This documentary, part of the once-excellent "American Masters" series, details the conflict between Alfred Hitchcock, the greatest director of suspense thrillers who has ever lived, and David O. Selznick, legendary producer of many great films, and the man who brought Hitchcock to Hollywood. It is one of the most biased pieces of film-making I have ever seen.
Writer-director Michael Epstein seems intent on doing nothing better than portraying Hitchcock as a victim of the supposedly egomaniacal, compulsively meddling Selznick, who, according to Epstein, ruined numerous Hitchcock films while spending his career from 1940's onward trying to top his (Selznick's) monumental epic, "Gone With The Wind", and failing miserably at it. It then goes on to glorify Hitchcock as a creative genius (which he certainly was) who reached his full glory after breaking out of his association with Selznick.
Anyone who has read the excellent book "Memo from David O. Selznick", and seen the bulk of Selznick's films, will recognize that this notion is an amazingly idiotic one. Selznick may have been compulsive about writing memos, but anyone who reads them will realize that his films--notably "Gone With The Wind"-- would not have been as excellent as many of them were, had he not been so careful about every detail that went into them. (Selznick is also the man who gave the world the definitive films of "David Copperfield", "A Tale of Two Cities", "The Prisoner of Zenda", and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer".)
In fact, in "Memo from David O. Selznick", there is a rather shocking memo which illustrates that Hitchcock's ideas were not always the ideas of an inspired genius--he was determined to deviate heavily from the plot line of "Rebecca" to insert his own dubious touches, such as a scene in which Maxim becomes seasick during his honeymoon with his new bride. Also dubious was Hitchcock's ill-judged attempt to try to name the nameless Joan Fontaine character Daphne, after Daphne du Maurier, author of the novel. (Maxim always calls her "darling", but never mentions her name, nor does anyone else.) Fortunately, Selznick wrote Hitchcock a blistering memo literally forcing him to stick as closely as possible to the original plot line of "Rebecca". In fact, those who see Selznick films adapted from literary works will notice that they are always meticulously faithful to their source.
Epstein writes about every post-1940 Selznick film as if it were a disaster, even such memorable ones as "Portrait of Jennie" and the vastly, vastly underrated Hitchcock film "The Paradine Case", a picture often criticized for being too "talky", and of not having any of Hitchcock's inventive visual touches, as if visual touches and unusual ideas were all there are to Hitchcock. And he barely mentions the fact that Selznick had a hand in the making of the excellent "The Third Man".
This documentary is not an objective, informative report--it is an attempt to glorify Hitchcock by taking the easy route of building him up at somebody else's expense.
I sincerely hope that "American Masters" begins to improve soon. It used to be one of the best, if not THE best, documentary series on the air. It seems as if making it a weekly series has compromised its quality.
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