The Catholic Hitchcock

A Director's Sense of Good & Evil

“I don’t think I can be labeled a Catholic artist,” the director Alfred Hitchcock told François Truffaut, “but it may be that one’s early upbringing influences a man’s life and guides his instinct.”

Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born on August 13, 1899, in Leytonstone, a district of London’s East End, to a grocer named William, and his wife, Emma. On his father’s side, Catholicism went back perhaps only two generations, but Emma was of Irish stock and her traceable ancestors were all Catholic. Hitchcock told the journalist Charlotte Chandler that his birth date was “one of the only Sundays in my mother’s life that she missed church.” Though there was a higher percentage of Catholics in Leytonstone than in other London neighborhoods, they were still regarded as peculiar, even socially suspect. According to Hitchcock, “Just being Catholic meant you were eccentric.”

In 1910, Hitchcock was enrolled in St. Ignatius College, a Jesuit “day school for young gentlemen,” where he remained until he was fourteen. When asked later what a Catholic education meant for him, he replied, “A Catholic attitude was indoctrinated into me.... I now have a conscience with lots of trials over belief.” From the Jesuits, he said, he learned “a consciousness of good and evil, that both are always with me.”

The director’s Catholic upbringing threaded its way through the rest of his life in both England and the United States. There was regular attendance at Mass in his youth and...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.