For the last few months, I've had the honor to fill in for Ken Mogg, writing some of the [Guest] editor's day postings on
the 'MacGuffin' Web site
Here is an archive of the postings I've written so far.
[Guest] editor's day
[Note from K.M. I'm going on several months' 'leave'. Proceed, though, to the entries below, where four 'guest editors' - Dan Auiler, Adrian Martin, Tag Gallagher, and Robert Schoen - write about matters both Hitchcock and non-Hitchcock. Dan Auiler is the author of 'Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic', and author/compiler/editor of two forthcoming books: the mammoth 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' and 'North by Northwest: The Making of the Ultimate Hitchcock Thriller' - the last co-authored with Stephen Rebello. Adrian Martin is author of a book of media studies, 'Phantasms', and of a British Film Institute monograph on Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America. Dr Tag Gallagher is the author of 'John Ford: The Man and His Films' and 'The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini: His Life and Films'. Robert Schoen is a well-known sculptor who has lately turned to Hitchcock scholaship, and whose screenplay called Hitch and Alma is about to be published. There's a link to Robert's Web site on our Links page. Reader, I leave you in good hands.]
February 15[Robert Schoen on Marion/Norman in Psycho ...] I'd like to thank Ken Mogg for the great honor of momentarily filling his big shoes. I enter this arena not as an historian or scholar, but as a visual artist/recently turned writer, a lifelong fan of Hitchcock who never doubted for a moment that he was a fellow artist. The most powerful lesson learned from the recent Psycho remake, is how magnificently it validates the auteur theory - and I don't say this lightly, being a screenwriter myself! To paraphrase Dr. Evil, "You just don't get it, do you, Gus?" To be fair, a work of deceptively simple genius like Psycho takes a lot of reflection to fully grasp. As an example of my own slow wittedness, one of the most obvious thematic sub-texts of Psycho has only recently occurred to me: Norman Bates essentially becomes Marion Crane halfway through the picture. It was Marion, (a very masculine name, which almost forms an anagram of Norman), who was caught in a bleak unfulfilling existence, from which she tried to break out of by stealing a great deal of money. The new life she bought for herself was one of desperate furtiveness, fleeing from both an ever-present policeman and the voices inside her head. Marion desperately attempts to cover her tracks, first by exchanging cars, then by registering into the Bates motel under a false name. In fact, it's Marion's impromptu fib about being from Los Angeles that seals her fate, as Norman deliberately moves his hand from the key of cabin ten, and assigns her cabin one. Is he condemning her for that city's wickedness, or in that moment is he choosing her out of the recognition that their fates are forever linked? The short time spent between Marion and Norman is one of intense courtship and the sharing of the deepest of inner confessions. As they sit face to face in that parlor, they are mirror images to each other: one fair, the other dark, both doe-eyed, and very vulnerable. They open themselves up to each other completely, in the way that only perfect strangers can do. Almost at the second of Marion's demise, Norman picks up her baton of desperate living. He frantically covers up his "Mother's" crime, and then must nervously fend off the prying inquires of Arbogast, and then Lila and Sam. When Sam angrily interrogates Norman about what he intends to do with the money, one can almost imagine that Sam is really expressing his anger over the senselessness of Marion's initial theft. The final irony of Norman's soul being overtaken by his Mother's, obscures the far more subtle gender transfer between Norman and Marion. Is the deliberate use of this Borges-esque notion of soul transference by Hitchcock so far fetched? Hitch himself boasted that his next feature after Psycho would be about metaphysical sex. It's easy to see Marnie Edgar as an extension of Marion Crane, almost showing her becoming a professional embezzler, had she gotten away with the money. And Marnie is also very reminiscent of Norman, a high collared, sexually repressed woman, still scarred by her precocious act of murder. Perhaps Marnie is really the karmic child, or reincarnation of both Marion and Norman. I first brought up some of the metaphysical connections within Hitchcock's films in my new novel/screenplay, 'Hitch&Alma', but have explored them in far greater depth with "Reincarnation and Hitchcock," a seven thousand word article.
February 16 [Robert Schoen on some of his favourite not-quite-Hitchcock films ...] It happens almost every time I watch a film that attempts to interweave a dramatic matrix of psychology and morality. I rank the film's quality as to how it stacks up against Hitchcock's work. Producer Ross Hunter's films, like Madame X, or Imitation of Life, obviously have a distinctive personal style, but ultimately exude a rather ersatz, maudlin quality, in which lies a great part of their charm. While Curtiz's Mildred Pierce or Negulesco's Mask of Dimitrios are both very good, they're still not quite there. And then there are the films that are almost Hitchcock. What I mean by this is that they rise to a level of thematic development, execution, and purity of motive where their philosophic narrative is both impeccably drawn and fascinatingly complex. Michael Powell's The Red Shoes is such a masterpiece, a compelling tour de force set against the milieu of ballet in which primadonna Vicki must choose between art or love. One has only to look at Ben Hecht's flawed Specter of the Rose to see how difficult such a task is to convey convincingly. Billy Wilder is the autuer I hold in highest regard after Hitchcock, and the philosophic theme at the center of all his films is the duality of man: of how we all wear masks in fulfilling our roles in life. The roster of great Wilder films is remarkable; and many of them, The Lost Weekend, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, The Seven Year Itch, and Fedora, rival Hitchcock's achievements in their totality of vision and perfection of execution. I have always suspected that Hitchcock kicked himself when he saw the oedipal theme Wilder cleverly realized in Sunset Boulevard, and soon rushed out inspired to make his own Psycho. William Wyler's The Heiress, and George Stevens's A Place in the Sun, both with Montgomery Clift, are both sublime psychological dramas. The powerful dramatic climaxes in both are masterfully effortless; triumphs of understated art over more obvious audience manipulation. Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is another great film of incredible grace and poetry, wonderfully imbued with Herrmann's haunting romantic theme. Each time I see it I wished Hitch had made his Mary Rose. Finally, there's The Night of the Hunter. Charles Laughton's only film, in collaboration with screenwriter James Agee, is such a perfectly realized total vision, it's hard to believe this film was all but ignored when it was first released. Laughton was so devastated by the public's rejection that he never made another. He sought to evoke the simplicity of D.W. Griffith, and in the process created one of the most poetic, eloquently complex masterpieces ever created in cinema. All of these directors were contemporaries of Hitchcock; and with the achievement of these remarkable films, they rose to become his peers.
February 17 [Robert Schoen defends some Hitchcock films ...] I'm not a blind loyalist who considers every Hitchcock film a masterpiece. In fact, even a generally revered work like Spellbound has more than its share of flaws and seems to fall short of the mark. Many of his early films, as Hitchcock himself once characterized them, are more the works of a talented amateur showing only flashes of the genius that was later to come. But there are many truly great Hitchcock films that have historically been dismissed as second rate. Time has a way of erasing the unfair judgments imposed by those who weren't prepared to savor the pearls before them. The Paradine Case, for example, has been routinely characterized as an artistic failure. I am no fan of Gregory Peck, but even he couldn't detract from the remarkable achievement of this challenging, richly complex, yet largely unappreciated work. This film has a brilliant structural geometry that rivals the double pairing achieved in Strangers on a Train: all of the principals are mirror images of each other. In other words, Hitchcock has constructed a paradigm (Paradine, get it?) in which the unethical obsession over Madelena by her defense attorney Anthony Keane is balanced by the tormented scruples and guilt of her lookalike paramour Andre Latour. The object of Keane's unsolicited attentions, the dark beauty Madelena Paradine, is contrasted to the blonde chiseled features of Keane's attractive wife Gay. Madelena also bears an uncanny resemblance to Judy Flaquer, the daughter of Keane's mentor, who harbors her own unrequited crush on Keane. Charles Laughton's lecherous and heartless Lord Horfield is balanced by the decent and compassionate Simon Flaquer. Both of these men physically remind us of Hitchcock himself. The innovative court scenes, with their surreal rows of totem-like heads, evoke Daumier's drawings of lawyers in French courtrooms. These rapid cutaway shots are remarkable achievements in their subtle presentations of mirror images: the two sides of the story, or of the law, for that matter. This underrated film in many ways anticipates the same themes of obsession found in Vertigo. Another vastly underrated masterpiece is Under Capricorn. This is undeniably one of the most visually beautiful Hitchcock films ever made, anticipating Barry Lyndon, in its evocative reconstruction of another time. The complex figures at the center of this tragic drama, Flusky, Lady Henrietta, Charles Adair and Milly, are all compelling in their interwoven symmetry of sacrifice, class differences and manipulative behavior. The cinematography is exquisite, the flowing long takes that seemed just a gimmick in Rope, are here beautifully justified as poetic motions and in keeping with the dream-like quality of this romantic drama. The subtle blue palette employed throughout the film make it look like an eighteenth century painting come to life. In fact Berman's long soliloquy is filmed as though Titian himself was behind the camera. Addinsell's hauntingly beautiful score, and a most outstandingly even cast, put this film on the level of artistic achievement of Notorious. Perhaps these two films present far too bittersweet a portrayal of love for them to ever become widely accepted as popular fare.
