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Hitchcock in the 1940s

With Mark Cousins's documentary, My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock, on general release, Cinema Paradiso looks back at the Master of Suspense's first decade in Hollywood.

Cinema Paradiso has already explored the making of a maestro in Finding His Style: Alfred Hitchcock's British Films. The focus here falls on the pictures that Hitchcock made in Hollywood between 1939-49. We shall, however, mention his occasional returns to Blighty towards the end of the Second World War.

A Tale of Two Egos

On 12 June 1938, Benjamin R. Crisler wrote in the New York Times: 'Three unique and valuable institutions the British have that we in America have not. Magna Carta, the Tower Bridge and Alfred Hitchcock, the greatest director of screen melodramas in the world.' In fact, pictures like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), and The Lady Vanishes (1938) had largely played in arthouse venues Stateside. But Hollywood was very much aware of the greengrocer's son from the East End of London. Overtures had been made by RKO, MGM, and the independent producer Samuel Goldwyn. Yet, even though he knew he had outgrown British cinema, Hitchcock was aware that he enjoyed unprecedented creative freedom at Gaumont-British under production chief Michael Balcon.

A still from Gone with the Wind (1939)
A still from Gone with the Wind (1939)

Independence also mattered to David O. Selznick, who had seen his producer father, Lewis, lose his company and his fortune in the 1920s, as the Hollywood studio system took shape. Having worked his way through the ranks at MGM to become such a respected producer that he got to marry boss Louis B. Mayer's daughter, Irene, Selznick struck out on his own and vowed to beat the studios at their own game with a lavish adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's bestselling Civil War saga, Gone With the Wind (1939).

The workaholic Selznick was preoccupied with this epic production when Hitchcock and wife, Alma Reville, arrived in California in 1939. Consequently, he was too distracted to raise the budget that Hitchcock would need to achieve an authentic account of the 1912 sinking of RMS Titanic. Nevertheless keen to put his expensive import to work, Selznick assigned him to Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, as he had previously brought to the screen her Cornish smuggling adventure, Jamaica Inn (1938).

Cinema Paradiso users can discover how Hitch fared on his Hollywood debut in the article, 10 Films to Watch If You Liked Rebecca. They will note that Selznick was disappointed by Hitchcock's initial interpretation of the story, which he castigated as 'a distorted and vulgarised version of a provenly successful work'. But, while the experience taught the newcomer how to play the Hollywood game, it also made him realise that working with Selznick was not going to be easy, as they were both immovable control freaks.

Hitchcock sought to prevent Selznick from meddling in post-production by so meticulously preparing each shot that they could only be edited together according to his conception. But the producer was unimpressed by the daily rushes and Hitchcock only remained in situ because Irene Selznick championed his cause. Accepting the odd bit of advice about Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine's performances as Maxim De Winter and his second wife, he completed the shoot to his own satisfaction and avoided confrontation when Selznick exacted his revenge for what he termed Hitchcock's 'goddam jigsaw cutting' by ordering a number of scenes to be rewritten and filmed by another director.

Indeed, Selznick had the last laugh, when he became the first producer to win consecutive Oscars for Best Picture, while Hitchcock was pipped to Best Director by John Ford for his John Steinbeck adaptation, The Grapes of Wrath (1940). He also retained the upper hand by deciding to loan Hitchcock out to other studios while keeping him on the agreed salary of $40,000 per picture. This left Hitch feeling like a hired hand, but he was glad to take up an offer from independent producer, Walter Wanger, if only to escape Selznick's method of micro-managing by memo.

London Calling

A still from The Great Dictator (1940)
A still from The Great Dictator (1940)

Hitchcock had started work on Rebecca five days after Britain had declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939. As the United States was pursuing an isolationist policy, Hollywood had been instructed to avoid overt references to the conflict. However, with fellow Londoner Charlie Chaplin subversively mocking Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in The Great Dictator (1940), Hitchcock felt compelled to follow suit, especially as he was being heavily criticised by his peers for remaining in Los Angeles while they were facing the very real prospect of invasion.

