Alma Reville

Young Alma Reville in a coat, a hat and with a purse, smiling.

Family relocation

In search of new jobs, the Reville family had to move from their small and cozy native Nottingham to the huge city of London, where it was much easier to find one. They waited with travel until Alma recovers from chorea.

Ironically, around that time the city of Nottingham was arming itself up with cinemas to accommodate the growing curiosity of this then new and exciting medium - but then of course, so was London times ten. The young Reville didn't care much about it at that stage, although as she was recovering, she and her mother occasionally went to see silent films.

Their London location was the movie buff's wet dream. Just few blocks away from where they moved, Twickenham Film Studios was standing proudly. The fact that they moved there was probably a result of Matthew finding a job in the studio. As he was working there in the costume department, Alma was roaming about in the area on a bicycle and she often came to visit.

As she got older and her hopes for education were shattered by chorea, making her go to work became a more pressing matter. Her father managed to find her work in the studio. And since she had no education and hadn't worked a single day in her life, she started rock bottom.

Alma's first job

The girl didn't complain and took her duties to heart as if her life depended on it. She started remembering every detail to make sure that everyone gets exactly the kind of tea that he or she likes. Her enthusiasm was quickly noticed and when she was 16 years old, she got a promotion and became a cutter and script editor.

The job of cutting was far from the top of the food chain, but it was a line of work inside the business and it often involved working alongside director, which was a great opportunity to befriend important people and learn plenty about the trade. Editing scripts - her second set of duties - often required serious creative input.

Together, it was a wide range of responsibilities and it was unprecedented for a woman to do this in the early movie industry. It would be hard to verify if there was any other woman filling these shoes at the time, but it wouldn't be surprising if she would turn out to be pioneer. One way or the other, at such an early age it was already clear that Alma Reville is one day going to be someone important in the industry.

Acting experience

To add to her already near-full plate, at the age of 19 she got a first credited role and it was one of the main parts. The movie was called The Life Story of David Lloyd George (iMDB). It tells a story of a very important 19th/20th century British politician, and Alma plays the part of his daughter Megan. Reville's portrayal is decent, although acting was probably not something she was destined to do - her small frame alone would be a huge problem to make her a long-term star.

Still, even a legendary performance on her part would amount to nothing - the film was first shown to the public almost a century later! When it was getting near the finishing line, a mysterious lawyer appeared with £20,000 payment, bought the reels and disappeared. Seventy six years later, the film was found and wonderfully restored into prime form.

It was released in DVD form and can be found on the internet with a bit of hard work. Because I don't know about its copyrights, if you are interested, you have to do the digging yourself! To whet your appetite, here is a wonderful article about it.

Still, The Life Story of David Lloyd George was a big achievement on her part, as the movie went down in history as one of the first full-length biographies of someone still alive at the time of release. There are mentions of her playing lesser parts in other movies, for which she wasn't put in credits, but no specific information can be found about it.

Job change

In 1918, a still young Twickenham Film Studios was in a huge financial trouble, which at some point forced the owners to close it down. Naturally, Matthew and his daughter were out of a job.

Alma, surely already earning more than her father since being promoted to cutting/scripting (and at some point becoming a full-fledged assistant director), was an indispensable part of the crew. Shortly after the business had been closed, she was asked to join the new player on the market - Famous Players Lasky (Adolph Zukor's and Jesse Lasky's company), who bought the studio in Islington. She was to continue doing what she was doing so well for TFS.

Another short-term halt to her career came in 1923. FPL overstretched financially and had to dismiss some of its employees. Even though Alma was doing a great job and was complimented by her co-workers, she somehow got fired.

Alfred to the rescue! The aspiring assistant director, already interested in her for quite some time but too shy to do something about it, was finally holding a higher ground as he landed assisting director gig and also co-wrote the script. It was time for strike one. He asked her to a job interview for the position of editor in Graham Cutts' new project: Woman to Woman.

