Alfred Hitchcock
Family Plot masterclass interview


date: 1976

interviewer: Richard Schickel

main topics: work routine, women in films, hidden messages, reputation

link to video: Youtube

Richard Schickel: I am particularly pleased to be here. As some of you know, I'm sometimes a critic, but I'm here less in my critical capacity than as a biographer, friend and one-time admirer of Alfred Hitchcock and his art. I can't resist the kind of brief critical comment which is that it seems to me that this film is Hitch in one of his most entertaining moods, and yet it seems to me also a film that takes up, as his films invariably do, certain themes that have been repeated in his life and in his career almost from the very beginning. But to begin, Hitch, on a practical note, I'm sure everyone would like to know how long it takes you to prepare and shoot and get ready for distribution of film of this sort.

Alfred Hitchcock: Dick, before I answer that, I have to go back to your original comment. And that is about one doing similar things all through one's career. I believe it was someone who said that self-plagiarism is style. This particular job, just completed, took about a total of two years. That was one year in the writing. You may ask: why so long? I think most of the time was spent trying to avoid the cliche. Because invariably one would just say: oh, this has been done before. So, ideas did not flow as freely as one would like and it was the effort to get something a little different. Crime is crime, whichever way you commit it, whether it's a murder, theft, kidnapping, what-have-you. You're faced with that. The question is, it's like writing a scene where you say: man comes through the door. But the big question is: how?

I think you've said on a number of occasions that it's important to you to be extraordinarily detailed, especially in terms of visual aspects of the film, on paper, before you ever get to the shooting stage.

Well, people often ask this question. And I say I've made it a practice over the years, many years, to put a film down on paper. You see, people say to me: don't you ever improvise on the set while you are shooting? And I say: certainly not! With all those electricians around and everything, I would prefer to improvise in the office. It's cheaper and it's quieter. After all, the musicians are allowed to put their compositions down on paper and architect can put a building on paper. So why not a film? It's a visual thing. So a mere description of the film on paper should suffice. I think the drawback, which a lot of people suffer from, is the difficulty in visualising something. You see, it's no good for a motion picture putting down on paper: he wondered. Because how would you photograph wondering? So what goes on paper is a description, going back to, as I said, how he came through the door. On his face? Knees? Or what?

In this morning's paper, one of the stars of the picture Bruce Dern is quoted as saying that in fact he was very happy working with you, that he had found that he had a lot of room himself in his performance to go in directions that he felt appropriate with his character, that you were not restrictive in that sense with him.

Well, I'm not. As a matter of fact, I had occasions with actresses, for example, who came to me extremely tearful and complained that they weren't being directed. So I said: well, I don't direct. There's a script, we put the film down on paper. The only thing I have to do with you is to tell you when you're doing it wrong. Some of them can get very very intense. I remember Ingrid Bergman used to get very worked up. Oh, I don't know what to do here, and so forth. And I used to say to her: Ingrid, it's only a movie.

Well, this is only a television broadcast, but nonetheless we have a lot of people out here. As I imagine, with a number of questions. So I would like to open the floor here in Los Angeles, at least, for questions. [First question] Bruce Russell of Reuters News Agency. What is the mandatory retirement age for a director in Hollywood?

I would say: real 12 (?), which would be until the end.

[Australian Consolidated Press] Mr Hitchcock, you've introduced many new faces to the screen. What do you look for when you're searching for a performer?

Well, it depends upon a character. You know, of course in the old days, and I'm now going back to the twenties, the leading men had to be handsome, well-groomed, dapper. The women had to be a blond, a fluffy blonde and these were more or less stock characters. But of course today, that isn't so. One tends, as I did in the Family Plot, go for characters. Purely characters.

[San Francisco Examiner] This film has a great deal less violence, it seems to me, than any of your others. As a matter of fact, there seems to be a deliberate move in the other direction. The one death in the film is accidental. There is no real violence in the film. I wondered if this was deliberate, and why.

I've never been a believer in violence. For example, when I made the film Psycho, I deliberately made it in black and white to avoid showing blood running down the bathtub. I've never been one down to violence, unless the story calls for it. Show blood, there's nothing to it. It's just photography of blood. It doesn't necessarily contribute cinematically, to what this scene is about. So therefore, I think these scenes should be avoided.

What about the absence of death and bodies?

I don't want dead bodies. Dead bodies don't act!

[Back to Schickel] I think though, there is a feeling perhaps, just in contrast to your previous film Frenzy, which after all, does deal with a psychopath. What the gentleman is getting at, is: in contrast, this is a film in which all violence is in a sense of violence in a mind. And perhaps you did steer away from the psychopathic theme to rather clean jewel-theft kind of thing.

That's true. On the other hand, you see, there was kidnapping. And the kidnapping was done with as much decorum as possible.

[Lady in a room] Since you've brought up the subject of kidnapping: do you sometimes feel that there isn't much room left for a suspense film, when you have events like in this morning paper: kamikaze pilot trying to killed Japanese financier, or the Patty Hearst kidnapping. Do you sometimes feel that real events have outpaced what you could possibly dream of in a suspense movie?

