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Hitchcock Annual (2013) - Hitchcock and Documentary: Re-editing Men of the Lightship




This essay is adapted from a chapter in Hitchcock: Lost and Found, authored jointly with Alain Kerzoncuf, for publication by the University of Kentucky Press in 2014. I am grateful to the Leverhulme Foundation for the award of an Emeritus Fellowship which made possible a visit to libraries and archives in the U.S. in late 2012. Many thanks also to Barbara Hall and colleagues at the Margaret Herrick library in Los Angeles; Rosemary Hanes and colleagues at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; Karl Magee, university archivist at Stirling; Christopher Philippo; and Alain Kerzoncuf.


  • AMPAS — Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Los Angeles, California
  • NA — National Archives, London
  • INF — Ministry of Information files, held at the NA
  • IWM — Imperial War Museum, London
  • SLB — Sidney L. Bernstein papers, held at the IWM

Notes & References

  1. Bon Voyage (26 minutes) and Aventure Malgache (32 minutes) were shot by Hitchcock at Welwyn Studios, near London, early in 1944; the former was given a very limited release in Europe later in the year. After being out of circulation for decades, both are now available together on DVD, in a variety of editions.
  2. Bernstein's official role was as one of two "Honorary Advisers" from the industry, reporting directly to the Director of Films Division, a post held for most of the war by Jack Beddington. It is clear that Bernstein worked as hard in his own post as if it had been a full-time salaried one; he visited the U.S. more than once, spending time with the Hitchcocks, among many other industry figures.
  3. Patrick McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (Chichester: Wiley, 2003), 280-81.
  4. The standard version of Target for Tonight is the Imperial War Museum's DVD from 2007; that of Men of the Lightship is available as part of volume 3 of the BFI's collection of GPO Unit Productions, If War Should Come. The Hitchcock re-edit of Men of the Lightship was viewed in a 16mm print at the Library of Congress in Washington in November 2012. It is now possible to find the different versions on YouTube.
  5. See Charles Barr, "Deserter or Honored Exile?: Views of Hitchcock from Wartime Britain," Hitchcock Annual 13 (2004-05), 1-24, reprinted in Sidney Gottlieb and Richard Allen, eds., The Hitchcock Annual Anthology: Selected Essays from Volumes 10-15 (London: Wallflower, 2009), 82-96.
  6. NA: INF 1/58.
  7. New Statesman, 3 August 1940. The brief review is not signed, but is likely to be the work of the magazine's regular film critic, William Whitebait (pseudonym of the playwright and critic G.W. Stonier).
  8. Bernstein to E.St.J. Bamford, 3 April 1941. Bamford was an Mol administrator, not himself a member of Films Division. IWM/SLB, Box 3.
  9. Grierson to Bernstein, 11 February 1941, circulated by Bernstein to colleagues the following day. IWM/SLB, Box 3.
  10. Bernstein to Bamford, 3 April 1941. Despite McGilligan's claim that "there is no evidence he was ever reimbursed" (Alfred Hitchcock, 281), this same summarizing memo of 3 April shows that, although Hitchcock took no fee, his costs of $4428.10 were quickly repaid to him in full.
  11. Balcon to Beddington, 20 November 1940. IWM/SLB, Box 2.
  12. Bernstein to Bamford, 27 January 1941. IWM/SLB, Box 2..
  13. Bernstein to Bamford, 3 April 1941. Arthur Jarratt was a Naval Officer who did varied wartime liaison work in the U.S. Like Bernstein, he had extensive experience in film exhibition.
  14. See Manitowoc Herald Times, 21 April 1941; Miami Daily News, 27 May 1941; Alto Herald, 28 May 1941.
  15. Cavalcanti, a Brazilian, already had considerable experience in French cinema as writer, art director, and avant-garde director, before joining Grierson's GPO Unit in 1933; he was based at Ealing from 1940 to 1946. David Macdonald spent all of his career in the commercial industry, apart from a short wartime spell in documentary, first as director of Men of the Lightship and then with the Army Film Unit, notably as producer of Desert Victory (1943). Hugh Gray's script credits included Alexander Korda's imperial epic The Drum (1938).
  16. Gray (1900-1981) is now best known as the translator of two volumes of essays by the French critic André Bazin, What is Cinema? (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967 and 1971). He was an early Film Professor at UCLA, closely associated with the magazine Film Quarterly; see "Hugh Gray: In Memoriam," in Film Quarterly (spring 1981), 1. Hitchcock's correspondence with, and about, Gray, and the funding of his research in the 1960s, is found in the Hitchcock collection at AMPAS, 112.f-1337.
  17. Dai Vaughan, Portrait of an Invisible Man: The Working Life of Stewart McAllister, Film Editor (London: British Film Institute, 1983), 46-53.
  18. NA: INF 5/66.