Inspired by journalist Vincent Sheean's book on how war in Europe had been inevitable since 1933, Foreign Correspondent (1940) centred on an American reporter's efforts to track down a missing Dutch diplomat on the eve of a major peace conference. Fourteen writers worked on the screenplay, while a proposed 12-week shoot overran by 18 weeks. Yet, Wanger kept interference to a minimum, as Hitchcock concocted such memorable sequences as the murder in a sea of umbrellas and the windmill showdown.

Despite his preference for Gary Cooper and Joan Fontaine, Hitch also coaxed solid performances out of Joel McCrea and Laraine Day. Furthermore, he guided German actor Albert Bassermann to a Best Supporting nomination, even though he couldn't speak English and had to deliver his lines phonetically. McCrea had to be called back for his final radio report, which Hitchcock entrusted to veteran writer Ben Hecht after he had returned to London and witnessed his city preparing for the Blitz.

Among its five Oscar nominations, Foreign Correspondent found itself up against Rebecca for Best Picture. The screeplay and Rudolph Maté's inky cinematography were also cited. But Alexander Golitzen and William Cameron Menzies's production design proved crucial to the atmospheric tension, as Hitchcock sought to warn Americans about the Axis threat without once mentioning the Third Reich.

Having directed Walter Pidgeon and Joan Bennett in an aeroplane sequence in Archie Mayo's The House Across the Bay (1940), as a favour to Wanger, Hitchcock took a somewhat surprising sideways step to make the RKO screwball, Mr & Mrs Smith (1941). Although his films had always been specked with dark humour, Hitchcock hadn't made an out-and-out comedy since the silent duo of The Farmer's Wife and Champagne in 1928. But he was adamant that he wanted 'to direct a typical American comedy about typical Americans'.

A still from To Be or Not to Be (1942)
A still from To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Frustrated at not being able to secure the services of Cary Grant, Hitchcock made do with Robert Montgomery alongside Carole Lombard, as a couple who discover that their marriage isn't legal. Selznick had introduced Hitchcock to Lombard and she had delighted in directing his trademark cameo and forcing him to do repeated takes. Although Hitchcock dismissed a film the New York Times deemed 'chucklesome', it did steady business. But it was tinged with sadness, as Lombard would only complete one more feature, Ernst Lubitch's To Be or Not to Be (1942), before she was killed in a plane crash while promoting war bonds.

Discovering America

In no hurry to return to Selznick, Hitchcock remained at RKO to make Suspicion (1941). Originally destined to be a B movie with George Sanders and Anne Shirley, this melodrama was boosted in status when Laurence Olivier was paired with Frances Dee. Ultimately, however, it became the first of Hitchcock's four films with Cary Grant.

The studio was unhappy with the adaptation of Before the Fact (which had been written by Anthony Berkeley Cox under the pseudonym Francis Iles), as it didn't want its biggest star playing a gold-digging killer. So, while poor little rich girl Joan Fontaine convinces herself that Grant has bumped off best buddy Nigel Bruce and is trying to poison her, it all turns out to have been a simple misunderstanding. When a disgruntled RKO executive demanded the removal of any footage that cast aspersions on Grant's character, the running time dropped to 55 minutes and they excised scenes were hurriedly restored.

Audiences were happy to entertain the possibility that the debonair Grant had a dark side, with Hitchcock cleverly placing a lit bulb inside a glass of milk he carries upstairs to his bride in order to sustain the illusion and the suspense. But the picture's reputation has declined since Fontaine became the sole performer to win an Oscar in a Hitchcock picture and a 2001 remake slated to star Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow never came to fruition. Nevertheless, Cinema Paradiso would suggest it would make a splendid double bill on high-quality DVD or Blu-ray with Rebecca.

Similarly, Saboteur (1942) would make for a fine evening's entertainment with Sabotage (1936), the reworking of Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent that got the director into hot water because of a tense scene aboard a London bus. By the way, don't confuse this with The Secret Agent (1936), which Hitchcock based on the Ashenden stories by W. Somerset Maugham.

