Book Review: Hitchcock’s British Films

Hitchcocksbritish 2Publisher: Wayne State University Press (2nd Edition)

Release Date: October 11, 2010

In 1977 (when this book was first published), critics tended to overlook (and even discount) the films from Alfred Hitchcock’s British period. This tendency seems especially short sighted. The formative years of any creative artist deserves analysis and in-depth study. Yacowar was a single voice of reason. Hitchcock’s British Films challenged popular critical rhetoric and provided a resource for the further study of this important period in Hitchcock’s career.

This second edition has brought a pioneering text that was out of circulation for decades into the hands of scholars and film fans alike. While Yacowar’s essays are mostly concerned with theoretical analysis, there is the occasional nugget of ‘behind the scenes’ information. The text is essential because many of these films are so often neglected. For instance, Waltzes from Vienna is given its own essay. How many essays have been written about this film? Usually the film is given only a brief mention (along with Hitchcock’s quote about it being the “lowest ebb of his career”). These under-studied movies are presented as more than merely unimportant footnotes in the career of an important director. Yacowar provides a serious study of each of these films and one could recommend the book for this reason alone.

Review by: Devon Powell

 

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Book Review: Scripting Hitchcock: Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie

9780252078248_lgPublisher: University of Illinois Press

Release Date: October 1, 2011

Nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America in the category of Best Critical/Biographical, 2012.

Walter Raubicheck and Walter Srebnick’s Scripting Hitchcock explores the collaborative process between Alfred Hitchcock and the screenwriters that he chose to write the screenplays for Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie. Drawing from extensive interviews with the screenwriters and other film technicians who worked for Hitchcock, Raubicheck and Srebnick illustrate how much of the filmmaking process took place in the scripting phase of production.

One might assume that the book simply treads a path that is covered in detail by Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Tony Lee Moral’s Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie, and Moral’s follow-up The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds. However, Scripting Hitchcock proves to have much to contribute to the study of these films. It makes an excellent companion piece to the other publications, but also stands on its own as a decisive look into Hitchcock’s relationship with his writers. It manages to educate the reader while enhancing their appreciation of the films in question. What else could anyone ask?

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Hitchcock’s Ear

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic

Release Date: March 22, 2012

Expectation has a way of painting shadows upon a text that can easily doom the reader’s enjoyment. Certain readers might be disappointed with “Hitchcock’s Ear” if they are expecting an in-depth ‘behind the scenes’ study of Alfred Hitchcock’s incredible use of sound. This book has other agendas. David Schroeder’s analytical book is an in-depth study of the possible influence that music may have had upon Hitchcock’s film work (including mise-en-scène and montage). Instead of focusing on Hitchcock’s use of sound and music in his work, this text instead focuses on how the director’s musical influences affect his particular style. There are certainly major exceptions. One of the book’s highlights is a chapter that discusses Franz Waxman’s score for the film. The disintegration of the relationship between Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock is also discussed at length. These chapters are both interesting and informative as they offer an alternative viewpoint about these particular topics.

Schroeder uses specific examples in exhaustive detail to illustrate his points. Because of the tireless detail presented here, the text has a great deal of value to learned scholars of Hitchcock studies, film theory, and music. However, one wonders if certain points will be made clear to individuals that do not have a basic understanding of music and music terminology (as well as a familiarity with various musical compositions). One imagines that Schroeder’s meaning will be lost on a great many people. This makes it rather difficult for a reviewer, because the book’s strengths are directly related to the weaknesses. The book’s sole weakness is that the reader’s enjoyment and understanding of the text is contingent upon his or her knowledge of the subject prior to reading the book. Even if this is an issue for certain readers, it should be said that Schroeder’s text provides an extremely new and interesting method of analyzing the “Hitchcock” film. It should provide scholars with an essential reference for future studies on the master’s oeuvre.

 Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Hitchcock at the Source: The Auteur as Adapter

ImagePublisher: State University of New York Press

Release Date: September 1, 2011

“Hitchcock at the Source: The Auteur as Adapter is a collection of scholarly essays about Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptations (compiled and edited by R. Barton Palmer and David Boyd). While one might be tempted to compare this book to “Hitchcock and Adaptation: On the Page and Screen (which was edited by Mark Osteen), this would be a disservice to both texts. While both of these volumes cover the adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s output, a large percentage of the films covered in this volume aren’t covered in Osteen’s collection (and those that are covered are handled with a set of very different agendas).

While both volumes are often scholarly in tone and substance, this book has a slightly less pretentious quality (for the most part). It might be said that this collection would be better suited for the casual Hitchcock fan. Although these essays are handled with the usual helping of theoretical discourse, most are written in a much more digestible manner. Luckily, most of the essays offer many factual details to support (or try to support) the scholarly analysis. These factual details are what will interest many of the director’s fans. Of course, some essays will interest readers more than others. Many will likely find the introduction less rewarding than one might prefer, and Thomas Leitch’s Hitchcock from Stage to Page (the first essay in the collection) tends to act as an introduction in its own right. This particular essay is pure theory and is so generalized that it only served to stall my enjoyment of the rest of the volume.

The important thing is that “Hitchcock at the Source: The Auteur as Adapter offers writings (and research) on a topic that is too often ignored.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Hitchcock and Adaptation: On the Page and Screen

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Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield

Release Date: March 14, 2014

“Hitchcock and Adaptation: On the Page and Screen is a collection of scholarly essays about Hitchcock’s film adaptations (compiled and edited by Mark Osteen). In many ways, the book can be seen as a sequel to a previous collection of essays entitled, “Hitchcock at the Source” (which was edited by R. Barton Palmer and David Boyd). It seems to cover films that were not covered in this previous publication (though there is some slight overlap).

