Posts Tagged ‘Eva Marie Saint

Five (Or 10) Things You Probably Don’t Know About Alfred Hitchcock Movies

- June 7th, 2011

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Jimmy Stewart (Rear Window)

Rear Window (1954)

PLOT: A globe-trotting news photographer (supposedly based on Life’s Robert Capa) breaks his leg on assignment and is confined to a wheelchair  in his apartment in New York City’s Greenwich Village. His only outlet — apart from semi-witty repartee with his nurse and inexplicably trying to break up with icy-hot blonde model-girlfriend Grace Kelly — is spying on his neighbours across the courtyard. And of course — because this is a Hitchcock film — he becomes convinced one of the neighbour’s has murdered his wife. Complications ensue.

VIDEO CLIP LINK

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WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: Hitchcock initially considered filming on location in Greenwich Village — he had the courtyard picked out and everything — but, being such an extreme control freak, quickly opted to recreate the entire apartment complex on the largest soundstage in Hollywood. Hitchcock said he couldn’t have lit the real setting properly and he actually had to raid every major studio for enough lights to create the various effects he needed to show activity in a dozen different apartments at the same time while “natural” light conditions changed outside.

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Now you may know all that, but what you don’t know is that photographer “Jeff” Jeffries’ movie apartment was based exactly on star Jimmy Stewart’s own Greenwich Village apartment. After serving as a combat bomber pilot in World War II, Stewart wasn’t sure he wanted to continue his Hollywood movie career. He returned to Broadway and starred for three years in the hit show Harvey about an eccentric whose best friend is a giant, imaginary rabbit. After Stewart returned to Hollywood, he kept his Greenwich Village apartment as a New York getaway pad. Hitchcock sent a team of photographers in to document pretty much every square inch of it and recreated Stewart’s Greenwich Village flat on the Hollywood Rear Window set.

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Vertigo (1958)

PLOT: Jimmy Stewart is a cop who can’t handle heights, a condition which results in the death of another cop and Jimmy’s decision to take early retirement. As a private eye, he is hired to tail a woman who believes she’s possessed and … oh, never mind … you either know the movie and accept the complex, corny plot or it doesn’t matter.

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VIDEO CLIP LINK

WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: Kim Novak was not Hitchcock’s first choice to play the female lead and he built up a real grudge against her, partly because she held tough on a contract dispute. Hitchcock didn’t mind spending oodles on set design because it was all up there on the screen but he had a tendency to nickel and dime writers and actors whenever he could comfortably get away with it.

In one scene where Novak’s character is supposed to attempt suicide by jumping into San Francisco Bay, Hitchcock made her jump into the studio water tank subbing for San Francisco Bay … again … and again … and again. As Novak was pulled from the water, dried off, taken back to wardrobe and makeup for another change of clothes, another hair dry and and another makeup re-do before being brought back to the water tank for another ordeal, Hitchcock sat in his director’s chair and smiled that quirky little sadistic Hitchcock smile.

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North By Northwest (1959)

PLOT: Cary Grant is a suave, successful Madison Avenue ad exec who (1) is mistaken for an undercover agent who doesn’t exist, (2) is falsely accused of murder, (3) is chased across the United States by foreign spies, the CIA and the FBI, (4) falls in love with icy blonde Eva Marie Saint only to find out (5) she’s the consort of foreign spy chief James Mason but (6) is really a deep-cover operative for the U.S. government… so … Cary saves Eva Marie from a suspicious James and they flee across the massive presidential rockface of Mount Rushmore … and … they almost die but don’t die … before … crawling into a transcontinental train berth together as husband and wife.

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Grant, Cary (NxNW)

VIDEO CLIP LINK

WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: North By Northwest was an original screenplay commissioned by Alfred Hitchcock to incorporate a whole bunch of interesting visual sequences the director had come up with (the UN assassination, the life-and-death art auction, the crop-duster aerial attack, the Mount Rushmore chase, etc.) but the screenplay didn’t have a title.

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One of the many possibilities considered was … wait for it … The Man In Lincoln’s Nose. Really. Hitchcock had planned to film Grant having a sneezing fit while hiding in Abraham Lincoln’s nose on Mount Rushmore. He cut the scene and, fortunately, The Man In Lincoln’s Nose was thus discarded as a potential title.

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Another title considered but discarded was Breathless — which allowed French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard to use Breathless as the title of his breakout film the following year. It’s possible — actually quite likely, since the Franco-Swiss director was a huge fan of the Anglo-American director — that Godard used Breathless as a sly tribute to Hitchcock.