Reville came. Her daughter Patricia said that the interview was brief, for Alma politely informed her future husband that the salary he was offering was inadequate.. As she was getting out of a building, Alfred stormed after her to make her a better offer. This time, she agreed.

The resulting film was a fantastic experience for both - things clicked between them, both personally and professionally. By the time the movie debuted in theaters, they both knew that this relationship is one to keep alive.

A string of Graham Cutts films with both lovebirds followed. As much as Cutts was a very talented director, large part of what made those movies good (and bad as well) was thanks to them. And proportionally to how they have grown accustomed to each other, they were growing in hatred for Graham. Soon, Alfred became his own man and started directing, while Alma was helping him and thus a trend that followed for the rest of their professional lives was established.

Work for her husband

In 1927, a year after the couple finally got married, a breakthrough happened for Hitch as that was the time when the great The Lodger was made. Alma's extra contribution to it was a guest appearance, this one was a brief part though. In the slightly disappointing film that followed - The Ring - she co-wrote the script together with Alfred and Eliot Stannard.

I always find myself visualizing the finished films from Hitch’s scripts before he starts shooting, and then I like to stay away until the rough cut to see how far my visualization corresponds with the film itself.
Alma Reville

Even though Alma Reville considered going solo as a director, in December 1927 she got pregnant. Giving birth to her daughter converted the would-be director to a full-time mother. Since she was a hard worker, dropping out after all the accumulated experience was a no-go, but for the time being, she was grounded.

Reville couldn't sit at home and just take care of the baby. She was extremely energetic and eager to do something constructive. Almost instantly after giving birth, she got to work on a scenario for the movie After the Verdict. The director was Henrik Galeen - a famous and accomplished man in the silent era, praised for his script for the wonderful classic Nosferatu (1922).

After talkies started gaining ground, just like Graham Cutts, he found it extremely hard to adjust. In all the later years of his career, he couldn't make a single quality movie. Alma Lucy tried her luck with Galeen - she was already married to a man who was praised as the best modern director in British cinema, while Henrik was unsuccessfully trying to adjust to the new medium for quite some time already.

After the Verdict ended up average and unmemorable.

More script work

Another six months later, another movie with her script began screening. It was Juno and the Paycock's adaptation called The Shame of Mary Boyle. Unfortunately, it ended up being a disastrous scenario to a disastrous movie. Nevertheless, it was clear at that point that writing scripts became her major occupation. Since she also did many other things while working with Alfred before giving birth and focusing on scripts, a problem emerged.

Hitchcock compensated for lack of his favorite assistant by hiring Renee Pargenter to be his new secretary and help with scripts. Soon, Pargenter got married and again left Hitchcock with a position to fill. In 1935, they hired Joan Harrison to do the job and she did it well. It was still far from what Alma got to offer when engaged on those other fronts, but the couple was satisfied with Joan's effort and she was accepted as part of their inner circle.

Throughout the years, Alma Reville contributed to the large majority of Hitchcock movies. Most of this was a script work, but she wasn't too good with this direct work. Of the 30 movies in which she got credited as a writer, there was only one giant - Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock's favorite, by the way). Besides it, her signature was attached to the less important, less successful, less acclaimed Alfred Hitchcock films.

No more script work

The failure of Under Capricorn was particularly hard to swallow for her. She was omitted from credits, but in reality worked hard on that title. This was the last straw - after a string of her script failures, she decided to call it quits and from then on only assisted and advised her husband.

She must have been terribly ashamed of her lack of success with writing scenarios, as her husband covered for her and many times claimed that in reality she didn't write them at all.

After abandoning script work, Alma's involvement became harder to trace and anecdotal evidence needs to be collected to even gather scraps of information. Alfred liked to take her to research locations and shoot scenes outside of London, as this way they could spend more time together and she was available when Hitch needed direction.

What we know for sure is that Alma Reville also contributed to most of Hitchcock's movies until the very end of his career. Continue to the next article to check an assessment of how valuable those contributions could be exactly.