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I'm Looking for Love

Posted on: 02 Oct 2015 by Philip Wyn Jones

An introduction to our Tainted Love season from Philip Wyn Jones...

I’M LOOKING FOR LOVE. Not something superficial and unconvincing. The real thing. But please don’t rush. I’m writing this with reference to four Hitchcock films showing at Chapter in October. They are: Rebecca (1940), Notorious (1946), Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960). All these films feature various kinds and degrees of love. I’ll be choosing the most impressive and placing those characters in my Lovers’ Gallery.

Rebecca was Hitchcock’s first American film and the beginning of his contract with David O. Selznick. He was to make four films for Selznick and between them be hired out to other studios. Hitchcock had many ideas regarding this adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s work, most of which were rejected by Selznick who wanted a faithful rendition of the novel. Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) is a wealthy widower on the lookout for a second wife. He finds a timid, paid female companion (Joan Fontaine) and they ‘fall in love’ and get married. It’s a strange romance. She’s escaping from her humiliating job, he’s trying to escape from an unhappy past. True love? I doubt it. Back at Maxim’s palatial residence, the second Mrs de Winter is totally out of her depth and is terrorised on a daily basis by the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers (Oscar-nominated Judith Anderson). She adored the first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca and resents this newcomer. You can sense the intensity of the Rebecca-Danvers relationship by the way Danvers caresses Rebecca’s underwear and exerts pressure on the second wife to end her misery via an opened window. Mrs Danvers is the real lover here and she gains entry to my Lovers’ Gallery.

Hitchcock then made eight films, including two in French for the French Resistance, before returning  to Selznick for Spellbound (1945) and Notorious. The title of Notorious refers to Alicia (Ingrid Bergman). She seems to do nothing but attend parties and get drunk. At one of these parties she meets Devlin (Cary Grant). They ‘fall in love’ and Devlin’s employers, the American Government, persuade him to use this relationship tactically. Alicia’s background makes it possible for her to contact the Nazis who have fled to South America, in particular Alex Sebastian (Oscar-nominated Claude Rains), her former lover.  Alicia hopes in vain that Devlin will oppose this. She enters the sinister Nazi community and begins to suffer terribly. Does Devlin help her? Of course not! So where is the true love in this grim story? Step forward, Alex. His love for Alicia knows no bounds and by persisting with this relationship he places himself in mortal danger. He is the real lover and fully deserves his place in my Lovers’ Gallery. 

Hitchcock made one more film for Selznick, The Paradine Case (1947), had a short-lived period as an independent producer, moved to Warner Bros and then set up camp at Paramount Studios. His fifth film at Paramount was Vertigo (1958). The vertigo sufferer in this film is former detective, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart). A friend asks him to keep a watchful eye on his wife for various reasons. Scottie and the wife fall in love, but she dies suddenly and Scottie feels responsible. He later meets a more down to earth girl, Judy (Kim Novak). There’s no obvious likeness but Scottie thinks he can re-model her to ‘resurrect’ the dead wife. In his famous Truffaut interview, Hitchcock hinted that this is a story about necrophilia. Scottie’s obsession results in psychological cruelty. He needs Judy to change her appearance and personality. Because she has fallen in love with Scottie she agrees and ultimately suffers a terrible fate. Judy’s sacrifice makes her the number one lover in this film and earns her a place in my Lovers’ Gallery.

Hitchcock needed to make one more film in order to complete his Paramount contract but before that he made one film for MGM, North by Northwest (1959). Back at Paramount he announced his intention to make Psycho. On hearing the details, Paramount said they would publicise and distribute the film but they had no intention of financing such a gruesome enterprise and certainly didn’t want it made on their premises. As a result Hitchcock financed the film himself and the film was shot at Universal’s TV studios where he was still making his weekly TV series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. As the film opens we see Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Sam Loomis (John Gavin) making half-hearted love in a shabby hotel bedroom. She wants to marry him. He seems to be more concerned about money. Clutching at this straw, Marion steals a large sum of money and sets off across country, in the hope that seeing all this cash will melt Sam’s heart. The journey is extremely tiring and a wayside motel appears to offer a welcome break. There Marion has a lovely chat with the motel’s young co-owner. His name is Norman Bates. He’s good-looking, gentle and shy and as they chat the seeds of romance are sewn. He opens his heart to her. She listens sympathetically and makes an important decision concerning her future. There is, however, a problem. Norman’s mother, Mrs Bates, is overpoweringly protective of her beloved son and feels duty bound to safeguard him from any outside interference. She goes into action with no thought for her own safety. This intense motherly love is most impressive and earns Mrs Bates a place of honour in my Lovers’ Gallery. Incidentally, when, in early 1960, Hitchcock was getting the Press interested  in his forthcoming film, he teasingly announced that he had cast the role of Mrs Bates. She would be played by none other than the great Judith Anderson!

Tainted Love is part of BFI LOVE, in partnership with Plusnet bfi.org.uk/love

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