Suspense movie, at least in my point of view, is giving the audience information in advance, not after the fact. You see, there's a great deal of difference between giving the audience the anticipation as against surprising them. A surprise takes ten seconds, but anticipation can take an hour. There's a big difference. But most people make mystery films. I don't. I call them: mystifying films.

Yes, but you're not really answering my question [edit: or maybe the lady didn't understand the answer]. I wondered if sometimes you feel that the real-life dramas have sometimes outpaced the film possibility of exceeding that, or even giving the equivalent of that. [Schickel again] What she's saying is that the world is such a violent and a disturbing place. Is it difficult for you...

Yes, because we're fighting headlines all the time.

To the degree, this raises a question in my mind. It seems to me the crime of our current time is in fact kidnapping. There's been an enormous amount of it. Did that in any way influence your choice of a kidnapping theme, or is it sort of something that filters into your mind in an unconscious way?

No, I didn't say: I'd like to do a kidnapping film. What interested me about the story like Family Plot is that it has two sides of a triangle at a certain point. In other words, you started at the bottom, it was like a triangle without the base. And gradually, they apparently have no association whatsoever, and as they came to their apex, that was the shape of the film. And the climax, the apex came when these two totally unrelated elements came together. They came together just as the leading lady rings a front door bell of the house which contains a kidnapped bishop. And that's what appealed to me, it was the structure of this story. And the kidnapping and all those elements were part of it, but certainly no great inspiration to me. But the plot was.

Have you, at all, did a film with a structure similar to this?

No. This is the first time.

[Lawford Publishing Company] Directors such as Francois Truffaut and Brian de Palma have made films that have been Hitchcock-like films. That's what the critics have called them. I wanna know if you happened to see any of these directors' films and what do you think of the influence you may have on directors nowadays.

I've seen the film, but I can't honestly say that I can see myself, or one's technique in them. I think the one thing that Truffaut told me once, what he had learned from me was the subjective treatment. In other words, giving example of what subjective treatment is: a picture like Rear Window. You get a close-up of a man, you cut to what he sees and you cut back to his reaction. And the whole structure of that film was done on those lines. In other words, you used a camera, or as the person who sees something. It's a definitely 3P structure (?). And that's what Truffaut had learned. It's like when you see films of automobile crashes. The audience are on the sidewalk. They're never involved. In Family Plot, you are entirely with the couple in a car that has lost control. And the whole secret is composed of close-ups of the people and the road ahead. In fact, I took a step further than I usually do in those sorts of scenes. I didn't even include the dash, or the window frame or anything. I just dropped close-ups of the people and the road ahead, which was the emotion they were feeling. I was photographing that emotion, not a viewpoint. So that was a step beyond the Rear Window concept.

I'm Nancy Anderson, Macbeth Magazine, but I'm also a grandmother of seven. And think it's in this capacity that I wanna ask this question: because there's so little violence in this picture, and it's such good suspenseful entertainment, it would be great for family groups, except for some very blasphemous dialogue here and there. Has there been any thought of editing any of that out to increase your general audience appeal?

Not so far. The people speak contemporaneously, you know. If you eliminate it, I think you would cut down some of the quality of character in these two people.

[National (something) Reporter] This structure, it seems to me, or apparently it comes from the original novel. And I was curious: in your adaptation, one thing is to kind of visualize it. But when you're adapting from another medium, do you made large changes in the original medium? Do you ever consciously put in Hitchcock themes and touches to the original book?

I read the book twice, perhaps, and never looked at it again. And start from scratch. Because if you look at the book and you try to translate it, it's very hard to do it. Good literature does not make good pictures. That's being shown again and again.

[San Diego Union] You are a very heavy user of coincidence, and I wonder if you feel that coincidence actually does influence human lives in reality, or it's a fictional person's device to make things progress, either in writing or in filming and so forth.

Oh, I think coincidence belongs to the ordinary life. There's a phrase very often used in coincidence, which says: fancy meeting you of all people.

Good morning, my names is Richard Obilee and I was wondering: during the production of Family Plot, you had an implant operation for pacemaker. When you returned to work, did you find that this altered your normal work pattern, or did you look at your film or the subject matter differently?

No. No effect whatsoever. I'm not even aware that it's there.

[UCLA Daily Bruin] If I might go back to that car chase for a moment. At what point did you decide to put emphasis more on the humor that the potential terror in that scene?

I think the humor emerged through the players, actually. It's a very fine line between humor and tragedy, but really what that car chase did, it combined both elements: danger, humor and the thrill of the thing.

[Schickel] I think it's time for those of you who didn't get a chance in this first go around here. We will be coming back for more questions from you, as we will from the other cities. But at this point, I'd like to call upon Jerry Evans from New York, who has arranged his questions, I'm sure in an extraordinarily intelligent order. Jerry, good morning and could we have your first question? [Jerry speaking, call quality is terrible] I know that you and Alma are just celebrating your 50th anniversary and I hope that you're both in very good health. Are you working on another picture?

