An Affectionate Portrait of Alma Reville Hitchcock

22 01 2012

Film critic and historian Charles Champlin once wrote, “The Hitchcock touch had four hands, and two were Alma’s.” In “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man,” Pat Hitchcock O’Connell and Laurent Bouzereau create an affectionate portray of the woman who inspired so much of Alfred Hitchcock’s work, Alma Lucy Reville Hitchcock.

Born in 1899, just one day after her future husband, Alma joined England’s nascent film industry before Hitchcock, having grown up around the corner from Twickenham Studios. Film seems to have been her destiny; her father worked at Twickenham, and Alma was fascinated by movies. She broke into the business while still in her teens, doing odd jobs, learning how to edit films, and even appearing before the camera in a few films.

All this would lead to a partnership with young Alfred Hitchcock that would develop into both collaboration and marriage. O’Connell paints a vivid picture of these early days, providing details and photography that few have seen before. The pictures reveal young Alma as a tiny dancer and actress, with long dark hair and a twinkle in her eye. After the missteps of the early Hitchcock films “The Pleasure Garden” and “The Mountain Eagle,” the newly married couple experienced their first success with “The Lodger.” While describing those early days, O’Connell makes the reader feel at home at the Hitchcocks’ Shamley Green home, recalling in great detail the transition to Hollywood and her parents’ high and low points. And when O’Connell began her own acting career, Alma was there for her daughter, offering support without getting too involved.

“Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man” is a sweet, anecdotal book crammed with photos and details that enhance our understanding of both Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock. Bouzereau’s hand in bringing O’Connell’s stories to life is evident without being overwhelming. (You can read my post on his recent book “Hitchcock Piece by Piece” here.)

If you aren’t already intrigued by “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man,” O’Connell ices the cake by dedicating the last 50 pages of the book to her mother’s recipes, giving us new insight into the Master of Suspense’s tastes and shedding light on those legendary dinners at chez Hitchcock. Alma was an accomplished cook, and Hitchcock was happy to do the cleaning up afterward. A 1963 dinner for Sean Connery, for example, began with caviar, vodka and cheese rolls, moved on to mushroom soup, continued with lamb and mint sauce, peas, potatoes, gravy, followed by brie cheese and crackers, and finished with raspberry ice cream with pineapple, coffee and liquors. It’s enough to whet anyone’s appetite.


Hitchcock from Book to Screen: “Scripting Hitchcock”

1 01 2012

In the movies “Psycho,” “The Birds” and “Marnie,” Alfred Hitchcock presented tales with increasingly complex psychological underpinnings. The new book “Scripting Hitchcock” puts these films under the microscope, examining the process by which the Master of Suspense reshaped the source material for each into three of his most debated films. Using interviews with screenwriters Joseph Stefano (“Psycho”), Evan Hunter (“The Birds”) and Jay Presson Allen (“Marnie”), writers Walter Raubichek and Walter Srebnick reveal Hitchcock’s process of adaptation from the original stories.

The writers are both professors of English at Pace University, and they take a scholarly approach to the subject, with an appropriately scholarly tone. They dissect the underlying themes of the stories, which are largely Freudian, and Hitchcock’s desire to wrap these challenging themes in exciting stories that would hit audiences on a visceral level. The book looks at each screenwriter’s background and experiences in working with Hitchcock, the development of the story treatment as each compares to the source material, and how characterization, dialogue and camera work would bring the stories to life.

Like Steven DeRosa’s “Writing with Hitchcock,” “Scripting Hitchcock” looks at a rich vein in the Hitchcock oeuvre. Raubichek and Srebnick do an admirable job in explicating Hitchcock’s aims with these movies. This is no mean task, as two of the films had their themes candy-coated by fast-paced action, while the third failed to connect with audiences. With so much going on in each film, from the sensational publicity campaign of “Psycho” to the introduction of Tippi Hedren in “The Birds” and the lack of success of “Marnie,” which could be attributed to so many factors, it would be easy to examine so many aspects of these fascinating movies. Raubichek and Srebnick stick to their guns, however, and remain focused on the writing behind the films. Anyone who enjoyed “Writing with Hitchcock” would do well to order a copy of “Scripting Hitchcock,” which you can do here.

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