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By Paul Duncan
Oldcastle BooksCopyright © 2004 Paul Duncan
All rights reserved.
Silent Hitchcock (1922-1929)
Born in Leytonstone, a suburb of London, on 13 August 1899, Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was the son of a poulterer and greengrocer. The former trade gave Hitchcock a life long disgust of eggs (which is why the characters in his films treat eggs so badly — for example, in To Catch A Thief, Jessie stubs her cigarette in the yoke of an egg), and the latter gave him a taste for journeys (he used to read the labels on tins and, using the world map on his wall, worked out the route needed to transport the goods to his father's shop). Raised by a strict Roman Catholic father, Hitchcock acquired an acute sensitivity for right and wrong. He also learnt about fear at the age of five, when his father sent Hitchcock to the police station with a note. The policeman read the note, then locked Hitchcock in a cell for five minutes. Upon release, Hitchcock was told that this is what they do to naughty little boys. It is not surprising that this led Hitch to later feature the police as fearful characters. Think of Janet Leigh in Psycho, stealing $40,000, and waking up in her car with a cop staring through the window. Morally we should be applauding the good work of Mr Policeman, but emotionally we fear for Janet.
At St Ignatius' College, a Jesuit boarding school, Hitchcock learnt about discipline, self-control and organisation (which led to Hitch's later daily routine, always wearing the same style of suit, the methodical approach to work), and also the sadistic physical punishment used to attain that discipline. Hitch used his fear of pain to make the violent parts of his movies more affecting.
After training as an engineer (hence his appreciation for the technical aspects of movie-making), Hitch moved into graphic design, working at a small advertising company, and then onto W T Henley, a cable company. Having acquired a love for films, through a friend at Henley's, Hitch began working part time, designing captions and titles for silent films. Then he got a full-time post as chief of the title department at Famous Players-Lasky where, during 1921-1922, he titled nearly a dozen films. In 1922, aged 23, Hitchcock became a director and producer, albeit for an ill-fated production. His first directorial stint was an independent production called Number Thirteen. The film was a comedy about London low life starring Clare Greet, who put up some of the money for the project. However, it was not enough to sustain the project and the film was never completed. Hitch subsequently cast Clare Greet in many of his films.
Then Hitch got his break. Seymour Hicks was playing the lead in a film of his play when the director and screen writer Hugh Croise fell ill. Desperate to finish, Hicks co directed with the enthusiastic Hitch on Always Tell Your Wife which was released in 1923. Then, with Graham Cutts as director and Michael Balcon as producer, Hitch was designer, assistant director and scriptwriter on five movies up until 1925. Some of these were made at Germany's UFA studios, the heart of Expressionistic film-making and home to some of the best technicians in the world. Balcon was impressed with Hitch and wanted him to direct, but film distributors were wary of new names, so Balcon had Hitch direct a couple of films in Germany's Emelka studios and on location around Europe. Hitchcock's career had started.
The Pleasure Garden(1925)
Cast: Virginia Valli (Patsy Brand), Carmelita Geraghty (Jill Cheyne), Miles Mander (Levett), John Stuart (Hugh Fielding), Nita Naldi (Native)
Crew: Director Alfred Hitchcock, Screenplay Eliot Stannard, Novel Oliver Sandys, Producers Michael Balcon & Erich Pommer, Cinematographer Baron Ventimiglia, Assistant Director Alma Reville
Story: Good girl Patsy Brand, a chorus girl at The Pleasure Garden Theatre, marries Levett, a soldier of fortune, who is going to the English colonies in the Tropics with his friend Hugh. Before leaving for her honeymoon she meets Jill, Hugh's fiancée, and gets her a job in the theatre. Jill is a bad girl and goes out with other men. When Patsy finds out her husband is ill, she goes to the Tropics, but finds Levett an alcoholic living with a native girl. Levett drowns the native girl, saying it was suicide, then tries to kill Patsy. A doctor enters, shoots Levett and gets the girl. Sound awful? Well, at least it has a duality theme.
And Another Thing: This was made in 1925, but it was not released until 1927 because the film distributor, H M Woolf, thought that since Hitch had filmed it in the style of the German Expressionists with weird angles, English audiences would not be able to understand it.