No, the answer is definitely not. Nothing at all.

[Schickel] Well, perhaps I could ask you. Is the process one of a slow gestation, or how is it that you go about seeking out material?

It comes from all directions. It comes from literary agents, it comes through book reviews from various countries. Family Plot was an English book, originally. One thing we never do, we never actually take material directly from a writer. It's too dangerous. It would arrive in the envelope. We feel it, we weight it not to get the quality of the material inside, but the fear of plagiarism, you see. I must digress to tell you a story of a little actor, an English actor called Alfie Bass. He played in the film with Michael Caine called Alfie. He was a little cockney type, and he was in a group of three and he was a little too short, so somebody sent for a script for him to stand on and raise him up a little. And the cameraman was very very slow. And finally little Alfie Bass said: who wrote the script? And doesn't that hurt your feet?

We're moving on to Chicago and to Mike Caplan. [telephone voice speaks with a spooky echo as a bonus] Hello, Mr Hitchcock, this is Alex Stein of the Milwaukee Sentinel. Getting away from the film per se, you have a reputation for being quite a practical joker in your own part. I wonder if you might tell what was the best practical joke ever played on you?

On me? Never! The best practical joke, one of the best I ever made, was to give a dinner where all the food was blue. I think Gertrude Lawrence was one of the guests. It was in a private room above a London hotel. Also, Sir Gerald du Maurier, who was a leading actor on the London stage. And we started off with blue cream soup, blue trout, blue chicken and then we had blue peaches with blue ice cream. It was very successful.

[Chicago Daily News] Did you consider any different ending to the film? It seems to me that there was that huge inheritance sitting there with Cathleen Nesbitt. Did you ever think about Bruce Dern maybe posing as the son himself and making up with the money?

No, never did. Never thought about any other ending except the one that we have in the picture. Because there's no drama in money, much.

[Chicago Tribune] Right now in the movie industry, it seems that violent pictures sell day in and day out the best. I wonder how that makes you feel about the profession that you've given your life to. I wonder if you're very optimistic about the future of the movie business. And if so, could you point to either people, or friends that make you optimistic?

Of course, as you know, we're gonna have changes in the future. To some amount, I gather, there will be the certain amount of home movies through the use of DiscoVision [edit: prototype of the compact disk technology]. But, you know, many years ago, I attended the Herald Tribune forum in front of about 300 school teachers and this was when television was first started. And I was asked if I think television will affect the theaters. I said: it might a little, but on the other hand, the thing that is really going to be affected is the [sorry, have no idea] because women will want to go out with a new dress on. It reminds me of those pictures, which I call sync-to-sync pictures. The husband comes home and he finds himself confronting his wife with washing dishes at a sink. And he takes compassion on her and says: look, take off your apron, get a babysitter, put a nice dress on, we'll go out have dinner and go to the movies. And she's overjoyed with the prospect of getting out of the house. So they eventually get the sitter, park the car, they have dinner and they sit in the movie house. And the wife looks at the screen and what does she see? A woman washing dishes at the sink.

[Schickel] I take it you see there's very little future in that line of work.

Well, I think people will want to go out. Otherwise, it means that if they're going to stay home all the time, then you're gonna have a revolt by the wives.

What about the quality of film-making? I was trying to suggest that it seems that we're getting into a very crude broad violence strokes with sharks biting people, things blowing up, fire spreading, and none of the subtleties that you were talking about that gave you so much pleasure in making this film. Are the people that you see working give you a kind of optimism, or are we gonna just get blown away with big action pictures?

No, I think big action pictures will have their day. We've always had them for the last 20 or 30 years and we shall still have them intermingled with the more intimate picture.

I noticed in this movie that there was more symbolism than usual, like with the name, the two kidnapping victims of which one was the bishop and the other one was the Greek constantine. And I wonder how much symbolism you intentionally kept in there, how you feel about that.

I don't think that symbolism means a lot to the story. They just happens to be names and types, really. I don't look really for symbolism any more than I look for messages in a film. Wasn't it Samuel Goldwyn who once said: messages are for Western Union.

[Schickel] It is true though, Hitch, really, it seems to me from the beginning of your film career, that in particular religious symbols have played their part in a subtle way in your films.

That may be true, but I don't think in a very very conscious way.

Well, one notices for example in this film, the abduction of the bishop right from a place of normally, we'd think as the most secure and serene place that we could possibly go, that is to say: a church. Is that so we'd understand that disorder can intrude into even sacred places?

Oh, definitely, yes. I would regard that as a piece of counterpoint, really. Of all places to go would be to a cathedral just as much as you might have a murder in a theater.

Which you've done a few times.

