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It's Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock, a Personal Biography [Paperback]

Charlotte Chandler
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 Mar 2006
In his films, Alfred Hitchcock found the perfect expression for his fantasies, and he shared those fantasies with the world in such classics as "The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest, Vertigo, Psycho," and "The Birds." In "It's Only a Movie," Charlotte Chandler draws from her extensive conversations with Hitchcock, frequently revealing unknown facts and unexpected insights into the man, the director, and his films. Author of acclaimed biographies of Groucho Marx, Federico Fellini, and Billy Wilder, Charlotte Chandler spent several years with Hitchcock discussing his life and his amazing career. She also talked with his wife, Alma, and daughter, Pat, as well as many of the screen legends who appeared in his films, including Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, John Gielgud, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, Tippi Hedren, James Mason, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak, Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, and others. The result is an intimate yet expansive portrait of a unique artist who, from the 1920s through the 1970s, created many of history's most memorable films. A quarter-century after his death, Hitchcock's distinctive profile remains an instantly recognizable icon to millions, while his films continue to grow in popular appeal and critical esteem. Chandler introduces us to the real Hitchcock: a devoted family man, practical joker, and Englishman of Edwardian sensibilities who was one of the great masters of cinematic art.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 349 pages
  • Publisher: Applause Theatre Book Publishers (15 Mar 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1557836922
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557836922
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 15.2 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,007,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
ALFRED HITCHCOCK turned a small boy's fear into that incredible body of work, Robert Boyle, colleague and friend of Alfred Hitchcock said. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars great 2 Sep 2013
By lisa
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
One of our best we ha e ever had in the world & with such talant it really is a great read
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5.0 out of 5 stars only a movie 6 Feb 2011
this book is a personal view of the man behind the myth. its not academic bit if you want to learn about hitchock, his family, and his motivation, then this is for you.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Lightweight, inessential Hitchcock overview 17 May 2010
This isn't a terrible book, but it certainly isn't scholarly or very enlightening.

Charlotte Chandler presents a chatty, anecdotal run-through of Hitchcock's career. There are thumbnail outlines of the plots of each film, followed by a handful of stories to do with its production, with lots of soundbites from those involved. It's only suitable, really, for someone who knows very little about Hitchcock and has never read a book on him before, and prefers stories about Hollywood personalities rather than a serious look at the films themselves. If you're going on holiday, and want to pack a non-fiction title that's easy to read on the beach, this would probably do it. Suitable only for a young teen who is getting interested in classic movies but doesn't want to read anything too heavy, or a grandparent who remembers the Hitchcock films and likes tales about old-time stars. For anyone else, I suggest something like "The Alfred Hitchcock Story" by Ken Mogg, which has a good mix of interesting images, plot outlines, production history and criticism on every single film.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gentle, entertaining look at the "Master of Suspense" 2 April 2005
By Bookreporter - Published on
IT'S ONLY A MOVIE: Alfred Hitchcock -- A Personal Biography is the latest (and certainly not the greatest) look at the life of the famed suspense director.

Charlotte Chandler, whose other celebrity biographies include NOBODY'S PERFECT: Billy Wilder -- A Personal Biography; I, FELLINI; and HELLO, I MUST BE GOING: Groucho and His Friends, concentrates on Hitchcock primarily as a movie maker. The aspects of his early and later life get relatively short shrift, which many readers will no doubt appreciate, wanting to get to the meat of the matter.

Chandler presents the talented "Hitch" as a visionary, creating cinematic effects and manipulating the emotions of moviegoers for more than fifty years. His classics --- The Man Who Knew Too Much (both versions), Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, Rebecca, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Notorious...the list of work from one person seems ridiculous and unfair --- defined fright films that endure to this day, despite the pyrotechnical toys and other gimmicks modern directors employ to get a rise out of us. Hitchcock knew how to use a patch of light or the absence of sound to set up the audience for the constant rude awakening. He was the master of the "MacGuffin," a plot device that defies conventional explanation, which Chandler describes as "something that motivates characters to take dangerous chances for something they must have.... In The 39 Steps it's a secret airplane engine design. In The Lady Vanishes and in Foreign Correspondent it's a secret diplomatic message...."

Hitchcock was a bit of an overgrown imp, she writes, not a stuffed shirt. Despite his formal bearing, he always enjoyed a good joke, particularly when it came at the good-natured expense of one of his actors. And what actors! Jimmy Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, James Mason, Anthony Perkins --- a veritable "who's who" of Hollywood nobility.

Although his art was complex, Hitchcock's directorial style was simple: actors should be able to get by with a minimum of instruction. Those looking for guidance learned that it must come from within. Insecurity was tolerated with great reluctance. Hitchcock had little patience for "method" actors who needed to know their motivation. Basically, he believed their motivation should be to do a good job to earn their paycheck. Chandler employs the filmmaker's catchphrase, "It's only a movie," on several occasions as evidence of Hitchcock's refusal to take anything (or anybody) too seriously.

