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Peter Bogdanovich Interviews Alfred Hitchcock
PB: You never watch your films with an audience. Don't you miss hearing them scream?
AH: No. I can hear them when I'm making the picture.
Do you feel that the American film remains the most vital cinema?
Worldwide, yes. Because when we make films for the United States, we are automatically making them for all the world--because America is full of foreigners. It's a melting pot. Which brings us to another point. I don't know what they mean when they talk about "Hollywood" pictures. I say, "Where are they conceived?" Look at this room--you can't see out the windows. We might just as well be in a hotel room in London, or anywhere you like. So here is where we get it down on paper.
Now where do we go? We go on location, perhaps; and then where do we work? We're inside on a stage, the big doors are closed, and we're down in a coal mine: we don't know what the weather is like outside. Again we don't know where we are--only within our film, within the thing we're making. That's why it's such nonsense to talk about locale. "Hollywood." That doesn't mean anything to me. If you say, "Why do you like working in Hollywood?" I would say, because I can get home at six o'clock for dinner.
How would you define pure cinema?
Pure cinema is complementary pieces of film put together, like notes of music make a melody. There are two primary uses of cutting or montage in film: montage to create ideas--and montage to create violence and emotions. For example, in Rear Window, where Jimmy Stewart is thrown out of the window in the end, I just photographed that with feet, legs, arms, heads. Completely montage. I also photographed it from a distance, the complete action. There was no comparison between the two. There never is. Barroom fights, or whatever they do in westerns, when they knock out the heavy or when one man knocks another across the table which breaks--they always break a table in bars--they are always shot at a distance. But it is much more effective if it's done in montage, because you involve the audience much more--that's the secret to that type of montage in film. And the other, of course, is the juxtaposition of imagery relating to the mind of the individual. You have a man look, you show what he sees, you go back to the man. You can make him react in various ways. You see, you can make him look at one thing, look at another--without his speaking, you can show his mind at work, comparing things--any way you run there's complete freedom. It's limitless, I would say, the power of cutting and the assembly of the images. Like the man with no eyes in The Birds--zooming the camera in--the staccato jumps are almost like catching the breath. Is it? Gasp. Gasp. Yes. Young directors always come up with the idea, "Let the camera be someone and let it move as though it's the person, and you put the guy in front of a mirror and then you see him." It's a terrible mistake. Bob Montgomery did that in Lady in the Lake--I don't believe in it myself. What are you really doing? You are keeping back from the audience who it is. What for? That's all you are doing. Why not show who it is?
How do you work when you are shooting?
Well, I never look through the camera, you know. The cameraman knows me well enough to know what I want--and when in doubt, draw a rectangle and then draw the shot out for him. You see, the point is that you are, first of all, in a two-dimensional medium. Mustn't forget that. You have a rectangle to fill. Fill it. Compose it. I don't have to look through a camera for that. First of all, the cameraman knows very well that when I compose I object to air, space around figures or above their heads, because I think that's redundant. It's like a newspaperman taking a still and trimming it down to its essentials. They have standing instructions from me--they never give any air around the figures. If I want air, I'll say so. Now, you see, when I'm on the set, I'm not on the set. If I'm looking at acting or looking at a scene--the way its played, or where they are--I am looking at a screen, I am not confused by the set and the movement of the people across the set. In other words, I follow the geography of the screen. I can only think of the screen. Most directors say, "Well, he's got to come in that door so he's got to walk from there to there." Which is as dull as hell. And not only that, it makes the shot itself so empty and so loose that I say, "Well, if he's still in a mood--whatever mood he's in--take him across in a close-up, but keep the mood on the screen." We're not interested in distance. I don't care how he got across the room. What's the state of mind? You can only think of the screen. You cannot think of the set or where you are in the studio--nothing of that sort.
What is your technique of working with actors?
I don't direct them. I talk to them and explain to them what the scene is, what it's purpose is, why they are doing certain things--because they relate to the story--not to the scene. The whole scene relates to the story but that little look does this or that for the story. As I tried to explain to that girl, Kim Novak, "You have got a lot of expression in your face. Don't want any of it. I only want on your face what we want to tell to the audience--what you are thinking." I said, "Let me explain to you. If you put a lot of redundant expressions on your face, it's like taking a piece of paper and scribbling all over it--full of scribble, the whole piece of paper. You want to write a sentence for somebody to read. They can't read it--too much scribble on the face. Much easier to read if the piece of paper is blank. That's what your face ought to be when we need the expression." Take The Birds. There is not one redundant expression on Hedren's face. Every expression makes a point. Even the slight nuance of a smile when she says, "What can I do for you, sir?" One look says, "I'm going to play a gag on him." That's the economy of it.
You've said that your pictures are finished before you set foot on the set--that is, once the script is completed. What is your working process with the writers?
In the early days--way, way back in the English period, I would always work on a treatment with a writer who would be a plot maker, or story man. I would work weeks and weeks on this treatment and what it would amount to would be a complete narrative, even indicating shots, but not in the words of long-shot or close-up. It would have everything in it, all the details. Then I used to give it to a top writer to dialogue it. When he sent in his dialogue, I would sit down and dictate the shots in a complete continuity. But the film had to be made on paper in this narrative form. It would describe the film, shot by shot, beginning to end. Sometimes with drawings, sometimes without. I abandoned this method when I came to America. I found that American writers wouldn't go for that sort of thing. I do it verbally now, with the writer, and then I make corrections and adjustments afterwards. I work many weeks with him and he takes notes. And I describe the picture for the production designers as well. Marnie has all been finished as far as the layout of the picture, but there's no dialogue in it. I would say I apply myself two-thirds before he writes and one-third after he writes. But I will not and do not photograph anything that he puts in the script on his own, apart from words. I mean any cinematic method of telling it--how can he know? On North by Northwest, Ernie Lehman wouldn't let me out of the office for a whole year. I was with him on every shot, every scene. Because it wasn't his material.
I've heard a story about your having been put in jail by your father at an early age. Did this have any particular effect on your development, do you think?
It could have--I must have been five when I was sent along with a note to the chief of police, who read the note and promptly put me into a cell and locked the door for five minutes; and then let me out, saying, "That's what we do to naughty little boys, you see." What effect that had on me at the time I can't remember, but they say psychiatrically if you can discover the origins of this or that, it releases everything. I don't think it released me from a natural fear of the police.
What influence, if any, do you think the Jesuit schooling has had on your work?
The Jesuits taught me organization, control, and to some degree, analysis. Their education is very strict, and orderliness is one of the things that come out of that, I suppose. Although my orderliness is spasmodic. I remember when I was at the age of eighteen or nineteen I was a senior estimator at an electrical engineering firm, and the requests for estimates used to come in, and I was kind of lazy so I'd pile them up on my desk and they'd go up to a big pile. And I used to say, "Well, I've got to get down to this," and then I polished them off like anything. And used to get praised for the prodigious amount of work I'd done in that particular day. That lasted until the complaints began to come in about the delay in answering. That's the way I feel about working. Certain writers want to work every hour of the day: they're very facile. I'm not that way. I want to say, "Let's lay off for several hours, let's play." And then we get down to it again. I'm sure the Jesuits did not teach that. As far as any religious influence, at the time I think it was fear. But I've grown out of religious fear now. I think I have. I don't know. I don't think the religious side of the Jesuit education impressed itself so much upon me as the strict discipline one endured at the time.
