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Film Comment (2005) - It's Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock: A Personal Biography





It's Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock: A Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler Simon & Schuster,$26

Do we really need another Alfred Hitchcock book? In her new work Charlotte Chandler doesn't attempt to compete with more comprehensive tomes. Instead she offers the fascinating details we never knew we craved: Hitchcock's taste in food (he liked his steak) and clothing (he wished he were thin enough to buy suits off the rack), and which of his movie characters he liked best (Mr. Memory from The 39 Steps), as well as the films he wished he could have directed (Diabolique).

Although Chandler's namedropping sometimes makes her sound more like a gossip columnist than a biographer ("I met Sir Michael Redgrave at his last birthday party... "), she conjures a surprisingly delicate, complicated Hitchcock‑the formal family man who could never resist a macabre prank or dirty joke.Culling material from dazzling interviews (everyone from the director's daughter, Pat, to his stars and technicians), she portrays a cinema savant who was able to conceive every shot, special effect,and performance before even arriving on a soundstage. Much more difficult were his relationships with people who did not immediately share his vision. Did he really say: "Actors are cattle"? Whether he did or not, his relations with them were unorthodox, if effective. He unnerved Joan Fontaine into the neurotic performance of a lifetime in Rebecca by telling her that Laurence Olivier couldn't stand her. In spite of all the formal intensity we see in his work, his attitude may best be summed up in the advice he gave to a frustrated Ingrid Bergman:"lt's only a movie."