Editor's Week 2003
[This isn't "Editor's Day", only its marking-time, fill-in, substitute. But we do happen to know that "Editor's Day" has always claimed that the cinema's true heir to the great English novelist Charles Dickens (1812-70) was Alfred Hitchcock. "Editor's Day" once ran an extended series of parallels between aspects of Dickens's art and aspects of Hitchcock's. (Two books that were influential for our study were Taylor Stoehr's 'Dickens: The Dreamer's Stance' and John Carey's 'The Violent Effigy'.) We'll be putting up in the New Year a whole Web page on this subject. Meanwhile, we're grateful to have read some interesting reviews of a new book, Grahame Smith's 'Dickens and the Dream of Cinema' - which, though, claims that Dickens's cinematic successor was an American, one Orson Welles, and not some upstart Cockney pretender named Alfred Hitchcock. Hmm. However, we'll reserve our judgement until we have studied the book for ourselves. Here's how 'Sight and Sound' reviewed it: '[This] boldly speculative study ... doesn't quite pan out, but it's a considerable attempt to bridge the gulf separating literary and film theory. The proto-cinematic qualities of Dickens' writing have often been remarked - not least by Eisenstein, who famously detected an example of parallel editing in "Oliver Twist". Taking the hint, Grahame Smith elaborates a poetic argument that seems calculated to offend academic Gradgrinds in its disregard for empirical facts. According to the author, Dickens' fetishistic and physically concrete mode of description was the harbinger of a technology that emerged a quarter of a century after his death. Or, to put it in the terms offered, Dickens dreamed cinema - reflecting but also instituting the radical changes in perception associated with modernity. The approach owes something to André Bazin's mystical teleology, but the presiding genius is Walter Benjamin, the key tropes of whose Parisian Arcades Project (the flâneur, dioramas, department stores) get transported bodily to Victorian London. Smith keeps apologising for his intellectual recklessness and it's true that there's an excess of lateral thinking here. But equally his book is illuminated by intuitive flashes a more linear style of enquiry couldn't provide. Smith saves his nerviest stroke for last - a fascinating set of correspondences between Dickens and another indomitable visionary, Orson Welles.' KM]
December 15 - 2003
[Speaking of Mogg's little slips (see above, December 8), let's take advantage of his continued absence - readying the new hardcopy 'MacGuffin' for the printer, so it's in a good cause - to now mention another of those slips. Mogg, be ashamed! Seems he told some people that Sir Kenneth Clark, the art historian, played himself in a crowd scene at the Albert Hall in the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). That's wrong, though. An actor was employed to play Sir Kenneth - which is still interesting. 'Sir Kenneth' is also mentioned, drily, in Stage Fright (1950). We wouldn't be surprised if he were a personal friend of the Hitchcocks. Other such distinguished English friends included the conductor Sir Malcolm Sargeant and the writers Cecil Day-Lewis ('Nicholas Blake') and Victor Pritchett. And, no, we didn't get that information from McGilligan's biography of Hitchcock, which mentions only the Pritchett connection! . KM]
December 9 - 2003
[The ersatz "Editor's Day" - how dare they peddle such substitutes?! - last night quoted Mogg. Now we hear that Mogg and Patrick McGilligan got to corresponding. Apparently Mogg wrote to McGilligan : '[I]n your own words, you "prefer eyewitnesses and documents or previously published sources, and am pretty candid about admitting that." Fine - that supports my point [...] that Hitchcock study is being weighted too much the way of the trawlers in archives, and that the good critics, like Robin Wood, who explore, in addition, other realms of the mind not accessible in archives, are not being given their due, not quoted (as opposed to passingly cited) enough. [...] And, although it's only a minor criticism at this stage [...], I do suspect that McGilligan's book has lost an opportunity to correct that inbalance.' Mind you, in a passage we omitted above, Mogg modified his position thus: 'No-one more than [Mogg], unless it's [McGilligan], prefers film analysis and film appreciation to be empirically-based, and verifiable.' Hmm. Don't know if Mogg has a point there, or not, but we quote him for what he's worth! KM]
December 8 - 2003
[Still no "Editor's Day". Where can that damn Editor be?!!! Anyway, he has finally received a review-copy of Patrick McGilligan's 'Alfred Hitchcock: A Life In Darkness and Light', in place of an earlier-sent copy that never arrived. Thanks, John Wiley & Sons. Okay. From barely a glance so far, the Editor, if he were here, would report as follows ... Obviously McGilligan has little time for some of those nasty critics. Even Robin Wood gets only a few passing mentions in the book's 850 pp. (However, there is a nice mention of Wood's general influence on p. 706.) Mogg gets none! Speaking of which, the last-named doubts whether McGilligan has ever been on the Web in his life. This scholars' website is never mentioned. Hmm. Ironically, at least one of the book's myriad small slips appears to be a result of Mogg's direct personal correspondence with McGilligan. On p. 542, referring to the 1938 film of Alec Coppel's 'I Killed the Count', the book claims that one of the film's stars, Ben Lyon, had appeared in Hitchcock's Number Seventeen (1932). Not so - that was Leon M. Lion. Mogg made the error - and afterwards thought that he had contacted everyone whom he had misinformed. But somehow McGilligan must have got overlooked. Mogg apologises to McGilligan - and his readers - for that one. KM.]
December 2 - 2003
[If the absent Editor were here he might remark about how he'd forgotten how inadequate the writing on Hitchcock in the British newspapers has been since the director's death nearly a quarter of a century ago. Ever since the 'MacGuffin' website began expressing views on this subject, its Editor has always been shocked by the complacent platitudes and shallow level of 'appreciation' shown by British journalists of Hitchcock and his work. Well, it appears that little has changed. Someone has sent the Editor a copy of the November 16 review in the 'Sunday Times' of Patrick McGilligan's new biography of Hitchcock. The review is fatuous (in thinking, for example, that Suspicion is summed up by its illuminated glass of milk), poorly written, cliché-ridden, and contains basic factual errors. Enough said. For a superior journalistic review of the same book, from the 'Washington Post' of November 16, click the link that follows. The review is written by well-known author and film scholar Robert Sklar. A foretaste of his review: 'Hotly contested by the film-maker's friends, [Donald] Spoto's  portrait of a diabolically clever man harbouring barely repressed violent desires nevertheless became widely accepted, even outlandishly elaborated in the thriving academic industry of Hitchcock Studies. It takes an intrepid biographer to swim against this tide, even two decades later. Such an audacious figure is Patrick McGilligan [...] Spoto's biography threw down 600 pages of accusation against Hitchcock; like a bold poker player, McGilligan raises to 850 pages of defence. At times "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" takes the form of a "truth squad" against Spoto's assertions, pointedly rebutting the previous biographer for alleged exaggerations and false claims.' Here's a link to the full review: Shadow of a Doubt (washingtonpost.com).]
December 1 - 2003
[The real "Editor's Day" continues to lurk in the wings. Or mope in its dressing-room. Anyway it isn't here. What is here is a message from Bill Krohn, who has an Arts degree in English and has read Pope's 'Essay on Criticism'. His recent email to us was headed, "What oft was thought, but ne'er so thoroughly illustrated" and contained a link to the latest issue of 'Bright Lights'. We suggest that you hurry there now. Click here: Bright Lights Film Journal | Alfred Hitchcock Photo Essay.]
November 26 - 2003
[The non-"Editor's Day" is happy tonight to print here a report from our friend Danny Nissim in London on a talk he attended last week given by Prof. Christopher Frayling, the well-known presenter on TV of programs on horror and mystery ...
• Now I must tell you of a wonderful illustrated lecture I attended last week at the British Museum given by that excellent critic and cultural historian, Sir Christopher Frayling. Entitled ‘The British Museum Goes to the Movies’, this was a look at how the BM and its collections have been presented in the cinema. As I had of course hoped, there was a detailed and illuminating analysis of Blackmail (1929). Frayling told how the difficulties of interior location photography because of the amount of light needed led to the use of still transparencies being shot and used in the ‘Shuftan process’ - he acknowledged the Truffaut interview book as the source on this. He then went through each interior location shot this way in detail, using stills, and gave us his own research into these locations. He has located the Egyptian room used in one shot as the current Room 61 (I rushed to find it at the end of the lecture, but too late as the Museum was closing. A return trip is planned). The huge Egyptian head, seen as the villain climbs down a rope was identified (I think) as Rameses II. In any event it is in storage and not currently on display, which explains why I have never been able to find it in the museum. Finally, and for me most fascinatingly, he examined the chase over the roof of the Reading Room. He said he could never figure out how this was done, as the camera is in an ‘impossible’ position, as the expense of building a platform would have been prohibitive. As luck would have it, Fraying recently found himself at a dinner seated next to [director] Ronald Neame who had been camera assistant on Blackmail. He asked Neame how the long shot of the chase up the ladder onto the summit of the Reading Room dome had been achieved, and Neame explained that a model of the roof had been built and placed close to the camera, with the ladder and the figures scaling up it some distance away, but carefully aligned with the model so that the scale and perspective were correct to create the illusion. This was filmed at Elstree Studios. Amazing stuff, which I had never heard before. We were then treated to the entire extract from the film. As Frayling pointed out, the lion drinking fountain which the villain pauses at on his way into the BM is still in situ (all exteriors of the BM are location shots), though when I paused to examine it on my way out, I noticed that the drinking cup and chain which the villain uses (the chain being a nice visual touch for a man on the run from the police) are no longer there. The rest of the lecture was of course non-Hitchcock related, but fascinating nonetheless, and covered films set in the disused ‘British Museum’ underground station (in passing, Frayling noted Hitchcock’s famous personal appearance on the underground train in Blackmail) and later included scenes from The Mummy (Freund, 1932) and other Egyptian collection related movies, as well as several other films set in the Reading Room, including Night of the Demon (Tourneur 1957) and Day of the Jackal (Zinnemann 1973). Frayling’s well argued and illustrated thesis was that the BM is often associated in the audience’s mind with forbidden or occult knowledge which may be dangerous if too easily available. Hence, special permission must be granted to view certain volumes in the Reading Room, which - according to several films - houses the only copy in existence of that particular tome. Hence also the curse of the Mummy’s tomb and all that follows. All highly entertaining and stimulating stuff! Next week Frayling is giving a talk on Sergio Leone at an art gallery showing an exhibition of Italian Film posters. I can hardly wait.
Hearty thanks, Danny, for the above! Oh, and for our Australian readers now: Richard Franklin's seafaring thriller Visitors, starring Radha Mitchell (Phone Booth), Susannah York, and Ray Barrett, opens around the country tomorrow, November 27. 'Variety' described it as 'a supremely unsettling piece of psychological manipulation, rooted in Hitchcock and early Polanski' - though it 'springs a few leaks before reaching port'. We suggest: go and decide for yourself! KM]
November 25 - 2003
[The 'MacGuffin' editor emphatically denies that "Editor's Day" has resumed. That notable event doesn't happen until next month. Meanwhile, we would like to add to what we said yesterday about the new issue (#49) of 'Scarlet Street'. Tony Perkins fans will be interested to read an article on Perkins's work as a vocalist 'which coincided with the peak of his Hollywood career in the late fifties'; and there's also the conclusion of a two-part interview with screenwriter Charles Edward Poague (Psycho III) who calls Perkins 'certainly one of the smartest men I've ever met. He was so smart, it was scary!' Elsewhere in the magazine, the 'Book Ends' feature includes reviews of a couple of Hitchcock-related books: the novel 'The Vertigo Murders' ('sorely disappointing') and the pictorial study of Hitchcock's California-set movies (including Vertigo) called 'Footsteps in the Fog' (our own review of the latter is on our New Publications page). And there's a feature article called "Attack of the Horror Hags" about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford working together on Robert Aldrich's Psycho-inspired What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Quite a feast! KM]
November 24 - 2003
[The non-"Editor's Day" is very short today. We simply thank our friends at 'Scarlet Street' - there's a link to their website on our Links page, by the way - for sending us their latest issue, #49. Now read the News & Comment item about four (or eight) new Agatha Christie adaptations coming to TV. More tomorrow. KM]
[Some material covering a few weeks of 'filler' items went unsaved here. Notably, there was Erin Carlson's material about the death of Arbogast in PSYCHO and the H quote Erin provided about how a knife (or pair of scissors!) without a gleam is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce! - KM]
October 27 - 2003
[I'm grateful to Bill Krohn for his indefatigable pursuit of the truth about what Hitchcock wanted for the ending of Suspicion - and which endings, exactly, were tried out at previews. Thanks, Bill. KM] Wrapping up this unexpected return visit to Suspicion, what does the newly-identified preview ending tell us about Hitchcock's intentions in that film? First of all, he really wanted Lina to drink the milk. He was attached, in other words, to Iles' ending, in which Lina lets Johnnie murder her for love. In the preview ending, therefore, he carried the suspense - Is Johnnie really a murderer? - about as far as it could go. Johnnie goes out after Lina drinks, sees her head nod when he peeks through the door of the dressing room, then sneaks in and kneels next to her as if checking for signs of life. Only when Lina opens her eyes does the situation reverse itself. And despite laughs from some in the audience when Lina drinks, Hitchcock kept that crucial detail in the lead-up to the second ending he filmed [but never actually previewed - Ed.], where Lina drinks most of the milk and Johnnie feeds the rest to the dog, tipping her off that it isn't poisoned. This would have given audience members who laughed at Lina's drinking the milk the opportunity to join in the general laughter at Johnnie's unexpected gesture, with Johnnie and Lina joining in at the end as well. Indeed, Hitchcock continued to defend the logic of Lina drinking the milk in a long interview published on December 7 in the 'New York Herald Tribune', after a third ending had been filmed and released where finally she did not drink it. 'It seemed logical to me that she should drink it and put him to the test. If he wished to kill his devoted wife, then she might well want to die. If he didn't, fine and good; her suspicions would clear away and we'd have our happy ending. We shot that finish. She drained the glass and waited for death. Nothing happened, except for an unavoidable and dull exposition of her spouse's innocence. Trial audiences booed it, and I don't blame them. They pronounced the girl stupid to willfully drink her possible destruction. With that dictum I personally do not agree. But I did agree that the necessary half-reel of explanation following the wife's survival was really deadly.' Knowing now that he filmed the ending involving the dog immediately after the previews, I hear him arguing in the interview for that second ending, rather than for the third ending, which was contrived in the editing room before release, in which, among other things, Lina doesn't drink the milk, which is sitting on the bedside table untouched the next morning when she and Johnnie set off for the fateful ride to her mother's house. This is important because it confirms what Hitchcock told Bogdanovich and others: he preferred Iles' tragic ending, with the added twist of Lina giving Johnnie an incriminating letter to mail before drinking the poison, so that when he drew out the hypothesis of Johnnie's guilt as far as it would go, he was attempting to have his cake and eat it too, giving the preview audience the dark thrill of watching a woman literally die for love, then revealing the truth. In fact - and this is the second point to be learned from these recent discoveries - Hitchcock also wanted the happy ending which was previewed to be ambiguous, leaving open the possibility that Johnnie is lying about his actions, as reflected in the doubting look on Lina's face in the last shot. Judging from the preview report, many spectators who saw this ending did find it ambiguous, but the majority who did so merely thought the ambiguity was confusing and complained about it. (One suggested that it would be fun after Johnnie's vows to quit gambling to see him and Lina together at the races.) A second complaint was that questions about who killed Beaky and why Johnnie was so curious about the undetectable poison hadn't been answered. So Hitchcock and his collaborators experimented with two approaches in the writing: a comic ending that didn't explain these things but left no lingering doubts about Johnnie's guilt, and a more drawn-out ending in which it developed that he was interested in poison because he planned to commit suicide. This approach - written out at length in the scene I mistook for the preview ending - was the one that finally carried the day, when Hitchcock found that he could explain everything including what Johnnie was doing when Beaky died and still speed up the ending with a wild car ride originally intended for earlier in the film. I would simply add that in doing so he was also returning to the ambiguity which he favored for the ending of 'this kind of story,' as he told Truffaut when discussing the ending of The Lodger: 'In a story of this kind I might have liked him to go off into the night, so that we would never really know for sure.' Bogdanovich told Hitchcock that he did in fact find the happy ending of Johnnie and Lina driving off ambiguous, as if Johnnie might tbe preparing to kill Lina when they return home, and I have suggested another way to read it based on preview responses which indicated that some spectators were uncertain whether the wild car ride leading up to the happy end might not be a dream. That is, in the version we have, everything that happens after Johnnie hands Lina the milk - waking up the next morning, packing to go to her mother's, the wild car ride and Johnnie's impassioned explanations on the cliff side - could be part of a dying woman's dream. A grim idea, but finally in keeping with Hitchcock's wishes, which would have been to take the situation to its logical conclusion with Lina's death.
October 24 - 2003
[Author and critic Bill Krohn today fills us in on what the first previewed ending of Suspicion contained. Note that this ending was previewed twice, the first (as Bill notes) on Friday June 13th, 1941, in Pasadena. After adverse reactions to those screenings, the film's present ending - the clifftop scene in the car - was substituted.] The summaries of the preview comments for Suspicion archived at the Margaret Herrick Library are fascinating to revisit from time to time - one can imagine Hitchcock and Alma sorting through them. What did they make of this answer to question 6, 'Do you have any suggestions?': 'Fade out on the cliff with a shot of boughs close-up'! Personally, I was pleased with this suggestion for improvement: 'Possibly the glamor shot of Joan Fontaine on horseback was a little out of place.' (For my interpretation of this striking extreme closeup, which is excessive unless one interprets it metaphorically, see my article on the film in the 2002-03 'Hitchcock Annual', p. 104. In any event, it stayed in the film.) In any case, it would seem from the following response that the April 23 ending archived at the Herrick Library and reproduced by Dan Auiler in 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (see my previous post) is the one shown at the preview: In response to question 5, 'Did you like the ending?', viewer #110 at the second preview wrote: 'Yes, in a way. The doubt on the heroine's face was a different type of ending.' Indeed - because after portraying the world almost exclusively through Joan Fontaine's eyes throughout the film, Hitchcock in the April 23 ending broke the fourth wall by having her look at the audience with an expression of skepticism at Johnnie's promises to reform. A brief summary: Hitchcock went into production with the ending that was turned in by Samson Raphaelson on December 28, 1940, in which Lina drinks the milk, talks to Johnnie while waiting to die, and then realizes she isn't dead, leading to a long scene of mutual confession that ends with him slipping away next morning to join the RAF. Happy ending as she catches up with him months later, a decorated hero of the Battle of Britain, with her nickname on his plane. In March Hitchcock and his collaborators, Alma Reville and Joan Harrison, made a stab at shortening the scene in the bedroom, and when Fontaine fell ill for two weeks on April 23, a new ending was typed up, and the set for the RAF office was crossed off the list of sets to build, indicating that a decision had been made to do away with that scene and go with a new ending that wouldn't need it. (The original list of sets for the film subsequently found its way into one trade review, causing understandable confusion among researchers.) Hitchcock had filmed a cliffhanger before Fontaine went home: the last shot in the can showed her cringing on the bed at the sight of the door to the bedroom opening and Johnnie standing there with the milk. Building on the December 28 version, the April 23 rewrite then shows her drinking the milk and asking to be left alone after they kiss. Here's viewer #49's description of the reaction at the Friday the 13th screening: 'It was very difficult to understand in many places. Especially after Joan Fontaine drinks what she thinks is the death potion. And how the audience laughed! You violated the principle of every human - preservation of life at any cost. Here a woman willingly drinks the supposed poison her husband offers, proclaiming love of her would-be murderer. What sane woman would act that way?' The heroine of Frances Iles' novel, Hitchcock must have muttered after reading that - he replied at length to the charge in a December 7 interview after the film had opened and done well (with the milk left untouched on the bedside table). At the June 13 screening, the film continued for another page or so as Hitchcock and Raphaelson had first planned: Grant leaves, then opens the door and looks at her still sitting up in bed. Her head bows. 'Johnnie starts to tiptoe across towards the bed. He comes around the side, close to her. He goes down on one knee and peers into her face. Lina opens her eyes. She sees Johnnie kneeling there. He makes a move forward - comes and sits beside her and takes her in his arms - CAMERA moves in to the two heads -' (Auiler, p. 66). Played in close shots, according to the script, the scene would have continued with Lina saying, 'It's all right, dearest. I know I'm dying. But it's all right.' (Was this what got the laugh?) Her admission leads to the mutual confession, ending with Johnnie swearing to reform. He: 'You believe that, don't you dear?' She [with his head resting on her shoulder]: 'Yes darling - of course I do.' Then: 'As she says this, she looks out over his shoulder at the audience - she smiles very, very maternally and very understandingly, while she strokes his hair. But we know that she cannot believe him...' (Auiler, p. 85). 'Left a doubt,' wrote viewer #79 on June 13; and his/her homonym, viewer #79 at the second preview, concurred: 'Do not quite understand whether she believed him or not.' The famed Fontaine raised eyebrows must have been working overtime, because this sentiment was probably the commonest one expressed after both screenings. 54 out of 79 at the second one didn't like the ending, and half their number found it 'confusing.' Next week: what it all means.
October 23 - 2003
[Editor's note. Bill Krohn will be sending along two more posts, the next probably tomorrow. Meanwhile, we would be interested in hearing from our readers reports on the new Hitchcock biography - our own promised review-copy still hasn't arrived. For initial, conflicting reports on the biography, see our New Publications page KM]
October 21 - 2003
[Editor's note. An appropriately dog-tired Bill Krohn tonight continues - and revises - his findings on the previewed endings of Hitchcock's Suspicion. Note: I can confirm that the references below by Bill to Dan Auiler's 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (Avon Books, New York, 1999) make perfect sense if you have a copy of the book open before you. KM] Returning to Suspicion one more time, I have a major error to confess and correct - simultaneously one of the pains and one of the pleasures of an empirical approach to film analysis. What I claimed here and in the 'Hitchcock Annual' (2002-03 edition) to be the ending shown to preview audiences in June, 1941, was not. In fact, it may post-date the previews, because it introduces for the first time the idea of suicide by Johnnie to explain why he was so interested in poisons. Steven DeRosa has asserted that a preview ending had Johnnie going off to join the RAF (actually this was the first ending set down in the rough script turned in on December 28, 1940), although there isn't a single mention of airplanes in the comments of preview spectators (a detail that would seem to have begged for some comment in view of the fact that the feature playing with Suspicion at the second preview was I Wanted Wings). More recently Rick Worland has written that preview audiences saw what I call (above, October 14) the leave 'em laughing ending with the family dog (actually the ending Hitchcock filmed on June 25 to replace the preview ending, according to memos furnished to me by Ned Price of Time-Warner), although there isn't a single mention in any of the preview reports of Johnnie feeding the leftover milk to the dog. And I made a similar mistake: nowhere in the preview reports does any spectator mention Johnnie's planned suicide, although there is a fair amount of griping about the fact that Lina drinks a glass of milk she believes to be poisoned. Those comments in themselves should have tipped me off, but it recently took Ken Mogg's eagle eye to remind me that in the so-called preview ending published on this website Lina doesn't drink the milk - whereas her drinking it was much discussed not only by disgruntled preview spectators, but by Hitchcock himself, who defended her action in the longest interview he gave about the film at the time of its release. Ken's gentle correction sent me back to those preview reports and to the different endings archived at the Margaret Herrick Library to see if there was an ending which 1) was written in time to be previewed in June and 2) matched all the details mentioned in the preview reports and contradicted none of them. I discovered that there was one, which has been published already by another researcher. And the winner is ... Dan Auiler, who did us all a service by reproducing in its entirety the ending which was previewed - notwithstanding in a form that still makes my head spin when my eyes try to trace a path through the pages of 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (1999), where it is hiding like Wally in one of those puzzle pictures for children. Here, based on comparison to the easier-to-read pages bound into the script at the Herrick, is a skeleton key that will permit anyone with a copy of Dan's wonderful book to read what I am now convinced was the ending previewed in June of 1941: Auiler p. 64 beginning with scene 437 to top of p. 65; bottom of 65 to last third of 66; bottom two-thirds of 67 to the very top of 68; bottom of 68 to middle of 69; top of 71 to bottom of 71; bottom of 78 to middle of 79; near top of 81 to bottom of 81; near bottom of 84 to last third of 85. If you own 'Hitchcock's Notebooks', happy hunting till the next post; if not, now might be a good time to buy it, because there's more than one surprise in this 'new' preview ending - not the least being that it is pretty good! Much better, in any case, than the half-baked suicide ending that is still posted on this website [whose introductory wording for that scene will be revised soon - Ed.]. My thanks to Ken (coupled with red-faced apologies) for sending me back to the Library one more time. Next, a brief description of the ending and my reasons for thinking it is the one preview audiences saw on that fateful Friday the 13th.
October 20 - 2003
[Another Editor's note. Bill Krohn has emailed in to say that he will tonight prop his eyelids open with toothpicks and send a further piece on Suspicion. Watch for it! KM]
October 17 - 2003
[Editor's note. I haven't heard from Bill Krohn for several days. I now assume that he will conclude his observations on Suspicion here next week. In any case, watch for an announcement soon about coming activities on this site. Thanks everyone. KM]
October 15 - 2003
[Bill Krohn reflects further on Suspicion, etc.] Speaking of endings ... would that Hitchcock had been able to save the first ending of Topaz, the duel, which provoked some laughter when the film was previewed in San Francisco. Instead, after a mixed review from an audience recruited from fans of Leon Uris's trashy, jingoistic bestseller, which Hitchcock had treated, rather, in the spirit of John Le Carré, he did more or less what he had done in 1941, after the Suspicion previews, and shot a leave 'em smiling ending at the airport, showing Stafford and a jaunty Piccoli boarding planes bound for different sides of the Iron Curtain. Unlike the second ending of Suspicion, the second ending of Topaz had to be completely new - the duel ending, which had already been filmed three times to get it right, was of a piece, and couldn't be partially revised like the first ending of Suspicion. Again, the second ending seems never to have been previewed, and when Samuel Taylor objected, distressed as Samson Raphelson had been in 1941 at the ending with the dog, Hitchcock created a third ending in the editing room, as he had for Suspicion when the pressures on him got too strong to ignore for a director who wanted to go on working in Hollywood. Also, in the case of Topaz, he let a studio editor 'trim' some 20-odd minutes from the film, which still is in need of a full restoration before we conclude that Hitchcock had lost it by this point in his career. I am one of a small minority - which also included a number of people at that fateful preview - who believe that he hadn't. What had changed was that Lew Wasserman was a cannier studio head - but not a better one - than George Schaefer. After months of Hitchcock stubbornly refusing to make major cuts, Wasserman let a British distributor who had a quasi-monopoly of UK theatres threaten not to show the film if it weren't substantially cut to permit an intermission when more popcorn could be sold. When Hitchcock (remembering, perhaps, the British distributor who almost kept The Lodger from being released at the start of his career) yielded to the pressure and allowed the film to be massacred, Wasserman, who was not about to be bossed by anyone, then told his unwitting British catspaw to go jump in a lake and showed the film in the UK without intermissions. Okay, we've come a long way from Lina drinking most of the milk in an ending that was never shown, but I think the point is worth making. Hitchcock, we know, was prey to all sorts of anxieties. Robert Boyle told me that he was afraid of 'everything' - so much so that if he looked out of a second-story window his plams would start to sweat. Albert Whitlock added, during the same conversation, that their old friend was 'terrified' of the Universal studio manager - a relatively unimportant underling who worshiped Hitchcock and would have done anything for him - because to Hitchcock, he was 'a cop'. But Hitchcock made The Birds at Universal, taking chances every day that would have daunted someone less sure of himself, like insisting, over the dead bodies of the studio's sound department, on using a virtually untested electronic sound technology - located in Germany! - for the soundtrack of a picture that was already weeks over schedule. When the censor made him reshoot the ending of North by Northwest to indicate that Roger and Eve are married, he held up another film that was over schedule, with the head of MGM breathing down his neck, to shoot the new 'button' of the train going into the tunnel, with the sole purpose of sticking it to the censor. In the last analysis, and with all due deference to a powerful idea that was first expressed in France, the home of the auteur theory, in the 70s, according to which a film auteur was part of an industry and ideology that exerted an influence on the work, not to mention the shared cinematic language he was obliged to employ to produce his unique statements - nonetheless, no one was Hitchcock's co-author: not the audience, not the Production Code, and not even the studio, to whom he yielded only under extreme compulsion. In this he showed more courage than a number of swaggering contemporary filmmakers I could name who aren't burdened, as he was, by a potentially crippling anxiety complex. The measure of courage isn't feeling fear; it's going ahead even when you do, and I think Hitchcock was plentifully equipped with that virtue, so rare in Hollywood today. In my next post, I will be obliged to admit a major mistake that Rick Worland's posts and my discussions of them with Ken have permitted me to correct. I will also try to sum up my present view of Suspicion, that Hitchcockian work-in-progress (through most of 1941!) that seems to have become an eternal work-in-progress for his exegetes - at least for this one.
October 14 - 2003
[Editor's note. Bill Krohn's topic this week concerns the various endings of Suspicion that have already been much-discussed - here and elsewhere. We suspect that readers may want to brush up for what Bill has to say by looking again at the first part of our Suspicion page. Although the script excerpt that is printed there is in need of revision (something that Bill will be mentioning later this week), it remains of interest. Here's a link: The first ending shot of Suspicion.] Hitchcock criticism is an eternal work in progress, and an infintely rewarding one. Having written three versions of my Suspicion article, starting with the research log I kept here a couple of years ago when I seized the pulpit from Ken and refused to give it back, I find that now it won't let go of me. After reading Rick Worland's guest editorials here, and corresponding with Ken about some of the details, I realized I had mis-described something. For those who, like Professor Worland, haven't seen the new 'Hitchcock Annual' (2002-03 edition) and are going by my postings here, we've learned a bit since then: for one thing, thanks to Ned Price of Time-Warner, we now know that the second ending of Suspicion, filmed after the two unsuccessful previews, was the one with the dog (see below). After hearing the reactions at the first preview, Hitchcock sent RKO President George Schaefer a telegram in New York, where Schaefer was preparing to screen the film for RKO's annual sales convention, telling him to turn off the projector after the wild car ride (which at that point preceded the milk scene and the very long, talky climax, set in the Aysgarth's bedroom, the pages for which are posted on this website). Hitchcock told Schaefer he had a much better ending, and indeed he did - he had already written a draft of it in May, after wrapping, and now proceeded to refine it: Johnnie brings Lina the milk; she doesn't drink it; he feeds it to the dog, who is sitting by the bed, and she realizes then that it wasn't poisoned. There's a quick clearing-up conversation, he promises to reform, she says she believes him, he says he almost believes himself, and they both laugh - call it the 'leave 'em laughing' ending. This is the ending Hitchcock shot on June 25, after the second preview, and there's no indication that it was ever shown to anyone. But when Ken pointed out to me that preview cards quoted in Professor Worland's article on the film refer to Lina's drinking the milk - which I had thought was inconsistent with the theory expressed in that article that the leave 'em laughing ending was shown at the previews - I referred back to the pages reproduced in Dan Auiler's 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (1999) and saw that, indeed, she does drink the milk in the second ending just as she did in the first, but leaves enough for Johnnie, with a remark about waste, to feed it to the dog, leading to the denouement. A minor detail? There are no minor details in Hitchcock. He later told an interviewer in New York, after the film was released to considerable acclaim and box-office success, that some members of the preview audience had laughed when Lina drank the milk, and that others complained about the long talky scene that followed. He then specified that while he agreed with those who complained about the talky ending, he felt that it was perfectly logical for Lina to drink the milk. However, like Professor Worland, I had assumed that Hitchcock would have wanted to eliminate the detail that made people laugh. Now I see that, true to his sense of the character and the film he had made, he kept that detail, knowing that some audience members would laugh, then topped it with the moment when Johnnie feeds the milk to the dog, which would have provoked an even bigger laugh, this time from the whole audience, so that the joke would be, in retrospect, on the scoffers who couldn't believe that a woman could love her husband so much that she'd drink milk she believed to be poisoned. This gutsy choice corresponds better to my sense of Hitchcock than my tacit assumption that he would simply let preview audiences rewrite his ending for him. This was, after all, the man who boasted that he could play audiences like a pipe organ. Actually, I almost wonder if the fact that the first draft of the second ending was written right after wrapping, before the previews, doesn't mean that he already anticipated the laughs. Impossible? When Torn Curtain was going to be previewed somewhere in Arizona, Hitchcock wrote Lew Wasserman, the head of Universal, to warn him that some members of the audience would laugh during the prolonged murder of Gromeck. To be continued.
October 9 - 2003
[Bill Krohn is the author of 'Hitchcock au travail' (1999) and its English version 'Hitchcock at Work' (2000). He writes on film for 'Cahiers du Cinéma' and 'The Economist'. Today he concludes his note from yesterday on the origins of I Confess. He'll be back here next week. KM] The rights to Bourde's play were sold to Hitchcock in 1947 or 1948 by French filmmaker Henri Verneuil, who also wrote two treatments for an American version of the story. Verneuil's first treatment sticks like glue to the plot of the play, though it transposes the setting to a small village outside San Francisco and makes the killer a Mexican. But in the second treatment by Verneuil - apparently at AH's behest - the priest himself becomes the father of the illegitimate child. Michel, the future priest, was involved in a romantic triangle with his brother Philippe and a young woman, which ended with the girl in Michel's arms and Philippe a suicide, sending Michel into holy orders. It was only after becoming a priest that he learned that there was a child. (All this was to be told in flashback.) Also added in the second treatment were a rather daring scene in which Michel gives extreme unction to his child, who is dying of some disease, and scenes at the beginning and end where we see a new chapel being dedicated to Michel's memory after his execution and exoneration. Verneuil explains: 'In his omnipotence, the Lord, seemingly, wanted the culprit punished, but wanted also the martyrdom of the priest. In all Christian hearts, the memory of his death, so simple and so great, remains immaculate and shall live forever.' Apart from that, the structure remained as it was in Bourde's play: the mother of Michel's child has married the socialist politician Bordier, who is now Michel's best friend, and was being blackmailed by the murdered man about her relationship with the priest - with the added complication, now, of an illegitimate child. The irony alluded to in Bourde's title, 'Our Two Consciences', has also been preserved: Bordier and Michel are exemplars of two kinds of goodness, secular and sacred, and the fact that the wife's confession, which her admirable husband orders at the expense of his own interests, has the opposite of the intended effect is significant - a significance which in Bourde's hands was always likely to be political, as we may infer by reading this passage from an account of the Paris Commune that he wrote many years before the play: 'Men, some from conviction, others from ambition, go around spreading socialist and egalitarian ideas ... [but these ideas] have an effect exactly contrary to their stated aim ... So, these are ideas which must be destroyed, and the men who spread them must be combated. That is the task of the endangered class: the bourgeoisie.' (Preface, 'Les membres de la commune et du Comite Central', by Paul Delion/Pierre Bourde). Applying this to the allegory of 'Our Two Consciences', even a sacrificial act undertaken out of sincere conviction can 'have an effect exactly contrary to [its] stated aim', whereas by following the will of the all-seeing Deity, Michel saves his soul and that of the killer. After many drafts of the script by many hands, this plot twist would eventually be preserved in the movie, where Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter) decides over the objections of her far from admirable husband to confess in order to give Father Michael, the priest played by Montgomery Clift, an alibi, and her good action misfires in the same way. This was not the first Hitchcock film that was inspired by an anti-socialist fiction but quickly shed that meaning, as I learned by consulting a copy unearthed by Ken of the novel 'Rich and Strange' (1930): the young husband's at-times Trotskyist/Leninist notions in the novel became in the film an a-political ennui at his dead-end job, which inspires him and his wife, when he comes into an inheritance, to go on a world cruise in search of 'life'. The overtly anti-socialist message of 'Our Two Consciences' also underwent a sea-change in Hitchcock's hands: he kept the allegorical structure that gave meaning to the plot-irony, but made the content of the allegory two kinds of love rather than two kinds of conscience: the film is about the opposition between profane love (Baxter) and sacred love (Michael). I refer the reader to my 'Senses of Cinema' note for an account of how the film evolved while Hitchcock was making Under Capricorn and Strangers on a Train, two key works in which the transference of guilt appeared for the first time in its full glory. The ending Hitchcock eventually arrived at is liturgically and thematically right (transference of guilt healed by confession), but it took some doing to get there - it certainly does appear that he wanted both the priest's bastard child and the priest's marytryrdom, but couldn't get them by Warner Bros. and the Jesuitical Joseph Breen of the Production Code Office. In one variant ending before Hitchcock and his collaborators found the one we have, Michel is cleared and defrocked and returns for one last time to his church, where the killer stabs him (thinking he has ratted) and then confesses into his dead ear - too late. There's even a late, unsigned variant where Ruth is suddenly the killer. I wonder what Chabrol and Rohmer would make of that! PS: The "Direction" sign that appears in the opening shots of the film first appears in the treatment Hitchcock did with Barbara Keon, who also worked on Strangers on a Train. It was very premeditated.
October 8 - 2003
[From para-Christian nuances in Family Plot, Bill Krohn turns today to Hitchcock's long-cherished project about a brave priest, which became I Confess. An earlier piece by Bill, for 'Senses of Cinema', mentioned below, may be found here: I Confess - Historical Note.] More work-in-progress: a bit of what follows appeared in a program note for 'Senses of Cinema' three years ago, and a bit has been alluded to briefly by Ken in a post of February 7 last year, quoting an email I sent him after doing research on I Confess in the Warner Bros. archives at the University of Southern California. It was there that I finally got to read 'Nos deux consciences' ('Our Two Consciences'), the play by Paul Bourde which became I Confess. I had been curious about the play because Hitchcock told his biographer John Russell Taylor that it had 'haunted' him since he saw it in London in the 30s. I could find no record of an English production and no English version of the play, apart from an abridged one which appeared in a magazine about theatre. But given the general reliability of Hitchcock's reminiscences in Taylor's book, it seemed to me that the play could shed light on the oldest theory of Hitchcock's cinema, the theme of transference of guilt that was systematically elaborated in Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer's 'Hitchcock' (1957). 'Themes and archetypes are among the ghostly baggage auteur criticism has inherited from its founders, at least one of whom, Rohmer, was a Platonist', I pointed out in my note for 'Senses of Cinema'. 'What makes I Confess an interesting subject for further research, apart from its considerable qualities as a film, is the intriguing possibility that it may have played the role of a material archetype - literally, a template - for the first manifestations of the "transference" theme and its corollary, the theme of confession, in Hitchcock's 30s thrillers, particularly The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps. This is a bold speculation on Taylor's part [...] but one which is born out in part by the subsequent history of the story's development in Hitchcock's hands.' The play may have haunted Hitchcock, but it is remembered today only because of him. Even after a couple of visits to France I had been unable to locate a copy of it in French, so I was overjoyed to find in the Warner Bros. Script File for I Confess a translation of the play done for Hitchcock by one Paulette d'Avril, dated February 1948. In a small French village Father Michel Pieux and his friend Bordier, a Socialist politician who is his favorite verbal sparring partner, discuss Bordier's belief that religion is obsolete, replaced by Socialism. After that, the setup is already pretty close to the movie - a killer's wife confesses to the priest, and the priest becomes a suspect - but the killer plays a less important role than the Socialist friend. It turns out that Bordier's wife had an affair with Father Michel's brother Philippe, by whom she had a child - the brother is dead for unspecified reasons. Father Michel was seeing Bordier's wife about the boy's health when 'old Fenaille', who had been blackmailing her, was killed,. She therefore can alibi Michel. When Bordier learns of his wife's past alliance and Michel's knowledge of it, he is faced with a dilemma: if his wife goes to the magistrate to alibi his friend, he will be dragged into a scandal and lose a tight election that is imminent, and the Socialist cause will be hurt. But he does not hesitate - true to his Socialist ethics he sends his wife to alibi Michel. But all she has done by doing so is to supply the police with their missing motive. The priest is tried and condemned. Visited by the killer in jail, he hears his confession and then prevents him from confessing to the police - if the killer clears him that way, Michel will appear to have used the confessional to frighten him into confessing so as to save his own life, a big sin. Instead, he orders him to make restitution of the stolen money. Only after Michel is executed does the killer, seeing the news of his death posted on the prison door, cry out his confession to the crowd who are there to watch. Haunting, indeed. (Continued tomorrow.)
October 7 - 2003
[Editor's note. Here's Bill Krohn back, folks! KM] Let me begin by apologizing for not having the promised final 'solution' to the graveyard speech in Family Plot. But let me kick off this guest stint by summarizing what I have learned. Thanks to Ken [and two good people out there - Dr Nandor Bokor and Dr Alain Kerzonkuf], I was directed to a posting on a website about Mormonism and Film, which finally identified the speech the pastor makes over the grave of Joseph Maloney (Ed Lauter) as coming from the Book of Mormon. Since I had access to the whole text of the speech, which was typed up and distributed in multiple copies for the day very near the end of post-production when the actor playing the pastor (Alexander Lockwood) had to loop it, I was able to add to this the information that it came not from one book of the Mormon Bible, but from three, patched together to make a single reasonably seamless text, most of which isn't audible in the film, but all of which was recorded and mixed so that only occasional words can be heard after George Lumley (Bruce Dern) starts berating Mrs Maloney (Katherine Helmond). I then pored over the 1000-page transcript of story meetings between Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman when they were knocking together a new plot spun off of Victor Canning's 'The Rainbird Pattern', which they had transformed pretty completely by the time Lehman went off to write the first draft. (All we have of the equivalent discussions between Hitchcock and Angus MacPhail on The Man Who Knew Too Much  are MacPhail's notes on the ideas that each session yielded, reproduced in Dan Auiler's 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' . If only there were a transcript of those discussions - they'd likely be even more interesting than the ones on Family Plot.) In all those 1000 pages, there is no mention of Mormonism - the only strand that seems to point to it is the ongoing discussion of locations, which eventuated in Lehman memoing the Universal research department that he and Hitchcock needed a town in Northern California with a quaint little cemetery, where families stayed on from generation to generation, and everyone would know all about everyone else. (Earlier plans to use the Artichoke Capital of the World, an actual town Hitchcock knew, and have the clue that leads George to it be an artichoke, were discussed at pleasant length and then dropped.) That could have led to the idea of making Joe Maloney a Mormon, along with Eddie Shoebridge's adopted parents, which finally turns up in the third (and, as always with AH, final) draft of the script, where George learns from the stonemason that the monument for the burned-up Shoebridge family was paid for by the Church of Latter-Day Saints. It is also in this draft that Joe Maloney - a name Lehman arbitrarily chose as a designation when he first suggested an accomplice to serve as a link to Shoebridge's past - became Joseph, a name with Mormon resonances. By the time Ed Lauter was ready to shoot his part, he was sporting a fine Old Testament-style beard! Much later, Hitchcock's assistant Peggy Robertson asked the research department for a speech that could appropriately be delivered at a Mormon funeral, and they supplied the patchwork of three passages that was finally cut slightly, retyped as one continuos speech, and looped. Coming close to the date for finishing the film (in fact, after the nearly finished film had been screened for the directors of Filmex, the Los Angeles film festival where it would have its world premiere), this was one of the last creative acts of Hitchcock's career, and we know from another detail that he was reluctant to turn off the faucet that had produced so many wonders for over 50 years, knowing full well that most people thought this would be his last work, and that they were probably right. The detail: a visiting journalist saw what he was told was the filming of the last shot of the movie, a complicated crane shot with Madame Blanche (Barbara Harris) on the stairs, after which the crew broke for lunch; but after lunch, Hitchcock reconvened them and filmed the last shot we now have - Madame Blanche winking at the camera. Because the looping of the graveyard speech - with its oddly para-Christian themes, and where everyone has always assumed Hitchcock was being conventionally Christian - was done much later, with the shadow of last things hanging over the ADR stage [for looping - Ed], one would like to think there was an idea behind it, as well - one that seems to have grown, as so many Hitchcock ideas did, out of the nuts and bolts of plot construction and directorial detail. If there was, it is still not beyond conjecture, but Ernest Lehman, in reply to my letter, pleaded a failing memory, and Alexander Lockwood is gone. Does anyone have Ed Lauter's phone number?
September 30 - 2003
[Another special editor's note. Bill Krohn is ill. Likely date for start of his latest guest-editing stint here is now next Monday, 6 October. Meanwhile, Robert Harris has further contacted us to say that the Technicolor process 'was not functional at the time of the [Vertigo] restoration and has never been used for 70mm prints'. Richard Franklin's original comments about the restoration appear above, dated September 8 and 9. Readers should carefully read what he says there while considering Robert Harris's responses ... KM]
September 29 - 2003
[Special editor's note. Bill Krohn, author of the outstanding 'Hitchcock at Work', will be returning here shortly to write notes on Family Plot and other matters. Bill's pieces here will be spread over at least the next two weeks, possibly longer. Meanwhile, here's an Erratum. Earlier this month, Richard Franklin wrote for us several criticisms of the so-called 'restored' print by Messrs Harris and Katz of Hitchcock's Vertigo. We stand by Richard's points about the liberties taken with the soundtrack of the restored version. However, another of his criticisms concerned the decision to use 70mm and Eastmancolor, rather than Vistavision and Technicolor, in mastering the 'restored' prints. Robert Harris, whom we thank, has responded as follows: 'one cannot transfer a dye transfer print to a video master with any quality'. We take this to refer to how video-mastering exaggerates the inherent contrast in Technicolor prints (as used by Vistavision). KM]
September 24 (b) - 2003
[Prof. Rick Worland concludes.] This brings me finally to Torn Curtain (1966). Hitchcock's trademark espionage genre and the offbeat pairing of Paul Newman and Julie Andrews gave this great possibility. Yet one of the weakest and least satisfying movies of his career also contains what I regard as one of the single greatest scenes he ever directed. I'm speaking of course of the scene in which Paul Newman and his contact, the German farmwoman, have to kill Gromek, the East German security agent. In gripping montage construction, this exercise in 'pure cinema' ranks with the dinner-table stabbing of Mr Verloc in Sabotage, the cornfield sequence in North By Northwest, or even the Psycho shower murder. Hitchcock said he wanted to show how truly difficult it was to physically kill another human being, and he succeeded. Unlike innumerable action movies, even today, where two evenly matched men fight while a woman only screams or cowers, the German woman tries to help but has little more effect than Newman. Neither are trained killers, but they fight for their lives, just as hard as - typical Hitchcock - the highly sympathetic Gromek. I recall the shots in which she searches frantically about her kitchen for something to use as a weapon, and spies the coal shovel. It ought to have quickly ended the battle but it doesn't. She hits Gromek, but clearly can't bring herself to strike him hard enough to split his skull and end it. The horror almost becomes funny because the struggle is so awkward ... and so real. This 'realism' is purchased of course through complete mastery of cinematic technique. This brilliant scene inclines me to think that this 'failed' movie probably does deserve further consideration. Yet the verdict of most audiences then or now (note, though, that I have only rarely screened this film in class) is that Torn Curtain 'doesn't work'. It's too long and flabby, filled with 'pictures of people talking'. Of Hitchcock's late films (those following The Birds), only Frenzy succeeds unequivocally by this definition of audience satisfaction (I hesitate to say 'enjoyment'). But the scene of Gromek's killing is clearly among the very best of Alfred Hitchcock. He had a tendency later in life to blame others for perceived 'failures', whether commercial or artistic. This too was the act of a flawed human being, part of the inevitable frustration and unhappiness that plague the perfectionist, and surely one of the sources of his greatness.
September 24 (a) - 2003
[Again today, Prof. Rick Worland's notes are printed here in two parts. Today he confronts the topic of Hitchcock's 'failures'. I must say that the films he nominates are ones that I often hear mentioned as unsatisfying - and I myself certainly don't rate Juno and the Paycock and Jamaica Inn very highly ... My sincere thanks to Rick for a week of most interesting observations. KM] When teaching Hitchcock, I first convey to students my admiration for the range and complexity of his films, and affirm the enjoyment and fascination they have held for me for years, responses that continue. But I'm also quick to say that The Master was also a flawed human being - otherwise the work wouldn't be so rich! - and that even great directors are routinely subject to the givens of commercial film production, the vagaries of the creative process, and the inevitable failures that result. If you surveyed the five or six worst Hitchcock films alone, you would not be too impressed. If asked, I have my personal 'Worst of Alfred Hitchcock' list: Juno and the Paycock (I can only hope the original play is more interesting!), Jamaica Inn (dubious material), The Paradine Case (he was just trying to finish the Selznick contract), Torn Curtain (see later), and Topaz (the screen versions of most novels he 'adapted' proceeded by gutting the material and starting over; here perhaps just the first phase was completed...). Readers of this website may have one or two other candidates - or may offer considered, persuasive retorts that some of the titles above are actually better than I realize ... Paraphrasing Truffaut, I too believe that the 'worst' of Hitchcock (or Ford, Hawks, Renoir, etc.) is usually better than the best of many other directors. And perhaps some of us, trained in auteurist assumptions, are inclined to give Hitchcock the benefit of the doubt. In the light of his greatest and most lasting work - Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo, etc., films whose fascination only increases - we may tend to consider that a weak film is better than it first appears. Hitchcock's artistry was so complex, it's possible we're missing something subtle but ingenious. This is the assumption, I think, behind the reconsideration of Suspicion that various critics, including me, have undertaken. But try as I might, I can't rehabilitate The Paradine Case or Topaz. Moreover, I take it as axiomatic that Hitchcock's best films are 'transparent'; he prided himself on being a popular entertainer as well as an artist, and the major films succeed critically and commercially because they entertain, grip, engage, delight. (I won't claim those terms are unproblematic, though!) Hitchcock's true mastery obtained from the ways in which 'satisfying' formula pictures with big stars are usually, upon even cursory reflection, seen to be full of intriguing contradictions and ironies. Take the ending of Strangers On a Train, where Bruno has delivered everything Guy desired and then conveniently died, with the evidence that clears Guy literally handed to the police. ('But Guy, you wanted it. We planned it together on the train.' He's right!). Still, did 1943 audiences, the same ones that resisted even the thought of Cary Grant playing a killer in Suspicion, grasp how darkly ironic, even cynical, the coda of Shadow of a Doubt was, a gesture of scoffing disgust at the steely certainty and optimism of so many other wartime movies? If such reflection came - a more sophisticated version of the 'ice box conversation' after the movie Hitchcock often joked about - it still followed the experience of a highly suspenseful and seemingly conventional conclusion.