Osteen’s collection should certainly interest the Hitchcock scholar (and anyone else that enjoys scholarly essays on film). Casual fans will also find a lot of interesting information, but some of these essays are bound to hold their interest better than others. The book is broken into four units (Hitchcock and Authorship, Hitchcock Adapting, Hitching a Ride: The Collaborations, and Adapting Hitchcock). The last of these four units will likely be of less interest to a lot of casual Hitchcock fans, because it tends to focus on various film and literary works that were inspired by (or adapted from) Hitchcock’s films. The exception here might be an essay entitled, Dark Adaptations: Robert Bloch and Hitchcock on the Small Screen. This essay by Dennis R. Perry and Carl H Sederholm focuses on episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour that were written by Robert Bloch or adapted from one of his stories. None of these episodes were actually directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but the essay should interest fans of the director’s television series.

A large percentage of the essays focus on Hitchcock’s film work, and it is here that the book blossoms into life. The essays offer many factual details to support (or try to support) the scholarly analysis, which makes the sometimes overreaching conclusions more digestible to the average reader. These factual details are what will interest many of the director’s fans. As a matter of fact, there is a lot of fascination information in the book’s lengthy introduction. Here Osteen offers detailed information about an un-produced project entitled No Bail for the Judge that any Hitchcock fan should find fascinating. A few pages later, there are details about the adaptation of The Wrong Man (which was based on true events). This was a pleasant surprise. The Wrong Man is an extremely interesting film that is often ignored by scholars. My only complaint is that there isn’t an essay devoted entirely to this film.

If any of this sounds appealing, this book should be worth picking up.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Hitchcock’s Partner in Suspense: The Life of Screenwriter Charles Bennett

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Publisher: The University Press of Kentucky
Release Date: Mar 24, 2014

It would be rather short sighted to assume that Alfred Hitchcock’s creative evolution wasn’t altered by the various individuals that collaborated with him. Out of all the screenwriters that Hitchcock worked with, Charles Bennett likely had the most impact upon the director’s cinematic approach to suspense. When one looks at the director’s filmography, it becomes immediately clear that the director’s talents matured during his association with Bennett. After adapting Bennett’s play, Blackmail (1929) into Britain’s first feature length ‘talkie’ (an incredible artistic and commercial success), he went on to make a string of mostly forgettable films. The quality of his films improved exponentially once he teamed up with Bennett to create the screenplay for The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). Hitchcock certainly realized this since he continued to work with Bennett on The 39 Steps (1935), Secret Agent (1936), Sabotage (1936), and Young and Innocent (1937). The fact that Hitchcock continued to make masterful film’s after his association with Bennett simply suggests that the writer’s skill had rubbed off on the director. (However, it is also important to note that much of Bennett’s best work was done with Alfred Hitchcock. Obviously, both had much to contribute.) One imagines that the pair would have continued their collaboration had Bennett not moved to Hollywood in 1937. [They would collaborate again on Foreign Correspondent (1940).]

This autobiography by Charles Bennett (with occasional commentary by his son, John Charles Bennett) offers readers the rare opportunity to read what the screenwriting process was like while working with Alfred Hitchcock from a writer’s perspective. The astute reader will recognize immediately that the text is colored by a desire to illustrate (and sometimes over-emphasize) Bennett’s own importance. This is one of those human qualities that everyone seems to possess. Some of the stories told in the book differ greatly from accounts of the same events by other parties. The truth is that nothing in an autobiography is ever an objective account of events. This is what makes them so interesting. The fact that Bennett worked with Alfred Hitchcock during his British period adds an incredible amount of value to the book. This is a period of the director’s career that is rarely explored.

That said; this isn’t a book about Alfred Hitchcock. As John Charles Bennett relates in his preface to his father’s text, Bennett’s title for this memoir was “Life Is a Four-Letter Word.” Obviously, a title mentioning Hitchcock is bound to grab more attention. However, one wonders if it does not do Bennett a discredit. After all, his work with Hitchcock is only one of many topics covered here. The book is an enjoyable account of an extraordinary life, and much of this life had little to do with Alfred Hitchcock.

Lovers of film history would be wise to add this title to their summer reading lists.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class

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Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions

Release Date: May 1, 2013

There have been countless books devoted to Alfred Hitchcock. Most are film theory, many are biographies, and others are detailed accounts of the making of a specific Hitchcock film. Nearly every theoretic angle has been covered in meticulous detail. However, Tony Lee Moral had something very different in mind for “Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class.” This book is not intended for scholars. It does not delve into theory, biography, or detail any film’s creation. Moral prefers to offer future filmmakers a text for using the films of Alfred Hitchcock as a tool for learning the filmmaking process. It is really a superb idea. Could there be a better tool for teaching young filmmakers the craft of filmmaking? It is certainly difficult to think of one. The book covers the entire filmmaking process (writing, planning, shooting, editing, and marketing) using easy to understand anecdotes. Those already well versed in Alfred Hitchcock related knowledge will likely not learn anything new about the director, but future filmmakers now have a useful new resource for learning and understanding their craft.

Tony Lee Moral is responsible for writing “Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie” and “The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds.” Both of these books are valuable resources to the Hitchcock scholar (and to fans of the director). Moral brings his knowledge and research to practical use in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class” giving the text a level of credibility that might have been lacking if another writer had written the book. This is required reading for anyone interested in making movies.

Review by: Devon Powell