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Customer Review

HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 January 2009
For the record, Donald Spoto has already penned two books on legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

Apparently he can't quite get off the subject, because he got around to writing a third -- "Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies," a seething little memoir about Hitch's assorted leading ladies and his reputed sexual obsessions with them. But he can't quite keep the vitriol out of his writing.

The women themselves are an intriguing bunch -- they range from cinematic legends such as Ingrid Bergman, Joan Fontaine, Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrich to lesser-known actresses like Alida Valli, Margaret Lockwood and Teresa Wright. This exploration of these assorted actresses stretches from the very earliest movies of Hitchcock's fledgling career to his last few movies.

That, for the most part, is the good stuff.

Unfortunately Spoto clearly has some issues with Hitchcock himself. Not only does he lovingly pore over the accounts of Hitchcock's sex life, blonde fetish and crushes on his actresses, but also over any sexual jokes or pranks he played to get the required response from them. Oh horrors -- he brought a pumpkin pie to make someone look grossed-out on set.

And Spoto's obvious contempt for his subject explodes all over the pages with the birds. Spoto seems almost infuriated with Hitchcock for his crush on Tippi Hedren, and works hard to portray him as a revolting old pervert who wants to utterly control the beautiful women in his movies. And his rather lackluster last movies are portrayed as being the sole result of a man who got rejected and fell to pieces. Spoto must really have a crush on Hedren.

The real good point of "Spellbound by Beauty" is that it gives some biographical information on the assorted women who worked with Hitch, who normally don't get attention (such as the vibrant, busy Italian actress Valli or little-known German actress Reinhold Schunzel). Additionally, it explores some of Hitchcock's earlier movies such as "The Lodger," which most people now have not seen.

Unfortunately Spoto goes off the rails after awhile, and starts devoting himself to finding sinister, sexually-charged meaning in everything that Hitchcock ever said or did to an actress. And his tendency to make-over and mold actresses for roles -- or even a series of roles -- is regarded with nothing but the most malevolent motives.

In fact, this goes on and on. Not expressing his thoughts to an actress, making a movie about gay men, sexual jokes, dialogue about attractive women, possible jealousy of attractive men, and even a liking for blondes are all regarded with leering suspicion. And even the most innocent of quotations is often repeated in a rather sinister manner, such as Ingrid Bergman talking about how the movies were "the fantasy of seeing the picture in his mind."

And Spoto's increasingly rabid anger is not restricted to Hitchcock: he sneeringly dismisses Joan Fontaine as a pitifully mediocre actress who happened to be in half-decent movies by a great director. According to him, her well-deserved Oscar was a total mistake.

In short, it's difficult to sift truth from innuendo. Spoto's obvious dislike of Hitchcock and his tendency to apply whatever motives he wants to Hitchcock's actions ("Hitchcock chose fantasy over reality") leaves the book a confusing muddle of contempt and resentment.

Despite a promising premise, "Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies" is interesting mainly for the lesser-known actresses it highlights, and not for the contemptuous listing of a great director's flaws.
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