September 23 (b) - 2003
[Prof. Rick Worland continues recalling his researches into the making of Suspicion. I would note that the whole matter of Hitchcock's conception of this film, and his intentions for its ending, occur in what Bill Krohn has described in the 'Hitchcock Annual', 2002-03 edition, p. 84, as a 'Byzantine context'. KM] I want to mention only two points that as far as I can tell remain mysterious. The first entails confirmation or rejection of perhaps the most stubborn myth about the film’s production: exactly where and when was it decided that regardless of which star played the male lead, this character would ultimately be proven innocent, or at least not guilty of murder? In 'The Dark Side of Genius' (Ballantine, 1984), Donald Spoto (who did have access to the RKO files) writes: 'In May 1940 while Hitchcock was finishing Foreign Correspondent, the trade papers reported RKO’s misgivings about casting [Laurence] Olivier as a murderer, and when Hitchcock spoke to [RKO's Harry] Edington in June, he said that he, Alma [Hitchcock], and Joan [Harrison] would revise the story by making the husband’s deeds the fictions in the mind of a neurotically suspicious woman'. (p. 254). Unfortunately, Spoto does not provide a specific citation for this trade press item. I looked through half a dozen prominent trade papers for the month of May 1940 (wading through lots of filler about the Nazi Blitzkrieg of western Europe, etc., etc.) but could never turn up such an item. It is of course possible I missed it, or didn’t look in the right publication. Perhaps verification exists in the elusive RKO files. It may seem like a minor point but so much of the legend and half-truth about Suspicion's production really derive from this claim about the studio mandate, whether true or false. The second point is this: assuming that Hitchcock did always intend the story to concentrate on Lina’s neurotic suspicions, why does this theme come off so obliquely at best? It’s clear from a lot of other films that Hitchcock was fully capable of moving back and forth between manipulation of the foibles and subjective reactions of his characters and of his audience. But in Suspicion, there is a lot of intriguing but inconsistent play with Lina and Johnnie and the viewer that never quite comes together in a satisfying and persuasive fashion. My research concluded that standard operating procedures of the studio and perceptions of Cary Grant’s star persona really did figure in audience reception of the movie, but not in the ways usually described. The surviving comment cards from the two Los Angeles area previews in the summer of 1941 clearly indicate that many viewers did not want to see even the implication that Cary Grant was a killer. Hitchcock and RKO had documented proof that the first preview audience had laughed when Lina stoically drank what she assumed was poisoned milk, and changed the film’s ending accordingly. (Though not solely for this reason.) This does not suggest that Hitchcock ever had a fully formed idea of what he wanted to do with this movie. Even so, I remain committed to this film and believe that it merits our continuing study and interest.
September 23 (a) - 2003
[Today, Prof. Rick Worland looks at Suspicion. That's a film that should be well known to regular readers of this website. Rick's comments today will be published in two parts.] Last year I published in 'Cinema Journal' (41/4, Summer 2002) a long article called “Before and After the Fact: Writing and Reading Hitchcock’s Suspicion”. The film has always intrigued me because of its fine performances, its rich visual details - and its utterly unsatisfying ending. Like most of us, I had read Hitchcock’s account of the film’s production in the Truffaut interview but had begun to wonder if that explanation could be empirically verified in its most important parts. I was also dissatisfied both with the many secondary accounts that repeated Hitchcock’s statements about studio meddling, about Cary Grant refusing or not being allowed to play a murderer (take your pick), and with confident statements about how preview audiences had reacted negatively to the first ending shot that provided no verification of such information. But I wanted something besides a 'making of' account — which as I soon discovered was hardly easy to research itself. I also wanted to consider how or if a more precise understanding of the movie’s disputed production history might modify critical displeasure with the film. Well, after a good deal of research, I had to conclude that some of the basic questions about the making of Suspicion remain unanswered, though not necessarily unknowable, and the issue of whether the film is a failure, an under-appreciated triumph, or something in between remains an open question. So absorbed was I in this project over a period of time that I was unaware of the parallel work being done by Bill Krohn, some of whose findings I have recently read right here on the 'MacGuffin' website. And while I won’t compare Bill and me to Newton and Leibnitz discovering the calculus while working independently - Hitchcock scholarship is perhaps not quite that important - I was heartened to find that another critic was interested in these questions and, further, had examined somewhat different primary documents than I had. I have not yet been able to read Bill's elaborated account in the recent 'Hitchcock Annual' (2002-03 edition), so my comments here are based on the four lengthy excerpts drawn from his research posted here in 2001. He looked at more script drafts than I did, including drafts prepared by RKO before Hitchcock came to the project in the summer of 1940; I read Production Code Administration files that reported the censor’s comments about some of this material. He provides a much more detailed account of the actual script-development history that turned the Francis Iles novel 'Before the Fact' into Hitchcock’s (and RKO’s) Suspicion. His elaboration of the controversial letter or stamp motif in the film is also highly interesting. For my part, using the Alfred Hitchcock Papers at the AMPAS Library, including a shooting script that compiles the various drafts of scenes written from December 1940 through July 1941, I became more interested in how Suspicion emerged as a product not only of The Master of Suspense but also of the Hollywood studio system c. 1940. I believe our accounts are complementary but that, as Krohn indicates, more work should be done if ever again the production files of RKO-Radio become easily available to scholars (as they generally were from the 1970s through the late 1980s in Los Angeles).
September 22 - 2003
[Editor's note. Our 'guest-editor' this week is Rick Worland, an associate professor of cinema and television at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. Today, Rick gives us a front-line report on one of the problems in teaching Hitchcock to undergraduates, at least until recently ... I should perhaps note that in addition to the superb Criterion range of Hitchcock DVDs, excellent 'budget' DVDs of British Hitchcock are produced by Laserlight and Kino Video, to name but two. Also, our friend Al Chafin in Florida - whose URL is elsewhere on this page - offers Hitchcock aficionados some rare early-Hitchcock treats.] For the past dozen years, in teaching a survey course on Hitchcock's films, I have often begun with an apology concerning the British phase of Hitchcock's career. Not an apology for it, mind you. The best of Hitchcock's British period yielded some of the best Hitchcock, period: The Lodger, the astounding and still under-recognized Rich and Strange, The Man Who Knew Too Much - plus of course The 39 Steps, Sabotage, and The Lady Vanishes. Rather, I have had to apologize for not dealing with the first half of Hitchcock's career much at all. For years I could justify a cursory discussion of his British work for the very practical reason that quality versions of those movies were not readily available in the United States. True, most of the British films can now generally be found here on VHS or DVD. The problem - until recently - has been that with most of the 1930s titles in Public Domain, the visual quality did not improve when awful 16mm prints were transferred first to VHS and then to DVD. Quite the opposite occurred. And it was not just having to squint through faded, heavily scratched or nearly black images that deprived contemporary audiences of the best of Hitchcock's formative work. The soundtracks of those versions of the British films were often nearly inaudible, full of noise and hiss that worsened with every transfer. Hitchcock was a creative innovator in the early sound period, you say? One would never know it from the excruciating experience of watching - and trying to listen to - most every print of Blackmail I have ever seen. A couple of times I tried screening low-quality 16mm prints of The 39 Steps that only left students wondering what all the fuss over Hitchcock was about. Try claiming that the clever sound-bridge from the maid turning to scream at the sight of a murder victim to a cut of a locomotive with its whistle blasting marked an innovative use of sound when all they heard was hissing and popping. For a while I gave up. This was no way to convince students of the importance of this movie to Hitchcock's subsequent professional and artistic development. American undergrads who may struggle with the wise-guy slang in Warners gangster movies of the 1930s had little incentive to grapple with British colloquial expressions from this period if they could hardly hear even the basic expository dialog. In point of fact, the range of British regional and class accents in The 39 Steps is both rich and strange to American ears. But when you can properly hear the soundtrack, the performances of stars and bit-players alike are one of the movie's chief delights. Well, now I can report that I have found the Criterion Collections' DVD restorations of The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes. With the picture restored and the sound cleaned up, The 39 Steps has proven to be one of the most important and successful films in my course. My students now understand, about as well as audiences did originally, that the film is indeed suspenseful and funny at the same time. Cases in point: Richard Hannay's wonderful impromptu speech at the Scottish political meeting or the funny double-entendre interplay between the women's undergarment salesmen on the train ('Brrr, my wife', etc.), not to mention Robert Donat's wry, lilting inflections on lines like 'Oh, look, a whole flock of detectives!' For myself, I may still not know 'what causes pip in poultry', but at least I can now hear the question! (Actually, from my web research, I believe that pip is a bacterial disease in fowls, and that poor poultry-house ventilation is a common cause of it.)
September 17 - 2003
[Looks like Richard Franklin's Visitors will receive its US premiere at the first annual Boston Fantastic Film Festival (BFFF) on 17-23 October. (His Indian Ocean-set thriller has already been shown at the Montreal Film Festival.) Today, Richard concludes his richly informative series of pieces for us by referring to 'Little Red Riding-Hood' - to which Hitchcock himself often referred. KM] As my farewell to 'MacGuffin' readers, I would like to talk about that speciality of the 'Master' - suspense. Somewhere I have seen an interview (circa late '40s) in which Mr H expresses bemusement that others attempt to do what he does but almost never get it right. This is even more true of filmmakers today. Well, from many years' rumination on what Mr H said and did (there is nothing I learned from him which is not in his work for all to see), and from my own attempts not so much to emulate but to expand on what he did, I offer the following ... Drama is based on conflict (you're carrying goodies to grandma, but there's a wolf in the woods). Suspense is based on suspending the resolution of that conflict (you stray from the path, smell the flowers, ask questions about grandma's anatomy - practically everything but get the hell outta there). Most filmmakers who try the genre, get Part Two right, but forget Part One - to use Hitchcock's 'bomb under the table' analogy, they forget to light the fuse!!! If the conflict is one of life/death (in the case of Psycho, a banshee who will brook no argument) and if we have a strong identification figure (say: a wayward girl who's stolen money, or a detective who ought to be able to handle himself), then the film will be more suspenseful. But this is not always possible ... With Psycho II, Norman was our identification figure - a dubious one, true, yet we had only to suggest madness was returning to the Bates house and the banshee was unleashed again. With my latest thriller Visitors, the threat is that the central character may be driven to harm herself. (Incidentally, I am always amused, when watching Rebecca, by Mrs Danvers' exhortation to 'I' to jump from Rebecca's window: it seems life/death, but look again - the fall would almost certainly not be fatal. It's all in the mind, you see!) Our solution with Visitors was to have many bombs under many tables. Anyway ... the final part of the suspense equation (Part Three) was something I believe Mr H did intuitively. It is the quintessential element of his particular brand of suspense, which I doubt he could explain, since it goes way beyond placing a bomb under the table and is at odds with his apologies for two moments which are to my mind not lapses, but quintessential to Hitchcockian suspense - I'm thinking of the bomb on the bus in Sabotage and the dishonest flashback in Stage Fright. The moral ambiguity of both these moments is to me no better or worse than the very great moment in Psycho when the car containing Marion's body stops sinking. And here (I believe) is how this element works ... Identification with both sides of a conflict, and our oscillating between these two sides, is the basis of Hitchcockian suspense. We have a horrible feeling that Marion somehow deserved her fate. And we worry for Norman when the car stops sinking into the swamp. We pity Thorwald in the finale of Rear Window, we feel for poor old Anthony Dawson impaled on the scissors in Dial M for Murder, while somehow Scottie deserves his (and Judy's) fate in Vertigo for questioning Madeleine's resurrection. I could cite similar moments of ambivalence from almost all of Hitchcock's great work. But I've run out of time (and barely scratched the surface of the films). Thank you (and Ken) for having me.
September 16 - 2003
[Staying on the subject of Psycho, Richard Franklin looks today at both the original and its sequels and re-makes ...] When I was invited to make Psycho II people in Hollywood said things like: 'you must be the bravest man in the world'. When it succeeded, both critically and financially, the very same people said things like: '...well with Norman Bates and that house, it was foolproof wasn't it?' As proof of the fact it was anything but foolproof, I cite the fact that Robert Bloch's novel 'Psycho II', which started the whole endeavour, did not have Norman coming home, but going to Hollywood (I'm not certain of the machinations of that story as I was under strict orders from Universal's legal department not to read it). My lawyer suggested the endeavour would not benefit me, as I might get the blame if it failed, but that the credit for its success would go to Mr H. It was a correct prediction, but my fondest hope was that our picture would somehow expand a story I think of as the modern Oedipus Rex, into part of a larger work. And I believe we succeeded inasmuch (for a while there) the original began to be referred to as Psycho I. This changed again when the less successful III and IV were produced - and directors Tony Perkins and Mick Garris were blamed. But although many more people now talk to me about my following picture Cloak and Dagger (referred to on the Web as 'a Hitchcock movie produced by Walt Disney'), I am chuffed that III (with its recreation of the Vertigo tower by Production Designer Henry Bumstead) and IV (on which the original screen writer Joseph Stephano worked, being convinced he knew where II and III had gone wrong) were in fact not sequels to the original, but to my picture. I have written at length elsewhere (in the Australian journal 'Cinema Papers') about the re-make of Psycho by Gus Van Sant. I do not have room to do so here, so will content myself with a couple of interpolations ... A truly fascinating moment occurs in the original. As Janet Leigh drives through the rain, we hear the voice of the rich Texan from whom she's stolen the $40,000 ($400,000 in the remake), saying he will get back every cent of it from her 'soft flesh'. At this moment Hitchcock has Janet smile. Only Hitchcock, with his fundamentalist Jesuit upbringing, could have so indicted Marion (Eve as the instigator of 'original sin'), but a fascinating moment nonetheless, which does not occur in the re-make. However for reasons that escape me, Anne Heche, in the scene where she packs her bags, relishes her decision to steal the money - which Janet Leigh does not. Tony Perkins was quite fine-boned and appeared the taller for it, but look at him next to Gary Cooper in Friendly Persuasion (1956). Nonetheless, he only donned the wig and dress for the Psycho finale. Earlier in the film, Hitchcock used similarly lithe stand-ins for Mrs Bates. In the re-make, from the very first shot of Mrs Bates pacing at her window, it is clearly a man (presumably the thick-set Vaughn) in drag. Lastly, a footnote concerning the argument about the superimposition of the skull in the final image of Norman in the police station (a moment foreshadowed in Hitchcock's television show "Lamb to the Slaughter", which ends with Barbara Bel Geddes grinning to herself): Hitchcock the showman actually helped promote this controversy by releasing some prints which did not have said super. Like I said yesterday - chutzpah!
September 15 - 2003
[Editor's note. The director of Psycho II (1983), my friend Richard Franklin, today offers us his "Notes from the shower". Oh, and Richard's term 'furphy' is Australian for a misconception, a myth ... KM] One of the things easily forgotten about Psycho is the issue of censorship. In this era of adult video, it is easy to overlook how in 1960 adults were not allowed to self regulate, and that one Joseph Breen was the custodian of Western movie morality (as successor to what was once the Hayes Office). The near-impossible feat achieved by Hitchcock (which I would argue would be no easier today) was the murder of a naked woman while showering. For a start, consider that in 1960 no mainstream movie had yet shown full frontal nudity. Also, consider the technical difficulty of stabbing or shooting - with a gun - a naked woman. In a shower, the blood is constantly being washed away (though in the case of a man bodily hair would allow at least some concealment of blood packs, prosthetic wounds, etc.). No, the scene was well nigh unfilmable, and Hitchcock's Eisenstein-montage approach was the only one possible. Not so much to conceal the knife making contact with the body (which it does) nor because we mustn't see the identity (or gender) of the murderer (the essential problem in adapting Bloch's novel), but that nudity could not be shown! However, such was the power of Mr H's promotional 'machine' (mostly his own chutzpah), he persuaded Breen (and many Hitchcock aficionados to this day) that the knife does not make body contact. In fact, even in Truffaut's selected frame-stills from the shower scene, the shot of the knife entering near the belly button (presumably of the rubber torso built for this purpose) is clear. And there's another 'furphy' - which even without the facility to step-frame on video (mercifully unavailable to Mr Breen) is apparent but almost never remarked: Mr H told Breen he used a young male body-double, so female breasts could not possibly appear. Yet look at the apparently poorly framed shot of the hand reaching for the shower curtain - it is framed not for the hand, but for the out of focus breasts of stripper/ stand-in Marli Renfro beyond! Another interesting fact: Peggy Robertson told me Hitch's original intention for the scene is the reason for the seldom-remarked floral wallpaper of the bedroom wall adjoining Norman's parlour. In lieu of using the ornately-framed print of "Susannah and the Elders" in the parlour (concealing a spy-hole in the wall), Mr H had planned to dolly in slowly on the wallpaper 'sea' of flowers to reveal an eye staring at Marion from the centre of one of the roses. We did our version of this shot in Psycho II, though we could not find wallpaper as good as in the original. And, speaking of roses: according to our Producer Hilton Green (the Assistant Director on Psycho), we did the 'up' shot of the shower rose in the same way as they did. But try as we might, we could not achieve a facsimile of the water falling into the lens [a shot which effectively emphasises what I call the scene's 'halo-effect' - Ed.].
September 10 - 2003
[Richard Franklin tells me that he was persuaded by his editor on Visitors, his new thriller, to remove a pivotal shot of a stowaway. Was it an error? Richard isn't saying for now. But the theme of 'fallibility' is what he is talking about here today - the last of his stimulating pieces for this week. KM] We all err. One of Bill Krohn's assertions in his marvellous 'Hitchcock at Work' is that Hitchcock's propensity for shooting alternate versions of shots is indicative of directorial 'control'. Krohn differentiates this approach from so-called 'coverage', as if the latter somehow indicates less control on the part of the rest of us film-makers. This is strictly not accurate. Once the scene plays in a master (usually the widest shot that contains all the action - whether or not one moves the camera), so-called 'coverage' (working one's way from wide to close-ups and finally 'inserts') is then just so much repetition - as in theatre, the actors can go it alone. W.S. Van Dyke reputedly left it to the Assistant Director to match the master and 'shoot the shit out of it' (the technical term for the approach, too, of Robert Wise, George Stevens and Walter Hill). Well, believe it or not, Hitchcock himself would typically leave the studio at 5.30pm - at least, later in his career - and a further hour or so of inserts (like Norman cleaning up the bathroom) would be supervised by the Assistant Director. It is true that Hitchcock would play many scenes (Norman carrying 'Mother' to the fruit cellar), big slabs of scenes (the description of Rebecca's death) or, uniquely, an entire movie (Rope), in single shots. But John Ford went even further in the river bank scene of Two Rode Together (1961) with a six-minute scene done in a single shot without any camera movement whatever. Which is suggestive of clout, but not necessarily 'control'. 'Coverage' per se (provided one has control in the cutting room) is not a bad thing and in no way suggests a lack of discipline - just a different approach. Alternate takes (like the two which are cobbled together for the opening of Rear Window) are really no different to my mind from traditional 'coverage'. The director is simply zeroing in on the best way to tell the story. Mr H liked to try to do it on paper ahead of time (largely I suspect because he was nervous of actors). Polanski (a sometime actor), on the other hand, lets the coverage evolve from the dynamics of the performances, so he plans no shot until he's seen the actors run the scene. And Hitchcock's films do contain many traditionally 'covered' scenes which he generally referred to as 'B' scenes. On Psycho, he spent ten days of his thirty-day schedule in the shower, and more than half a day on the single shot revealing 'Mother' in the revolving chair. Then he made up for it by powering through the scene in the Sheriff's house in a couple of hours, using the most mundane master shot and close ups. [To help him do so, as Sid Gottlieb recently reminded us here, he jettisoned the first part of the scene as written - Ed.] Hitchcock certainly told stories with a camera better than most, but Bill Krohn's evidence of alternate takes suggests to me not so much that Mr H was infallible, but that he was human. It is now widely known he got a 'wobble up' about the letter-writing scene in Vertigo - but having myself tried the film without the scene on a few guinea pigs (just as Hitchcock did), I believe he was right to include this scene. On the other hand, I think he was being overly cautious removing the shot of Kim Novak making eye contact with James Stewart at Ernie's (the shot can be seen in the trailer included on the DVD). And leaving it to others to do the re-shoot was a real error. 'Herb' Coleman takes responsibility for using the wrong lens, but almost everything that is right in the previous shot is wrong in the re-shoot - lighting, make-up, and performance by Ms Novak. [See Dan Auiler, 'Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic', 1998, pp. 151-52 - Ed.] If only we could hear Mr H's account as well as Mr Coleman's (on the DVD). It would surely be an acknowledgement that we all err!
September 9 - 2003
[Director Richard Franklin, whose new thriller Visitors opens soon, continues his observations on the 'restoration' of Hitchcock's Vertigo a few years ago.] Few (outside of Eastman Kodak) would argue that Technicolor was not superior in terms of colour intensity and especially longevity (Eastmancolor is prone to fading, especially when the light of projectors passes through it). Already, then, anyone seeing one of the prints of the Vertigo restoration struck in the mid-nineties is not seeing the images as Hitchcock, Robert Burks and even Harris and Katz intended. Even the 70mm negative, from which the video mastering for future generations has and will be done, has almost certainly lost some of its lustre. I would argue that if Hitchcock had wanted to make Vertigo in 70mm, he probably could have done so. In fact, on his next picture North by Northwest, though shooting rear projection plates in 70mm, he elected to shoot the picture in the same process as Vertigo - Vistavision. This process is arguably the best motion picture photographic process ever devised, since it uses an 8 perforation 35mm negative (horizontally - the same as a still camera), more than twice the size of the conventional 35mm frame. And since no 70mm Technicolor printer was ever built, Vistavision gave the largest negative from which to derive a release print in the superior Technicolor process. (In the case of Ben Hur, shot in 70mm at the same studio the same year as North by Northwest, DVDs have been mastered not from the 70mm original, but from the 35mm reduction, specifically to take advantage of Technicolor.) What a pity Harris et al. could not have taken advantage of a unique window a short time later, when the Technicolor lab in Hollywood was briefly printing again in the IB process (undertaking among other things the theatrical restoration of Giant and some prints for the re-issue of Rear Window). Or they could have contemplated an IB restoration in China (where IB Tech was available at the time, and still is), but in fact made the questionable move to 70mm. Even more questionable were the decisions made re the soundtrack. Discovering the original music tracks were recorded in two-track stereo, Harris et al. decided to go the whole hog and do a six-track soundtrack (consistent with a 70mm release like Ben Hur). They argued that this was in the 'spirit' of the original but taking advantage of new technology unavailable to Hitchcock. Actually, six-track 70mm had been available since Oklahoma in 1955; and even in Vistavision, Hitchcock could have mixed in stereo, but did not. There is not room here to undertake a scene-by-scene comparison (and in any case the restoration re-mix has been modified since for video and DVD in different sound configurations), but I must say that the decision to re-mix and replace sound effects in the name of digital quality is annoying when it changes entirely the once other-worldly quality of the gunshot and scream in the opening scene. And egregious during the appearance of the nun in the belltower at the end of the film. I worked with one of the original mixers of Vertigo, 'Doc' Wilkinson, and he specifically mentioned the lack of sound effects at this astonishing moment. When we screened Hitchcock's print, the single organ chord as the dark figure rises like Mephistopheles [or like Death in The Seventh Seal (1957)? - Ed.] on a stage hydraulic, caused audience members to scream. Whereas nobody reacts this way when the ghost-like appearance is accompanied by pedestrian 'foley' footsteps telegraphing her arrival. In sum, my major regret is that it is not Mr Hitchcock's Vertigo which will go down through the ages but Mr Harris's. And I will always question the argument 'if the technology had been available to ...' (David Lean, say? - who would then have edited the sunrise in Lawrence à la Eisenstein's Odessa Steps?) ...
September 8 - 2003
[Editor's note. Today, Richard Franklin, Australian film director of Psycho II, returns to begin a fortnight of "Editor's Day" contributions. His first topic concerns the so-called 'restoration' of Vertigo in the 1990s and some related technical considerations.] In 1967, the year of the Hitchcock retrospective at USC, there were very few copies of Vertigo in existence, since Hitchcock had withdrawn most of his Paramount pictures largely due to difficulties with the Cornell Woolrich estate over Rear Window. But it is reasonable to hypothesise he was still smarting at the failure (both box office and critical) of the film he must at some point have considered his 'masterpiece' - since it is so proclaimed on the poster designed for him by Saul Bass. As previously stated, my primary motivation for organising a Hitchcock retrospective was to see Vertigo in Technicolor. Well, we saw it in spades when Mr H offered us his personal IB print of it, which we viewed several times. Later, in the early eighties, I saw it again shortly after Pat Hitchcock sold the Paramount package to Universal. Since this print was the one used by Robert Harris and James Katz as a reference during the film's restoration, I feel reasonably qualified to compare the two, i.e., Hitchcock's original and the restored version through which the picture now lives in DVD and whatever technology eventually replaces that. We are extremely fortunate to have people like Harris working in restoration; however, as a film maker, I feel that the topic of Vertigo opens up several questions about the 'art' of restoration, an issue whose importance grows by the minute through the work of such people as Laurent Bouzereau and the so-called 'classic' divisions of most of the large distribution companies. In the case of Lawrence of Arabia, the restorers (Harris et al.) had both director David Lean and editor Anne Coates to keep them honest (and the new film they made together is a fascinating comment on the 'permanence' of the art of cinema). But in the case of Vertigo, neither Mr H nor his editor, George Tomasini, was around; as a film maker, I question several of the decisions made (and I would welcome answers from Harris and anyone else privvy to these decisions) ... Superficially, the picture-quality holds up pretty well. In fact, some of the process car-interiors look better in the restoration. However the decision to go to 70mm is questionable, because 70mm is prone to fading (whereas IB Technicolor was not). To explain: IB Tech (short for 'imbibition') was a process whereby three coloured dyes were printed on clear celluloid, while Eastmancolor is a photographic process in which these three layers are sandwiched together on photographic stock. It gets more complicated ... Technicolor required that three B&W colour separation negatives be exposed simultaneously, and an enormous camera was devised, which when blimped (soundproofed) was the size of a refrigerator. There is a wonderful still in George Perry's 'The Films of Alfred Hitchcock' (1965, p. 95) of Mr H riding a crane on Under Capricorn with the camera once described by his cameraman Jack Cardiff as 'the Rolls-Royce of cameras' (the camera can also be seen in the section on Rope in Bill Krohn's 'Hitchcock at Work', 2000, pp. 106-07). However, the more compact Mitchell BNC using Eastmancolor became the staple on film sets (see 'Hitchcock at Work' on Rear Window: e.g., pp. 138-39), and the Technicolor separations were made later in the laboratory. Meanwhile, Hitchcock (and others) had turned to what is arguably the ultimate photographic process for achieving a quality release print - Vistavision. More tomorrow.
September 3 - 2003
[Today, as he concludes his ruminations as this week's guest-editor, Prof. Richard Allen refers to Immanuel Kant's (and Schopenhauer's) teaching that the human mind necessarily intervenes between us and the 'thing-in-itself'. But Hitchcock's films, notes Allen, aren't concerned with a possible, or impossible, 'redemption' of reality ... KM] I taught André Bazin’s famous essay "The ontology of the photographic image" in my film theory class yesterday. Bazin proposes that cinema represents a dialectical leap forward in the history of art. He argues that whereas art previously relied on resemblance, or illusionism, to represent reality, the photograph and the film image, because of the causal link they bear to what they represent, in some sense actually present to the spectator the thing in itself - representation and what it represents are in some sense identical. Versions of this idea are prevalent in classical film theory. Human consciousness excludes an objective apprehension of the world as it really is - an idea enshrined in Kant’s philosophy, and restated by theorists of modernity - but along came cinema which offered the potential to redeem reality. Well, it always surprises me how tenacious this narrative of loss and redemption is for academic cinephiles, as if providing a way of ennobling their love of film. One frequently hears lamentations that cgi violates the sanctity of the medium; indeed, a whole academic conference was recently organized on the idea of the 'loss of the referent'! But what has all this got to do with Hitchcock? Well, I have always found Hitchcock to be a wonderful antidote to those who claim the essence of film lies in its relationship to the 'real', for it seems to me that Hitchcock has very little interest in this aspect of cinema, and his films are none the worse for it! For Hitchcock, films are moving pictures artfully designed, composed, and constructed in the frame. This is not to say that Hitchcock ignored the importance of verisimilitude or life-like-ness (see Bill Krohn's 'Hitchcock at Work') - but verisimilitude itself is a function of visual design. This is nowhere better illustrated than in Hitchcock’s use of color where he approaches the frame as if it were a blank canvas in which every element of his color design signifies (as I hope to show in an essay shortly to be published here on Ken’s website). Hitchcock favored back-projection, in spite of the slight loss of literal realism it entails, because it allowed him to control the overall visual design of the image [cf. Gottlieb, 'Alfred Hitchcock Interviews' (2003), pp. 97-98 - Ed.]. Imagine how he would have embraced the resources of cgi, not, of course to create the facile imaginary worlds of a George Lucas, but to facilitate the orchestration and control of elements in the real-world settings of his dramas. Rope is surely a (relatively clumsy) mechanical version of a computerized passage through its single-set environment, and The Birds anticipates the kind of films that are now made with digital technology (as Stephen Mamber has noted). The mistake made by Bazinians is that while they correctly identify a central feature that distinguishes the cinematic image from other forms of representation - namely, its photographic basis - they overlook how cinema's capacity to represent events in space and time is not reducible to this photographic basis. Accordingly, Hitchcock’s films refute the idea that the causal or evidentiary link between the cinematic image and what it represents is the defining characteristic of film aesthetics. Long live Hitchcock!
September 2 - 2003
[Has anyone given a better thumbnail definition of the essential difference between the two main forms of Hitchcock adventure - male-centred and female-centred, respectively - than Prof. Richard Allen of NYU offers us today, hinging on the concept of 'recognition'? Read on ...] In his 'Poetics' Aristotle conceived anagnorisis or 'recognition' to lie at the heart of the tragic plot, and subsequent commentators have generalized his insights to story-telling as a whole. Aristotle introduces recognition alongside peripeteia or 'reversal' as 'the most powerful elements of emotional interest in tragedy.' Aristotle defines recognition as 'a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing either love or hate between the persons destined by the poet for good or bad fortune.' It is not hard to see how recognition functions as the inverse of suspense which postpones or delays the moment of narrative revelation; yet unlike suspense, which has been extensively discussed in the literature, the centrality of recognition to Hitchcock’s plots and of Hitchcock’s plots to understanding recognition has been overlooked. Hitchcock’s 'wrong man' narrative, borrowed from Buchan, in which the hero of the adventure-romance becomes the villain of the murder mystery, is an archetypal recognition plot that turns on discriminating hero from villain to ensure the realization of the romance and the social renewal that it entails (The 39 Steps, North by Northwest). Often Hitchcock’s works dramatize the difficulty of discriminating hero from villain but it is only the occasional film that leaves us in a state of radical uncertainty - for example, The Lodger or Suspicion. More often, any uncertainty on the part of a character or the spectator is resolved. For example, the detective in Blackmail has no doubt who killed the dandy-artist, and Young Charlie in Shadow of A Doubt knows that Uncle Charlie is the murderer. But while recognition is often achieved in Hitchcock’s films, the attainment of knowledge yields its own sense of crisis. It is illuminating to distinguish Hitchcock’s male-centered and female-centered stories with respect to the way in which they dramatize the consequences of recognition. In Hitchcock films where the male protagonist is a detective-type, the truth that is a prelude to romance may be discovered but it is also used or manipulated by the hero to achieve his ends - rationality is placed at the service of self-interest in a manner that is both smug and coercive. In their different ways, Blackmail, Murder!, and Marnie all reflect the coercive nature of male rationality. On the other hand, Hitchcock’s female-centered gothic melodramas begin from a standpoint where the process of discovery and detection has a deeply personal dimension that cannot be divorced from the emotional attachments that precipitate it. These emotions may block the process of discovery and lead to wish-fulfilling delusion that is antithetical to the attainment of knowledge (Joan Fontaine in Suspicion), but they may also support the intuition that is necessary to the clear-headed attainment of a knowledge that is all the more credible because it is achieved in spite of the interests of desire, as is pre-eminently illustrated in Hitchcock’s 1943 masterpiece Shadow of a Doubt.
September 1 - 2003
[Editor's note. Our honoured 'guest-editor' this week is Professor Richard Allen, who has several books on Hitchcock in the works. Back in 1999, he and Sam Ishii-Gonzalès co-edited 'Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays' for the BFI. Also, of course, Richard is nowadays co-editor with Prof. Sid Gottlieb of the 'Hitchcock Annual'. KM] Some 15 years ago Lesley Brill published 'The Hitchcock Romance' which challenged the prevailing view of Hitchcock as an ironic, or skeptical, director. Brill argued that Hitchcock made romances in Northrop Frye’s sense of the term. That is, a film such as North by Northwest portrays a chaotic universe governed by randomness and chance in which human love provides a secular form of redemption. To be sure, Brill argues, there is an ironic aspect to Hitchcock’s work where the possibility of romantic and social renewal implodes (as in Vertigo). Furthermore, Brill acknowledges a category of 'mixed' romances such as Rear Window, where romance and irony co-exist in a 'perfusive formal tension'. But the overall goal of his work is to emphasize the romantic against the ironic as a corrective to previous Hitchcock scholarship. I have always found much to admire in Brill’s argument yet have encountered resistance to it from those of my students who prefer to cleave to the dark side of Hitchcock. The reason, I think, is that precisely because Brill is nearly right about Hitchcock he is also wholly wrong! The problem stems from Brill’s use of Frye - who deals in narrative archetypes that contrast romance with irony, a contrast that rhetorically structures Brill’s study of Hitchcock. For Brill, when romance and irony combine in Hitchcock, the combination is, so to speak, a contingent one, merely an inessential trait of some of Hitchcock’s works. However, I wish to argue that Hitchcock is a thoroughgoing romantic-ironist, that is, his conception of romance is constituted in relationship to irony, and vice-versa. This is just as true of much of North By Northwest, which gives a redemptive (Byronic) spin to the relationship between romance and irony, as of Vertigo, in which romance is undercut by irony (in a manner that, as Robin Wood points out, recalls Keats’s poem 'Lamia'). Hitchcock’s films both affirm the necessity and value of romance against the incipient chaos of the world (the secularization of the biblical myth of redemption so important to romanticism - see Meyer Abrams' 'Natural Supernaturalism') and, at the same time, consistently attest to the arbitrariness and fictiveness of the romance. For, by constraining the incipient chaos of the world, the romance narrative (and the social structure it reconfirms) seems at best dull in comparison to the allure of those forces seeking to undermine it, and at worst coercive. If the chaos that governs the world is life-threatening and must be contained, randomness and chaos are also, paradoxically, the very source of the personal and social renewal that the romance narrative seeks to affirm. This paradox has no better illustration than the figure of Uncle Charles in Shadow of a Doubt who is at once the personification of evil and a source of redemption. Further, Hitchcock’s romantic irony receives its most abstract (most complete?) statement in The Birds - where nature (closely associated with femininity) is simultaneously a source of both corruption and redemption.
August 27 - 2003
["Further thoughts from Nob Hill." Richard Franklin, the director of Psycho II, concludes his ruminations for now on Vertigo. Note: Richard will return here in a fortnight. KM] The issue of class in Vertigo ought to leap out at one (and probably did for 1950s American audiences), but I had never really thought about it until my recent trip to SFO and sojourn at the Mark Hopkins. In the rarefied setting of Nob Hill a detective in a brown suit, 'on the bum', would stand out like a sore thumb. So on two counts, Scottie would feel ill at ease pursuing someone who lived in an area elevated by both altitude and class. This is probably even truer for the tarty Judy Barton from Kansas, since at least Scottie went to college with Gavin. If she really was Gavin's mistress before the story begins, she must have been much more at home visiting him at his shipyard office on 'skid row'. Which raises several plot issues ... Once Judy becomes involved in the film noir plan to kill Gavin's wife, she must undergo the Pygmalion-like transformation described in detail by Scottie in the final belltower scene. It is interesting to note that 'My Fair Lady' (from Shaw's 'Pygmalion') was at the height of its success when Vertigo was made, and Tom Helmore played Henry Higgins in the Los Angeles production, which Hitchcock almost certainly saw. [In North by Northwest, there's a reference to 'My Fair Lady' when Thornhill, drunk, burbles, 'I've grown accustomed to your bourbon ...' - Ed.] The proximity of Gavin's Club to his apartment, just across the road from the Brocklebank, where he installs Judy, is to say the least a risky business. However, if this is where he lives with his wife, the issue of how he insinuates his made-over mistress into this milieu is tricky in the extreme. For example, where is the wife while the mistress walks in and out, wearing the wife's clothes and driving her car? She may of course have gone away or be living in the country, but Judy is a pretender to Nob Hill and her affected accent might fool Scottie, but what would other residents think? Of course, the significant thing about Vertigo is that such questions (dare I say plot holes?) do not occur, even after repeated viewings, due to Hitchcock's bravura and other reasons. (We actually see and hear Judy-as-Madeleine doing her stuff, and she is convincing.) The dream-like quality of the picture overrides such down-to-earth concerns. The amazing thing about Vertigo is the dual ghosts of Carlotta and 'Madeleine' (I use inverted commas because I mean either Gavin's real wife, who remains as distant as the real Rebecca, or the Pygmalion-like construct which my director-doctor friend George Miller called 'the perfect embodiment of Jung's anima'). These two (or is it three?) characters are so persuasive, so all-pervasive, that the 'real' story ('Gavin Elster's plan to murder his wife') pales into insignificance. Hitchcock never made a haunted house picture and only ever glanced at the occult (an omission I am attempting to right, as it were, by proxy, with my new picture Visitors). Yet his masterpiece about a haunted city is so compelling, I for one cannot visit SFO without being haunted.
August 26 - 2003
[Film director Richard Franklin, just returned from San Francisco where he stayed at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, calls today's item "Thoughts from Nob Hill". For convenience, he uses the baggage label term 'SFO' to refer to the San Francisco area generally.] The 1967 retrospective of Hitchcock's films at USC began because of my desire to see the long withdrawn Vertigo in Technicolor (Aussie TV still being B&W). We were fortunate in screening Mr H's own print (the same one later used by Messrs Harris and Lasky as a reference for the 1990s restoration, about which I'll say more here later). Bearing in mind the film was already nine years old, several of us would visit San Francisco from time to time and do what we called (even then) 'the Vertigo tour'. On my first visit, I started with Gray Line Tours #1, a basic tour of downtown SFO, and was gobsmacked when the first stop was the 'Mission Dolores' where - it is claimed - the prop headstone of Carlotta Valdes was kept for some years until relatives of those interred in the oldest cemetery in SFO complained. (But I never saw it ...) One of the few things missing from the extraordinary website VERTIGO THEN AND NOW (WayBack Machine) is an explanation for the reason the bus stops first at the Mission Dolores to this day: that the place is actually the 'Mission San Francisco de Asis', the original Spanish mission from which San Francisco grew. It became known as the Mission Dolores - after the nearby Dolores river - when a later Mission also took the name of St Francis of Assisi. Vertigo is thus rooted deep in the gestalt of this wonderful city, the mythology of which is easily grasped by viewing W.S. Van Dyke's San Francisco ('36), with the city's elite living on Nob Hill (the place where men of power like Gavin Elster still abide) and everybody else down below. In fact Nob Hill (at least the top of it) is extremely small, being no more than a couple of blocks in each direction. Most of it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake - with the notable exception of one mansion which houses the 'Pacific Union Club' (in which, Scottie meets with Gavin). Two of SFO's five-star hotels take up much of the rest of the area, and the Mark Hopkins contains 'The Bar at the Top of the Mark' which overlooks the Brocklebank Apartments. This topographical fact adds irony to Scottie's reference to Midge about avoiding 'high places, like the Bar at the Top of the Mark'. The reference relates primarily to his acrophobia, and no city could induce such a condition more readily than SFO. Simply driving up Nob Hill feels like the Bullitt chase (take a look at the street adjacent to the Brocklebank). But 'high places' resonates too with issues of 'class' whose impact on the plot (both the film's and Gavin Elster's - to murder his wife) I will go into tomorrow.
August 25 - 2003
[Editor's note. Richard Franklin's influence on me is more than I can say. As a fellow Hitchcock buff in Melbourne, Australia, I discussed our favourite topic with him many times. I watched Richard direct his first thriller, Patrick, featuring Sir Robert Helpmann, in Melbourne in 1978. Within five years, Richard had gone on to make Psycho II in Hollywood. Now he has a new thriller, Visitors, starring Radha Mitchell, about to be released. Richard is our 'guest' this week, and will be back again in September. KM] I was honoured when my old friend Ken Mogg invited me to write the editorial for the next few issues. Honoured, too, to find myself in the company of the likes of Bill Krohn, a copy of whose magnificent 'Hitchcock at Work' - a birthday gift from my mother - I devoured on a recent trip to the States. The fact that the invitation came somewhat auspiciously as I logged on at the Mark Hopkins in San Francisco and could see the Brocklebank Apartments (from Vertigo) out of my window, also influenced my decision. But I must begin with a disclaimer that, unlike Ken and the others, I am not (as represented in much of the publicity for Psycho II) a 'Hitchcock scholar'. I read little of the 'Hitchcock scholarship', at least not nowadays. And I confess to finding many of the academic commentaries on the new DVDs somewhat irksome. Against this, I was lucky enough to have a number of first-hand interactions with the man I referred to as 'Mr H', beginning when I organized the first retrospective of his films that he attended (at the University of Southern California in 1967). I was also lucky enough to watch him work on two pictures (Topaz and Family Plot) and I continue to be influenced by him and his work as a director myself - often of suspense thrillers. Two of my favourite 'testimonials' to my efforts are these. First, when I introduced Pat Hitchcock O'Connell at the PSYCHO II launch at Studio 54 in New York in '83, I referred to her not as Mr H's daughter, but as 'one of the stars of the original picture' - and she reciprocated by telling me that she was delighted I had directed this homage to her dad, as she had personally licked the stamps for the bulletins from his fan club and knew my name well as one of the few Aussie members. The second 'testimonial' occurred when I was making my second picture for Universal (Cloak and Dagger ['84]) and was unsure how to handle a publicity department who seemed hell-bent on ruining everything we'd done. Mr H's longtime associate, (the late) Peggy Robertson, took me aside and referred to 'Hitch's rage when they told him "THE BIRDS IS COMING" was grammatically incorrect'. When I posed the question of how he would have handled what I was going through, Peggy said 'he'd do exactly what you're doing' (by which I imagine she meant both 'suffer', and 'keep on fighting the bastards'). Well, I continue to try and do so. And hopefully I can, for a few days here, share the perspective of a movie director (which is after all what Mr H was). I'll be talking mostly about Vertigo and Psycho, but, as already outlined, will not for the most part back up my assertions with quotes from others (except those I recall first hand). And since many of my claims will be speculation and hypothesis, I will welcome being challenged (Ken has agreed to relay any messages!) ...
August 20 - 2003
(late, we're sorry) [In seeking to 'understand one thing in terms of another' - in this case, using Spielberg's A.I. and Hitchcock's Vertigo to throw light on each other - Jake Wilson, the co-editor of 'Senses of Cinema', the highly successful Australian online publication, describes a character who finally 'takes on the mantle of humanity' by shedding a tear. In doing so, Jake manages inadvertently to remind me of the famous ending of "Breakdown", the episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' which Hitchcock directed in 1955! My thanks to Jake for his valued contributions to "Editor's Day" this week. KM] One of the most chilling scenes in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. occurs when little David discovers that, far from being a uniquely lovable 'real boy,' he has unconsciously served as the prototype for a new line of identical child robots soon to be marketed nationwide. It’s hard not to view the scene as a mea culpa on Spielberg’s part, given the many critics who have accused him of marketing falsely 'pure' emotions for power and profit. Probably the Vertigo scene that comes closest to this reflexivity is the one where Scottie’s platonic girlfriend Midge (a commercial artist, remember) unveils a spoof painting substituting her own face for that of 'Carlotta' - an all-too-human gesture that Scottie angrily understands as a blasphemy against his own faith. Both Scottie and David respond with horror to the perceived degradation of their deepest feelings, though it’s clear these feelings stem from beliefs which are literally fake - standing in, perhaps, for the falsity or 'trashiness' of all human myths or of the created universe in general (the obsessive theme of the great metaphysical SF writer Philip K. Dick). At the end of Vertigo, Scottie does manage to recreate his lost object of desire - only to lose her in another, more final sense, just when his very success has led to the disclosure that she was never fully 'real'; David, too, literally succeeds in bringing Monica back from the dead, thanks to the friendly aliens (or highly evolved 'mecha') who rescue him from an icy prison thousands of years after the extinction of the human race. But after a single idyllic day, Monica 'dies' once again - and David is faced, as never before, with the absolute reality of her loss. Crucially, it’s only in this moment of desolation that he finally takes on the mantle of humanity, shedding a tear (ambiguously, either a religious miracle or a circuitry failure) before falling asleep and travelling, as Ben Kingsley’s narration tells us, to 'the place where dreams are born.' What David acquires at the end of his journey could be described as either an 'unconscious' or a 'soul' - but as with Scottie, it’s clearly a confrontation with the reality principle, forcing him to recognise his fantasies as fantasies, which has brought about a transformation resembling both birth and death. David’s newfound ability to dream may mean that the sincerity of his prayers has granted him access to a cosmic wellspring of value and truth. More prosaically, it suggests that the uncompromising mechanical drive implanted in him at the start of the film has given way to the vagaries of desire - opening up the possibility of taking pleasure in fantasy for its own sake, as we do as viewers who 'empathise' with his fictional character. In this light, we may note how both Kingsley’s narration in A.I. (sparingly used in the film) and the appearance of the nun at the end of Vertigo are blatantly artificial touches that call attention to their authors, as if to propose that the only form of transcendence remaining to us is through the relatively honest lies of art.
August 19 - 2003
[Today, young Australian critic Jake Wilson looks at how the 'inauthentic' seeks to make itself 'real' in the plots of two films - one by Spielberg, the other by Hitchcock.] In my last contribution, I proposed a comparison between Vertigo and Steven Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence; I'll expand a bit on that here. For me, though not for everyone, A.I. is a remarkably coherent and sophisticated film and it's likely that some of that sophistication derives not only from Stanley Kubrick, who originally conceived the project, but also from Kubrick's collaborator on a number of drafts of the script, the distinguished science fiction writer Ian Watson. (Watson talks about his contribution to the film, and much else, in a rewarding interview: Science Fiction Weekly Interview.) What makes Watson a significant figure, from his first novel 'The Embedding' on, is his application of the genre's traditional techniques of 'extrapolation' to areas such as linguistics and neuroscience (rather than, say, physics). One key to A.I. is the way that it combines whimsical 'fairy tale' motifs with these kinds of 'hard SF' underpinnings specifically, a theory of consciousness or intelligence articulated at key moments by its morally ambiguous Faust/Prospero figure Professor Hobby (William Hurt). Hobby's seemingly nonsensical dream of building a 'robot who can love' is actually a serious experiment designed to show, non-metaphorically, that consciousness is a by-product of lack: in psychoanalytic terms, the desiring subject's inability to merge fully with its object leads to repression and compensatory fantasy, in other words to creative (narrative) thinking. Ironically, then, for the boy robot David (Haley Joel Osment) it's precisely his capacity for self-deception about his non-human status his need to tell himself that he, unlike other 'mecha,' is worthy of the love of his 'mother' Monica (Francis O'Connor) that does in practice bring him closer to the human condition! What has this got to do with Vertigo? Well, Scottie (James Stewart) at the start of that film stands in a position roughly comparable to David's. Both are unknowing participants in somewhat Oedipal scenarios Scottie as a pawn manipulated by Elster (Tom Helmore) in his plan to murder his wife, David as an inauthentic substitute both for Monica's 'real' son (in a coma at the start of the film) and, at a further remove, for Professor Hobby's (whom we gather has died some time before David's creation). And both are 'made' to fix their idealising capacities on arbitrary objects who gain reality and presence initially through an 'imprinted' fiction in Scottie's case, the legend of Carlotta; in David's, the tale of Pinocchio, which he takes literally as a guide to his own struggle to become a 'real boy' and win back Monica (following the reappearance of his human rival). If the projection of such 'fairy tales' or myths onto the world is a primary human mode of thought, the question asked (if not answered) by both films is whether they can in some ultimate sense be 'true,' or whether such fantasising is merely self-deception, a way of protecting ourselves against the disenchanted realm of 'flat fact' (what Lacanians would call the Real). Of course, this is also a question about how we respond as audience members to the stories we're being told and how we can claim to distinguish 'authentic' from inauthentic emotion, an issue likely to arise in any critical evaluation of either Hitchcock or Spielberg. In my next contribution I'll discuss the ambiguous endings of both films and what they might be taken to say about this dilemma.