Yes. It's an effort to avoid the cliche. You see, for example in that film North by Northwest I had a situation where Cary Grant was supposed to be put on the spot. And what was the cliche? The cliche was that he would stand under a lamp on an intersection, bathed in a pool of light from the lamps, then you cut to a black cat slithering by, then you cut to a window and the curtain were apart and somebody would peer out. It would be midnight, a distant clock would chime. So I decided it was all cliche. I'm going to do it in an open air in the bright sun with nowhere for him to take shelter and apparently no place from which the assassin would turn up. So I chose flat open country. And where does the assassin come from? Out from the sky. Now all that was done to avoid the cliche. And not only that: the attack was contrapuntal by the use of the crop duster. Now, another important point is: if you use a crop duster, it must dust crops. So he went to hide in the corn field and the crop duster came over and drove him out in front of the road. So there was an example of doing an attempted murder in a very unconventional surroundings.

[Chicago Sun Times] The other day, I got a call from graduate student who was doing a paper on the use of the staircases in the films of Hitchcock. I suggested that she'd write to you. How would you respond to a question like that, or to academic criticism in general?

I think the staircases are made to go up and down. And therefore, they become very photogenic. That they rise, they take a figure up and down, instead of keeping the figure on the flat. I suppose the most famous staircase I ever used was for a film I made in 1926. It was a film about Jack the Ripper. And Jack the Ripper had to go out at night at about 2 AM. And the landlady sat up in bed and listened. And I had a big staircase built and we had to photograph her from the studio roof. And looking down the well, you saw a continuous handrail and just a white hand sliding down the whole way. Of course, today with sound we would do creeks on the stairs. But that was the most valuable use of the staircase under those neatful conditions.

[Indiana Point Tribune] I enjoyed the film very much, but I noticed one scene that seems all by itself separated from the rest of the film. And that was the second scene at the cemetery when the camera came away and you saw them like working their way through a maze and seemed rather a romantic kind of image that you had created. Is there any particular reason for it?

No, it had a practical value. It showed a kind of a chase and I was possibly influenced by the paintings of Mondrian, which are a series of straight lines converging into various squares and turns. And I felt it was just a fresh way of doing a small chase instead of just cutting from one figure to another, or cutting to feat. It was a more spectacular way, but nevertheless its purpose was to show that our hero was getting nearer and nearer to his goal, which was the woman.

[Schickel] I also thought what was witty about that scene was the fact that he never left the path that he was on. He could have cut, but he did not. The notion of staying on the path, I thought it was kind of humorous.

Well, it was. It was humorous to the extent that you do try and preserve in a cemetery some decorum.

[Fort Wayne Indiana Journal] You mention that you don't intentionally go for symbolism, though there would be, say in the names, quite a bit of symbolism on the part of the writer, such as Adamson's name, the son of Adam, and a good and bad symbolism. You did put Blanche for example, in a white car, which goes along with the good angle there. Was that intentional, or how did that just happen?

The white car was definitely used to let the audience know whose car it was. One of the things they make mistakes in films with: they get an audience confused. They make an audience think: wait a minute, wait a minute, which car is whose? These have got to be identified. And if you're going to get suspense, you got to make everything very clear to an audience. Especially where the diamond was hidden in the house. I had to make that, if I make say so, crystal clear. That an audience wandering is not an audience emoting. That is why the clothing, or the types of people you use must be extremely distinctive so that the audience knows who is who. And they must not wander. They must not nudge each other in the theater and get confused. I had a very interesting story showing audience confusion, where one of my assistants went to see a performance of a musical Sweet Charity. And in the intermission when the lights went out, behind her were two women with their husbands. And one woman said to the other: oh, I do like her. Don't you?. And the other said: well, I've always liked Barbra Streisand. So one of the man said: what are you talking about? Barbra Streisand is in Funny Girl. So the other woman said Well, this is funny girl, isn't it? That's confusion for you.

[Dallas Times Herald] Mr Hitchcock, in your reference before to self-plagiarism, at what point does a theme get stifled and becomes a cliche?

The cliche belongs to anyone except me.

[Austin American Statesman] You, perhaps more than any director that I've seen lately, are generous to women. Both in the number of roles you give to them and the parts they play. Is this conscious effort of yours, or is it just part of being Alfred Hitchcock?

The use of women in pictures is historical and inevitable. I've often being accused of using cool blond women. I think this is because I personally on the screen have an objection to the type of woman who wears her sex around her neck like jewelry. I don't think it's interesting to put a label on a woman and say: oh, she is sexy. I think it has to be discovered whether the woman who can look like a beaky-nosed school teacher, and you'll eventually discover it when you are both alone in a taxi. But otherwise, I think that the women should be discovered in the course of the story. The cool blonde type I think comes from Northern Europe: Scandinavians, the Scottish, the English, the Norwegians, and perhaps North Germany. I've heard the further south you go in Europe, the more obvious they are. I won't go so far to say they're obvious enough to walk around carrying a rose by its stem in her mouth, but I think that sex should be discovered in the course of the story. You can't walk along the street, walk along New York, the Fifth Avenue and point to every type you see and say: well, she's sexy, she's not sexy, or he is. It's gotta be found out and I think it's part of the storytelling

[Schickel] One thing that does occur to me is, perhaps what the gentleman was referring to, is that there has been a lot of talk as of late, that there are not, or have not been as many good roles for women in films in recent years, as there have been in past years, which leads me to point two which is that there is a very good role for a very good actress in Family Plot, namely Barbara Harris. I thought perhaps you might want to comment first on the general point and then on a more specific point of Barbara's performance.

