Editor's Week 2000

December 28 - 2000
I've recently had occasion to write about a 'suffer-in-silence' motif in melodrama and film, including several Hitchcock films. It's very effective dramatically, and goes way back. For instance, you'll find it in Tennyson's narrative poem 'Enoch Arden' (1864), the inspiration in turn for many novels and films, including both Hall Caine's novel 'The Manxman' (1894) and its two film versions (1916, 1928 - the latter made by Hitchcock). You'll also find it in the theatrical warhorse, 'Madame X' (1909), and its several film versions. Here in Australia, where I live, there have been two film versions of The Silence of Dean Maitland (1914; 1934), about a man-of-the-cloth with a guilty secret. That situation offers a parallel to Hitchcock's I Confess (1953), itself based on a French stage melodrama (1902). Other Hitchcock films that contain the same motif include, arguably, his three 1940s films with Ingrid Bergman (Spellbound, Notorious, and Under Capricorn), and the first half, at least, of Torn Curtain (1966), in which neither Michael (Paul Newman) nor Sarah (Julie Andrews) has the opportunity to tell the other, or anyone else, the extent of their anguish. The more 'noble' the suffering, or the person doing the suffering, the more effective the motif is. No doubt, that's why the usual such sufferers are either women or clergymen (or, in Michael Armstrong's case, a scientist spying for his country). It's also a suitably 'visual' thing, inasmuch as words are by definition not appropriate; so it suited the silent cinema in particular. But Hitchcock also recognised the motif's psychological power, perhaps sensing that we all have painful things we cannot easily express, so allowing us to better identify with characters who suffer in silence, especially where they are misunderstood and even villified (as in The Manxman and I Confess). In turn, when the pent-up words and emotions are finally allowed to find expression, in a big 'confession' scene (as in Under Capricorn) or a flurry of melodramatic action (such as the climax of I Confess, which takes place outside and inside the Château Frontenac), the effect is again typically very powerful. In Under Capricorn, Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman) speaks for the audience, too, when she describes 'the blessed, heavenly relief'.

December 27 - 2000
In this lineage of 'vitalist' mystics and thinkers (see yesterday's entry), to which I think Hitchcock belongs, the case of Joseph Glanvill is particularly interesting. His most famous book, 'Lux Orientalis'/ 'Light of the East' (1662) defended belief in the pre-existence of souls, thus already prefiguring an element of Vertigo. But more important and significant in this respect is a passage from Glanvill that is thrice quoted in Poe's 'Ligeia'. The passage reads: 'And the will ... dieth not. Who knoweth the mysteries of the will, with its vigor? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness. Man doeth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.' The relevance of such a passage to, first, 'Ligeia' itself may be gauged by comparing it with some of Poe's own words in the tale: 'An intensity in thought, action, or speech was possibly, in her [Ligeia, the narrator's dead first love], a result, or at least an index, of that gigantic volition which, during our long intercourse, failed to give other and more immediate evidence of its existence.' Later, when the narrator's second wife, the Lady Rowena Trevanion, also dies, and then seems momentarily resurrected and inhabited by none other than the narrator's 'lost love', Ligeia herself, the resemblance to the Vertigo story is startling. When I read the novel of Vertigo, 'D'entre les Morts' (1954), by Boileau and Narcejac, I was struck by a passage describing the Scottie character's guilt-feelings after Madeleine's death: 'It was will-power he lacked ... He would have had to pour out far more vitality than he possessed to keep her in this world.' No wonder I remarked in my book that this passage 'might have come from Poe' (and from 'Ligeia' in particular)! But clearly the influence can be traced back much further, including most probably to an Eastern tradition (Glanvill's book wasn't called 'Lux Orientalis' for nothing!). In turn, it provides further evidence for my insistence that Schopenhauer's philosophy, which embraces Western and Eastern traditions, and which emphasises 'Will' as the ultimate and universal life-principle or striving, provides the very best gloss for understanding Hitchcock's films ...

December 26 - 2000
My thanks to Danny Nissim in London who points out another Hitchcock-connection in Bernard Vorhaus's career (see yesterday's entry). The cinematographer of Dusty Ermine (1936) was none other than Curt Courant who two years earlier had photographed Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much. (Later Courant would photograph such famous works as Renoir's La Bête humaine [1938], Carné's Le Jour se lève [1939], and Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux [1947].) Danny interviewed Vorhaus a few months before he died. The director specifically 'mentioned the influence which Hitchcock had on his work in Britain in the 30's. In particular he cited the mixture of humour and drama which Hitchcock put into his thrillers, and how he himself had tried to achieve the same juxtaposition in films like The Last Journey.' Now, changing the subject (pretty much), here are some thoughts which I've had lately about one of my idées fixes re Hitchcock. In my book, I refer to a recurring 'Bergsonian' motif in Hitchcock's films whereby a sufficient intensity of 'life' seems to bring 'freedom'. I detect such a motif operating in The 39 Steps (1935), where Hannay (Robert Donat) undergoes a 'quickening' process in every sense; Hannay's unfortunate foil is Mr Memory who is set in his ways, including his amazing talent for memorising 'facts' - but only 'facts'. Whereas, Hannay, with the help of Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), becomes increasingly more intuitive and alert in mind and deed. Likewise, in North by Northwest (1959), Thornhill (Cary Grant) becomes increasingly resilient, and ends up telling us, 'I never felt more alive'. In Rear Window (1954), Jeff (James Stewart), with the help of Lisa (Grace Kelly), becomes more open to things like intuition (which Henri Bergson particularly valued for its potential to liberate the individual from his usual blinkered understanding of time and space). Rear Window is one of several Hitchcock films of the '50s which explore, not without ambiguity, the possibility of individual 'freedom'. Another is Vertigo (1958), in which Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) holds out to Scottie (James Stewart) the possibility of increased 'colour, excitement, power, freedom', i.e., heightened 'life'. Importantly, this motif in Hitchcock isn't only 'Bergsonian'. It has a tradition going back centuries, and incorporates key ideas in the thought of such thinkers and/or artists as the English mystics Joseph Glanvill (1636-80) and William Blake (1757-1827), the German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), the American Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49), and the Englishman Charles Dickens (1812-70). The last-named often spoke of being 'not unconscious' of possessing a 'considerable exercise of life', which he put into his work. More tomorrow.

December 20 - 2000
I see that director Bernard Vorhaus died last month in London, aged 95. Vorhaus was singled out by David Lean in the 1980s when asked by film historian Kevin Brownlow if any other director working in Britain had impressed him during his years as an apprentice editor in the 1930s. There are at least some faint Hitchcock connections in Vorhaus's career, and an appreciation of these helps us understand Hitchcock's films that much better. By the mid-1930s, Vorhaus (who arrived in England from America in 1929) had found a niche for himself directing quota-quickies, or B-pictures, on a regular basis, mainly at the Twickenham studios. Notably there was The Last Journey (1935), very probably inspired by Hitchcock's own 'B-picture' featuring a train journey, Number Seventeen (1932): both were based on stories by novelist and screenwriter, J. Jefferson Farjeon, and both had similarly exciting climaxes. Vorhaus's film is about what happens when the driver of an express train, wrongly convinced that his stoker is romancing his wife, goes beserk. According to the 'Times' obituary for Vorhaus, the film packs 'each of its 66 minutes with more excitement than most of British cinema's prestige classics could manage in two hours'. (Hitchcock's film is actually the same length as Vorhaus's!) The writer continues that though 'the basic material was banal ... fast cutting, human touches in the characterisations and location shooting with the Great Western Railway's finest rolling stock helped to blow away the script's cobwebs'. Playing the engine driver was Godfrey Tearle who appeared the same year in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (as the villainous Professor Jordan). Vorhaus made several other interesting low budget mystery-thrillers (among them, Dusty Ermine [1936], which contains the cinema debut of Margaret Rutherford). Then he returned to America and served in the US Air Force and Signal Corps film units during the war. He stayed on in America afterwards. Another mystery-thriller made by Vorhaus at that time was The Spiritualist/ The Amazing Mr X (1948), with Turhan Bey, Lynn Bari, and Richard Carlsen, which Leslie Halliwell found 'quite a lively' film after a 'pretentious beginning'. It was about a fake medium, thereby anticipating Hitchcock's Family Plot (1976). Co-scriptwriter was the left-leaning Ian McLellan Hunter - but I don't imagine he was the same Ian Hunter who had starred in Hitchcock's The Ring twenty years earlier ...

December 19 - 2000
Yesterday I quoted some thoughts of reader Nick Needham on Vertigo, and added some remarks of my own. Nick has responded as thoughtfully as ever: 'My only comment is that the "Edenic" quality of the sequoia trees scene can encompass your view of life/death ambivalence, given that I said Scottie & Madeleine suggest a "fallen and troubled Adam and Eve". Fallen > paradise lost! The lovely eerie haunting scene is Edenic, does have resonances of "God's garden" in the midst of which stands "the tree of life". But it is also blighted by the tokens of death - the dates by the tree rings, [Madeleine's saying] "Here I was born, here I died", etc. - which impress on us that we aren't really back in pre-fall Eden after all, but Eden under the troubling shadow of mortality. So the Eden of this scene is ambivalent. In the film's terms, maybe there is no way back to pre-fall Eden? That is, we have to accept the reality and constraints of being "fallen". Maybe that's the bitter lesson for Scottie.' Very true. In none of Hitchcock's 'lost paradise' films (and that's most of them!), is anything but a conditional and limited optimism permitted at the end, usually involving the marital happiness of one particular couple (e.g., Constance and John Ballyntine at the end of Spellbound [1945], Michael and Sarah at the end of Torn Curtain [1966]). (Still, there is sometimes in these films a subtext, such as the 'Miltonic' one I detect in Psycho [1960], that allows that a 'genius' might see things that the rest of us aren't usually vouchsafed. To an extent, Dr Brulov in Spellbound and Professor Lindt in Torn Curtain seem to me to represent such a privileged position.) I think it's significant that Scottie in Vertigo is a bachelor, and likely to remain one henceforth unless he can accept Midge as more than a substitute mother-figure. Actually, I thought of Vertigo tonight when I read a recent article by Leon R. Kass called "The End of Courtship" (lamenting a loss of serious, marriage-oriented values in today's society). Near the end of the article, Professor Kass writes: 'According to the story of the Garden of Eden, our humanization is in fact coincident with the recognition of our sexual nakedness [the fact that '(s)ex is bound up with death'] and all that it implies: shame at our needy incompleteness, unruly self-division, and finitude; awe before the eternal; hope in the self-transcending possibilities of children and a relationship to the divine.' Poor Scottie, who wants so much to find 'commitment' (à la marriage) with Madeleine/Judy, nonetheless keeps trying to deny his own mortality until, at the end, it may finally be 'too late' - as he himself is heard to say. Too late, that is, to see things as they really are, and to become humanised. (His own cry of 'too late' referred to the possibility of bringing back the dead Madeleine, which just serves to show how alienated from reality his thinking has been all along.)

December 18 - 2000
My thanks to Nick Needham in the UK who has been corresponding with me - on and off - over recent months, mainly about Vertigo (1958). I think Nick has a point when he notes how the glorious panning shot of San Francisco in early morning sunlight which opens the second part of the film seems in deliberate contrast to the panning shot at dusk at the film's start. Nick writes: 'At the start, the camera pans across a dark horizon, right to left, following the chase that ends in Scottie's tragedy [his colleague's death]. Then at the start of part two, the camera pans left to right across a bright horizon, the prelude to a new pursuit and a new tragedy.' Nick also comments on the film's 'lost paradise' images of gardens and flowers which I had suggested to him were something that often recurs in Hitchcock: 'They are more pervasive that I realised. [One seems] to find flowers, trees, garden-like things popping up all over the place, right down to the rubber-plants on which the hotel owner is bizarrely putting olive oil! There are even flowers in the corner of the frame where Scottie looks out of Midge's window and gets vertigo. One very obvious thing I neglected [to mention previously] was the scene among the giant "always green, ever-living" sequoias. Seems quite Edenic to me, with Scottie and Madeleine as a fallen and troubled Adam and Eve.' Actually, I can't quite agree with Nick on that last point. At least, I think he has described only half of the scene's ambience. It's a key to Vertigo in particular, and Hitchcock's work in general, that the imagery constantly intertwines 'life' and 'death'. Sure, the sequoias are 'ever-living' and the woods resemble those described by the poet Robert Frost - 'lovely, dark, and deep'. But equally, they are a place of death - silent and forbidding and chthonic (other-worldly, ghostly). Like the sea in much of Hitchcock's work, they are a symbol of the world's 'Will', a life-force that is also a death-force. They also correspond symbolically to the sea in Lewis Allen's classic ghost-film The Uninvited (1944), which is described there in Wagnerian terms as 'a place of life and death and eternity, too'. (Allen's film actually seems to provide the inspiration for the scene on the clifftop in Vertigo - see my article on Vertigo on this website.) In turn, one may think of the realm of The Mothers in Goethe's 'Faust', Part II, another chthonic place. And this connotation of the sequoias is fitting, as counterpoint, given Madeleine's mother-defying role in Scottie's story until the very end, when the Great Mother, i.e., the nun or mother-superior, garbed in black, finally exerts her deathly supremacy ...

December 13 - 2000
In response to yesterday's item, my friend Dr Tag Gallagher sent the following: 'I personally am always upset by the orient-is-wiser-than-occident argument, and so this time, with my Irish pipes playing, I cannot resist pointing out to you (a) the dearth of oriental exegeses of (even!) Hitchcock (or for that matter of almost any film); (b) the implication that the oriental attitude is represented by Schopenhauer and Goethe and an infamous Australian (who at least can claim to be of the Orient).' To which, the referred-to 'infamous Australian' would reply as follows. What I meant was that there's a more catholic and intelligent way of seeing (and writing about) things than either Occident or Orient alone tends to bring. But such figures as Goethe and Schopenhauer - and, I think, Hitchcock - were big enough to embrace both (and other?) approaches than either the traditional Occidental or Oriental approach alone. Hitchcock was very conscious of his global audience and its various ways of seeing, while understandably being chary of just catering to the 'lowest common denominator' or some universal 'mass mind'. (About the latter, Hitchcock had an anecdote which I'll quote here another time.) Coming back now to Tag Gallagher's points, I wrote to him thus: 'But as for oriental film exegesis, I once saw a serious Indian film magazine (on Satyajit Ray), and it was okay; so such things do exist. More to the point,though: by the very logic of openness and flexibility [which I'd suggested the Oriental approach favours], there is less likely to be film exegesis - a narrow, literary, and intellectual preoccupation, after all. As Lao Tzu (or someone) said recently, "Those who know do not say;/ Those who say do not know."' (Think about it, dear reader!) Finally, today, let me return to the scene from 'Faust' that I was quoting yesterday. In it, the Clown is given these wonderful lines, which are not about 'theory', but are, it seems to me, very descriptive of Hitchcock's cinema: 'Who knows the art of pleasant self-expression/ Need not resent the popular decree;/ He thrives on widespread appreciation,/ And moves the mass more certainly./ So be exemplary in every fashion,/ Give reign to many-throated fantasy,/ To reason, thought, and sentiment, and passion -/ But, mark it well, not without foolery!'

December 12 - 2000
The narrowness of many 'theoretical' readings of films never ceases to appal me! Frequently, such readings seem to imply that the film in question has a key which the particular reading provides. An almost invariable consequence is that aspects of the film are given a strained (sometimes ridiculous) interpretation, which makes reading such exegeses a strain in turn! (If you ask me for an example, one that I've recently had occasion to note is Lee Edelman's queer-theory interpretation of Hitchcock's The Birds. But there are countless others.) To me, such a methodology, using in effect an unacknowledged reductio-ad-absurdum approach, is very Occidental, as opposed to a more open and flexible way of seeing that I associate with the East, the Orient. The self-deluding nature of 'theory' is frequently seen (through) by the reader when the exegesis concludes with its 'loose ends' apparently tied off to the exegetist's satisfaction, yet leaving the reader intensely dissatisfied because s/he can think of more probable explanations for many of the aspects of the film that have been raised. Effectively, the notion that there is a single 'key' to things is mocked by Hitchcock in Vertigo, where Scottie is driven nearly frantic trying to find 'the key' to Madeleine's behaviour - which turns out to be all a put-up job, a performance, designed to play on Scottie's 'weakness', his acrophobia, etc., and his consequent subjective understanding. (In Hitchcock, as in Kant and Schopenhauer, objectivity is scarcely achievable, a state of affairs that his films often allegorise. In Psycho, for example, the psychiatrist speaks for all the film's characters, and not just the crazy Norman Bates, when he refers to 'reality' coming 'too close'.) I would suggest that what often makes a good film good is not a 'key' but any number of different components that lie beyond 'theory', and which collectively give the film a 'satisfying complexity'. A classic statement along these lines is the discussion at the start of Goethe's 'Faust', Part 1, between the Director, the Poet, and the Clown, summed up by the former when he says, 'The mass is overwhelmed only by masses,/ Each likes some part of what has been presented./ He that gives much, gives something to all classes,/ And everybody will go home contented.' More tomorrow.

December 11 - 2000
Courtesy of a projectionist-friend, I last night watched a 35mm screening of The Trouble With Harry (1955). Just one or two moments in this gem of a comedy jar with me these days. One is the obvious dubbing of the song ""Flaggin' the Train to Tuscaloosa", purportedly being sung by artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) when he first comes into view. (But even this effect suggests a certain magic.) The other is the final exit of Dr Greenbow (Dwight Marfield), who stumbles from the house of Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine) complaining that 'This is the first nightmare I've had in twenty-five years!' (The good doctor seems a relatively harmless - and sexless - individual, roughly the equivalent of 'Barmy' Ben in Rebecca and Herb in Shadow of a Doubt.) He's referring to the complicated explanation the film's 'conspirators' (Sam, Jennifer, Captain Wiles, Miss Gravely) have just given him for recent events concerning the death and several re-burials of Harry Worp. What makes my teeth grate when I watch this moment is the 'cheapness' of the effect. I suddenly realised last night that it derives from radio comedies of the era, in which a set of unlikely or impossible events would suddenly be resolved by a convenient 'explanation' (like: 'I awoke and found it was a dream') accompanied by a collective sigh from all concerned - end of show. And in truth some such 'explanation' has just been given us for Harry's death, namely, that no-one was to blame, for Dr Greenbow has pronounced that Harry died of a heart attack, 'natural causes'. (Curiously, an identical explanation resolved the original stage production of Charles Bennett's 'Blackmail', later filmed by Hitchcock without that convenient explanation ...) Still, to Hitchcock's credit, the scene immediately picks up again from this low point when the conspirators hastily set about preparing Harry for one final appearance: from various hiding-places they produce Harry's clothes and then go off to leave him on the hillside where he was found.

December 6 - 2000
My article on Torn Curtain for the next 'MacGuffin' journal/newsletter is called "Submission, containment, liberation", and was first written in 1993. I call it that because I once read a definition of 'initiation' that said it was typically a three-stage process: 'a rite of submission, followed by a period of containment, and then by a further rite of liberation'. I see Michael and Sarah as undergoing such an initiation process in the course of the film, though their eventual 'liberation' (after swimming ashore from their escape-ship, which reminds at least one commentator of 'traversing ... the river Styx') is purely a personal one, not a general one, and even that is without guarantees. What they are perhaps liberated into is a new, higher knowledge. (Incidentally, I'm again reminded - cf November 28, above - of the Storm Cloud Cantata in the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, whose lyrics speak of 'finding release' after the storm has passed.) Let me specify a couple of the more obvious areas where Michael's perceptions may be altered or enlarged after the film ends. For a start, both the museum and ballet scenes have hinted at how insulated from cultural matters, and the humanities generally, he has been. Near the end of the novel (by Richard Wormser, based on the film's screenplay), Michael muses that when he gets back home, 'he must make a point of broadening himself, going to ballet and maybe opera and reading some novels' (p. 177). Similarly, the scenes where he must literally make contact with ordinary people (the farm, the factory canteen, the bus) show how shielded from 'the demos', the people, his career has made him. Throughout the film (set mainly in East Germany, remember), references occur to our common, Western heritage from ancient Greece (mathematics, the arts, democracy itself). Yet if Michael knows anything of this, it evidently relates just to his specialist fields of mathematics and physics. As for his relation to the natural world (represented by the Norwegian fjord, the farm, and finally the open sea), clearly that has also been largely off-limits for him ...

December 5 - 2000
Something else we'll be printing in the next 'MacGuffin', due out by Christmas, is a short extract from the novelisation of Torn Curtain, based on Brian Moore's screenplay. The extract will be of the scene, cut from the film at the last minute, in which the dead Gromek's twin-brother turns up at a workers' factory that Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) visits on his way to Leipzig. Armstrong is taken aback by this apparent reappearance of a dead man, and goes into a reverie à la Macbeth's when he sees Banquo's ghost! (I remember reading recently the philosopher Schopenhauer's definition of uncanny, or dread-inducing, experiences that seem to defy the principium individuationis - principle of individuation - whereby our normal expectations of time and space and causality seem overthrown. One of the examples Schopenhauer gives is of a person who seems to have returned from the dead - a motif in the work of Schopenhauer's contemporary, E.T.A. Hoffmann, which Hitchcock had studied, and present as an idea in several of Hitchcock's own films, including Rebecca [1940] and Vertigo [1958].) Meanwhile, in writing my own piece on Torn Curtain, one of the ideas I'll be playing around with is how the film keeps introducing subliminal reminders of the 'divided country' that Germany was at the time. Again and again, the film emphasises walls and closed rooms and 'boxes'. When Armstrong first 'defects' to East Germany, he gives a press conference against a red-tiled wall that may remind us of the Berlin Wall itself. When he goes to an East German farm in order to contact an agent working for 'Pi', he has to pass the remnants of an old brick wall in the farmyard. The murder of the security-guard Gromek, a few moments later, occurs in the farmhouse's kitchen, which is progressively 'sealed off' by closing the door, by slamming shut the window, and by ripping out the telephone; and when Gromek is finally killed, it is done by thrusting his head into the confined space of a gas oven and asphyxiating him. Michael Armstrong and his fiancée, Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews), make their eventual escape from East Germany concealed inside costume-boxes belonging to a Czech ballet company. (A popular song at the time was called, as I remember, 'Little Boxes', and was about how we all journey from one box to another to another, including the pine or mahogany one at the end.) So a theme of Torn Curtain is about kinds and degrees of 'imprisonment' and 'freedom'. More tomorrow.

December 4 - 2000
Some random thoughts tonight on Hitchcock's spy drama Torn Curtain (1966), about which I'll be writing an article for 'The MacGuffin' journal/newsletter over the next few days. (More accurately, I'll be re-writing a 1993 piece of mine, probably with several needed changes and corrections ...) I remember reading, perhaps in Dan Auiler's 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (1998), that at one stage the film was shaping up as one of Hitchcock's best, at least in the opinion of those close to Hitchcock at the time, including his assistant of long standing, Peggy Robertson. But then various 'compromises' were made, and the result was a badly-flawed work, which proved heart-breaking for many of those concerned. Nonetheless, the film is, I think, underrated. It's most memorable sequence is the protracted murder of the East German security-guard, Herr Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling), but there are plenty of ideas and good moments throughout the film's 128 minutes. Dr Theodore Price, whose remarkable, if eccentric, chapter on the film from his out-of-print book 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality' (1992) we'll be re-printing (with permission) in the next 'MacGuffin', thinks that the murder was inspired by a real-life one he remembers reading about as a youth in the tabloid press. '[A] couple ... insured the life of a lodger of theirs, with themselves as beneficiaries ... they try to kill him with all sorts of weapons, but in vain, and succeed only at last by gassing him to death.' I feel that I've myself read about that murder somewhere, but can't recall the details. Perhaps Peter Conrad's book, just out, 'The Hitchcock Murders' (see above, November 20), has the information. I also wonder whether Conrad's book mentions how UK serial-killer, Dennis Nilsen, once cited Torn Curtain to an interviewer when he was recalling the killing of the young man known as John the Guardsman. (See Brian Masters, 'Killing for Company: The Case of Dennis Nilsen', 1985.) But it's not quite clear what Nilsen meant by this - whether the killing was difficult and protracted, or whether the act of recalling the murder was like a flashback (cf the taxi driver's flashback in Hitchcock's film), or something else again. Still on Hitchcock's murder scene: I'll be looking again at Fritz Lang's film Cloak and Dagger (1946), starring Gary Cooper, because I recall that there was a similar killing there. Certainly Lang's film does have similarities with Hitchcock's (e.g., the Gary Cooper scientist anticipates Paul Newman's nuclear physicist, both being 'innocents abroad' who engage in espionage to obtain material they need to complete their work). More tomorrow.

November 29 - 2000
Some of us think that Richard Franklin's Psycho II (1983) provides a sprightly and inventive 'sequel' to Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), though it doesn't display the degree of civilised 'wit' (in the broadest sense of that term) of the original. But we wouldn't want to say half as much about Tony Perkins's Psycho III (1986), which Perkins both directed and starred in (as Norman Bates). It is an unengaging and uninspired flop. (Gus Van Sant's 1998 remake of Psycho is a different case, and may yet be seen to have a poignancy and, yes, integrity, that somewhat redeem is from the damning things critics have said of it, not without a certain knee-jerk defensiveness and anger at the thought of someone directly 'copying' Hitchcock.) So when a request was made recently on one of the academic film forums on the Internet for sources of possible articles and/or interviews regarding Perkins's work on Psycho III ('I'm already aware that his second and regretably last film as director was the "cannibal comedy" Lucky Stiff, aka Mr Christmas Dinner, but at present I'm having trouble finding any articles on him as a director'), I was interested to read the following reply from Marty Feeney: 'In "Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins," by Charles Winecoff (pp. 424-430) the author splices together news reports, some of the actor's perceptions and the facts associated with Psycho III. There is an AMC interview of Tony Perkins (one of his last) [by] Professor [Royal] Brown, and Mr Perkins regrets his attempt at directing Psycho III. He said the basic problem was that everyone deferred to his decisions because he was Tony Perkins and so he must know what he was doing! He said that he was not comfortable directing, and that he needed all the help he could get. Got none! In fact Psycho III is HORROR-IBLE. After I show Psycho and Psycho II, I show the ending of Psycho III and the students cannot believe it! It makes your film critic skin crawl all the way out the door, mostly slasher violence with no imagination. The AMC interview, though, is wonderfully informative.' Fair comment, I think! By the way, I recall a review of Psycho III, and an interview with Perkins, in a 'Psycho' issue of 'Cinefantastique' magazine some years ago. Does anyone have a date for that issue? [The issue was a double one, Volume 16, Numbers 4-5, October 1986. Hearty thanks to Dr Alain Kerzoncuf for this information.]

November 28 - 2000
Tonight I had an animated conversation with a friend about the titles sequence of The Birds. She pointed out that the flapping, swooping birds don't actually peck away or shatter the titles, they only appear to do so. In truth, each set of titles appears on the screen already 'shattered' or disintegrated, then becomes whole, before being replaced by another set of 'shattered' titles. Now, here is Camille Paglia's brilliant (but not necessarily wholly accurate) description of the sequence. 'As The Birds begins, we seem to have penetrated into the madman's voracious id, where a blur of animal impulses rave and snap. Against the severity of deep black and blazing white, the titles' very formal, slightly raised classical letters come up in cerulean blue - the lovely pastel of Renoir idylls and romantic hope, of the welcoming robe of merciful Mother Mary, and of the serene, cloudless sky that Hitchcock denies to Bodega Bay. But the hanging words and names nervously overlap and disintegrate, as if bitten to pieces by invisible beaks. The titles show a war between nature and culture, with the irrational and the primitive vanquishing human illusions.' (Camille Paglia, 'The Birds', 1998, p. 20.) In the light of what my friend pointed out, though, it isn't clear that Paglia's contention about 'nature ... vanquishing human illusions' is correct. Rather, the opposite seems the case. The individual titles show a restorative capacity, which defiesthe birds' attempts to annihilate the human. (I'm reminded a little of lines from the Storm Cloud Cantata in the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much: 'Yet when they [birds and other creatures] all had fled,/ Yet stood the trees.') At the very least, what appears to be illustrated by the titles sequence is a recurring situation in which nature and civilisation contend, with the outcome being inconclusive each time.

November 27 - 2000
William Blake allegedly said, 'To generalise is to be an idiot' (no exceptions!), but Dr Samuel Johnson said of art, 'Nothing can please long, or please well, unless it shows general nature'. He added that we don't care to count the lines on each individual tulip, we look to see what is typical of the species. (But why stop there? Why don't we seek a 'typical' flower, or a 'typical' work of nature, or just generalised nature? - which presumably would be something like Schopenhauer's notion of 'Will'.) Anyway, I decided to ask myself where did Hitchcock stand on all this? And I have concluded - surprise! - that he was both a generalist and a particularist. His German Expressionist background, and his intelligence, often impelled him to make each situation a microcosm of the larger world. So the notes of worldly ambition, sexual rivalry, and womanly waveringness (I speak these things as I see them!) in The Ring (1927) are made to seem, finally, all part of a tale of fallible human nature that has been told before and will be told again, just as the events themselves are typical and recurrent - though perhaps always with variations. What I call a force of destiny is strong in The Ring, and that force is suggestive of the general life-force (which is also a death-force) that I've already mentioned: namely, Schopenhauer's notion of the world's Will. Furthermore, as I've said in an article I've recently finished, Hitchcock's films in the final anaysis are all, arguably, about Will, and nothing else. So, yes, Hitchcock was a generalist. But he was also a particularist, and that - at least as much as his generalising perceptions and skills - explains his genius. As someone once said, genius is the capacity for taking infinite pains. Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) seems to me to be speaking for Hitchcock when he murmurs about the importance of attending to 'all the little details'. Hitchcock's painstaking way of filmmaking - which, paradoxically, was often more economical than more spontaneous or laissez-faire ways - is well-known, and involved meticulous pre-planning. Where particular details needed to be got right, no effort was spared. In order to obtain the right 'look' for each of the schoolchildren seen in The Birds (1963), Hitchcock ordered that every child in Bodega Bay be photographed. (I think he may even have had the entire populace of the town photographed.) From the resulting photographs, he made the relevant casting decisions. So Hitchcock was effectively a particularist in order to be a generalist! Thus I conclude that he was sympathetic to Dr Johnson's position.

November 22 - 2000
Correction to something I wrote above on November 20. The Surrealist painter to whom I made several references in my book on Hitchcock was Paul Delvaux, not René Magritte. Sorry! I was actually thinking of an article to which I'm currently putting finishing touches, in which I liken events in Rope (1948) to an animated version of a painting by Magritte. (So again it's nice to know that somebody's research appears to have shown that Hitchcock did indeed express a liking for Magritte's work.) The situation in Rope is highly surreal, of course: a body concealed in a chest which becomes the setting for a funerary feast attended by the victim's unwitting family and friends, and at which genteel small talk and polite conversation and repetitive piano music (Poulenc's 'Perpetual Movement', No. 1 - cf the use of the repetitive children's song in The Birds [1963] or the jarringly superficial and speeded-up version of part of Mozart's 34th Symphony heard in Vertigo [1958]) provide ironic accompaniment. In my article I invoke, for comparison, Magritte's witty and suspenseful 'The Threatened Assassin' (1926-27) in which a suited young man in an almost bare room listens idly to music on a gramophone, while nearby bowler-hatted detectives lurk in waiting to arrest him for the murder of a nude woman whose strangled body lies on a sofa in the background. Simon Wilson, the editor of the book, 'Surrealist Painting' (Phaidon, 1975), in which I found that particular Magritte work, writes that '[c]riminals were of great interest to the Surrealists and at the time Magritte painted this picture the popular thriller series Fantomas was something of a cult among them.' In the book's short preface, Wilson observes how 'Freud's theory of the dominance of the unconscious by the twin instincts of sexuality and death ("The aim of all life is death", he stated in Beyond the Pleasure Principle of 1921) provided an endorsement for the Surrealists' predilection for erotic and macabre subject matter, particularly in combination.' Mutatis mutandis, that seems to me a pretty good description of a lot of Hitchcock's films, too.

November 21 - 2000
My thanks to Gary Giblin, author of the forthcoming 'Alfred Hitchcock's London', for this item. 'Hitchcock's casting sleight-of-hand revealed! Recall the scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) when the kidnappers, Mr and Mrs Drayton [Bernard Miles and Brenda de Banzie], take Hank to the foreign embassy. They are greeted by a guard at the back door, who then clears the staff out of the kitchen, then admits the Draytons. That guard is in fact two different actors! The closer shots, filmed at the Paramount studio in Hollywood, feature bald American character actor Milton Frome; the longer shot, in the actual kitchen used on location, features gravel-voiced British character actor Walter Gotell, perhaps best-known for his role as the head of the KGB in numerous James Bond films. (I have never seen this acknowledged in print before - though the Internet Movie Data Base lists both actors in the cast.) As to whether that kitchen is the American Embassy's or not, I cannot get the present occupants - the Canadian High Commission - to confirm. Hopefully, all will be revealed when I check the Hitchcock archives in Los Angeles next month.' Okay, and here's something else for Hitchcock fans over there in London. If you'd like to visit the old Gainsborough Studios, where Hitch did some of his best work (e.g., The Lady Vanishes, 1938), onthedog.com are screening a Hitchcock double-bill there on Friday 1st December from 6.15pm to midnight. The two films are The 39 Steps (1935) and Vertigo (1958). A live orchestra will be in attendance; and the songwriter for Death in Vegas, Richard Fearless, 'will provide specially selected DJ slots before and after the screening'. There will be 'table seating and waitress service'. (Thanks to Chas Linn for this information.) More details, like how to get to Gainsborough Studios, in Poole Street, between Islington and Shoreditch, are at onthedog.com. [onthedog.com no longer exists AF]

November 20 - 2000
Well the big Hitchcock exposition has opened at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (see News & Comment item). Both Patricia Hitchcock and Janet Leigh have been going great guns in interviews for the local media, Pierre Poirier tells me. Thanks, Pierre. It's nice to learn that Pat Hitchcock's book about her mother, Alma, i.e., Mrs Alfred Hitchcock, is due out in May next year. Also, I was happy to see that among the painters and artists admired by Hitchcock, and whose work is being featured at the exposition, are Magritte, Rossetti, Hopper, and Dali. When I mentioned a couple of Magritte connections in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', I was (merely) intuiting that Hitchcock had been familiar with that particular Surrealist's work. As for Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), I'm not surprised that Hitchcock appreciated that great Pre-Raphaelite painter/poet's work, so rich in symbolism. My thanks, too, to several other correspondents who have been in touch while this page has been in recess. Among them: Richard Carnahan, Alain Kerzoncuf, John Fawell, Gary Giblin, and Nick Needham - the last-named and I have actually been swapping lengthy thoughts about The Birds and Vertigo on the newsgroup lately. From our correspondents I've learnt of several more books that have been published or are scheduled. These include Paul Jensen's 'Hitchcock Becomes "Hitchcock"' (on the British films), already published by Midnight Marquee Press; 'La musique dans les films d'Alfred Hitchcock' by Jean-Pierre Eugène, published by Dreamland; 'Hitchcock: Biographie, filmographie, illustrée, analyse critique' by Patrick Brion, published by Éditions de La Martinière; and John Fawell's 'Rear Window, The Art of Hitchcock's Rear Window' to be published in September 2001 by Southern Illinois Press. John Fawell tells us that there's also a Hitchcock issue of 'Literature/Film Quarterly', edited by Jim Welsh, on the way. [November 28. Already published this month by Faber, UK, is Peter Conrad's 'The Hitchcock Murders', about real-life murders and their connections to Hitchcock films. Conrad is a Professor of English at Cambridge.]

October 7 - 2000
Oh dear! I keep getting put in my place by Bill Krohn with his superior knowledge! About the treatement of the avian actors in Hitchcock's The Birds, Bill writes: 'There was an ASPCA rep on the set, named Leonard Feather(!). [Matte-artist and special effects person, Albert] Whitlock said, when asked if any birds died during the filming, "Let's just say losses were minimum." But he also recalled a bird-loving old lady who attacked him during the location shoot, for real or imagined offenses, and tore his jacket. Man's inhumanity to man....' [That last phrase, from Robert Burns via Sean O'Casey - 'Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn' - was a favourite of Hitchcock's.] And friend Tag Gallagher has corrected me about my reference to the character Candide in Voltaire's story: 'Candide said this is the best of all possible worlds, not that it isn't ...no?' You're right, Tag, though Voltaire was being ironical, of course.

October 6 - 2000
Just to round off my little disquisition of the past couple of days, prompted by the newspaper article by James Sherlock sent to me by a friend, let me (a) briefly comment on my Voltaire reference above (October 5), and (b) pass on an anecdote about The Birds contained in that same article. First, I would say that Voltaire's injunction, 'Let us cultivate our garden', would make an ideal epigraph for Hitchcock's pessimistic spy drama, Topaz (1969), which is all about 'lost paradises' and 'corrupted gardens' (as discussed in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'). Just think of the last line we hear spoken by the tetchy Russian, Boris Kusenov, who with his family has been given asylum in America: 'I'm going to take a walk in the garden.' (In other words: 'It has all come to this, and I'm going to use this little patch of turf to walk and to brood about it!') Now, it gives me a certain satisfaction to report that at least one bird in real life was not going to stand for being pushed around too much by humans! During the filming of The Birds, actor Rod Taylor remembers one bird in particular: 'There was this raven called Archie. Every morning he would come over and bite me. He hated me and I hated him. I'd walk on the set and say, "Is Archie working today?" and they would say, "We don't think so". Then right out of the blue, from the rafters, would come Archie and bite me. He would lie and wait for me. I'm sure he is still around, waiting.' Appropriately that's Archie at the end of the film whom we see bite Taylor on the hand! 'The look of terror on my face is real. Back then, with all those bird attacks, we had no computer tricks. It was real.'

October 5 - 2000
I'm confident that Hitchcock, a dog-lover, would not have allowed the sort of thing that the makers of the Japanese film The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986) indulged themselves in. Milo the cat is seen jumping over a cliff. To achieve this, four cats were thrown over the cliff. For a scene requiring Otis the dog to limp, the crew broke a dog's leg. For a scene in which Milo and Otis cling to a wooden crate in a river, several cats were drowned. (I was surprised to notice that famed director Kon Ichikawa, who made the great anti-war and Buddhist film, The Burmese Harp [1956], was co-director of this film.) I'm thinking not so much of the scene in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) in which the lady owner of a little dog that has been found poisoned berates her neighbours, nor of the trailer for The Birds (1963) in which Hitchcock mocks humankind's ill-treatment of 'our feathered friends' - both those instances are ambiguous - as of Hitchcock's known grief when on at least two occasions pet dogs were accidentally run over in front of him. (Both times, he was visibly shaken for days afterwards.) Beyond that, despite Hitchcock's allowing poor 'Tippi' Hedren to be besieged by live birds for a week during filming of the attic scene in The Birds, I sense that both The Birds and Marnie (1964) show the deeper appreciation of 'life' and 'Will' (Schopenhauer's term) that I suggested yesterday Hitchcock came to have and to express in his films. Both those films seem to me to approach Schopenhauer's insight - an amazingly modern one - that there is little or no essential difference between us and other creatures: we are all part of the world's 'Will'. (Schopenhauer: 'One must be blind, deaf and dumb ... not to see that the animal is in essence absolutely the same thing that we are, and that the difference lies merely in the accident, the intellect, and not in the substance, which is the [W]ill.') Unfortunately, neither Schopenhauer nor Hitchcock drew the full implications of their (shared) insight, for neither of them was a vegetarian. Or, anyway, both were prepared to do no more than express with Voltaire's Candide their belief that this is not the best of all possible worlds! All three men were pessimists. The conclusion of 'Candide' (1759) - 'Let us cultivate our garden' (instead of speculating on unanswerable problems, or trying to change that which seemingly can't be changed) - 'expresses succinctly Voltaire's practical philosophy of common sense' ('Columbia Encyclopedia'). I would have to say that it also seems to me to express Hitchcock's position.

October 4 - 2000
A friend has sent me a newspaper article by James Sherlock (I'm not sure of its original source, sorry) describing some of the lamentable things done by filmmakers to animals. Bad enough is the information that in the credit sequence of Samuel Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969), a group of children set fire to a scorpion. (Presumably Mr Peckinpah thought he'd go one better than the children in the credit sequence of Georges Clouzot's Le salaire de la peur/The Wages of Fear [1953], who merely tie strings to scorpions and spur them to fight each other.) Not actually mentioned in the article is Mr Peckinpah's use of trip wires to cause horses to fall on cue, resulting in many horse deaths, though the technique itself is indeed referred to: the record for animal deaths is held by Michael Curtiz's The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), in which two hundred horses died. Years ago, when I read of Mr Peckinpah's way with animals, I stopped watching his films; I'm pleased to say that I've never seen a Peckinpah film since that time. I'm aware that some writers and critics would defend the right of artists to sacrifice anything or anyone for their art: in a 'Paris Review' interview with William Faulkner, he claimed, 'If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies.' Well, pardon me, but I think that any artist who is so insensitive to life as to kill - people or animals - for his art is not going to have values that are ultimately worth acquiring by anyone else, though he may make true statements and observations and create praiseworthy effects and characters along the way. And, thank goodness, he may even change or deepen his values over time. Which brings me to Hitchcock. It seems clear that Hitchcock in his British days, and beyond, often got carried away, and had a sadistic streak that he cultivated at times. Uncle Charlie's killing of old ladies ('merry widows') in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) may even be a metaphor for the 'Nietzschean' Hitchcock's readiness to go to any lengths for what he most valued - his art. The fact that Uncle Charlie, like Brandon in Rope (1948), is no artist - as we hear Brandon lament in a significant line - is irrelevant to the revelation that Hitchcock is half-seriously (if also half-jokingly) sharing about himself. I'm reminded that Hitchcock said that he'd have liked to have been a hanging judge - like the sadistic Judge Horfield (Charles Laughton) in The Paradine Case (1947). Moreover, for that very film Hitchcock seems to have approved the killing of over a hundred Arctic foxes (I think it was) to provide the pelts to make the huge white rug in Mrs Paradine's bedroom. But I believe that he later mellowed and deepened, and acquired a fuller appreciation of 'life' and 'Will'. To be continued.

October 3 - 2000
(late) Elsewhere, I noted the other day the 'sublime' nature of the Albert Hall scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and the reasons for Jo McKenna's scream. I wrote (not without sententiousness): 'The scene cannot be fully appreciated without attention to the words and music of the Storm Cloud Cantata (expressive of nothing less than the destructive, terrible aspect of the world's "Will" ...), of which the events in the auditorium are a microcosm, one in which Jo is torn between motherly love and impersonal duty, and where the only possible "solution" (in which fate, kismet, that which "will be", may or may not have been diverted/averted ...) is a wordless scream, representing an "appeal" to an entity that is beyond language and/or the individual will.' Sorting that out, I'd note first the scene's affinitity with the famous painting 'The Scream' (1893) by Edvard Munch, an artist often seen as a forerunner of the Expressionists. A book, 'The Story of Painting' (1995), edited by Anna Krausse, very rightly says: 'Like van Gogh, the Norwegian Edvard Munch wanted to depict "modern inner life" in a world torn apart. ... In "The Scream" ... the echo of the scream has set heaven and earth vibrating.' (English edition, p. 82) The isolated male figure in the painting is like Jo McKenna (Doris Day) isolated at the back of the auditorium in the film - she is still effectively isolated, and powerless, even after husband Ben (James Stewart) turns up late in the scene. But given the film's emphasis on 'what will be, will be', and on various forms of religion (including, perhaps, pantheism - vide the Storm Cloud Cantata itself), Hitchcock adds a note of ambiguity when Jo's scream deflects the would-be assassin's aim, saving the life of the foreign Prime Minister yet not rendering Jo culpapable of wilfully intervening, thus effectively also saving the life of her kidnapped son, held hostage by the assassins. Is this one more instance of mere fate? Or has Jo's intervention, despite herself, actually changed the course of pre-destined events? In other words, has the individual will somehow asserted itself against the larger Will? Or would it be more accurate to speak of Divine intervention? Or of neither of these things - but rather of mere fate, as I say? Such an ambiguity is often present in Hitchcock's films (e.g., I Confess, The Trouble With Harry, The Wrong Man). Also typical of Hitchcock is the conflict between the personal and the public spheres, with Oedipal ('child' versus 'adult') connotations ...

October 2 - 2000
I want to say something - hopefully tomorrow - about the Albert Hall scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). But today I've some catching up to do here. First, Bill Krohn reports that all of the incidents or lines quoted above (September 26) from Hitchcock's screwball comedy Mr and Mrs Smith (1941) were already present in the script by Norman Krasna which Hitchcock inherited when he signed a deal with RKO. Bill's comment: Lacan wrote a well-known essay "Kant avec Sade"; now someone should write one called "Hitchcock mit Krasna"! (Maybe the person to do that is the former director of the Munich Film Archive, Enno Patalas, who I see has a book on Hitchcock out, in German.) Second, Neill Potts in England makes this excellent suggestion: '[This] month, Universal UK are launching a website to promote their reissues of their TV archive on video. The current pre-launch site hints that consumer demand will play some part in the decisions they make as to which programmes they release. Obviously, they own the rights to "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and the "Alfred Hitchcock Hour". My idea is that Hitchcock fans and scholars [should] all register our desire to see some AHP on video sometime soon. The pre-launch site allows each person to express their preferred Universal TV series, and AHP is listed. If they get enough of a response, then we may get some action.' Here's a link to the site: Universal Playback pre launch. So go to it, UK Hitchcock fans! Last, but not least, I've received some wonderful samples of artwork by Andrew Hinshaw commemorating (and highlighting) key moments from the films Psycho and The Birds. They are published by 'Cínema Giclée' (pronounced zhee-clay) and viewable on this website: Extreme West Publishing - Experience the Fine Art of Motion Pictures. I'll try to comment further on Andrew's work later.

September 27 - 2000
Author Gary Giblin has been in touch about his forthcoming book, 'Alfred Hitchcock's London: A Reference Guide to Locations'. Being an Anglophile myself, like Gary, I'm happy (and excited) tonight to print here a full description of the book, and will give more details later, including on our New Publications page. Here goes: 'American free-lance writer Gary Giblin, author of the forthcoming book "James Bond’s London" (Daleon), is preparing a reference guide to English Hitchcock locations called, appropriately enough, "Alfred Hitchcock’s London". To be published by Daleon in the summer of 2001, this illustrated travel/reference guide will describe some 200 locations, principally in London, associated with the life and work of Alfred Hitchcock, his films and their English literary sources. The Hitchcock locations include his birthplace in Leytonstone (today the site of a petrol station), his London home, associated offices, restaurants, theatres, studios and hotels. Film locations span the gamut of the director’s English films, from Westminster Hall in The Lodger and the British Museum in Blackmail, to the Globe Public House and the "Blaney Bureau" of Frenzy. For diehard fans, there will be plenty of truly "trivial" and "obscure" locations, including the Underground platform from Rich and Strange, the railway tunnel from Number Seventeen, the street market where Stevie is waylaid in Sabotage, Stephen Fisher’s home in Foreign Correspondent, Sir Simon’s apartment in The Paradine Case, the "Ambrose Chapel" of The Man Who Knew Too Much and many more. The guide will even include a number of "out of the way" locations, such as "Hindley Hall", the Paradine country home in Cumberland (Cumbria), which is in fact an exclusive hotel. Select literary locations, from Marie Belloc Lowndes’ "The Lodger" (1913) and Noël Coward’s "Easy Virtue" through Arthur La Bern’s "Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square" (1966) (whence Frenzy) and Victor Canning’s "The Rainbird Pattern", have also been included to round off the tour of Alfred Hitchcock’s London. The book also contains photos of the locations, production stills, and comments from Hitchcock collaborators like Syd Cain, production designer of Frenzy.'

September 26 - 2000
Here's another of our 'finds' about where Hitchcock or his screenwriter obtained ideas from. In Mr and Mrs Smith (1941), there's a memorable scene where Ann (Carole Lombard) and David (Robert Montgomery) revisit the Italian restaurant, 'Momma Lucy's', where they had become engaged. The basis of this scene, as noted in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', is an episode in the King Vidor film, The Citadel (1938), starring Rosalind Russell and Robert Donat. But 'Momma Lucy's' has fallen on hard times, and both it and its New York neighbourhood have become run-down. There's an implied analogy here with the state of the Smiths' marriage. Ann and David, who are childless, have beome 'used to' each other, and case-hardened. Significantly, as they eat their meal at a table on the sidewalk, some ragged-looking children stop and stare at them, prompting David's insensitive remark, 'What's the matter with them? Haven't they seen people eat before?' Almost certainly, this is an allusion to a scene in John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (1940), which had just won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, in which Ma Joad (Jane Darwell), barely able to feed her own family, nonetheless ladles out stew to a motley group of camp-children who have gathered to watch the Joads have their evening meal. (Ford's/John Steinbeck's classic story is itself about people who have fallen on hard times, of course.) There's also a gag in the 'Momma Lucy's' scene about the restaurant cat, which refuses to eat David's soup when offered it. David's comment: 'I want a stomach-pump.' This is a variant on a gag in an earlier Hitchcock picture, Rich and Strange (1932), in which Fred and Emily, taken aboard a Chinese junk after being shipwrecked, partake of a stew which turns out to have been made from the ship's cat. (Horrible thought: could the cat at 'Momma Lucy's' have had a partner, now deceased?) And later, when Ann accuses David of being prepared to abandon her (after their marriage has been annulled on a technicality), she says that he wants to cast her aside 'like a squeezed lemon'. Just recently I found out where Ann got that picturesque phrase from: it seems to have been invented by the philosopher Immanuel Kant! 'Sexual love', wrote Kant, 'makes of the loved person an Object of appetite: as soon as that appetite has been stilled, the person is cast aside as one casts aside a lemon which has been sucked dry.' (Immanuel Kant, 'The Philosophy of Law') [My considerable gratitude to Inge Izzo for her help with the above.]

September 25 - 2000
More from our readers on North by Northwest. First, Dr Nandor Bokor makes this apt general observation: 'Often, when I'm in a bookstore, I enjoy leafing through those magnificent books on Design or Architecture. When I was reading your [September 11] entry on the "'modernist' look" of North by Northwest, I suddenly realized that NxNW was the Hitchcock film that I most frequently encounter on the pages of such books! Frank Lloyd Wright houses, the 20th Century Limited train, the Greyhound bus are all items that are often featured in books on 20th century design. Not to mention the Mercedes Benz emblem (which figures very prominently in the drunken driving scene), or the UN building.' Next, JS adds this to his earlier observations about the spies' Frank Lloyd Wright-style house on Mount Rushmore: 'it is my understanding that Frank Lloyd Wright invented the carport. And of course, as I remember the scene, Van Damm's housekeeper's hubby/boyfriend drove his Ford car into the carport as Grant watched from the outdoor balcony of the ladies bedroom!' Lastly, Danny Nissim contributes this: 'Interesting, your point [September 18] about Cary Grant turning back on his tracks at the end of the cropduster sequence. I've always seen that scene as the central "spine" of the film. In fact it comes pretty much at the film's mid-point. Up to now, Grant has been completely at a loss as to what is happening to him, and has simply acted on stimuli from external forces. But from this point on he starts to take the initiative. He now knows that the Eva Marie Saint character has set him up to be killed, and so must be in league with James Mason. He can now confront her with this fact, and when she tries to escape him, he will be the one chasing her. And gradually he will find out more about what is really going on and why he has been mistaken for the non-existent Kaplan. So the cropduster sequence is literally the turning-point of the film.' [My thanks to Nandor, Jim, and Danny for these excellent points.]

September 20 - 2000
My thanks to Nandor Bokor for a message tonight about possible sources of Psycho and other matters. Nandor suggests that H.P. Lovecraft's story 'The Picture in the House' (referred to on August 23, above) may have influenced not only Robert Bloch's novel 'Psycho' but also the episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' called "The Landlady". All are about unwary travellers who seek accommodation at a motel or boarding-house, and thereby unknowingly face the prospect of being cannibalised or stuffed by a mad proprietor! (I'm reminded, too, of William Wilkie Collins's 'Traveller's Story of a Terribly Strange Bed', whose traveller has a very narrow escape ...) Well, I would augment what Nandor says, in one respect. The AHP episode called "The Landlady" was based on the well-known short story by Roald Dahl, published in 1960. So perhaps Dahl had read the Lovecraft tale. But Nandor's message raises another interesting matter, which concerns the casting of "The Landlady". That particular episode, which went to air on 21 February, 1961, starred Patricia Collinge as the landlady and Dean Stockwell as the hapless Billy Weaver. In other words, the sweet mother of Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) meets the gentle young man who in Richard Fleisher's Compulsion (1959) himself practises taxidermy - and kills another, innocent young man! We've already speculated here recently, following a suggestion from reader Denise Noe, that Hitchcock saw Compulsion before making Psycho, and that the characterisation of Norman Bates owes something to Dean Stockwell's portrayal of Judd Steiner (based on real-life murderer Nathan Leopold) in Fleisher's film. And now I notice that the person hired to adapt Roald Dahl's 'The Landlady' for the AHP episode of that name (directed, incidentally, by famous actor Paul Henreid) was ... Robert Bloch!