[Bogdanovich names all of Hitchcocks films and they discuss each one:]
Number 13 (1921)
I was talked into Number Thirteen by the publicity woman of Famous Players-Lasky, who began to see something in me even before I'd got to writing or art direction, when I was just a young man around the editorial department. She had worked with Chaplin, and in those days they thought anyone who'd worked with Chaplin knew everything. She wrote this comedy and we tried to put it together. It wasn't any, and it never saw the light of day.
Always Tell Your Wife (1922)
The interesting thing was that I gravitated from the American film training at Famous Players into a position with a new company, so I didn't have to move into an existing company which had certain rules and organizational patterns. I really was fortunate in that sense, because as a young man and as an art director, I was quite dogmatic. I mean, I would build a set and say to the director, "Here's where it's shot from."
Woman to Woman (1922)
All my early training was American, which was far superior to the British. The London Daily Express had a review of this film which was headlined "Best American Picture Made in England." Now of course Cutts directed, but I was art director and writer, and my wife was the editor.
[After listing credits for five films which Hitchcock said could not be labeled as "Hitchcock picture[s]," and briefly mentioning his association with Erich Pommer and experience making films in Germany, Bogdanovich includes the following comment on how Hitchcock became a director.]
I had no intention of becoming a film director, you know. It was quite a surprise to me. Sir Michael Balcon is really the man responsible for Hitchcock. At the time, I had been a script writer, and when I finished that job I became the art director or production designer. And I did that for several pictures, until one day Balcon said that the director (I worked with the same director all the time) didn't want me any more. I don't know what the reason was, some political reason. And it was then that Balcon said, "How would you like to become a director?" I had been quite content at the time, writing scripts and designing. I enjoyed it very much.
The Pleasure Garden (1925)
The Pleasure Garden was just an assignment, but again there was the American influence. Balcon came out to Munich, where I had shot it, to see the first cut. He hadn't seen the rushes or anything. And his first remark was, "Well, it doesn't look like a continental picture. It looks like an American picture." The cameraman, although he was Italian, had worked with American directors and was very conscious of American techniques. I think the headline in the Daily Express on The Pleasure Garden was "Young Man With a Master Mind." That was the first picture.
The Lodger (1926)
Did you want the audience to believe without doubt that Novello was the murderer?
That was one of the commercial drawbacks one encountered. Of course, strictly speaking, he should have been the ripper and gone on his way. That's how Mrs. Belloc-Lowndes wrote the book. But Ivor Novello was the matinee idol of the period and could not be the murderer. The same thing was true of Cary Grant in Suspicion many years later. So, obviously, putting that kind of actor into this sort of film is a mistake because you just have to compromise.
In The Lodger you were quite conscious of the German school of filmmaking, weren't you?
Very much so. You have to remember that a year before, I was working
on the Ufa lot--I worked there for many months, at the same time as Jannings
was making The Last Laugh with Murnau. And I was able to absorb a lot
of the methods and style.
The Ring (1927)
How did you decide to do a boxing story?
I was interested--I used to go to the Albert Hall. I think the thing, strangely enough, that fascinated me about boxing in those days was the English audience that would go all dressed up in black tie to sit around the ring. It wasn't the boxing that fascinated me so much, although I was interested in the shop, all the details connected with it. Like pouring champagne over the head of the boxer at the thirteenth round, if he was going a bit groggy. You'd hear them uncork the champagne bottle and pour the whole bottle over his head. All that kind of thing I was interested in, and put it all in the picture. The Ring had a montage sequence, it was piano playing or something, and it got a round of applause at the premiere. I never heard a montage get a round of applause before, but this did. Also I began to experiment with little pictorial touches, things like the dirty old "Round One" card being pulled out of the slot and a brand new "Round Two" card going in--that's how I indicated the sudden change in the fortunes of "One Round Jack" as he was called.
The Farmer's Wife (1928)
The Farmer's Wife, I would say, was again merely a photograph of a stage play with lots of titles instead of dialogue. It was just a routine job.
Someone had this idea, let's make a film about champagne. Any my thought was--it's kind of a corny idea really--why don't we do one about a little girl who works at Reims in the cellars and always watches the train go off carrying champagne. And then she eventually gravitated to the city and became a kind of whore and was put through the mill and eventually went back to her job, and then every time she saw champagne go out, she knew, "Well, that's going to cause some trouble for somebody." That was scrapped. They thought it was much too, they didn't use the word "highbrow," but, oh, that wasn't entertainment. So we ended up with a hodge-podge of a story that was written as we went through the film and I thought it was dreadful.
The Manxman (1929)
The Manxman again was a kind of old-fashioned story. An assignment, more or less. It was a domestic melodrama, you know, the illegitimate child and the brother and the judge--one of those things full of coincidences--the brother happens to be a lawyer and the poor girl gets involved with a fisherman and so on.
Having shot Blackmail as a silent film, did you welcome the shift to sound?
Yes. I was looking forward to it. In fact, while I was shooting it as a silent picture, they told me that the last reel was going to be done in sound. I didn't let them know up front, but I knew there was so much of the visual in it that here and there I could go back and drop certain sounds into scenes that were completed. Having seen it once since then, I think it shows a little bit that there's no flow of dialogue where it should flow. The dialogue almost comes in like titles in the early part of the picture. But I think what sound brought of value to the cinema was to complete the realism of the image on the screen. It made everyone in the audience deaf mutes.
The whole first sequence is silent, except for the music.
Yes. Now, here's another compromise--see, my life's full of compromises. I had intended to end Blackmail just as it began. Only this time with the girl being arrested. I was going to repeat every shot. But they wouldn't go for it in those days. A happy ending--had to be. As I wanted to do it, the detective was never going to disclose to his superior that this was his girl. He had to go through with his duty--the old love-and-duty theme. I was going to repeat all the shots of the mugging, the interview, and finally--bang! goes the cell door on the girl, and the detective and his superior walk down the corridor. I was going to hang on and let them wash their hands in the men's room and go way down the corridor to right where he met her at the opening of the picture, in the lobby. And the superior says, "Well, what are you doing tonight, going out with your girl?" And he says, "No, not tonight." And he walks out.
Ritchard doesn't play the murder-seduction scene at all like a villain, does he?
No. I did a kind of naive thing there. Even in those days, I though, "Oh, we can't have a man behaving like a heavy." But then what I did was let him stand in the shadow of a wrought iron chandelier and the shadow put a black moustache on him.
Was the chase through the British Museum shot there?
