The formidable force always behind Hitchcock

Updated: 2012-12-03 13:17

By John Anderson (China Daily/Agencies)

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It was Alma Reville who really killed off Janet Leigh in the shower scene of "Psycho."

"They were watching a cut of the film," the actor and producer Norman Lloyd recalled, referring to Ms. Reville and her husband, Alfred Hitchcock. "And Alma said, 'You can't - Janet Leigh swallowed once when she was dead in the bathroom.' It was one frame. No one spotted it except Alma."

Hitchcock, who died in 1980, is getting a lot of attention this year. His 1958 masterpiece "Vertigo" displaced "Citizen Kane" as the number-one film of all time in Britain's influential Sight & Sound poll. Two new features - "Hitchcock," which looks at the making of "Psycho," and "The Girl," a TV film that examines the unmaking of the actress Tippi Hedren - have the droll, acerbic and rotund Hitchcock at their center.

But it is Alma Reville who is finally getting some overdue public attention. She played an indispensable role in the making of her husband's movies, as a story consultant, script editor and continuity person. She was his closest confidante, his most trusted ally.

Now, being played by two prominent actresses (Helen Mirren and Imelda Staunton) she is being ushered out from behind the curtain.

The formidable force always behind Hitchcock

When they met in 1920s Berlin, she was a rising star at Ufa, the film studio; he was a would-be production designer.

"She deserves 100 percent of the recognition she's getting," said Mary Stone, a daughter of Patricia Hitchcock, the couple's only child. Alma died in 1982.

Mrs. Stone said the family was not consulted about "The Girl," which opens worldwide this winter. It portrays Hitchcock as a sexual predator and sadist, tormenting Ms. Hedren during the making of "The Birds" (1963). The family knew about "Hitchcock," she said, but chose not to be involved. Ms. Mirren plays Alma as a woman running out of patience with her husband's notorious obsession with blondes.

"She was a tiny little woman, under five foot, but she must have been an amazing personality," Ms. Mirren said. "And she was quite intimidating, from what I've read."

Much of Ms. Mirren's familiarity with her character came from "Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man," the biography written by Patricia Hitchcock, now 84, with Laurent Bouzereau. According to Ms. Hedren and "The Girl," based on Donald Spoto's "Dark Side of Genius," Reville was aware of her husband's alleged abuse of the actress and chose to ignore it; Ms. Staunton's portrayal of Alma is of a victim and an enabler.

But Mr. Lloyd, 98, who appeared in Hitchcock's "Spellbound" and "Saboteur" and directed two Hitchcock TV series, said, "'Enabler' is the wrong word. She observed everything, and either said to Hitch yes or no according to the person's capabilities. And he listened to everything she said."

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