September 19 - 2000
I said that (author) Bill Krohn had his own thought about the high shot of the prairie crossroads in North by Northwest, which he mentioned to me recently. It's this. The prairie sequence, in which Thornhill very nearly loses his life, begins with that shot momentarily superimposed over a lingering fade-out of Eve (Eva Marie Saint), who has effectively set Thornhill up. The effect, Bill suggests, is to imply Eve's witch-like role: she is like Hecate, goddess of ghosts and witchcraft, to whom sacrifice (including of dogs and black lambs) was made at crossroads. (Another, related connotation, as in the phrase 'dirty work at the crossroads', is of nefarious activity generally, perhaps by association with a time when all people excluded from holy rites, such as criminals and suicides, were buried at crossroads.) Okay, now here's a completely different matter. I admit that I had to look up some of the above information (like the bit about dogs and black lambs) in entries in 'Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable', including one on 'Hecate'. Afterwards, I found myself browsing among the other entries nearby, and stumbled on this one about 'Heath Robinson'. Let me share it with you: 'A phrase sometimes applied to an absurdly complicated or "cranky" mechanical device, especially one performing a basically simple function. The name is that of W. Heath Robinson (1872-1944), whose amusing drawings of such absurdities in Punch and elsewhere were distinctive of their kind.' I don't know about you, gentle reader, but I'm hugely glad to have that information. I intend to use it immediately, in an article I've started writing, to describe certain long-winded academic exegeses of Hitchcock films! Of course, I'm sure you can think of examples of those for yourself ...

September 18 - 2000
More correspondence has come in about North by Northwest (1959). Following on his conversation with art director Robert Boyle (see August 28, above), JS has been thinking about Boyle's claim that the spies' house on Mount Rushmore did not seek to specifically imitate a Frank Lloyd Wright design, except possibly in the matter of the stonework. He writes: 'as a Wright fan who has visited over 100 of Wright's houses, most built after Falling Water [the weekend retreat at Mill Run near Pittsburgh, dated 1936 - Ed.], I must tell you that the Van Damm fireplace is strictly Frank Lloyd Wright, the living room French doors separated by a large single glass pane are [also] strictly Wright, and the square glass metal-encased window panes in the ladies bedroom are a copy of Falling Water windows. I don't know who actually designed the Van Damm house set, but I am convinced he at least looked through a few Wright books to come up with some of the details!' Quite so, and of course the modernist look of the house, with its emphasis on glass, is in keeping with the notable architecture seen in the film's New York scenes, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building and Wallace K. Harrison's United Nations Headquarters. (On the other hand, the spies' house has a horizontal design, whereas the New York buildings are emphatically vertical: compare the horizontal-vertical opposition that Hitchcock said he deliberately used in Psycho [1960] for the Bates motel and Bates house respectively.) Another observation about North by Northwest came today from DM of the University of Sheffield, who refers to the high-angle establishing shot of the prairie crossroads that introduces the crop duster scene. (Actually Bill Krohn recently sent me a thought about that shot too, which I'll mention later.) DM observes that the main road 'is orientated on the screen in a noteworthy fashion. If the top of the screen is north (as with maps), then the road runs from South South-East to North North-West. Not that this affects the meaning of the title, or that it holds any meaning at all. It is probably a convention of composition, avoiding [a] "flat" horizontal/vertical screen image. But it was interesting to me, and perhaps to you too.' Yes it was, DM. To paraphrase a line of the film's dialogue, please don't be so modest! The emphasis on 'angularity' fits the film's design generally, in which straight lines (the stories of a skyscraper, say, or a row of telephone booths, or the cantilever of a house that might have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, or an airplane runway) repeatedly figure, typically at a slant. Furthermore, when Thornhill (Cary Grant) hastily departs back towards Chicago at the end of the crop duster scene, in a utility truck which he has 'commandeered', we may infer that he is indeed resuming his interrupted journey, or quest, 'north by north-west', since that was the angle from which he had come at the scene's start ... [New message from JS, received 11 October: 'For anyone interested, "The Houses of Frank Lloyd Wright" will be shown on HGTV this Sunday night, 15 October. Falling Water will supposedly be included.' In a further message, received October 17, JS tells us that the TV program had 5-10 minutes on Falling Water, which is currently undergoing some restoration and structural repairs. He adds that the September issue of 'Scientific American' contains an article on the structural problems with Falling Water.]

September 13 - 2000
Change of topic! Or, rather, reversion to an earlier topic. I've received a message from Danny Nissim in London in response to what was said here recently about the spies' house in North by Northwest (on August 28 and September 11). Danny writes acutely, as follows: 'I was intrigued to read your notes on the supposed Frank Lloyd Wright house in North By Northwest. I had always assumed that it was based on a real house, probably ever since reading Hitchcock say as much in the Truffaut interview book. To quote: "The house that's used at the end of North By Northwest is the miniature of a house by Frank Lloyd Wright that's shown from a distance. We built part of it for the scene in which Cary Grant circles round it." [My comment: I suspect that Hitchcock was happy to identify it as a FLW house, much as he was happy to identify the Bates house in Psycho as like the one in Edward Hopper's painting, "House by the Railroad" - even though his primary inspiration seems to have been various 'California gingerbread' houses he'd noticed when driving in Northern California.] Danny goes on to talk about the car driven by Valerian, one of the spies, which arrives as Thornhill (Grant) is peering through the window of the spies' house: 'It is important as a plot point for Grant to see the car now, as he'll use it later. Later in the sequence, Mason, Saint and Landau actually walk to the plane, while Grant is held up in the house by the housekeeper. The walk is a key moment of suspense, as both the audience and Saint know that once she gets on the plane she is dead. We hear the gunshot right at the moment she is about to board the plane, and see Grant escape. Now he uses the car to escape from the house and grab Saint who has pulled away from Mason. And this shows how careful Hitchcock is about plotting. He has to get Grant and Saint far enough away from the heavies to set up a credible chase, but has to have them abandon the car so that the chase over the monument on foot can follow. This he does by having the car get as far as the locked gate - the same gate we saw at the start of the sequence. Once again the established geography helps the audience believe what is happening. Then Grant and Saint have to abandon the car and try and escape on foot, with the heavies just far enough behind to make it exciting. The final twist is that having established the geography of the house so carefully Hitchcock now throws in the surprise twist of having Grant and Saint suddenly [arrive] on top of the monument - a disorientating experience both for them and for us.' [Yes! First Hitchcock carefully orientates us within the setting. Then, later, and deliciously, he disorientates us!]

September 12 - 2000
Another thing mentioned by Robert Boyle about Hitchcock was how he 'talked to everybody: he'd talk to his driver about things. His door was always open and he [was] always asking people how they felt'. This might seem to contradict John Steinbeck's observation, that Hitchcock was an incredible English snob who really did despise working-class people. But of course people are complex, especially someone like Hitchcock! Clearly, I'd say, he had ambivalent feelings about his own shopkeeper-class upbringing. Boyle mentions Hitchcock's instinctive siding with the underdog against authority (something that George Orwell noted of Dickens, and which was a trait of other English writers including Orwell himself); but the capacity to talk to 'everybody' might very well be something that the son of a greengrocer would naturally pride himself on, especially when such conversation revolved around one's own work, which Boyle indicates was usually Hitchcock's preferred topic. Moreover, to followers of Nietzsche's idea of the Superman, such as I'm convinced Hitchcock was (albeit with reservations), the capacity to talk to 'everybody' is itself a mark of superiority! Which brings me to what Hitchcock once said about himself, that he'd be remembered as 'a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma'. This of course was a quote from Winston Churchill (about Russia in 1939), who was someone else whom Hitchcock admired and modelled himself on: think of Churchill's own capacity to talk to 'everybody', not to mention his famous habit of smoking large cigars - a habit which Hitchcock followed. In turn, I'm reminded of what that the writer Jorge Luis Borges said of Shakespeare, that he is at once everyone [i.e., 'everybody'!] and no one. Nietzsche had said the same thing about the Superman! Summing up, it's perhaps fitting that Hitchcock always liked to leave audiences a bit puzzled (according to Norman Lloyd), even while showing a remarkable ability to empathise with characters who are all really manifestations (it seems to me) of a single universal 'Will' flowing through Hitchcock's head. Incidentally, I'd say that the two films of Hitchcock's that best reflect the sort of things I've just been talking about are The Trouble With Harry (1955) and The Birds (1963) ...

September 11 - 2000
Further to our entry above (August 28) on the spies' house at Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest (1959), there's an excellent long interview with art director Robert Boyle on the American Cinema Classics website. Reading that, I suddenly realised why it was necessary to show the spies' car arriving while Thornhill (Cary Grant) is exploring the outside of the house at night. The moment is part of the scene's initial phase, designed to familiarise the audience with all sides of the house and to give it information about the house's layout. The arrival of the car tells us that the house is accessible by road (which had only been partly established when Thornhill had earlier alighted from a taxi beyond the walls of the spies' property). In turn, the car will figure in the scene's climax, when the spies board it to take them to their plane waiting nearby. (Trains, planes, and automobiles ... are all part of this film's larger design, having something to do with its 'modernist' look that wasn't present in the earlier Saboteur [1942], for example.) Almost instinctively, Hitchcock realised an audience's need to 'settle into' a scene in this way. It's a bit like settling into a new house, taking one's time to get accustomed to where everything is, so that the surroundings eventually become like an extension of oneself. It's also related, I think, to what the philosopher Schopenhauer (always a good guide to understanding Hitchcock) called the principium individuationis, the principle of individuation, whereby we all have the need to grasp the world in a certain way, locating everything in time and space. (But immediately we do this, reality, the noumenal, Kant's thing-in-itself, is excluded from our comprehension - the very basis of the tragic vision of Hitchcock's Vertigo [1958] which was made just a year before North by Northwest.) Of course, most good writers understand the need to set a scene in this way: it's part of their craft. Probably that helps explain the remarkable similarities of the Mount Rushmore climax of Hitchcock's film to the climax of the 'Sapper' novel 'The Final Count' (1926), featuring Bulldog Drummond, as indicated elsewhere on this website ('Thoughts on North by Northwest and its Title').

September 6 - 2000
I see that there's a new novel out about the Thompson-Bywaters murder case which Hitchcock was once keen to film and which has inspired many books and plays and even TV dramas. An earlier novel based on the case was called 'A Pin to See the Peep Show' (1934) by Fryniwd Tennyson Jesse, great-niece of the poet Lord Alfred Tennyson. The new novel about the case is also by a woman, Jill Dawson, and is called 'Fred and Eddie'. According to the publisher's blurb, it 'explores the true story of Edith Thompson who was tried for conspiring with her lover Frederick Bywaters to murder her husband. Set in Ilford in the early 1920s, this is a beguiling story of adultery, murder, and a spectacular public trial.' No doubt the trial was the main reason for Hitchcock's interest - in his article "Direction" he says that he would have liked to film the trial proceedings verbatim, using court transcripts, necessarily edited down. But there were special factors besides. Edith Thompson was the only woman not of the criminal or working classes to be hanged in England from 1800 to the present. She has also been described as something of an Emma Bovary (Hitchcock's favourite fictional character) 'who reads a book and then imagines herself one of the characters of the book'. One of the novels she read was 'Bella Donna' by Robert Hichens (who later wrote 'The Paradine Case') about a woman who marries respectability and then poisons her husband at the bidding of her Egyptian lover. In letters to Bywaters, 20, Edith, 28, discussed the novel with him in intimate detail. She also discussed various poisons, adding: 'Yes, darlint you are jealous of him - but I want you to be - he has the right by law, to all that you have the right to by nature and love - yes darlint be jealous, so much that you will do something desperate.' A related trait of Edith's was her tendency to literally dramatise herself: of her appearance and demeanour in the dock, it was noted that she resembled a theatrical star. Parts of Selwyn Jepsen's novel 'Man Running' (1948) were based on the Thompson-Bywaters case. Hitchcock filmed it as Stage Fright (1950).

September 5 - 2000
Somewhere Hitchcock said, only half jokingly, of recalcitrant, over-trained actresses, 'Break 'em down early. It's much the best way.' I don't believe that his remark was particularly misogynist - it had more to do with the English class system in the 1920s and 1930s, and the way many young women of the time had a certain conception of how 'ladies' should deport themselves, complete with airs and graces - and he was equally opposed to 'artificial' behaviour in males. Indeed, to have people behave in a more 'human' way towards each other was a theme of Young and Innocent (1937) - as witness a remark of Erica towards the end - which significantly ranged across the English classes and featured an agreeably unconventional young couple as its hero and heroine. The notion of 'breaking down' is of course a key to Hitchcock's art. His films are nearly all about characters who are in danger of breaking down (or 'cracking up', in the case of Scottie in Vertigo), either individually or collectively, or who must be brought to such a point. The Birds (1963) is exemplary in this respect. In turn, Hitchcock knew the importance of immediately breaking down an audience's instinctive leeriness towards a film ('C'mon, this better be good!') and indeed towards each other, matters which the screenwriter of Rear Window (1954), John Michael Hayes, once talked to me about. I have sometimes called Hitchcock a nihilist, but, if pressed, I would qualify that. I have never entirely agreed with a remark of Robin Wood's, apropos Shadow of a Doubt (1943), that there can be no positive side to Hitchcock's negating tendency (something like that - I forget tonight the precise words Wood used). I see a parallel with how the philosopher Schopenhauer saw that all of this phenomenal world is assuredly 'nothing' yet for those who have truly arrived at such an understanding they are ready to become liberated (see the famous passage that ends the first volume of 'The World as Will and Representation'). This, I think, is the basis of why some Hitchcock films have a strongly surreal quality - again The Birds is a case in point, forcing its characters and its audience to surrender to its compassionate vision, if only momentarily. And even the theme of becoming more 'human', in Young and Innocent, is an early instance of the same thing. Moreover, what always remains is the film itself. Creating that film was almost Hitchcock's raison d'etre, you might say, and creativity is never 'nothing' - not when it can be shared with an appreciative audience. In this respect, Hitchcock had much in common with such other great 20th-century artists as Pirandello and de Chirico and Beckett, all of them influenced by Schopenhauer ...

September 4 - 2000
For some time, our 'News' section (below) has carried an item about the Alfred Hitchcock Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, Canada, starting on 16 November. I'll update that item shortly to incorporate new information kindly sent along by Sebastien Smith, much of it exciting. One segment of the Exhibition will feature screenings of Hitchcock's films, supplemented by other material such as video sequences and documentaries. A second segment will 'invite the viewer to relive physically the atmosphere and entire inner workings of Alfred Hitchcock's mind', and will include exhibits of objects from the films, such as Carlotta Valdes's necklace from Vertigo (1958). A third segment will exhibit and feature discussions of the art works that influenced Hitchcock. I was struck by a reference in the notes sent by Sebastien Smith to how Hitchcock was also influenced by 'such greats as Oscar Wilde, Georges Rodenbach, and Edgar Allan Poe'. All of those figures are from the 19th century, and it's well known that Hitchcock read Wilde and Poe (and also Charles Dickens and William Wilkie Collins, who should certainly be included in an exposition such as this ...). But Georges Rodenbach? That Belgian symbolist poet and novelist (1855-98) who eventually settled in Paris isn't mentioned in either of the major Hitchcock biographies (by John Russell Taylor and Donald Spoto) that have appeared so far. Maybe Patrick McGilligan's forthcoming Hitchcock biography has unearthed some connection? Anyway, the news is that a book of the Montreal exhibition will be published with contributions from such authorities as Donald Spoto himself, Dominique Païni (Director of the Cinematheque de Paris), Jean-Louis Schefer (the writer, philospher and art historian), and many others.

August 28 - 2000
Reader JS in Santa Barbara, California, is a fan of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959), and he recently spoke by telephone to Hitchcock's art director for many years, Robert Boyle, about the spies' house at Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest (1959), which appears to be based on designs by Wright. Here is what Boyle said. The house in the film was not intended to be a FLW copy in any way except for the stonework. Its design was strictly related to the action called for in the script. The exterior stonework was hewed rough so as to provide toe-holds and finger-holds for Thornhill (Cary Grant) as he clambered over it. The exterior beams were provided both to give Thornhill a place from which to see into the living room, and to show the audience his vulnerability: if Thornhill were to be spotted, he could not escape. To repeat: Boyle emphasised that Hitchcock did not instruct him to model the house on one by FLW. However, the stonework used was indeed similar to stone used by Wright in the famous house he designed called 'Falling Water' (1936), in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The house in the film was deliberately revealed in successive shots from all sides so as to let the audience be aware of Thornhill's surroundings. Apparently a section of stone wall, which Thornhill actually clambered around on, was built with real stone; multiple plaster castings of this section were made for the house interiors. Also matte-paintings were made to show certain views of the house. JS: 'If I understood Mr Boyle correctly, the background of the scene where Grant first arrives at the house is essentially a painting. Parts of the house rear-entry where the car arrives is a background painting. And when [Thornhill] flees the house after being shot at by the pistol loaded with blanks, the view of the house from the waiting airplane is [also a] painting.'

August 23 - 2000
More from correspondents (whom I thank), including a follow-up to yesterday's item about Psycho. Bill Krohn confirms that Hitchcock probably did have trouble with how to introduce Arbogast, as that particular shot is not included in the script. (Bill also notes another of the film's links with Orson Welles: cameraman John Russell had worked on Welles's Macbeth [1948].) As for the 'Psycho' novel, and its author Robert Bloch, Bill believes that he knows a source of the story: H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Picture in the House', where a traveller caught in the rain stops at an isolated cabin whose inhabitant turns out to be insane and a cannibal. Bloch mentions the Lovecraft story in an essay he wrote on Ed Gein (the murderer who was the model for Norman Bates) long after the book and film came out. 'Incidentally,' Bill concludes, 'Norman's hobby in the book is a Lovecraftian one - necromancy.' Recently, too, I received an interesting message from Tony LeGrand in (I think) California, whose father, Richard LeGrand, helped build the bi-plane that strafes Cary Grant in North by Northwest (1959). Tony had read Nandor Bokor's account on this website about visiting various Hitchcock locations, and decided to reply. The plane, he writes, 'was originally a naval training plane, called an N3N, which was converted to a crop-duster for use in the movie. ... My father remembers a man named Bob Cole as the pilot. ... My father was not associated with the filming in any way, but he recalls hearing that the Prairie Stop scene was filmed on the road to Lost Hills, outside of Bakersfield [in California]. I have driven that road, and it has an appearance very reminiscent of the scene in the movie.' I sent a copy of Tony LeGrand's message to Bill Krohn, who again came up with additional information. Bill once talked to a pilot named David Bale, who is the father of Christian Bale, the star of Mary Harron's American Psycho. According to Mr Bale, the extra weight of the fuel tank added to crop-dusting planes often caused them to crash. (He also said that the fee quoted in Bill's book that was paid to pilot Bob Cole for his work in North by Northwest was 'good pay' for those days.) As noted in Bill's book, the farmer in the Prairie Stop scene originally said more about the accident-prone nature of crop-dusters, preparing the way for the scene's blazing conclusion. Bill's comment: 'More good research by our favorite "hyper-realist".'

August 22 - 2000
Here's another insight into an aspect of Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) to go with several other such revelations that we've published here before. Like at least one of those (about the screeching line, 'I am Norma Bates', clearly detectable in the fruit-cellar scene - if you know to listen for it), this was first mentioned on the Usenet site. The correspondent this time was Denise Noe, whom I thank for contacting me and for permission to report her 'find' here. It concerns the inspiration for Norman Bates's hobby of stuffing birds and for displaying them in his parlour. Denise speculated that Hitchcock got the idea from seeing Richard Fleischer's film Compulsion (1959), about the Leopold and Loeb murder case (the same case that served as the basis of Hitchcock's 1948 film Rope). In it, the Leopold character, called Judd (Dean Stockwell), is a young gay man who submits to the influence of his partner, Artie (Bradford Dillman), and helps him kill a boy - a crime designed to show their 'superiority' and freedom from conventional morality. Judd is an ornithologist and amateur taxidermist whose stuffed birds are displayed in his room and elsewhere in his family's house. Clearly they serve to project, and compensate for, his submissive nature (unable to make it with girls, known as 'birds' or 'chicks', he kills and stuffs real birds instead). Not only that, but the house's staircase, bric-a-brac, patterned wallpaper, and a framed mural of cherubs on one wall might all be from Norman Bates's house in Psycho. So I'm convinced that Hitchcock was indeed influenced by Fleischer's film. In Robert Bloch's novel, 'Psycho', Norman Bates practises taxidermy, but just about the only reference to this is a mention, early on, of a stuffed squirrel peering down at Norman and Marion in his kitchen. And here's another possible link. In Compulsion, the famous barrister, Clarence Darrow, who defends the two accused murderers in court, is played by an imposing-as-always Orson Welles. The film first shows him in a striking close-shot when, unannounced, he comes to a doorway and pauses briefly before speaking to the people in the room who have been unaware of him watching them. Exactly the same sort of entry is made in Psycho by Arbogast (Martin Balsam), as if Hitchcock were remembering and 'quoting' from the earlier film. (Reportedly, Hitchcock had trouble with how to introduce Arbogast, and hit on the shot he finally used only at the last minute - which wouldn't have been the first time Hitch turned to Welles for inspiration!)

August 21 - 2000
Recent correspondence. One of the many pieces of new insight into the genesis and background of Hitchcock's films included in Bill Krohn's 'Hitchcock at Work' is this. Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) was partly based on a real-life serial killer who had fled from New York to live in his sister's house in small, dusty Hanford, California (near Sacramento), where he was arrested in 1939. (Some other facets of Uncle Charlie seem to match ones of the serial killer Earle Nelson who killed 22 people in the 1920s.) Bill regrets that he wasn't able to visit the area when writing his book, in order to 'spend a day or so scanning file copies of the "Sacramento Bee" to conclude this episode of "In Search of Uncle Charlie"'. He wonders, though, if any Hitchcock scholars in Sacramento would now be prepared to carry out the necessary work. In other words, here's an opportunity for someone to do Bill (and the rest of us Hitchcockians) a favour! We'd like to hear from you soon! Incidentally, Bill has some further queries related to his Hitchcock research, and I'll post them on this website later. Now, another recent correspondent has been CH (Chuck) in Illinois. He's evidently a keen photographer who lists Rear Window (1954) as one of his favourite films. That fact doesn't stop him from being critical of certain things in it. He writes: 'Jeff[e]ries is supposed to be a pro photographer but never shoots any pictures of Thorwald - or anything else - during the time he suspects murder. The 1950s Exacta camera has to be cocked before the mirror drops down and you are able to see through the lens. (The instant return mirror didn't come along until the Japanese came out with the Asahiflex.) The view is seen as a circle, not a rectangle. Binoculars are much better for viewing as the ground glass of the camera is very grainy, making it difficult to see details. A spotting scope would have been [even] better.' Chuck adds: '[t]his might be picky stuff, but even the photography magazines of the era questioned some of this stuff.' Fair comment, and it reminds me of a quibble of my own. I have always been bothered by Jeff's 'unprofessional' slides of the flowerbed (where the little dog starts digging until Thorwald shoos him away). These look mundane and a waste of Jeff's film - unless, of course, he knew beforehand that he would be using the slides as evidence of a crime! Nonetheless, for both Chuck and a lot of other people, Rear Window remains one of our all-time favourite Hitchcocks ...

August 16 - 2000
(late) Bill Krohn has sent along this pleasing item, which I'll convert into a 'News' piece later. Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia O'Connell, was present at a screening of a couple of her father's works (including "Four O'Clock", from TV) the other day. 'Someone asked if the family would object to Universal doing a DVD of Torn Curtain [1966] with [Bernard] Herrman's [as opposed to John Addison's] score on one track, so viewers could see it both ways. She said that if Universal wanted to do that, the family would say yes in a second. She said that her Dad and BH were great friends, with the greatest respect for each other, and she saw BH's daughter three weeks ago at something. So it's not as grim a situation as one might have thought.'

August 15 - 2000
For some brief information about Patricia Hitchcock's book about her Mom, see 'books we're looking forward to' just posted on our New Publications page.

August 14 - 2000
With limited time at the moment, I shan't write a proper entry here today. Instead, I'll spend the time on writing a review of Bill Krohn's superb 'Hitchcock at Work' and put it on our New Publications page later today.

August 9 - 2000
Received my copy of the latest 'Scarlet Street', #38, today. (Remember that I'm in Australia, so there's a delay in arrival after the magazine's US publication.) Editor Richard Valley interviews at length actress Kasey Rogers (Laura Elliott), who played the two-timing wife, Miriam, who is murdered in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951). Ms Rogers reveals that the famous moment when Miriam's strangling is reflected in her glasses that have fallen on the ground was a composite shot. Ms Rogers's part in the shot was filmed in a bare studio without any other actor present - yet the final version onscreen shows Robert Walker as the murderer with his hands wrapped around his victim's neck as he first strangles her and then lowers her to the ground. Ms Rogers's comment is understandable: 'how [Hitchcock] put Bob's figure in there, and the trees and all that - well, I really don't know'. Elsewhere in the issue are several book reviews, including one of Tony Nourmann and Mark Wolff's 'Hitchcock Poster Art' and another of the autobiography, 'Original Story By', by Arthur Laurents, who wrote the screenplay of Hitchcock's Rope (1948). Perhaps the most interesting disclosure Laurent makes about that film is how its cast was originally going to include Montgomery Clift as Brandon (the character eventually played by John Dall) and Cary Grant as the professor Rupert - who would be gay, like the film's two young murderers. Of course, Rupert ended up being played by James Stewart, and so had to be rendered sexless, according to Laurents. Nonetheless, in the film the character's pronounced limp, the result of a war wound, indicates his impotence and his own 'perversion'. That is, Hitchcock still manages to subtly indicate that Rupert had some complicity in the crime perpetrated by his two former students, even as the reference to the war reminds us that society itself isn't guiltless (the same ironic point made by Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux a year earlier, which had a reference of its own, to the 'pessimistic' philosopher Schopenhauer, to underline matters). For another review of Laurents's autobiography, see item in 'News and Comment' below. And for further information about 'Scarlet Street' magazine, visit its website: Scarlet Street.

