One of the great delights of Hitchcock is that he himself could have been a film character; incredibly dry, deadpan, dark and larger than life – both physically and in personality. These 11 quotations illustrate why Hitch was such a delight:
1. On how he paces his films:
“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.”
2. On the act of watching television:
“Seeing a murder on television… can help work off one’s antagonisms. And if you haven’t any antagonisms, the commercials will give you some.”
3. On the bagpipes:
“I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made sound never equaled the purity of the sound achieved by the pig.”
4. On directing actors:
“When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, ‘It’s in the script.’ If he says, ‘But what’s my motivation?, ’ I say, ‘Your salary.’”
5. On the role of television:
“One of television’s great contributions is that it brought murder back into the home, where it belongs.”
6. When asked by an actress whether her left or right profile was better:
“My dear, you’re sitting on your best profile.”
7. Hitchcock was famously terrified of police officers. But he also held onto another phobia:
“And then I’m frightened of eggs, worse than frightened; they revolt me. That white round thing without any holes, and when you break it, inside there’s that yellow thing, round, without any holes… Brr! Have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling its yellow liquid? Blood is jolly, red. But egg yolk is yellow, revolting. I’ve never tasted it.”
8. On his penchant for casting blondes:
“Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.”
9. His response to a woman who complained to him that the shower scene in Psycho had caused her daughter to stop showering:
“Then, Madam, I suggest you have her dry cleaned.”
10. On his disappointment in a murder scene from the film Dial M For Murder:
“But there wasn’t enough gleam on the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce – tasteless.”
11. Describing a scene that any film fan would want to watch:
“If I were to make another picture in Australia today, I’d have a policeman hop into the pocket of a kangaroo and yell ‘Follow that car!’”
Here’s my favorite Alfred Hitchcock quote:
“In many of the films now being made, there is very little cinema: they are mostly what I call ‘photographs of people talking.’ When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialog only when it’s impossible to do otherwise. I always try to tell a story in the cinematic way, through a succession of shots and bits of film in between.
“It seems unfortunate, that with the arrival of sound, the motion picture, overnight, assumed a theatrical form. The mobility of the camera doesn’t alter this fact. Even though the camera may move along the sidewalk, it’s still theatre.
“One result of this is the loss of cinematic style, and another is the loss of fantasy. In writing a screenplay, it is essential to separate clearly the dialog from the visual elements and, whenever possible, to rely more on the visual than on the dialog. Whichever way you choose to stage the action, your main concern is to hold the audience’s fullest attention.
“Summing it up, one might say that the screen rectangle must be charged with emotion.” —Alfred Hitchcock, from Hitchcock by François Truffaut
The study of Hitchcock is one of the true joys of being a screenwriter or even just a cinephiliac. Of course, reading Truffaut’s Hitchcock is a must. I personally enjoyed Steven DeRosa’s Writing with Hitchcock, David Freeman’s book, The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock, and Dan Auiler’s Hitchcock’s Notebooks was quite addictive. Online, there is the Alfred Hitchcock Wiki for enthusiasts.
Perhaps one should begin with his philosophy on Cinema’s Purity:
In many of the films now being made, there is very little cinema: they are mostly what I call ‘photographs of people talking.’ When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialog only when it’s impossible to do otherwise. I always try to tell a story in the cinematic way, through a succession of shots and bits of film in between.
It seems unfortunate, that with the arrival of sound, the motion picture, overnight, assumed a theatrical form. The mobility of the camera doesn’t alter this fact. Even though the camera may move along the sidewalk, it’s still theatre.
One result of this is the loss of cinematic style, and another is the loss of fantasy. In writing a screenplay, it is essential to separate clearly the dialog from the visual elements and, whenever possible, to rely more on the visual than on the dialog. Whichever way you choose to stage the action, your main concern is to hold the audience’s fullest attention.
Summing it up, one might say that the screen rectangle must be charged with emotion.
Here’s a taste of a 1939 Alfred Hitchcock Lecture:
Sometimes you cannot get the characters you want to take you into these places, so you say, “All right, I will have the society woman.” The next thing is, of course, what to do with her. You might say, “I would like to have her in a ship’s stokehole.” Your job becomes very hard, indeed! You have to be really inventive to get a society woman into a ship’s stokehole, to get a situation that will lead that way, and a character who, by reason of the situation, would find herself in a ship’s stokehole.
Of course, I’d bet a lot of you would say, “It is too much trouble. Let’s put her in a yacht’s stokehole. A society woman is bound to go there.” That, of course, is radical and you must not do it, because the moment you do, you are weakening and not being inventive.
If you can summon up enough courage to select your background and your incidents, you will find you really have something to work out. In The Man Who Knew Too Much, I said, “I would like to do a film that starts in the winter sporting season. I would like to come to the East End of London. I would like to go to a chapel and to a symphony concert at the Albert Hall in London.”