Comment: Although The Lodger is the first true Hitchcock movie because it's about a murder, it's a suspense thriller and so on, The Pleasure Garden obviously contained some elements which Hitch would later develop in full. We have the duality of the good/bad girl (Vertigo comes to mind), the psychological aspect (virtually every Hitchcock film) and of course a source material which is adapted by Hitch to fit his own world-view.
The Mountain Eagle 1926)
Alternative Title:Fear O' God(1926) in USA
Cast: Nita Naldi (Beatrice), Bernhard Goetzke (Pettigrew), John F Hamilton (Edward Pettigrew), Malcolm Keen (Fear o' God Fulton)
Crew: Director Alfred Hitchcock, Screenplay Eliot Stannard, Producer Michael Balcon, Cinematographer Baron Ventimiglia
Story: Pettigrew, a shopkeeper in a mountain town of Ken tucky, falls in love with teacher Beatrice. The girl doesn't reciprocate, so he gets angry and accuses her of molesting his son Edward who has a mental illness. The girl marries the hermit, Fear o' God Fulton, to calm the people's anger and, eventually, she falls in love with her husband and a child is born. Pettigrew hides Edward and charges the hermit with his son's murder. Fear o' God is imprisoned but he escapes and takes refuge in the mountain with his wife and son.
Alternative Title:The Case Of Jonathan Drew(1926)
Cast: Ivor Novello (The Lodger), June Tripp (Daisy Bunting, a Mannequin), Malcolm Keen (Joe Betts, a Police Detective), Marie Ault (The Landlady, Mrs Bunting), Arthur Chesney (Her Husband, Mr Bunting), Helena Pick (Anne Rowley)
Crew: Director Alfred Hitchcock, Screenplay Eliot Stannard & Alfred Hitchcock, Novel Marie Belloc Lowndes, Producers Michael Balcon & Carlyle Blackwell Sr., Cinematographer Baron Ventimiglia, Film Editing Ivor Montagu, Assistant Director Alma Reville, Editing/Titling Ivor Montagu, Title Designer E McKnight Kauffer
Blonde Virgin: June Tripp.
Story: The Avenger kills blondes every Tuesday. A mysterious stranger takes lodgings at the Buntings' house. Their girl Daisy takes a shine to him. The lodger leaves the house late Tuesday, and the next murder occurs. Daisy's boyfriend, a Scotland Yard detective, suspects the lodger and arrests him. The lodger escapes with Daisy, is chased by a crowd and is almost killed by them.
Visual Ideas: A man's face is distorted in a tea urn.When two men deliver newspapers in a van, their heads in the windows are like the pupils of eyes. The lodger is seen walking up and down his room through a glass ceiling. Looking straight down a stairwell, we see a hand holding the rail, circling as a character descends the stairs.
Recurring Motif: The flashing neon sign "To-Night Golden Curls" is repeated throughout the movie, as a sign of the constant presence of The Avenger. At the end, The Avenger is imprisoned, the hero and heroine kiss in the bright light, while the neon sign still flashes in the black night behind them.
Recurring Ideas: The Kiss (Pure, close-up, slow, white); The Handcuffs (A sign that the man is outside society); The Switch (For the first half of the movie, the lodger is dressed in black and placed in shadows, so we don't trust/like him. After the murder, and the family suspect him of being The Avenger, the lodger is dressed in nice, light clothes and his room is bright, so we like/trust him); The Hanging Man (At the end, the villain is hanging, but is saved by the hero).
The Walk-On: Hitch always maintained that his cameo roles were a bit of fun at first, and then it became a superstition. Finally, when the public expected it, he got them over with as soon as possible. This film has two Hitch appearances. First, he is seated in a newsroom — Hitch said they needed someone to fill the space, and Hitch was big enough to fill it. Later, wearing a cap, he's seen leaning against the railings when Ivor Novello is caught.
