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Hitchcock à la Carte Paperback – April 3, 2015
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Olsson's primary focus is Hitchcock inside a hotbed of creativity, the ever-changing landscape of 1950's and 1960's Amercian television. "Hitchcock a la Carte" provides an insightful tour de force into an area of Hitchcock's fabled life of which only a few of his biographers and critics have ventured for any length of time.
Except for a couple of episode guides (one of great detail from a production standpoint, and the other one fairly brief in scope), Hitchcock's television work remained basically uncharted territory until the publication of "Hitchcock a la Carte."
Hitchcock's two television series "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and later "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" were seen first-run for a total of ten years from 1955 to 1965. And these two brilliant series have been seen non-stop in syndication for the last 50 years.
"Alfred Hitchcock Presents" was a thirty minute anthology series focusing on murder mysteries and suspense with an occasional rare paranormal episode thrown in (somewhat in the same vain as "The Twilight Zone").
After seven seasons and over 270 episodes "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" evolved into an hour long series with a name change to "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour." This series lasted three season with almost 100 episodes. Both series were basically the same in theme and design. But the switch to the hour long format was a trend of the times in television that worked for some series such as "Gunsmoke," but not for others like "The Twilight Zone."
Olsson also focuses on Hitchcock the gourmet, both in his personal life and his film work. He points out that Hitchcock loved good food, good wine, and good conversation (usually in small group settings) almost as much as he loved a good murder mystery or suspense story.
And Olsson paints a picture of Hitchcock as an astute businessman who channeled his talents and resources into developing a "brand" long before it became a buzz word. Instead of turning his nose up at television as some directors and actors did in the mid-1950's, Hitchcock saw vistas of opportunity within the confines of the small television screen, which at the time was basically a black and white world that was ripe for the mining of gold.
Hitchcock used this fairly new medium to develop his on-screen persona. Pardon the pun, but Hitchcock was very much of a "ham" who loved being before a camera or microphone. He wanted to do guest shots on radio shows in the 1940's, but his agents advised against it, thinking it was beneath him. Maybe the advice turned out to be good, because Hitchcock was very much of a visual person. His rotund body was promoted to the maximum along with his drawn-out British accent.
And when "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" premiered in the fall of the 1955-56 television season, the American viewing public actually got to know Hitchcock, and to fall under the spell of the droll, lovable Englishman who migrated with his family to the U. S. in 1940 and completely embraced the American way of life.
In other words, Alfred Hitchcock himself became as much of a "hit" as his television show. In fact, many people tuned in each week to see what kind of off-the-wall things Hitchcock would say and do in his introductions than to actually see what the night's "play" was about. This development of a cult following helped cement in the public's mind the fact that Hitchcock really was "The Master of Suspense."
This was most evident in the extended trailer of "Psycho" (1960) when Hitchcock played his television persona to the hilt. "Psycho" plays like an extra-long episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." It should, since Hitchcock used his television crew to help make this landmark film for just under one million dollars. And in the ensuing years, "Psycho" reaped many millions for Hitchcock.
"Hitchcock a la Carte" examines in depth quite a few episodes of both of Hitchcock's series, especially those that center around food. Several of the most famous stories include:
1. "Lamb to the Slaughter" in which a wife gets in a fight with her boorish husband while getting ready to prepare dinner. She bashes him over the head with a frozen leg of lamb and kills him. Then she pops the leg of lamb into the oven, calls the police, and tells them that she returned home and found her husband dead. The police are perplexed because they can't find a trace of the murderer or the "blunt instrument" that killed the man. At the end of the episode, the wife pulls the sizzling, savory leg of lamb out of the oven and offers a late night snack to the hungry police detectives who gratefully take her up on her offer;
2. "Speciality of the House" in which 1950's "foodies" compete to become members of a private dinner club that sometimes serves a special dish that is supposed to be prepared from a rare type of mountain sheep. In reality (and unknown to the members) they are actually dining on their own members who "go on trips " and don't return;
3. "Arthur" in which the struggling owner of a modern chicken farm comes up with a way to make the chickens fatter and to lay more eggs. He begins to add a new secret ingredient to the chicken feed, people he has murdered and then runs through his giant grinding machine.
"Hitchcock a la Carte" is not only a great reference book and addition to any Hitichcock collection, but it is a darn good read. It is full of new information and insight, but it's also fun... much like Alfred Hitchcock himself.