August 8 - 2000
It was typical of Hitchcock to cut a line in Shadow of a Doubt (see yesterday) that made explicit a character's motivation, especially as this was rather sordid: Uncle Charlie is a gigolo, driven to murder by self-loathing. (He is virtually a Jekyll-and-Hyde figure, like the title-character in Hitchcock's The Lodger [1926] - as I've said before, Shadow of a Doubt is in many ways an American remake of the earlier film.) Similarly, the fact that in Downhill Roddy works briefly as a gigolo is left merely implicit by Hitchcock. Again, Bill Krohn shows that in Notorious (1946) Hitchcock was particularly ruthless in paring away lines and even scenes that 'explained' the characters, including a shot of Devlin (Cary Grant) briefly ogling a woman's legs when she steps from a car, implying that he may be something of a ladykiller. The finished film allows us to think that Devlin is actually rather timid with women. Indeed, notes Krohn, '[i]n the film as we have it, any information about [Devlin's] past which might help us puzzle out his present behaviour has ... been eliminated.' (p. 92) Clearly such cuts and omissions by Hitchcock were more than a matter of self-imposed censorship, though that was part of it. I'm also reminded of a principle enunciated by a young Bernardo Bertolucci: why be specific about things that will only block sections of an audience from identifying with a character? Better to allow the audience freedom to see the character in the light they individually want to see him/her. Also, as Norman Lloyd has noted, Hitchcock always liked to leave audiences a bit puzzled. But there's still more to it than that, I think. After all, any number of Hitchcock films work on the principle of ambiguity, and mysterioso, which is not the same as vagueness. Notably, what motivates the title-creatures in The Birds (1963), and what do they represent? The film hints at various possibilities, such as 'revenge', but it doesn't provide any definite answer. (In my book, I say that ultimately the birds betoken the world's Will, a life-force that is also a death-force, and which, some philosophers tell us, is the very nature of the world: certainly it figures prominently in many Hitchcock films, often being symbolised by a restless sea, as in Lifeboat [1944].) Another example (but on a smaller, more localised scale): in I Confess (1953), what happened in the summer house? Actually, it comes as no great surprise when Bill Krohn reveals (p. 128) that Logan's pre-ordination affair with Ruth Grandfort had resulted in an illegitimate child. For the summer-house scene had hinted at such a possibility. The point is, though, that one can't believe that Hitchcock was greatly disappointed at having to cut out all reference to the child, for the beauty of the summer-house scene is precisely its subtlety. So much in Hitchcock's films satisfies us in this way. They often leave us feeling that we have encountered the ineffable ...

August 7 - 2000
An observaton about Shadow of a Doubt (1943) in Bill Krohn's wonderful 'Hitchcock at Work' - which I'm currently reading - touched a chord or two for me. Bill notes that Sally Benson's revision of Thornton Wilder's script added 'the story of Uncle Charlie's mysterious childhood accident, while cutting a line in the great monologue Wilder wrote for [Joseph] Cotten about "fat, greedy women" which made obvious what we suspect anyway: that Charles is a gigolo driven by self-loathing to kill his wealthy clients' (p. 63). On reading that, I suddenly realised where the idea had come from: in Hitchcock's Downhill (1927), Roddy (Ivor Novello) takes a job as a gigolo in a Paris music hall but soon quits in disgust. A central episode in that sequence shows Roddy being sought out by a wealthy lady; later, the harsh light of morning reveals her to him as pasty-faced and decrepit. Also, as noted in my book, 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', the music hall 'is managed by someone whom a caption calls "Madame, La Patronne, expert in human nature" - which suggests the sordid reality beneath all illusions'. That idea of course is part of Uncle Charlie's philosophy in Shadow of a Doubt, concerning how 'if you ripped the fronts off houses you'd find swine'; and the movement of Uncle Charlie's niece during the film from innocence to experience is roughly the counterpart of Roddy's journey from innocent schoolboy to worldly-wise young adult. (The last part of Downhill is called 'The World of Lost Illusions'.) As for Uncle Charlie's 'mysterious childhood accident', my book mentions how that was taken practically verbatim from an episode in the life of serial-killer Earle Nelson who killed 22 people, mainly landladies, during the 1920s. So it's interesting that Bill Krohn reveals that the original idea for Shadow of a Doubt, sold to Hitchcock by writer Gordon McDonell, was based on what befell another serial ladykiller (name not given) who returned to his home at Hanford in the San Joaquin Valley, California, in 1939, where he was arrested 'to the amazement and chagrin of the townspeople' (p. 58).

August 2 - 2000
A note on the admired stage and screen actress Sara Allgood (affectionately known by all as Sally Allgood), who appeared in two Hitchcock films, Blackmail (1929) and Juno and the Paycock (1930). She was born into a working-class Dublin family in 1893, and died in 1950. She had made only one film, Just Peggy (1918), during a theatrical tour of Australia with her actor-husband Gerald Henson, when Hitchcock a decade later asked her to play Mrs White in Blackmail. According to Tony Slide in the book 'The Real Stars' (1973; edited by Leonard Maltin), 'Sally remarked about her first talkie role, "I was scared stiff. I was so scared I didn't know what to do. My first line in Blackmail was 'Alice, wake up,' and do you think I could say it? I couldn't do it until Phil Monkman [Phyllis Monkman, who played the gossipy neighbour] suggested that I sing it. You know like this: 'A-a-a-a-lice, w-a-ake u-u-p.'" Tony Slide was evidently no Hitchcock fan. About Allgood's appearance in Juno and the Paycock, in the role of Juno, a part which she had created at the Abbey Theatre in 1924 and on the London stage in 1925, Slide writes: 'I have no great liking for Hitchock's work; I have always considered him a cheap, second-rate director. This "cheapness" is in evidence throughout Juno and the Paycock. The moving final soliloquy of Juno is ruined by Hitchcock's continual cutting away from Sally's face to one object or another - a window or a statue of the Virgin Mary - and by the introduction of sickly sweet music in the background. The only reason to be grateful to the film is that it does leave us with a lasting record of Sally's greatest stage success. Incidentally, Sean O'Casey disliked the film intensely, and up to the time of his death, as owner of the film's copyright, forbade the screening of the production (although some disregarded his wishes).' Sally Allgood's sister, Maire O'Neill, played Mrs Madigan in the film.

August 1 - 2000
My thanks to several recent correspondents, two of whom I'll mention here. The first, though, asks to be anonymous. He has conversed with Joseph Stefano, the screenwriter of Psycho (1960), about that film and other matters. Stefano was the first writer whom Hitchcock called on to adapt Winston Graham's 1961 novel 'Marnie' for the screen, Hitchcock intending the film to be the comeback vehicle of Grace Kelly. Stefano's script followed the novel more closely than the film that was eventually made with 'Tippi' Hedren. For example, it was more of a love triangle (apparently it included a rival of Mark Rutland named Terry Holbrook); fascinatingly, Hitchcock was going to fill it with lots of three-sided objects (shades of the visual symbolism of The Lodger [1926]). About the celebrated Psycho trailer, Stefano said that this was 'improvised' on the set while he was working on another film (implying, I gather, that he and Hitchcock conceived and made the trailer very quickly). About the writing of the script of Psycho itself, Stefano claims that the association with Robert Bloch's novel ended after Stefano and Hitchcock read it and discussed it: they did not go back and refer to the novel after they started on the screenplay. (As my correspondent says, this seems consistent with what we know of Hitchcock's usual approach to his source material.) Another recent correspondent, film critic Adrian Martin, has forwarded part of an entry on director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1946-82) contained in a 'wonderful' book edited by Judy Stone, 'Eye of the World: Conversations With International Filmmakers' (1997). It reads: 'The major influences on [Fassbinder] are [the philosopher] Schopenhauer, [the composer] Gustav Mahler and Alfred Hitchcock. "Schopenhauer says that human existence is worthless, to put it in a primitive way. Then you can make a lot out of it. To know that human existence is useless doesn't mean that one has to commit suicide. It means all the possibilities are there. You can have a wonderful time. (...) You can hear in Mahler's music all his personal problems. Hitchcock's fears and obsessions are in his films and he probably suffers under them, but in the films you can actually understand the way he lives with his wife and in his marriage."'

July 31 - 2000
I see that I could have better explained (July 26) just why my terrifying childhood memory of a man who suddenly transformed himself by donning a wig was so scary, of the same order (I think) as the sudden appearance of 'Mother' in Psycho. The essential point is that a moment earlier the 'nice man' had been smiling at us and reassuring us (supported in this by our lady schoolteacher, who had just introduced him), when all of a sudden, as if by malign magic, he was supplanted by someone else whom we had never met and whose arrival was unexpected and (for the moment) inexplicable, and hence deeply shocking. As I said last time, this sort of thing scarcely needs formal theory to 'explain' it, and is something that Hitchcock often tapped into. It just 'is' (like the very existence of the world's 'Will', as opposed to the non-existence of that Will, i.e., of everything). The fear of heights is of much the same order. Experiments have shown that even very young babies, including baby animals, are terrified if they find themselves on the edge of a precipice, or sharp drop, and will turn back. So we don't need theory to explain the terror we feel when Hitchcock threatens us with a fall from a great height (as with subjective-shots in Saboteur, Vertigo, North by Northwest, etc.). Now here's another example of this sort of thing. There are moments in Hitchcock films which are in a sense fundamental, or somehow archetypal. I think of the moment in Vertigo when, in the early hours of the morning, Madeleine turns up at Scottie's front door and rings the buzzer insistently. There's something particularly gratifying about this moment for the audience, almost regardless of the film's own story-line, and which Hitchcock was certainly aware of - indeed it may have been the inspiration for the scene's inclusion. I'm referring of course to the idea of a beautiful woman arriving at a man's front door, seemingly compelled to seek him out. The subtext is one of sexual gratification (or the world's Will at work!). Similarly, Hitchcock told Truffaut that the scene where Judy agrees to Scottie's request that she transform herself into Madeleine was really 'a strip-tease in reverse' ... 31 - 2000

July 26 - 2000
I think that the three most worthwhile essays on Psycho that I've read lately have been (1) Steven Schneider's "Manufacturing Horror in Hitchcock's Psycho" (in 'CineAction' #50, pp. 70-75), (2) Bill Schaffer's "Cutting the Flow: Thinking Psycho" (in the online journal, 'Senses of Cinema', issue 6), and (3) George Toles's "'If Thine Eye Offend Thee ...': Psycho and the Art of Infection" (in the 'Alfred Hitchcock Centenary Essays' collection, edited by Allen & Ishii-Gonzalès, pp. 159-74). But with the greatest respect, 'worthwhile' is a relative term, and so I hold to what I said in my book on Hitchcock that the best accounts of Psycho remain the early ones by Robin Wood and Raymond Durgnat (plus, surely, Deborah Thomas's "On Being Norman: Performance and Inner Life in Hitchcock's Psycho", in 'CineAction' #44, 1997, pp. 66-72). Of Toles's essay, which attempts to relate imagery from Poe and (French theorist/novelist) Bataille to Hitchcock's film, I'll make no comment, except to say that I found it a routine, relatively infertile academic exercise in cross-reference - though I know that Professor Lesley Brill thinks highly of it. I more enjoyed Australian film lecturer Bill Schaffer's paper, both for its observations on the pervasive invasion-of-privacy motif in Psycho and for what Schaffer says about Hitchcock's camera shunting us back and forth between two worlds - subjective and anti-subjective - while all the while entrapping us in Hitchcock's 'play' (here I was reminded of the possibly no-less self-reflexive title of Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away). And I could relate this idea to Steven Schneider's pivotal point in "Manufacturing Horror" about how, contrary to the implication of some of Hitchcock's own remarks, suspense and surprise are not mutually exclusive ingredients of his films but rather almost necessary complements of each other. (Thus there are suspenseful moments even within the shocking shower scene, not to speak of the considerable tension underlying the supposedly 'relaxed' interlude in Norman's 'parlour' preceding it.) Less convincing was Schneider's attempt to relate the deliberate repetition of elements in the shower scene (multiple shots of Marion showering, multiple shots of the knife slashing, multiple shots of Marion sliding downwards) to Freud's notion of 'the uncanny' (whose take on repetition is surely rather different, evoking more the entrapped, eerie feeling of finding oneself back at the centre of a maze from which one is trying to escape). However, I was grateful for Schneider's invocation of theorist Noël Carroll to explain why the first glimpse of 'Mother' is so terrifying, as opposed to merely shocking: 'Following Carroll, we may say that the figure of Mother here (really Norman in drag) transgresses cultural categories by simultaneously connoting both genders' (p. 72). I'm not sure how apt the particular idea of crossing genders is, but I was forcefully reminded of a terrifying moment when I was in kindergarten and, in front of the class, a man suddenly transformed himself with a wig from his seemingly friendly self (welcomed by the lady schoolteacher, standing nearby) into someone quite different (though not of the opposite sex, as I recall). That altogether disorienting moment has never left me, and is the sort of thing - beyond words and theory (cf. a fear of heights) - into which Hitchcock often tapped. Mother's entry into the shower is just so outrageous, and inexplicable ...

July 25 - 2000
Clearly, I'd say, director Edgar G. Ulmer's name should be grouped with other émigré directors from Germany whose American careers Hitchcock followed with interest: Robert Siodmak, William Dieterle, Curtis Bernhardt, and others. (See the article on "Vertigo and its 'Sources'" that's on this website.) Sometimes the interest was not only mutual but inter-active: e.g., Siodmak would use some Hitchcockian effect or device in one of his own films, and Hitchcock would reciprocate by borrowing an idea or image from a Siodmak film. About Ulmer (1904-72), born in Austria, James Naremore notes that, '[w]hile in Germany, he was a designer for Max Reinhardt; an assistant for F.W. Murnau, Lang, and Ernst Lubitsch; a codirector with Robert Siodmak on Menschen am Sonntag; and a self-described "art-obsessed" intellectual who felt an affinity with Bertholt Brecht and the Bauhaus.' (p. 144) (That last trait reminds me of Hitchcock's membership at the same period of the élitist London Film Society and his later remark that his favourite painter was [the Bauhaus-trained] Paul Klee.) Ulmer's daughter, Arianne, like Hitchock's daughter, Patricia, was a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. Naremore notes in Ulmer's Detour the use of a huge prop coffee cup - whose function to suggest hallucination or reverie both recalls Hitchcock's use of similar props (the outsize glasses containing supposedly-drugged brandy) in The Lady Vanishes (1938) and anticipates the poisoned coffee cup in Notorious (1946). But we were discussing yesterday how aspects of Detour anticipate Psycho. By no means are these just technical matters. For instance, Naremore notes that '[e]veryone in [Detour] is a low-rent pretender or impostor' (p. 149). That reminds me of how everyone in Psycho has something to hide: e.g., Lowery has a bottle hidden in his desk, and even the Sheriff's wife sees fit to whisper to Lila about how Norman's mother had been found dead with her lover, 'in bed'. I've been reading several articles lately on Psycho, including Steven Schneider's in 'CineAction' #50 and Bill Schaffer's that's on the 'Senses of Cinema' website (issue 6, as I recall). I'll discuss these briefly tomorrow.

July 24 - 2000
At long last, I tonight finally got to watch Edgar G. Ulmer's classic low-budget film noir, Detour (1945). As I already half suspected, a possible influence on Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) was pronounced. And I see that James Naremore, in 'More Than Night: Film Noir In Its Contexts' (1998), has pointed out the connection. Naremore writes: 'Like a great many film noirs about the open road, Detour represents the western frontier as a desert and the quest for individual freedom as a meaningless circle or a trap. It anticipates the imagery of Hitchcock's Psycho by almost thirty years: a barren landscape viewed through an automobile window; a protagonist who drives by day and night, staring into a rear-view mirror and hearing voices from out of the past; a sinister highway patrol officer with dark glasses; a used-car dealership; and a cheap and deadly motel room.' (p. 148) That phrase about the quest for personal freedom being 'a meaningless circle or a trap' may remind some of us of the 'pessimistic' philosophy (or, rather, attempted objective description of a cosmic principle) of Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher whose Romantic world-view (it seems to me) most often resembles Hitchcock's - let's not forget that film noir has an ultimate 'context' that is more than just a visual style or a set of post-War attitudes. Just as importantly, something that Naremore implies as being shared by Ulmer's and Hitchcock's films is how both are essentially subjective presentations: Detour constantly, being narrated throughout by its hapless protagonist Al Roberts (Tom Neal), and Psycho in its first 40 minutes or so, when the audience is swept up in the madness of Marion (Janet Leigh) as she steals $40,000 and drives from Phoenix, Arizona, towards her lover Sam (John Gavin), who lives near Bakersfield, California. Significantly, the second half of Detour, after Al meets the girl Vera (Ann Savage), follows a practically identical route - both Phoenix and Bakersfield are mentioned in that film's dialogue and narration. Like so many other 'borrowings' by Hitchcock, then, the possible indebtedness of parts of Psycho to Ulmer's film reflects Hitchcock's awareness of what will make good 'cinema': subjective effects are invariably cinematic. (The low-budget Detour, much of which is just shots of Al in a car, would have appealed to Hitchcock on both monetary grounds - he wanted to make Psycho as cheaply as possible - and aesthetic ones: cf his view that you could make a film in a telephone-box, if you had to.) Two further observations now. Firstly, I'm reminded of Hitchcock-authority Bill Krohn's point (it's on the Web, in a review of my book) that Hitchcock 'saw everything', and regularly attended a repertory cinema in San Francisco run by Gary Graver who would later work as a cinematographer with Orson Welles. Secondly, other films-noirs that seem to foreshadow parts of Psycho include John Farrow's Where Danger Lives (1950 - script by Hitchcock's longtime associate Charles Bennett), Abner Biberman's The Night Runner (1957), and Orson Welles's Touch of Evil (1958, starring Janet Leigh).

July 19 - 2000
(late) Actually I'm posting this on July 20, having just seen a documentary film rather misleadingly titled From Russia to Hollywood: The 100-Year Odyssey of Chekov and Shdanoff (Frederick Keeve, 1999). It isn't about the famous Russian playwright and writer but about the actor and drama teacher (and theorist), Michael Chek(h)ov (1891-1955), and his actor friend George Shdanoff. Michael Chekhov, born in Leningrad, became a student of Stanislavsky. Later, in America, he played the psychiatrist Dr Brulov in Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), a role for which he was nominated to receive an Academy Award. I think most viewers of Hitchcock's film will be surprised to learn of Chekhov's particular background. In the 1920s in Russia he was already a successful actor and stage producer when he mounted a production of 'Hamlet' that offended the Soviet authorities - he had given the play's ghost a mystical quality, causing the play to be promptly withdrawn. Chekhov was now marked for 'liquidation'. After fleeing to Berlin, he formed a friendship with young Shdanoff and together they outlined a style of acting going beyond the usual 'Method' approach. Eventually they would set up drama schools in both America and England. (The word 'Odyssey' in the title of this documentary refers, I imagine, to how after Chekhov's death Shdanoff carried on the teaching of their ideas: notable students included Hurd Hatfield, Leslie Caron, Lloyd and Dorothy Bridges, Patricia Neal, Paul Newman, Robert Stack, Anthony Quinn, and Clint Eastwood.) For Hitchcock buffs and scholars, the most interesting part of the documentary is probably what it reveals of Chekhov's work with Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck on Spellbound. Chekhov was very nervous! The memorable moment when Dr Brulov cascades a box of matches to the floor while talking to Constance (Bergman) came from that nervousness - it had been preceded by twenty unsuccessful takes of Brulov trying to light his pipe. The business with the matches was thus unplanned, and it drew a round of applause from the watching crew.

July 18 - 2000
I promised to quote more of what Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell told a class of USC students in 1998 about her father. So here goes (and my thanks to USC student André Chautard who sent me these excerpts from what Pat said). In no particular order ... Hitchcock liked Orson Welles as a person and respected him as a director. (This emerged when someone asked about the similarities between Hitchcock's Rebecca and Welles's Citizen Kane: e.g., the opening scenes of the two films, in which the camera moves from outside a forbidding mansion to inside the deserted grounds. André seems to think that Welles's film came first, but in fact the reverse was certainly the case. I would explain the films' similarities by the fact that Daphne Du Maurier's best-selling 'Rebecca' had been published in 1938 - and been dramatised for radio by Welles shortly afterwards. Also, both films might be thought to have another common ancestor in the film of Gone With the Wind [1939], in which the mansion called 'Tara' is clearly inspiration [or anyway licence] for both 'Manderley' in Rebecca and 'Xanadu' in Citizen Kane.) Pat Hitchcock said that her father did not read psychology in his spare time but rather accounts of English criminal trials. He loved reading true accounts, never novels. Reading was one of Hitch's few leisure activities (sitting on the couch at home), though he and Alma used to play tennis when they lived in England. He didn't enjoy driving - he found it 'harrowing' - but nonetheless drove Pat to church every Sunday when she was young. As for the occasions when American censorship boards (and suchlike) labelled his films 'morally objectionable', Hitch wasn't upset by this. Pat also spoke of her grandmother, Hitch's mother. She was a sweet lady but very forbidding - 'you knew when you did something wrong'. (Gratuitous thought: maybe the forbidding houses in Rebecca and Psycho, especially the latter, contained for Hitch memories of his mother.)

July 17 - 2000
A note on actress Betty Compson, who played Robert Montgomery's talkative date, Gertie, at the Florida Club in Hitchcock's screwball comedy Mr and Mrs Smith (1941). While I was in the process of moving house, I found in my journals-collection a copy of 'Films In Review' dated August-September 1966. A career article on Compson by (top screenwriter) DeWitt Bodeen notes that the American actress was born on March 18, 1897, at Beaver City, Utah. 'No one could have started with less than I did', Compson said later, adding that a doggedness inherited from her mother's 'peasant ancestors' enabled her to achieve movie stardom and make two come-backs. A couple of men seem to have been particularly influential in her career. The first was director George Loane Tucker (who made an early version of The Manxman, later filmed by Hitchcock) who gave Compson her first starring role, in The Miracle Man (1919), just when it seemed that she might forever remain in short comedies and never go anywhere. Tucker soon fell in love with her, though he was married, and proceeded to teach her 'almost everything' she needed to know about 'literature, music, all the arts, everything'. But he died of cancer in 1921 at the age of 40. Then, after Compson had worked in London for a while (about which, more in a moment), she returned to Hollywood and there met actor-turned-director James Cruze. He, too, fell in love with her and eventually married her (on 25 October, 1925). Compson starred in several of her husband's pictures. But their marriage was never smooth. In fact, it almost sounds like a prototype of the Smiths' stormy marriage in Mr and Mrs Smith, and one wonders if Hitchcock was aware of that. 'One thing we always did', Compson told DeWitt Bodeen, 'was to make peace before the lights went out. We never went to bed mad. It's a great rule.' That sounds very like the Smiths' rule about never leaving their apartment until making up. After seven years (in the Smiths' case, three years), husband and wife reached a crisis. They separated, went back together, separated again, and let several years pass before they divorced. 'They were both uncompromising individualists', notes Bodeen. 'It had never been a peaceful marriage', someone else observed. Actually, Hitchcock might well have been aware of all this, since he would have had an interest in following Compson's career after being involved (as scriptwriter and assistant director to Graham Cutts) on three of the films she made in London, including the very successful (in both Europe and America) Woman to Woman (1922) ...

June 16 - 2000
(special entry) I'm moving house this week, which means there probably won't be much activity on this site for a few days. So here is a miscellany of items to 'cover' that period. They came to light when I was sorting through past emails in preparation for the move. First, on May 30 above, I quoted 'Doug' from Florida about how the music during the cliff-top climax of Suspicion (1941) is identical to that heard during the ski-slope scene in Spellbound (1945), even though the films were scored by different composers. I'm very grateful to Doug for that information - though I should have remembered that J. Lary Kuhns had told me the same thing back on June 5 1996! (So, thanks both Doug and Lary!) Now, here are two or three things about Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell. She recently told my Irish-American friend Tag Gallagher about how she remembered her father saying that she had the typical Irish temperament (note: Hitchcock's paternal grandmother was Irish-born, and his mother came of Irish-Catholic stock). Pat's comment: 'I never found out whether that was good or bad!' As to the best piece of advice that Hitchcock ever gave his daughter, a class of students at USC was told by Pat in 1998 that it was, 'Don't ever take yourself too seriously!' She also told the students that, of all her father's many practical jokes, one that she particularly remembered was how, while she was asleep, he would draw a clown mask on her face for her to see when she woke up in the morning. (Those last two items were passed on to me by student André Chautard. André very kindly sent along a list of several other interesting matters that Pat Hitchcock spoke of, and I'll print them here later.) Finally, here's a contentious item. I once mentioned on this website how, when Hitchcock was just starting out in the film industry, he met the famous silent director, Irishman Rex Ingram (1892-1950), whose real surname was 'Hitchcock'. Ingram told the young Alfred that he had changed his surname to make it more memorable, and advised Hitchcock to do the same! (That was told to me by Leslie Shepard, assistant to film historian Liam O'Leary, the biographer of Ingram.) Well, the daughter of another acclaimed director, Edgar G. Ulmer (1900-1972), once told Tag Gallagher that she had met a man named William (Bill) Ingram working at Technicolor, London, who claimed to be Alfred Hitchcock's illegitimate son! (But please don't quote me!)

June 14 - 2000
It is fascinating to discover how many moments in Hitchcock's films are anticipated in Varieté. A remarkable shot in The Lodger (1926), photographed through the windscreen of a halted vehicle, of a policeman on point-duty holding up his arm, now seems likely to have been artfully 'adapted' by Hitchcock from a matching shot in Dupont's film: the only difference is that Hitchcock's policeman is recognisably a London 'bobby' rather than a Berlin traffic-cop. Also, some distinctive reaction-shots in The Lodger, especially of spectators watching a show (as when a lady alongside Ivor Novello at a fashion parade makes a play for him, but is disappointed because he only has eyes for the mannequin Daisy) correspond to equally 'intimate' inserts of individual spectators attending the show at the Wintergarten in Varieté. (Note that in neither case is the spectator reacting directly to the onstage performance but to some more private matter.) Which brings me to a moment in Hitchcock's I Confess that I referred to in passing yesterday. At the climax, after the deranged Keller shoots his wife in a crowded street, a stout lady presses forward, all the time munching an apple. Her idle curiosity, and callousness, are like those of spectators of the high-wire acts in Varieté who are repeatedly shown munching on pies as they goggle at the death-defying spectacle above them. (One such shot, early in the film, shows the circus proprietor, fat and smug-looking, tucking into a whole plateful of food.) But the indebtedness of Hitchcock to Dupont is often more than a matter of just individual shots. The famous sequence in Hitchcock's Sabotage (1936) where Mr Verloc gradually becomes aware of his wife's intention to kill him, and an exchange of wordless glances establishes an 'understanding' between them of what is to happen, may very possibly have been prompted by a scene at the end of Varieté in which 'Boss' (the cuckolded Jannings character) goes to Artinelli's dressing-room and waits there silently for his return. When Artinelli arrives he attempts to make light conversation, offering 'Boss' a drink, but gradually he awakens to the danger that faces him. Lastly, and most conclusively, the notable symbolism of Hitchcock's The Ring (1927), centring on a ring given the girl by her husband and a bangle given her by the seducer, the champion boxer named Corby (Ian Hunter), is clearly inspired, like much else in that film, by the plot and general atmosphere of Varieté. (In the latter, though, the seductive Artinelli gives the girl both a ring and a bangle.) In sum, Dupont's film certainly seems to me to be the single most influential film on Hitchcock's cinema that I have encountered.

