This page was last modified 12 August, 2017.

'The MacGuffin' was a hardcopy newsletter/journal that ran for 29 issues from December 1990, edited by Ken Mogg.  This website developed from it.  This page is the site's 'News & Comment' page (as it used to be called).  Alfred Hitchcock-related news items follow the "Editor's Week" feature below.

Coming soon to this site: Michael Walker ('Hitchcock's Motifs') on Suspicion.

To go straight to the latest "Editor's Week" entry further down this page click here.
Note.  Our News section begins immediately after "Editor's Week".

An 'advanced' Hitchcock discussion group, for articulate film academics, professional scholars, filmmakers, etc., exists. Here's the URL:   Note 'articulate' and 'professional'.  The most important thing is that members can and do contribute.  If you'd like to join, please contact me first, identifying yourself.  No anonymous members!  Thanks - KM (email address below).

More broadly, I invite film teachers, film students, fellow-authors of books on Hitchcock, and anyone else, who has some keen interest in the work of the great English-born director, Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), to email me.  I welcome Hitchcock-related ideas, insights, 'news tips', etc., etc., and am happy to discuss them on-site or by return of email.  Snippets from classroom or conference-hall are especially welcome - not to mention CFPs (Calls for Papers), and announcements of books, exhibits, screenings, and the like.  KM
To contact KM (whose website this is), click here:

Important.  The old (1999) US edition of 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', by Ken Mogg, et al., was a 'bowdlerised' version (which its author disowns) of the original UK edition (also 1999).  However, the full book has now (2008) been re-issued world-wide, including in the US.  American readers can obtain it from and other booksellers.


Bill Krohn (author of the award-winning 'Hitchcock at Work') described KM's 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (1999; 2008) thus: 'it covers every film in Hitchcock's oeuvre in loving detail'.

More broadly, Dan Auiler (author/editor of multiple books on Hitchcock) wrote: 'Ken Mogg may know more about Alfred Hitchcock and his milieu than any other film critic'.  Thanks, Bill and Dan!

Besides 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', I have contributed to many books and scholarly publications, including a chapter on "Hitchcock's Literary Sources" in 'A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock' (Wiley Blackwell, 2011; paperback 2014) and an article on "The Cutting Room" in '39 Steps to the Genius of Alfred Hitchcock' (British Film Institute, 2012).  My principal online writings on Hitchcock have been published by the Australian site 'Senses of Cinema'.  Those writings are listed here:

One of those 'Senses' items is a long monograph on The Birds.  Jeffrey Longacre calls it 'an excellent, exhaustive, discussion of the many literary sources and intertexts for The Birds' (See Jeffrey Longacre, "The difference between crows and blackbirds: Alfred Hitchcock and the treason of images", in Post Script, Winter/Spring & Summer, 2015, p. 69).  See also this online testimonial:

Lastly, readers such as NA are very kind.  He wrote (30 September, 2013): 'In my opinion - and I don't mean to embarrass you - you are truly the foremost Hitchcock scholar.  I have come to this conclusion after reading your regular column ["Editor's Week"] on the 'MacGuffin' website, as well as your book.'

And that's quite enough for now.  Speaking of "Editor's Week" (formerly "Editor's Day"), I should note that there is not at present a public archive of its entries, which go back nearly two decades.  However, the material isn't lost, and much of it informs my ongoing writing.  KM

What you'll find on the remainder of this Main Page includes: 

1. "Editor's Day / Editor's Week': 
April 8, 15, 22, 29, May 6, 13, 27, June 3, 10, 17, 24, July 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, August 5, 12.

2. News and Comment (last revised 12 August, 2017).

The editor's day/The editor's week

[This feature will cover musings on Hitchcock-related topics and similar matters with which the 'MacGuffin' editor has been occupied lately. Don't expect total rigour - these are basically 'ideas in progress'. Thanks!

April 8  I want to share some thoughts on Hitchcock's espionage films, and in particular - for the next few weeks - his project to film novelist Ronald Kirkbride's atmospheric 1968 thriller 'The Short Night', loosely based on the exploits of real-life Russian spy George Blake who staged a daring escape from London's Wormwood Scrubs Prison before fleeing back to Russia via East Berlin - or Finland in the novel.  The novel specifically mentions Hämeenlinna, the birthplace of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, in the (lake) Vanajavesi valley, and much of the story is set there.  Hitchcock visited the area, intending to send cast and crew on location.  (For the type of scenery he reconnoitred, see the photo of Vanajavesi below.)  An appreciative view of Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969) and the never-filmed The Short Night is that of Dr Pierre Lethier, former senior intelligence officer with France's exterior intelligence and counter-espionage agency, the SDECE (which in 1982 was replaced by the DGSE).  He writes: 'In Hitchcock's final, unfinished "Cold War" trilogy, the exorbitant human cost of espionage is chillingly and constantly present.  In both Torn Curtain and Topaz - and as would have been the case in his planned [The Short Night] - Hitchcock does not flinch from exposing the harsh truth about espionage.  It is portrayed as an absolute necessity, but one which entails extreme cruelty.'  ('39 Steps to the Genius of Hitchcock', 2012, p. 45)  Kirkbride's novel goes into detail about such cruelty and indeed the George Blake character - Garvin (Brand) in the novel, Gavin (Brand) in the published screenplay by David Freeman - is given some particularly nasty traits, including cold indifference to the fates of those endangered by his passing on of British agents' names to Russia.  In turn, the person, Joe, who comes after him and tracks him to Finland proves to be the embittered brother of one of Garvin's luckless victims, shot by a prussic-acid dart in Beirut.  (We recognise, with a start, that the Russians, and others, still use such methods, and more refined variants, today.)  Meanwhile - and this may well be a main source of the novel's appeal to Hitchcock - Joe has met and fallen in love with Garvin's wife, Svea (changed to Carla in the screenplay), while waiting for Garvin to arrive after his slow, devious journey from England.  It is these charged scenes that give the novel much of its intensity, and even a certain poetry (the book's title is a reference to both a poem by Theodore Dreiser and to the short Finnish summer's night).  And I note that Kirkbride's fellow novelist, Alistair MacLean, praised him in high terms: 'For Ian Fleming's snobbery and sadism he substitutes a compassion for people and an understanding of the human spirit which the late creator of James Bond could never have achieved.'  Towards the end of the novel, Svea - and the reader - realises just how cold a person Garvin has always been.  But Joe has brought her alive.  I'm going to quote in full a most moving passage because it's what Hitchcock (who had also wanted to film 'We, the Accused' by Ernest Raymond, another masterly tale of brief happiness) would have spotted.  'She understood now.  Everything became suddenly clear to her - why, from the beginning, her marriage to Garvin had been a failure; why there had been a wall separating them; why she had felt like a small child swimming in a clear, sparkling stream, only to be sucked down into a mysterious mire she had not known existed.  She had married a shell of a man, a ghost that stalked the world with withered heart.  Because she had loved a man who did not love her she had prostituted herself in a world of make-believe, convinced that it was decent, sane and safe; that promises were kept, ideals upheld, everyday issues conducted with polite sincerity.  She had gone to parties and talked about the latest horror or stupidity of international affairs as if they did not concern her, as if they had taken place on another planet.  But the world was all about her, and in her; she could not escape.' (Chapter Twenty-Two)  So Garvin probably influenced the character of Rusk in Frenzy (1972).  And The Short Night, if it had been filmed, might have been a triumph.  More next time.

Vanajavesi area in Finland
              apropos THE SHORT NIGHT

April 15 Apropos my intention to discuss Hitchcock's final, never-filmed project The Short Night here in coming weeks (see last time), I have now re-read both the 1968 novel by Ronald Kirkbride and the non-fiction 'The Springing of George Blake' (1970) by Sean Bourke, which Hitchcock had acquired the rights to, and which provides additional material for the screenplay of The Short Night published as part of 'The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock' (1984) by author/screenwriter David Freeman (which I've  also re-read).  A point of interest is that whereas the novel is set mainly in and around the Finnish town of Hämeenlinna (between Helsinki and Tampere), the screenplay is set mainly in and around Savonlinna, further east and nearer the Russian border: see map of southern Finland below.  Perhaps Hitchcock felt that the final road-and-rail chase towards Russia (in both novel and screenplay) might appear more plausible if set closer to the border.  At any rate, the all-important scenery of lakes and islands remains unaltered (see image last time).  The basic idea is that Svea/Carla, wife of escaped double agent Garvin/Gavin Brand (based on George Blake) hides out on an island in neutral Finland with her two boys while waiting for Brand to join them; meanwhile, the man called Joe, who has good reason to want to find and kill Brand, succeeds in tracking down Svea/Carla and becomes torn: he finds himself falling in love with her but the more he learns of Brand (and then on encountering him) the more he loathes him.  So should he quietly leave - for the woman's sake - or should he carry out his mission of vengeance?  (Effectively the matter is decided by events.)  I'll concentrate on the novel for now.  It isn't particularly good.  Despite the sort of insightful passage I quoted last time - referring to Svea's awakening after Joe has made love to her and shown her what Garvin has denied her - there are times when the novel feels too reliant on picturesque local colour, routine characters (even a comic Finnish policeman who resembles Inspector Clouzot in a Pink Panther farce), and an element of soft porn.  Also, some implausibility or sloppiness.  We're told that when Joe 'had set out on his mission to avenge his brother's death, suspecting that Brand might well attempt a jail break, he had not anticipated the events [that followed].' (Chapter Sixteen)  A moment's thought suggests this is absurd: a man sent to prison for thirty years who escapes after five years does not signal (the imminence of) his escape!  I was reminded of an interesting 2014 article, "The Rise of the Literary Espionage Novel", by Lisa Levy, which suggests that quality writers (like the American Denis Johnson and the Australian Peter Carey) have recently decided to enter the espionage field and in the process raise it from its generic limitations - though not always successfully, if another commentator, Julieanne Lamond, is right.  While agreeing that some 'capital-L Literary Writers ... have [lately] appropriated the conventions of popular genres', Lamond singles out another Australian writer, Richard Flanagan, for a sharp comment: 'Where Flanagan fails to master the most important aspect of the airport thriller - the thrill - he does pretty well with the misogyny that also marks the genre.' ("Nothing Too Serious", in 'Sydney Review of Books', 20 February, 2015)  Hmm.  I don't exactly feel that Ronald Kirkbride in 'The Short Night' is misogynistic towards Svea; and the way in which she comes to see and articulate how the cold Garvin has oppressed her is one of the most moving aspects of the novel.  At the end of Chapter Twenty, she is able to face him and haltingly reveal what she has always suppressed - her suspicion of his homosexuality.  ('The Springing of George Blake' manages to suggest that Blake may have been a potential paedophile: see Part Three, Chapter Two.)  In its own way, this is like how 'I' in Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) comes alive and throws off the shackles of oppression, by the likes of Mrs Van Hopper and Mrs Danvers, after Maxim tells her the truth about Rebecca.  And it is surely the sort of thing that attracted Hitchcock towards Kirkbride's novel.  The Short Night would have been a quality film in its own right.  To be continued.         

Southern Finland

April 22
The screenplay of The Short Night begins: '1  EXT. LONDON - ARTILLERY ROAD - 6:45 P.M.  A drizzly London evening in the fall.  Wormwood Scrubs Prison and Hammersmith Hospital sit side by side.  Artillery Road, hardly more than a service lane runs between them.  A Humber Hawk sits on the prison side ...'  The detail here (and more detail, too, not quoted) corresponds in every way with the actual circumstances of the escape of double agent (or possibly triple agent) George Blake from prison in London on 22 October, 1966.  Hitchcock was so struck by the vividness of the account of Blake's escape contained in Sean Bourke's 'The Springing of George Blake' (1970) that he decided to open his film with it - much of it to be filmed in an elaborate crane shot.  But why the Humber Hawk?  Screenwriter David Freeman (in 'The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock', 1984) professes to be puzzled: 'Hitch was quite certain what he wanted.  I had to ask Universal's research library to get me a picture of one.  Humber Hawks turn out to be cute enough, but I still didn't see why he wanted that specific car.'  I think Freeman is being disingenuous here.  For one thing, a Humber Hawk was indeed the getaway car Blake and Bourke used.  Bourke's book reveals: 'I knew of a shopkeeper in North London who had a 1955 Humber Hawk for sale for sixty pounds.  I bought this ... and drove it back to Perryn Road.  It had a good engine and good brakes.  I could now rehearse the getaway under realistic conditions.' (Part One, Chapter Seven)  And it is of course a British car.  But Hitchcock was even more specific as to why he wanted one for his film.  Freeman quotes him: 'It's a timeless-looking sedan, don't you see?  A little out of date, but still roughly contemporary.  Bear in mind it's the first thing we see.  Americans won't recognize it at all.  Mustn't let them (the audience) get too comfortable right at the start.'  (p. 231)  (For a photo of a Humber Hawk of the time, see illustration below.)  Now, I mentioned that Blake may have been a triple agent, although it's not likely - Bourke's book mocks the elaborate theory concerning this by a Canadian journalist interviewed on the BBC soon after the escape.  ('It was all, he claimed, part of a huge plot by the Secret Service to fool the KGB.'  Part Two, Chapter Four)  Nonetheless, Bourke's own account has been called in question by espionage authority Phillip Knightley, who asks: why should Blake have entrusted his escape to such a person?  'The idea of Bourke, a drunkard and a petty criminal, agreeing to spring Blake just for the thrill of a blow against authority is ludicrous, as is the involvement of Bourke's friends ... The only story which fits the facts is that the escape was organized by the Russians who contracted out some of the work to the IRA.  Bourke was a minion, hired because he knew Blake and was about to be released under the hostel system, which allowed him free access between the outside world where he spent his days, and the prison where he slept at night.'  ('The Second Oldest Profession: The Spy as Patriot, Bureaucrat, Fantasist and Whore', Pan paperback, 1987, pp. 294-5)  Still, this hardly matters in any consideration of The Short Night as film/screenplay.  For, of course, Hitchcock as usual was only concerned in telling a good story with interesting characters who had human problems and which furthered the needs of the story.  In this respect, although Ronald Kirkbride's 1968 novel certainly gave Hitchcock the prototype for Brand (i.e., Blake) as villain, additional darkening was licensed by Bourke's purportedly true account of the man.  The overall picture of Blake that emerges there is that he was an agreeable-enough individual when it suited him (and he had, after all, been a professional spy who knew how to dissemble), but that once he got to Russia he became the monster he may always have been, overbearing and ruthless.  Bourke says that there had been a hint of what was to come.  While lying low in a Hampstead apartment after the escape, Blake offered to help Bourke who was doing some stretching exercises from a rowing position on the floor.  Suddenly Blake 'seemed to lose control of himself. "Get down, get down, get down!" he hissed though clenched teeth' as he pushed Bourke's head towards his knees.  Only after several seconds, did he stop.  'He was flushed and excited.  Then he started to laugh.  But it was a forced, nervous laugh and I felt sure that he must realize that he had gone too far and given something away.'  (Part Two, Chapter Five)  From this, Hitchcock and Freeman may have extrapolated the scene early in the screenplay in which Brand strangles a young woman, from whom he wanted sex.  (The real Blake may have been someone else again.  The picture of him in Wikipedia is largely favourable.  Even his betrayal of his English employers, MI6, and their colleagues, the Americans, to the Russians was motivated, it seems, by what he had seen of the brutal bombing of North Koreans - many of them civilians - by American Fortress bombers during the Korean war.)  Next time: the Short Night screenplay.                                          

Humber Hawk as in THE SHORT

April 29 As the screenplay of The Short Night shows, the film was to have begun one drizzly evening in London (see last time), and to have contained sombre elements, including the ruthless Gavin Brand himself (based on double agent George Blake).  Violence, as in Topaz (1969), would break out more than once.  Only the love-element, between Joe and Carla, and a certain pictorial beauty, would offset the sombreness - along with flashes of humour (albeit sometimes grim humour) and something else, harder to define (although poetry might not be altogether the wrong word for it).  When the camera first approaches Squirrel Island, where Carla is hiding out with her two boys and waiting for husband Gavin to show up, Joe is in a boat, and sees activity on the shore - a view that reminded Hitchcock of a Brueghel painting (just as certain moments in Topaz reminded him of Vermeer interiors).  Or certain elements of colour might have a rich effect, perhaps not unlike the use of colour by Hitchcock's favourite artist, Paul Klee.  An early scene takes place in NYC, when Joe has a lunch appointment with the bespectacled CIA man, Paul Zelfand, at The 21 Club.  The screenplay reads: '38  EXT. ENTRANCE TO 21 - DAY  Joe goes down the steps, under the painted statues of the jockeys and through the main entrance.'  (For the famous array of painted statues, see the photograph below.)  A seemingly routine shot thus adds an ironic - but also poetic - touch of colour, a subliminal reminder that simple delights are not necessarily all behind us, forgotten.  The irony, though, is twofold.  First, Joe is on a path of vengeance, contemplating the killing of Gavin whose duplicity had caused the death of Joe's brother.  Second, after the lunch, and back on the sidewalk outside 21, violence suddenly erupts around Joe and Paul when a marksman across the street fires at Paul but only succeeds in killing a chauffeur.  (The shot-description reads in part: 'his body whirls around to face CAMERA for a moment and we get a brief glimpse of a destroyed bloody face before the body slumps down to the pavement out of picture, and CAMERA zooms in close on the shocked faces of Joe and Zelfand'.)  Nor of course is the colourful 'jockeys' shot disconnected from others that contribute to the film's overall tone and visual texture.  I think of two in particular.  Passing through London, Joe comes upon a game of soccer about to begin in Hyde Park between a couple of schoolboy sides (note sporting connotations again, and of childhood) supervised by a slightly disconcerted coach: two of his boys have failed to turn up, so he wants one of them in yellow jerseys to join the other side, in red jerseys.  Joe takes the opportunity to ask directions from the coach, and as he leaves calls back over his shoulder, to the red jerseys, 'Stick to your guns lads, don't be turncoats!'  (The immediate pay-off to this brief scene is the one in which Joe spots two junior-size red jerseys on a clothesline and guesses that he is on the track of Carla Brand and her two boys - who have left for Finland in a hurry.)  But I also think of an episode much later on, when Joe has begun to romance Carla, and takes her on an outing to Savonlinna.  In the garden of a restaurant, they stand and kiss, oblivious to everything but each other.  The shot-description continues: 'We hear the sound of a great many small bells, behind them, approaching, off screen.  They turn to see a swarm of happy, laughing bicyclists, dozens of them, almost upon them and approaching swiftly.  The cyclists laugh at the lovers as they go by, bells clanging wildly.'  But Carla's Russian minders soon turn up, and the momentary near-idyll is at an end.  Screenwriter David Freeman has an excellent comment: 'In Scene 186, as Joe and Carla kiss, first we hears bells, and then a swarm of bicyclists rides by, laughing and happy.  A similar image occurs in scenes 190 and 191, when the cyclists reappear.  One might make some tortured case for the bells ringing in romance or danger, but it is both more and less than a particular symbol.  It's dreamlike, almost abstract, and its power is undeniable.  Logical objections fall away in the face of the thing itself, which if I may say so, is not a bad overall summation of Hitchcock's films.'  ('The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock', pp. 245-46)  And on that Klee-like note, I'll end for this week.  Concluded next time.

The painted jockeys outside The
              21 Club     

May 6 For the past few entries, I have been looking at The Short Night - Hitchcock's last project, never filmed - in the context of espionage.  Of course, espionage is about cognition, as has long been known.  As far back as the 4th century BC, Chinese military expert Sun Tzu emphasised: 'Those who know the enemy as well as they know themselves will never suffer defeat.'  In the 16th century AD, Queen Elizabeth I's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, declared, 'Knowledge [of the enemy] is never too dear.'  But Hitchcock's spy films (such as Secret Agent, 1936) invariably question such a cold, cerebral outlook: think of how Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959) rounds on the Professor and tells him feelingly, 'Maybe it's about time you guys [from the CIA] started to learn to lose a few Cold Wars for a change.'  Films/screenplays like Topaz (1969) and The Short Night say essentially the same thing.  In the latter, there's even a key line, spoken by Joe (whose brother had been killed by the Russians): 'Spying and espionage.  Everybody suffers from it.'  I want to quote screenwriter David Freeman on this.  'Throughout the script [of The Short Night]', he writes, 'the only people who care about communism and capitalism and their differences are chowderheads.  Sensible people care about themselves and one another.  Hitch was quite fond of the idea of making [Carla's two slightly butch Russian minders] Olga and Hilda ... the only ones interested in politics.  Joe wants to avenge his brother and, later, to be with Carla.  Carla only wants a life for her children.  Politics are of no use to her.  Even Gavin Brand, the communist spy, cares about his own problems, not the problems of nations.  Hitch, in the late winter of his life, didn't care about politics, only passion.'  ('The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock', p. 250)  (As noted, Hitchcock's attitude had in fact always been there, perhaps inherited from Somerset Maugham.  Thus a key scene in Secret Agent, based on Maugham's 'Ashenden' stories, was the death of an innocent man, killed by the over-zealous professional assassin, the General, played by Peter Lorre.  And the film ends with the disillusioned Ashenden vowing, 'Never again', as he returns home with Elsa.  The film has been a learning experience for both of them.  (For a lighter moment from the film, see frame-capture below.)  Now, I tried last time (and earlier) to indicate some of the feeling-content, at times decidedly poetic, in The Short Night.  But the fact is, the screenplay as published shows that there was still much work needed: the first half, in particular, feels thin, following the tense opening scene of Brand's prison break.  On the other hand, Hitchcock's techniques and expertise were working for him in several places throughout the screenplay.  For instance, our introduction to Joe, playing a form of indoor tennis (court tennis), shows how capable he is (and thus worthy of hero status for when he comes up against Brand): Hitchcock had apparently been wanting to get court tennis into a film for years.  Freeman explains: 'We got to it from the belief that Joe should be introduced doing something active ... [Court tennis] is so toney and upper class that it makes squash look like bowling ... It makes a fine, strange introduction to the character.  It says he lives a life different from yours.' (p. 234)  Thus it's another instance of Hitchcock's 'outflanking technique' whereby he keeps the audience compliant to his narrative demands, including the building of suspense.  Likewise, there's another key line, spoken by Carla to Joe, relatively early in their relationship: 'There's so much feeling in you.  You always make me laugh, or you try to hurt me.  It's always so extreme.'  (Joe defends himself by noting that they're both in a hurry.)  That leads, eventually, to the main love scene, which clearly excited Hitch, and which pivots on the idea of Joe and Carla facing each other and slowly coming together, while aware that Brand is approaching - the sound of his motor launch can be heard (Hitch thought of it as being inside Carla's head).  Here Freeman notes Hitchcock's belief that pleasure deferred is pleasure intensified.  (I can't help thinking of the famous moment in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, 1962, when a rider on a camel approaches the camera from a distance, and seems to take forever.  Lean, of course, was reportedly a Quaker, people who traditionally appreciate forms of self-denial ...)  Lastly, just before the final chase to the Russian border begins, Freeman astutely sums up what is at stake: 'Carla is alive - barely - and her children are gone, on their way to Moscow and Joe and Carla must recapture them.  Nobody ever said Alfred Hitchcock didn't know how to get at an audience's collective heartstrings.' (p. 248)  So much for mere cognition! 

Madeleine Carroll and John
              Gielgud in SECRET AGENT

May 13 [No "Editor's Week" this time, because KM finds himself busy, busy.  But friend Tag Gallagher, expert on John Ford and Roberto Rossellini, has written to say that his new book on Ford is now available on Kindle from Amazon.  Worth rushing to see!  It's called 'John Ford: Himself and his Movies'  Google it!]

May 27
Back again.  That's enough on The Short Night (project) except to note that like Topaz (1969) - to which I want to come this time - it opens with an exciting escape.  The escape in Topaz is of the defecting Russian family, the Kusenovs, from Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1962 (as a title tells us), and is beautifully crafted.  For one thing, the casting for 'typage' (especially of the Russians, including the 'heavies' whom Kusenov and his family must elude with help from the CIA) is perfect.  The frame-capture below shows what Kusenov's daughter, Tamara, sees when she glances up from a demonstration of porcelain-painting in a Copehagen factory: the family had hoped they had shaken off their pursuers.  Instead, Tamara sees all three of the heavies staring coldly at her (while all of the other onlookers are watching a woman at work offscreen in the foreground painting flowers on a plate - two of her finished plates are visible in the shot, notice).  The effect is chilling, but not without a note of grim comedy by that very fact: it's very in-your-face Hitchcock!  (A broader example of the same thing is the famous shot in Strangers on a Train, 1951, of Bruno watching fixedly and impassively as Guy plays a rally of tennis while all of the other spectators around Bruno keep swivelling their heads to follow the passage of the ball.)  Imagine if you were Tamara and saw that view of her pursuers!  In fact, she keeps her head and is able to draw one of them away and then elude him long enough to make a telephone call to the CIA for instructions.  A shot of the baffled Russian pursuer after he looks into the room where Tamara had gone - and finds it empty - is followed by a small reaction-shot of his annoyance in which he does a double-take, and the soundtrack (score by Maurice Jarre) mocks him with a single plunked note - the first of several such moments in the film.  (This particular 'leitmotiv' seems to make fun of how, in the 'game' of espionage, no-one is his own man, but always playing 'follow-my-leader' or 'catch-up'.  The ultimate message of the film is a respect for anyone with enough personal integrity to stand against, or outside, such a sad and foolish game: 1959's North by Northwest, too, seems to me to support those who are not 'other-directed', ditto The Short Night - see May 6, above.)  Now notice again those plates in the frame-capture: they are painted in gentle colours and the room is lit by sunlight from a window on the right (all of the early Copenhagen scenes take place on a sunny afternoon with birdsong in the air).  I mention this because it marks a contrast (1) with the opening credits-sequence of a May Day military parade in Moscow, and (2) with the late afternoon sequence that now follows, set in and outside the Den Permanente department store with its 'permanent' arts and crafts exhibit (it has since closed down!): the interiors at Den Permanente feature quite different and brighter colours than before - purple irises and orange lamp shades and blue hangings - a sharpening effect suddenly interrupted and/or heightened by the ringing of a bell at the store's closing time.  And now the entire Copenhagen sequence moves from slow pursuit into tense action as the Kusenovs, as instructed by the CIA, swiftly leave the store and head for the CIA's getaway car outside, but are followed by their Russian pursuers.  While plain-clothes CIA men do their best to block the pursuers, one of the latter nearly gets off a pistol shot, and Tamara adds to the drama by falling while attempting to avoid home-going crowds on bicycles (elements of Foreign Correspondent, 1941, and North by Northwest).  But eventually the escape is effected, and only the tetchy Boris Kusenov can't help himself but exclaim to his rescuers, 'A very clumsy operation - not the way we [Russians] would have done it!'  Plenty of nice irony there, as befits a film about people caught up, despite themselves, in harmful fixed attitudes.  Meanwhile, the entire Copenhagen sequence has featured, besides sunshine and birdsong, multiple references to flowers, establishing another of the film's leitmotivs, probably its principal one: that of the Lost Paradise, which the modern world and espionage in particular would seem to make un-recoverable.

Copenhagen scene from TOPAZ 

June 3 This week I had occasion to think about Hitchcock's way with emotion - whether of his audiences, of his characters, or of the very 'alchemy' with which he achieves emotional complexity (and unexpected outcomes when ingredients are combined).  A simple instance is what he remarked to François Truffaut: in The Trouble With Harry (1955) he used contrasts to 'elevate the commonplace to a higher level'.  This correlates with Dennis Perry's wise observation that Hitchcock and Poe both excelled at crafting 'emotional responses in audiences.  The key to that legacy is the concept of the sublime, the simultaneous experience of delight and terror ...' ('Hitchcock and Poe', 2003, p. 1).  I dare say that Hitchcock's and Samuel Taylor's film adaptation of Leon Uris's not particularly 'sublime' novel 'Topaz' - though to be fair, the novel shows Uris's undoubted flare for research and more research, often aimed at shock, and is a real page-turner - touches emotional sublimity at several points.  Behind the various events is the Cuban Missile Crisis, while in the foreground are successive personal stories, including those of two families, the Kusenovs and the Devereaux.  It is the tensions within and without those families, and the sense of what threatens them - and the rest of the world - that allows Hitchcock and Taylor several poetic moments.  For example, the breaking of a china statuette at a Danish porcelain factory (see last time) relates to what is 'fragile' throughout the film (for starters, the Danish people themselves are most sympathetically depicted - happy, courteous, industrious).  But my research on emotion extended to other texts, including a famous essay by T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1922), which took up the general idea, and noted acutely how raw emotion is, at best, a starting point for a poet: 'If you compare several representative passages of the greatest poetry you see how great is the variety of types of combination, and also how completely any semi-ethical criterion of "sublimity" misses the mark.  For it is not the "greatness," the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process ... under which the fusion takes place, that counts.'  In Hitchcock's case, he sensed that 'pure film' - call it 'form' - might be more important than 'content', and indeed a major factor in the overall effect of Topaz is its structural emphasis on the global, the fact that it moves from one capital city to another: Moscow, Copenhagen, Washington D.C., Havana, Paris.  Each location is utilised to particular effect, in keeping with Hitchcock's famous dictum about such matters (it's surely no accident that a key scene in Paris takes place at an exclusive restaurant: see frame-capture below).  One reason for Hitchcock's early optimism about Topaz (he had his misgivings, too) was that 'It will be a film with landscapes equal to The Man Who Knew Too Much'.  And again, to keep myself 'grounded', this week I re-visited John Carey's no-nonsense discusssion of what constitutes art in an art-era where seemingly 'anything goes' and the wackier the better (although Carey's influence may have reversed that a bit), namely, his 2005 book 'What Good Are the Arts?'  I admire Carey's suspicion of many of the claims made for 'high art', and its supposed 'superiority'.  But on this occasion I paid particular attention to what he says about an apparent lack of connection between sensitivity to art in general and sensitivity to human suffering.  And I noted again that he thinks that literature is superior amongst the arts because it is the one best suited to display extended reasoning and self-critique.  And I see what he means, all right - even as I regret that one of his few blind spots may be his comparative ignorance of the cinema.  (In the entire book Professor Carey, formerly Merton Professor of English at Oxford University, only mentions three filmmmakers: Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Alfred Hitchcock - whose qualities he suggests in passing are self-evident, and requiring no further elucidation by him.)  Whereas I immediately thought of Topaz, and its final montage of the suffering wrought by the world of espionage and all it supports.  Could literature make a more gut-wrenching statement than that brief set of images coming, as it does, after two hours of what is - often  sublimely - shown by Hitchcock's film?  [Note.  The CFP in our News section, below, has been revised and updated.]

