Alfred Hitchcock and H.E.F. Donohue (14/Dec/1969)
Remembrance of Murders Past: An Interview With Alfred Hitchcock
In 1925 in England a young man named Alfred Hitchcock directed his first movie, "The Pleasure Garden". In the years since, his name has proved more magnetic -- and enduring -- to moviegoers than the names of many who starred in his thrillers. On Friday, "Topaz", his 51st film, opens at the Cinerama Theater. Here, in a recent chat, Mr. Hitchcock answers questions about movies and murder, youth and age, and other relevant themes.
How do you feel about young people today?
- Well, naturally. I am pro-young. I wrote my first script at the age of 22 and directed my first film at 25. So I'm for the young. And when people today say I'm 70, I say that's a confounded lie. I'm twice 35, that's all. Twice 35.
How about the demands of the blacks?
- Well, we know that they are very valid, don't we?
And the drug scene?
- I have the feeling that the young people are scared of LSD. As for pot, well, they've legalized it in England, and other drugs can be officially taken there by prescription if necessary.
How about women as men? Unisex?
- I think there is a big difference still. Women are much less stable than men. Women are much more promiscuous. Not so much in this country as in Northern Europe -- there women are much more sexy. Here they play at sex, like little girls playing house. I don't like women who have their sex hanging around their necks like jewelry and then if a man approaches them, they run away screaming for mother.
But there is some kind of sexual revolution going on and don't you think you helped bring it about?
- I have tried, you might say, to show sex in its amusing and exotic and erotic aspects.
There was that two-minute necking scene in "Notorious" more than 20 years ago when Cary Grant was trying to talk on the telephone while Ingrid Bergman kept kissing him. Then more recently, in "North by Northwest," you...
- Yes, Cary Grant again. He was all over Eva Marie Saint in that train compartment. It's always seemed to me that when two people embrace, they don't want to let go. Interesting thing about that scene in "Notorious". I distinctly remember where I got the idea of not letting them go -- of having the woman not let go of the man, even though he was on the telephone. It was long before I made the film. Before World War II, and I was on a train in France going from Boulogne to Paris and it was on a sunny Sunday afternoon when the train was going through the station of Etapes, moving quite slowly, when I saw a man and a woman, arm in arm, and he was urinating against a wall but the girl never let go of him. She was glancing around, looking at him and what he was doing now and then, but she would not move her arm away from his, she did not want to break that tension.
Yet the nudity in current films...
- I've never had much nudity in my films. Even in "Topaz" when the Frenchman goes to bed with his mistress, I merely suggest that they are nude, because you have to leave something to the audience's imagination. The same thing is true, I think, for violence. The whole design of "Psycho" was to reduce the violence on the screen as the film progressed and to increase the sense of violence in the audience's mind. By the end of the film I wanted the audience to actually feel the violence that they would never see on the screen. As for all the sex these days, all the stag films I call them, parading about as feature films, what are we all waiting for? Everyone's waiting for the one great scene on a super-sized Cinerama screen of the ultimate sexual scene where a man's instrument enters a woman's vagina. Well, I've done that. I did it long ago. In "North by Northwest", at the end, I have Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in the same train berth and then in the very next scene, which is also the last scene of the film, I have the long train entering a dark tunnel.
About violence -- in "Strangers on a Train" you have a merry-go-round go crazy and be wrecked, killing the bad guy. But you also killed a lot of children in that scene.
- A rare example.
In "The Birds" you have a lot of people killed.
- Only four or five. Violence on the screen increases violence in people only if those people already have sick minds. I once read somewhere that a man admitted killing three women and he said he had killed the third woman after having seen "Psycho". Well, I wanted to ask him what movie he had seen before he killed the second woman. And then we'd ban that movie, don't you see? And then if we found out that he'd had a glass of milk before he killed the first woman, why then we'd have to outlaw milk, too, wouldn't we? At a screening of "Psycho" a young boy came up to me -- he was about 9 or 10 -- and he said to me, "What did you use for blood -- chicken blood?" And I said, "No, I used chocolate sauce." And he said, "Thank you." The point is that he said what did you use. He knew it was a movie, that it was pretend.
How's your health? They say your weight is down from 290 to 190.
- Not quite. It's about 225. I'm about 5 feet 8 inches, you know. It's psychological with me. I have rather a placid personality and I think I take after my mother in that respect. We both have what used to be called the cottage-loaf figure -- a big oval, and on top of that is stuck a smaller oval.
What's it all about, Mr. Hitchcock? Money? Power? Influence?
- As regards the money, you must remember I've been in the 91 per cent tax bracket for many years. I think the important thing is one's work, using the mind, all of your talent, all of your experience. You find that as you go along one problem becomes more and more difficult: How do you avoid the cliché? As for the purpose of life, I'd say it is to lead the good life. My greatest pleasure is to arrive at home at 6 o'clock, with my wife waiting, and we have a drink together and I sit in the kitchen while she makes us some supper. And that's the thing that keeps my weight up -- that one drink, plus perhaps some wine with dinner...