Well, the general point is that it's true: they haven't written so many stories about women. I think the stories about women go back to the end of the XIX century's great French playwright Sadu (?) who wrote the plots for some operas and so forth. And he said: torture a woman as a piece of dramatic. And the trouble today is that we don't torture the women enough.

To the degree that suspense requires... I mean what you're saying there is that the woman in peril is in some sense more attractive for an audience than perhaps the man in peril, as she is allegedly innocent and helpless.

In the early stage of films, who was tied to the railroad tracks? The woman! It was always the woman. What was the serial popular in the silent days? The Perils of Pauline. Nobody was interested in The Perils of George. All through we had the woman in trouble. But somehow maybe it's due to the fact that women can look out for themselves more than they were used to. But it is true, that there are more men than there are women, but I believe that really is due to the fact that castings have changed. That women are no longer what used to be called the weaker sex.

[Houston Post] I noticed in the credits last night that there is no producer listed and I'm curious about that. And secondly, I understand that Roy Fiennes (?) was originally cast in the role of Arthur Adamson. I'd like to know if that's true and more or less what happened.

The reason there's no producer is because I'm the producer, but I've never taken credit for it. I have in my time done some writing, but I've never taken a writing credit. In regard to the actor, that was miscasting on my part. I felt that he was too nice. He didn't have enough sinister quality and that's how I came to make the change. And I chose the man who was more sinister, who had previously played Robert F. Kennedy.

[Someone from Austin] You said that you don't have any specific projects right now, but will there be a 54th film from Alfred Hitchcock?

Definitely, yes.

[Arkansas Gazette] I've enjoyed your suspense very much, Mr Hitchcock. I'd like to know if you'd consider doing a suspenseful western. Perhaps with John Wayne?

No, because the trouble with my doing other types of films is that there's not enough detail in them. In other words, I haven't any idea what stuff costs in a Western. Just as much as people say: why don't you make a costume picture? And I say: well, the trouble is that no one in the costume picture ever goes to the toilet.

[Schickel] In other words, do you feel that suspense drives, you've said before, suspense draws from audience knowledge. But in some way, I felt in conversing with you that details about anything from the train schedules of Europe to, what we were talking about yesterday, the herring run in England, that somehow that stuff that may not be specifically related to the film, in some ways enriches your ability to make the film. Can you talk about that? What does that need for detail that you may not specifically use on screen?

The need for detail is to create the greater audience identification. The audience are committed to certain things.

[Dallas Morning News] Mr Hitchcock, I understand that Shadow of a Doubt is one of your favorite pictures. Could you tell us why?

Well, because... first of all, a lot of pictures after that time have been made on the backlot. This time, with Thornton Wilder, we eventually sorted out a town in Northern California, just about 50 miles north of San Francisco. And we went and stayed in the town and got to know the price of everything, the houses, the bank, and all the details. And then we went back to the town and shot the whole film there. And I found that very very satisfying. We even, the townspeople were so good to us that they allowed us to take the regular bus, including all the passengers, off its main route and down the route in which we were shooting. And we got tremendous help... it also satisfied me in this respect: it was a melodrama and it was full of characters, and various characters, that the central figure was a murderer, but attractive, and in many aspects Family Plot comes close to that in terms of character. Not in terms of crime committed, because in the case of Shadow of a Doubt, the crime has already been committed.

[Austin Citizen] Originally, Family Plot was entitled Deceit. Could you tell us what went into the change of the title?

Well, I felt the word deceit suggested a bedroom fuzz. It was a rather mild word. It didn't carry any meaning with it. Pictorially, when one began to think of the deceit, there you have a woman in bed, the husband entering the bedroom and the lover secreted behind the curtain where there was a row of the women shoes and two big boots of the man standing out. And that to me epitomizes the word deceit. It wasn't good, I didn't think.

You were speaking of symbolism in North by Northwest. Kind of a famous symbol that you've created was the train tunnels. Could you explain a little of what you had in mind?

I think that comes under the heading of pornography ahead of its time.

[Some Latin American newspaper] You always talked about surprise in your movies and I was surprised with two of your shots. Why did you show yourself in the shadows and why did you have Barbara Harris winked at us instead of you winking at us like you're doing from the (?)?

Well, Barbara Harris really winked because she was telling us that she was not psychic. Because while being carried through to the cellar, the sodium pentathol, or whatever they stuck her with, hadn't taken. So she posed as being unconscious and she actually heard a reference to the chandelier by the two kidnappers. In Shadow of a Doubt? That was sheer modesty. Another reason... it was very short, so that I wouldn't have to suffer the indignity of being an actor for too long.

[Cincinnati Enquirer] Is there maybe a MacGuffin gone wrong? It seems to me that Karen Black puts the wig into the refrigerator when they return. Why?

When she came to put it on, it was nice and cool.

[Schickel] It's also an odd place to put a wig.

It is, really. Yeah.