August 18 - 2003
[Editor's note. Jake Wilson, our 'guest' this week, co-edits the outstanding Australian website 'Senses of Cinema'. He also regularly reviews new releases for the 'Urban Cinefile' website. Today he begins an examination of some ways in which Steven Spielberg's cinema resembles Hitchcock's. KM] Almost against my will, I've become increasingly fascinated in recent times with the films of Steven Spielberg, who must be counted as one of Hitchcock's most notable contemporary descendents. Like Hitch, he's a proudly melodramatic storyteller for whom 'pure cinema' is a dynamic principle - seeking above all to move his audience, emotionally and even physically. (For this formulation, I'm indebted to a post by Jaime M. Christley, which makes reference to Eisenstein's theory of pathos as a formal device - a perception that chimes with Raymond Durgnat's analogy between Eisenstein's notion of montage as 'a series of shocks' and Hitchcockian narrative as 'a series of twists.') Whilst Spielberg's debt to Hitchcock is most obvious in his 'thrillers' from Duel (1971) to Minority Report (2002), virtually all of Spielberg's films work by generating emotional involvement through 'suspense,' in the sense someone has defined as 'expectant waiting.' For instance, the first three-quarters of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) consists entirely of such 'waiting' for an emotionally loaded event (the arrival of the alien spaceship) though the cosmic sound-and-light show that follows is far removed from Hitchcock in its replacement of dramatic conflict with a 'hard-sell' form of experimental lyricism. Nonetheless the comparison between Hitchcock and Spielberg may make us wonder how far it's legitimate to criticise Spielberg (or anyone else) for 'manipulating our emotions' - since any Hitchcock admirer will presumably agree that for art to demand our emotional participation is not necessarily a bad thing. In practice we tend to assume that such 'manipulation' is valid for some purposes but not others - an assumption that typically stems more from instinct than any fully articulated moral or aesthetic principle. It's a commonplace to point out that Hitchcock's films frequently lure us into 'identification' (and hence partial complicity) with protagonists who suffer from a degree of moral blindness; equally, they propose that recognition of such blindness can be a path to greater wisdom and maturity for characters and viewers alike (even if this wisdom comes at a tragic cost). By comparison Spielberg's films seem devoid of any such dialectic; what moral ambiguities do emerge - such as Richard Dreyfuss' rejection of his family in Close Encounters - are less 'resolved' than swept away in floods of music and white light. Indeed, Spielberg's rhetorical affirmations of simplicity over complexity, his liking for child protagonists, and his obsession with the Peter Pan myth all suggest that he has wilfully turned his back on the prospect of 'growing up' - preferring, as the critic Jean-Michel Frodon puts it, to dream of an impossible return to a 'lost maternal body.' But insofar as Spielberg hints that becoming an adult may be neither possible nor desirable, it may be that what's most 'sentimental' and 'regressive' about his films is also what makes them unsettling and challenging. In an essay written a couple of years ago, I briefly compared Spielberg's masterpiece, A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), to Vertigo (1958), and suggested that the two films involved an equally radical questioning of the nature of desire. More on this tomorrow…
August 17 - 2003
[Today, Prof. Sid Gottlieb, co-Editor of the 'Hitchcock Annual', concludes for us his three-part essay called "The Psycho That Might Have Been". It has been consistently thought-provoking, and I know that the author would welcome feedback from readers. By the way, a review of the 'Hitchcock Annual' appears on our New Publications page. KM] III Let me conclude with a few comments on the most extensive series of cuts that Hitchcock made in the script, which revolve around conversations and other interactions between Sam and Lila, mentioned briefly by Rebello but worth more extensive consideration and perhaps a somewhat different interpretation and evaluation than he provides. Rebello suggests that these cuts were motivated primarily by Hitchcock's sense that 'the audience would tolerate Sam and Lila only so long as they propelled the resolution of the mystery' (p. 46) - a credo that to me sounds more like Sam Goldwyn than Hitchcock. Making these cuts 'streamlined' the action and reduced the 'sentimentality' (a loss which Rebello says that Stefano 'regretted' [p. 46], admitted by Stefano himself in an interview on the Region 1 DVD of the film), but also undermined 'many attempts by the writer . . . to enrich the complexity of the characters, context, and texture' (p. 44) and changed Sam and Lila from characters into 'figures' (p. 46). On the contrary, I find that for the most part these cuts and modifications contribute greatly to the distinctively and brilliantly Hitchcockian qualities of the film, including in particular its compression (I don't reject a '24-Hour Psycho' in principle, but I would suggest that it is not Hitchcockian), unsentimentality (removing sentimentality is a gain, not a loss, for Hitchcock), austerity, impenetrability, coolness (in terms of the emotions dramatized in the film and provoked by our response to it), indirectness, understatement, richness, repeated intellectual and emotional challenges, and bleakness. The cuts in the Sam and Lila scenes don't reduce complexity and texture in the film, except if we envision those qualities only in traditional novelistic fashion. Some of what is eliminated in these scenes is prosaic commentary - like Lila's direct statement that 'This is the first time I've ever come up against anything I couldn't . . . understand' (p. 66), a succinct but perhaps unnecessary neon highlighting of an essential part of the film and our experience of it. Also eliminated is some awkward jokiness - as when at the end of the film Sam apologetically brings Lila a cup of regular coffee and she says (ruefully), 'I could stand something regular' (p. 123). But most of all, the cuts help the film give us a different notion of Sam and Lila as a couple than in the scripts. Hitchcock's reworking of the script is not an impoverishment of this couple but a reconceptualization of it. I don't have time here to survey all the Sam and Lila scenes Hitchcock cut or adapted (they can be found in the script in sections beginning on pages 60, 65, 82, 87, 101, 123, and 127), but let me close by looking at one brief scene at the very end. After the explanation by the psychiatrist, the representative of the plausibles par excellence, the script includes these powerful lines, the culmination of the growing intimacy of Sam and Lila founded on their shared sense of loss and their experience of the world's horrors: 'Lila begins to weep softly, for Mary, for Arbogast, for Norman, for all the destroyed human beings of this world. Sam bends beside her, puts his arm about her, comforts her (p. 127). Powerful and moving lines indeed, and potentially a wonderfully cathartic, healing, and even redemptive moment, but not for Hitchcock's Psycho. Hitchcock characteristically refuses this tableau, the comfort of the easy romanticism of Cavanagh's script, which evidently foregrounds the evolving romance of Sam and Lila, and even the more hard-earned solace and emotional release of Stefano's version. (Nor do I have time to take up the question of Hitchcock's involvement in what I describe as Stefano's script, but it is at least worth noting that framing an analysis as 'script versus film' doesn't necessarily translate to 'Stefano versus Hitchcock.') In the film, as we know, Lila does not weep, and Sam does not touch her to comfort her. Hitchcock does allow his film, in an extraordinary and even bizarre way, to 'make the couple': it is clear that, even without scribing the contours of a traditional romance Sam and Lila become more and more linked. A couple has been formed, but in the wasteland, not the garden. In this way Psycho has a curious but profound kinship with Antonioni's L'Avventura (I now find that this is also noted briefly by Durgnat, evidence in an argument that 'Hitchcock and Antonioni, seemingly poles apart, had more in common than you'd expect' [p. 74]), also released in 1960, which similarly focuses on how the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of a woman prompts an investigation and forms a couple for whom the usual guarantees of romance do not apply. Each of these films leaves the couple in an enigmatic tableau at the end, side by side, neither desperate nor assured, not quite together, though not completely alone. Hitchcock might have made a film less bleak and austere, more warm, romantic, and confident of the stability and knowability of the human character and predicament, and would have done so if he had followed the script more closely. But he didn't, much to his credit; and examining the many differences between the script and the film of Psycho alerts us to the fact that alongside Hitchcock's dynamic and attention-getting kinaesthetics of film stands a somewhat more subtle and modernist anaesthetics of film, characterized by elisions, silences, desaturations of color and character, and carefully crafted blankness, suspension, and uncertainty.
(Author's note. I am very grateful to Richard Allen, Ken Mogg, and Chris Sharrett for their helpful comments on this essay.)
August 16 - 2003
[Today, Prof. Sid Gottlieb, editor of 'Hitchcock on Hitchcock' (1995) and 'Hitchcock Interviews' (2003), continues his comparison of script and finished film of Psycho. Interested readers are reminded that the script of Psycho is available for purchase - for example, from the source listed near the top of this page.] II Several other incidental differences between script and film are worth at least a passing glance: As the woman customer in Sam's store talks about the poison she holds in her hands, her voice trails off in a line not in the script - 'I suppose this one seems to claim more and better qualities than lots of the others.' - which further reinforces the way this vignette serves as a kind of aural Hitchcock cameo, echoing the director's by this time easily recognizable way of introducing both the commercials and the macabre world in his television shows. When Arbogast first approaches the Bates Motel in the script, he finds Norman on the porch 'darning one of his own socks' (p. 69), and 'the figure of his mother seated at the window' in the old house is dimly visible in the background. In the film, mother does not appear in this scene - throughout the film mother is talked about frequently, but Hitchcock wisely downplays the rather clumsy 'red herring' insertions of mother scenes that mar the novel and earlier scripts (Stefano's somewhat less than James Cavanagh's, described by Rebello, pp. 33-35) - and Norman is not darning socks - or 'riffling the pages of the science fiction magazine he'd found' as in Bloch's novel (1959; rpt. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1989, p. 123) - but munching on candy, Perkins' imaginative invention, approved by Hitchcock. Sam and Lila's visit to the Sheriff's house has much more of a prologue in the script than in the film, and Hitchcock's compression makes both practical and dramatic sense. The shortened scene subtly conveys what Sam's dropped line bluntly announces: that during times of trouble, 'Our Deputy sleeps' (p. 87), a characteristically Hitchcockian reminder of the fundamental obliviousness and inefficacy of the representatives of law and order. In the script, the household is roused only by a doorbell, rung twice, which has an extraordinary effect even on Sam and Lila, who are 'almost knocked over by the shocking, clanging, ear-splitting BLAST OF THE BELL within the house, a ring which sounds more like a fire alarm than a doorbell' (p. 88). No such doorbell sounds in the film. Psycho is of course well-known for its shocking aural and musical as well as visual effects, but we sometimes forget how sparingly they are used. To put it mundanely, less is more, and as we see here and elsewhere, some of Hitchcock's most interesting adaptations of the script involve subtle dedramatizations and refusals to use blunt cinematic instruments and overly simple and direct explanatory statements. The sequence immediately following the visit to the Sheriff's house is also compressed and dedramatized. In the script, there is a 'QUICK CUT' from the Sheriff, who has just awakened Norman with a phone call and is now wondering 'who's that woman buried out at Greenlawn Cemetery?' (p. 96) to Norman, still holding the phone. Doubled by the 'shrike-like bird which is perched' next to him, 'Decision and resolution are beginning to show in [Norman's] face,' but his fumbling actions convey exactly the opposite, and foreshadow his powerlessness and ultimate immobility. He gets up suddenly to turn the light off, but 'succeeds only in knocking the bird off the shade. He watches it fall, does not try to catch it. It hits the floor with a thud and sawdust spills out. He stares sadly at it, for a moment, then tends [bends] down, scoops up the sawdust, tries to press it into the split seam, picks up the bird, puts it in a drawer.' While this might have made a powerfully suggestive sequence, it is omitted in the film, perhaps because Hitchcock did not want to portray Norman at this point in the film - if at any point - as quite so unnerved and pathetic.
August 15 - 2003
[Editor's note. This week's guest-editor of "Editor's Day" is Professor Sidney Gottlieb, editor of 'Hitchcock Interviews' (University of Mississippi Press, 2003) - whose pieces for us were held up until he had flown back from London. They comprise a short essay called "The Psycho that Might Have Been" which we'll 'serialise' here in three parts over the weekend. KM] I. My title is a haunting phrase from Stephen Rebello's fascinating study, 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (New York: Dembner Books, 1990, p. 33), drawn from his discussion of the various scripts of the film and how the final shooting script by Joseph Stefano (dated December 1, 1959) differs from the release version of the film. I find this latter subject especially interesting because of what it tells us in general about Hitchcock's working method and in particular about Psycho in process, the emerging shape of the film as it was shot and edited, the roads both taken and not taken as the script was transformed into cinema. Rebello packs a great deal of information into the few pages that he devotes to surveying and analyzing Hitchcock's alterations of the script (pp. 44-46), but I'd like to try to add to his important contribution by calling attention to a few details that he does not discuss, including some cuts and some intriguing modifications made by Hitchcock, and by offering some brief general observations on the possible rationale for and real consequences of these choices. (Rebello is my recurrent reference point, but in a more fully developed version of this work in progress, I will correlate my ideas with those of Raymond Durgnat in his recent book, 'A Long Hard Look at Psycho' [London: BFI, 2002], which I finally had a chance to read only after I prepared my guest columns for "Editor's Day". Part of what makes Durgnat's 'look' so penetrating is his regular attention to what he calls 'script versus film,' my subject here.) I'll take up my examples in the order they appear in the texts: In the script, when she is driving her car and imagines Cassidy's threatening and salacious comments, 'A look of revulsion makes Mary [changed to Marion in the film] close her eyes' (Stefano script, p. 32, cited hereafter by page number only). At this place in the film there is no such look of revulsion, nor any intimation of fear, vulnerability, or victimization. (Here and elsewhere, especially once past the opening section of the film, Hitchcock carefully fashions Marion as a determined woman. In a later section, for example, he cut a reference to Mary's sacrificial masochism: Lila's musing to Sam that 'I wonder if that hurt her, my not letting her sacrifice for me? Some people are so willing to suffer for you that they suffer more if you don't let them' [p. 101].) Cassidy's voice sounds over a series of increasingly close shots of Marion's face, and she gazes open-eyed directly into the camera with what is perhaps an assertively mischievous but also ultimately inscrutable smile. At this moment in the script, she is fixed in a formulated phrase, so to speak; in the film, the images convey something far more subtle, mysterious, and complex. Some of Norman's emotionality in the script is also toned down considerably in the film. As written, when Norman pushes the car into the swamp, 'the irritating noises of night insects' and the 'LOW THROBBING SOUND' of the motor of a plane overhead (p. 56) (perhaps recalling one of the memorable moments in Hitchcock's previous film, North by Northwest, as Rebello notes, p. 36) heighten the tension, which intensifies even further when the car 'refuses' to sink: 'Norman begins to panic, he steps dangerously close, pushes with his foot' (p. 56). With the exception of his brief scuffle with Sam and his hysterical outburst when he attacks Lila, we generally see Norman as calm throughout the film, despite our awareness of his troubled depths. In the scene at the swamp, there is none of the script's background noise as a projection or figuration of inner turmoil. Norman stands at a distance from the sinking car, remarkably impassive, and although he shows momentary nervousness - 'twitchiness,' I want to say, because I am not sure I can penetrate Norman sufficiently to accurately fathom and describe his feelings - he is far from panicky. This sequence in the film ends with a fade-out on what the script calls 'a visual burp' (p. 56) as the car sinks, but in the script it continues, with Norman 'stamping out the tire marks' (p. 56), followed by a dissolve to shots of him using a hose to wash away tire marks from Mary's car in front of the motel. He then goes to his mother's room, where 'from an EXTREMELY HIGH ANGLE, we look down on Norman as he bends to pick up' a blood-stained dress and a pair of shoes (p. 57; discussed briefly by Rebello, p. 45). Perhaps Hitchcock felt that there was no need to prolong the aftermath of mother's bloody deed or emphasize any further Norman's compulsive cleanliness (a later reference by Sam to how clean the motel rooms are [p. 109] was also cut from the film), especially in a context that makes him seem nervous. And perhaps Hitchcock also decided that he could get maximum effect out of the high angle shot by using it sparingly, reserving it for the killing of Arbogast and one variation and reprise when Norman carries mother from her room.
August 11 - 2003
[Editor's note. This week's guest-editor of "Editor's Day" is Professor Sidney Gottlieb - currently flying back to New York from London. His 'column' here will start later in the week and run through the weekend. KM]
August 6 - 2003
[One of the highlights of John Fawell's book on Hitchcock's Rear Window is its discussions of sounds and sound. In his final piece for us as guest-editor, Professor Fawell notes similar use of sound in the work of Sergio Leone. I'm very grateful to Professor Fawell for his cogent observations here this week. KM] I’d like to presume on the patience of Hitchcock scholars for one more day by writing a little more on Sergio Leone as well as Hitchcock. Yesterday I mentioned the parallels in the ways in which Leone and Hitchcock approached actors. Here are a few other points of correspondence: Hitchcock and Leone approach sound similarly. Both Hitchcock and Leone write about trying to ascertain the personality of the sounds they use and of trying to express a feeling or idea through the tone of the sound. Both write about sounds as characters in their film and of sound as a kind of distorted dialogue. Leone spent days recording gunshots in the canyons of Spain, getting exactly the right ricochet sound that he was looking for - a ludicrously expressive and unrealistic gunshot sound that, nevertheless, you will not hear in any other western. Conversely, both Hitchcock and Leone write of using dialogue as a kind of sound, as interesting for its place in the general rhythm of the soundtrack as it is for what it has to say. 'Dialogue', Hitchcock told Truffaut, 'should simply be a sound among other sounds, something that comes out of the mouths of people.' Dialogue is certainly only a sound among other sounds in Leone’s films. Once Upon a Time in the West is about twice the length of a conventional film, but contains about a quarter of the dialogue of a conventional film. When characters do speak they tend to express themselves in well chiseled epigrams that are balanced rhythmically with Ennio Morricone’s eccentric themes and Leone’s isolated, squawking sounds. Both Hitchcock and Leone were subject to fits of Eisensteinian montage. Compare the montage sequence as Tippi Hedren watches the man set the gasoline on fire in The Birds to Charles Bronson’s flashback in Once Upon a Time in the West, in which he recalls his brother’s murder. Both scenes represent a sequence of highly stylized portrait studies, arranged with an indifference for spatial or temporal continuity. Each of the images is instead chosen for its singular expressiveness. Leone described himself in a phrase that would work for Hitchcock as well, 'an orator of images.' But the correspondence between Hitchcock and Leone that cuts most to the heart of both their films concerns how, for both men, it was important to express the ambiguity of good and evil. I always loved Hitchcock’s advice to Reggie Nalder, the actor who played the assassin in the second Man Who Knew too Much (and who, by the way, had a face that should have found its way to a Leone film). Hitchcock advised Nalder 'to look lovingly' at the man he was going to kill, 'as if you’re glancing at a beautiful women.' Check out the scenes in Once Upon a Time in the West where Henry Fonda kills the little boy or tortures Bronson’s character (as a child) by making him a part of his brother’s death. Fonda mingles looks of beatific love and appreciation for the children with looks of sadistic glee. Leone and Hitchcock both had a Milton-like sense of the strangled love inherent in evil. Leone’s films, like Hitchcock’s, are successful, in no small part, because he avoids clichés of good and evil. In Leone, the good characters are borderline sadistic. The bad are majestic in their evil, epic in their pathos. The differences between these two film-makers are obvious and too many to enumerate. I’ll mention one though. As I noted yesterday, both Hitchcock and Leone ran afoul of David Thomson (the king of spontaneity), but they are rated quite differently by that other film lexicon, Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich hated Leone’s films. His opinion is compromised, though, by his doomed experience working with Leone on Fistful of Dynamite. Leone had, at one time, thought to produce the film and have Bogdanovich direct. Bogdanovich wrote an hilarious account of his encounter with Leone’s not insubstantial ego for 'Esquire' magazine. My favorite moment in the account is when Bogdanovich breezily informs Leone that he hates close-ups and wouldn’t use any in the film. Leone just sat there in stunned silence, his mouth wide open. That was the end of the collaboration.
August 5 - 2003
[Today. our 'guest', Professor John Fawell, contributes another thoughtful piece, this time on film acting.] When I once wrote back to back on Hitchcock and Sergio Leone, it was difficult not to notice certain interesting points of correspondence between the two film-makers. One is that they both run afoul of David Thomson and his crusade against films that are too polished or meticulously crafted, always evidence, in his mind, of a fascistic temperament. Both directors also have a reputation for being fascistic with their actors. Leone has his own 'actors as cattle' myths which, like Hitchcock, he did little to dispel in interviews. Like Hitchcock, Leone spoke often of getting his actors to 'unlearn' their technique (both directors use the very same verb) and like Hitchcock he loved to pose as the great maestro of cinema squaring off with the self-serious method actor. If Hitchcock’s favorite whipping dog in this department was Paul Newman, for Leone it was Rod Steiger with whom he worked on the film that is variously titled Duck, You Sucker, Fistful of Dynamite, and Once Upon a Time in the Revolution (1972). Steiger played a Mexican bandit and Leone complained that 'he thought of the film as very serious and intellectual, and had a tendency to come off in the style of Zapata or Pancho Villa.' This comment reminds one of Hitchcock’s assessment of Ingrid Bergman, another self-serious actor with whom he often tangled, in Truffaut’s book: 'Except for Joan of Arc she could never conceive of anything that was grand enough'. Despite his Hitchcock-like reputation for condescension towards his actors, a good many actors loved working with Leone, as a good many did with Hitchcock. Henry Fonda recommended Leone to James Coburn as no less than 'the best director I’ve ever worked with in my life' (take that John Ford). And despite both Leone’s and Hitchcock’s dictatorial reputations, it is not hard to find, in either of the directors’ biographies, actors who say they felt quite at ease on the set, and supported in their improvisations and contributions to their roles. What seems to be the case, with both Leone and Hitchcock, is that they ran afoul of actors who did not respect cinema - stage actors who brought a declamatory style with them that was too loud for the screen or pseudo-intellectual actors who felt cinema had to have a serious theme to be serious. The actors who flourished with both directors were those who, first of all, had a sense of humor and didn’t take themselves too seriously, (think of how much Hitchcock and Carole Lombard enjoyed each other) and, secondly, those who shared their director’s respect for the sensitivity of the camera, its ability to pick up the smallest glint in the eye. When Leone or Hitchcock speak of getting their actors to 'unlearn' their technique or give them 'one of those neutral looks I needed', they are just trying to get their actors to quiet their technique long enough for them to capture something real in their presence. They are both, it seems to me, advocates of Robert Bresson’s celebrated approach to actors. Bresson was endlessly frustrated by 'the expressive face of the actor on which the slightest crease, controlled by him and magnified by the lens, suggests the exaggerations of the kabuki.' He lauded the capacity of the camera to 'pass through faces, provided no mimicry gets in between.' Both Leone and Hitchcock were after the actor themselves and not interested in their skills of mimicry. Both would take into account the actor’s actual physiognomy in filming them. Think for example of Hitchcock’s comic highlighting of Jimmy Stewart’s lankiness in the dining sequence of The Man Who Knew Too Much or the way Leone builds gags around Woody Strode’s bald pate and Jack Elam’s wandering eye in the introductory sequence of Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). The reason most actors were happy working with Hitchcock and Leone is that both directors were interested in who the actors actually were, not who they pretended to be.
August 4 - 2003
[Editor's note. This week we're fortunate to have as 'guest editor' Professor John Fawell of the College of General Studies, Boston University. He's an established writer on topics of film and literature, and is the author of an eminently sensible and perceptive book, 'Hitchcock's Rear Window: The Well-Made Film' (2001). Today, he discusses the 'serious' application of suspense techniques ... KM] I have not been keeping up with the critical reaction to Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, which I imagine is accumulating in exponential numbers, but I wonder – has anyone been seeing, in the film’s technique, a kind of homage to Hitchcock? For my money, The Pianist is one of the more effective treatments of the Holocaust, and it is so because it manages to avoid the didacticism and self-seriousness of previous efforts (one in particular comes to mind). One of the great surprises in witnessing The Pianist (though in hindsight it should have been obvious, I guess) is that it took a craftsman in the horror/suspense film genre to effectively and truthfully deal with the Holocaust. A suspense director is not interested in creating a package that can be effectively matched to watered-down school curricula, or in using a film about the Holocaust as a vehicle for advertising his political correctness. A suspense director (at least a good one, like Polanski or Hitchcock) is interested in conveying the feel and texture of fear and isolation and alienation, in conveying just how disturbing life, and other people, can be. Polanski does this and he does it with tried and true Hitchcock techniques: a strong sense of unity, consistent use of first person shooting, the filming of events from a fixed perspective that registers the event from a distance or in an obscured way, a unity of place that makes us experience the sense of isolation and confinement of the person whose experience we share. The scene in which the wheel-chair bound man is tossed from the balcony is effective because it is shot from a distance, and from a single point of view. We watch the act in all its distant quiet as if this kind of thing happened every day. We feel a greater nausea when a director manages to record the universe’s indifference in this way. One is struck by a couple of paradoxes after watching this film. The first is that it took the humble conventions of genre film-making to bring a certain honesty and neutrality to this subject that is so often treated with a galling pretentiousness. The second is that this film, that in many quarters is taken more seriously than Polanski’s earlier Satan-fests (taken, that is, as evidence of a more mature or grown-up Polanski), actually reminds us how serious his horror films are. It is striking how many of the techniques that Polanski uses in this film one would find in any of his films. Here is the same trademark paranoia, the same sense of a world spookily glimpsed through a window, the same scenes of barely discerned evil, the same people looking at us suspiciously, and, in general, that same sense, that we also get in Hitchcock, of a world that quickly shifts from normal to cruel and malignant (for example the glad-handing man who leaves Szpilman to starve to death). In short, one leaves this film with a renewed sense of the seriousness and significance of the suspense genre, which, in the hands of Hitchcock and Polanski, is always about the darker shade of existence and the tenuousness of our place in the world . A film like The Pianist is indeed likely to end up a part of high school curricula in places where Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant will not, but in terms of what these films have to say about humanity and how they go about saying it, I’m not sure they are that different. It’s just that The Pianist comes branded with the honorific of 'serious film.'
July 30 - 2003
[Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) draws on elements taken from at least three real-life murder cases: those of Herbert Rowse Armstrong, Hawley Harvey Crippen, and Patrick Herbert Mahon. But undoubtedly the most famous of these murderers was Crippen. Today, Gary Giblin looks at the influence of the Crippen case on a novel called 'Malice Aforethought' - which, though, like Rear Window, also contains elements of the Armstrong case. My thanks to Gary for the insights he has shared with us this week. A book review by Gary, of 'The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion', has now been posted on our New Publications page. KM] Under the pen name 'Francis Iles,' British author Anthony Berkeley Cox wrote four crime novels in the 1930s. One of these, 'Before the Fact,' Hitchcock filmed as Suspicion (1941); another, 'Malice Aforethought,' he long wanted to film, but never did. The novel begins with the famous opening line that Hitchcock quoted to Truffaut: 'It was not until several weeks after he decided to murder his wife that Dr. Bickleigh took any active steps in the matter.' Hitchcock hesitated to go forward with the film, he explained, because 'it’s a middle-aged man’s story,' although he did, in fact, helm a 1945 radio adaptation with Hume Cronyn that, unfortunately, never aired [nor, apparently, did another radio version from that period, with a different cast - Ed.]. So, what was it that intrigued Hitchcock about Iles’ tale of a milquetoast who murders his oppressive wife in order to pursue a young woman? The bare outline of the story recalls that of mild-mannered London murderer H. H. Crippen, a medical man with an oppressive wife, a young girlfriend, and a melodramatic ruse to escape detection. Crippen is, of course, well-known among true-crime buffs and, in fact, is referred to in both The 39 Steps (1935) and the AHP episode "Arthur." But there is more to 'Malice' than an evocation of one of Hitchcock’s favorite murderers. First there is the story’s setting: a small English village rife with gossip, innuendo, and, ultimately, murder. It is the perfect 'ordinary' setting in which a body may turn up - much the same as in The Trouble with Harry (1955). Second, the novel is laced with Hitchcockian humor. For example, when a police inspector questions him about his wife’s apparent 'suicide,' Dr. Bickleigh is outraged that the man doesn’t suspect that she was, in fact, murdered. 'Good God, what was Scotland Yard coming to? As a taxpayer, Dr. Bickleigh felt quite indignant.' Third, the novel serves as a treatise on 'the perfect crime,' a subject that fascinated Hitchcock and one to which he turned his attention in, among other things, the AHP episode of that very title. Yet, on the penultimate page, the good doctor is charged with a neighbour's murder, found guilty, and summarily hanged — in error, as it happens, while his perfect murder remains undetected! This is one of the great twist endings in crime literature and, again, it’s no surprise that it should appeal to a master of ironical denouement. Structurally, the novel resembles the conventional Shakespearean tragedy: it builds toward a dramatic midway climax (the wife’s death and the near-simultaneous revelation of this to the mistress), then spends its second half laying the foundation for the murderer’s undoing. Hitchcock adopted this very structure in one of his own personal favorites, Shadow of a Doubt (1943), which builds to Young Charlie’s discovery of the truth about her uncle then 'falls away' toward the murderer’s ultimate undoing. Thematically, the novel explores the nature and ramifications of thinking oneself above the law and therefore entitled to commit murder - Nietzschean concerns which Hitchcock took up most notably in Rope (1948) and, of course, Shadow of a Doubt ('I’ve done nothing serious, just foolish,' Uncle Charlie tells his niece). So, why, then, did Hitchcock never get around to adapting what might have seemed an ideal novel for him? I don’t have an easy answer but it may have come down to something else he told Truffaut: that which is perfect in one medium won’t necessarily yield perfection in another. In the end, it was perhaps better simply to work out the novel’s (and his own) concerns through other films.
July 29 - 2003
[Today, Gary Giblin reminds us that Hitchcock filmed three novels of the Edwardian era. The number might have been four, had Hitchcock realised his project of filming H.G. Wells's 'The Food of the Gods' (1901) which, about a race of giants in England, has elements in common with The Birds as well as Wells's 'The War of the Worlds'.] Much has been made of Hitchcock’s Victorian background, but what of Hitchcock the Edwardian? Britain’s so-called Edwardian Age commenced upon the accession of Edward VII in 1901 and lasted more or less until the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, four years after the death of the eponymous king. According to Joseph Kestner, in his well-documented 'The Edwardian Detective, 1901-1915' (Ashgate, 2000), this period was characterized by a number of important changes on the social, political, economic and international scene, including the struggle for women’s rights, concern about a feared German invasion, and the presence of dangerous anarchists in Britain. Kestner shows how these and other concerns were notably reflected in the detective fiction of the era, in which representatives of law and order took on those forces of change, and usually, but not always, triumphed. Three of Kestner’s selected crime novels should be mentioned here: Joseph Conrad’s 'The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale' (1907), Marie Belloc Lowndes' 'The Lodger' (1913), and John Buchan’s 'The Thirty-nine Steps' (1915). Interestingly, Kestner never mentions that all three of these seminal works were filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, who was born in 1899 and thus contrived to grow up during the Edwardian era. Conrad’s tale, the last to be filmed by Hitchcock (as Sabotage ), depicts a thoroughly dark, depressing world in which anarchists wish to annihilate civilization, foreign powers aid and abet them for their own totalitarian ends, and the relatively innocent who get caught up in this mess die horrible deaths as a result. The source novel of The Lodger (1926) has as much to do with a woman’s role in society and her 'complicity' in shielding the strange gentleman who shares her home as it does with the crimes and pursuit of a Jack-the-Ripper-type killer menacing London. Finally, The Thirty-Nine Steps' constitutes the first of the so-called 'chase novels' to be filmed by Hitchcock (in 1935), in which an innocent man is pursued by both the police and the baddies, where danger and adventure stalk an average man in ordinary surroundings, and where foreign agents represent a significant threat to Britain. In all three cases, Hitchcock filmed adaptations far lighter in tone and motif than the originals, foregrounding or introducing romance and comic elements that his sources largely abjured. The reasons for his alterations are probably straightforward enough: audiences prefer laughter to pain, triumph to tragedy. A 'faithful' adaptation of Conrad would (and in 1996, did) result in a film almost too unpleasant to watch. Yet, it’s interesting that for all the changes, Hitchcock retained at least some of the Edwardian tension and darkness of his sources, especially as these relate to the changing status of women. In The Lodger, a man kills, not prostitutes, as did the original Ripper, but liberated young women whose repudiation of the old ways is symbolized by fashionable new hairstyles — the 'golden curls' for which they are marked for death. In The 39 Steps, the crofter’s provincial wife ('Is it true that all the [London] ladies paint their toenails?') evokes Belloc-Lowndes' Mrs. Bunting in defying her husband (and society) in order to aid an assumed criminal, and suffers as a result. And in Sabotage, Hitchcock’s darkest British film, not only does young Stevie die horribly, but the heroine actually kills (or facilitates the death of) her husband in retribution. Granted, she will no longer endure a loveless, old-fashioned marriage of convenience, but that she will enjoy an unambiguously happy fade-out with Ted is by no means certain.
July 28 - 2003
[Editor's note. To introduce this week's 'guest editor', Gary Giblin, I was going to quote from writer Edmund Crispin's best-known novel, the high-spirited 'The Moving Toyshop'. Unfortunately, and ironically, my copy of the novel has mysteriously ... moved. Never mind! Gary himself, author of the forthcoming 'Hitchcock's London', today surveys for us Crispin's oeuvre - and its Hitchcockian elements.] Mystery writer Edmund Crispin’s influence on Hitchcock was first brought to light by Richard Valley in 'Scarlet Street' #21 (1996). Crispin was really (Robert) Bruce Montgomery, a classically-trained composer famous for scoring the early 'Carry On' films [and the early 'Doctor' films - Ed.]. Under his nom de plume he created one of the more memorable fictional detectives: Oxford Professor of English Language and Literature Gervase Fen. In the late 1940s, Hitchcock obtained copies of all the Fen novels and, as Valley described, ultimately borrowed the death-by-falling-theater-curtain climax of 'The Case of the Gilded Fly' (1944) for Stage Fright (1950) (apparently without payment or credit), and the out-of-control-carousel climax of 'The Moving Toyshop' (1946) for Strangers on a Train (1951) (with payment but still no onscreen credit). Inspired by Valley’s article, I read the entire Fen canon (nine novels, two short story collections) and was not particularly surprised to find further parallels ranging from the relatively minor to the comparatively major. Recall, for instance, the doctor in The Trouble with Harry (1955), who stumbles over Harry's corpse, but is too preoccupied with his book to take much notice. The source novel does offer a doctor and he does encounter Harry, but he is a butterfly collector, not a bookworm. In the Fen stories, however, there is a minor but noteworthy recurring character, an Oxford professor who 'perambulate[s] the streets engrossed in a book,' seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. Valley noted that Stage Fright’s climax derives from 'Gilded Fly,' but other elements from the novel also seem to have found their way into the film. For instance, the official source novel, 'Man Running,' is a 'how-catch-em?' (we know the murderer’s identity early on) that has nothing to do with the theater. 'Gilded Fly,' however, has a notable theatrical setting, as does Crispin's 'Swan Song' (1947). Further, Stage Fright’s theatrical garden party sequence, though based on a function we know Hitchcock attended in real life, recalls a sequence in Crispin’s 'Love Lies Bleeding' (1948) in which Fen attends a Speech Day garden party (where it threatens to rain, but does not), arranges with an acquaintance to stage a theatrical trap to expose the murderer, and meets an exuberant, plump young woman - who becomes an unabashed admirer. (The Pat Hitchcock character in Stage Fright is, of course, named 'Chubby' Banister.) Again, there is nothing like this in 'Man Running.' Yet another Fen novel, 'Holy Disorders' (1945), foreshadows nothing less than the death of Gromek in Torn Curtain (1966). In the book, British traitors in league with the Nazis have attempted to kill one of Fen’s colleagues and failed. They cannot risk shooting the fellow as his comrades might hear the gunshot. So they drag the bleeding victim across the floor to a gas heater, remove the hose, force it into in his mouth, tape it in place, and then leave him to die. The idea of German sympathizers gassing this and another character would have presumably resonated quite strongly with Hitchcock, given his then-recent experience supervising the editing of the Holocaust documentary Memory of the Camps (1945). In Torn Curtain, of course, the roles have been reversed: the good guys are gassing the bad guy, though the context of German-oriented intrigue remains. Crispin’s role in the Alfred Hitchcock story has long gone under-appreciated (Thomas Leitch’s otherwise comprehensive 'Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock' omits any reference to him). It is high time Crispin joined the pantheon of English literary stalwarts (Lowndes, Buchan, du Maurier, Iles, et al.) whose influence on Hitchcock has - rightly - long been celebrated.
July 23 - 2003
[Editor's note. My warm thanks to our 'guest' authority on Hitchcock and Poe, Professor Dennis Perry, who concludes this weeks survey of some Hitchcock literary influences by looking today at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and G.K. Chesterton.] While Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales draw on both Poe and Collins, it was Doyle’s ability to synthesize story and character from various sources, as did Collins and later Hitchcock, that largely explains the popular success of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Doyle's stories, like Hitchcock's, have the conservative project of restoring a disrupted social order, though employing agents from outside the social mainstream. Thus, in much the same way as society goes to the alienated, eccentric Holmes to solve their problems, so, in To Catch a Thief, Robie (Cary Grant) must solve a series of mysterious burglaries while himself a fugitive from justice. 'Hound of the Baskervilles,' Holmes’s most famous case, contains several elements borrowed by Hitchcock, including an atmospheric rural Britain (cf Rebecca and Suspicion), a clever, theatrical villain (cf Dial M for Murder, Foreign Correspondent, and Vertigo), and a mousetrap to resolve the case (cf Stage Fright, Dial M for Murder, and To Catch a Thief). Thus, in the genealogy of Hitchcock’s detective fictions, Doyle is significant for transforming Poe’s style into a popular British literary convention. Hitchcock finds another important British innovation in detective fiction in G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. Like Poe’s Dupin, Father Brown often solves cases by his uncanny ability to apply human psychology. As a priest, Father Brown can draw on his native sympathy, often exonerating the falsely accused through his sensitive assessment of personality. Chesterton's "The Blue Cross" is notable for echoing the surveillance theme of Poe’s "The Man of the Crowd": like the old man in Poe’s tale, Father Brown senses that he is being followed. In Chesterton's "The Invisible Man" the plain-sight invisibility theme from "The Purloined Letter" means that characters perceived as unimportant or irrelevant become invisible while under everyone’s nose. Further, Chesterton's "The Flying Stars" echoes Poe’s masque tales ("The Cask of Amontillado," "The Masque of the Red Death," and "Hop Frog") wherein the criminal is disguised in a drama, foreshadowing Hitchcock’s blinking minstel drummer in Young and Innocent, the cross-dressed trapeze artist in Murder!, and the clerically robed murderer in I Confess. And in Chesterton, too, Hitchcock found examples of the gentleman crook, the suave criminal of taste and distinction who turns up so often in Hitchcock’s films: Dr. Murchison in Spellbound, Alex Sebastian in Notorious, Vandamm in North by Northwest, and Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt. Lastly, and importantly, Hitchcock found Chesterton supportive for his crusade to legitimize fiction's exploration of criminal character and behavior. As Donald Spoto points out, Chesterton's "Defense of Penny Dreadfuls" (1901) asserted that popular thrillers might contain art - Chesterton noted, for example, the fairy tale archetypes in the structure of police stories. In fact, though, Chesterton’s justification for suspense thrillers echoes Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition," with its defense of the art of melodramatic horror ...
July 22 - 2003
[Today, Professor Dennis Perry refers to those two Hitchcockian precursors, the novelists Charles Dickens and William Wilkie Collins.] Hitchcock seems to have been influenced by the genre he so often disparaged – whodunits. One of his famous statements about whodunits presents a curious, if not surprising, double perspective on detective plots in his films. Paradoxically, Hitchcock claims that 'I have never actually directed a whodunit or a puzzler,' yet he notes that his films are pervaded with 'a touch of murder and an air of mystery.' Despite his disclaimers, the 'master of suspense' seems clearly to have been influenced by his many ancestors among writers of detective and mystery fiction from Poe through the 'Golden Age' mystery writers of the 1920s and 1930s. From these literary ancestors he cobbled together the various elements of his style, elements that have to do with suspense and sensationalism. Skipping over the influence of Poe’s detective tales, covered extensively in my book, I move directly to one of Poe’s correspondents, Charles Dickens. Dickens, perhaps influenced by Poe to some degree, primarily wrote stories that reflected the evolution in Victorian tastes from criminal-hero centered tales, such as Thackeray's 'Catherine' (1838), to ones featuring police-detective heroes, reflecting how the real police had become professionalized. In other words, Dickens now turned to writing stories involving criminals punished and mysterious crimes solved. Like Hitchcock after him, he was interested in police methods for the factual foundation they might give his melodramatic approach, enabling him to build up dread and terror in 'Barnaby Rudge' (1841) and 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' (1870). These stylistic innovations caused him to be known at one time as the 'father of the modern thriller' [the phrase is that of Osbert Sitwell, I believe - Ed.]. Hence, Dickens helps contribute 'suspense' to the police procedural. Another Dickens innovation was the idea of the murder victim being a bad man - so that discovering the murderer becomes a question of who hated him most. Hitchcock applies this approach in The Trouble with Harry (humorously) and Blackmail (seriously). He gives the idea a new spin by making the murder victim a hated woman in Rebecca, Strangers on a Train, and Rear Window. Another innovation for which Hitchcock can thank Dickens is the idea of murder by slow poisoning (as in the story "Hunted Down"), a method Hitchcock employs to good effect in Notorious. Dickens’s friend Wilkie Collins was an even more important innovator in detective fiction, credited with writing the first real detective-centered novel, 'The Moonstone' (1868). Collins’ sensation fiction was more directly influenced by Poe than was Dickens' writing, and several of Collins' stories closely paralleled such Poe tales as "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Purloined Letter." In essence, Collins’ major contribution was to combine elements of both Poe’s predicament thrillers and his detective tales. Collins’ stories involve master criminals, melodrama, and detection, combined for the purpose of causing readers to suffer intensely over the plight of the protagonist, who for two thirds of the book is at the mercy of the villain. In fact, certain sensationalist situations from Collins show up in Hitchcock’s films: a sympathetic policeman covering up a female’s crime, as in "Mr. Policeman and the Cook" (1887), appears in Blackmail; and trying to establish one’s identity and/or innocence, as in 'The Woman in White' (1860), appears in The 39 Steps, and North by Northwest. But in each of these cases Poe provides precedents, such as the covering up of a female’s crime in "The Purloined Letter," and a focus on establishing identity in "Murders in the Rue Morgue." Collins took these elements that in Poe are largely intellectual in orientation, and he milks them for their emotional, suspenseful, and sensational possibilities. Elements of Collins’ approach would eventually influence turn-of-the-century mystery/adventure writers.
July 21 - 2003
[Editor's note. Our guest-editor this week is Professor Dennis Perry who teaches in the English Department at Brigham Young University, Utah. Dennis reports that his forthcoming book for the Scarecrow Press Filmmakers Series, 'Hitchcock and Poe: The Legacy of Delight and Terror', is coming out, appropriately, near Halloween, October 28, 2003!] I would like to take my cue from Leland Poague’s guest-editorial here last week on teaching a class on Hitchcock and the French New Wave, and talk about my experience teaching a Hitchcock and Poe literature-film course. Such a course grew out of my research on affinities between Poe and Hitchcock, and the fact that there are so many excellent pairing of films and tales: Vertigo and "Ligeia," North by Northwest and "The Pit and the Pendulum," The Birds and "The Masque of the Red Death," Rear Window and "A Man of the Crowd," Rope and "The Tell-Tale Heart," and so forth. What has been interesting to me is how studying Hitchcock and Poe together violates traditional theories and methods of adaptation used in lit-film courses – doing comparative analyses of a film adaptation and its source text. (But, then, I shouldn’t have been surprised since Hitchcock and Poe are such excellent violators of tradition!) What is so unusual in this case is that 1) in lectures and student film logs, we range among the collected works of both artists, and 2) there are no direct adaptations of Poe’s work by Hitchcock. Consequently, the focus of the course is thematic, exploring such common Hitchcock and Poe concerns as ratiocination, apocalypse, inexplicability, imps of the perverse, doubles, voyeurism, and romantic obsession. We then turn to thinking about how Hitchcock adapts these themes, as well as characters, images, and situations that so often seem created with Poe in mind - either consciously or sub-consciously. While you may read about my findings in my book, what makes the class work is how rich a catalyst Hitchcock and Poe turn out to be for student creativity. The students of course find links that I never thought of and reveal many affinities between the two great masters of terror and suspense. A few examples include 1) how Rope and "The Pit and the Pendulum" both mark narrative time by black outs (e.g., 'At the same moment, there came a sound resembling the quick opening and as rapid closing of a door overhead, while a faint gleam of light flashed suddenly through the gloom, and as suddenly faded away'); 2) how Marnie and "The Masque of the Red Death" feature blood phobia, including time-stopping moments of abject terror; 3) how Notorious and "The Purloined Letter" both play with hiding things right under our noses – people, ore, true character, poison, etc.; 4) how Vertigo and "Descent into the Maelstrom" turn on the same vortical structure, Scottie’s slow descent down San Francisco’s hills reflecting his psychic journey into the 'underworld'; and 5) how Strangers on a Train and "The Fall of the House of Usher" feature several parallels: Guy = Poe's narrator, Bruno = Roderick, and the runaway carousel = the cyclonic storm at the end of the tale.
July 16 - 2003
[Editor's note. Teaching the French New Wave to his students recently, Prof. Lee Poague was brought against the life-death ambivalence of some of its directors - Truffaut, for instance. My best thanks to Prof. Poague for sharing his observations with us this week. KM] Robin Wood concludes the Marnie DVD special feature 'The Trouble with Marnie' by declaring: 'If you don't love Marnie, you don't really love cinema.' That Wood is given the last word is testimony to his long-standing preeminence among Hitchcock scholars. Moreover, it is exactly 'The Trouble with Marnie' that occasioned the 'Revised' (2002) edition of 'Hitchcock's Films Revisited', in that the newly added concluding chapter is entitled 'You Freud, Me Hitchcock: Marnie Revisited'. To judge by the 'Trouble with Marnie' account of the film's production history, the primary 'trouble' involved the honeymoon cruise 'rape' sequence, which Evan Hunter objected to so strenuously that Jay Presson Allen replaced him as screenwriter. (To the extent that the featurette 'solves' the problem, the solution evidently was Sean Connery.) It is especially the 'rape' scene that Wood revisits in trying to answer the question 'Does Mark cure Marnie?' Wood's answer, carefully hedged and qualified, is 'No,' because 'essentially she brings about her own cure' (p. 398). Perhaps the most obvious instance here is Marnie's insistence, despite Mark's evident reluctance, that they engage in 'free association': 'I thought you wanted to play doctor, so let's play'. It is, on Wood's account, one of many instances where a seemingly defiant or hostile remark reveals an unconscious desire for cure — which thus reverses the normal Freudian scenario in which a conscious desire for help is 'impeded by unconscious resistance' (p. 395). Of course, how 'free' in her 'associations' Marnie can finally be is left uncertain at film's end — in part because Mark's masculine presumption is called to critical account — but the ironic desire of Marnie 'to play doctor' (here I elaborate Wood) can also be attributed to Marnie in the 'rape' sequence proper, where the attribution of motives is considerably more complicated in Wood's more recent account than in his original chapter on the film. (Even there, it bears saying, Wood is very forthright about the moral complexity of Mark's behavior, and Wood's latter-day refusal to 'demonize' Mark hardly amounts to granting him moral/sexual carte blanche—even in the heavily-freighted 'rape' scene.) A considerably different picture of love — and of love for cinema — is on view in Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black, though a crucial feature of the latter is its status, mostly via its Bernard Herrmann score, as a homage to Marnie, if also to Hitchcock generally. Much of the discourse on Bride focuses, à la Marnie, on the dynamics of identification and on the paradox by which Julie Kohler's femme fatale obsession becomes, via the film's oneiric narrative rhythm, our own — as, in a strange way, it also mirrors the sexual obsessions of her (more or less guilty) male victims. Of course, this sex/death link goes back at least as far as Jules and Jim (1961), where Jeanne Moreau had first played the femme fatale role for Truffaut. But seeing the film under the influence of Neupert and Marie locates the intertextual 'star' nexus even earlier, in Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows (1958) and The Lovers (1959), wherein Moreau had already become an icon of New Wave sexuality and sexual calamity. Which matters, I would say, because Moreau's casting in Bride seems far more iconographic than realistic; given the age evident in Moreau's near-40 features, Julie seems to have been instantly aged by the wedding-day death of her childhood sweetheart, while the men responsible for his (accidental) demise seem time trapped, in their sexual imaginings as well as in their corporeal images. Of course, entrapment was Truffaut's great theme, and some would say that The Bride Wore Black proves that Truffaut himself was trapped by his devotion to Hollywood genres, especially to Hitchcock. Seeing Marnie on DVD was my first experience of the film in something like its original wide-screen aspect ratio. An important consequence of the wide screen is to affirm Marnie's participation in the modernist tradition of Antonioni and Fellini and Resnais. Seeing The Bride Wore Black and Marnie together has the effect of emphasizing the strange 'sketchiness' of the Truffaut film, which relies on the Hitchcock intertext for its sense of gravity, though during the 'Fergus' sequence this allusiveness comes astonishingly to life in his sketches of Moreau as 'Diana', if a Diana obviously inspired, like Truffaut's 'Julie', by cinema. In Truffaut, such inspiration is nearly always ambivalent, as if passion and destruction were indistinguishable. By contrast, Marnie seems astonishingly deep and painterly, a film willing to risk revelation in the hope of something like redemption or cure. Marnie is a film about the courage and persistence of love, even Mrs. Edgar's. Like Les Bonnes Femmes, The Bride Wore Black is a film about love's dangers and disappointments. Whether Truffaut's love of cinema was, like Julie's love of love, more debilitating than inspiring is an important question. What I love about Marnie is the complexity and maturity of the 'Yes' it says to life, which Julie Kohler's 'No' only makes that much more emphatic.