February 18 [Robert Schoen defends more of Hitch's work ...] Marnie is another Hitchcock film that surely falls into the category of misunderstood masterpieces. This sophisticated drama, much like Psycho, is a remarkably successful realization of the same psychological themes Hitchcock first attempted with far less success in Spellbound. Both Connery and Hedren give outstanding and subtle performances, and the dialogue is among the best written in the entire Hitchcock cannon. Why this film was ever considered to be one of Hitchcock's disappointments has always baffled this writer. It is perhaps among his most re-watchable of films (I should know, I've seen it more than 80 times!) It's also interesting to examine Marnie keeping in mind that Hitchcock rewove and updated the same romantic themes found in Gone With the Wind, Selnick's masterpiece. Stage Fright is another movie that has frequently been dismissed or ignored, and that's a pity, because it is almost a family portrait of the Hitchcocks. Based on the novel 'Man Running', the screen adaptation was by Alma Reville, and their daughter Patricia appeared for the first time as an actress in the small supporting role of Chubby. But this movie is very atypical for Hitchcock on many fronts. It has punchy rapid cuts, very reminiscent of some of his early films like Number Seventeen (also co-written and adapted by Alma) and seems to have a completely different tempo and style from the rest of Hitchcock's work. The main protagonist, Eve Gill, a meek looking acting student played by Jane Wyman, finds out that the man she loves is in love with a beautiful blonde star ("had I known, I would have taken up second fiddle instead of acting") whose husband has just been murdered. I strongly suspect that Stage Fright is the closest we will come to seeing a film directed by Alma Reville. There is a sensitivity to Eve's plight as the slighted woman, and an animus toward the charming villain Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) and the beautiful leading lady Charlotte, played by Marlene Dietrich, that is completely out of character for Hitchcock. It is as though he is letting Alma tell her story, the way he usually he reveals his own fantasies and family values, between the lines of the narrative. It is also likely that Eve's role was written with Patricia Hitchcock in mind, and it's a pity dad wouldn't let her have the part. Patricia's role as Barbara Morton in the following year's Strangers on a Train more than confirmed her considerable talent and wonderful comedic presence. One last film I would wholeheartedly defend, perhaps even to the surprise of Hitchcock himself, is Topaz. This is a brilliantly paced, excellently cast drama that seems to reflect Hitchcock's admiration for Frankenheimer's great Day of the Jackal. It deeply explores the theme of alienation experienced by a man who leaves behind his native country, a subject Hitch touches on in many of his works. There is so much going for this film, it's hard to understand why it is considered to be a disappointment by so many. Perhaps all of these examples demonstrate a range to Hitchcock's outlook that extends far beyond the expectations of his core audience. These underappreciated films, like The Wrong Man, were all artistically challenging works made despite their lack of commercially appealing themes, and perhaps will one day be regarded as among Hitchcock's best.
February 22 [Robert Schoen on Hitchcock look-alikes ...] Let's face it. Hitchcock was an inconvenient Narcissus. Had he been born looking like Cary Grant (a secret longing he once confessed to), Gregory Peck, or Robert Donat, this inclination might be more understandable. Commenting on his unique appearance, Hitchcock casually replied that England is full of men who look exactly like him. That hardly seems the case. Nevertheless, his distinct features are fascinating, and his oeuvre is filled with surrogate figures played by actors who bear an uncanny resemblance to the Master. These Hitchcock doppelgangers pop up far too frequently in his films for their presence to be merely coincidental. Occasionally these twins are portrayed as victims of unhappy circumstance, such as the meek metallurgist Emil Hupka in Notorious. Sometimes they appear as incidental figures who play a catalytic role to the story, like the man waiting to clash the cymbals during the title sequence of the second version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Appropriately titled, this film is populated by a host of unusual looking, balding men who may be intended as stand-ins for the director. Even Jimmy Stewart in the lead greatly resembles a thinner, taller version of Hitch in his twenties. One unforgettable Hitchcock surrogate is the obnoxious cigar chomping man from Pittsburgh who kept trying to sit in Ingrid Bergman's lap in the hotel lobby of Spellbound. Mystery aficionado Joe Newton of Shadow of a Doubt is chastised over his trashy choice of literature by his precocious daughter Ann (who seems to be an affectionate portrait of Hitchcock's own daughter Patricia.) Occasionally these Hitchcock doubles play sympathetic villains. The lookalike Italian magician on the train in The Lady Vanishes seems to pop up with the same frequency as the director himself. Otto Keller, the murderous church handyman in I Confess, almost seems to be a self portrait of how the director might have ended up had his talent never been recognized: a competent foreigner working in a foreign land, married to Alma, and linked to the Catholic church, while secretly holding it in contempt. In The Paradine Case, Hitchcock created a double self portrait in the guise of the Charles Laughton's Hanging Judge character (a profession Hitch once confided to Bernard Herrmann he would have chosen, had he not become a director,) and Anthony Edward's very decent mentor, Simon Faquer, played by Hitchcock lookalike Charles Coburn. These two opposite roles represent the poles of intolerance and compassion. The French NATO official Henri Jarre, who can't stop filling his plate even as his traitorous activities are being discussed in Topaz, looks uncannily like a younger version of Hitchcock. Edmund Gwenn's solid strong features in The Trouble with Harry strongly evoke Hitchcock, both physically and in spirit. But perhaps my most favorite doppelganger of all is the stocky sculptress, Miss Busybody, working off her terrace apartment in Rear Window. Take a closer look at her the next time you see this movie. She looks exactly like Hitchcock in drag, and just like him, she's definitely an artist.
February 23 [Robert Schoen on hidden Hitchcock ...] Hitchcock was famous for his acerbic humor, and for being a lover of corny puns. He also had a penchant for creating some outrageous visual puns and metaphors within his films, some so subtle they often only register with the audience subliminally. Hitchcock often chaffed under the close scrutiny of David Selznick, whose stylized productions always offered a profusion of atmospheric shadows of foliage emanating from every window. Hitchcock slyly mocked this overworked Selznick trademark in Shadow of a Doubt, when he placed a horrid monstrous face shadow, supposedly emanating from a potted fern, on the rounded column directly across from young Ann as she answers the telephone. This is the call from the telegraph office announcing the arrival of Uncle Charlie, and the shadow subtlety alludes to the danger to come. Everyone knows of Hitchcock's little cameo appearances, but less apparent is how he often framed these appearances to identify himself with the villain. When Charles Oakley feigns sickness within a curtained compartment on the train bound to Santa Rosa, the conductor grimly informs a nearby doctor that Oakley's a very ill man. The doctor squints over to examine the half-hidden face of Hitchcock, seated across from him playing cards, and declares, "You don't look too well, yourself." In Psycho, Hitchcock is briefly seen standing outside the Phoenix real estate office, wearing a cowboy hat. Seconds later the lecherous Cassidy enters wearing the same hat, starts flirting with Marion, and gloats about buying off unhappiness with money as the director's own daughter disapprovingly looks on. In the beginning of I Confess, Hitchcock is seen walking though the dark streets of Montreal, seconds before the murderer Otto Keller flees the scene of the crime. In all three of these instances, Hitchcock is clearly indicating where his affinities lie. Hitchcock demonstrated a schoolboy's delight in sexual innuendo. In both Suspicion and the beginning of Marnie, he created visual metaphors for the vagina from both snapping and wiggling purses tightly held by his attractive leading ladies. One of the most unforgettable Hitchcock characters is Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. "Not exactly an oil painting, is she?" offers the Nigel Bruce character. But that's exactly what Mrs. Danvers is. She goes through the entire film with her hands folded at her waist, just like the Mona Lisa. Perhaps an even more comical touch in the same movie is Mrs. Edith Van Hopper's revealing cocktail dress in the Monte Carlo hotel lobby, so lovingly recreated in Technicolor during Stanley Donen's hilarious "pass the orange" homage in Charade. Many times these visual puns become profound statements in and of themselves. Because of their subtlety, we may not always be able to point them out, but their presence alone enhance our awareness of the film's multi-layered meanings. In The Birds, Melanie Daniels wears a suit exactly the shade of green as the lovebirds she is carrying to Mitch. She is also adorned in mink coat, suede gloves, and lizard skin handbag - practically half the Animal Kingdom. Another visual provocation offered as a possible explanation for the bird attacks is the exaggerated use of smoking throughout the film. Melanie smokes while sitting on a bench in the schoolyard, as the crows accumulate on the jungle gym behind her. The man next to the car lighting his cigar is burned to death. The Tides Restaurant, where all the villagers debate the motives behind the attacks, has a prominent cigarette vending machine placed right in the middle of the shot. Perhaps the Cancer Society could look into the possibility of re-running The Birds on television, as part of their anti-smoking campaign.
