Book Interview: Hitchcock’s Heroines

Cover

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: North by Northwest

 

Regular bluray

Distributor: Warner Brothers

Release Date: November 03, 2009

Region: Region Free

Length: 02:16:26

Video: 1080P (VC-1)

Main Audio: English Surround (TrueHD 5.1, 48kHz, 640kbps)

Alternate Audio Options:

French Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

German Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Italian Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Spanish Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Portuguese Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Japanese Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Subtitles: English , French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 27Mbps

Note: This title is also available on a 2-disc 50th Anniversary DVD set.

cameo screenshot

“It’s the American Thirty-Nine Steps — I’d thought about it for a long time. It’s a fantasy. The whole film is epitomized in the title — there is no such thing as north-by-northwest on the compass. The area in which we get near to the free abstract in movie making is the free use of fantasy, which is what I deal in. I don’t deal in that slice-of-life stuff.” –Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 ‘fantasy’ is a thrill from beginning to end. It is the director’s longest film (136 minutes), but one doesn’t feel the time pass. North by Northwest is every bit as enjoyable today as it was 54 years ago. It continues to attract admiration from audiences and many people consider it to be Hitchcock’s best film. This is debatable, but it must be said that North by Northwest is certainly one of his most enjoyable efforts. AFI continues to include it in many of their “best” lists and its legacy does not seem to be fading.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Warner Brothers offers two different releases for this particular disc and the difference in these releases lie solely in their packaging. The normal Blu-ray release packages the disc in the standard blue plastic case. The 50th Anniversary Edition packages the disk in an attractive Blu-ray book format. This special edition has an extremely classy presentation and is priced at an estimated ten dollars higher than the regular release. It is slightly skimpy in actual content, but one must admit that its 44 pages are beautifully rendered.

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The film begins playing when the disc is put into the player, but Warner Brothers does offer a menu that can be accessed at any time.

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The menu itself is rather soft and grainy and does not hint at the quality of the actual film’s visual presentation on the disc.

NBNW (1)

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 MacGuffins

It might not be possible to adequately put into words just how amazing this 8K restoration transfer looks in high definition. Warner Brothers should be proud of this release and Hitchcock fans and anyone else who has a love for classic cinema should feel lucky to own it. The level of detail in this high definition transfer is truly astonishing. This film looks better than a few of the transfers of more recent films I have seen. The studio spared no expense on bringing us a fantastic picture.

down shot

The picture is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is actually closer to the original 1.66:1 VistaVision ratio than the film’s original DVD release. The color on this transfer seems richer and more cinematic. I would imagine that this is very similar to how the image looked in the cinemas. There seems to be absolutely no print damage. This might not be quite as sharp as a more recent film, but I can assure you that North by Northwest has never looked sharper than it does in this release. Even more amazingly, this seems to have been achieved without the use of any artificial edge enhancement. There is an appropriate amount of grain for a film of this era, but it is an extremely clean image.  It is simply gorgeous.

Cary and Eve

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Purists might find fault with the sound options on this release. A TrueHD 5.1 audio mix has been created for this release and the disc does not seem to contain its original soundtrack. It is unfortunate that this track is not included in addition to this new 5.1 high definition mix, but I have no complaints about this new mix. It is a modest remix that retains the essence of the original soundtrack. It is mixed at a low volume and it might become necessary to raise the volume on your television set, but it is a very nice experience. Dialogue is consistently clear and well prioritized. It is delivered mainly through the center channels but has presence in the left and right speakers as well. Bernard Herrmann’s fabulous score has never sounded better than it is presented here and there are some wonderful panning effects during the crop dusting sequence that enhance the viewing experience without going overboard. This is a subtle mix that suits the film nicely.

iconic cornfield

Special Features: 

5 of 5 MacGuffins

Warner Brothers offers a rather fabulous selection of special features. Even contemporary films rarely receive so many excellent features on home video. Many of these selections might have been preferable in high definition and included on a second disc (although a few of these features are likely from standard definition sources). However, this is only a small complaint.

Cary in Corn

Commentary Track with Scriptwriter Ernest Lehman

This is an extremely interesting commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman. It is slightly slow getting started, but it contains a wealth of information that fans of the film will consider priceless. Some of the most fascinating moments of the commentary have less to do with factual information and a bit more to do with ego and conceit. There are moments in the film where the writer seems almost bitter that he has not received more credit for the film’s success. This was recorded for original DVD release years ago and anyone who owns any of the DVD versions of the film will have heard it already.

Isolated Bernard Herrmann Music Track

This feature is essential for anyone who would like to experience Herrmann’s score for North by Northwest without the distraction of other elements of the soundtrack. It illuminates Herrmann’s profound contribution to the film perfectly. This track is a carry over from the original DVD release of the film.

“Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest” – (00:39:27) – (480P NTSC)

This is a wonderful “Making of” documentary hosted by Eva Marie Saint. It is fairly comprehensive and always interesting. This feature is another carry over from the film’s original DVD release.

“North by Northwest: One for the Ages” – (00:25:29) – (480P NTSC)

Contemporary directors and scholars discuss North by Northwest giving their impressions of the film along with a few details about production and where the film fits into the Hitchcock canon as a whole. This is the weakest of the documentaries on the disc, but it is consistently enjoyable and interesting.

“The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style” – (00:57:52) – (480P NTSC)

This documentary utilizes interesting footage from a documentary made in the 1970s of Hitchcock himself discussing his methods. Even better, we see a few behind the scenes moments of the director shooting “Blackmail.” Contemporary directors also appear to discuss Hitchcock’s style and technique as film clips illustrate what the participants are saying. It is an interesting addition to the disc.

“Cary Grant: A Class Apart” – (01:27:12) – (480P NTSC)

This feature length documentary on Cary Grant is surprisingly wonderful and fairly comprehensive. It does not ignore some of the more controversial aspects of Grant’s life (although it has a tendency to play them down) and it discusses his career in more detail than some of the other documentaries available about the actor. It is consistently interesting and a welcome addition to this release. Many are likely to prefer this feature over all of the others on the disc.

A Guided Tour with Alfred Hitchcock: Trailer Featuring Alfred Hitchcock – (480P NTSC)

This is an interesting promotional trailer featuring Alfred Hitchcock himself.

Theatrical Trailer

Vintage trailers are usually interesting and this one is no exception. However, the trailer featuring Hitchcock is superior.

TV Spot – (480P NTSC)

This is a black and white television spot for the film. It is quite like the theatrical trailer for the film.

Stills Gallery

A collection of stills and behind the scenes photos from the film. It also includes additional photos from the shooting of Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest.

44 Page Book (Only Available with the 50th Anniversary Edition)

This book is beautifully presented and I admire the presentation. The photos are wonderful, even if the information and short biographies included in the book tend to not offer a lot of new information.

CU Cary

Final Words:

Warner Brothers has provided Hitchcock fans with an amazing Blu-ray release of profound quality and substance. The 8K restoration and transfer is truly beautiful. This disk is essential.

Reviewed by: Devon Powell