July 15 - 2003
[Prof. Leland Poague today continues describing for us his recent experience of teaching, with Charles L.P. Silet, the French New Wave to a new generation of students at Iowa State University.]
(a) As a research and teaching tool, DVDs are a medium obviously superior to video tape, even to 16mm film, especially as regards aspect ratios. Despite a recent influx of New Wave DVD releases - boxed Truffaut and Chabrol sets - the earliest Chabrol film we could screen was Les Bonnes Femmes, his fourth feature. By the time we taught it, our students had read (the 1979 Ungar translation of) the Rohmer/Chabrol 'Hitchcock' chapter on The Wrong Man and the chapter on Les Bonnes Femmes from Robin Wood and Michael Walker's 'Claude Chabrol' (Praeger, 1970). Both chapters emphasize the interplay between documentary and allegorical or stylized aspects of the films in question. Seeing Les Bonnes Femmes now, in light of Marie and Neupert, puts a considerably different spin on both aspects of the film. The phrase 'nouvelle vague' was originally a journalistic catch-all employed in 'L'Express' to characterize 'the new postwar generation', and much that was exciting about that generation was the sexual independence of its young women, as epitomized on screen by Brigitte Bardot in Vadim's And God Created Woman (1956) and Jeanne Moreau in Malle's The Lovers (1959). This female inflection of the New Wave and its era is poignantly on view in Les Bonnes Femmes, which (in addition to a stripper named 'Dolly Bell' who evokes Bardot's look with considerable bump-and-grind gusto) features four young women who work in an appliance store and ponder their means of escape, most of which are sexual - marriage, 'true love', or show business (the Stéphane Audran character spends her off hours as an 'Italian' torch-singer). Indeed, two of the four 'good women' are explicitly described in terms evoking new wave modernity - as witty 'Parisian girls' or as a 'modern Miss'. Part and parcel of this documentary registration of New Wave sexual demographics is a deeply ambivalent picture of urban modernity, its ambivalence cued precisely by reference to things American, though the 'French' alternative provided by the store's owner, or by one girl's bourgeois fiancé, is hardly more attractive. A weirdly comic expression of this is seen in 'Charlie Boston and his Cadets,' a proto-rock band known for its 'electrifying rhythm', which shares the music hall stage with Audran/Ginette's 'Angela Torini'. But mostly this ambivalence attaches to men and their machines - a Cadillac, a motorcycle.
(b) That the New Wave was, in many ways, a 'youth' movement was partly due to the fact that cinema attendance in France had fallen by the middle fifties due to the rise of television and automobiles. This conflict of pastimes is allegorized in Les Bonnes Femmes when Jacqueline (Clotilde Joano) and Jane (Bernadette Lafont) debate accepting a ride from two mashers in a Cadillac while framed against a cinema marquee advertising De Mille's The Buccaneer. Later, Jane will comment to Rita and Jacqueline on the extraordinary number of cars in Paris: 'you won't be able to move before long'. One of them will soon stop moving altogether. Robin Wood's analysis of Les Bonnes Femmes compares it chiefly to Fellini's Nights of Cabiria (1957) and Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, the latter by reference to Bruno Anthony's strangler psychopath. Though other Hitchcockian motifs are evident in Chabrol's film - especially in the music hall sequence, which evokes The 39 Steps - I found myself thinking of Welles as often as Hitchcock. At a stylistic level this pertains, literally, to 'distance' - though some critics use the term metaphorically, as condemnation of Chabrol's narrational detachment. I'd say Chabrol's Les Bonnes Femmes employs deep focus/long take framing with considerable point and fluency; often, the psycho motorcyclist (cycles being yet one more iconic reference to Hollywood mores and movies) is framed in the deep background of the shot while his future victim and her friends occupy the foreground (or vice versa). A reason for taking this distance allegorically, as likening Chabrol to Welles (an equation subsequently elaborated in Ten Days' Wonder ), is found in the strip club scene, where the two mashers, Marcel and Albert, take Jacqueline and Jane. (The scene, by the way, is a virtuoso instance of match-on-action editing, all the more so given the extent of moving camera.) Near the scene's end, the camera follows a waiter with a champagne bucket into the bar, where we find André (the cyclist) watching the floor show, a large sombrero incongruously on his head. I mentally add 'sombrero' to 'strip club' and the result - given the stylistic affinity to Welles - is (an allusion to) Touch of Evil (1958), which hinges on the analogy between a 'half-breed' strangler and the cop-cum-filmmaker who strangles someone else by way of retribution and release. Though (something like) race is an issue in both films (in Chabrol, Rita's future in-laws ask her if she, or her name, is Spanish), neither director exempts himself from its more negative implications. On the contrary, it's as if Chabrol were using Welles to evoke the exchange of guilt formula that he and Rohmer had elaborated in Hitchcock. In using a Wellesian reference to nominate André as a psycho-killer à la Hank Quinlan, Chabrol allows that his power of nomination is itself deadly. Distance here hardly connotes disinterest, Chabrol's critics notwithstanding. The distance between Hitchcock and Truffaut will occupy my next installment.
July 14 - 2003
[Editor's note. Welcome today to Professor Leland Poague, our 'guest-editor' for this week. Professor Poague's books include 'The Cinema of Ernst Lubitsch' (1978), 'A Hitchcock Reader' (1986, co-edited with Marshall Deutelbaum), and 'Conversations With Susan Sontag' (1995). His colleague at Iowa State University with whom he recently taught a course on the French New Wave, Charles Silet, is Reviews Editor of the 'Hitchcock Annual'.] Deciding what film-critical or -historical topics to teach often comes down to the availability of books. It was with considerable excitement that I lately took the opportunity provided by the 2002 publication of Robin Wood's revised edition of 'Hitchcock's Films Revisited' (Columbia UP) to team teach (with Charles L.P. Silet) a course on Hitchcock and the French New Wave, using the confluence to address the way criticism helps determine film history - as is evident in the way French critics retroactively invented film noir; in the way auteurism, in its 'Hitchcocko-Hawksian' phase, effectively legitimized Hollywood; and in the quite literal way that practicing film critics (Truffaut, Rohmer and Chabrol, Godard, etc.) shifted their efforts from the page to the screen, via the twin inspirations of Neorealism and Hollywood. We began by comparing Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957) to Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959); we concluded by comparing Hitchcock's Marnie (1964) to Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black (1968). Most of my 'Editor's Day' remarks will report on this experience. Though not used as course texts, three other books are worth mentioning: 'The New Wave: Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette', by James Monaco (Oxford UP, 1976); 'A History of the French New Wave Cinema', by Richard Neupert (U of Wisconsin P, 2002); and 'The French New Wave: An Artistic School', by Michel Marie (Blackwell, 2003; trans. Richard Neupert). As a teacher who wants students to have exemplary critical models to work with, I can only regret that the Monaco book has long been out of print; his discussions of particular films are always immensely thoughtful and helpful. In light of the Marie and Neupert books, however, Monaco's picture of the history of the New Wave is obviously skewed; even his introduction is chiefly a study in film theory: Astruc, Bazin, Barthes, thence to Truffaut, et al. By contrast, in keeping with the cultural studies trend of emphasizing social context, Marie explicitly eschews film-critical analysis in favor of what I would call an 'institutional' approach, as befits his claim that 'the New Wave is one of the most definite and most coherent schools in film history' (p. 29). Especially telling in this regard is his description of the role that CNC (Centre national de la cinématographie) 'quality aid grants' played in subsidizing the production of early New Wave films, including Chabrol's Le Beau Serge (1958) and Truffaut's The 400 Blows. Though Neupert provides exemplary extended readings of numerous films, like Marie he emphasizes the social context of 'le boom', which, in the wake of World War II, yielded an intense popular-culture fascination with generational change. We can mark the subsequent change from Monaco's Anglo-auteurist version of the New Wave to the Marie/Neupert revision by observing that Monaco's discussion of Truffaut (starting with the Antoine Doinel films) begins on his page 13, after his nine page introduction, whereas Neupert's chapter on Truffaut (as 'The New Wave's Ringleader') begins on his page 161 - after lengthy discussions of films by Astruc, Varda, Melville, Vadim, Malle, and Chabrol. While Truffaut and Godard remain, in all accounts, the 'crest' of the New Wave, it seems emphatically clear that the wave broke differently when it landed on Long Island and Battery Park than when it hit the beach at Cannes. Though it would be naive automatically to declare the more natively French perspective on The New Wave elaborated by Marie and Neupert more 'authentic' than Monaco's, seeing the New Wave picture differently helps to recapture, and to communicate to students, the excitement of that amazing and tumultuous era, despite the curious fact that, in Paris at least, the New Wave seemed on the verge of exhaustion by the time Chabrol's Les Bonnes Femmes premiered (and flopped) in April of 1960. I'll have more to say about Chabrol and Les Bonnes Femmes in my next installment.
July 10 - 2003
10 [Editor's note. Yesterday, Professor Tom Leitch gave us a preview of Patrick McGilligan's forthcoming biography of Hitchcock. Today, he gives us another preview - of an entry that will appear in the undoubted second edition of Prof. Leitch's own 'Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock'. The entry is printed here in full, though, because of its length, in two parts. My strongest thanks to Prof. Leitch for his 'scoops' here this week. KM]
(a) Ever since 'The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock' appeared, the single biggest complaint I’ve had from readers, some of them old friends, was why I left out some topic or other - never a person, always a thematic topic. Almost without exception the answer has been a rueful 'Because I didn’t think of it.' But that isn’t a good enough response concerning one omission that’s so glaring that I can only plead that, like E.D. Hirsch leaving God out of his Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, I missed it because it was too obvious. Here’s the missing entry. Purchasers of the 'Encyclopedia' are welcome to print it out and insert it into their copies; others are offered a sample of what they’ve been missing - even though up until now everyone else has missed it too ... Villains. Since thrillers are unthinkable without bad guys, it is hardly surprising that Hitchcock has given the screen some of its most unforgettable villains. Discussing Stage Fright with François Truffaut, he went so far as to blame the film’s failure on the fact that its villains were too busy being afraid on their own account to menace anyone else and suggested as 'a cardinal rule' that 'the more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.' Truffaut agreed with enthusiasm, 'The better the villain, the better the picture,' and concluded that the success of Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt, and Strangers on a Train hinged on the performances of 'your three best villains': Claude Rains, Joseph Cotten, and Robert Walker - a list to which he might have added Peter Lorre in the 1934 Man Who Knew Too Much and Ray Milland in Dial M for Murder. But Truffaut’s generalization does not really follow from his examples. Consider the top ten vote-getters in Sight and Sound’s 1999 poll of Hitchcock’s greatest films: Psycho, Vertigo, Notorious, The Birds, North by Northwest, Shadow of a Doubt, Foreign Correspondent, Frenzy, and The Lady Vanishes. Apart from Notorious and Shadow of a Doubt - and of course The Birds - how many of them depend for their effectiveness on their villains? The villain in Vertigo, like the real thief in The Wrong Man, hardly registers at all; until the last few minutes, Lars Thorwald is only glimpsed from across the courtyard in Rear Window; the real 'Avenger' in The Lodger never appears onscreen. Would these films be better if their villains were more prominent? The Lady Vanishes, Foreign Correspondent, and North by Northwest, which feature Hitchcock’s most polished villains, use these characters mainly to motivate threats and dangers without disturbing their films’ tone of comic or adventurous melodrama. Even readers who agree with Truffaut’s assessment may be reluctant to accept his conclusion, especially since so many Hitchcock thrillers from The 39 Steps to Marnie seem to get along just fine with cardboard villains or none at all. It’s worth noticing the subtle shift between Truffaut’s bromide ('the better the villain, the better the picture') and Hitchcock’s ('the more successful the villain ...'), since Hitchcock’s point is that the villains have to be successful enough in their careers to be sufficiently menacing. In this reading Hitchcock’s villains may sound like nothing more or less than MacGuffins, incitements to delicious mayhem more valuable for what they provoke than for who they are.
(b) But there is a more precise formula for assessing the importance of villains in Hitchcock’s films than either Hitchcock or Truffaut realizes, a formula that depends on the slipperiness of the term villain in Hitchcock compared to the term villainy. If Norman Bates is the main character in Psycho, then Psycho is Hitchcock’s only film with a villain for a hero. Or is it? The suggestion feels wrong because Norman is neither a hero nor, really, a villain; he’s just a nice boy who’s also a bogey-man monster. Is Marnie Edgar a villain? Is the Lodger, who’s looking for the 'Avenger' so that he can take his own revenge for his sister’s murder? Is Alice White, who’s wanted for murder after killing the artist in Blackmail, or Lady Henrietta Flusky, who killed her brother Dermot in the backstory of Under Capricorn and allowed her lover to take the blame? Is the real villain in The Paradine Case André Latour, who killed Major Paradine, or Lady Paradine, who incited him despite his loyalty to his master? Examples like these suggest that although Hitchcock routinely depends on the potency of villainous characters, not all these characters are outright villains; many of them indeed are the nominal heroes of films from Blackmail (whose single most villainous character is probably the murdered artist) to Marnie (whose heroine is shielded from the police by a loving accessory who forces her into marriage and rapes her on their honeymoon). So a better formula might be to substitute villainy for villains: the more villainous Hitchcock can make his heroes act, the more completely he can blur the line between heroism and villainy, the more successful the picture. Of course, this is a formula for a very different sort of melodrama than Hitchcock and Truffaut are discussing, a more complex, Truffautesque sort of melodrama. But this is exactly the sort of movie Hitchcock has increasingly been identified with. The test case is Vertigo, whose nominal villain, Gavin Elster, is important only as Judy Barton’s master and the nightmare prototype of the increasingly possessive Scottie Ferguson, who ends up treating Judy as badly, and in very much the same way, as Elster ever did. In the same way, Notorious isn’t a great movie because Claude Rains is a great villain; it’s a great movie because of the ways it allows Devlin, its hero, to act just as villainous as the villain while still retaining his heroic status. Blackmail and Sabotage, in this accounting, become two of the most fascinating Hitchcock films, since in allowing each of their leading characters - Alice, Frank Webber, the blackmailer, the artist in Blackmail, Verloc, the Professor, Stevie, Mrs. Verloc in Sabotage - a chance to play both villain and victim, it raises enduring questions about how little different those functions may be.
[Further Editor's note. A similar point to Prof. Leitch's about the very fine line between villainy and non-villainy in Hitchcock's films - and in some novels by Patricia Highsmith - is made in the article "Hitchcock the Romantic", recently posted on this site.]
July 9 - 2003
[You read it here first! Today, our current 'guest-Editor', Professor Tom Leitch, assesses the new Hitchcock biography ...] Patrick McGilligan’s long-awaited biography, 'Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light', will be published by Regan/HarperCollins this October, and even though this is 'The MacGuffin', not aint-it-cool-news.com, I’d like to offer some first impressions here. It isn’t giving anything away to predict that this third full-length biography of Hitchcock will be the standard life for the foreseeable future. It avoids both the uncritically devotional tone of John Russell Taylor’s chatty authorized biography 'Hitch' and the frank gossip-mongering of Donald Spoto’s notorious 'The Dark Side of Genius', though there are gestures in both directions. Like Taylor, McGilligan, the acclaimed biographer of George Cukor, Fritz Lang, and Clint Eastwood, thinks Hitchcock the artist is virtually incapable of mistakes. He makes the best case he can for even his most problematic films (Under Capricorn, though 'strange and awkward', is 'stylish and heartfelt at its center'; only The Paradine Case and Torn Curtain seem beyond redemption) and tends to blame their flaws on collaborators from David O. Selznick (a favorite villain) to Warner Bros. (the studio that eviscerated the script of I Confess and ousted Anita Björk from the role of Ruth Grandfort) to Tippi Hedren (who 'would prove inadequate in the role' of Marnie Edgar). Like Spoto, McGilligan repeats his share of scandalous anecdotes, though he takes care to balance rumors of Hitchcock’s impotence with stories about his generosity and consideration to family members. In general, however, this is better judged than either of the earlier biographies, and it has the advantage of twenty years of further Hitchcock scholarship to draw on. This last point, in truth, may not be such an advantage - especially since the mounting pile of books and essays on Hitchcock is offset by the declining number of collaborators who survived to be interviewed. McGilligan’s most notable interviewees include Charles Bennett, Herbert Coleman, and John Michael Hayes. Whitfield Cook and Brigitte Auber provide the requisite scandalous revelations, the first by indicating that he had a brief, abortive fling with Alma Reville, the second by describing Hitchcock’s even briefer and more abortive pass at her. McGilligan draws so liberally on the production histories by Dan Auiler, Stephen Rebello, and Tony Lee Moral and from the indispensable work by Leonard J. Leff, Steven DeRosa, and especially Bill Krohn that it isn’t always easy to see what he’s added. When earlier commentators disagree, as on the Hitchcock-Hedren falling out, McGilligan often hedges, a habit that makes for good history but weak criticism. But nobody at this late date will be consulting McGilligan for radical new critical judgments; they’ll be looking for new information (for example, a great deal more on the short stories Hitchcock contributed to 'The Henley Telegraph', together with some pithy analysis of the tone of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' forty years later) and a well-reasoned, well-balanced summary of Hitchcock’s filmmaking methods and his place in film history. Hitchcockians who already know both the earlier biographies will want this one anyway; fans yet unborn will be able to skip Taylor and Spoto from this moment on.
July 8 - 2003
[Today, Professor Thomas Leitch looks at a flawed early Hitchcock film, Downhill, some of whose scenes and ideas would be reprised in later works, often to different and perhaps better effect.] For years, commentators have recognized seeds in Hitchcock’s earliest films that would blossom in his later masterpieces in support of his maxim that 'self-plagiarism is style'. Practically everyone who’s ever written about Easy Virtue and The Ring, two of his films from that amazingly productive year 1927, has noted their hints of the mature Hitchcock. The Ring, the more obviously backwards-looking of the two with its expressionist echoes of The Last Laugh (1924) [and Variety (1925) - Ed.], reveals in its love-betrayed story an inkling of later films from Shadow of a Doubt to Vertigo and in its scene of carnival freaks at the hero and heroine’s wedding a dress rehearsal for the circus sequence in Saboteur. And Easy Virtue, with its persistent emphasis on the baleful camera eye, is from beginning to end a thematic warm-up for Notorious. Downhill, the least seen of the 1927 films, is just as full of pre-visions of the later Hitchcock. The oppressively architectural framings of Roddy Berwick lost amid the corridors of his public school, the daunting staircase of Berwick Hall, and even the actress Julia’s high-ceilinged dressing room all look forward to Hitchcock’s portentous framings of public spaces from Radio City Music Hall in Saboteur to the United Nations in North by Northwest. The startling upside-down point-of-view shot of Roddy entering Julia’s room as she watches him with her head thrown back is copied almost exactly the morning after Alicia Huberman meets T.R. Devlin in Notorious, with the heroine’s hangover now substituting for giddiness. Roddy reads the crucial letter telling him that he’s inherited £30,000 in front of a fire whose seductively menacing flames are a study for the fireplace behind Madeleine Elster in Vertigo, and when Roddy delivers his good news to Julia, the disapproving presence of Archie, her current protector, is signaled by the smoke arising from an apparently empty wing chair, an effect Hitchcock would adapt in showing the glowing tip of Lars Thorwald’s cigarette in his dark apartment after he’s killed the dog in Rear Window. Throughout the film Hitchcock is fascinated by symbolic staircases (which chart Roddy’s descent to the demimonde and below) and mirrors (especially the winged dressing mirror that suggests Julia’s duplicity) - two motifs he would return to repeatedly in films as different as Strangers on a Train and Psycho. Finally, Roddy’s hallucinatory return to England, though again recalling F.W. Murnau’s subjectively distorted camerawork, includes a swish-pan effect Hitchcock would reprise in the 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much and a disoriented series of London cityscapes that might have inspired the apparition of Stevie to his distraught sister in Sabotage. Yet for all these memorable touches and tableaux, Downhill is a ponderous film. The crucial ingredient its episodic plot lacks is the sort of narrative suspense that might have given all these striking individual effects greater cumulative resonance and knit them together into a story as powerful as the ones just around the corner - the sort of suspense that would soon be supplied by Hitchcock’s proprietary mastery of the thriller.
July 7 - 2003
[Editor's note. First, thanks to my Australian pal, Adrian Martin, for his stimulating 'guest' pieces here last week. This week, Professor Thomas Leitch, who teaches Film, Literary and Cultural Theory at the University of Delaware, but who lives (I gather) in adjoining Pennsylvania, has promised us a 'mix' of Hitchcock-related items. We expected no less from the author of 'Find the Director and Other Hitchcock Games' (1991) and the editor of 'The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock' (2002)! KM] From halfway around the world I'd like to thank Ken Mogg (in Australia) for giving me a squawk box to announce something that's been going on in my own backyard. Since March 1, Radnor Studio 21, a tiny cable station in Radnor, Pennsylvania, has devoted Friday evenings at 9:00 (with reruns Saturday mornings and afternoons) to a survey of Hitchcock's British films. What's unusual about this event is that George Strimel, general manager and director of programming at RS21, has rounded up copies of every feature Hitchcock directed from The Pleasure Garden (1925) to Jamaica Inn (1939), including such rarities as Downhill, both silent and sound versions of Blackmail, Juno and the Paycock, and Waltzes from Vienna - this last, sadly, in just an hour-long version dubbed into French. The Mountain Eagle is still missing, of course, as is Mary, the German-language version of Murder!, but otherwise life is sweetly suspenseful for Hitchcockians in Radnor Township. Strimel, a fifty-year broadcasting veteran who's been at RS21 for two and a half years, began warming up for this event earlier this year with a series of Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce and then proceeded to a month-long festival of 'Not Quite Hitchcock' entries: Night Train to Munich, Carol Reed's 1940 exercise in high-velocity espionage whose screenplay by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat and whose casting of Margaret Lockwood were obviously inspired by their work on The Lady Vanishes; The Third Man, Reed's celebrated 1949 collaboration with Graham Greene - 'Hitchcock with heart,' Leslie Halliwell has called it with more commendable enthusiasm than judgment; The Long Arm, a 1956 tale of police detection, directed by Charles Frend, Hitchcock's former editor at Gaumont-British, and released in the US as The Third Key; and Stanley Donen's 1963 Charade, everybody's favorite faux-Hitchcock romantic suspenser, if only because it proves once and for all that it wasn't just Cary Grant who made To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest click. After RS21's series ends this summer, Strimel plans to keep a hand in with Hitch; he'll be spending Halloween giving a talk on 'Hitchcock and Murder' at the Main Lane Arts Center in Bryn Mawr. As to what could possibly follow vintage Hitchcock on those empty Friday nights, he's not so sure. Maybe a cycle of Ealing films; maybe a return to Sherlock Holmes courtesy of gaunt actor Arthur Wontner's British films; maybe a series of silent comedies or melodramas. 'We got a surprising response when we showed the Hitchcock silents,' he says. 'The only film people complained about was the French version of Waltzes from Vienna.' Whatever he goes on to next, Strimel's public-domain festival, supported by the all-volunteer crew at RS21 and inaccessible to every Hitchcockian on the planet except for 7,800 lucky souls in Radnor Township, is the liveliest and likeliest predecessor to date of a future of streaming Hitchcock 24/7 - a future the Web is bringing closer every day.
July 2 - 2003
[Top Australian critic Adrian Martin today writes about Hitchcock's place in an - arguably - unbroken history of cinema ...] It seems impossible to pick up a major new book of film theory/commentary in France these days without encountering some major propositions about Hitchcock (and a few select others: Rossellini, Eisenstein, Godard ... ). Further proof - as if readers of this site needed it - that Hitchcock remains an indispensable and inexhaustible reference point for all deep film-thinkers: a term that means, in this context, those who think about film, as well as those who use film to think! Recently I caught up with a remarkable book published a few years ago by Seuil, written by the historian Jacques Rancière, called 'La Fable cinématographique' ('The Cinematic Fable'). I first came across across Rancière's name via a Godard film: in Passion (1982), Isabelle Huppert can be seen reading and citing his late '70s book of leftist history, 'Proletarian Nights'. Rancière has returned the compliment with some penetrating discussions of Godard's 'Histoire(s) du cinéma' series - in which Hitchcock once again figures very prominently (alongside Rossellini, Eisenstein and ... Godard!). 'The Cinematic Fable' is a very searching book which has the ambition of wishing to advance a different history of cinema and modernism than the one whch has become received wisdom over the past 20 years. To make this argument, Rancière has to grapple with a veritable giant of film-thought: Gilles Deleuze. Basically, Rancière contests the idea that there is a rupture in cinema history at the end of World War II - that 'classical' cinema gives way at that point to a cinema of ruins, fragments, sleepwalkers, or what Deleuze calls the 'crisis of the action-image' (to be superseded by the crystalline 'time-image'). Now, Hitchcock is Deleuze's 'clincher' in this grand thesis: for him, the figure of James Stewart immobilised before the images out his rear window embodies this 'dysfunction' of the classical apparatus. The example does not wash with Rancière. As he rightly points out, this is an argument-by-allegory (which, I would add, a great deal of contemorary theoretical writing about cinema is): a fictional character's bad leg is being made to stand in for an entire transformation of Western culture! But this image occurs within what is, after all, a perfectly well-functioning classical film, with a driving story-line, a tense structure, and resolutions on many levels ... not to mention eternal popular acclaim and enjoyment ... Another part of 'The Cinematic Fable' applies the same critique to Godard, who tells us in his 'Histoire(s)' that the coherence of Hitchcock's films has been 'broken', shattered by post-war history: now we only remember their charged, disconnected images: objects (bottles, keys), luminous faces, tragic embraces, emblems of horror ... But Rancière, respectfully but firmly, suggests that this is a self-flattering phantasm for Godard to entertain: if the 'old' cinema is dead or shattered in this way, then Godard, as a postmodern artist, can see himself as needing to 'resurrect' these ruins, re-electrify the fragments in a new montage, lay on a new soundtrack ... and the results, make no mistake about this, are truly sensational. But if we are to attempt to build a less 'broken', more integrated history of cinema, its evolving methods and animating impulses, we will have to do a little better than the standing Deleuze-Godard version - if only to be a little fairer to Hitchcock (and Eisenstein and Rossellini and ...)!
July 1 - 2003
[Australian film critic and author Adrian Martin today looks at visual tension, spatial markers, and 'intervals' ... ] I finished yesterday by mentioning Alain Bergala's concept of the 'interval'. His essay on this topic appears in a remarkable collection of essays (in French) titled 'La Mise en scène' (editor Jacques Aumont, Brussels: De Boeck, 2001). This book gives some much-needed new life to an old concept. Hitchcock is a constant reference point in its pages, and I want to refer to two texts that have, to my mind, particular relevance for the study of this director. Firstly, Bergala. He takes mise en scène back to its most basic and yet still supple definition: it is a matter of the variable, ever-shifting distances (or intervals) between the bodies of characters, and between the camera and the actors - that latter distance often coming to inscirbe, in French criticism, the 'regard' or attitude of the auteur. In a way, you could say we are dealing with the dimension of cinema which is dance - the attraction and repulsion between bodies, the mobile reframings of the camera, as we love it in Mizoguchi or Rivette ... But Bergala takes us beyond merely mystical reveries about this 'regard' or (one of the great empty phrases in film criticism and reviewing) 'sweeping camera movements' and suchlike. He inventories and outlines all the different kinds of distance that come into play in staging and direction (his own background as a maker of documentaries and fictions here gives him, I suspect, an edge over non-technical, non-practical critics who wouldn't know a lap dissolve from a lap dance). For instance, with reference to The Birds, he discusses what might be translated as the 'electricity pole' principle. It's an irresistible concept: to mark the distance between two characters, and to 'conduct' and increase that electric tension between them, it is a good trick of filmmaking to set between bodies a series of vertical markers: these could be trees, fence palings, indeed even electricity poles ... In a scene between Mitch and Melanie with the natural landscape in the background which Bergala analyses, many such devices are evident. Another of those obvious, 'invisible' devices which no one had hitherto seen! ... Later in this book, Francois Albera reminds us of another dimension of the topic of mise en scène, too little discussed: I would gloss it as 'social mise en scène', in other words when a filmmaker uses a familiar and typical situation from life when the spatial relations between bodies are 'codified' in some way, where there are (often unspoken) rules about the maintenance of 'personal space', or an etiquette about what sort of contact is possible and when ... instances of such social mise en scène run the gamut from street parades to men standing side by side in a toilet. Now, it should be immediately clear that Hitchcock had a special skill for recognising and collecting moments where he could play upon - and often violate - the rules of our real-world mise en scène. Think, for instance, of all the public events in his work, like the lecture in The 39 Steps or the auction in North by Northwest, where the hero exploits and then breaks the rules of the situation in an attempt to skip beyond his pursuers ... and, on a much more subtle and intimate level, think of all the mealtimes in his work, whether domestic in Shadow of a Doubt or in a restaurant, as in the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. One of my favourite examples shows how clever Hitchcock was at finding such material: the scene in the listening booth of the record store in Strangers on a Train. Always this frisson of bodies too close, of a rule broken or transgressed or unobserved ... And just to be a little less 'cultist' for a fleeting moment, I record here my personal discovery of the cinema's absolute masterpiece of the 'interval': it's Visconti's White Nights (1957), an amazing, underrated and almost forgotten classic, where everything is a matter of distances joyously overcome or tragically imposed. Just look at the wild dance scene in that movie: then, eyes wide open, go looking for the interval in Hitchcock!
June 30 - 2003
[Editor's note. Australian author, critic, and lecturer, Adrian Martin, has been guest-editor here two or three times. We heartily welcome him back. Adrian's monograph on Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America is published by the BFI. His 'The Mad Max Movies' was published in May by Currency Press and ScreenSound Australia. KM] I have always had trouble understanding what people mean when they praise the 'invisibility' of a film's or director's style. Why should invisibility be a virtue? It's the most facile thing that practitioners themselves are often lazily moved to say: 'the best kind of style is the one the audience doesn't see'. But how does a movie, of all things, render itself invisible? The images are there to see, the sounds are there to hear - it's the famous 'evidence' of film that Jacques Rivette, and many after him (including Jean-Luc Nancy), have philosophised on. And I have never believed, as industry wisdom sometimes has it, that being aware of the images and sounds somehow takes one away from, or out of, the imaginary world of the story and the characters. By contrast, Hitchcock seems to me a prime example of the joys of 'exhibitionism' in cinema - and in this he joins many traditions of art, old and modern, that depart from a particular (and to my mind, peculiar) ideal of 'self-effacing classicism'. All the same, one of the things that constantly surprises and delights me in Hitchcock - and keeps renewing that sense of eternal rediscovery that one can enjoy with his movies as a viewer or analyst - is that I occasionally stumble upon, almost by chance, an 'invisible' dimension of his style - something so deft, so throughly worked into the flow and mood of the material, that it can go unnoticed for decades by Hitchcockian commentators. Take for instance the point emphasised by one of my preceding Guest Editor colleagues, Stephen Rebello: that Hitchcock attended to the sound of actors' voices and their interplay. I too believe that this is a key aspect of Hitchcock's art and craft, a 'radiophonic' dimension that may not be as showy as in Orson Welles, but surely just as masterful and significant. How could we get to know this dimension of his achievment better? Quite simply: by switching off the image and listening to the films as if they were radio plays. It is an illuminating exercise. Indeed, I remember, many years ago, listening to a tape recording of the North by Northwest soundtrack in the pad of the illustrious 'MacGuffin' editor - this was pre-video days, when we had to make do with whatever fetish objects were technologically possible - and being struck by a simple principle that I've never read about in any subsequent theoretical tome about film sound: namely, Hitchcock's 'sound design' consists in the musical, beautifully regulated alternation of long, droning sounds (such as the wind) and short, sharp sounds (horns, bells, etc) that punctuate the drone and often mark a subtle change in the sonic ambience. I am suggesting it is sometimes very valuable to 'defamiliarise' yourself in relation to these beloved films that you may have come to know too well, too comfortably. I recall the dramaturgical advice of the Australian theatre director Helmut Bakaitis - now visible in most of the world's multiplexes as The Architect in The Matrix Reloaded! - who, when reheasing a play, would get the cast to run it through extremely slowly (taking five hours), and then extremely quickly (ten minutes): each time, the exercise would reveal something new about the internal shape or form of the piece, perhaps even something about its deepest meaning. And indeed, what a revelation it was when I saw The Wooster Group from New York do their deliberately 'garbled' twenty minute version of 'The Crucible', because Arthur Miller wouldn't give them permission to use the text ... And we can do the same with Hitchcock's movies. Once, in this spirit, I looked at Strangers on a Train entirely in fast speed. What did I see? Once again, for the first time I noticed something simple but incredibly powerful in Hitchcock's craft of mise en scène: Hitchcock always made a point of getting those actors moving as they spoke, into and out of chairs, across rooms, relating to each other at different heights, and above all creating variations in what Alain Bergala calls the 'interval' at play between bodies, objects and the camera ... But that, dear reader, is a topic for another Guest Editor's Day.
June 26 - 2003
[Editor's note. In a truly thoughtful concluding piece as guest-editor, Prof. Tony Williams writes today on George Romero, s-f author David Lindsay, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, and that 'repressed' filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock ... KM] As I write, my book 'The Cinema of George Romero: Knight of the Living Dead' has finally reached the printing press. But I mention this not to promote shamelessly my latest book but to raise similar issues of influence that have appeared in my other guest-editor slots. Romero has never read Zola nor few other literary texts. Yet I find this influence pervasive in his films. One reviewer suggested I should rethink this Zola influence. But I don't feel inclined to do so since Zola's naturalism passed into the American mainstream and became part of the cultural background, especially in those American EC Comics of the 1950s which influenced both Stephen King and George Romero. Influences do not necessarily have to be direct. This issue also involves 'The MacGuffin'. We do not know if Hitchcock actually read Schopenhauer but Ken Mogg has demonstrated the centrality of this philosopher to the Master's works. People read more widely in Hitchcock's time and before. Jack London is one particular case. He was not only knowledgeable about the now-forgotten Herbert Spencer but also Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, as the following passage from 'The Sea Wolf' (1904) shows. The narrator mentions his friend Charley Furuseth (an alter-ego figure like Wolf Larsen) who 'loafed through the summer months and read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer to rest his brain.' These influences occur elsewhere in London's fiction as they do in the writings of David Lindsay (1878-1945). Twenty-three years ago Manchester writer Charles Partington (whose short story 'Nosferatu's Ape' was shamlessly ripped off for the abysmal Shadow of the Vampire ) asked me to contribute to his independent publication 'Something Else' by writing a review of Lindsay's 'A Voyage to Arcturus' (1920). Like many, I had never heard of author or book before but was immediately fascinated by the story. As diverse critics such as Harold Bloom, C.S. Lewis, and Colin Wilson have stated, this is one of the greatest achievements in science fantasy literature. Lindsay was never to repeat this artistic achievement again. Recently, Manchester's Savoy Press have reissued it in a handsomely bound edition with essays by Alan Moore, Colin Wilson, and Lindsay's own compendium of philosophical aphorisms. David Lindsay was one of the cultural casualties of British society. He attempted to become a major writer but his books met with little success. Eventually he died of blood poisoning and depressions after seeing his work neglected. Although Lindsay's writing often exhibits the worst examples of style and grammar, 'Arcturus' is his greatest work, its genre enabling him to depart from a culture which crippled him both aesthetically and personally. It allowed Lindsay to give full artistic expression to the ideas of philosophers who influenced him. As Colin Wilson points out, 'Like Nietzsche, Lindsay is a master of the history of ideas. And like Schopenhauer, he is inclined to see most of these ideas as various forms of illusion, "human, all too human".' Unlike Lindsay, Hitchcock was the one that got away by fleeing to Hollywood. But, as Robin Wood has noted, cultural blockage (in Raymond Williams's sense of the term) and repression inhibited his work preventing him from reaching the highest form of expression. Much the same can be said of Lindsay's other fiction. However, both talents shared a common influence. As Einstein once wrote to Leopold Infeld, 'I believe with Schopenhauer that one of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is to escape from everyday life, with its own painful cruelty and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own everlasting desires.' One may reply that we know Schopenhauer influenced Lindsay but where is the evidence of an influence on Hitchcock? However, a search for this type of legalistic rigid proof may result in another version of the tragedy of Anthony Keane in The Paradine Case (1948) who loses sight of the wider issues in front of him.
June 25 - 2003
[Professor Tony Wiliams has some first-hand information to impart ...] Much of this black humor and satire exists in Phone Booth, a film based upon enlarging the significant scene in The Birds where Tippi Hedren is surrounded by those winged avatars of repression in Bodega Bay. Apart from some glib MTV effects and unsatisfactory ending, Schumacher's film has kept faith with Cohen's screenplay in much the same way as John Flynn's Best Seller (1987) did, a film based on a similar 'what if' premise - there, an encounter between a Joseph Wambaugh novelist and a corporate hit man, roles played excellently by Brian Dennahy and James Woods. (Incidentally, Larry Cohen told me that a cut scene revealed that the latter character's mother knows all about what her son does for a living.) 'What if' an opportunistic 'use and abuse' public relations guy were to end up trapped in a phone booth by a hidden assassin and be forced to recognize what a corrupt figure he actually is? The film deals with this premise. The 'hidden assassin' (voiced superbly by Kiefer Sutherland) acts both as threat and a return-of-the repressed emblem of Stu Shepard's conscience. Phone Booth actually develops the type of radical sound montage experiments Hitchcock attempted in the sound version of Blackmail, to contrast the audience's visual perception of the changing nature of Shepard's character with an unseen (until the end) figure, the latter a voice which plays with its victim and gets him to realize his moral failings, then to finally 'confess'. The assassin's voice works dialectically on his victim's mind in the same way as 'knife' does in the sound version of Blackmail. The claustrophobic nature of New York's cityscape adds superbly to the character's dilemma. Is the voice real? Or a product of the character's imagination whose repressed guilt finally catches up with him? If Cohen had directed, perhaps more of this ambivalence may have entered the film. As it is, once we learn of the sniper's death, we find that he returns to life like Jason, Freddy, and Michael - perhaps Schumacher's setting up of Phone Booth 2? But in the original screenplay Stu never gets to meet his assailant who dies in an ambulance before he can see him. 'What's your name? At least tell me who you are?' There Captain Ramey (the Forest Whitaker character) assures Stu that the law will provide the answer. But, like a good Hitchcock acolyte, Stu replies that it will be impossible and 'I'll spend my whole life trying to figure that out.' Unfortunately, Schumacher eliminated this ambiguity. But Cohen's screenplay (and much of Phone Booth's final version) subtly reworks and extends that brief scene in The Birds. Is the voice of the hidden assassin a product of Stu's own psyche or does it manifest the frustrations of a society torn between reality and a longed-for release? Is Stu guilty or is the fault that of a manipulative society that has made him cheat in every way possible? Even in the filmed version, the questions still remain due to Cohen's fidelity to Hitchcock's legacy and his creative development of this very important tradition. Tomorrow: something different.
June 24 - 2003
[Today: the first of two entries by our guest, Professor Tony Williams, on the film Phone Booth.] Most journalistic reviews of Joel Schumacher's recent Phone Booth display what a friend has called 'the auteur theory in overdrive.' Reviewers have fallen over backwards to hail a film of a director most often associated with big-budget, schlocky films. Although Tigerland (2000) is often cited in his defense, that low-budget Vietnam War Movie is mediocre in scope - apart from an introductory appearance by Colin Farrell, of course. A cook cannot become a gourmet chef unless the ingredients are correct, whether actors or screenwriters. The same is true of Phone Booth whose success results from both Colin Farrell's acting as well as the culinary screenwriting art of its master chef Larry Cohen who has been in the business for more than 40 years. The veteran Hollywood director Joseph H. Lewis - whom I had the pleasure of meeting some five years ago - once remarked that a good film depends 75% on a good script. Larry Cohen has certainly supplied this, giving Phone Booth the distinction of being a recent film with a moral message. But Cohen's screenplay was originally written over 35 years ago for Alfred Hitchcock himself. Although the Master generously acknowledged Cohen's talents by saying about one of his screenplays, 'I can't direct this - you've left me very little to do', the real cause of the failure of a Cohen-Hitchcock collaboration was one of Lew Wasserman's Universal assistants known as 'Dr No' because he 'nixed' every fascinating project presented to the director. As a result, Cohen's screenplay for Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969) ended up with Mark Robson. The disappointing film version stimulated Cohen to begin directing himself. My 'Larry Cohen: Radical Allegories of an American Filmmaker' (1997) examined Cohen's career to date. He is one of the most neglected talents in Hollywood cinema who should be directing more than he has been. Cohen was fascinated by Hitchcock from a very early age, had a friendly relationship with him, and often applied Hitchcock themes to films such as Special Effects (1984), also known as The Cutting Room. It was shot on a low budget and utilized talents associated with the New York underground such as Eric Bogosian and Zoe Tamerlis/Lund in a creative reworking of Vertigo and Aldrich's The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968). As in the latter film, the villain is a film director played by Bogosian in an excellent performance rivalling his sending-up of his bad guy role in the otherwise undistinguished Steven Seagal Under Siege 2 (1995). Cohen also shares Hitchcock's deep sense of black humor and satire. More tomorrow.
June 23 - 2003
[Editor's note. This week's guest is Tony Williams, Professor and Area Head of Film Studies at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He has written many books on the cinema, and is currently finishing one on Robert Aldrich. Tony and I recently discussed Aldrich's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Here's a synopsis of the film: 'Faded child star of the '20s (Bette Davis) terrorises faded matinee star of the '30s (Joan Crawford) in a decaying Hollywood mansion, after a mysterious accident has confined the latter to a wheelchair.' Great fun! KM ] I'd like to begin by thanking Ken Mogg for the opportunity to contribute to this very important scholarly resource. Although I cannot compete with the breadth of information usually available, I'd like to offer a few random insights concerning the Master's influence on some other areas of cinema. My 'Hearths of Darkness: The Family in the American Horror Film' (1996) contained a chapter dealing with Hitchcock's influence on the modern American horror film. His achievements affected other directors not all of whom totally admired his work. When interviewed by François Truffaut in 1956, Robert Aldrich gave Hitchcock qualified praise as a great artist who was too dependent on technique. (However, this was much better than Aldrich's total lack of comment on the works of Howard Hawks and Otto Preminger!) Yet when Aldrich directed What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), he could not avoid Hitchcock's influence. As Charles Derry points out in 'Dark Dreams' (1977), both Aldrich and Hitchcock employed a 'horror of [i.e., from] personality' theme in their '60s works. But like all creative directors, Aldrich transformed the influence in his particular way. The final part of the prologue to Baby Jane is not a 'mendacious' flashback similar to Stage Fright's as Ken Mogg recently noted to me. It is more of a challenge in withholding information. We see the shattered head of the Baby Jane doll on the floor from which Aldrich's credits emerge. This not only suggests who the real victim is (i.e., Baby Jane Hudson, the Bette Davis character) but also who the director actually sympathizes with. The Hudson sisters and their neighbors inhabit houses with similar exteriors but different interiors. While the Hudsons exist in a Gothic interior similar to the Bates house in Psycho, their neighbor enjoys a more modern interior. In fact, her name is Mrs Bates, representing Aldrich's humorous take on Psycho. As played by Anna Lee, whose daughter in the film, Liza, is Bette Davis's own daughter, Barbara Merrill (who would later exact her own type of Mommie Dearest revenge), Ms Bates represents a more normal version of what Hitchcock's monstrous mother could have been under different circumstances. As Ken further pointed out, the character Edwin Flagg's mother played by veteran actress Marjorie Bennett (who had appeared in Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux) represents the 'wilder' side of Hitchcock's Mrs Bates. It's worth noting that although Victor Buono was marvelous as Edwin, the role was originally designed for Peter Lawford, an actor who had a 'suspiciously' close relationship with his own mother, as James Spada's biography notes. His own mother actually attempted to 'out' his supposed gay relationship to a studio executive. Both Jane and Edwin, then, are adult victims of dysfunctional families similar to Norman Bates. Hitchcock's influence also appears in Aldrich's 1957 melodrama Autumn Leaves starring Joan Crawford. As Richard Combs notes, 'Aldrich proves as adept as Hitchcock at suggesting a sense of disturbance about the everyday' and also plays games with his audience by 'turning a domestic milieu into an anarchically unpredicatable environment.' But the later Baby Jane and Charlotte show the influence of Psycho, especially the latter film's appropriation of Les Diaboliques (1955) in one scene in Charlotte where Joseph Cotten and Olivia DeHavilland engage in a performance designed to drive Davis mad. However, Aldrich lets us see mud at the top of the staircase after Cotten supposedly appears from the dead, thus exposing the mechanism of the performance in a manner roughly comparable to Judy's flashback two-thirds of the way through Vertigo (1958).
June 18 - 2003
[Editor's note. Assistant Professor Joe McElhaney has contributed an essay on Notorious to the forthcoming book, 'Hitchcock: Present and Future'. Today he concludes his thoughtful observations on Pat Hitchcock O'Connell's 'Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man'. KM ] Hitchcock O’Connell’s book will come as something of a shock to those who are accustomed to only dealing with the personality of her father in terms of 'the dark side of genius.' Instead, we have a picture of a loving and affectionate man, devoted to his daughter, his grandchildren and, especially, his wife. In spite of Donald Spoto’s presumptuous reading of the marriage between Hitchcock and Reville as an almost chaste, brother/sister relationship, the picture that emerges here is of an extremely intense attachment, the intensity existing across a number of levels beyond the creative. (They did not sleep apart, a detail that is subtly handled.) One of the high points of the book for me was reading about Pat Hitchcock’s experiences as a Broadway actress, first in John Van Druten’s play 'Solitaire' ('a complete disaster') which was originally to be directed by Auriol Lee, the actress who plays the mystery writer in Suspicion (1941). Lee never got to direct the play since she died in a car crash driving across the country. This was followed by another failure, 'Violet', written by Whitfield Cook (whose memories of Hitchcock and Reville are included in the book), who would later go on to contribute to the screenplays for Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train (1951) and who also gave Hitchcock and Reville the idea for the couple in Rear Window who put their dog in a basket and lower it into the courtyard. For this idea, Hitchcock paid Cook $5,000. However, Hitchcock O’Connell admits to problems is detailing her mother as a person. Reville kept no diary, wrote few letters (some of them are reproduced here in their entirety) and almost never spoke about her childhood or the past. The woman who emerges through this book is a warm, affectionate, sharply intelligent and witty individual who, like her husband, was devoted to the notion of proper social etiquette. But she remains somewhat elusive, as was perhaps her intention all along. This results in Hitchcock himself becoming, once again and even in this toned-down version, the stronger figure of the two. Instead of Hitchcock the sexual sadist, propositioning icy blondes, we get a sentimental man who weeps after a screening of Born Free (James Hill, 1966). (Mind you, given his attachment to animals, Hitler would probably have wept over that film too. Far more moving is the description of the tears the aging Hitchcock shed over Ingrid Bergman’s youthful beauty while watching Casablanca  on television.) Had her parents lived to see it, Hitchcock O’Connell is convinced, they would have had the same response to E.T. I certainly had no difficulty in believing this particular portrait of Hitchcock even if it is clearly a partial one, written by a loving daughter and undoubtedly a response to Spoto and others who tiresomely read the deepest pathology into every practical joke and one glass of wine too many. There is also a delicious irony in the fact that this master of film technique had difficulty in threading a 16mm. projector and could not figure out how to work a video cassette recorder. For all of these lovely human touches, though, I did occasionally get the feeling that Hitchcock O’Connell was offering a somewhat homogenized portrait of her father. No pun intended, but the Hitchcock who emerges in this book has too many soft edges. While she repeatedly stresses the humor of both her parents, we don’t get enough specific examples and even Hitchcock’s penchant for practical jokes is soft-pedaled. (Needless to say, the Guy Kibbee hair restorer/impotence joke, my personal favorite, is not mentioned here.) Elsewhere, Hitchcock O’Connell has stated that if her father were alive today his favorite filmmaker would be Steven Spielberg since they are both directors whose primary concern is their audience. Indeed this apparently direct connection to a popular audience is something which they share but with very different implications in the case of both directors. Before we begin to convertthe Hitchcock name into a family theme park, we should remember that the man who wept at Born Free also frequently cited Luis Buñuel as his favorite director and that he had an equally emotional response to Catherine Deneuve’s severed leg in Tristana (1970).
June 17 - 2003
[Joe McElhaney continues his comments on the new book 'Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man' by Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell. Joe McElhaney's book on classical cinema in the 1960s (which will include a chapter on Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie) is forthcoming from Temple University Press.] Hitchcock O’Connell describes some of the films that Reville worked on after her marriage and without her legendary husband, sometimes noting connections between the story material of a film and the films she made with Hitchcock. But if Hitchcock O’Connell has seen any of this solo work of Alma's, i.e., without Alfred (and to be fair, much of it is difficult to see if not lost entirely), it does not come across in the text, which primarily relies upon brief plot synopses and quotes from contemporary reviews. The only film of her mother’s that Hitchcock O’Connell expresses any direct enjoyment of is It’s in the Bag (Richard Wallace, 1945) but even here she misremembers the one sequence that she describes, the opening credits, which are not narrated by Jack Benny as she claims but by the film’s star, Fred Allen. The approach taken throughout much of the book is a type of guided tour of each of Hitchcock’s films, with a brief plot summary, a well-known anecdote or two, and a description of the film’s reception. Reading these parts of the book, I was puzzled as to what kind of reader it could be addressing. Am I wrong in thinking that the subject matter of Alma Reville will appeal primarily to Hitchcock scholars who are already quite familiar with the films, don’t need to have them summarized or to have things like the MacGuffin defined for them for the umpteenth time? It would have been more helpful if a question such as why Reville stopped taking official credit on Hitchcock’s films after Stage Fright (1950) was addressed instead. Reville’s trajectory of assuming a fair amount of credit and control during the silent and early sound period to finding her credits and importance dwindling during the 1940s and '50s is typical of a number of talented women in the European and American film industry who increasingly found themselves marginalized in later years: from Alma Reville, active collaborator, to Alma Hitchcock, the woman behind the man. And for a book concerned with drawing attention to the creative work of Reville, it would have been helpful had the book included her filmography. Instead, the appendix contains some of Reville’s recipes and menus from dinner parties. I have to admit, though, that I had a great time poring over this material and I was happy that it was included even if it does too cozily frame Reville’s life and work within the realm of the domestic. In fact, the book as a whole is at its best when it steps away from discussing the creative aspect of the life of Reville and Hitchcock and instead deals with them as human beings, seen through the eyes of a daughter who appeared to adore both of them. Concluded tomorrow.