Paris restaurant featured in

June 10 This week I continued my reading apropos theories of emotion - which, sadly, wasn't always enlightening!  Maria Walsh's review (in 'Senses of Cinema' #28) of 'Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film' (2002) by Giuliana Bruno, for example, quotes this passage: 'There is a mobile dynamics involved in the act of viewing films, even if the spectator is seemingly static' (some art snobs argue that viewing paintings in a gallery is intrinsically superior because the spectator must walk around ...), and it continues: 'The (im)mobile spectator moves across an imaginary path, traversing multiple sites and times.  Her fictional navigation connects distant moments and far-apart places.'  My reaction to that was, 'You don't say?' - and Maria Walsh's own comment later was also not exactly thrilled: 'However, what makes Bruno's thesis rather annoying is that she never defines what exactly she means by emotion ... In Bruno's trajectory emotion would seem to equal motion which simplifies matters greatly.'  Well now, surely Hitchcock's excitement that Topaz 'will be a film with landscapes equal to The Man Who Knew Too Much' (see last time), wasn't simply to do with giving the spectator a bit of vicarious travel?  Rather, I think of how the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much opens in sweltering Marrakesh before moving to gritty, labyrinthine London: the contrast is deliberate, and it involves the spectator emotionally in the 'deepening' of the story - much as Dickens began 'Little Dorrit' (1857) in a sweltering Marseilles, then switched locale to 'a Sunday evening in London, gloomy, close, and stale'.  One subliminal effect of showing the different capitals in Topaz is to suggest how difficult it is going to be to reconcile their conflicts, amid their special interests, even as it suggests that global understanding is important, no matter how difficult - and that Topaz is raising such a possibility while concluding that it isn't going to happen soon, despite the lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  (That's a bit more, or other, than your average tourist's or gallery visitor's itinery, or theorised version of it!)  I also looked at a couple of reviews of James Elkins's 'Pictures and Tears' (2002): reportedly he interviewed a few hundred art historians, not one of whom had cried in front of a painting.  'The emotional temperature of our response to art is plummeting towards absolute zero', he concluded.  'How coldly can we look and still claim we are looking?'  Reviewer Alfred Hickling in 'The Guardian' commented: 'As a withering attack on the whole structure of art academe, this has a point.  But Elkins's endeavour rather falls apart when, halfway through the book, he gets religion.  Both he and [Darian] Leader [author of 'Stealing the Mona Lisa', 2002] argue that great art acts as a mysterious portal to the subconscious.  Adopting the somewhat gothic-horror term coined by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, Leader refers to it as "the Thing".  Elkins has a different name for it: he calls it God.'  Hmm.  What I took from that is how theoretical explanations of art change, but not greatly!  I was reminded of Eric Savoy's recent claim (in a book on Hitchcock and Henry James) that 'Hitchcock's essential cinematic project' is the encounter with (Lacan's) the Real.  In turn, I could cite my own conviction that Hitchcock's films point to what (atheist) philosopher Schopenhauer called the cosmic Will, which the same philosopher equated with Kant's Thing-in-itself - and that such a built-in 'encounter' (with the ineffable Thing, or whatever) in Hitchcock's films can move us emotionally because it is true rather than sentimental (the latter a turn-off, once spotted), or at least it can't be denied, only felt.  Now to conclude, for this week.  On May 27 above, I noted the first of several moments in Topaz when a character is pulled up short by some setback or moment of incomprehension (and with Maurice Jarre's score underlining it with a single plunked note - the first was when one of the Russian heavies is eluded by Tamara Kusenov at the Copenhagen porcelain exhibit).  The second such moment is when a French General and the French Ambassador in Washington, D.C. are asked by alert French agent André Devereaux who was it who told Paris about the Russian defector Boris Kusenov, and why?  The startled General can only exclaim, 'What?'  (See frame-capture below.)  And the third such moment is when Devereaux informs colleagues back in Paris (at Pierre's Restaurant) about a Russian spy ring called 'Topaz'.  'This is a fairy tale', one of them exclaims.  This entire little motif, with its musical underlining, is an ongoing reminder that nobody in Topaz has all the answers.

Devereaux shocks his questioners
              in TOPAZ

June 17 [No "Editor's Week" this time.  But we have added two items to our News section below.  Also, my thanks to the publishers of a new book on director Robert Wise for detailed information about it.  It's called 'Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures' and the author is Joe Jordan.  He studiously analyses each film in the Robert Wise canon, and includes over twenty interviews with Wise colleagues.  The book is available now.  KM]

June 24 Thanks to those of you who read my report above (June 10) on a couple of - rather arid - theoretical writings I had forced myself to consult on film and emotion.  (As the head-piece to "Editor's Week" notes, this column reports on matters 'with which the ... editor has been occupied lately' - not always agreeably to himself, given the nature of research!)  Btw, I have slightly re-worked the June 10 report.  Now, returning to Topaz, here's something to follow up the observation that 'nobody in Topaz has all the answers'.  We saw that Hitchcock's film has a character say out loud, 'This is a fairy tale', when he is told about the Soviet spy ring (called Topaz) which has agents planted in the highest echelons of the French government and of NATO.  Interestingly, this isn't exactly how Leon Uris's novel presents the matter.  There, it is the hero, André Devereaux, a French agent stationed in America (and Cuba), who makes some such exclamation.  Invited to sit in on the Americans' interrogation of Russian defector Boris Kuznetov (at Kuznetov's own request), he first learns of the existence of a French government department to be called Section P, 'composed largely of a group of French scientists now in training who will be placed in American research and industry' and whose function will be to 'conduct industrial and scientific espionage on the United States'.  'André felt the eyes of the others hard on him.  "It is a lie," he said softly.'  And then, when Kuznetov repeats the accusation, adding that André will shortly be instructed by his government to implement Section P's operation through his office in Washington, his demeanour changes.  'For the first time in two decades, André Devereaux became unravelled before an adversary.  He grew livid and cracked his fist on the desk.  ...  André hushed abruptly, shocked by the sound of his own voice.  He had committed a grievous error before men of his own breed.  "It's fantasy," he said harshly.  "We deal in fantasy, do we not?"  Kuznetov answered, taking off his glasses and setting them on the table wearily ...'  [Part III Topaz (6)]  Nor is that all.  Returning to France, André is present when the French President is told an incredible counter-story (the result of Soviet disinformation?) that the entire Cuban missile crisis was 'a gigantic hoax dreamed up between the United States and the Soviet Union' - and that he, Devereaux, had been 'tricked, duped, and used'.  [Part V Columbine (6)]  Later, the American government send their man Mike Nordstrom to Paris to consult with André and support him.  But Mike also brings further bad news.  In Cuba, he reports, both (Castro henchman) Rico Parra and (André's mistress) Juanita de Cordoba have been thrown in gaol and tortured, and both are now dead.  'André hovered close to collapse until Mike's words became unreal ... dreamlike.'  [Part V Columbine (12)]  My comment on all of this is simply that, faced with being tasked (at short notice) to adapt a sprawling Leon Uris novel, screenwriter Samuel Taylor was always to be congratulated for singling out the all-important matter of the spy ring called Topaz and the threat it posed to both André and democratic government in France and beyond - and for incorporating the suggestive motif that I have described, of events being like a fairy tale.  True, one result is to somewhat reduce André as a character, so that in the film he becomes almost bland (not necessarily, or at all, a criticism of actor Frederick Stafford - see frame-capture below).  I have my own theory about that but here I will only say that it doesn't distort the nature of André's job.  As a passage in the novel itself says: 'For the intelligence chief [such as André] there is no relief from the pressure.  There are no fistfights, no gunplay, no swinging from balconies, no rescuing of maidens, no acrobatics, no karate chops, no miracle electronic gimmicks.'  [Part II The Rico Parra Papers (23)]  This week I watched the 2004 film Triple Agent, directed by Eric Rohmer (co-author of the first book-length study of Hitchcock), about espionage in Europe in the 1930s.  An astute comment about the film (on Wikipedia) notes that the principal character, living quietly with his wife in Paris, was 'someone who had a triple life between various spy organizations.  He is portrayed as bland, but that is the very essence of his character, as he must be bland'.  Next time I'll probaly write mainly about the ending Hitchcock particularly wanted for Topaz, the duel.  I was told that he devoted more time and energy to preparing that scene than any other in the film (though illness to wife Alma necessitated that he deputised the shooting of the scene to Herbert Coleman).                            

Frederick Stafford confronts his
              boss in TOPAZ

July 1 There was always in Hitchcock's films (and some of his writings and interviews) a 'sports ethic', implying that extremism - except in the pursuit of excellence, and maybe not even then - was less than admirable.  It appears in the silent films when Roddy in Downhill (1927) redeems himself playing for the Old Boys and scores a(nother) try; and in The Ring (1928) when the two boxing rivals meet for their championship bout at the Albert Hall, and hero Jack is 'big' enough to show concern for his opponent, Bob, whom he has felled.  Even the defeated villain, Hartz (note the German-sounding name), at the end of The Lady Vanishes (1938), is able to wish his English rivals 'Jolly good luck!' (even able to use their own idiom).  The quitessence of the idea is seen in Strangers on a Train (1950) during the tennis match at Forest Hills, with a visual allusion to Kipling's famous line, 'And treat those two impostors just the same'.  The idea was basically English, or perhaps in Hitchcock's case Buchanesque (but certainly it was never exclusively Buchan's: thus it's very present in Ernest Raymond's 1922 'Tell England', paying tribute to the young men sent to fight the First World War - and filmed by Anthony Asquith in 1931), and late in Hitchcock's career it was used more ironically, as in North by Northwest (1959) where the super-villain Vandamm laments of the Americans, 'Not very sporting ... using real bullets' (but then, they had to, didn't they, given that Vandamm's own man was just about to kill the hero, Thornhill?).  No doubt, then, Hitchcock's long-standing outlook influenced his choice for the ending he wanted for Topaz (1969): a pistol duel at dawn in a deserted Charlety sports stadium (in Paris) to which the villain Jacques Granville (Michelle Piccoli) has challenged André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford) who exposed him as a traitor.  (It's rich of Jacques to issue such a challenge - it suggests he can't see that espionage is anything more than a game.  On the other hand, Hitchcock's irony is that in other circumstances such an outlook might be admirable - just not when it comes to killing people!)  Sadly, preview audiences didn't understand the point of the film's duel, and some laughed at it, so that one or another more perfuctory ending was substituted for the ending that Hitchcock (and assistant director Herbert Coleman - see last time) had originally shot with great care.  The late Richard Franklin (Psycho II) told me that Hitchcock had in fact devoted more time to preparing and shooting the duel scene than any other scene in the film.  And it is Richard (along with AMPAS film archivist Dan Woodruff) to whom we should be grateful for unearthing the footage after Hitchcock's death which the director had taken home and stored in his garage.  Bill Krohn (in 'Video Watchdog', August 2001) leaves his readers in no doubt that this was Hitchcock's favourite scene in the film.  He quotes what Hitchcock told two French journalists: 'The best scene in the film, the sequence in the Charlety stadium, is not in the release version.  I remember seeing a very long time ago, perhaps in "Paris Match", a photo of a duel in an empty stadium.  The image of those two [duellists] surrounded by banks of empty seats, all alone in the middle of the playing field, with a Dubonnet ad in the background, fascinated me.'  As indeed it deserved to.  The sequence itself is beautifully filmed, on a chilly-looking winter's morning, beginning in long-shot as the duellists and their seconds enter the arena (see frame-capture below).  A muffled drum is heard (anticipating that used by Stanley Kubrick for the duel in Barry Lyndon, 1975).  And there is something almost eerie about the setting, with its deserted grandstands and grey tower blocks overlooking the playing field, as Hitchcock's description suggests.  I think of sf movies about lone survivors (e.g., Stanley Kramer's On the Beach, 1959), not to mention precedents in Hitchcock, such as the bus stopping in the middle of nowhere at Prairie Stop in North by Northwest, or the scene of Gromek tailing Armstrong in the deserted East Berlin art gallery in Torn Curtain (1966).  (As for the ads displayed on the playing field fence - for motor oils and brands of mineral water, such as 'Perier' and 'Vichy' - their function in the film is 'Hitchcockian poetic' or 'Hitchcockian counterpoint': for example, they stand in for the absent crowds and their noise ...).  In turn, the imagery takes up the film's Lost Paradise theme (which I briefly described earlier, on May 27 above), somewhat echoing the frozen Gabriel Valley in Spellbound (1945) and complementing Topaz's presentation of Cuba as a despoiled garden/paradise.  Overall, as Krohn notes, the film is styled in icy blues and greys, as if the director had decided to take literally the expression "Cold War"'.                   

Charlety stadium in TOPAZ

July 8 Hitchcock was always an admirer of the socially-conscious plays of John Galsworthy (1867-1933) and had wanted to film his manhunt play 'Escape' which was twice produced on the London stage by Leon M. Lion, the 'endearing Cockney' of Hitchcock's Number Seventeen (1932).  The 1930 film version of 'Escape' (d. Basil Dean) starred Hitchcock's friend Sir Gerald du Maurier who had also starred in a 1917 version of 'Justice' (d. Maurice Elvey), scripted by Eliot Stannard.  (That's a moving play about a young man who commits a crime to help the wife of a brutal husband, anticipating the donné of Hitchcock's Easy Virtue, 1927, again scripted by Stannard.  Also, there are traces of 'Justice' in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man, 1957.)  Which brings me to Hitchcock's The Skin Game (1931) which I watched again this week - and consider very fine, engrossing in a way that is contemporary (as well as timeless), and directed mostly with assurance.  Ironically, Hitchcock only agreed to film this Galsworthy play because the studio insisted.  Essentially, it is about the clash of temperaments - and egos - of the patrician landowner Hillcrist (C.V. France) and the rising industrialist Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn, who had played the role onstage), as well as involving their respective families and nearby villagers and tenants.  As always, Galsworthy was effectively appealing for more tolerance and probity by all parties - so that to draw an analogy with today's politics is entirely valid in this case, I suggest.  Mind you, not only is the film one of Hitchcock's many 'microcosms' (representative of the larger world - the theme of what constitutes 'neighbourliness' will recur in Rear Window, 1954, for example) but is bookended by the director's long-term pessimism.  The symbolism of the opening and closing images should strike right-thinking viewers today: in the opening image, tree-cutters sent by Hornblower approach a venerable tree and begin to saw into it; in the closing image, the tree falls.  In other words, despite all the drama and debate we have just witnessed, dubious 'progress' will march on regardless.  (I have always seen an analogy, too, with the 'two thousand years old or more' sequoias in Vertigo, 1958, where, though, the trees defy the little human dramas happening around them.)  The drama in The Skin Game begins when an elderly tenant family of Hillcrist, the Jackmans, come to him to report that Hornblower is ejecting them from their cottage (on land Hornblower recently bought from Hillcrist).  Hillcrist professes rage, saying that Hornblower had promised him that tenants would not be moved.  'Leave this to me', he tells the Jackmans, dismissing them.  But his rage is not entirely altruistic.  A subjective image as he stands at his window looking over his verdant estate soon tells us that he is worried, too, that factory chimneys may soon encroach on that view which has been unchanged since his family acquired their land centuries ago.  When Hornblower visits him, that ever-chipper industrialist tells him reasonably (if untruthfully?) that he hadn't thought he would need to build more cottages for his workers on that particular land.  Equally reasonably, he asks, 'Why not build the Jackmans [another] cottage - you've got the land for it?'  'That's beside the point', Hillcrist replies - but it's the first sign of his own bad faith.  Unfazed, Hornblower then proposes a deal: if Mrs Hillcrist (Helen Haye) will cease snubbing his family (she has never called on Hornblower's daughter-in-law as social custom would require), and treat the Hornblowers as neighbours in good standing, he will give up the idea of building factories with chimneys in the area.  But again Hillcrist blows it.  Although Hornblower extends his hand to conclude the deal (see frame-capture below), Hillcrist turns away from him, saying stiffly (and weakly), 'Your ways are not mine.'  One of the key lines in the film is spoken by Hillcrist's grown-up, free-thinking daughter Jill (Jill Esmond), who is friendly with one of Hornblower's sons, Rolf (thus sounding a faint note of hope for an eventual reconciliation of the two families, as we'll see next time).  When Rolf speaks of 'the big point of view' (which is certainly needed here), Jill in a cynical moment denies that it exists.  'We're all out for our own,' she says.

Hillcrist snubs Hornblower in
              THE SKIN GAME                      

July 15 The last line of The Skin Game (film and play) is Hillcrist's, 'What's gentility worth if it can't stand fire?'  So gentility is what Hillcrist thinks he stands for, and in his case it is called in question before the end of the film/play.  In fact, before the end, Hillcrist hears himself called both 'Liar!' (by Charlie Hornblower, the married son of nouveau-riche industrialist Hornblower) and 'Hypocrite!' (by Hornblower himself).  And all Hillcrist can do is accept the accusations, for seemingly no-one emerges unclean once they start playing the 'skin game' (which means, roughly, to try and get the better of someone else 'by sharp practice or fraud' - 'Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable').  Compare the phrase, to 'fleece' someone.  Btw, the actor who plays Hillcrist in Hitchcock's 1931 film, the gentlemanly-looking C.V. France (rear-view above), bears a distinct resemblance to author John Galsworthy in his later years (see photo below), which was probably intentional casting by Hitchcock, who had met the Galsworthys and wanted his actor to convey basic integrity.  The actor who plays Hornblower, though, is the superb Edmund Gwenn who leaves the viewer in no doubt how - for all the character's likeable qualities such as an ability to mix in all types of company - he must have used toughness and cunning to have arrived where he has.  The film's auction scene, and the moments both before and after it, showcase many of Hornblower's qualities.  Beforehand, he is is shown laughing with some colleagues (at how he had known exactly how Hillcrist would receive him); during the auction, his face shows his intense concentration and calculation; afterwards, as he stops Hillcrist's car and explains to the shocked family that he had used a deputy to make the winning bid - thus outwitting the Hillcrists - his manner is triumphant (and looks forward to a similar moment in Rebecca, 1940, where a smug Favell leans into Maxim's car and tells him a thing or two).  Now, last time I referred to Hitchcock's characteristic 'microcosms' (such as The Skin Game) and to how his film of Galsworthy's play may invite you to draw an analogy with today's politics (and politicians).  Without labouring the point, it certainly helps to see elements of a certain US President and his resources of personality and acumen in Hornblower - and likewise to see the often baffled and even angry responses of that President's opponents in Hillcrist (whom his daughter Jill affectionately calls 'Dodo')!  I also referred recently to a 'sports ethic' which recurs in Hitchcock films (from the silent Downhill onwards) and which effectively helps the viewer gauge just how off-beam some of the characters have moved, or fallen.  The very notion of a 'skin game' is almost a travesty of such an ethic, for it implies a willingness to resort to unfair ways of gaining victory (although there is always the possibility, of course, that the rules might legitimately have changed, or the goal posts shifted).  Several references to sport occur in The Skin Game.  Early on, Jill comes on Hornblower explaining to her father why he intends to expel the Jackman family from land that he recently bought from Hillcrist (see last time).  Jill impulsively tells him, 'That's not very sporting!', to which he responds spiritedly, 'You should hear both sides before you say that, missie!'  (Typical of Hitchcock to remind us of that!)  He even tells her, 'I'll answer to God for my actions, young lady!', and Jill shocks him by saying, 'Poor God!'  A cut below Hornblower and Hillcrist, you feel (Jill calls him 'common'), is Mrs Hillcrist's agent Dawker (Edward Chapman) who obtains harmful information about Hornblower's daughter-in-law Chloe (she's married to Charlie Hornblower), and is prepared to use it for blackmail, no matter how he hurts her.  (She'll attempt suicide before the end of the film.)  As they meet in secret one cold night, she tells him, 'You're playing a game with me.  You call this cricket?'  Dawker: 'No, business.'  Chloe: 'Oh, be a sport.'  Dawker (unyielding): 'You can't get round me.'  The lovely Chloe is scantily dressed for outdoors, almost deshabillé, which emphasises both her vulnerability and the hopelessness of her position.  Adding to the sordidness, she is prepared to offer Dawker money, even perhaps (in the play) herself.  Dawker wavers and remarks that she's quite pretty when she is angry, but then says he has to proceed with the blackmail.  Meanwhile, Chloe has twice called him 'a beast'.  All of which reminds us further of the 'skin game'.  To be continued.

Author and dramatist John

July 22 Yes, the world can be a 'skin game' and as Jill Hillcrist in the play and film called The Skin Game says to Rolf Hornblower in a cynical moment, 'We're all out for our own' (see July 8, above).  (By the end of the film, Jill is holding hands again with Rolf, so all is not lost.)  In both play and film, the patrician Hillcrist is treated sympathetically, whereas the play, at least, gives industrialist Hornblower some pretty mean moments, not least when he rounds on his step-daughter Chloe after receiving irrefutable proof that she had been a paid co-respondant in divorce cases before she met Hornblower's elder son Charlie and married him.  (You wonder whether Hornblower's rage is not largely at the blow to his own prestige, although it's also clear that he is a moral man in his own way - as a chapel-goer, rather than belonging to the established church like Hillcrist.)  In both play and film, Hillcrist is called 'Dodo' or 'beloved Dodo' by Jill, so despite his old-fashioned ways (for example, he finds it hard to hate, calling it 'a confounded nuisance'), you can't dislike him.  He also turns a blind eye to the tough-dealing his wife is capable of, as when she employs Dawker to find dirt about Hornblower and his family (see last time).  Very possibly, there is a degree of Hitchcock himself and wife Alma in this Hillcrist family picture (with likeable Jill a grown-up version of the Hitchcocks' daughter Patricia, then aged just four).  Years later, Jay Presson Allen would describe Hitchcock: 'he was surprisingly naive in some ways, and much more romantic and wistful than the more grounded and perceptive Alma'.  (Come to think of it, Hitchcock once said of himself that he didn't hate anybody - 'unprofitable'.)  All in all, The Skin Game was probably a learning experience for Hitchcock, and I don't just mean technically, by providing him with experience in adapting a play to the new sound medium (after Juno and the Paycock the previous year).  Hitchcock had long admired playwright and author John Galsworthy, and probably had been struck by the essential fairness with which Galsworthy treated both people and social issues.  (Alma would later call Hitch 'the most objective person I've ever known'.)  It's instructive to note how the same basic theme of The Skin Game - involving a traditionalist versus a brash new competitor - could be played just a few years later for outright comedy when the same two lead actors, C.V. France and Edmund Gwenn, featured in the pre-Ealing Cheer Boys Cheer (Walter Forde, 1939) about the rivalry between two brewing factions.  France plays Greenleaf who 'stands for good old-fashioned English ale and traditional pubs', while Gwenn is Ironside who represents 'chromium-plated efficiency and ruthless marketing policies'.  (This being 1939, and the film a broad comedy - Graham Moffatt and Moore Marriott have near-slapstick supporting roles - Ironside as the villain is even given a Hitler ambience: see Gwenn as Ironside in the still below.)  The main plot has Greenleaf resisting a takeover and then Ironside plotting to send his son John (Peter Coke) to join the old family firm incognito, with the intention to undermine it.  Instead the son falls for Greenleaf's daughter (played by Hitchcock actress Nova Pilbeam), and is gradually won round to the old-fashioned way of doing things.  (I said this was a pre-Ealing film: the producer was in fact Michael Balcon.)  The point I am making, though, is how shallow, if not without entertainment value, the 1939 film is, compared with the depth of all-round characterisation that we see in The Skin Game.  There's a faithfulness in Hitchcock's adaptation of the Galsworthy play - to which he was committed by an agreement between B.I.P. and the playwright - which nonetheless served him well later when he made other rigorous  'microcosms' showing how the world goes, and how 'everyone has their reasons' (as Jean Renoir once said).  I think of how Hitchcock told Truffaut that Rear Window wouldn't have worked without the 'cross-section' of humanity shown in the several windows across the courtyard.  Everyone in Galsworthy's play has their tipping-point: not only Mrs Hillcrist and Dawker (who at one point exchange a look about keeping their bargain with Hornblower, 'which neither of them has quite sanctioned' - that's as the play has it, and the film shows it too) but even both Hillcrist and Jill.  (Hillcrist forgets for a time how his dispute with Hornblower began, and condones the resultant 'skin game'; Jill becomes for a while quite cynical, out of resentment at Hornblower's tactics.)  And later Hitchcocks have their corresponding full, and fair, measure of humanity.  More next time.

P.S.  Martin Landau (North by Northwest) has died.  One obituary is here:

Edmund Gwenn in CHEER BOYS CHEER

July 29  I haven't said much so far about the cinematic qualities that Hitchcock attempted to bring to his film The Skin Game, adapted from John Galsworthy's play, early in the sound era.  (At least one member of our Hitchcock discussion group thinks that the film is '99% Galsworthy' anyway!  But that's an exaggeration, almost certainly!)  For example, the first few minutes are all Hitchcock, inasmuch as the symbolic opening shot of a tree being felled, followed by a conversation between Jill Hillcrist on horseback and Rolf Hornblower in his roadster car (a scene itself bookended by a shot of the bucolic countryside, this lifted from Hitchcock's 1928 The Farmer's Wife) and a further couple of 'locale shots' showing respectively Jill and Rolf heading home, and then a flurried montage of an altercation in the local village (by my count, consisting of 19 shots - to be described shortly) are all essentially Hitchcock's doing, and amount to his attempt to tell Galsworthy's story in miniature before the actual play even begins!  (As noted last time, B.I.P. and Galsworthy signed a contract that the film would be faithful to the play - but this obviously didn't preclude Hitchcock from adding an 'overture' himself, not to mention other 'flourishes' throughout, including a closing shot that picks up on the shot of the tree being felled at the start, and is a cheeky, but functional, allusion to a film that Hitchcock admired, Jean Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet, 1930.  Perhaps it suggested itself to Hitchcock because of the Galsworthy play's reference to 'factory chimneys' that may soon encroach on Hillcrist's view.  At any rate, I analysed the function of Hitchcock's opening and closing shots taken together three weeks ago: see July 8, above.)  Now, note that the conversation between Jill and Rolf is not in the play - the latter opens with Jill at home talking to her father who has gout and admits that he's a bit of a stick in the mud.  19-year-old Jill, who has a 'pretty, manly face', does her best to rally him.  (Oedipus, anyone?) Whereas her conversation with Rolf in the film gives a general picture of the stand-off that has developed between the Hillcrist and Hornblower families, and it includes the following lines.  Rolf: 'My father's just as human as yours.  You want to be just, Jill.'  Jill: 'I am just.  And I want also to be on good terms.'  As we all know, Hitchcock liked to include key lines (or pieces of action) in his films, and here's an early instance.  (Arguably, though, he overdoes it in The Skin Game, as he hadn't yet quite learned how far to trust his audience.  Thus, early in the auction scene, we hear Hillcrist commend his wife for giving Chloe Hillcrist smelling salts - though snooty Mrs Hillcrist in fact has Jill pass them to Chloe, rather than do so herself!  Hillcrist says, 'Thank God for a human touch' - which sounds false, as if the filmmaker were telling the audience, via the character, what to think - although, on checking, I find that the line originates in the play.  Nonetheless, its inclusion here comes dangerously close to what Hitchcock would later abhor: 'pictures of people talking'.)  The contrasting shots of Jill riding home beneath an avenue of tall, stately trees and Rolf's car (noisily) arriving home along a short drive flanked by newly-planted trees, with an austere modern house visible behind a stone fence, have been commented on elsewhere (e.g., by Maurice Yacowar).  So that may bring us to the 19-shot episode in the local village which follows, and which is also noisy.  Significantly, a sign saying 'Hornblower Potteries' is seen three times during this short scene, implying a general attribution of noise to the Hornblowers' go-ahead style.  (The same motif is picked up later.)  The noise itself comes from dogs' barking (almost certainly performed by someone off-camera going 'Woof, woof'!), sheep bleating, an impatient lorry driver (employed by Hornblower?) tooting his horn, and people shouting back - notably a pedestrian in his floppy hat, presumably the shepherd.  One onlooker, a sign-painter, is up a ladder, and looks down amused at the pending altercation.  Another arrives on horseback, and dismounts to watch the action.  Several of these shots are repeated, adding to the sense of clamour and bustle.  Eventually the lorry-driver descends from his cabin, and we hear him shout, 'I'll tell you what I'll do to you.'  But the shepherd stands his ground.  The scene ends with an approximate reverse-angle, as the lorry-driver returns to his vehicle, and now we see the motley crowd that has formed (including several ladies and a couple of military types) -  frame-capture below.  (Btw, is that a grinning Hitchcock in front of the military types?!)  So, as I say, all of the foregoing, with its sound and fury and inconclusiveness, constitutes Hitchcock's own 'prologue' or 'overture' to the play that follows, and is like a foreshadowing of it.  More next time.

A lorry driver is sent packing
              in THE SKIN GAME

August 5 I've slightly changed a couple of things in last week's entry about The Skin Game to better indicate that the altercation in the village near the start is between a lorry driver employed by Hornblower (note the horn on his lorry!) and a shepherd in a floppy hat.  That is, between 'progress' and 'tradition'.  Another mention of 'progress' comes in the film's auction scene when a villager remarks to Mrs Hillcrist, 'Wonderful improvements we're having in the town, ma'am.  I did hear we're having the electric light [connected] soon.'  (No doubt industrialist Hornblower has facilitated these.)  The latter scene is another that is very cinematic, although it's based on the equally lively scene in Galsworthy's play.  Indeed, I'm told that the Hitchcock scene was shown at a meeting of the London Film Society as an example of admirable cinematic construction.  Let's look at it now.  Early on, we meet the formidable Mrs Hillcrist who is seated on a public bench at the side of the hall, waiting for her husband to join her before the auction begins.  She is someone cast in the same mould as other chilly Hitchcock matriarchs, starting with Mrs Whittaker in Easy Virtue (1927).  Three or four times we see her 'pull rank' on her social 'inferiors'.  One such occasion is when she snubs Chloe Hornblower (having already done so outside the hall), who has tried to join her on the bench to speak to her.  Poor Chloe is quickly sent packing.  And when the villager makes his remark about the electric light, Mrs Hillcrist doesn't even reply to him - just looks remote.  A moment or so later, young Rolf Hornblower who is pursuing Jill Hillcrist turns around from the vacant seat beside her and finds himself gazing into the eyes of Mrs Hillcrist - his prospective mother-in-law (if things work out one day) - and blanches.  It's one of the funniest moments in the film - see frame-capture below.  Rolf quickly moves away, as Jill watches amused (she is powerless to intervene, and anyway in public she too is snubbing the Hornblowers).  Then Mrs Hillcrist's own agent, Mr Dawker, arrives, and has something important to say to her.  Accordingly, he sits in the vacant chair alongside her - which is a no-no.  'Get up, Dawker', instructs the haughty woman, before she deigns to listen to what he has to tell her.  (None of this business is in the play.  Full marks to Hitchcock for making such excellent use for pointed comedy of the vacant seat awaiting the arrival of Hillcrist himself.  It could have been just a 'nothing'!)  Now back to Chloe for a moment.  Already upset by her treatment at the hands of Mrs Hillcrist, Chloe has even more reason to feel insecure.  Outside, she has already spotted the man from her past who knows something unpleasant about her.  Now she sees him again, talking to Dawker.  And this is where she feels faint and Jill brings her smelling salts (see last time).  After Jill leaves, and Rolf goes to get Chloe some water, the poor girl looks up, and Hitchcock uses a subjective visual effect.  From Chloe's pov, the head of the unwelcome man rushes at the camera, like bullets fired from a gun, over and over (five times in fact).  The shook-up girl feels helpless, and is clearly hallucinatory.  (Something similar had occurred in Blackmail, two years earlier.  There, Alice White had gone without sleep all night after accidentally killing an artist in his studio.  Next morning, she comes down to breakfast where a gossipy neighbour is reporting the news of the killing.  All Alice can hear is the accusatory word 'knife', over and over.)  Chloe, as I say, feels fearful and helpless, and just at this moment the auctioneer bangs his gavel to signal the start of the auction.  (A brilliant interpretation of this moment that I have seen suggests that Chloe feels that it is her life that is being auctioned, that is being put 'on the line'.)  But like the audience watching Rear Window (1954), who find themselves distracted from Miss Lonelyhearts' possible suicide attempt, so now the audience of The Skin Game are asked to sit back and enjoy the business of the auction itself!  And Hitchcock does not disappoint!  The auctioneer himself is superbly performed - he's a mix of obsequiousness (towards potential buyers) and vanity, both huckster and MC, and wisely Hitchcock and his screenwriter have retained most of the 'patter' that Galsworthy gives him, which sounds exactly in character.  Also, again Hitchcock uses subjective camera, this time from the auctioneer's pov, to register the barrage of bids (and occasional lulls) from both front and side of the hall (this must be one of the earliest instances of whip-pan technique) and eventually from the back of the hall as well.  On just how Hornblower outsmarts Hillcrist and obtains the property called the Centry, see July 15, above.  And when you watch the film next - which I recommend - do see if Gwenn's performance as Hornblower doesn't remind you of the   brashness and tough-dealing of no less an 'immovable object' (or 'irresistible force'?) than Donald Trump himself!

