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 – The Criterion Collection

Spine # 643

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Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date:  January 15, 2013

Region: Region A

Length: 01:16:04

Video: 1080P (AVC, M-PEG 4)

Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio (1,152kbps, 48kHz, 24bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.33:1

Bitrate: 34.98 Mbps

Note: This title is also available on DVD.

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“To all appearances, I seemed to have gone into a creative decline in 1933 when I made Waltzes from Vienna, which was very bad – and yet the talent must have been there all along since I had already conceived the project for ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’, the picture that re-established my creative prestige.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

This quote sums up the film’s importance rather nicely. Hitchcock was considered a genius early in his career with such films as The Lodger, The Ring, and Blackmail. However, he had long been in decline. After a string of poorly received films, the director was still finding his voice (one notices that his more successful early efforts were thrillers). With The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock discovered this voice and began a series of thrillers that cemented his reputation as “the master of suspense” while also attracting attention from Hollywood. It is also noteworthy to mention that this is Peter Lorre’s first English speaking role. It would probably not be an exaggeration to say that this film gave him a foothold on his prestigious Hollywood career.

There is the inevitable argument between Hitchcock enthusiasts as to whether this or his 1956 remake is the better film. Hitchcock himself told Francois Truffaut in his excellent book length interview that, “the first version was the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.” However, he was speaking to a man who obviously had a preference to the 1956 version. He might have been swayed to give Truffaut a comment that would mesh with his obvious opinions on the subject. One must remember that Hitchcock loathed conflict. In the end, these are different films. Each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Whatever one’s opinion might be, it is hard to argue against the importance of this first version to Hitchcock’s career.

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The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Criterion usually manages an extremely classy presentation for its releases and I am happy to say that The Man Who Knew Too Much is not an exception. The disk is contained in a clear shell with amazing cover artwork by Bill Nelson (designed by F. Ron Miller).

When one opens the case, there is a photo from the film’s climatic gun battle. The disc’s 15 chapters are also listed clearly here. There is a wonderful booklet inside the case that includes an interesting essay on the film entitled, Wish You Were Here. It was written by Farran Smith Nehme. The book is also gorgeously illustrated with photography from the film. The final pages of the booklet include interesting information about the transfer, production credits, and thank various people who made the release possible.

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The menus are nice and in the Criterion style. They employ footage from the film along with Arthur Benjamin’s The Storm Clouds Cantata. They are really quite attractive.

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It is a very nice presentation and I can find no complaints whatsoever.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

I cannot tell you how many public domain releases of this film I have bought on DVD throughout the years (with the hope that I would find a version that was actually watchable). These releases were so washed out and beaten up that it was difficult to actually appreciate the work that Hitchcock put into the film.

There were no negatives of the film to work from and in order to get a decent 2K transfer, Criterion had to work from a 35mm nitrate fine-grain master positive from the BFI National Archive vaults. It was a difficult process, but the results are truly amazing. Watching this Blu-ray was like seeing the film for the first time. Criterion managed a consistently sharp and clear picture with almost perfect contrast. Edge flicker does not seem to be an issue here either. I did see a few hairs and lines here and there, but this is a truly remarkable presentation. I cannot see anyone beating this release in terms of picture quality.

This film is 79 years old and Criterion seems to have resurrected it from the grave. The quality could be considered a minor miracle.

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Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The English LPCM 1.0 soundtrack (with optional English SDH subtitles) is also an improvement over the public domain releases. These tracks had very loud pops and a constant hiss that continued to annoy through the many dropouts evident in these sub-standard discs.

This Criterion soundtrack is better in every way. There is little to no perceivable hiss and dropouts seem to be non existent. I do not recall hearing any pops or any other major issues with the track. The music is sometimes flat and the dialogue is sometimes muffled, but I feel that these issues are evident in the source and one cannot blame Criterion.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Audio Commentary with film historian, Philip Kemp

I prefer documentaries to commentaries because of the tendency that many commentaries have of telling you what you are seeing on screen. It can be a lot like listening to commentators during a sports broadcast. On occasion, a good commentary will come along that actually provides you with information. This is one of those commentaries.

Kemp gives listeners a wealth of information that audiences should find interesting. The issue here may be that there is so much information that it is difficult for some of it to actually soak in. A few people might be irritated by Kemp’s dry delivery, but I found the track to be an enjoyable addition to the disc.

The Illustrated Hitchcock: 1972 Interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, Pia Lindstrom, and William K. Everson – (49:48)

This documentary is my personal favorite of the disc’s special features. We are given two interesting interviews with the master himself. These interviews are complete with footage from the mentioned films. I found it thoroughly enjoyable. The picture quality is not as crisp, but the content itself is fantastic.

Excerpts from François Truffaut’s 1962 Interview with Hitchcock (22:56)

People who have read Truffaut’s book length interview will find this audio interview familiar. A photo of the two great filmmakers (taken at the time of the interview) fills the screen as we hear them discussing The Man Who Knew Too Much. Helen G. Scott’s interpretation of both the questions and the answers can become tiresome, but the conversation itself is extremely interesting.

Interview with Guillermo del Toro – (17:40)

This is an illustrated interview with the contemporary filmmaker, Guillermo del Toro. In this piece, he discusses both Alfred Hitchcock and The Man Who Knew Too Much. It is less essential than the interviews with Hitchcock, but it remains interesting to fans of either director.

Restoration Demonstration (05:12)

This is more than a simple before and after comparison of the film’s restoration to the source print. It is an interesting discussion on how Criterion was able to manage such an excellent transfer. I enjoyed this short piece quite a bit.

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Final Words:

Criterion has done some amazing work on this film and it certainly belongs in every Hitchcock fan’s collection. There is absolutely no reason not to purchase this amazing disc.

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The Criterion Collection’s The Man Who Knew Too Much page:

http://www.criterion.com/films/27999-the-man-who-knew-too-much

Reviewed by: Devon Powell