No, it was all process. You see, there was never enough light in the British Museum, so we used what is known as the Schufftan process. You have a mirror at an angle of 45 degrees and in it you reflect a full picture of the British Museum. I had some pictures taken with half-hour exposures. I had nine photographs taken in various rooms in the museum and we made then into transparencies so that we could back-light them. That is more luminous than a flat photograph. It was like a big lantern slide, about 12 by 14. And then I scraped the silvering away in the mirror only in the portions where I wanted the man to be seen running, and those portions we built on the stage. For example, one room was the Egyptian room, there were glass cases in there. All we built were the door frames from one room to another. We even had a man looking into a case, and he wasn't looking into anything on the stage. I did nine shots like this, but there was barely any set that could be seen on the stage. The front office was worrying about when the picture was going to be finished. So I did it all secretly because the studio heads knew nothing about the Schufftan process. I had another camera set up on the side photographing an insert of a letter, and a look-out stationed at the door. When the big-shot from the front office would walk through, we would just be shooting the insert of the letter. They'd go on through and I'd say, "All right, bring back the Schufftan." I did the whole none shots that way. The chase on the roof was a miniature. We just built a skeleton ramp for him to run on.
Was your appearance in the subway in Blackmail the first time you used this personal joke?
No, I'm seen in The Lodger, seated in the foreground at a desk in the newspaper office scene. And that was done just because we didn't bother to engage actors for that kind of scene. But the first big appearance was in Blackmail. It really started with the talking pictures. I didn't do it in many of the silent films.
Juno and the Paycock (1930)
How did you come to make Juno and the Paycock?
Because I liked the play very much. I think the picture's all right, though personally it wasn't my meat. But it was one of my favorite plays, so I thought I had to do it. It was just a photograph of a stage play. We had all the Irish players. It was interesting the trouble one went to for sound at that time. I remember a close-up in this very tiny studio, a close-up of the sun huddled beside the fire, and I wanted to dolly in. The camera was encased in what looked like a telephone booth in those days for reasons of sound-proofing. So I had this booth on a dolly. The off-stage sounds were the family talking in the room, they'd bought a phonograph and they were playing a tune called "If You're Irish, Come Into the Parlor." Suddenly they stopped because the funeral was going by and then there was a rattle of machine-gun fire. All those sounds had to be in the studio at the same time, and the studio was packed. There was a small orchestra, and I had the prop-man sing the song holding his note so that you got a tinny effect as on a phonograph record. There were the actors with their lines. Then, on the other side, I had a choir of about twenty people for the funeral, and another man with the machine-gun effect. We could barely move in that little studio for all those effects just on one close-up.
Murder was the first important who-done-it picture I made. It's the first time I ever used the voice over the face--without the lips moving--for stream-of-consciousness. Before O'Neill. And there was a scene where Marshall was shaving, and he had the radio on and I wanted to have the Prelude from Tristan playing. I had a thirty-piece orchestra in the studio, just for this little radio he's playing in his bathroom. You see, you couldn't add it later, it had to be done at the same time and balanced on the stage.
The Skin Game (1931)
I didn't alter the Galsworthy play very much. It opened up a little bit more than Juno. Not too much, though. Photographed theatre, really.
Rich and Strange (1932)
It wasn't a thriller. It was just an adventure story. A young couple take a trip around the world. I actually sent a crew around the world to cover everything. There was an amusing sequence at the end. Their cargo ship is wrecked and abandoned in the South China Sea, and they are rescued by some looters on a Chinese junk. Then, after it's all over, they meet me in the lounge. This is my most devastating appearance in a picture. They tell me their story, and I say, "No, I don't think it'll make a movie." And it didn't.
Number Seventeen (1932)
That was just another stage play that they'd bought and it just didn't transfer. It was a very cheap melodrama. The only good thing in that picture was a chase between a motorcoach and a train at the end--that's all.
Lord Camber's Ladies (1932) [Produced but not directed by Hitchcock.]
By that time, British International Pictures were drawing in their horns, and they decided to make what are called "quota pictures." They asked me to produce a couple and I did one. Quota pictures were made very cheap, you know. This was a poison thing. I gave it to Benn Levy to direct."
Waltzes from Vienna (1933)
This was my lowest ebb. A musical, and they really couldn't afford the music. You know, they say a man is no better than his last picture. But, ironically enough, prior to making Waltzes from Vienna and reaching this low ebb, I had written The Man Who Knew Too Much with a couple of other writers. But it was on the shelf. When I made The Man Who Knew Too Much, it was acclaimed, and it looked as though I had recovered. But the irony was that it was made, in my mind, anyway, before Waltzes from Vienna.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
You've said that you could get away with a lotmore things in the early days than you can now. What did you mean?
I suppose that's why there's a certain amount of nostalgia, especially in England, for the Hitchcock English period. Around that 1935 period, the audience would accept more, the films of the period were full of fantasy, and one didn't have to worry too much about logic or truth. When I came to America, the first thing I had to learn was that the audience were more questioning. I'll put it another way. Less avant-garde. In the first Man Who Knew Too Much, the characters jump around from one place to another--you're in a chapel, and you've got old ladies with guns--and one didn't care. One said, "An old lady with a gun, that's be amusing." There was more underlying humor, at least for me, and less logic. If the idea appealed to one, however outrageous it was, do it! They wouldn't go for that in America.
Do you prefer the old Man Who Knew Too Much to the new one?
No, I don't really. The old one is fairly slipshod structurally.
What was the purpose of the unraveling sweater towards the start?
It's the thread of life that gets broken. One could still get pretentious in those days. It was also comic. You combine a little comic action with a break in the thread when the man falls dead.
The final street fight is based on a true happening, isn't it?
It was a very famous incident, called the Sydney Street Siege. There were anarchists holed up in a house there, and they had to bring the soldiers out because the police couldn't handle it. Winston Churchill went down and directed operations. I had great difficulty getting that one on the screen because the censor wouldn't pass it. He called it a black spot on English police history. He said, "You can't have the soldiers." And I said, "Well, then we will have to have the police do the shooting." "No, you can't do that. The police don't carry firearms in England. If you want to do those Chicago things, we won't allow it here." Finally the censor relented and said I could do it if I had the police go to the local gunsmith and take out mixed guns and show that they're not familiar with the weapons. Silly. I ignored it, and I had a truck come up with a load of rifles.
How did you do the Albert Hall sequence?
Schufftan process again. I photographed about nine angles around the Albert Hall when it was empty, with the same type of lens that we would use ultimately, using long exposures to get clear, sharp pictures, which were then blown up to 14 x 18. I gave them to a famous artist, Matania, who did pictures that were completely representational. I asked him to paint the audience into each photo. The reason I chose more than one angle was so that I didn't have to repeat myself, otherwise the audience would have gotten used to it and realized that the people were not moving. I had the photos made into transparencies and we went back to the Albert Hall and set up the Schufftan in exactly the same spots where the original photographs were taken--lining it up exactly. Now the mirror reflected this little transparency with a full audience, and we scraped the silvering here and there, a box near the entrance, and the whole of the orchestra. Then in the box we had a woman opening a program, and so forth, and the eye immediately went to the movement. All the rest was static. We had to do it this way because we had no money.
