One of the more perceptive points made in this excellent series is that Alfred Hitchcock, unquestionably one of the best directors in Hollywood, was also one of the most popular -- chiefly through his introductions to his television series, "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." On the tube he always managed to preserve his deliberate and unflappable demeanor but the little sketches had him acting like a buffoon. He would do anything that his writer, Charles Alardyce, wrote for him. He appeared with an arrow through his head. He'd do the introduction from inside a bottle.
The series was immensely popular from the mid 50s to the early 60s and made him an icon. And a rich icon, at that. And it was this very popularity that led the critics to demean his artistry as a director. Critics were simply unable to accept the fact that anyone who could make such an ass out of himself for the public could possibly be a serious film maker. Personally, I don't think it would be much of a problem today. If he were outrageous enough -- genius or not -- he might find himself running for president. But what's most intriguing about the critics' response is its categorical or binary nature. You must be a genius or a clown -- one or the other, but never both. It's a common psychological weakness.
This is Part 2 of Hitchcock's episode and it brings us briefly up to date with expert talking heads and clips of the director's work up through "Psycho." Hitchcock himself may have been overweight, flabby, and cheap ("mean", for Brits), but he had an eye for attractive women. There is a stunning first-person shot of the equally stunning Grace Kelly as she leans over with a smile and brings a delicate but sensuous kiss to the sleepy James Stewart. Wow.
The program discusses "Psycho" at some length. It was a phenomenal success with the public and Hitchcock's agent, Lew Wasserman, brought him to Universal Studios where he was given a "bungalow" that is bigger than the house you live in. But "Psycho" had its problems. It was almost TOO successful. The public anticipates every success being followed by an even greater success.
The director turned to "The Birds," which is when his final decline began. He "discovered" 'Tippi' Hedren, a model and non-actress whom he felt he could manipulate with ease. She would be his creation. He even copyrighted the quotation marks around her first name. Hedren was another beautiful blond and Hitch began criticizing her social life. He cast her in his next film, "Marnie," which was only moderately successful.
Worse, by this time Hitchcock was boozing it up daily. No more fine wines with dinner but mixed drinks all day long and bottles hidden in the bathroom. (The film doesn't mention this but it's described in Donald Spoto's sympathetic biography.) Eventually he propositioned Hedren, who rejected his advances. He told her frankly that if she didn't comply, "I'll ruin your career." And from then on "Marnie" was downhill and so was Hedren.
So was Hitchcock. Between age, illness, and alcohol his judgment became impaired and scenes he thought would shock the public simply didn't work, or else revolted them. His next two films flopped. "Frenzy" brought back some of the old liveliness, although very graphic, but that was that. He died in 1980 and his wife two years later.
With all his flaws, with all his interior conundrums, a splendid film maker and a remarkable man. And the program captures it all.
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