Reputations: Season 6, Episode 4

Alfred Hitchcock (May 1999)

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Life and films from Alfred Hitchcock in two parts: Alfred, the Great and Alfred, the Auteur.


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Title: Alfred Hitchcock (May 1999)

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Episode complete credited cast:
Himself - Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Dan Auiler ...
Roy Ward Baker ...
Drew Casper ...
Herbert Coleman ...
Himself (as Herb Coleman)
Himself (as Hume Cronin)
Georgine Darcy ...
Dave Freeman ...
Himself (as David Freeman)
Sidney Gottlieb ...
Himself (archive footage)
Herself (as Pat Hitchcock)


Life and films from Alfred Hitchcock in two parts: Alfred, the Great and Alfred, the Auteur.

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Control Freak
12 January 2014 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Until Hitchcock, cinema-goers were no more interested in the director than they were in the chief electrician or the associate hair stylist. Films were defined purely by their star performers.

With Hitch's ego and his gift for showmanship, this would change as soon as he arrived in Hollywood, where his true stature could be demonstrated. The movie capital had never seen anything like Hitchcock. Nobody had ever looked like him, or spoken or acted or dressed like him. Or made films like him. He had become a brand, and suddenly audiences found themselves watching eagerly for the next Hitchcock.

This 2-hour profile explores the roots of that brand, from its beginnings above a greengrocer's shop in London's eastern suburbs. Wisely they've avoided a sequential timeline treatment, yet they don't quite establish a thematic one either. The result is a little uneven. Only a few of the films from his 40's/50's heyday are examined in any depth, while the earliest and latest productions seem to receive more attention than they merit. Still, he did make fifty-eight pictures, and one can't include everything.

Deservedly though, it is 'Psycho' that gets the in-depth analysis. To me, this was his greatest triumph - persevering with a movie that broke all the rules, and which everyone thought would fail. In case you're one of the few who have missed Janet Leigh explaining how the shower-scene took a week to shoot, here she is again, and we note her approval of Hitch's painstaking methods. (No doubt scriptwriter Joe Stefano also has much to contribute to the debate, but the moment he opens his mouth, all I can think about is a set of gleaming white false teeth that seem to have been borrowed from someone else.) These memory-clips are fairly standard quality (they always seem to be!) with reminiscences from colleagues who date back to when he was working for Selznick. The overall commentary is convincing enough, though I feel we can do without clichés like 'storm clouds were gathering' and 'a force to be reckoned with'.

This is clearly a tale of what we would now call a control-freak. Like Chaplin, he achieved his effects through sheer stubborn insistence on doing things his own way. Yet when he finally got the chance to run his own production company, it soon failed, and he had to settle back into the warm bath of the big studios.

One thing, however, he was always able to control: his women stars. These were all of one breed, ice-blondes of the German/Scandinavian type - Madeleine Carroll, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak, Grace Kelly. No doubt he loved his power over these glamorous ladies (he could be quite cruel), but all of them have testified that he remained totally professional, never crossed the line. All except one.

Tippi Hedren is the mystery. Nobody could figure out what Hitch ever saw in her. Totally untrained, she had neither the looks nor the talent of the others. And after 'The Birds', which would probably have done just as well with any other young actress, there was only one more film, 'Marnie', which more-or-less flopped. On this programme, Hedren leaves you in little doubt as to what happened. Hitch just sulked and said "She referred to my weight". Now why would a movie-queen do anything so unladylike, except under one very particular kind of provocation? Someone commented that it might have been an old man's last twitch. Perhaps more pertinent is another comment that his films did not reflect what he had done, but what he would like to have done.

Yet all agreed that his marriage was remarkably happy. His wife Alma had worked with him since he was a studio assistant, and contributed much to his films, being present on-set most of the time. In fact, their private life, with a daughter they doted on, and just a handful of friends, was most unlike the Hollywood model.

Any descent from the peak is going to be sad enough, but in his case physical illness makes it sadder. A notably corpulent man who never exercised (one colleague said he just 'sat like a Buddha'), Hitch was asking for trouble in his seventies, and the last phase is not edifying.

A final irony. It seems that he wanted to be classified as an 'auteur director', in the style of Truffaut and the New Wave. But posterity does not see him in that light. His work is simply too commercial, belonging to the studios and not to him, his showmanship too obvious. Most viewers probably identify him with the long-running 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' TV series, an appetising tray of snacks, but not the gourmet feast he would like to be remembered for.

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