A DELICIOUS AFTERNOON WITH THE MASTER OF MURDER.
Byline: Richard Natale, June 1972
Oh, what a nice straw basket you have,” says the man seated majestically in the green wingback chair. “What do you have in there?”
Some clothing, the visitor replies.
“No,” says the man, shaking his head with assurance. “A dead baby.”
Alfred Hitchcock’s voice is somber and exact, but his eyes betray his amusement at the little joke. He was in town to promote his new film, “Frenzy,” and was having fun. His wife, Alma (which he pronounces “Awma”), a shy, fragile woman, seated next to him in their St. Regis Hotel suite, doesn’t even blink an eye at her husband’s outrageous humor.
“I think I’ll wait in the other room, dear,” she says, and quietly disappears.
“Would you like something to drink?” Hitchcock offers.
Water would be just fine.
“Water? Oh no. Perhaps some orange juice.”
Orange juice. All right.
“Spiked with a little something,” he says, smiling.
One immediately gets a mental picture of Cary Grant handing a glass of milk to Joan Fontaine in “Suspicion.” That, too, was “spiked with a little something.”
“I cannot understand the public’s fascination with murder,” says the 73-year-old director. “I don’t know why, but murders are always in front-page. And that’s true more in England than in America. In America, murder is always such a dull, unimaginative business. Besides, it’s much easier to murder in America. Guns are so easy to acquire. In England, not even the police carry guns.
“Divorce is not easy in England, hence the need to murder. You really get some of the most bizarre cases. Arsenical poisoning is one of my favorites,” he smiles wickedly. “It’s so clean, so sadistic and there are no traces. All the man has is a sick wife on his hands…”
Turning back to his films, Hitchcock says he is “a purist” where it concerns telling stories cinematically. He plans all of his films — every scene, every shot, every cut — on paper.
“Yes, on paper, because I’m dealing with a rectangular white screen, not a camera. The camera lens is only a means to an end. A lot of people mistake beautiful landscapes or galloping horses for cinema. It’s not. It’s photography of galloping horses or photography of the desert. You know, if you wait long enough for the end of the day, that hill on the edge of the desert is bound to cast a shadow across the sands. But then God is the art director. You, as a cineaste, have done nothing.”
There is no improvising on a Hitchcock set.
“That would be like a musician writing a symphony with a full orchestra in front of him. I prefer to improvise in an office.
“For example, I wanted to start ‘Frenzy’ with a dead body — to set the tone. But it’s very dull to discover a body and then cut to people’s reactions. Rather, I presented it in the form of a joke. A British cabinet minister is standing by the Thames arguing the evils of pollution and his proposals for a solution. Suddenly a nude body floats up to the shore, strangled with a necktie. There’s your pollution. The cabinet minister, instead of being shocked, remarks, ‘My God, she’s wearing my club tie.”‘
Hitchcock chuckles, apparently quite satisfied. At that point in the film, he cuts to a man putting on his tie.
“Now that’s what I mean by preplanning. I haven’t said he’s a murderer. It’s the juxtaposition of the film that does that.”
There’s always something attractive about a Hitchcock murderer, be it Robert Walker in “Strangers on a Train,” James Mason in “North by Northwest” or Anthony Perkins in “Psycho.”
“The most important thing about a murderer is that he should be charming. He must be attractive or else he would never get any victims.”…