Editor's Day 1997 - The earliest posts found!

July 29 and earlier - 1997

The Scandal of The Pleasure Garden
Readers may judge for themselves how suitable our title is. Read on. For many years, the British Film Institute in London have held a print of the first film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, The Pleasure Garden (1925). Sad to report, the only airing the film ever receives is an occasional screening for film scholars able to visit the BFI premises, and a rare public screening - every few years - like the one held in London in May 1996 by the National Film Theatre as part of its 'Early Hitchcock' season. The film has never been released on video or shown widely on TV. (Not in the English-speaking world, anyway. We've heard that a print was shown on Swedish television a few years ago, taken from the Rohauer Collection. It was run at sound-speed, had some of the original titles removed, and was without colour tinting.)

Yet, says Professor Maurice Yacowar (in 'Hitchcock's British Films', 1977), the film marks 'a very impressive debut' for Hitchcock. Philip Kemp, who writes for 'Sight & Sound' and 'Film Comment', tells us that it's 'bouncy, cheeky, inventive', and perhaps even better than The Lodger (1926), 'which, while quite clearly the ur-Hitchcock movie with all his obsessions up and running, has always struck me as a little self-consciously arty'. The BFI print of The Pleasure Garden is beautifully tinted in colour.

So, too, is a second print that miraculously turned up in Waco, Texas, in 1992, and is now held (we understand) by the Southwest Video/Film Archives of the Southern Methodist University in Texas. Five years down the track, there's no sign of any effort to make this print publically available, either.

We think this whole situation is shameful. We wholeheartedly support the sentiments of film researcher Leslie Shepard of Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Irish Republic, who wrote to 'The MacGuffin' as follows (the letter was originally printed in 'MacGuffin' 19):

It seems to me so unfair that all over the world, film archives have all the key material in their vaults, taken out [only] very rarely for those people who can get to special Film Festivals, or for showing to a favoured few ....

I have begged the British Film Institute/National Film Archive to consider subscription issues of classic films, especially silents like the early Hitchcocks [but to little result] ...

We suggest that readers of this Web Page might write to the above institutions and lend their voice to that of Leslie Shepard. (The Southern Methodist University is in Dallas, Texas. The address of the BFI/National Film Archive is 21 Stephen Street, London, W1P 1PL, England.) While you're about it, maybe ask the BFI why they haven't made generally available their prints of Hitchcock's Downhill and Waltzes From Vienna, either.

British version of Strangers on a Train screens in US
Hard on the heels of the restored Vertigo in 70mm, another Hitchcock film was re-released in the US at the end of last year. The British version of Strangers on a Train (1951), a print of which was discovered accidentally by Warner Bros in their vaults, runs two minutes longer than the more generally-known version. Though the British version had a Cinemax airing in the US a few years ago, and has since been shown there on cable TV, the recent screenings at the Castro in San Francisco and the Nuart in Los Angeles constituted its first general cinema release in the US.

An article by Bill Desowitz in 'The Los Angeles Times' of November 17 reported:

The pristine print contains a more extensive opening train sequence between tennis star Farley Granger and eccentric fan Robert Walker, as well as a more subdued ending.

The result is a notable amplification of Walker's charming flamboyance, psychotic personality and homoerotic attraction to Granger - subverting our previous impressions of the film.

In the alternate footage, Walker coaxes a hesitant Granger into having lunch with him in his compartment, exhibiting gastronomic outlandishness by ordering lamb chops, french fries and chocolate ice cream.

Later, when they are alone, their exchange becomes edgier and more vulnerable. Walker now divulges a sinister view of human nature ('My theory is that everybody is a potential murderer') before introducing his ingenious crisscross murder plan: he will kill Granger's adulterous wife if Granger will kill his tyrannical father.

Yet we surprisingly get a little less in the UK version as well. Missing is the delicious tag on the train [at the end of the film] with Granger and fiancée Ruth Roman nervously avoiding the newest stranger on a train: a kindly minister who recognises the tennis star.

Instead, we conclude with a tidier phone conversation between Roman and Granger that leaves us with the implication that he's ready to quit tennis and settle down with her.

• Warner have now released the British version of the film on VHS video. Also, there's been a limited-release on DVD of the two versions of the film - but for the present, at any rate, that release is confined to seven selected US cities (including Los Angeles). MGM/Warner are test-marketing DVDs, and no Web sales are being allowed. The price is $24.95. (Thanks to Richard Carnahan for that information. Richard further reports that he's checked the current and upcoming DVD schedule with Ken Crane's of Los Angeles, and can see no other Hitchcock titles on DVD forthcoming.)

The original of Vertigo
This won't be news to readers of 'MacGuffin' 17, but we think it worth mentioning anyway ...