June 16 - 2003
[Editor's note. Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell's book about her mother (and father) is newly reviewed by Gary Giblin on our New Publications pages. In addition, we're fortunate this week to have as guest-editor Assistant Professor Joe McElhaney, from Hunter College in NYC, whose widely published articles on film I much admire. This week, he'll be taking a close look at Pat Hitchcock's book. KM ] All Hitchcock scholars owe a profound debt to his daughter, Pat Hitchcock O’Connell. Since Hitchcock’s death she has been consistently generous and helpful to researchers, frequently making appearances in documentaries on Hitchcock as well as speaking at film retrospectives and academic conferences, always enthusiastically supporting her father as both an artist and a person. Her activities should serve as a model for all those who preside over the estates of major artists, those keepers of the keys who too often, through greed or indifference, make access to the work itself a difficult, expensive or, in some cases, impossible task. The appearance of a book by Hitchcock O’Connell, then, is an event, particularly given the neglected subject matter, her mother Alma Reville. 'Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man' was co-written by Laurent Bouzerau, who directed the excellent documentaries that appear on the Universal DVDs of Hitchcock’s films. With all of this behind it, it would be happy news to report that the book was a triumph of research and insight into the life and work of Alma Reville. However, as much as I enjoyed reading portions of it, 'Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man' is something of a mixed bag, part production history and part personal memoir in which the two halves do not quite add up to a satisfying whole. One of Hitchcock O’Connell’s primary goals here is to show the crucial creative role that her mother played in Hitchcock’s work. Reville was credited in various capacities on more than a dozen of Hitchcock’s films but her input was often uncredited and took place within the privacy of the Hitchcock home, extending to all production aspects. If there are detailed records of what Reville specifically contributed to these famous films, either officially or unofficially, you will find few examples of them in this book. Some of her major contributions (such as her suggestion about restructuring the dialogue of the car chase in To Catch a Thief) are cited here but this bit of history has already been documented. The most detailed section of the book in terms of Reville’s contributions reproduces some notes that she wrote in relation to both the screenplay and a rough cut of Marnie. But again much of this is covered elsewhere, in this case in Tony Lee Moral’s production history of the film. The Marnie material does raise the question as to whether the Hitchcock archives are full of Reville’s notes and notations on other films as well. If they are, why doesn’t this book draw upon them more fully? Bill Krohn, for example, refers in general terms, in 'Hitchcock at Work', to Reville’s uncredited contribution to Foreign Correspondent but Hitchcock O’Connell does not mention her mother’s work on that film at all. The book does offer some useful background on Reville’s early years in the British film industry, where she worked at a number of different capacities, from editor to actress (a range that was not unusual during that formative period of film history), all of which served to prepare her for the role in film history for which she will be permanently remembered, 'the woman behind' Alfred Hitchcock. More tomorrow.
June 12 - 2003
[Editor's note. My thanks to man-about-Hollywood, Stephen Rebello, whose final 'guest-editor' piece consists of these insider reports ... KM] Seeing that this is my final day as 'Guest Editor', I thought I might indulge myself in lighting from subject to subject, even more than I have in my earlier postings this past week … I wonder if Hitchcock ever saw a 1961 version of 'Mary Rose', done for German television, directed by Edward Rothe from a Peter Lotar adaptation of James Barrie’s play and starring Heidelinde Weis as Mary Rose and Dietmar Schonherr as Harry/Simon? I also wonder whether that TV version in any way complicated Hitchcock’s already-fraught efforts to make a film version of a play he had once considered as a film vehicle in the ‘30s for Nova Pilbeam (The Man Who Knew Too Much, Young and Innocent). Apparently, at various times in the '60s, both Mia Farrow (who played the role on the London stage) and model-actress Twiggy held the film rights. As for Hitchcock’s involvement, I have always been given to understand that Universal executives disliked the project not only because it was viewed as artsy and non-commercial but also because they preferred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren go their separate ways, after both their projects together underperformed at the box-office. Hedren once told me that she herself put the brakes on the project when she found it completely impossible to continue working with Hitchcock, who apparently could not muster enthusiasm to want to make 'Mary Rose' starring anyone else. Within the past few years, Green Moon Productions announced a pending film version of 'Mary Rose'. That company is co-owned by Hedren’s daughter, Melanie Griffith, and her husband, Antonio Banderas … Hitchcock, who loathed conflict or public confrontation of any sort, preferred to deal with trouble through passive-aggressive behavior. When he disliked one of his actors, he tended to be excessively civil and polite, rather than to replace that actor as many other directors would have done in a heartbeat. However, most Hitchcockians are aware that a week into the shooting of Family Plot (1976), Hitchcock replaced actor Roy Thinnes with his original preference for the part of 'Arthur Adamson', William Devane, who had suddenly become available. (Hitchcock instructed him to play like Wiliam Powell.) Less known is that, on Topaz (1969), Hitchcock shot entire sequences with character actor Aram Katcher as 'Munoz', the police chief of the Castro-like character played by John Vernon. Later, he re-shot those scenes with actor Roberto Contreras. Apparently, no one informed Katcher that he had been cut and the actor was forced to cancel promotional interviews that had been set up based on his appearance in the film. In a most unusual move, Katcher (who worked with Hitchcock stars James Mason in Five Fingers, Cary Grant in Dream Wife, and Rod Taylor and Doris Day in Do Not Disturb) went public with his displeasure. A Universal press spokesperson was forced to comment that although Katcher 'looked like the character, the scenes didn’t play to Hitchcock’s satisfaction.' Is it possible that Katcher paid dearly for embarrassing the mighty Hitchcock and the even mightier titan of MCA, Lew Wasserman? The actor didn’t appear in another film until 1978, eight years after being cut from Topaz; he made Russ Meyer’s Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens the following year and died nineteen years later, age 77, without another film credit … The long, at times bizarre history of powerful men constantly seeking to create (or 're'-create) new female stars continues to fascinate. The list of Pygmalions and Galateas is extensive. Consider the intensely thorny relationship between Von Sternberg and Dietrich. The fall of Mauritz Stiller and the rise of his protégée, Garbo. The exultation by G.W. Pabst of Hollywood castoff Louse Brooks. The public ridicule of Samuel Goldwyn because of his highly-touted Anna Sten. De Mille’s publicity push for Franciska Gaal. Howard Hughes’ succession of star women under contract, including Jane Russell, Terry Moore and Faith Domergue. Darryl F. Zanuck’s and his wife Virginia’s joint obsession with Bella Darvi. Otto Preminger introduced (and brutalized) Jean Seberg. John Schlesinger launched Julie Christie. Virtually every director and mogul tried at least once to mold and to launch a new screen discovery. Perhaps the star-hunt was at its most intense in the '50s and '60s, when so many of the major female stars who had risen in the '30s and '40s were being shunted aside for fresher faces, if hardly equal talents. But, often these ‘new discoveries’ seemed to come along when a director had had a particularly unfortunate experience of one sort or another with an actress. Hitchcock was hardly the only major director to spend time and money seeking a new leading lady. In the late '50s, Ingrid Bergman had hit her mid-forties and Grace Kelly had essentially retired from Hollywood four years before at 27, paving the way for Eva Marie Saint, Vera Miles and Tippi Hedren. Billy Wilder may have found working with Marilyn Monroe a nightmare while making two of her biggest personal triumphs, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot, but his attempt to cast the well-known Kim Novak in a patented Monroe role in Kiss Me, Stupid and, much worse, his personal discovery Judi West in The Fortune Cookie proved how indispensable Monroe was. Howard Hawks helped make a major star of Lauren Bacall in the '40s, but, by the '50s and '60s, tried out a succession of women in his patented tough-tender sexpot roles, ranging from the well-known Angie Dickenson in Rio Bravo to the superb then-newcomer Paula Prentiss in Man’s Favorite Sport? Angie Dickenson once admitted her puzzlement at Hawks’ having spent so much time molding her look and performance in Rio Bravo, then, even after her strong reviews, never using her again. But she was also aware that Hawks was famous for finding new faces, giving them the star buildup, then losing interest. In Red Line 7000, for instance, he introduced a raft of new hopefuls including Gail Hire, Laura Devon, Marianna Hill, and Charlene Holt. It was Holt whom he tried hardest to give the star treatment, having previously hired her for Man’s Favorite Sport? and, subsequently, for El Dorado.
June 11 - 2003
[In which Stephen Rebello makes an observation about Hitchcock that is too good not to print in bold type ...] Chatting recently with a best-selling novelist, one of whose thrillers is about to get the Hollywood A-movie movie treatment with a big, splashy studio production, I was particularly struck by something he said. He had just been through the casting process for the male lead in his film and, having been lobbied by virtually the entire membership of the Screen Actors Guild for a shot at the part - a star-maker if there ever was one - he had been less than impressed by his options. Not only did he find so many young actors, from a visual standpoint, virtually interchangeable but he also found their speaking voices lacking in distinction. He said, ‘If you lined-up five or ten of these guys behind a partition, you’d never be able to tell them apart by their voices. Remember how an impersonator like Rich Little could imitate James Stewart, Cary Grant, James Cagney, Sean Connery, Dean Martin, on and on? Stars used to speak with unique cadences, mannerisms. That’s all gone now and these newer young guys might just as well be accountants, for the way they sound and look.' Of course, we all knew what Norma Desmond was talking about when she uttered one of the most famous lines in Sunset Boulevard: ‘We had faces.’ But this novelist definitely had a point about the current crop of actors. At one time, stars got where they got and stayed there not only for being charismatic, persuasive and photogenic but also - at least once sound came to the motion picture business - for possessing unique speaking voices. Hitchcock, working in films when he did, had great faces and voices from which to choose. Herbert Marshall, Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Carole Lombard, Tallulah Bankhead, Laurence Olivier, Judith Anderson, Joseph Cotton - all had marvelous voices, impossible to mistake for anyone’s else’s. The artful, deliberate, psychological use of sound mattered deeply to Hitchcock throughout his career, from his bold early experiments (the sound of a woman screaming melding with a shrieking train whistle; the repetition of the word 'knife') to his later work (the drop-out of sound in Frenzy as Anna Massey ponders her next move and opportunistic Barry Foster sidles up to her; the precipitous, impeccably-planned ringing of a doorbell in Family Plot). Too much has been made of how Hitchcock appeared to doze off on his sets and too little made of how he often closed his eyes to listen for the interplay of vocal rhythms and silence he sought in his actors’ delivery of dialogue. Close your eyes sometime and merely listen to Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins or Perkins with Martin Balsam in Psycho: the precision and stylization recall Pinter. Voices mattered to Hitchcock. Consider how he either arranged for vocal coaching for his actors or personally gave them vocal cues. Grace Kelly, Vera Miles, Kim Novak, ‘Tippi’ Hedren and Sean Connery came along without the benefit of extensive theater and radio experience possessed by stars of preceding decades such as Laurence Olivier, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotton and Claude Rains, all of whom possessed memorably brilliant voices. Closing one’s eyes and listening to Notorious is rather like a radio concert of three brilliant instrumentalists at their artistic apex. Compare Ingrid Bergman’s warm, plummy, sensual vibrato (like a violin) to Grant’s knife-like, caddish incisiveness (part drum, part fiddle) and, mediating between them, the gorgeous, rich, pitiable villainy in the cello-like voice of Claude Rains. Their voices alone convey the film’s entire dynamic. Surely the final time Hitchcock worked so diligently with a performer’s voice was during his tutelage of ‘Tippi’ Hedren. Hedren worked extensively with a vocal coach to ‘soften the edges of a Midwestern accent,’ so reports went during the time of The Birds and Marnie. Even with that training, her voice retained a reedy quality, much less good for The Birds (in which she needed to sound supremely confident and unique, being presented as Hitchcock’s 'fascinating new personality' and something of a fait accompli as a movie star) than for Marnie, in which the childlike, ragged, bereft quality of her delivery isn’t about building a star image, but about giving a wonderful performance. Even if Hitchcock had grown disenchanted with his discovery, he could not fail to be moved by the way Hedren utters, 'There … there, now' after Marnie is forced to shoot her beloved horse. Perfection is a very sweet sound.
June 10 - 2003
[Today: author Stephen Rebello shares his further thoughts on screenwriters and screenwriting, both when Hitchcock was around and now ...] Hitchcock needed great scripts. As well-honed as Hitchcock’s skill-set was, even at his peak he could only go so far in massaging the problems inherent in the screenplays for The Paradine Case, Stage Fright, and Torn Curtain. It’s no wonder that late in his career, he reached out to playwrights Lillian Hellmann, Edward Albee, Arthur Laurents (for the first time since Rope) and James Costigan. But with whom would he collaborate on screenplays today and where might his instincts for material lead him? He once said, 'It is hard for me to sign writers who will work the way I want them to. The average writer writes "on the nose," while suspense should be written contrapuntally. That’s not because suspense is fantasy, but because it is truer to life when done with a light touch.' Ted Talley won an Academy Award for adapting Silence of the Lambs, which Jonathan Demme directed so skillfully but there’s very little lightness or offhandedness in the telling. In fact it’s difficult to imagine Hitchcock’s being simpatico with an FBI woman (even a troubled neophyte) and a serial killer of the rather campy, if witty Hannibal Lechter sort. (At least one Hitchcock screenwriter is widely rumored to have turned down an offer to adapt Thomas Harris’ book for the screen.) It’s likelier, though, that Hitchcock might have put Anthony Hopkins to good use in a film project, perhaps as a courtly, apparently mild-mannered wife-killer. Writers Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart did well tackling the larger-canvas Jack Ryan spy thriller The Hunt for Red October but my guess is that Hitchcock’s aversion to politics and professional espionage might have kept him away from dabbling in military thrillers. It’s more likely that he might have gravitated to the wry wit, precision and humanity of Scott Frank, whose perhaps best-known scripts have been Dead Again, Out of Sight, and Minority Report. In fact, in the criminally-undereseen Out of Sight, Frank and director Steven Soderbergh make the sly, steamy hotel rooftop restaurant seduction scene between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez something of an homage to Ernest Lehman’s and Hitchcock’s unforgettable seduction-on-a-train sequence in North by Northwest. Tom Stoppard and Hitchcock might have made witty, perversely beautiful music together: they might have created something far more persuasive, vital and sexy out of the WW II espionage thriller Enigma, for instance. Perhaps Hitchcock might have teased the requisite puckish humor and levity out of the fiercely intelligent and deeply compassionate Anthony Minghella, who sympathized so strongly with 'Tom Ripley' in adapting for the movies Patricia Highsmith’s 'The Talented Mr. Ripley'. There’s much in Julian Fellowes’ script for Gosford Park that suggest a wicked, nimble, erudite mind at work; Hitchcock might have pounced on him to wonderful effect. But assuming Hitchcock-type writers still exist, is the Hitchcock-style movie star gone the way of the drive-in theater and the double-bill? More tomorrow.
June 9 - 2003
[Editor's note. We're fortunate to have as guest-editor this week Stephen Rebello, author of the essential book 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (1991) and a veteran writer on film whose work has appeared in numerous periodicals from 'Cinefantastique' to 'Playboy'. KM] It’s my pleasure to begin my first Guest Editor’s Day with a purely speculative ramble. It’s my particular pleasure to be passed the Editor’s baton by Bill Krohn, whose work I admire so much. Don’t ask why, but Bill’s writing on the troubled but underappreciated The Paradine Case set my mind a-wandering about a question Hitchcock posed several times. That is: 'If the dead were to come back, what would we do with them?' So the director mused to interviewers in the 1960s, trying to somehow explain his attraction to the charms of 'Mary Rose', Sir James Barrie’s spectral, deeply unsettling play he also described as a 'sentimental ghost story' and 'my Twilight Zone picture.' For many complicated reasons, Hitchcock never got to make 'Mary Rose' but his rhetorical question stuck with me. I’ve often asked myself, 'If Hitchcock were to come back, what would we do with him?' More to the point: what would he do with himself? I’d probably be less inclined to bother with such speculation if contemporary movie thrillers weren’t so often disappointing. But, then, some of us lucky enough to have cut our teeth on Hitchcock's films - the cinematic equivalent of Beluga caviar, really - often find it tough putting up with more recent suspense films. Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that such films as The Hunt for Red October, Dead Again, Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, The Talented Mr Ripley, Panic Room, Signs, One Hour Photo, Insomnia, or Identity are without their pleasures. In fact, several of those films I like very much. It’s just that I find myself fantasizing about how much better so many of them, and others, might have been had Hitchcock been around to call the shots. Of course, were a reborn-again Hitchcock to have tackled any of the aforementioned projects, he doubtless would have had the screenplays reworked, deepened, personalized. What is more, one of Hitchcock’s great strengths was his instinct for story material, having reportedly turned down such properties over the decades as Laura, The Spiral Staircase, Sorry, Wrong Number, The Snake Pit, The Uninvited, No Highway, The High and the Mighty, Witness for the Prosecution, The Naked Edge, Rosemary’s Baby, Sleuth, Equus, Wait Until Dark, The Boston Strangler, Earthquake and on and on. So, in my fantasia about what Hitchcock would do were he to come back from the dead, I would suggest that, just as in his five decades of filmmaking, finding good material and suitable screenwriters would be one of his greatest creative frustrations. I can’t imagine Hitchcock resonating to much of what passes for 'thrilling' in movies these days. I’d doubt he’d touch any of the military thrillers moviemakers appear to like so well, such as Rules of Engagement or Basic. The same with the dreary, strong-women-in-jeopardy stuff in which Ashley Judd seems to specialize such as Double Jeopardy and High Crimes, let alone the all-too-aptly-titled Jennifer Lopez movie Enough. To simply close one’s eyes and listen to most films made in the past twenty years would not suggest that the Hollywood woods were teeming with smart, urbane, well-rounded screenwriters of the sort to which a resurrected Hitchcock might be attracted. In fact, few working screenwriters appear to be able to create resonant characters, brilliant set pieces, dense themes, elegant plotting - which may go quite some way toward explaining why so few contemporary films echo in the memory, infiltrate our dreams, and provoke heated discourse in anything like the way Hitchcock’s films do. More tomorrow.
June 5 - 2003
[My thanks to Bill Krohn, author of 'Hitchcock at Work', whose week of being 'guest-editor' of "Editor's Day" concludes with this final piece on The Paradine Case. KM] The most shocking last-minute producer's 'trim' in The Paradine Case happens in the scene after Tony has started breaking down Latour during the trial, when he smugly visits Maddelena during the lunch break, expecting to be told he's her hero, only to learn that she's furious with him. The scene is 3 minutes long in the silent fine-grain that was Selznick's next-to-last cut, 2 1/2 in the release version. This is by anyone's standards one of the key scenes of the film, yet Selznick cut enough of it that Peck's sudden anger, after yielding to Maddelena's demands, doesn't work all that well dramatically anymore. Then he dissolves before the ending of the scene as Hitchcock filmed it, which we can still see in the fine-grain: Madalenna pours a glass of wine and takes a swallow. Under incredible tension (her life at stake, the man she loves being crucified, her attorney jealous and hostile), she keeps her composure and allows herself to take a drink after he storms out - the same action we saw her perform in the first scene before the police appear. The swallow of wine is a great touch. It's one of those sublimely simple moments where a character is revealed by the camera just watching. (Not to mention Tony's obtusity - he throws his snit during her lunch break, not noticing that he's keeping her from eating.) How could Selznick cut it? To be fair, the Production Code file on The Paradine Case shows that the censors were counting how many times any character takes a drink, and this was an easy one to lop off,. But that bad decision shows again that Selznick's priorities were misplaced when he was performing the necessary task of reducing a three-hour cut to two hours and ten minutes. By way of contrast, Ann Todd's scenes were not subjected to the trims that were made throughout the film, despite the fact that Tony's noble, forgiving wife is not the film's central character. Selznick even made internal cuts to the scenes between Tony and Maddelena in prison, whereas he seems to have left all but one of the scenes between Tony and Gay (including one Gregory Peck recalls as the worst-acted scene he ever did) completely intact. Selznick should have cut Gay's part down, including all of the dumb scene of her in that dumb hat having lunch with Judy Flaquer (Joan Tetzel), and he should have cut Judy to the bone. The charming scene with Tetzel and Charles Coburn playing chess is about as important to the story as the guy who drives Tony out to the house in Cumbria ('Latour's a queer one, 'e is'). Less, actually. ('Variety', already confused by the drastic cutting of the Horfield subplot, decided that Judy must be Horfield's daughter.) But all sorts of things that were central to the main drama were trimmed or dumped, so as not to impair the (presumed) tsunami-like emotional momentum of the scenes between Gay and Tony. I don't think that in 1939 Selznick would have cut Scarlett down to let Melanie's scenes 'breathe,' and frankly Gay, like Melanie, is a boring drip. The only explanation I can offer is that he was feeling so guilty about his own marital troubles, which closely paralleled those in the film, that he made a fatal mistake which Hitchcock would certainly have avoided - an autobiographical interpretation that has previously been suggested by Selznick biographer David Thomson. In the process of transforming The Paradine Case into a highly personal Selznick film, I believe that the colossal energies that created a masterpiece in Gone with the Wind by using directors like Kleenex distorted and partially erased what could could have been the finest fruit of the Selznick-Hitchcock collaboration. Even the way Selznick cut it, the film is better than its reputation, as Stephen Rebello argued persuasively after I made some of these points before a screening in Los Angeles last year, so it is entirely appropriate that I pass the Guest Editor's baton to Stephen before returning to what promises to be a protracted stint of jury duty in a trial that, sadly, presents none of the points of interest that make The Paradine Case so fascinating, even in the oddly skewed form in which it has come down to us.
June 4 (b) - 2003
2. THE FIRST TRIAL: Leonard Leff says that Selznick ordered Hitchcock to cut Keane's [non-Paradine] trial scene from the script, but I think it was filmed. It's in the shooting script; allusions are made to it in other dialogue, which are also trimmed out of the release version; and the shot of Keane coming home when we first see him in the release version is exactly as described in the script - Judy and Horfield are visible in the front seat, because the Flaquers have driven Keane and Horfield back from the country court where Keane just did his Johnny Cochran number, incurring the displeasure of the bench. The scripted dialogue, which has Horfield asking to be remembered to Gay, has been replaced with Flaquer (looped over a long-shot) saying 'Think it over, Keane,' but if you look, it's Laughton at the wheel. I think that first court scene did quite a bit more than 'demonstrate Keane's histrionic abilities,' as Leff puts it. First of all, Keane's habit of getting emotionally involved in his defenses - for which Horfeld would have chided him in the 'cigars' scene (dialogue trimmed out), warning him that one day he'll be 'hoist by his own petard' - is exactly what gets him in trouble with Maddelena. The first trial scene would also have launched the theme of marriage (which is viewed with a jaundiced eye in the rest of the film) by showing that every man on the jury is thinking 'that could be me in the dock.' (The script stresses that the jurors are the main focus of this scene.) What would we see in the first trial scene? Tony saves a man who murdered his wife from the gallows by arguing that she drove him to it with her tyrannical behavior, an appeal that is obviously not lost on the male members of the jury (the script specifies 10 men and two women), although cutaways to the defendant show him to be, in fact, a rather hard bird. The only defendant we hear about Horfeld hanging (in the eliminated gallery scene) was a servant girl who killed her lover, and of course at the end Mrs Paradine is going to swing for the same crime Keane's first (male) client had committed. The fact that Hitchcock finally insisted on shooting the first trial over Selznick's objections (as stated in a memo quoted by Leff) suggests that the chief misogynist in the film wasn't going to be Andre Latour (Louis Jourdan), but the English criminal justice system, as embodied both by the idealistic Keane and the ogre Horfield - an indictment which casts a more tender light on all the female victims of what is obviously a 'man's world': Gay, Judy ('men are such beasts'), Lady Horfield and Maddelena, whose doom was sealed, after all, when she had the misfortune to hire an attorney who 'fell in love' with her. Keane's first client was spared that complication, and got off with 9 years' penal servitude. For whatever it's worth, the jury in the big trial is 11 men and one woman. Selznick also cut a 'before the curtain goes up' montage I have to assume Hitchcock filmed of the interior of the Old Bailey getting ready for the trial: 'A little official in a gown totters about like an automatic doll... BIG HEAD of Official with a heavily lined face and a dead eye, gazing into vacancy... Horfield is being helped on with his robes by an attendant - a parched and withered man like most of the rest of them.... BIG HEAD of Horfield studying a pimple on the side of his nose. He touches it gently with his finger', etc. Coming right after the art gallery scene, this would have painted a grim picture of the Old Bailey as an all-male bastion, with the head man, Horfield, decidedly on the kinky side. As it happens, Horfield's line about Latour's runaway near-bride being 'the pathological one' was added during shooting - he was given another quip in the script which did not suggest, as this one does, that he rather fancies the witness himself. More tomorrow, after my second day in court....
June 4 (a) - 2003
[More on The Paradine Case from 'guest-editor' Bill Krohn, whose 'Hitchcock at Work' is now available in paperback. Note: part (b) of today's entry will be posted later.] My first day of jury duty reminded me that there is one passion I do not share with the Master, who loved watching trials at the Old Bailey in London. In fact, his youngest granddaughter, who used to accompany him on these expeditions when they were in England, became a lawyer. I on the other hand have never read a John Grisham novel and tend to nod off in trial scenes - real or filmed. But I love what's left of The Paradine Case, and I'm convinced after seeing the choices David Selznick made when he cut seven minutes out of the fine-grain preserved at Disney - which appears to be the producer's next-to-last-cut - that the movie Selznick mined out of Hitchcock's 3-hour-plus rough cut was not the best one lurking in all that marble. I have also consulted the phonebook-sized script signed by Selznick, and would direct the jury's attention to two scenes excised by the producer, one of which is in the fine-grain. (Although for the moment the fine-grain - Exhibit A - is not widely available, I believe that Exhibit B, the script, can be easily obtained via the Net.)
1. THE ART GALLERY - In the silent scene preserved in the fine-grain Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck) meets Lady Horfield (Ethel Barrymore) at an art gallery, where she warns him that her husband, Lord Horfield (Charles Laughton), doesn't like Keane, and hints that Horfield is sexually aroused by condemning women to death:
It's so awful for me... especially when it's a woman ... Three months ago a poor wretch of a laundry maid killed her lover. Tommy - with that black cap - had to sentence her to... to... He came home to me immediately after. He was tired and wanted a pleasant evening... just like any man who's done a day's work... but I couldn't... I couldn't...
When Lord Horfield appears with the painter, she's terrified, and when he goes off again he's talking to the painter about how he dreads the idea of having her committed. Having been warned by the censors that Lady Horfield's line 'but I couldn't... I couldn't' was too suggestive, Hitchcock didn't film it, to judge from the 'lip-flap' [lip-movement] in the fine-grain version. The version of the scene in the fine-grain also ends before Laughton appears - something that was presumably filmed and trimmed at an earlier stage of the post-production. But the scene is still terrifying, because it's clear from Barrymore's facial expressions that Lady Horfield has gone mad. As a result of all the trimming of the Horfield subplot, however, one early reviewer complained that Horfield and Lady Horfield are 'throwaway' characters, and that Lady Horfield's behavior is strange (meaning 'unexplained' - 'Variety', December 27, 1947). Nonetheless, Lord Horfield's rather nasty sexuality is also portrayed in the party scene where he practically drools on Gay Keane (Ann Todd) in a backless cocktail dress. The leering shot of Todd's bare back from his point of view seems to have been inspired by Thomas Rowlandson's satirical etching 'Sympathy', in which an elephantine bailiff leers at the bare back of a female prisoner who is about to be flogged, which hung in the dining room of the Hitchcocks' Santa Cruz home. It is in the section on this film in the Chabrol-Rohmer 'Hitchcock', by the way, that the filmmaker's own skill as a caricaturist is lauded.
June 3 - 2003
[Guest-editor Bill Krohn today turns to The Paradine Case (1947).] Through the good offices of Scott McQueen, who until recently oversaw the restoration of a number of films produced by David O. Selznick that are now owned by The Walt Disney Co., I was able to view last year a silent fine-grain of what must be Selznick's next-to-last cut of The Paradine Case. The editing of that film was taken out of Hitchcock's hands by the producer, and the fine-grain, which Selznick saved, enables us to see how badly the picture was harmed by his decisions. I was reminded of that experience again reading a passage in Sidney Gottlieb's always-surprising new collection, 'Alfred Hitchcock Interviews': Looking forward to a film he clearly had high hopes for, the director told Frank S. Nugent in the 'New York Times' that he cut the first four scenes of the book to be able to start the film with 'the arrest of a soignee society woman,' Madalenna Paradine (Alida Valli): 'It's a wonderful springboard ... A woman at the piano, a butler, a drawing room. The butler says dinner will be in fifteen minutes. The front bell. The butler says, "Inspector So-and-So is here." "Show him in." "Good evening, Inspector." He introduces Sergeant So-and-So. She says, "There's really very litle more I can tell you." He says, "I have a warrant for your arrest." She murmurs something about getting some clothes. He says, "I'll go with you." Here's a woman being arrested for murder in the politest terms possible. To me that's more dramatic than shouting to high heaven.' Hitchcock filmed the scene as he planned, with few changes, and that's what we see in the silent fine grain, but during Selznick's final 'tightening' of the picture he did the following: a) Whereas in the fine-grain the camera follows the butler into the salon where Madalenna is playing and stays on him while he pours the drink, then follows him over to her, all in one shot, Selznick jump-cut him into the salon with the drink already poured. So much for the slow, elegant build-up. b) He also trimmed a three-shot of Maddelena and the two policemen to cut in quicker to the close-up where she learns she's being arrested - in keeping with Hitchcock's plan of showing and then disturbing the social facade, in the fine-grain you can see the inspector delicately leading up to his purpose in coming and Madelenna gesturing to offer him a seat, and only then do we cut in to the closeup and the bad news. c) To make sure the audience knows what she means when she describes the blind eyes in the painting of her husband, Selznick cuts to an insert of the painting, which he had shot by an unnamed retake director shortly before the film was scheduled for release. CLUNK! Selznick added 5 shots and saved maybe 11 seconds, but the scene Hitchcock described with great relish to Nugent was more fluid and dramatic before all that last-minute panicky tinkering. Watch it in the producer's final cut with these small details in mind and you'll see why Hitchcock became his own producer on Rope, his next film, and never put himself in a producer's hands again. More on next-to-last cut of The Paradine Case tomorrow, after I finish with ... jury duty!
June 2 - 2003
[Editor's note. Bill Krohn leads off this week as the first of several 'guest editors' who'll be sharing their knowledge and insights here over the next few weeks. Bill, some of whose earliest film criticism was published under the name of 'T.L. French', betraying his Francophilia if not his real name, is Hollywood correspondent for 'Cahiers du Cinéma', and the author of 'Hitchcock at Work', now out in paperback. KM] Unaccustomed as I am to public blogging - or Mogging, the most civilized and erudite version of that venerable practice - I shall use the soap box the Founder has given me to unburden myself of bits and pieces of Hitchcock research that have come my way since my last stint, picking up where I left off, with Suspicion (1941). The rambling deductions about that film set forth in my guest editorials of Fall 2001 have been corrected and refined for the 2003 edition of the 'Hitchcock Annual', which I am told will feature a new cover 'look' as well. This is no place to unveil my conclusions, but thanks to gentle editorial prodding by Sidney Gottlieb, I do find myself with a few bits of rejected lumber in my possession, which I will offer here. First, concerning the earliest treatment RKO commissioned when it acquired 'Before the Fact' in 1935 [see also our Suspicion page - KM]: the writer of the treatment, Arnaud d'Usseau, co-wrote 'Ladies of the Corridor' (currently being revived on Broadway) with Dorothy Parker in 1953, but his Hollywood career was undistinguished and so is the treatment, which ends with Johnnie (a murderer, as in the novel) being hunted down by the police in the woods. The name 'Orson Welles' pencilled in the upper corner of the copy preserved in the RKO archives at UCLA suggests that this was one of the heap of properties Welles was offered when he came to RKO, and that the scene in the woods may have stayed in his mind and resurfaced when he and John Huston were working on the script of The Stranger (1946), made eight years later. Welles and Hitchcock were shooting Citizen Kane and Mr. and Mrs. Smith at RKO at the same time and knew each other - Patricia Hitchcock even recalls Welles attending her birthday party and hypnotizing her! As I observe in 'Hitchcock at Work', Hitchcock borrowed more than Joseph Cotten from The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) when he made Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and as Ken and R. Barton Palmer have observed, Welles reciprocated when he made The Stranger, about a war criminal hiding in a small town like Uncle Charlie. Let's also remember that RKO president George Schaefer was immersed in the Kane controversy while Hitchcock was starting Suspicion, and so may have been particularly disinclined to buy Hitchcock's idea for adding a grim ending to a property Schaefer never wanted to make in the first place. The embattled Schaefer may even have thought back to the successful resolution of Hitchcock's film when he ordered a new ending shot for Ambersons. After all, it had worked with Suspicion, for which two additional endings were filmed after previews as disappointing as those that sank Ambersons, and Suspicion had turned out to be a critical and box-office smash for RKO. Hollywood was a small town in the 40s; a Hollywood studio was an even smaller one. So it is important to keep in mind the immediate context in which films were made, even when we're tempted to lose ourselves in the details of one film, treated as an enclosed system - something of which this website has never been guilty. Another point about Suspicion also illustrates the advantages of occasionally popping in the 'wide-angle lens': in the fall of 1940, when Cary Grant was cast in Suspicion - a story in which he and Hitchcock initially planned for his character to murder his wife - Grant was courting real-life ugly-duckling heiress Barbara Hutton, who learned when her father died on December 2, 1940, that he had cut her out of his will because of their affair. Well-fixed anyway thanks to her mother, Hutton married Grant a year later, shortly after the release of Suspicion. One wonders what she thought when she saw the film with her fiancé at the premiere.
May 30 - 2003
Have been trying all this week to fit in some direct discussion of Mark Glancy's monograph on The 39 Steps to supplement the review of it elsewhere on this site. I liked this description by Glancy of the film: 'At nearly every stop on Hannay's cross-country journey we find complacency and venality. It is a vision of a country without confidence, unity or purpose.' (p. 18) Actually, that sounds like how I characterised Saboteur (1942) in my book - I'd say that the latter film's 'vision' of disunity, etc., is even more pronounced. As for my emphasis here in recent days on the 'quickening' motif of The 39 Steps, here's some evidence for that in Glancy's description of the police hunt for Hannay on the train: '[Hannay] now seems nothing like the lethargic man we saw in London. [...] His resourcefulness and speed, as well as our own belief in his abilities, are now an established part of the story's dramatic logic.' (p. 56) In my book I noted how the film itself speeds up the narrative whenever possible but also, on occasions, and paradoxically, takes its own good time over some scenes. An instance of the former is the famous moment when Hannay's landlady finds the murdered woman's body, then screams - and the film cuts to Hannay's train speeding north. (Something interesting about the genesis of this 'bridge' effect, not noted by Glancy, is how it combines a similar effect from Hitchcock's Blackmail  with another such bridge in a then-recent GPO documentary - Hitchcock may have read of the latter in an article by John Grierson that had just appeared in 'Sight and Sound'.) And an instance of the seeming opposite effect, where the film allows a scene to play itself out in its own good time, is the 'long-take', lasting about a minute and a half, during which we first meet the guests at the Professor's house, who have just come from Sunday service, then watch them leave. By filming the scene in this way, as I said in my book, Hitchcock achieves an effect of unhurried progression of events that seem to take much longer (as they would have in actuality, undoubtedly). Actually, the take does have one cut-in shot that interrupts it - when the Professsor leads Hannay to the window - but this shouldn't hide the fact, not noted by Glancy, that the scene is a foreshadowing of the long-takes of Rope (1948). The whole sequence in the Professor's house is actually a tour-de-force. Glancy notes some of its details and is silent about others. He doesn't note, for instance, how the maid appears to be privy to the Professor's clandestine business - she lies like a veteran when the Sheriff's men turn up at the front door looking for Hannay - and he is vague about how much, exactly, Mrs Jordan knows of her husband's doings. (But at least Glancy doesn't get wrong the Jordans' relationship - which seems to me to be quite close and loving - which is more than I can say of William Rothman's analysis in 'Alfred Hitchcock - the Murderous Gaze'  where we read that Mrs Jordan is 'a cold, overbearing woman, a nightmarish mother figure' [p. 146]. That is simply nonsense!) Glancy concludes his book by noting that the film provides a good example of Hitchcock's liking for 'under-statement of highly dramatic ideas' (p. 103). I agree! Next week: Bill Krohn will be the first of several 'guest-editors' filling in for me while I go off to write the next 'MacGuffin' ...
May 29 - 2003
Like John Buchan, then, Hitchcock may empathise with his fellow 'artists in crime', his villains, yet basically side with 'the moron millions' (as he once broadly characterised his audience), seeking through his art to raise us from our 'sluggish and jellified' condition. Of course, it's only natural that Hitchcock's villains are initially more 'alive' than the typically bored or jaded heroes (e.g., Richard Hannay) because the former must dwell constantly on 'the dangerous edge of things'. (Screenwriter Gavin Lambert once used that phrase of Robert Browning's for the title of a study of thriller authors, including Hitchcock.) Mark Glancy's monograph on The 39 Steps refers to how Buchan's Hannay is linked to the spies in things like their common resort to disguises, assumed identities (p. 12). But Glancy doesn't apply this observation to a study of the film's 'theatricality'. I would simply make a couple of points here. First, we have noted Hitchcock's sympathy with the central couple, Hannay and Pamela, to the point where he implies a parallel between his own heightened consciousness as filmmaker and that of the couple as they fight their way to 'freedom'. Hitchcock's films are consistently about the overcoming of isolation, and in Vertigo (1958) Madeleine even says explicitly that living alone is 'wrong'. On the other hand, the scene in The 39 Steps with the crofter and his wife exists to remind us that, in adverse circumstances, a couple may be as far removed from 'life' (symbolised in the film by the bright lights of the city) as anyone. The puritanical, mean-minded crofter is a predecessor, in this respect, of the puritanical (and divorced) deputy-sheriff Calvin Wiggs in The Trouble With Harry (1955). And while it was perhaps unfeeling of me in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (UK edition, p. 49) to suggest that a lesson of the film is that of the poet Robert Frost, who wrote that freedom is 'feeling easy in one's harness', I do think that Hitchcock ends up saying, in effect, that 'life' - the sort symbolised by bright lights - isn't everything! So that's my second point. Accepting that 'only the artist, and maybe the criminal, can make his own life', Hitchcock concludes many of his films with a nod to the possibility of 'conditional freedom'. Both The 39 Steps and Rear Window are like that, I think. And in my book I commented: 'Like The Farmer's Wife  ..., The 39 Steps is a film that invites its audience to share a secret knowledge - for which the papers sought by the spies are a mere MacGuffin.' (p. 49) I also hear in my head, at this point, Francie (Grace Kelly) in To Catch a Thief (1955) saying to John (Cary Grant), 'I can't tell you. It's no good unless you discover it for yourself!' Meanwhile, I can only add that I hope Margaret and John, the crofter couple in The 39 Steps, either got religion together or that she ran off with a visiting agricultural-machinery salesman. Any other suggestions, anyone? Tomorrow: some final comments on Glancy's monograph before I turn this 'column' over to some guest-editors for a while.
May 28 - 2003
Just for starters today, here's a likely indication that I was on the right track when I spoke of the 'quickness' idea informing The 39 Steps. My point was that the film is saying, with Henri Bergson, 'Look, to be fully alive, you have to exercise all of your faculties - including intuition.' And I spoke of how, finally, Hannay and Pamela spontaneously hold hands. (In their true combining, rather than being merely yoked together mechanically, by handcuffs, lies freedom.) Well, the word that the film's script uses isn't 'spontaneously' but 'instinctively' as it describes the film's last shot, thus: 'The CAMERA pulls back as Hannay and Pamela rise from [the dying Mr Memory's] side and become silhouettes in the foreground. Their hands instinctively come together as the music swells ...' But that's surely close to what I had in mind! At last our romantic couple are doing what comes naturally, rather than suppressing it, or engaging in hostility and distrust! Now, let's return for a moment to Rear Window, which we were discussing yesterday. The word 'intuition' is explicitly used there and made gender-specific: Lisa speaks of 'my women's intuition'. But again the idea is the couple's need to merge their resources to become an effective unit, one that is fully alive. And once again, I would argue, it is the couple who correspond to Hitchcock's, the artist's, God-like wholeness, and have his true sympathy. (Note: Peter Ackroyd has remarked of author Charles Dickens that he had 'an almost feminine sensibility' - and several commentators have said the same of Hitchcock. I'll come back to this.) Now, I've previously quoted Paul Klee's phrase, 'that Romanticism which is one with the universe', referring to an artist's privileged moments of total empathy with how the world goes. By contrast, Hitchcock's villains finally find themselves cut off from the flow of life, as when the curtain is rung down on them, trapping them, in The 39 Steps and Stage Fright (1950). (By the same token, the theatrical setting is used, in Shakespearean or Pirandellian fashion, to imply that life's all a dream anyway, and to that extent villains and heroes are one. In a truer perspective, where what Schopenhauer called 'eternal justice' would prevail, things might be reversed. So in Notorious  even the Nazi is allowed a reference to 'next time', and of course Van Damm in North by Northwest  has a point when he asks sardonically, 'Games? Must we?') In North by Northwest, Leonard's remark about his 'feminine intuition' is very telling as it indicates how 'resourceful' the spies are in that film. Leonard's boss, the smooth and bisexual Van Damm, is a near-relative not only of The Professor in The 39 Steps (Mark Glancy, incidentally, notes how actor Godfrey Tearle bears a remarkable resemblance to Franklin D. Roosevelt!) and the smarmy, cunningTobin in Saboteur (1942), but also of the female 'Superman' of Rebecca (1940), i.e., the bisexual (or polymorphous-perverse) Rebecca herself. Also, Van Damm is related to Alex Sebastian in Notorious, of whom I noted in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' that his empathy for Alicia's feelings resembles how a good filmmaker must frequently enter 'into his various characters' states of mind' (UK edition, p. 100). So we seem to have come full-circle in our observations. But what was Hitchcock's attitude to all of this? Staying in the circle, I can only repeat (having said it often) how closely Hitchcock's attitude to his villains resembles that of the hero Leithen in John Buchan's 'The Power-House' (1912). Addressing that novel's would-be 'Superman' villain, named Pavia, Leithen says: 'As I read your character [...] you are an artist in crime. [...] You love power, hidden power. You flatter your vanity by despising mankind and making them your tools. You scorn the smattering of inaccuracies which passes for human knowledge, and I will not venture to say that you are wrong. Therefore, you use your brains to frustrate it. Unhappily the life of millions is built on that smattering, so you are a foe to society.' Concluded tomorrow.
May 27 - 2003
What I said yesterday about Hitchcock's villains being his near-heroes (or heroes for a time) made me think of Somerset Maugham's adage, 'Only the artist, and maybe the criminal, can make his own life.' From such a world-view, first adumbrated by Hitchcock in The 39 Steps (to which I'll come back), might emerge a film like Rear Window (1954)! It will be instructive to look at that for a moment. The film's villain is Thorwald (Raymond Burr) who does indeed take steps to make his own life, going so far as to murder his ball-and-chain (or pair of handcuffs!) of an invalid, nagging wife. He is thus a hero in the sense that Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) in Strangers on a Train (1951) is a 'hero', taking steps to do what the rest of us are too 'cowardly' to do. Significantly, Bruno boasts of having driven a car at 150 miles-per-hour, and similar feats. (He is also bold enough to utter the unshackled thought, 'What's a life or two, Guy?'!) Whether you believe him isn't the point. In their respective films, these villains enact what has entered the unconscious, or conscious, minds of the rest of us, perhaps many times. On the other hand, their actions hardly translate into a practical general principle for the rest of us to follow! So this is where the-artist-as-hero comes in. In Hitchcock's case, he actually once said that though Somerset Maugham travelled to the South Seas, and James Jones to Hawaii, he didn't need to do that: 'Once my front door is closed, I can be anywhere. It's imagination, it's supposin'.' In effect, he was aligning himself with Schopenhauer's notion of the (great) artist who can attain a freedom of sorts, and afford a glimpse of freedom to the rest of us, too, by applied imagination, especially imagination that is disinterested. (Cf. Paul Klee's phrase, 'that Romanticism which is one with the universe', and Henri Bergson's notion of 'intuition'.) This is a huge topic, but I'll simply note here that Schopenhauer believed that the disinterested artist, i..e., one who loses for a time his subjective, wilful concerns, penetrates the veil of Maya (illusion) and discerns 'the timeless reality of [Platonic] Ideas'. (Cf. Christopher Janaway, 'Schopenhauer, 1994, p. 61.) Let's return to Rear Window. Hitchcock, who plays a clock-winder in this film (a nice touch), and who is seen chatting to The Composer (ditto), constructed a small microcosm of humanity across the courtyard for the hero Jeff (James Stewart) and us to gaze at. In the various, separated apartments (cf. Bergson's 'frames', mentioned yesterday) live representative specimens of suffering humankind, conforming exactly to the human condition as Schopenhauer described it (no doubt a Platonic Idea ...). Now here's something I wrote in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story': 'In the film's coda, as we listen to the [finally completed] song "Lisa", freedom seems almost palpable for a moment, though the song's lyrics hint that it may be just a dream. Significantly, the moment coincides with the meeting of Miss Lonely Hearts (Judith Evelyn) and The Composer (Ross Bagdasarian), the first time we've seen any such neighbourly interaction.' (p. 131) For a moment, at least, the Many seems One. The suffering we saw earlier has been assuaged. And hero and heroine (the latter named Lisa and played by Grace Kelly) have seemingly been reconciled, with a hint of marriage in the air. It would be nice to think that the artist, Hitchcock, has indeed applied his art - and his intuition - to show us how we can make our own lives. Well, has he? I'll try and answer that tomorrow (including reference to The 39 Steps)!
May 26 - 2003
(revised, final?) I did indeed put up a review of Mark Glancy's monograph on The 39 Steps on our New Publications page at the weekend. I enjoyed the book, though I found many errors and oversights to mention - and shall need to add to that list here. But first, let's return to my 'reading' of Hitch's film (cf. May 21, above) whereby Hannay and Pamela undergo a 'quickening' process and finally come 'alive' in a truly Bergsonian sense. The then (i.e., 1930s) highly fashionable Henri Bergson was all for 'intuition', particularly as a means of grasping the nature of time. In 'Creative Evolution' (1911) he had brilliantly likened mental impressions to the cinema's flow of images, pointing out that the trick was to interpret the impressions meaningfully - in effect, to make a movie out of many separate pieces of information (let's call them 'frames' or simple 'facts'). In other words, he was saying: act as if life were a movie that you 'intuit' as you go along. Don't stop to examine individual 'frames' but rather 'go with the flow' - while always keeping your wits about you! Be both intuitive and intelligent! Such a theory would naturally have appealed to Alfred Hitchcock! Here, very likely, the notion of 'pure cinema' was born. (Cf. also Walter Pater's dictum, 'All art tends to the condition of music'.) For what is that notion but a canny extension of Bergson's idea, whereby the filmmaker himself is the one who manipulates images in order to 'direct' what the audience shall 'intuit'? (Hitchcock, you would have to say, was being deliciously artless when he once defined 'pure cinema' as 'like notes of music make a melody'.) But there was also a corollary to Bergson's thinking. As I wrote in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (UK edition, p. 131), he taught that things like intuition and creativity - in effect, heightened life - can give us direct experience of 'freedom'. This was actually an old idea (underlying, for example, Poe's 'Ligeia'). But note the paradox - or clash. Given the filmmaker's 'guiding' role in the film process, clearly the audience's experience of 'freedom' may only be partial at best. An illusion of 'freedom'. Here, I would argue, Hitchcock can't help but critique Bergson's 'optimism'. (For what it's worth, Marshall McLuhan wrote of Bergson's theory: 'Just at the extreme point of mechanization represented by the factory, the film, and the press, men seemed by the stream of consciousness, or interior film to obtain release into a world of spontaneity, of dreams, and of unique personal experience. Dickens perhaps began it all with his Mr Jingle in "Pickwick Papers".' ['Understanding Media', Chapter 29.] But of course Dickens's novels grew increasingly 'darker' thereafter as his experience of the world - inner and outer - deepened.) So, coming back to The 39 Steps, here's my thought for today. In making the spies (whose boss is The Professor) the exemplars of the 'quickening' process that may finally offer Hannay and Pamela a taste of 'freedom', Hitchcock was already exercising his principle of making his villains his near-heroes. More tomorrow.