February 24 [Robert Schoen on Hitchcock's great secondary characters ...] One of the great joys to be found in practically all of Hitchcock's work is the presence of the wonderful secondary characters that populate his films. These quickly drawn studies in human nature are so perfectly rendered they often leave the viewer clamoring for more. One of Hitchcock's favorite groups of recurring characters are elegant and not-so-elegant dowager types, like the previously mentioned Edith Van Hopper of Rebecca, or the nearly strangled Mrs. Cunningham from Strangers on a Train. Marion Lorne's incredible Mrs. Anthony from that same movie, and Jesse Royce Landis's Mrs. Thornhill from North by Northwest are both delightfully batty mothers who easily convey the twisted upbringings their errant sons were subjected to. Many times these secondary characters serve as useful foils to the main players. In Shadow of a Doubt, both Catherine, the sexually aroused girlfriend, and the forlorn cocktail waitress Louise Finch, express Charlie Newton's elation and despair brought on by her Uncle's arrival. The assembled townspeople who gather at The Tides Restaurant in The Birds offer both humor and an earthiness as a welcome anchor to the ensuing unreality of the bird attacks. Then there are the slightly perplexing walk-ons and minor roles that always seem to stick in the mind of the viewer. As Jimmy Stewart backs out of the parlor during Doris Day's brash rendition of "Que Sera," in The Man Who Knew Too Much, an elegantly attired man in the corner shoots him a wry look as if to say, "And that's your wife?" Domestic servants also are given their share of unforgettable moments. Joseph, the wizened butler in Notorious who accompanies Alex down to the wine cellar tosses the perfect cynical glance at Devlin and Alicia kissing in the doorway. The overly sweet Cuban houseboy in Topaz sticks out like a sore thumb in this grim espionage melodrama, while the sexy chambermaid in The Lady Vanishes proves herself to be almost as funny as the cricket obsessed Englishmen sharing her room. All of these characters are a testament to the totality of Hitchcock's vision. For all his well-known publicly expressed cynicism, these lovingly rendered smaller figures speak volumes about Hitchcock's life-affirming view of humanity.
February 25 [Robert Schoen on what makes a Hitchcock film special ...] Exactly what is it about a Hitchcock film that makes it so special? It's certainly not the superficial suspense plot. The original play, short story or novel, on which his films were based (only Notorious and North by Northwest were original stories) all have fascinating premises. But their stories alone hold no guarantee that they'll translate into great movies. Look at The Bad Seed for instance, or other literary properties Hitchcock had one time contemplated, like The Wreak of the Mary Deare, or Clouzot's Diabolique, and imagine how much better they would have been had Hitchcock made them. As the recent Psycho remake proved, even the finished screenplay itself doesn't account for the success of his films. Each designated writer on any given Hitchcock film, as talented as he or she might have been, was for all practical purposes serving him more as a glorified stenographer than a full blown collaborator. They mainly supplied the lyrics to which Hitchcock had already written the score. This is not to say that they did not make critically important contributions to the structure or development of the picture, but more to suggest that the writer's contribution in realizing Hitchcock's vision is comparable in magnitude to Robert Burks's wonderful cinematography or an unforgettable Bernard Herrmann score. The real message in Hitchcock lies in the totality of his vision and the subtle philosophic attitude that permeates everything he touched. Like an artist, he limits the thematic and visual scope of each picture to a thorough exploration of just a few related topics. The Trouble with Harry and The Birds are both beautifully rendered landscapes slightly marred by a surreal nightmare. Rear Window displays a series of Hopper-esque domestic vignettes framed against a brick wall. L.B. Jeffries's apartment offers just as bittersweet a tableau as those of his neighbors he spies on through his window. This simplistic outlook to all Hitchcock's films imbues them with almost a primitive quality, and a very solid structure from which they can safely explore a great deal of very subtle issues rarely touched upon in a popular medium like cinema. Hitchcock had a burning desire to render the world as he saw it, and one of the reasons his films are so different from one another is that they are all self-contained worlds, whose dramatic conflicts become perfectly resolved. All of the brilliant little touches within them are the essential parts responsible for the success of the whole masterpiece.
March 1 [Robert Schoen on Picasso and Hitchcock ...] Instinctively, I have always linked Picasso and Hitchcock. One thing shared in common by these two geniuses of twentieth century thought is the theme of duality of self that is often manifested in their art. In a recent book, Norman Mailer recounts how Picasso as a boy had been deeply impressed by seeing a girl whose face had been horribly split in two by lightning. Years later, Picasso began a series of geometrical distortion on the human face that would suggest two facets of the same person at once. Hitchcock repeatedly did the same thing in his films, only he would create dramas that centered around characters that seem to be different manifestations of the same person. In this way, he showed the psyche's internal struggle fought by proxy - through cinematic drama. Just as Picasso's cubism presented different facets of the same object at once, so did Hitchcock's cinema. Take, for example, Dial M for Murder: Tony Wendice and Mark Halliday can interpreted as being one in the same person, but of a divided mind, both loving and hating his wife simultaneously. Likewise, Rope's Brandon and Phillip seem to be acting out the inner monologue of a murderer wondering if he'll get caught, and hoping he can get away with it if he just acts calmly enough. Strangers on a Train offers a host of double pairings, but it is fascinating to think of Bruno Anthony as just an outward manifestation of what Guy Haines really wants to do (murder his wife) and wants to be (a wealthy playboy with obligations to no one.). Interestingly enough, in both these movies, Hitchcock also created victims with their own lookalikes. The two Charlies in Shadow of a Doubt can be interpreted as representing the same person at different times of his/her life: innocent before learning of the world, and heartless afterwards. The finale on the moving train has a wonderfully subtle clue that young Charlie is indeed becoming like her uncle. She wears a gray dress with a velvet black lining on the top that matches exactly the shadow that darkens the top portion of Uncle Charlie's suit. In a previous posting I went into detail about how Marion Crane and Norman Bates become one in Psycho. Norman literally continues Marion's role of fleeing from the law after her death. Alex Sebastian and Devlin from Notorious seem to represent different facets of the same character in love with a woman. The same can be said of Flusky and Adair in Under Capricorn. Once Hitchcock's work is viewed through this cubistic prism, and we see how consistently this pattern of the dual self is manifests itself throughout his work, we begin to appreciate him all the more.
March 2 [Robert Schoen on Strangers on a Train ...] I watched Strangers on a Train again the other day and a few thoughts occurred to me. One of them was how Robert Walker must have never been the same after playing such a magnificent role as Bruno Anthony. He was considered the wholesome All American Boy type, much as Anthony Perkins was, before Hitchcock got his hands on him. Both of these actors loaned their essential goodness and looks to the director, and became unforgettable icons of deviation in the process. This brings up one of the unspoken themes in Strangers: the notion of dominating beauty in order to possess it. Bruno seeks to dominate Guy Haines, in order to get him to do his bidding. Both Bruno's mother and father have dominated their son, creating a monster. And Guy seeks to gain a new life for himself by marrying the Senator's daughter Ann Morton, at almost any price. When these two men first meet on the train, they preen before each other, both showing off their jewelry: Guy his cigarette lighter (appropriately a Ronson "Adonis") and Bruno his monogramed tie clasp. Guy is clearly a passive fellow, and as he is squeezed further and further into fulfilling his end of the deal in Bruno's swapped murder scheme, he finally decides to take action, by taking the gun and key over to Bruno's house. He follows the floor plan sketched out by Bruno and carefully creeps up to the father's bedroom with the gun, only to be surprised by Bruno in a tux on the bed. Was Guy seriously thinking of killing Bruno's father, or was he really going to tell the father about Bruno? I have come to believe the former, and that Guy chickened out at the last moment. Guy is the truly amoral of the two. Much like OJ, he expresses no remorse or sorrow over his wife's death, only the fear of being blamed for it and losing his comfortable life with the Senator's daughter. Bruno, on the other hand takes full moral responsibility for his murder, as expressed by the guilt he feels while looking at his victim's lookalike, Barbara Morton. He even complains to Guy about having a murder on his conscience that is not his murder. Guy Haines clearly represents the type of moral passivity that Hitchcock has railed against in film after film. Only Bruno seems morally responsible for his actions in this film. Perhaps he was an All American Boy after all.