[Buffalo Courier Express] Earlier, another questioner described you as being Alfred Hitchcock. At this stage in your life, do you ever think about being Alfred Hitchcock, a person that all of us, everywhere revere and admire? Do you have any philosophical comment? [Schickel steps in to save the day and makes a solid question out of a slightly messy one] What's it like to be Alfred Hitchcock?

Not very comfortable. I don't know, I'm somewhat of a loner. I don't flaunt myself publicly unless there are occasions like this. I suppose one must be honest and say: it's very pleasant when the film turns out to be alright. But when the film isn't good, then it's a very miserable condition.

Shots that interested me in Family Plot were when you had a camera not only focused on, but covered on, fingermarks around light switches and closet handles. Was that because of your love for detail, or was it symbolic?

I think it's very hard to switch on light and leave a full fingerprint. It's just a flick, that's all it is and probably would end up as a smudge. There was no other reason, there was no symbolism attached to it, except that the switch is a symbol of light.

[New York Magazine] Mr Hitchcock, does the fact that the acting in this film turn to be more of an overstated, mugging kind, than your usual cool, understated kind of acting, does this mean that you're losing confidence in the audience and in their ability to understand, unless such over explicitness is used?

No, I don't think so. I think that if there's any excess of expression, it's due to the character of the two leading people. As opposed to the more placid features of our kidnappers. I think it's a matter of Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern were rather extroverts in their way, whereas the other two were more secreted.

[Schickel] It also strikes me that the other two were more confident in themselves, not necessarily in the state of agitation, while these two people were chasing around and not really knowing what was happening to them, or around them. And it strikes me as fairly natural for them to be a little bit more... also, they're perhaps not as actual bright as the other two people.

No, they're not. They're certainly not. What you would call sophisticated people.

[Spanish woman again] You said before that actresses come to you intense, worked out and cheerful. What about the actors? How do they come to you?

Tearful. Actors are not cheerful people, it's only the women. We're back to the weaker sex.

[Schickel] You can use it when you need it, I guess.


Did you ever make that remark that actors are like children (cattle) and should be treated accordingly?

I've said that... an actor is something like a child. The interesting thing is that they spend, I would say, 75% of their day sitting in front of a mirror. Because you'll find on any studio stage, the actor after shooting the scene, will go straight to his dressing room and sit in his chair. And the chair is always facing the mirror. And then various people will start doing things to their hair, the face, and they are treated almost like children and some of it must stick.

You have been quoted from time to time as saying that you do not to take photographs of people talking, and yet your new film begins with two relatively long sequences establishing the four principal characters? Did you consider another way to open this film?

Yes, you see, what you are dealing there in a story of this kind is what we call a springboard situation. And that must get laid out perfectly clear to the audience. It calls for a certain amount of explanation and words and so forth. I remember many years ago, and it's always a very hard scene to do. I remember years ago, I made a picture 39 Steps and there I had a springboard situation of a woman spy describing her objective. And I found that I had to shoot the scene 3 times in order to get it spontaneous and clear to the audience. And I think the audience must be made comfortable at the beginning, so then once you've given them all the information they require, then you can start to be truly cinematic and start to tell your story in pictures. The only thing wrong with a silent picture was that actors, or characters opened their mouths and no sounds came out. Otherwise, it was the ideal thing. I remember I was working on the UFA lot in 1924, and they were making a film with Emil Jannings called The Last Laugh. And their objective in those days was to do without titles. They only allowed for one title in the picture, and that was to pronounce an epilogue to the picture. But otherwise, Murnau was the director and they went through the film without a single word of explanation.

[Schickel] Did you feel in a very long opening sequence of Family Plot... I felt two things. One was that it was a very interesting exercise to see how long you could sustain that remarkable long monologue of Barbara Harris. And secondly, just possibly you were having referring to a previous success, namely the The Exorcist. Just slightly having a joke at its expense. Is there any truth in either of those suppositions?

I don't think so. They were the necessary words.

[Some reporter] You said earlier that the humor in the car sequence emerged in the playing. Did it come as a surprise, as an enrichment of characters which you had conceived, perhaps, in another way? Were there other such surprises, or had there been instances where the shape of films have changed because of things you've discovered on the set and in performances?

Not really. In that particular car chase, the humor emerged by the actions of the characters in the car. You see, strictly speaking the car sequence was created to get the audience to feel that ride. That is why after the first two cuts looking out of the front of the car, I eliminated the dashboard, the hood and only showed the road ahead. So that cutting backwards and forwards was just at two people in the road. Because if you found yourself in that particular position, realistically you would be completely unaware of the car. And at the same time, the characters bouncing around as they did, it was a blend of humor and horror. And it just showed the fine line. Now, if we hadn't had those two particular types in the car, you would have had a real physical ride instead of a comic one. And that's where the characters emerge, by the position in which they find themselves.

[Another reporter] Leaving aside other kinds of symbolism, is there some kind of religious significance in the fact that what breaks the impact, the momentum of Bruce Dern's car is a large wooden cross which they mow down and which slows them down, and that later Barbara Harris is tipped off by the fact that the bishop's robes, not just anybody's, are revealed to her as speaking out of the car door? Is there some message of salvation involved?