Chandler breaks down Hitchcock's story movie by movie. Each section deals anecdotally with each film, noting the little triumphs and failures inherent in any project and including the actors' impressions of working for the master of suspense (overwhelmingly positive). Many were in awe of the legend, especially those early in their career. There are many recollections of small kindnesses, such as dinner invitations, that portray Hitchcock in an almost saintly light, despite the evil inclinations of many of his characters.

Because of its style, IT'S ONLY A MOVIE gives short shrift to the fine points that define a thorough biography, despite the title. For example, although Chandler devotes a section of the book to "The Last Years," she does not go into any substantial details about Hitchcock's own physical ailments, only that he had lost the will to live, ostensibly depressed over the illness of Alma, his beloved helpmeet.

Chandler writes in a very gossipy mien, insinuating herself into the narrative, letting the reader know that she was in with the "in crowd." One wonders what she had in mind with the subtitle "A Personal Biography." Which "person" is she talking about? It often seems to be herself. She peppers her remarks with phrases like, "He told me..." or "I said to him...." Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it can be wearing after a while.

IT'S ONLY A MOVIE may not be on a scholarly par with other Hitchcock biographies, such as Patrick McGilligan's ALFRED HITCHCOCK: A Life in Darkness and Light or THE A-Z OF HITCHCOCK: The Ultimate Reference Guide, by Howard Maxford, or the dozens of studies of specific films or groups of films (Murray Pomerance's AN EYE FOR HITCHCOCK or FRAMING HITCHCOCK: Selected Essays from the Hitchcock Annual, edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Christopher Brookhouse). But it is a gentle, entertaining look at a paradoxically gentle and entertaining man.

--- Reviewed by Ron Kaplan
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hitchcock Once Over Lightly 16 April 2005
By Ed Uyeshima - Published on
It's no wonder that Alfred Hitchcock continues to fascinate a quarter century after his death as his work resonates still. Author Charlotte Chandler has written a breezy history of Hitchcock the master filmmaker. It's by no means the best one on the market, as I feel Donald Spoto wrote the authoritative biography in 1983, "The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock", and Francois Truffaut published his famous comprehensive interview with Hitchcock in 1967. I would recommend either before diving into this dishy memoir, but it's good fun about his professional life nonetheless.

Chandler breaks down Hitchcock's story movie by movie in chronological order. Each section deals anecdotally with each film, noting the little triumphs and failures inherent in any project and including the actors' impressions of working for the master of suspense. Contrary to popular belief, many were genuinely impressed by Hitchcock's genius almost to the point of genuflection, and the book is full of recollections of his kindnesses, hardly the dark portrait Spoto painted nor Hitchcock himself with the characters in his films. In fact, according to Chandler, he did not readily abandon his actors as is widely believed. Rather, everyone simply agreed he knew what he wanted and with supreme confidence, Hitchcock dictated a set like a consummate professional. To the thinner-skinned, he was an icy control freak. His no-fuss filmmaking style comes across in Chandler's colorful descriptions of the classics he directed. Sometimes, Chandler insinuates herself into the narrative to the point of being intrusive, as if she needs to validate her qualifications for writing this biography. It can get irritating, but luckily her insights offset much of the over-personalized perspective. Just reviewing his filmography in such gently provocative detail is reason enough to buy this book, whether it's "Rebecca", "Shadow of a Doubt", "Notorious", "Strangers on a Train", "Rear Window", "Vertigo'', "North by Northwest", "Psycho", "The Birds", or his earlier English pictures. An entertaining read about a true character and a deservedly legendary director.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hitchcock Among the Quotes 1 July 2008
By Scott T. Rivers - Published on
Charlotte Chandler's 2005 portrait of Alfred Hitchcock reads more like an extended gossip column than a traditional biography. Though occasionally insightful and entertaining, the author would have benefited from paraphrasing some of the lengthy quotes from her numerous interviews. "It's Only a Movie" may not represent the finest book on the Master of Suspense (try François Truffaut's "Hitchcock" and Patrick McGilligan's "A Life in Darkness and Light"), yet it avoids the bleak unpleasantness of Donald Spoto's "The Dark Side of Genius."
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars As superficial as his movies weren't 17 Dec 2011
By M. Buisman - Published on
Though it gives a good view of how his career went the author never really delves deep into the personality of Hitchcock, even though she talked to many who knew him. It disconnects the man from the brilliant movies, which are also talked about in just a few pages. It never really tells you why his movies were that great. Maybe it's not possible to do that in300 pages, but I had expected more.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Who was Alfred Hitchcock? 4 Nov 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Read it only if you have specific interest in this era of movie-making and wish to know more about Hitchcock's work. Focusing on his movies, it is comprised primarily of quoted personal anecdotes from Hitchcock and the stars. Between childhood and his last years, there is very little information about who he was. Being the private man he was, this would probably please him, but not the reader.
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