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Hitchcock Annual (1996) - The unknown Hitchcock: Watchtower over Tomorrow






Hitchcock's work on wartime propaganda films is by no means central to his achievement as a filmmaker but requires at least some attention in order to understand him as comprehensively as possible. Most of this work has at least been commented on briefly. Milestone Film and Video has released theatrical and home-market versions of two of Hitchcock's war efforts, Bon Voyage (1944; 26 minutes) and Aventure Malgache (1944; 31 minutes), both made with the Moliere Players of France.1 There have been occasional notices about Hitchcock's work on editing footage taken of German concentration camps. Some deny that this so-called "lost" film was ever made; Clive Coultass, for example, concludes that while such a film was planned, "the project was dropped.... There never has been a lost Hitchcock documentary."2 But an article in the Times (London), on December 12, 1983 by Caroline Moorhead notes that five of the original six reels that Hitchcock worked on survive as well as documentation about the project's planning and ultimate suspension (because of changed policy toward Germany); a brief notice in the New York Times on December 25, 1983 mentions that fifteen minutes of Hitchcock's "holocaust film" was shown on Independent Television News in England; Bret Wood notes that 55 minutes of this footage was broadcast several times in 1984 and (as part of the PBS series Frontline, under the title "Memory of the Camps") in 1985 and 1993; and a comprehensive essay by Elizabeth Sussex on "The Fate of F3080" provides exhaustively researched details conclusively demonstrating Hitchcock's involvement with this project.3 Finally, Jane Sloan also lists two more documentary films that Hitchcock worked on: he "apparently supervised the reediting for the U.S. market" of Men of the Lightship (1941) and Target for Tonight (1...

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  1. Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache are discussed briefly in Donald Spoto, The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock (New York: Ballantine Books, 1983), 284-86; John Russell Taylor, Hitch (New York: Pantheon, 1978), 191-93; and Jane E. Sloan, Alfred Hitchcock: A Guide to References and Resources (New York: G.K. Hall, 1993), 195-201. For more detailed discussions, see Bret Wood, "Foreign Correspondence: The Rediscovered War Films of Alfred Hitchcock," Film Comment 29, No. 4 (1993): 54-58; and Sidney Gottlieb, "Hitchcock's Wartime Work: Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache," Hitchcock Annual (1994): 158-67.
  2. Clive Coultass, FIAF Bulletin 26 (March 1984) (xerox of typescript in Museum of Modern Art Hitchcock clippings file).
  3. Caroline Moorhead, "What Hitchcock Saw, Filmed — and Hid," Times (London), December 12, 1983 (xerox of typescript in Museum of Modern Art Hitchcock clippings file); New York Times, December 25, 1983, 47; Wood, 57; Elizabeth Sussex, "The Fate of F3080," Sight & Sound 53, No. 2 (1984): 92-97.
  4. Sloan, 541. The Library of Congress holds copies of both these films. Men of Lightship "61" is listed as FBA 2052, and is preserved in a 35mm (1748 feet) and a 16mm copy (700 feet). The card catalog lists script by Hugh Gray, production by Cavalcanti, and foreword by Robert E. Sherwood. It was copyrighted in the U.S. by Twentieth-Century Fox on March 5, 1941. Target for Tonight is listed as FEB 4208-4212, for the 35 mm print (5 reels, 4,413 feet) and FBA 2639-2640 for the 16mm print (48 minutes). The card catalog lists direction and scenario by Harry Watt and photography by Jonah Jones, and states that the film "shows how a raid on Germany is planned and executed by an R.A.F. bomber squadron." It was released in the U.S. in November 1941 by Warner Brothers.
  5. Sam P. Simone, Hitchcock as Activist: Politics and the War Films (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1985). Hitchcock critics no longer routinely assume, as once was the case, that his work is apolitical. For example, Ina Rae Hark expands on Simone's claims and persuasively argues that Hitchcock's spy films of the 1930s, like his wartime films of the 1940s, are centrally focused on defining and combating contemporary threats to democracy; see "Keeping Your Amateur Standing: Audience Participation and Good Citizenship in Hitchcock's Political Films," Cinema Journal 29, No. 2 (1990): 8-22. More recently, Robert J. Corber stresses the political contexts, intentions, and implications of Hitchcock's films of the 1950s, although I believe he seriously overstates and misunderstands what he describes as Hitchcock's complicity with various anti-democratic structures and tendencies of this era; see In the Name of National Security: Hitchcock, Homophobia, and the Political Construction of Gender in Postwar America (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993).
  6. Sloan, 8.
  7. Spoto, 245-46; Taylor, 158-59. When Truffaut asked him about his work on the propaganda shorts in 1944, Hitchcock explained: "I felt the need to make a little contribution to the war effort, and I was both overweight and overage for military service. I knew that if I did nothing I'd regret it for the rest of my life; it was important for me to do something" (Hitchcock, rev. ed. [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984], 115). I discuss a few other propaganda projects Hitchcock contributed to at this time — a photoessay in Life on the dangers of loose conversation and a "Buy-War-Bonds" appeal — in "Hitchcock's Wartime Work," 159.
  8. Wood, however, makes a strong argument for the hitherto unappreciated subtlety and brilliance of Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache, and their place "as a vital link in the chain of Hitchcock's artistic/political development" (54)
  9. Wood, 57. As fascinating as his discussion of Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache is, his brief comments on Watchtower Over Tomorrow (57) are inaccurate: Watchtower was made in late 1944 and early 1945, not "early 1941"; it explains the Dumbarton (not Lumbarton) Oaks conference of 1944, but concentrates specifically on the San Francisco conference of April 1945, which was concerned with more than plans for a Security Council; and, as mentioned above, it is not "the only other war-related project Hitchcock is known to have worked on" besides the French shorts and the concentration camps documentary. Some of Wood's comments on the concentration camp film are inaccurate as well: for example, Hitchcock returned to London to meet with Bernstein not "later in 1944" but in 1945, from late June to late July, as Spoto points out (300).