I don't think I'm that religious, so I doubt that. I don't think I intended any act of symbolism. If they were there, they were in a sense accidental.

[Schickel] Or at least unconscious.


[Some other interlocutor] I noticed that you and Alma are having your 50th wedding anniversary this year. I hope you're both in good health.

Very much so, thank you. And a clear conscious!

[Denver Rocky Mountain News] Can you tell us something about early encounters, perhaps in your childhood, with fear and evil, that perhaps became the material for your films later?

The English have always treated crime as literature. Which would go back as far as Arthur Conan Doyle, whereas in America it never has been first class literature. It's true we've had people like Raymond Chandler, but not as many as they've had in England. Dealing with ghastly murders, and yet to meet them, they're the mildest people.

[Schickel] Have you read much of this literature as a child?

A fair amount, yes. I personally have never, if I may say so, been associated with evil. To tell you the truth, I'd be to scared to!

[Sacramento Union] There's a certain amount of permissive dialog between Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris in this film. Does that precede strictly out of the characters conceived, or is it a response to the growing permissiveness in motion pictures?

Characters, entirely.

[Schickel] Isn't it fair to say though that to the degree we are a little bit more permissive, that we are enabled to perhaps get into some realms of character that previously we've may not be able to?

Yes, sure.

[Axel Springer Publications] If you were not Alfred Hitchcock, I wouldn't dare ask this question for putting a big foot in my mouth. But I noticed that you're wearing a black suit and a black tie. Are you trying to put us a somber mood, or is there symbolism behind that?

It is a form of dignity.

[Some Mexican reporter] My question deals with the way in which you're working. It would seem that the creative process, all the improvisation really takes place when you're writing the film. After that, it would only be a matter of photographing what has been written. Is there a creative process while you are shooting your film, or how does that work?

No. People say to me: do you ever improvise on the set? And I say no. Any improvisations are made in the office while the film is being put on paper. To improvise on the set, with all the electricians around, I personally don't see how it's done. Imagine a composer with sheets of blank lines in front of him and a hundred piece orchestra. And he's thinking and he speaks up and says: flute! Give me a note, would you?. He gets the note and writes it down. That's what improvisation is on the set and I don't believe in it.

[Woman in the audience] Are the actresses as vain as the actors?

Of course, they have to be. They all go in front of that mirror. Three quarters of their professional life is in front of that mirror.

[Another woman] With regard to what you said earlier about attention to detail, it suggests that you have a great deal of respect for the authenticity. Is that true? Would you please define authenticity for us?

Yes. Well, authenticity is a street outside the studio, it's there.

[Schickel] And yet it is fair to say that in this picture, you have deliberately not located it in a recognizable city. Why is that?

Well, so many cities are not recognizable now. You know, we have the tall buildings and they are not terribly distinctive like European cities are. If you go to Copenhagen, you know you're in Denmark.

In other words, you'd prefer to create, at this point, your own city out of the elements of other cities?

Yes, sure.

[A man from a Japanese newspaper] In the past, you have also made trailers that follow the pictures as interesting. Is there a special trailer for Family Plot this time too?

Yes, there is.

[Some woman] If for some reason, one of your pictures would have to be completely obliterated in the memory of men, which one would you choose to erase forever?

I think it's a picture called Champagne, because it was started without a script and it was improvised the whole way through.

[Some man] You said no one had ever played a practical joke on you. I was wondering if the story is true, or apocryphal that Gable and Lombard once buried a shrunken head in your yard which was discovered when Mrs Hitchcock complained to Lombard that you're having marital difficulties.

No. What actually happened was that we rented a house where Gable and Lombard had previously lived. And they came to dinner and Clark described how he went to South America and bought, I think in Ecuador, a shrunken head. And somebody told them that it was very very unlucky. So they drove up to Mulholland Drive and threw it out of the car by the roadside. And they got back home and they still pondered about the evil that this head might create over them. So they went back again and retrieved that head and brought it home and buried it in their garden. At this moment, the moment Clark said "and we buried it again". And Carole jumps up and says: Jesus, it's in this garden!. Which it was!

[Bob Curtis, Indiana] I enjoyed the movie thoroughly, but I became rather curious to the one scene in the cafe when the priest sat down with the young lady. I realize you love details and I was just wondering what type of detail was this?

It was the detail of religious reward.

[Fort Wayne Journal Gazette] You mention that you go in for great details in your films, yet I found it much less than others, in fact a certain amount of isolation. You isolated the characters from their environment, you tried to make it seem like they weren't connected to practically anybody else in the film. And I didn't find all of these details outside in other films.

The point is that story-wise we were interested in those two people. It would be so easy to say: I wrote my mother a letter today, or I haven't heard from my father lately. But those items are inconsequential, so why bother with them? It's like painting. If you take a certain painter, it can't be at one moment done with one style and in another part of the painting like another.

