The delightful drawings behind the opening credits of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 film The Trouble With Harry were done (uncredited) by famed New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg, riffing on images from the paintings of Paul Klee. Hitchcock was a collector of Klee’s work and may well have asked Steinberg to incorporate the homage.
The Steinberg drawings seem to echo a style in 50s design and animation called “cartoon modern”, which I wrote about in an earlier post — though of course the cartoon modern style derives from the whimsical abstractions of artists like Klee and Steinberg, not the other way around. It’s an example of the way artistic ideas percolate up and down the scale from high to popular art. In 1955, Klee was high-brow art, Steinberg (at least when he was publishing in The New Yorker) was middle-brow art and Hitchcock was low-brow art. Today you could hardly rank Hitchcock below either of the other two on any scale of art — which just goes to show how silly and ephemeral such distinctions are, and ought to make us wonder what art today is undervalued because it’s stuck into some temporary and ultimately meaningless hierarchy.