Film Quarterly (1979) - Hitch: The Life and Work of Alfred Hitchcock
- book review: Hitch: The Life and Work of Alfred Hitchcock
- author(s): Paul Thomas
- journal: Film Quarterly (01/Dec/1979)
- issue: volume 33, issue 2, pages 60-61
- journal ISSN: 0015-1386
- publisher: University of California Press
- keywords: "Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock" - by John Russell Taylor, Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, John Russell Taylor, Notorious (1946)
Hitch: The Life and Work of Alfred Hitchcock
The publisher's blurb on the jacket of this "authorized biography" of Hitchcock claims that it penetrates to "the man behind the mask," but of course Hitch does nothing of the kind. John Russell Taylor is driven to admit that Hitchcock is "the artist disappearing into his art." The mask for all intents and purposes (Russell Taylor's included) has long become the man. The persona has absorbed the person, for the good and simple reason that Hitchcock wanted it to do so. Attempts like this one to cast light on Hitchcock's films by reference to his life are for this reason misplaced and forlorn. They turn into self-consuming artefacts, particularly when these attempts are undertaken, as they are here, at the direct expense of what we really need: sustained visual analysis of what goes on in Hitchcock's films. Taylor's attempts to sketch Hitchcock's films, one by one, as "events" in a "life" turn up some fascinating detail, to be sure; but they all run up against the same obstacle, one laboriously constructed by Hitchcock himself. The truth is that Hitchcock's private life (whether or not it can be separated from what Hitchcock says, and says so deliberately, about it) is almost completely uneventful — even if his claim to have been celibate for the last forty years is not without interest.
The main value of Taylor's amiable, well-written but finally self-defeating and bland book is its account of production details and difficulties surrounding Hitchcock's films-not all of this information is easy to come by in other accounts — and as a source of anecdotes. And because the anecdotes are about Hitchcock, they are priceless. "On one occasion in Switzerland recently he surprised his companion in the car by suddenly saying, 'That is the most frightening sight I have ever seen', and pointing to a little boy walking past with a priest who had his hand on his shoulder and was talking very seriously to him. Hitch leaned out of the car and called, 'Run, little boy, run for your life'." Or the proverbially dictatorial Hitchcock on the set: "What would he do, someone once asked him, if in the middle of a long and difficult take a member of the crew sneezed or dropped a hammer? 'I'd say "cut," look in the direction of the man who sneezed, and expect him not to be there.'" And Hitchcock confided to Taylor the idea behind Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman's famous kiss in Notorious. "He had an image in his mind of amourous obsession," recounts Taylor, "derived from a scene he had once witnessed when his train stopped for a few minutes at Etaples, just outside Boulogne. He saw a couple standing near a great brick wall embracing while the boy was urinating against the wall. The girl occasionally looked down to see how he was progressing, then looked round, then down again, but never let go of his arm the whole time. Nothing could interrupt romance . .." Taylor's book is full of such revealing delights and frissons, but like other books about Hitchcock it ends up by raising more problems than it solves. And not the least of these problems is a new one: why Hitchcock authorized this biography and released it into the world with his blessing.
— PAUL THOMAS