[Schickel] One thing that occurs to me, Hitch, is that isolation implies obsession. And it struck me that these are all people who would be paying very little attention to the world outside, because each is obsessed in some way with his problem.

That is true. Take myself, I'm a loner. I don't know anyone in this town, except in our profession. Not a soul.

[St. Louis Globe-Democrat] Your work has always suggested to me that you might be easily bored by commonplace occurrences. If so, what do you like to do yourself for excitement and amusement when you're not making a picture?

Reading biography (edit: here you go!). I've just finished reading a book on the South African Boer War.

[Chicago Daily News] The more times that you've spent making films, the more that you've spent as a film director, did you find that the process gets easier, or more difficult, or more or less enjoyable? Has it changed for you at all throughout the years?

It's enjoyable to the extent. If you're successful and avoiding the cliche, for that seems to be the one thing that obsesses me in making the picture, is trying - not always succeeding! - but trying to avoid the cliche. I mean, I remember when I made that movie North by Northwest. We did a journey from New York to Chicago on the 20th Century Limited [edit: it's the name of express passenger train]. And I had always noticed in all pictures concerning trains. And why they would do it? I don't have the faintest idea. But they seem to take the audience off the train and stand them in the field so they can all watch a train go by. And once the train had gone by, they all get back on the train again. So what I did in North by Northwest, I went to the ending corridor of a travelling train, I opened the top-half of the iron door and have a special rack made and let the camera slide out, and let it see the curve of the train. So I didn't take the camera off the train to have a look at it from a distance. Now the cliche of putting the audience in the field to watch the train go by, they still do today and it's accepted.

[Chicago Tribune] You talked about reading biographies for pleasure. What about films of these days? Have you seen anything recently that you've enjoyed and could you be more specific about what you enjoyed about that film?

No, I haven't because I've been much too busy with editing and with the cleaning up process, which can take several months. And I like to go to bed at 9 o'clock if possible, so that stops me from going out. But otherwise, now that things are easing up, I'll begin to look at films again.

[Some woman] You say you aren't all that religious. Are there any psychic phenomena that you take seriously?

Hunger. Not really.

[San Diego Evening Tribune] You suggested earlier that (...) the weaker sex makes a less credible villain. However, we still have small children and they've been used to some extent as victims in suspense. But I rarely see small children in Hitchcock films. Could you comment on that?

I've made them with small children and used them symbolically. I made a film, in this country, they call it The Girl Was Young. I wanted to do a murder story concerning young people. The young man who is alleged to be the murderer escapes and is helped by the key superintendant of the police's daughter. And she says: I got to go to my aunt. At her aunt's is a children's party and they're playing blind man's buff. And auntie is blind man and she gropes around the room and gropes after the accused murderer. And when it arrived in this country, for some unknown reason, the distributors have cut that scene out. And yet to me it was symbolic. A children's game, and the murder and the elements went together.

[Schickel] There's also the child carrying the bomb.

Oh, the boy! Teenage boy carrying the bomb across London in the picture called The Woman Alone. But there have been many stories, not made by me, like High Wind in Jamaica. There's a group of evil children.

[Hollywood Studio magazine] I've been reading that Janet Leigh still gets hate mail from the picture Psycho. And I was wondering: number 1, if you could figure out any reason why the impact of that motion picture had such a tremendous effect that people still react to it, and number two, is there any other motion picture that people reacted to like this over the period of years?

First one, I don't know. Why should she receive hate mail when she was the victim? I can't figure that out. You know, I once had a letter from a man who said: my daughter once saw the French film Diabolique - that's where the man rises out of the tub. And he said: we couldn't get her to take a tub anymore! And now she has seen Psycho and she won't take a shower! And she's being very very difficult to be around. What should I do?. And I said: dear, send her to the drycleaner!.

[Hollywood Reporter] You said that most of your improvising is done in the office, but do you then have a long rehearsal period in which the actors are allowed to improvise not dialogue, but emotional reaction?

No, because the picture haven't been made on paper. All I request of them is to read.

[Some man] If you were to be approached and someone would ask you: take five films which represented the best of your talents. Which ones would you choose?

Oh, I don't know. I'd have to go a long way back. I'd go back to 39 Steps, possibly Rear Window, the original Lodger which was about Jack the Ripper, and I think that, if I'm allowed to say so, maybe Family Plot. I'm kidding.

[Schickel] How about Vertigo? In the sense that it enjoys a growing reputation, growing since its release.

It has. I remember an English reporter, and he said he cannot understand why the French have chosen Vertigo as one of their best ten films of the year.

But I think its growing reputation... it's more than a cult. I think the people are beginning to recognize how extraordinary work that is.


[Some man] Do you give any thought at all to retirement? Is making a film in these days more exhaustive? And have you been told to lose weight?

I'm losing weight all the time. All this morning I've been losing weight answering these questions!

Have you given any thought to retirement?

Retirement? What's that?

[Some woman] We all wish you much longer and very continuously productive life, but since this movie is called Family Plot, what would you like to have inscribed on your tombstone?

I don't know. I suppose it's something to the effect: you can see what can happen to you if you are a good boy!.