June 13 - 2000
I am not the first to note the likely influence of Dupont's Varieté on Hitchcock. Professor Sidney Gottlieb refers to it in his article "Early Hitchcock: The German Influence" in the current (1999-2000) 'Hitchcock Annual', and suggests some parallels with Hitchcock's Murder! and The Ring (pp. 112-13). But Gottlieb doesn't go into much detail, which is what I want to do here in a moment. And, before Gottlieb, Dr Theodore Price included reference to Varieté in the chapter "German Silent Films of the Weimar Era" in his under-appreciated book 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality' (1992). Let's start with that. Price summarises the film thus: '[Emil] Jannings, a middle-aged man with a middle-aged wife, was once a famous trapeze artist but now works in a run-down sideshow. He meets a sensual demimondaine, falls madly in love with her, and runs off with her to Berlin. There they become assistants at the huge Berlin Winter Garden in the star trapeze act of a handsome young Italian. The Italian (without much difficulty) seduces the girl, whereupon Jannings, when he finds out, kills the Italian in a knife fight and is sent to prison.' Right away, then, one may detect here the same 'second chance' theme that Hitchcock used powerfully in such films as Vertigo (where Scottie says, 'You were my second chance, Judy') and Marnie (where Mrs Edgar uses those words to Marnie). In Dupont's film, the middle-aged Jannings (known as 'Boss' Huller) wearies of his increasingly humdrum life married to a Hausfrau and seeks fresh excitement in Berlin with his mistress, the girl Berta-Maria. Throughout, there is a strong sensual quality to the story and its images, not least those of the Wintergarten music-hall. Now, it seems probable that Hitchcock, when he was making his first film, The Pleasure Garden (1925), in Munich, was already aware of Dupont's film which was being made (or had just been completed) elsewhere in Germany, at the UFA Studios in Berlin - the very studios where Hitchcock had recently been working as assistant to director Graham Cutts. Evidence for this is in The Pleasure Garden itself. For instance, tracking-shots of spectators at the Pleasure Garden music-hall ogling the performers through opera-glasses and lorgnettes closely match similar shots in the Wintergarten scenes of Varieté. Even if this much is coincidental, some of Dupont's shots would be matched precisely in subsequent Hitchcock films (e.g. a subjective-shot through a judge's monocle that opens Easy Virtue [1927]) in a way suggesting that Hitchcock had by now definitely seen, and been impressed by, Dupont's film. There are even shots in I Confess (1953) and Rear Window (1954) that seem indebted to Varieté. Hitchcock went to great lengths in Rear Window to show reflected in the lenses of Jeff's binoculars the view across the courtyard that he was watching. But Dupont had achieved exactly the same effect thirty years earlier when he showed the onstage performers reflected in the opera-glasses of the Wintergarten's spectators. More tomorrow.

June 12 - 2000
(late) First, in answer to the questions raised above (June 7) about The Man Who Knew Too Much, I need do no more than quote this response that came from Danny Nissim in London. 'In reply to your queries regarding TMWKTM (1934), I've got a BFI VHS copy here, which I've just checked and I can confirm: (1) The man is the black shiny coat 32 mins into the film could well be Hitch. (2) The running time of the BFI VHS copy is 72 mins 14 secs (at 25 fps). As this is a restored version I can't imagine that there is anything longer. It's just an incredibly fast-moving, economically made film!' Hearty thanks for that, Danny. Second, a different matter. If I had to nominate just one film by another director that had influenced Hitchcock, it would probably be E.A. Dupont's Varieté/Variety (1925) made at the UFA Studios in Berlin. It was one of two films starring Emil Jannings that Hitchcock cited in 1939 as being among his ten favourite films - the other was Josef Von Sternberg's The Last Command (1928). I first saw Varieté many years ago, and have always been aware that the circus scenes in Hitchcock's Murder! (1930) were probably indebted to it. But finally last week I watched it again. It is superb. I can well understand why it became one of the great international successes of its time. The scenes between Jannings and Lya de Putti are touching and erotic; and when their story becomes a triangle drama, and they join the famous Artinelli in his trapeze act at the Berlin Wintergarten (Artinelli promptly seduces the girl), the atmospheric and fluid scenes of the trio's highwire act (shot, like the rest of the film, by Karl Freund) are fraught with tension. The influence on Murder! is certainly apparent. And Pauline Kael, noting that the film is 'an almost voluptuous experience', comments that 'Von Sternberg's The Blue Angel [1930] and Ingmar Bergman's The Naked Night [1953] are both indebted to it'. But now I would add that one film is even more clearly influenced by Dupont's, and that is The Ring (1927). The superb Stimmung (mood achieved by means of lighting) of the Albert Hall scenes of Hitchcock's triangle-drama - set in the worlds of the circus and professional boxing - takes its inspiration from the Wintergarten scenes in Varieté, without a doubt. But that's just one instance of Hitchcock's 'borrowing' from Dupont. More tomorrow.

June 7 - 2000
Help! Today I'm passing on a couple of questions about The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) raised by a letter I received recently from Leif Bugge in Denmark. Can anyone answer them, please? First, Leif points out that lists of Hitchcock's cameo appearances in his films typically don't mention any cameo in the original The Man Who Knew Too Much. But Leif says that there is one. 'Hitch appears as a passerby in a hat and a black shining coat. You can see him from the side walking by with another person in the 32nd minute of the movie (on the DVD from Carlton Videos of January 2000)'. This seems to be referring to shots of streets in Wapping immediately after the scene at the dentist's. My problem is that I don't have a DVD of the film and, try as I might, I can't spot Hitch in my somewhat blurry videotape copy (or copies - I've two of them). So, please, can anyone confirm that Hitch does appear in the film? My other question is one of the film's running-time. Leif says that his DVD runs just 72 minutes, which is the equivalent of about 75 minutes of the original film (shown at 24 frames per second). But most reference books say that the film has a running-time of 84 or 85 minutes (an exception, I notice, is David Shipman's 'The Good Film and Video Guide', which gives 75 minutes). My own two videos of the film both run for the same time as Leif's DVD copy. Can anyone help out with an explanation?

June 6 - 2000
Dr Susan Smith claims (see yesterday's entry) that 'the sound of a cockerel crowing twice loudly in the backyard, as the Professor [in Sabotage, 1936] takes his visitor to his living quarters at the rear [of his shop], alludes umistakably to Hitchcock's own authorial presence in the background ...' I've several comments on that. First, the use of 'unmistakably' is a cheat - it's of the same order as the claim you see made by shoddy writers (usually academics) that something or other represents 'precisely' what they claim it represents, when in fact the alleged connection isn't precise (or even apparent) at all! Second, any claim that the sound of a cockerel crowing in Sabotage represents a self-reference by Hitchcock to his own name and presence must answer the question of whether other similar moments in Hitchcock films (e.g., when a cock's crow is heard at dawn at the end of the police-station scene in Young and Innocent [1937]) carries the same 'meaning'. And if not, why not? (Also, vice versa.) Third, such a claim about the scene in Sabotage should at least address what other reasons Hitchcock might have had for including a cock's crowing at that point. I can think of at least two. One is that at a moment of transition, Hitchcock felt the need to put in some brief distraction to cover what would otherwise be felt as an 'emptiness'. That is standard technique. In addition, Hitchcock might have wanted the contrast of the cockerel's raucous crowing with the relatively melodious (if loud) whistling of the canaries in the earlier part of the scene. Again, that's fairly standard technique. A fourth comment I would make is that I wonder why on earth Hitchcock would want to include any such self-reference anyway (which not one audience-member in a thousand would pick up). True, there is another reference later in the film to 'cocks', in the 'Who Killed Cock Robin?' cartoon showing in Mr Verloc's cinema. But again I fail to see why that should be considered a self-reference by Hitchcock. (It would surely be petty, and even distasteful, of him, especially in the tragic context of that particular moment when Mrs Verloc has just learnt of the death of her young brother.) In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', I suggest that the main point, other than the emotional contrast involved (an audience laughing happily; Mrs Verloc's grief) of the cartoon sequence in Hitchcock's film is that we're shown one cock robin being killed and succeeded by another, which suggests the folly of men as opposed to the natural goodness and sense of women - a theme both of Sabotage and of Hitchcock's earlier Juno and the PayCOCK (1930)!

June 5 - 2000
I often wish that writers of film analysis would adhere to the same standards for evaluating 'evidence' as judges in courtrooms - who understandably require more than a lawyer's assertion about what certain facts 'mean', and who are not overly swayed by 'circumstantial' evidence - and the same degree of scrupulousness as a good journalist, who respects that contentious views must not be reported as 'truth' and, in any case, should be adequately 'sourced'. Further, I wish that more film scholars respected the notion of 'Occam's Razor' whereby 'all unnecessary facts or constituents in the subject being analysed are to be eliminated'. The last is a quote from 'Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable', which also notes that the philosopher William of Occam (d.1347) was famous as the great advocate and reviver of nominalism, denying the objective existence of abstract ideas - a very sensible doctrine! Equally salutary is another entry in 'Brewer', just above the one on Occam's Razor, defining an 'obiter dictum'. This, we read, is '[a]n incidental remark, an opinion expressed by a judge, but not judicially. An obiter dictum has no authority beyond that of deference to the wisdom, experience, and honesty of the person who utters it; but a judicial sentence is the verdict of a judge bound under oath to pronounce judgment only according to law and evidence'. Writers of film analysis, it seems to me, toss off far too many obiter dictums! Thus Dr Susan Smith marrs an excellent essay on Hitchcock's Sabotage (which nonetheless a friend of mine described as at times 'far-fetched') in the volume 'Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays' (1999), edited by Richard Allen and S. Ishii-Gonzalès, when she writes about the bird-shop scene that 'the sound of a cockerel crowing twice loudly in the backyard, as the Professor takes his visitor to his living quarters at the rear, alludes umistakably to Hitchcock's own authorial presence in the background and in a way that symbolically proclaims the director's involvement with sabotage as an implied assertion of film-making potency' (p. 49). More tomorrow.

May 31 - 2000
On May 29, above, I wrote about Stage Fright that 'a shot from the wings of a theatre of [Marlene] Dietrich performing her "Laziest Gal in Town" number reminds us of how artificial and frontally-directed her cavortings are - from the side, they appear diminished and almost ludicrous'. This describes what amounts to a Hitchcock paradigm: his ability to show the limits of subjective reality (often tied to the camera's position that represents the gaze of the spectator) which had momentarily seemed to be reality itself. The apotheosis of such showing is of course Rear Window (1954), but the showing is also implicit in Hitchcock's use in many of his films (e.g., The Birds [1963]) of sudden high long-shots that render relative (as opposed to absolute) what we see immediately beforehand and afterwards. I've written in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' about how Rear Window makes dramatic use of the 'relativity' idea (in the box headed "Rear Window on 'neighbourliness'"); also relevant to note is how diminished and merely 'human' the villain Thorwald (Raymond Burr) appears when at the end he arrives in Jeff's apartment and asks, 'What do you want from me?' (Cf. how Dietrich is finally presented in Stage Fright, as well as in the shot described above.) The downbeat endings of many Hitchcock films, such as Stage Fright, Rear Window, and Psycho (1960), remind me of the famous last line of John Milton's verse drama modelled on classical tragedy, 'Samson Agonistes' (1671), which speaks of 'calm of mind, all passion spent'. The 'passion' referred to is the equivalent of what Schopenhauer called 'Will' in humans, incorporating desire, greed, covetousness, etc., and the subsequent 'catharsis' is like the momentarily 'Will-free' state of mind, conducive of insight, that Schopenhauer believed great art could provide. Of course, I'm aware that Hitchcock's immediate purpose in employing such high long-shots, etc., was for added impact (e.g., the high-shot taken from above the Psycho stairwell, immediately followed by a cut to a close-up of Arbogast's bloodied face). He also used the same technique in juxtaposing whole scenes (e.g., in Torn Curtain [1966], the farmhouse murder gains extra impact from immediately following the scene in the art museum). That all of this connects with the strong 'theatrical' (or reality-versus-art/ifice) motif in Hitchcock's films is no accident: any theatrical producer, notes Eric Bentley in 'The Life of the Drama' (1966), knows how mysterious and yet 'real' is the something resembling love that actors and audience both bring to a successful stage performance. Hitchcock's films draw on the same mechanism. Many of them remind us that we're all 'merely players'.

May 30 - 2000
I'm very grateful to 'Doug' from Orlando, Florida, who sent the following piece of information. In Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), whose official composer was Miklos Rozsa, there's a memorable scene in which Ballyntine (Gregory Peck) and Constance (Ingrid Bergman) ski downhill together as Ballyntine tries to recall a key moment from his past that may illuminate his present amnesia. Suspense is generated by the fact that a precipice looms ahead, with the distinct possibility that the pair may not pull out of their descent in time to avoid plunging over the edge. (Downward descents are a recurring image in Spellbound, whose metaphorical significance includes Ballyntine's fear of marriage.) The entire musical passage accompanying this scene, which runs for a little over half a minute, is taken directly from the earlier Hitchcock film, Suspicion (1941), scored by Franz Waxman. There, the music is equally suspenseful, being heard when Johnnie (Cary Grant) insists on driving Lina (Joan Fontaine) to her mother's house, when she tells him that she's leaving him - because she suspects that he wants to murder her. The music begins as the car gathers speed on a road running alongside the edge of a cliff, and continues as Lina shrinks from Johnnie when the car door flies open and he appears to intend pushing her out. It only ends when he pulls the car door shut (whether to save her or because he has suddenly changed his mind is left ambiguous). In both cases, the suspenseful music admirably serves its intended purpose. I imagine that Rozsa probably looked at other Hitchcock films for musical ideas - Hitchcock very possibly suggested it - and realised how the climactic music from Suspicion was in fact perfect for the skiing scene in Spellbound (so why not use it?). Anyway, thanks, Doug, for drawing my attention to this. It certainly illuminates such things as the generic similarities of the two films, and how the Spellbound scene must have been cut to the music rather than the other way around.

May 29 - 2000
Hitchcock's boldness and lordliness in matters of casting, as in other aspects of his films, is reflected in his casting of Dietrich in Stage Fright and then his at-times malicious depiction of her character (as when a shot from the wings of a theatre of Dietrich performing her "Laziest Gal in Town" number reminds us of how artificial and frontally-directed her cavortings are - from the side, they appear diminished and almost ludicrous). He had done something similar when he had cast Tallulah Bankhead in Lifeboat six years earlier. David Thomson ('A Biographical Dictionary of Film') notes of Tallulah: 'By 1944, she and the movies had given one another up. Thus there is some of Hitch's malicious irony in asking her to dominate a lifeboat adrift in the Twentieth Century Fox studio tanks. Such fatuous eminence is plainly a challenge to the actress's affected languor.' But of course 'Hitch' didn't make the role any easier for her! For instance, her character is asked to retain (like Dietrich in Stage Fright) her aloofness and immaculately-coiffed appearance while gradually everything that she values and has surrounded herself with is taken from her. In effect, this is Hitchcock's comment on how cruel life (or what the philosopher Schopenhauer called the world's 'Will') can be, and on how appearances (what Schopenhauer called 'Representation') are invariably misleading and deceptive. Both the title of Lifeboat and the references, in Stage Fright, to how life and theatre are but aspects of each other, are significant. One feels that Hitchcock held a certain fascinated admiration for the sheer professionalism maintained by Bankhead and Dietrich in the face of career setbacks, for the way these two life-affirming actresses (who, though, regularly immersed themselves in artifice) managed to 'carry on' in more senses than one. For what it's worth, we now know that both actresses were bisexual and had numerous lovers of both sexes. Typically, Bankhead began an affair with leading-man John Hodiak within a week of the start of shooting of Lifeboat; while Dietrich, rather predictably, quickly fell for leading-man Michael Wilding on Stage Fright and entered into an affair with him. In both cases, the man was more than a decade younger than the woman.

May 25 - 2000
Certain parallels between Hitchcock's Stage Fright and Joseph Mankiewicz's All About Eve (1950), both shot at about the same time, may not be coincidental. The story on which the latter film is based, "The Wisdom of Eve", about a tiro actress understudying a worldly star and secretly hoping to supplant her some day, had been published in 'Cosmopolitan' back in May 1946. Hitchcock's research may well have included reading that story. After all, there are other moments in his film where he clearly 'borrowed' material from sources besides Selwyn Jepson's novel called 'Man Running' (1948; US title 'Outrun the Constable'). A highlight of Stage Fright is the scene where the recently-bereaved Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich) tries on mourning-dress and complains in her prima-donnaish way that it lacks colour - adding, 'Couldn't we let it plunge a little in front?' That scene isn't from Jepson's novel. Rather, it appears to come from Agatha Christie's 'Lord Edgeware Dies (1933; US title 'Thirteen At Dinner'), which concerns a theatrical entertainer named Carlotta Adams (based by Christie on American diseuse and monologist Ruth Draper) and an actress, also an American, whose theatrical name is Jane Wilkinson. When the latter's husband, Lord Edgeware, is murdered, she must wear mourning-dress, which leads to a memorable moment when the detective Poirot and his friend Hastings come upon her and a maid in her dressing-room. 'Jane picked up the hat she had been trying on when we came in. She tried it again. "I hate black," she said disconsolately. "I never wear it. But, I suppose, as a correct widow I've just got to. All those hats are too frightful. Ring up the other hat place, Ellis. I've got to be fit to be seen."' (Chapter 6) The novel implies a certain rivalry between Carlotta and Jane, not unrelated to a theme of entertainment/vaudeville versus the legitimate stage which is also subtly present in Stage Fright. Hitchcock's casting of the consumate entertainer Marlene Dietrich in his film was thus especially appropriate. I've further thoughts on this, which I'll take up soon. [Meanwhile, my thanks to correspondent Doug whose recent note to me in the mail, on a connection between Suspicion and Spellbound, I'll also discuss here soon.]

May 24 - 2000
Speaking of Hitchcock's casting coups, and there were many of them ... I recently watched a BBC documentary called 'No Angel: A Life of Marlene Dietrich', and watched again Maximilian Schell's Marlene (1984) about the same actress. There's a striking segment in the former which mentions how Billy Wilder had cast Dietrich as a night club singer in post-War Berlin in A Foreign Affair (1948) and then Hitchcock had featured her as a musical comedy star, and lady of the theatre, in Stage Fright (1950), set in post-War London. In Wilder's film, the other female star is Jean Arthur; in Hitchcock's film, it's Jane Wyman - both ladies accomplished and attractive actresses in their own way. Yet, notes critic/author Molly Haskell in the BBC documentary, both of them 'suddenly became church mice in [Dietrich's] presence', upstaged by the older actress's 'narcissism and sense of the camera'. Haskell calls the films 'two of the cruellest spectacles I've ever seen', in which Arthur and Wyman are made to 'just shrivel' alongside Dietrich. I find Haskell's comment interesting in relation to Stage Fright in particular. That film is indeed cruel to the Jane Wyman character, called Eve Gill, who is a drama student and aspiring actress, and who is often made to appear 'mousey' (though as shooting progressed Wyman insisted on improving her appearance for the camera!). But cruelty is also shown by the film towards the Dietrich character, Charlotte Inwood. For a start, Dietrich is required to play a desperately world-weary music hall star, which, considering that Dietrich's film career after the War had not been strikingly successful (despite the brilliance in Wilder's film of the satire on post-War American-German relations, and despite Dietrich's immense popularity during the War with American GIs whom she regularly entertained at the Front), is a role that at times seems to be lampooning the Dietrich image and legend. Not only that, there's also the near-sadism of the scene where Eve Gill's father (Alistair Sim) tries to expose the foreign woman in public as a murderess. (I detect a motif here that begins with the isolation felt by the Italian-born Mrs Paradine in The Paradine Case [1948] and continues through the loneliness experienced by the German refugee and murderer, Keller, in I Confess [1953] to the similar loneliness of the killer Lars Thorwald, with his Scandinavian name, in Rear Window [1954].) More later on Hitchcock's casting of Dietrich, and related matters

May 23 - 2000
Sad news today that Sir John Gielgud has died, aged 96. A comment I heard on the radio spurred me to thoughts about Hitchcock and some things I've been saying here recently. The item on the radio noted that Sir John - together with Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Peggy Ashcroft - was one of the great Shakespearean stage actors of his generation. It's surely no coincidence that all three of those actors appeared in Hitchcock films. Hitchcock knew quality, and went after it, time after time. Of course, he was also probably a bit of a snob (John Steinbeck said he was), but sometimes snobbishness is good! Anyway, that's an example of what I recently called (May 16, above) 'Hitchcock's often lordly attitude' that gave his films their distinctive 'Hitchcockian' tone. Here are some other examples. First, many of Hitchcock's 'borrowings' in his films (as recently discussed here) have that same lordly manner about them. Isn't the famous Odessa Steps sequence from Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925) evoked by the moment in Foreign Correspondent (1940) when the fake Van Meer's bloodied face appears against a background of steps, after he is shot? (Leslie Halliwell, for one, felt such a connection.) And isn't the same Eisenstein sequence also evoked in To Catch a Thief (1955) when several uniformed gendarmes hurry down a flight of steps to find a man's body at the foot? Second, Hitchcock's use of 'famous locations' such as the Golden Gate Bridge in Vertigo (1958) and Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest (1959) has an equally bold feel. (In both those instances, there's a 'life against death' suggestiveness, tinged with a hint of 'Oh, what fools these mortals be' irony!). Third, what director Frank Tashlin called Hitchcock's use of 'crazy angles' provides another instance of lordly style. (Tashlin deliberately parodied such matters in his Jerry Lewis film It's Only Money [1962], a mystery-comedy about a missing heir.) Of course, all of these things in context are primarily functional. For example, high angles make a comment not unlike the effect of Hitchcock's use of 'borrowings' and famous locations (and some of his casting coups) - momentarily distancing and yet intensely purposeful, adding piquancy and dimension. Hitchcock's creative 'secret' may well have been his utter attention to the logic of what he was doing. If poetry, according to Wordsworth, is 'emotion recollected in tranquillity', Hitchcock's films represent 'emotion created in tranquillity' - and consequently have a rich poetry of their own!

May 22 - 2000
Postscript to the item above (May 15, 16) about how Hitchock and scriptwriter Charles Bennett took elements of The 39 Steps from Anthony Berkeley's novel 'Mr Priestley's Problem' (1927). Such elements are added to by the novel's climax, where Mr Priestley and Laura get married (ostensibly for convenience, so that they needn't testify against each other to the police ...), thus drawing to its (logical? surreal?) conclusion the implication of the earlier scene where they'd been handcuffed together and pretended to be lovers. Mr Matthew Priestley is an average man not ordinarily given to adventure - indeed the novel involves a gag played on him by friends that gets out of control and was designed to stir him from his torpor - which places him in something other than the John Buchan and 'Sapper' tradition, where the heroes are typically men of action who have become bored in civilian life. (I'm thinking more of Buchan's romantic adventure stories involving Richard Hannay and his Army or ex-Army buddies than of Buchan's adventures of a retired Scottish grocer named Dickson McCunn.) Overall, the tone of the novel is comic and facetious, but with some lovely and insightful passages depicting male-female relations. Definitely not 'Boy's Own' material but rather more 'adult' than that. Quite close to an essential element of Hitchcock, in fact. A Hitchcock film like North by Northwest (1959) may thus be seen to meld John Buchan with Anthony Berkeley (Cox), picaresque action with sophisticated comedy.

May 17 - 2000
It's been fascinating in recent days to discuss with people such as Brad Stevens and Neill Potts (who both contribute essays on Hitchcock's TV work to the forthcoming 'Unexplored Hitchcock' book) how far Hitchcock was directly involved in his TV shows. We know, of course, that Hitchcock directed several of the shows himself, but what about the several hundred lead-ins and lead-outs that he appeared in? Did he direct those? And how far did he concern himself with changes to the original stories in order to adapt them to TV? Did he ever have a hand in the shows' dialogue? Some sort of general answer to these questions is given in the book 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' (1985) by John McCarty and Brian Kelleher. For example, they report (p. 17) that, '[f]rom the beginning, Hitchcock ... preferred published material over originals. "It wasn't a rigid policy," says [producer] Norman Lloyd, "but rather a pragmatic one. He liked to know that a story had been published first because he always felt that if a story had been published, you had something to begin with. He was not one for developing stories, as is mostly done today." Henry Slesar, who would come to provide more stories and teleplays for the series than any other writer, confirms this: "Hitchcock liked to be able to judge a story in its entirety rather than as a script. It was more the English style of doing things ... In addition ..., the kinds of stories Hitchcock [and his team] ... preferred were ones about ordinary people (as opposed to the underworld, though even this was not taboo) who get involved in an extraordinary situation (like murder) that climaxes either in an ironic manner or with a unique surprise twist.' Also, 'Slesar concurs that he seldom saw Hitchcock get involved in the show's creative decision-making process - unless, perhaps, a story was one he was set to direct or wanted particularly to adapt.' (p. 28) Neill Potts, though, thinks that Hitchcock did direct all of the shows' lead-ins and lead-outs. And J. Lary Kuhns (who wrote the entry about the TV shows for 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story') notes that several of the shows adapted from Roald Dahl stories, for example, did contain additional scenes or other changes to the original. He cites the case of the Hitchcock-directed "Mrs Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" (1960), which introduces the Colonel with scenes set in Maryland with horses, thus 'opening up' the original story (and anticipating a setting of Hitchcock's film Marnie, made four years later).

May 16 - 2000
It seems perfectly possible to me that crime-story writer Anthony Berkeley [Cox] was a seminal influence on Hitchcock from the 1920s on. (See yesterday's entry.) Hitchcock filmed Cox's novel 'Before the Fact' (1932) as Suspicion (1942), and adapted for American radio the same writer's 'Malice Aforethought' (1931). The name of the character Todhunter in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938) may have been a nod to Cox whose well-received 'Trial and Error' (1937) had just been published, containing a principal character of that name. In addition, Cox's sense of humour (he began his literary career writing for the satirical and comic journal 'Punch') would have appealed to Hitch. In 1928 Cox founded London's famous Detective Club and became its first honorary secretary. In the 1930s he began another of his successful ventures, his long career as a reviewer of mystery fiction. And, speaking of Cox's 1927 novel 'Mr Priestley's Problem', as we were yesterday, it contains 'Hitchcockian' elements in addition to the episode of the handcuffed hero and heroine. Early on, there's a scene where two keen crime fans tease a mutual friend by speculating about his being a murderer, and wonder which 'type' he is: the Palmer type perhaps ('He has that look of chubby innocence'), or maybe more the Brides-in-the-Bath killer Smith ('Smith was always the gent, wasn't he?'). (For the record, Hitchcock's Blackmail [1929] alludes to the Brides-in-the-Bath murders; and Johnnie Aysgarth in Suspicion is based in large measure on the poisoner William Palmer.) But something that probably has occured more than once to readers of this website, and is further raised by the close resemblance of Hitchcock's handcuffs scene in The 39 Steps to Cox's scene in 'Mr Priestley's Problem', is this: was Hitchcock 'cheating' by making these borrowings, which he often never acknowledged? (I've pointed out before, including in my book, how Hitchcock often borrowed key scenes from otherwise unconnected novels or films.) I think you'd have to say that 'cheating' might be too strong a word, and, besides, hadn't Shakespeare often done much the same thing?, but that nonetheless these borrowings do provide one more instance of Hitchcock's often lordly attitude to what was 'permissible' in his films! On the other hand, maybe he just saw his approach as an extension of the very 'English' spirit of the films (even his Hollywood work continued to borrow from mainly English sources, notably works in the British crime and mystery fiction tradition).