A still from Citizen Kane (1941)
A still from Citizen Kane (1941)

Fabled horror producer Val Lewton was working as a story reader for David O. Selznick when Hitchcock proposed a film about Fifth Columnists operating within the United States. He dismissed the outline for being akin to 'the old-fashioned chase pictures which he turns out when left to his own devices'. Eager to keep Hitchcock gainfully occupied, Selznick encouraged him to offer the project to other studios, which offended the director by implying he was too much of a financial risk. However, with the help of John Houseman, who had just collaborated with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane (1941), Hitchcock found a berth at Universal Studios and possibly named his hero, Barry Kane, in wry gratitude.

As Hitchcock was planning storyboards with art director Robert Boyle, news broke of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the nature of the narrative immediately changed. Kane goes on the run after a fire at an aircraft factory and winds up in New York in pursuit of the treacherous culprit, Frank Fry. However, the expense of the 49 sets needed for the planned 4500 camera set ups meant that Universal couldn't afford the dream teamings of Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck or Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan.

Hitchcock was never happy with Robert Cummings or Priscilla Lane, who arrived late after completing Frank Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). Hitch had also hoped to cast beloved Western star Harry Carey as the chief villain to drive home the message that the enemy could never be trusted. But Norman Lloyd, who played the fiendish Fry, became a trusted friend.

The director later admitted that he botched the famous finale atop the Statue of Liberty. Moreover, he fell foul of the US Navy with some archive footage of a sinking liner that was deemed unpatriotic and was only restored to the print in 1948. Even Hitch's cameo caused trouble, as it was deemed his twinning with writer Dorothy Parker as a couple who declare the bickering Cummings and Lane to be 'very much in love' was declared a distraction and he had to settle for walk-on outside a drug store.

There were no such problems with Shadow of a Doubt (1943), as Hitchcock popped up as a card player on the train bringing Charlie Oakley to stay with his adoring niece, Charlie Newton, in the sleepy town of Santa Rosa. Inspired by Earle Leonard Nelson, the 1920s serial killer nicknamed 'the Merry Widow Murderer', the story was devised by the husband of one of Selznick's assistants and earned said Gordon McDonnell an Oscar nomination.

A still from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
A still from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Thornton Wilder, who had written Sam Wood's Our Town (1940), and Sally Benson, whose writings would be immortalised in Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St Louis (1944), contributed to the screenplay, along with Alma Reville and Patricia Collinge, who had been cast as the sister and mother of the two Charlies. She was named Emma after Hitchcock's recently deceased mother and would be the last entirely nurturing maternal presence in his entire oeuvre.

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright were perfectly matched, as were Henry Travers and the debuting Hume Cronyn as a couple of chatty crime aficionados. But the majority of the cast were locals who were excited to be making a Hitchcock picture. It remained among his favourites, even though it was overlooked during awards season. Henry Keller remade it for Universal as Step Down to Terror (1958), while Karen Arthur's 1991 tele-reworking, Shadow of a Doubt, was followed by Park Chan-wook's Stoker (2013), which more than bears a passing resemblance to Hitchcock's classic.

Hitch Goes to War

The same year in which he made Saboteur, Hitchcock had been invited to 'direct' an Eliot Elisofon photo story about careless talk costing lives for Life magazine. As Cinema Paradiso users can discover by typing 'Home Front' into the searchline, dozens of shorts were produced in wartime Britain by the Ministry of Information, with the best to be found on the wonderful BFI compilation, How to Be Eccentric: The Essential Richard Massingham (2015). But 'Have You Heard?' (1942) is one of Hitchcock's most overlooked items and gives an insight into his use of storyboards to convey information visually rather than through dialogue. The same is true of 'The Murder of Monty Woolley', a 1943 photo story that Hitch devised for Look magazine, which planted clues to the actor's mock murder in the meticulously posed stills.

When the US Maritime Commission approached 20th Century-Fox with a request to make a film about the dangers posed by U-boats to shipping in the North Atlantic, studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck enquired about Hitchcock's availability. Eager to do his bit for the war effort, he readily signed on to make Lifeboat and sought Ernest Hemingway to write an original story. As he was committed to Howard Hawks's o Have and Have Not (both 1944), Hitchcock sounded out James Hilton and A.J. Cronin before John Steinbeck took up the offer.