  19. 'THINK SHERWOOD MONTGOMERY VERY GOOD" [i.e., very good choices]: part of an encouraging telegram from Bernstein to Hitchcock, 24 October 1940. IWM/SLB, Box 3. Unlike Robert Sherwood, Robert Montgomery is not mentioned again in these records, and the idea of using him may have been shelved.
  20. H.A.V. Bulleid, "Famous Library Films no. 23, Men of the Lightship," Amateur Cine World, September-November 1944, 118-21, at 119. The fact of post-synchronizing is confirmed in Ministry documents found in NA: INF 5/68.
  21. Vaughan, Portrait of an Invisible Man, 48-50.
  22. Vaughan, Portrait of an Invisible Man, 49.
  23. Cavalcanti's insistence, after seeing the initial rushes, on replacing most of the actors by non-professionals, is reported in Bulleid, "Famous Library Films no. 23, Men of the Lightship" 118, and Vaughan, Portrait of an Invisible Man, 46. The text of his forceful telegram of 1 March 1940 is found in NA: INF 5/66. Leonard Sharp's busy film career lasted from 1935 to 1958; he is probably now best remembered as the pavement artist in the final scene of the 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers.
  24. The Air Ministry's offer to supply resources is given in a letter of 28 March 1940, following earlier disagreements. RAF representatives had been arguing that the film ought to show aircraft flying to the defense of the lightship and chasing off the attackers, an argument so clearly foolish that they soon came round and agreed "to arrange forthwith facilities for the proposed lightship film in the form in which it is summarized in Mr. Hugh Gray's general treatment." The episode is covered more fully in Vaughan, Portrait of an Invisible Man, 47-48. Hugh Gray had done the treatment, based on a range of visits and consultations. Dialogue is credited to David Evans, who was present for much of the shooting. For all this, see NA: INF 5/66.
  25. See Vaughan, Portrait of an Invisible Man, 50, for a shot-by- shot analysis.
  26. Whereas Dai Vaughan credits this bravura passage to the film's editor, linking it to other instances of his work, Ian Aitken prefers to credit it to the film's producer, linking it to his notable record of experimentation in France and then England. See Aitken, Alberto Cavalcanti: Realism, Surrealism and National Cinemas (Trowbridge: Flicks Books, 2000), 65-67. Both authors, however, stress the sympathy between producer and editor: whichever of them took the initiative here, the other must have approved.
  27. For a full discussion of the controversy over Hitchcock's wartime activities, see Barr, "Deserter or Honored Exile?"
  28. Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock, revised edition (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985), 240.
  29. John Grierson, review in The Clarion, October 1930; reprinted in Forsyth Hardy, ed., Grierson on the Movies (London: Faber and Faber, 1981), 110.
  30. Tom Ryall, Alfred Hitchcock and the British Cinema (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 177. The Lindsay Anderson quotation is taken from his article "Alfred Hitchcock," in Sequence no. 9 (1949), 118.
  31. Raymond Durgnat, The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock (London: Faber and Faber, 1970), 97.
  32. "Of course Moana, being a visual account of events in the daily life of a Polynesian youth, has documentary value. But that, I believe, is secondary." From Grierson's review of the film in the New York Sun, 8 February 1926, reprinted in Forsyth Hardy, ed., Grierson on the Movies (London: Faber and Faber, 1981), 23-25.
  33. John Grierson, "First Principles of Documentary," reprinted in Forsyth Hardy, ed., Grierson on Documentary (London: Collins, 1946), 78-89. The first section was originally published in Cinema Quarterly (winter 1932).
  34. Jim Hillier, Alan Lovell, and Sam Rohdie, "Interview with Alberto Cavalcanti," Screen 13, no. 2 (1972), 42.
  35. Bernstein's major involvement with documentary came through his wartime work at the Ministry, and later at Granada Television through the launch of the powerful and influential weekly series World in Action (1963-1998).
  36. The credits of "Hitchcock on Grierson" include "Commentary: Jack Gerson." Gerson (1928-2012) was a Scot with extensive experience as a writer for television. Soon after providing this script for Hitchcock, he wrote several episodes of the celebrated police series Z Cars, which ran on BBC TV between 1962 and 1978.
  37. The six-page commentary script, as sent to Hitchcock, is held in the Library at Stirling University, home of the Grierson archive. Peggy Robertson's letter to Scottish Television, accepting the commission on Hitchcock's behalf, is dated 9 December 1968.
  38. Negotiations in 1967-68 over Hitchcock's Introduction to the reissue of the novel The Lady Vanishes are found in the AMPAS Hitchcock papers, 119.f-1381.
  39. Sidney Gottlieb, ed., Hitchcock on Hitchcock (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), xiv.
  40. Harry Watt, Don't Look at the Camera (London: Paul Elek, 1974), 121.