I've only seen a handful of Alfred Hitchcock's movies but always wanted to know more about the man, and this extremely comprehensive bio came highly recommended. Be warned: it'll take a fair number of "goooood evenings" worth of reading to plow through this tome, and -- more to the point for a person with limited exposure to Hitchcock's work -- author McGilligan often seems to assume that you've seen the films in question, which makes some of his points hard to follow. By contrast, Scott Eyman's bio of John Ford -- only a shade less complete and considerably easier to negotiate -- provides just enough info about Ford's films to keep the reader from bogging down in a morass of detail. For the Hitchcock devotee, though, McGilligan's book will probably be the standard Hitchcock bio for quite some time.
The thing that most strikes me about Hitchcock's style of work, as described by McGilligan, is the immense labor that went into crafting his films' scripts. Hitchcock was notorious for pillaging source material and leaving only the husk of another's original ideas behind, and he ran through writers and co-writers like Orson Welles plowing through a super-sized hoagie (though you'd appreciate the directorial analogy). But, for all his camera tricks and special-effects magic, he grasped a simple point that seems to elude SO many directors today: You must create memorable situations, memorable characters, and an interesting, meaningful subtext to make a complete entertainment package. Rope, for example, was fascinating as an experimental exercise but also had the murder angle and the gay/"liberal elitist" themes to lend it extra frisson. Comparative fluff such as To Catch a Thief featured a subplot detailing master thief John Robie's relationship with his former mates in the French Resistance. Psycho, of course, is so much more than a deliberately cheap-looking horror film. And so forth. Well-educated in Catholic schools, Hitchcock never forgot that his works were part and parcel of the Western intellectual tradition, in their own fanciful, froth-flecked way.
Hitchcock was a rather quirky character but comes off better here than in some other previous bios that overemphasized his creepiness. He does not seem to have been an egotistical monster; the worst that could be said was that he got a bit lazy after being canonized as a master artist by such fans as Francois Truffaut in the 50s and 60s. Now that I've read McGilligan's book, I'm definitely going to screen more of Hitch's films. Then, maybe, some of McGilligan's more obscure nuggets of trivia may finally make sense.