Hitchcock's Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System Hardcover – 11 Sep 2014
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There's a well-known story about film director Alfred Hitchcock that says he believed actors were like cattle. In fact, he said they should be treated like cattle-a subtle but important distinction-but the big question is whether he actually believed what he said. As the author demonstrates in this perceptive look at Hitchcock's American films, the director definitely believed that actors should service the story, not the other way around, but, on the other hand, he could be almost infinitely patient, allowing a performer to ease into a scene (as he did with Ingrid Bergman), and he seemed to have a keen ability to match an actor with a character (the poor performances in Hitchcock's movies, Coffin notes, were usually due to casting choices imposed on the director by the studios). It would have been easy for Coffin to paint Hitchcock, as so many writers have already done, as a heartless director who thought actors were an inconvenient necessity, but the truth is rather more complex than that, and Hitchcock's legion of fans should be happy that Coffin is interested in finding it. Booklist At present, the books and critical studies on film director Alfred Hitchcock and his movies far outnumber the films themselves. This book ... deals in a unique fashion with the 28 Hollywood films Hitchcock directed, beginning with Rebecca (1940) and ending with Family Plot (1976). In this volume the author focuses on the leading actors in each film (usually two or three per film), the characters they portrayed, and the quality of each performance. In six to eight pages per film, the author discusses casting choices (who got the roles, who did not, and why), pertinent background material on each featured actor, a brief analysis of each character portrayed (prior knowledge of the film is helpful), progress and problems in the shooting of each film, Hitchcock's treatment of each of the stars, the critical reception to the film and, most important, an evaluation of the nature and quality of each actor's performance. Here, the author quotes generously from other film critics and often from Hitchcock, the master himself. However, usually the opinions expressed are those of the author and they are candid, honest, discerning, sometimes very harsh, but always interesting. The book concludes with source notes for each chapter, a filmography that gives a complete cast list and a rundown of the production staff of each film, and a brief index. Throughout the text there are numerous black-and-white photographs, many of them taken during filming. Because of the author's unique approach to her subject, this book sheds new light on this master director and his output. This work is recommended for large libraries and nay institution involved in film studies. American Reference Books Annual Hitchcock's Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System tackles a topic that is rarely discussed in any amount of detail. Coffin's text attempts to shed new light on Hitchcock's method of using actors (or 'stars') in interesting ways throughout his career in Hollywood...There is a lot to like about Coffin's text, and the book was a noble undertaking. It is a very enjoyable read, and it is certainly nice to see that this particular topic is finally receiving a book-length treatment. HitchcockMaster [Hitchcock's Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System] is strongest in the moments when Hitchcock discusses dealing with stellar images of some actors and actresses in specific roles... [This book] is worth reading. (Translated from the original Czech) 25fps
About the Author
Lesley L. Coffin is a freelance writer on film and popular culture. She is the author of Lew Ayres: Hollywood's Conscientious Objector (2012).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
These chapters offer very little depth or insight. There is NO bibliography and her notes reveal she has relied mostly on the Donald Spoto biography of Hitchcock, the Truffaut/Hitchcock interviews, and star biographies published decades after the fact rather than consult original documents. Her book often contains egregious errors. Here is a typical example from her chapter on "Dial M for Murder":
“When first purchasing the property of the stage play, Hitchcock wanted to cast the most elegant and beloved actress of the time: Audrey Hepburn.” This is just plain wrong. "Dial M for Murder" started shooting on July 30, 1953. Audrey Hepburn had already completed "Roman Holiday" in 1952, but the film did not get released until late August, 1953 and her TIME magazine cover came in September, 1953. In July, 1953 Hepburn was still an unknown to American moviegoers except for bit parts in foreign films (like her 12-second walk-on as "Chiquita" in "The Lavender Hill Mob"). This makes the rest of Coffin's "analysis" fairly painful reading, e.g. "Although a star like Audrey Hepburn would have been an undeniable box-office draw for audiences, she would have also been the biggest star in the movie..."
Her chapter on "Psycho" fails to mention Hitchcock's overriding casting imperative with that film--getting the best actors he could for the lowest prices [Tony Perkins for $40,000, Janet Leigh for $25,000, Vera Miles for $10,000 (!)]--in the process of making a low-budget horror film. Coffin also does not seem to have actually watched any of Janet Leigh's prior films when stating, "It was unexpected to see a good girl like Leigh with short hair in her bra and underwear, committing robbery and trying to escape." Leigh's physical charms had unabashedly been presented throughout most of her previous career, and her portrayal of Linda, an alcoholic glamour girl marrying an older man for his money in "Safari" (1956) or Anna, a ruthless Soviet spy who uses sex to entrap John Wayne in "Jet Pilot" (1957) were hardly "good girl" parts. She literally had her bodice ripped (exposing her naked back) as Morgana in "The Vikings" (1958) and displayed plenty of cheesecake for the viewers of "Touch of Evil" (1958), so Hitchcock undressing her in "Psycho" was not unexpected at all: having her murdered while undressed was the coup.
Apparently this book started as a college thesis--which is where it should have stayed until Ms. Coffin had done more research and consulted with more critical (& knowledgeable) editors that were available to her at Rowman & Littlefield.
P.S. 5-Star reviews from family members [SEE "Coffintom"] are simply EMBARRASSING!
The trick to enjoying the book is to understand that the book is limited in its scope. It only concerns Hitchcock's American films and it only concerns the casting. If you go into the book expecting grand tales on the complete productions of the films you are going to be disappointed. However if you go into the book and go along with what it's doing you will have a great time. For me the film forced me to stop and think about films that might have been or what might have happened if other films had been cast differently. The fact that the book forces you to really think about how all films are cast and the effect the casting is one of the book's strongest points.
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