Almost certainly, the major literary source for the novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, 'D'Entre les Morts' (c. 1955), on which Hitchcock's masterpiece Vertigo (1958) was based, is another novel: Belgian author Georges Simenon's 'Lettre à Mon Juge' (1947). The latter has been translated into English as 'Act of Passion' and purports to be the confession of a condemned man, a doctor, who has strangled his mistress, explaining just why he was forced to 'kill the thing he loves' and why he must repudiate any suggestion of madness. 'I killed her that she might live.'

Here are some salient facts. In 'D'Entre les Morts', too, the central character, who is called Flavières, strangles his mistress, Renée. Co-author of 'D'Entre les Morts', Narcejac, wrote a most appreciative study of Simenon, called 'Le Cas "Simenon"' (1950). Before Boileau and Narcejac wrote 'D'Entre les Morts', a film of 'Lettre à Mon Juge' came out in France. It was Henri Verneuil's Le Fruit Défendu/Forbidden Fruit (1952) and starred Fernandel and Françoise Arnoul.

(Soon afterwards, but again before Boileau and Narcejac wrote their novel, another highly pertinent film appeared. This was Robert Siodmak's Le Grand Jeu/The Big Game, 1953, starring Gina Lollobrigida as a redhead who 'rematerialises', subtly changed, as a brunette - see 'MacGuffin' 11.)

Now, in 'MacGuffin' 17 we spent several pages tracing parallels between 'Lettre à Mon Juge' and 'D'Entre les Morts'. Here, instead, are just a couple of suggestive incidents from the Simenon novel, which we think Vertigo fans may 'recognise'. In an explicit passage towards the end of the novel, the doctor, Alevoine, succeeds for the first time in fully arousing his mistress, Martine, and brings her to climax. He then announces to her that they're going to take a few days' vacation, 'a pilgrimage', to her native city, Liège, in Belgium. To the reader, Alevoine confides that he now 'felt that I had to get possession of her childhood, for I was jealous of [that] too'.

At this stage of the book, we already know that Martine as a girl had attended the convent of the Daughters of the Cross, and had been a boarder there. Now the couple go there together, and to several other parts of Liège that hold strong memories for her. 'All that she had told me', says Alevoine, 'was like a novel for young girls, and I went there to get at the truth, which turned out to be not so very different. I saw the big house, Rue Hors-Château, which she had so often described, and its famous porch with the forged iron hand-rail.' And so on. The Mission San Juan Bautista scenes in Vertigo must surely have their genesis here ...

Incidentally, the Simenon novel is very fine - well worth reading in its own right. (Just don't expect Maigret to turn up. He isn't in it!)

Rare screenings of 'Incident at a Corner' and other of Hitchcock's work for television
The first television screenings in 37 years of 'Incident at a Corner' (1960), directed by Hitchcock, and starring George Peppard, Vera Miles, and Eddie Albertson , took place recently on 'The Museum of Television & Radio Showcase' on the cable station 'TV LAND'.

Hitchcock made 'Incident at a Corner' for 'Ford Startime'. It runs 50 minutes and is in colour. The plot synopsis speaks of 'an elderly crossing guard who loses his job when someone [suggests] that he's been overly friendly with the school's girls'.

If you missed the TV screenings, and you live in New York or Los Angeles, you'll have a further opportunity to see 'Incident at a Corner', and all the other programs that Hitchcock directed for television, over the next few months. The Museum of Television & Radio, in Manhattan and Beverly Hills, is screening them during the summer. Some little-known footage has been unearthed, notably an episode of 'Alcoa Premiere' (syndicated as 'Fred Astaire's Premiere Theatre') called "The Jail", starring John Gavin, James Barton, and Barry Morse. Though Hitchcock didn't direct this 50-minute program, made in 1962, he was its executive producer. As the Museum's program brochure notes: 'Aside from his own series, which continued until May 1965, it was the last time Alfred Hitchcock put his name on a television program.'

The Museum's telephone numbers for information are: New York, (212) 621-6802; Beverley Hills, (310) 786-1000 or (310) 786-1025.

• The gift shop at the Museum reportedly has for sale the rare Good Times Home Video (1995) releases of several Hitchcock-directed episodes of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'. The episodes (on two videos) are: "Revenge", "The Crystal Trench", "Breakdown", "The Perfect Crime", "Dip in the Pool", "Mrs Bixby and the Colonel's Coat", and "The Horseplayer".

