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Me and Hitch Paperback – 9 Jun 1997
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A frank, insightful memoir of the writer's experiences in scripting Marnie and The Birds.
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It’s written in Hunter’s typically honest and humorous way, and whether or not you’re a fan of Hitchcock is irrelevant. Hunter manages to keep you interested with funny anecdotes, and also offers plenty of commentary into the process of making a film, especially explaining the mutual respect as well as the constant battles on set between screenwriter and director.
I’m sure many of you have seen a film before and thought, What was the writer thinking? not realising, as in Hunter’s case with The Birds, that the writer had a completely different idea how to end the film, or open it, or work in the twist, but the director, who, as we know, is the main man in charge, took it upon himself to change everything, even to the detriment of the film; even if it meant carving out a large portion of logic and leaving loopholes everywhere. In Hunter’s experience with Hitchcock, a lot of the issues with the final version of The Birds came down to the director’s choices, and yet ultimately, as the writer, he's the one who got all the blame for the stupid stuff.
Anyway, it’s a quick read and worth checking if you’re interested in films.
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Hitchcock came across Hunter after his novel of juvenile delinquency in New York schools, "The Blackboard Jungle" became a best-seller and later a good movie. He had also bought one of Hunter's short-stories for his TV show. What Hitchcock didn't tell Hunter was that he was looking for a writer who also had some literary credentials (which "Jungle" gave Hunter).
It seems that, despite a long, successful career and several Oscar nominations, Hitchcock wanted more. He wanted respectability. He wanted an Oscar. His previous movie, "Psycho," was successful, but it was also sort of a pot-boiler. Hitch -- I can't resist using his nickname, although no doubt he would insist on me using "Mr. Hitchcock," if he wasn't ignoring me completely -- wanted to be recognized as an artist, at least not the kind who made movies like "Psycho."
If this sounds like a recipe for disaster, it was. "The Birds" was intended for Cary Grant and Grace Kelly; instead, it got Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedron. Hunter's idea to write what he called "screwball comedy becomes terror" was, even he admitted later, a terrible idea. There would be no music. And they never did figure out why the birds were attacking in the first place (Hunter thinks that Hitch didn't want to. Makes it more artistic, doncha see).
As for "Marnie," Hunter's objection to the notorious scene in which husband Sean Connery rapes his frigid wife (Hedron, again) on their honeymoon signalled the beginning of the end of their partnership (a friend later told Hunter "you just got bothered by the scene that was his reason for making the movie. You just wrote your ticket back to New York.")
The end was anti-climatic. After Hunter turned in his version of the script, Hitch fired him through a phone call from his assistant. Later, they met with their wives for a convivial dinner, and that was it. If Hunter suffered for his art, he didn't reveal it.
But "Me and Hitch" is a worthwhile book. Fictioneers and scriptwriters will appreciate the insights into Hitchcock's method of building a script, his fans will eat up the glimpses of the man's private life ' he gives autographed books to Hunter's kids; he visits children who want to talk to him; when he's not saying that "The Birds" would be the best movie of his career, he drunkenly confesses he's nothing but a "big fat slob" ' and film fans wonder what the hell "The Birds" and "Marnie" were all about will get a few ideas.
Best of all, Hunter/McBain fans get a lovely bit of biography, told in the same laconic, direct style found in his novels. And at 90 pages, it can be read about as fast as a Hitchcock movie.
I recommend you to read this, but unless you like to own everything about or by Hitchcock, just get it from the library first... : )