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San Antonio Express News (17/Aug/1958) - Hitchcock — Master of Mystery, Mayhem and Murder




Hitchcock — Master of Mystery, Mayhem and Murder

But He's a Gentle Soul Afraid of Policemen

Alfred Hitchcock, who looks like a cherub but is noted for his sardonic sense of humor, claims his design for living is "a clear conscience."

When I expressed doubt on this point, he elaborated:

"I'm not at all like any of the work with which I've been associated. I fear policemen. I have a horror of unpleasantness — simply can't bear anything of that nature — and I'm a most law-abiding, simple individual."

"You look as relaxed as a puppy dog," I told him. "How can you work so hard and relax so completely?" "Beneath this mountainous mass," he pontificated, "is a quivering, vibrating alarm clock about to go off. There's a lot of work going on inside.

"My wile says my design for living in work, which could be true, because I planned my life work as a child, and when you do that it's the best thing to work at. I was a devotee of theater from the age of 10.

Outlet for Fear

"My particular field is melodrama and suspense, and I think possibly it's an outlet for fear — my own fear. Everyone is afraid. I don't care who they are, that's the whole point."

When I said I didn't think I was a fearsome person, he told me: "If you ran across the road and nearly got knocked down by a car and just barely escaped, first thing you'd do would be giggle the moment you got to the sidewalk.

"The escape is a relief from a moment of fear. So when one makes a suspense picture for ordinary people you had better make sure you are going to relieve them at the end of it."

Hitch thinks sometimes this relief takes the form of coming out of the theater into the open air. Or people find it in the moment they grip the arm of the seat and realize they're no longer up there on the screen participating.

His gradual evolvement from a master hand behind the cameras to one of the most pungent personalities on our screens, where his humorous emceeing of his own TV series is the highlight of the show, has embraced every angle of a complex business.

When he was 8, son of a greengrocer and poultry man, his eagerness to know the living scene look him on long tram rides around London.

When he wrote ads for a London department store for $3.50 a week, it paved the way for his job as a movie title writer. He was the first to use symbolic drawings with what became known as "Hitchcock titles."

American Training

He's invariably referred to as a British director but actually learned his craft from Americans as script writer and art director. All his first films were directed for English studios: his first American film was the smash hit "Rebecca," in which he got the finest acting job out of Joan Fontaine she's ever done.

"I made my first film in Munich with Virginia Valli," he says, "and was scared to death she'd find out I'd never directed before. My third was 'The Lodger,' with Ivor Novello: it cost 12,000 pounds, roughly $48,000.

"When it was done, a big shot came to look at it and announced it was so bad they'd have to shelve it. Two months later I was let out in an economy wave.

"They finally released it and the critics pronounced it the best British film ever made; it was a tremendous financial success also. I was hired back at three times my former salary. I was 24 then, a boy director. You see, we've all had our ups and downs."

Hitch's whimsical mind prompts him to prophesy such things as mass hypnosis in the theater of the future.

"Or, perhaps," he says, "through the miracle of electronics, like audience, instead of having identification with the story, as it does now, will be put into the position of an actor and actually suffer the agonies of the character in the story.

"We have a mass hypnosis now, but we do it through the interpre tation of other people. This is why certain actors and actresses do not succeed on screen — audiences are not simpatico with them. Certain women cannot stir a response with women in the audience who can't visualize themselves in the actress' place.

"Grace Kelly is a beautiful woman, but audiences didn't warm up to her at first. They really didn't get to know the fire in Grace. I exploited the fact she had sex, but not obvious sex, in the pictures I made with her. Still some called her icy and cold.

"But I find all northern European women — German, Scandinavian, English — have this cold exterior. But underneath there's a snow covered volcano."

He considers the average crime picture wrong and bad for juveniles:

"I never have violence or professional crime in my pictures." he said.

"My theme is having an average man get involved in a situation so that the audience can identify itself as being up there getting into trouble. I rarely show the act of murder; it is always after the fact. It's a psychological approach."

He was educated in a Jesuit seminary and the University of London. When he married his assistant, Alma Reville, they began a life partnership which extended to his work, too, since she has a hand in all his films as writer, adviser, and general assistant.

They live on a hilltop in Bel Air, where Hitch spends much of his time in a book-lined room known as his study.

The family includes a married daughter, Patricia; a cocker spaniel, Edward IX, and Mr. Jenkins, the Sealyham. Their method of life is an informality which Hitch characterizes as "pigging it together."