May 15 - 2000
In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', I speculated that the origin of one of Hitchcock's most famous scenes - the episode in The 39 Steps (1935) where Hannay (Robert Donat) and Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) find themselves handcuffed together for a lengthy time, with embarrassing and (for the audience) hilarious results - came from a novel by A.B. Cox (aka Anthony Berkeley and Francis Iles) called 'Mr Priestley's Problem' (1927). Well, I've lately had time to read the novel in its entirety to verify my claim (I'm currently half-way through it, in fact), and, even more than I'd thought, the blueprint for Hitchcock's scene is indeed there. Notably, there's the flight of the couple across country to avoid the police, and the pair's eventual arrival at an inn where they are forced to spend the night together while they partake of a meal and then try to find a way to remove the handcuffs unobserved. The landlady, on first seeing them, thinks that the pair are 'obviously very much in love and probably quite recently married'. In fact, the situation is nothing of the sort! Once the pair are alone upstairs, the girl, Laura, feisty and pretty, professes outrage at her companion's more nefarious intentions (as she understands them), especially when he wants to lead her towards the bed because, nearby, is a washstand containing soap (which, liberally applied, will eventually let them slip the handcuffs off her slender wrist and hand). A little later, when the handcuffs have been removed, she changes her tune and seems to become quite affectionate towards her companion! Both of them relax. Indeed, '[i]t was borne in upon Laura that in a way Mr. Priestley really was enjoying himself, at any rate he was living Life with a capital L; and she felt that, after the good turn he had just done her, he did deserve something better at her hands ...' (p. 126 of the 1948 Penguin edition). Here I see not just the origin of a particular Hitchcock scene but also - in the reference to Life with a capital L - a key passage where a major theme of Hitchcock's own films is adumbrated. More tomorrow

May 10 - 2000
In whimsical vein tonight, here's more on how the great Schopenhauer (whose mind was at least as agile as Hitchcock's) 'thought it first'. Among the earliest books of film theory I read was Siegfried Kracauer's 'Theory of Film' ('Nature of Film' in the UK), published in 1960. I've always remembered Kracauer's anecdote, in the chapter on Music, about "The drunken pianist", concerning a cinema accompanist who would often launch into some particular tune or melody regardless of what was showing onscreen. Kracauer held the most pleasant memories of these times spent by him at his favourite moviehouse, and drew this lesson: '[The] lack of relation between the musical themes and the action they were supposed to sustain seemed very delightful indeed to me, for it made me see the story in a new and unexpected light or, more important, challenged me to lose myself in an uncharted wilderness opened up by allusive shots. Precisely by disregarding the images on the screen, the old pianist caused them to yield many a secret.' Plus ça change ... Just the other day, I was reading Noël Carroll's 'Mystifying Movies: Fads and Fallacies in Contemporary Film Theory' (1988), and encounterd this passage in the chapter on Cinematic Narration: 'Like Adorno and Eisler, I shall stress a functional relationship between music and movies though, of course, that functional relationship will be quite different from the one they propose. My position is closer to that articulated by Schopenhauer when he writes in the Third Book of The World as Will and [Representation] that "suitable music played to any scene, action, event or surrounding seems to disclose to us its most secret meaning, and appears as the most accurate and distinct commentary upon it." Quite so, and I'm sure that Schopenhauer would have allowed that 'suitable' music might often include what might otherwise be deemed 'unsuitable' music - anything to avoid a clichéd effect. Equally, I'm sure that Hitchcock basically felt this way about the use of film music, for avoiding the cliché was always a main concern of his. Two instances immediately spring to mind: (1) the inspired use of the formal 'Storm Cloud Cantata' in the Albert Hall climax of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934; 1956); and (2) the hurdy-gurdy music that accompanies the life-and-death fight on the merry-go-round in Strangers on a Train (1951).

May 9 - 2000
Again and again I tell people that the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan, sometimes applied by scholars and film theorists to Hitchcock's films, can be subsumed in the world-view of another post-Kantian (like Lacan), Arthur Schopenhauer. Moreover, I tell them, there is much affinity in the respective outlooks and insights of Schopenhauer and Hitchcock, perhaps rather more than the outlooks and insights shared by Lacan and Hitchcock. All I want to do tonight, though, rather than illustrate this claim in any wholesale way, is give a related illustration: of how, very often, Schopenhauer doesn't receive the credit for insights that were his before they were 're-discovered' by others, who do get the credit. For instance, notions of the Unconscious and of the death-instinct are attributed to Freud (and inform some of Hitchcock films, of course), though it's clear that Schopenhauer had very similar, if not identical, notions. (For further reading on this, see an article on Freud and Schopenhauer that's on the Web - there's a link on our Links page.) Or again, Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) makes dramatic use of the character Jeff's inability to, as it were, see himself looking, to realise that he is effectively projecting part of his own psyche onto the activities of his neighbours around the courtyard. To help explicate this aspect of Hitchcock's film, scholars (e.g., Miran Bozovic in an article called "The Man Behind His Own Retina") draw on Lacan, whose formula concerning voyeurism was: You want to see? Well, take a look - take a look at your own gaze! But Schopenhauer, with his notions of Will and Representation, had been led to make such a critique of the gaze (and the false understanding it gives) long before Lacan - and, for that matter, Wittgenstein, who proceeded to appropriate Schopenhauer's metaphor that recurs several times in the earlier philosopher's work, about the eye which sees everything except itself. (See Bryan Magee, 'The Philosophy of Schopenhauer', 1983: e.g., p. 111n and p. 311 - where, moreover, Magee notes that someone else who is sometimes credited with coining this metaphor, if not drawing its philosophical lessons, is Stendahl, even though Schopenhauer's 'use of it was published three-quarters of a century before Stendahl's'.)

May 8 - 2000
I don't think there's any doubt that Hitchcock matured as a person round about the time he arrived to live in the US. Possibly it was the sobering influence of David Selznick, and of the vast internationally-geared Hollywood machine, that did it. Hitch became a nicer, gentler person, more aware of legitimate points of view other than his own. (His Catholicism and other influences had led him to pay lip-service, so to speak, to such an idea in films such as Rich and Strange [1932], but you don't necessarily feel that he had yet fully integrated those ideas into his own person.) By this time, too, daughter Patricia had entered teenage, which may have been another considerable factor in Hitch's appreciation of fresh, independent outlooks. Anyway, I had these thoughts recently when I compared various tributes (and otherwise) given to Hitch by actors from different eras. On the one hand, you have someone like Cary Grant saying, 'Hitchcock couldn't have been a nicer fellow. I whistled coming to work on his films.' And Tony Perkins: 'At the end of Psycho, I realised I'd worked with the director who'd been more open to the actor's suggestions and ideas than any I'd worked with - with the possible exception of William Wyler. Since this was the reverse of what I'd expected of Hitchcock, it came as a great surprise.' On the other hand, you have Madeleine Carroll describing how Hitch had treated her at the time of The 39 Steps (1935) as mentioned above (April 25). And, from the same period, Sylvia Sidney (star of Sabotage): 'What did Hitchcock teach me? To be a puppet and not to be creative.' Of course, Hitch was always human, and well into his life and career he might still harbour grudges (against Roberto Rossellini, for example, who had 'taken' Ingrid Bergman from him) and show petulance, or worse. But all things considered, the American Hitch soon became a remarkably wise and intelligent man, I believe.

May 3 - 2000
Speaking of Henry Miller, I'm pretty sure that Hitchcock read 'Tropic of Cancer' (just as we know that he read James Joyce's 'Ulysses' or at any rate the famous 'dirty bits'!) Miller's novel employs the very image (on p. 177 of my edition) of a certain type of woman who'll 'pull the pants off you, right in the taxi' that Hitchcock used to describe the 'school marm' type, often Scandinavian, who is reserved and lady-like on the outside but 'a raging volcano' within! Now, if it's correct to say that Hitchcock often hinted at the powerful primitive urges that underlie our 'civilised' demeanours' (see yesterday's entry), there's an aspect to this which should be emphasised. I'm thinking of how a film like The Birds finally seems to be saying that it's all One, that we are all ultimately part of mysterious nature, the world's 'Will'. Of course, in our (natural!) egoism, and limited subjectivities, we may deny such an 'obvious' truth. Thus the heroine of Marnie (1964) is heard to say, 'I am not like other people'. But it is precisely Hitchcock's task, especially in his post-Psycho films of the 1960s, to break down such resistance, both in his characters and (however fleetingly) in the film's audience. Such a task is consistent with his earlier concern (see above, May 1) to render onscreen what is most human (and/or natural) in his characters, both male and female - and consistent too with the 'self-overcoming' that I detect in Hitchcock's own life. Here I think of something written by the great Cardinal Newman (1801-90) in one of his 'Parochial and Plain Sermons'. An extract: 'People are all very much more like each other in their temptations, inward diseases and methods of cure, than they at all imagine. People think themselves isolated in the world; they think no one ever felt as they feel. ... Nay, instead of speaking out their own thoughts, they let the world's opinion hang upon them as a load, or the influence of some system of religion which is in vogue. ... We have each the same secret and we keep it to ourselves and we fear that, as a cause of estrangement, which would really be a bond of union ... and, in consequence, our religion viewed as a social system, is hollow. The presence of God is not in it.' Just possibly, that says something about the cathedral scene that is in Hitchcock's last film, Family Plot (1976). More another time.

May 2 - 2000
(late) Near the start of Henry Miller's 'Tropic of Cancer' (1934) he announces his intention: 'There is only one thing which interests me vitally now, and that is the recording of all that which is omitted in books. Nobody, so far as I can see, is making use of those elements in the air which gives [sic] direction and motivation to our lives.' That reminds me a little bit of Hitchcock's remark to Truffaut about how he couldn't get a proper appreciation of Psycho (1960) 'in the terms we're using now'. (Mind you, I still don't know exactly what Hitchcock meant by that!) In turn, I think of how, in Psycho and elsewhere (e.g., some of the lead-ins and lead-outs of the Hitchcock television shows), he would manage to touch on matters that sometimes occur to us but which we quickly cover up, or which we simply don't acknowledge, not even momentarily. Readers of the UK edition of 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' may recall the item there about 'The Lady Buying the Pesticide' in Psycho. One of the points it makes is how, though the lady (Helen Wallace) expresses solicitude about not causing pain to 'insect or man', she proceeds to buy an enormous can of insect-killer without knowing if it works painlessly or not. So much for her lip-service to her humane good intentions. But is she any different from the rest of us? Why am I reminded of Bruno's remark in the British cut of Strangers on a Train (1951) - see above, April 26 - about murder not being 'against the law of nature'? Equally, why do I think of the scene in the pet-shop at the start of The Birds (1963) where Melanie ('Tippi' Hedren), challenged to justify human beings' keeping birds in cages, responds evasively by saying, 'Well, we can't just let them fly around the shop, can we?' Henry Miller was sometimes called a surrealist, probably because of his detailed emphasis on life's most basic elements, notably sex. But Hitchcock, too, has been called a surrealist, and surely that's at least partly because he hinted so often at the powerful primitive urges that underlie our 'civilised' demeanours. More tomorrow.

May 1 - 2000
Writer BK and I corresponded over the weekend about how Donald Spoto's biography of Hitchcock presents the director in a certain light, not necessarily one that is fair to its subject. (But that's another topic.) In this context, BK touched on my point above about a Nietzschean 'self-overcoming' that I think Hitchcock strove for during much of his life. BK noted that he didn't think, contra Spoto's view, that Hitchcock was a misogynist (though he may, or may not, have been a closet gay!). Here's what BK wrote: '[I] wonder in what form the "violated propman" story (used by Robin Wood in his assessment of AH's possible closeted homosexuality, with the appended speculation that the propman was good-looking!) reached [Spoto]. ... As for your reading of AH in the light of Spoto, ... I would say that the self-overcoming (which must have been monumental) had to do with fear, not with hatred of women. Fear of women, sure - according to [production designer Robert] Boyle, "you name a fear, he had it. His palms would get sweaty looking out of a third-story window." But Tippi in The Birds is Hitchcock - hence the (as described to Truffaut) mild anxiety attacks he seems to have been having throughout the filming, provoked as I read it by his total identification with the character and, indirectly, his identification-love for the actress playing her. That's not hate.' No it isn't! Just to clarify: I certainly never meant to imply that Hitchcock needed to overcome a misogynist streak in himself. As I've said here before, I think that Hitchcock's reputation for misogyny resulted from a public misunderstanding of his concern to bring out what was human in his actors - male or female - in order to capture on film performances that were alive. Hitchcock's whole outlook, I think it's fair to say, was concerned with 'being alive'. Hence his striving for a 'self-overcoming' in himself, to be less inhibited and more jolly ...

April 26 - 2000
Assuming the truth of the above story about what Hitchcock did to an unfortunate props man, what does it tell us? My immediate thought was that it gives a fresh slant to Hitchcock's long-cherished project to film Patrick Hamilton's 'Rope' (1929). That play is of course about two sadistic youths, influenced by Nietzsche's idea of the Superman, who kill another youth in order to assert their 'superiority' and freedom from artificial moral constraints. I also thought of the line given to Bruno (Robert Walker) in the 'British' cut of Strangers on a Train (1951) about how murder is 'not against the law of nature'. Further, as I suggested in an email yesterday to correspondent DN (she had sent me a superb poem about the incident with the props man), perhaps we may think of The Birds (1963) and how the bird attacks correlate with a life-force that is also a death-force, one that is blind and finally beyond our comprehension. More than ever, these days, I am convinced that Hitchcock saw such a force operating in the world, and was increasingly aware of it in himself. In fact, I see his later films as being about that force, which Nietzsche's predecessor Schopenhauer called the world's 'Will', and as representing an attempt to come to terms with it - an attempt in which the audience are implicated and given a chance to feel a redeeming sympathy for Will's victims (i.e., all living creatures), at least fleetingly. Yesterday too, by serendipity, another correspondent, JL, sent me an email on a different topic, but containing this sobering thought of Aristotle's: 'one must be open both in love and hate, since concealment shows timidity; and [one must] care more for the truth than what people will think'. To me, that suggests what I see operating in Hitchcock, a process of Nietzschean 'self-overcoming' that finally leads him back to Schopenhaurian bedrock: that the world is what it is, and that the best we can do is feel compassion and act accordingly. (For why I think that Hitchcock is ultimately more of a Schopenhaurian than a Nietzschean, see my entry on Lifeboat in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'.)

April 25 - 2000
Apologies to readers of the Usenet newsgroup, where I've already posted the following thoughts. Understandably, some people have always been troubled by the 'practical joke' Hitchcock once played on a hapless props man. According to the screenwriter Rodney Ackland, who helped Hitchcock write the script of Number Seventeen (1932), the director once bet a property man a week's salary that he would be too frightened to spend a night chained to a camera in a deserted film studio. (The details of this incident, attributed to Ackland, are recounted on p. 111 of the British edition of Donald Spoto's 'The Life of Alfred Hitchcock'; Ackland later repeated the story on a two-part BBC television documentary about Hitchcock.) The property man willingly agreed - without knowing that Hitchcock had made arrangements to give him a drink of brandy spiked with a strong laxative just before personally chaining him to the camera and pocketing the key. Next morning, the unfortunate man was found angry and weeping, for obvious reasons, where he had been left. Well, I think we have to accept the story as fact. It is in keeping with other information we have about Hitchcock at this period, such as how he once 'exposed himself' to Madeleine Carroll on the set of The 39 Steps (as reported by the actress herself to Australian film scholar Dr Brian McFarlane) and with some of his behaviour towards star Jessie Matthews, and other members of the cast and crew, during the making of Waltzes From Vienna. One also thinks of his potentially-murderous behaviour, again involving a beaker of brandy, towards Montgomery Clift at the time of I Confess (1953): see Spoto, p. 341. All very sad, but not unconnected with the sort of outrageousness that makes some of the films themselves (especially later ones like, say, North by Northwest) so inimitably 'Hitchcockian'. Without exonerating the director, one might want to say that 'genius' has often been reported to be like this - many famous men (and others) have done some pretty reprehensible and anti-social things in their youth, only gradually outgrowing and/or sublimating such behaviour during their later careers. One hears, for example, that famous French writers like André Gide ('The Immoralist') and Jean Genet (who became 'Saint' Genet!) were pretty wild in their younger days ... More on this topic tomorrow.

April 24 - 2000
A few weekends ago I watched on television Frank Tashlin's Hollywood or Bust (1956) which was the last of the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedies. I watched it because of something that Hitchcock aficionado Richard Ducar had once told me: how a climactic scene set in the Paramount film studios showed an '8 m.p.h.' (8 miles per hour) sign that was clearly the same sign as figures momentarily in Vertigo when Scottie (James Stewart) first arrives at Gavin Elster's shipyard and asks directions from the gateman. (Hitchcock's cameo occurs here, and shows him walking past the gateway carrying a musical-instrument case.) Well, the sign is definitely there in Tashlin's film and, yes, it's the same sign that is glimpsed in Vertigo. Big deal, you may say! I wouldn't have bothered mentioning it now if it weren't for how this matter first came up. An academic, MF, had contacted me to ask why I thought the '8 m.p.h.' sign was in Hitchcock's film. The sign must be significant, thought MF, because he had never before seen such a sign and Hitchcock never left anything to chance, did he? I replied that Hitchcock was perfectly capable of incorporating 'found objects' into his mise-en-scène purely for the sake of their authenticity or verisimilitude - Hitch's British films have many such objects. I said I didn't really think that the sign in Vertigo 'meant' anything, although, if you were ingenious, you might speculate that the two circles of the figure 8 represented a play on the film's spiral motif! (Filmmaker Richard Franklin once excitedly pointed out to me how articles of crockery in Midge's and/or Scottie's apartments - I'm sorry, I forget if it was both or only one apartment - featured a circular or 'spiral' design.) But I told MF that I would ask on this website if anyone had any relevant theories or knew of real-life '8 m.p.h.' signs. And someone did reply saying that, yes, he remembered such a sign in a lumberyard from his childhood. But MF wasn't satisfied and kept asking around about the matter. Finally, Richard Ducar got in touch and pointed out how the '8 m.p.h.' sign had simply been re-used from the film Hollywood or Bust (and may have been a genuine part of the Paramount lot). Case closed, I'd say. But does anyone want to add anything?

April 19 - 2000
'Passive heroes' are quite common in Hitchcock, for various reasons. Jeff in Rear Window is confined to his wheelchair; Scottie in Vertigo is victim of Gavin Elster, who takes advantage of Scottie's acrophobia; Ballyntine in Spellbound has amnesia, and moreover finds himself thrown into prison as the climax approaches. Even Bob Lawrence in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) gets captured by Abbot's gang, and so doesn't participate in the big action scene at the Albert Hall; and Hannay in The 39 Steps (1935) is asleep during part of a crucial scene at the Argyle Arms, leaving Pamela to overhear the spies' plans for a showdown at the London Palladium. As all these examples show, something that the respective heroes' enforced passivity does is provide a reason why their partners must 'go into danger' (to quote Judy in Vertigo). This is both dramatic and avoids the cliché of the gung-ho hero who takes on and defeats all comers. It also allows Hitchcock to be cinematic in areas where films don't often go: e.g., the depiction of Scottie's catatonia in Vertigo's hospital scene. Hitchcock always enjoyed the challenge of what he called 'doing mental processes', i.e., showing the interior states of mind of his characters. His films are remarkable for the range of such processes that each contains, which is very satisfying to the viewer. Equally satisfying is Hitchcock's resourcefulness when faced with making otherwise static scenes interesting. He might achieve it with interior monologue, as when Norman Bates's 'mother' is heard commenting on Norman's passive, blanket-enshrouded figure in a police cell; by voice-over, as when the cell door clangs on Ballyntine and we hear a distraught Constance say that she'll 'fight and fight' to free him and prove his innocence; or just by music, such as that which playfully accompanies Pamela as she creeps to the inn balcony to overhear what the spies are saying on the telephone downstairs. In all such cases, Hitchcock gets the tone just right for the particular film. Interior monologue is apt in a film like Psycho, which is about interiority, after all; and the exaggerated, melodramatic tone of Spellbound is maintained throughout, in keeping with the constant threat that The Unconscious Mind poses to its hero and heroine. Hitchcock was the compleat filmmaker ...

April 18 - 2000
Someone else who recently contacted me with thoughts about Rear Window was another friend, academic DC, in Oklahoma. She asked me what I thought of this speculation of hers: 'I believe that there is a parallel between Jefferies' capturing moments of time from a distance with his camera as he photographs high-adventure type events and his capturing moments in time through his camera's eye (I) of those he views across the courtyard. In both instances, there is excitement and adventure, as well as vicarious living, from a safe vantage point - until one day, also in both instances, he gets too close! The camera (his "I") no longer protects him - he is totally vulnerable - stripped of his defenses. With the accident, he is forced to take stock of his complexes, the view across the courtyard being a metaphor for Jefferies' psychology.' Here's what I replied to 'De': 'Yes, Jeff has been 'like a tourist on an endless vacation', as Lisa puts it with some truth (though not the whole truth - Jeff has in fact been engaged in a risky, skilled and highly-paid job). Until his accident (and here I also think of Ballyntine, the doctor played by Gregory Peck in Spellbound [1945], whose amnesia precipitated a new stage in his life), Jeff was roaming and free - and creative. But confined to his wheelchair, which becomes almost a symbol of the domesticity he fears/resents, he finds himself relatively static and enclosed/unfree. And just as Ballyntine feared marriage (the symbolism of Spellbound's cut dream segment would have brought that out), so Jeff must now literally face the various choices involving marriage (happy or unhappy, or loneliness or ...) that are played out in the apartments opposite his. And I like/agree with your use of the phrase 'too close'. Hitch once said that 'reality is something that none of us can stand, at any time', and that is most graphically dramatised in Psycho [1960] where, as the psychiatrist says, when reality came 'too close' to Norman Bates he 'dressed up', i.e., began to go crazy. Jeff, too, is nearly pushed over the edge (!), and his confrontation with the bad father-figure Thorwald is where he effectively struggles to 'grow up' and accept marital responsibility - let's just hope it's not at the cost of his creativity. (A similar choice was involved at the end of Waltzes From Vienna [1933].) Returning to Spellbound for a moment, there was a final confrontation with a bad father-figure, Murchison, there, too - but the confronter was Ballyntine's friend, Constance. So Constance is a bit like Lisa who also goes into danger for a noticeably passive hero.

April 17 - 2000
My thanks to recent correspondents. Tonight I must give prominence to a message from Dr AK in France who favours me with a lesson in clear-thinking to correct something I wrote here last month. I had speculated whether in Hitchcock's Aventure Malgache (1944) the 'nonsense messages' broadcast by the Resistance leader Clarouse and which so baffle the police chief Michel weren't the inspiration for the scene in Jean Cocteau's Orphée (1949) where the Poet listens to similar baffling messages broadcast from the Underworld, and the Poet tries to interpret them. In fact, as my correspondent points out, both scenes probably had a common source in radio messages transmitted from Great Britain during the War and targeted at various Resistance organisations and individuals. '[T]hose messages were more a part of the "WW2 collective mind" of everyone in France than anything else. But there [may well be] a link between what Hitch shows, the BBC messages, and what Cocteau includes in his movie.' Someone else who was in touch with me recently was friend Sarah Nichols in Connecticut, who noted the discussion here of Hitchcock's Rear Window. Sarah wrote: 'I too saw Rear Window (the restored version) in February, and I was put in mind of Edward Hopper: the little tableaux [in the various] apartments evoked his work vividly for me, especially with the heightened color and clearer detail in the image.' I'll probably have more to say on Rear Window tomorrow.

April 12 - 2000
That African fertility symbol on the wall of Jeff's apartment in Rear Window that I mentioned yesterday reminds me of similar symbolism during the famous 'Hot Voodoo' number performed by Marlene Dietrich in a gorilla skin in Josef Von Sternberg's Blonde Venus (1931). As Dietrich removes the gorilla skin to reveal the spangles and feathers she is wearing beneath it, a line of male dancers, dressed as natives, brandish shields that are vulva-shaped and bear a motif of teeth, clearly an invocation of the feared vagina dentata. So perhaps when Jeff places a similar emblem on his apartment wall it is to ward off what he fears, by propitiatory magic! (His relations with Lisa do seem to betray a certain fear of being 'devoured' by her!) In turn, JG's point, which I cited yesterday, about the 'deathly' look of Jeff's apartment, seems relevant. JG has a follow-up comment about this. 'Getting back', he writes, 'to the chaos and clutter of Jefferies' apartment. This detritus of Jefferies' subconscious also indicates that he is undergoing a change. Note that the cameras that were destroyed in the auto accident are old-fashioned "accordion-box" cameras, whereas the camera he uses for spying is sleek and new. I think this indicates that there is an "old Jefferies" who has "died", and a "new Jefferies" who is coming to life.' Yes, and this fits with my own analysis in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' of how Jeff and Lisa eventually submerge their differences, and merge their common interests, as the film moves to its climactic showdown with the forbidding ('evil') father-figure, Thorwald ...

April 11 - 2000
Rear Window (1954) is the Hitchcock film in which he finally achieved what he'd wanted to do since The Lodger (1926): have a sympathetic character whom the audience suspect may be a murderer eventually turn out to be exactly that. (In The Lodger and Suspicion [1941], he'd had to 'reprieve' the suspected person at the last minute, even if with an ambiguity which left the matter not quite clear-cut; while in Shadow of a Doubt [1943], it becomes clear fairly early in the piece - certainly by the end of the public library scene - that Uncle Charlie is indeed a serial killer.) Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) in Rear Window murders his nagging wife, but he is depicted quite sympathetically until he turns into a doppel-gänger-like avenger at the end. But we were talking yesterday about symbolism, especially sexual symbolism, in Rear Window. Jeff (James Stewart) is temporarily the passive voyeur as a result of an injury incurred when taking photographs at a motor race-track. Many of the photographs on his walls, notes correspondent JG, depict scenes of violence: explosions, auto accidents, a capsizing boat. At one level, they underscore Jeff's penchant for macho risk-taking, but JG feels that they are also consistent with a generally 'deathly' look of the apartment, 'decorated in muted tones of brown and grey', whose only flowers 'are dried and brown and hanging upside down'. Interestingly, directly opposite these is the film's most blatant sexual symbol, which nobody ever seems to comment on, and which I think is an African fertility symbol, one more souvenir of Jeff's travels. It is really an image of the female genitalia, and, like the dried flowers, it hangs upside down on the wall. (There's a photo of it on p. 129 of the UK edition of 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'.) It is perhaps the equivalent of the busty image of a woman from off a ship's prow seen in the bachelor cottage of Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) in The Trouble With Harry (1955) - another souvenir of foreign travels, though, significantly, these turn out to have been largely fabricated by the Captain. In the case of Rear Window, we may sense something just slightly too macho, and arrogant, about the one-sided Jeff, and which the display of the African fertility symbol on his wall betrays. More tomorrow.

