Directors using sound: Alfred Hitchcock – Part 1

Many directors are known for their visual style, mostly with how the film looks relating to the visuals. Kubrick for his symmetry, Wes Anderson for his washed out, centralized images. Very few unfortunately are known for their style with sound, one director I do admire for this trait is Alfred Hitchcock



Let me first state that I am in no way shape or form announcing Hitchcock simply as a ‘audio director’, that would be wrong and foolish of me. To me (and many others) Hitchcock is a master of his craft, as I have already noted his sound direction was superb, on top of this also his visuals complimented the audio well and created true suspense as well as his interesting and ever winding narratives, especially those of Alfred Hitchcock Presents   (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 1955) which I adore.

Be that as it may for now I which to touch upon the sound aspect in attempt to relate towards my project and personal film. Hitchcock’s method and skill when coming to audio was that of true brilliance and experimental, labeled ‘a master of suspense’ I can’t help but feel this is down to his manipulation of audio.

One essence of sound that Hitchcock uses to create suspense is dialog, (this post will play a part in my Moving Narrative 2 blog also). Skillfully Hitchcock understood that as an audience we were used to the dialog literally spelling out the narrative to us, keeping nothing from the viewer. Hitchcock decided to put a stop to this in a film titled The Trouble with Harry.  (The Trouble with Harry, 1955)


A simple whisper begins to play and play on the audiences minds, as a viewer we have to know what words were spoken, would they add to the story? Would they tell us an important fact? It’s later revealed to be nothing of the sort, in fact it was used as a device to stir away the audience, a playful trick to create suspense. It’s in this instance where I realized just how much dialog is relied upon, I felt the need to know, it’s a human element I guess. Everyone wants to know everything, that more apparent now with the internet at our disposal.

Creating this silence is something he played on a lot, as well as this however he often gave the audience an insight into what the characters were thinking or feeling. This in a way reversed the roles, it gives us a voyeuristic approach into the characters, for me it makes me feel a little uneasy or dirty knowing the secrets of these characters, like I am to blame, or should feel guilty. This method can be seen best in Blackmail (Blackmail, 1929).

In a scene around the table the word knife is said over and over again, once it’s embedded into the psyche of Alice White, before we can grasp what is really not/is taking place, the word knife is looped in a tormenting loop. Almost stabbing like the knife.

In doing this we are now flung into the story and in a sense feel sorry for Alice. Internal and external dialog and Hitchcock’s use of it has really influenced me, it’s a great way to bring in and leave the audience absent. In such, treating the audience with a loss of knowledge or too much knowledge. This aspect of sound interests me the most, the power to control and manipulate. He would later to go on and use this in one of his most popular films. Psycho   (Psycho, 1960)


Hitchcock also used sound to revoke emotion to the extremes, as well as doing this he used audio as a transition, as a link to the next shot. Where normally most directors will do this with a straight cut, Hitchcock tried to progress the story at a heightened drama. To do this he carried out some asynchronous sound. Asynchronous sound is audio that plays where no viable source is in shot, whether this be completely or partially. Such a sound is used to express a heightened/extreme emotion, whilst perhaps tying in with the stories narrative. A perfect example of this would be from Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.  (The 39 Steps, 1939).

As the women finds the dead body, the visuals of her scream are matched to the sound of a train rolling down the track, successfully creating a transition to the next shot as well as heightening the emotion of the scene.

Already I have found a lot to research whilst looking at Hitchcock’s work, I feel for now for any of the research to actual help and sink in I should leave it here for now, I hope to complete another that looks at the music and ambience used within Hitchcock film. I am amazed just by how much effort went into the sound, as well as this, just how better it makes other films that don’t.

Now it’s time to take these sounds to the next level and see if I can find interesting way’s of using sound in my film!


Alfred Hitchcock Presents, (1955). [TV programme] CBS.

Blackmail. (1929). [film] United Kingdom: Alfred Hitchcock.

Psycho. (1960). [film] USA: Alfred Hitchcock.

The 39 Steps. (1939). [film] United Kingdom: Alfred Hitchcock.

The Trouble with Harry. (1955). [film] USA: Alfred Hitchcock.




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