The ultimate title, North By Northwest, has a great sound but is basically meaningless — just another Hitchcock McGuffin. It comes from a Shakespeare quote in which Hamlet is bemoaning his surreal, directionless existence: “I am but mad north-north-west: When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.”

Huh? Makes a much better movie title than soliloquy.

One more thing: In the scene where Eva Marie Saint (supposedly) shoots Cary Grant in the cafeteria at Mount Rushmore, one of the extras — a young boy — puts his fingers in his ears just before Eva Marie pulls the trigger on her prop gun. Hitchcock liked the take and decided to ignore the boy. You can see the kid in the film clip above if you want to go back and look at it again.

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The Birds (1963)

PLOT: Birds conspire to attack humans and take over a coastal village in northern California … and maybe the world.

VIDEO CLIP LINK

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WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: Hitchcock used all kinds of birds, puppet birds, mechanical birds and real live trained birds. But sometimes “trained” means squat. In the climactic scene near the end of the movie where Tippi Hedren is savaged in a mass seagull attack, the birds were tied by fine fishing line to Hedren’s clothing so they stayed close to her. The scene took seven days to shoot … seven days with birds tied to Tippi Hedren. “It was the worst week of my life,” she said later with sublime understatement. Not surprisingly, Hedren had a complete physical and emotional collapse at the end of filming the scene and spent another week in hospital recovering. When Rod Taylor is seen carrying “Tippi” downstairs after the attack, it was actually Hedren’s stand-in in his arms. Hedren was still in hospital.

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Taylor, by the way, later said the grain fed to the seagulls was soaked in liquor to keep them relatively docile.

One more thing: At a 1999 New York City forum of women in Hitchcock films, Suzanne Pleshette (one-third of the awkward love triangle in The Birds) recalled Hitchcock’s assistant Peggy Robertson coming to her and saying, “You know, don’t put your cigarette out in your eggs. He hates eggs and he hates cigarettes, and frankly, he hates you.” Pleshette told it as a joke, but Hitchcock did hate eggs and did hate cigarettes, so maybe …

At the same forum, Pleshette also recalled suggesting to Hitchcock that it would “be great if the birds got in my ear, and ripped my ear and it was hanging.”

Hitchcock agreed and sent Pleshette off to makeup for several hours to have the gruesome work done — then he filmed her from the side that didn’t show the savaged ear.

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Psycho (1960)

PLOT: Janet Leigh steals money, runs, checks into a seedy motel, doesn’t get to spend the money. Anthony Perkins, meanwhile, loves Mother, hates Mother, loves Mother, hates Mother, is Mother, loves, hates, loves, hates, hates, kills, kills, dies.

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VIDEO CLIP LINK

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WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: It has been widely reported that Hitchcock himself did not direct the famous shower murder scene. Because Hitchcock did so much pre-planning and storyboarding, he supposedly left the actual directing of the shower sequence (mainly using Janet Leigh’s body double) in the hands of Psycho art director Saul Bass. According to Saul Bass, anyway.

Not so, according to Janet Leigh. Here’s what she had to say at the same 1999 forum where Suzanne Pleshette talked about The Birds:

“Saul Bass did not direct the shower scene, and I told him to his face, how dare he say that? … He (Hitchcock) was there every minute of the shower scene. No one else directed it. The A.D. (assistant director) always says “Roll ‘em,” but he (Hitchcock) was there to say “Cut” or “Print.” It really upsets me because it’s absolutely not true.”

One thing that is true is that Hitchcock — noted as a practical joker with a rather macabre, perhaps sadistic streak — tested the “fear factor” of the “Mother” mannequin by placing it in Janet Leigh’s dressing room at the end of a harrowing day of filming. Leigh screamed and screamed and screamed. But really … she loved Hitch … really … it was all just fun, no harm done … just like Tippi and those damned birds tied to her … Get off! Get off! Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrghhhhhh! (Love you, Hitch, just stay away from me … please …)

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Like most of his later films, Hitchcock kept personal proprietary control of Psycho, which was filmed for Paramount Studios. Shortly afterwards, when Hitchcock switched studios from Paramount to Universal, he traded the rights to Psycho and to his very popular TV show for stock in MCA, parent company of Universal. In that one move Hitchcock became the third largest shareholder

Hitchcock traded rights to Psycho and his TV show for MCA stock, parent company of Universal, becoming MCA’s third largest shareholder and a very, very wealthy man. But was he happy?

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One last thing: The business about Norman Bates standing at the foot of Mother’s bed for regular interrogations was based on Hitchcock’s own experience as a teenager when he would have to report to his invalid mother each evening, stand at the foot of her sickbed and detail his activities that day.