Famed for books like Of Mice and Men, which has been filmed by Lewis Milestone in 1939, Steinbeck had never written fiction directly for the screen before. Sidney Easton accused him of plagiarising his play, Life Boat No.13, but the courts dismissed the case, as Hitchcock, Jo Swerling, Ben Hecht, Patricia Collinge, and Alma Reville had all contributed to a final scenario that so upset Steinbeck that he asked for his name to be removed from the credits.

Although a legend on Broadway, Tallulah Bankhead hadn't had much luck on the silver screen and she returned to Hollywood for her first full feature since Harry Beaumont's Faithless (1932) to play the fashion reporter who winds up sharing a lifeboat with the captain of the submarine that had sunk her ship. As so many scenes were filmed in a vast studio water tank and required the castaways to be soaked, Bankhead contracted pneumonia. Furthermore, Hume Cronyn cracked two ribs and had to be rescued by a lifeguard after becoming entangled in the wave-making mechanism.

A second full-size craft was positioned on rollers to suggest wave undulation and several cast members required treatment for motion sickness. Hitchcock, however, revelled in solving the problems of shooting in sequence in such confined spaces and was highly amused that people contacted him because his cameo depicted him in a Before and After newspaper advertisement for Reduco Obesity Slayer.

Cast as a sailor, Canada Lee was disappointed by the stereotypical depiction of the sole African American character. But there was considerably more outrage at the ingenuity and cunning demonstrated by Walter Slezak's U-boat skipper, with Bosley Crowther of the New York Times suggesting that the picture could be passed off as Nazi propaganda with a few judicious edits. As a result of the furore, the picture lost money, even though it received three Oscar nominations, including Best Director.

A still from Duel in the Sun (1946)
A still from Duel in the Sun (1946)

Having eschewed a score to focus on the sound effects that reinforced the sense of isolation, Hitchcock unusually agreed to direct Bankhead in a radio version of the scenario in 1950. Ron Silver reworked it for his 1993 sci-fi outing, Lifepod, which has never been released on disc in this country. The same is true of The Fighting Generation (1944), a war bonds promo that Hitchcock directed uncredited. It starred Jennifer Jones, who had so enchanted Selznick with her Oscar-winning performance in Henry King's The Song of Bernadette (1943) that he had cast her in John Cromwell's Home Front drama, Since You Went Away (1944). Following their collaboration on the chaotic production of King Vidor's Western, Duel in the Sun (1946), Jones would become Selznick's second wife in 1949.

Acutely aware that he had been away from Britain during its rearguard struggle against Fascism, Hitchcock returned to face critics like former boss Michael Balcon, who had pointedly complained about 'overweight' directors who had let the side down. Working for just £10 a week, he made two shorts to boost morale in France. Co-scripted by Angus MacPhail, Bon Voyage centred on an RAF pilot being smuggled to a rendezvous by members of the Resistance. Set in Madagascar, Aventure Malgache (both 1944) turned on an actor operating a pro-Maquis radio station under the nose of a snivelling Vichy official.

Neither film was considered good propaganda by the Ministry of Information and they were quietly shelved until 1993, when they were dusted down by the BFI. Sadly, they are off limits at the moment, as is Watchtower Over Tomorrow (1945), a Ben Hecht-scripted short about the Dumbarton Oaks plan to establish the United Nations, which was co-directed by Harold F. Kress and John Cromwell, with a little uncredited help from Hitchcock and Elia Kazan.

Cinema Paradiso can, however, offer German Concentration Camps Factual Survey and Andre Singer's Night Will Fall (both 2014), which explore the role that Hitchcock played in producing a postwar documentary exposing the hideous crimes committed during the Holocaust. In June and July 1945, Hitchcock and Sidney Bernstein of the government's Psychological Warfare Division sifted through hours of newsreel footage taken by British, American, and Soviet camera crews during the liberation of the death camps. The aim had been to show the defeated German people the atrocities that had been committed in their name. But it soon became apparent that the images of industrialised slaughter were too horrific for public exhibition so soon after the event.

