Cineaste (2001) - An Old Master's Unheard Cri de Coeur: Alfred Hitchcock's Mary Rose
- article: Alfred Hitchcock's "Mary Rose": An Old Master's Unheard "Cri de Coeur"
- author(s): Joseph McBride
- journal: Cineaste (01/Mar/2001)
- issue: volume 26, issue 2, pages 24-28
- journal ISSN: 0009-7004
- publisher: Cineaste Publishers
- keywords: "Hitchcock at Work" - by Bill Krohn, "The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock" - by Donald Spoto, "The Women Who Knew Too Much" - by Tania Modleski, Adaptations, Albert Whitlock, Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, American cinema, Artistic expression, Australian drama, Barbara Harris, Barrie, Bernard Herrmann, Bill Krohn, Camille Paglia, Cathleen Nesbitt, Claire Griswold, Donald Spoto, Drama), Eroticism, Evan Hunter, Family Plot (1976), Fay Compton, Film (Productions), Film directors, Film history, François Truffaut, Frenzy (1972), Grace Kelly, Herman Citron, Hyde Park, London, History, Ingrid Bergman, James M, James M Barrie (1920, James Stewart, Jay Presson Allen, Jessica Tandy, Joseph McBride, Kim Novak, Lew Wasserman, Louise Latham, Margaret Herrick Library, Marnie (1964), Mary Rose, Motion picture criticism, Motion picture directors & producers, Motion pictures, Performing Arts History, Peter Bogdanovich, Psycho (1960), Rear Window (1954), San Francisco, California, Screenplays, Sexuality, Tania Modleski, The Birds (1963), Tippi Hedren, To Catch a Thief (1955), Union Square, San Francisco, California, Universal Studios, Vertigo (1958), Waltzes from Vienna (1934), Winston Graham, Women
An Old Master's Unheard Cri de Coeur: Alfred Hitchcock's Mary Rose
by Joseph McBride
Alfred Hitchcock wryly described the subject matter of his 1958 masterpiece Vertigo as "a form of necrophilia." While that ultimate sexual taboo proves only an illusion in Vertigo, sexual congress with a dead woman is an actual plot element in the most intriguing unfilmed project of Hitchcock's career, Mary Rose. A darker version of Sir James M. Barrie's whimsically haunting 1920 play, this ghost story would have taken Hitchcock's characteristic mingling of eroticism and death into dimensions beyond any he had explored on screen.
Hitchcock's dream project for more than half a century, Mary Rose ultimately proved too troubling for Universal Pictures, which forbade him to make it. The poetic meditation on death and eternal youth that Hitchcock wanted to direct from Barrie's play, drawing on his own obsessions about women and sexuality, might have become the director's most deeply personal work. His failure to realize it was, according to biographer Donald Spoto, "perhaps the single greatest disappointment of his creative life."
Hitchcock's most intense creative involvement with Mary Rose was undertaken in 1963-64, while he was preparing and filming Marnie. He worked on an adaptation of Barrie's play with Marnie screenwriter Jay Presson Allen. Mary Rose would have been part of Hitchcock's powerful cycle of early sixties films dealing with extreme forms of psychological and social disturbance (Psycho, The Birds, Marnie). The filmmaker's long-repressed sexuality was pushing its way violently to the surface of his personal life, and sexually based trauma became the dominant theme of his work. Camille Paglia, in her monograph on The Birds, aptly calls that period Hitchcock's time of "existential crisis."
Not unnaturally for a man of advancing years and failing health, Hitchcock's late films also reflected his increasingly urgent preoccupation with mortality, a risky subject for any Hollywood filmmaker. Hitchcock took advantage of the new license given filmmakers to deal with previously taboo subjects and imagery. Though his late films are of uneven quality, and sometimes were rejected by audiences or critics because of their graphic violence and frequent misogyny, it cannot be denied that Hitchcock's closing years took him boldly into uncharted artistic territory. The boldest exploration of all was his trip into what Shakespeare called "The undiscover'd country from whose bourn / No traveler returns."
No traveler, that is, except Mary Rose.
Like Barrie's earlier Peter Pan, Mary Rose deals with an enchanted island that serves as "a safe place" for lost children. The Scottish playwright drew his inspiration for both plays from Celtic mythology about children abducted by fairies. To Mary Rose he added his own melancholy preoccupations with interrupted childhood and disrupted motherhood. Barrie adumbrated the central theme of Mary Rose in his 1902 novel The Little White Bird: "The only ghosts, I believe, who creep into this world are dead young mothers, returned to see how their children fare... What is saddest about ghosts is that they may not know their child. They expect him to be just as he was when they left him, and they are easi...
(c) Joseph McBride / Cineaste