Rolf Hornblower meets Mrs
              Hillcrist in THE SKIN GAME          

August 12 [No "Editor's Week" this time, and possibly for a while, as KM catches up on assignments.  But a couple of News items have been posted immediately below.]

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News and Comment

[Readers of this webpage are urged to send reports for possible inclusion in this feature. Both general-interest and Hitchcock-specific items are sought.  N.B.: information about Hitchcock DVDs and Blu-rays is incorporated at several points below.]

Rare photo of Hitchcock!

In what was almost an IQ test, Alfred Hitchcock posed here as an ornamental Etruscan pitcher or vase (with 'head' and 'arms').  He did, of course, get it just right: note that the line of his sleeve exactly matches the broken-off hand!  In 1960, when this photo was taken, excavations at Spina, north Italy, had only recently commenced, but were already revealing that a prosperous merchant port had once existed at the site, originally founded in the 6th century BC.

This photo was taken by Walter Breveglieri.  Our thanks to MC who sent us a copy after he attended the Bologna Retro Film Festival this year.

                Hitchcock visiting Spina, north Italy, in 1960.

New soundtrack audio CD

Now there's a soundtrack release of Lyn Murray's scores for Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955) and Mark Robson's The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954).  Total run-time of the disc is 77 minutes.  For more information, visit Amazon or another supplier.


Our readers may like to know of a couple of articles that have appeared this year, and which we haven't yet recommended.  One is a recent interview with British leading lady Barbara Leigh-Hunt, who played the owner of a marriage bureau in Frenzy (1972), and who remembers that Hitchcock was 'remarkably kind and considerate' to her during filming - although he confided to her that he was unhappy with Jon Finch because 'he didn't find in Jon's performance the sympathetic qualities he had hoped for and which would make the audience care about the character's fate'.  To read the interview, go here:

Another Frenzy cast member was accomplished stage, screen and TV actor Alec McCowen, who played Inspector Oxford.  Sadly, McCowen died on 6 February this year (2017).  Tribute to him was paid by an obituary in 'The Guardian', which notes that McCowen appeared in two remarkable one-man shows (including his one-man performance of St Mark's Gospel on Broadway and in London's West End) - although his most famous role was in Frenzy, 'as the assiduous sleuth whose features crumple into dismay at his wife's reckless experiments with haute cuisine'.  To read the obituary, go here:

(We have already noted here the death of Frenzy leading man Jon Finch on 28 December 2012.  The 'Guardian' obituary refers to him as 'the charismatic star of Polanski's Macbeth and Hitchcock's Frenzy'.  To read it, go here:

New Blu-ray/DVD releases of Jamaica Inn and Rebecca

Arrow Academy have released Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939) in a Dual Format Region B Blu-ray and DVD package, which includes the film, a commentary by Jeremy Arnold, a video essay featuring Donald Spoto, the trailer, and a written essay by Nathalie Morris.  Interestingly, the running time is given as 100 minutes, slightly longer than the 98-99 minutes previously mentioned here.  The visual quality is 4K.

And now Criterion in the USA are issuing a new 4K release of Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) on two discs, although the Blu-ray and DVD releases will apparently be separate (not Dual Format).  Release date for both is 5 September 2017.  Among the 'extras' are a new conversation about the film featuring author/critic Molly Haskell and scholar Patricia White; a new interview with special effects historian Craig Barron; a documentary from 2007 on the making of Rebecca; the trailer; and a written essay by author/critic David Thomson.

New DVD/Blu-ray disc features Ivor Novello in The Lodger and Downhill

A new Region 2 (and presumably Region 1) disc includes both a 2K digital restoration of Hitchcock's The Lodger (1927), including a new orchestral score by composer Neil Brand, and a 2K digital restoration of Hitchcock's/Novello's Downhill (also 1927), with a new piano score by Brand.  Among the highlights on the disc are a new interview with Hitchcock scholar William Rothman.

Review here soon.

New TV series to pay tribute to Hitchcock

Universal Cable Productions has been authorised by the Alfred Hitchcock Estate to develop a series called "Welcome to Hitchcock".  It will consist of a single season-long mystery or crime in the Hitchcock style (thus, we imagine, more like the A&E series "Bates Motel", based on characters from the movie Psycho, than the individual dramas of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" which ran from 1955 to 1965, a few of them directed by Hitchcock himself).

A pilot episode will be directed by Chris Columbus who will also serve as an executive producer for the planned series.

Patricia Highsmith retrospective in Brussels during August, 2016

The Brussels Cinematek is currently screening eleven feature films adapted from stories by Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995).  The first screening, of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951), was on Friday 5 August, and will be followed by:

9 August: Plein Soleil/Full Sun/Purple Noon (Rene Clement, 1959)
11 August: Le Meurtrier/Enough Rope (Claude Autant-Lara, 1963)
13 August: Der amerikanische Freund/The American Friend (Wim Wenders, 1976)
15 August: Dites-lui que je l'aime/Sweet Sickness (Claude Miller, 1977)
17 August: Eaux profondes (Michel Deville, 1981)
19 August: Le Cri du hibou/The Cry of the Owl (Claude Chabrol, 1987)
20 August: The Talented Mr Ripley (Anthony Minghella, 1999)
24 August: Ripley's Game (Liliana Cavani, 2002)
27 August: The Two Faces of January (Hossein Amini, 2014)
30 August: Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)

Loads of Alfred Hitchcock material at the AMPAS Library, Beverly Hills, California

Curators at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library have made available for Web publication highlights from their extensive Hitchcock collection well known to scholars.  The online presentation concentrates on the 'remarkable six-year period from 1958 through 1963'.

Go here:

Below: the opening page from a very early draft, by Alec Coppell, of what became Vertigo:

Alec Coppell draft for VERTIGO

Hitchcock made her a star: Maureen O'Hara dies, aged 95

Maureen O'Hara (born Maureen FitzSimons, on 17 August 1920, in Dublin, Ireland) died in her sleep last month (24 October 2015) at her home in Idaho, USA.  Her family said in a statement: 'Her characters were feisty and fearless, just as she was in real life.  She was also proudly Irish ...'  Her films included several for John Ford (including the Irish-set The Quiet Man, 1952), the perennial Christmas hit Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and the Disney feature The Parent Trap (1961).

But it was Alfred Hitchcock and Charles Laughton who first made O'Hara a star when she performed opposite Laughton in Daphne du Maurier's tale of Cornish wreckers, Jamaica Inn (1939)  She had been a radio performer from age 12 and had attended the Abbey Theatre School, Dublin.  She came to the cinema from the theatre: her first British film roles were in Kicking the Moon Around (Walter Forde, 1938) - she had a tiny role as a secretary - and My Irish Molly (Alex Bryce, 1938), in which Laughton reportedly saw her and arranged a screen test.  As co-producer of Jamaica Inn (as well as its central character, the corrupt Squire Pengallan), Laughton persuaded Hitchcock to cast O'Hara to play the orphan Mary Yellan, newly arrived in Cornwall who soon falls into the Squire's clutches. 

After Jamaica Inn, Laughton and O'Hara both crossed the Atlantic to appear together in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (William Dieterle, 1939).  In O'Hara's first two decades in the USA, she made some forty feature films, several of them in colour - showing off her rich red hair, bright green eyes, and flawless complexion (a perfect advertisement for the new Technicolor process).  In several of the films she was foil to John Wayne, including The Quiet Man, in which he drags her across a field.  The pair continued to battle and bicker onscreen in Andrew V. McLaglen's McLintock (1963), a kind of Western version of 'The Taming of the Shrew'.  Audiences loved it.

O'Hara was married three times.  Of her third husband, Brigadier General Charles Blair, whose airline she managed after his death in an air crash in 1978, she later said: 'Being married to Charlie Blair and traveling all over the world with him, believe me, was enough for any woman.  It was the best time of my life.'

Still doing the rounds in various formats: a parody of Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder

Scott Fivelson's comic one-act play 'Dial L for Latch-Key' (first mentioned here four years ago) has run in various theatres in London and elsewhere, and on radio.  An audiobook version is available, as well as paperback and e-book editions.  According to the publicity, 'This time Grace Kelly doesn't dial M for murder - she accidentally dials L for latch-key.'  Other characters include a conniving husband reminiscent of Ray Milland at his most cad-ish, an Inspector straight out of 'Monty Python', and a know-it-all film critic.

Update: Scott Fivelson's feature film Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story has been completed and will be released in 2016.  Actor Lenny Von Dohlen plays the 'legendary' director Oskar Knight in a mock-biopic featuring real talking-heads (such as actors David Suchet and Margaret O'Brien) who combine to 'retell the history of American (and world) cinema'.  For more information, click here:

Opera of Notorious to feature Nina Stemme

In September, 2015, outstanding Swedish dramatic soprano Nina Stemme will play Alicia in an opera specially written for her by composer Hans Gefors and librettist Kerstin Perski, based on the 1946 Alfred Hitchcock film.  The venue will be the famed Göteborg Opera House in Gothenburg, Sweden.  Other featured performers will include John Lundgren as Devlin and Michael Weinius as Alex Sebastian.  The opera will be directed by Englishman Keith Warner.

The plot of Notorious has definite operatic qualities, lyrical, emotional and dramatic.  Kerstin Perski notes: 'Alicia loves Devlin, but how much betrayal and scheming can love endure?  Can it persevere in a world such as ours, where [evil appears to gain] a new foothold at every turn?'

Nina Stemme is world famous for her operatic roles, many of them Wagnerian.  She has played Isolde in several productions, the first at Glyndebourne in 2007, the most recent in London in 2014.  'In general,' she says, 'I do my best to focus on the human sides of Wagner's characters so we can all recognise ourselves in them.'

(Another Hitchcock film to inspire a forthcoming opera is Marnie.  Scroll down to "Hitchcock as high art?" below.) 

For more information, click here:

Death of Nova Pilbeam, at age 95

Nova Pilbeam and Desmond Tester were both child actors of the 1930s who appeared in films by Alfred Hitchcock.  (Pilbeam played the kidnapped child in The Man Who Knew Too Much and starred as the teenage daughter of a chief constable in Young and Innocent; Tester played the young boy blown up by an anarchists' bomb in Sabotage.) Both were born in 1919, but Pilbeam outlived Tester (who died in Australia in 2002) by thirteen years.  She died last week at her London home.

Pilbeam's professional debut was in 1932 in the play 'Gallows Glorious'; she then played two seasons as Marigold in 'Toad of Toad Hall' at the Savoy Theatre.  Still only 14, she was given the lead role in the film Little Friend (1934), written by Christopher Isherwood, in which she played a child who witnesses her parents' separation.  Hitchcock then chose her for his film The Man Who Knew Too Much (also 1934).  Besides Young and Innocent (1937), Pilbeam's other film roles were few, but included Tudor Rose (1935) and Counterblast (1947).  She married twice.  Her first husband was Pen(rose) Tennyson, the assistant director on several Hitchcock films and the great-grandson of the poet Lord Tennyson.  That marriage took place in London in 1939, but Pen Tennyson's promising career in the film industry was cut short in 1941 when he died in a plane crash.  Later, in 1950, Nova married radio journalist Alexander Whyte (died 1972).  Their daughter, Sara, survives them.

There's an excellent obituary for Nova Pilbeam in 'The Independent' (online):       

Hitchcock remembered at this year's Cannes Film Festival, 13-24 May

When the Cannes Film Festival begins this Wednesday, the opening ceremony will feature a Vertigo ballet performed by members of the Los Angeles Dance Project.  The piece, choreographed by Benjamin Millepied (a founder of the L.A. Dance Project in 2012, who last year became director of the Paris Opera Ballet), reworks the film's famous love scene in which Scottie transforms Judy into his lost Madeleine.  Bernard Herrmann's score for the scene borrowed heavily from the Liebestod from Wagner's opera 'Tristan and Isolde'.

Two documentaries during the Festival refer to Hitchcock.  Notably, Kent Jones's Hitchcock/Truffaut considers the impact of François Truffaut's famous 1966 interview-book, 'Cinema According to Hitchcock'.  Appearing in the film will be directors Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson and David Fincher.

Another documentary to be premiered this year is Daniel Raim's Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, which tells how the marriage of art director Harold Michelson (1920-2007) and his film-researcher wife, Lillian (b. 1928), survived 60 years in Hollywood.  Harold did the storyboards for Hitchcock's The Birds and Marnie, and was nominated for Academy Awards for his work on Star Trek - the Motion Picture (1979) and Terms of Endearment (1983).  The couple's story, we are told, shows how they kept their huge personal struggles to themselves while establishing a reputation for professionalism.  For many years they were respected as the heart of the industry.

[Thanks to MA, AK, and BK for information used here.]

Harold Michelson and
                Hitchcock on THE BIRDS

English novelist, historian, and general man-of-letters, Peter Ackroyd, has completed his Hitchcock biography

Arguably, few people now living are better positioned than the author of 'London: The Biography' (2003) and 'Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination' (2002) to write about Alfred Hitchcock from the ground up - in other words, from insight into Hitchcock's Cockney upbringing, his roots in British life and culture, and from a knowledge of his films.  For several years in the 1980s, Ackroyd was film critic for 'The Spectator' (although he has scarcely visited a cinema since - presumably because this most prolific of writers has simply been too busy).  Recently, the 64-year-old Ackroyd looked at Hitchcock's films on DVD while dividing his working time between the Hitchcock biography and the third and fourth books of a six-volume 'History of England' - not to mention Ackroyd's latest novel ('Three Brothers' - about London in the 1960s) and a short biography of Charlie Chaplin.  [Thanks to PS for information used here.]

• Update.  The publication-date of Ackroyd's 'Alfred Hitchcock' (Chatto & Windus, hardcover) is announced as 2 April 2015 (UK Edition) and 26 May 2015 (International Edition).

Hitchcock as high art?  Marnie commissioned as opera by the New York Metropolitan Opera and the English National Opera

The Metropolitan Opera in New York has co-commissioned Nico Muhly to compose 'Marnie' for its 2019-20 season, based on Winston Graham's 1961 novel that was adapted as a film by Alfred Hitchcock.  Meanwhile, the opera will premiere during the English National Opera season of 2017, the Met has announced.

Muhly's first opera was 'Two Boys', which debuted at the National Opera in 2011 and appeared at the Met in 2013.  It told a complicated story, loosely inspired by real events, of a detective, Anne, finding out about the Internet's capacity to foster fantasy as she investigates the killing of one teenage boy by another.

Muhly, speaking from London, said last week: 'One of the things that intrigues me in general as a human being but also as a theatregoer is deception and hoaxes and people sort of strategically lying.  The whole beat of [Marnie] is her changing identities and tricking people and robbing them.  There's a kind of mystery element to it.'  

Extended, digitised version of Hitchcock's concentration camps film now completed

In 1945 Alfred Hitchcock returned to England as 'treatment advisor' on a 'German Special Film' supervised by Sidney Bernstein, showing the horrors of the newly liberated concentration camps.  Not released at the time, Memory of the Camps (as it was eventually called) was shown around the world in 1985 with a suitably droll narration - considering the film's devastating content - delivered by actor Trevor Howard.  The restorers had sought to approximate the original filmmakers' design.  But the released version lacked an intended sixth reel, the footage being then unavailable.  Now a near-complete, newly digitised version of the film has been assembled, called German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, with commentary read by Jasper Britton.  Separately, a 75-minute documentary about the original film, including clips and containing interviews with survivors, the soldiers who liberated them, and the original filmmakers themselves seen in archival footage, has been made.  Called Night Will Fall, it is narrated by Helena Bonham Carter and directed by André Singer.  An earlier report appears below: scroll down to "New, fuller version of Hitchcock's concentration camp documentary ..."

• Update.  German Concentration Camps Factual Survey will be screened at selected UK venues from April, 2015, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen on 15 April.  After April, the film will be more widely available through British Film Institute distribution.  Currently in production is a short contextual film to accompany the main film, to replace the live introduction and Q&A given by a member of IWM (Imperial War Museums) staff at all screenings which have taken place so far.                                                                                                                                                      

The IWM tell us that they have not yet confirmed dates for DVD release or broadcast. However, 'we are committed to ensuring that this important film is made available to as wide an audience as possible'.

Further information:

Louis Jourdan, star of Gigi, dies at 95 in Beverly Hills, California

Producer David Selznick brought Louis Jordan to America where he featured in Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947).  The darkly handsome Jourdan, who had been active in the French Resistance before becoming prominent in post-War French cinema, played the valet and reluctant lover of Mrs Paradine (Alida Valli).  (Selznick was also responsible for enticing Italian star Valli to America, to play the beautiful, enigmatic Maddalena Paradine.  Valli died in 2006.)

Jourdan was born in Marseilles in 1919, one of three sons of Henri Gendre, a hotelier who organised the Cannes film festival after the Second World War.  After Jourdan completed The Paradine Case, he starred with Joan Fontaine in Max Ophuls's Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948).  Another master director with whom he (twice) worked was Vincente Minnelli: first in 1949 (Madame Bovary, opposite Jennifer Jones), then in 1958 (Gigi, opposite Leslie Caron).

Jourdan's wife died last year.  Their son, Louis Henry, died in 1981 from a drug overdose.

Yet another 'remake' of Strangers on a Train announced, this one to star Ben Affleck

There have been several thinly disguised 'remakes' of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951), based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, starting with Once You Kiss a Stranger (Robert Sparr, 1969) which replaced the tennis background of the original with a golfing one.

Now comes Strangers, to be made by the Gone Girl (2014) team of director David Fincher, screenwriter Gillian Flynn, and actor Ben Affleck.  This time the setting will be Hollywood and the movie industry.  Affleck will play a movie star whose private plane breaks down during an Oscar campaign, forcing him to hop on board another jet owned by a wealthy stranger.  (Train travel is passé, obviously!)

Tippi Hedren pays tribute to Rod Taylor, dead at 84

Australian actor Rod Taylor, who co-starred with Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), has died at his home in Los Angeles, a few days short of his 85th birthday.  Hedren said in a statement: 'Rod was a great pal to me and a real strength ... He was one of the most fun people I have ever met, thoughtful and classy.'

Sydney-born Taylor was inspired to be an actor after seeing Laurence Olivier on tour.  He joined Peter Finch's Mercury Theatre, and his first film role was in the Australian movie King of the Coral Sea (1954).  His first leading role was in The Time Machine (George Pal, 1960), adapted from the novel by H.G. Wells.  After making The Birds for Hitchcock, Taylor appeared in such films as Jack Cardiff and John Ford's Young Cassidy (1965) - he played Cassidy, i.e., the young Irish playwright Sean O'Casey - and The Train Robbers (Burt Kennedy, 1973).  His last Australian film role was in the often-hilarious outback comedy Welcome to Woop Woop (Stephan Elliott, 1998).  In 2009 Quentin Tarantino coaxed him out of retirement for a cameo as Winston Churchill in Inglourious Basterds.

Strong-jawed Taylor thought he 'wasn't really big enough to be a really tough guy' and at times felt miscast.  'I was a little bit, I don't know, sometimes insecure playing all that kind of thing.'

Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939) restored

2014 is the 75th anniversary of the original theatrical release of Jamaica Inn, which Hitchcock made for Mayflower Pictures in England before he left for Hollywood.  To mark the anniversary, the Cohen Film Collection/Rohauer Library is combining with the BFI to take a 4K-restored print on tour.  Venues in October include the New York Film Festival and the Chicago Film Festival.  A DVD and Blu-Ray release is scheduled for 12 May, 2015.  Running time is 98-99 minutes (the same as the Kino Video version at 98 minutes).

Wondering about 4K?  The high-definition digital prints of films we see in cinemas are rated at 2K, with an image made up of just over two million pixels.  However, there is a standard beyond 2K that is used for scanning older films, called 4K, which gives about eight million pixels per image.  The 4K standard allows for the manipulation of picture elements at a level far superior to even the 2K format.

Below: Leslie Banks and Charles Laughton in the restored Jamaica Inn.

Image from restored JAMAICA INN

Coming!  A stage version of Hitchcock's North by Northwest!

The world premiere of North by Northwest onstage is scheduled to run from 1 June to 4 July, 2015, at the Playhouse, the Arts Centre, in Melbourne, Australia.  Planes, trains, automobiles, and a mountain, are lined up, with some reliance on the wizardry of 'ingenious technical solutions', according to artistic director of the Melbourne Theatre Company, Brett Sheehy.  The production, now in development, has been licensed by Warner Brothers, and is intended by its producers to 'have a life outside Australia'.

Melbourne-based writer Carolyn Burns, working with director Simon Phillips, will employ 'a clear theatrical vocabulary separate from a cinematic one', says Sheehy.  'I think the production will join The 39 Steps and a handful of others as one of the great film-to-stage adaptations of our times.'

For more information about the MTC 2015 line-up, click here:

Honouring Norman Lloyd in his 100th year

Seven years ago, they made a documentary about him, Who Is Norman Lloyd? (d. Matthew Sussman).  This year, the UCLA Film & Television Archive held a retrospective tribute called 'Stages: Norman Lloyd and American Television'.  (The title is a nod to the actor's splendid memoirs, 'Stages: Of Life in Theatre, Film and Television', originally published in 1990 and currently available on Kindle.)

Norman Lloyd was born on 8 November, 1914, in Jersey City, New Jersey.  His family was Jewish.  At age 99, he is still going strong - although he admits his tennis isn't all it used to be.  For 75 years he was married to Peggy, who died in 2011.  Best known to audiences as the villain Fry who falls off the Statue of Liberty in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) and as the kindly Dr Auschlander on the 1982-88 NBC medical series 'St Elsewhere', Lloyd began as a child actor in the 1920s and appeared on Broadway with a young Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre in the late 1930s.

Lloyd worked with some of the directors from the golden age of Hollywood, becoming good friends with many, including Charlie Chaplin (Limelight), Jean Renoir (The Southerner) and of course, Hitchcock.  Besides the title-role in Saboteur, Lloyd appeared as the patient Mr Garmes in Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945).  In 1957, when the new series 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' needed an associate producer to assist Joan Harrison, Hitchcock was warned against Lloyd because he was friendly with several people on the Hollywood blacklist.  (Lloyd was a lifelong liberal who mixed in Hollywood's left-wing community.)  Undeterred, Hitchcock simply said, 'I want him.'

For more information about the recent UCLA retrospective, click here:

Documentary about famous Hitchcock/Truffaut interview to feature major present-day directors

A French-US documentary, focussed on the interview and resulting book 'Hitchcock/Truffaut' (originally 'Le cinema selon Hitchcock', 1966), will be shot this year and released in spring 2015.  Director is New York-based writer/filmmaker/critic Kent Jones (whose last documentary was 2010's A Letter to Elia, co-written and co-directed with Martin Scorsese), from a script Jones is writing with Serge Toubiana (Truffaut authority and director of the Cinematheque Française).

Filmmakers to be interviewed for the feature documentary include Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Brian De Palma, James Gray, Richard Linklater, the Dardenne brothers (Jean-Pierre and Luc), Olivier Assayas, and Arnaud Despleschin.

'It is going to be a film about film-making,' Jones says.  'It is about the practice of film-making as a translation of emotion into images.'  There will be 'a heavy but pointed' use of clips.  The project has the blessing of the families of both Hitchcock and François Truffaut.

Meanwhile, Jones is also planning his fiction feature debut, to be called It Never Entered My Mind, for filming next year in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  It is described as 'a story of a couple and the brother of the husband - and a terrible act that happens between the three of them and how they don't talk about it.'

[Thanks to MA for information used here.]

Sounds like a remake of The Birds is coming!

Dutch director Diederik Van Rooijen has been hired by Hollywood producer Michael Bay to helm a new version of Daphne du Maurier's 1952 short story.  This version, originally announced in 2007, will probably be set in the story's Cornwall, England, location - Hitchcock's 1963 film, starring Tippi Hedren, moved the location to Bodega Bay, California.

The new version is not to be confused with a poorly-received 1994 sequel to Hitchcock's film, The Birds 2: Land's End, which director Rick Rosenthal ('Alan Smithee' in the film's credits) disowned.

Naomi Watts is 'reportedly being lined up' to play the role taken by Hedren in Hitchcock's film  ('The Independent', 13 March).  If that's true, it conflicts with other reports about how this new version will stick to the Daphne du Maurier tale (which has no major female characters).                                  .

When shall we see
Grace of Monaco?

'Coming soon' says a trailer on the IMDb for Olivier Dahan's film starring Nicole Kidman.  (The trailer is narrated by Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Alfred Hitchcock, and begins: 'Long after the House of Grimaldi has fallen, the world is going to remember your name, Your Highness.')  Unfortunately, the general release of the film keeps being put back - most recently because of an apparent feud between director Dahan and film mogul Harvey Weinstein over the Weinstein Company's edit of the film, described by Dahan as 'catastrophic'.  However, according to 'The Hollywood Reporter', the production company boss doesn't actually have 'creative control' over the project and is unable to make cuts to the movie.  And it seems that the planned première at the Cannes Film Festival - on the Festival's opening night, 14 May - is going ahead.

• Update.  The film did indeed premiere at Cannes - with Kidman as Princess Grace, Tim Roth as Prince Rainier - but to a less-than-enthusiastic reception.  The critics have been generally unsupportive.  The film opens soon in general release - in Australia in early June.  Here is Australian reviewer Fiona Williams's report:


Brilliant old/new play, 'The Lovesong of Alfred J. Hitchcock', highlights Hitchcock's confined life

Originally an award-winning 1993 radio play, David Rudkin's 'The Lovesong of Alfred J. Hitchcock' opened onstage in late 2013 at the Curve, Leicester, in central England.  The play has attracted widespread interest.  We like Michael Billington's review in 'The Guardian'.  Here are excerpts:

To read the full review, click here:

• Update.The above play has arrived in New York.  For further information, including rehearsal footage, click here:

And here:

Also, there is a thoughtful brief interview with author David Rudkin on YouTube.  About Hitchcock's public self-mockery, Rudkin comments, 'There is something desperately private going on and it is speaking to something very private in us.'  For more, click here:

Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940) released on dual-format Blu-ray and DVD by Criterion

After Rebecca, David Selznick chose to hire out Hitchcock's services to another independent producer, Walter Wanger.  The latter had recently produced John Ford's Stagecoach (1939) but he specialised in 'topical' films.  For many years he had held the screen rights to Vincent Shean's best-selling memoir 'Personal History' (1935), which recounted the journalist's adventures covering rebellion in North Africa and civil war in China.  After three previous attempts to get a workable script, Wanger now assigned the project to Hitchcock and his screenwriter Charles Bennettt (The 39 Steps).  The thriller that resulted bears absolutely no relation to the book, apart from a wry reference there to the 'Richard Harding Davis tradition' of romantic adventure.  In the opening scene of Foreign Correspondent, newspaper editor Mr Powers (Harry Davenport) tells reporter Johnny Jones (Joel McCrae) that Davis was 'one of our greatest war correspondents forty years ago'.

Criterion's splendid new release (Region 'A') of Hitchcock's film - a film once admired by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and a personal favourite these days of director Martin Scorsese - includes among its extras an essay by noted scholar James Naremore.  For a review of the Criterion release by J. Hoberman, click here:

(Thanks to ST for information supplied.).

Strangers on a Train as a stage play

As reported here previously, Patricia Highsmith's novel, filmed by Hitchcock in 1951, is currently receiving a stage production at the Gielgud Theatre in London's West End.  It will run until 22 February.  Starring are Laurence Fox and Jack Huston as the two strangers whose paths cross on a train, with far-reaching and murderous consequences.  (These two actors previously starred together in the 2002 West End production of George Bernard Shaw's 'Mrs Warren's Profession'.)  According to Michael Billington in 'The Guardian', 'The whole thing is staged with hyper-efficiency by Robert Allan Ackerman and there are some striking visual effects ...'

However, Billington does have reservations about the production.  'The problem is that what starts as fast-moving noirish narrative shifts uneasily into Freudian casebook. ...  [Also,] although the show looks good, the acting is a more mixed bag.  Laurence Fox is rather stolidly cast as Guy, suggesting a house-prefect drawn into some dirty business by one of his raffish juniors.  Jack Huston looks more at ease as the serpentine, psychotic, white-suited Bruno and Miranda Raison is all cool, high-society poise as Guy's wife. ...  I just worry that commercial plays, like musicals, are becoming ever more parasitically dependent on the box-office pull of existing novels and films.  Or even, as here, turned into a strange hybrid [of stage- and film-effects].'

Death of the remarkable Joan Fontaine (1917-2013)

Actress Joan Fontaine, co-star of Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941), passed away at her residence, 'Villa Fontana', Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, on 15 December.  She was 96.  She and her sister, actress Olivia de Havilland (1916- ), first visited Carmel with their father in 1933.  Later, footage for Rebecca was shot there, standing in for the English coastline.  Although the two sisters famously often feuded, on learning of Joan's death de Havilland issued a statement saying that she was 'shocked and saddened'.  Both sisters won Academy Awards: Joan for Suspicion, Olivia for To Each His Own (Mitchell Leisen, 1946) and The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949).

The story of how Joan - in 1938, still a relative unknown - fell into contention for her role in Rebecca is worth recounting.  According to her biography, 'No Bed of Roses' (1978), she attended one evening a dinner given at Charlie Chaplin's house, where Paulette Godard presided, and where Joan found herself 'seated next to a heavyset, bespectacled gentleman who seemed particularly knowledgeable and pleasant.  Soon we were chattering about the current best sellers.  I mentioned that I had just read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and thought it would make an excellent movie.  My dinner partner gazed at me through his lenses.  "I just bought the novel today.  My name is David Selznick."  Who was I and would I like to test for [the film's female lead]?  Would I!'

It may be true, as David Thomson claims (in 'The New Biographical Dictionary of Film', 2002), that most of Joan's films, after her early successes for Selznick and Hitchcock, were 'disappointing'.  (Nonetheless they included The Constant Nymph [Edmund Goulding, 1943], Jane Eyre [Robert Stevenson, 1944], Letter From An Unknown Woman [Max Ophuls, 1948], and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt [Fritz Lang, 1956].)  Joan herself owned up to lacking an 'obsessive career drive' - yet she was always fiercely independent as a woman.  It says much that during her lifetime she was a licenced pilot, champion balloonist, prize-winning tuna fisherman, and an accomplished golfer - as well as a licenced interior decorator and a Cordon Bleu cook.

New, fuller version of Hitchcock's concentration camp documentary to be released

Jewish businessman and film producer Sidney Bernstein had been a founder member of the Film Society (1924).  During World War II he served as films advisor to the Ministry of Information and SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) in Britain.  In early 1945, when the idea was mooted for 'a systematic record' of the newly-liberated concentration camps - using captured footage and film shot by the Allies themselves - Bernstein summoned to London his longtime friend, Alfred Hitchcock.  The idea was that Hitchcock would act in a supervisory capacity and contribute specific suggestions for a documentary about the horrors of the camps, whose possible audience might include the German people.  A treatment and script (which relied heavily on narration) were prepared by two writers who had witnessed the atrocities of Bergen-Belsen firsthand:  Richard Crossman (later a Labour Member of Parliament) and Colin Wills (an Australian war correspondent).  Film editors Stewart McAllister (famous for his work with Humphrey Jennings) and Peter Tanner (who would later edit such feature films as Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Cruel Sea) set to work under Hitchcock's guidance.  But the film took longer to compile than originally envisaged.  By August 1945, when the perceived need for it had already begun to wane, Hitchcock returned to the United States.  Shortly afterwards, funding was suspended with only five of six reels finished.  The cans of film remained inaccessible on shelves in the Imperial War Museum for nearly forty years.

