Hitchcock redux

These are all over the net so you can find the high-res versions if you want to. They are taken from this month’s issue of Vanity Fair. Right click on the picture to get the bigger version.

The scene in Dial M for Murder in which Charles Alexander Swann [Anthony Dawson] attempts to strungle Margot Mary Wendice [Grace Kelly] only to be himself stabbed with a pair of scissors, caused Hitchcock great anxiety. Although the entire film was shot in just 36 days, this single scene required a full week of rehearsals and multiple takes to get the choreography and timing right. After one failed take, Hitchcock complained, “There wasn’t enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce – tasteless.

Rear Window, with James Stewart and Grace Kelly, is the story of an invalid news photographer, confined to his apartment, who spies on the people living across the courtyard form his Greenwich Village building. After much observation, he becomes convinced that one of his neighbours is a murderer. The film has been called a superb commentary on watching films, on loneliness, and on obsession, as well as a sharp critique of the male psyche. But at its essense, Rear Window is a paean to old-fashioned snooping. ” Sure he’s a snooper but aren’t we all?” said Hitchcock. “I’ll bet you that nine out of ten people, if they see a woman across the courtyard undressing for bed, or even a man puttering around in his room, will stay and look; no turns away and says, ‘It’s none of my business'”

While filming the Birds, Hitchcock became unnaturally fixated on his star, Tippi Hedren. In Marnie, shot right after the Birds, Hitchcock’s passion for the actress took on a new level of obsession and oddity. It seemed to many on the set that Hitchcock was concerned less with the production of the film that with his effort to woo Hedren. He sent champagne to her dressing room every day, declared her the best actress he had ever directed, and freely confessed his love. Most disturbingly, he told her of a recurring dream he had: “You were in the living room of my house in Santa Cruz and there was a rainbow, a glow around you.You came right up to me and said, ‘Hitch,I love you – I’ll always love you ‘and we embraced. Don’t you understand that you’re everything I’ve ever dreamed about!”

Near the end of production, after Hedren finally rejected him – in her trailer one day, after Hitchcock had propositioned her directly – he dropped her and refused ever to utter her name again. Did we mention that Marnie is a psychodrama about frigidity?

Rebecca was the first film Hitchcock made after producer David O.Selznick lured him to Hollywood, in 1939, with promises of a large budget and a high salary. But in Selznick, Hitchcock met a man as controlling and driver as himself.

Rebecca had been a best-selling novel by Daphne du Maurier, and Hitchcock proposed a film treatment to Selznick in which he had made several alterations to the ghost story – in particular, adding elements of irony and dark humour. A week after submitting the treatment, Hitchcock received a memo back from Selznick,in which the producer began by describing himself as “shocked and dissapointed beyond words.” He demanded a re-write faithful to the novel. Although Hitchcock lated dismissed the film as “not a Hitchcock picture,” it was one of his most successful, and the only one to win best picture at the Academy Awards.Despite being nominated for best director on this and four other occasions, Hitchcock never won.

Guy, a tennis pro, meets Bruno, a psychopath fan, while travelling on a train. Bruno proposes the perfect crime – a murder exchange. Bruno will murder Guy’s wife (Guy is looking to trade up), and in return Guy will murder Bruno’s domineering father. As Truffaut remarked to Hitchcock, “Both characters might very well have had the same name. Whether it’s Guy or Bruno, it’s obviously a single personality split in two”

Yet one wonders whether this appealing ambiguity in not the inadvertent result of casting decisions. Hitchcock may have exaggerated when he called “The ineffectiveness of the two main actors” one of the film’s main flaws, but had Guy been played by a figure stronger than Farley Granger – such as Hitchcock’s first choice, William Holden – he might have been more sympathetic as a hero. As it stands, it’s hard not to root for the villain, played by Robert Walker, especially when he has his hands around the neck of Guy’s fat, loathsome, unfaithful wife, and begins to squeeze. Then again, that may have been Hitchcock’s intent all along.

Hitchcock’s blackhearted valentine to San Francisco is not only the best movie ever made about that city but perhaps his most fully realized portrayal of the themes that haunted his films – obsession, paranoia, the transference of guilt, spurned love. And, of course, necrophilia: “I was intrigued by the hero’s attempts to re-create the image of a dead woman through another one who’s alive”, said Hitchcock when asked to describe the plot “To put it plainly, the man wants to go to bed with a woman who’s dead.”

For the climactic bell-tower scene, in which Jimmy Stewart finally learns the truth about mystery woman Kim Novak, Hitchcock had selected the Mission San Juan Bautista, two south of San Francisco. But when he showed up to film, the tower was gone – it had been torn down due to dry rot. Although he shot the scece at the mission, he had to add the tower through special effects. THe famous vertiginous shot of its spiral staircase was done, for $19,000, with a miniature model.