March 3 [Robert Schoen adds more thoughts on Strangers on a Train ...] Strangers on a Train is legendary for its double pairings of characters that suggest the same duality of self I was referring to when I compared Hitchcock to Picasso. But there are some very subtle examples of these symbolic linkings in the film that almost escape notice. One major pairing of this sort is the link between Guy Haines and Ann Morton. Ruth Roman, the striking actress who played the role, looks almost like Farley Granger's twin sister with her short dark hair and strong features. When we first see her, she is locked in a passionate kiss with Guy, shot from a high angle. In close-up, it almost appears as though Guy is kissing his own reflection. The implied narcissism of this relation is purely intentional on Hitchcock's part. Much like Shadow's young Charlie's ESP link with her uncle, Ann soon senses Guy's involvement in Miriam's murder. Similarly, Bruno bears a close resemblance to his batty mother, so wonderfully played by Marion Lorne. The exact awkward goodbye wave given to Ann by both mother and son reinforces this link. Hitchcock had a wicked sense of humor and occasionally slipped in some sly sexual innuendo to flesh out his characters. Miriam and her lookalike Barbara Morton are a perfect example. When she is first seen accompanied by two boyfriends at the amusement park, Miriam is asking for a hot dog, while suggestively licking an ice cream cone. She continues to play with her ice cream while flirtatiously looking at Bruno. This allusion to fellatio is further reinforced when Barbara attempts to distract Detective Hennessy from noticing Guy's escape from the tennis match by spilling her makeup powder onto his pants. She begins to brush it off enthusiastically, to the embarrassment of the detective, then falls to her knees to finish the job! But perhaps the subtlest pairings in the film involve the two little boys at the amusement park. As Bruno stalks Miriam before the murder, he is accosted by a boy in a cowboy getup pointing a pistol at him with one hand while carrying a balloon in the other. "Stick 'em up!" the boy cries, to which Bruno responds by bursting the boy's balloon with his cigarette. This little boy resembles Bruno, and just as the boy's balloon has burst as he playfully threatens Bruno's life, Bruno's innocence will burst as he crosses over from homicidal fantasy to commit his first murder. The second little boy is the one laughing as he rides on the out of control merry-go-round, as his mother cries out. This boy resembles Guy, and as he comes to the aid of Guy during the fight, he is almost tossed off the carousel by Bruno. Guy comes to the rescue of this boy, and in the process rescues, or redeems, himself.
March 4 [Robert Schoen on new Hitchcock research] This year of the Centennial of Hitchcock's birth should produce a flurry of important new books of first hand research into Hitchcock's working process. It is very reassuring that there are so many scholars and writers have dedicated their talents to preserving such a record. It's even more important when we consider that time is rapidly running out for gathering first hand interviews with those who were involved in his film productions. But there was also a rich paper trail of screenplays, drafts, production notes and memos, many preserved at the Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles. I am anxiously awaiting the release of "Hitchcock's Notebooks" by Dan Auiler. This promises to be a most fascinating glimpse into the director's thought process and technique. Dan has already tantalized us with several fascinating tidbits from his book on these pages, and there are sure to be many more revelations about the challenges involved and artistic ingenuity needed to achieve these cinematic masterpieces. He is currently collaborating with Stephen Rebello on "The Making of North by Northwest." Steven L. DeRosa is another writer who is doing excellent research on the screenwriters who collaborated with Hitchcock. For his planned book, "Alfred Hitchcock and His Writers," he has conducted first hand interviews with many of them, including John Michael Hayes. His informative Web site (a link to it is found on the 'MacGuffin' Links page) if full of insights into the writer/director collaborative process, excerpts from the screenplays themselves, particularly some of the written scenes that never made it to the screen, and an outline of some of the unrealized film projects. A new Hitchcock biography scheduled for next year is being written by Patrick McGilligan for St Martin's Press. It will be very interesting to see how it compares with Spoto's monumental work. Finally, Patricia O'Connell is preparing a biography on her mother Alma Reville Hitchcock, that promises to finally reveal the full extent of Alma's contribution to the Hitchcock legacy. All of these writers will be leaving their own legacy, of a record well preserved.
March 8 [Robert Schoen's final thoughts on Strangers on a Train] Last week while discussing Strangers on a Train, I left out one of the most obvious pairings that occurs within this film: Mrs. Anthony and Mrs. Cunningham. When we first see Bruno's mother, she is giving her son a manicure, and we see through Bruno's outstretched hands, which look as if they are about to strangle someone. It is fitting that the doting Mrs. Anthony is manicuring Bruno's future murder weapons, in that she is probably more responsible than anyone for what Bruno has become. Later, at Senator Morton's party, Bruno engages in conversation with the equally dipsy Mrs. Cunningham, whom he almost strangles to death while looking at Barbara Morton. Is Bruno expressing his subconscious rage over his own mother? The recurrence of outrageous dominating mothers within the Hitchcock cannon would seem to suggest this is the case, for both Bruno and the director. There are two disconcerting moments in this masterpiece that have always left me pondering. Why does the lens of Miriam's glasses break, during the strangling? Bruno was obviously gentle, and they fell onto grass? Did they strike the lighter? Besides the obvious tribute to Potemkin, I believe Hitchcock created an even more powerful visual metaphor precisely because of it's absence of real world logic. It has story logic. As Robin Wood points out, Miriam's name is rooted in the Latin word "to look." Bruno has deprived her of sight, and acknowledges this debt by assisting the blind man across the street. This same story logic justifies the second jarring episode in the movie: the policeman firing his gun through a crowed amusement park, killing the elderly merry-go-round operator. Up to this point, we've had an exquisite drama that perfectly illustrates the gravity of taking a human life. Then, all of a sudden, an officer of the law casually kills an innocent victim, and the world goes spinning out of control. Could Hitchcock be making a jab the police here, the way he had previously done on motherhood? Again, the innate morality of Hitchcock comes through, and we see that rather than this just being a gratuitous killing, it proves again that murder has great consequences. As a final irony, the film's last pairing involved the merry-go-round operator and the brave old geezer who crawls under the revolving floorboards to stop it. Strangers also has some of the greatest use of sound found in any Hitchcock film. Hitchcock would meticulously score the soundtrack of every film down to the last detail, and it really pays off in this film: the wonderful Tiomkin score, the dissonance of the piano tuning in the background when Guy and Miriam discuss their divorce, the metronome-like beat of the tennis ball marking the time running out, and the scream in the tunnel of love. To paraphrase Mies van der Rohe, "Hitchcock is in the details."
March 9 [Robert Schoen on The Birds ...] The Birds is considered by many to be Hitchcock's deliberate attempt to establish himself as a serious cinematic artist to those who had always dismissed him as a maker of mere thrillers. Besides the great technical challenges required to pull it off, it is the most symbolic and metaphysical of his films. There are many subtle psychological associations within this film that underscore the horror of the attacks. The unreal cries of the birds at times sound almost like human voices played backwards. Their willingness to sacrifice themselves with kamakaze attacks adds to the sense of the birds' relentlessness. The cruelty and mean spirited tricks that the characters inflict on each other seem thematically linked to the attacks. Mitch makes a fool of Melanie in the pet shop, Melanie tries to get back at him by delivering the lovebirds. Annie was coolly treated by Lydia as a threat to her relation with her son, and now Lydia does the same thing to Melanie. Melanie opens Annie's old wound of her failed relation to Mitch by conning her way into Annie's home for the night, just to cover her lie to Mitch about being her old schoolmate. At Kathy's birthday party, the boys and girls are playing pin the tail on the donkey. The children also sing a morbid rhyme in their class, perhaps mocking the birds with their voices. Lydia hysterically berates Mitch as the main attack on their house begins. In all of these cases, the bird attacks seem to be an extension of these games these people play on each other. Yet we get the sense that these white lies, practical jokes and cruelty are all perfectly normal aspects of the human condition. The constantly posed question of "Why are the attacks happening?" has no answer except this one. The accusation against Melanie about her being the cause of the attacks by the hysterical mother (played by the same actress who testified against the Henry Fonda character in The Wrong Man) is both strangely logical and harks back to the mob rule in the days of witchcraft. Yet for all the surreal elements of this film, this is one of Hitchcock's most human dramas. There is a vulnerability to both Melanie and Annie that is very dimensional. The graphic deaths of both Annie and Dan Fawcett underscore the emotional dependence that Lydia and Mitch have for each other. The fact that Kathy want to take the lovebirds along shows man's capacity for forgiving. The final acceptance by Lydia for Melanie suggests a new start as the car pulls away through the magnificent bird-strewn landscape. At this moment the birds have finally stopped their attacks.
March 10 [Robert Schoen on Under Capricorn ...] Hitchcock studied to be an engineer, and his innate sense of geometry accounts for much of the emotional resonance found in all of his characters. His dramas are structured so that each character plays off all the others in a way that makes them all multi-dimensional. Major character themes explored are class differences; the immature man (still unmarried at fifty, or living with his mother) and the strong independent woman; the conflicted protagonist versus the charmingly amoral villain. The dramatic matrix he wove is perfectly seen in the previously described tensions between the central characters in The Birds. While I have not read the novel, I recently saw the Australian mini-series based on Helen Simpson's Under Capricorn. This was supposedly a more faithful version of the novel (Hitchcock and friend Hume Cronym based their screenplay on a stage adaptation of the same novel,) and it is very instructional to see how Hitchcock drew from this work. The book was apparently far more epic in scope, going on to chronicle the romance upper-class Charles Adair later has with a common girl he meets after the Governor's ball. Hitchcock instead focused on the themes of class conflict and the sacrifices one makes in order to share a life with someone else, and the painful memories of leaving one's native country. Adair has come to Australia to make his fortune, while Flusky was sent away to prison labor for the accusation of killing his wife's brother (she really did it) and she followed him there. Flusky later becomes one of the wealthiest men in the colony, while the well-born Adair is penniless. Hitchcock creates a love triangle centered around the self-tortured Lady Henrietta between childhood friend Adair and her brooding husband Sam Flusky. The malicious housekeeper Milly keeps Hattie in an alcoholic stupor with an endless supply of hidden bottles in her room because she is secretly in love with her boss. Flusky invites Adair to his house in hopes of enticing the colony's women to attend a dinner at their brooding mansion, 'Minyago Yugilla' (an Aboriginal phrase meaning 'why weepest thou?'). When Adair arrives, he sneaks around to the kitchen and apparently sees Hattie (Ingrid Bergman) being held down and tortured by a horrid kitchen staff. But it is not Hattie, but the servant girl 'Crumpet' being tortured. This occurs during the end of one of the famous long tracking shots Hitchcock used in this film and Rope, and its foreshadowing effect is nothing short of miraculous. Later Adair moves in and begins to poison the mind of Hattie against Flusky exactly as Millie is doing to Flusky in regards to Hattie's growing closer to Adair. The geometry of the character interactions is complimented by the beautifully curved interiors and the haunting Addinsell score. This underrated film is very comparable to the themes explored in Notorious, but is far grimmer and off the beaten track for an audience expecting a work by the 'Master of Suspense.' Typical of Hitchcock, it is a wonderful blow against cinematic cliche in its presentation of a mature devotion between a couple long past the bloom of first love.