But in 1984 the rusting cans surfaced again.  The incomplete film was taken out and actor Trevor Howard was hired to record the original narration, which was fitted to the five remaining reels.  Memory of the Camps (as it was now called) was shown on American PBS in 1985 and later elsewhere (e.g., on SBS-TV in Australia).  It can be viewed on YouTube here: 

Now the London 'Independent' newspaper reports that the film has been further restored, using digital technology, and that the missing sixth reel has been 'pieced together'.  The narration has been re-recorded with a new actor and the film given a new title (both still to be disclosed).  In addition, a separate documentary, Night Will Fall, has been made to accompany the original film.  It is directed by André Singer (executive producer of The Act of Killing) and has Stephen Frears (director of Philomena) as 'directorial advisor'.  Further information here:

Bruce Dern on working with Hitchcock

From a couple of sources come these insights provided by veteran actor Bruce Dern while talking to the press about his new film, Alexander Payne's Nebraska.  Asked about his films for Hitchcock, so many decades ago, Dern was unrestrained in his enthusiasm.  'I wish I could have done ten more movies with Mr Hitchcock.'  While making Family Plot (1976), in which he starred, Dern took every opportunity to sit alongside the director and question him.  They conversed frankly.  Dern: 'I asked him why he hired me for [the film] and he said, "Because Mr PAK-ee-no [Al Pacino] wanted a million dollars."'  Dern persisted with his question, and this time Hitch said: '"I hired you to be amusing.  With you and Miss Harris [Barbara Harris], I never know how you're going to say a line or react to someone else's line.  You amuse me and you will amuse the audience.  It's meant to be an amusing picture."'

Family Plot proved to be Hitchcock's final film.  To the suggestion that Hitch was in such poor health that Dern himself ended up calling most of the shots, the actor swore that this was never the case.  'Hitch was there every day at nine in the morning and he stayed until seven.'  Affectionately, Dern remembered Hitch on the first day of shooting - walking around and shaking hands and thanking every crew member by their first name.  'By their first name!  On the first day!  Now how about that?'  

[Information supplied by SR - whom we thank - and from an interview with Dern published in 'The Guardian', recommended by DF.  To read the full interview,click here:]

At last!  A new, authoritative edition of Frank Baker's 1936 novel 'The Birds', a must-read book for Hitchcockians!

Thanks to Valancourt Books, Kansas City, the above novel - eerily prescient of Hitchcock's 1963 film of the same title - is now published in paperback and Kindle formats.

Long out of print, the novel is something of a masterpiece in its own right.  The inexpensive new edition has splendid cover art-work and design.  An Introduction by Hitchcock scholar Ken Mogg begins: 'For me, Frank Baker's The Birds (1936) is both a finely crafted suspense thriller that could show even Alfred Hitchcock a few things, and an authentic account of pre-War London.'

For a review by Michael Dirda, click here:
Cover of Frank Baker
                    novel The Birds

Coming!  Another exciting new book: the autobiography of screenwriter Charles Bennett

Charles Bennett (1899-1995) is credited with writing the screenplays for some of Alfred Hitchcock's most successful films of the 1930s, including the original The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), and Sabotage (1936).  An excerpt from his hitherto-unpublished memoirs appears on this website.  Now comes the excellent news that the University of Kentucky Press will hard-publish the full memoirs, edited by John Charles Bennett, in late 2013.

Still doing the rounds in various formats: a parody of Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder

We haven't seen Scott Fivelson's comic one-act play 'Dial L for Latch-Key' (first mentioned here two years ago), but since 2011 it has run in various theatres in London and elsewhere, and on radio (recorded in Tucson, Arizona, by the author directing a talented cast).  According to the publicity, 'This time Grace Kelly doesn't dial M for murder - she accidentally dials L for latch-key.'  Other characters include a conniving husband reminiscent of Ray Milland at his most cad-ish, an Inspector straight out of 'Monty Python', and a know-it-all film critic.  Fivelson's play is published in paperback and eBook editions by Hen House Press, New York.  And the author tells us that a new London production is in the offing.

Update.  Fivelson's play has just been released (November, 2013) as an audiobook by Blackstone Audio.  For more information, click here:

• Related news.  A recent film of interest to Hitchcockians is Stoker (2013), loosely based on Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, starring Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode.  For more information, consult the IMDb.

Hear excerpt from Hitchcock's appearance on Desert Island Discs (BBC) originally broadcast in 1959

At last we know the full list of eight items chosen by Hitchcock for his appearance on the popular BBC radio program 'Desert Island Discs' on Monday 19 October, 1959.

He chose: (1) Albert Roussel: Symphony No 3 in G Minor (excerpt); (2) the comedy sketch "A Sister to Assist 'Er" performed by Fred Emney & Miss Sydney Fairbrother (recorded by HMV in 1912 and currently available on YouTube - link below); (3) Sir Edward Elgar: Cockaigne Overture; (4) Richard Wagner: Siegfried's horn-call (from Siegfried); (5) the comedy sketch "The Fact Is" performed by George Robey (of English music-hall fame); (6) Erno Dohnanyi: Variations on a Nursery Theme; (7) Robert Schumann: Préambule (from Carnaval); and (8) Charles-François Gounod: Funeral March of a Marionette.  (The last-named is, of course, Hitchcock's signature tune from his TV shows.)

Item 2 above is currently available on YouTube, here:

More good news.  An excerpt (only) from the 'Desert Island Discs' program, featuring Hitchcock's voice, is available on the BBC website, here:

Year-long season of Hitchcock films and events, in situ, continues in the London Borough of Waltham Forest

'Hitchcock's East End' consists of screenings and unique events designed to explore Alfred Hitchcock's connection to the area in London where he was born and grew up.  (As we know, he was born in Leytonstone above his dad's greengrocer's shop - now the site of a chicken shop and petrol station.)  Two organisations - Create London and Barbican Film - will together present the screenings and events in selected locations, all of them deliberately unorthodox but apt.  For example, the recent screening of Vertigo took place in the atmospheric surroundings provided by St Margaret's Church, Leytonstone.  (For photo, and further information, click here:  The screening of Rebecca on 1 December, 2013, will be held in the 'spooky' Leytonstone School, and will be introduced by film critic Catherine Bray.  After that, screenings of North by Northwest (at a location on Hackney Marshes, no doubt invocative of Prairie Stop in the film) and The Birds (linked to an ornithological walk in the Waltham Forest area) are scheduled - with more screenings and events to follow throughout 2014.  The entire project is part of a program of events leading to the opening of a new cinema, the Empire, at the end of 2014, returning a cinema to the borough after a ten year absence.  [Thanks to ST for alerting us to information in this item.]

• Related news.  ST tells us that the campaign to stop the old (c. 1930) EMD Cinema in Walthamstow from being turned into a church has been successful.  For earlier item about the campaign, scroll down to "Actors campaign to save Hitchcock-connected East London cinema".


Death of Hitchcock associate Hilton Green (1929-2013)

Hilton Green, who died on 2nd October at his home in Pasadena, California, was a respected Assistant Director, Production Manager, and Producer, and generally a much liked man.   (We can vouch for that - the Australian director of Psycho II, Richard Franklin, spoke highly to us of Hilton.)  He was Assistant Director on Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and - uncredited - on Marnie (1964).  In television, he was Assistant Director on the popular shows 'Leave it to Beaver', 'Wagon Train', 'Dragnet', and 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'.  Eventually he became a prolific film producer, of such films as Psycho II (1983), 16 Candles (1984), Psycho III (1986), Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990), and Encino Man (1992).  [Thanks to AK for alerting us to information used here.]     

Recent deaths - Karen Black and Gil Taylor

August 2013 has regrettably brought the deaths of actress Karen Black, who played the kidnapper Fran in Hitchcock's last film Family Plot (1975), and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, who photographed Hitchcock's London-set Frenzy (1972).

Karen Black (1939-2013) had a small role in Easy Rider (1969) and a co-starring role in Five Easy Pieces (1970) - both alongside Jack Nicholson - and played Gatsby's mistress Myrtle Wilson in Jack Clayton's The Great Gatsby (1974).  However, it was when Hitchcock's first choice for Fran in Family Plot, Faye Dunaway, proved too expensive and troublesome, that his screenwriter Ernest Lehman suggested Black.  (Lehman had directed her in his 1972 adaptation of Philip Roth's novel, Portnoy's Complaint.)  Black received further acclaim in such films as Robert Altman's Nashville (1975), and John Schlesinger's The Day of the Locust (1975).

Gil Taylor (1914-2013) died at his home on the Isle of Wight.  Back in 1932 he was a mere clapper boy on Number Seventeen when he first worked for Hitchcock.  He went on to a distinguished career, including six years with the RAF during World War 2 (shooting the results of night-time raids over Germany, at the request of Winston Churchill), and photographing such outstanding films as Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) and Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977).  He worked several times with Roman Polanski, including on Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-Sac (1966).

[Thanks to SR, DS, DF, and AK for information supplied and used here.]

Going the rounds: the BFI 'Hitchcock 9' silents, lovingly restored

According to the British Film Institute, this is the largest restoration project they have ever undertaken.  Nine Hitchcock films, made between 1925 and 1929, are currently being seen around the world.  They are: The Pleasure Garden (1925), The Lodger (1927), Downhill (1927), Easy Virtue (1927), The Ring (1927), Champagne (1928), The Farmer's Wife (1928), The Manxman (1929), and Blackmail (1929).

Unfortunately, 1926's The Mountain Eagle remains lost, but a collection of stills went up for auction in 2012, confirming the existence of the film.  (We understand that the stills were bought by a private collector.)

One place where the 'Hitchcock 9' recently screened in its entirety, i.e., all nine films, and all in 35mm prints, was the 2013 Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Italy.  For a list of scheduled screenings around the world, click here:  Unfortunately, not all of these screenings can include all of the nine films.

To read a report by Dave Kehr published in the 'New York Times', click here:

Also, the BFI have been blogging about how the restoration process proceeded, and what it revealed.  Here's a particularly interesting blog about how two quite different versions of The Ring - one English, one French - were found:

Rare script of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934; 1943) offered for sale

A bookshop in New York City is offering what it describes as 'the screenplay for the original 1934 [The Man Who Knew Too Much], issued here for an intended 1943 remake by Hitchcock and David O. Selznick which was never produced'.  Asking price: $1750.

The bookshop is: Clouds Hill Books, P.O. Box 1004, Village Station, New York, NY 10014, 212-414-4432.  Email address for more information: <>.

New Blu-ray (Region 'A') and DVD of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) from Criterion

Our thanks to critic/author Philip Kemp in London who writes to tell us:  'Criterion have just released it with my v/o commentary - also an excellent booklet essay by Farran Smith Nehme and a delightful interview with Guillermo del Toro, who's a huge fan of the film and of Hitchcock generally.'

Death of Jon Finch, star of Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972)

We are saddened by the death of actor Jon Finch, who has died at the English seaside town of Hastings where he moved in 2003.  To read an obituary, click here:

Psycho mystery finally solved

When Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Psycho (1960) removes a painting from his parlour wall to spy on Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in the adjoining cabin, appropriately the painting is a classic depiction of a rape, 'Susannah and the Elders'.  But for many years Hitchcock scholars were puzzled as to whose version of the painting it is.  (There have been many versions, by both famous and lesser-known artists.)  Now we know.  Thanks to the vigilant eye of Roland-François Lack, who conducts the Cine-Tourist website, the artist is disclosed to be Willem van Mieris (1662-1747), or possibly his father, Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635-81), and the original work was held until 1972 at the Hyacinthe Rigaud museum in Perpignan, southern France, when it was reported stolen.  (However, as Hitchcock was both an inveterate traveller and a regular visitor to art galleries, it is entirely possible that he saw the work in situ before making Psycho.)

In fact, some film scholars in the non-English-speaking world have known the painting's identity for many years.  First, apparently, was Barbara Stelzner-Large, who mentioned it in an article published as long ago as 1990.  Another such scholar is art historian Henry Keazor, editor of the book 'Hitchcock und die Kunste', due to be published in German in March, 2013. 

For further details, visit the Cine-Tourist website, here:

PSYCHO painting

Now available to view online: The White Shadow (1924)

Last year, half of a six-reel silent film, The White Shadow (d. Graham Cutts), on which a young Alfred Hitchcock worked as assistant, was unearthed in New Zealand, and received its latter-day premiere on September 22nd in Los Angeles.  (For more background, scroll down to the item below, "Lost Cutts/Hitchcock film discovered in New Zealand".)  Now the film can be viewed online, where it runs for 43 minutes.  To view it, click here:

Composer for Hitchcock - and opening date

Keeping our readers updated on the forthcoming film Hitchcock, adapted from the book by Stephen Rebello called 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho', has prompted several News items appearing here over the past months (indeed years).

Now we can announce that the film's composer is the gifted Danny Elfmann, and that a recent preview of the completed film in Southern California drew an extraordinarily high 'approval' rating from the 600 audience members.  The film is set to open in U.S. cinemas on 23 November.  It stars Sir Anthony Hopkins and Dame Helen Mirren, and is directed by Sacha Gervasi.

• An advance premiere of Hitchcock was held in Hollywood on 1 November.  Some reviews have now appeared.  Here's one from London's 'The Guardian':

                    soon ...

Caveat emptor.  New blu-ray Hitchcocks are reportedly disasters

Let the potential buyer beware.  First, last week, there was this about the re-done Frenzy credits, including typographical and spelling errors, first spotted by previewer Nick Wrigley at

Two days later, the same site added that the film proper now contains highly distracting DVNR (Digital Video Noise Reduction) spoilage, so that, for example, the celebrated prolonged shot of the doorway of Babs's apartment has become both intolerably grainy and looks as if someone had hit the 'Pause' button on their remote:

Meanwhile, other Hitchcock titles in the same Universal blu-ray package are reported to be 'shagged' (as one professional previewer unofficially put it about the condition of Family Plot).  Those titles include Family Plot and Marnie - and Vertigo.  Writing about the latter, previewer Jeffrey Wells at asked: 'Why is [James] Stewart's brown suit brownish violet or brownish purple? Why are Stewart and those other guys wearing suits during the inquest hearing that are madly, wildly, psychedelically blue?'  For more, go here:

• Some good news is that Universal have now delayed the release date of the Hitchcock package until 30 October 2012 (Region 1) to make 'corrections'.  To read more, click here:

A treat for our readers: nice photos of Hitchcock in 1939, preparing Rebecca

We've known about these for some time.  Apologies for not alerting you sooner!  (And as Bill K noted when he told us about them: 'Boy, Joan Harrison was a babe!').  Click here: Alfred Hitchcock in Los Angeles in 1939

Death of influential critic Andrew Sarris on 20 June 2012

Sadly, the critic who initiated the 'Auteur Theory' in the USA, the admirable Andrew Sarris - born in Brooklyn, New York, of Greek parents in 1928 - has died.

Of Alfred Hitchcock he wrote in 1968: 'His is the only contemporary style that unites the divergent classical traditions of Murnau (camera movement) and Eisenstein (montage).  (Welles, for example, owes more to Murnau, whereas Resnais is closer to Eisenstein.)'  Sarris's words might serve as a program note to Hitchcock's Rebecca and Vertigo, for example.

A nice tribute to Sarris by Ronald Bergan is here:   

Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder to have 3D release on Blu-ray

On October 9, Warner Home Video is releasing Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland on Blu-ray 3D (SRP $35.99), alongside Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train on Blu-ray (SRP $19.98) the same date. Dial M For Murder will come packaged with a special 3D lenticular slipcover, while Strangers on a Train will come in a traditional Blu-ray package.

Restored early Hitchcocks (x9) plus a major Hitchcock retrospective in London this year

The British Film Institute (BFI) has spent three years restoring nine Hitchcock films made between 1925 and 1929.  They will be shown at a series of gala events as part of the London 2012 Festival taking place alongside the Olympic Games.

In addition, a major Alfred Hitchcock retrospective encompassing all of his surviving films will be held at the BFI Southbank in London between August and September.

For more information, including clips from the restored The Pleasure Garden, read the BBC's report here:

Christian Marclay's 'The Clock' strikes Sydney, Australia, and gets a big tick

The 24-hour video work 'The Clock' won for Christian Marclay the Golden Lion for best artist at the 2011 Venice Biennale.  Now it has arrived in the Southern Hemisphere and is currently  installed in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia, where it will run until 3 June, 2012.

Clearly owing something to Douglas Gordon's installation '24 Hour Psycho' (1993), 'The Clock' is far more imaginative (we don't mind saying).  Moreover, among its thousands of film clips are many from Hitchcock films and TV shows, all matched to a time of day which, in turn, always coincides with the actual time of day when the exhibit is being viewed.  (If you want to try and catch the entire 24-hour sequence of clips, you will need to visit the MCA on Thursday and overnight into Friday when the Museum stays open and 'The Clock' runs non-stop.)

Film-buff friends tell us that watching 'The Clock' is indeed exhilarating.  Its many scenes somehow suggest interlocking narratives despite the constant changes in genres, eras, locations, and plotlines.  Brief excerpts from 'The Clock' and other Christian Marclay works are on YouTube.  For more information about the MCA exhibit, click here:

Warner Bros launch scripts as e-books, including North by Northwest

Casablanca, An American in Paris, and Hitchcock's North by Northwest are among the titles featured in this new series.  The script for the Hitchcock film includes costume sketches and Bernard Herrmann's music notes.  For more information, click here:

Hitchcock-inspired art

Apologies that we learned about this fascinating exhibit - testifying to the wide and perennial appeal of Hitchcock and his films - too late to inform our California readers before it closed on May 5th, 2012.  It ran at Gallery 1988 in Venice, California, and featured a hundred or so items.  The films depicted most often were, by our count, The Birds, Psycho - and (hooray!) The Trouble With Harry.  Illustrated below is "'You'll Never Make Sense of Arnie'" by Joe Scarano.

                    work by Joe Scarano inspired by TTWH

Here are two URLs that illustrate just what was shown (the second is a quick video introduction by the gallery's owner, Jensen Karp), and we trust that they will stay up indefinitely: (1) and (2)

Alma Reville retrospective

The 2012 Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, to run from 23-30 June, will this year include a strand devoted to Alma Reville's career - both the films she worked on with her husband, Alfred Hitchcock, and several others.

As the Ritrovato newletter puts it:  'Alma had a particular talent for continuity, editing and story structure, and this is evident [both] in the films she made with her husband, like Murder! (1930), and those she made independently of [him], such as The Constant Nymph (1928), The First Born (1928), [and] After the Verdict (1929).'  The Alma Reville strand of the Ritrovato is curated by Bryony Dixon of the BFI National Archive.

For more information, click here (especially if you can read Italian):     

Further news on Hitchcock: Scarlett Johansson to play Janet Leigh

Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers, Lost in Translation)  will portray actress Janet Leigh in Fox Searchlight's project, now called simply Hitchcock, a film based on Stephen Rebello's non-fiction book 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (1990).  And James D'Arcy will play Leigh's Psycho co-star, Anthony Perkins.  Darcy was last seen in W.E., directed by Madonna.

Rebello's book analyses the background and production of the classic Hitchcock shocker, Psycho (1960).  The new project is said to be a biopic that sheds light on the difficulties Hitchcock encountered during the making of his film.  (For earlier announcements about the project, whose main stars are Sir Anthony Hopkins - photo below - and Dame Helen Mirren, readers can scroll down this page.)

• Update.  Further cast members have been announced.  They include Jessica Biel (playing Vera Miles), Toni Collette (as Hitchcock's long-time assistant Peggy Robertson), and Danny Huston (as Alma Hitchcock's friend, screenwriter Whitfield Cook).  A further coup: the film will be photographed by Jeff Cronenweth (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network, Fight Club - all directed by David Fincher, no less).

• More.  Shooting began on Friday April 13th, 2012 - reportedly by design, for Friday 13th was always Hitchcock's lucky day!  We are told that the first few days' footage 'looks and sounds absolutely thrilling'.  Titles-designer Saul Bass will be played by Wallace Langham.  But still no news who will play composer Bernard Herrmann - if indeed he features in the film at all!

Sir Anthony Hopkins
                        in HITCHCOCK

'Rebecca the Musical' to open on Broadway in April

After 'Rebecca's 2006 premiere and subsequent 3-year run in Vienna, the show opened all across Europe and in Japan, with continued great success.

In 2009, Christopher Hampton agreed to write an English libretto in collaboration with the musical's original author, Michael Kunze.  The story of 'Rebecca' is of course based on the much-loved 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier, filmed by Hitchcock in 1940.  Now the musical is scheduled to open on Broadway on 22 April, 2012.

For further information, please copy this URL into your browser:

The Lady Vanishes now on Blu-ray

Criterion have released Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938) on Blu-ray.  (Simultaneously they have released Ernst Lubitsch's 1935 classic Design for Living.)  The disc features a 1080p transfer, and the extras are as previously included with the Criterion DVD of the film, including an audio commentary by film historian Bruce Eder. 

Death of Israel Baker, Psycho violinist

As concertmaster of the orchestra that recorded Bernard Herrmann's all-strings score for Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), classical violinist Israel Baker helped create a seminal piece of film culture.  Sadly, he died at his home in California on Christmas Day, 2011, following a stroke.  He was 92.

In a recent tribute, classical music expert Jim Svejda called Baker 'one of the great violinists of the 20th century'.  Not only was his work heard in several dozen movie scores beside Psycho, but his brilliant playing tecnique was recognised by recording companies and audiences, particularly of chamber music.  Svejda cited the 'benchmark recording' of Igor Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat, conducted by the composer and featuring Baker. 

Hitch and Alma to be portrayed by big stars

At last, after four years in development, a film from Stephen Rebello's non-fiction book 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (1990) is almost set to start shooting - possibly next April.  The stars couldn't be bigger.  Sir Anthony Hopkins will play the director,  Dame Helen Mirren will play his lifetime companion, wife Alma.  The studio is Fox Seachlight.  Director Sasha Gervasi has made a previous show-business film, Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009), about the misfortunes of a heavy metal band, and he'll work from a script by Rebello and John McLaughlin - the latter wrote the ballet suspenser Black Swan (2010), about a dancer and her dark side.  (For earlier announcements about the film, readers can scroll down this page.)

• Meanwhile, a TV film, The Girl, about actress Tippi Hedren and her relation with Hitchcock on The Birds and Marnie, will screen on BBC 2 in the New Year.  Sienna Miller plays Tippi, Toby Jones plays Hitchcock (who was heard to refer on-set to Tippi as 'the girl', harking back to girl-meets-boy films of the silent era).  Scriptwriter Gwyneth Hughes has based the script on Donald Spoto's book 'Spellbound by Beauty' (2008), which delves into the uneasy relationship between mentor Hitchcock and his muse, Tippi.

Further reading (from 'The Independent', 10 February 2012): "Tippi Hedren - Hitchcock's Caged Bird"

Lost Cutts/Hitchcock film discovered in New Zealand

From the same New Zealand Film Archive that last year yielded a missing John Ford treasure - Upstream (1927) - comes news that the first three reels of the Graham Cutts six-reel feature The White Shadow (1924), on which Hitchcock worked as an assistant, have been found.  A tinted print of the film was among a trove of old prints lodged with the Archive in 1989 but only recently evaluated by teams sent from the United States by the National Film Preservation Foundation.  The reels will stay in New Zealand although a new preservation master and exhibition print have been sent to California where the film will 're-premiere' on September 22nd.

The White Shadow was made in England starring Betty Compson and Clive Brook, the same team that had recently made the more successful Graham Cutts film Woman to Woman (1923), for which Hitchcock wrote the script.  American leading lady Compson was imported for her box-office appeal - years later she would be cast by Hitchcock as Gertie in his Hollywood screwball comedy Mr and Mrs Smith (1941).  Hitchcock adapted The White Shadow from a novel by Michael Morton, 'Children of Chance', about twin sisters, one good and one bad.  The film's title is explained thus: 'as the sun casts a dark shadow, so does the soul throw its shadow of white, reflecting a purity that influences the lives of those upon whom the shadow falls'.

It isn't true that Graham Cutts was a 'hack' director (as someone  recently said).  Hitchcock learned a lot from this man who started out as an exhibitor - the 'master showman of the North' as Herbert Wilcox called him - and whose main skills as a director appear to have been visual.  He had 'only a sketchy interest in film structure', according to film historian Rachel Low, but contributed in particular 'an instinctive sense of the power of the look, not only as a means of controlling others but as projector of internalised visions' (Christine Gledhill, 'Reframing British Cinema 1918-1928').  Cutts directed Ivor Novello and Isabel Jeans in The Rat (1926) and two other 'Rat' pictures (1926, 1929).

For more information, click here:

Production sketches for Stage Fright sold at auction - but are they in Hitchcock's own hand?

Approximately 300-400 production sketches for Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950) were recently sold at Bonhams, London, where they fetched £28,800.  They exist as rough pencil sketches on 130 loose sheets in a faded spring binder.  They had been stored in an attic in Dorset, England, and belonged to Jack Martin (1899-1969) who had worked on Stage Fright as first assistant director.

There isn't any question that the sketches were used during the film's production.  What is in question is who drew them?  Bonhams claim that it was Hitchcock himself, but it seems more likely that they were the work of professional artist Mentor Heubner (1917-2001) who did similar work for Hitchcock on Strangers on a Train (1951), I Confess (1953), and perhaps Rope (1948).  Notoriously, Heubner also did the faux Hitchcock storyboards for North by Northwest (1959) that Hitchcock commissioned for publicity purposes after the fact, i.e., after the film was made.

For more information and to see some of the sketches, visit the Bonhams website (though it's inactive as we post this notice):     

Help the BFI rescue The Hitchcock 9

As previously announced, the British Film Institute wants to restore the nine surviving Hitchcock silent films, and are asking Hitchcock lovers everywhere to make donations to the cause.  There has been an excellent response so far.  The BFI has recently announced that new scores will be written for The Lodger (by Nitin Sawhney), The Pleasure Garden (by Daniel Cohen), and others.  Now here's an update from the BBC: for still more information, watch this 11-minute clip on YouTube:

(See also the News items below, "Hitchcock film festivals ..." and "Another Mountain Eagle find".)


Once again, and sadly, we must report that some people connected with Hitchcock have died.  Googie Withers (1917-2011), who was born in India but grew up in England, has passed away in Sydney, Australia.  Her sole appearance in a Hitchcock film was as Blanche, one of the offsiders of Iris (Margaret Lockwood) whom we see at the start of The Lady Vanishes (1938).  Other film roles were in Michael Powell's One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942) and Robert Hamer's It Always Rains on Sunday (1947).  Googie also had memorable roles on the stage and on television, including in a BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey'.  The BBC obituary is here:

The fine film and stage actress Anna Massey (1937-2011), who was the daughter of actor Raymond Massey, and who was seen in such films as John Ford's Gideon's Day (1958), Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960), Otto Preminger's Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), and (as 'Babs') in Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972), died on July 3rd.  An excellent obituary, from the London 'Telegraph', is here:

Film editor Hugh Stewart (1910-2011) died on May 31st, aged 100.  In the 1930s he edited films by Victor Saville - such as Evergreen (1934), Dark Journey (1937), and South Riding (1938) - as well as Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Michael Powell's The Spy in Black (1939).  Later he edited nine Norman Wisdom films.  But it was another Hitchcock connection, of sorts, that the 'Telegraph' understandably claims may be Stewart's 'most notable contribution on celluloid ... made at Bergen-Belsen in April 1945, when he insisted that the Allies record the horrors of the liberated concentration camp'.  Some of the resulting footage was included in the film Memory of the Camps (1945/1985), on which Hitchcock worked as an advisor.  To read the 'Telegraph' obituary, click here:

Death of playwright/screenplay writer Arthur Laurents (1918-2011)

The man who wrote the book of the musical and film West Side Story, and who scripted Hitchcock's Rope (1948), has died in New York City where he was born.  Arthur Laurents wrote or co-wrote scripts for such films as Rope, Max Ophuls's Caught (1949), Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse (1958), and the ballet drama The Turning Point (Herbert Ross, 1977).  Laurents's play 'The Time of the Cuckoo', set in Venice, starred Shirley Booth on stage and Katherine Hepburn on film (David Lean's Summer Madness, 1955).  Laurents was gay.  At the time of Rope, he had an affair with actor Farley Granger (see below); his partner for 52 years was aspiring actor Tom Hatcher, who died in 2006.  Of Hitchcock, Laurents wrote in his memoirs 'Original Story By' (2000) that he 'was fun to work for and fun to be with.  He was a tough businessman; otherwise, he lived in the land of kink. ... Homosexuality was at the center of Rope; its three main characters were homosexuals.  Thus [Hitchcock's] seeming obsession.'

The BBC obituary is here: 

Death of actor Farley Granger

Farley Granger, star of the Hitchcock films Rope (1948) and Strangers on a Train (1951), has died at his Manhattan home, aged 85.  His other films included Nicholas Ray's They Live by Night (1949) and Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954).

In 2007, Granger published with his partner, Robert Calhoun, an entertaining book of memoirs, 'Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway'.  Hitchcockians will learn there that Farley considered James Stewart not quite right for Rope, because he was too nice to realise the darker side of the character Rupert.  'It might have been interesting to see what an actor like James Mason ... would have brought to the part.'  Farley also agreed with Hitchcock that Ruth Roman (a Warners contract-player whom the studio insisted on) was miscast in Strangers on a Train.  'Hitch had wanted the then-little-known young actress Grace Kelly for the part.'

To read the BBC obituary for Farley Granger, click here:          

Rare photos and other Hitchcock items found

The photograph below is one of 24 of Alfred Hitchcock in a set of 38 taken probably in 1966 by press photographer Renate Dabrowski of Frankfurt, Germany.  The photographs are owned by US art dealer SB and may soon go on sale.  The identity of the lady in the photograph is not known.  Can any of our readers help?  (Note.  Hitchcock visited Frankfurt several times, including in 1966 and 1972.  Of course, he had worked in Germany in the 1920s.  Frankfurt seems the likely location of the photographs, although one of them shows in the background a jet of Austrian Airlines and several others show Hitchcock standing next to stewardesses from the same airline.  So it's possible that the photographs were taken in Austria.)

The story of how SB acquired the photographs is fascinating.  As she tells it: 'Many years ago I bought a box of miscellaneous items at Abell's Auctions in Los Angeles.  The box was one of a number of boxes that were up for auction as abandoned storage, only this one had "Classical tapes" written on the side and since I love classical music I figured I had little to lose.  It was only after I opened the box and found the photos as well as the reel-to-reel tapes, including one that wasn't of music but of a more personal nature, that I realized that they had actually belonged to Hitchcock himself.  To be honest, I never played that particular tape through and I think it got tossed in my move from LA to San Francisco.  I remember that the selection of music on the tapes was in fact quite eclectic with quite a few modern composers as well [as classical ones], in particular John Cage which I found surprising at the time.'

[We thank SB for very kindly providing the above information and the photograph.]

                                                           Hitch abroad


Still coming: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho: The Movie

In a piece called "Alfred Hitchcock, by way of heavy metal?", the 'Los Angeles Times' announced on January 19, 2011, that the film adaptation of Stephen Rebello's book on the making of Psycho has found a new writer/director, Sacha Gervasi.  (For details of a much earlier announcement about the project, scroll down this page to the item "Coming: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho: The Movie".)

Gervasi previously made the acclaimed documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009), about a couple of heavy-metal pioneers seeking to make a come-back.  The Making of Psycho film is scheduled to be produced by Ivan Reitman's Montecito Pictures in Hollywood.  Two earlier drafts of the script were written by Rebello and by Black Swan writer John McLaughlin.  But if Gervasi ends up writing and directing the picture, the 'Los Angeles Times' feels that viewers are in for a special treat: 'one can imagine plenty of wry understatement and clever pacing - the very qualities, come to think of it, that its subject might have appreciated'.

