Alfred Hitchcock, the ‘Master of Suspense’ is one of history’s most celebrated filmmakers, responsible for some of the mediums smartest and most intense feature films, from Psycho to Rear Window. Experimenting with ways to crank up the tension in his films, the director once stated that, “My suspense work comes out of creating nightmares for the audience. And I play with an audience. I make them gasp and surprise them and shock them”. Continuing, Hitchcock compares his thrilling films to bad dreams, explaining, “When you have a nightmare, it’s awfully vivid if you’re dreaming that you’re being led to the electric chair. Then you’re as happy as can be when you wake up because you’re relieved”.
Indeed, everything that Hitchcock considered in his films was to service the tension that ran through the film’s spine. Take, for example, the fact that of his fifty-three films, eleven revolve around stories of mistaken identity, where an innocent individual is accused of a crime and must evade the authorities. In most cases, these individuals are normal, everyday people, and as Hitchcock told François Truffaut: “That’s because the theme of the innocent man being accused, I feel, provides the audience with a greater sense of danger. It’s easier for them to identify with him than with a guilty man on the run”.
For a director with such a love of thrill and tension, you’d think that his favourite film might be Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic M, or maybe Roman Polanski’s neo-noir Chinatown, though instead, Alfred Hitchcock had an unlikely love for a particular children’s film. It’s no secret that the burly British director was a massive lover of dogs, with canines featuring throughout his filmography, including in a cameo from the director in The Birds in which you can see him walking his own Sealyham Terriers.
As a result, it is thought that the 1974 family film, Benji, directed by Joe Camp, was one of Hitchock’s guilty pleasures, perhaps due to the fact that the director worked with so many of the film’s actors on his own TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including Frances Bavier and Edgar Buchanan. Reportedly making the director shed several tears, Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia confirmed her father’s fondness for the film in a USC lecture where she also revealed his soft spot for 1977s action-comedy Smokey and the Bandit.
Stating that her father “made his films for the audience and for entertainment – not for the critics or for self-pleasure”, there’s something oddly reassuring about the fact that the ‘Master of Suspense’ had a fondness for a film devoid of any tension at all.