The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935)
In all your chase films, why do you have the hero fleeing from both the police and the real criminals?
One of the reasons is a structural one. The audience must be in tremendous sympathy with the man on the run. But the basic reason is that the audience will wonder, "Why doesn't he go for the police?" Well, the police are after him, so he can't go to them, can he?
Isn't it his sense of guilt that makes him so fervent?
Well, yes, to some degree. In Thirty-Nine Steps maybe he feels guilt because the woman is so desperate and he doesn't protect her enough, he's careless.
Is The Thirty-Nine Steps one of your favorite films?
Yes. Pretty much. What I liked about Thirty-Nine Steps were the sudden switches and the jumping from one situation to another with such rapidity. Donat leaping out of the window of the police station with half of a handcuff on, and immediately walking into a Salvation Army Band, darting down an alley-way and into a room. "Thank God you've come, Mr. So-and-so," they say, and put him onto a platform. A girl comes along with two men, takes him in a car to the police station, but not really to the police station--they are two spies. You know, the rapidity of the switches, that's the great thing about it. If I did The Thirty-Nine Steps again, I would stick to that formula, but it really takes a lot of work. You have to use one idea after another, and with such rapidity.
Secret Agent (1936)
I liked The Secret Agent quite a bit. I'm sorry it wasn't more of a success, but I believe it was unsuccessful because it was the story of a man who did not want to do something. He was sent out to kill a German spy and was given a killer to do it and he botched it the first time--killed the wrong man. You can't root for a hero who doesn't want to be a hero. So it's a negative thing. I think that's why it didn't really succeed.
Sabotage had a grimmer aspect than most of the other British films. Is this because of the bomb incident?
Oh, that was a big error. I made a cardinal error there in terms of suspense. The bomb should never have gone off. If you build an audience up to that point, the explosion becomes strangely anti-climactic. You work the audience up to such a degree that they need the relief. The critics were very angry. One woman said, "I could hit you." I found everybody protesting against it. Now the boy had to be killed for the sake of the story. One should have done the killing a different way, off the screen or something. I shouldn't have made a suspense thing of it.
Young and Innocent (1937)
When you are dealing with melodrama, you mustn't let the characters take themselves where they want to go. They must come where you want to go. So it's really an inverted process. It is a bastard form of story-telling. You lay out your story and you put the characters in afterwards. That's why you don't get really good characterizations. There isn't time, and in any case, you know, they may not want to go.
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
The Lady Vanishes is one of your least complex films. Do you agree?
It is a very light film. Of course, it doesn't make sense. Why didn't they send the message by carrier pigeon? The story is inspired by that legend of an Englishwoman who went with her daughter to the Palace Hotel in Paris in the 1880's, at the time of the Great Exposition. The woman was taken sick and they sent the girl across Paris to get some medicine, in a horse-vehicle, so it took about four hours, and when she came back she asked, "How's my mother?" "What mother?" "My mother. She's here, she's in her room. Room 22." They go up there. Different room, different wallpaper, everything. And the payoff of the whole story is, so the legend goes, that the woman had Bubonic plague and they daren't let anybody know she died, otherwise all of Paris would have emptied. That was the original situation and pictures like Lady Vanishes were all variations on it.
Jamaica Inn (1939)
How did you come to make Jamaica Inn?
I was talked into it. After I'd signed with Selznick, I had time to make another picture. When I saw what this was going to be, I tried to get out, but I'd already taken money from them so I couldn't. The root problem was that there was no mystery. This is the story of the parson who preaches in the pulpit; and the mystery of who is the wrecker, the man who puts a light on the rocks, causing ships to approach the rocks and be wrecked so they could be looted. Of course, the parson turns out to be the wrecker. And in Jamaica Inn, you have Charles Laughton playing the parson. Who's the wrecker? Who's the wrecker? What are you going to do--have a little bit-player turn out to be the central figure? Doesn't make sense. It's very difficult to make a who-done-it. You see, this was like doing a who-done-it and making Charles Laughton the butler.
Rebecca was a Brontë thing really, a romantic Victorian novel in modern dress. In a sense you could get annoyed with the Joan Fontaine character because she never stood up for herself, she let Mrs. Danvers override her. But after all that's applying a modern point of view to what I say is a Victorian heroine.
Wasn't Rebecca the first film in which you experimented with a tracking camera as opposed to the use of montage?
Pretty well, yes. But only because we were going around a big house. I don't think it was really right, because after all, the eye must look at the character. It must not be conscious of a camera dollying unless you are dollying or zooming in for a particular purpose.
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
I had offered Gary Cooper the Joel McCrea part in Foreign Correspondent. I had a terrible job casting the thriller-suspense films in America, because over here this kind of story was looked on as second-rate. In England, they're part of the literature, and I had no trouble casting Donat or anybody else there. Here I ran into it all the time--until Gary--who's really English. Afterward, Cooper said, "Well, I should have done that, shouldn't I?" Of course I don't think it was Cooper himself, I think the people around him advised him against it.
How did you get the idea of the windmill sequence?
When I am given a locale--and this is very important in my mind--it's got to be used, and used dramatically. We're in Holland. What have they got in Holland? Windmills? Tulips? If the picture had been in color, I would have worked in the shot I've always wanted to do and never have yet. The murder in a tulip field. Two figures. The assassin--say it's Jack-the-Ripper--comes up behind the girl. The shadow creeps up on her, she turns, screams. Immediately we pan down to the struggling feet, in the tulip bed. We dolly the camera in to one of the flowers, sounds of the struggle heard in the background. We go right to one petal--it fills the screen--and, splash! a drop of red blood comes over the petal. And that would be the end of the murder.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
This picture I made as a gesture to Carole Lombard. She asked me to do it. The script was already written, and I just came in and did it. She had heard my remark, "Actors are cattle," so when I arrived on the set, I found a little corral with some cattle in it. She had arranged that.
The correct ending of Suspicion -- which was never shot but which I wanted to do--was that Fontaine writes a letter to her mother, saying that she is in love with her husband, but she feels he is a murderer. She doesn't want to live anymore and she's willing to die by his hand. But she thinks society should be protected from him. He comes up with the fatal glass of milk, gives it to her. Before she drinks, she says, "Will you mail this letter to mother for me?" And she drinks the milk and dies. Fade out. Fade in on one short shot: a cheerful, whistling Cary Grant coming to the mail box and popping the letter in. Finish. But, you see, Cary Grant couldn't be a murderer. It was the same problem as I had with Novello in The Lodger.
Saboteur was not successful to my mind because I don't think Cummings
was right. He was too undramatic, he had what I call a "comedy face,"
and half the time you don't believe the situations. Think of the difference
between that and Robert Donat in The Thirty-Nine Steps. From an audience
point-of-view, I should have reversed the positions of Cummings and Lloyd
on the Statue of Liberty at the end of the picture. The audience would
have been much more anxious if the hero had been in danger, not the villain.
