Career Peak – The point in an actor, actress or director’s career when they have given their best performance, reaching a point they will probably never match again!
The idea is to examine a person’s film or television career and decide when their career peak was; the moment that they gave their best performance or produced their best work. This could be with their first movie; it could also be yet to come.
Of all the Career Peaks I have done so far, this one is the most difficult. Most actors and directors have a specific moment when the quality of their work was at it’s best but Alfred Hitchcock seemed to continue to develop and evolve as a director. There are key moments in his career but what specifically is the pinnacle of his career.
Alfred Hitchcock – Career Peak: Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock’s career peak came late in his career. This is fairly unusual, with directors producing their masterpiece work at their most young and invigorated and then spending the rest of their career trying to recapture that glory. Psycho is the culmination of all of Hitchcock’s best work, taking the aspects that worked before and developing it into a taut, unforgettable and shocking horror which would become his most enduring work.
Breaking Psycho’s parts down helps you realise where the inspiration and development of the movie comes from. The mystery in the center of the movie is something Hitchcock would have a lot of experience with. This even begins as early as his silent movie beginnings, with movies like The Lodger, Murder! and of course classic The 39 Steps. Not that Hitchcock didn’t try other styles of movie but his forays into romance never really held the imagination and Mr and Mrs Smith, The Ring and The Farmer’s Wife became forgettable affairs.
Thrillers and mysteries would continue and be where Hitchcock would make his money and fame. Movies such as Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt and Saboteur would come in quick succession and all share similar themes, beginning to craft the quick, well-paced style that Hitchcock would develop so perfectly for Psycho.
Hitchcock was prolific in his movie directing and would continue to make movies every year from 1934 to 1951. Some of these movies have gone on to become classics, like Rope, Notorious or Strangers on a Train but was 1954 that saw what could be considered Hitchcock’s “purple patch” begin.
1954 was when Hitchcock released his conspiracy classic, Dial M for Murder. This movie would be the beginning of a spate of thrillers that caught the imagination of the public and made Hollywood pay real attention. Using stars such as Cary Grant, James Stewart, Doris Day, Grace Kelly and Henry Fonda, Alfred Hitchcock would deliver movie masterpieces such as The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, Vertigo and North by Northwest.
These films were huge stars, usually involved in a mystery involving murder, intrigue and a chase, thrilling audiences and making people sit on the edge of their seats. That is why Psycho was such as unusual movie as it became an out and out horror, scaring as much as it thrilled.
Psycho employs all the techniques Hitchcock would have developed as director of his classic thrillers. It has huge movie stars, caught in a mystery and conspiracy, it has twists that you don’t and wouldn’t guess, the staging and camera work is unique and used to great effect and the ending reveals a shock that still catches unsuspecting audiences unaware today.
It was like nothing anyone had seen before and would be the beginning of a new phase for Hitchcock, where the action thriller would be replaced by outright scares, particularly in movies such as The Birds or Frenzy.
It also came a at the tail-end of an incredible career for the director. After Psycho, Hitchcock would only make six more feature length movies over fifteen years. These didn’t fade in quality too much but were never the success or had the social-impact that his seminal horror movie would.
Overall, Hitchcock’s career peak is easy to choose if you look at what movie summarises a man’s career best. Psycho isn’t necessarily his best movie or the movie that most have as their favourites but it is the one that has stood the test of time longest, becoming a cultural icon and showcasing the talents of a peerless director.