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Film Weekly (1935) - Alfred Hitchcock Tells a Woman that Women Are a Nuisance

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Alfred Hitchcock Tells a Woman that Women Are a Nuisance

I asked Alfred Hitchcock point-blank: "Why do you hate women?"

"I don't exactly hate them," he protested. "But I certainly don't think they are as good actors as men."

I had gone out to Shepherd's Bush to get to the bottom of Hitch's brutal disregard for glamour, love-interest, sex-appeal, and all the other feminine attributes which the American director considers indispensable.

In The 39 Steps (as in other films with other actresses) Hitch deliberately deprived Madeleine Carroll, one of our best actresses, of her dignity and glamour.

It seems that if he must have women in his films, at least he's not going to allow them to look beautiful or be "glamorous." He is quite unrepentant and fully intends to do the same with Madeleine in her next film for him, Secret Agent.

"Glamour," he told me defiantly, "has nothing to do with reality, and I maintain that reality is the most important factor in the making of a successful film. The very beautiful woman who just walks around avoiding the furniture, wearing fluffy negligees and looking very seductive, may be an attractive ornament, but she doesn't help the film any."

Where Beauty Helps

"I wouldn't be so foolish as to say that beauty doesn't help an actress. It is a very different quality from mere artificial glamour. A really beautiful woman starting a film career is lucky because, for a time, audiences will overlook her lack of acting ability. She may become a star overnight and learn her acting afterwards, as Jean Harlow did. But it is the dumb kind of glamour that I detest."

Hitch twinkled in his fat, cherubic way.

"If I were directing Claudette Colbert (whom I consider one of the loveliest women in American films)," he said, "I should first show her as a mannequin. She would slink through the showroom in her elegant, French way, wearing gorgeous gowns as only such a woman can. She would be perfectly coiffured, perfectly made-up. Then I should show her backstage. As she disappeared through the curtains, I'd make her suck down a piece of toffee or chewing gum which she had kept in her mouth all the time she was looking so beautiful — you see what I mean? That touch of realism would make her infinitely more human."

Those Ladylike Girls

"But what about this accusation that women can't act?" I demanded.

"With English actresses, at any rate," said Hitchcock, "it's partly their love of being a lady and partly that they divide their interest (as, of course, do many of the men) between the stage and films.

"Let's deal with these things one at a time. First, many of the American stars have come from the poorest of homes. They have had the common touch, and they have never lost it. Most of our English film actresses come from some school of acting or from the stage. It is always their desire to appear a lady and, in doing so, they become cold and lifeless. Nothing pleases me more than to knock the ladylikeness out of chorus girls!

"The second thing is that you cannot successfully combine a stage and screen career. One of them has to go. Too many stage actresses still make films merely to get together some easy money. Such an attitude is bound to show in their work — they are too busy thinking of the nice, fat cheque to give a sensitive performance.

"But the main disadvantage women have is undoubtedly the lady pose. I have never had any difficulty in finding men stars — perhaps because that sort of superficiality does not bother them. And I shall continue to keep the atmosphere of my films largely masculine.

"I don't ask much of an actress — I have no wish for her to be able to play a whole list of character roles, but she must be a real, human person.

"Any success that I may have had with The 39 Steps I attribute to this accent on reality. When I set out to make that film I was determined to show every angle of each situation. It may have been tragic or it may have been dramatic, but, looked at in another way, it was comic — so I put in many comedy touches. Any real-life situation, you will find, is like that. The comedy is always there.

"Comedy, too, does, paradoxically, make a film more dramatic. A play gives you intervals for reflection. These intervals have to be supplied in a film by contrast — and if the film is dramatic or tragic, the obvious contrast is comedy."

Relieving the Tension

"So, in all my films, about two-thirds of the way through, I try to supply a definite contrast. I take a dramatic situation up and up and up to its peak of excitement and then, before it has time to start the downward curve, I introduce comedy to relieve the tension. After that, I feel safe with the climax. If the film petered to an end without any contrast, the climax would probably turn into an anticlimax. Which heaven forbid!

"You see, just as I try to make a woman human by making her appear in awkward and comic situations and taking away her glamour, so I try to keep the whole film on a human level, with emotions mixed in the incongruous way they are in real life. I shall always attempt to portray the real psychology of my characters — the women as well as the men."