The picture was overloaded with too many ideas. But what annoyed me most
was the casting of the heavy, Otto Kruger. I had a concept: fascists in
those days were middle-westerners, America-Firsters, and I wanted Harry
Carey, western style, a rich rancher. His wife came to see me and she
said, I couldn't let my husband play a role like that, when all the youth
in America look up to him. So I couldn't get him, and Kruger was all wrong.
I also tried to get Barbara Stanwyck, but I had to take Priscilla Lane.
I wasted Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper to lift the picture up.
Isn't Cotten rather sympathetic in the film?
There is sympathy for any murderer, or let's call it compassion. You hear of murderers who feel they've been sent to destroy. Maybe those women deserved what they got, but it wasn't his job to do it. There is a moral judgment--he is destroyed at the end, isn't he? The girl unwittingly kills her own uncle. She is the instrument by which he falls in front of the train. It comes under the heading that all villains are not black and all heroes are not white. There are grays everywhere.
Does Cotten really love Wright in the film?
I don't really think so. Not as much as she loves him. And yet she destroys him. She has to. Wasn't it Oscar Wilde who said, "You destroy the thing you love?" Shadow of a Doubt was a most satisfying picture for me--one of my favorite films--because for once there was time to get characters into it. It was the blending of character and thriller at the same time. That's very hard to do.
In this film I wanted to prove that most pictures are shot in close-ups. It was really a film without scenery. I made it for the challenge. And it was topical. There were screams because I appeared to make the Nazi stronger than anyone else. I had two reasons for that: a) the Nazi was a submarine commander and knew something about navigation, more than the others did; b) in the analogy of war, he was the victor at the time. The others, representing the democracies, hadn't gotten together yet, hadn't summoned their strength. Even John Hodiak, playing the communist, wasn't sure. It took a coalition of them to finally gang up on that guy and get rid of him. Did you know that Tallulah really hated Slezak? She really used the boot on him. She used to sit across from him in the boat and say, "You God-damn Nazi!" Poor fellow, he really wasn't, you know.
Why didn't the Negro join in when they attacked the Nazi?
I wouldn't let him. He was rather a religious figure, he did recite the 23rd Psalm, and I felt he was a gentle character and had feeling. It would have been out of character.
What did the doors opening at their first embrace signify?
I asked Ben Hecht to find out for me the psychiatric symbol for the beginning of love between two people, and he came back with the doors.
Why did you go to Dali for the dream sequence?
Selznick thought I only wanted Dali for publicity purposes. That wasn't true. I felt that if I was going to have dream sequences, they should be vivid. I didn't think that we should resort to the old-fashioned blurry effect that they got by putting vaseline around the lens. What I really wanted to do, and they wouldn't do it because of the expense, was to have the dream sequences shot on the back lot in bright sunshine, so they would have to stop-down the camera to such a degree that the pictures would have been needle-sharp, as contrast to the rest of the picture, which was slightly diffused because that was the cameraman's particular style. But I used Dali for his draftmanship and the infinity which he introduces into his subject.
This is the old love-and-duty theme. Grant's job is to get Bergman in bed with Rains, the other man. It's ironic, really, and Grant is a bitter man all the way through. Rains was sympathetic because he's the victim of a confidence trick and we always have sympathy for the victim, no matter how foolish he is. Also I would think Rains' love for Bergman was very much stronger than Grant's.
How did that long tracking shot for the famous balcony love scene develop?
I felt that they should remain in an embrace and that we should join them. So when they go to the phone the camera follows them, never leaving the close-up all the way, right up to the phone and over to the door--continuous shot. The whole idea was based on not breaking the romantic moment. I didn't want to cut it up. It was an emotional thing, the movement of that camera. The idea came to me many, many years ago when I was on a train going from Boulogne to Paris. It was a Sunday afternoon and the train goes slowly through a town called Ataples, which is just outside Boulogne. There's a big, old, red brick factory, and ta one end of the factory was this huge, high brick wall. There were two little figures at the bottom of the wall--very small--a boy and a girl. The boy was urinating against the wall, but the girl had a hold of his arm and she never let go. She'd look down at what he was doing, and then look around at the scenery, and down again to see how far he'd got on. And that was what gave me the idea. She couldn't let go. Romance must not be interrupted, even by urinating.
How did the idea develop for that remarkable crane-shot, down to the key?
That's again using the visual. That's a statement which says, "In this crowded atmosphere there is a very vital item, the crux of everything." So taking that sentence as it is, in this crowded atmosphere, you go to the widest possible expression of that phrase and then you come down to the most vital thing--a tiny little key in the hand. That's merely the visual expression to say, "Everybody is having a good time, but they don't realize there is a big drama going on here." And that big drama epitomizes itself in a little key.
The Paradine Case (1947)
For me, the casting screwed up all the values and the whole basic situation. Any beautiful woman is a compromise for evil--sometimes the externals of evil can obscure the real woman. Valli's character was pretty low in the original story. She was fine, but they had Louis Jourdan under contract and he could never have played that part. His real character, which reflected the woman's immorality, should have been a manure-smelling stable-hand and should have been played by Robert Newton or somebody like that. Peck wasn't right for the lead. It should have been Ronald Colman or Olivier, someone more dignified and less earthy. The point is, Peck degrades himself by falling for a woman who can take any man--even a groom. Obviously the woman must have been a nymphomaniac. But for Peck to give up an elegant wife for this woman, he must be obsessed by her.
Do you consider Rope one of your most experimental films, technically?
Only because I abandoned pure cinema in an effort to make the stage play mobile. With a flowing camera, the film played in its own time, there were no dissolves, no time-lapses in it, it was continuous action. And I thought it also ought to have a continuous flow of camera narrative as well. I think it was an error technically because one abandoned pure cinema for it. But when you take a stage play in one room, it is very hard to cut it up.
Your approach to Rope was not comic as it was for Psycho?
No, the nature of the crime was too horrible. There was no humor in that respect.
Under Capricorn (1949)
This picture was not a success, but why do you think many French critics consider it one of your finest films?
Because they looked at it for what it was and not what people expected. Here you get a Hitchcock picture which is a costume-picture and not approached from a thriller or excitement point of view until towards the end. I remember some remark by a Hollywood critic who said, "We had to wait 105 minutes for the first thrill." They went in expecting something and didn't get it. That was the main fault with that picture. Also the casting was wrong. This was the lady-and-the groom story again. Bergman fell in love with the groom, Joe Cotten, and he got shipped to Australia as a convict and she followed him. It was her getting degraded for love--that was the main thing here. Cotten wasn't right. I wanted Burt Lancaster. It was compromise casting again. Also I used a fluid camera--mistakenly perhaps because it intensified the fact that it wasn't a thriller--it flowed too easily.