The reels were presented to the Imperial War Museum and largely forgotten after being filed away under the code F3080. In 1984, however, PBS broadcast selected scenes in Memory of the Camps, which credited Hitchcock as 'treatment adviser'. Some three decades later, IWM scholars discovered that editor Stewart McAllister had already pieced together three reels of the proposed film before Hitchcock was even consulted. Indeed, his key contribution lay in ordering camera units to use long takes showing corpses and Germans in the same shot to avoid any accusations of fakery. But, as he told Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque Française, he wasn't surprised that the project stalled. 'I don't think many people actually want reality,' he suggested, 'whether it's in the theatre or in films. It must only look real, because reality's something none of us can stand for too long. Reality can be more terrible than anything you can imagine.'

It's Only a Movie, Ingrid

A still from Spellbound (1945)
A still from Spellbound (1945)

Hitchcock hadn't seen much of Selznick since finishing Rebecca. However, they came together again when the producer expressed an interest in doing a film about psychiatry after entering therapy with Dr May Romm. Handily, Hitchcock had been working on a treatment of The House of Dr Edwardes, a 1927 novel about a female intern uncovering odd goings on at a Swiss asylum that had been co-written by John Leslie Palmer and Hilary Aidan Saint George Sanders under the nom de plume, Francis Beeding. After much tweaking by Ben Hecht and Angus MacPhail, Spellbound (1945) became a study of identity and memory with a murderous subplot.

Selznick had considered coaxing Greta Garbo out of retirement to play Constance Petersen before deciding that Dorothy McGuire should co-star with Joseph Cotten as her amnesiac patient and Paul Lukas as the sinister head of Green Manors. A love triangle was then proposed around Fredric March. But he proved unavailable and Hitchcock regular Leo G. Carroll - who would go on to play Alexander Waverly in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68) - was cast alongside relative newcomer Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, who was contracted to Selznick but hadn't worked with him since making her Hollywood debut in Gregory Ratoff's Intermezzo (1939).

Hitchcock found Peck stiff and quickly grew frustrated with his Method approach to acting. But it was Bergman, who had followed Michael Curtiz's Casablanca (1942) and Sam Wood's For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) with an Oscar-winning turn in George Cukor's Gaslight (1944), who caused the director to snap. While agonising over the appropriate emotion for one scene, Hitchcock had bellowed, 'Ingrid, fake it!', and she later claimed it was the best acting advice she had ever been given,

In order to convey Peck's mental disorientation, Hitchcock hit upon the idea of a dream sequence and consulted Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, who had co-directed Un Chien andalou (1929) with fellow Spaniard Luis Buñuel. Hitch paid homage to that ground-breaking short with a shot of a hand cutting curtains decorated with eyeballs. But he found many of the ideas Dalí proposed for a 22-minute sequence to be unfeasible.

He did like the concept of Constance turning into a statue, which was achieved by reversing footage of Bergman breaking out of a plaster cast. But Selznick found the effect cheap and ordered William Cameron Menzies to reshoot much of the reverie while Hitchcock was in London working for the MOI. Indeed, Selznick also cut a prologue about mental healthcare after preview screenings and a shorter Spellbound finally hit cinemas a year after principal photography had ended.

The reviews were positive and the box office brisk, although few noticed the two-frame flash of red following the climactic gunshot, which was achieved using models of a giant hand holding a pistol. Miklós Rózsa's score was feted for its use of the theremin and went on to win the Academy Award, alongside nominations for Best Picture and Director, as well as for George Barnes's cinematography, and Michael Chekhov's supporting display as Bergman's mentor. Claude Rains would be nominated in the same category the following year for his performance in what many regard as the best film that Hitchcock made during his first 15 years in Hollywood.

