Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Stairs


Max Tohline


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Accompanying text

A supercut / video essay conceived as a single-channel gallery video installation, to play on a continuous loop (2 loops play above).
A compilation of staircase shots from 39 films directed by Alfred Hitchcock (list below), with music by Michael Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony, Mvt. 5, Red Cape Tango.

In the first shot of Alfred Hitchcock’s first film, The Pleasure Garden (1925), a line of women stream down a spiral staircase backstage at a theater. In the last shot of Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot (1976), Barbara Harris sits down on a staircase, looks into the camera, and winks. In the fifty years and over fifty films between these bookends, Hitchcock made the staircase a recurring motif in his complex grammar of suspense — a device by which potential energy could be, metaphorically and literally, loaded into narrative, a zone of unsteady or vertiginous passage from one space to another, always on the verge of becoming a site of violence. Nearly every Hitchcock film includes stairs somewhere — with the exceptions of a few films in which the setting precluded it (Lifeboat (1944) and Rope (1948), for instance) or in which the genre did not call for it (in his only outright comedy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), they use elevators to get everywhere).

Even though I acknowledge that there are already plenty of Hitchcock supercuts out there ( and that further auteur-fetishization is probably the last thing we need, I threw this one together anyway because I thought it up with a friend nearly 10 years ago and wanted to see the idea through. From now on I execute every idea I get immediately, so that better editors like Steven Benedict (here: don’t beat me to the punch again. Shout-out to Jacob Schmidt, whose Stairs to Suspense cuts together scenes of staircases from 18 Hitchcock films (, and to Room 237, whose 39 Staircases in Cinema also punningly rips off the title of Hitchcock’s 1935 classic, but which collects staircase scenes mainly from other filmmakers (

Sifting through those other variations of this idea, it strikes me that the Hitchcock supercut is probably a genre unto itself by now. In the fullness of time, it may become possible, with the help of higher dimensions, to make a supercut of Hitchcock supercuts. So maybe I made this one just to help make that possible. Until then, we turn and turn in the widening gyre…