Along with suspense, horror, and romance, Hitchcock movies depict cinematically another basic human sentiment, and do so better than any other filmmaker has done: anxiety. Donat in The 39 Steps, Grant in North by Northwest, James Stewart and Doris Day in the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, and other characters in Hitchcock movies find themselves in a world whose physical features are familiar but in which they are buffeted by sinister forces that they do not understand and cannot control. Their world has suddenly and unexpectedly become both baffling and frightening. They have, somehow, to navigate their way to safety in a threatening environment.
This is the stuff of nightmares, and Hitchcock evokes them vividly. Truffaut observes at the end of their series of interviews:
It might be said that the texture of your films is made up of three elements: fear, sex, and death. These are not daytime preoccupations, like in films that deal with unemployment, racism, poverty, or in the many pictures on everyday love conflicts between men and women. These are night time anxieties, therefore, metaphysical anxieties.Hitchcock’s fundamental subjects are the distressing feelings that human beings, no matter how successfully they repress them when awake, cannot escape in their sleep. That is why, one hundred years after he began and forty years after he died, Alfred Hitchcock’s films remain, in their way, inescapable.
Hitchcock’s best films were built with bravura editing, such as the classic symphony orchestra scene in the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much:
No wonder François Truffaut was so eager to interview him — these sorts of scenes became the textbook for future Hollywood editors. And as James Lileks would note, there’s an obligatory Star Trek connection as well in the above scene, courtesy of actor Reggie Nalder, the film’s sinister assassin.