A Tumultuous Partnership Up Close

11 06 2011

Leonard J. Leff gives readers an intimate look at one of Hollywood’s most difficult partnerships in his 1987 book “Hitchcock & Selznick.” Loaded with detail culled from the filmmakers’ archives, the book creates a riveting portrait of the mismatched duo, including copious information on contracts, finances and memos, yet never loses sight of the very real men at the center of the story.

The story begins in the late 1930s, as Alfred Hitchcock struggled to secure a deal that would allow him to relocate to Hollywood. But due to Hitch’s uneven track record and the uncertainty of European markets during wartime, only independent producer David O. Selznick took the bait. Selznick, then neck-deep in work on “Gone with The Wind,” signed Hitchcock to a lengthy contract, beginning with the Academy Award winning “Rebecca.” Selznick, ever the micromanager, insisted that Hitchcock stick to Daphne du Maurier’s original, best-selling novel, resulting in a movie that won acclaim and strong box office appeal but ultimately did not please the director.

The balance of power slowly shifted over several years. As Selznick focused intently on one project at a time, he loaned Hitchcock out to other studios, including RKO, Universal and Twentieth Century Fox. Working for these companies, and for producers like Walter Wanger and Jack Skirball, Hitchcock was able to learn the Hollywood system at his own pace. Selznick turned a tidy profit by loaning Hitchcock to other studios, a fact that Hitch came to resent.

By the time Selznick at last found another project he wished to work on with Hitchcock, the director had gained an enormous amount of confidence, while Selznick had exhausted himself through his obsessive need to control every aspect of his own films – not to mention his use of pills to keep himself going, or his affair with actress Jennifer Jones. Hitchcock’s dislike of direct confrontations led to passive aggressive behavior; when it came time to sign a new contract with Selznick, Hitchcock would agree to the terms and but never sign the papers. By this time, in the late 1940s, Selznick needed Hitchcock more than Hitchcock needed him. Hitch continued to direct for Selznick while working with his new partner, Sidney Bernstein, to create their new endeavor, Transatlantic Films.

The four films Hitchcock made for Selznick are a mixed bag. Certainly “Notorious” is a classic, and “Rebecca” is a great film, if atypical for Hitchcock, but both “Spellbound” and “The Paradine Case” are seriously flawed. Hitchcock’s love of technical challenges clashed with Selznick’s need for character-driven stories, and it is in Hitchcock’s loan-out movies – “Foreign Correspondent,” “Saboteur,” “Life Boat” and “Shadow of a Doubt” among them – that we see Hitch exploring ideas that are of interest to him, not those foisted upon him by his employer.

After a few more missteps in the late 1940s, Hitchcock would go on to his greatest achievements in the following decade; Selznick would make produce only a few more movies. “Hitchcock & Selznick” tells the tale not only of one of Hollywood’s greatest, and most strained, collaborations, but also provides a startling level of detail on the inner workings of a film studio in the 1940s. It’s a compelling read, one that’s worth tracking down for anyone interested in these two titans of film




One response

11 02 2012
Who Will Star in the New “Rebecca”? « Hitchcock and Me

[…] that relationship in my review of Leonard J. Leff’s book “Hitchcock and Selznick” here – the film stands as a masterpiece. It was an important stepping stone for Hitchcock: His first […]

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