The Verdict: If you can watch silent movies, you'll love this one. 4/5
Alternative Title:When Boys Leave Home(1928) in USA
Cast: Ivor Novello (Roddy Berwick), Robin Irvine (Tim Wakely), Lilian Braithwaite (Lady Berwick), Isabel Jeans (Julia Hannah Jones), Ian Hunter (Archie), Sybil Rhoda (Sybil Wakely), Ben Webster (Doctor Dowson)
Crew: Director Alfred Hitchcock, Screenplay Eliot Stannard, Play David Lestrange (pseudonym for Constance Collier & Ivor Novello), Producer Michael Balcon, Cinematographer Claude L McDonnell, Film Editing Ivor Montagu
Story: Roddy, first son of the rich Berwick family, is expelled from school when he takes the blame for his friend Tim's theft. His family sends him away and all of his friends stay away from him. Roddy goes to Paris, spends all his money, starts work as a dancer and becomes an alcoholic. Roddy moves to an English colony but some sailors return him to his rich family hoping for a reward.
Cast: Isabel Jeans (Larita Filton), Franklin Dyall (Her husband, M Filton), Ian Hunter (The Plaintiff 's Counsel), Robin Irvine (John Whittaker), Violet Farebrother (His mother), Eric Bransby Williams (The Correspondent)
Crew: Director Alfred Hitchcock, Screenplay Eliot Stann ard, Play Noel Coward, Producer Michael Balcon, Cinemat ographer Claude L McDonnell, Film Editing Ivor Montagu
Story: Larita Filton is accused by her husband of being in love with an artist. There is a scandalous divorce case and the artist kills himself. Larita's world is destroyed so she decides to change her identity and start a new life. She falls in love with and marries a rich young man, John Whittaker. John's mother finds out about Larita's "easy virtue" and tells her son everything.
Cast: Carl Brisson (Jack Sanders aka One Round Jack), Lillian Hall-Davis (Nelly), Ian Hunter (Bob Corby, The Champion)
Crew: Director & Scenario Alfred Hitchcock, Adaptation Alma Reville, Producer John Maxwell, Cinematographer Jack E Cox
Story: One Round Jack is a boxer who fights in bazaars. He is engaged to Nelly. Without revealing his true identity, the Australian champion Bob Corby, who is falling in love with Nelly, challenges Jack. Jack loses and Bob, who wants to be close to Nelly, hires Jack as his sparring partner. A short time passes until Bob and Nelly run away together. Jack is now in training for his revenge. He chal lenges Bob in the Albert Hall.
The Farmer's Wife(1928)
Cast: Jameson Thomas (Farmer Samuel Sweetland), Lillian Hall-Davis (Araminta Dench, the Housekeeper)
Crew: Director Alfred Hitchcock, Screenplay Leslie Arliss & Alfred Hitchcock & J E Hunter & Norman Lee & Eliot Stannard, Play Eden Philpotts, Producer John Maxwell, Cinematographer Jack E Cox, Film Editing Alfred Booth
Story: Farmer Sweetland is an old and lonely widower who, after his daughter marries, feels he should marry again. With the aid of Minta, his house maid (who is secretly in love with him), Sweetland comes up with a list of four ladies and, one by one, they reject him. Returning home, he thinks of each of them by his side and sees them as ridiculous. Then, for the first time, he sees Minta and proposes.
Visual Ideas: The passage of time is shown by the number of times the farmer's underclothes have been washed, or the time it takes the meat to cook in front of the fire. There is also a well-edited collage of scenes for when the farmer is getting washed and dressed for courting.
The Verdict: Excellent photography and earthy dialogue are the only things to keep you awake watching this, since the version I saw has no sound or music. 2/5
Cast: Betty Balfour (Betty), Jean Bradin (The Boy), Theo von Alten (The Man), Gordon Harker (The Father)
Crew: Director Alfred Hitchcock, Screenplay Eliot Stannard, Story Walter C Mycroft, Adaptation Alfred Hitchcock, Producer John Maxwell, Cinematographer Jack E Cox, Still Photographer Michael Powell
Story: Betty, rebellious spoilt daughter of a millionaire, decides to marry the penniless Jean against her father's will. She runs away to France and lives a life of luxury on the profits from her father's champagne business. Her father decides to put a stop to her behaviour by pretending his business crashed. Betty now has to earn money and she gets a job in a nightclub.
