Hitchcock on Surprise vs. Suspense
In his discussions with Francois Truffaut, found in the book Hitchcock, at one point Hitchcock talks about the differences between surprise and suspense, which I think shows his complete grasp of how an audience watches and reacts to film:
"There is a distinct difference between 'suspense' and 'surprise', and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean.
"We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, 'Boom!' There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table, and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the décor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions this same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene.
"The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There's a bomb underneath you and it's about to explode!'
"In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second case we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story."
No wonder they call him master of suspense!