at the same time, thorough and insightful. Scholars as well as fans will enjoy this book.
Dr. Drumin considers one of the main themes of Hitchcock's work to be the potential for evil that exists in every person. Most people have no problem suppressing this urge for evil, but some people turn into serial killers and other psychopaths. In many of his films, Hitchcock illustrates this theme by the concept of doubling. That is, there are two main characters in the film, one good and one bad, and they play off each other, with the bad character doing what the good character would do if he gave in to his evil urges, and with the hero often coming close to the edge. A couple of examples are young Charlie and Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt, and Guy and Bruno in Strangers on a Train. This unincarnated potential for evil is also present in minor characters, such as Joe and Herb in Shadow of a Doubt, who are constantly discussing how to commit the perfect murder; and the two dowagers at the reception in Strangers on a Train who talk about various ways to kill their husbands; none of these people would actually commit these crimes.
Dr. Drumin also comes to the conclusion that Hitchcock is an existentialist, and he talks at length on the topic. I have only the vaguest idea what existentialism means, so I can't comment on it.
The book looks at 15 films and one short-subject, apparently chosen for their narrative, thematic, and technical significance (14 of the features are the films studied in the author's 14-week Hitchcock course at King's College, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania). Dr. Drumin groups the films into pairs according to major theme, such as Rites of Passage, Monsters from the Id, and Metaphysical Excursions. He then takes apart each film, thoughtfully discussing the various themes and analyzing each major scene.
The films discussed are: The 39 Steps, Sabotage, Young and Innocent, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Saboteur, Rope, Strangers on a Train, Stage Fright, Rear Window, Vertigo, The Birds, Frenzy, and North by Northwest, which are the films Dr. Drumin covers in his class. The book also discusses Suspicion and "Breakdown" (episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents).
Surprisingly, especially given the price, the book is replete with typographical errors, and even some factual errors (e.g., Stevie from Sabotage being referred to as Verloc's stepson though the boy is actually Verloc's brother-in-law).
This book is a worthy addition to the canon of critical and analytical works on the films of the Master of Suspense. I highly recommend it.