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Los Angeles Times (29/Jul/1982) - Alma Reville Hitchcock, The Unsung Partner



Alma Reville Hitchcock, The Unsung Partner

The recent death of Alma Reville Hitchcock was, I thought, underreported, even by the prevailing standard for widows of famous men.

From the time of their marriage in 1926 until virtually the end of Alfred Hitchcock's remarkable career, Alma Reville was an important creative partner, as well as his wife.

Hitchcock was just 23 and trying hard to find a foothold in motion pictures when in 1922 he met Alma, on a film called "Woman to Woman." It was for a new independent production company founded by Michael Balcon, Victor Saville and John Freedman and Hitchcock was co-author, set designer and assistant director. Alma was the editor. Betty Compson and Clive Brook co-starred.

Remembering the meeting in his famous conversations with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock said, "I'd never been out with a girl in my life. I'd never had a drink in my life."

Two years later, when Hitchcock got his first chance to direct a feature, "The Pleasure Garden," his script supervisor and assistant director was Alma Reville. They'd not only dated, they were engaged. The film was shot in Germany, amid misadventures that would themselves have made a fine, funny film. "After each shot," Hitchcock said, "I'd turn back to my fiancee, asking, 'Was it all right?'"

The first feature that even Hitchcock agreed could be called "a Hitchcock film" was "The Lodger" in 1926. Based on a famous play centering on a mysterious figure who may be Jack the Ripper, "The Lodger" has some wonderful touches: a set with a glass floor, to show the lodger pacing restlessly, and a ceiling raked by the lights of passing trolleys, and an overhead shot that follows a white-gloved hand descending a long bannister as the lodger goes once more into the night.

Alma was again the assistant director, and Hitchcock once told me what a suspenseful and anguishing day they had had, when his career seemed in jeopardy. The backers of the film had had a change of mind and begun to worry that a mass murderer was not a fit subject for a motion picture.

Hitch had delivered the print and the backers were going to watch it for the first time, on an afternoon, debating whether to shelve it forever. The Hitchcocks, unable to sit still in an anteroom, went for a long walk, holding hands, hardly speaking, strolling the Thames, watching the clock.

They came back to smiling faces; the backers rightly decided "The Lodger" would do fine. It was a hit and is, in fact, still wonderful to watch. Hitch has a bit as an extra, launching another tradition, along with their careers and their fame.

Thereafter Alma was a writing partner on many of Hitchcock's films. With him she wrote "The Ring" in 1927, their adaptation of Sean O'Casey's "Juno and the Paycock" in 1930 and "The Skin Game" from John Galsworthy's play in 1931. She co-wrote "The Thirty-nine Steps" in 1935, did the adaptations of "Secret Agent," "Sabotage," "The Lady Vanishes" and "Jamaica Inn." was a co-author of "Suspicion" and "Shadow of a Doubt."

The last credit on screen was for "Stage Fright" in 1950, but it was clear to those who knew them that the creative partnership went on.

The last time I interviewed Hitchcock, not long before the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award celebration in 1979, he was making a grand effort at good cheer, showing off the device that transmitted the sounds of his pacemaker by telephone to a lab for analysis.

It was obvious that his own health was failing, and he moved with great difficulty because of arthritis. But the harder pains were psychic, as he admitted privately. Alma had had a stroke and one of the side effects was an irascibility that left Hitch feeling dismayingly bereft. Despite their infirmities, they made a valiant appearance at the award ceremonies, Alma sitting slightly behind him, both listening impassively to the outpouring of admiration and affection.

The fact was that although Alfred Hitchcock had a flair for promotion probably unequaled by any other film maker — the caricature, the shape, the measured speech, the benign and Buddhalike smile that hinted of shivering delights of mayhem and fright — he was a guarded and extremely private man, uncomfortable in public in situations that he did not control and direct. It had seemed to me, on brief and tangential acquaintance. that the Hitchcocks were truly a team and also a sort of family enclave with few intimates. The story of their silent walk to the Thames a half-century before was obviously so deeply imprinted on Hitchcock's memory that it must. I think, have been a shaping event, revealing to the two of them that they were dependent on but also secure in each other, not on a vicissitudinous world.

It was an article of their faith that a lasting peace follows earthly trials, and one wishes it for them. Meanwhile, it seems appropriate and important to note with respect that their long marriage was equally a long collaboration. The Hitchcock touch had four hands, and two were Alma's.