Book Interview: Hitchcock’s Heroines

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Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: May 01, 2018

A Conversation with Caroline Young

From his early days as a director in the 1920s to his heyday as the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock had a complicated and controversial relationship with his leading ladies. He supervised their hair, their makeup, their wardrobe, and pushed them to create his perfect vision onscreen. These women were often style icons in their own right, and the clothes that they wore imbued the films with contemporary glamor.

Quite a lot has been written over the past few decades regarding Alfred Hitchcock’s use of women in his films—some of it from a scholarly or theoretical standpoint and some of it from a sensationalized tabloid angle that only serves to muddy the waters of responsible scholarship. However, it must be said that this new Insight Editions release of Caroline Young’s Hitchcock’s Heroines doesn’t quite fall into either category. She chronicles six decades of glamorous style while exploring the fashion legacy of these amazing women and their experiences working with Hitchcock. It is informative without being pushy but still manages to have a point of view. What’s more, Young’s text is well researched and beautifully illustrated with studio pictures, film stills, and original drawings of the costume designs. Anyone with a fondness for attractive coffee table books should consider adding this volume to their collection.

Caroline Young is based in Edinburgh Scotland. Her love of film and fashion led to her writing Classic Hollywood Style, Style Tribes: The Fashion of Subcultures, and Tartan and Tweed. Young recently consented to this exclusive interview with Alfred Hitchcock Master, and we hope that you enjoy it as much as we did!

Alfred Hitchcock and Doris Day on Location

This photograph of Alfred Hitchcock and Doris day is one of the many gorgeous photographs contained within the pages of “Hitchcock’s Heroines.” It was taken during the production of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

AHM: When did you first become interested in Alfred Hitchcock’s work and what instigated the interest?

CY: I have been a Hitchcock fan since my early teens. I would read Empire magazine, which would often do lists of the best films ever made, and Hitchcock was frequently on the list. So I would rent as many videotapes as I could, and I think the first one I saw was Rear Window. I just loved the visuals and the way it felt like I was in this tenement in a sweltering summer in New York. I did film studies at university so my appreciation was further built, studying the shower scene and applying various film theories to his work.

AHM: Could you describe Hitchcock’s Heroines for our readers? What makes this book stand out amongst the others in your opinion?

CY: Hitchcock’s Heroines is the first book to visually explore the costumes and image of the women in Hitchcock’s films. It has great images and costume sketches, including one from Frenzy that has never been published, but it offers a lot more than this. I wanted to take a balanced approach to Hitchcock’s relationship to his leading ladies, weave in details on the making of the films, and celebrate these amazing actresses and their stories. I also researched and found further detail on the designers behind the different films, such as Adrian for Shadow of a Doubt, and how it was David O Selznick who shaped the character’s image in Rebecca and Spellbound.

AHM: What gave you the initial idea to write a book that centers on the heroines in Hitchcock’s canon and what were the biggest challenges in making it a reality?

CY: The idea came from my first book, ‘Classic Hollywood Style,’ which explore the story behind the costumes in classic movies. As a follow up I wanted to do another film costume book that focused entirely on Hitchcock, as I had only featured To Catch a Thief, but I had found out so much more information on the costumes in his films that I would’ve liked to have included. This was in 2012, and there was also a lot of interest in the relationship between Tippi and Hitchcock at this time, and his obsession over blondes, particularly on the release of The Girl. But rather than look at him through this misogynistic filter, I was interested in seeing how the women in his films were sympathetic and inspiring, how their image was constructed, and what the actresses thought of Hitchcock and how they got on with them.

The main challenge was the topic, as firstly, Hitchcock was considered controversial, and also that books on film fashion are not always considered popular. I was also conscious of being respectful to Tippi and that a balanced approach didn’t diminish what she was saying.

AHM: Do you have a favorite Hitchcock heroine? If so, who would that be and why is she your favorite?

CY: Difficult to choose, but I adore Nova Pilbeam as she’s really fresh and plucky in Young and Innocent (you wonder how did she learn skills from being in a boxer’s dressing room), but Ingrid Bergman in Notorious is another favorite. I like the character arc from self-destructive to showing complete guts in sacrificing herself for duty, the way the ‘female gaze’ is reversed in the party scene, and those Edith Head costumes which use stark black and white to make her stand out. Also, Ingrid Bergman does being drunk really well.

AHM: Now, the reverse of the last question: Which of Hitchcock’s leading ladies is your least favorite and why did she not appeal to you?

CY: Maureen O’Hara in Jamaica Inn, probably because the film doesn’t really feel like a Hitchcock work, and it doesn’t leave a memorable impression.

AHM: How did you decide upon which films and actresses to include in the book?