May 22 - 2003
More observations about The 39 Steps, and Mark Glancy's monograph on it, next week. Meanwhile, this weekend I hope to review the Glancy monograph on our New Publications page. Now here are some further thoughts about the play 'Hitchcock Blonde' by Terry Johnson, currently running (or just ended?) at the Royal Court Theatre in London. First, I've read most of the play's major reviews (thanks to Sarah Sanderson of the Australian Film Institute's Research & Information section, Melbourne) and am slightly mystified why none of the reviewers have noted that the play's basic premise - the finding of long-lost and unsuspected Hitchcock footage - was anticipated in the 'filmscript' called 'Hitch & Alma' (1998) by our friend, the sculptor and writer Robert Schoen. I'm not sure, but copies of Robert's highly enjoyable work may still be available from Amazon.com. Until recently, they were available from Robert's own website at http://hitchandalma.com. His book was respectful of Hitchcock, and very well researched. But according to several of our correspondents, the same can't be said about Terry Johnson's play. (See Michael Walker's comments dated May 11, above, and also the News item further down this page.) Now filmmaker and producer Danny Nissim in London has sent us this: 'A brief note to let you know that last night I went to see the play "Hitchcock Blonde" which I have to say I found intensely irritating, overlong and just plain dull (my three companions agreed). I echo all Michael Walker's comments about inaccuracies in details of Hitchcock's life and work (and could add more, but why bother?). I also particularly agree with your correspondent [Leslie Shepard] who suggested that the portrayal of Hitchcock himself is a gross caricature. In fact his onstage slow deadpan drawl is taken straight from his celebrated TV appearances of the 50s, which were themselves a deliberate self-caricature ... hardly the basis of a valid portrayal in what purports to be a drama with serious points to make about such a major artistic and cultural figure. The other problem is that the central story of a media-studies lecturer and his young pupil-cum-assistant is so cliché ridden (middle-aged man lusting after girl young enough to be his daughter) as to make you cringe in your seat. If there's one thing Hitchcock knew, it was how to avoid the cliché. [Further,] as most critics have noted there are parallels between the three time periods in the play: 1919 (ludicrously early for Hitchcock to supposedly be an established director), 1959 (shooting Psycho) and the present day, but these parallels are hammered home so blatantly and unsubtly as to lose out on any worthwhile nuances ... When the girl magically appears under the shower (the projections and holograms were impressive technically) after which she finally succumbs to the older man's advances as Herrmann's music from the famous "kiss" sequence in Vertigo swells, the only emotion I felt was bathos. A crude re-working of one of the most moving moments in cinema. I could go on, but frankly this is a production I don't wish to dwell on. I only hope it inspires the audience (which seemed for the most part to enjoy the play) to go back and seek out the rich vein of original work which underlies the whole project.' And also, let's hope, to read Patrick McGilligan's forthcoming biography which promises to correct some erroneous impressions about Hitch that have taken hold. Patrick emailed me the other day. He wrote, in part: 'I think the general tenor of the book, and its general thrust, will please you - and all - as well as the many findings and revelations.'
May 21 - 2003
The 39 Steps, as I wrote in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', is about a 'quickening' process. I meant that both literally and figuratively. Right at the start, Annabella warns Hannay about the spies, 'These men move quickly'. Now notice something else about the start of the film. The film's name - which happens to be that of the spies' oganisation - is printed in a dynamic and three-dimensional lettering; on the other hand, the opening of the film proper consists of a lateral, effectively two-dimensional tracking shot along a row of lights spelling out the words 'music hall'. It's as if the film's name, associated with the spies, represents a substantial goal which Hannay's 'theatrical' adventures will lead him to. The electric lights of the music hall (and of the city generally - another motif of the film) give but an illusion of 'life' - though the 'trick' may be to combine that theatrical illusion with the knowledge of one's goal! (Why do I think of Oliver Sacks's brilliant comment, in 'Awakenings' , p. 219, on Schopenhauer's twin aspects of the world - Will and Representation - that 'these two aspects are always distinct and always conjoined ... To speak in terms of either alone is to lay oneself open to a destructive duality'?) Only at the end of the film may we finally sense just what is involved. I must quote from my book: 'The film's climax occurs in a theatre [the London Palladium] where everything is at once circumscribed yet life-invoking. Mr Memory has rather cut himself off from life's flow through his unimaginative use of memory [he is concerned only with 'facts']. But Hannay has been exposed to a quickening process in every sense (epitomised by his impromptu speech at a political rally). As he and Pamela respectfully attend to Mr Memory's dying words, the chorus-line in the background kicks up its legs to the tune of "Tinkle, Tinkle, Tinkle" from the suitably named Victor Saville film Evergreen (1934).' In other words, life goes on - must go on - but the film's audience have by now been given sufficient 'clues' to feel, or intuit, the full truth of the matter. As I said in my book, that truth is a 'Bergsonian' one. Henri Bergson (1859-1941), along with Friedrich Nietsche (1844-1900), had just become hugely fashionable among British intellectuals, thanks not least to T.S. Eliot's influence. Nietsche's opinion that 'most people are dead' was widely quoted and believed. It was a time of considerable snobbery of the upper and middle classes towards their social 'inferiors'. Alfred Hitchcock was not immune from these influences, though to his credit he always retained an ambivalence concerning Nietsche's concept of 'the Superman' that he shared with his mentor John Buchan (cf 'The Power-House' ). But to a considerable degree he was a Bergsonian. That is, not only was he a Romantic in accepting the primary role of imagination, but in particular he seems to have accepted Bergson's teaching that 'real time' must be grasped intuitively. As Robert C. Solomon puts the matter (in 'Continental Philosophy Since 1750' ), Bergson was a 'vitalist' philosopher who believed in a 'knowledge that does not yield easily to concepts; one knows it rather by living it, through intuition (remember that Kant called time a "form of intuition", not a concept)'. (p. 107) Quite simply, in The 39 Steps, Hannay, with Pamela's help, changes from a 'nobody' into a more fully rounded and alive individual. His equivalent in North by Northwest (1959) is Roger O. Thornhill, initially a cipher of a man, who even gets mistaken for a non-existent secret agent named 'George Kaplan', but who finally is heard to say, near the film's climax, 'I never felt more alive!' (Thanks to Mike Frank for observations used here.) To be continued.
May 20 - 2003
If you thought that Hitchcock was being original in having the hunt scene in Marnie (1964) embody in literal fashion his well-known description of his 'chase' films - that they allow the audience to both hunt with the hounds and run with the fox (or hare) - then 'think again, Mr Rutland' (as Strutt says). I have just been reading (or re-reading, but I'll come to that) John Buchan's historical 'thriller', 'Midwinter' (1923). In Chapter VII, the novel's young Jacobite hero, Alastair Maclean, is first tricked into riding slap-bang into danger, represented by one Squire Thicknesse, and then immediately finds himself caught up in a cross-country hunt in which both he and the Squire are participants. The chapter is cleverly titled "How a Man May Hunt with the Hounds and yet Run with the Hare", meaning that Alastair suddenly finds himself the object of the Squire's wrath which threatens to jeopardise his mission in England. (As a Jacobite, Alastair is secretly trying to organise English support for the planned invasion by Bonnie Prince Charlie. The novel is both superbly written and constantly exciting - as I remember from long ago, for they taught it to us at my grammar school when I was about ten! It was my introduction to Buchan. For the record, I have read at least a dozen further Buchans since then, and enjoyed nearly all of them.) Naturally, Mark Glancy, the author of a new monograph on Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935), doesn't fail to notice such a Buchanesque formula informing one of Hitchcock's biggest crowd-pleasers. Indeed, he notes the passage in Buchan's 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' (1915) in which 'Hannay himself admits to enjoying the "schoolboy game of hare and hounds" in which he at times finds himself in the position of the hare'. (p. 14) As I'll be reviewing Glancy's little book (just over 100 pages) on our New Publications page soon, I may not say a lot about it here. Tonight, I'll just note that it isn't really a critical book but more of an historical introduction to the film and its period, with some mention of how the film was received by public and critics both at the time of its release and subsequently. (Glancy lectures in History and Film at the University of London.) Now here's something I noticed earlier tonight when I ran a DVD of the film. Somewhat notoriously (the reviewer for the 'New Statesman' was just one of several reviewers who objected to the 'tricksiness' involved), the opening of the film avoids showing us Hannay's face as he buys a ticket to a music hall, enters the auditorium, and finds himself a seat in the stalls. Nonetheless, Hitchcock thought sufficiently well of the montage he used here to virtually repeat it, doubled, at the start of Strangers on a Train (1951) where neither Guy's nor Bruno's face is seen until they have entered the railway station and taken their respective seats opposite one another on the train. In turn, such an effect seems related to the line of dialogue given to Hannay (Robert Donat) when he takes Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim) home to his apartment: 'I'm nobody', he tells her. (In Torn Curtain  one of Michael and Sarah's East German helpers tells Sarah, 'I'm nobody, ma'am.') Perhaps inspired by the character of Mr Pooter in the popular comic novel 'The Diary of a Nobody' (1892), the initially 'faceless' or identity-less Hannay is effectively being challenged by the film to turn himself into a 'somebody'. More tomorrow.
May 19 - 2003
Last night they showed here the first episode of Peter Ackroyd's 'Dickens'. I quote from my notes. 'Little Red Riding-Hood' was Dickens's 'first love'. (I found that interesting because Alfred Hitchcock once said that his suspense films 'all go back to Little Red Riding-Hood'. In other words, fear and suspense go back to the nursery and tales 'that Mother used to tell'! Now think, in particular, of the wicked wolf dressing up as Red Riding-Hood's grandmother - presumably he has eaten her - and welcoming the unsuspecting girl by smiling at her from Grannie's bed. But, gradually, Red Riding-Hood starts noticing things. 'What big ears you have, Grandma!' 'What a long nose you have, Grandma!'. And finally, 'What sharp teeth you have, Grandma!' I suspect that when Oliver Twist falls in with Fagin, who initially seems such a nice old man - but who is surely a paedophile - the effect on the reader that Dickens sought was that of first hearing just such a tale as 'Little Red Riding-Hood'. As for Hitchcock, I saw fit in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' to invoke the same fairy-tale apropos young Charlie's slow realisation, in Shadow of a Doubt , that her revered Uncle Charlie is none other than The Merry Widow Murderer!) One of Dickens's typical stories was called 'The Battle of Life' - it's about 'the struggle that is life'. (Interesting, because it may remind us that Dickens, looking around him at the England of Queen Victoria's time, arrived at a cosmic view roughly comparable to that of Darwin - and of the philosopher Schopenhauer. And while Hitchcock never had cause in his films to show such an elemental view of life's struggle - except perhaps in a film like The Manxman  and maybe also The Wrong Man  - there's a sense of compassion in several of the films that implies a comparable deep understanding of how the world goes.) Sam Weller, the Cockney cabbie from 'The Pickwick Papers', was the first of Dickens's characters to draw on 'the humour of the London streets'. (Hitchcock, of course, knew such humour - and humorous types - from his first-hand experience, growing up in East London. And a lot of that type of humour is in the films themselves. Incidentally, when Captain Wiles in The Trouble With Harry  calls artist Sam Marlowe 'Sammy', I always think of Mr Weller Snr's way of addressing his son!) 'Londoners loved seeing themselves depicted in the teeming characters of "Pickwick".' (It seems quite likely that a similar effect helps account for the success of such Hitchcock films as The Lodger , Blackmail , The Man Who Knew Too Much , The 39 Steps , and Sabotage .) Okay. Tomorrow I want to turn to another author who had a big influence on Hitchcock, and that's John Buchan. For the rest of this week I'll be discussing The 39 Steps in preparation for reviewing on our New Publications page Mark Glancy's monograph on that film.
May 14 - 2003
It was a pleasure to re-read recently Michael Walker's analysis of Hitchcock's Topaz (1969) that was published in 'Movie' (UK), #18, soon after the film's release. Headed "The Old Age of Alfred Hitchcock", it remains one of the best analyses and appreciations of that under-estimated film. (Another is Bill Krohn's "A Venomous Flower: Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz" in 'Video Watchdog' #74, August 2001.) Conceding that the film is flawed [e.g., 'The dubbing is occasionally careless (we hear a whole sentence by McKittrick after he says it)' - has this been fixed, I wonder, as I can't say that I've particularly noticed it?], Walker soon puts his finger on something that is overriding: 'Topaz is the first spy film I've seen which is written from a pro-Western angle and then directed so that this is cancelled out in our overall sympathy for the protagonists, and the universal sense of suffering and loss.' Exactly. Such an incontrovertible, Schopenhauerean understanding of how the world goes - yes, even in 2003! - as seen in both Topaz and in the other Hitchcock films of the 1960s that preceded it, was something that I tried to emphasise in my book. For example, I noted the ironic moment when Michael (John Forsythe) thanks André (Frederick Stafford) after the latter has returned from Cuba on a mission that has cost several lives: 'What you found out,' Michael says, 'confirms our information from other sources, including the U-2 photos.' Talk about procedural overkill! The irony here is something that Hitchcock had scarecely employed since Secret Agent (1936), adapted from several of the 'Ashenden' espionage tales of (another Schopenhauerian), Somerset Maugham. But back to Michael Walker. 'Ultimately, it seems to me, André uses [his Cuban mistress] Juanita [Karin Dor], just as he uses DuBois (Roscoe Lee Browne) earlier and François Picard (Michel Subor) later. [...] There is a pattern throughout Topaz of people using others to do the "dirty work" and few emerge with complete honour from this. It is much the same with the betrayals: again one notices there is a pattern, in particular linking country to country, and again few of the protagonists are guiltless.' Walker proceeds to note that similar patterns pervade the spy film in general, 'in which only the lesser pawns are called upon to do or die; but in Topaz, the effect is less paranoid than in, say, [films adapted from John Le Carré novels]: here [in Topaz] even the manipulating few can be seen to be human. [...] Nor is there the tortured intensity of Le Carré's vision; Topaz is quieter, sadder and without hatred. But it is a film with a terrible sense of emptiness under the surface.' Excellent writing (you sense the influence of Robin Wood!) and very sympathetic, as I've implied, to the vision of how things are that was bequeathed to us by Schopenhauer, especially after that vision was taken up by the Symbolists and others from about the 1880s. (See our 'Schopenhauer' page.)
May 13 - 2003
I'm treading old ground here, but it's in order to tread some new ground ... We all know, don't we, that the central idea of Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938), based on the novel called 'The Wheel Spins' (1936) by Ethel Lina White, was hardly new? As early as 1913, in a novel called 'The End of Her Honeymoon', by none other than Mrs Belloc Lowndes - whose 'The Lodger' came out the same year - the story was told of an elderly woman who disappears while visiting Paris with her daughter at the time of the World Exposition. (The Lady Vanishes effectively acknowledges this source when it has Todhunter's mistress remark on the train about how she had met him last year in Paris, 'when the Exhibition was at its height'.) The same story of the mother and the daughter (except that the mother had become the girl's brother) was then told in the British film So Long at the Fair (Terence Fisher, 1950), starring Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde. Later again, on American TV, the mother-and-daughter story became an episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' called "The Vanishing Lady" (airdate: 30 October, 1955), when it starred Pat Hitchcock. On this latter occasion, though, the source story was given as one by Alexander Woollcott, which had originally been published in his anthology 'While Rome Burns' (1934). Further, we have reported here on a previous occasion that the story was filmed in Germany as Verwehte Spuren/Like Sand in the Wind (Veit Harlan, 1938) - quite effectively, I might add, having seen the film when it was screened on Australian TV. Well, now I've more information to impart! I hadn't realised until recently, when reading the anthology '14 Suspense Stories to Play Russian Roulette By', that another version of the same mother-and-daughter tale had been written by English novelist and critic Ralph Straus, an authority on Dickens. He called his story "The Room on the Fourth Floor", and it was published in 'Argosy' in the October 1930 issue. Reading it at last, I saw how parts of the story are recycled in various Hitchcock films: e.g., Vertigo and North by Northwest. More broadly, the story is one of the 'big lie' films that I've noted elsewhere on this website (see "the Fragments of the Mirror") whose instances include Gaslight (both the British and the American versions) and Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (1954). And a passage like this - 'On a sudden it seemed to me that something was horribly, immeasurably wrong' (uttered by the daughter after she starts to confront both the reality of her mother's disappearance and indeed how everyone denies that her mother was ever in the hotel) - provides another instance of 'dread' in the Schopenhauerian sense, where suddenly the principle of individuation, the principium individuationis, seems flouted (cf April 29, above). Hitchcock called the story 'of near-folklore familiarity', and clearly it was a seminal one for him and his films. Further reading: Urban Legends Reference Pages: Horrors (The Vanishing Hotel Room).
May 12 - 2003
On May 5 we noted how the anthology '14 Suspense Stories to Play Russian Roulette By' (1945/1964), containing an Introduction by Hitchcock, includes at least one story ("The House of Ecstasy" by 'Ralph Milne Farley') that, like Hitchcock's Marnie, bases its suspense on the ambivalence of the libido and a life-force that is also a death-force. In fact, there are several more such stories in the anthology. The aptly-named "Elementals" by famous poet, author, and radio writer Stephen Vincent Benét (whose story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" was filmed by William Dieterle with a score by Bernard Herrmann) pits love against hunger. (Its ending, though, is no more satisfying than that of "The House of Ecstasy" because, once again, an intrinsic ambivalence must suddenly appear to be resolved: cf the problem Hitchcock faced with such films as The Lodger and Suspicion.) Perhaps most exquisite of all, but again with a seeming cop-out ending, is the often-anthologised story 'The Lady, or the Tiger?' by English writer Frank R. Stockton (1834-1902). What it does is take a classic suspense situation, involving a likeable person faced with one of two choices or guesses (or, in this case, doors), where one choice means his death, the other a sexual prize. Then it complicates the situation by requiring him to simultaneously guess at the degree of selflessness of his lady-love's affection for him. By finally turning the matter over to the reader to resolve (which feels like being asked to resolve the ambivalent life-force itself!), Stockton seems to run together the respective situations of "The House of Ecstasy" (with its emphasis on 'you', the reader) and "Elementals" (whose very title suggests an attempt to depict something basic, an objective truth). This time, the problem of the ending reminded me of Hitchcock's The Birds. Stockton leaves it to the reader to either decide or not decide the matter, much as Hitchcock's film also ends in indeterminate fashion. And the emphasis on reader - or viewer - subjectivity is appropriate because, after all, the universal life-force or 'Will' (to which we are all subject) is both the very topic of these stories or films and yet ultimately can't be objectively known - except in a special sense noted by Schopenhauer, who pointed out that we can at least feel the life-force flowing through us. Tomorrow: the suspense story Hitchcock called 'of near-folklore familiarity'.
May 11 - 2003
More miscellany. Psst! Wanna buy a cheap copy in mint condition of Patricia Hitchcock's book about her mum (and dad) called 'Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man'? (It looks like Berkeley Publishing have rushed the book out so as not to clash with Patrick McGilligan's forthcoming biography of Hitchcock - at least, that's my guess. The book was previously said to be coming in September.) If so, proceed to the Amazon.com website where, inexplicably, there are over a dozen 'new and used' copies going cheaply. (Here's a link, and I thank reader Roland Hess for alerting me to the page: Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind The Man.) Also, if you would like to read a brief news story up to the present day about the family of Christopher and Rose Balestrero, whose plight was detailed in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957), then click here: Mistaken identity ruined this man’s life. Another article notes that after her husband's wrongful arrest on charges of armed robbery, Rose 'suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for three years. The family then moved to Florida, where [musician] Balestrero played in Miami Beach clubs.' (Thanks to Dr Nandor Bokor for telling me of this.) Another correspondent lately has been author/critic Michael Walker in London. (Michael co-wrote with Robin Wood a fine short book on Chabrol.) He recently attended Terry Johnson's play 'Hitchcock Blonde' (see also News, below). Here's his report, for which I'm very grateful: 'I found it intriguing rather than completely successful; some excellent ideas, but not as well worked out as one might have hoped. It was a sell-out, but I think the main reason - this is supported by the reviewers - was the fact that one of the blondes in the production, played by Rosamund Pike, ends up naked on the stage in one scene. Since she's a Bond girl in Die Another Day, this has obviously pulled the punters in, and we were frisked for cameras at the door! Thematically and structurally it's undoubtedly intelligent. But I'm a demanding member of the audience. The premise (I won't give the plot away; it's certain to travel and will probably end up as a movie) is that an unfinished Hitchcock (from 1919!) has surfaced in fragments, and a media studies lecturer and his student try and make sense of the fragments. We are of course talking about a silent movie, so when the lecturer (a Hitchcock expert) says "He barely went on location until Shadow of a Doubt", you realise that Terry Johnson just hasn't done his research: what about all the silent movies? In fact, the whole of Hitch's British period is simply ignored; not one title mentioned and the play even implies that he went to the US after the failure of this 1919 movie! I think that's carrying artistic licence a little far. The scenes with Hitch himself are set in 1959 and deal with his relationship with Janet Leigh's body double for the [Psycho] shower scene. Again, they are woven in with some intelligence, but I didn't like William Hootkins's impersonation of Hitch at all (the theatre reviewers did); it was a caricature from beginning to end. But I'm glad I went, and the audience certainly enjoyed it. Perhaps best of all, we do finally get to see the 'complete' unfinished film, which works like the completion of a jigsaw (or the moment in Citizen Kane when we see the sledge).'
May 6 - 2003
(late) Sorry about this break in transmission, gentle reader. There will be at least one more 'miscellany' item posted here this week, but it may not be done until the weekend. Meanwhile, if anyone would like a copy of the latest list of Hitchcock items for sale from Ira Joel Haber - Cinemage Books of New York (containing such things as a copy of the Birds issue of 'Cinefantastique' from the 1980s; a Dutch edition of 'Marnie', including a stills section; film posters and day bills; etc., etc.), please email either me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ira Joel Haber (email@example.com).
May 5 - 2003
Miscellany. Speaking of websites, some of you may be familiar with sociologist Mathieu Deflem's Hitchcock site (HitchcockOnline) that uses theories of Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) to say some things about the films, including matters of guilt and innocence. (Mathieu tells me that the site grew out of an essay he wrote about five years ago on Hitchcock's I Confess. He has lately revised and updated that essay.) You may like to check the site out and maybe send feedback to Mathieu (or to me, for that matter - as I told Mathieu, I find the site a little intimidating ...). Now here's something I have already started asking around about, but with no conclusive answers received so far. A friend of a friend, connected with MGM, is working with a writer who vaguely recalls a story he read as a teenager, published, he thinks, by the 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' people. He remembers it as the the story of a woman travelling across country with her two children on her way to get married. But throughout the journey she keeps having tormented thoughts ... (Can anyone help with a title or pointers?) Lastly, my review of Richard Allen's essay "Hitchcock and Narrative Suspense" is now up on our New Publications page. In the course of the review, I make a couple of mentions of a piece by Hitchcock himself that appeared in 1945 as the Introduction to an anthology called '14 Suspense Stories to Play Russian Roulette By'. (I think that this may have been one of the first published anthologies to which Hitchcock put his name - as distinct from an Introduction he wrote for a collection of stories by his friend Eric Ambler in the early 1940s.) I must say that some of the stories therein provide classic examples of suspense principles. Journalist Hanson W. Baldwin's account of the sinking of the 'Titanic' could not be bettered for a short essay on that true-life event. (I once used it in an English class I took with Year Nine students. They relished it.) I imagine that Hitchcock would have read it before planning his film version of the 'Titanic' story for David Selznick that was eventually replaced by Rebecca. Hitchcock's comment on Baldwin's 1933 piece: 'You'll agree with me, I think, that although it is a factual account it bows to few of the imaginative works in the quality of its Suspense.' An interesting comment because, after all, we know the outcome in advance. I think this shows that the sheer, morbid fascination of - to put it crudely - watching people die (suspense from the neck down, allied to Schadenfreude, not to mention the compelling 'Will') is often a key factor in suspense. And then there's a story by 'Ralph Milne Farley' (a nom-de-plume) called "The House of Ecstasy" that plunges the (male) reader, specifically designated as 'you', straight into a compromising situation with a beautiful, defenceless young woman that brings out - shades of Hitchcock's Marnie - all the ambivalence of the libido and the life-force. And the story's ending is ingenious (if, of necessity, unsatisfying).
May 1 - 2003
I tried to find something interesting to report from the chapter called "Current Theories of Suspense" at the start of Christopher Morris's 'The Hanging Figure' (2002), but without much luck, I'm afraid. The best I can do is cite the section headed "Studies of Literary Closure". Two notable books are mentioned there: Frank Kermode's 'The Sense of an Ending' (1967) and D.A. Miller's 'Narrative and Its Discontents' (1981). Both books are doubtless interesting in themselves. Apropos suspense, Morris sums them up thus: 'Kermode finds suspense implicit in time; Miller, in narrative. [...] Neither writer supposes that suspense requires moral approbation of the protagonist or that it ends when the story does. Each finds suspense to be a kind of primordial condition whose miseries may be allegorized in texts that are nevertheless incapable of accurately reflecting, describing, or summarizing it.' (pp. 26-27) (Morris doesn't say so, but I imagine that many of the films of Ingmar Bergman feature the kinds of suspense referred to here, especially Kermode's kind.) But this is mere common sense dignified by appeal to theory. If, on the other hand, I often refer to Arthur Schopenhauer's Weltanschuung, it is because (a) it is so universal and basic - Schopenhauer (notes Bryan Magee) remains the only major Western thinker to attempt to span West and East - and (b) for reasons I have spelt out many times, Schopenhauer's 'philosophical pessimism' (E.F.J. Payne) comes remarkably close, in my view, to being replicated by the 'open-ended pessimism' (Donald Spoto/Neil Hurley SJ) of Hitchcock's films. (Kermode's description of the suspense inherent in time and 'our inability to know true beginnings and endings' [Morris, p. 25] is easily assimilated to Schopenhauer's/Kant's depiction of circumscribed human subjectivity.) Also, nowhere in Morris's chapter will you find any mention or use of the type of nitty-gritty books by practitioners in the fields of literature, theatre, and film such as I deliberately incorporated in recent postings here: e.g., Patricia Highsmith's 'Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction', Eric Bentley's 'The Life of the Drama'. Accordingly, Morris is another of the theorists who show little appreciation of suspense experienced from the neck down (as Bentley would say) - no mention, for example, of what the reference in Rear Window to the trips to the bathroom by 'General Motors' is doing there. (See April 23, above.) Thank goodness, then, for an informant like Bill Krohn! On the use by filmmakers of 'the disembodied voice' (see yesterday's entry), he recently clued me to the work of Fred Walton, whose experiments in that regard began with his first feature, When a Stranger Calls (1979). (Bill himself was alerted to Fred Walton's work by Claude Chabrol.) According to Bill, the other Walton films to see (most of them made for TV) include: When a Stranger Calls Back (1993), The Courtyard (1995), Dead Air (1994), Homewrecker (1992), and Walton's 1988 remake of William Castle's I Saw What You Did. Related theory does exist, notably in Michel Chion's writings on acousmetre, and in the book 'Dumbstruck' (2000) by Steven Connor, on the 'cultural history of ventriloquism'. The latter is fully described, with downloadable examples, on Connor's remarkable website (click here: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism). And if you would like a copy of an article by Bill Krohn, in English, on Walton, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 30 - 2003
So conditioned are we, as I say, by our thraldom to the operation of the time-space-causality nexus in our everyday lives (and this, incidentally, is something that Hitchcock in the 1950s must have understood profoundly, as reflected in such deftly 'ordinary' films as Rear Window and The Wrong Man) that when any exception to the law of causality (or 'principle of sufficient reason') seems to occur, we are thrust into doubt. Schopenhauer cites instances: 'when it appears that some change has occurred without a cause' (in films, this may occur in a 'ghost' story such as the charming Portrait of Jennie [William Dieterle, 1948] in which Jennie seems several times to age overnight - of course, the 'mood' of the film renders such change 'poetic' rather than disturbing); 'or a deceased person exists again' (as seems to occur in Vertigo where, though, unlike in Portrait of Jennie, nothing licenses the first-time viewer to treat this as poetic); 'or when in any other way the past or future is present, or the distant is near' (which might be the formula for Hitchcock's unfilmed Mary Rose, in which, I suspect, Hitchcock intended to highlight the inexplicability of Mary Rose's comings and goings - he seems to have thought of it as almost a horror story). To the point now. All of these Schopenhauerian 'modes' offer the filmmaker ways of 'astonishing' the viewer and thereby serving the end of maintaining suspense (cf entry for April 23, above). Likewise, when in Joseph Newmann's inspired episode of 'AHH' called "An Unlocked Window" a disembodied male voice ('Such a pretty neck!') is heard addressing a terrified alcoholic housekeeper, Maude (Louise Latham), where no-one but Maude is visible and the only known male in the house is comatose upstairs - being tended by two female nurses - the effect is quite uncanny - a perfect illustration, in fact, to add to the ones cited by Schopenhauer of the law of causality being flouted. The house's isolation and the gathering storm outside, whatever their 'gothicism', actually serve to heighten the viewer's sense of one kind of realism, in which normal laws of time and space and causality combine to induce fear. Help is distant rather than close at hand and nature itself is in an ugly mood threatening violence every minute. But a disembodied voice? That is something else again! Explain that, if you will! Given that we ourselves distinctly heard the threatening voice (it wasn't just in the imagination of the boozy Maude), only two explanations do seem barely possible, both profoundly shocking. (In fact, neither is correct, but that is only further proof of the brilliance of the filmmakers' concept here!) Either the serial killer of nurses has entered the house and is hiding nearby, ready to strike, or the laws of nature no longer fully apply and are colluding against us! We feel utterly helpless. "An Unlocked Window" offers classic terror and suspense (the two are intertwined, as in a treacherous downward spiral). Tomorrow: a summing up and some observations.
April 29 - 2003
The storm that rages around the isolated house in "An Unlocked Window" can't help but evoke, deep inside the viewer's consciousness, or, rather, unconsciousness, the human condition as it might be depicted in a Sublime landscape - or in this famous passage of Schopenhauer's where he describes the suffering individual, 'involved as he is in the principium individuationis, deluded [into complacency] by the veil of Maya [illusion]. Just as the boatman sits in his small boat, trusting his frail craft in a stormy sea that is boundless in every direction, rising and falling with the howling, mountainous waves, so in the midst of a world full of suffering and misery, the individual man calmly sits, supported by and trusting the principium individuationis, or the way in which the individual knows things as phenomenon [appearance].' ('The World as Will and Representation', Vol. I) This is the world depicted in Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) which Hitchcock described as about 'complacency' and about 'the catastrophe that surrounds us all'. It is what the dead Harry, in the novel of The Trouble With Harry, stands for: '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. [...] All the staring eyes of the people as they stood wondering, laughing, weeping, and dull with misunderstanding and ignorance.' (Penguin edition, 1970, p. 46) It is what the very name of the Mission Dolores in Vertigo (1958), around which San Francisco grew, stands for (cf. the name of Flusky's house, 'Minyago Yugilla'/'Why weepest thou?', in Under Capricorn ). To a degree, it is also what the house in "An Unlocked Window" symbolises, simply by being a house of sickness and, soon, death. The storm that buffets it thus reinforces the basic situation of uncertainty and doubt. But Schopenhauer has more to say about the complacent individual: 'His vanishing person, his extensionless present, his momentary gratification, these alone have reality for him; and he does everything to maintain them, so long as his eyes are not opened by a better knowledge. Till then, there lives only in the innermost depths of his consciousness the wholly obscure presentiment that all this is indeed not really so strange to him, but has a connexion with him from which the principium individuationis cannot protect him. From this presentiment arises that ineradicable dread, common to all human beings (and possibly even to the more intelligent animals), which suddenly seizes them, when by any chance they become puzzled over the principium individuationis, in that the principle of sufficient reason [which says that there must be a ground or reason for everything: cf Christopher Janaway, 'Schopenhauer (1994), p. 4] [...] seems to undergo an exception. For example, when it appears that some change has occurred without a cause, or a deceased person exists again; or when in any other way the past or future is present, or the distant is near.' (Schopenhauer, Vol. I) The last is the passage cited by Professor Prawer, apropos 'uncanny' notions that predate Freud's, and I'll discuss its cinematic implications - regarding suspense in particular - tomorrow.
April 28 - 2003
At the risk of moving too far off-topic - the topic of Hitchcockian suspense, that is - I'd like to quote further from Eric Bentley. Every soap opera, he notes, has an element of suspense: 'Even on a TV screen violence in action and suspense in narrative can seldom fail to hold interest. The psychology is sound and each man is a human being - a specimen of human psychology - before he is a scholar or a gentleman.' ('The Life of the Drama', pp. 13-14) He continues: 'Great narrative is not the opposite of cheap narrative: it is soap opera plus. A French critic once went to some pains to show that the stories of Corneille's plays were the same as the stories of the movies in the era of Rudolph Valentino. That you like Valentino is not presumptive evidence that you will like Corneille, but you will dislike Corneille if you read, so to speak, from the neck up, if you prevent the movie fan in you from finding and enjoying in Corneille what he has in common with Valentino. A certain gentility, still a tradition in academic life even in this age of extermination camps, tends to divide not only society but each individual into highbrow and lowbrow.' (p. 14) I'll resist the temptation to point to academic 'gentility' vitiating present-day theories of filmic suspense; also, I'll do no more than note how Robin Wood, on the other hand, cites the extermination camps in his ground-breaking essay on Psycho. (He also cites such thematic 'forerunners' of Psycho as 'Macbeth' and Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' - that most Schopenhauerian of tales. No dummy, Wood!) Staying on topic, then, let's consider a classic episode of suspense from 'The Alfred Hitchcock Hour', viz., "An Unlocked Window" (airdate: 15 February, 1965). I've analysed this episode on our FAQs page but as some of our readers probably haven't yet seen the episode, I shan't disclose here its ending. The basic source of the suspense is apparent enough: a couple of nurses are minding a bed-ridden patient in an isolated house while a serial killer of nurses is on the prowl in the neighbourhood. Will he find the unlocked basement window - and then what will he do? The rest of the episode is essentially 'tone' and 'atmosphere'. But that's more than sufficient to terrify the viewer at literally every turn. It's night, a storm descends, dark corners and jutting angles are everywhere; moreover, director Joseph Newmann and his team had the brilliant idea of using the very house from Psycho as their locale. Talk about 'conditioning' the viewer! And then there's a particular device - that of 'the disembodied voice' - that further unsettles us. I cite it here because it perfectly illustrates an observation of Schopenhauer's cited by Prof. S.S. Prawer in his 'Caligari's Children: The Film as Tale of Terror' (1980). In Prawer's splendid chapter on "The Uncanny", he refers to how several thinkers (Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger) all anticipated, or, in effect, extended, Freud's concept of the unheimlich. In Schopenhauer's case, the philosopher movingly describes how we are all subject to the ultimately unknowable Will - which he equates with Kant's thing-in-itself - and therefore bound in subjectivity. This is Schopenhauer's 'principle of individuality', the principium individuationis. (The world, in effect, is broken up into individual things - though it wouldn't be if it weren't for the time-space-causality nexus of our individual understandings. Cf Christopher Janaway, 'Schopenhauer' , p. 24.) So conditioned are we by this state of our very being - prior to any filmmaker conditioning us in other matters - that we are profoundly disturbed if any exception to the principle seems to occur. So? I'll answer that tomorrow.
April 25 - 2003
Noël Carroll thinks that suspense is all about 'morality' (and Richard Allen partly agrees): for example, time is running out and it looks like the bad guy might win. I seriously doubt that such a formulation is helpful. At best, it applies to a first viewing of a film when audience responses tend to be quite hackneyed - or at least their explanations afterwards (and even the reviews) tend to be so. Filmakers themselves know better, I think. Not only is Will itself amoral - and viewing a film, especially in a crowded cinema, involves participating in the flow of 'Will', or a close analogue thereof - but Hitchcock's well-known analogy of a film to a switchback railway should give us further pause. There is nothing moral about a switchback railway - or about 'pure film'. A group of people may get off a switchback railway invigorated, and ask, 'Wasn't that good?' But what they mean is simply that they weren't bored, they had fun. Individual lives may proceed in fits and starts, or positively stagnate, as Schopenhauer pointed out. But a good film - for example, one that is truly suspenseful - takes us out of ourselves and reconnects us to the 'flow of life' in a deeper, and broader, sense than usual. Take the scene I mentioned yesterday, of Maria Callas performing in a packed concert hall. One reason that such a scene would have appealed to Hitchcock (and the echo of the Albert Hall climax of The Man Who Knew Too Much is obvious) is that it carries an intrinsic sense of occasion - and moreover one that echoes the cinema-goer's experience in particular. (It also echoes the intrinsic life-death nature of Will: recall that Callas screams when she perceives something, or someone, threatening.) Another reason for the scene's appeal to Hitchcock would have been that it has its own inherent drama and flow. In recounting the scene, Hitchcock stressed not the irony but the flow when, as Callas strives for a high note, she breaks into a scream and the audience applauds! (Cf. the scene in North by Northwest where a man appears to gasp at a photo but has in fact just been knifed.) Then, scarcely missing a beat, Callas hurries from the stage and proceeds to her dressing-room where she picks up the phone. According to Hitchcock, he had no notion whom Callas is dialling (just as he said he had no notion who is in the plane that attacks Thornhill in North by Northwest). What I'm suggesting is that morality has little to do with the creation and sustaining of suspense. Other factors, which audiences aren't even consciously aware of - call them technical matters - count for much more, I think. And when, as the climax of North by Northwest approaches, Thornhill says, 'I never felt more alive' (a remark that is echoed in countless other Hitchcock films: e.g., Young and Innocent, where Tisdall comments, 'Personally, I like the night. It's much more alive than the day'), he is literally inspiring us to enjoy to the utmost the suspenseful - if melodramatic - events about to play themselves out on Mount Rushmore. (More 'processsing', but also more 'dignity of significance', note.) To be continued.
April 24 - 2003
I'm not convinced that filmic suspense involves anxious waiting. Just expectant waiting or curious waiting is enough. ('Just so long as it's not boring', Hitchcock said.) An intelligent and perceptive viewer of a Hitchcock movie, who may have watched it many times, knows that the sheer momentum of the narrative, keyed to audience psychology (which Hitchcock was a master of), is what is so intriguing each time. This is more, or other, than aesthetic appreciation - though there's a correlation. It has to do with a willing suspension of ... scepticism. That's a reason why sheer beauty is a feature of most Hitchcock films (the seascapes of The Manxman, Rebecca, and Vertigo; the cityscapes of Notorious, I Confess, and Psycho; the landscapes of Young and Innocent, The Trouble With Harry, and North by Northwest; the sheer good looks of Hitchcock's leading men and women). Eric Bentley cites Goethe's phrase, 'the dignity of significance', and that's certainly something that is integral to 'the Hitchcock touch'. (Cf also Hitchcock's penchant for using famous locations.) In all of this I see a close parallel to what any entertainer knows: that if you can quickly get an audience onside, and win their confidence in you (which is vital), then you are practically assured of your performance succeeding. (Hitchcock attached huge importance to first scenes: vide his idea for opening a film with Maria Callas singing in a packed auditorium, screaming ... and then hurrying to her dressing-room to make a phone call - no matter to whom!) Latecomers at such a performance may feel somehow excluded and wonder why the people around them seem to pick up on lines and gestures that leave them cold. The fact is that audience involvement is a process, and what is being processed each time is the audience. Suspense is simply a particular type of audience involvement. Now, as Patricia Highsmith wrote (in 'Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction'), readers - and by extension, audiences - are typically quite accommodating. The writer - or filmmaker - must simply see to it that the reader - or audience - isn't stretched too far (e.g., in matters of credibility). Here's where certain 'tricks of the trade' come into play. Among the most important of these is 'tone'. This is a huge subject (a basic book on the subject is Freud's 'Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious'), but an example may suggest what I have in mind. Many of the stories in the Hitchcock TV shows contain little intrinsic suspense apart from the audience's expectation of a twist-ending. Many of them also bear little relation to the type of content that audiences expect to find in a Hitchcock film - though that's an observation that might even apply to the films themselves! Nonetheless, a certain 'tone' is established, and audiences come away satisfied. How so? Well, the most important and obvious factor is Hitchcock's own droll and joking presence as host. Everything that happens in the show (and that includes the commercials!) tends to be 'read' by the audience as 'part of the fun'. Given this frame of mind, 'suspense' may be felt by the audience where none would be perceived by latecomers like those I hypothesised above. Tomorrow: more implications (re the films) ...
April 23 - 2003
I have read Noël Carroll's theory of filmic 'suspense' in his oft-cited 'The Philosophy of Horror' (1990) and now I have read Richard Allen's essay "Hitchcock and Narrative Suspense" in 'Camera Obscura, Camera Lucida' (2003) - I'll review the latter, focussing on Allen's essay, on our New Publications page soon. (Apologies. My Easter break was wiped out in trying to install something called Netscape 7.02 which fully justified what I read about it - too late - on a Netscape users' group site, viz., that 7.02 damages earlier-installed versions, not to mention the very workings of one's computer ...) Unfortunately, theorists like Carroll and Allen seem hardly to scratch the surface of what suspense actually involves. My 'working definition' of suspense has always been that of Ian Cameron, who once wrote for 'Movie' an excellent two-part article on Hitchcock and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). There, Cameron called suspense 'anxious waiting' (cf. Allen's definition, 'anxious uncertainty'). But, too, I have always heeded Eric Bentley's insight that suspense goes back to the 'Arabian Nights' and Scheherazade's ploy of 'serialising' a story in order to persuade an intemperate king (the Saddam Hussein of his day?) not to take her life. Here is the passage from Bentley's 'The Life of the Drama' (1964), a brilliant book written after decades spent in the theatre (and much influenced by the philosopher Schopenhauer's notion of 'Will'). '[I]f you have this interest in gossip, in scandal, in casualties and catastrophes, all I have to do is tell you incident A, and you wish to know incident B. Then, as I work my way through the alphabet, your appetite grows with eating, and you won't let me leave off. It's like an appetite for certain foods. You may not especially like them, but you can't put them down. Such was the secret of Scheherazade [who] would get the king so interested in A and B that he would refrain from beheading her in order to hear C and D. This king resembles the "resistance" of every reader; and Scheherazade, every storyteller and dramatist.' (pp. 12-13) Including, of course, Hitchcock! Specifically, I'm reminded of what screenwriter John Michael Hayes (Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much) told me that he brought to Hitchcock: the ability to use humour and 'warmth' to break down an audience's initial 'hostility' to both each other and to the film. (Thus, in Rear Window, Stella's line about 'General Motors' being ridden with diarrhoea soon unites the audience in a shared belly-laugh that is really setting us up for the 'suspense' that follows.) I can't resist quoting Bentley some more. He asks: 'What creates suspense? Not merely ignorance as to what will happen next, but an active desire to know it, a desire that has been aroused by a previous stimulus. The first of the passions, says Descartes, is astonishment (admiratio). Incident A has to astonish before we become eager to know incident B.' (p. 13) Here, already, we may begin to glimpse why Hitchcock's 'repertoire' included not just humour but also such things as 'sexuality', surrealism, and a sense of what was 'rich and strange'. He admired Cocteau's Blood of a Poet (1930), and even 'quoted' from it in the opening and closing shots of The Skin Game (1931). And hadn't Cocteau asked: 'Astonish me!'? Tomorrow: some implications ...
April 17 - 2003
Follow-ups to yesterday. (Again my thoughts on suspense are held over. I'll try to do some catching-up during Easter, i.e., over the next few days.) First, Alain Kerzoncuf, who lives in Paris, within five minutes of the Arc de Triomphe, agrees with me that the last shot of Topaz, which Alain says was filmed on the Avenue Foch, does indeed show the nearby Arc de Triomphe - but not the Eiffel Tower which is two miles away. And Ric Menello, my original informant about Claude Chabrol's claim that he directed this shot to include the Eiffel Tower, emailed me with the thought that Chabrol may have simply misremembered the shot. (Ric's original report quoted Chabrol.) Ric adds a related point. Though it's possible that Chabrol and his crew were responsible for several other shots of Paris in Topaz, he only claims credit for the final shot - which, moreover, he promised himself he would only talk about after Hitchcock's death. In the same Chabrol interview, notes Ric, the director revealed that he was one of those asked at some point whether he would be interested in directing the screenplay that Hitchcock and screenwriter David Freeman had developed of The Short Night. (Other directors approached included François Truffaut and Peter Bogdanovich.) According to Chabrol, the ailing Hitchcock never seriously intended to go through with making the film, a reason why all of the characters were so rough and unsympathetic; also, there were some very explicitly sexual scenes in the script he, Chabrol, was offered. It was as if, says Ric, Hitchcock were 'putting in all of those things he had fantasised about but at least subconsciously knew would never reach the screen'. (Interesting thought. But of course Hitch had been trying to include 'extreme' scenes in his films for many years: vide the graphic rape scene set in Hyde Park scripted for No Bail for the Judge; similarly, in a project mentioned by Dan Auiler in 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' , The Attorney, 'a wealthy woman is being blackmailed by her gay husband - he had her photographed in a compromising position after slipping her a mickey'. I don't doubt that such scenes seemed necessary to Hitch in order to 'outgun' his audience's cynical - shall we call them? - expectations about what The Master was capable of.) Lastly, Ric mentions that Chabrol's two most recent suspense films - Merci pour la chocolat/Thanks for the Chocolate (aka Night Cap) and La fleur de mal/The Flower of Evil - appear to have been successful, both commercially and critically (though the latter has only recently opened in France). Merci pour la choolate gained major-city release in the US, and will soon be out on DVD. [Back on 23 April. KM.]
April 16 - 2003
Corrections and additions and confirmations re yesterday's entry. (My comments on suspense are held over.) First, what Bill Krohn had remembered as two separate episodes of '77 Sunset Strip' are one and the same. That is, the episode called "The Silent Caper", without dialogue, is the episode that reprises Fritz Lang's Man Hunt. Bill notes, in particular, the episode's use of the cave stunt from the film - 'Roger Smith uses his belt to strangle his adversary rather than improvising a bow and arrow. My memories of the episode are so vivid that I was anticipating twists before they happened - proving that the visual makes a deeper impact than the verbal. In fact, I'm sure, just from 45-year-old memories, that there was a tag with Roscoe and Kookie which was cut from this version to make room for more commercials. Smith wrote; George Waggner directed and, with a better script than the draggy The Wolf Man (1941), acquitted himself quite well.' Thanks also to Bill for this information: that the other recent book by Donald Spoto besides a life of St Francis of Assisi is a life of Jesus. (So is it another instance of Spoto's 'holier than thou' writing? Sorry!) And for this: yes, Hitchcock did intend a gay reference in Saboteur when two of hero Barry Kane's captors start singing a song set to Tchaikovsky's music. From his knowledge of the film's script and production records, Bill opines: 'The song in Saboteur (added during shooting) clearly makes [Barry] nervous - he's sitting in the backseat with [the guy] "Goldilocks" while the mugs in front sing "Tonight We Love"! The seating arrangements were also changed on the spot from what's in the storyboards to suggest that [Barry] may be about to find more "romance on the road."' (At this point, of course, the film elides several days of cross-country travelling ...) Finally, it looks like I was right about Hitch being ill at the time of some of the location shooting of Topaz. By serendipity, today I came across correspondence I had by email two years ago with documentary film producer Ric Menello, who is something of an authority on Claude Chabrol. (Ric is heard on the DVD commentary track of Chabrol's The Cry of the Owl (1987), from All Day Entertainment, which we briefly reviewed here a month or so ago.) Ric wrote to me: 'In several recent reviews Chabrol has stated that he did indeed shoot one small bit of Topaz. He claims it was the shot of the newspaper in closeup, with the Eiffel Tower [sic] at the bottom, which is then thrown into the garbage at the end of the original US release. He was originally asked by Hitchcock who was too ill to come to France, to shoot all of the French exterior shots (mostly second unit I would assume). According to Chabrol, who had interviewed Hitchcock several times and become friendly with him, Hitchcock was ill after shooting the US and Danish sequences and asked if Chabrol would do the French exteriors according to Hitchcock's explicit instructions and storyboards. Chabrol agreed and began shooting with his usual crew led by cinemtographer Jean Rabier. After a few days, Hitchcock called and said he felt well enough to come to France after all, and he arrived and went to work. Chabrol said the only major shot in the film he directed is the ending with the newspaper. He might also have a couple of second unit establishing shots in the film here and there. I have also heard [that] a shot of the Eiffel Tower was done by Chabrol, but I have a feeling it's part of the ending with the newspaper.' That sounds pretty right, except for the references to the Eiffel Tower - which I don't think ever appears in the film. The shot with the newspaper shows the Arc de Triomphe, but no Tower, I think.
