Herewith, my humble contribution to a wonderful cinephilia-friendly cause, the third For The Love Of Film Blogathon, proceeds from which will help finance a restoration of a worthy film in which the maestro had an early-career involvement. Please see the bloggers cited in the logo below, and/or look at today's piece by my friend Self Styled Siren. And click here to make what will be a much appreciated and worthwhile donation.
I cannot find the exact citation, unfortunately, but I recall reading back in the '90s a magazine story chronicling the making of director Gus Van Sant's ostensibly shot-by-shot recreation of Psycho, and said piece containing many quotes from the participating actors in which they justified/rationalized their participation in the project, which, depending on who you were talking to was either a senseless kockamamie scheme or some kind of conceptual coup. And I remember William H. Macy, who was playing the part of Arbogast that had been originated by Martin Balsam, opining that one good reason, for him, to get on board with what many might consider a desecration was to get some kind of payback with respect to Hitchcock, because Macy didn't like that thing Hitchcock said about actors, that they were "cattle." And I read this, and I sighed. Because Macy is a soulful and not unintelligent man, and his misbegotten notion that Hitchcock was somehow the enemy of actors is unfortunate. And, I guess, very hard to kill.
The Hitchcock of 1939, anticipating a trip from Great Britain to Hollywood, in an interview in Film Weekly (reprinted in the invaluable Sidney Gottlieb-edited compilation Hitchcock on Hitchcock), revealed not just a great enthusiasm for American stars, but (and this shouldn't really come as a surprise) an acute sensitivity with respect to both particular abilities and potential. On Gary Cooper: "[He] has that rare faculty of being able to rivet the attention of an audience while he does nothing." Andre De Toth saw this in Cooper too, although he did not articulate it in quite the same way. On Carole Lombard: "I should like to cast [her] not in the type of superficial comedy which she so often plays but in a much more meaty comedy-drama,giving her plenty of scope for characterization." Once in Hollywood, Hitchcock and Lombard became friends. And they collaborated, on Mr. And Mrs. Smith, a 1941 divorce comedy that Hitchcock, in one of his legendary interviews with François Truffaut, kind of pooh-poohed: "That picture was done as a friendly gesture to [...] Lombard...I didn't really understand the type of people portrayed in the film, all I did was photograph the scenes as written." It was on the set of this picture that Lombard played the famous practical joke in which she built a mini-corral on the set and stocked it with three pieces of livestock tagged with the names of the film's three principal players.
Hitchcock's retrospective disconnection from Mr. And Mrs. Smith, juxtaposed with his previously stated eagerness to push Carole Lombard's performance envelope, suggests several questions, the most obvious being "What happened?" Well, it's entirely possible that nothing happened. That while Hitchcock's observations concerning the various actors were sharp and truly meant, his stated desire to remold them in certain ways was little more than public-relations bluster/diplomacy.On the other hand, the fact is that Hitchcock did approach Gary Cooper for the lead in Foreign Correspondent, and Cooper turned it down, which he (Cooper) later regretted. But whether or not Hitchcock's creative struggles with David O. Selznick during the making of Rebecca made the director subsequently dig in his heels harder with respect to hermetically sealing his creative process in the future, it's difficult to argue against the notion that the actor had a very specific and kind of immovable secondary place in Hitchcock's creative process. But it's also incorrect to translate this into an attitude of actual hostility. In his autobiography, Elia Kazan goes over the ways that different directors handle/respond to actors. His view: "Hitchcock told his screen stories as much as possible without help from his actors' performances. When Cary Grant, going into a film, asked him how he should play his part, Hitchcock answered, 'Just do what you always do.' Hitchcock relied on his camera angles and his montage [...] to do what on stage we relied on the actors for." Note the neutrality of Kazan's description; recall also Hitchcock's observation on Gary Cooper's ability to resonate while doing "nothing;" juxtapose with the theory behind the Kuleshov effect; and there's all the more reason to regret that Cooper and Hitchcock never got together.
Of course, Hitchcock made no bones or apologies for the fact that he considered shooting to be the most boring part of making a film. His pre-production work was the process by which he developed the movie in his head and assembled the means by which it could be materialized. So the actual shooting became a mechanical process, not unlike stuffing sausage casings. You could understand why an actor who was savvy to this attitude might build a resentment toward this. You can also understand how one actor might take "Just do what you always do" as a compliment and sign of respect, or as an insult. Until the period when he was getting all weird with his leading ladies, Hitchcock's expectation of a performer was that he or she would bring their best abilities and have whatever homework they felt they needed to do, done. Various acting methods and the work of directors like, well, Kazan, brought a notion of a more active collaboration between actor and director to the fore. The actor would not be playing a role in someone else's motion picture but creating a character/characterization, and hence the actor's notion of what was proper for the picture was to be taken rather seriously. This kind of idea, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say, was anathema to Hitchcock, who was only concerned with filming what HE saw. Here's how he describes (to Truffaut) his difficulty with Paul Newman during the filming of 1966's Torn Curtain, discussing a scene that was ultimately cut from the film: "As you know, he's a 'method' actor, and he found it hard to just give me one of those neutral looks I needed to cut from his point of view. Instead of looking toward Gromek's brother, toward the knife or the sausage, he played the scene in the 'method' style, with emotion, and he was always turning away." If we look at the camera as a pen, then here we can see Newman as runny ink. Martin Scorsese can be seen as having, in some ways, synthesizing Kazan's sympathy for actors with Hitchcock's plastic storytelling style. Talking about working with Newman some twenty years after Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, for 1986's The Color of Money, he recalls (in the Faber and Faber book Scorsese on Scorsese): "Paul [is the] kind of actor who doesn't like to improvise that much on the set, so [...] everything was rehearsed beforehand. We did it the way he suggested, which was to take two complete weeks and just work out with the actors in a loft. I was really nervous, because it was like the theater [...] So when he said, 'What you do is take a tape and mark out an area for a chair; then you tape out an area for a bed,' I could foresee those terrible theater things when people pretend a door is there, which I hate. I said, 'What if we use a real chair?' 'A chair is good,' he said, to my relief."
While we cannot imagine Hitchcock in such a situation getting anywhere near to, let alone beyond "just work out with the actors in a loft," we shouldn't, by the same token, beat his ghost or his films over the head with some conception that he, and they, are anti-human-performer. That's a rap more applicable to, say, Michael Bay.