Stage Fright (1950)
Why do you dislike this picture?
Again, the lack of reality in one of the characters--the Jane Wyman part--should have been a pimply-faced girl. She just refused to be that and I was stuck with her. The other fault was that the menace wasn't strong enough. The menace came from Dietrich and her partner--they were the villains--and they had no menace in them because they were afraid. So what were you doing in that story? You were concealing the menace entirely. The values got confused. Also a lot of people complained because the opening flashback was a lie. Now why can't a man tell a lie? I don't know. But people complained, "AH, you cheated us on the flashback." Can't he be a liar? You see, if you break tradition, you are in trouble every time.
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Granger was miscast. Warners insisted I take him. It should have been
a much stronger man. The stronger the man, the more frustrated he would
have been in the situation.
Sure. Granger didn't pay back, did he? He didn't kill Walker's father. He ratted on Walker.
How did you achieve that stunning carousel sequence?
This was a most complicated sequence. For rear-projection shooting there is a screen and behind it is an enormous projector throwing an image on the screen. On the studio floor is a narrow white line right in line with the projector lens and the lens of the camera must be right on that white line. That camera is not photographing the screen and what's on it, it is photographing light in certain colors, therefore the camera lens must be level and in line with the projector lens. Many of the shots on the merry-go-round were low camera set-ups. Therefore you can imagine the problem. The projector had to be put up on a high platform, pointing down, and the screen had to be exactly at right angles to the level-line from the lens. All the shots took nearly half a day to line up, for each set-up. We had to change the projector every time the angle changed. When the carousel broke, that was a miniature blown up on a big screen and we put live people in front of the screen. But I did the most dangerous thing I've ever done in that picture and I'll never, never do it again. When the little man crawled underneath the moving carousel--that was actual. If he had raised his head an inch, two inches--finish. My hands sweat now when I think of it--what a dreadful chance I took. I knew what I was doing then, you know, but I thought, "Oh, well, maybe he won't raise his head too high.
Doesn't Granger chase after Walker mainly to expiate his own feelings of guilt about the murder of his wife?
Sure he does. He felt like killing her himself.
I Confess (1953)
There were two things wrong with I Confess. I didn't enjoy working with Clift because he was too obscure, and Anne Baxter was completely miscast. I imported a girl from Sweden--Anita Bjork, who played the lead in Miss Julie--I wanted an unknown. When you go to Quebec and a film star pops up, it's ridiculous. But Bjork arrived with an illegitimate child and a lover. And the thing came out and Warners said, "We can't use her." We had to ship her back. By this time I was a week away from Quebec. I got messages that we should take Baxter, that they didn't have anybody else. It was all wrong. I didn't believe her as a member of Quebec society. I wanted a foreign girl with an accent.
How did you achieve the shimmering effect of the first flashback?
That was done in slow motion. I slowed it up tremendously.
Do you think Clift had already decided to become a priest before his return from the war?
Yes. I think he'd already decided.
Do you think they slept together during the storm?
I hope so. Far be it from me as a Jesuit to encourage that kind of behavior.
Do you think Clift was tempted with the idea of becoming a martyr?
Yes, he was tempted by the idea. Of course, in the end, he was a martyr.
Don't Clift and Baxter feel a strong sense of guilt because in a way they're glad that the man was murdered and therefore out of their hair?
Yes, but he isn't really, because of their conscience. You know, killing is one thing, but it is not out of their conscience, not out of their mind.
Dial M for Murder (1954)
What was your main reason for making Dial M for Murder?
I was running for cover. When your batteries run dry, when you are out creatively, and you have to go on, that's what I call running for cover. Take a comparatively successful play that requires no great creative effort on your part and make it. Keep your hand in, that's all. When you're in this business, don't make anything unless it looks like it's going to promise something. If you have to make a film--as I was under contract to Warners at the time--play safe. Go get a play and make an average movie--photographs of people talking. It's ordinary craftsmanship. But there is another interesting facet about the photographed stage play. Some people make the mistake, I think, of trying to open the play up for the screen. That's a big mistake. I think the whole conception of a play is confinement within the proscenium--and that's what the author uses dramatically. Now you are undoing a newly-knitted sweater. Pull it apart and you have nothing. In Dial M, I made sure that I would go outside as little as possible. I had a real tile floor laid down, the crack under the door, the shadow of the feet, all part of the stage play and I made sure I didn't lose that. Otherwise, if you go outside, what do you end up with? A taxi arrives outside, the door opens, and they get out and go in.
Rear Window (1954)
The critic on The Observer called this a horrible film because a man was looking out a window at other people. I thought that was a crappy remark. Everyone does it, it's a known fact, and provided it is not made too vulgar, it is just curiosity. People don't care who you are, they can't resist looking.
Isn't there something sympathetic about the murderer in his confrontation scene with Stewart?
Well, the poor man. It's the climax of peeping tomism, isn't it? "Why did you do it?" he says. "If you hadn't been a peeping tom, I would have gotten away with it." Stewart can't answer. What can he say? He's caught. Caught with his plaster down.
Kelly is the dominant partner in the relationship, isn't she?
Yes, rather. She's a typical, active New Yorker. There are many of those women in New York, more like men, some of them.
To Catch a Thief (1955)
Kelly is an American in the film, but she wasn't frigid like the typical American woman who is a tease--dresses for sex and doesn't give it. A man puts his hand on her and she runs screaming for mother immediately. The English women are the opposite of that. They are the best. They look like nothing--they look like school mistresses. Kelly is the English woman in that film. Outwardly, cold as ice, but, boy, underneath! And that was epitomized by the kiss in the corridor. Of course, the fireworks scene is pure orgasm. Just as the tunnel at the end of North by Northwest is a sexual symbol.
Wouldn't Kelly prefer Grant were really guilty of the robberies?
Oh, of course, Let's put a mild word to it--it's more piquant that way, more in the nature of her fetish.
[After listing some of the television shows directed by Hitchcock, Bogdanovich notes that the introductions to the shows were written by James Allardice, prompting the following comment.]
When he came to see me and asked what kind of introductions did I want him to write for me, I said, "Well, I won't tell you, but I'll run a film that should give you an idea of the kind of thing I want." So I ran The Trouble With Harry for him.
The Trouble With Harry (1956)
I think The Trouble With Harry needed special handling. It wouldn't have failed commercially if the people in the distribution organization had known what to do with the picture; but it got into the assembly line and that was that. It was shot in autumn for the contrapunctal use of beauty against the sordidness and muddiness of death. Harry is very personal to me because it involves my own sense of humor about the macabre. It has in it my favorite line of all the pictures I ever made: when Teddy Gwenn is pulling the body by the legs like a wheelbarrow, and the spinster comes up and says, "What seems to be the trouble, Captain?'"
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Of all your pictures, why did you choose to remake The Man Who Knew Too Much?
I felt that for an American audience, it contained sentimental elements that would be more interesting than some of the others. The second Man Who Knew Too Much was more carefully worked out than the first one. The first one was, shall we say, a spontaneous creation, without examination.