April 15 - 2003
Tonight I was going to write about the nature of suspense, prior to reviewing Richard Allen's essay called "Hitchcock and Narrative Suspense" for our New Publications page. (Whole books could be written on the topic, but so far few have shown much imagination in entering deeply into what it means to be held 'suspended' by a good film or novel or play - or by a good stage entertainer, for that matter, who needs to be an expert at winning an audience's sympathetic attention and then keeping them 'spellbound' for the best part of an evening.) But I'll leave that topic until tomorrow. Tonight, here are some things I've learnt from recent correspondents. Apropos yesterday's entry on '77 Sunset Strip', Bill Krohn reports that the show 'copied' more than just Hitchcock movies. He vividly remembers an episode based on Fritz Lang's Man Hunt (1941), with Efrem Zimbalist Jnr in the Walter Pidgeon role. (The show could be adventurous in other ways. Bill mentions an episode called "The Silent Caper", directed by series star Roger Smith, featuring no dialogue!) Now a couple of things about the end of Hitchcock's Topaz (1969). My thanks to film scholar and critic Michael Walker, in London, who mentions that, according to Patrick Brion's 'Hitchcock' (Editions de la Martiniere, 2000), 'the shot of the newspaper which announces the end of the crisis was filmed by Claude Chabrol at Hitchcock's request' (p. 542) (Does anyone know more about this? Wasn't Hitchcock ill round about this time, so that it seemed for a while that someone else might have to finish the film for him? Or am I confusing the events of this time with the situation a decade later apropos the never-made The Short Night?) Be that as it may, Bill Krohn mentions an astute idea of his fellow film critic and author Joe McBride about how the two men walking away, apparently arm-in-arm, after the newspaper is discarded on a street bench, are meant to look like Khrushev and Kennedy! Next, here's something else that Michael Walker told me. In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', I speculate about why, at one point in Saboteur (1942), two of the saboteurs sing "Tonight We Love" to the tune that opens Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. Michael quotes from Sigmund Spaeth, 'A History of Popular Music in America' (originally published 1948; Jazz Book Club reprint, Phoenix House, London, 1961): 'This was the year (1941) that America discovered the opening melody of Tschaikowsky's Piano Concerto in B-flat minor. The band-leader, Freddy Martin, first turned it into "Tonight We Love", with words by Bobby Worth and some helpful arranging by Ray Austin. Then came "Concerto for Two", with Jack Lawrence supplying a text for Robert C. Haring's adaptation. Eventually, there were no fewer than sixteen different versions of the same tune, ending with one called "Boogie de Concerto", credited to Erskine Butterfield' (p 533). Of course, as Michael says, this doesn't explain why Hitchcock used the song in the film - my guess is that he enjoyed 'humanising' the saboteurs while making them look slightly out of their depth (not the only ones: cf when Barry Kane unknowingly whistles the 'fate' passage from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony; or, for that matter, the moment in Psycho  when we learn that Norman Bates had been raised on Beethoven's Third Symphony, the Eroica!). Perhaps, too, given Tchaikovsky's gayness, there's a hint at something 'unnatural' about the saboteurs, one of whom has just spoken of having being raised as a girl! Finally tonight, a piece of news about Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto. I'm told by friend Tag Gallagher (no mean 'biographer' himself, having authored studies of Ford and Rossellini) that Spoto may have 'gone religious'. Spoto has lately written a life of Francis of Assisi and another life, also of a saint. Tag's comment: 'I was surprised, as I didn't think his work on Hitchcock showed much of a Catholic point of view.'
April 14 - 2003
'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' and 'Alfred Hitchcock Hour', between them, ran from 1955 to 1965 (approximately 400 shows). From 1958 to 1963, the private-eye series, '77 Sunset Strip', ran for 205 episodes. More than once, it now appears, the Warner Brothers series, starring Efrem Zimbalist Jnr, Roger Smith, Edd Byrnes, and Louis Quinn, attempted to link itself to the Hitchcock name. (And why not?!) Last year, you may recall, Prof. Dennis Perry contacted us to remark how he had noticed that the 'Sunset Strip' episode called "The Fifth Stair" was an ingenious re-working of Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) - a highly ingenious film itself (from Frederick Knott's play)! Now he has spotted another such 'borrowing' from Hitchcock by the same series. It's the episode called "One False Step", but, as Prof. Perry says, it 'should have been called "Strangers on a Plane."' Here's how he described the episode to us in an email last week. 'It begins with "Bruno" (Richard Long) sitting next to "Guy" and reading from the paper out loud about "Guy's" problems divorcing his wife. After a bit of hostility, "Bruno" informs "Guy" that he is a mystery writer and has a great new idea for a book, switching murders. When "Guy" agrees its a good idea, things start moving. A big scene even includes the same lighter as in Hitchcock's movie. After "Bruno" obtains the lighter, "Guy" gets nervous and hires L.A. detective Stu Bailly to protect his wife. Back in DC we meet "Guy's" Senator's-daughter girlfriend and her perky little sister (Connie Stevens). "Bruno" flirts with "Guy's" wife and sets up a date. She eludes Bailly (by sneaking out by fire escape as Guy had done in the film), and is killed by "Bruno" - believe it or not, they use the strangulation-in-the-glasses shot from Strangers! The police can't hold "Guy", or Stu (whom they also suspect), for lack of evidence, but they feel some urgency to find "Bruno". Meanwhile, the perky sister goes to look around "Bruno's" house where she comes on Stu (instead of Bruno in bed). She finds the broken glasses and puts them on; then "Bruno" walks in and faints. Later, when "Bruno" is told by "Guy" on the phone to forget the deal, "Bruno" goes to plant the lighter where he finds the perky sister wearing the glasses again and pretending to be Miriam's corpse. He freaks out and Stu and the police come out from hiding and arrest him.' Interesting! And if, by the way, you wonder what a Professor of English (at Brigham Young University) is doing watching '77 Sunset Strip', and where he gets the time, please don't ask us! He has also been completing his book on Edgar Allen Poe and Hitchcock, which will be published by Scarecrow Press in October ...
April 11 - 2003
Rodenbach's 'Bruges-la-Morte', Simenon's 'Lettre à mon juge', and Boileau and Narcejac's 'D'entre les morts' (the latter the novel on which Vertigo was based) are each about a man who has known happiness but who proceeds to strangle the very woman who seems capable of restoring it to him. Note that Hitchcock's film changed Boileau and Narcejac's ending - but not thereby, I think, the essential thrust of the tale. Here, now, is the briefest of synopses of Simenon's novel, and then a comment by Narcejac (no less) about Simenon's work in general. This synopsis of 'Lettre à mon juge' comes from the back cover of the English edition, 'Act of Passion', published by Penguin: 'The whole book is cast in the form of a long, pathetic letter addressed from prison to the examining magistrate in a murder case. Charles Alevoine, a doctor from the Vendée [seaboard department in Western France] who has strangled his mistress [Martine], struggles to explain just why he was forced to "kill the thing he loves", why the act was rational, and why - speaking as one professional man to another - he must repudiate any suggestion of madness. "I killed her that she might live."' And here is Narcejac, from the chapter called "Sympathy" in his 'Le Cas "Simenon"' (translated into English as 'The Art of Simenon' ): 'It has never been sufficiently realised that Simenon's subjects are always drawn from those little news paragraphs which everyone ignores because their unhappy heroes end up at the Assizes. [...] In this sense, each of Simenon's novels is a new "Letter to my Judge". By a natural development, sympathy, little by little, becomes much more than a method of knowing [...] Thanks to this sympathy, Simenon reveals something of the world soul, the universal psyche.' (pp. 31-32, 34) The hapless Martine is effectively a predecessor of both Madeleine and Judy in Vertigo. Though she seems outwardly 'a banal little thing', Charles soon detects in her a still-alive spark of goodness. Quickly becoming very possessive of her, he feels that he has leapt 'suddenly into unknown regions of space' and that she, for her part, has 'a will, no less desperate, to escape ... to be delivered'. In all of this I see echoes of that Symbolism - and longing for a 'Schopenhauerian' release - that Terry Hale and others would find in 'Bruges-la-Morte' (see last two items, above). But human will - call it subjectivity - is finally no match for the world's Will. (Cf my point yesterday about how, in Vertigo, the 'transcendental pretence' is defeated by the inexorable life-force.) Charles's subjectivity, which he has mistaken for the world itself, finally undoes both him and Martine. Even so, as Narcejac so splendidly detects, the quality of sympathy has been posited, thus allowing a note of hope. Sympathy, or compassion, was Schopenhauer's hope, too. To attain compassion was to see how the world goes, to know something of the world-soul (as Narcejac puts it), and to better accommodate oneself and others to the workings of harsh Will. That, if inadvertently, is Hitchcock's message too in such films as Vertigo and The Birds (1963). (For a detailed description of 'Lettre à mon juge', see 'The MacGuffin' #17, pp. 20-22.)
April 10 - 2003
Terry Hale's Introduction to 'Bruges-La-Morte' asks what exactly is meant by Symbolism? 'The term', he notes, 'has come to take on almost as many meanings as the word Romanticism (with which it has more than a little in common).' For example, he notes that 'Ibsen's plays and Wagner's operas have been called Symbolist, as have Huysmans's novels'; and he suggests that certain aspects of Symbolism anticipate Surrealism. He quotes art critic Philippe Jullian: '[A]re not some of Magritte's landscapes but suburbs of "Bruges-la-Morte"?' Well, René Magritte (1898-1967) was of course Belgian - as were his contemporaries, fellow Surrealist painter Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) and novelist Georges Simenon (1903-89). (I mention the last two because their influence on Hitchcock is demonstrable. The depiction of the death of Juanita Cordoba in Topaz  seems inspired by several well-known paintings by Delvaux: e.g., 'Venus Asleep' ; while the likely influence of 'Bruges-la-Morte' on Simenon's 'Lettre à mon juge'  and thus on Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac's 'D'entre les morts' [c. 1955] and thus on Vertigo ... has been traced in 'The MacGuffin' and on this website: see our Selections page.) Indeed, Philippe Jullian's question would seem as pertinent to some of Delvaux's paintings as to Magritte's. Be that as it may, Terry Hale mentions certain 'defining characteristics' of Symbolism that were particularly pronounced in 'the work of its Belgian practitioners'. In 'Bruges-la-Morte' there's a 'withdrawal into silence ... associated ... with isolation and a mystical sense of a deeper reality'. Hale adds: 'that sense of the secret meaning of things is portrayed as invading every corner of the brooding city with its belfries and its béguinages [nunneries], its sombre canals and its old, silent dwellings.' Mutatis mutandis, such a description might apply to Vertigo (with, for example, the sombre San Francisco Bay standing in for Bruges's canals). Now, I've previously shown (e.g. in 'The MacGuffin' #20, and in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story') that the Hitchcock film before Vertigo, namely The Wrong Man (1957), does indeed show 'a body rooted in and condemned to a world governed by space, time and causality' (that condition from which the Symbolist/Decadent artist sought escape - see yesterday's entry). But of course the film thereby gives the spectator a sense of transcending such constraint, if only momentarily (the time spent watching the film). And Vertigo is clearly The Wrong Man's successor in that respect. It's as if Scottie were Manny awakened from his (literal) diurnal slumbers and seeking to break free from worldly ties by (again, quite literally) transcending them, i.e., by ascending out of them. Accordingly, in critiquing Scottie, Vertigo is effectively critiquing the Symbolist/Decadent artist and his quest to know 'a deeper reality' - but not before thoroughly indulging him. What Vertigo amounts to is a critique of 'the transcendental pretence' (to employ Robert C. Solomon's apt term) by the inexorable life-force itself. In this respect, it's fitting that Hitchcock depicts San Francisco in all of its moods - not just sombre but also bright and sparkling. What an irony, and how typically Hitchcockian! (I suspect that it is also Schopenhauerian. If ever a philosopher saw through his own posturings, it was Arthur Schopenhauer.) More tomorrow. Note: to see a reproduction of Delvaux's 'Venus Asleep', use the following URL. Notice the rich purple of the couch (like Juanita Cordoba's robe), the tiled flooring (like that in Juanita's house, over which her purple robe spreads as she dies), and, above all, the physical presence of Venus's body whose vitality is mocked by its languid posture and by the skeletal figure nearby (in Topaz, Rico Parra has just said, 'There are things that will be done to your body ...'): Sleeping Venus.
April 9 - 2003
This is for Sid Gottlieb. An English translation of 'Bruges-la-Morte' (1892), by Belgian author Georges Rodenbach, arrived here yesterday. Just reading Terry Hale's Introduction, and the author's Foreword, confirmed just about everything I was saying in "Editor's Day" last month (or had suspected) about the novella and its connection to Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958). (The connection itself has long been known, and is the subject of a chapter in 'Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity, and the Aesthetic'  by Prof. Elisabeth Bronfen.) Bear with me while I repeat the story's synopsis I printed here on March 13: 'It is the story of an ill-fated love affair between Hugh Viane, a forty-year-old widower who has been living in Bruges for ten years, and is in continual mourning for his beautiful wife who died suddenly at the age of thirty, and a young actress he meets on the streets of the medieval city. Viane thinks he sees his wife in the actress’s appearance and becomes obsessed with her; eventually he sets her up in a "pleasant little house" on the other side of town, where he visits her in the afternoons. When he allows her to come to his apartment (she wants to assess what sort of wealth he has), she desecrates the shrine he has built to his late wife and this provokes him - in a melodramatic ending - into strangling her with a lock of his wife’s hair.' Almost eerily, the very first paragraph of Terry Hale's Introduction consists of an appreciation of Rodenbach and his novella by J.K. Huysmans, the French author whose 'À Rebours' (1884) effectively depicts what the journal 'Le Decadent' (1890) called 'the world-weariness of a Schopenhauerian civilization' - to which the Decadents saw themselves as succeeding. (As noted here previously, Huysmans' book is featured in Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' , a key Decadent text which Alfred Hitchcock reportedly read 'several times'.) Also mentioned on the opening page of Hale's Introduction is how Rodenbach and a fellow Belgian, playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, were both members of the Symbolist movement: 'Symbolism, for various reasons, attracted a number of Franco-Belgian writers and artists to its banner.' Alongside that observation I would juxtapose two by scholar Shehira Doss-Davezac. First: 'Every literary critic and art historian writing on the period today associates the Symbolists with Schopenhauer.' Second, a question: 'Had [the Symbolist/Decadent artist] not shown exactly what their aesthetic was searching for: the release from what Schopenhauer had called "the practical reason" [of science] and from the binding constraints of a body rooted in and condemned to a world governed by space, time and causality?' (The last two quotes are from Doss-Davezac's essay, "Schopenhauer according to the Symbolists ...", in Dale Jacquette [ed.], 'Schopenhauer, philosophy, and the arts' , p. 249 and pp. 250-51.) Given the several striking similarities of Rodenbach's 'Bruges-la-Morte' and Hitchcock's Vertigo (some of which I'll itemise here tomorrow), I might very well want to call Vertigo a Symbolist work in effect - and a Schopenhauerian one besides.
April 8 - 2003
Bear in mind everything mentioned above about Young and Innocent's Drummer Man climax, not least its references to watching and being watched. In this respect, a key chapter of the novel is Chapter 19, told through the eyes of a journalist on the case, 'Jammy' Hopkins. Learning that Lydia Keats is to give one of her lunchtime talks at a public hall in London, he decides to attend. But his initial interest is not with the rather boring Lydia: 'What Jammy had come to see was the audience.' Accordingly, he takes a seat at the side of the hall. But then he gets a surprise: someone else is doing what he is doing, watching someone else! I shan't go into details except to say that Jammy begins to suspect that one of the pair is the murderer of actress Christine Clay. 'He hadn't been so excited', we're told, 'since [his boss] Old Man Willingdon had given him the exclusive story of how and why he had beaten his wife into pulp.' Next, just as the meeting seems about to break up, Lydia Keats calls for questions. In answering one of these, she pronounces, 'The murderer of Christine [Clay] is here in this hall.' There is consternation, but Jammy hears Lydia add to herself, 'Oh what made me say that?' (Note: Josephine Tey's novel appeared in 1936, a full year after Hitchcock's The 39 Steps with its Mr Memory climax! Also note: Lydia is the actual murderer of Christine Clay!) However, the novel has other climaxes - and it looks as if Hitchcock was reluctant to forgo any of them! One of them occurs in a Roman Catholic monastery at, of all places, Canterbury (famous for its Anglican cathedral). Here, Christine's ne'er-do-well brother is tracked down. Far from being the 'Brother Aloysius' he's been calling himself, he proves to be a phoney evangelist and con-artist who has fooled even the monastery's head monk, and who has had his eyes on the monastery's valuables. Moreover, those eyes provide the very focal-point of the scene in which Inspector Grant comes on his quarry praying with the other monks at a midnight service. Grant speculates how 'Being theatrical to no audience but oneself must soon pall'. He confronts 'Brother Aloysius', who denies everything, yet Grant notices 'that the expression in the man's small eyes was hate ...' (Chapter 21) And again, Robert (Tisdall), contra the film, spends much of the novel not on the run but simply hiding in the roof of the Marine Hotel. Late one night he climbs down into the hotel's deserted kitchen where he chances upon a newspaper, which he idly starts to read. Suddenly, says the novel, 'he began to laugh. Softly and consumedly, drumming with his fists on the scrubbed wood. His laughter grew, beyond his control.' (Chapter 24) Thus does Robert learn that he has been cleared. Finally, there's the arrest of the true murderer, Lydia Keats. This occurs at her riverside apartment in Chelsea. She offers no resistance until she suddenly breaks down and starts to rave - and is later pronounced insane. (Chapter 26). In sum, the novel paints a sprawling social canvas, many of whose details are boiled down by the film to enrich its own climax set in the Grand Hotel. In particular, the film draws on both the idea of 'the watcher watched' (or 'the seer seen') and of the disguised and/or unsuspected murderer 'outed' by his/her own guilt feelings or simply by an implacable pursuer (the novel's Inspector Grant; the film's famous final crane-shot) and reacting with uncontrollable laughter and/or eyes filled with hate before he/she breaks down totally. And of course even the film's drumming climax has been anticipated by a passing reference in Chapter 24 of the novel. (I analyse the film more deeply in 'The MacGuffin' #13, relating it to the theatrical metaphor that's in the novel - and in many of Hitchcock's other films.)
April 7 - 2003
'Over the years,' I wrote in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (UK edition, p. 47), 'various scriptwriters reported [something that] was typical of Hitchcock's approach: he would note mere hints for characters and ideas for possible scenes, and ask that they be woven into a viable storyline. (Probably the most ingenious adaptation of a novel that [Charles] Bennett worked on for Hitchcock was the screenplay of Young and Innocent.)' So today (and tomorrow) I want to consider the genesis of the famous climax of that 1937 film in which a wife-murderer, the husband of actress Christine Clay, who has been hiding from the police by wearing blackface and performing in a band at a thé-dansant as a drummer, finally goes crazy, betrayed by his twitching eye, and draws attention to himself by beating his drum uncontrollably. (Talk about a super-abundance of details!) I wrote about that scene in the Young and Innocent issue, #13 (August 1994), of 'The MacGuffin'. Erica (Nova Pilbeam) and her tramp-friend Will (Edward Rigby) manage to gain admittance to the Grand Hotel's thé-dansant. 'Unfortunately for the pair's intentions [to try and spot 'the man with the twitch'], Will's shiny new suit has already aroused the suspicion of a constable in the street; even when the pair are seated in the tea-room, the policeman keeps an eye on them through the window. Further, the policeman has dutifully reported to his superiors that the Chief Constable's daughter [i.e., Erica] is inside. As they anxiously look around ..., they're very aware of being watched themselves, and that time is short. In turn, the man in question - Christine Clay's husband ... - has already spotted them, too. When he recognises Will, he begins to blink hideously ...' And I continue: 'Now, much of what I've just described is transposed from several quite different scenes in the novel. The latter ['A Shilling for Candles', by Josephine Tey, the second, I think, of her Inspector Grant books that continued into the 1950s] even has a different guilty party: namely, an acquaintance of the murdered Christine, a seeress, named Lydia Keats, who prophesies the actress's death - and who secretly proceeds to carry it out. (In the novel, both [its young hero] Tisdall and Christine's aristocratic husband merely number among the various suspects. These further include Christine's ne'er-do-well brother.)' Okay, keep all of the foregoing in mind! Tomorrow I'll show how the novel has at least four different climaxes, involving three or four different characters, and how elements from all of them combine in the film's single main climax involving the Drummer Man! [By the way, a review of Tony Lee Moral's book, 'Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie', has now been posted on our New Publications page. Also, there's a new item in our News section, lower down this page, about forthcoming DVD releases of Foreign Correspondent, Suspicion, and Under Capricorn.]
April 2 - 2003
(late) Tony Wendice didn't give up championship tennis, it gave him up. Round about the same time, his wealthy young wife, Margot, started an affair with a visiting American detective-story writer, Mark Halliday. But apparently, to judge from a remark of Tony's, she had several 'boyfriends'. In self defence, Tony decided to settle down and sell sporting goods for a living. Altogether, a bit of a come-down for him, and humiliating - even, at his age, frightening. The couple were childless, and Tony sensed that, with his glamorous lifestyle gone, soon his wife might be throwing him over for Mark, who might be better able to give her the things she really wanted. It isn't a flattering picture of Margot, yet she retains a measure of our sympathy (for one thing, wanting love, and babies, is natural enough ...), and we feel that Tony has brought much of this on himself. If nothing else, he is a manipulator. All the time he been living it up on the tennis circuit, largely on his wife's money, a subtle process has been occurring. Its official name is 'marriage' (the subject of such under-appreciated films as Mr and Mrs Smith and Suspicion), which Tony politely describes, from his point of view, as growing dependent on his partner. (In Mr and Mrs Smith, a comedy, it's called 'getting used to you'.) But, as I wrote in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story, '[i]f Wendice has become reliant on his wife, the reverse is also true. Margot has been subtly intimidated and bullied without ever quite realising what has been happening. The film is finally about her liberation.' (Note: it helps to remember that Hitchcock had wanted Cary Grant, who had played the charming but sinister Johnnie in Suspicion, to play the oppressive Tony.) One key moment in this respect derives from the play but works beautifully in 3-D and has been subtly crafted by Hitchcock. Tony has asked Margot to tell Inspector Hubbard a certain version of events. Comes the crucial moment, and the stage directions say that Tony catches Margot's eye. In the film, there is first an arresting close shot of Margot gazing into the camera - this momentarily seems excessive, but it has several functions, the first of which is to emphasise Margot's moment of decision. Then a reverse angle shows Hubbard looking back at Margot while, behind him, Tony is pacing and eyeing his wife. Whereupon she proceeds to tell the lie that her husband had instructed her to tell ... This emblematic and, as I say, over-determined moment is the sort that Hitchcock loved to include in his films. Its 'decisiveness' is only part of it. It also stands for how Tony has been subtly manipulating Margot for years. In addition, an identical close-up of Margot gazing helplessly back at the camera occurs when her trial for murder is summarised by voice-over lines while the camera stays on her face (until a 'reverse angle' shows the judge pronouncing the death sentence ...). Thus the earlier shot serves as a pre-echo, preparing the audience for the stylised trial sequence. At the same time, it's implied that Margot's submission to a lie has led directly to her predicament. Here her 'weak-willedness' (cf. her several 'boyfriends') has come home to roost, so to speak.
April 1 - 2003
Somewhere I read how much Hitchcock and his friend Sidney Bernstein admired Frederick Knott's play 'Dial M for Murder' and how they once spent several evenings analysing it together. (For an account of how Knott went 18 months nonstop writing it, with his mother delivering meals to his door, see the Knott obituary lower down this page. Also mentioned there is how the character of Tony Wendice seems part-modelled on the murderer in the stage play and 1947 film called 'Dear Murderer' by St John Legh Clowes; and how Tony's nemesis, Chief Inspector Hubbard, seems part-based on the crafty Scotland Yard detective played by Naunton Wayne in the 1949 film Obsession/The Hidden Room adapted from the stage play by Alec Coppel. As for Swann, whom Tony blackmails into agreeing to murder his wife, Margot, and who appears to have killed before - though the Police at first attribute the death of his landlady, Miss Wallace, to 'an overdose' - he seems to be derived from infamous real-life murderer Neville Heath. Patrick Humphries, in his 'The Films of Alfred Hitchcock' , notes that postwar London 'was full of characters like [Swann], who had not enjoyed a particularly "good war" and were desperate for money to keep up appearances.' (p. 115) Two variants on such a character in Hitchcock are the unbalanced and self-pitying Jonathan Cooper in Stage Fright  and Richard Blaney in Frenzy , an ex-RAF officer like Heath.) Now, a friend has reminded me of how theatrical is Hitchcock's filming of Knott's play, something discussed in the Truffaut interview, and perhaps that's to say no more and no less than that Dial M has its distinctive style just as any other Hitchcock film has one (especially the 1950s films). The print I saw recently even had an Intermission - I'm told it was always there - and that's something that in other films Hitchcock would not permit. But here he wanted to accentuate the theatricality for maximum effect: the Intermission contributes to a sense of an evening well spent, including the pleasant feeling of settling back into one's seat at the half-way mark with an expectation that the best 'turns' (including plot turns) are still to come. (Hubbard, with his musty-sounding name, hasn't yet made his appearance. When he does, it is with a piece of misdirection, and mock nonchalence, that we appreciate as further belying the character's actual role.) But, as I've indicated, there's another 'dimension' again, apart from the literal one added by 3-D. The very innocuousness of the drawing-room setting belies the 'quiet desperation' that Hitchcock is filming here. And poor Margot may (or may not) be finally just as much a victim as anyone else. Peter Bordonaro has noted how, at film's end, she is henceforth going to have to settle for mundane writer Mark Halliday rather than the dashing tennis player Tony who has taken her around the world three times - hence the many exotic artifacts in their flat - albeit without siring her a child. In other words, she may soon at last be a mother, surrounded by babies! Round about here, we may best sense the film's almost Nietzschean dimension and how, like other Hitchcock movies, it evokes an ambivalence towards the life-force. Tony anticipates another world-traveller, Jeff in Rear Window (1954), and even the ambitious Scottie in Vertigo (1958). Margot, on the other hand, is akin to such characters as Lina in Suspicion (1941), Lisa in Rear Window, and Marion Crane in Psycho (1960). Once, when analysing Suspicion (in 'The MacGuffin' #7), I mentioned how Norman O. Brown would oppose the life-affirming Nietzsche to the death-affirming Schopenhauer. Nietzsche's Superman, says Brown, quoting, stands for Joy: 'Joy ... does not want heirs, or children - joy wants itself, wants eternity, wants recurrence, wants everything eternally the same.' But I concluded: 'Nevertheless, it would seem that Schopenhauer, Freud and Hitchcock, pessimists all, are united in doubting the feasability of the Superman solution.' Tomorrow: the evocativeness of Dial M for Murder.
March 31 - 2003
I'm happy to have finally caught up with Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) in its 3-D version - thanks to Melbourne's Astor Theatre (where the season continues until next Saturday). As there seems to be an appallling lack of appreciation of both the play and the film, I'm going to write about it here for a bit. (Separately, I hope to review Tony Moral's book on Marnie on our New Publications page later this week.) The best article on the film that I know of, by Peter Bordonaro, appeared in the Summer 1976 issue of 'Sight and Sound', pp. 175-79. (That's the same issue that contains Jonathan Rosenbaum's appreciative review of Family Plot.) As a comparison of play and film, Bordonaro's piece contains much useful information. More than that, it highlights the film's subtleties, as in its thoughtful description of a cut to Margot's tear-stained face at the end. 'Does she cry only as a release from her horrible experience? Or do the tears result from her feeling of betrayal by Tony, a man she loved and with whom she tried to be happy? Or is it a real disappointment at losing Tony and realising she must now settle for Mark, not as a lark but permanently? Or does she weep because she realises that the sexual power she believed she exercised over Tony was broken long before she was aware of it? There is no simple answer; Hitchcock has deliberately left Margot and her tears ambiguous.' (p. 179) Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol, in 'Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films' (English translation, 1979), add another take to this. Of Margot they write: 'still perhaps in love with her husband, she is overwhelmed by the revelation of a foulness she was far from suspecting, but which nevertheless adds to his stature in her eyes.' (p. 121) My film critic friend Tom Ryan seized on this. This sounds like Chabrol trying out his scenario for La femme infidèle (1968), he noted. (Has anyone else spotted the possible influence of Hitchcock's film on Chabrol's, I wonder?) For my part, I would slightly modify what has been said so far. When Margot is asked whether she had suspected her husband's intention of killing her, her answer is itself ambiguous: 'No, and yet ...' Such a response chimes with how everyone else has likewise failed to immediately grasp the true situation and yet has had an inkling. Vain Inspector Hubbard admits that a certain detail - the crucial business with the key - had eluded him at first. ('Extraordinary', he adds to himself, in the film.) Mark's brilliantly improvised version of what might have happened (to use as a plea by Margot) comes very near to the truth except for one detail, so that Hubbard eventually tells him, 'You were almost right, Mr Halliday.' And of course Tony's would-be perfect crime almost succeeds, except for the business with the key. At the end, he pours a stiff drink and admits, 'You were right Mark. These things only ever work out on paper.' Here perhaps, in embryo, is the sort of metaphysical condition to be depicted so tellingly in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957) in which no-one fully grasps the time-space-causality nexus that binds us all. But tomorrow I'll return to Bordanaro (briefly) to suggest how the film also anticipates its immediate successor, Rear Window (1954). After that, I'll talk about appreciating Dial M for Murder in 3-D.
March 26 - 2003
(late) How good it feels to turn from reading Christopher Morris's (in a double sense) academic and plodding 'The Hanging Figure' (see above, and also our New Publications page) to Tony Lee Moral's intelligent and stately 'Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie' (2002, soon to be reviewed on this site)! I'm three chapters into it and enjoying every page of a book that rivals its two excellent predecessors in the Hitchcock 'making of' field - Stephen Rebello's 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (1991) and Dan Auiler's 'Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic' (1998) - and may exceed them in its attention to the sheer depth and artistry of the film involved. In no way am I saying that Rebello and Auiler's books aren't helpful in understanding the artistic intentions of Psycho and Vertigo, only that Tony Moral appears to be at least as aware as his predecessors of the whole gamut of aspects of his chosen film. The test of what I'm saying may come in his book's last two chapters: on "Critical Reception" and "Artistic Interpretation". Tonight I just want to note a couple of things. First, there's this insight into Hitchcock himself (in the chapter called "Writing"). 'As Hitchcock and [screenwriter Jay Presson] Allen became friends,' writes Moral, 'he would encourage her to direct, and later she interpreted his dreams: "He never ever told or exposed consciously what [a particular dream] meant to him. He never knew what a dream was about, not a clue: he didn't dig into himself. It was all instinctual, what we call talent."' (p. 41) Hmm. More than talent perhaps. I'm reminded of what someone wrote of author Charles Dickens, that 'his genius avoided itself like a sleepwalker avoiding an open window'. I also think of what Hitchcock once said about his theatre-going, that he deliberately didn't look into backstage aspects of a play, preferring to keep his 'innocence' (what has been called in a different context 'the innocent eye'). Already, in reading Moral's book, I have been reminded of Hitchcock's, yes, 'instinctual' understanding of psychology, more pre-Freudian and basic (call it Schopenhauerian) than Freudian or post-Freudian and intellectualised. He understood by instinct what an intelligent and sensitive child often knows - and the adult often forgets - that there is always another side to everything, which in decent fairness should be heard, but often isn't. To me, Marnie showcases Hitchcock's 'sympathy with all living creatures' (a phrase of Strindberg's) perhaps best of all his films. Which brings me to the second thing I wanted to mention. I have always felt keenly the importance of the film's reference (spoken by Mark on the ship) to fattid bugs that 'escape the eyes of hungry birds by living and dying in the shape of a flower'. (I discuss this image in my article on Marnie printed in the 'Hitchcock Annual', 1999-2000 edition.) Moral calls it 'the crux of the film' (p. 48) He explains: 'Marnie herself has been living a disguise to escape from a predatory society, which includes the sexual advances of men.' And Allen is quoted about how she wanted to convey 'that in any aspect of beauty there may be extremely ugly elements, but the overall thing is beautiful. Marnie had terrible problems, but [Mark] saw her as a beautiful thing.' (p. 48) Incidentally, I'm happy to have the spelling of 'fattid bugs' confirmed for me! For years I have questioned Lyall Watson's reference (in 'Dark Nature' , p. 62) to the 'flatid bugs' of Madagascar, 'clinging together on a twig in perfect imitation of a pink spike of flowers'. Finally, here's Watson's observation about this aspect of nature: such 'statements' (he cites several - I am a flower; I am a fruit; I am not a spider; etc.) 'are calculated to mislead and misinform other species that prey on, or are preyed on by, the ones sending these creative messages'. (p. 63) This is further proof, it seems to me, that a good nature documentary can sometimes be a useful gloss on a film like Marnie (1964) or The Trouble With Harry (1955) or even The Farmer's Wife (1927) ...
March 25 - 2003
(late) I have to get this off my chest. (Tomorrow, or the next day, I'll return to Hitchcock - promise!) I see many critiques of academia, some of them in emails from practising academics themselves. You'll understand that I can't readily quote those here. Let me just recall my Professor of English, the late Professor W.A.G. Scott, who always seemed to me a charming and clever man. (He had a Sunday morning radio program, as I recall.) But I have never forgotten how he once told me that, as Head of the English Department, and still quite young, he had very little time for teaching and still less time for original writing and research. This always seemed to me a great pity, and I have never changed that opinion. In effect, they kicked the poor guy upstairs! But there are many like him ... Other critiques of academia (again mainly from inside) I regularly see in print: for example, in the Higher Education pages of 'The Australian'. These often concern matters of organisation, budget, competing syllabi, ideologies, etc., etc. To read these is to gain further appreciation of why there are a lot of disgruntled academics around! Then there is the whole postmodern outlook which seems to hold its practitioners in thrall. Slavoj Zizek, whose 'The Ticklish Subject' I quoted yesterday, is emancipated to the extent that he writes an ongoing and 'scintillating critique of contemporary notions of the human subject' (Anthony Elliott, in 'The Australian', 6 October, 1999). And yet, says Zizek, postmodern culture itself is jaded. The self, he suggests, has become structured around a fetish of political apathy. 'I know what I'm doing is meaningless, but still I do it nonetheless.' (Quoted by Elliott, as above.) Exactly that sentiment is echoed more than once by Christopher Morris in his 'The Hanging Figure', on Hitchcock, and he compounds the effect by beginning his book with several references to the 'Babel' that the humanities have become: 'Research in the humanities now proceeds without appeal to critical authority [...], without agreed-upon canons, and without definitions of the object of literary and cultural studies.' (p. 2). (From this 'suspenseful' condition he turns to Hitchcock and seeks to find in the films - if I read him aright - a critique of that very condition. My position on this, as I've implied, is one that asks: who needs postmodernism to tell us that Hitchcock often deals with 'lost souls', when the films themselves, drawing on a Romantic 'pessimism' that goes back to Schopenhauer, are our best guides? I can't resist adding: perhaps Matthew Arnold's 'Dover Beach' also makes a contribution to the 'note of sadness' that several of those films contain, whatever their perkiness and wit.) But I'll conclude for today by quoting a passage about the admirable David Attenborough, whose BBC nature documentaries all contain the word 'life' in their titles ... 'He considered becoming an academic but eventually gave up on the idea. "You might finish up looking at the same animal for ever. I know one person who went looking for an animal in Sumatra, didn't even see it for the first three years. Went out and looked for it every day. Saw footprints, occasionally a hair. And after he'd found it, that was all he was allowed to look at for another eight years. Another chap I knew had to count the number of bees that went into a certain kind of orchid between certain hours of the day. He was stuck out in the middle of the Panama Canal counting bees. A caricature of the intellectual life, really."' But all too common?
March 24 - 2003
As I've had more than one occasion to remember lately, a reason for starting this website (back in 1995) was to 'expose' the shoddy, poorly-written, narrow, careerist, pseudo-clever but under-informed writing on Hitchcock that was issuing from academia (to the great pain of true Hitchcock appreciators). Well, we seem to have had some success in stemming the flow, though it hasn't actually stopped. Okay, a couple of things. There's a new book-review now up on our New Publications page. Though Prof. Christopher Morris is a distinguished scholar (author of a study of the fiction of E.L. Doctorow, for instance) and immensely learned in cultural and critical theory (to judge from the Notes section of his Hitchcock book 'The Hanging Figure'), I cannot say that I enjoyed reading his book. (On the other hand, I'm not happy with my review either - I may make some changes in due course. Also, I may discuss the book further in "Editor's Day".) Second, someone emailed me last week to say he was thrilled to see our extensive reviews page (i.e., New Publications) but had noticed a conspicuous absence of works by Slavoj Zizek. To some extent, that absence is just a matter of timing: Zizek's 'Everything You Always Wanted to Know About ... Hitchcock' was published in 1992, and was duly reviewed in the hardcopy 'MacGuffin' (#10, August 1993) but not on this website, which didn't start operating until, as I say, late 1995. But also, as I emailed back to my correspondent, I'm not really a Zizek 'fan'! And I dare say it is significant that Christopher Morris does seem to be one of Zizek's followers. Certainly he would go along with what Zizek wrote in 'The Ticklish Subject' (1999): 'A spectre is haunting western [academe], the spectre of the Cartesian subject.' According to Zizek, rejection of the Cartesian subject lies at the core of contemporary 'radical' philosophy. Post-structuralists, postmodernists, deconstructionists, feminists: all are united in their disowning of the Cartesian heritage. Well, that's fine by me! I'm no Cartesian either! (You may want to check out the 'About me' page on this website.) On the other hand, I happen to think that Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), one of the first and most inspired disowners of Descarte's model of the subject, is a far better guide to understanding the films of Hitchcock than Jacques Lacan, Zizek's main 'tool' for exploring those films. Moreover, as I further emailed to my correspondent, there is considerable 'posturing' in Zizek's writing, and not the sort of deep understanding of Hitchcock that I look for. (As Pauline Kael wrote of Siegfried Kracauer, 'Deep down, he's shallow.') In the review of Zizek's book in 'The MacGuffin' #10, I wrote: 'On one dismaying occasion, having declared [...] that Psycho forces the viewer "to identify with the abyss beyond identification", [Zizek] goes on to remark (p. 226) that the key to the film thus rests "in the rupture, ... the change of modality, that separates the first third from the last two-thirds (in accordance with the 'golden section' whereby the ratio of the smaller to the larger part coincides with the smaller part to the whole)". Thank you, professor!' And in a footnote, I asked: 'As we're discussing Psycho, a question arises: would you buy a used car from this man?'
March 19 - 2003
The episode of 'AHH' called "Beyond the Sea of Death" is one of several episodes of 'AHP' and 'AHH' that 'gloss' Vertigo in the same way that several episodes of 'AHP' and 'AHH' gloss Psycho. (Among the latter: an episode of 'AHP' called "The Morning of the Bride", which aired 15 February 1959, about a young woman, played by Barbara Bel Geddes, keen to meet the ailing mother of her fiancé, despite the fiancé's repeated objections; and of course the episode of 'AHP' called "The Landlady", from the short story by Roald Dahl, aired 21 February 1961, about what befalls young Billy Weaver at the hands of his new landlady, played by Patricia Collinge, who happens to be a skilled taxidermist.) A synopsis of "Beyond the Sea of Death" (airdate: 24 January, 1964) might go like this. Wealthy Grace Renford (Diana Hyland) starts a correspondence with a young engineer, Keith Holloway (Jeremy Slate), whom she has never met - their correspondence began when Grace placed an ad in a spiritualist magazine. When Keith arrives in San Francisco from Bolivia, he and Grace finally meet and are mutually attracted. Grace's companion and surrogate mother, Minnie (Mildred Dunnock), is gradually won over by Keith's charm, and approves the couple's marriage. Keith returns to Bolivia, arranging for Grace to follow him - but then word comes that he has been killed in a mining accident. In anguish, Grace one day contacts an Indian mystic, Dr Shankara (Abraham Sofaer), who is visiting the city. He puts her in touch with Keith via a series of seances. A grateful Grace decides to donate her millions to Shankara's foundation. But Minnie investigates and finds that Keith is still very much alive. He and Shankara have been working the same scam for years. Overcome, Grace kills Minnie for attempting to destroy her illusions. It's a moving tale, originally written by native San Franciscan (I gather) Miriam Allen de Ford; the teleplay was written by Alfred Hayes and William Gordon, and the episode was helmed by actor and television director Alf Kjellin. Even in synopsis the poetry is apparent: consider, for example, the East-meets-West connotations of Shankara's arrival in cosmopolitan San Francisco. And there's an especially atmospheric scene, early in Keith's 'courtship' of Grace, set on the heights above the city. Most crucially, there's the title "Beyond the Sea of Death". No-one should be surprised to learn that it comes from a poem by Christina Rossetti (1830-93), Dante Rossetti's sister, whose work was noted for expressing 'unfulfilled spiritual yearning and frustrated love' (to quote 'The Wordsworth Dictionary of Biography'). Nor, indeed, that the passage from "One Day" is a quintessential 'lost paradise' one. It reads: 'When shall they meet? I cannot tell,/ Indeed, when they shall meet again,/ Except some day in Paradise;/ For this they wait, one waits in pain./ Beyond the sea of death love lies/ For ever, yesterday, today.' The reference to an attempt to surmount time is of course like that found in Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry and Vertigo (not to mention Leo McCarey's Love Affair  and An Affair to Remember ). Also interesting - and no less 'Schopenhauerian', by the way - is the reference to the 'pain' of worldly existence. What I'll call 'the Hitchcock camp' was very aware of such matters. As we've reported here previously, the late Talmage Powell had no idea why a story of his, bought for an episode of 'AHP', ended up being called "No Pain" when it was aired on television (on 25 October, 1959). His story about a man confined to an iron lung had carried quite a different title. Nor had Talmage known, until we told him, that "No Pain" is actually a quote from Keats's famous "Ode to a Nightingale"! But of course that same Keats poem had long exerted a sway over Hitchcock, and the idea of being 'half in love with easeful Death' and 'ceas[ing] upon the midnight with no pain' had palpably informed such films as Suspicion (1941), Vertigo, and North by Northwest (1959) - in the case of the latter, specific shots of the distant Mount Rushmore cafeteria in the moonlight.
March 18 - 2003
You live and learn! This morning I received in my letterbox a chapter from the 1992 book 'Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity, and the Aesthetic' by Prof. Elisabeth Bronfen. (My thanks to post-grad English student Laura Carroll who is working on a Hitchcock thesis at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.) There, running to about 24 pages, was a comparative study of - you guessed it - 'Ligeia', 'La-Bruges-Morte', and Vertigo! I quickly read the chapter's first half (and skimmed the remainder). Here is the chapter's conclusion: '[T]he narratives discussed here articulate the mourning lover's desire for excessive sameness as an image is given body. My readings have emphasized that such repetitions deny the alterity [otherness] of the copy, and if they are successful also mean her [literal] mortification. These mourners resort to the force of death to cover the castrative [painful] wound to narcissism which an earlier instance of death had provoked. They re-enact the real loss of their love object to repress the incision of the real, and return by way of a second death to an illusion of their eternal stability, the revocability of death, the occlusion of facticity.' Etc., etc. [For another instance of Elisabeth Bronfen's concepts in action, in a study of David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks', check out footnote 16 in the following: The City of Absurdity: David Lynch, Papers - The Detective in 'Twin Peaks'.] In other words, the man fights a losing battle with reality, even pretending that he has won. With all due respect to Prof. Bronfen, I quickly became aware that here, in her chapter called "Risky resemblances", was one more instance of what my yoga teacher, Shri Vijayadev Yogendra, repeatedly taught: very often, academics (write as if they) cannot see the wood for the trees. However, someone who could see the wood - very clearly - was Alfred Hitchcock. The very issues that Bronfen raises here, with a pronounced academic obfuscation, are those that inform Hitchcock's great, magical film The Trouble With Harry (1955). (See my essay on that film that's on this website.) Okay, let's return to the 'line of influence' I was tracing yesterday - a little more incisively, I trust, than Bronfen! - from 'Ligeia' to Vertigo, but with allowance for the many byways that such a line could take. For instance, Bronfen makes no mention of Poe's use of Glanvill's concept of will, despite Poe's quoting Glanvill not once but thrice - nor of how a similar concept (which the philosopher Schopenhauer showed was basic) informs such variant tales as 'Gradiva' and 'Death in Venice'. Nor does Bronfen allude to the several 1940s variants on the idea of a man who seeks to use a woman to - in effect - overcome the past, and even time itself. (Remember: all these elements demonstrably find their way into Vertigo.) Finally, for today, let me indicate a further variant line: the woman used as hoax (or an inverted variant of that, where the man is the deceiver). I have shown that the McKittrick Hotel episode in Vertigo was inspired by a scene in Curtis Berhardt's Conflict (1946): Madeleine's 'disappearing act' is a put-up job. Very similar is the situation in an episode of 'AHP' called "Portrait of Jocelyn", from a story by Edgar Marvin. It aired - two years before Vertigo - on 8 April, 1956. In it, a man sees a portrait of a woman who looks exactly like his vanished former wife. In fact, the portrait is a ruse to trick him into confessing that he murdered his wife - as in Conflict. As for the already-mentioned episode of 'AHH' called "Beyond the Sea of Death" (24 January, 1964), with its unabashed evocation of a woman's yearning to be re-united with her dead lover, it proceeds to show - exactly like Vertigo - that a hoax is involved. But the viewer may still detect a Pirandellian truth in this (more than) twice-told tale. To be continued.
March 17 - 2003
I find it fascinating to speculate on the line of influence (as I'll call it) whereby Rodenbach's 'Bruges-la-Morte' (see above) becomes an element of Hitchcock's Vertigo. Mind you, the broad situation whereby a husband sees his beloved late wife (or beloved late anyone) in the lineaments of another has even earlier incarnations: notably, Poe's 'Ligeia' (1838). (That, of course, yokes the notion of impersonal will to its service, thrice quoting a passage from 'Lux Orientalis' by English theologian Joseph Glanvill [1636-80]: 'And the will ... dieth not. Who knoweth the mystery of will, with its vigor? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness. Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.' As I show in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', p. 146, an identical notion informs 'D'Entre les Morts' [c. 1955], the novel on which Vertigo is based.) But Rodenbach's Symbolist innovation was to set his story not against a vague background of castles and abbeys but within the confines of a particular and concretely-realised city or other locale, betokening both life and death. Within a few years of Rodenbach's novella appearing, at least two others were published, showing its influence: Wilhelm Jensen's 'Gradiva' (1903), set in Rome and Pompeii (the 'eternal city' and the 'dead city'); and Thomas Mann's masterly 'Der Tod in Venedig'/'Death in Venice' (1913), whose author's literary powers were fueled, you might say, by his profound understanding of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. So Mann's innovation (among others) was in a way to legitimate the mysticism of Glanvill with the thought of two leading 19th-century philosophers, whose common thread is the notion of will-to-life/will-to-power. (I examine both of these works on this website in the article "Vertigo and its sources".) But later, Rodenbach's influence exerted itself again, if now more faintly. I mean, it does seem to be present, with variations, in several of the 1940s 'portrait' movies, including the 'ghost story' The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, 1944), the touching Portrait of Jennie (William Dieterle, 1948), and the strange Corridor of Mirrors (Terence Young, 1948) - all of which are demonstrably 'cited' in Vertigo. A one-sentence synopsis of Young's film may give the idea: 'a wealthy art-lover (Eric Portman) believes that he and the girl (Edana Romney) who becomes his mistress are the reincarnation of lovers of Renaissance Venice, so he insists on her at least living the part ...' But I have discussed these works before (in the above-mentioned article that's on this website and/or in the longer version of the article in 'The MacGuffin' #25). What I'd like to conclude tonight's entry by mentioning is the episode of 'AHH' called "Beyond the Sea of Death", which aired 24 January, 1964. With haunting music by Bernard Herrmann, it is yet another Vertigo variant. The title is taken from a poem, "One Day", by an approximate contemporary of Georges Rodenbach, namely, Christina Rossetti (1830-94). I'll discuss the program tomorrow. (A discussion of another episode of 'AHH', the gripping "An Unlocked Window", is now up on our FAQs page.)
March 13 - 2003
Warm thanks, Professor Sid Gottlieb, for acknowledging himself as (quote) 'your Biggest Doubter indeed, [a title] that I hereby accept as long as you fully acknowledge its substantial tongue-in-cheek quality ...' (More from Sid's delightful email at a later date.) Now, another correspondent whom I must thank is Mr J.R. Taylor (not the Hitchcock biographer, I think!) who has recently reminded me of the true literary source of Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958). The least I can do is spend today's entry on elaborating the wonderful things that Mr Taylor's insight opens up. Doing so will eventually lead to the announced topic for today - Hitchcock's TV shows - via the episode of 'The Alfred Hitchcock Hour' called "Beyond the Sea of Death". But to begin at the beginning ... Here's the substance of Mr Taylor's email: ' ... I think the ultimate literary source for Vertigo was an 1892 Belgian novel, "Bruges-la-Morte" by Georges Rodenbach. It was translated into English in 1903, but Hitch may have encountered it in another form. In 1920 the young composer Erich Korngold used "Bruges-la-Morte" (or perhaps "Le Mirage", a stage version of the story produced three years after Rodenbach's death in 1898) as the basis for his opera "Die Tote Stadt"[/"The Dead City"]. As the pseudonymous "Paul Schott", Korngold wrote his own libretto for "Die Tote Stadt", with help from his father. The opera was a commercial success, and widely performed for years after its debut. The "Tote Stadt"/Vertigo connection has been noted in at least one "Tote Stadt" production (in Dusseldorf, 1987) that used visual references to Hitchcock.' Quite so. 'The MacGuffin' did once mention 'Bruges-la-Morte', and has been told of the affinity of Korngold's opera to Vertigo, but rather shamefully has never followed up these 'leads' - until now. The first thing to say is that to read even a synopsis of 'Bruges-la-Morte' is to be immediately convinced of the Vertigo connection. The following is from the babelguides.com website: 'The novella is a minor masterpiece of the Belgian Symbolist movement. It is the story of an ill-fated love affair between Hughes Viane, a forty-year-old widower who has been living in Bruges for ten years, and is in continual mourning for his beautiful wife who died suddenly at the age of thirty, and a young actress he meets on the streets of the medieval city. Viane thinks he sees his wife in the actress’s appearance and becomes obsessed with her; eventually he sets her up in a "pleasant little house" on the other side of town, where he visits her in the afternoons. When he allows her to come to his apartment (she wants to assess what sort of wealth he has), she desecrates the shrine he has built to his late wife and this provokes him - in a melodramatic ending - into strangling her with a lock of his wife’s hair.' (For more , click here: Bruges La Morte.) Next, clearly, I would say, another Belgian author, Georges Simenon, drew on Rodenbach's novella when writing 'Lettre à Mon Juge' (1947) - which 'The MacGuffin' has shown to have been an influence on the Boileau-Narcejac novel 'D'Entre les Morts' (c. 1955) and thus on its film version, Vertigo. There are a score of comments I could make. Here's today's: how interesting that 'Bruges-la-Morte' was part of the Belgian Symbolist movement, given that only the other day (March 11, above) we were noting the way in which the Symbolists, and not least the Belgian playwright Maeterlinck, may have influenced Hitchcock. Next week: analogues of Vertigo, including the episode of 'The Alfred Hitchcock Hour' called "Beyond the Sea of Death". (Meanwhile, for a synopsis of Korngold's 'Die Tote Stadt', click here: synopsis.)