Some new 'custom' DVDs of likely interest to our readers

The Warner Archive now offers 'mod' ('manufactured on demand') DVDs of reasonable price, including such notable films as Richard Thorpe's Night Must Fall (1937) and Ted Tatzleff's The Window (1949).  The former was based on the play by Emlyn Williams, the latter on the story by Cornell Woolrich.  For more information, and to place orders, visit the Warner Archive Collection

Death of English director, Roy Ward Baker (1916-2010)

On 5th October, the fine director Roy Ward Baker died, age 93.  He served his apprenticeship at Gainsborough Studios (1934-39), starting in the sound department, and was assistant director on Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938).  During the War, he served first in the Infantry, then in the Army Kinematograph Service, where he met author Eric Ambler.  His first film, The October Man (1947), from an Ambler script, was auspicious.  Baker's best film was also from an Ambler script, the re-creation of the sinking of the Titanic, A Night to Remember (1958).  He made several imaginative horror films, including Quatermass and the Pit (1967).

Watch 'Finding Equilibrium in Hitchcock's Vertigo': roundtable discussion held in New York, November 6th, 2010

The above occasion was organised by The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination, New York.  Four of the five panelists who participated are contributors to the forthcoming 'Companion to Alfred Hitchcock' (Wiley/Blackwell, 2011): Richard Allen, John Bolton, Joe McElhaney, and Brigitte Peucker.  A fifth panelist was Edward Nersessian, a leading New York psychiatrist.

To watch a video-presentation (92') of the above, click here: 

Another Hitch sculpture

We have previously reported on at least a couple of sculptures of Alfred Hitchcock that have been made (scroll down to items "For sale: bronze statue of Hitchcock" and "Another bronze statue of Hitchcock", below).  The latest is a life-size caricature of him, recently unveiled by our friends at the McGuffin (sic) Film Society in Walthamstow, London, to mark the 80th anniversary of the EMD Cinema there, which Hitchcock is said to have attended.  (The building opened in 1887 as a dance hall, and we gather that it was re-built in 1930 as a cinema for the new sound films.)  An earlier item about the EMD Cinema is elsewhere on this page (scroll down to "Actors campaign to save Hitchcock-connected East London cinema").  And for the latest information, click here:

Hitchcock sculpture
                  at Walthamstow, London

Claude Chabrol dead at 80

The veteran French filmmaker died this morning, 12th September, 2010.  His fine book on Hitchcock, written in 1957 in conjunction with fellow filmmaker and critic, Eric Rohmer, was the first critical book on The Master.  (Eric Rohmer died earlier this year, aged 89.  See separate tribute below.)   

Death of Robert Boyle, aged 100

The gifted production designer Robert Boyle, who worked on such Hitchcock masterpieces as Vertigo and North by Northwest, has died in California.  (Scroll down to read our earlier item "Production designer Robert Boyle ...".)

Death of cinematographer/director/producer Ronald Neame (1911-2010)

Ronald Neame, who was born in London, and began his film career working with Alfred Hitchcock as a stills photographer at British International Pictures, has died in Los Angeles, aged 99.  As a cinematographer, he photographed David Lean's In Which We Serve (1942) and Blithe Spirit (1945).  As a producer, he produced Lean's Brief Encounter (1946), Great Expectations (1946), and Oliver Twist (1948).  As a director, he made such fine, character-based entertainments as Tunes of Glory (1960), Gambit (1966), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1968), and The Poseidon Adventure (1972).

Another of his films was the lyrically-told World War II thriller The Man Who Never Was (1955).  It was based on a true incident (thought up by Ian Fleming when he was working in Naval Intelligence) in which a man's dead body was floated off the European coast with fake invasion plans planted in his briefcase to deceive the Germans.  Hitchcock almost certainly saw Neame's film and was influenced by it to make North by Northwest.

Another Mountain Eagle find - though still not the film itself

Alfred Hitchcock's 'lost' film The Mountain Eagle (1926) has never been recovered - although the British Film Institute recently announced that they will launch another search for it in 2012, as part of the 'Cultural Olympiad' in London (coinciding with the Olympic Games).

Meanwhile, on eBay earlier this month, a full-size original German poster for the film was auctioned.  We understand that it fetched 66,000 Euros.  Here is a reproduction of it, together with a lobby card for the film.  For information about the latter, scroll down this page to the item "Rare lobby card ...".

Original poster for DER BERGADLER/ THE
                      MOUNTAIN EAGLE

                                                                Lobby card for
                      THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE

Hitchcock on DVD and Blu-Ray

We understand that Psycho will be released on Blu-Ray in Region 1 on 2 August, and in Region 2 on 19 October.  For more information, click here:   Other Hitchcock titles already available on Blu-Ray are North by Northwest  (reportedly a good transfer if a little dark) and The 39 Steps (the latter a Region 2 release and reportedly not a good transfer).

Meanwhile, as our regular readers know, Paramount Home Entertainment released a Centennial Collection DVD of To Catch a Thief in March 2009 (Region 1).  Here is what our reviewer, Brian Wilson, wrote:

To begin with, this edition of To Catch a Thief contains a remarkably good transfer.  Since Paramount does not indicate that this release of the film has been remastered in any way, I can only assume that the transfer here is identical to the one featured on the 2007 Special Collector’s Edition.  Unlike that earlier version, however, the Centennial Collection edition of the film is a two-disc release.  Disc One contains the film itself.  It also contains an entirely new commentary by Hitchcock film historian Dr. Drew Casper, replacing the one by Peter Bogdanovich and Laurent Bouzereau featured on the 2007 release.  While I have not listened to that earlier commentary, I have been told that it relies too much upon personal reminiscences and anecdotes without offering consistent insight into the film itself.  Casper’s commentary, on the other hand, offers an extremely detailed analysis of the film.

Disc Two contains several special features, three of these new.  “A Night with the Hitchcocks” is a Q&A session between Drew Casper’s film students at the University of Southern California and Hitchcock’s granddaughter Mary Stone and daughter Pat Hitchcock.  Although this piece has moments of interest, I felt that it was ultimately unrewarding.  “Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in America” is a short documentary about the history of the Motion Picture Production Code and its specific impact on To Catch a Thief.  “Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly” is a short celebration of the lives and work of the two actors, featuring several production stills and excerpts from To Catch a Thief.

Lamented death of actor John Forsyth (1918-2010)

John Forsyth, whose real name was John Freund, has died of cancer at his home in California, aged 92.  Though he had considerable Broadway and film experience, he was best known as the scheming oil tycoon in TV's 'Dynasty' and as the voice (only) of the leader of 'Charlie's Angels'.  But Hitchcock aficionados remember him with affection as Sam, the artist who fell in love one magical autumn day with Jennifer (Shirley Maclaine) in The Trouble With Harry (1955) and as the US intelligence official Michael Nordstrom in Topaz (1969), adapted from the Leon Uris novel set during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Hitchcock also directed him in a classic episode of 'The Alfred Hitchcock Hour' called "I Saw the Whole Thing" (1962).  Earlier, Forsythe had appeared in an episode, "Premonition" (1955), of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'.


Korngold opera with a Hitchcock connection receives a different performance in Paris

We have taken this item from the December 2009 issue of 'Positif'.  Yann Tobin writes:

'Saw "La Ville Morte" ("Die tote Stadt"/"The Dead City") at the Opera Bastille.  The powerful score, modelled on the "degenerate art" that was soon to be persecuted by the Nazis, was composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold in 1920.  The links between this opera and cinema are many.  The opera has been staged in a knowing way by Willy Decker to bring out numerous filmic references, from Caligari to Fellini.  It was adapted from the novel by Georges Rodenbach, "Bruges-la-Morte" (the source of inspiration for Vertigo, via Boileau and Narcejac), but with the ending changed: the hero finally "psychoanalytically" frees himself from the memory of his deceased beloved, whose double he has encountered.  In the 1930s, Korngold will follow Max Reinhardt to the United States, where he will eventually become the epic composer of action films for Warner.  Coming from this genial exile, the original scores for Captain Blood [Michael Curtiz, 1935] and The Adventures of Robin Hood [Curtiz, 1938] retain traces of his hymn to liberty.'

[The above item was freely translated by Adrian Martin, whom we thank.]

Death of Eric Rohmer (Maurice Schérer), filmmaker, philosopher, author, in Paris

Frenchman Eric Rohmer has died in his ninetieth year.  This prolific director will perhaps be best remembered for the series of films he called his 'contes moraux' such as Ma Nuit Chez Maud/My Night With Maud (1970).  A former editor of 'Cahiers du Cinéma', he co-authored with Claude Chabrol the book 'Hitchcock' (1955), the first full-length study of the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

The following tribute is supplied by Inge Pruks who in the 1970s briefly studied under Rohmer while at the Sorbonne:

‘What a dignified, serene person was Eric Rohmer. He always concerned himself with the important if minimalist things in life: such as conversation (even disagreements) conducted in a civilized manner, like the small white lies we tell and hope that no one notices, like unifying the arts, like what it means to be a social being, or maybe even a human being. This often led him into an exploration of such dualities as young/old, male/female, reflective/active, honest/dishonest, contemporary/medieval, not to forget familial/professional (his own lifelong duality of Maurice Schérer/Eric Rohmer). I can still picture his tall, lean figure, his head on one side, listening with interest to students after lectures, quizzical yet authoritative. A real gentleman, a true intellectual, forever questing and never satisfied with the answer he might have discovered. His death is the passing of an age.’

Passing of Robin Wood, author of 'Hitchcock's Films' (1965)

English-born film critic and author Robin Wood has died of cancer, aged 78, in Toronto.

This is very sad news.  Wood was the author of several seminal - and influential - books of film criticism, among them 'Hitchcock's Films' (1965), 'Personal Views: Explorations in Film' (1976), and 'Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan' (1986).  Wood's essay on Hitchcock's Psycho appeared in 'Cahiers du Cinéma' soon after the film came out and led to his decision to write an entire book on Hitchcock in English.  The book was ground-breaking and passionate in answering the question, 'Why should we take Hitchcock seriously?'  His subsequent articles on film were prized by journals such as the English 'Movie' and the American 'Film Comment'.  For many years he was a contributing editor of the journal 'CineAction' published in Toronto.  His partner Richard Lippe remains on its editorial board.

For David Bordwell's fine obituary (with further links), click here:

Some films recommended by our friends!

Dr Adrian Martin, of Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, tells us that he recently saw 'the most profoundly (not superficially) Hitchcockian film made in several decades: [South Korean director] Bong Joon-ho's Mother.  What a brilliant movie this, on every level!' 

Another new film is strongly recommended by Michael Walker (author of 'Hitchcock's Motifs') after seeing it at this year's London Film Festival.  He wrote to us that newcomer Giuseppe Capotondi's Double Hour (La Doppia Ora) was a 'revelation'. Michael added: 'The following day I simply could not stop thinking about it; it's many years since a new film had such an impact on me and was so vivid in my mind afterwards.'  He strongly suggested not familiarising oneself with details of the film's plot before seeing it.

Lastly, our friend Dr Steven Schneider is an executive producer on Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity (2009) which is less Hitchcockian than inviting comparison with The Blair Witch Project.  Roger Ebert's review calls it 'an ingenious little horror film'.


Patrick Hamilton's 'Rope' (1929) at the Almeida in London

The play that Hitchcock filmed in 1948 works splendidly on stage in its own right.  Loosely based on a US case, but set in London, the play presents a chilling anatomy of an apparently gratuitous murder, and a brilliant snapshot of a jazz-age generation wallowing in privilege, booze, parties, a shallow obsession with fashion and films, and a desperate inner emptiness.  Not to speak of an arrogance that infected many British intellectuals after the First World War licenced, some of them boasted, by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.  (Meanwhile, in Germany ...)

The season at the Almeida Theatre in Islington, North London, runs from Thursday 10 December 2009 to Saturday 6 February 2010.  The play will be directed by well-known stage and film director Roger Michell.  Ticket prices £6 - £32.  For further information, click here:


For sale: bronze statue of Hitchcock (here seen in clay, before casting) 

Andrew Gamache is a respected sculptor who specialises in portrait studies, and who has lately turned his attention to Hitchcock.  Seen here are two photographs of the clay model, 30 inches high, from which Andrew will cast his study of the great director.  'I originally created this piece as an exercise to enhance my portfolio with no intent to sell.  I intend to sell only one or two copies.'  Andrew is looking for expressions of interest from prospective purchasers.  'I suppose that I would ask a round figure of 5000 dollars on top of the 1500 dollars for the casting.  This would include the cost of a stone mount.'  Andrew may be contacted by email at <>.  Or telephone him in the USA using this number: 386 214 3309. 

Hitchcock statue
                    by A.G., before casting in bronze
Profile of Hitchcock statue by A.G., before

Another bronze statue of Hitchcock

Speaking of statues of Hitchcock ... the seacoast town of Dinard, northwest France, for several years had a resin statue of Alfred Hitchcock gracing its foreshore.  On Hitch's shoulders perched a seagull and a crow.  The sculptor was Lionel Ducos.  In 2004 the original statue blew away in a gale but this year it was replaced by a sturdier one in bronze, by the same sculptor.  The photo below was supplied by Dr Alain Kerzoncuf, whom we thank.  Note: Dinard is a movie-conscious town and hosts an annual British Film Festival with invited celebrities.  Deliberately, it sometimes shows films with a Hitchcock connection.  According to the recent British documentary Alfred Hitchcock in East London, directed by Bill Hodgson, the young Hitchcock and his family 'spent several happy holidays' at Dinard.

Bronze statue at Dinard, France, of

Actors campaign to save Hitchcock-connected East London cinema

Actors Tony Robinson ('Blackadder') and Meera Syal ('The Kumars at No. 42') have joined a campaign to stop an historic cinema, the EMD Cinema in Walthamstow, London, from being turned into a church.  Alfred Hitchcock, who grew up nearby, is said to have seen his first movies there.  The cinema first opened as a dance hall in 1887 and finally closed its doors to the public in 2003.  The building was then purchased by a Brazil-based religious organisation, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG).  The organisation's initial plans to turn the building into a church were rejected by the local council, but it is now expected to submit new proposals.  Opposing this, a local film society, the McGuffin (sic) Film Society, wants the council to offer the UCKG ownership of an empty building next to the cinema, allowing the EMD to be sold to operators who would re-open it to show movies.  Tony Robinson calls the cinema 'an exotic masterpiece'.  He says: 'At this exciting time when east London is about to be revitalised, it would be crazy to turn our backs on such a magnificent venue.'

The above item is taken from an article that appeared in the London 'Telegraph'.  To read more, click here: 

And for an update, click here:

Premiere of film Alfred Hitchcock in East London

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of Britain's first talkie, Blackmail, the above-mentioned McGuffin (sic) Film Society recently held a screening of Hitchcock's 1929 film followed by the world premiere of the 65-minute documentary Alfred Hitchcock in East London.

'Most people are ignorant of Hitchcock's associations with east London,' says the documentary's writer and director Bill Hodgson.  'My film paints a picture of Hitchcock and his roots which is radically different from previous biographies.'

In Leytonstone the film identifies the old cinema buildings where the boy Alfred was first exposed to motion pictures.  His churchgoing in nearby Stratford and his schooldays in Hackney are also explored as well as his teenage years in Limehouse during the First World War.

Alfred Hitchcock in East London is now available on DVD.  For more information, click here:

Deaths of composer Maurice Jarre (1924-2009) and cinematographer Jack Cardiff (1914-2009)

Sadly, both of the above individuals have recently died.  Maurice Jarre composed the scores for Hitchcock's Topaz (1969) and films by such directors as Georges Franju, Luchino Visconti, and David Lean.  Jarre won Academy Awards for his scores for Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1966), and A Passage to India (1984).

The brilliant Jack Cardiff, a regular collaborator with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, et al.), photographed Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949).  Cardiff published his autobiography, 'The Magic Hour' (with a preface by Martin Scorsese), in 1996.  He reported that he enjoyed painting and that the French Impressionists had been a major influence on his cinematography.  That may explain why, as Richard Allen ('Hitchcock's Romantic Irony', 2007) has observed, Under Capricorn is atypical of Hitchcock's films visually.  Under Capricorn seeks to convey emotion in its images directly, with suitable use of diffuse colour, whereas Hitchcock's other colour films typically use symbolic or stylised colour, often in discrete blocks, to signify emotion.

Production designer Robert Boyle, aged 99, further honoured

Robert Boyle, who turns 100 in October, still lectures about his craft to students at the American Film Institute.

In March, he was toasted at a tribute arranged by the Art Directors Guild Film Society and the American Cinematheque.  The same week, the 'Los Angeles Times' ran an article on him (March 27 2009).  It noted that Boyle began his career in 1933 in the art department at Paramount, having just come from USC with a degree in architecture.  At Paramount and later at Universal, where he graduated to art director, he worked on a wide range of movies including horror films such as The Wolf Man (1941), the Alfred Hitchcock movies Saboteur (1942) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and even the old 'Ma and Pa Kettle' comedies.

After working on the two Hitchcocks, Boyle went into the Army during World War II. 'After my discharge, I went back to work with Hitch, who had formed a company at RKO with Cary Grant and that didn't pan out.  The next opportunity to be with Hitch was [when] he called me for North by Northwest [1959] and then after that The Birds [1963] and Marnie [1964].'

According to Boyle, once you worked with Hitchcock you became part of his movie family.  'He was a great collaborator,' Boyle says.  'He would discuss a movie with anybody, including his driver.'

Death of Hitchcock artist and designer, Dorothea Redmond, in Hollywood

The 'Los Angeles Times' reports as follows:

Dorothea Holt Redmond, an illustrator and production designer who helped visualize several Alfred Hitchcock films and worked with Walt Disney to design a private apartment in Disneyland's New Orleans Square, has died. She was 98.

Redmond came to be regarded as one of the most talented illustrators in the industry, according to research by Tania Modleski, a USC English professor who is documenting the contributions women made to Hitchcock's films.  [Modleski's previous book on Hitchcock was the excellent 'The Women Who Knew Too Much'.]

Working with Hitchcock and an art director, Redmond would create an illustration that became the basis for communicating to the cameraman and others - and essentially set the tone of key scenes, Modleski told The Times in an e-mail.

The artist 'was masterful at working with light and shadow,' Modleski said, 'and deserves credit for working with Hitchcock to convey the German Expressionist aesthetic he has been praised for adopting throughout much of his career.'

Redmond's suspense-filled graphite drawings interpreting a sequence in Hitchcock's 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt helped transform a sleepy town into a threatening locale, which was essential to the movie's evolution, according to the 2007 book 'Casting a Shadow'.

Hitchcock was 'one of her very favorite people to work with,' said Redmond's daughter. 'She just loved his personality and his taste.'

In a film career that started with 1937's Nothing Sacred and spanned 20 years, Redmond contributed to seven Hitchcock films, including Rebecca (1940), Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955).

Hitchcock engages viewers on more levels, suggests a recent study 

Researchers in a new field called 'neurocinematics' use MRI scans to monitor brain activity while subjects watch films.  Recently, subjects were shown 30 minute clips from Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), an episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' ("Bang! You're Dead"), and an episode of the TV comedy series, 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'.

The researchers, from the Computational Neuroimaging Laboratory at New York University, found that the Hitchcock clip provoked the most consistent pattern of brain activity among all subjects studied, 'consistently turning on and switching off responses of different regions in more than 65 percent of the cortex'.  By contrast, the Leone clip produced a score of 45%, while 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' scored 18%.

Quote: 'The fact that Hitchcock was able to orchestrate the responses of so many different brain regions, turning them on and off at the same time across all viewers, may provide neuroscientific evidence for his notoriously famous ability to master and manipulate viewers' minds.  Hitchcock often liked to tell interviewers that for him "creation is based on an exact science of audience reactions".'

To read more, go here:

Note.  At the end of the above-listed report (just before 'Comments'), there's a link marked simply PDF.  Click on that to read the original report as published in a new online journal called 'Projections: The Journal for Movies and Mind'.

Region 2 release of Hitchcock's Bon Voyage (1944) and Aventure Malgache (1944)

Network DVD in the UK have released a double-bill of Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache, the two short films Hitchcock made in England in 1944 featuring the Molière Players, a group of exiled French Resistance actors.  Also on the disc is a brief compilation of newsreels and interviews featuring Hitchcock.  For more information, click here:

Passing of Rear Window screenwriter John Michael Hayes (1919-2008)

We are saddened by the recent death of the man who between 1954 and 1956 wrote four classic Hitchcock screenplays (Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble With Harry, and The Man Who Knew Too Much).  Each was noted for its emotional warmth and sophisticated dialogue.  Author Steven DeRosa has paid full tribute to the remarkable Hayes-Hitchcock collaboration in his book 'Writing With Hitchcock' (2001).

Yet another Hitchcock borrowing? The likely influence of Yellow Canary (Herbert Wilcox, 1943) on Hitchcock's Notorious (1946)

Dear to our heart is a piece of research by film scholar Doug Bonner in Texas.  His paper, now published on the Web, shows that several key sequences in Notorious probably took inspiration from a British spy drama Yellow Canary made three years earlier by producer-director Herbert Wilcox as a vehicle for his lovely actress wife Anna Neagle.

How often Hitchcock resorted to such borrowing!  Often, though, he was only returning a favour to another director who had borrowed from him first!  Robert Siodmak, for example, engaged in a 'reciprocity of influence' with Hitchcock during the 1940s.  (At one point, both men shared the same producer, Joan Harrison.)  Wilcox's Yellow Canary may possibly show the influence of Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) as well as of earlier British productions like The Spy in Black (1939) and Contraband (1940), both directed by Michael Powell.

To read Doug Bonner's article, click here:   

Producers of Disturbia (2007) sued for allegedly ripping off the story on which Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) was based

The makers of a largely teenage-actor film version of Rear WindowDisturbia (d. D.J. Caruso), are being sued by the estate of Sheldon Abend (whom Hitchcock once called 'an ambulance-chaser'!).  The estate claims ownership of the rights to the original Cornell Woolrich story.  Strangely, a recent news item names this story "Murder from a Fixed Viewpoint" - whereas we had always understood that the story, originally published in the February 1942 issue of 'Dime Detective', was first called "It Had to Be Murder", then changed by Woolrich himself two years later to the more evocative "Rear Window" when he included the story in his early collection of short fiction, 'After-Dinner Story' (1944), published under his William Irish pseudonym.

We contacted Woolrich expert Francis M. Nevins who told us that the author himself originally chose the name "Murder from a Fixed Viewpoint" for his story but that it was never used - until now, for complicated (presumably legal) reasons.  

For the recent news item, click here:

Online: forum on Psycho's influence

Co-Editor of online journal 'Midnight Marquee', Gary J. Svehla (with Susan Svehla), recently controversially omitted Hitchcock's Psycho from a list of 'the 13 most influential horror films'.  Some of our readers may be interested in reading a transcript of a forum in which Gary defended his list against several challengers.  The transcript is available online as a .pdf document (copy and paste the following URL into your browser):

'Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection' (seven titles) to be released 14th October 2008 (Region 1)

MGM Home Entertainment has announced the 'Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection' which includes Sabotage, Young and Innocent, Rebecca, Lifeboat, The Paradine Case, Spellbound, and Notorious.  (Also included in the package is the 1944 film The Lodger, directed by John Brahm.)  Each film has been restored and remastered.  Most of the films have new 'extras' (e.g., Bill Krohn and Stephen Rebello discussing The Paradine Case) plus the package contains a 32-page booklet of production notes, etc.  Retail will be $119.98.  For more information, please paste the following URL into your browser:

New editions of Hitchcock's Rear Window, Vertigo, and Psycho, and Orson Welles's A Touch Of Evil to be released on 7th October 2008 (Region 1)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced two-disc special editions of the above four films.  Each will have 'extras', both 'old' and 'new' (e.g., Stephen Rebello's commentary for Psycho), with a SRP of $26.98.


DVD release (Region 2) of ten episodes of the 'Alfred Hitchcock Hour'

Koch Media in Munich have announced that on 25 May, 2008, they will release a set of ten selected episodes on three DVDs of the 'Alfred Hitchcock Hour' (which had 93 episodes in all).  The majority of the shows will have German audio soundtracks (no mention of English subtitles); however, four shows will have their original English soundtracks plus German subtitles.  Koch say that further sets will follow.  Here's the list of the initial set, which includes the Hitchcock-directed "I Saw the Whole Thing", starring John Forsythe:

1.  A Piece of the Action

2.  I Saw the Whole Thing

3.  Captive Audience

4.  Ride the Nightmare

5.  Diagnosis: Danger

6.  The Star Juror

7.  Last Seen Wearing Blue Jeans

8.  Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale

9.  The Cadaver

10. The Dividing Wall

Death of Suzanne Pleshette (1937-2008)

Suzanne Pleshette, the husky-voiced actress who redefined the television sitcom wife in the 1970s, playing the smart, sardonic Emily Hartley on 'The Bob Newhart Show', has died of respiratory failure at her home in Los Angeles. She was 70.

She made her film debut in the 1958 Jerry Lewis comedy, The Geisha Boy.  In Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) she played the schoolteacher Annie Hayworth.  Our tribute comes from Stephen Rebello in Hollywood:

'What a witty, intelligent, and stylish woman she was.  For me, one of the most intriguing things she ever did was to one day turn up on the set
of The Birds with blonde, upswept hair, a new makeup style, wearing a mink coat, Edith Head clothing, and a haughty expression.  She did it, she said, when she realized that Hitchcock only had eyes for the blonde.

'Apparently, Tippi Hedren thought it was hilarious.  Hitchcock, not so much, although I have been told that he saw in Pleshette's directness, outspokeness, and legendarily bawdy language a throwback to the days of stars like Carole Lombard.'

French-German film coming about the young Alfred Hitchcock

French-German cultural channel ARTE have made a series of short films on the childhoods of "Six Great Filmmakers", including Hitchcock.  Other directors to be featured are Welles, Renoir, Bergman, Lang, and Tati.  The films will be shown in cinemas and on television.

The Hitchcock film is directed by Corinne Garfin and has the title Nuit Brève (The Short Night).  It shows a young Alfred going with his parents to a play starring Ellen Terry (played by Camille Natta) and afterwards meeting the famous actress.  Below is a still.  For more information, click here:

                      actor portraying Alfred Hitchcock in forthcoming
Scene from the forthcoming ARTE production,
Nuit Brève

The stage production of The 39 Steps in Boston (and now Broadway, et al.)

Back in 2005 Michael Walker reported here on the opening in Leeds, England, of a play based on Hitchcock's film The 39 Steps.  (See "UK stage production of The 39 Steps" below.)  Later, in "Editor's Day", we quoted correspondent DN - Danny Nissim - on how the play had transferred to London's West End and had provided an exhilarating night-out for Danny, his wife, and friends.  In 2007 the production crossed the Atlantic and played in Boston.  In January 2008 it will move to New York (see below).  Here's what WB reported in our 'Hitchcock Enthusiasts' Group about seeing it in Boston:

'I went to Boston last Saturday to see a new play entitled "Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps". The title makes clear that the play is based (loosely) on the Hitchcock film and not the John Buchan book, although perhaps a more apt title would add the tag "meets Monty Python".   Citing a Pythonesque dimension, though, doesn't fully suggest the great warmth with which the whole thing celebrates Hitchcock.  Four actors play 100+ roles and do it with great verve and ability.   It's quite funny and wonderful.   It has played for a couple of years in London's West End and one of the original actors from the UK is playing the lead here.  It transfers to Broadway in January [namely, the American Airlines Theatre in Times Square, opening on Tuesday 15 January.  In Australia, a Melbourne Theatre Company production will open in April.] They simulate effects from the film in funny, creative and low-tech ways.  They even pull off Hitchcock's cameo.   My ten-year-old daughter also loved the show.  Given my love for the original, I went a skeptic and came out a great fan.'

New 10 DVD Hitchcock set coming to the UK (Region 2) in February, 2008

The set will include Hitchcock's first film as director, The Pleasure Garden (1925), from the Rohauer Collection.  All of the discs will have 'extras' (including film analyses by Charles Barr).  Here is the list of films:

Disc One: The Pleasure Garden
Disc Two: The Lodger (A Story of the London Fog)
Disc Three: Downhill
Disc Four: The Man Who Knew Too Much
Disc Five: The 39 Steps
Disc Six: Secret Agent
Disc Seven: Sabotage
Disc Eight: Young and Innocent
Disc Nine: The Lady Vanishes
Disc Ten: Jamaica Inn

[We thank Ryan Hewitt of Sony DADC UK Ltd, and Dave Pattern of the website, for information in the above item.]


Art director Robert Boyle to receive Oscar

Production designer Robert Boyle, 98, who first worked for Hitchcock on Saboteur (1942) and who was nominated four times for Oscars in the art direction category, including for Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), will receive an honorary Oascar during the Academy Awards ceremony on February 24, it has been announced.

Born in Los Angeles in 1909, Boyle trained as an architect.  When the Depression cost him his job, he found work in films as an extra.  In 1933, he was hired as a draftsman in the Paramount Studios art department.  He went on to work on various films as a sketch artist, draftsman, and assistant art director before becoming an art director at Universal in the early '40s.

Martin Scorsese's new Spanish TV commercial a mock Hitchcock film

Okay, drop everything.  Every year, the Freixenet company in Spain puts out an expensive commercial for the Christmas season. This year, it's for their Reserva wine. That's not important. What is important is that they got Martin Scorsese to make the commercial this year, a nine-minute film that is a tribute to Hitchcock's '50s masterworks. It begins with film preservationist Marty, in Last Waltz style, claiming that he has found three pages from a never-made Hitchcock script called 'The Key To Reserva'. Then it shows Scorsese making the film, and it's a joy. It's full of Hitchcockian color schemes and camera angles, all shot in a concert hall and scored to Bernard Herrmann. It makes visual references to The Man Who Knew Too MuchRear WindowNorth by Northwest and several other Hitchcock masterpieces. Lensed by Harris Savides. Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker. Starring Simon Baker in a Cary Grant suit. Trust us: drop everything you're doing and watch Marty's film here:

Another remake: The Lodger

Hitchcock was the first to make a film version of Mrs Belloc Lowndes's 1913 novel (expanded from her own short story) about a Jack-the-Ripper killer terrorising London.  The full title of Hitchcock's 1926 film was The Lodger, A Story of the London Fog.  Now writer/director David Ondaatje will attempt his version of the novel - with the setting reportedly moved to Los Angeles.  It will focus on the relationship between a paranoid landlady and her tenant. A second plot thread will involve some personal and professional problems of detective Chandler Manners, hot on the killer's trail.

• Other Hitchcock-related projects are slated or are awaiting release.  The thriller Number 13 takes its name, and setting, from the 1920s film that Hitchcock worked on but which was never finished.  It shows the youthful director (played by Dan Fogler) somehow caught in a love triangle involving two crew members. When the lead actor turns up dead, the film's editor suspects Hitchcock, and tries to uncover the truth.  Chase Palmer will direct the film, starting in January.

• A new version of The Birds is slated, to be directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale).  Australian actress Naomi Watts has been announced to play the lead role of Melanie Daniels.  However, according to 'The Guardian' (20 October 2007), the film has already run into opposition.  Co-star of Hitchcock's original film, Tippi Hedren, is quoted as saying, 'Must you be so insecure that you have to take a film that's a classic, and I think a success, and try to do it over?'

• British actor Bill Nighy has reportedly signed to star in Australian director Stephan Elliott's Easy Virtue, an adaptation of Noel Coward's play to be produced by Ealing Studios for 2009 release.  The play casts a critical eye at hypocrisy and upper-class English life in the 1920s.  The previous film version of the play was Hitchcock's, made in 1927 and starring Isabel Jeans and Robin Irvine.