  10. Labeling information on the can for FBA 1943 is somewhat unreliable: it gives the date of the film as 1943 and says it is 400 feet long.
  11. Michael Leigh, Mobilizing Consent: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy, 1937-1947 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1976), 123-25, and notes on 138. Although his comments are brief, Leigh uses Watchtower Over Tomorrow as a key example in studying governmental attempts to sway public opinion and encourage support for a controversial project, the establishment of an international peace organization, the United Nations. Most of his information on Watchtower is drawn from material in the Stettinius Papers, housed at the University of Virginia Library, and I am grateful for the assistance of the librarians in the Special Collections Department for sending me copies of the relevant documents.
  12. Variety, April 4, 1945; rpt. in Variety Film Reviews 1907-1980 (New York: Garland Press, 1983), Vol. 7.
  13. The folder on Watchtower Over Tomorrow in the USC MGM script collection contains six. versions of the script, dated from 12/26/44 to 3/19/45, and various synopses and readers' reports, and I am very grateful to Ned Comstock at USC for calling them to my attention. Reading through these documents affords a close-up view of some substantive changes in the film as work on it progressed, and also indicates that while Hecht drafted and redrafted the words, he confidently assumed that visualizations supporting the narration "will be thought up by the master, Mr. Hitchcock" (script dated 12/26/44).
  14. Calendar Note, December 8, 1944, Stettinius Papers, Box 224.
  15. Leigh, 124, quoting from Calendar Note, December 27, 1944, Stettinius Papers, Box 224. At this time Hitchcock was working closely with Hecht on feature films: Hecht was an advisor on Foreign Correspondent and Lifeboat (Spoto, 281) and the main scriptwriter for Spellbound and Notorious. Perhaps keeping director/writer teams intact for public information films was a common practice, for reasons of efficiency. Hitchcock also worked with his long-time associate, writer Angus MacPhail on documentary/propaganda as well as feature films. MacPhail turned immediately from writing Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache to work on the initial treatment for Spellbound (Spoto, 286).
  16. Ben Hecht, A Child of the Century (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954), 583. If Hecht's description of his one week's work on the script is reliable, then he did not have a hand in the revisions; the script dated 12/26/44 has his name on it, but all others are typed with the names of Karl Lamb and George Seitz, Jr. Given Hecht's later dismissal of the project, one wonders what his connection may have been with a radio script titled Watch Tower for Tomorrow, a copy of which is in the Orson Welles papers at the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Box 27, folder 50. Although undated, internal references to the San Francisco conference, which began on April 25, 1945, suggest that the radio script was written just before or even during that meeting, and intended, like the film, to generate support for the establishment of a worldwide peacekeeping organization. Welles had a serious interest in this endeavor, attended the conference, and wrote and lobbied tirelessly for its aims. It is no surprise, then, that Hecht's radio script found its way to him, although there is no indication whether it was ever broadcast, or whether Welles himself, an inveterate rewriter and script consultant, had any role in transforming the original film script into a strikingly different radio script.
  17. Telegram from MacLeish to Harmon, December 29, 1944, Stettinius Papers, Box 224.
  18. References are to synopsis sheet 2/5/45 and synopsis sheet 1/30/45 in the Watchtower Over Tomorrow folder, MGM script collection, University of Southern California.
  19. Leigh, 124. Leigh never mentions any other director as being involved with the project. Wood more cautiously says that Hitchcock "contributed" to it and "shot some of it," noting that John Cromwell and Harold Kress ultimately got director's credit (57). But a memo from Wilder Foote to Archibald MacLeish states that the opening scene, Stettinius' introductory remarks, were directed by Elia Kazan; see Foote to MacLeish, January 13, 1945, Stettinius Papers, Box 220.
  20. Foote to MacLeish, January 13, 1945, Stettinius Papers, Box 220.
  21. Foote to Stettinius, April 18, 1945, Stettinius Papers, Box 221.
  22. Variety, April 4, 1945; John S. Dickey, "The Secretary and the American Public," in Don K. Price, ed., The Secretary of State (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1960), 147.
  23. Leigh, 124. Early in the scripting process Hitchcock "expressed the opinion that for dramatic effect it would be necessary for the Secretary [Stettinius] to carry the entire narration" (Calendar Note, December 27, 1944, Stettinius Papers, Box 224), but his advice was not followed.
  24. Early versions of the script (e.g., 1/18/45 and 1/19/45) suggest that the footage for this rocket gun could be drawn from such a film as Things to Come (1936), made by William Cameron Menzies, an art designer and director Hitchcock admired and worked with on Foreign Correspondent. It may also be worth recalling that at the same time as they were working on Watchtower Over Tomorrow, Hitchcock and Hecht were scripting Notorious, which also features the still rather mysterious threat of a deadly bomb that was being developed. Hitchcock loved to tell the story of his prescience about the atomic bomb (see, for example, Spoto, 299-300 and Truffaut, 121), and Watchtower Over Tomorrow perhaps presents an early illustration of this.
  25. Given the concern that the hostile nation not be identified as "a middle-European country" (script synopsis 1/30/45) and that the film not "mislead the public into believing that the United Nations could be relied upon to take enforcement action when a dispute involved a permanent member of the Security Council" (Leigh, 134), it may be significant that the representative of the aggressor in the film, Chairman X as he is called in the script, looks vaguely oriental.