Had Alfred Hitchcock been remarkably long-lived, he would have turned 107 today (in reality, he died at 81 in 1980). A brilliant self-promoter whose wonderfully droll way of talking about his career and works created a character -- we'll call him Hitch -- whose fame extended above and beyond even that of his films, Hitchcock had a remarkably light touch as a director. Able to move with no apparent effort from clever humor (The Lady Vanishes) to intense psychological horror (Vertigo, Psycho) and forbidden homoeroticism (Strangers on a Train, Rope), he left behind a complex legacy, arguably still unmatched among mainstream directors.

While I love a wide-range of his films (my favorites are probably Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt and Lady Vanishes; I'm terrible person for not really liking Vertigo), the best thing about Hitchcock for me is listening to him talk. I remember seeing a documentary (no idea what it was called, sorry) in which he discussed raising tension on his movies. He explained his approach by planting a theoretical bomb under a cinematic desk, and then letting the man working there go about his daily business: Talking on the phone, signing checks, going over his schedule. Within the film, everyday life is occurring, but the audience, Hitchcock said -- in his distinctive slow, emphatic way -- is frantic, muttering "But there's a bomb ... under ... the desk!" at the screen. The obvious glee with which he told that story is, for me, what's so endearing about Hitch -- he got as big a kick out of the nastiness in his films as we do.