CY: It was a tough call as there was a limit to how much I could include—so I went for the most notable films in terms of visuals around the female character, along with ones I felt illustrated the journey. Nova Pilbeam is not that well known but had been an early protégée of Hitchcock’s, which is why I included Young and Innocent. I would have liked to have explored Vera Miles in The Wrong Man but her image is secondary in that film. However, that could have been interesting in itself.

Madeleine Carroll

Madeleine Carroll: Alfred Hitchcock’s “first glacial blonde prototype.”

AHM: How do you think his British films—and the heroines that feature in these films—differ from those he made as a Hollywood director? Did his heroines change once he moved to America? If so, what are these differences? What do you feel the reasons for this might be?

CY: The British period was when he was finding his own style, developing new techniques and narratives, and in the British period, apart from Anny Ondra, who he enjoyed working with, and Madeleine Carroll who was the first glacial blonde prototype, it wasn’t until Grace Kelly that he found his muse. There are articles in the early 1930s where he talks about what makes the ideal heroine—and he notes that above all they must be appealing to a female audience, so that’s really what he had in mind when casting his British heroines. In later interviews with Hitchcock in the 1950s, when the ideal of the Hitchcock blonde had been established, he pushed a PR line about the Nordic blonde, the ‘snow covered volcano’, and I feel that this was really shaped by Grace Kelly, whose magic he was striving to recreate.

One of the main factors in the differences is that it was in the late 1940s American period where he finally found autonomy in his work as both director and producer, and this allowed him to have complete control, rather than having to answer to other producers. That’s why Notorious is interesting as the first Edith Head collaboration, and the first where he really takes control of the heroine’s image.

Some of the differences are also down to the period they were made. Women in 1930s films often followed the screwball comedy mold, and they were designed to appeal to female audiences who liked plucky, fashionable heroines on screen. Then in the early 1940s, there was a trend for gothic romantic films that delved into the heroine’s anxieties, and this was all shaped by the Second World War. Priscilla Lane in Saboteur was another example of the archetype he would later develop more fully, but I feel he was disappointed a little in her performance. The period of the Hitchcock blonde was predominant in the 1950s, once he had his dream team, and with Edith Head shaping the costumes, and perhaps it could also be argued that the Hitchcock heroine that we think of is very much a 1950s woman.

AHM: As you well know, Hitchcock had originally intended to pull Princess Grace out of retirement so that she could star in MARNIE before later deciding to make the film with Tippi Hedren. How do you think the casting of Grace Kelly would have changed the final film? How do Hedren’s qualities differ from Grace Kelly’s?

CY: I imagine the making of the film would have been a happier experience for all involved if Grace Kelly had played Marnie, and this could, in turn, have had a significant effect on the final work.

Grace Kelly was also a more experienced actress, requiring less guidance than Tippi, and while Tippi has this real vulnerability and emotional quality, I wonder if Grace Kelly would have made the character seem more manipulative and less frightened. Maybe she would have had the ability to convince him of character changes, to cut the rape scene etc, which many people believe he kept in to demonstrate complete control of Tippi.

It’s often said that Hitchcock was never the same after the making of Marnie, it was an upsetting time for Tippi (as she has recounted). If Grace Kelly had done the role, his later films may have been different. He may have been allowed to make Mary Rose… It’s an interesting question as it could potentially have had a big effect on how we judge him now.

AHM: Alfred Hitchcock’s films are still enormously popular all around the globe. Why are his films still relevant while so many others have long been forgotten?

CY: They were highly innovative, combining humor, suspense, and similar themes throughout which have provoked countless theories and examinations around his fetishes and obsessions. He was a great PR man who knew how to publicize himself, evident from some of the early interviews in the 1930s, and so he became a fascinating, intriguing figure in himself. One of the appealing aspects of Hitchcock is also that he captures a particular time and place in his visuals, and Hitchcock, as a British director, captures America through the eyes of a Brit. So he explores Americana in Psycho, with the highways and motel, and uses huge American landmarks for the climax of many of his films (Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, and etc). He was also always looking to be innovative [and] to push boundaries, but he also changed the way we view films with Psycho. [It’s] hard to believe people would just wander into the cinema to see a film at any time, but Hitchcock insisted audiences not be permitted once the film started. So all these factors have contributed to the longevity of his films, and that we are still discussing him in detail along with recent controversies which have continued to keep him in the news.

Ingrid Bergman - Still from Notorious

“Ingrid Bergman in Notorious is another favorite…”

[Note: Some of the opinions expressed in this interview are not necessarily shared by Alfred Hitchcock Master. Please be respectful to others in your comments if you wish to dispute any of these opinions. Remember that this is a friendly community.]