Inspired by John Taintor Foote's Saturday Evening Post story, 'Song of the Dragon', Notorious (1946) was Hitchcock's first Hollywood outing as director-producer. It had been developed under the Selznick banner. But he needed money for Duel in the Sun and sold the project to RKO, where Hitchcock was allowed to tell the story of a war criminal's daughter spying on fugitive Nazis for the FBI in his own distinctive manner.

Selznick had hoped to pair Cary Grant and Vivien Leigh, with Clifton Webb or George Sanders as the duped spouse. But Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains took the roles, while Leopoldine Konstantin made her sole American appearance as the latter's mother after Ethel Barrymore had declined. The casting proved inspired, but it was the MacGuffin of uranium-filled wine bottles that caught the public imagination in the wake of the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Hitchcock and screenwriter Ben Hecht had discussed the deadly potency of uranium with Nobel Prize winner Robert Millikan of the California Institute of Technology. But, what had seemed a hot-button topic in 1946 tends to be discussed less these days than the elegant crane shot swooping down to the key in Bergman's hand during the reception sequence and the way that Hitchcock got round Production Code rules on the length of kisses by having Bergman and Grant smooch for three minutes during a sensually whispered discussion about food. However, it was Bergman's drunken dismissal of her guests that made it into Carl Reiner's canny cut'n'paste noir parody, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982).

The End of a Beautiful Friendship

While Hitchcock had flourished away from Selznick International Pictures, its proprietor had gone from being Hollywood's new wunderkind to a memo-firing, pill-popping caricature of the studio mogul. Eager to restore his reputation, Selznick returned to a Robert Smythe Hitchins novel that had been fascinating him since 1933. He had twice tried to persuade Greta Garbo to headline The Paradine Case, while Ingrid Bergman and Hedy Lamarr had also turned him down. So, Selznick decided to create a new star by awarding the role of the widow suspected of killing her husband to emerging Italian actress Alida Valli.

While not particularly interested in making a courtroom drama, Hitchcoc

A still from The Seventh Veil (1945)
A still from The Seventh Veil (1945)

k agreed to see out his Selznick contract, with Laurence Olivier as the married lawyer who falls for his client, Claude Rains as the judge, and Robert Newton as the accused's valet lover. However, Gregory Peck, Charles Laughton, and Louis Jourdan wound up taking the roles, while Ethel Barrymore essayed Laughton's wife and Ann Todd was cast as Peck's spouse on the strength of her performance in Compton Bennett's The Seventh Veil (1945).

Selznick secured himself a writing credit alongside Ben Hecht, Alma Reville, and James Bridie, although the latter pair did most of the writing. Hitch wasn't fussed about the storyline, however, as he had set himself the task of filming with four cameras on a ceilinged Old Bailey set in order to capture facial expressions and low angles in real time. But he offered little advice to his principals during the shoot and simply kept walking, as Sezlnick removed around 18 minutes from the premiere print.

As the footage was lost in a fire in 1980, it's no longer possible to view the film as Hitchcock had intended. But contemporary audiences were barely able to see it, as Selznick pulled it from cinemas to promote H.C. Potter's Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House and Valli's second Hollywood outing, Irving Pichel's The Miracle of the Bells (both 1948), in which Frank Sinatra plays a priest.

Considered one of Hitchcock's lesser pictures, The Paradine Case still earned Ethel Barrymore a Best Supporting nomination. Moreover, it probably impacted upon Agatha Christie's 1953 play, Witness For the Prosecution, which was filmed four years later by Billy Wilder, with married couple Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester being nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, as the scene-stealing barrister and his fussing nurse.

Leaving Selznick without a backward glance, Hitchcock formed Transatlantic Pictures with Sidney Bernstein and announced a new collaboration with Ingrid Bergman. She was busy shooting Victor Fleming's Joan of Arc (1948), however, so Hitchcock called Cary Grant about a modern-dress variation on William Shakespeare's Hamlet, which was in vogue having just been filmed by Laurence Olivier. This came to nothing, however, as had been the case with Hitch's efforts earlier in the decade to team Grant and Bergman in Greenmantle, John Buchan's sequel to The 39 Steps.