• Another Psycho-related project (see also below) is said to be called Psycho/Analysis from a script by the late Joseph Stefano (who, of course, wrote the original Hitchcock-directed film from Robert Bloch's novel). 

Coming: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho: The Movie

'[I]t could never be said that director Ryan Murphy (Running With Scissors) is one to let grass grow under his feet.'  Thus wrote 'Hollywood Elsewhere' columnist Jeffrey Wells by way of 'leaking' some exciting news for Hitchcock buffs: that Murphy is set to direct 'a drama about the making of Hitchcock's Psycho, and particularly the hurdles and roadblocks that the great British director [to be played by Anthony Hopkins] went through in order to bring it ... to fruition'.  Wells also reveals that British actress Helen Mirren (The Queen) may play Hitchcock's wife and collaborator, Alma.

We can add some details.  The film will be based on Stephen Rebello's book 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (1990.  (Rebello is an Exutive Producer on the project.)  A recent draft of the film's screenplay is said to have a tone closer to The Queen or Gods and Monsters than to RKO 281: The Battle Over Citizen Kane (as named in the 'Hollywood Elsewhere' item).  Apparently, too, the true focus of the film will be on Alfred and Alma and the impact of their intricate personal lives on the creation of the 1960 film.

                    AND THE MAKING OF PSYCHO


Major Hitchcock exhibition in Illinois emphasises his filmmaking methods

The exhibition in Evanston, Illinois, has now opened.  We hear that visitors so far have included Hitchcock actresses Tippi Hedren and Veronica Cartwright and Hitchcock biographer John Russell Taylor.

Our thanks to Burke Pattern of Northwestern University, Evanston, for these details about the exhibition ...

“Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film,” from Sept. 28 to Dec. 9, features approximately 150 sketches, designs, storyboards, script pages, and other film production documents from such movies as Shadow of a Doubt (1943), North by Northwest (1959), and The Birds (1963), drawn from the archives of the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the British Film Institute. The exhibition, which will also include film clips and recordings of audio conversations between Hitchcock and his collaborators, will be accompanied by a screening of more than 30 films directed by Hitchcock, an international symposium, gallery talks, and an illustrated catalogue published by Northwestern University Press and the Block Museum of Art.
The exhibition will travel to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Gallery in Beverly Hills, California, in 2008.
A companion catalogue ('Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film,' $32.95) features an introduction by Block Museum film curator Will Schmenner and essays by Scott Curtis, associate professor of radio/television/film at Northwestern University; Tom Gunning, Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor, department of art history, University of Chicago; Jan Olsson, professor of cinema studies, Stockholm University, Sweden; and author Bill Krohn. The 160 page-book includes 63 plates and 33 illustrations.
To complement the exhibition, the Block is organizing the symposium “Hitchcock’s Myth and Method” at 9:30 am on Friday, November 2. Participants include Curtis; Gunning; Olsson; Krohn; Tania Modleski, Florence R. Scott Professor of English, University of Southern California; and Sarah Street, professor of film, University of Bristol, England. This day-long symposium is free and open to the public.
In addition, Block Cinema will screen many of Hitchcock’s films during the fall quarter; some of them will be introduced by noted film scholars. The Block Museum will also offer a series of gallery talks focusing on specific aspects of the “Casting a Shadow” exhibition. Details on the film screenings and gallery talks are forthcoming. Free guided tours of the “Casting a Shadow” exhibition will be held at 2 pm every Saturday and Sunday from September 29 to December 9.
The Block Museum is located at 40 Arts Circle Drive on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. Admission to the Block’s exhibitions is free. General admission to Block Cinema screenings is $6 or $ 4 for Block Museum members and students with ID. For more information, call (847) 491-4000 or click here:

Deaths: Oscar-winner Jane Wyman at age 93, and actor Hansjörg Felmy at age 76

Jane Wyman, who starred as trainee actress Eve Gill in Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950), has died.  The first wife of former US President Ronald Reagan was 93.

She won an Academy Award for her role as a deaf-mute in Johnny Belinda (Jean Negulesco,1948).

Meanwhile, the actor who played the menacing Heinrich Gerhard, head of State Security, in Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966), has died in Lower Bavaria after a decade-long battle with osteoporosis.
Felmy was one of the best-known and most important actors in Germany from the 1950s onward, including television. One of his most significant stage successes was his role in Kurt Hoffmann's satire 'Wir Wunderkinder'/'We Children of the Economic Miracle' of 1958.

[Our thanks to DF for this item.]

Farewell Richard Franklin (Psycho II)

Our esteemed director-friend, Richard Franklin, has died of cancer in Melbourne, Australia, a few days short of his 59th birthday.  Among his early films were Patrick (1978), starring Sir Robert Helpmann, and Roadgames (1980), starring Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis - the making of which led in turn to Richard's work in Hollywood for Universal Studios: Psycho II (1983), starring Tony Perkins and Vera Miles, and Cloak and Dagger (1984), starring Dabney Coleman and young Henry Thomas plus John McIntire (the sheriff in Psycho) and wife Jeanette Nolan (who had voiced Mrs Bates in Psycho) playing the villains.  (The film was a re-working and opening-out of the 1949 movie The Window.)  Back in Australia, Richard made such admirable films as Hotel Sorrento (1995), from Hannie Rayson's stage success, and Brilliant Lies (1996), from the play by David Williamson.  No-one admired the work of Hollywood masters Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford more than Richard.  Accordingly, we have lost the one person with whom we were best able to converse about Hitch's filmmaking, and whose many insights on the films were always keen and true.  There is a superb profile of Richard written in 2005 by young Canadian critic Aaron Graham for the 'Senses of Cinema' Great Directors pages:                  

How tall was Alfred Hitchcock?

We've had this controversy before.  In one of the Second Season episodes of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' ("Number Twenty-Two"), in which Hitch appears in a police lineup (!), his height is given as 5 feet, 6 inches.  But on his British passport recently auctioned by Juliens of Hollywood (see image below), which is stamped 9 February 1954, his height is entered as 5 feet, 8 inches.  (Mind you, the same passport appears to indicate that Hitch was single, mentioning neither wife nor daughter!  But perhaps that's simply because the distaff side of the Hitchcock family had long ago become American citizens.)

                                            British passport of
                  Alfred Hitchcock   

A couple of DVDs

Recent DVD releases of The 39 Steps (1935) and To Catch a Thief (1955) have been enthusiastically praised by our readers.

The particular DVD we mean of The 39 Steps is the one contained in the package known as 'The Rank Collection' (which has actually been out for a couple of years).  Correspondent DF in Germany tells us: 'The whole thing appears to be Carlton Video, and I already have The 39 Steps on a DVD from Carlton.  But the Rank Collection version is rather better.  The transfer is beautifully done; the sound has been improved - very judiciously too.  The result is certainly the best 39 Steps that I have had the pleasure of seeing.'  For more information about 'The Rank Collection', click here: 

As for Paramount's new release of To Catch a Thief - not to be confused with the one of about five years ago - some reports suggest that it's a considerable improvement on the earlier one.  'The New York Times' review (8 May 2007) quotes Paramount themselves on how this version 'has been taken from a restored VistaVision negative, and [how the result] shows in far crisper detail, much deeper colors, and a new sense of depth'.  The new release, we gather, has a commentary track by Peter Bogdanovich and Laurent Bouzereau that wasn't on the earlier disk.  And our director friend Richard Franklin (Psycho II) emailed us to praise the look of the new version: 'it's FABULOUS!'  For a full review, click here:

Five early Hitchcocks, fully remastered, coming on DVD

Canadian company Lionsgate Home Entertainment, part of the Lions Gate Entertainment Corporation, will release the 'Alfred Hitchcock: 3-Disc
Collector's Edition' on February 6th, 2007. The set will feature five films: The Manxman, Rich And Strange, The Skin Game, Murder!, and The Ring.  All of the films are said to be fully remastered, and new soundtracks have been recorded for the silent films.

• Caveat.  We have been told by P McF that the edition of Murder! has some drawbacks.  Though in general the restored soundtrack and visuals are superb, 'sound effects' are now sometimes 'severely noticeable'.  And dissolves look scruffy compared to the cleaned-up images on either side of them. Also, reportedly, 'of the last three scenes, the first two are missing!  They are each short, [consisting of] just one shot: Diana leaving the prison gates, and then Diana and Sir John in the car together [as he tells her] "you must save those tears - for my new play".'  However, this last matter is a known issue, and is simply a case of the original UK theatrical release print having been used for the Lionsgate DVD: the two 'missing' shots were ones included only in the original US release of the film.  (For more about the US ending, here's a link to Dave Pattern's Hitchcock wiki-site:

• Dave Pattern tells us that sections of the audio track for Rich and Strange appear to have had Foley effects added (notably footsteps).

New selection of Hitchcock-directed TV programs on DVD can be played without the French subtitles

Congratulations to the people responsible for the Region 2 release (PAL format) of a boxed collection of Alfred Hitchcock's work for television.  The box contains all of the episodes directed by Hitchcock of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' plus three other items that he directed for television: "Incident at a Corner", the celebrated episode of 'Ford Startime' which Hitchcock made in colour and which stars Vera Miles; "Four o'Clock", starring E.G. Marshall, which Hitchcock directed for the show called 'Suspicion', from a story by Cornell Woolrich; and "I Saw the Whole Thing", starring John Forsythe, which was the only Hitch-directed episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Hour'.  Note: although the items have French subtitles, these can be turned off if not required.  Price of the 5-disc set is reportedly now 65.00 € (previously 49.95 €).  For more information, click the following: Hitchcock selection (Region 2) and How to order (in English)

• Further good news from Region 2, specifically France.  For the first time, the full 80-minutes, English-language version of Hitchcock's Waltzes From Vienna (1933), starring Jessie Matthews, Esmond Knight, and Fay Compton, is to be released on DVD, by Universal.  But note: the release-date has been put back (it was originally going to be 20 June, 2006 - it is now March, 2007).  Also, apparently in this case the French subtitles can't be turned off.  On the same disk: Downhill.  For more information, click here:

A revelation: Maurice Elvey's The Water Gipsies (1932), part-scripted by Alma Reville, screened in London

Our London correspondent, Michael Walker ('Hitchcock's Motifs'), has sent us the following.  'The NFT has just done a short season of quota quickies. The Water Gipsies (Maurice Elvey, 1932) was a revelation. Taken from a novel by A.P.Herbert, it allowed its heroine (played by Ann Todd) and her sister quite astonishing sexual freedom without being punished.  I mention it for two Hitch-related reasons. First, Alma Reville [Mrs Alfred Hitchcock] was one of the scriptwriters (along with Miles Malleson, Basil Dean and John Paddy Carstairs).  I sensed Alma's hand in the liveliness of the two sisters.  Second, Ann Todd projects a palpable sexual desire, which I don't think is a commonly recognised feature of her performances. But I do think it's also there in The Paradine Case (1947), where it contributes to a real sense of a sexual marriage - perhaps the strongest example in Hitchcock.'

Rare early Hitchcock photo

In the rare 1922 photo below, that's Alfred Hitchcock (with moustache?) squatting beside the camera and gesturing across the road at actress Clare Greet.  The occasion was the filming of Number Thirteen (aka Mrs Peabody) on location outside the public house, "The Angel", in Rotherhithe, London.  The film was never finished.  According to a caption, the director, Hitchcock, had two assistant directors, A.W. Barnes and  Norman Arnold.  Cameraman was Joe Rosenthal.

The photo is reproduced from 'The Cinema Studio', December 7, 1949.  We thank Mr Ray Ridley for sending us the photo.

                                                       Rare production still from
                  the unfinished Hitchcock film NUMBER THIRTEEN


• We're saddened to learn of the death of Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano, on August 25, of a heart attack.  He was 84.  Besides Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), Stefano wrote the screenplay of Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake (1998) and a TV 'prequel' called Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990), as well as such films as Michael Anderson's The Naked Edge (1961), starring Gary Cooper.  In 1963 Stefano co-produced TV's 'The Outer Limits', the successful s-f series for which he wrote several of its 49 episodes.  Our first tribute is from Stephen Rebello, author of 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (1990): 'Joseph Stefano spoke very much like a musician, with a rich voice and a delivery dotted with jazzy riffs and deep, sonorous chords, often punctuated by the pizzicato of explosive laughter.  I can't imagine Hitchcock not being delighted, inspired, and perhaps a bit perplexed by such a free spirit.  I wish they had stayed together for Marnie not only because Stefano was so good at story structure but because he showed great empathy for tragic, melancholic characters who tough things out with unexpected jabs of dark, anarchic humor.'  Our second tribute is from Dr Phil Skerry, author of 'The Shower Scene in Hitchcock's Psycho' (2005): 'Two years ago, when Janet Leigh died, I wrote to Joe expresssing my sorrow, and he replied, "I still haven't got it into my head and (more so) my heart that I will not be seeing her dear smile again. I feel a terrible loss, and I will never forget her." Joe's words perfectly convey my feelings about this wonderful, generous, talented man.'  

• Actress Kasey Rogers, aka Laura Elliot, died on July 6.  She was 79.  As Laura Elliot, she played the trampish wife Miriam in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951).  On TV, Kasey Rogers was Louise Tate in the hit series 'Bewitched'.  Our tribute is from Richard Valley, editor of 'Scarlet Street' magazine: 'Kasey was a smart, amusing, good-natured woman and we were very, very, very fond of her.  Anyone who has ever met her or enjoyed her fine work in Strangers on a Train or on 'Peyton Place' or 'Bewitched' must feel the same.'

DVD news: 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents', Season Two, on the way

A year after they released the first season of the entertaining 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents', Universal Studios Home Entertainment have announced that the second season will be released on October 17 (Region 1) ...

Henry Bumstead (1915-2006)

Henry Bumstead, the veteran Hollywood production designer who worked for Hitchcock on The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), Topaz (1969), and Family Plot (1976), has died at the age of 91 in Pasadena, California.

In a nearly 70-year career that began when he was a draftsman in the art department at RKO in the late 1930s, Bumstead's first picture as an art director was the 1948 Paramount drama Saigon, starring Alan Ladd.

Bumstead twice won Academy Awards: for his work on To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) and The Sting (George Roy Hill, 1973).  He also received Oscar nominations for Vertigo and Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992).  

In recent times, Bumstead's longtime association with actor-director Eastwood saw him still on the job into his 90s.  It was while working on Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby (2004) that Bumstead learned that he had prostate cancer.

'Bummy was one of a kind,' Eastwood remembers.  'We will all miss him terribly.'

Anna Massey reads from her memoirs

Actress Anna Massey (Peeping Tom, Hitchcock's Frenzy, etc.) has just finished reading extracts on BBC Radio4 from her recently-published memoirs, 'Telling Some Tales'.  In one program she talked about Frenzy.

Danny Nissim in London (whom we thank) notes that the Frenzy segment had some interesting material covering Massey's audition: Hitch sat behind a huge desk and spent the first 45 minutes talking about making batter pudding!  At one point, he asked how tall Massey was, explaining that she would have to fit into a potato sack.  But Massey disputed the myth that Hitch treated actors as cattle.  He was patient and helpful, often using a comic irony which put everyone at their ease.

On Alfred Hitchcock and his screenwriters

We're told that a lengthy article on Hitchcock and his relationships with his writers features in the May 2006 issue of 'Written By', the Magazine of the Writers Guild - West.  The piece is said to be the first that comprehensively treats this topic.  The May issue contains new interviews with Joseph Stefano, Patricia Hitchcock, Norman Lloyd, and Jay Presson Allen who passed away on May 1.
The issue is available on news stands or by contacting the magazine at <>.

Passing of Jay Presson Allen

Screenwriter, novelist, playwright and producer, Jay Presson Allen, has died at the age of 84 from a stroke, at her home in Manhattan.

Her extensive film credits include Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964), Cabaret (1972), Just Tell Me What You Want (1980, from Allen's novel), Prince of the City (1981), and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969).  It was in fact Allen's fine stage adaptation of Muriel Spark's novel 'The Prime of Mis Jean Brodie' which drew her to Hitchcock's attention: he read an advance copy of it and hired her for Marnie.  Afterwards, he commissioned her to adapt J.M. Barrie's play 'Mary Rose' but his cherished project never actually made it to the screen.     

Ms Allen once told an interviewer, 'I never wanted to direct. I always thought that was a brutal job, one that I never had an interest in. A lot of it’s baby-sitting, and I could never stand for that. Hitchcock wanted to make me into a director. But I had a husband [film producer Lewis Allen], a child and a life and I didn’t want to give those things up.'

Murder! plus Mary on one DVD

Hitchcock's Murder! (1930) and its German version, Mary - which Hitchcock shot immediately afterwards - have now been released on one DVD by Arthaus. Our correspondent, DF, in Germany reports: 'The quality is quite good except for one or two places where the original film seems to have been irreparably damaged - only very short spots, and of little consequence - and among the extras is an excerpt from Hitchcock's interview with Truffaut in August 1962.'  (Regrettably, for our English-speaking readers, we learn that the Arthaus release of Mary does not have English subtitles.)  

• Nor, we now hear, will an imminent French DVD release of Mary have English subtitles.  It will appear on a disc with Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939).  Also forthcoming soon from France (probably in June) are these Hitchcock discs: Under Capricorn (1949) plus an interview with Claude Chabrol; Juno and the Paycock (1930) plus The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934).  Coming later from France are Waltzes from Vienna (1933), as previously announced here; The Pleasure Garden (1925); Downhill (1927).

(Thanks to AK for information about the French DVDs.) 

Actress Alida Valli dies

Italian actress Alida Valli, star of Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947), Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949), and Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954), has died in Rome at the age of 84.

Born Alida Maria Laura von Altenburger in 1921 in Pola (now Pula in Croatia), she made her cinema debut at the age of 15 and appeared in over 100 films.  One of those films was Mario Soldati's exquisite Piccolo mondo antico/Little old-fashioned world (1941), set in the Italian lakes in the 1850s, and described by critic David Shipman as 'a "literary" film but otherwise as near as dammit perfect'.  After the War she was discovered by US producer David Selznick, who put her under contract, thinking he had found a new Ingrid Bergman.  In fact, her English-speaking career did not last long (supposedly due to her thick accent), but she continued to act in Italian and French films, as well as theatre.

She was awarded a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1997 for her contribution to Italian cinema.


The play 'Hitchcock Blonde' finally reaches the US!

A good two or three years ago we reported on the play by noted playwright Terry Johnson, 'Hitchcock Blonde', then running in London.  (See "Another Hitchcock-related stage play" lower down this page.)  Last year, the Editor of 'The MacGuffin' watched the Australian production of the play, and found it excellent!  So we're happy to announce here that South Coast Repertory, located in Costa Mesa, California (about an hour's drive south of Los Angeles), will shortly premiere the play in America, with Terry Johnson directing.  The supposed excerpts from a 'lost' Hitchcock film that figure in the play have apparently been re-done (using 'state-of-the-art videography') by William Dudley who also did the video for the original British production.  Performances will begin on February 3, with official opening on February 10, and closing March 12.  For more information, click here:

• Update.  A review of the new production of 'Hitchcock Blonde' appeared in the February 14th issue of the  'Los Angeles Times'.  Headed "Hitch just a subplot in overstuffed 'Blonde'", the review, by Sean Mitchell, starts by calling the play 'A brainy bit of titillation, salted with some deep thoughts on Hollywood's dark powers and the unseemly genius of the famously morbid British director'. However, though Mitchell praises some of the performances, notably Dakin Matthews's as Hitchcock, he finds that '[playwright Terry] Johnson hasn't located a narrative structure that adequately serves his gifts' ...

They've made a film of Hitchcock's short story "Gas"!

Hitchcock was still a teenager when he wrote several short stories for the staff magazine of the Henley Telegraph and Cable Company where he was employed.  The best-known of these stories, "Gas", showing the possible influence of Edgar Allan Poe or Wilkie Collins, appeared in the June 1919 issue.  Now there's a 12-minute film of the story.  It was shot in London on 35mm and was directed by Sylvie Bolioli for Polaris Productions.

• Update.  The film had its world premiere in Edinburgh in January.  More recently, it was marketed at the Cannes Film Festival.  An unorthodox cast includes Johanna Mohs as the story's terrified woman, Tony Hadley as the dentist, and veteran actress Valerie Leon (several Carry On films, the original The Italian Job, etc.).  Leon plays two roles in Gas - a prostitute in the anaesthesia-induced nightmare and, back in the real world, the dentist's classy receptionist.

For more information, click here:

Finely scented:  Laurent Fiévet's latest Hitchcock video installation opening in Paris

The third of artist Laurent Fiévet's presentations inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's work, 'Essences de l'image: portraits olfactifs' ('Essences of the image: olfactive portraits'), is a follow-up to presentations held in Finland during 2003-04.  The artist - who has a PhD in film studies - seeks to create a relation between selected shots from Hitchcock's films and some famous paintings which could have inspired them.  Fiévet's latest presentation will run from February 14th to March 14th at the Galerie La Ferronnerie.  For more information, click here:

Portrait, after A.Hitchcock and W.

Laurent Fiévet: 'Portrait ...', after North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock) and 'Shipwreck' (William Turner)

Cinematographer Leonard J. South dies at 92

The camera operator on nearly a dozen Alfred Hitchcock classics, including North by Northwest (1959) and The Birds (1963), and the director of photography on Hitchcock's last film Family Plot (1976), has died in California (6 January, 2006).

South began his three-decade association with Hitchcock as cinematographer Robert Burks's camera assistant on the 1951 film Strangers on a Train.  He was soon elevated to camera operator, becoming part of what Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto called 'the ongoing Hitchcock crew who came to know exactly what the director wanted and how to give it to him.'

In a 1979 interview for the 'Daily Pilot' newspaper, South recalled that one morning on the Family Plot set, actor Bruce Dern, 'a very outgoing, nervy guy,' walked up to Hitchcock and said, 'I understand you call all actors cattle. Does that mean me, Hitch?'

'I'd say, Bruce, you are the golden calf,' Hitchcock deadpanned.

That, South recalled, 'came right out of nowhere. Bruce laughed for half an hour.'

South, a former member of the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, also was a longtime board member of the American Society of Cinematographers, for which he served as president in 1989-90.

(Adapted from an article in the 'Los Angeles Times'.  Our thanks to RC for supplying it.)

Universal's 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents', Season One, discs have flaws ...

Correspondence on our 'Hitchcock Enthusiasts' Group indicates several production flaws in the dual-sided 3-disc DVD set containing the 39 episodes of the First Season (1955-56) of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' which was released last month in the USA (Region 1).  Problems include discs sticking or not playing some sections, and images breaking up.  One correspondent, after talking to a DVD collector friend, reports similar problems occuring on other dual-sided disc sets of Universal's television shows.

Our advice?  Heed what lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) says in The Birds: 'caveat emptor', 'let the buyer beware'.

Mike Leigh slights Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972)

At a recent London Film Festival event whose theme was the best and worst of films about London, panellist Mike Leigh (Naked, Topsy Turvy, Vera Drake) suddenly exploded when questioned about Hitchcock's 33-year-old Frenzy, set in and around Covent Garden.  According to Leigh: 'Frenzy is a horrible film. It's sloppy. It's superficial. It says nothing about London life, and it shouldn't be in the Time Out list [of best London films]. I'd be very happy if none of my films ever stoops to the level of Frenzy.'

Hmm.  Come back in another 33 years, Mike, and let's see how your own films have fared against Hitchcock's in the estimation of audiences.  (Meanwhile, to read more about Mike Leigh's outburst - by the person who asked the question about Frenzy - click here:  We thank Nick Poteri for contacting us and for permission to cite his excellent blog.)

More DVD news: 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents', Season One, coming (Region 1)

On October 4, 2005, Universal Studios Home Entertainment will release on DVD the entire first season of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' (39 episodes, 4 of them directed by Hitchcock himself) plus 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Look Back', a featurette on the show.  For more information, click here:

Finally, Hitchcock's Lifeboat on DVD

On October 18, 2005, Fox Home Entertainment will release a 'Special Edition' of Lifeboat (1944).  The disc will include a 'making of' featurette, the theatrical trailer, and a commentary track by Professor Drew Casper of USC.

• Update, February 2006.  The above release-date was for Region 1.  We're told that the DVD is now available in Region 2 with extra material, including a two-part interview with Hitchcock by Fletcher Markle of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  The Region 2 release is on two discs. 

The shower scene from Psycho: new book

Is this a first?  In October, 2005, Edward Mellen Press will publish a book-length study of a single scene from a movie - admittedly, both the movie and the scene are particularly famous.  'The Shower Scene in Hitchcock's Psycho: Creating Cinematic Suspense and Terror' is authored by Dr Phil Skerry.  As well as detailed analysis, Dr Skerry includes lengthy interviews with star Janet Leigh, scriptwriter Joseph Stefano, assistant director Hilton Green, sound designer Danny Greene, assistant editor Terry Williams, and with the editor of the Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho, Amy Duddleston. The book culminates with first-person accounts of the initial viewing of Psycho and its shower scene - including reminiscences by several readers of this website. For more information, click here:

• Robert Meyers worked for famous designer and storyboard artist Saul Bass in the 1980s.  He currently owns Bass's sketches - or virtual storyboard - for the Psycho shower scene.  Professor Meyers, formerly of Rochester Institute of Technology, will soon be opening a communication design firm in Pittsburgh.  He tells us he would be interested to receive offers for the Bass sketches.  He may be contacted here: <>.

Death of Barbara Bel Geddes

She was superb as the Scottie-fixated Midge in Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958).  Stage and film actress Barbara Bel Geddes has died, aged 82 (8 August, 2005).  Besides her work for Hitchcock - which included four episodes of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' - film buffs particularly remember her for George Stevens's I Remember Mama (1946), Max Ophüls's Caught (1948), and Henry Hathaway's Fourteen Hours (1951).     

UK stage production of The 39 Steps

Our London correspondent, Michael Walker, reports: 'In last Saturday's "Guardian" (25 June, 2005) there was a review of a theatrical production of The 39 Steps at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. The review by Michael Billington wasn't that enthusiastic, but what was apparent was that, once again, the adaptor (Patrick Barlow from a concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon) had followed the Hitchcock movie, not the novel: Forth Bridge, handcuffs, peeling off stockings and all. The play is directed by Fiona Buffini; Robert Whitelock and Lisa Jackson (a blonde) are the two stars. It runs until 16 July. I feel encouraged that Hitch has more purchase on the popular culture in general than Buchan.'

Universal/Paramount (etc.) Hitchcocks in DVD set (Region 1)

Essentially this is a re-issue, though the 14 films are said to be 'digitally remastered'.  (And note the bonus disc.)  Release-date is announced as 4 October, 2005.  The set is available on pre-order at a discount.  For example (and to see details), click here:

French and German DVDs of early Hitchcock

Courtesy of Dave Pattern's Hitchcock DVD website comes this information on exciting new and forthcoming releases ...

First, there's a French DVD collection of early Hitchcock films, including the previously-unreleased-on-DVD Champagne (A l'Américaine).  Altogether there are 10 titles and a couple of documentaries.  These are split across 3 volumes:

    Volume 1 (Les Premières Oeuvres 1927/1929)

        The Ring/Le Masque de Cuir (1927)
        Champagne/A l'Américaine (1928)
        The Farmer's Wife/Laquelle des Trois (1928)
        The Manxman (1929)

    Volume 2 (Les Premières Oeuvres 1929/1931)

        Blackmail/Chantage (1929)
        Murder!/Meurtre (1930)
        The Skin Game (1931)
        52 minute documentary about Hitch's early films

    Volume 3 (Les Premières Oeuvres 1932/1940)

        Rich and Strange/A l'Est de Shanghaï (1932)
        Number Seventeen/Numéro 17 (1932)
        Foreign Correspondent/Correspondant 17 (1940)
        26 minute documentary about Foreign Correspondent

Dave Pattern writes: 'StudioCanal [the company releasing these discs] was involved in the excellent German Blackmail DVD. ... The new transfers are excellent - especially the 1920s films.  Champagne looks fantastic and it's hard to believe from the transfer that the film is nearly 80 years old!  My only negative comments are that the DVDs have forced French subtitles when you select the English language audio.  Some DVD players
may be able to override this, but neither of my standalone players were able to do so.  Also, the two documentaries have French only audio with no subtitles.' 

Then there's a French DVD collection coming soon from TF1 Vidéo which looks like it will contain the same excellent transfers used in the German 'Early Years' boxset (released by Concorde):

    'Hitchcock - Le Maître du Suspens'

Finally, German company Kinowelt/ArtHaus are planning a couple of DVD releases:

    1) a DVD of Mary (the German version of Murder!) and possibly Murder! itself on the same disc
    2) a DVD of both Rich and Strange and Champagne

There's no release-date as yet for the Mary DVD, but the other DVD is scheduled for 19 August 2005.

Other Hitchcock remakes?

We have no comment on any of this.  In a recent on-set interview for the thriller The Skeleton Key, Kate Hudson (daughter of Goldie Hawn) confirmed that 'My production company is trying to develop a remake of Hitchcock's Vertigo'.  Also, we hear that, yet again, Warners have said that they're re-making Strangers on a Train.  And Universal have announced plans to re-make The Birds.  

[Thanks to AN, and others, for this information.]

Magazine-issue and book on Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (1955) both coming

Vermont writer, artist, and film critic Stephen R. Bissette has begun a new magazine, 'Green Mountain Cinema', dedicated to New England movies and video, whose Spring 2005 issue will feature Hitchcock's VistaVision comedy The Trouble With Harry.  The first issue of the magazine has recently appeared.  For more information about it, click here:

Stephen is also working on an entire 'making of' type of book about Hitchcock's wonderful film.  He is visiting locations in Vermont, such as Craftsbury Common, where parts of the film were shot, and interviewing local residents.  He would be very thankful to receive any production stills or photocopies of newspaper clippings (especially those of the period).  Stephen may be contacted at <>.

[Our thanks to Tony Williams and Nandor Bokor for information in this item.]

Hitchcock biography by McGilligan criticised

Reviews of Patrick McGilligan's 'Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light' (2003) have now appeared in 'Cineaste', the 'Hitchcock Annual', 'Film Quarterly' - and (at great length) on this website.  All have been luke-warm.

For example, Prof. Marshall Deutelbaum concludes his review in 'Film Quarterly' (Vol. 58, Issue 1) like this: 'By choosing to write a biography without attempting to discern any trace of his subject's life in his films, McGilligan has limited Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light to the facts of a life's work without insight into the life itself.' (p. 58).

.                                                                                                                                                .

'Miss Torso' dead at 68

Georgine Darcy was just 17 when Alfred Hitchcock chose her to play the dancer 'Miss Torso' who is seen living opposite Jeff's apartment, and entertaining a string of suitors in the evenings, in Rear Window (1954). 'I had absolutely no idea who Alfred Hitchcock was,' she said. 'I considered myself a dancer and photographer's model and not an actress. I think he was impressed with my portfolio as I paid the extra, and had photos taken of me in colour.' On meeting her, Hitchcock suggested she find an agent, but she ignored the advice - to her cost. She was paid $350.

Georgine Darcy died in Malibu, California, recently.

What is of interest to Hitchcockians is that Hitchcock kept in touch with her after Rear Window.  He told her: 'If you go to Europe and study with [actor and acting coach] Michael Chekhov, I could make a big star out of you.' But she again ignored his advice, and settled into an undistinguished career. Her most noticeable roles came as Gypsy, the secretary to Pat O'Brien on 'Harrigan and Son' on television in the early 1960s, and in such unmemorable films as Don't Knock the Twist (1962), Women and Bloody Terror (1969), and The Delta Factor (1970).

Georgine Darcy is survived by her second husband, the actor Byron Palmer, to whom she was married for 30 years. .