Interview by: Devon Powell

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Blu-ray Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

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Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: 06/Aug/2013

Region: Region Free

Length: 02:00:18

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC, 23.976fps)

Main Audio: 2.0 English DTS-HD (24bit, 48 kHz)

Alternate Audio: 2.0 French DTS (24bit, 48 kHz, 448 Kbps)

Subtitles: English & Spanish

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 32 Mbps

Notes: This title has had a number of DVD releases and is also available on Blu-ray as part of a boxed set entitled The Masterpiece Collection. The transfer used for the boxed set is the same one that is included here and the disc includes the same special features. The artwork on the actual disc is the only thing different about this release.

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 “Let’s say that the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.” –Alfred Hitchcock

The main focus of argument concerning this film seems to be whether or not his 1934 British original is superior to this 1956 American remake. Critics and scholars seem to be split on this issue. Donald Spoto seems to prefer the 1956 remake:

“Even a single viewing of each supports the director’s own estimation. Where Man 1 had an easy wit and a kind of grimy nonchalance, Man 2 is everywhere a richer film – not only in technical execution, but also in the complexity of its characters and themes and, most of all, in the depth and directness of its emotion. The fourth and final collaboration with the gifted screenwriter John Michael Hayes, this is one of Hitchcock’s masterworks, impeccably photographed by Robert Burks, with a brilliant Bernard Herrmann score and flawless performances from principals and the supporting players. It also seems to this writer Hitchcock’s warmest film – lacking a major wicked character or situation, and really full of love.” – The Art of Alfred Hitchcock

Patrick Humphries’ opinion is in direct opposition:

“Hitchcock is on record as preferring the later version, citing among other reasons the subtle humor, Bernard Herrmann’s orchestration, the placing of the shots and James Stewart’s performance. It is difficult to imagine just how Hitchcock could prefer the remake. While the 1934 version may be occasionally stilted, the 1956 version is flaccid and overlong. The technical improvements do not compensate for the overall dreariness of the later film, which at times seems like a clumsy parody of Hitchcock; the fight in the taxidermist’s shop, for example, is designed as a set piece divertissement but it comes across as contrived, irrelevant and humorless…

…While the majority of Hitchcock films allow the audience to suspend their disbelief, blissfully unconcerned with the actual mechanics of the MacGuffin, the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much contains more jarring notes than even the most credulous audience can accept…” – The Films of Alfred Hitchcock

Critics arguing both sides usually call upon the same evidence to argue their opinions and in the end no one from either side seems to offer a definitive argument. It is impossible to say which film is the better version because of the simple fact that each film has its own set of strengths and weaknesses (and the weaknesses in both films are directly related to their strengths).

A more interesting debate would perhaps be whether or not Angus MacPhail deserved a screen credit for his work on the film. The disagreement over this issue resulted in the end of Hitchcock’s working relationship with Hayes.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

This disc is available as part of The Masterpiece Collection boxed set and as an individual disc.

The Masterpiece Collection is given a tasteful book-style presentation with a page for each film that includes a folder for each disc. Some might prefer that each disc come in its own standard Blu-ray case. These folder style compartments do not always protect the discs and very often cause scratches.

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The individual release presents the disc in a standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork.

The menu on the disc contains footage from the film accompanied by music in the same style as other Universal Blu-rays.

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Overall, Universal provides a very nice presentation that should satisfy almost everyone.

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Picture Quality:

3 of 5 MacGuffins

The 1080P transfer is a pretty disappointing. While it features a much more detailed picture than any of the previous home video releases, color pulsing seems to be an issue here. Colors also appear pretty dull throughout the film, but a comparison with the previous DVD of the film shows that this transfer is an improvement over that release. The image on the previous DVD version of TMWKTM looked a bit jaundiced (featuring an unattractive yellow hue). There are quite a few blemishes on the print (such as scratches and grime), but these issues never really became distracting.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The 2.0 DTS-HD audio track is clean and seems to accurately represent the film’s source materials. The film’s music sounds much better than one would expect a 2.0 Mono mix to sound and dialogue is always clear. This might not compete with more modern 5.1 tracks, but this mix certainly represents the audio as it was intended to be heard.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much (SD) – (34 min)

Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary is both informative and entertaining. This one might not be as comprehensive as some of the others, but it is much more than the usual fluff included on so many discs. As a matter of fact, this piece is quite in depth and even discusses the original British film. Fans should be thrilled to see it ported over for this Blu-ray release.

Production Photographs (SD) – (4 min)

A gallery of Posters (from both the original version and this 1956 remake), lobby cards, and “behind the scenes” photographs from the film plays in a slide show presentation.

Theatrical Trailer – (SD)

This theatrical trailer is actually quite interesting. It is different from many other trailers of the period and features James Stewart narrating.

Re-Release Trailer – (SD)

This re-release trailer features narration from James Stewart about the re-release of Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Trouble with Harry, Rope, and Rear Window. It is surprisingly interesting

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Final Words:

This disc’s transfer is a bit of a disappointment, but it is still quite a step up from the DVD transfers.

Review by: Devon Powell