The MacGuffin: News and Comment (17/Nov/2007)
(c) Ken Mogg (2007)
Nathalie Morris, of the University of East Anglia, has very kindly sent me details of her paper on Alma Reville (who in 1926 married Alfred Hitchcock), delivered last weekend at a forum in London. The topic of the forum was "Women and Silent Britain", invoking the early days of British cinema. In 1916 (or late 1915) Alma started work as a 'rewind girl' in the editing room of the London Film Company at Twickenham Studios. Already she was 'film mad'. Her keenness was soon noticed by director Maurice Elvey who gave her further work on the studio floor. In 1918 she actually co-starred (with Norman Page and Ernest Thesiger) in Elvey's The Life Story of David Lloyd George, about the wartime Prime Minister. And it seems that thereafter Elvey kept a benign eye on Alma. Accordingly, Nathalie Morris would refer to the 'Maurice Elvey connection'. For example, Morris suspects that Elvey helped Alma obtain temporary work as an editor at Stoll Picture Productions, circa 1922, after the American company Famous Players-Lasky shut down its UK operation at Islington Studios. (Alfred Hitchcock, meanwhile, had found work directing a film, never completed, called Number Thirteen.) Morris notes that Charlotte Chandler's biography of Hitchcock quotes Hitch thus: 'About 1923, before we worked together, young Miss Alma Reville asked me if I would mind shooting some inserts for a picture she was editing. Since it was lunchtime, I walked on the stage and just as I was looking through the viewfinder of a camera, a voice behind me said, "That's my job. You stick to what's in front of it". It was Jack Cox who later became my cameraman on Blackmail and a lot of other pictures'. Cox is known to have been Elvey's personal cameraman at Stoll between 1922 and 1923. His first film for Hitchcock would be The Ring at British International Pictures (1927). Meanwhile, Alma and Hitch had finally come together at a re-vivified Islington as crew members on Woman to Woman (1923), produced by Michael Balcon and Victor Saville. That picture was directed by Graham Cutts assisted by Hitchcock who also helped write the script and did the sets, and Alma was responsible for both continuity and editing. The rest is, well, history. Nonetheless, as Morris has found, there are plenty of by-ways still to be explored. She writes: 'During the course of my research I became aware of [an] astounding number of connections between Reville's separate work and Hitchcock's films. Reville [as we've seen] was an editor at the London Film Company, the studio that made an early version of The Manxman in 1916; she collaborated with [Hitchcock's friend] Angus MacPhail on scenarios for films such as The Constant Nymph and A South Sea Bubble in 1928; Madeleine Carroll's first film role was in The First Born [also 1928], a film that Reville had co-written with Miles Mander, the star of [Hitchcock's] The Pleasure Garden . The list could go on (and on).' Thanks so much for sharing that, Nathalie. Here are just a few thoughts. Your mention of Alma's contribution to the 1928 The Constant Nymph reminds me that soon after Hitch went to America, Hal Wallis sought him to film that very work (Margaret Kennedy's tale of a married composer's doomed infatuation for a young woman, his 'constant nymph' - with pre-echoes of Vertigo). It would have starred Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. As for the Hitch-Elvey connection, I've thought about it a bit. For example, I've been struck by the fact that Elvey directed a 1917 version of John Galsworthy's play 'Justice', scripted by Eliot Stannard (who would later write for Hitch) and starring Gerald du Maurier. I find this interesting because I've always thought that Galsworthy's play may have been the seed for The Wrong Man. (There are some pre-echoes of the 1957 Hitchcock film in the play.) Finally, I'm sure that Hitchcock would have seen Elvey's sound film In a Monastery Garden (1932), and again I wonder if there aren't significant elements of Hitchcock in it. Unfortunately I haven't been able to view it. But here's my reasoning. Composer Bernard Herrmann once said, with a touch of hyperbole, that if Hitch were left to himself, he'd score all his films with 'In a Monastery Garden' - presumably meaning the much-loved (in its day) piece of music by English composer Albert Ketèlbey (1875-1959). (My Dad had a 78rpm gramophone record of it.) Also, Elvey's film starred John Stuart who the same year would make Number 17 for Hitch (and who had already appeared in The Pleasure Garden). The film is a melodrama about two brothers, one of them a gifted composer, and among the films it pre-echoes is certainly I Confess (1953). But, as I say, I haven't been able to see it, nor to find out if Elvey used Ketèlbey's music in it. That's for further research! Meanwhile, to hear the music, click here.
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