Are Hitchcock’s Films A Shared Cinematic Universe?
Alfred Hitchcock directed over fifty films in his career. From early grainy silent films to big glossy Hollywood productions. Thanks to so many of his popular, classic films and his talents behind the camera he would become known as ‘The Master of Suspense’.
He would also become one of the most recognizable directors of all time, thanks to his weekly appearances on his own television show ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’. His rotund shape, distinct profile and dry dark humor would make him a memorable figure.
Hitchcock would also add his own little unique touch to most of his films. Stepping out from behind the camera he would appear in onscreen cameos throughout most of his movies. These consistent cameos would range from subtle, to humorous to downright so blatant that seeing Hitch pop up onscreen could make it difficult to get back to focusing at the story at hand.
Other than putting a smile on my face, seeing good old Hitch stroll through scenes also made me think – with all those cameos he had done could that make all those films he briefly appeared in one big suspenseful shared cinematic universe?
Of course all of Hitchcock’s films he directed have his own unique brand on them. Most of all the films he had a hand in has that distinctive ‘Hitchcock’ stamp on it. One could watch one and it feels like no other director made this movie. The camera movements, the shadows, the detailed little touches, the slow buildup to thrills. “Oh yeah this is a Hitchcock movie”.
But putting Hitchcock the director aside let’s get really geeky and consider that character Hitchcock played in all those cameo roles. Forget defining all his appearances as a ‘cameo’, but as a supporting character in all those films.
Ahhhh….the plot thickens!
All Hitchcock fans know that the director would pop up in random brief appearances in all his films. They began as little insignificant appearances in his early silent films, but as his popularity and fame skyrocketed they would become a collective moment all audiences would nudge each other saying, “Oh there’s Hitchcock!” His walk-ons would become anticipated fun little moments for audiences to await for and see where and how the unmistakable Hitchcock would show up.
He would be walking onto a bus or train. He would walk past a leading actor casually reading a newspaper. Even with his back to the camera his appearance is unmistakable. And forget about seeing him in profile! That was tantamount to waving his arms wildly in the background!
But let’s forget those short film cameos were simply a fun tradition Hitchcock continued to do throughout his films and were just easter eggs for audiences to pick out – long before audiences had any inkling as to what a film ‘easter egg’ was. In the context of all those Hitchcock movies let’s consider who was that character he was playing in each of his individual films and what if – he was playing the same exact character from film to film!
Now bear with me.
Let’s say that round, serious looking fellow is the same character in every film we see him in. Perhaps he’s a salesman who travels all around the world. He hits all the hotspots – San Francisco, New York, even traveling internationally to England, Europe, Morocco. The guy really piles on his frequent flier miles. Maybe some of his appearances are vacation time too.
Out of pure luck or destiny he always happens to be wandering though the middle of suspense-filled stories taking place. He coincidentally happens to be in the perfect place at the perfect time as he makes his way to an appointment. Occasionally he’ll see some commotion and crowds gathering around, perhaps at a crime scene that catches his attention. Other times he’s just out for a stroll taking in the sights, maybe going to the local drug store, maybe looking for a present to bring home to his wife and kids, and unknowingly walks right past lead characters who are in a desperate life or death situation.
So the same man that appears in Blackmail is the same exact character who strolls out of a pet shop in The Birds. The guy standing outside the phone booth in Rebecca is the same exact guy missing the bus in North By Northwest. The guy walking past Jane Wyman in Stage Fright is the same guy years later who happened to be sitting on a bus next to Cary Grant in To Catch a Theif. And on and on and on. You get the idea.
Is your mind getting blown yet?
Based on this distinctive heavy man with a grimace on his face showing up in all these movies he could conceivably connect all these films to each other!
I’ll postulate that this recurring individual is the link that connects all of Hitchcock’s films. This isn’t just a director putting an oddball stamp on his movies, but taken to a more interpretive level it is evidence that all his films take place in the same shared suspenseful universe, with all the characters, crimes and deaths taking place in one singular world!
Imagine what we could have taking place now! Joel McCrea’s Foreign Correspondent John Jones reporting on Joseph Cotten’s Shadow of a Doubt’s ‘Merry Widow Murderer’. Psycho’s Dr. Fred Richman (Simon Oakland) working at Spellbound’s Green Manors mental asylum years before making his diagnosis about Norman Bates. Maybe Jimmy Stewart’s Man Who Knew Too Much Dr. Ben McKenna is an attending physician there. And whoa maybe Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is treating Stewart’s Scottie ‘Vertigo’ Ferguson after his traumatic loss of Madeleine!
Rebecca’s Maxim de Winter (Laurence Oliver) throwing a party and in attendance are Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard). Dial M For Murder’s Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) playing a charity tennis match with Stranger on A Train’s Guy Haines (Farley Granger). The Trouble With Harry’s ex-sea captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) rescuing Talulah Bankhead’s Lifeboat. Cary Grant’s North By Northwest’s advertising man Roger Thornhill getting the ugly gig of tourism promotion for Bodega Bay after all those pesky attacks from The Birds subside. Maybe his photographer pal L.B. Jeffries can help him out.
Then there’s countless policeman and detectives who could share a drink at a policeman’s ball. And of course we could have a constant barrage of European-based characters, secret agents and sinister heavies bump into each other in cafes! Maybe some of the bad guys have a sliver of a conscience and go to confession where Montgomery Clift’s (I Confess) Father Logan has to hear all their dirty deeds.
The scenarios are endless!
Ok there are some flaws with this theory. Period films Hitchcock made can be tough to make work with this. Under Capricorn takes place in 1831, so we’d have to figure out how it would link to Hitch’s films set in modern day. How can we make the connection from his cameo in that film? Could we make him a doppelgänger ancestor of the present day ‘Hitchcock’?
At the start of The Wrong Man Hitchcock actually introduces the film stating his name, so there’s no traditional flyby cameo. That would eliminate it from the running as being part of the Hitchcock shared universe. And how can we explain away the the remakes of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Can we really accept that the same intrigue-laden assassination story could possibly happen twice in the same world?
I’ll reach with his Lifeboat cameo and say his friend is in advertising and decided to use him in an ad after he dropped some pounds using Reduco. Hey, it might be flimsy, but it works!
Admittedly there’s some stretching to be done. Not to mention the hurdle of actors that were frequent collaborators with Hitchcock. Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Tippi Hedren, Grace Kelly, Patricia Hitchcock, Gregory Peck, Robert Cummings, Norman Lloyd – there are quite a few. But that could simply be allowing for some suspension of disbelief on our part and the use of some old school split-screen to make their individual characters magically appear together onscreen together!
I don’t think Hitchcock or anyone would say there’s that much of a shared cinematic universe going on in his films. Today the idea of a ‘shared universe’ of movies and television shows is the trendy thing that everyone wants to get in on. The concept probably wouldn’t have even registered with audiences during Hitchcock’s time. The closest they came to any bigger story that overlapped multiple movies decades ago was probably when a movie got a rare sequel made. Most films were just standalone events and that was fine with audiences.
So most would describe Hitchcock’s films simply as ‘Hitchcock Films’ and nothing more. They were made by the same man and that’s it. But the idea that all those films are taking place under the same umbrella with all these characters existing in the same world where they could possibly crossover into each others stories is an intriguing one. I’d love to make the idea work.