That is a very interesting thing, you know. You create this terrific problem, and then say, “How the devil am I going to get all those things into it?” So you start off, and eventually you may have to abandon one or two events, as it might be impossible to get some of the characters into a symphony concert, or whatever it is. You say, “Well, can’t Stokowski have his hair cut?” or something like that, and you try and blend the characters in the best way you can — appear to be quite natural that all the events have taken place in those settings because it was necessary for them to do so.
I loved writing this article – The Exposition of Rear Window:
“First, the studio had a 13-page treatment written by playwright and director Joshua Logan. To brutally simply things, Logan provided a backbone to the film, although the details were kind of weak. Jeff was a sportswriter who enjoyed playing amateur sleuth when he had the time. He broke his leg by, uhh, slipping down stairs. He had a girlfriend by the name of Trink who was struggling as an actress. He didn’t think she’d ever make it, which was the source of their conflict, and he couldn’t commit to a relationship. In that pivotal scene where she’s caught inside Thorwald’s apartment, she ‘acts’ her way out convincing Jeff she’s a great actress and thus, they get married.
“When Hitch and his new writer, John Michael Hayes, got onboard, they made a number of significant, yet fascinating changes. They wanted to make Jeff’s occupation more EXCITING and the reason for his broken leg more DRAMATIC. Thus, they made him a photographer who was wounded in the line of duty. They also wanted a more plausible way for these two characters to meet. So he wasn’t just a photographer, but a foreign correspondent who had to do a fashion shoot and that’s how they met. I’ve said that characters come first. But when you have a great concept like Rear Window, I see nothing wrong with designing characters that fit perfectly into that concept…”
“It was about a hotel like the Plaza,” explained Hitchcock. “The manager was Italian, his mother lived in the penthouse, and his relatives held different jobs in the hotel. They were all crooks, but he himself didn’t go in for this crookery so he was blackmailed by the rest of the family. When a woman like Sophia Loren arrives with a collection of coins she wanted to sell and took a room, of course all the family have itchy fingers. So he had to fight against his own family about stealing the coins.” The title was to be R.R.R.R., as Hitchcock explained, “Numismatists mark coins by the letter R. R, RR, RRR, RRRR.” No doubt, the title was to have a double-meaning, grading not only the coins to be stolen, but the leading lady as well.
Here’s another concept from the Complete List of Unproduced Projects:
The Blind Man (1960)
After the success of Psycho, Hitchcock re-teamed with Ernest Lehman for this original screenplay idea: A blind pianist, Jimmy Shearing (a role for James Stewart), regains his sight after receiving the eyes of a dead man. Watching a Wild West show at Disneyland with his family, Shearing would have visions of being shot and would come to realize that the dead man was in fact murdered and the image of the murderer is still imprinted on the retina of his new eyes. The story would end with a chase around the ocean liner RMS Queen Mary. Walt Disney purportedly barred Hitchcock from shooting at Disneyland after seeing Psycho. Stewart left the project, Lehman argued with Hitchcock, and the script was never shot.
I wrote reviews for two unproduced scripts of his. This first quote comes from what would have been Hitch’s final film, The Short Night:
“The film was to be an adaptation of a book called The Short Night by Ronald Kirkbride. It’s a very simple setup for a film. A British double agent (working for the communists) by the name of Gavin Brand escapes from prison. An American civilian, Joe Bailey, is persuaded (unofficially, of course) by the CIA to assassinate bad boy Gavin because Gavin had murdered his brother years ago. Joe naturally agrees. They know that Gavin will be meeting up with his wife and two sons to take them back to Russia. Find the wife and sons, and you’ll eventually find Gavin. And Joe does, indeed, find his wife, by the name of Carla Brand, on an island in Savonlinna, Finland. And while they wait for Gavin to arrive, they fall in love…”
And this comes from an article on Mary Rose based on the J.M. Barrie play, which I also love dearly:
“This was the film Hitch purportedly wanted to make more than any other but the studios always refused. Biographer Donald Spoto said that Hitch’s failure to make this film was “perhaps the single greatest disappointment of his creative life.” Hitch would say repeatedly in interviews that his contract with Universal allowed him to make any film so long as it cost under $3 million and so long as it wasn’t Mary Rose. Of course, this was never verified and probably not true. In truth, the reasons why this didn’t happen are complicated, involving the Tippi Hedren fallout, the failure of Marnie, Hitch’s career crisis, and concerns about audience expectations of Hitch at the time.”
And finally, below, are the essential documentaries on Alfred Hitchcock, including Hitchcock: Shadow of a Genius (1999), The Men Who Made the Movies: Alfred Hitchcock (1973), Reputations: Alfred Hitchcock (1999), In the Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy (2008), Paul Merton Looks at Alfred Hitchcock (2009), American Masters: Hitchcock, Selznick and the End of Hollywood (1999), Alfred Hitchcock Directs ‘Frenzy’ in 1972, Hitchcock: Alfred the Great (1994), Alfred Hitchcock – Masters of Cinema (Complete Interview in 1972), and A Talk with Hitchcock (1964).