March 12 - 2003
Where are we, indeed? First, regarding the yawning closet door in The Trouble with Harry, the script suggests that it may evoke thoughts of the dead Harry Worp returning (thereby prefiguring how the nun rising up at the end of Vertigo may momentarily seem like Madeleine come back from the dead). But the gag of the closet door is essentially a benign one, telling us to stop fretting about death and to get on with living. The repetition-compulsion in Harry amounts to an atonement for past mistakes, especially towards the mother - see my article "The Universal Hitchcock" on this website. By the end of the film, we are surely meant to feel that such atonement has been worked through, all restitution made (that it is possible to make). Implied is how what we have seen to this point has been 'much ado about nothing'. ('Oh what fools these mortals be', Shakespeare might have further said!) Any purely 'metaphysical' inference concerning 'nothing' is quite secondary in this context. Nonetheless, it is drawable. After all, that 'nothing' is a fact of life, gestured towards by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. I have quoted elsewhere from Giorgio di Chirico (1888-1978), the so-called founder of Metaphysical painting, a style that presaged Surrealism, as follows: 'Schopenhauer and Nietzsche were the first to teach the deep significance of the senselessness of life, and to show how this senselessness could be transformed into art. [...] The dreadful void they discovered is the very soulless and untroubled beauty of matter.' The autumnal vistas of The Trouble with Harry, in conjunction with the film's title, may seem the purest embodiment of Chirico's observation. Other artists and writers, as we've seen, going back as far as Flaubert, responded similarly, even attempting to make their very style a 'nothing', a 'style blanc'. Bill Krohn has lately remarked to me: 'One of my favorite modern English novels is Henry Green's "Nothing," which obviously harks back to Flaubert's aspiration. It is the story in dialogue, no descriptions, of a frivolous woman winning the heart of the man she will marry.' And as I began these remarks by noting (March 3, above), Schopenhauer's philosophical pessimism could be conveyed in non-verbal ways - I gave the example of Wagner's musical dramas. Accordingly, to sum up, though Alfred Hitchcock may, or may not, have read any Schopenhauer, we do know that he imbibed the art and artistry of such as Wagner, Wilde, and Chirico. (Other notable 'Schopenhauerians' in the 20th Century included Joseph Conrad, W. Somerset Maugham, Luigi Pirandello, Charles Chaplin, Eugene O'Neill, and Samuel Beckett - all of whose paths crossed Hitchcock's, as can be demonstrated: e.g., Hitchcock's remarks, apropos North by Northwest, about how he 'practise[d] absurdity quite religiously' - this at the very moment when Samuel Beckett was being everywhere said to epitomise the Theatre of the Absurd, i.e., the theatre of 'senselessness'!) On that note, I rest my case that Hitchcock, too, was a Schopenhauerian. I wonder what my biggest doubter, Professor Sid Gottlieb, may say! (Tomorrow: Hitchcock's TV work.)
March 11 - 2003
Trying to wrap up this inquiry into whether Hitchcock, although 'he may not have read Schopenhauer, [...] was influenced by his ideas because they were part of his cultural climate' (see March 3, above), isn't proving to be simple! There is still the Strindberg-angle to consider, for example. ('Whadya mean, the Strindberg angle?' 'Patience, gentle reader!') Hitchcock had certainly read, as well as seen, some Strindberg. The Swedish author and playwright (1849-1912) was a seminal figure in late 19th-century and early 20th-century theatre. Theodore Price ('Hitchcock and Homosexuality') notes Strindbergian elements in Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947) and in Robert Hichens's novel (1933) - the latter, let's note, also containing overt references to Schopenhauer. And Hitchcock almost certainly got to see Alf Sjöberg's Miss Julie (1950), adapted from the Strindberg play. The film starred Anita Björk. On the recommendation of his friend Sidney Bernstein, Hitchcock persuaded Warners to sign Ms Björk to play opposite Montgomery Clift in I Confess (1953). But when the actress arrived in America, pregnant, with an unmarried lover in tow, the studio got cold feet. Ms Björk was sent home and her role assigned to Anne Baxter. (Incidentally, here is the possible source of Hitchcock's fury when, later, other pregnant actresses, such as Vera Miles, had to be replaced on Hitchcock projects - or the projects themselves cancelled.) Now, we were talking yesterday of how Schopenhauerian ways of seeing - providing philosophical support for the old idea that life is but a dream (cf Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' [c. 1611] and Calderón's 'Life Is a Dream' ) - were prevalent towards the end of the 19th Century. Concomitantly, a concern with art for art's sake - or else with something like pure form, expressive of 'nothing' - became noticeable. To a considerable extent, both these things now demonstrated themselves in Strindberg's 'A Dream Play' (1907). This marvellous, 'expressionist' work seeks to show that 'mankind is to be pitied', which is the play's constant refrain. Drawing on Hindu and Buddhist sources, and the work of such Symbolist playwrights as the Belgian Maeterlinck, it is 'Schopenhauerian' in effect, if not in direct provenance. Further, I see in it several elements of late Hitchcock, such as Marnie (1964) and Torn Curtain (1966). But today I will simply quote this passage from 'The Theatre of Revolt' (1964) by noted authority on Ibsen and Strindberg, Robert Brustein: 'It is, to be sure, a grim vision that informs this work. [...] Caught in his own repetition compulsion, [...] Strindberg has found in his personal torment the universal agony of mankind, where one is forced to repeat mistakes, despite the consciousness of error. Thus, when the cloverleaf door is finally opened, the secret of life is discovered to be - nothing. The area behind the door is a vast emptiness.' As reader LB (whom I thank) yesterday pointed out to me, there is a Hitchcock film that deals in the repetition-compulsion, and which climaxes with a yawning closet door behind which is a mere figurative skeleton, a clothes rack. The film is The Trouble with Harry (1955). So, now where are we?!
March 10 - 2003
I began the above series of observations (on March 3) by likening Hitchcock's world of uncertainty and ambiguity to what the Hindus call the universe seen through 'the veil of Maya' (illusion). (Interested readers may want to check out my reading of The Birds in my book. As already noted, Professor Christopher Morris, in 'The Hanging Figure' , p. 261, draws a similar analogy of Hitchcock's world and Maya.) By the same token, as pointed out last time (March 6), the world is certainly not nothing, and someone like Arthur Schopenhauer (whose principal mentors were Plato and Kant) was aware of that fact, though he drew the further conclusion - almost inevitable - that we live in a kind of dream. (Hitchcock's The Wrong Man  brilliantly shows someone, 'Manny' Balestrero [Henry Fonda], trapped in what seems a slow-moving, even underwater, nightmare, and who, not able to grasp the time-space-causality nexus that determines all our lives from 'deep beyond', i.e., Schopenhauer's principium individuationis, finds himself literally imprisoned for his sins: he might almost be one of Plato's cave-dwellers of the parable.) Perhaps also inevitable was that artists confronted with the sort of late 19th-century Pessimism I've described here lately - and whose principal spokesman was effectively Schopenhauer - might adopt an art-for-art's-sake aesthetic. Huysman's Des Esseintes throws his dinner party consisting of all-black food preparatory to retreating behind closed doors into an entirely artificial world. (Why do I think of Rose Balestrero in The Wrong Man speaking of locking the doors and not going out?) Critic and aesthete Walter Pater (1839-1894) uttered his famous dictum about all the arts tending to the condition of music, pure form. Much influenced by such notions, Oscar Wilde, adopting the pose of 'the dandy', tried to live a concentratedly creative life, which included self-creation, and with scant regard to Nature. (We should probably call this 'modified Pessimism'.) And here is where, arguably, Alfred Hitchcock comes in. Truffaut noted that 'emptiness' exerted a strange fascination for Hitchcock - but he might have noted further that such 'emptiness' was always ambiguous, akin to Schopenhauer's fascination with the paradox of 'nothingness' (as at the end of Part 1 of 'The World as Will and Representation'). Bill Krohn sent me an email after my last post (March 6) suggesting that I check out the description of a fade to nothing in the script of Hitchcock's unfilmed Mary Rose. The scene needs to be read in full but it ends thus: 'As the Island becomes no more than a distant vision, CAMERON's voice diminishes as well, until at last, we have lost them both.' (Bill Krohn, 'Hitchcock at Work' , p. 278.) Bill's comment, in his email: 'To me, this would have been the culmination of something AH had been groping toward throughout his career: actually showing ... Nothing.' Indeed, yes, but the general idea had been around for a long time. According to Donald Spoto, Hitchcock's favourite character in fiction was Emma Bovary. Well, the creator of Emma, Gustave Flaubert, once wrote that his ideal was a 'book about nothing' (letter of 16 January, 1852). And apparently English comic novelist P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) intended the same thing. Roger Kimball wrote recently in 'Lives of the Mind' (which also has an essay on Schopenhauer): 'In many ways, Wodehouse accomplished what Flaubert aspired to do: to write a novel about nothing.' So, where are we? (More later.)
March 6 - 2003
I think Hitchcock was very capable of asking, with Parmenides (c. 510-450 BC), the fundamental question, 'Why is there not nothing?' Very well. For the life-principle itself, which certainly isn't nothing - though it may be next to nothing - Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) coined the term 'Will'. I have no problem with that concept. I can readily understand why such men as Richard Wagner (1813-83) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), on first encountering Schopenhauer's Weltanschauung, felt themselves liberated. I felt like that, too, when I first read some Schopenhauer (in Chapter VII of Will Durant's 'The Story of Philosophy' )! Later, my understanding of 'Will' was reinforced when I read this passage in 'Regaining Compassion for Humanity and Nature' (1993) by eminent Australian biologist, Charles Birch: 'The proposition of this book, and of process thought in general, is that the concept of internal relations extends right down to entities such as protons. Of course, we don't talk about conscious feelings at that level, but we do suppose that something analogous to mind is present there.' (p. 223) As for our affinity with the entire animal kingdom, and indeed the entire natural world, this was (and is) for me self-evident, as it obviously was for Schopenhauer, who wrote: '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 [individual] will.' (Arthur Schopenhauer, 'Essays and Aphorisms' [Penguin Books, 1970], p. 189) At least twice in Hitchcock's life, the accidental death of a dog shook him so much that he was apparently near-catatonic for days afterwards. I strongly suspect that what he experienced on those occasions was like what he reportedly underwent during the shooting of The Birds (1963) - his allegory about Will (see my book) - the stirring of a special empathy for victims of the world's suffering, of Will. Perhaps he even came close at such a time to what his favourite painter, Paul Klee (1879-1940), had called 'that Romanticism which is one with the universe'. At such a time, too, the curtain or veil of Maya (see March 3, above) may be torn or lifted, and the noumenal One may be glimpsed. (Certainly the credits-sequence of Torn Curtain  is one of the finest things in Hitchcock, even if the figurative reaching out by the film itself to victims of suffering, in an attempt to regain Oneness, doesn't work, for Hitchcock is no Strindberg, though he sometimes comes close.) Yesterday I wrote of the aesthetic position of 'active passivity' that a Hitchcock film, in its wisdom, invites the viewer to adopt. Bill Krohn was reminded by this of Wordsworth's phrase 'wise passivity'. Be that as it may, a celebration of the life-force as in The Trouble With Harry is certainly not beyond Hitchcock, though a cautionary note (rather than sheer exuberance) is what prevails. And Psycho raises the cautionary note to the level of personal testimony, as one type of passivity ('I'm not even going to swat that fly') is mocked while a higher type (associated with 'waiting' - on God) is accorded Miltonic status. By the way, Hitchcock was 'well read' in an eclectic fashion all his own. Bill Krohn has reminded me that Hitchcock owned the entire Modern Library series of volumes, giant- and regular-size, including a volume of Schopenhauer, at least one of Milton, another of Wilde. Finally, Bill adds that the famous dinner of all-blue food that Hitchcock once served to his guests was obviously inspired by Huysmans' 'À Rebours' (see March 4, above) - whose hero, Des Esseintes, throws a dinner party consisting of all-black food served by negresses in a black room on black china.
March 5 - 2003
'Did you ever state that although Hitchcock may not have read Schopenhauer, he was influenced by his ideas because they were part of his cultural climate?' That's the question I've been answering - in the affirmative - here recently. Towards the end of the 19th Century, Pessimism was in the air. The Romantic movement had seen fit to endorse it, in the work of such poets as Robert Burns (1759-1796) and Lord Byron (1788-1824). Hitchcock (1899-1980) quoted Burns to Richard Schickel - 'Man's inhumanity to man/ Makes countless thousands mourn!' - adding with mock naïveté, 'He must have had a reason for saying that'. But Schopenhauer (1788-1860) had been Pessimism's principal philosopher, and now, late in the 19th century, both Romanticism generally, and Schopenhauer particularly, were influential as never before. I'm grateful to Hitchcock scholar Boris Roginsky, in Russia, for telling me of Schopenhauer's enormous influence in France, Belgium, Norway, etc., at this time: yesterday's entry here confirms Schopenhauer's influence in France. In Britain, Schopenhauer began to be widely read after the Utilitarian journal, the 'Westminster Review', took notice of him; and soon the influential music-critic-turned-playwright George Bernard Shaw was promoting both Schopenhauer and Nietszche (and other Continental figures like Ibsen and Strindberg): see, for example, Shaw's Preface to his 'Man and Superman' (1905). Some of the pessimism of the writing of Joseph Conrad and W. Somerset Maugham is ascribable to their reading of Schopenhauer. Meanwhile, the well-known poet and collector of folklore, Andrew Lang, was drawing on varieties of evolutionary thought and notions of the life-force to explain cultural forms: impressed by such adventure novels as 'Treasure Island' (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson and 'King Solomon's Mines' (1885) by H. Rider Haggard, he 'advanced the idea that adventure [particularly] was in tune with a throbbing animal-like life-force that human beings shared with their animal ancestors' (Joseph Bristow [ed.], 'The Oxford Book of Adventure Stories' , p. xii). (In this tradition, Hitchcock's North by Northwest  has its hero, Roger Thornhill, say towards the end of the movie, 'I never felt more alive!') Furthermore, a towering figure in English literature, and one supremely conscious of his relation to his public, Charles Dickens (1812-70), should arguably be cited here: he once confided to his friend and future biographer, John Forster, how keenly he appreciated his enormous exercise of 'life'. Such an awareness is surely an important element in the 'tradition' that Hitchcock - 'the young man with the master mind', as a prescient newspaper article described him - soon took upon himself. Years later, Hitchcock boasted modestly to a journalist about Frenzy (1972) that it was full of 'life'. Nonetheless, it is a 'Schopenhauerian' vision that ties all of these elements together, and which Hitchcock's films seem to me to display. For no sooner had Schopenhauer discerned in the world (and the cosmos) the working of blind Will (a life-force that is also a death-force) than he proceeded to develop an 'ethics of compassion' and an aesthetics to match - allowing the participant in great art to discern for herself the way of the world and thereby attain a relative detachment, if not immunity, from the Will's harsh effects. For convenience, I will call such an aesthetic position an 'active passivity'. It is beautifully exemplified by The Trouble With Harry (1955) and treated with sardonic irony in Psycho (1960). To be continued.
March 4 - 2003
'Expect the unexpected' said the posters for Topaz (1969). The phrase is from Oscar Wilde, who wrote as follows in his 'Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young' (1894): 'To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.' Here's further proof, if proof were needed, of Hitchcock's familiarity with the bons mots of Wilde, whose 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' (1891), according to Donald Spoto, the director had read 'several times'. (Note: the advertising campaigns for Hitchcock's films were invariably based on suggestions of Hitchcock himself.) In my essay on Psycho and the horror film for the book 'Dark Thoughts' (forthcoming from Scarecrow Press), I show the likelihood that the character of Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) in Hitchcock's Rope (1948) is modelled on the author of 'Phrases and Philosophies', which was originally written - rashly and egregiously - for an Oxford undergraduate magazine. I also show the direct influence on Wilde of the French Decadent movement and in particular the novel 'À Rebours' (1884) by J.K. Huysmans, a novel that on its publication 'was hailed by many as the literary incarnation of [Arthur] Schopenhauer's metaphysics' (Shehira Doss-Davezac, "Schopenhauer according to the Symbolists", in Dale Jacquette [ed.], 'Schopenhauer, philosophy, and the arts' , p. 251). The 'little yellow book' that Lord Henry Wooton gives Dorian in 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' is 'À Rebours' - as Wilde disclosed at his trial. Now, this is only one of many indications of how Schopenhauer's ideas almost certainly reached Hitchcock, even if he never read Schopenhauer himself. Later, I'll itemise some other instances of the likely influence of the German thinker on the director. For the moment, let's just consider what the Symbolists, the Decadents, and, in particular, Oscar Wilde may have represented to him. I find the following information, from Shehira D-D's essay already mentioned, suggestive: 'Almost all of the painters, writers and critics of the late nineteenth century in France frequently mentioned the influence of Schopenhauer on their ideas. [...] It was his pessimism above all that first attracted the generation of writers and poets of the 1880s to Schopenhauer. In "À Rebours" [...] Huysmans gives the Symbolist/Decadent hero Des Esseintes these words: "Schopenhauer extolled to you no panacea [...] He pretended to heal nothing, offered the sufferer ... not the slightest hope; but his theory of Pessimism was ... the great consoler of ... higher souls ..." [...] [Schopenhauer's] rejection of ordinary reality in favour of an art of Idea, his mysticism, his elevation of music to the highest form of art, coinciding as it did with both the great vogue of Wagner's music in the 1880s and with the Symbolists' own nascent tendencies to transform all the arts into a kind of music: these too were factors in the art of the late nineteenth century.' (pp. 249, 251, 255) Finally, Shehira D-D mentions the Symbolists' attraction, sparked by their study of Poe, Baudelaire, and Schopenhauer, to those men's 'tension between an almost morbid preoccupation with evil and an otherworldly idealism' (p. 258). The applicability of such preoccupations to Hitchcock's concern with 'pure film', art for art's sake, and man's inhumanity to man - culminating in Vertigo (1958) - seems to me obvious! To be continued.
February 11 - 2003
A quick note to say thank you for the several responses received so far to our item on Kim Novak above. They have been wonderful. But please send more, gentle readers! Now, I'll be tied up for a day or so, which means that "Editor's Day" will not resume until towards the end of the week. I regret this break in continuity ... KM
February 6 - 2003
One of the loveliest and most intelligent actresses Hitchcock ever employed was Kim Novak, who played the dual role of Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton in Vertigo. (Intelligent? It's detectably there in her films, but, if additional proof were needed, the insight into Hitchcock's filmmaking that Kim showed when promoting the re-release of Vertigo in 1996 would clinch the matter. By contrast, Ingrid Bergman was reportedly as slow as molasses. Hitchcock was once heard to murmur, 'Ah, Ingrid. So beautiful, so stupid ...') Well now, reader, do you remember Kim's wonderful acting in films like Pal Joey (George Sidney, 1957), Bell, Book and Candle (Richard Quine, 1957), Vertigo (1958), Kiss Me Stupid (Billy Wilder, 1964), and Strangers When We Meet (Quine, 1960) - the latter described by critic David Thomson as having a novelettish subject given 'the sadness of Ophüls' by Kim's performance? And isn't this assessment by British critic Ken Wlaschin the plain truth: '[Kim Novak] was a fine screen actress, combining ethereal beauty with nervous insecurity and creating a screen persona of fragile loveliness that reflected a devastating lack of confidence in the reality of her own image'? Ms Novak, the daughter of a Slavic railway worker, epitomised 'every small-town waitress or beauty contest winner who thought of being in the movies.' (Thomson) Accordingly, the script of Vertigo is astute in having Judy Barton come from Salina, Kansas - no doubt an allusion to Kim's role in Picnic (Joshua Logan, 1956), as Robin Wood has pointed out. But that's enough from the critics. Today I was delighted to receive from Australian director Richard Franklin (Psycho II) his own appreciation of Ms Novak. Here is part of his email. 'When I was directing Psycho II, I discussed Vertigo with Vera Miles. She told me Hitch was furious that she had become pregnant on the eve of his making her a star. But I am firmly convinced that the main reason Vertigo transcends all of Hitchcock's other work is the performance, the sensuality (and vulnerability) of Kim Novak. Whatever tensions may have existed during the shoot, Kim far exceeds any other "Hitchcock blonde" with the strength of her performance. Vera was beautiful, but did not possess the ethereal quality of Kim. Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly and even Madeleine (!) Carroll do not come close. When I first showed Vertigo to my friend and colleague Dr George Miller (Mad Max, Lorrenzo's Oil, Witches of Eastwick), who you may be aware is a student of Joseph Campbell et al., he commented that he had never seen a more perfect embodiment of the Jungian "anima" than Kim Novak in that film. Kim's Madeleine is simply the perfect female. I am of the opinion that the repressed Hitch (and I'm not talking about the Spoto construct) was quite out of his depth with Kim, who gave a performance of such godlike sensuality and such vulnerabilty and humanity as the "sad" Judy, that Kim deserves a great deal of the credit for the film's "masterpiece" status. By the way, I wonder if she knows, for example, that esteemed Aussie critic Tom Ryan named his daughter "Madeleine"?' Thanks hugely, Richard. What I'm wondering in conclusion is whether some of our readers mightn't like to write short tributes of their own - call them 'messages' - to Kim. (I think that I can guarantee that they will reach Ms Novak herself.) Email them within the next week or so to 'The MacGuffin', whose address is
February 5 - 2003
The entry on Sir George Robey (1869-1954) in 'Chambers Biographical Dictionary' has him rubbing shoulders with Robespierre and Robin Hood. I think that Sir George would have found humour in that. He was, after all, the foremost British music-hall artist of his day, dubbed the 'Prime Minister of Mirth'. 'Chambers' adds that Robey 'was famous for his robust, often Rabelaisian humour, his bowler hat, long black collarless frockcoat, hooked stick and thickly painted eyebrows'. He also appeared in Shakespearean stage productions as Falstaff, a role immortalised on film when Sir Laurence Olivier cast him in Henry V (1944). Naturally Alfred Hitchcock was a fan. Hitch loved the English music hall, just as he loved English humour generally. (Another frockcoated hero of Hitch's was caricaturist and author Sir Max Beerbohm - Hitch owned volumes of Beerbohm's comic writings and several of his sketches.) When Hitch was guest on the British radio program 'Desert Island Discs' in 1959, his choice of music consisted mainly of classics, for, as he told host Roy Plomley, he had been a concert-goer since boyhood. Hitch's favourite composer, Wagner, prompted one of the discs - but who could have anticipated another of the director's choices, the comic song 'The Fact Is ...', performed by George Robey? No doubt Hitch appreciated its music-hall associations generally - and its humour in particular. During the program, Hitch emphasised humour. Explaining his choice of Dohnanyi's 'Variations on a Nursery Theme', he spoke of how 'it opens like the most grandiose, huge, spectacular movie, probably by De Mille, and then reduces itself to a little tinkling on the piano'. He added: 'It's always appealed to my sense of humour.' Indeed, that kind of humour was a specialty of George Robey's! In his songs, he would often switch from the mock-elevated to slang, as in this example recorded by his biographer, A.E. Wilson: 'He told me my society was superfluous,/ That my presence I might well eradicate./ From his baronial mansion he bade me exit,/ And said I might expeditiously migrate-/ In other words, "Buzz off!"' I don't know about you, gentle reader, but I'm reminded in turn of the scene in Hitchcock's Sabotage (1936) where, after much protracted humiliation at the hands of a street vendor (selling 'Salvodent' toothpaste to a laughing crowd), young Stevie is sent packing by the vendor, who has no further use for him: 'Buzz off!' Then, after a beat, the vendor adds: ' Go on, hop it, you little basket!' Another Robey song, 'A Thing He Had Never Done Before', is analysed on the Web in terms of its resort to a touch of the macabre to underline its humour, and the mention of homely working-class objects. This reminds me of some of the scenes in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)! (To read the piece on the Web, click here: George Robey.) Finally, I would add that another well-known humourist of the time, the creater of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster and Gussie Fink-Nottle, i.e. the novelist and occasional screenwriter P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), seems to me a likely formative influence on Hitch. But I'll explain that another time ... [For more about Hitch's appearance on 'Desert Island Discs', see Patrick McGilligan's forthcoming biography of the director.]
February 3 - 2003
In a hurry, I quote today from correspondence received. (Don't worry. I'm not buying a used car!) First, Bill Krohn begs to differ about Leonard Leff's conclusion cited above. Bill writes: 'Terrific [post] - but I'd take Leff's attempt to credit Selznick with the ending of Notorious with a big grain of salt. His thesis dictated it, but the evidence in his own book ["Hitchcock and Selznick"] is that Selznick was contractually obliged to keep hands off. I've always been sceptical of Lef'f's dichotomy (one of many that structure the book and often fly in the face of fact) which makes Selznick "The Word" and Hitchcock "The Image". Wasn't it Hecht, the scenarist of Notorious, who described Hitchcock as throwing out story ideas like a Roman candle? And from what I've seen, Selznick's vaunted editorial and script sense sank The Paradine Case  twice: once in the writing, and then in the editing room, where he kept dull expository scenes and threw out exciting, mysterious ones.' Fighting words! I must say, though, that I think Leff was always right to emphasise, apropos Rebecca (1940), Selznick's maturing influence on the brash, still too-clever-by-half Englishman. That influence, plus the effect of re-locating himself and his family to a new permanent home, and the outbreak of the Second World War, were the main factors, I dare say, in Hitchcock's rapid development as an artist, and as a person, once he came to America. (I wonder if Patrick McGilligan's biography of Hitch will agree with me.) Anyway, thanks as always, Bill Krohn. Finally today, I'm sure you spotted my allusion to Psycho above. 'One thing a person never ought to be when buying a used car is in a hurry!' drawls California Charlie in that film. (A moment earlier, he had leaned out of his office and called to Marion, 'Be with you in a second!') Unfortunately, that's exactly what Marion is - in a hurry. Anthony Thorne spotted my reference here recently to the theme of 'waiting' in Psycho. I always had in mind the comment by Marion's sister, Lila, that 'Patience doesn't run in my family', and her angry question to Sam, 'What am I supposed to do - just sit here and wait?' In turn, I would relate all of this to a broader, 'Miltonic' theme of 'patience' that is in the film. But Anthony Thorne has drawn my attention to how other people, too, in Psycho are engaged in 'waiting' - Norman, for instance, who remarks that 'A hobby is supposed to pass the time, not fill it.' 'Waiting' and 'patience', and the question, 'To stagnate or not to stagnate?', are the very stuff of Psycho, comprising its image of the human condition.
January 30 - 2003
Just a coincidence? In January 1946, at Warners, Howard Hawks went through the pre-release version of The Big Sleep, removing scenes of clarification and explanation and replacing them with scenes of glamour and sex. Reportedly this revision made the film less linear but more exotic and interesting. Meanwhile, over at RKO, Alfred Hitchcock was doing much the same with Notorious. Bill Krohn's 'Hitchcock at Work' claims that Hitchcock wanted to remove all overt explanations of Devlin's behaviour towards Alicia. In the result, '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) Such an approach to telling - or not telling - the full story is consistent with what Norman Lloyd has said in his autobiography 'Stages', that Hitchcock looked for a visual style 'that would not only give the audience the emotional kick that he hoped for but would also leave them [a little] puzzled'. (1993 pb edition, p. 72) Mind you, we should probably thank producer David Selznick for a lot of the film's finesse. A stickler for eliminating anything roughshod or jarring from a script and its dialogue ('Bergman shouldn't say "You three-toed sloth!", or "Holy Jehosophat!"', for example), Selznick, according to Leonard J. Leff, may have been ultimately responsible for the film's memorable climax. Devlin finally goes to the dying Alicia, a prisoner in her bedroom, and tenderly helps her from her bed to the landing. The ensuing scene on the stairs, notes Leff, 'gathers tension less from simple plot mechanics than from its complex characterization, the metaphysical thrill of [the watching] Sebastian's fear, Alicia's redemption, and Devlin's leap of faith [that the woman he loves is worth saving]. Had Selznick not consistently objected to endings that found either Devlin or Alicia dead, [Ben] Hecht and Hitchcock might never have devised this suspenseful climax on the stairs.' ('Hitchcock and Selznick', 1987, p. 203) Excellent point. The film is ultimately (or maybe penultimately) a Rorshach test, of what viewers and critics want to see in it. Call this the Suspicion-formula at work. Does that explain, then, a phenomenon I note in my book: how, '[r]ather absurdly, critics often play favourites between Alicia and Devlin, and say that while her conduct in the film is admirable, his is reprehensible (until the end).' ('The Alfred Hitchcock Story', the uncut UK edition, 1999, p. 98) The fact is, that while we know nothing of Devlin's background, we know a great deal about Alicia's - not all of it pretty. Further, '[u]ntil Alex [Sebastian] and his mother start poisoning her, Alicia is as free - or unfree - to call off the assignment as Devlin is. They both love each other, and much of the emotional stand-off between them, which occupies the central part of the film, is the result of their legitimately different outlooks and needs.' (Ibid) As far as we can now tell, Devlin's upbringing seems to have been conceived by the script as the very inverse of Alicia's. '[H]e's a certain type of American male, of rather puritannical upbringing. (Consider the scene where he covers Alicia's bare midriff with his handkerchief.) [James] Agee noted a real-life agent who had much the same "cultivated, clipped puzzled-idealist brutality" as Devlin.' (p. 100) In other words, Renoir's dictum, 'Everyone has their reasons', applies. Notorious is great, and timeless (because perennial), film drama.
January 29 - 2003
I have slightly revised yesterday's entry (omitting the unfortunate reference to John L. Russell as the cinematographer on "An Unlocked Window" when, in fact, it was the great Stanley Cortez. Thanks to Joe McElhaney and Bill Krohn for their input, which I will make further use of when I write up "An Unlocked Window" for our FAQs page soon.) A note today on what I see as a regrettable recent tendency of several Hitchcock experts, or would-be experts, to minimise, or 'simplify', bibliographical cross-reference. The publisher Faber and Faber has a lot to answer for in this respect! First of all, it allowed Professor Peter Conrad's 'The Hitchcock Murders' (2000) to have no bibliography at all. I think I know the reasons why. In an angry complaint, remarkably similar to one that appears on the front page of this website (and our "Editor's Day" entry for December 4, which I've now added to our Selections page), about the deadly quality of much academic writing on Hitchcock, Conrad refers to scholarly 'axe-grinders, who value Vertigo only as "a proving ground for a complex array of theories"'. He wonders if any of those scholars 'has paused to notice how deliriously beautiful and achingly sad [a film] it is? [...] Luckily for Hitchcock, the world contains more lovers of film than pseudo-scientific professors of Film Studies.' (pp. xi-xii) The only objection - a minor one - I have to this observation is that there are lovers of film who write on Hitchcock (Bill Krohn, say), but that Conrad doesn't seem too keen to acknowledge their existence. When the Professor sent me an email a year or so ago, he said that he had read my book and sometimes visits this website - 'but not too often, because it could become habit-forming'. Fair enough. Clearly he doesn't want his own free-ranging, free-wheeling love of Hitchcock to be tramelled by anyone else's! But is that good reason to omit a bibliography from one's Hitchcock book, potentially denying readers follow-up views? (Of course, a possible implication is that one reads Conrad's book for the sake of Conrad himself rather than Hitchcock - or that no-one else but Conrad-on-Hitchcock is worth reading anyway! Either way, that is to be guilty, surely, of the same sort of hubris that this site has often noted as a besetting sin of Hitchcock studies. Read on!) Faber and Faber also brought out Steven DeRosa's 'Writing With Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes' (2001), a book that seems to have the worthy purpose of showing just how much the screenwriter Hayes contributed to such fine films as Rear Window (1954) and The Trouble With Harry (1955) but which is marred by some poor scholarship and, yes, a failure to give credit where credit is due - the very thing it accuses Hitchcock of! (For details, see the current 'MacGuffin'. Suffice to say here that Bill Krohn's book, which preceded DeRosa's by a year, is never mentioned by DeRosa even when making points already made by Krohn - or which Krohn would challenge.) At least DeRosa's book has a Selected Bibliography. But these days DeRosa himself is becoming increasingly blinkered in pursuing critical recognition for screenwriters. He has quite rightly praised Charles Barr's 'English Hitchcock' (1999) for seeking to give credit to someone like Eliot Stannard who scripted seven (or more) of Hitchcock's first nine features. But DeRosa implies that no-one else has even attempted similar fairness of scholarship. Which is nonsense: 'The MacGuffin' certainly has! Fortunately, a review of Barr's book by Professor Tony Williams on the current 'Senses of Cinema' website puts the matter more truly: English Hitchcock by Charles Barr.
January 28 - 2003
I haven't forgotten that I was going to come back to Psycho and what I was saying on January 13: that the film has several deja vu moments where actions seem to be repeating themselves (just think of Norman's line, 'Come now, Mother, he came after her and now someone will come after him!'), all of them expressive of a basic pessimism. Likewise, I said, there are other, equally subtle, transition-series, meaning visual and narrative continuities, of a local kind, clearly quite deliberate and thought-out - in keeping with a prevailing mood of 'no exit'. (Cf. would-be 'private islands' that turn into 'private traps' - and whose representative in the film is the swamp - and Norman's terrible declaration that 'we scratch and claw but ... never budge an inch'.) But today I thought of Psycho in another context. Someone emailed me with a question about a Hitchcock TV show in which, one stormy night, two nurses in an old dark house, caring for a comatose patient, hear on the radio that a mad homicidal prowler is on the loose and that his preferred victims are nurses! Did I know what the show was called? To which I answered that this was one of the questions that I'm repeatedly asked, and I promised that I'd write it up for our FAQs page. So here are the sorts of things I'll put there (within the next few days, I promise). The show is an episode of the 'Alfred Hitchcock Hour' called "An Unlocked Window", adapted from the story by Ethel Lina White (c. 1884-1944), and originally aired on 15 February, 1965. The director was Joseph Newman, deservedly famous among film buffs for his intelligent sci-fi feature thriller This Island Earth (1955). The episode is a Hitchcock classic, scary as Hell! (It was remade in the 1980s for the colour 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents', but, at only half the length, wasn't nearly as effective. Incidentally, the same might be said about the 'AHP' remake of "Four O'Clock", which was originally an episode, directed by Hitchcock himself, of the hour-long 'Suspicion' series. The latter, too, is considered a classic of Hitchcock suspense.) For the exteriors of the house, Newman actually used the old Psycho house - or a replica thereof. Which was appropriate in every way, considering that the episode has a climax worthy of both Psycho and of William Castle's Homicidal (1961), the latter a film I rather admire. Equally fitting, sardonic music was provided by Bernard Herrmann (I don't think it was from stock). And of course Ethel Lina White was the author of 'The Wheel Spins' (1936), filmed by Hitchcock as The Lady Vanishes (1938). Other of her fictions to be filmed were 'Her Heart in Her Throat' (1942), the basis of Lewis Allen's The Unseen (1945), starring Joel McCrea, Gail Russell, and Herbert Marshall (Raymond Chandler worked on the script), and 'Some Must Watch' (1934), which Robert Siodmak directed as The Spiral Staircase (1946), starring Dorothy McGuire. Nocturnal storms, isolated settings (a rushing train, an old dark house), homicidal maniacs, and nurses - these were all ingredients of Ethel Lina White's stock-in-trade put to effective use in "An Unlocked Window"!
January 22 - 2003
(late) Joel Gunz sees Rope as revealing hierarchies of power, with women at the bottom. He writes: 'Phillip, who rarely even looks at any of his female guests when talking to them, seems to take special pleasure in humiliating Mrs Wilson the housekeeper [...] Brandon insults Mrs Atwater [...] Janet is unable to prevent Brandon from coercing her into a renewed relationship with Kenneth.' (Hitchcock himself is pretty awful to Janet, dressing her in an unflattering dress!) The would-be power-wielders are Brandon and Phillip (though even Phillip is dominated by the masterful Brandon), and both yield to Rupert. 'But all of these characters operate under a delusion of self-determination. Because, ultimately, the only real power-wielder in Rope is the offscreen, yet omnipresent, Alfred Hitchcock.' It's in this context that Joel appreciates Hitchcock's cameo. He writes: 'In many of the cameos in his other films, Hitchcock is a passive observer, often helpless, even the butt of a joke. As Susan Smith observes, these walk-ons often entail "a certain relinquishing and critical scrutiny of his control and authority". In Rope, however, the director's cameo appearance can be read as [...] just the opposite. In this case, he reduces his appearance to a mere cipher - a neon rendering of his famous profile - [but one insisting] on exclusive control and authority over his film.' As Joel notes, the red neon sign harks back to the red lettering of the word 'Rope' in the credits, and anticipates the film's climax in which a flashing red, green, and white 'Storage' sign casts an eerie glow into the apartment. 'It's almost as if in this latter scene [Hitchcock's] neon caricature had moved from its location several blocks away to just outside the penthouse window. [...] The word "Storage" links with the cadaver stored in the ever-present chest [...] Hitchcock's presence can be viewed as suffusing this scene more than at any other point in the film. It could almost be interpreted as another case of scene-stealing.' Finally, then, let me just add my own interpretation of that final scene with its flashing light. In my book, I note that the idea for the light probably came from the novel on which Hitchcock's Murder! (1930) was based. There, the flashing red, green, and white colours are explicitly likened to the colours of Harlequin, as if to remind us that all the world's a stage and all its people merely players. And now we can see that Hitchcock included himself among those mere players, in keeping withe Rupert's denunciation of the chief murderer: 'Did you think you were God, Brandon?' Writing elsewhere of Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957), I have said that the director's appearance in a prologue is filmed in such a way as to imply that he sees himself as in the world but not of it. Clearly, Rope expresses a related idea about the director and his - limited - power.
January 21 - 2003
Coincidentally, two people (both of whom I thank) have lately sent me speculations about Rope (1948) and, in particular, about Hitchcock's cameo appearances (or non-appearances?) in that film. The speculations on the form and significance of the cameos differ, but perhaps they can be reconciled. First of all, though, here are the facts. Hitchcock does appear, after a fashion, in the film - as his famous profile, seen in red neon, on a distant building. (Moreover, as Joel Gunz, one of our two 'speculators', points out, the sign may be glimpsed in the background not once but thrice. In the first instance, Brandon is intercepting Janet and Kenneth as they are leaving; he wants to gloat over his success in bringing the two erstwhile lovers back together. The second instance occurs when Mrs Wilson says, 'I'll need a key for tomorrow.' The third instance occurs when Brandon says, 'I'll send for the car.') Two times when Hitchcock does not appear in the film are, at the start, as a passer-by in the street (I'm told that the Rope DVD gets this wrong), and, later, allegedly playing Mr Kentley, where the latter (Cedric Hardwicke, in fact) is seen walking away from the camera. (Thomas Leitch in 'Find the Director - And Other Hitchcock Games', 1991, p. 3, claims that the actor here is Hitchcock, but he is, er, mistaken.) As I say, those are the facts. Now here are what our two correspondents say. Mark Wietrzychowski calls Rope Hitchcock's masterpiece (and I have heard a similar view expressed by others, though of course there is a nearly contrary view - I recall that critic Philip Kemp, amongst others, has spoken scathingly of the film's 'visually tedious' ten-minute takes!) Mark points out that 'a main ingredient of the film is concealment', citing such instances as the concealment of the body, the concealment of the murderers' homosexuality, and the concealment of the revolver in Brandon's pocket. Accordingly, Mark feels that when the audience starts looking for Hitchcock to appear - as had become customary in all of his American films - and they hear the dialogue refer to games of cat-and-mouse ('But which is the cat and which is the mouse?'), they may sense the presence of an absence. Sure, there is Hitch's profile up on a distant building - but maybe he, too, is playing games, and he is really all along right there on the set itself - but concealed in the chest! At the least, this is a teasing theory! And it is given some substance by a publicity still showing Hitch indeed sitting in the chest, with the lid thrown back, chatting to some of the members of his cast! Okay. Joel Gunz's theory about Hitch's cameo(s) in Rope is a little different, and it is connected with how the whole film may be seen to be about hierarchies of power. Joel has in fact written an essay on the film from that perspective - an essay that we may publish here soon - and the matter of Hitch's cameo is just a part of that essay. The point for now is this: I would guess that Hitch's 'visible presence' as an assertive red neon sign (in reality, a mere caricature, and just a lot of heated gas!) may not be incompatible with his also being, in the same film, an 'invisible absence'! More tomorrow.
January 20 - 2003
Lots of interesting "Editor's Day" items coming. Another person I should have thanked the other day was Adrian Martin. Among the several things Adrian reports: a Hitchcock-connection to the new film 8 Women by French director François Ozon, via the playwright Robert Thomas (1930-89). After Psycho (1960), Hitchcock had toyed with filming another of Thomas's crime mystery plays, 'The Trap', which bears a strong resemblance to 'The Wife of Martin Guerre'. But the project was dropped at the scripting stage. Lots more tomorrow, as I say. Tonight, though, I'm going to put finishing touches - like, insert footnote numbers - in the promised brief notes on Rear Window.
January 15 - 2003
For those of us who want to keep informed about the case of the 'bin bag' killings (as the press are calling it), Danny Nissim recommends the following website: Camden New Journal. (Thanks, Danny!) Okay, that's enough on that little matter, for now. Danny also provides additional information about another connection to The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) that was mentioned here last month (December 2), namely how Doris Day's song to locate her kidnapped son had historical and/or literary precedents. 'As you noted, the influence was the imprisoned Richard the Lionheart, heard singing by his troubadour. Now I must tell you that last September we stayed in the very place where this reputedly happened - Dürnstein, in Austria on the Danube. The ruins of the tower, high on a hill, is a local tourist attraction, and the hotel where we stayed was in fact called the "Richard Lowenherz". The connection never crossed my mind when we were there! As Peter Conrad points out [in "The Hitchcock Murders"], Hitchcock's use of seemingly lightweight songs [or tunes] as crucial plot points recurs in The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes and Shadow of a Doubt as well as the second version of TMWKTM.' Yes, and Australian TV's 'Mr Movies', Bill Collins, was quite right to cite the film Ivanhoe (1952) as another parallel to the Richard the Lionheart legend. The film was on 'Turner Classic Movies' here the other night, and the incident in question opens the film. It's the identical story as mentioned above, only the character is now called Ivanhoe rather than Richard! (Confession: the only Walter Scott novel I have read is 'The Heart of Midlothian'.) Moreover, the film was shot on location. Take a look at it some time, Danny, and tell me if one of those glorious hills and valleys isn't Dürnstein! Oh, and thanks, too, for mentioning in your email that 'The Tower' Theatre in Islington, London, is about to mount a stage version of 'Strangers On a Train' (February 22-March 1). Lastly, for today, let me thank Ulrich Ruedel in Germany who is sending me a DVD, on the All Day Entertainment label, of Claude Chabrol's The Cry of the Owl (1987), adapted from the novel by Patricia Highsmith, who also, of course, wrote 'Strangers On a Train'. According to Uli, the DVD contains lots of background on both Chabrol and Highsmith; in addition, Uli thinks that the audio commentary contains references to Hitchcock. Hmm. I see from reviews of the film that it is full of owl images (e.g., the principal character, Richard, is shown drawing owl illustrations for scientific textbooks while, behind him, on the walls, are more pictures of these beady-eyed, sharp-beaked birds). I wonder if Chabrol was thinking of Hitchcock's remark to Truffaut (Chabrol's fellow-critic and fellow-filmmaker) about the stuffed owl in Psycho: 'Owls belong to the night world; they are watchers, and this appeals to [Norman Bates's] masochism. [...] He can see his own guilt reflected in their knowing eyes.' (And is there a clue here to why Hitchcock may have seen Norman as an unlikely Christ-figure, of which there are many in Hitchcock, most notably and explicitly Father Logan in I Confess , who, in their suffering, effectively take upon themselves the sins and shortcomings of the world at large? More on this next week. Meanwhile, in the next few days, I'll try and put up here some notes on Rear Window. Nothing much, but maybe of some interest.)
January 14 - 2003
I'm going to make today's and tomorrow's entries a hodge-podge, to reflect the items - some of them fascinating - that have come my way in emails lately. (I'll be returning to Psycho later, though in fact some of the stuff here will mention that film.) In no particular order, my thanks to such correspondents as Ulrich Ruedel, Mark Wietrzychowski, Joe McElhaney, Danny Nissim, Richard Carnahan, Eric White, Alain Kerzoncuf, and Joel Gunz. But I'll start by quoting Patrick McGilligan (for whom Clint Eastwood has been gunning!) to the effect that Hitchcock's knowledge of music was considerable, and included an interest in songs, opera, Broadway musicals, and the work of Eric Coates. Patrick now confirms that his biography of Hitchcock is being fast-tracked for publication in the Fall. Still on the topic of music, we have to report that composer Ron Goodwin (1925-2003) has died. Something I'd not heard before concerns his involvement in The Battle of Britain (1969). Originally Sir William Walton was asked to write the score, but, having delivered it, he was told it wasn't satisfactory and that Goodwin would be replacing him. Walton called this 'an extraordinary move and a bloody snub', and vowed never to write a film score again. In the end, only a brief sequence by Walton was used, and the rest was Goodwin's work - which, almost certainly, got him the job scoring Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972) in not dissimilar circumstances, after its original score by Henry Mancini was thrown out by Hitchcock! (For what it's worth, I like Goodwin's music for Frenzy - though try telling that to some of the Yahoo 'MacGuffin' Group!) Okay, let's stay in Britain for the moment. A London tramp, searching through a garbage can for scraps, recently found the legs of a woman. Police soon located other body parts elsewhere - apparently there were two victims, who had been cut up with a hacksaw. And the police were able to trace the alleged murderer, a psychiatric patient named Anthony John Hardy, to his home in College Place, Camden Town (though his arrest took place a short distance away, in Bloomsbury). What isn't clear - yet - is how much of a Hitchcock devotee the murderer was. Consider the facts. Camden Town was already the locale of a famous series of murders immortalised in sketches and paintings by Walter Sickert (1860-1942) - and for a time one of those sketches was owned by Hitchcock. Furthermore, the modus operandi of killing your victim/s and then distributing the body parts around town was depicted by Hitchcock in Rear Window (1954), where the murderer was based on Patrick Mahon (who also inspired the play 'Night Must Fall' written by Emlyn Williams and starring, on its first London run, Frank Vosper - both of whom were friends of Hitchcock and appeared in films by him). Lastly, as I'm sure you've already spotted, College Place has a Hitchcock connection of its own. That's the very street in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) where Ben McKenna (James Stewart) visits the taxidermist's run by Ambrose Chapell. Reader, can you wait until tomorrow for more?
January 13 - 2003
['Hi, Ken. Welcome back!' 'Thank you!'] One of the delights of watching and re-watching Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), as I've had occasion to do recently, is to savour its many subtleties of design. For example, after Norman has sunk Marion's car in the swamp, and we've all fixated, crazily, on that last lingering trace of the car's white roof before the inky water has closed over it, the scene aptly fades to black. Then, restoring us to normality, a sheet of white paper fades in (echoing the car's white roof), on which Sam Loomis pens a letter to 'Dearest right-as-always Marion' (ha!), and, next, the camera pulls back along the length of the rather gloomy Loomis hardware store interior. (The initial transition here echoes one in Hitchcock's The Manxman , which also puns on 'inky' - an epithet taken from the novel by Sir Hall Caine.) In turn, a reverse-cut shows Lila Crane entering the store and, behind her, a white car swinging across the road to park outside the store - thereby echoing the moment when a police car had swung across the road to follow Marion into the garage of 'California Charlie'. There are several such deja vu moments in Psycho, all of them expressive of the film's basic pessimism. Likewise, there are other, equally subtle and dynamic, transition-series, at least one of which I'll mention later. But I want to return to the swamp for a moment. I may be mistaken, but in the film we hardly ever see the gnarled, cruciform tree that Hitchcock must have had specially made and which figures in a well-known publicity still. (The latter serves as the frontispiece for Peter Conrad's 'The Hitchcock Murders', for example.) In the still, we see Tony Perkins as Norman standing with one arm slightly outstretched and bent at the elbow, emphasising the visual parallel with the tree. He is even standing on a wooden place-marker, which makes him look still more 'planted'! The scene I have just described, in which Norman is seen blowing on his hands waiting for Marion's car to submerge, manages to show part of the tree's cruciform shape - in the background, and partly obscured by the general gloom (night has been drawing on for some time). The stump of the tree's 'arm' does figure in several of the close-ups of Norman, like a symbol of his own 'stuntedness' (which the narrative will later be at pains to emphasise). But the idea of a parodied Christ isn't present. On the other hand, it seems clear to me that the idea was in Hitchcock's mind (cf. his admission in interviews that the scene in The Lodger of Ivor Novello hanging from railings had connotations of the Crucifixion), and we should ask why. (To be continued.) Okay, today my thanks to several recent correspondents. Some of the material you have sent me will go up here, or be discussed, shortly.