April 10 - 2000
JG wrote to me to enumerate some of the sexual symbolism that is in Rear Window. His message begins: 'When the emasculated-by-his-plaster-cast James Stewart scratches [his] itch, am I alone in seeing a suggestion of masturbation? It certainly would fit the character's psyche!' There's indeed an emphasis throughout the film on Jeff's frustration, especially in the early scenes. There's even a sexual reversal of roles, inasmuch that Lisa is wooing Jeff rather than the other way around: note her gift to him of a silver cigarette-box and her 'taking him to dinner' when she employs a waiter from the 21 Club to personally deliver a 'perfect-as-always' meal, including champagne, to Jeff's apartment. (Jeff's 'perfect-as-always' remark actually refers to everything that Lisa does, and is. His enforced 'impotence', and the threat that Lisa represents to his continuing career as a roving photographer - she wants him to settle down with her - almost see him losing interest in her: there's a similar theme, with similar 'Oedipal' connotations, in Hitchcock's Waltzes from Vienna [1933].) The moment when the elderly waiter takes the champagne bottle from Jeff with a polite 'Let me [open it], sir', is a pointed piece of symbolism. Similarly, JG refers to several moments when the photos of violence on the walls of the apartment - memorabilia of Jeff's macho self - are given pointed emphasis in the story: e.g., at the height of a disagreement between Jeff and his detective friend Doyle, the camera emphasises the photo of an explosion on the wall behind them. There's also a moment 'when Lisa and Jeff are consoling each other after the detective has evidently shattered their theory [about a murder having taken place in the apartment opposite]. In the background of the lengthy two-shot is a photo of a capsizing boat, something else that doesn't hold water!' Speaking of symbolism, there's one blatant piece of sexual symbolism in the film that nobody ever seems to mention. (However, I haven't yet read a new book on Rear Window edited by John Belton ...) I'll talk about that tomorrow.

April 5 - 2000
Entries here for a while are likely to be on Rear Window! Various correspondents have been venturing ideas to me about it - which I hope to share - and in addition I've been reading the very useful article by Ross Care called "Rear Window: The Music of Sound" in 'Scarlet Street' #37, pp. 60-63, 76. The article nicely supplements "The Subjective Film: Rear Window" which is a chapter in Elisabeth Weis's 'The Silent Scream: Alfred Hitchcock's Sound Track' (1982). Weis makes the following comment on the film's opening: 'One can make a case that all the music in the film is source music [i.e., given a source, such as a radio, in the film itself], although the source is not always identified. Even the title music, arranged in a jazz idiom by Franz Waxman, is provided with a source, if we care to attribute one to it. As the title sequence ends the camera pans to a radio; the music comes to an end and is replaced by a commercial, which a composer, whose radio this is, turns off.' (p. 110) Yes, and if we listen carefully we may notice that the title music from the beginning is given an echo effect that nicely suggests - and represents - the cavernous courtyard and its surrounding apartments, themselves an externalisation of hero Jeff's 'inner life' and conflicting fantasies. Ross Care's description of the film's opening makes an interesting comparison with Weis's. Here it is. 'The film opens with Waxman's "Main Title," a bustling, modernistic Street Scene-style scherzo, vividly orchestral but jazz tinged. Given the source-based function of music in the rest of the film, it's surprising that Hitchcock opted for a standard "Main Title" at all, though Waxman's work is, as always, anything but standard or conventional. The credit music also serves as a transition into the opening scenes, the orchestral strains gradually growing more distant (and reverbed, an electronic echo effect) as the camera trucks out of a picture window to investigate the morning activities of the rear court ...'

April 4 - 2000
Tonight I'll continue my 'browsing' in Elisabeth Weis's 'The Silent Scream'. (Later, I want to mention her excellent analysis of the soundtrack of Rear Window.) Something else that Weis says in her book's Introduction (p. 19) is this: 'During a Hitchcock film we are typically looking at one thing or person while listening to another. By separating sound and image Hitchcock can thus achieve variety, denseness, tension, and on occasion, irony. A simple example of ironic counterpoint is the opening of the trial sequence in Murder! (1930), where Hitchcock deflates the dignity of the court proceedings by undermining the sound of a trumpet fanfare with a shot of the judge blowing his nose.' Another way of putting this is to say that Hitchcock's films never allow us to stray from the human dimension for long. (For some reason, I think here of Hitchcock's remark to Truffaut that 'directors who lose control are concerned with the abstract'.) Of course, the range of effects achieved by such 'deflating' is considerable. In the underrated Number Seventeen (1932), the effect is indeed one of comedy. No sooner has the crook Brandt (Donald Calthrop) made a threatening gesture with a gun than he gratuitously sneezes, and an absurdly brandished handkerchief is the scene's pay-off. But things are understandably more serious in I Confess (1953) where in almost successive shots of a jury listening to a murder trial a juror in the top left-hand corner of the frame blows his nose and then another juror in the bottom right-hand corner combs his hair to cover his bald patch. These gestures are again very human but they also relate to the sense of mortality that is so strong in the film (cf., say, the shot of a crippled girl in the street, or the several shots of black smoke hovering over Quebec City like a pall).

April 3 - 2000
In general, as the philosopher Schopenhauer long ago pointed out, sight is an active faculty, hearing a passive one. (One of the reasons Schopenhauer is so relevant to film study - and Professor Don Cupitt once claimed that the German philosopher had exercised an inestimable influence on the modern film - is that his interest in both Will and Representation, roughly cause and effect, led him constantly to examine the whole range of phenomena, including the matter of perception itself.) But some film directors, more than others, allow their audiences to choose, including in matters of sound. Thus Elisabeth Weis on page 16 of her book 'The Silent Scream' (see above, March 23) attributes to Jean Renoir the use of what she calls 'deep-focus' recording that allows us to choose between listening to the characters in the foreground or those in the background. (Unfortunately she gives no examples.) I think Hitchcock would have been appalled at such 'waste', such apparent superfluity of effect. As Weis indicates, he was always concerned with a synthesis of effects constantly moving the audience in the direction he required - like a composer and his score. (It's hard to think of Hitchcock ever playing jazz.) When in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) different members of the Newton family talk across or over each other, it's because Hitchcock and Thornton Wilder want us to feel a certain 'homeliness' about these people. Or in Rope (1948), where different conversations occur in proximity, and sometimes our attention literally moves from one group to the next, it's because Hitchcock and Arthur Laurents want us to feel the sense of mingling at a party, or, on at least one occasion, a sense of alienation from the general light-heartedness (as when we see that housekeeper Mrs Wilson may be about to open the chest in the middle of the room, apparently without either Brandon or Phillip noticing, and the sounds of conversation become secondary).

March 29 - 2000
Speaking of Topaz ... In another note from reader JG (see March 27, above) he writes: 'Not to labor a previous point, but another wonderful example of Hitchcock's use of "natural" soundtrack to emphasize life-force is in Topaz. Here's how I recall it: While the French agent [Frederick Stafford] steps into the walk-in cooler to talk to his Haitian florist contact, in a typical Hitchcock moment, the characters are [aurally] cut off from us. Those characters - at least one of whom we could read as passing from death to life in this scene - are silenced, and all we hear are the vibrant Manhattan street sounds. As you may remember, during their entire "silent conversation", the florist is holding a funeral wreath! Just as that silent conversation will lead directly to the death of the Cuban double agent, its symbolism serves to foreshadow that event. This is a brillliant example of Hitch's ability to use symbolism to both drive the plot forward and emphasize his themes.' So it is. The flowers are one of many such images in the film, a symbol of the 'lost paradise' idea whose principal icon (and dramatisation) are the Cuban scenes. (When JG says that the French agent, Devéreaux, passes from death to life in the florist scene, I take him to be referring to how Devéreaux will soon be flying to Cuba and his mistress, the ill-fated Juanita.) Something else the florist scene does is set us up for the extended 'mime' scene that follows, in Harlem, as Devéreaux himself becomes the excluded watcher from across a street - until events suddenly erupt and he finds himself in the midst of them. This 'setting up' is typical of Hitchcock: the murder-at-a-funfair in Strangers on a Train (1951) works in similar fashion. But essentially I agree with JG that the florist scene is a subliminal reminder of the 'flow of life' (inseparable from the 'flow of death') that Topaz is very much about: cf., say, the fountain shots in Copenhagen and Cuba.

March 28 - 2000
I hope our website readers like the 'new look' that is gradually being applied to the various pages of the site. I thank reader JJ in the Netherlands for his suggestion and guidance - Jeremy (that's his name) is majoring in webdesign at the School of High Arts in Utrecht. He has my gratitude. (Other, non-cosmetic, changes are coming - as soon as I can grab time - including an updating of our New Publications page.) But we were talking yesterday about the 'life-force' (which is also a death-force) that is often visibly, and audibly, displayed in Hitchcock's movies. As I've said so often, it, and its effects, is akin to what the philosopher Schopenhauer called the working of a blind cosmic Will, and notable among those effects is suffering. In my book I've briefly analysed The Birds (1963) to show how that process works, and how well the film illustrates some key Schopenhauerian insights - including the need for compassion so as to at least nullify for a time the Will's adverse effects. In Hitchcock's films, this whole matter is connected with the recurring motif of a 'lost paradise', and perhaps nowhere (except in Hitchcock's Vertigo [1958]?) is it better illustrated than in Topaz (1969). Yesterday I finally watched on video the 'complete' version of Topaz, with its approximately 17 minutes of extra footage. The film stands up very well indeed. In its Cuban scenes, in particular, the viewer feels the working of blind Will, whose most essential manifestation in humans is a drive for 'colour, excitement, power, freedom' (to quote Vertigo), including sexual and political power; the island of Cuba is visibly a 'lost paradise'; and suffering is given a virtual iconic representation, notably in one striking 'pietà' image. More tomorrow.

March 27 - 2000
On this topic of the life-force in Hitchcock's films, and the matter of why 'evil heroes' are often so much more fascinating than 'good' characters (March 21 and 22, above), reader JG has several interesting comments. 'For me,' he writes, ' the clearest demonstration of this is in the Disney cartoons, where the evil stepmother is far more interesting than the heroine. Perhaps that is because the evil stepmother gives free rein to her desires and greed (feelings which we all secretly share) and the heroine is basically self-satisfied: Snow White was just as happy singing to the squirrels as she was dancing with Prince Charming.' An amusing thought! No doubt the Disney artists were instructed to tone down - or eliminate - the sexual nature of Snow White, whereas, as I've often noted here, the philosopher Schopenhauer stressed that the essence of the life-force (the cosmic 'Will', or, in humans, our 'will-to-life') is sexual, through and through. JG seems to pick up on that idea when he adds: 'in a Schopenhauerian twist, the waiflike Sleeping Beauty couldn't hold a candle (or a spindle) to the evil queen who could transmogrify into an 80-foot-tall dragon at will.' (Sounds suggestive!) Turning to Hitchcock, JG makes this comment: 'a prime example of how a "natural" soundtrack indicates the presence of a life-force is in Rear Window [1954]. Contrast the claustrophobic silence of Stewart's apartment with the ambient noises of the courtyard and the traffic beyond, where Stewart's fantasy life (which is, of course, the locus of the only real life in the movie) takes place.' Excellent point, for indeed so often in Hitchcock a film begins - and continues - with the hero feeling cut off from 'life', even though 'life' always remains effectively a subjective matter (as Schopenhauer told us). More on this tomorrow. Meanwhile, here's a link to a brilliant new exposition of a connection Schopenhauer saw between Will and suffering: Sex and Schopenhauer.

March 23 - 2000
An excellent book on Hitchcock, often overlooked, is Elisabeth Weis's 'The Silent Scream: Alfred Hitchcock's Sound Track' (1982). Here's a quote from early in the book (p. 17): 'Hitchcock does not take for granted the conventional functions of [the language, music, and sound effects tracks of a film]; there is an intermingling of their functions in many instances. In three films where Hitchcock eliminates musical scoring, for example, he uses sound effects to much the same atmospheric effect: wind in Jamaica Inn (1939), waves in Lifeboat (1943), bird cries in The Birds [1963].' Something I find interesting about this observation, in the light of our recent discussion of the life-force (that is also a death-force) in Hitchcock, is that these three films all exemplify the presence of a 'force' (as Weis's description itself indicates) from the opening titles onwards. In Jamaica Inn, the wording of the titles is visibly washed away by breaking waves, just as the wording of the titles of The Birds is pecked away by diving birds. And in Lifeboat (whose very title is significant, of course) the flames and smoke from a sinking ship's funnel are dramatically extinguished by the waves that wash over it (a similar effect is used for the titles sequence of Torn Curtain, where fog and steam soon smother the sun-like flames burning on the left of screen). 'Life against death' is what Hitchcock's films are invariably about, and that contest is typically identified with nature and the working of a natural force ...

March 22 - 2000
No sooner had I written yesterday's entry, above, than I was gratified to see a further posting on the subject of 'evil heroes' appear on the academic film site I mentioned. It was written by JD of Kyoto, Japan, and reads as follows: 'Literature and film are filled with evil heroes, aren't they - the problem for Milton, as for others, was that the devil was so much more attractive than the good [characters]. Isn't the answer to this that humans respond more to vitality than morality? In other words, exemplifying the life force seems to carry much greater weight than being an exemplary human being. In modern civilisation we are so used to defining ourselves as moral citizens that we forget or are totally unconscious of more innate instincts. Or perhaps it's an unconscious realisation that good and evil are very dubious concepts...' Yes, and something else I was going to say yesterday was that not only individual characters in Hitchcock (Bruno in Strangers on a Train, the 'conspirators' in The Trouble With Harry, Marion in Psycho) exemplify the life-force, but so do many of the films themselves - notably the 'picaresque' thrillers like The 39 Steps (1935), Saboteur (1942), North by Northwest (1959), et al., all of which have defining moments which show us individuals cut off from 'life' (e.g., the crofter's wife yearning for the lights of the city, a very Murnau-esque scene, in The 39 Steps; the hermit in the woods in Saboteur; the lady in the hotel room at Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest). More tomorrow.

March 21 - 2000
One of the academic film sites on the Internet is currently noting the presence in certain films and plays of the 'evil hero' or 'evil protagonist'. One correspondent writes: 'I have been thinking about Monty Clift in A Place in the Sun [1951]. Why do we consider him the hero, when he commits a crime? Why don't we feel pity for poor Shelley Winters? ... Very problematic film.' Indeed it is - quite Hitchcockian in fact. Hitchcock seems to have been impressed by it (interestingly, it has plot parallels with his own Strangers on a Train, also 1951), and cast Clift in his next film, I Confess (1953). Another correspondent writes: 'Evil heroes ... are not impossible. Two examples: Richard III [any version], has held the popular imagination since the late 1500s because the audience finds a guilty pleasure in the treachery of Richard III. The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) has much the same appeal. Tom Ripley, as intended by Patricia Highsmith, his creator, is an almost noble esthete whose life-style is supported by fraud, treachery, and murder, all of which are disregarded by the audience.' Yes, and again such protagonists are typical of Hitchcock's films, where the life-force (or life-essence), in all its amoral permutations, is constantly on show. ('Everything's perverted in a different way', Hitchcock once said, sagely.) Bruno in Strangers on a Train actually speaks of 'harnessing the life-force', which is very quixotic of him. Then there are are the various characters in The Trouble With Harry (1955), whose amoral escapades are accompanied by images of the turning seasons. (That film's originally-intended titles sequence, of a maple leaf budding, growing, and shrivelling in death, would have underlined the idea of a life-force.) Hitchcock himself could never quite explain why audiences should identify with someone like Marnie, and want her to get away with her crimes, but clearly there's a defiance by such characters of an over-civilised, repressed society. Significantly, Marnie (1964) has a strong 'zoological (or 'biological') motif running through it ...

March 20 - 2000
Here's another parallel between two films. Today I watched the Spanish film All About My Mother (1999), directed by Pedro Almodóvar, who acknowledges that his work generally has been influenced by Hitchcock, Sirk, Wilder, et al. Describing the film to a friend in a letter, I wrote, 'you feel Almodóvar knows [his characters] and their worlds, and are entranced by the accepting, humorous way he depicts them. ... I bet you loved the moment when [the prostitute] Agrado ... says something to the effect that "we're all girls together here - reminds me of How to Marry a Millionaire". Then Agrado proceeds to observe (as I recall) that "it's a bit like Lesbo" (as the sub-titles put it).' I added that Australian critic Adrian Martin seems to see more deeply than American critic Roger Ebert the metaphoric content of all this. 'The latter merely writes that "this is a film that paradoxically expresses family values ... Families are where you find them and how you make them" - all of which is true enough. But [Martin] goes further. He writes: "the most important dream of all is to merge all these types of family in a single generous community".' I couldn't agree more, which is where the Hitchcock parallel comes in. I recently wrote an article referring to Hitchcock's 1927 film of Noël Coward's Easy Virtue. In the article, I noted the farewell kiss in close-up between the wronged heroine Larita and her friend Sarah, and how the kiss suggests 'Hitchcock's belief in a free-flowing Eros as the surest means of keeping us all human'. And I added: 'The kiss is not a lesbian moment, but it stands out in contrast to the general coldness of Moat House whose other occupants ... have shown themselves so short on fellow-feeling and sympathy.' Interesting to note that both Almodóvar and Noël Coward are gay artists - and that Hitchcock appears 'big' enough to accommodate their visions to his ...

March 17 - 2000
(late) Transmuting melodrama into poetry ... Hitchcock made two wartime short films, in French, for the British Ministry of Information, Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache (both 1944). It is generally reported that only the former was actually shown in France. But I wonder. There's a scene in Aventure Malgache/Madagascar Adventure in which the weak chief of police, Jean Michel, who is no intellectual match for the Resistance leader, the barrister Clarousse, listens on a radio to a series of Resistance broadcasts from offshore that appear to be nonsense. We see Michel puzzling over such messages as 'Get stuffed. Where's the butter?' and 'The chestnuts will be ripe on the 35th of April'. Surely, I ask myself, this scene was the inspiration for the famous scene in the French film, Jean Cocteau's Orphée/Orpheus (1949), in which the Poet (Jean Marais) listens on his car radio to a series of 'nonsensical' broadacasts supposedly emanating from the 'underworld', but which, increasingly obsessed, he believes to be profound, and which he hopes will reveal how he can contact his wife who has been kidnapped by Death. In which case, of course, behind both of these scenes may be the episode in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935), adapted from one in John Buchan's novel, in which Hannay (Robert Donat) gives an impromptu nonsense speech at a political rally and is warmly applauded by his audience!

March 16 - 2000
'The Editor's Day' hereby resumes, in very low-key mode. The new hard-copy 'MacGuffin' is now out, which should leave me some time and space to update this site a bit in the coming weeks. However, I'll also try to rush out our next hard-copy 'MacGuffin', which will be mainly devoted to book reviews. More tomorrow.

February 9 - 2000
(very late) To truly understand where Lifeboat, and many other Hitchcock films, such as The Birds, are finally headed, you need to grasp that Hitchcock's global viewpoint gives him an insight into the nature of the world, including human nature, that resembles nothing so much as the brilliant, compassionate (yet sceptical and pessimistic) understanding by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) of what he calls the world's 'Will', i.e., the immanent life-force that is also a death-force, and whose main manifestation in humans and other life-forms is sexuality. (Schopenhauer laid the way for Nietzsche and Freud, though in some important aspects of his understanding, he certainly saw better than they did how things like human libido and human aspiration form part of a bigger picture. Not for nothing have commentators like Christopher Janaway and Bryan Magee noted that Schopenhauer remains the only major Western philosopher who has even begun to bridge Western and Eastern thought.) Now, for much of the time, the Allies in Lifeboat are far from detached or unselfish, 'désintéressée', and it's apt that they finally engage in a sickening act of retributive killing, against the German Willi (Walter Slezak), which the script describes as an 'orgasm of murder'. The only non-participant in the killing is the gentle Negro steward, Joe (Canada Lee). And only in the immediate 'post-orgasmic' part of the film, and after one more scary reminder of their own mortality, can anyone among the Allies begin to ask even half-detachedly what it is that they have learnt from their recent trials. Is there an alternative to constant killing? Constance replies that maybe the dead Mrs Iggley (Heather Angel) and Gus (William Bendix) are the ones to answer that, which I take to refer to the need to be less cold-hearted (cf. a line in Saboteur [1942]), i.e., to become more capable of real compassion. Such a lesson, which I also see as informing the end of such films as The Birds, Marnie (1964), and Torn Curtain (1966), is the very one taught by Schopenhauer, who saw in disinterested compassion, such as great art might (however briefly) instil in us, a means for us to open up to the essential Oneness of things, of which we're all a part. Of course, I also see that Hitchcock, again like Schopenhauer, could envisage no way that this insight could ever be realised except in such limited senses as I've just indicated. (Art and mysticism and love have an eternal task to do what they can, but it will never be enough.) In his films, Hitchcock moves between Romanticism and realpolitik, and each polarity qualifies the outlook of the other, but neither is absolutely predominant

February 8 - 2000
(also late) When, near the end of Lifeboat, Connie uses her expensive bracelet as a bait for fish, and thus becomes a potential saviour of the boat's starving passengers, she exemplifies someone who has reached her wit's end and who only then has become amenable to fresh influences, fresh inspiration. (No doubt, fish have been swimming near the lifeboat since the film began.) This situation recalls the Biblical teaching that in order to save your life it is necessary to lose it. In the course of the film, as Hitchcock noted to Truffaut, Connie loses a succession of belongings, to all of which she had become attached. To quote the Bible again, it is as easy for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Yet Connie gets her inspiration for using her bracelet as bait only after she has come close to swearing, and has just exclaimed, 'Ye gods and little fishes!' She's no pious Christian saint! Moreover, Hitchcock immediately undercuts any easy lesson-drawing because not only the bracelet is lost but also the fish that it had helped to catch. Now a new threat to the boat's passengers appears: a German supply-ship, and with it the prospect of spending the duration of the war in a concentration camp. Of course, Paul Lesch (see yesterday's entry) is right to emphasise that the Allies, Connie among them, become more 'désintéressée' (unselfish) by the end of the film. Just about the only qualification I would make about that might be expressed by saying that there are no saints in Hitchcock (which would make for undramatic and/or uncinematic scenes). What Connie and the other Allies in the lifeboat finally attain is probably no more than an enlightened higher selfishness, a capacity to overcome their personal self-interests for the sake of a common - as far as the Allies are concerned - self-interest. And even that is shaky, unlikely to last once it has served its expedient purpose. Nonetheless, I think that the film itself posits a more detached (unselfish) viewpoint again, a truly impersonal one open to the universal Oneness of everything. (In a different way, concerned with matters of sexuality, Notorious [1946] has a similar structure, as critic Adrian Martin has recently noted on the 'Senses of Cinema' website, where he refers to that film's impressively generous, 'bisexual' empathies.) More tomorrow

February 7 - 2000
(late) I'm very grateful to Paul Lesch in Luxembourg who recently sent me copies of the publication 'Three Spotlights on Hitch' issued by the Cinémathèque of the City of Luxembourg. Paul, a film historian and film teacher, contributes one of three papers to the publication. His own very informative piece is the longest, and is called "L'antinazisme dans les films d'Alfred Hitchcock (1938-1944)". The other, relatively short pieces, by Dr Jörg Helbig and Dr Uli Jung, are in German, and concern Hitchcock's British thrillers of the 1930s and his work for television in the 1950s and 1960s. Paul's email address is . On Monday, I sat down with a French-speaking friend, Inge, to translate Paul's article, which we much enjoyed. But we struck a small problem, mainly of our own doing, which concerned Paul's use of the term 'désintéressement' in relation to Lifeboat (1944). Inge wondered if the term wasn't being used in a political sense that we were missing. So I emailed Paul and received back this prompt reply. '"[D]ésintéressement", wrote Paul, 'means "unselfishness": The Americans should unite their forces and forget about their frictions and differences. They should stop thinking only about themselves. When Connie [Tallulah Bankhead] finally uses her expensive jewellery as a bait for the fish, she finally has learned the lesson and becomes désintéressée"/unselfish. Don't you agree?' Well, I do indeed agree, if with a qualification which I'll talk about here tomorrow. Connie in Lifeboat is like some other Hitchcock heroines who are chastened, and brought out of themselves, such as Pamela in The 39 Steps (1935), Iris Henderson in The Lady Vanishes (1938), and, quintessentially, Melanie Daniels in The Birds (1963).

February 2 - 2000
In discussing Hitchcock's films, I often have occasion to refer to his use of particular 'sources', perhaps a scene from another film that he has modified to his own purposes. A scene on the ferry in I Confess (1953) seems to evoke shots from propaganda films of the time, shown in cinemas and halls and on TV, urging Americans to be vigilant about the Communists 'in our midst'. (Father Logan meets with Madame Grandfort on the ferry and half suspects that their clandestine meeting is being observed by a police spy: the film cuts to various ferry passengers, any one of whom might conceivably be a disguised policeman, and these subjective-shots, from Logan's point of view, are like shots in the anti-Communist propaganda films whose purpose was to suggest that Communists were 'everywhere' and that anyone might be 'one of them'.) This gave me the same idea as William Rothman recounts in his book 'Hitchcock: the murderous gaze' (1982): 'I have always associated this film's bleakness with the dark moment in the history of Hollywood at which it was made: its story about the courage and despair of a man scorned for his refusal to testify under interrogation is a thinly veiled allegory of McCarthyism and the blacklist.' (p. 248) My point tonight is that a critical investigation, or approach, that deals sensitively and in scholarly fashion with Hitchcock's 'sources' is potentially as valuable a way of gaining access to the dynamics and 'meaning' of the films as just about any other approach (e.g., a study of how Hitchcock's use of 'typage'/faces reflects the milieux in which the characters live). Such an approach has the added advantage of being film-based (or anyway based in the culture that Hitchcock was familiar with, as reflected in, say, popular novels and films of his day), rather than 'imposed' unfeelingly from without, as too often seems to happen when someone tries to apply 'theoretical' models to Hitchcock's work ...