March 11 [Robert Schoen on growing up with Hitchcock ...] With his mammoth biography, "The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius," Donald Spoto first proposed that Hitchcock had encoded a subtle autobiography within his cinema. While his book to this day is still controversial in some circles for its often-unflattering portrait of the director, for almost two decades it has remained a standard reference work for those interested in Hitchcock's life. Hitchcock often made an analogy of what he did in his cinema to painting. Just like Breugel, Velasquez, Picasso, or Rembrandt, Hitchcock would often paint a self-portrait within his canvases, or films. One senses that all of Hitchcock's films are intensely personal statements, in the guise of popular entertainment. Some writers today contend that Hitchcock's principal genius was his gift of self-promotion, which accounts for his popularity. But perhaps Hitchcock was only practicing truth in advertising, in that he was really the thematic 'star' of all of his pictures. Growing up in the fifties, I first became hooked on Hitchcock from his television series and the frequent reruns of his films. As a child, I recognized in them a dramatic power I saw lacking in other films. I still retain vivid images from Shadow of a Doubt and Dial M for Murder as part of my earliest memories. (Today, my young children watch along with me many Hitchcock films, and they too appreciate them.) As I grew up, Hitchcock's films kept revealing deeper insights that I had previously been oblivious to. My fascination for Hitchcock's work also harbored within it a secret longing: I wished that I had the chance to serve him as a writer for one of his movies. I considered cinema a passionate spectator sport, while I had a long career of painting and sculpting. I realized this wish of writing a Hitchcock film was only a pipe dream fantasy, like wanting to meet Picasso. But a later twist of fate caused me to turn my artistic talents to writing, and not shortly afterwards, I began to think again about that fantasy screenplay collaboration with Hitchcock. The result ultimately became "Hitch & Alma". My novel/screenplay is an exploration of the secret meanings found in his films. While everyone knows of the fantasy romances Hitchcock would project onto his leading ladies, a far less realized truth is that Alma was Hitchcock's first and last leading lady, and that all of his films are basically portraits of themselves as a couple. This book was a labor of love for me, and a way of paying tribute to one of my greatest teachers in life.
[Editor's note. After a fortnight away, Robert Schoen is back - we're happy to say! Note that Robert's book, 'Hitch & Alma' is now on sale. For details, see his Web site - there's a link on our Links page.]
March 28[Robert Schoen on a film he thinks highly of ...] I've already embarrassed myself on this site by admitting how many times I've watched Marnie (80.) I confess to watching it another four times in the last few weeks. One reason for this frequent reviewing is that it is one of my wife's favorite movies. Another reason is that I find it to be one of the films made on the grandest scale in Hitchcock's output. Like another underrated masterpiece, Under Capricorn, it is a film that minimizes Hitchcock's 'Master of Suspense' hook, therefore making the more essential core-themes he usually explored in his work stand out in high relief. I have stated before that Marnie Edgar seems to be an extension of the Marion Crane character from Psycho. Hitchcock seems to have deliberately intended this link, in the way he filmed Marnie dividing her identities between two suitcases in her hotel room, discarding the false name "Marion" she used for Strutt, as she empties his stolen money into her new suitcase. Later she changes her name to "Mary" (the same false name Marion signed into the Bates Motel register) when she begins to work for Mark Rutland. It has always been fascinating to me how Tippi Hedren seemed far more attractive in The Birds that she did in Marnie. This is because she was so absorbed in portraying the psychological complexity of the role, her features dropped the pretty girl facade of the first movie. Watching a beautiful woman project herself through such an intense drama without the traditional concern for preserving this mask is a joy to experience. It is reminiscent of Teresa Wright, or Kim Novak's turn with Hitchcock. Hedren's subtle performance is truly outstanding, with incredible range of emotions and depth, and complete conviction throughout. If Hitchcock had visited the same psychological mind games on Hedren that he had subjected Joan Fontaine to in order to tweak her performance in Rebecca, the results are truly remarkable. Marnie at times almost seems to be an exercise in cinema verite. But this in no way detracts from the artistry of Hedren's performance, or Jay Presson Allen's remarkable dialogue. As complex as Marnie's character is, Mark Rutland is equally fascinating. Superbly realized by Sean Connery shortly after his performance in Goldfinger, Rutland exudes an intense sexuality, in contrast to Marnie's repressed nature. As arrogantly confident as Mark is, he is almost paternal in his caring for Marnie's well being. There is a duality in his nature between an older wisdom and youthful impulsiveness that perfectly compliments Marnie's own complexity. Mark seems to admire Marnie's steely resourcefulness and cunning to assume a job in which she gains her employer's trust, just to rob him in the end. In a sense, Mark repeats Marnie's behavioral pattern in gaining her trust, then stealing her virginity on their honeymoon. Evan Hunter, the original screenwriter dismissed by Hitchcock, called this a rape. I truly believe Hitchcock intended it as an act of sexual healing, and, as Jay Presson Allen correctly assessed this scene, the reason he made this movie in the first place. Both of these characters boldly commit infractions against society's rules in their drive to live life at its fullest. This parallel between Mark and Marnie is typical of the subtle psychological links Hitchcock often created between his characters. Just as Marion Crane and Norman Bates were mirror images of each other, so are Mark and Marnie. When one sees the thematic links between Marnie and Psycho, Vertigo, and Under Capricorn and his other works, then one begins to understand one must study Hitchcock's oeuvre in its totality in order to appreciate fully each individual film.
March 29 [Robert Schoen defends Hitch's later works ...] I have always been annoyed by the critical dismissal of Hitchcock's later period (the films he made after The Birds) as being works that were full of bad process shots (as has been said of Marnie); having weak stories (Topaz) or just being rehashes of Hitchcock's old cinematic bag of tricks (as was said of Torn Curtain). These charges seem to have been made by those who were oblivious to the more profound thematic links that tie together all of Hitchcock's work. What work is more derivative of Hitchcock's earlier chase films than North by Northwest? Similarly, this universally acclaimed masterpiece is full of obvious matte paintings that the same critics found so intolerable in Marnie. We are now learning the full extent of the interference Hitchcock was subjected to by Lew Wasserman and MCA. These so-called friends vetoed such potential great works as Kaleidoscope (the first Frenzy, which was supposed to be a prequel to Shadow of a Doubt) and Mary Rose, while at the same time putting pressure on Hitchcock to use stars he didn't want and suggesting to him Bernard Herrmann's music was too "old fashioned." Hitchcock ultimately pulled himself away from this interfering environment and seemed to express his rage at MCA by moving to London to create his angriest film, Frenzy. But even with this studio interference, the films Hitchcock created in this period more than stand on their own merits. The criticism of these films is reminiscent of the "slump" Hitchcock was alleged to have experienced between Notorious and Strangers on a Train (The Paradine Case, Rope, Under Capricorn, and the charming Stage Fright). I'm convinced these critics have a tunnel vision that was intolerant to Hitchcock's innovative experimentation and oblivious to the true core Hitchcockian themes because they were only expecting something by "The Master of Suspense." I would argue that Hitchcock's later works (with the exception of the comedic Family Plot, saddled with that insipid score by John Williams and visually resembling a work made for television) have an ambition of scale and theme that make them among the most challenging of Hitchcock's works. I've already made myself clear on Marnie. I'm convinced that if Hitchcock had allowed Herrmann's score into Torn Curtain, we would not be discussing it now as a misunderstood masterpiece. While it suffers from a lack of chemistry between Sarah (Julie Andrews) and Armstrong (Paul Newman,) it has a very compelling story reminiscent of Notorious (like this earlier film, it also was developed from an original story idea by Hitchcock.) One of the most fascinating characters found in any Hitchcock film is the East German security officer Gromik, played by Wolfgang Kieling. He is just a much a sympathetic villain as Alex Sebastian, and like Sebastian, makes us question the ethics of the so-called "good guys." Gromik's reminisces of his time in America: Pete's Pizza Parlor and the old gangster movies, make him a believable and compassionate character. When he tracks down Armstrong to the farmhouse and declares he's going to report him... to the Department of Culture for running out of the museum so quickly, he wins us over with his swarthy charm. This makes Gromik's grizzly murder all the more horrifying. The desperate farmwoman, played by Carolyn Conwell, has an incongruously compelling beauty similar to Liv Ullman. As Gromik laughs off their attempts to stop him, he warns them that he's a trained professional, "I can take you with one arm tied behind my back." The ensuing death struggle is one of the greatest moments in cinema, not because of the murder per se, but because of the magnificent set-up of sympathy for Gromik beforehand, and the distortion of decency and ethics displayed by Armstrong and the beautiful farmwoman. This scene with Herrmann's score is profoundly enhanced, but is still magnificent by itself. As in Psycho, this murder colors all the ensuing events, and makes us wonder if the protagonist should succeed or get caught. The bus scene is riveting, and the pushing wave of humanity that separate Armstrong and Sarah in the theater accentuate the morally ambiguous journey this couple has been through. Finally the pathetic Polish Countess who desperately clings to the couple and her dreams of America, seems to echo the same longings for a foreign land held by the sorely missed Gromik. Some bag of tricks indeed.