Cast: Anny Ondra (Kate Cregeen), Carl Brisson (Pete Quilliam), Malcolm Keen (Philip Christian), Randle Ayrton (Caesar Cregeen), Clare Greet (Mother)
Crew: Director Alfred Hitchcock, Screenplay Eliot Stannard, Novel by Hall Caine, Producer John Maxwell, Cinematographer Jack E Cox, Film Editing Emile de Ruelle, Still Photographer Michael Powell
Story: Despite their differing backgrounds, fisherman Pete and lawyer Philip have been lifelong friends on the Isle of Man. Pete wants to marry Kate, the landlord's daughter at the local inn. However, Kate's father doesn't think he is good enough. Pete leaves the island to seek his fortune abroad and entrusts Kate to Philip, but they become attracted to each other.CHAPTER 2
2. The Mastermind Returns (1929-1939)
Hitch had been wandering around aimlessly for a couple of years making films with all kinds of subject matter, with varying levels of success. In truth, the promise he showed in The Lodger had failed to materialise. Then he directed Blackmail, one of Britain's first talkies. Originally filmed silent (a silent version was made for those cinemas who could not afford the expensive sound equipment), at the last minute the producer decided to add sound on the last reel. Instead, Hitch spread the sound throughout the film, and this impressed the production company so much he was allowed to reshoot several key scenes with sound. However, there was a major problem — Anny Ondra had a thick German accent. So Hitch had Anny mouth the words, and another actress, Joan Barry, say the words into a microphone. These solutions showed two important qualities in Hitch which enabled him to rise higher and higher within the film community — he knew how to impress producers, and he knew how to solve technical difficulties when making films. The third quality — how to impress the audience — he learnt when he began making his Wrong Man/Man On The Run movies in the early 1930s with the writer Charles Bennett.
Cast: Anny Ondra (Alice White), Joan Barry (Voice of Alice White), Sara Allgood (Mrs White), Charles Paton (Mr White), John Longden (Detective Frank Webber), Donald Calthrop (Tracy, the Blackmailer), Cyril Ritchard (The Artist)
Crew: Director & Screenplay Alfred Hitchcock, Dialogue Benn W Levy & Michael Powell, Play Charles Bennett, Producer John Maxwell, Original Music Hubert Bath & Campbell Connelly, Cinematographer Jack E Cox, Film Editing Emile de Ruelle
Blonde Virgin: Anny Ondra.
The MacGuffin: Coined by Angus MacPhail for The 39 Steps, this is the mysterious objective around which the plot revolves. In this case, a glove left by Alice at the scene of the murder is what everybody's looking for.
Story: Alice two-times her Scotland Yard detective boyfriend by going with an artist. The artist tries it on in his garret, and Alice knifes him. Shocked, distraught, she makes it home. Her detective boyfriend finds her glove at the murder scene but covers up for her, only to find out Tracy, who has the other glove, wants to blackmail them. Our fearless detective bluffs Tracy into making a run for it. A chase ensues through the British Museum. Alice, racked with guilt, tries to confess but events contrive to let her go free with her boyfriend.
Visual Ideas:As the cops enter a room, a man is on the bed, reading the paper, oblivious to the cops. Then the camera pans from his face to a mirror, then zooms into the mirror, where we can see the faces of the cops. Time passing is shown by the number of cigarette butts in the ashtray. As Alice and the artist mount the stairs, from side on, the camera travels up. As the artist is about to attack Alice, he pauses and the light and shadow of the lamp falls on his face, distorting half his face, as though revealing an inner demon. When Alice is in the artist's garret, she sees a policeman walk by in the street, so she thinks she's safe but, as she's being attacked, the policeman walks by and can do nothing to help her. When a description of the blackmailer is circulated by the police, a montage of mugshots and the various books slide in and out of the frame, until the blackmailer's face looms large. When Alice decides to give herself up, she writes a confession letter and rises — as she rises, the shadow of a noose falls around her neck. When she enters the artist's room, Alice laughs at the funny clown painting laughing and pointing at her, but after the murder, the clown is laughing at her and later, when her confession is not heard, the picture is there again, laughing at her.
Excerpted from Alfred Hitchcock by Paul Duncan. Copyright © 2004 Paul Duncan. Excerpted by permission of Oldcastle Books.
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