Doris Day, like many of your characters, complains about a lack of excitement in her life, and then is thrown into a terrible dilemma. Is this your comment on the virtues of the simple life?
I think there's a lot to be said for that. Let's look at me psychologically. I don't feel any of the things that my characters feel, I have no such desires. My God, I've been happily married to the same woman for thirty-six years. I have no identification with my characters. If I did, I couldn't picture them as objectively as I do.
The Wrong Man (1957)
I enjoyed making this film because, after all, this is my greatest fear--fear of the police. And I had all of that going for me. I've often thought of a scene of a man being taken to jail in England in what they used to call the Black Maria, and able to see out the grill window at the back all the things people were doing, going to restaurants, going home, lining up to go into a theatre. And this man is on the way to jail for probably ten, fifteen years, getting a kind of last glimpse of every-day life. In truth, perhaps The Wrong Man should have been done as a documentary, without any cinematic consciousness, by a newsreel cameraman with a camera in one position all the time. I felt the front part of the picture very much, and I liked the climax when the right man is discovered, while the wrong man is praying to the picture on the wall. I liked the ironic coincidence. I was disturbed by the fact that, due to the documentary line, we had to follow the wife's story, and his story kind of collapsed.
Isn't Vertigo about the conflict between illusion and reality?
Oh, yes. I was interested by the basic situation, because it contained so much analogy to sex. Stewart's efforts to recreate the woman were, cinematically, exactly the same as though he were trying to undress the woman, instead of dressing her. He couldn't get the other woman out of his mind. Now, in the book, they didn't reveal that she was one and the same woman until the end of the story. I shocked Sam Taylor, who worked on it, when I said, "When Stewart comes upon this brunette girl, Sam, this is the time for us to blow the whole truth." He said, "Good God, why?" I told him, if we don't what is the rest of our story until we do reveal the truth. A man has picked up a brunette and sees in her the possibilities of resemblance to the other woman.
Let's put ourselves in the minds of our audience here: "So you've got a brunette and you're going to change her." What story are we telling now? A man wants to make a girl over and then, at the very end, finds out it is the same woman. Maybe he kills her, or whatever. Here we are, back in our old situation: surprise or suspense. And we come to our old analogy of the bomb: you and I sit talking and there's a bomb in the room. We're having a very innocuous conversation about nothing. Boring. Doesn't mean a thing. Suddenly, boom! the bomb goes off and they're shocked--for fifteen seconds. Now you change it. Play the same scene, insert the bomb, show that the bomb is placed there, establish that it's going to go off at one o'clock--it's now a quarter of one, ten of one--show a clock on the wall, back to the same scene. Now our conversation becomes very vital, by its sheer nonsense. "Look under the table! You fool!" Now they're working for ten minutes, instead of being surprised for fifteen seconds. Now let's go back to Vertigo. If we don't let them know, they will speculate. They will get a very blurred impression as to what is going on.
"Now," I said, "one of the fatal things, Sam, in all suspense is to have a mind that is confused. Otherwise the audience won't emote. Clarify, clarify, clarify. Don't let them say, "I don't know which woman that is, who's that?" So," I said, "we are going to take the bull by the horns and put it all in a flashback, bang! right then and there--show it's one and the same woman." Then, when Stewart comes to the hotel for her, the audience says, "Little does he know." Second, the girl's resistance in the earlier part of the film had no reason. Now you have the reason--she doesn't want to be uncovered. That's why she doesn't want the gray suit, doesn't want to go blond--because the moment she does, she's in for it. So now you've got extra values working for you. We play on his fetish in creating this dead woman, and he is so obsessed with the pride he has in making her over. Even when she comes back from the hairdresser, the blond hair is still down. And he says, "Put your hair up." She says, "No." He says, "Please." Now what is he saying to her? "You've taken everything off except your bra and your panties, please take those off." She says, "All right." She goes into the bathroom. He's only waiting to see a nude woman come out, ready to get in bed with. That's what the scene is. Now, as soon as she comes out, he sees a ghost--he sees the other woman.
That's why I played her in a green light. You see, in the earlier part--which is purely in the mind of Stewart--when he is watching this girl go from place to place, when she is really faking, behaving like a woman of the past--in order to get this slightly subtle quality of a dreamlike nature although it was bright sunshine, I shot the film through a fog filter and I got a green effect--fog over bright sunshine. That's why, when she comes out of the bathroom, I played her in the green light. That's why I chose the Empire Hotel in Post Street--because it had a green neon sign outside the window. I wanted to establish that green light flashing all the time. So that when we need it, we've got it. I slid the soft, fog lens over, and as she came forward, for a moment he got the image of the past. Then as her face came up to him, I slipped the soft effect away, and he came back to reality. She had come back from the dead, and he felt it, and knew it, and probably was even bewildered--until he saw the locket--and then he knew he had been tricked.
North By Northwest (1959)
It's the American Thirty-Nine Steps--I'd thought about it for a long time. It's a fantasy. The whole film is epitomized in the title--there is no such thing as north-by-northwest on the compass. The area in which we get near to the free abstract in movie making is the free use of fantasy, which is what I deal in. I don't deal in that slice-of-life stuff. Only one sequence was missing from that picture: the assembly-line in Detroit. Never got that in. I wanted to have a dialogue scene--two men talking, walking along the assembly line--and behind them is a car being assembled. Starts with a bare frame and continues to be built. And the men talk on--their conversation should have a little bit to do with automobiles--and finally the car is loaded up with gas and one of the men drives it off. Well, I wanted to see the car finally come off the line, and they open the door and look in, and a dead body falls out. Also I wanted to get in a shot of Cary Grant hiding in Lincoln's nose and having a sneezing fit!
How did you get the idea for the plane sequence?
This comes under the heading of avoiding the clichés. The cliché of that kind of scene is in The Third Man. Under a street lamp, in a medieval setting, black cat slithers by, somebody opens a blind and looks out, eerie music. Now, what is the antithesis of this? Nothing! No music, bright sunshine, and nothing. Now put a man in a business suit in this setting.
Mason really doesn't act like a villain, does he?
No, I didn't make him do a dastardly thing in the whole picture. I split him into three in an effort to keep him from behaving like a heavy: there's Mason himself, who only had to nod. I gave him a rather saturnine looking secretary--there was the face of Mason. And the third man--Adam Williams--he was the brutality.
Do you really consider Psycho an essentially humorous film?
Well, when I say humorous, I mean it's my humor that enabled me to tackle the outrageousness of it. If I were telling the same story seriously, I'd tell a case history and never treat it in terms of mystery or suspense. It would simply be what the psychiatrist relates at the end.
In Psycho, aren't you really directing the audience more than the actors?