Plan C was an adaptation of a 1929 Patrick Hamilton's play that had been inspired by the murder of 14 year-old Bobby Franks by college students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. Dallas Bower had used long takes to adapt the thriller for BBC Television in 1939 and the technique had clearly intrigued Hitchcock, who had special breakaway sets constructed so that he could film the action in eight 10-minute sequence shots. Adding to the complication, however, was that he decided to make Rope (1948) his first colour film and moving the large Technicolor camera proved decidedly tricky.

Having failed to land either Montgomery Clift to play murderous mastermind Brandon Shaw or Cary Grant as his suspicious former tutor Rupert Cadell, Hitchcock settled on John Dall and James Stewart, with Farley Granger being cast as Brandon's fretful accomplice, Philip Morgan. But, while the Production Code people turned a blind eye to dinner guests eating with a corpse in a trunk across the room, they baulked at the play's gay subtext, even though Arthur Laurents's screenplay left many allusions between its lines.

The shoot proved onerous, with the slightest slip by members of the cast or the crew shifting furniture around the set necessitating a complete retake. Several days were lost when it was discovered that the camera was blurring the backdrop that Hitchcock had devised to convey the passage of time and heighten the suspense. This remarkable effect was achieved through a cyclorama that required 6000 incandescent bulbs, 150 transformers, and 200 neon signs to present an exact miniature replica of the New York skyline. Keep an eye on the clouds, as they are made out of spun glass and change shape every 10 minutes. As a joke, Hitchcock also rendered his Reduco profile from Lifeboat in neon.

A still from Vertigo (1958) With James Stewart And Barbara Bel Geddes
A still from Vertigo (1958) With James Stewart And Barbara Bel Geddes

Contemporary critics were unconvinced, with one complaining that the fluidity of the camera movements made it an exhausting watch. Some of the transitions masking the reel changes look a bit cumbersome, while the philosophising may sound pompous to modern ears. But the experiment remains visually fascinating, with head grip Morris Rosen thoroughly deserving his Oscar nomination for inventing the dolly mount that allowed the camera to glide with such prying elegance. Thankfully, Rope is readily available from Cinema Paradiso on DVD or Blu-ray. But, between 1961-83, a legal snafu meant that it became one of the so-called 'Five Lost Hitchcocks', along with Rear Window (1954), The Trouble With Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and Vertigo (1958).

Undaunted by the press response, Hitchcock returned to his postponed adaptation of Helen Simpson's novel, Under Capricorn (1949), the rights to which he had acquired for one dollar. Following Waltzes From Vienna (1933) - which can be rented from Cinema Paradiso on Volume 2 of The Jessie Matthews Revue - and Jamaica Inn, this was Hitch's final period piece, with 1830s Australia providing the setting for the ménage between wealthy ex-convict Samson Flusky (Joseph Cotten), his alcoholic wife, Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman), and Irish gentleman Charles Adare (Michael Wilding).

Bergman and Wilding had an affair during the London shoot, which would be her last Hollywood assignment for seven years, as she was ostracised because of her adulterous liaison with Italian director Roberto Rossellini following the making of Stromboli (1950). She also found the long-take technique tiresome and reportedly lost her temper so completely that it took 20 minutes for her to realise that Hitchcock (who hated confrontation) had left the set and gone home. But it was used more sparingly, as Jack Cardiff squired the Technicolor camera he called 'The Enchanted Cottage' around the elaborate sets.

On one occasion, the rig ran over Hitchcock's foot and broke a toe. But he still managed to make two cameo appearances, sporting a blue coat in the parade sequence and a darker jacket and hat on the steps of Government House. Neither was seen for long in cinemas, however, with the picture faring so badly at the box office that it was repossessed by the Bankers Trust Company after barely making back half of its $3 million budget and only resurfaced on television several years later.

It was an ignominious end to an otherwise notable decade and Hitchcock had the belated consolation of future film-maker Alexandre Astruc declaring Under Capricorn one of the 10 greatest films ever made in a 1958 edition of Cahiers du Cinéma.

A still from Stromboli, Land of God (1950)
A still from Stromboli, Land of God (1950)
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