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Alfred Hitchcock Silent Movies: Unesco UK Memory of the World Register

Alfred Hitchcock movies the Lodger Ivor NovelloAlfred Hitchcock silent movies added to Unesco UK Memory of the World Register (image: Ivor Novello in The Lodger)

The nine Alfred Hitchcock-directed silent films recently restored by the British Film Institute have been added to the Unesco UK Memory of the World Register, “a list of documentary heritage which holds cultural significance specific to the UK.” The nine Hitchcock movies are the following: The Pleasure Garden (1925), The Ring (1927), Downhill / When Boys Leave Home (1927), The Lodger (1927), Easy Virtue (1928), Champagne (1928), The Farmer's Wife (1928), The Manxman (1929), and Blackmail (1929) – also released as a talkie, Britain's first. Only one Hitchcock-directed silent remains lost, The Mountain Eagle / Fear o' God (1926).

Most of those movies have little in common with the suspense thrillers Hitchcock would crank out in Britain and later in Hollywood from the early '30s on. But a handful of his silents already featured elements and themes that would recur in some form or other throughout the director's talkie career; for instance, a wrongly accused man in The Lodger – a plot device also found in The 39 Steps, The Wrong Man, North by Northwest.

Besides, the silent Alfred Hitchcock movies allows for a relatively rare glimpse into the work of now largely forgotten silent film and/or stage stars of the period, from both sides of the Atlantic. Those include musical stage icon Ivor Novello, who toplines both The Lodger and (absurdly cast as a youth) Downhill, in addition to Isabel Jeans, Carl Brisson, John Stuart, Lillian Hall-Davis, Hollywood imports Carmelita Geraghty and Virginia Valli, and 1920s UK superstars Betty Balfour and Anny Ondra – a Central European actress whose charmingly accented voice was dubbed by the very British Joan Barry in the sound version of Blackmail. (Hollywood import Nita Naldi, the vamp who seduces Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand, is the star of the lost The Mountain Eagle.)

In the US, the Hitchcock Nine have already been presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival organizers, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the BAMcinématek.

Alfred Hitchcock movies: The talkies

During the talkie era, Alfred Hitchcock directed a whole array of top international movie stars, among them Gregory Peck, Alida Valli, Farley Granger, Robert Donat, Tallulah Bankhead, Claude Rains, Robert Walker, Michael Wilding, Montgomery Clift, Paul Newman, Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Richard Todd, Robert Young, Maureen O'Hara, John Gielgud, Charles Laughton, Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Robert Cummings, Sylvia Sidney, and Robert Montgomery. Besides, in some shade or other there were the Hitchcock Blondes: Joan Fontaine, Ingrid Bergman, Priscilla Lane, Madeleine Carroll, Eva Marie Saint, Carole Lombard, Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Anne Baxter, Ann Todd, Grace Kelly, Vera Miles, Julie Andrews, and Tippi Hedren.

Alfred Hitchcock never won a competitive Academy Award, though he was nominated five times: Rebecca (1940), the year's Best Picture winner; Lifeboat (1944); Spellbound (1945); Rear Window (1954), and Psycho (1960). In 1968, Hitchcock was handed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.

Nine Alfred Hitchcock-directed performances received Academy Award nominations: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson (supporting) for Rebecca; Albert Bassermann (supporting) for Foreign Correspondent (1940); Fontaine for Suspicion (1941); and in supporting roles, Michael Chekhov for Spellbound; Claude Rains for Notorious (1946); Ethel Barrymore for The Paradine Case (1947); and Janet Leigh for Psycho. Joan Fontaine was the only Hitchcock winner, for her performance as Cary Grant's possibly soon-to-be-murdered wife in Suspicion.

The London-born Alfred Hitchcock died at age 80 in 1980 in the Los Angeles suburb of Bel Air.

Ivor Novello in The Lodger photo: BFI.

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