Alfred Hitchcock’s Collaborators: Alma Reville

26 03 2010

Throughout his extraordinary career, Alfred Hitchcock had the help of several important collaborators in bringing his ideas to the screen. It’s hard to imagine “Psycho” without the musical score of Bernard Hermann, for example. Others, notably female actors like Grace Kelly, inspired Hitchcock to tell a certain type of story.

A shot of Alma Reville around 1920, from the documentary "Dial H for Hitchcock"

The first collaborator we’ll look at is Alma Reville, whose name, my wife would like to say, means “awakening offering.” Born just one day after Hitchcock, on August 14, 1899, Reville joined the British film industry even before her future husband. Her father worked at Twickenham Film Studios, and Reville got a job there at age 15 as a rewind girl in the cutting room. She quickly moved on to film editing at the London Film Company at age 16, while Hitch was designing advertisements for a cable manufacturer. She then moved to Famous Players-Lasky, where she first met Hitchcock; she was credited as saying, with some pleasure, that when they met, her career was more advanced than his, and that he waited until he had more credits to his name before approaching her to edit the movie “Woman to Woman,” on which he served as assistant director.

Wedding day, 1926

She continued working with Hitchcock as his directing career got under way, serving as a film editor, script girl/continuity editor, writer and, most important, sounding board. In his book “Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light,” Patrick McGilligan recounts script conferences held over dinners or during long walks in which Hitch, Reville and a third partner – usually the screenwriter of record – would scrutinize every aspect of the story they were trying to tell.

Working on a script, probably mid-1930s

Reville and Hitchcock married in 1926; their one child, Patricia, was born in1928. The couple shared a passion for film, and Reville was credited as a writer on a number of Hitch’s films, including “The Ring,” “Juno and the Paycock,” Murder,” “The Skin Game,” “Rich and Strange,” “Number Seventeen,” “Waltzes from Vienna,” “The 39 Steps,” “The Secret Agent,” “Sabotage,” “Young and Innocent,” “The Lady Vanishes,” “Jamaica Inn,” “Suspicion,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” “The Paradine Case” and “Stage Fright.” She contributed to many other Hitchcock pictures as well, mostly by critiquing the story and editing. Famously, she was the only person to notice that Janet Leigh moved ever so slightly after the shower scene in “Psycho.” (I’ve seen that movement described as either a swallow or the blink of an eye.)

Her career was not restricted to collaborations with her husband, however. She also wrote at least ten non-Hitchcock films from 1928 to 1945, although the time she spent caring for her family limited her career to some degree. It’s thought that Reville would have become a director herself had she not had a child.

According to McGilligan, Reville was devastated by the negative reviews for Hitch’s 1949 picture “Under Capricorn.” After that, she pulled back from direct involvement in the development of the films, although, as mentioned above, she continued to offer her opinions.

Playing along with Hitch's macabre image, late 1950s

During script conferences, Reville would sit quietly nearby, listening, and when a writer made a suggestion that Hitch was unsure of, the director would look to his wife for help. A few words, even a shake of her head, and Hitchcock would tell the writer to try again. Hitchcock never questioned her opinion; any idea or input she offered was put into affect. He trusted and relied on her expertise throughout his career.

Alma Reville Hitchcock died on July 6, 1982, two years after her husband.

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6 responses

26 03 2010
Lance

If you haven’t done so already, Adam,you may want to check out Pat Hitchcock’s remembrance of her mother, “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man” (http://tinyurl.com/yapw47c). It’s by no means a deep, scholarly work, but her insights into Alma and Hitch at work and home are fun reading. I enjoyed her view of their relationship immensely, and some of the stories were brand-new to me (such as Hitch’s remarks as a host of Kennedy’s inaugural gala). Maybe you can treat yourself to it for your birthday (and if I don’t get on Facebook Sunday to wish you a happy one, please have it anyway).

27 03 2010
adamphilips

I’ll be sure to check it out, Lance. Thanks!

9 07 2010
Alfred Hitchcock’s Collaborators: Michael Balcon « Hitchcock and Me

[…] may not be as familiar a name to fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s films as our previous collaborator, Alma Reville, but he had a vital role in Hitch’s career and an even greater one in the history of British […]

16 09 2010
Dave Pattern

The dummy Hitch head in the fridge is the same one that was used in the trailer for “Frenzy”, so I’m wondering if the shot might be from from the 1960s or 1970s? You can see a larger version of another photo from the same shoot here: http://www.hitchcockwiki.com/gallery/2943.jpg

16 09 2010
adamphilips

So glad to hear from you, Mr. Pattern! Thanks for your comment… I’m a big fan of the Hitchcock wiki site, as you can probably tell from my shout-outs.

19 08 2011
“In The Night Garden is a singular vision”, Picasso and other thoughts about making stuff | Andy Facts

[…] that’s W Somerset Maugham who relied on Gerald Haxton to obtain many of his stories, or Alfred Hitchcock’s trust in his wife as an editor and sense-check. This much is obvious, although the myth of the solitary creator is […]

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