Hitchcock Centenary: `You want her to be murdered'
From showers and crop-sprayers to handcuffs and windscreen wipers: we ask, what's your favourite Hitchcock moment?
Sunday 16 May 1999
Actor who played the murderer in Hitchcock's 1972 film, `Frenzy'
For me, I think it has to be the old favourite, the shower scene in Psycho. I simply shot out of my seat. Being an actor, although a very young one and not all that versed in the business, I thought, he's just killed his star, and you don't do that: the pretty girl star goes through to the end. It was one of a series of tricks he played on the audience. The next thing that happened was that Martin Balsam turned up as the detective, and we thought, we can rely on him, he's going to solve the crime. He gets to the dreadful hotel, climbs up the stairs and falls back down again. That's the end of him. So Hitch is saying: forget all about how pictures are made in Hollywood; you, the audience, will never get it right. And it's such a wonderful joke to play on people
He never played any practical jokes on set when I was in Frenzy. Coming up to a big sequence he would show you the storyboard of exactly how he was going to shoot it, because for him he'd already made the film - it was already shot in his head. So, from that point of view, there were no surprises.
Hitchcock's daughter, now 70, whose acting credits include `Strangers on a Train'
The riding sequence at the beginning of Notorious, when Ingrid Bergman first meets Claude Rains. It sets up the whole film so beautifully, and it's a film in which every single part is brilliantly cast. Of course he tried to do that in every picture. My father really was an actor's dream. He could concentrate on actors because before he shot a scene he already knew exactly how he wanted it to look. One thing I think people don't realise is how big a part my mother played in his career. My father would come home and try out an idea for a film on her, and if she didn't like it he wouldn't make it. She was born the day after my father [14 August 1899] so for me it's really a double centenary we're celebrating.
Director of the British Film Institute
Hitchcock's greatest moments are either pure cinema or pure mischief, usually with strong sexual overtones. For sheer outrage value I'd pick a scene from Rebecca where the second Mrs de Winter (Joan Fontaine) is being systematically tormented by Mrs Danvers, the spooky housekeeper of Manderley, about her failure to measure up to her dead predecessor.
There's one scene where Mrs Danvers shows off Rebecca's shrine of a bedroom to Joan Fontaine which culminates with the housekeeper rhapsodising about Rebecca's beauty while caressing her dead mistress's panties "... made specially for her by the nuns of the Convent of St Clare...". It's a moment of sophisticated and calculated nastiness which simultaneously confirms everything you suspected about Mrs Danvers' repressed feelings for the dead Rebecca and also explains her hatred for her successor. It's very deft character development. Made in 1940, it's still a remarkably dirty scene and it's two millimetres away from high camp. It also perfectly illustrates Hitchcock's ability to take someone else's work and make it entirely his own.
Actress who appeared in `Frenzy'
My favourite moment of all is the cornfield in North by Northwest. Every single time I see it, I find it breathtaking movie-making. It's probably a rather hackneyed choice. But it's such a subtle, wonderful piece of plotting. The ending of that film is very good too, with tricks going on right up to the very end. Notorious, with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, would also be high up on my list, but my absolute favourite is North by Northwest: it always takes my breath away.
Artist whose works `Psycho 24' and `Feature Film' are based on `Psycho' and `Vertigo'
It's in Dial M for Murder. The point where Ray Milland - who's arranging the murder of his wife, Grace Kelly - is sitting at a dinner table and he looks at his watch, once, and checks what time it is so that he can make a telephone call. He's supposed to make the call at such-and-such a time, and then the next time he looks at his watch, he realises that his watch has stopped. Therefore he's probably missed the time to call in order to murder his wife. It's partly that the look on his face - the sweat running down his brow - is a fantastically theatrical moment. But also the reason I like it is that everybody who watches it thinks, oh shit, which means that they obviously want him to make the phone call and want Grace Kelly to be murdered, which is classic Hitchcock - to make us sympathise with the murderer as much as with the victim.
Director of the ICA and former editor of `Sight & Sound'
The sequence from The Thirty-Nine Steps in a hotel or an inn on the moors when the two characters [played by Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll] are handcuffed together and she has to take her stockings off, and his hand has to follow her hand as she takes her stockings off. It's the perfect Hitchcock moment because it's two people yoked together; it's kind of erotic and troubling because she thinks he's the murderer, which of course he isn't. I think all of Hitchcock's great films are about a love story, and this is a love story where two people who end up together start by being handcuffed together, so it gathers up all the wonderful things in Hitchcock, and not least one of its strengths is that it's very funny as well as being erotic. I think Hitchcock's kind of comedy is much under- appreciated.
Film critic, `Independent on Sunday'
I have no favourite moment because with Hitchcock every moment is a favourite one. What's so distinctive about him is that from the very first shot, of even his weaker films, the touch is immediately identifiable. Real Hitchcockophiles, real Hitchcock buffs get pleasure out of a shot of a car parking in front of a driveway.
One of my favourite moments - it's not a moment, it's a sort of little motif - is in Vertigo. There's quite a lengthy sequence where James Stewart the detective pursues Kim Novak up and down those very sloping streets of San Francisco. It's not a car chase in the sense of films like French Connection, with cars crashing. It's this slow, tailing process and these two cars, like elevators, just rise and fall. It's incredibly mysterious and haunting. It's not at all the kind of car chase we're used to in Hollywood blockbusters - and it's so much more effective. It's not a chase because she doesn't know that he's there, and everything's very discreet on the part of James Stewart. He drives very slowly and she does too, and the effect of these two cars moving around the city is a little like those globules, those "floaters" that you sometimes have in front of your eyes, that float across the surface of your vision; and those cars just seem to float across the surface of the screen, almost like planes or even ships. It's all very mysterious and quite obsessive. Those scenes are something I never tire of.
The bit in North by Northwest where Cary Grant is dumped in the field and the crop-dusting plane is hovering around in the distance and gradually gets bigger and bigger. The whole set-up of that movie is just wonderful. Do you remember he takes a telegram that's meant for someone else? It's the ordinary person dropping through reality. The beauty of Hitchcock lies in the mechanism. It's like a watch - one can enjoy observing it at work almost as much as enjoying the end product.
The scene in Psycho when Janet Leigh is driving away from Phoenix towards the motel after she has taken the money. There is a terrible moment when it seems as if she's in charge. But with the rain and the windscreen wipers and the music, there's something else going on that's got nothing to do with her at all. So there's that double thing: you're watching a woman who thinks she's in control, but in fact she's not at all. Essentially it's about Hitchcock's cruelty. You sense something's going to go bad. It actually goes bad in a completely arbitrary way - Hitchcock's so good at that, like at the end of The Birds when the resolution is random, really. He was cruel to his characters, very cold; but there's also a kind of joy in creating them, a kind of sadism. I think he was a sadist.
`Reputations: Hitch' is on BBC2 on 30 and 31 May; a Hitchcock retrospective is at the NFT, SE1 (0171 928 3232) from 13 August; `Strangers on a Train', with alternative footage and dialogue, is re-released on 13 August; a Hitchcock exhibition and film retrospective is at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (00 1 212 708 9400) until 17 August.
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