March 30 [Robert Schoen on Frenzy ...] Frenzy is one of my favorite films, as much for its remarkable balance between comedy and terror, as for its overall excellence in execution. It offers a fascinating variation on the Guy/Bruno dynamic found in Strangers on a Train. But while Guy is merely callow, Richard Blaney is as unsympathetic an antihero as one will ever find in cinema. He is positively villainous in his dark attitude towards life. Bob Rusk, like Bruno, is a completely charming fellow (they both also have a penchant for wearing monogrammed tie pins.) In both movies, we see Guy/Blaney moving closer to embracing the murderous abandon of their counterpart, but because Strangers was made in the Fifties, this was only suggested in the scene where Guy creeps up the stairs of Bruno's house with a gun. Back then, Hitch never could never have allowed the "good Guy" fully evolve into Bruno. But as Blaney becomes further enraged by Rusk's entrapment, his murderous thoughts turn into action. Blaney's unwitting bludgeoning of the already dead blonde in Rusk's bed is by far the most horrific moment in the movie. It is positively evil, lacking the artistry found in the previous brutal scenes. While many feel Hitch went too far in the graphic portrayal of violence, Frenzy is every bit the black comedy Hitchcock intended with Psycho. Hitchcock's London is a place where the necktie murders are as enthusiastically followed by the populace as sporting events. The first two murders, of Brenda Blaney and Babs, are so artfully rendered they transcend vulgarity. The vocal duet between Brenda and Rusk, as she recites her prayer to Rusk's chanting of "Lovely," is both diabolically cleaver and almost spiritual at the same time. There is pathos in both Rusk's defense of his own personality and qualities before the fact, and to Brenda's desperate acquiescence during the rape. Both of these characters in their own context appear to be completely reasonable in their actions. Against the horror of these murders, is the affectionate subplot of Detective and Mrs. Oxford, which is surely Hitchcock's tribute to his own wife and domestic household. Anthony Shaffer's screenplay is wonderfully complex in its weaving of themes and juxtaposition of comedy and terror. The amazing sequence involving the potato sack is one of the greatest set pieces found in the Hitchcock cannon. Ron Goodwin's excellent score (reminiscent of both Herrmann and the Merry Widow Waltz) follows Rusk up to his flat after depositing the sack into the truck. The montage of the murder flashback and the frantic rush back into the truck to retrieve the incriminating tie pin builds to a tense climax, only to be relieved by the wonderful physical humor of Rusk getting socked in the jaw by Bab's foot. It is the consummate artistry of this sequence and others in this film that gives Hitchcock the "license to kill." As was pointed out in the previous posting, Hitchcock's anger and frustration with MCA/ Universal was probably vented with the making of Frenzy and was the reason he sought to make this film out of range of their control in London. During the making of his last film, Family Plot, Bruce Dern told Hitchcock that the Adamson garage door would look much more authentic with graffiti on it, to which Hitch promptly suggested, "How about 'Fuck MCA?'"
April 4 [Robert Schoen on the passing parade of popularity ...] I read just the other day that the recently late screenwriter William Goldman once said of Hitchcock, "I think the last two decades of his career were a great waste and sadness... He had become encased in praise and inured to any criticism. Hitchcock himself had become the man who knew too much. His belief in the auteur theory ruined him." This is a typical societal view that happens all the time to artists and writers who enjoy early popular success, only to find that later in their career, as they delve deeper into their art, society has passed them by and has latched onto a newer writer, artist or director, as the designated "flavor of the decade." This has happened to Picasso, Norman Mailer, Tennessee Williams and many others. Society praises them for creating something new, then grows bored with them for repeating themselves. It happened to Hitchcock because he was always relegated into a narrowly defined genre of "suspense movies" by those who were oblivious to the deeper issues his cinema explored. But in the previously discussed movie Frenzy, the issue of excessive violence brings up several very serious and disturbing issues about the lengths to which an artist must go to keep up to date. It is well known that Hitchcock felt he must address modern audiences on their own terms, and felt pressure to update his own cinematic point of view. Was Hitchcock compromising his art, just to be hip? When he was planning Psycho, some of his closest associates, including Peggy Robertson, thought he had gone too far. Frenzy is very similar in its risk taking, and for me, is a wonderfully realized cinematic statement where the graphic violence is completely justified by its artistry. In its thematic melding of sexual and culinary appetites, it shows genius down to the smallest details. Bab's toes subtly appear within a pile of potatoes. Rusk ceremonially takes off his tiepin before each murder, then picks his teeth with it after eating. I was far more disturbed by the gratuitous use of vulgar language in Family Plot than by the violence of Frenzy, because this earlier movie was anything but gratuitous. Hitchcock's Family Plot seems to be trying too hard to be hip, as if Hitch had instructed his tailor to flair out his trousers to make them into bellbottoms. It reminds me of To Catch a Thief, another superficial exercise by Hitchcock where style completely dominates substance. Hitchcock was mesmerized by Grace Kelly, and according to Jimmy Stewart, planned to start a production company to make a series of romantic comedies. Hitchcock had fallen into a similar trap before, when Carole Lombard convinced him to direct Mr. and Mrs. Smith (a far better movie, by the way.) Perhaps the best thing that ever happened to Hitchcock was Grace leaving him to marry Prince Rainier. When an artist like Hitchcock tries too hard to fit in, he inevitably risks compromising his own vision. It's far better for a great man to be overlooked by the passing parade than for him to be desperately running behind it, trying to catch up.
April 5 [Robert Schoen on Vertigo ...] I've always been hung up on that Jimmy Stewart cliffhanger in the opening sequence of Vertigo. How could he possibly have survived such a hopeless predicament on that drooping guttering above the alleyway? This image of one's life hanging by a thread is the perfect metaphor for the metaphysical drama that follows. Vertigo's dream-like narrative could almost be interpreted as Scottie's life flashing before his eyes as he hangs above that alleyway. I have written extensively about the metaphysical aspects of Vertigo in a lengthy essay "Reincarnation and Hitchcock." Briefly, I proposed the hypothesis that Judy Barton was in fact Carlotta Valdez in a previous life, and that Scottie was so intensely drawn to Judy/Madeleine because he had known Carlotta in his own past life. When Judy/Madeleine goes into the redwood forest with Scottie, she points to the rings on the sequoia cross section and says in a dream-like voice, "Here I was born, and here I died. It was only a moment for you. You took no notice." She seems to be implying with this statement that Scottie was with her back in her past life as Carlotta, and that her death back then closely matched Judy's own accidental death plunge from the belltower, which Scottie was distracted from noticing by the arrival of the nun. It is known that Hitchcock was drawn to metaphysical themes, and that even Herrmann's wonderful score for Vertigo was partially inspired by the music to Barrie's play "Mary Rose" that Hitchcock had supplied him with. Since writing this "Reincarnation" essay, a few other thoughts have occurred to me as well. Martin Scorsese points out the remarkable moral descent Scottie Ferguson undergoes in the second half of the film, as he obsessively tries to remake Judy back into Madeleine. Scottie himself doesn't even seem to understand his motives for subjecting Judy to this degrading process of self-denial. But in the end, up in the belltower when he finally figures out that Judy had been Madeleine all along, he speaks about Madeleine to Judy in the third tense, as if she were a completely separate person: "it's too late, there's no bringing her back now." One of the most powerful hidden messages that Hitchcock seems to be imparting with Vertigo is that romantic love is just an illusion. Hitchcock had filmed an unused final scene in Midge's apartment where Scottie walks in, resuming his platonic friendship with her as if nothing had happened, as the radio in the background announces Gavin Elster's capture. Perhaps this unused ending was also the intended second half of Hitchcock's message about love: that friendship between a man and woman is ultimately what matters and what lasts.
