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May 15, 2012


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D Cairns

For Macy to win his point he'd have to give a better performance than Martin Balsam did in the same role. Macy is perfectly good... but certainly no better than Balsam.

Tom Russell

Great post, Glenn.

I think that De Palma at his best achieves a similar synthesis as Scorsese of Hitchcock's storytelling techniques and Kazan's more actor-oriented approach.


I remember that article with the Macy quote. So for what it's worth, I know you're not lying.

Grand Old Movies

Hitchcock's attitude toward actors is often portrayed as mechanistic, that they're somehow the 'cattle' to be pushed around the set, but I see it instead as Hitchcock being very intuitive about what he was looking for and trying to fit the right actor to the image he had of his film and what he was trying to do. Once he had that actor, then of course it would just be a matter of the actor 'doing' what he always did - since that would complete the image. It also seems a method that could allow actors freedom to be themselves and react naturally. As you note, an iconic actor like Cooper would, just by his very presence, convey the specific mood or tone that a director wanted; the actor is thus an integral part of the whole Hitchcock film.


I think that David Mamet has said worse things about actors. Perhaps Macy was not being 100% serious about his reasons for performing in PSYCHO.

Victor Morton

When Max Von Sydow presented THE VIRGIN SPRING at Toronto shortly after Bergman's death, he said some things about Bergman's attitude toward actors that struck me as very Hitchcockian. I described the whole screening in an essay here (http://vjmorton.wordpress.com/2007/10/03/me-and-max/) but here is the here-relevant part:

"Surprisingly to me, von Sydow said Bergman gave little explicit direction³, something to the effect of “he gave us general ideas and if we weren’t doing something right, he’d tell us.” But he was not a control-freak, which von Sydow said he liked. “Actors don’t like to be given orders. You want the sense of having some input and some control over what you’re doing. Otherwise, it’s boring,” he said. Surprisingly, this was more or less the direction style of another of my favorite directors, but a man who doesn’t have Bergman’s reputation as a great director of actors — Alfred (“actors are cattle") Hitchcock."


Not sure what Hitch's philosophy re: actors was on Under Capricorn, but his use of long takes certainly enabled Ingrid Bergman to go well beyond "doing what she does", giving one hell of a performance. She ain't bad in Notorious either, also not a typical Bergman role. Would these two be her most sexually-charged, complex turns?

La Faustin

How about her Hedda Gabler? (Not that the above Hitchcock roles are anything near hay ...)

La Faustin

One of my capcha words was norman!


"recall also Hitchcock's observation on Gary Cooper's ability to resonate while doing "nothing;" juxtapose with the theory behind the Kuleshov effect"

Bingo. Think of all the shots of James Stewart's following Kim Novak in Vertigo for just how well that worked for Hitch.

"Until the period when he was getting all weird with his leading ladies..."

I think that's where all the modern objections to Hitch's actor wrangling methods REALLY come from.

No one cares about what Kubrick did to Shelley Duvall because he wasn't sexually hitting on her.

David Ehrenstein

In his excellent memoir "Include Me Out," Farley Granger discusses working with Hitch on "Rope" and "Strangers on a Train." As the former was all about camera technique their interactions were minimal. But on the latter Hitch brought Farley right into thet process, explaining how certan shots would look once edited into the whole design. He found Hitch delightful and the whole experience very enjoyable. Barbara Harris felt exactly the same on "Family Plot." Hitch loved eccentric actors -- and few are quite as eccentric as Barbara. He told her where he was positioning the camera and why. Therefore in the scenes where Madame Blanche goes into her fake trances Ht indicated where she was to start and where she was to end up in flouncing around the room. As for what she was do - "Oh whatever you want." She had a ball, as is obvious from her smiling face in hte last close-up in the history of Hitchccck.


Apparently Von Sternberg too complimented Gary Cooper for that very same quality Hitch exalted, as Cooper wrote in the prologue to 'Fun in a Chinese laundry'.


An intriguing topic. Of course, in some cases, even as he may (or may not) have seemed to ignore the actors, he ended up serving their careers--until, as you say, he went "all weird with his leading ladies." At that point (the Tippi era) he seemed to think that by casting non-performers he could entirely shape them in celluloid ... and acting skills do help.

Kevyn Knox

Hey, whatever way Hitch may have been with actors (the cattle things is probably a bit on the wingnut side of things) at least he knew their names and did not care if they went and did other films. Now let's talk about Bresson...

David Ehrenstein

Speakig of Sternberg, he was notorious for his alleged mistreatment of actors. I suspect he was disinclined to offer priase and carry water, for there was a recent TCM roundtable of child stars and Dickie Moore spoke of how kind Sternberg was to him during the shooting of "Blonde Venus." He even allowed Dickie his pet dog on the set to play with while they were setting up the lighting for the shots -- whcih with Sternberg was of course quite the deal.


"Speakig of Sternberg, he was notorious for his alleged mistreatment of actors."

There is the infamous Sam Jaffe story, which I think is the core of that notoriety.

But Marlene always said no one else knew how to light and shoot her...


And worth noting that both Von Sternberg's abuse of Sam Jaffe and Kubrick's abuse of Shelly Duvall had legitimate rationales in producing a better filmic product.

Non-child actors in such productions are well paid professionals, and I've got no ethical qualms in that type of stuff going on during the pro-filmic event, just as long as its for the art rather than for personal reasons.

Tom Block

"filmic product"

Is this what we're calling movies now?


Well, as opposed to the pro-filmic event, sure.

Ryan Kelly

I've always thought this element of the discourse regarding Hitchcock to be a little bizarre, and Joseph McBride speculates in his biography that it was an offhanded joke that became completely blown out of proportion over time. Makes sense to me, because so many incredible performances are given in Hitchcock's films that I don't see how it can be argued that he didn't value the artistry of actors.

And even if that was the way he personally felt, the process doesn't really matter - the results are what matter. And the results place a clear emphasis on performance.

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