Thursday, October 10, 2013
SPELLBOUND BY BEAUTY: ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND HIS LEADING LADIES
It would be easy to completely dismiss this book as Spoto's attempt to pick once more at the bones of Alfred Hitchcock -- and sometimes it truly comes off like that -- were it not for the fact that the book is entertaining and well-written. Spoto goes through a list of Hitch's leading ladies and describes the great director's relationship with them, giving mini-bios of the women if there isn't any dirt to be dug up. All of this is perfectly readable if not terribly enlightening. The major chapters -- and charges -- concern Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren of The Birds, and much of this isn't new, either, just more detailed. Like many a director before and after, Hitchcock -- according to the book -- became enamored and possessive of a model totally out of his league and cast her in a major role she wasn't ready for. [Like that's never happened before!] According to Hedren, Hitchcock was guilty of multiple abuses of sexual harassment. If we're to believe the various assertions in Spellbound By Beauty, Hitch was a rather childish, sexually and romantically frustrated man who went a little too far as far as Hedren was concerned. [Despite contracts and possible lawsuits and needing to support her daughter, it's difficult to understand how Hedren in any case could have subjected herself to Hitchcock again in Marnie after her experiences in The Birds. You would think she'd fly away and get a waitressing job and a good lawyer!] Hitch loved telling ribald jokes to the women in his films and other things and they either laughed, like saucy Carole Lombard and Karen Black, or were mortally offended like the devout and prim Diane Baker. As for Hedren, she may have been uncomfortable filming the sequence with the birds attacking her in the attic in The Birds, but it's a masterful sequence and surely she didn't suffer any more than a zillion actors in even more demanding physical roles. That's the movies. Spoto's negative comments about the very talented Joan Fontaine seem especially mean-spirited, perhaps because she didn't contribute any negative anecdotes. At least Spoto admits that whatever his failings as a man, Hitchcock was a genius filmmaker, and all these years after his death, that's really all that matters.
Verdict: Hitchcock sacrificed on the fires of political correctness? **1/2.