April 6 [Robert Schoen on TV's influence on Hitch ...] I have lately been rewatching many episodes of the television series "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and it occurred to me how much this series must have influenced many of his films from that period. Already prolific with the making of almost five features between 1953 and 1955, the economy of these wonderful television shorts begun in 1955 surely provided useful lessons that Hitchcock happily incorporated into his features. Besides the surprise ironic endings of these stories, they all had one basic theme: that everyone harbors a larcenous or murderous heart that only needs a bit of encouragement to bring out. Time after time this program showed how college fraternity brothers ("Beta Delta Gamma"), an innocent carjack victim ("The Woman Who Wanted to Live"), or even a bunch of little old ladies ("Bull in a China Shop") could turn into murderers, under the right circumstances. After 1955's lavish remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, the following year's The Wrong Man definitely seems influenced by the economy of the television series. But there was also the introduction of episodic structural blocks within his larger films that seemed to have been a direct outgrowth of the series. Vertigo is clearly a story of two parts: the first half of following Madeleine, and the second half of Scottie remaking Judy back into her. Either of these halves could have made a successful television episode on their own. Is it possible that Hitchcock's cinema from this period drew a freshness and power from the lessons he was learning from television? As grand and complicated as North by Northwest is as a major motion picture, it can be broken up into four episodic blocks, all having their own complete story lines. Of course Psycho was the ultimate expression of television technique in cinema. Like Vertigo it is a story of two parts. It was even made largely by Hitchcock's television crew. It is interesting to compare this exercise in creating an economic masterpiece to Frank Lloyd Wright's Unisonian home, an attempt at designing beautiful low cost housing. Perhaps Hitchcock saw in television's limitations a new way to present the complicated in a simplified way. The late Fifties and early Sixties in America were a time of great optimism when there was a sense that anything could be accomplished. Hitchcock himself once said, "The introduction of television into the household was a bit like advent of indoor plumbing: it didn't change people's viewing habits, it just eliminated the necessity to go out."
April 11 [Robert Schoen on the real MacGuffin in Notorious ...] The term 'MacGuffin', which we celebrate daily on this site, is classically personified by the uranium hidden in the wine bottles of Notorious. One of the many baffling or disturbing elements that can be found in Hitchcock's work (I've pointed out quite a few in the last couple of weeks) concerns these bottles. The wine at the dinner party that the Hitchcock look-a-like Emil Hupka so nervously points to is obviously not the same bottle Cary Grant later knocks over in the cellar. Was this an intentional decision on Hitch's part, or just a lack of continuity caused by the staff coming up with a better looking bottle later on? But perhaps this confusion over different wine bottles is only a 'MacGuffin' itself, created by Hitchcock to throw his more ardent fans off the trail of the real political 'MacGuffin' to be found in this excellent film. It is said that the FBI investigated Hitchcock over his use of uranium, then a top-secret component to the atomic bomb that the public was completely unaware of. But did Hitchcock insert into this movie an even more outrageous coded political statement that has been completely overshadowed and overlooked in favour of this now famous uranium MacGuffin? It is known that Hitchcock, even as an ex-patriot was passionately supportive of the war effort. He made two documentary films on its behalf and was deeply hurt by rumors in the London film community that he was hiding out in Hollywood while his nation was under attack. We are now learning all kinds of dirty secrets about that period that seem almost impossible fiction, such as America knowing that the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor and allowed it to happen, as a justification to the American public for entering the war. This brings us to the secret political 'MacGuffin' in Notorious: the group of German conspirators operating out of Alex Sebastian's study is lead by the vicious Eric Mathis, marvelously played by Ivan Triesault. It is Mathis who pushes poor Emil off a cliff for his wine bottle faux pas, and who later calls Sebastian back in to face the music as Ingrid and Cary drive off to the hospital. This Eric Mathis is a dead ringer for the then Duke of Windsor, the King of England who abdicated his throne to marry Wallis Simpson. The house of Windsor is descended from German stock, and even today some Brits refer to them as "The Germans." Did Hitchcock know or suspect some high-ended collusion with German interests on the Royals' part? Of course, this is all speculation, but the remarkable casting of Triesault in this vicious role and the uncanny resemblance speaks for itself. Alex says during the dinner party, "Eric likes to go to the movies to cry." Such a sentimental streak might cause anyone to give up one's throne, or one's country, for that matter.
April 12 [Robert Schoen on chants from the subconscious in Hitchcock ...] I've always been fascinated by the recurrence of chants within Hitchcock's films. There are numerous examples to be found: the sad hymn sung inside Ambrose Chapel, and the sadistic nursery rhyme Melanie Daniels listens to as she waits outside of the Bodega Bay schoolhouse. There's also the jaunty ballad about 'Flaggin' the Train To Tuscaloosa' sung by Sam Marlowe when we first meet him walking down the road, and the Delaware Tech professor's drunken song about the goat that Guy Haines listens to on the train just as Bruno is killing his wife Miriam. The children playing outside of Marnie Edgar's mother's home chant their own singsong rhyme ("...call for the doctor, call for the nurse, call for the lady with the alligator purse.") Then there is poignant prayer recited by Brenda Blaney as she is being raped by Bob Rusk to his own chants of "Lovely!" There are many other examples of Hitchcockian chants as well, and they all seem to play an important role in his cinematic vision. Are they incantations, inciting the film's extraordinary events by their mere recital? I have long tried to come up with a consistent thematic reason for these chants, and have come to the conclusion that more than anything else, they offer a vital clue into Hitchcock's creative process. In the very instructive book by David Freeman, 'The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock', Freeman recounts how Hitchcock would talk endlessly about his memories of old London and everything else but the script during their extended story conferences for what was to be his last film, The Short Night. Many other screenwriters have had the same experience with Hitchcock during the writing stage. Often the director would talk about everything under the sun except the project at hand and then only get down to the business of dictating his vision to the writer at the very last moment. Whenever the story line hit a dead end, Hitchcock would again go off on conversational tangents that had nothing to do with the story, and advise his collaborator not to press too hard, but to relax and let it come. Hitchcock subconsciously composed all of his films during these sessions, just as a painter often spontaneously paints out a brilliant passage within his canvas, but is not consciously aware of all the subtle symbolism and associations at the time they are created. He obviously drew on his past experiences, juxtaposing images and sounds because they felt "right," such as the galloping horse pulling the wooden cart through the streets outside The Tides Restaurant in The Birds. Even though these touches (like the school nursery rhyme, although writer Evan Hunter recalls this particular rhyme was a favorite of his own children at the time) seem to come from Hitchcock's memory, they become transferred into our own subconscious. As viewers, we may not be able articulate why these scenes touch us so deeply, but we feel they are "right" as life experiences, and gradually they become our own.
April 13 [Robert Schoen on a few more songs ...] In addition the the chants I brought up the other day, there are a few more songs within Hitchcock's films that are worth mentioning. In his vastly under-rated film Stage Fright, Marlene Deitrich breathes out the unforgettable song about being The Laziest Girl in Town: "It's not that I wouldn't; It's not that I shouldn't; and you know it's not that I couldn't..." These lyrics are not only heavily laced with sexual innuendo, but they also address the film's core mystery: did she or didn't she actually kill her husband? In Rear Window, the wonderful symphony of city sounds that waft through L. B. Jeffries' apartment and consciousness finally culminates in the beautiful piano composition "Lisa," which saves Miss Lonelyhearts from taking an overdose of sleeping pills. Then of course there's that coded bit of folk music that Mrs.. Froy and Gilbert must carry in their head on the train in The Lady Vanishes. The idea that such an innocuous tune can hold the key to such in important message was first introduced in The 39 Steps, when Mr.. Memory's Vaudevillian music cue summons him to perform his mighty feats of industrial spying. In Under Capricorn, Adiar's adaptation of the nursery rhyme "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush" to "Who Wears the Keys in Flusky's House" not only fortifies the fragile Lady Henrietta, but is reprised at the ending of the film to address the issue of which man has finally completely won Hattie's heart. The humming of "The Merry Widow Waltz" within the Newton Household in Shadow of a Doubt demonstrates the psychic link between niece and uncle, and first cues us into what Uncle Charlie is on the run for. The Strauss Waltz in Suspicion performs a similar function. At first it is a cherished refrain from Lina's and Johnny's honeymoon. Then it turns into something more sinister as Lina begins to suspect her husband of the worst. The strangely dissonant and never resolved piano piece by Poulenc that Phillip plays as Rupert gives him the third degree perfectly reflects Phillip's nervous state of mind and the cat and mouse game being played out by Brandon and Rupert. Hitchcock's incorporation of these bits of music outside of the main score demonstrates his mastery at creating subliminal emotional cues for his audience. They are a perfect example of how easy it is to overlook all of the wonderfully subtle elements that go into his art.
[Editor's note. Here's a very special piece from Robert Schoen, who has been talking to actress Laura Elliot/Kasey Rogers ...]