Another To Catch a Thief coming

There's no word yet on who will direct or star in Paramount's remake of the Hitchcock comedy-adventure To Catch a Thief (1955), now set in Miami.  'Entertainment Weekly' (25 June, 2004) quotes screenwriter Todd Komarnicki: To Catch a Thief is one of Hitchcock's fluffier offerings. 'It was a delicacy on the Hitchcock menu, not one of his full-meal movies.'  A faster pace is promised this time: 'Thievery [must now compete] with alarm systems and bodyguards and everything protected.  We're going to see some really badass thieving this time around.'

Latest DVD news: Hitchcock releases from Warners and from MGM

Warners has announced a Region 1 release date - September 7 - for nine Hitchcock titles on DVD, each with its own 'making of' documentary and other extras.  As previously announced here, the titles include: Foreign Correspondent (1940), Suspicion (1941), Mr and Mrs Smith (1941), Stage Fright (1950), Strangers on a Train (1951), I Confess (1953), Dial M For Murder (1954), and The Wrong Man (1957).  In the case of Strangers on a Train, it will be released on two discs comprising a new Special Edition.  The ninth title will be the previously released North by Northwest (1959): Special Edition.  The discs will sell as a set for $99.92 (SRP).  The Strangers on a Train: Special Edition two-disc set will be available separately for $26.99.  The other discs will each be available separately for $19.97.

We can reveal that among the people participating in the 'making of' documentaries are members of the Hitchcock family, filmmakers Peter Bogdanovich and Richard Franklin, critic Bill Krohn, and various others.

We also hear of titles coming in November as part of MGM's Alfred Hitchcock promotion. These will include: The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936), Young and Innocent (1937), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Rebecca (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), and The Paradine Case (1947). They'll be available in a box set and separately.

[Thanks to Kristopher Valentine and Richard Carnahan for forwarding information contained in this item, and to the Digital Bits website.].

More on Rodenbach's novella "Bruges-la-Morte" (1892) and the line to Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958)

We'll put a special page concerning the above topic on this website soon, but meanwhile readers are reminded to visit our 'Selections' page to read the article called "The original of Vertigo".  The editor of 'The MacGuffin', Ken Mogg, says: 'It's clear to me that two Belgian (or Belgian/French) literary works, Georges Rodenbach's novella "Bruges-la-Morte" (1892) and Georges Simenon's novel "Lettre à mon juge" (1947) were both influences, probably directly, on the novel by French writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, "D'Entre les morts" (1954), that became Alfred Hitchcock's film masterpiece Vertigo (1958).  However, Boileau and Narcejac's novel was also almost certainly influenced by two French films.  Henri Verneuill's Le Fruit Défendu/ Forbidden Fruit (1952) was an adaptation of "Lettre à mon juge", and it starred Fernandel as the married doctor who takes a mistress Martine (Françoise Arnouil) who from the moment he sees her exerts a strange fascination over him, and whom he eventually strangles.  Also, Robert Siodmak's Le Grand Jeu/ Card of Fate/ Flesh and the Woman (1953) is a classic Foreign Legion story (originally filmed in 1934 by Jacques Feyder) starring Gina Lollobrigida as both a Parisian redhead and her brunette "double" who turns up in Algiers and haunts the hero.  I think it was Peter Cowie who first pointed to this latter film as a possible predecessor of Vertigo.

'Then there are all the literary and cinematic (and even operatic) descendants of Rodenbach's original novella that may have exerted a degree of influence on Vertigo.  Here I'm thinking of the silent films The Unfinished Portrait (1910), attributed to Léonce Perret, and Daydreams (1915), directed by Yevgeni Bauer (both of these works were direct adaptations of "Bruges-la-Mortes"); the novellas "Gradiva" (1903), by Wilhelm Jensen, and "Der Tod in Venedig"/ "Death in Venice" (1913), by Thomas Mann; and the opera "Die tote Stadt"/ "The Dead City" (1920), by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (again this was taken directly from "Bruges-la-Morte" or perhaps from its stage version, "Le Mirage", first performed in 1901).

'Finally, I wouldn't be surprised if Rodenbach influenced Belgian artists, most notably, perhaps, the Surrealist Paul Delvaux (1897-1994), who produced a series of paintings depicting nude and semi-nude women in dreamlike settings, often cityscapes at night.  (Other influences on Delvaux were his fellow Belgian Magritte and the Italian Chirico.)  I'm sure that Hitchcock knew his work.  For example, I detect his influence on the death scene of the Karen Dor character in Topaz (1969).'

For an earlier version of this News story, see below.  And for more information about the novellas 'Gradiva' and 'Der Tod in Venedig', see the article "The Fragments of the Mirror: Vertigo and its Sources" [parts (b) and (c)] elsewhere on this website..

From Rodenbach's novella "Bruges-la-Morte" (1892) to Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) - firming the line

Dominique Païni's essay "Léonce Perret, le dernier symboliste", included in the anthology 'Léonce Perret' (2003), which was published in conjunction with the 2002 Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna, Italy, refers to the short film Het Onvoltooide Portret/The Unfinished Portrait (1910), apparently directed by the Frenchman Léonce Perret (1880-1935).  In a French setting, the film reworks the story originally told by the Belgian Symbolist author Georges Rodenbach (1855-98) about a man whose first wife dies but who 're-appears' in the form of a double, and whom the man then obsessively woos, leading (in the novella) to a bizarre murder.  Rodenbach's story is set in the Belgian city of Bruges, 'a city of silence, ennui and ... desolation', and the story's original publication was accompanied by 35 half-tone reproductions of photographs of the city.  A stage version of the story, 'Le Mirage', was first produced in 1901.

In 'The MacGuffin' #29 (January 2004), Michael Walker described The Unfinished Portrait at some length, and its obvious influence, direct or indirect, on the novel 'D'Entre les Morts' (1954), by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, that eventually became Hitchcock's masterpiece, Vertigo.  Walker noted, though, that neither Rodenbach's novella nor Boileau and Narcejac's novel alludes to a portrait of the dead woman.

Now, after reading Walker's account, Prof. Tony Williams (whom we thank) has emailed us as follows:

'I recently viewed a film which is another "unlikely candidate" in anticipating Vertigo. This is Daydreams (1915), directed by the Russian filmmaker Yevgeni Bauer (1865-1917), and also based on "Bruges-la-Morte".  However, unlike The Unfinished Portrait, Daydreams is complete.  Bauer is one of those recently rediscovered pre-Revolutionary directors put into the shade post-1917. His work belongs to those excavated silent films often shown at the Podernone Festival and others. I'll give a brief synopsis.

'It opens with the main character distraught over the body of his recently deceased wife (significantly covered with flowers). As a last memory, he cuts off a plaid of her hair (fetish associations!) and continues to mourn his dearly departed to the concern of his maid (cf. Midge in Vertigo). One day, he passes a look-alike in the street and follows her to a theatre where he discovers her playing a revived corpse in a performance of Meyerbeer's "Robert le Diable". Already psychologically disturbed, he reacts like a male hysteric.  Parallels with Hitchcock's Scottie are not hard to see, as well as with Bernard Herrmann's operatic score.

'He brings her back home and asks an artist friend to paint her portrait with her wearing the clothes of the dead wife. Since "Tina" is a vulgar Judy-type, the artist warns his friend against this "magnificent obsession", but to no avail. I believe the dead woman's jewelry also figures in the narrative. Tina attempts to seduce his friend. The maid gives her notice since she cannot put up with her master's obsession any longer.

'The film also involves a ghostly appearance of the deceased wife similar to that described in The Unfinished Portrait, and further contains a flashback to the courtship and eventual death. Finally, Tina goes too far in provoking the man by playing with the braid before him. The man strangles her with the braid, and the film ends with the maid returning to witness this tragic climax.

'Naturally, like The Unfinished Portrait, this is not an exact anticipation of Vertigo. But it contains elements which will later appear in "D'Entre des Morts" and  Hitchcock's film.'

We'll print more about this matter here shortly..

Ronald Neame talks about Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929)

At the Hollywood Heritage Museum in Los Angeles recently, a screening of the sound version of Blackmail was attended by both Patricia Hitchcock and the British director Ronald Neame.  Neame, who is now in his 90s (biography), worked as an assistant camera operator on Hitchcock's film.  The following report is from Mark Norberg (whom we thank).

Neame said he was amazed at the memories of the shoot that came to him while watching the picture. He remembered standing behind a curtain (where Anny Ondra kills the artist) with a couple of other stage hands and hitting the curtain to represent the struggling pair. Something else he mentioned was the fact that Hitch assigned him to shoot 16mm footage of the filming.  [Editor's note.  About a minute of such footage was included on the Criterion laser disc of Blackmail, released in 1992. The footage is silent and has the title "The kiss".  Shot on the set of the artist's studio, it shows Hitch having fun demonstrating to Cyril Ritchard how he wants him to kiss Ms Ondra!  The latter is co-operative but laughing!]

He also was able to recall the occasion when the then Duke and Duchess of York (later the King and Queen Mother) visited the set of the 'first British sound picture'. He recounted how the Duchess stepped into the sound booth with Hitch where she took off her hat so that she could put on a headset and listen to the sound being recorded. Neame recalled immense problems with the recording of the dialogue, the cameras having to be contained in large soundproof booths - and these having to be moved in their entirety for a tracking shot or a pan of more than a few degrees.

He stated that he hadn't seen the sound version of Blackmail for some time but that he had seen the original silent version about four years ago and that he felt the silent version was much superior. And he noted that although Blackmail was [officially] the first British talkie, since most British theaters were not equipped for sound most people saw only the silent version anyway when it was first released.

When asked about working on the set with Hitch, Neame mentioned the usual things you hear: 'he was always calm and in control', 'always wore a jacket and tie', etc. Then Neame turned to Pat Hitchcock and said with a devilish grin, 'but most I remember Hitch's sense of humour which tended to be rather sadistic'. In the tobacco shop scene there is a gas flame on the counter from which the villain lights his cigar. One day Neame came on the set to see Hitchcock heating a half crown over the open flame with a pair of pliers. He couldn't imagine what Hitch was doing. After the coin was quite hot Hitch threw it to the ground and called over the prop man who seems to have been his favorite victim.  Hitch pointed across the floor to the coin and said something like 'Hey there! What's that half crown doing just lying on the floor?' Of course, when the man went to pick it up, he discovered exactly what it was doing there!  Later, Hitchcock induced the same man to put on a pair of handcuffs, which were in abundance during the shoot.  Hitch then told the man that if he would keep them on until the next day, while locked in the studio, Hitch would reward his efforts with a gift. The prop man readily accepted the bet, not knowing that the director had put a generous amount of laxative in the poor fellow's tea! Neame was later told by the man that, with the industrious help of his wife, he had made it through the night and onto the set the next day with the handcuffs intact. (Neame was unable to recall exactly what Hitchcock gave the man for his troubles but said Hitch did pay off his bet.)

An especially touching story concerned Neame's recounting how kind Hitchcock always was to him and how, during the time they were working together, Hitch always referred to him as 'one of his boys'.  Decades later, Neame met up again with Hitch, now in a wheelchair, and very nervously asked if Hitch remembered him.  Hitch was quick to reply, 'Why of course! You're one of my boys!.... And my goodness - you've grown sideburns!'.

Report on recent Kim Novak forum

Author Stephen Rebello, who on January 17 chaired the above sell-out event in Los Angeles for the American Cinematheque, tells us: 'For the moderator, these things are tricky.  The conversation needed to be about a six-film retrospective and [Ms Novak's] overall career.  For Hitchcockians, of course, that means not enough telling detail about Vertigo, for "fans," not enough gossip about Harry Cohn, Rita Hayworth, feuds with leading men, etc. I think we struck a balance, though.'

The following report is by Bill Krohn ('Hitchcock at Work'), who adds some material and asks a question:

'After a screening of Vertigo, and with Stephen Rebello handling the mike, [Kim] recounted that Harry Cohn, her boss, told her it was a lousy script, but to do it because it was Hitchcock. She read it and thought it was a wonderful script. She said that she knew instinctively how to play the role because she had been in the hands of men telling her what to do, how to dress, how to walk, ever since she got to Hollywood - notably Harry Cohn. She said she hated Madeleine's grey dress and the black shoes that went with it. All she had to do was put them on to feel imprisoned - which again worked for the performance.

'The rest of the evening was about the rest of Kim's career. Nothing but nice things to say about Hitchcock. Stephen asked her afterward for me if she looped the Nun's line "I heard voices" [at the end of Vertigo], and she said she didn't, but it would have been a wonderful way to convey Madeleine's feelings of guilt. She did actually - it was almost 50 years ago, so she's forgotten. And her reading of that "Hitchcock touch" is exactly right. "I heard voices" is looped over Madeleine and Scottie embracing - a disembodied voice that could very well be Madeleine's conscience (the maternal superego, Slavoj Zizek would say), which then rises up in the darkness of the next shot. Go, Hitch!

'Noted in passing while watching the film for the umpteenth time: Midge's last name is Wood (= Midge would, if Scottie could), and for some reason she is polishing a spectator pump (medium-heeled woman's shoe) when Scottie comes to her apartment to ask for an expert on San Francisco history.  (Explanations, MacGuffinists?)  Another small detail: I'm pretty sure the Madeleine stand-in wearing the grey suit walks through the first dolly-in on Madeleine in the black dress at Ernie's. She would have been on the set anyway, ready to shoot her walk-on as Madeleine later in the film, and Hitchcock probably just sent her through the first shot for the hell of it.

'Finally, a question: If Scottie's real friends - like Midge - call him Johnny, why does Madeleine, in both incarnations, call him Scottie?'

[Our thanks to both Stephen Rebello and Bill Krohn for the above.  Stephen further tells us: 'Also in attendance at the showing of the 70 mm restored print of Vertigo were Tippi Hedren and Diane Baker, sitting together. Patricia Hitchcock and two of her daughters also attended the benefit party which followed the screening, as did Hedren and Baker.  The mayor of Hollywood officially declared it Kim Novak Day.' ] 

Maybe this time?

We've announced a few coming remakes of Hitchcock films here, only to end up with egg on our face.  It seems that the strike-average for such remakes actually getting made is about one project in two.  But this one sounds promising ...

Noted screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown, Mission Impossible 3) has struck a deal to write, and direct, a remake of Hitchcock's classic comedy-thriller The 39 Steps (1935).  The American president and CEO of Carlton International Media, Stephen Davis, whose company owns the rights to all of the film versions of The 39 Steps that have been made (three so far, including Hitchcock's original, from John Buchan's novel) said: 'There is only a handful of individuals in our business with the talent, experience, and insight to whom we would entrust [such a project], and Robert Towne is one of them.'.

How many actors appeared in both versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much?

The answer to that question, according to Charles Barr's 'English Hitchcock' (1999), p. 234, is 'one'.  Frank Atkinson played the policeman shot dead on the mattress during the gun battle with Peter Lorre's anarchists in the 1934 version and was one of the employees in Ambrose Chappell's London taxidermist's visited by James Stewart in the 1956 version.

But a recent newspaper obituary for Betty Baskcomb (d. 15 April 2003) claimed that she, too, appeared in both versions of TMWKTM.  Our man in London, Michael Walker, decided to check.  He soon found that in the 1956 film Baskcomb plays Edna, the bespectacled woman at London Airport who telephones the villains.  But where is she in the 1934 version?  Our man had a flash of inspiration: 'I thought the most sensible character to check out would be the young woman who is displaced from her bed during the gun battle. We only see her face briefly as she turns, but I think it's enough. She does the same strange mouth movement as Edna in TMWKTM (2); she has the same long nose. To check further, I tracked Baskcomb down in Robert Hamer's It Always Rains on Sunday (1947): she's the incumbent barmaid (Edie, I think), in effect Googie Withers's successor. She has a little scene with a reporter around 71 minutes in; and there we can see what she looked like. Allowing for the age differences, I'm now pretty confident that I've found her in the 1934 movie.'  (Good work, Michael!).

DVD news:  German 6-disc release reportedly superb

We hear that 7 Hitchcock features have been released as a set entitled 'Hitchcock: The Early Years'.  The 6 discs comprise The Lodger (1926), Downhill (1927), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Sabotage (1936), Secret Agent (1936), Young And Innocent (1937), and The Lady Vanishes (1938).

A Yahoo 'MacGuffin' Group correspondent, JG, writes: 'DVD aficionados [report that] this set is far better than all else out there ... including the Criterion.  The soundtracks are in English.  I have the set and it is superb and all the fanfare is accurate.  I have the Laserlight sets of the early Hitchcocks ... and these transfers are far, far better. Enormously so.'

Here's a link to the German Amazon site: Verwandte Artikel entdecken

• And for soundtrack enthusiasts, the City of Prague Philharmonic, conductor Paul Bateman, have recorded        'The Essential Alfred Hitchcock': new digital recordings including The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Spellbound, Lifeboat, Under Capricorn, Stage Fright, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, Marnie, Topaz, and Frenzy.

Here's a link to Silva Screen Records, UK: PSYCHO: The Essential Alfred Hitchcock  

New Agatha Christie TV movies coming

Hitchcock didn't care for Christie's novels as film fare, finding them too dry and cerebral, but of course they do have suspense after their own fashion.  And TV adapatations, in particular, of the Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot stories have shown just how engagingly filmic those stories can be.  Our favourite series remains the Miss Marple series with Joan Hickson.  But both Peter Ustinov and David Suchet have been fine Poirots.  So we print here an item from the latest 'Scarlet Street' (#49) headed "Boob Tube Tidings".  Some brief comment then follows.

'Fans of David Suchet's letter-perfect performances as Agatha Christie's Poirot will be delighted to hear that he'll return as the natty Belgian sleuth in four new productions to be telecast on the Arts & Entertainment Channel starting this fall.  Shooting has completed on Five Little Pigs- based on Christie's 1942 novel [known as 'Murder in Retrospect' in the US] - and three other adaptations will roll between now and early 2004: Death on the Nile, The Hollow, and Sad Cypress.  Four additional Poirot productions are tentatively set for filming next year.  It seems Mr Suchet is as anxious as any fan for the entire canon to be filmed, and is confident that he'll appear in them all.'

Comment.  All four titles mentioned above are outstanding Christies.  And Sad Cypress may have an additional interest for Hitchcock fans because, to quote Robert Barnard's 'A Talent to Deceive' (1980), the novel represents 'the only time Christie uses the lovely-woman-in-the-dock-accused-of-murder ploy' - à la Robert Hichens's 'The Paradine Case' (1933) and Hitchcock's 1947 film adaptation, starring Alida Valli as Mrs Paradine.

Those Hitchcock mosaics at Leytonstone [update]

We once printed an item here from the 'London Morning Metro' for 15 September, 2000:  '[Alfred] Hitchcock is to be acknowledged ... in the East End.  Hitchcock's work, depicted in a series of metre-high mosaic panels, will be featured in the main corridor at Leytonstone Tube station, half a mile from the old Hitchcock family home.'  As soon as the 17 (Number Seventeen, get it?!) mosaics were unveiled, Londoner Mark Eyers visited them with his camera, and sent us 4 of the resulting photos, which we offered our readers.  But now (November 2003) all of the mosaics may be viewed on the Web.  Here's a link: Alfred Hitchcock mosaics, Leytonstone  Enjoy!.

Bad news about Criterion Hitchcocks ...

The quality Criterion DVDs of Rebecca, Spellbound, and Notorious are to be allowed to go out of print - at least for the time being - from the end of 2003 (Region 1).  All three of these DVDs carry valuable extras, including commentary.  Marian Keane (Harvard University) gives the commentary on Spellbound and Notorious, film historians Leonard Leff and Rudy Behlmer the commentaries for Rebecca.  A case of shop early this year for Christmas?

Onstage, a gay take on Hitchcock ...

Performance-artist John Epperson has just finished a two-month engagement in New York in the show 'As I Lay Lip-Synching'.  The character he plays, 'Lypsinka', dressed to the nines and wearing a flamboyant orange wig and heavy make-up, presents what is essentially a nightclub act with songs and patter derived from live and studio recordings of mainly obscure female singers of the fifties and sixties. But these musical sections of the act are repeatedly interrupted with extensive audio excerpts from films.  At one point, the character begins to undergo some kind of crisis within a dream state.  Here, extensive dialogue excerpts from Hitchcock's Marnie are used, including the scene in the kitchen between Marnie and her mother, the 'You Freud/Me Jane?' scene between Marnie and Mark Rutland, and the scene in which Mark drives Marnie back to 'Whykwyn'.  However, all of the dialogue of Mrs Edgar and of Mark has been edited out so that it becomes a form of monologue. In addition, the Marnie dialogue is interspersed with dialogue from other films - including Elizabeth Taylor carrying on about lobotomies in Suddenly, Last Summer and Sandra Dee screaming 'I'm a good girl!' in A Summer Place! -  all of this forming a brilliant audio and performance montage.

According to our informant, Assistant Professor Joe McElhaney (whose forthcoming book on Hitchcock contains a chapter on Marnie), previous stage acts of Epperson's also drew on Hitchcock's film, using such memorable lines of Mrs Edgar (Louise Latham) as 'We don't talk smart about the Bible in this house, missy' and 'We don't need no filthy man comin' 'round here no more, do you understand?'  In that same act, Epperson repeatedly used Bernard Herrmann's 'neurosis' theme from the film to signify the moments when Lypsinka was lapsing into insanity.  The latest act uses the Psycho shrieking violins as transitions.

Comments McElhaney: 'I found all of this at least as interesting and innovative a "queer" take on Hitchcock as any academic essay by someone like Lee Edelman!'  (Note. There's a 'Lypsinka' website:  An earlier version of the audio montage described above can be heard there.).

Staying on the line: Larry Cohen's latest again inspired by Hitchcock

Phone Booth, the project that writer-director Larry Cohen (It's Alive, Q: The Winged Serpent, The Stuff) had hoped to sell to Hitchcock, and which Fox 2000 eventually bought for Joel Schumacher, was clearly considered enough of a hit earlier this year to warrant a new Cohen project.  David R. Ellis (Final Destination 2) will direct Cellular from a Cohen script, and it, too, has a 'minimalist', telephone theme.  Starring Kim Basinger, it follows the fortunes of a woman kidnapped and thrown into a car trunk with only her cell phone as a lifeline to the outside world. She makes desperate calls, trying to find a rescuer and to prevent her husband and child from being kidnapped too - before her cell phone battery goes dead.  According to Cohen, one film in particular inspired both Phone Booth and Cellular: Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954).  'It's one of my favourite thrillers', Cohen has said.  

Newly-restored film version of Hall Caine novel

The just-ended Bologna Film Festival included Swedish director Victor Sjöstrom's hitherto 'missing' first Hollywood movie, Name the Man (1923), taken from a novel by Hall Caine, very similar both in story and theme to The Manxman (Hitchcock, 1928).  'But', writes Michael Walker (whom we thank), 'it lacked the original ending. Both prints that survived were Russian, and Russians preferred unhappy endings, so the film ends abruptly at the point when everything is going badly wrong!  Even so, you can see that it was a fine movie, if not quite of the class of The Wind (1928) and The Scarlet Letter (1926).'  Bologna 'also showed two other rare Sjöstroms: his first movie, The Head Gardener (1912)  - by the way, right from the beginning of his career, he cast himself as the villain! - and another "missing" one, Dodskyssen/Kiss of Death (1917), a whodunnit which was most interesting as a technical exercise, since Sjöstrom plays men who are doubles (and in one shot, we see both the doubles and their mirror images, i.e. four Sjöstroms on screen at once!).'  

Death of Winston Graham, author of 'Marnie', at 93

The author of the 'Poldark' novels, set in 18th-century Cornwall, has died in a nursing home in Sussex, England.  The novels formed the basis of a popular BBC-TV miniseries in the 1970s.  The best, and best-known, film adaptation, though, of a Winston Graham novel was undoubtedly Alfred Hitchcock's psychological suspense drama Marnie (1964), starring Tippi Hedren and scripted by Jay Presson Allen.  But Graham himself wrote several screenplays, of varying quality.  His adaptation of his mystery novel set in post-Occupation France, 'Night Without Stars', as filmed by Anthony Pellisier in 1951, was frankly insipid, though David Farrar and Nadia Gray gave adequate performances.  On the other hand, when Ronald Neame made Take My Life in 1947, from an original screen treatment co-written by Graham, the result was splendid, an interesting companion-piece to Hitchcock's more ambitious and complex The Paradine Case filmed the same year in similar settings (the Old Bailey, etc.).  Neame's cinematic (read: visually energetic) rendering showed the influence of his Cineguild partner, David Lean.  Presumably it was the Cineguild input that made the screenplay work so well.  However, it should not be forgotten that Graham's 'Marnie' received this enthusiastic accolade from one New York critic: 'the best book about a woman written by a man' (quoted in Tony Lee Moral, 'Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie' [2002], p. 6).

Well-meaning repairman interferes with 'artwork' (if that's what it is)

When an art exhibition including Douglas Gordon's '24 Hour Psycho' and supposedly paying tribute to The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, ran in London during Hitchcock's Centennial year, 1999, our favourite review was that published in 'Time Out' which panned the exhibition mercilessly.  So we publish the following item without further comment.

In Glascow recently, a diligent repairman noticed a 'faulty' light bulb in a neon hotel sign and took it upon himself to replace it - but wasn't thanked for his trouble.  The flickering light turned out to be the central part of a £200,000 artwork by Turner Prize-winning Douglas Gordon.  His 'EMPIRE' sign, which was deliberately wired so the letter 'P' blinked to match that of the run-down Empire Hotel in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), has stood in Glascow for five years.  Informed of what had happened, Glascow resident Jim Livingstone, 48, said: 'I thought everybody in the city knew the sign was an artwork and was supposed to flicker.'.

Another Hitchcock-related stage play

In recent years, London has seen stage versions of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, and Marnie (though the latter production returned to Winston Graham's novel for additional characters and dialogue).  And in California, as reported in 'The MacGuffin' #28, they have had a stage version of 'Rope' (as distinct from Patrick Hamilton's original play).

Now London has 'Hitchcock Blonde' by Terry Johnson.  It has just transferred from the Royal Court to the Lyric in the West End (and may open in New York in 2004).  Here's a description: 'A media lecturer and his female protégé find some deteriorated Hitchcock footage.  Have they discovered some early rushes?  What film were they for, and who is the mysterious blonde?  "Hitchcock Blonde" is not a play about Alfred Hitchcock.  He may, however, make a cameo appearance.'  (Impressive!)

News briefs

• More Hitchcock DVD news.  From late April, R2 DVD owners have another chance to buy the Universal Hitchcocks - but, according to our sources, with the addition of Foreign Correspondent, Mr and Mrs Smith, and Suspicion to the collection.  N.B.: Suspicion is packaged with its 'colourised' version as an 'extra'.  (See also separate item on Topaz, etc., lower down this page.)  Next, according to 'Scarlet Street' forums, Image Entertainment has announced the release of Under Capricorn on DVD (we hear it is very good - there are no 'extras', however). And the <alt.movies.silent> newsgroup reports that Kinowelt in Europe is working on a DVD of Murder!/Mary similar to their double feature of the silent/sound Blackmail.  Lastly, we hear that Warners will be bringing out Dial M for Murder, Stage Fright, The Wrong Man, and (presumably) I Confess in 2004.  (Thanks to Scott Parker for this, who heard it announced on 'Home Theater Forum'.)

• For Hitchcock DVD collectors.  Paramount have released the Region 1 DVD of To Catch a Thief.  Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and mono,  the disc includes several featurettes - such as "The Writing and Casting of To Catch A Thief" and "The Making of To Catch A Thief" - plus a stills gallery and trailers. Retail is $US 24.95.  (The quality of this DVD is outstanding - KM.)

• German DVD release of silent & sound versions of Blackmail.  The following report by silent-film historian David Shepard comes from <alt.movies.silent>.  'A DVD containing both the talking and silent versions of Hitchcock's Blackmail has been released by Kinowelt Home Entertainment on their "Art Haus" label.  It's Region 2 PAL, so of course one would need multi-standard equipment to view it in North America.  I think it could easily be ordered through (Germany).  The German title is Erpressung.  The silent version is IMHO one of the truly great "high silent" films. Hitch (who of course spoke German and had worked at UFA) really knew his Lang and Murnau and, if possible, went them one better.  The image quality of both versions is breathtaking.  It makes the Criterion laserdisc (for which I was once most grateful) look like garbage. The sound on the talking version is absolutely free of optical hiss, thumps etc.  The silent version has a (digital) piano score which is obviously inspired by the music used on the silent sequences of the talkie, but is musically much better. [...] The viewer can call up the material in original English or add optional subtitles in German, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese.'

• Deja vu. Those who remember the ill-fated 'Multimedia Hitchcock' project on the Web - itself designed as a pilot for a still vaster project of making available online scholarly resources and essays in film study - will watch with interest the progress, or otherwise, of a recently-announced program, a collaboration between the American Film Institute and the Georgia Institute of Technology.  These two illustrious bodies will create a scholarly website for the movie Casablanca (1942).   Still in its early stages of development, the site is intended as a prototype for a virtual cineplex containing interactive academic studies of classic movies.  Accessible through the AFI's website, the analysis of each film would then be digitally linked to pertinent scenes on a DVD in an online student's computer.  It's hoped that this approach will solve copyright problems caused by film companies' reluctance to see their 'product' published directly on the Web.  (As we recall, such reluctance proved a stumbling block in the case of the 'Multimedia Hitchcock' project.  The latter was given a booth presentation in 1999 at the Hitchcock Centennial Celebration in New York, but has not been heard of publicly since then.)  Meanwhile, legislation is helping to smoothe the way for this latest multimedia project.  A subscriber to an academic film list recently posted the following: 'While overall the media corporations are winning increasing power in copyright, the 2002 copyright legislation now in effect in the US allows university educators to put entire commercial films on edu websites, provided they are only accessible for students and for instructional purposes.'

• A couple of articles on the Web may interest our readers.  The first, occasioned by the new Robert Altman film, Gosford Park, sending up the so-called Golden Age of British murder-mystery stories, profiles matinee idol, song-writer, and actor, Ivor Novello (1893-1951), who is portrayed in Altman's film.  The article includes information on why Novello saw fit in 1932 to reprise his starring role in The Lodger, originally filmed by Alfred Hitchcock just six years earlier.  (The article says that the remake, directed by Maurice Elvey, was a flop, though not everyone seems to agree. Leslie Halliwell, for instance, while conceding it was a minor British film of the time, thought it 'not bad'.)  To read the article, from the 'Los Angeles Times', click here: Resurrected by a Song.  And we have only just learnt - more than two years late! - that director Andrew L. Stone (1902-99) has died.  When Stone wasn't making more-than-competent musical films, such as Stormy Weather (1942) and Song of Norway (1970, a fantasia on the life of Grieg), he was turning his hand to made-on-location thrillers of high calibre, such as The Steel Trap (1952), Julie (1956), and Cry Terror (1958), usually with excellent casts.  The Steel Trap actually starred Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, and had a score by Dmitri Tiomkin (that combination sound familiar?), while Julie put Doris Day in a big dramatic role the same year that she starred in Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much: this time, instead of having to try and save a statesman's life at the Royal Albert Hall, she must single-handedly steer a runaway airliner to safety - naturally, our Doris proves up to it!  To read Kevin Brownlow's "A Tribute to the Last Silent Film Director: Andrew L. Stone", go to: Andrew L. Stone.