February 1 - 2000
There's a small howler in Paul Condon and Jim Sangster's book, 'The Complete Hitchcock' (1999), which I can't resist citing here. In their entry on Hitchcock's Champagne (1928), the authors list among the cast one 'Jack Trevor Story (Officer - credited as Jack Trevor)'. Later in the entry they say that 'Jack Trevor Story wrote the novel The Trouble With Harry, filmed by Hitchcock in 1955'. The trouble is that the author of 'The Trouble With Harry' (1949) was decidedly not the person who played the Officer in Champagne. It would have been a remarkable feat if he were - he was born in 1917. (His father, in case you're wondering, was a house decorator and painter, and was killed in France in 1918.) Just for the record, then, here's some further information about the author of 'The Trouble With Harry', taken largely from research I did for 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'. First, Story was a prolific author of comic novels. 'The Trouble With Harry', his first to be published, was one of his best, and has been widely translated. Later he wrote a series of rather scabrous, highly enjoyable novels featuring a character called 'Alfred Argyle', a door-to-door salesman in an English provincial town. Story was a bit of an eccentric, and at one point lived with a poodle in the Hertfordshire woods, where the novel of Harry is set. In appearance, he was a dead-ringer for Frank Sinatra! 'Harry' is a favourite novel of mine. Hitchcock's film, from John Michael Hayes's screenplay, sticks to it very closely. Here, then, is the passage in the novel describing how the dead Harry (the novel's, and the film's, 'MacGuffin') inspired artist Sam Marlowe to paint its portrait ... 'The dead face of the dead man had given [Sam] the inspiration he needed. The dead face of this man held the millions and millions of dead faces of all the centuries. In that dead face lay all dead humanity; all cold history; all the odd attitudes and mistakes. He would paint the faces of the world that had been. All the thousands of faces massed together. All the staring eyes of the people as they stood wondering, laughing, weeping, and dull with misunderstanding and ignorance. The faces of the Jews and the Gentiles, the Romans and the Egyptians and the Greeks ... the [faces of] people of every day in every country, all standing looking and not knowing.' Quite brilliantly, Hitchcock caught the essence of this passage in his film's credits sequence, loosely based on the work of his favourite painter, Paul Klee ...

January 31 - 2000
Thanks to various recent correspondents. Friend Bill Krohn reports that his book 'Hitchcock au travail' has been voted best large-format film book by the French Critics Association, and that the English edition, 'Hitchcock at Work', is due out in March. Meanwhile, Richard Carnahan has sent along a copy of Bill Desowitz's recent report on the restored Rear Window (1954) that appeared in the 'Los Angeles Times' on January 27. Desowitz provides information about the revived dye-transfer process used in the restoration (see 'News' item below). 'The reds and the greens [of the restored print] absolutely shine', he writes. 'And there's fabulous shadow detail. That's the beauty of the ... dye-transfer process, which separates the colors into three special film matrices, which are discreet records of the color information. Complimentary dyes are then added to each matrix, which results in truer and more vibrant primary hues as well as sharper blacks, whiter whites and increased sharpness. ... The [film's] enormous set seems even more impressive. After a while, you forget that you're looking at a set. At last, Hitchcock's strategy becomes clear: dazzle us with brilliant bursts of color to offset the dull brick courtyard beyond [James] Stewart's rear window. But nothing dazzles more than the sight of [Grace] Kelly in all her beauty and glamor. She's the real revelation of this restoration, looking absolutely gorgeous, as if she stepped right off the cover of Harper's Bazaar. ... The magical moment when Kelly makes her grand entrance to kiss Stewart melts away any preconceived notions of her merely as a cool blond. She flaunts her sexuality as never before in a Hitchcock film. Kelly was made for dye-transfer, with her elegant black and white dress, glistening pearl necklace and earrings, red lipstick and creamy complexion. ... Oddly enough, the restoration heightens the perversity of Stewart's obsession with his neighbours. To think that anyone or anything could pull him away from the mesmerizing Kelly crystallizes his fear of commitment. If anything, we feel even more sympathy for her romantic plight.'

January 26 - 2000
Dimitri Tymoczko's article on the Sublime, from which I've been quoting in the past few entries here, doesn't think that Kant's quasi-religious 'explanation' of the Sublime works as well as Edmund Burke's 'neatly physiological account'. Nonetheless, Tymoczko praises Kant's conception because 'it led him to endorse a kind of artistic self-abnegation that seems strikingly modern in conception'. Tymoczko quotes this example of sublimity given by Kant: 'Perhaps there has never been a more sublime utterance, or a thought more sublimely expressed, than the well-known inscription upon the Temple of Isis (Mother Nature): "I am all that is, and that was, and that shall be, and no mortal hath raised the veil from before my face." Segner [1704-1777] made use of this idea in a suggestive vignette, on the frontispiece of his Natural Philosophy, in order to inspire his pupil at the threshold of that temple into which he was about to lead him, with such a holy awe as would dispose his mind to serious attention.' Now let's return to Hitchcock's Marnie. The first thing I'd say is that I think the film does subtly insinuate in us a sense of the vast unknown, including the natural world. (The philosopher Schopenhauer, himself an authority on the Sublime, called this numinous, essentially unknowable entity the world's 'Will', a life-force that is also a death-force, something that I think many Hitchcock films evoke.) Largely it is a matter of imagery, including some very beautiful, if not themselves sublime, long-shots that run as a motif through the film. Then, too, as I note in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', there's a moment in the film when Mark Rutland half-quotes (indeed, misquotes, as his sister-in-law, Lil Mainwaring, points out) a passage from one of Emerson's 'Voluntaries'. The full passage in Emerson is famous because of these lines: 'So nigh is grandeur to our dust,/ So near is God to man.' Clearly that passage by the so-called 'Transcendentalist' poet, Emerson, is very close to Kant's conception of the Sublime. And the very fact that Hitchcock alludes to it in his 'mere' suspense film called Marnie is part of that film's sublimely beautiful conception which is indeed self-abnegating though also related to how Marnie's quest for 'freedom' echoes the quest that perhaps every person makes who is sufficiently alive ...

January 25 - 2000
After stealing money from the safe in the drab Rutland office, Marnie rides Forio near a grove of trees in a field, and the sun glints on her long, golden hair. The sense of release is palpable - but not too much, because Marnie soon reins Forio around and rides back towards the camera, where she is suddenly shocked to see Mark Rutland waiting for her. 'Get down', he orders. Thus the sequence gives us mixed messages. On the one hand, Marnie clearly longs for a feeling of release (from constant repression and her double-life as a thief), and even seems to delude herself that she has found such release, riding Forio. The emphasis on her golden hair runs through the film as a leitmotiv, harking back to her childhood when she was her mother's darling (little Jessie in the film is like the young Marnie, and has somewhat usurped Marnie's place in her mother's affections, or so Marnie feels). Her glowing hair manages to suggest her self-image as still a 'little angel' (cf. related ironic 'angels' imagery in Psycho when Marion steals money and runs away), implying the 'lost paradise' of her childhood. On the other hand, a part of the adult Marnie is too intelligent not to know that she is trying to delude herself. So the sense of release in this sequence is only partial, if still quite moving, even as it lays a foundation for the greater sense of release when, later, Marnie rides Forio at full gallop across the open countryside - before, again, disaster strikes, and Forio clips a wall and has to be destroyed. Now here's a further observation by Dimitri Tymoczko, talking about Kant's conception of the Sublime: 'Kant argues that the pleasurable "discharge" [of momentarily pent-up vital forces] is caused by the unconscious realization that we are in possession of "ideas" that can never be satisfied in human experience. These non-empirical ideas-which include our ideas of God, the Soul, and the World-are evidence of our status as non-material, transcendent beings: although we cannot comprehend the whole of a large cathedral, we can recognize, in our very failure, a human need for total comprehension ... Though we cannot resist the awesome might of a hurricane, we recognize in our weakness a need to tame even the most powerful forces of the world of experience.' I would suggest that, in Marnie, where we see Marnie's repeated attempts to be 'free', Hitchcock does give us a sense of what is at stake, if finally it's beyond Marnie's and our grasp; and that this is a Sublime experience. More tomorrow.

January 19 - 2000
There's a stimulating article, newly published on the 'Boston Review' website, called "The Sublime Beethoven", which asks, 'Did the composer share an aesthetic principle with Immanuel Kant?' (Dmitri Tymoczko: The Sublime Beethoven). Now, I haven't done more than quickly skim-read the article so far, and all I want to do here tonight is to report a few things that the author says and that may be - arguably - pertinent to a Hitchcock film like Marnie (1964). The article is about notions of 'the Sublime', and at least one recent Hitchcock scholar, Emil Stern, writing in the current 'Hitchcock Annual', has claimed to detect a sense of the Sublime in Hitchcock's films. Early in Dimitri Tymoczko's article occurs this key passage: 'Beethoven is to Haydn as the roller coaster is to the Ferris wheel: his music shocks as well as pleases, and pleases, in part, because it shocks. We need a name for this special quality, and could do worse than to adopt the term "sublimity" for that purpose.' One reason that's a key passage is because it readily calls to mind a famous definition of the Sublime made by Edmund Burke (1729-97). Tymoczko notes how Burke evoked the sense of fear: 'Safe at home, we look out the window at a violent storm. Sensing the danger, adrenaline starts to rush through our bodies; yet we still enjoy the experience because at some level we know that we are safe. Too much danger, and we begin to feel genuine terror; too little danger, and we enter the realm of the (merely) beautiful.' When Hitchcock sometimes likened his own films to a roller coaster, he made similar points. He spoke of controlling the audience's terror - it should be neither too much nor too little. It should be sufficiently strong to be satisfying, yet the audience - like the baby whose mother suddenly says to it, 'Boo!' - must know that there's no real threat, only a pretence of one. 'Burke’s aim', notes Tymoczko, 'is to explain how we can take pleasure in experiences that, intrinsically, seem like they should be unpleasant. Burke mentions the sound of a hurricane, when appreciated from the proper distance, and great heights; we might add horror movies and haunted houses, roller coasters and punk rock.' But then Tymoczko adds: 'As a piece of psychology, [Burke's] suggestion seems plausible. And it certainly captures part of what we might mean by saying that Beethoven’s music is "sublime." Beethoven’s music is tumultuous and hurricane-like, and not just in those pieces, such as the "Storm" movement of the Sixth Symphony, that have been associated with the violence of nature. But there is nothing in Burke’s account to suggest why the sublime should be associated with anything religious or "infinite".' No, and that's where Immanuel Kant comes in. More next time. 24 Immanuel Kant's explanation of the concept of the Sublime, unlike Edmund Burke's, stresses the sense of awe that, say, a hurricane, or St Peter's cathedral in Rome, might provoke in us. Dimitri Tymoczko: 'As Kant remarks, the size of St. Peter’s defeats our perception: by the time our eyes move from the floor to the ceiling, we lose our memory of the starting point. Our apprehension exceeds our comprehension. And this incomprehension - rather than terror, as in Burke’s account - provokes a certain "reverence" in us. This reverence combines both pleasure and displeasure, a "momentary check to the vital forces, followed at once by a discharge all the more powerful."' Strangely enough, such a description by Kant of how the Sublime is provoked prefigures similar descriptions by, respectively, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer of the principle of 'suspension' in Wagner's music, and psychiatrist Sigmund Freud of cathexis and de-cathexis (binding and unbinding) of mental energy in the telling of jokes. In turn, one may be reminded of Hitchcockian suspense. For example, in Marnie there's a 'momentary check to the vital forces, followed at once by a discharge all the more powerful', in the suspenseful passage where Marnie robs the Rutland safe and is nearly detected by a cleaning-lady (who, though, proves to be deaf), followed immediately by the scene where Marnie rides her beloved horse Forio through a small field, clearly enjoying a sense of release. Now, this particular passage in Hitchcock's film may not be, exactly, one of 'sublimity' and yet I find that it is strangely affecting in a way reminiscent of the sense of awe and 'reverence' to which Kant refers. Moreover, the cumulative effect of several such passages in this film is indeed, I feel, one of sublimity, and I think I can say why. More tomorrow.

January 18 - 2000
One of several books on Hitchcock that came out last year was Paul Condon and Jim Sangster's 'The Complete Hitchcock'. It's a useful book, and not just because it brings together a lot of material originally published on this and another website, that of our friend Patrik Wikström. (Paul and Jim, please note, however, that there is a notice on every page of this site: something about the contents being copyright ... ) For instance, on page 292 it's reported that in 1945 Hitchcock approached the American Broadcasting Company with a pilot for a radio series to be called 'Once Upon a Midnight'. That fact was unearthed by researcher Martin Grams Jnr, and first published here. So was the following information that's in Paul and Jim's book (though they don't give the full facts, so I'll be making some additions to what they say). Hitchcock's intention for the series was to feature a different story each week, and the pilot episode, "Malice Aforethought", would be based on the novel by 'Francis Iles' (A.B. Cox), whose 'Before the Fact' Hitchcock had filmed as Suspicion (1942). In the pilot, Hitchcock cast both actor Hume Cronyn and Cronyn's actor wife Jessica Tandy; in fact Tandy had dual roles, playing both the wife, Jessica, of the murderous Doctor Bickleigh, and his jilted mistress, Madeleine, who proves suitably vengeful ... A spoken introduction notes that music is used for dramatic purposes rather than merely as a bridge between scenes. (In fact, on listening to the soundtrack, one detects an Orson Welles influence.) The setting, as in the novel, is English. Now, Paul and Jim say that ABC weren't impressed and rejected the pilot. What they don't mention is that an audio tape exists which shows that, after considerable changes, another version of "Malice Aforethought" was recorded, and perhaps broadcast, that same year, though it's not clear on what network. The series was now called 'The Alfred Hitchcock Show', and again it was announced as being intended to run on a weekly basis. The cast of this version of "Malice Aforethought" was entirely changed from the previous one (Doctor Bickleigh was now played by Joseph Kerns); and the story's setting had been switched to Long Island. One striking touch was the use behind some scenes of the electronic theremin, the same instrument then being heard in Hitchcock's Spellbound and Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend. But apparently this program, too, was not successful, for there seems to be no record of further editions of 'The Alfred Hitchcock Show'. Of course, ten years later, a series began on TV that was called 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'. It did meet with some success ...

January 17 - 2000
We're not done with belfries and Secret Agent (1936) yet! Danny Nissim from Camden Town, London, has suggested a likely source for the idea of the pealing bells that nearly deafen 'Ashenden' (John Gielgud) and The General (Peter Lorre) when they hide in the church steeple to avoid detection (see January 11). Danny points out that Dorothy Sayers's novel 'The Nine Tailors' (one of her most-researched and chilling mysteries, featuring her famous detective, Lord Peter Wimsey) had been published in 1934, to great acclaim. Danny writes: 'the twist finally revealed is that the victim was killed by being tied up in a church tower and fatally deafened by the bells (the nine tailors of the book's title). What was the key element in the book becomes a brief comic scene in the film. I'd be surprised if Hitchcock hadn't read [the book], given his customary sponge-like absorbtion of ideas and influences'. Absolutely, and I'm kicking myself for not thinking of the connection! I read 'The Nine Tailors' a few years ago, much appreciating its evocation of the churches and fens of the wintry East Anglia countryside. At about the same time I read Sayers's wonderful anthology of classic short detective stories, 'Tales of Detection'. (This was first published in the 1930s, I think.) In her authoritative Introduction, she exhorts her fellow detective novelists to raise their sights: 'We can now handle the mechanical elements of the plot with the ease of long practice [and tradition]; we have yet to discover the best way of combining these with a serious artistic treatment of the psychological elements, so that the intellectual and the common man can find common ground for enjoyment ...' If Hitchcock read those words, he must surely have emphatically nodded his head in agreement. Of course, working in a slightly different tradition himself, that of the intelligent 'thriller', whose literary practitioners included Mrs Belloc Lowndes and John Buchan, he could have afforded to smile as well. After all, that tradition had already gone far to effortlessly merge elements that appealed to both highbrows and lowbrows. It availed itself of that wonderfully 'holistic', and 'musical', genre, melodrama ...

January 12 - 2000
Speaking of belfries ... they are one of many 'male' symbols listed in an interesting book by feminist writer and activist Gloria Steinem, 'Moving Beyond Words' (1994). Viewers of Bunuel's Tristana (1970) will be nicely familiar with such a symbol, and its application, and of course Hitchcock's use in Vertigo (1958) of Coit Tower as a phallic symbol, and of the mission tower with its belfry as a symbol of many things, including an obvious phallic meaning, may go without saying. But now here's a key passage from Steinem's book. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of Freud, she writes: 'When left to dress themselves, [men] seldom could get beyond an envy of female wombs and genitals, which restricted them to an endless succession of female sexual symbols. Thus the open button-to-neck "V" of men's jackets was a well-known recapitulation of the "V" for female genitalia; the knot in men's ties replicated the clitoris, while the long ends of the tie were clearly meant to represent the labia ... Of course, one can understand why men would not choose to replicate their own symbols - chicken necks, bits of rope, dumbbells, cigarillos ... belfries and the like.' All of this is very 'Hitchcockian'. It makes one appreciate, for example, that the 'Necktie Murderer', Bob Rusk, in Frenzy (1972) probably envies women, and strangles them with a tie that is at once a feminine and a male symbol, because he himself is impotent and lacks even 'creativity' - traits he shares with earlier Hitchcock murderers such as Brandon in Rope (1948), Bruno in Strangers on a Train (1951), and Norman in Psycho (1960). Obviously the reference in Rope to how Brandon's partner Philip had once enjoyed wringing the necks of chickens until, one day, a chicken 'rebelled' and tried to get away, carries various connotations (e.g., of masturbation followed by a first, unhappy experience of gay sex), just as the very use of a piece of rope by the two murderers, Brandon and Philip, suggests their complicity in an act of sublimated sex. And of course the lightweight dumbbell carried to the fancy-dress ball in Rebecca (1940) by Major Giles Lacey is a symbol of his impotence, matching his wife's 'impregnable' costume of chain-mail - she is dressed as the legendary Boedicea! (As I point out in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', a deathly pall has descended on 'Manderley', and all of its males appear de-natured or impotent.)

January 11 - 2000
To Truffaut, apropos Secret Agent (1936), set in Switzerland, Hitchcock explained his rationale for including scenes with chocolate factories, lakes, churches, mountains ... You have to ask yourself what a place is noted for, said Hitchcock, and then try to 'use' those things in your film. I remember being disappointed in Hitchcock when I first read that explanation - it sounded rather banal, especially its listing of associations with 'Switzerland'. (Strangely, I don't think there's a cuckoo clock in Secret Agent - that had to wait until The Lady Vanishes [1938]!) And just the other day, a friend asked me, 'Don't you wish Hitchcock hadn't said that?!' Well, no, I don't, not these days. I gave the matter some thought, and I began to see that the general principle was one that Hitchcock applied, quite rigorously, at various levels of each film. I suddenly thought of a crystal that retains its particular structure no matter how much you cut it up. Take Secret Agent. True to what Hitchcock told Truffaut, there's a scene set in a picturesque Swiss church in the mountains. (Switzerland is noted for its churches and its scenery.) But then the principle comes into play all over again. You've got a scene set in a church. Okay, what does a typical church have? Answer: an organ, a nave, candles, a bell tower ... And, sure enough, each of those things figures in the scene in Secret Agent. 'Ashenden' (John Gielgud) and The General (Peter Lorre) wait to talk to the organist, their contact. While waiting, they retreat across the church and light candles at a votive altar. Eventually, they realise that the organist is dead, murdered, his hands still resting on the organ keyboard, which has been playing a constant, resonant note. They're about to hurry away, not wanting to be seen, when they hear someone coming. So what do they do? They hurry up the bell tower and hide at the top. So the new setting is a belfry. How does Hitchcock 'use' it? Why, by having the person who has just entered the church find the body and ring the church bell to summon help! Up in the belfry, 'Ashenden' and The General must put their hands to their ears for their very life, lest they be deafened. No doubt Hitchcock felt very satisfied with the way the scene had worked out - thanks to his 'banal' principle of making effective use of every setting, from the most general to the most localised ...

January 10 - 2000
This short item is mainly for those of us who like to collect tidbits of little-known information about, or related to, Hitchcock. So here's something I gleaned when I was recently browsing through 'Halliwell's Film Guide', 6th Edition (1988), which was the last edition compiled and written by the encyclopaedic Leslie Halliwell himself before his untimely death. (Subsequent editions have had entries added by John Walker.) The entry on the early film Woman to Woman (1923), directed by Graham Cutts ('for Balcon, Freedman and Saville') and scripted by Hitchcock ('from the play by Michael Morton') appears to be the only entry in the book about the films that Hitchcock worked on before he began his own directorial career with The Pleasure Garden (1926). Halliwell notes that the film runs 83 minutes at 24 frames per second, and gives a brief synopsis: 'A shell-shocked officer marries into Society and later adopts his son by a French ballerina'. Among the cast, as well as Betty Compson, Clive Brook, and Josephine Earle, was Marie Ault, who would play the mother in The Lodger (1926). (Betty Compson went to America, and turns up in Hitchcock's Mr and Mrs Smith [1941] as Robert Montgomery's date, Gertie.) Halliwell's comment on the film is simply that it was '[a] far-fetched melodrama in what later became the Random Harvest style; a great box-office success'. But what most took my interest was this appended remark by Halliwell about the film's remakes: 'Victor Saville directed a sound remake in 1929, with Betty Compson and George Barraud; and in 1946 Maclean Rogers had another shot with Adele Dixon and Douglass Montgomery.'

January 5 - 2000
Many people naturally notice the recurrence of female names beginning with 'M' in Hitchcock movies. Notably, there are Marnie, Melanie (in The Birds), Marion (Psycho), Madeleine (Vertigo), Margot (Dial M for Murder), and Miriam (Strangers on a Train). Tonight I've posted an observation about this on the newsgroup (and I'm sure I've said a lot of this before, here). Firstly, to the names just listed, I'd immediately add Emily ('Em') in Rich and Strange, the mother named Emma in Shadow of a Doubt, and, importantly, Magda in Torn Curtain (the bookshop scene). Beyond a reasonable doubt, the gloss for all of these names is the New Testament of the Bible, where 'Mary' is central. But not just one Mary, of course. In addition to the Virgin Mary, revered by Catholics and other Christians as the mother of Christ, there is Mary Magdalene, the prostitute who was reformed in a famous episode in which Christ cast 'seven devils' out of her. (Reformed prostitutes, or Magdalens, became a staple ingredient of 19th-century stage melodrama.) Now, 'Em' in Rich and Strange (1932) says at one point, 'a wife is more than half a mother', which rather confirms the significance of her name in that film. (She is, of course, far from being the only wife in a Hitchcock film who must also 'mother' her husband. Ann in Mr and Mrs Smith [1941] is explicitly a 'mother' to husband David Smith, as we hear in a line of dialogue in the opening scene.) And in Shadow of a Doubt (1943), like The Lodger (1926) before it, the mother is indeed reverenced, but by no-one more than Emma's brother, Uncle Charlie. This relates to the theme of symbolic incest that is in both films - briefly discussed in our 'Notes on all of Hitchcock's films' page. Both Biblical connotations of 'Mary' have been employed in literature, drama, and art (e.g., Surrealism) for centuries, so it's no wonder that Hitchcock's films should also tap into the resulting, and intriguing, 'virgin-mother-whore' complex. That complex relates, too, to Hitchcock's use of blondes in his films, for, as writers like Marina Warner (in a fine book on fairy tales and myth) have shown, blondeness has connotations of both virginity and fruitfulness! Finally, as I mentioned on the newsgroup, I seem to recall that in Hinduism and/or Buddhism, 'M' mother-figures have importance as well (though I don't think there's the additional 'Magdalen' connotation). Perhaps someone reading this may know, and get in touch ...

January 4 - 2000
Critic Adrian Martin, writing about Philippe Grandrieux's Sombre (1998), on the new 'Senses of Cinema' website (see our Links page), begins by evoking the scene in Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972) where a woman's naked body falls off a lorry at night, 'and is suddenly, obscenely illuminated by the stark, white light of [a police car's] headlights. Too much brightness, too much flesh, too much spillage ... ; in a film devoted to the stiff, stuffy propriety of British manners (on all levels: speech, behaviour, clothes, food) this moment knowingly transgresses the overall system of the film, forcibly smashes the taboos of its form and content alike.' That image is indeed stark, though Hitchcock spares us a close-up and introduces a mild note of comedy in the conversation of the two startled police officers a moment before the body falls to the road. Vaguely the image is one of defecation, the lorry with its potatoes the culprit. The potatoes are destined to be ploughed back into the earth as unwanted surplus. In a film of 'Waste Land' vision, as someone has called it, everything here is consistent with the film's general tenor, though, yes, a note of 'transgression' is present, as it had been, too, when another woman had been rape-murdered in her office and left obscenely slumped in her chair, staring ahead; on that occasion the killer had nearly left behind a barely-eaten apple. What these images recall, of course, is the sad, premature death of Marion Crane in Psycho (1960), and that scene's final image, of her staring eye, before there's a dissolve to a plug hole, echoing the eye-image and evoking the earlier shots of bathroom fixtures, including a toilet. In The Wrong Man (1957), too, people and memories threaten constantly to 'dissolve', as in that film's masterly credits scene, set in the Stork Club. In turn, that scene has its own precedent, in the film Downhill (1927), where the night's events are suddenly concluded by harsh sunlight breaking in ...

January 3 - 2000
Back again! I trust that all our readers had a fine holiday break (many of you will continue to have one for a while yet, I realise). There are at least two additions to this website since last I wrote here. One is Martin Grams Jnr's engrossing and informative piece on 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents', consisting of information garnered by him while preparing his forthcoming book, 'The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion'. The other addition to our site is 'Notes on all of Hitchcock's films', which is an ongoing project. So far, Hitch's first five films have been written up there. Some other of our Web pages will be modified soon, when I've time. Now, here's something that came up last week. A US film academic, MF, contacted me and asked if I could briefly tell him what I thought the film title, The Man Who Knew Too Much, referred to, and who is meant? Here's the essence of what I said. First, Hitch and his screenwriter on the 1934 version of the film, Charles Bennett, could be quite lax with their use of film titles. For instance, we know that at the last minute they had to add a line of dialogue to The 39 Steps (1935) to explain what the title (taken from John Buchan's novel) referred to. The title of TMWKTM was itself taken from a 1922 collection of stories by G.K. Chesterton, which had little or nothing directly to do with Hitch's and Bennett's film. (Chesterton's title refers to his hero who investigates a series of cases in which, for one reason or another, the public can't be told the full truth about the events described.) Next, I noted that several Hitchcock titles, such as Vertigo, refer to broadly metaphysical notions, often with a generality as well as a specificity about them (the title of Vertigo clearly has many meanings and applications other than the literal one of Scottie's acrophobia, fear of heights). And I recalled that Hitchcock once told Huw Wheldon of the BBC that 'reality is something none of us can stand, at any time'. On a more down-to-earth note (which MF appreciated, he told me!), we should remember that, in gangster parlance, to 'know too much' is to set oneself up to be rubbed out (which nearly happens to the father in both film versions, the 1934 and 1956 ones, of TMWKTM). On the other hand, let's not overlook that Hitchcock's perennial theme in his films is the working of a life-force that is also a death-force, the immanent 'Will' of the world. In both versions of TMWKTM, I think that the 'Storm Cloud Cantata', with its lyrics about 'the trembling trees', etc., refers to the working of that Will. And, accordingly, though I think that the films' title may refer to many of the things just mentioned, it perhaps refers most immediately to how Bob Lawrence (1934 version) and Ben McKenna (1956) both come up against a world that proves almost 'too much' for them, and learn a cautionary lesson or two thereby. There was already some sort of precedent for this idea in Rich and Strange (1932), where Fred Hill pursues 'more life' and soon learns that his understanding of 'life' has been very circumscribed, something which now proves almost more than he can stand. (There's more discussion of some of these points in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' - the uncut UK edition, anyway.)