• The director of the episode of 'Alcoa Premiere' called "The Jail", mentioned above, was Norman Lloyd, a long-time associate of Hitchcock's. He played the saboteur called Fry in Saboteur (1942) and the patient called Mr Garmes in Spellbound (1945). Later, he directed many of the best episodes of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents', including the memorable "Man From the South", adapted from the story by Roald Dahl, plus one of Hitchcock's favourite episodes, "The Jar". Lloyd was interviewed for 'The Los Angeles Times' of 12 June. There, he spoke of Hitchcock's willingness to do absolutely anything that the legendary James Allardice wrote for his lead-ins (and lead-outs) to the TV shows. Lloyd: 'I mean, I would read these lead-ins when they would come in and I would say: "Impossible. Hitch will never do this. He won't get out there in knickers and a golf club." He did them. He got inside a bottle. They got a real lion and Hitch worked with a lion. Hitch played his own brother, Albert Hitchcock. All of these were inventions of Jimmy. Hitchcock, with his shrewd showmanship and instinct, never questioned one of them. He did every single one of them.'

Film restorers Harris & Katz go online
The team who recently 'restored' Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), and who are now turning their attention to the same director's Rear Window (1954), were recently on 'Universal Chat', discussing their work. Universal Chat is located at Realhollywood (WayBack Machine), where there's a transcript of the discussion.

'The MacGuffin' has received many letters containing mainly favourable comment about the work Harris & Katz did on Vertigo. (See our Correspondence page, link below.) Nonetheless, our latest issue (#22) contains our scholarly reservation: '[I]n Melbourne, Australia, some of us are lucky enough to have access to an undeteriorated original IB Tech print of Vertigo, and we can only regret the "corrupted text" that Vertigo has now become. Scholars are going to have to mentally "undo" the changes for perhaps ever afterwards.'

Here's an instance of the more questionable work done by the restoration team. When Judy (Kim Novak) returns to her hotel from the hairdresser's, the 'restored' print has the sound of a lift door-chime where none was heard before. The original soundtrack had just the rattle of the lift door sliding open - a subliminal reminder by Hitchcock of the down-market quality of Judy's hotel.

And in Muir Woods, bird-song is now heard, thus vitiating the silent - and somewhat deathly - effect Hitchcock clearly sought. (See our FAQs page for discussion of this.)

Harris & Katz were asked about such matters during their recent 'chat'. Here's what Harris said: 'When we found the original music tracks, we realized that we had to use them. But in order to use them since all of the other magnetic materials had been junked in 1967 and the only track that survived was on a used 35mm print, we had to ... digitally remove the dialogue, and since the music was in stereo, [we] have created all new foley and efx as were warranted, but using Hitchcock's original dubbing notes. There were bits of sound in some of the original foreign mags which did not print through to the optical positives and there were also holes in some of the original sound that had to be filled in with something. ...'

Summing up their position, Katz said: '[We made] a conscious decision in order to feature the marvellous Bernard Herrmann soundtrack. And considering the alternative, I think we made the right decision.'

Major Hitchcock retrospectives around the world
A near-complete retrospective season of Hitchcock's films has concluded in Rome, Italy. And a similar season is currently being featured by the Netherlands Film Museum in Amsterdam. We're told that it's a hit. For instance, the five scheduled screenings of the 3-D print of Dial M for Murder (1954) were all sold out, and an extra screening had to be held.

Meanwhile, the Auckland International Film Festival in New Zealand is currently featuring its own Hitchcock retrospective season. A highlight is a screening of the silent version of Blackmail (1929), from the National Film and Television Archive, London. The program-notes quote Marilyn Fabe (of the Pacific Film Archive): 'Blackmail is a dark, expressionist, guilt-obsessed tale that reveals the director's deep-seated fear that the forces of law and order can themselves be corrupt ...'.

Two screenwriters pay tribute to Hitch
Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano, now aged 75, was interviewed in the 11 July issue of 'The Los Angeles Times'.

He told Susan King that he feels he got the Psycho job because he suggested to Hitch at their first meeting that they should emphasise 'the girl', i.e., Marion Crane.

'[Hitch] looked at me kind of strangely and so I began to lay out that she was shacking up with her boyfriend and they are having a tough time and she gets this money in her hands and she goes a little bit mad and steals the money. When she goes to the motel she gets killed.

'[Hitch] was fantastic. He taught me so much. It was an education. I don't know where you would go to get that today.'

A similar comment was made recently by another of Hitchcock's screenwriters, novelist Jay Presson Allen, who scripted Marnie (1964). Hitch contacted her because he knew of her successful stage version of Muriel Spark's novel, 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie'. During the writing of Marnie, Allen's first screenplay, he gave her every help, and the freedom to develop her own ideas.

Jay Presson Allen is interviewed in the book 'Backstory 3: Interviews With Screenwriters of the 1960s', edited by Patrick McGilligan (University of California Press).

Hitch 'family portrait'
If you're in the US, and haven't seen 'Family Portrait: Alfred Hitchcock' before, then keep an eye on the program-schedules for AMC. We're told that the Hitchcock program is being re-screened on August 13 and August 14. It's a nice collage of Hitch and his family. See him take off Chaplin! (Which reminds us: 'Family Portrait: The Marx Brothers' is also said to be coming soon!)