• [This item may be transferred to 'Odd Spot' in due course, perhaps under the title "The film that wasn't there".]  Reportedly, the new Coen brothers film, The Man Who Wasn't There, is part-set in Santa Rosa, California, where Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt was filmed in 1943.  According to the film's cinematographer, Roger Deakins, the setting constitutes a Hitchcock homage, and on radio recently he spoke of shooting portions of the film in that very town.  However, an October 12 article in the Santa Rosa 'Press Democrat', and published on the Web, seems to indicate that the Santa Rosa portions of the film were in fact shot some distance away, in the town of Orange.  Read the 'Press Democrat' article: Santa Rosa will be played by Orange

• Universal seem to be unfairly milking Hitchcock buffs of every last cent.  The DVD of Topaz reportedly contains another few minutes of footage over and above the 17 minutes of extra footage that were in the VHS restored version.  And, curiously, still no explanation is provided about where the footage has come from (is coming from?) or who has pieced (is piecing?) it together.

• The above item refers to the DVD of Topaz released in the US (Region 1).   Sad to report, a note in 'Sight and Sound', December 2001, says that the DVD of Topaz released in the UK (Region 2), though it contains the film's two alternative endings (see "More about ... a longer version of Topaz", below), prints at least one of them in the wrong aspect ratio: the duel-in-the-stadium 'reveals cropping of the image on this particular DVD, since neither duellist appears in the wide shot that's meant to encompass them (the aspect ratio is marked on the disc as 1.33:1 when the original film is 1.85:1)'.  Indeed, when you examine the information printed on the same page (p. 64) of 'Sight and Sound', at least four of the R2 Universal Hitchcocks (The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, and Topaz itself) have been released with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, instead of the 1.85:1 aspect ratio in which they were shot and originally released.(Update.  With the re-release of the R2 Universal Hitchcock DVDs in April, 2003, you might have expected the above-named 'gaffes' to be righted.  But it hasn't happened.  [We thank reader Alistair Kerr for confirming this.]  Nor is there joy for our Australian/R4 readers.  The same 'gaffes' occur here.)

Death of Frederick Knott, playwright of 'Dial M For Murder'

British playwright Frederick Knott (1916-2002) will long be remembered as the author of the ingenious play on which Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder (1954) was based.  (Knott also worked on the film's screenplay - though, as the following obituary notes, he received only his 'expenses' in payment.)  The play's cunning, would-be wife-murderer, Tony Wendice (played by Ray Milland in the film), owes something as a character to his counterpart in the stage play and 1947 film called 'Dear Murderer' by St John Legh Clowes; and his nemesis, Chief Inspector Hubbard (played superbly on stage and in the film by John Williams) seems part-based on the crafty Scotland Yard detective played by Naunton Wayne in the 1949 film Obsession adapted from the stage play by Alec Coppel.  However, 'Dial M For Murder' is essentially the work of Knott, and is both gripping and elegant.  The following obituary, by Douglas Martin, comes from the 'New York Times', 20 December, 2002:

               Frederick Knott, a notoriously unprolific playwright who
                 scored big when he did write - with his 1952 Broadway hit
                 'Dial M for Murder' and later with the 1966 thriller 'Wait
                 Until Dark' - died on Tuesday in his Manhattan apartment.
                 He was 86.

                 'He hated writing,' his wife, Ann Hillary Knott, said.

                That is perhaps understandable. The clever, complicated
                 'Dial M for Murder' was turned down by seven London
                 producers before being accepted as a television drama by
                 the British Broadcasting Corporation. Mrs. Knott said that
                 he became so discouraged that he almost tore up the script.

                 Making matters worse, he signed away the movie rights for a
                 paltry £1,000 after the television production. Though he
                 wrote the screen version for Alfred Hitchcock in 1954, he
                 thus made far less money than he might have. When the
                 picture was remade in 1998 as A Perfect Murder, he
                received credit for writing the play, but no payment, Mrs.
                 Knott said.

                 But he made enough with just three plays to live
                 comfortably and that was his sole objective. 'He wrote only
                 for money,' his wife said.

                 'Dial M for Murder' was translated into two dozen languages
                 and is still performed by professional and amateurs around
                 the world. 'Wait Until Dark' was a Broadway hit and then a
                 successful movie with Audrey Hepburn in 1967. He also wrote
                 'Write Me a Murder' in 1961.

                 Major Frederick Paull Knott was born in in Hankow, China,
                 on Aug. 28, 1916. His parents were Quaker missionaries who
                 sent him back to England for his education. He graduated
                 from Cambridge University in 1938 and served in the Royal
                 Artillery from 1939 to 1946.

                 He then retreated to a cottage next to his parents' home in
                 Sussex to struggle with a play he had already imagined. His
                 inspiration was the bang of a gun going off, he said in an
                 interview with 'The New York Times' in 1961. He imagined the
                 bang in an old, very oak-paneled English house that had
                 seen better days.

                 He worked for 18 months straight; he stayed in his bathrobe
                 and his mother left meals by the door. He emerged with
                 'Dial M for Murder.'

                 Then the struggle really began. A succession of producers
                 rejected the play, with one calling it trivial. His wife
                 read aloud a letter from the producer August MacLeod, who
                 complimented the 'ingenious little plot,' but said that
                'the play as a whole would cause little interest.'

                 But then the BBC offered to use it as a 90-minute
                 television play early in 1952. It got rave reviews. He sold
                 the film rights to a London movie company headed by Sir
                 Alexander Korda.

                 Then James Sherwood, a stage producer with a lease on a
                 London theater, had to cancel the production of a play and
                 asked to produce 'Dial M for Murder.' After less than three
                 weeks' rehearsal, it opened to critical acclaim.

                 The excitement in the plot does not arise from trying to
                 solve a murder. The theatergoer knows who committed it and
                 how it was executed. Rather, the tension grows from the
                 attempts of Scotland Yard to break down the culprit's
                 seemingly perfect alibi so that an innocent party can be
                 saved from execution.

                 Maurice Evans, the actor, saw the London production and
                 offered to star in the show on Broadway. That plan was
                 almost scuttled by the film deal, according to 'The
                 Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection.' Sir Alexander had a
                 clause barring any future live productions until after the
                 movie came out. That snag was worked out, and 'Dial M'
                 began its run of 552 performances in October 1952 at the
                 Plymouth Theater.

                 In the next five years, the play was produced in 30
                 countries. It is still a standard of summer stock and
                 school productions.

                 Mr. Knott then worked closely with Hitchcock on writing the
                 screenplay, though Mrs. Knott said that he was paid just
                 his expenses. Sir Alexander had received $175,000 from
                 [Warners] for the rights to the 1954 movie..

'Got him at last'?

That line (minus the question-mark) from Hitchcock's Murder! (1930) comes to mind now that crime author Patricia Cornwell claims to have identified Jack the Ripper as the painter Walter Sickert (1860-1942) whose art was admired by Hitchcock to the extent that he owned two Sickert works.  Indeed, one of the latter, "The Camden Town Murder" (though Hitchcock owned only an early sketch version of it), features in the 'evidence' that Cornwell adduces against the painter.  But her most conclusive piece of evidence might seem to be this: one letter allegedly sent by the Ripper is written on paper with the same distinctive watermark and edgings as writing paper used by Sickert, provided to him by his stationer father.

A pity, perhaps, that Hitchcock isn't around to direct a follow-up version of The Lodger (1926), which he adapted from the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes, an earlier woman crime writer, and loosely based on the Ripper case.

For more, click here: Guardian Unlimited Books | News | Does this painting by Walter Sickert reveal the identity of Jack the Ripper? And now here's a 'New York Times' review of Cornwell's book on the Ripper case, that suggests she has got it all wrong:  'Portrait of a Killer': Investigating a Historical Whodunnit.

Alfred Hitchcock - Mr Nice-guy

One of our favourite passages in Stephen Rebello's 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (pb, 1991) is this reminiscence by Rita Riggs, the film's costume designer: '[Hitchcock] had a sense of fun about him that I don't think some people picked up on.  For instance, one night, I came home to find a carton of wild, French strawberries on my doorstep because we had been talking about them recently.  Is that perversity or is that doing something out of sheer enjoyment?'  (p. 99)  Now the 'Los Angeles Times' has revealed that the actor Bob Crane (1928-78) - the subject of a new film directed by Paul Schrader - once received a dozen red roses every day for a week from an anonymous admirer of his work on 'Hogan's Heroes'. The donor?  None other than Mr Aitch!  [Thanks to Bill Krohn in Hollywood for this item.].

Where is Hitchcock's 'lost' short called An Elastic Affair?

In 1929 Alfred Hitchcock directed An Elastic Affair, running ten minutes.  He made it at the Elstree studios of British International Pictures to showcase the talents of two young actors named Aileen Despard and Cyril Butcher who had just won scholarships awarded by 'Film Weekly'.  The scholarships - and the completed film - were announced in the Saturday January 18th, 1930, issue of 'Film Weekly', and the film was shown silent (though it was apparently shot with sound) on the following day, Sunday January 19th, 1930, at the London Palladium, where its 'stars' appeared in person to receive their contracts from John Maxwell, Chairman of British International Pictures, Ltd.  Under those contracts, both actors would be trained in film acting at the Elstree Studios for six months.

Hitchcock researcher (and contributor to this website), Dr Alain Kerzoncuf, is trying to locate a copy of An Elastic Affair.  He hopes that someone reading this News item may have information about the film's whereabouts or know something about its two young actors and the contents of the film in which they appeared together.  (It is known that Aileen Despard - whose full name was Aileen Despard Kilpatrick - made about three other films after An Elastic Affair.  Cyril Butcher took up a stage career, and may have appeared in some films; he also wrote or co-wrote plays, a musical comedy, film scripts, and at least one book related to acting.)  Dr Kerzoncuf may be contacted by email at this address: <>..

The late Ms Kael: how to be very, very subjective

Findings by Bill Krohn, Dan Auiler, and Ken Mogg, notwithstanding, showing that Hitchcock was a regular viewer of Hollywood, English, and other movies, the late Pauline Kael claimed the contrary in one of her last interviews now published on the Web.  (Yes, we're talking about the author of the book 'Raising Kane' which, after its original publication in 'The New Yorker', proved to be full of egregious errors - pointed up later by Peter Bogdanovich in 'Esquire' - many of which were based on Kael's near-total ignorance of how movies are made.)  Here's the most relevant passage:

                           Did you ever meet Alfred Hitchcock?

                           Yes, and I didn't have a very good time, because he
                           wanted to talk about movies but hadn't really gone
                           to see anything. His wife had, and she was very
                           knowledgeable and very pleasant. I liked her a lot,
                           but he kept breaking off to talk about his wine cellar
                           and his champagne collection. I got very distressed
                           when we talked about actors, because he had often
                           cast people not after seeing them in pictures but
                           from seeing them on a reel of film that their agents
                           brought him, so that he saw only little highlights
                           from some of their roles. He didn't know the
                           possibilities of some of the actors, and this was
                           reinforced by his feeling that he shouldn't
                           improvise. Directors should not be allowed to
                           improvise, he said, even though he had done a lot of
                           improvisation earlier in his career, and it was some
                          of his best work. I think part of the rigidity of his
                           later pictures was from his feeling that everything
                           should be worked out in advance, which didn't
                           allow for any creative participation by the actors.
                           You feel the absence of that participation in movies
                           like Topaz and Marnie and, I would say, all of
                           his later movies. He was quite rigid, almost like a
                           religious fanatic - no one should improvise, the
                           director should have everything planned out in

Before the above was published, Bill Krohn was approached by a 'fact-checker' from 'The New Yorker' and asked if he supported what Ms Kael claimed about Hitchcock.  No, he said, and debunked both the idea that Hitchcock never improvised and the 'truly ludicrous claim' (Krohn's phrase in an email to 'The MacGuffin') about test-reels that were used to hire actors, as opposed to seeing them in films.  Krohn cited the case of Doris Day, to whom Hitchcock remarked at a party that her performance in Stuart Heisler's Storm Warning (1951) was excellent - and who, several years later, was hired by him to star in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) because he remembered her supporting role for Heisler.  Long-standing readers of this page will recall something else that Krohn once told us: how Hitchcock and wife Alma were regular attenders at the repertory cinema in Los Angeles run by cinematographer Gary Graver.  (Patricia Hitchcock and Graver were recently interviewed for the French-release DVD of Suspicion, and Pat recalled those occasions well.)  To read the full interview with Pauline Kael (the above excerpt is only a fragment), click here: The New Yorker: On-line Only


Rare lobby card from Hitchcock's 'lost' The Mountain Eagle (1926) turns up in Massachusetts


The above lobby card was recently discovered at a flea market in Rowley, Massachusetts.  Of heavy cardboard, it was found behind a second picture of a dog, apparently as backing.  (Both pictures were in a cardboad box containing broken picture frames and glass.)  It is probably the only extant lobby card for The Mountain Eagle, Hitchcock's film that had limited distribution (in Germany and the USA) and all prints of which have disappeared.

The Mountain Eagle was set in the backwoods of Kentucky but filmed on location in the Austrian Tyrol and in a Munich studio.  The dog seen here may have belonged to the film's hero, a hermit known as Fearogod (Malcolm Keen), who at one point must trek through snow carrying a sick child.

Although no prints exist of Hitchcock's second film as a director, the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, California, contains some 30 stills and production photographs.  Several of the production photographs show what appears to be the dog seen here - perhaps it was the unit's mascot.  The photographs are reproduced in Dan Auiler's book, 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (1999).

Film historian J. Lary Kuhns points out that the American distributor of The Mountain Eagle, Artlee Pictures (named after its President, Arthur A. Lee), also distributed Hitchcock's first film, The Pleasure Garden (1925), which was shot almost entirely in the Emelka Studios, Munich.  Kuhns believes that the lobby card for The Mountain Eagle 'is pretty much final confirmation of my claim that [contrary to some reports] the film did not have the US title Fear o' God'.  The film starred Nita Naldi, Bernard Goetzke, and Malcolm Keen.

[Special thanks to Sandra McLachlin, Gloucester, Massachusetts, who found the lobby card and who told us about it.].

'They're attacking again!'

That line from Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), based on the short story by Daphne du Maurier, came true the other day for none other than the late writer's 60-year-old son, Christian 'Kits' Browning, and his wife, Olive, in Cornwell, England.  Husband and wife have been viciously attacked several times by pairs of seagulls nesting outside the cottage where du Maurier herself once lived.  Recently, scores of gulls massed to attack, and a pest-control expert, who had been called in, had to come to the rescue.  '[A pair of particularly vicious gulls] built their nest on a stone pillar in the garden,' Browning explained.  The exterminator, wearing a hard hat and protective gear, distracted the mother by waving a stick and quickly stuffed the nest and eggs into a bag.  'All the other gulls within half a mile, scores of them, came and circled and attacked to protect [or avenge? - Ed.] the female.'  The Brownings took shelter inside the house.  Now, they wonder if the super-protective gulls will retaliate.  Daphne du Maurier was inspired to write her apocalyptic short story after witnessing similar behaviour.  'She was walking and saw a farmer, who had plowed up worms, surrounded by gulls flying around his head.  She suddenly thought, "Supposing they attacked."'.

Disney organisation launchs restored Hitchcocks

In April, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their movie palace, the El Capitan, in Hollywood, the Disney organisation unveiled restorations of four Hitchcock films: Rebecca, Spellbound, Notorious, and The Paradine Case.  There was a roundtable discussion at the launch of each print.  Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell was on all the panels.  Noted film historian and author Rudy Behlmer hosted the launch of Notorious.   Among the other participants were authors Stephen Rebello and Bill Krohn and actors Norman Lloyd and Rhonda Fleming.  Although the restoration of The Paradine Case could not incorporate footage slashed from the original print both before its première release and later when it was further cut for release to television (see item lower on this page), a couple of surviving sequences (unfortunately without sound) exist.  Bill Krohn has promised to write for 'The MacGuffin' an account of these (screened at the launch)..

Scriptwriter Arthur Laurents comments frankly on the homosexuality in (and out of) Rope

Playwright and screenwriter Arthur Laurents has written 'Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood', which was reviwed by David Ehrenstein in the 'Los Angeles Times' on 9 April, 2000.  Here's an excerpt from the review:

'[As the 1940s] ended, Laurents met Farley Granger at an otherwise dull Hollywood party.  "We touched once by accident and reacted as though it was foreplay."  The next day Laurents gave Granger a phone call and found "[i]t was though he had been waiting for the signal, all he needed to jump into his car and come barreling across the canyon.  I barely had enough time to shower and shave before there he was, running through the door, and then, there we were rolling on the floor.  On the shag rug in the living room of a sublet on the wrong side of Doheny Drive in midafternoon, me and my movie star.  Oh frabjous day!"

'But while Granger was gung-ho, Laurents was alarmed: "I was afraid that Farley moving in would be announcing I was gay.  Whatever people might think, they didn't know.  Now they would."  For right on top of this, Laurents had been hired by Alfred Hitchcock to write the screenplay of Rope [1948], an Americanized version of Patrick Hamilton's London-set play about a pair of gay Leopold and Loeb-style thrill killers - one of whom was to be played by Granger.

'In Hollywood back then, "homosexuality was unmentionable, known only as 'it.'  'It' wasn't in the picture, no character was 'one.' "  But of course they "were," and so "in my effort to Americanize English homosexuality" -
and make Rope viable to U.S. audiences - Laurents created characters based on a gay group he "had met briefly in New York who played squash and were raunchy after dinner" - upper-crust precursors of 'The Boys in the Band'."  The Hays office, however, with its industry's self-appointed guardians of the nation's morality, was so unhinged by a few British turns-of-phrase in the dialogue, it returned the script with these words "furiously blue-penciled and marked HOMOSEXUAL DIALOGUE exclamation point."  Hitchcock, by contrast,was fearless - and supremely playful.  "It tickled him that Farley was playing a homosexual in a movie written by me, another homosexual; that we were lovers; that we had a secret he knew; that I knew he knew - the permutations were endless, all titillating to him, not out of malice or a feeling of power but because they added a slightly kinky touch and kink was a quality devoutly to be desired."'

Rear Window latest Hitchcock film restored

Bob Harris & Jim Katz, the team who gave us a revamped Vertigo on 70mm, have completed their restoration of Rear Window, and general release was scheduled for February 2000.

Rear Window, as restored by Harris & Katz, is among the first films printed in Technicolor's revived dye-transfer process. The film has never looked as good as it could have, according to Harris, even during its initial release in 1954. That's because the dye-transfer prints weren't made until the 1962 reissue (on a double-bill with Psycho, as we recall), when they were poorly done and came out beige. 'So this [is] the first time we see the film's full-colour spectrum', Harris said.

The restored print was previewed in London and New York, to great enthusiasm from both audiences.  Here's a report from Scott Marshall, originally sent to the <> Usenet group  (Scott Marshall is editor of 'Wide Gauge Film and Video') ...

'The film looks and sounds brand new. It's wasn't like watching an old movie.  It was like going back in time to 1954 and watching a new movie. Technicolor's re-engineered dye transfer "IB" printing looks absolutely perfected with completely true colors and the occasional appearance of a color so rich and deep that you didn't know it existed even in real life (watch for the waiter's red jacket). The sound was in its original mono but rich, undistorted, and noise-free. Projected aspect ratio was 1.66:1 (the entire 1.35:1 negative image was restored).

'Restoring full color from the faded and damaged negative and showing it on a large screen makes a great difference in telling this story. One can see more of the performances in the various tiny windows--more of the acting and facial expressions--giving this unique ensemble piece extra depth over what can be sensed on a small screen. And there's something about seeing the glowing red end of a smoked cigar in a pitch black apartment in IB Tech that is uniquely chilling.'

After Rear Window, Harris & Katz were going to turn their attentions to another Hitchcock film starring James Stewart: The Man Who Knew Too Much(1956).  For undisclosed reasons, the restoration of that film has now been undertaken 'in house' by Universal, without the assist of Harris & Katz..

Death of Albert J. Whitlock, visual effects artist, at 84

We are saddened to note the passing of Albert Whitlock, the widely-respected visual-effects artist best known for his work with Hitchcock on a  succession of films made at Universal from The Birds (1963) to Family Plot (1976).  Whitlock died in Santa Barbara, California, on October 26, 1999.  The two-times Academy Award winner was born in London in 1915, and his first work in a film studio was as a 'general factotum' (as he once told KM).  He painted some of the signs used in The 39 Steps (1935).  In America, he worked for a time with the Disney organisation before Hitchcock, recalling him from their British days, employed him to paint the matte backgrounds for The Birds, e.g., several vistas of Bodega Bay. Whitlock was a quietly spoken, gracious man.  He appears briefly in Mel Brooks's Hitchcock spoof, High Anxiety (1977), as the man in the tower at the end.

The Hitchcock Centennial conference in New York

'Hitchcock: A Centennial Celebration' ran from October 13-17, 1999, at the Directors Guild of America Theatre and St. Moritz Hotel in midtown Manhatten.  It was sponsored by the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and organized by Dr Richard Allen, chair of the Dept. of Cinema Studies.  What follows are some items of note from the conference sent to us by Jim Davidson (whom we thank).

The 'other' Marnie: It is well known that Evan Hunter worked on the script for Marnie before Jay Presson Allen was hired, but the screenwriters' forum of the conference revealed that Joseph Stefano also worked on an early version of Marnie.  [John Russell Taylor mentions this in 'Hitch' (1978), p. 265 - Ed.]  Apparently, Hitchcock wanted to submit a treatment of Marnie to Grace Kelly when she was considering the role - believing she would never read the full Winston Graham novel - and so he had Stefano, fresh off Psycho, write a treatment.  Later, Hitchcock told Stefano that Grace had declined the role because she and her husband (Prince Rainier) had 'found the money that they needed elsewhere'.  But Evan Hunter, when he began working on the Marnie script, was never shown the Stefano treatment; for that matter, until the day they met at the conference, Hunter had never even known that Stefano was involved.

Casting choices:  Some interesting items came to light about Hitchcock's casting choices.  Robin Wood stated that Joseph Cotten was not the first choice for the role of Sam Flusky in Under Capricorn. Hitchcock actually wanted Burt Lancaster for the part.  Arthur Laurents, the screenwriter of Rope, claims that Hitchcock had sought Cary Grant, Montgomery Clift and Farley Granger for the roles eventually played by Jimmy Stewart, John Dahl and Granger.  Grant and Clift, apparently sensitive to the homosexual sub-text of the film, declined the roles. Finally, according to Peter Wollen, Hitchcock was fascinated by Claudette Colbert and originally wanted to use her for the female lead in Foreign Correspondent.

Tippi and 'Gorky' :  According to all the actors that spoke at the conference - Eva Marie Saint, Teresa Wright, Janet Leigh, Patricia Hitchcock - the director allowed his actors much freedom and rarely gave explicit directions on the set.  Tippi Hedren, as a first time actress on the set of The Birds, tended at times to deliver her lines too stridently.  According to Evan Hunter, Hitchock had a simple code word that he used for correcting this flaw:  he would say the word 'Gorky' and Hedren would tone down her delivery.

Censors as 'collaborators':  Leonard Leff, author of the book 'Hitchcock and Selznick', made the interesting observation that the censors that Hitchcock dealt with sometimes worked as unwitting collaborators on his films. He cited several examples of this. Joseph Breen's objections to the scene where Maxim DeWinter confesses to his wife that he murdered Rebecca led Hitchcock to come up with the creative approach of having a moving camera 'describe' the events that led up to Rebecca's 'accidental' demise.  The objections to the details of Alicia's marked past in Notorious caused Ben Hecht to rewrite the character, which made her seem more mysterious. In Rear Window, Hitchcock knew the censors wouldn't allow the topless shot introducing 'Miss Torso' that the script called for, so he devised the playful shot where her bra unsnaps and she must lean over to retrieve it.  Finally, of course, there is the well known 'phallic shot' at the end of North by Northwest, but Eva Marie Saint commented that that effect was not very subtle; in fact, she recalled that at the film's premiere she noticed it and mentioned it to her husband.

New Hitchock 'bio' in the works: As noted elsewhere on this Web site, Patrick McGilligan is working on a new biography of Hitchcock to be next year.  McGilligan is only finished researching through 1945, but he promised an illuminating view of Hitchcock's early years in the book.  For one thing, McGilligan has uncovered 7 or 8 new short stories (in addition to the already published "Gas") that Hitchcock wrote before 1921, while working at the Henley Telegraph and Cable Co.  McGilligan also stated that 'a very different' Hitchcock will emerge from what he referred to as 'the Henley's Period' (1914-21).

These are some brief highlights to emerge from 'Hitchcock: A Centennial Celebration' .  The current issue of 'The MacGuffin' has a more extensive coverage of the conference.

More about ... a longer version of Topaz (1969)

As we noted here earlier, the new video re-release of Topaz from Universal carries a surprise. In small type on the back of the box is this announcement: 'includes 17 minutes of extra footage'. No explanation is given. But Bill Krohn, whose 'Hitchcock At Work' is now out, knows what happened.  According to Krohn, the film died 'the Death of a Thousand Cuts' at the hands of the film's British distributor, Rank, who refused to show the film in England if the running-time wasn't reduced.  Hitchcock was therefore virtually forced to cut all prints of the film.  Already dismayed at being forbidden by Universal to make Kaleidoscope (see item elsewhere on this page), he was further saddened by this latest indignity.  He really liked the film in its initial preview form, at its full length and with the ending he wanted - a pistol duel between the rival spies played by Frederick Stafford and Michel Piccoli.  But some members of preview audiences reacted negatively to the ending ...

The new video release of the film by Universal carries a different ending, in which Piccoli boards a plane for Moscow at Orly Airport and waves a dignified farewell to  Stafford. According to Krohn and others, Hitchcock was happy with this ending, too, because it was 'realistic'.  But both screenwriter Samuel Taylor and associate producer Herb Coleman disliked it, feeling that it would offend the French censors.  In addition, Taylor thought it violated the meaning of the film, which was a denunciation of the human consequences of Cold War realpolitik. Taylor therefore proposed ending on a close-up of Nicole Dévereaux (Dany Robin) asking, 'When will it end?', followed by a number of superimposed flashbacks (including what the script calls the Pietà shot) showing what she meant.  In the event, the film was released with the flashbacks - but instead of these being preceded by the close-up of Nicole, a freeze-frame was substituted, implying the death of Piccoli's character.  (Dan Auiler, editor of 'Hitchcock's Notebooks', who recently spoke to Herb Coleman, says that Coleman hated this ending, finding it very B-movieish.)

Here's Dan Auiler's report on the new video-release, which has much of the footage intended by Hitchcock restored:

'This is by far the best cut I've ever seen of the film. It importantly restores the ending I [actually] prefer, of the French double agent flying off to Russia. The rest of the moments add to the film in important ways - principally in character development. This cut does cause us to re-evaluate the film slightly. I always considered the film one of Hitchcock's only structural failures (a film that was just built too poorly). This cut reveals a film that at least has decent bones (to paraphrase Charles Bennett), but still has enormous problems in casting and even some direction (I refer in particular to the scene that always sets my teeth on edge - the showing off of the spy gadgets in Karin Dor's bedroom). Knowing what we [now] know about the production history of the film, Hitchcock gets an "A" for pulling off such a solid film with such limited time and resources. It's too bad the disastrous version of Topaz has circulated for so many years - this cut is proof that Hitch wasn't so much off his mark in the late Sixties, but struggling with studio politics.'

[Thanks to both Bill Krohn and Dan Auiler for the information printed here.]

• By way of clarification, the three known endings of Topaz that were filmed (the freeze-frame 'suicide'  followed by a montage of flashbacks; the duel; the airport farewell) have all previously been released on a laserdisc of the film.  What is new about the recent video of Topaz is that it includes 17 minutes of extra footage approximating what was cut by Hitchcock at Rank's insistence before the film's general release.

• Footnote (revised). Recent reports indicate that French director Claude Chabrol filmed the final shot (in the standard release print) showing a newspaper being discarded in the street near the Arc d'Triumph when Hitchcock was too ill to travel to Paris.  [Thanks to Ric Menello for this information.].

Restored titles

The original main titles have been restored to both Notorious (1946) and The Paradine Case (1947). The 'Los Angles Times' (18 August, 1999) reports that in the case of Notorious, not only is the RKO logo back in place (many current prints have the Selznick logo) but the skyline at the bottom of the frame is once again a live image rather than a dull still. Unfortunately, a major find - additional footage and alternate takes from The Paradine Case, some of which bolster Ethel Barrymore's Oscar-nominated performance - are without a soundtrack, so the best that restorer Scott MacQueen has been able to do for now is preserve the rare materials. 'The pace is much slower in these alternate scenes', MacQueen notes. 'Obviously Hitchcock was experimenting more with longer takes, which would culminate a year later in Rope.'.

Dubious statements?

In its edition of 10-16 August, 1999, 'The Hollywood Reporter' has an article "Saving Hitch" by Stephen Galloway. But a few of the points in the article are questionable:

1. 'Vertigo [1958] was restored three years ago by Robert Harris and Jim Katz at a cost of some $1.5 million. The film remains the prototype of the perfect restoration.' Perfect? That's far from the view of many Hitchcock aficionados, including Steven L. DeRosa who in 'The MacGuffin' #21 listed the many jarring discrepancies between the original film and its 'restored' version. He wrote, for example: 'from the very first gun shot of the opening sequence to the ringing of the tower bell in the finale, the [soundtrack] differences are jarringly apparent. These variations from the original work go beyond the scope of what a restoration should be.' Also, as DeRosa pointed out, excellent IB Technicolor prints of the original film exist, and might have been consulted to get the palette of the 'restored' film correct. Instead, Harris and Katz told the media how they had gone 'to great pains to locate original costumes and paint-chips from antique cars in order to match the look intended by the original filmmakers. The purpose of this [continues DeRosa] seems most a means of showing off. ... The green dress worn by Kim Novak does look a certain way in reality, but that is not necessarily the shade of green that it might appear in Technicolor.'

2. The Disney organisation has restored to Spellbound (1945) 'the black-and-white film's famous two-color-frame sequence' [of a gunshot]'. We have always believed the sequence in question was four frames long, not two. [Note: reports tell us that the new DVD of the film does not in fact include any coloured frames.]

3. 'A new print has also been made of The Paradine Case [1947] at its full 114-minute length (the film has been cut down over the years in versions as short as 80 minutes.' The truth is that Hitchcock's original rough-cut of the film ran close to three hours, and was reduced by producer Selznick to 132 minutes for the film's Los Angeles opening on 31 December, 1947. It was later cut for television by twenty minutes. So in this case the 'restoration' is simply a return to the cut version. The missing twenty (or eighteen) minutes is still to be denied us, it seems. [But see previous item.] 

Venice Film Festival shows Kaleidoscope excerpts

The Venice Film Festival (1-11 September, 1999) showed a hitherto-unseen 20-minute segment from Kaleidoscope, Hitchcock's original Frenzy project, based on the true story of Neville Heath, a sadistic 28-year-old RAF officer hanged in 1946 for the sexual assault and murder of two young women. (The 1972 Hitchcock film called Frenzy bears little relation to the original Frenzy project.) In 1967 Hitchcock began preproduction for the film, having photographers shoot detailed storyboards, resulting in hundreds of slides featuring models and unknown actors. He also had 35mm film reels shot in New York. But Universal/MCA killed the project. (Our information about the project comes from Dan Auiler's essay on "[Hitchcock's] Unrealised Projects" in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'.)

• Film director and Hitchcock scholar Richard Franklin (see previous item) has seen the Kaleidoscope footage, and writes as follows: 'Predictably the case is argued that [the film] may have been a masterpiece. However, having read what there was of the screenplay and seen all the test footage, I suspect the studio (particularly Hitchcock's mentor, Lew Wasserman) was right [in forbidding Hitchcock to make the film].'

The Hitchcock Annual

The 'Hitchcock Annual' is a quality publication containing articles contributed by academic writers and specialist authors.  The 2016 issue (Volume 20) is co-edited as usual by Professors Sid Gottlieb and Richard Allen.  For all orders, including back isues, contact Columbia University Press, 61 West 62nd Street, New York, NY 10023:

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