To Catch a Thief may be best remembered for Grace Kelly’s audacious kiss, right smack on the lips, of Cary Grant, shortly after they first meet. Kelly, who was appearing in her third (and final) film with the director in three years, was the quintessential cold Hitchcock blonde. In speaking about the actress, Hitchcock called her sexual appeal “indirect”. When asked to elaborate, he gave what might have been the most revealing insight into his own fetishistic views on “the Hitchcock type”:

“Definitely, I think the most interesting women, sexually, are the English women. I feel that the English women, the Swedes, the northern Germans, and Scandinavians are a great deal more exciting than the Latin, the Italian and the French women. Sex should not be advertised. An English girl, looking like a schoolteacher, is apt to get into a cab with you and, to your surprise, she’ll probably pull a man’s pants open”.

To Catch A Thief – like many of Hitchcock’s films – was motivated in no small part by a desire to get himself into the backseat of that cab.

The entirety of Lifeboat takes place on a raft in the middle of the ocean, with Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, Hume Cronyn, and five others – plus a Nazi – set adrift after their ship has been torpedoed by a German sub. This presented a difficult challenge to Hitchcock’s determination to appear in a single shot in each of his films. “Usually I play a passer-by, but you can’t have a passer-by out on the ocean”, he said. “I thought of being a dead body floating past the lifeboat, but I was afraid I’d sink”.

Hitchcock was sincerely worried about his weight at the time and had undertaken a strenuous diet in order to drop from 300 to 200 pounds. This led to his solution to the cameo problem. He appeared in a newspaper read by one of the boat’s passengers, photographed before and after his diet in an advertisement for a fictional weight-loss drug called “Reduco”.

Hitchcock may never have taken his obsession with blondes further than with Tippi Hedren, a model he spotted in a television commercial for a diet drink and immediately signed to an exclusive, seven-year film contract. Within months he had cast her as the lead in The Birds.

Hitchcock said he made the film in order to “scare the hell out of people”, but Hedren may have been more scared than any audience member. Hitchcock ordered Hedren not only a complete wardrobe for her films, but also – shades of Vertigo – one for her personal life; he hired two crew members to spy on her when she left the set; and he repeatedly pressured her to drink martinis during rehearsals. But the most upsetting episode came during the filming of the movie’s climactic bird-attack scene. Hitchcock put Hedren in a giant cage and had two men throw live birds at her face. He shot the scene all day long, every day, for an entire week. It was only when she suffered a gash underneath one of her eyes that filmingwas stopped.

“Really the worst week of my life” said Hedren

The idea for the famous cornfield scene in North by Northwest came about when Hitchcock determined to reverse, as dramatically as possible, the cliched movie trope in which a man is forced to run for his life from some sinister force. “How is this usually donhe?” asked Hitchcock. “A dark night at a narrow intersection of the city. The waiting victim standing in a pool of light under the street lamp. The cobbles are washed with the recent rains”. So Hitchcock instructed his production designer, Robert Boyle, to put his hero, Cary Grant, in a wide-open expanse in which he couldn’t hide – a completely flat cornfield in the middle of nowhere. Boyle could find nothing that fit this description in the Dakotas or in Kansas, but he did find a perfect location in the San Joaquin Valley. The only problem was that no corn grew in the valley. Fortunately, Hitchcock hit upon a solution – at no small expense, he ordered an entire crop form the middle of the country to be brought and re-planted.

Hitchcock was proud of the result: “I practice absurdity quite religiously!”.

A lot is made of the influence on Hitchcock’s films of his father,” a rather nervous man” who once locked his six-year old son in a local jail for misbehavior. Less is known about Hitchcock’s mother. He avoided discussing her in interviews, and in conversations made only passing reference to her. We do know, however, that they had a close relationship and that he lived with her until he was married, when he was 27. Mother and son remained so close, in fact, that she accompanied him in holidays with his wife. As one of his biographers, Donald Spoto, points out, on those outings Hitchcock “felt more compelled to satisfy her whims than to attend to his wife’s comfort.”

Older women in Hitchcock’s films are rarely treated with kindness, however, and tend to be scolding, obnoxious, doddering. But it was not until Psycho, in which Janet Leigh famously comes to a bad end while relaxing in the shower, that a mother was treated as a homicidal maniac, even if by proxy.

2 thoughts on “Hitchcock redux

  1. Ευχαριστώ που μου θύμισες ότι έχασα το καλύτερο τεύχος του Vanity Fair! Γαμώτο! Κάθε χρόνο λέω να τα παίρνω αυτά τα χειμερινά, αλλά… τέλος πάντων. Ο Χαβιέ εν θεός, η Σκάρλετ ξενέρωτη, η Κίρα μου άρεσε παλιά αλλά έχει ένα issue με το στόμα της – πώς το έχει έτσι, παντού και πάντα; Συγκρίνεται όμως τωρά ο James Stewart, η Grace Kelly και η Kim Novak με τον κάθε κεντικελένη;;;

    • Τις εικόνες έχω τες τζιαι σε μεγάλο size αν θέλεις να σου τις στείλω – που τον τζιαιρό που ανέβασα το ποστ το site που τις είσιε έκλεισε έτσι εν ισχύει το right-click

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