They say behind every great man is a great woman and that was certainly the case with Alfred Hitchock. A new film charts the relationship between the greatest director of all time and his wife, editor and sounding board Alma Reville, played by Dame Helen MIrren. Although Hitchock is famed for his obsession with the paltinum blonde, Alma, was the real protagonist of his life. Swide takes a lokk at some of Hitchock's women.
In line with the current trend of 'women behind the men' take on the biopic, the current 'Hitchock' film can lay claim to significant historical substance in the telling of the tale of Alma Reville, who provided as much input and advice on the making of Hitchock's pictures as anyone. Alma was a talented assistant director and editor, who met Alfred during his fledgling career in the British film industry before they both movie to Hollywood and he changed the history of cinema.
The film explores the couple's relationship during the making of the film 'Psycho' in 1959, Mirren plays Alma and is joined in the couple by Anthony Hopkins playing her husband, Scarlett Johanssen plays Janet Leigh, who is famously butchered in the film's iconic shower scene.
Hitchock always went for sophisticated blondes as the female leads in his film. So much so that many have argued that he fetishised the hair colour. But in an interview with French film maker Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock explained that he chose a certain kind of actress whose sex appeal is "indirect". "You know why I favour sophisticated blondes in my films? We're after the drawing-room type, the real ladies, who become whores once they're in the bedroom, he said".
[Truffaut:] "What intrigues you is the paradox between the inner fire and the cool surface." [Hitchcock:] "Definitely. . . . Do you know why? Because sex should not be advertised. . . . Because without the element of surprise the scenes become meaningless. There's no possibility to discover sex."
Helen Mirren wears Dolce&Gabbana to the New York premier of 'Hitchock'
The master of suspense, adopted the exact same methods in his handling of sex in his films. You'll know from countless analyses of the shower scene that the reason it's so terrifying is precisely because you see nothing, It's a dance of wild gestures, facial expressions and sillouhettes, and that's also the case with the female sexuality in his films. The leads were women posessed of a burning sex appeal, but always perfectly restrained, a method which served to magnify the very slightest suggestion of sexuality in gesture or action.
Grace Kelly, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief
Hitchock became a friend and mentor to Kelly. He first cast he in 'Dial M for Murder' capitalising on her beauty, the success of her role in the film led to probably her most memorable role alongside James Stewart in Rear Window. Her character, Lisa Fremont was unusual as she was an independent career woman whose strenght somewhat overshadows that of the male lead. 'To Catch a Thief' was the last film she made with Hitchock were she played the romantic lead of Cary Grant.
Ingrid Bergman, Notorious, Spellbound, Under Capricorn
Ingrid Bergman made three films with Hitchcock, unlike the previous two, 'Under Capricorn' a slow-moving costume drama, was shot in black and white and did not receive the same critical acclaim. 'Notorious' however is one of Bergman's most famous roles and the romantic pairing of Cary Grant and Bergman together made the film a serious heavyweight at the box office. The scene of the two and a half minute kiss between Grant and Bergman was broken every three seconds in order to slip a ban on kisses that lasted longer than three seconds.
Tippi Hedren, The Birds, Marnie
The mother of MElanie Griffith and the female lead in two of Hitchcock's best films, 'The Birds' and 'Marnie'. While 'The Birds' was Hedren's breakthrough role it was a physically and psychologically demanding role, with scenes whose shoots lasted sometimes days at a time involving off-set stage hands flinging live gulls at the actresses face. Heden's portrayal of an emotionally battered young woman is impressive, but the film garnered mixed reviews on release. The strain of the working relationship with Hitchock however, proved too much for Hedren and she refused his offers of future projects, a rejection he allegedly didn't take too well. Other directors came in for Hedren but, as she remained under contract with Hitchoock, he had the final say. The young actress remained two years at home, unable to work while the monthly check arrived in the post from Hitchock.
Kim Novak, Vertigo
The quitessential Hitchcock blonde played a dual role in 'Vertigo' opposite James Stewart. PLaying both the brunette shopgirl Judy Barton aswell as über-sophisticated, mysterious platinum blonde Madeleine Elster. Some say that her career peaked in that film and after it went into a steady decline.
Marlene Dietrich, Stage Fright
Hitchock handled the megastar Dietrich with great control in this British shot psychological drama mixed with humour.
Janet Leigh, Psycho
A versatile and competent actress was the marque name over the production of 'Psycho' the fact that tthe female star is murdered after only 30 minutes violated narrative convenbtions of the time. Still though the shower scene remains as fresh and vividly unnerving as it must have done way back in 1960.
Doris Day, The Man Who Knew Too Much
Hitchcock revisited his earlier effort of the same name, only this time in widescreen and Technicolor. Alfred had apparently spotted Day in her film 'Strom Waning' and cast her despite her being primarily known as a singer rather than actor.
Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Frenzy
After two relatively unsuccessful efforts featuring political intrique Hitchcock's 'Frenzy, was a return to the familiar murder genre and a return to form in what would be his penultimate picture. A 'homecoming' of sorts it was shot in London after many years in Hollywood and sees Hitchcock revelling in familiar territory. Interesting as the 1972 film-making business is evidently very different than in the previous decade and the 'cultural revolution' of swinging London is very evident in this film. Barbara Leigh-Hunt's turn as the victim of a rape and strangling was considered so disturbing that Hitchcock's own daughter Patricia Hitchcock wouldn't let her own daughters view the film for many years.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty