Known as ‘The Master of Suspense’, Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most well-known directors in cinema history, and for good reason.
Creating riveting pieces of film such as Dial M For Murder, Psycho, The Birds, and Rear Window (just to name a few), the East London native has horrified us with his masterful technique and the uncanny ability to put the viewer right in the middle of the action since the start of his career.
However, after doing a bit of research on the Oscar-nominated director and viewing his most famous films closely, we learn that Hitchcock would not be the highly lauded and statue-like figure we know in Hollywood without a few very important pieces to his cinematic puzzle: his girls.
From Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman, to Janet Leigh and Tippi Hedren; these blonde bombshells all help tell the tales of some of our medium’s most famous horror stories, and in the meantime, give us a quick peek inside the mind of Hitchcock himself.
As a boy, growing up in East London, Little Alfie always felt he was a bit less attractive than others. So much so that he would barely ever leave his bedroom, for fear of being teased. He was quoted once as saying ‘I have always been uncommonly unattractive. Worse yet, I have always known it.’ This fear of judgment and lack of self-love bore perverted interests in the repressed young man, including but not limited to the guilty pleasures of sex and, in my opinion, the subtle envy of attractive people (mainly women).
This would explain Hitchcock’s later obsession with and the almost constant demise of his leading ladies, as if their beauty caused their own destruction and that somehow, they deserved it.
In several of Hitchcock’s films, we are often the unlucky witness to a terrible deed done by or to an attractive woman. Whether it be Janet Leigh having an affair in a hotel and embezzling $40,000 from her overly-flirtatious boss in Psycho, or side character and soon-to-be divorcee Miriam Joyce Haines being strangled to death in an amusement park and us, as the audience, almost being made to feel she deserved the cold death by her earlier transgressions in the film, Strangers on a Train.
Grace Kelly in 1954’s Rear Window is no exception to the dark and twisted rules, as her and her wheelchair-bound boyfriend watch the world around them from his apartment and witness a possible murder. Hitchcock had a thing for wanting to see what was behind the closed doors of people’s personal lives, and acted that sentiment out in his films each chance he got.
One of the more famous acts of voyeurism in Hitchcock’s archives is the famous shower scene in 1960’s Psycho. We see the boyish and seemingly harmless Norman Bates, as he watches Marion Crane undress through a peephole. Shortly after, we see Crane as she showers by her lonesome, and it is at this moment that we really get to see a bit of Hitchcock’s mindset.
Ripping the almost see-through shower curtain back in this scene is the equivalent to what every person with dirty thoughts thinks of when an attractive woman or man is showering in their vicinity. How often have you just wanted to see? To view an unsuspecting body at its most vulnerable state and to question what would happen next?
Alfred Hitchcock explores this idea to heart-stopping results, for its time, and the rest is history.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
In his five decades of filmmaking, Hitchcock had worked with at least 40 different leading ladies, and the majority of these women had two things in common: they were blonde and they were bad.
From the previously mentioned Janet Leigh who steals from her boss and escapes town only to get her come-uppings at the hands of a very off-putting hotel owner, to Kim Novak as both Judy Barton and Madeleine Elster in Vertigo who we see, not once but twice, go toppling from the roof of a bell tower and fall to her death.
Now, this is just a hunch but it would seem as though there were a bit of a pattern here…
Though married to his long time editor and filmmaking partner Alma Reville, rumors of Hitchcock potentially being homosexual and at times even cross-dressing had now become a thing. An author of one of the many Hitchcock biographies has even been quoted saying about Hitchcock that he was ‘not the kind of man you would invite fishing with you’, implying that the director was not the most masculine of men and preferred a ‘softer’ lifestyle.
This didn’t stop Hitchcock from obsessing over his leading ladies, however. It was said that while on set and sometimes outside the boundaries of the sound stage, the genius storyteller would take his control as a director entirely too far. He would pry into his female actresses’ lives on a personal level at will.
He demanded that they wore their hair and clothes in a particular fashion, even when they weren’t filming for him. He made sure they were exactly how he saw fit; prim, proper, and usually dead.
He even went as far as to have members of his crew follow Grace Kelly around off set, just to keep an eye on her during the filming of Rear Window! On the set of Marnie, Hitchcock, who had claimed to be celibate, was accused by lead actress Tippi Hedren of sexual advances; and when he was denied, threatened her career. He had been accused of previously harassing the young actress on the set of The Birds a year before, as well.
Though Hedren‘s was maybe the most extreme experience of them all, it’s hard to imagine what a Hitchcock film set must have been like as a woman in the director’s prime.
Suspense in a Nutshell
“I always believe in following the advice of the playwright, Victorien Sardou” Hitchcock once said proudly. “Torture the women!” – and he would do just that.
From mental intimidation, to verbal berating and physical advances, Hitchcock used several different styles of what I’m sure he would consider ‘motivation’ on his actresses and some, including Tippi Hedren, had gotten the worst of it.
It’s hard to say what was and was not actually necessary on those Hollywood sets so many years ago, in order to create some of the greatest pieces of film to date. One thing, however, is for certain: the girls of Hitchcock horror were terribly vital to the director’s success, and if even for a short amount of time, whether married or single, they were, indeed, Alfred‘s girls.
How far is too far when making a film? Would you push the limits?