April 27[Robert Schoen 'interviews' Laura Elliot about Strangers on a Train ...] The actress who so memorably played the role of Miriam Haines in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, Laura Elliot, recently shared many recollections of working on that film and of her film career in general. In 1951, Miss Elliot was a contract player for Paramount, having appeared in DeMille's Samson and Delilah, Frank Capra's Riding High, and even briefly in that other 1951 masterpiece, George Steven's Place in the Sun. Elliot tried out for Miriam's part, which was taking a very long time to cast, and finally was picked as one of six actresses to be screen tested for the role. She was finally chosen by Hitchcock on the strength of that test. Ironically, in order to play Miriam (from the Latin "to look") Elliot had to wear a pair of glasses so thick that she literally couldn't see while wearing of them. Hitchcock had sent her to an optometrist and six identical pairs of glasses were ordered. But even though a pair with normal lenses was made up for the long shots, Hitchcock insisted Elliot wear the thick lenses for every scene. It became a running joke between Elliot and her co-star Robert Walker (Bruno Anthony), who actually wore thick glasses all the time in real life, that they both were blind as bats during most of the filming. In her first scene in the music store, Elliot had to feel her way along the counter in order to reach her mark. Later, Miriam had to be literally guided by her two boyfriends onto the city bus when Bruno first encounters her. A great testimony to Elliot's acting skills was that she was able to elicit the most electric acting from the usually flat Farley Granger in their shared scene in that music store. This tense encounter between husband and wife was filmed entirely in a Warner's studio, and the wonderfully appropriate background sound of dissonant piano tuning was only added later in postproduction. The scenes in the amusement park were filmed on a lake an hour outside of Hollywood. Hitchcock had a real amusement park moved to the site. But the famous strangling scene, seen through the lens of Miriam's dropped glasses, was meticulously filmed in the studio, without Robert Walker being present. Hitchcock set up the camera to film the giant convex lens reflecting Elliot slowly falling back toward it. It took seven takes to get it right. Hitch told Elliot he wanted her to lean back onto the ground as if she was floating on air, but every time she tried to, she would fall like a rock the final two feet. Finally she was able to float all the way down, to which Hitchcock dryly commented, "Let's move on to the next scene." Elliot says that Hitchcock in real life acted exactly as he did on his television series. She recalled what a pleasure it was to work with Bob Walker, who answered her every flirtatious look in the amusement park scenes with his one of his own. Together they created one of the most perverse courtships in cinematic history. Elliot came up with the suggestive "ice cream licking," ("pretty racy for the time, if you got it," she said) which Hitchcock heartily approved. He gave little direction to the actors, except in the most general of terms, but always recognized when an actor brought something exceptional to their role. With the creation of such a memorable Bad Girl, it's a shame Laura Elliot didn't go on to become the next Barbara Stanwyck (the two actresses did appear together in No Man of Her Own.) But when Elliot returned to Paramount, that studio practically ignored the good reviews generated by her role as Miriam. Later Laura Elliot reverted to her real name Kasey Rogers, as she began a television career on the popular series, 'Peyton Place' (playing Julie Anderson) and 'Bewitched' (playing Louise Tate). She became good friends with 'Bewitched' co-star Marion Lorne, another alumnus of Strangers, who delighted audiences again with her batty Aunt Clara. The confusion of the name change from Laura Elliot to Kasey Rogers has caused this wonderful actress to fall off the radar for many admirers of her cinematic work. Hopefully this situation will change as many Hitchcock fans and film producers learn that she is still available for work and happy to hear from them.
April 28 [Robert Schoen on violence and Hitchcock ..] The recent atrocities committed in American high schools have again brought up the moral issue of the responsibility and influence of cinema, music, and other modern media such as video games on the impressionable public. This might sound strange or even hypocritical coming from an ardent Hitchcock fan, no less a screenwriter, but I have always believed that cinema has the potential to provoke both the best and worst in human nature. The fact that for decades the tobacco industry has been laying out millions under the table to have the most beautiful young actors and actresses smoke cigarettes in every scene possible, shows that the industry knows that film strongly influences public behavior. When Hitchcock made Psycho, many of his closest associates felt he had crossed the line of public responsibility. But in truth, this was one of Hitchcock's most spiritual and moralizing films. Unfortunately, the public didn't get it, and they ate it up, making it phenomenally successful at the box office. It also spawned a new genre called "slasher movies." The recent revival of teenage slasher movies, begun by the idiot who wrote Scream, was as much influenced by the Seventies Halloween series (starring Janet Leigh's daughter Jamie Lee Curtis) as it was by mindless shoot'emup video games like 'Doom.' A psychologist who appeared on a new program shortly after the Colorado high school massacre said that these corrosive forms of films, video games and music (like Marilyn Manson) are like air pollution, and that the kids who commit these atrocities are the equivalent of asthmatics. He went on to say that symptoms of youthful mayhem have been going on for decades within the poorer innercites, but that only when these horrendous acts take place in the safe middleclass suburbs, do people start to sit up and take notice of how dysfunctional society has become. Certainly the relentless conservative campaign to bring down a sitting US President played its part in creating the nihilistic atmosphere needed to make these high school killings possible. The screenwriter in me wants to believe that the CIA slipped in evil post-hypnotic suggestions into the video games these kids played, programming them to become killing machines to further their destabilizing agenda against the nation to order to insure the election of a Republican president next year. But it's probably just that these tragic mass murders have become the crime flavor of the month, replacing carjackings or driveby shootings. I long for the good old days when murder, as Hitchcock lovingly portrayed it, meant something. It was deliberate act of man's free will: the ultimate expression of love, hate, or transgression against one's belief system. Not some Goddammed video game overtime.
May 3 [Robert Schoen on double-speak in Hitchcock ...] Duality of self is one of the most persistent psychological themes explored in Hitchcock's work. The Hitchcock directed television episode, 'The Strange Case of Mr. Pelham,' starring Tom Ewell, explored how Pelham, who keeps hearing about an exact double of himself, gradually discovers that this impostor is coming into work in his office, and even eating meals and changing clothes inside of his apartment. In a final confrontation, it's this impostor who's judged to be the authentic Mr. Pelham, as the real one, who's recently started wearing loud ties as a way of tripping up the imposter, is hauled off as a lunatic. At the end of the episode, Hitchcock, wearing a loud tie, is hauled off the stage by two policemen, while a second Alfred Hitchcock sadly shakes his head and wonders how the man who gave the introduction at the beginning of the episode could ever have been mistaken for the real Hitch. I've always wondered how Hitchcock might have directed his version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But it is clear that many of his villains manifest a form of double speak, in which their perfectly logical and charming side becomes almost immediately contradicted by their more sinister half. Consider the Otto Keller character in I Confess. At one moment he is confessing to Father Logan and asking for advice. Then he practically goads the priest with the knowledge that Logan's vows prohibit him from revealing to the authorities his confession. Then there is Bob Rusk from Frenzy. He methodically defends his good points to matrimonial bureau head Brenda Blaney, insisting on how he never "squeezes the goods until their his," then turns around and does exactly that to Brenda. In Shadow of a Doubt, Uncle Charlie is full of charm as a guest within the Newton household, until niece Charlie discovers the newspaper clipping hidden in his coat pocket. The rapid metamorphosis as he grabs the clipping out of her and then as he reverts back into the caring uncle reveals his essence. The terror and strange logic of these instantaneous mood shifts within Hitchcock's art shows how a charming person can do dastardly things without blinking an eye.
May 4 [Robert Schoen on stories about Hitch ...] An individual as complex as Alfred Hitchcock is not so easy to pigeonhole. According to Spoto's biography, Hitchcock was legendary for his ungenerous nature. If you take at face value many comments Hitchcock made for public consumption, he also hated children. I've heard two stories over the last few months that seem to contradict both of these cliches about the man. One of these accounts comes from the son of a cook at Universal Studio's commissary. Hitchcock once asked the cook if he could prepare him a chicken salad sandwich that wasn't on the menu. The cook obliged, and to show his gratitude, Hitchcock handed the man a small envelope with a hundred-dollar bill inside and a card reading, "With the compliments of Alfred Hitchcock." A few weeks later, Hitchcock asked the same cook to give him advise on the type of carving knife Norma Bates might find most appropriate. Another story concerns a twelve-year-old boy from Allen, Washington, who wrote Hitchcock a fan letter around 1960 about his television show. Among other things, Dale Lund's letter praised the director's "wit and genius at keeping him on the edge of his seat and always surprised at the end." The letter must've made an impression on Hitchcock, because a few weeks later, Lund received a large Manila envelope in the mail containing a heavy 11x14 illustration board with charcoal drawing of his famous self-profile line drawing, boldly signed by Hitchcock himself. Included with the drawing was that small envelope containing again the engraved card, "With the Compliments of Alfred Hitchcock." Contrary to his public announcements, Hitchcock had a special place in his heart for children. He would go out of his way to greet the children of associates like screenwriter Evan Hunter. Every morning on his way to his studio office bungalow in the early sixties, he would pass the set of the television series, 'Leave it to Beaver.' He would make a point to roll down his limousine window to greet the alumnus who played Jennifer Roger's son Arnie in his feature, The Trouble with Harry, "Good morning, Master Mathers."