Yes. It's using pure cinema to cause the audience to emote. It was done by visual means designed in every possible way for an audience. That's why the murder in the bathroom is so violent, because as the film proceeds, there is less violence. But that scene was in the minds of the audience so strongly that one didn't have to do much more. I think that in Psycho there is no identification with the characters. There wasn't time to develop them and there was no need to. The audience goes through the paroxysms in the film without consciousness of Vera Miles or John Gavin. They're just characters that lead the audience through the final part of the picture. I wasn't interested in them. And you know, nobody ever mentions that they were ever in the film. It's rather sad for them. Can you imagine how the people in the front office would have cast the picture? They'd say, "Well, she gets killed off in the first reel, let's put anybody in there, and give Janet Leigh the second part with the love interest." Of course, this is idiot thinking. The whole point is to kill off the star, that is what makes it so unexpected. This was the basic reason for making the audience see it from the beginning. If they came in half-way through the picture, they would say, "When's Janet Leigh coming on?" You can't have blurred thinking in suspense.
Didn't you experiment with TV techniques in Psycho?
It was made by a TV unit, but that was only a matter of economics really, speed and economy of shooting, achieved by minimizing the number of set-ups. We slowed up whenever it became really cinematic. The bathroom scene took seven days, whereas the psychiatrist's scene at the end was all done in one day.
How much did Saul Bass contribute to the picture?
Only the main title, the credits. He asked me if he could do one sequence in Psycho and I said yes. So he did a sequence on paper, little drawings of the detective going up the stairs before he is killed. One day on the picture, I was sick, and I called up and told the assistant to make those shots as Bass had planned them. There were about twenty of them and when I saw them, I said, "You can't use any of them." The sequence told his way would indicate that the detective is a menace. He's not. He is an innocent man, therefore the shot should be innocent. We don't have to work the audience up. We've done that. The mere fact that he's going up the stairs is enough. Keep it simple. No complications. One shot.
Did you intend any moral implications in the picture?
I don't think you can take any moral stand because you're dealing with distorted people. You can't apply morality to insane persons.
The Birds (1963)
In The Birds, as in a lot of your films, you take ordinary, basically average people, and put them into extraordinary situations.
This is for audience identification. In The Birds, there is a very light beginning, girl meets boy, and then she walks right into a complicated situation: the boy's mother's unnatural relationship to him, and the school teacher who's carrying a torch for him. This girl, who is just a fly-by-night, a playgirl, comes up against reality for the first time. That transmits itself into a catastrophe, and the girl's transition takes place.
What do you feel the picture is really about?
Generally speaking, that people are too complacent. The girl represents complacency. But I believe that when people rise to the occasion, when catastrophe comes, they are all right. The mother panics because she starts off being so strong, but she is not strong, it is a facade: she has been substituting her son for her husband. She is the weak character in the story. But the girl shows that people can be strong when they face up to the situation. It's like the people in London, during the wartime air raids.
Isn't the film also a vision of Judgment Day?
Yes, it is. And we don't know how they are going to come out. Certainly, the mother was scared to the end. The girl was brave enough to face the birds and try to beat them off. But as a group they were the victims of Judgment Day. For the ordinary public--they got away to San Francisco--but I toyed with the idea of lap-dissolving on them in the car, looking, and there is the Golden Gate Bridge--covered in birds.
How did you come to choose The Birds as a vehicle?
I felt that after Psycho people would expect something to top it before going on to something else. I've noticed that in other "catastrophe" films, such as On the Beach, the personal stories were never really part of it at all. I remember a film called The Pride and the Passion, which was about pulling that huge gun. Well, they stopped every night to have a bit of personal story; then the next morning they went back to the gun again. It was terribly devised, no integration at all. They don't realize that people are still living, emoting, while pushing the gun. That was one of the things I made up my mind to avoid in The Birds. I deliberately started off with light, ordinary, inconsequential behavior. I even compromised by the nature of the opening titles, making them ominous. I wanted to use very light, simple Chinese paintings of birds--delicate little drawings. I didn't because I felt people might get impatient, having seen the advertising campaign and ask, "When are the birds coming on?" That's why I give them a sock now and again--the bird against the door, bang! birds up on the wires, the bird that bites the girl. But I felt it was vital to get to know the people, the mother especially, she's the key figure. And we must take our time, get absorbed in the atmosphere before the birds come. Once more, it is fantasy. But everything had to be as real as possible, the surroundings, the settings, the people. And the birds themselves had to be domestic birds--no vultures, no wild birds of any kind.
Aren't there a lot of trick-shots in the picture?
Had to be. There are 371 trick-shots in it, and the most difficult one was the last shot. That took 32 different pieces of film. We had a limited number of gulls allowed. Therefore, the foreground was shot in three panel sections, left to right, up to the birds on the rail. The few gulls we had were in the first third, we re-shot it for the middle third, and for the right-hand third, using the same gulls. Just above the heads of the crows was a long, slender middle section where the gulls were spread again. Then the car going down the driveway, with the birds on each side of it, was another piece of film. The sky was another piece of film, as was the barn on the left, and so on. These were all put together in the lab.
How do you feel, on the whole, about using trick-effects and process-shots?
It is a means to an end. You must arrive at it somehow. A very important thing about The Birds: I never raised the point, "Can it be done?" Because then it would never have been made. Any technician would have said "impossible." So I didn't even bring that up, I simply said, "Here's what we're going to do." No one will ever realize that had the pioneering technical work on it not been attempted, the film would not have been made. Cleopatra or Ben Hur is nothing to this--just quantities of people and scenery. Just what the bird trainer has done is phenomenal. Look at the way the crows chase the children down the street, dive all around them, land on their backs. It took days to organize those birds on the hood of the car and to make them fly away at the right time. The Birds could easily have cost $5,000,000 if Bob Burks and the rest of us hadn't been technicians ourselves.
Marnie [in preparation at the time of the interview]
What will Marnie be like?
It is the story of a girl who doesn't know who she is. She is a psychotic, a compulsive thief, and afraid of sex, and in the end she finds out why. In terms of style, it will be a bit like Notorious.
Marnie is a thief, but evidently we are in sympathy with her. How is
[Bogdanovich concludes by listing several "unrealized projects," Frances Iles' 1931 novel Malice Afterthought, David Duncan's story The Bramble Bush, which Hitchcock worked on during 1953-54, Life of a City, and Ernest Raymond's We, the Accused, based on the Crippen case. Hitchcock commented on the last two projects.]
Life of a City
This is something I've wanted to do since 1928. I want to do it in terms of what lies behind the face of a city--what makes it tick--in other words, backstage of a city. But it's so enormous that it is practically impossible to get the story right. Two or three people had a go at it for me but all failed. It must be done in terms of personalities and people, and with my techniques, everything would have to be used dramatically.
We, the Accused
This was the story of a man who murdered his wife, ran off with his secretary,
and was arrested on board ship, in about 1910. It is almost the definitive
case of murder, trial and execution. It would be a very long picture,
with detailed characterization, but I'm afraid it's terribly downbeat--and
the man is middle-aged--so it wouldn't be very commercial. And you would
have to spend some money on it.