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Hitchcock Quiz

"How Well Do You Know Your Hitchcock?" [by David Lehman]

Vertigofrom "How Well Do You Know Your Hitchcock? A Multiple-Choice Test for the Maestro’s Fans"

By David Lehman | January 19, 2024 / in The American Scholar

<<< Though he never won the Oscar for Best Director in his lifetime, Alfred Hitchcock enjoys an enviable posthumous existence. He may be the most revered of all film directors today. He is my own favorite. Time was, critics condescended to Hitchcock on the grounds that his movies were merely thrillers, and thus either less important or less serious than blockbusters like Ben Hur or message movies like To Kill A Mockingbird. But Hitchcock always used mystery genre conventions to explore themes of deeper significance; he relied on what he called “the MacGuffin,” the merest pretext, as the pivot for a plot involving crime or espionage and ultimately touching on the dialectic of guilt and innocence, good and evil.

Hitch profileHitchcock was born in London on August 13, 1899 (and when the 13th of August falls on a Friday, freaky things do happen). He made films for nearly two decades in Britain before moving to Hollywood in 1939, on the eve of World War II. His love for his adopted country shines through in some of his grand settings: the cliffhanger scenes at the Statue of Liberty (Saboteur, 1942) and at Mount Rushmore (North by Northwest, 1959), or the drowning scene near the Golden Gate Bridge (Vertigo, 1958). But we also have small-town America at its most innocent (Shadow of a Doubt, 1943), the intimate courtyard shared by Greenwich Village bohemians (Rear Window, 1954), a posh London flat (Dial M for Murder, 1954), and a lonely motel on a dark country road in the rain (Psycho, 1960).

He was prolific; he headlined Cary Grant, James Stewart, Gregory Peck, and a bouquet of beauteous and talented blondes, including Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Doris Day, Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, and Eva Marie Saint. Understanding his own singularity, Hitchcock signed his pictures with himself in a cameo. He might be the fellow sitting next to Cary Grant on the bus (To Catch a Thief, 1955), a musician carrying a violin case (Spellbound, 1945), or a passenger struggling with a double bass (Strangers on a Train, 1951). In Lifeboat (1944), in which all the action takes place on a small craft and is limited to the few survivors of a shipwreck, the master makes his appearance as the heavyset fellow in a newspaper ad for weight reduction.

I have named eleven of my favorite Hitchcock movies in this piece and yet have not even mentioned Notorious (1946) or The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), about either of which I would write a prose poem. That’s for later. For now, here’s a quiz I’ve devised that will appeal to aficionados or newcomers alike. Hover your cursor over the black box (or tap, on mobile) to reveal the answer.

1. In The Man Who Knew Too Much, who—or what—is Ambrose Chapel?

(A) Albert Hall’s younger brother
(B) The kidnapper
(C) A London church
(E) The “MacGuffin”
(E) A taxidermist

Answer: (C) a London church in the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much—but metaphorically, it is also (A) an anticipation of the film’s climactic scene at the Royal Albert Hall. Like Albert Hall, Ambrose Chapel is a name that can be taken to refer to a person, the way Dr. Benjamin McKenna (James Stewart) and his wife, the celebrated singer Josephine Conway (Doris Day), interpret it at first. (E) is the very epitome of a red herring, the completely innocent namesake Dr. McKenna tracks down. While (B) is incorrect, it is at least relevant, because the kidnapper is Ambrose Chapel’s main man of the cloth. As for (D), you know what a MacGuffin is, don’t you? Well, here’s Hitchcock’s explanation: “It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men on a train. One man says, ‘What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?’  And the other answers,  ‘Oh, that’s a MacGuffin.’  The first one asks, ‘What’s a MacGuffin?’  ‘Well,’ the other man says,  ‘it’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.’  The first man says, ‘But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,’  and the other one answers,  ‘Well then, that’s no MacGuffin!’  So you see that a MacGuffin is actually nothing at all.”

For more of this multiple choice quiz designed to delight aficionado and novice alike, click here for the full article on the website of The American Scholar.

August 13, 2022

August 13, 2021

August 13, 2018

September 17, 2017

September 15, 2017

August 13, 2017

December 02, 2015

November 24, 2015

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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