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Tag Archive: Alfred Hitchcock films


Review by C.J. Bunce

Notorious isn’t just the name of an Alfred Hitchcock film, it describes the reputation of the acclaimed director over the course of his 55-year career.  Over the course of his films he would become famous for not only the blonde actresses in his films, but his misogynistic, voyeuristic, fetishism themes and content.  A precursor in many ways to Quentin Tarentino, Hitchcock nearly 40 years after his death is as popular as ever, with his film Vertigo still on many critics’ lists as the best American film of all time.  Those who view his films are left to wonder how much of the content of his films were the man, and how often was he simply selling what moviegoers were looking for–something new, something surprising, something stylish, and something shocking.  The flip side of Hitchcock viewed as provocateur is the fact that his films always featured a strong lead woman–sometimes from the opening scene and other times by film’s end–and the actress was often the only name marketed above the title, including some of the most fierce and compelling women characters ever filmed.

Scotland author Caroline Young takes a compelling look at the director and his relationship with the leading women in his films in her new book Hitchcock’s Heroines, a photograph-filled hardcover from Insight Editions.  Young, author of Roman Holiday: The Secret Life of Hollywood in Rome, Tartan & Tweed, and Style Tribes, sources interviews with the actors as well as interviews with Hitchcock to gain a better understanding of what motivated his work.  He spent the first half of his career–represented by the first half of the book–developing the style he would come to be known for by the time of his 1954 success Rear Window, culminating in his ideal production team: costume designer Edith Head, production designer Robert Burks, assistant director Herbert Coleman, and editor George Tomasini.  Hitchcock knew that most of his audience were women and believed that in the 1940s-1960s women usually determined what movie a couple was going to attend.  So the appearance of his leading women was as important, if not more important, than any other part of the film.  He also had an eye for using color and wardrobe as part of his storytelling tools, perhaps changing a character’s muted-toned costumes to striking and contrasting by film’s end to represent a character’s change in mood, strength, or growth.

Hitchcock’s Heroines is a superb source of costume sketches, costume designs, and production stills spanning Hitchcock’s directorial career.  Young includes with her discussions of each actress and corresponding character the costumes and costumers, which amounts to a history of Hollywood costume design artists, including Jean Peron, Dolly Tree, Joe Strassner, Marianne, Irene, Edward Stevenson, Vera West, Gilbert Adrian, René Hubert, Howard Greer, Edith Head, Christian Dior, Milo Anderson, Moss Mabry, Helen Rose, Harry Kress, Rita Riggs, Helen Colvig, and Julie Harris, although it was also not beyond Hitchcock to source his own vision from off-the-rack wardrobe from Western Costume Company or Bergdorf Goodman. Hair style and hair color is also a recurring theme Young pursues in the book.

Young references an interview from 1931 where Hitchcock discussed selecting actresses for roles: “The chief point I keep in mind when selecting my heroine is that she must be fashioned to please women rather than men, for the reason that women form three-quarters of the average cinema audience.  Therefore, no actress can be a good commercial proposition as a film heroine unless she pleases her own sex.”  It is noteworthy that Hitchcock was not always responsible for who starred in his films–Young cites instances where studio head David O. Selznick directly cast Hitchcock’s leading actors.

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If you could only study one filmmaker for the rest of your life you could hardly select anyone with a better catalog of films than Sir Alfred Hitchcock.  Known as the master of suspense, his broad range of films encompass much more.  Next month Turner Classic Movies is delving deep into the works of Hitchcock as it presents TCM Spotlight: 50 years of Hitchcock, exploring 44 of the films he directed.

You already know his most popular films: Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo, The Birds, Strangers on a Train, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, Rope, Dial “M” for Murder, To Catch a Thief, Rebecca, The Birds, The Paradine Case, Lifeboat, The Wrong Man, The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Jamaica Inn, and Shadow of a Doubt.  But have you seen The Ring, Foreign Correspondent, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Blackmail, Murder! (aka Mary), The Skin Game, Saboteur, Suspicion, Stage Fright, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, and Family Plot?  TCM is airing all of these, and more.

   

TCM isn’t leaving much out.  But you’ll need to track down eight of the earliest of Hitchcock’s works on your own: His directorial debut The Pleasure Garden (1925), the Jack the Ripper inspired The Lodger from 1927, the 1928 romance Easy Virtue, the Irish civil war story Juno and the Paycock (1930), the 1930 musical Elstree Calling, the musical Waltzes from Vienna (1934), the Peter Lorre/John Gielgud mistaken identity film Secret Agent (1936), and the 1937 crime thriller Young and Innocent.  The line-up also does not include the 1949 Ingrid Bergman/Joseph Cotton historical thriller Under Capricorn and the 1955 Cary Grant/Grace Kelly hit To Catch a Thief.  Hitchcock directed another full-length film, the 1926 film The Mountain Eagle–a lost film considered by many to be the most sought after missing film of all time. 

And TCM isn’t going to stop with only a screening of 44 of Hitchcock’s films.

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