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Angus MacPhail


Angus MacPhail (occasionally written "Macphail" in some sources) was an English screenwriter, active from the late 1920s, who is best remembered for his work with Alfred Hitchcock.

Born Angus Roy MacPhail in Lewisham, London, he was the son of merchant clerk Angus MacPhail (b. ~1864) and Fanny Maud MacPhail (b. ~1881) née Karlowa.[1]

He possibly served in the Merchant Navy in the early 1920s.[2]

He first worked in the film business in 1926 writing subtitles for silent films. He then began writing his own scenarios for Gaumont British Studios and later Ealing Studios under Sir Michael Balcon. During World War II he made films for the Ministry of Information.

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s favourite devices for driving the plots of his stories and creating suspense was what he called the "MacGuffin" — a term which MacPhail is credited with coining.

Although MacPhail worked on the screen play for the remake of "The Man Who Knew Too Much", John Michael Hayes lodged a formal complaint with the Writers Guild of America when Hitchcock made it clear that he wanted both writers to be credited. The Guild judged that Hayes was the sole author, so MacPhail's contribution to the film went uncredited.

MacPhail was briefly involved with the early script development of "Vertigo" and completed a two-page structural layout that built upon Maxwell Anderson's initial treatment. Based on this document, it is believed that MacPhail was responsible for the idea of the film begining with a rooftop chase[3].

He died in 1962 aged 59.[4]


With Hitchcock...

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Notes & References

  1. His father was born in Glasgow and his mother in Kent, and they were married in 1902 [reg. Q2 1902 Lewisham] and their surname was usually given as "McPhail". The birth of Angus Roy MacPhail was registered Q2 1903 Lewisham. The 1911 Census finds them staying at the Overcliff Hotel, Manor Road, Westcliff On Sea, Southend On Sea. Angus died in 1935 aged 72 [reg. Q4 1935 Greenwich] and Fanny Maud died in 1958 aged 77 [reg. Q2 1958 Greenwich].
  2. Record found for an Angus MacPhail in the Merchant Navy & Maritime Collection (1921-1941), discharge number R39659. This is unlikely to have been his father, due to his age. However, it seems highly likely likely that they were a nautical family, as mercantile records exist for both Angus MacPhail (b. ~1864) and Angus MacPhail (b. ~1842), who was presumably his father.
  3. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 541
  4. Death registered Q2 1962 Eastbourne.