Cinema: The Master Who Knew Too Much

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Five "new"Hitchcock films reaffirm his box-office magnetism

You can't keep a good man down. Like the corpse in The Trouble with Harry who just won't stay buried, Alfred Hitchcock keeps popping out of his grave to terrify and delight new audiences. The puckish shockmaster died in 1980, but his ghost is everywhere. In the bookstores: Donald Spoto's fulsome biography, The Dark Side of Genius, has racked up healthy sales as the latest of a dozen Hitchcock studies. In the news: a Hitchcock documentary on Nazi Germany's extermination of the Jews was aired last December on a national news program in Britain. In museums: Manhattan's Museum of Broadcasting is showing a two-month retrospective of the 18 films Hitchcock directed for TV. Even on the fashion pages: Couturier Paul Monroe has unveiled a new line of "Hitchcock dresses," including a Rope T shirt, with its coiling cord, and a Psycho frock that mimics a certain shower curtain in the Bates motel.

This would merely be the latest spasm of cannibal chic—the recycling of pop-culture artifacts that produces Top 40 homages to the Three Stooges and drag queens in Marilyn Monroe sequins—if it were not for a more significant revival. Five Hitchcock films are back where they belong, in the movie theaters, after 20 years in distribution limbo. Constituting the best and the least of Hitchcock's work during his most productive decade (1948-58), the "forbidden five" are once again demonstrating their director's box-office magnetism. Rear Window (1954), the first of the quintet to be rereleased, has earned $6.8 million in just five months, and Vertigo (1958) has taken in more than $3 million since the end of December. The Trouble with Harry (1955) has just opened to good business, and similar grosses are expected for Rope (1948) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).

For older moviegoers, the reappear ance of these films offers a chance to fit half-forgotten pleasures (the flashbulb climax of Rear Window, the clashing of cymbals in The Man Who Knew Too Much, the belltower climb in Vertigo) into familiar patterns. But a gratifyingly large part of the audience consists of young people who may know Hitchcock only as the little fat figure with the funereal air who hosted a TV show back in the black-and-white '50s. Until now, their image of the man and his work was that of a brand name without a product. "Hitchcock" might suggest a certain kind of movie—suspenseful, shocking, grimly humorous—but one that was known secondhand, through the imitations of Brian De Palma, François Truffaut, Stanley Donen, John Carpenter, the James Bond series and a hundred gory slasher movies (the deformed children of Psycho). Now young viewers can enjoy the original Hitchcocks, all of which play variations on a favorite theme: the need for a guilty person to be discovered as the perpetrator of his real or imagined crime.

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