Alma Reville
Wedlock, disease, death, best films

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


In the second half of 1925, the movie The Mountain Eagle was being made in Munich, Germany. It ended up a complete flop, which the studio blocked until The Lodger became such a success. At that point, the board thought it would be a wonderful idea to release it after all!

The director's newly-gained fame didn't change anyone's opinion of the 1925 production - it was crap, plain and simple. At that time though, something much more important happened.

When the couple was coming back to England, their ship got caught in the middle of the storm. Crew started panicking, wondering if they will reach the English shore alive. Definitely not an environment best for clear thinking, or making life-changing decisions, but there was a chubby man with a plan on board and no storm was going to stop him. In his pocket, Hitch had an engagement ring.

If circumstances were not tragic on their own, Alma got seasick due to boat constantly swaying rapidly. As she was lying in her cabin engaged in agony, Alfred stormed in with an offer Reville hopefully wouldn't refuse. Mrs. Hitchcock recalls the event: It was the first time I had ever seen him in a state of disorder, and the last time too. His hair had been blown about by the wind and his clothes had been soaked with ocean spray.

Alma's response to the director's proposal was as romantic as conditions surrounding the boat - she didn't feel like even having enough strength to lift her head up, but made an affirmative nodding gesture. Hitch wouldn't be himself if he wouldn't add a cheeky comment: I thought I’d catch you when you were too weak to say no.

As Alfred's mother Emma Jane was a devoted Catholic, she demanded that Alma converts and they have a Catholic ceremony. The bride-to-be complied, but wasn't too enthusiastic about it. Even though they had a Catholic wedding Mass, at the time she still hasn't fully converted and finished with it later.

The wedding took place on December 2, 1926. Its location was a beautiful Brompton Oratory in Knightsbridge. Their honeymoon the pair spent in three cities. First, they came to Paris to join Nita Naldi, The Mountain Eagle's main star. Second location was Lake Como in Lombardy, Italy (here is a gallery of this enchanting place).

Their last stop was St. Moritz in Switzerland. It is a famous travel location frequented by the rich and famous. Hitch had been there before, as some footage of The Prude's Fall (1924) was shot there. He appreciated its beauty and quickly realized that it is a perfect location for many things. Later, the pair came back there every year on their anniversary, until Alma's health deteriorated to the point that far travels became risky.

After coming back to London, the final change of location took place: the freshly wed couple moved to their new apartment located at 153 Cromwell Road.

Health problems

In 1958, Alma Reville was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Today, it is one of the lesser-worrying forms of cancer to be having, because there is a good understanding of its causes, Pap and HPV tests help detect it early and treatment is effective. This has drastically reduced its death toll in the last decades. At the time when Alma was diagnosed with it though, it was almost completely incurable. Alfred was devastated.

Reville decided on an experimental treatment that was a high risk/high reward scenario. She was operated on April 14, 1959. In her case, it turned out to be a great choice: she beat cancer and very quickly came back to full strength. For the next 14 years, Alma again enjoyed good health.

In 1972, her condition took a downward slide, and from that one Reville would never fully recover. When shooting of the movie Frenzy was finished, Mrs. Hitchcock planned to go on vacation with her granddaughter, but she suffered a stroke. Once again, she got reminded what it feels like to lose control over her body - as mentioned earlier, she contracted chorea as a child which causes rapid uncontrolled body movements.

I couldn’t imagine being alive without Alma. I wouldn’t want to be. I always thought I would go first. It never occurred to me that I would survive Alma. I’m older, you know. One day older.
Alfred Hitchcok

As a result, she lost control of the left part of her body and with it, the ability to speak clearly. Fortunately, with time she slowly regained control, with the exception of three fingers which she couldn't move from then on and few other minor ailments. Worse news was that her heart got weaker and she had to be careful with physical activity.

Four years later, when another (and the last) Hitchcock movie Family Plot was completed, she suffered another stroke. This one was an even more devastating blow for Alma's body. Her condition worsened so much that she had to stay home from then on.

She lost interest in the world. One of the most important things for the continuity girl was the way she looks. She had used to spend plenty of time selecting clothes, doing make-up etc. After the second stroke, it was gone. Another thing was gardening. It was both Alfred's and her favorite hobby and they used to nurture their personal garden under the California sun. Again, the interest has disappeared completely.

The last six years of life, she spent barely aware of what was going on around her. According to her daughter, after Alfred died, she never computed the fact and firmly believed that he is still alive. Communication with her was very limited and she had to be under constant supervision. Despite of all that, she supposedly was a happy person in the last years of her life.

In such poor physical and mental condition, people around her must have expected Alma Reville to die soon. She surprised everyone and outlived her husband by more than two years. Death came for her on July 6, 1982. St. Paul the Apostle Church in Westwood was where her funeral was arranged. Just like her husband, she asked for her ashes to be scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

Selected filmography

Secret Agent front conver: man and a woman holding each other while two other men stand in the background.

Secret Agent (1936)

Different moral sets of values split a group of secret British agents as they uncover the truth about their mission. While the picture wasn't particularly successful, the always-amazing Peter Lorre enchants with his portrayal of one of those agents. That very specific performance, especially considering that it was recorded in the 1930s and there hasn't been too many psychopath portrayals on screen back then, carries this otherwise average production.

Front cover of Sabotage: a bus blows up on a London street.

Sabotage (1936)

An undercover detective tries to find details of a terrorist attack about to take place that involves his "neighbour" while not exactly hiding from beautiful Sylvia Sidney that lives with the shady character. At one point, he messes up and things get complicated on both ends. The movie was based on Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent. The adaptation is loose at times, but the script is generally well thought out. British cinema fans had the opportunity to watch the film before Christmas while in other countries, people had to wait until January of next year.

Front cover of Young And Innocent: man and woman holding each other.

Young and Innocent (1937)

The film is also known under the title The Girl Was Young, under which it was released in the United States. Apparently, in the American version the girl wasn't as innocent. To confuse things further, it is based on a novel bearing yet another title: Josephine Tey's A Shilling for Candles. The story is a cliche to say the least - a man on the run enlists a woman to help him and in the process a feeling between them is born. As was so frequent in Hitchcock movies, the scenario drifts miles away from the book at will. In this case, it has worked as the film is fun to watch.

Front cover of Suspicion: Cary Grant kisses Joan Fontaine, while she looks away concerned.

Suspicion (1941)

Joan Harrison, who had her credits debut in Jamaica Inn, made her fourth screenplay contribution for this film. Of those, it was the second together with Reville. As usual, it is based on a novel, Francis Iles's Before the Fact was under crosshair this time. The movie was blessed with a glamorous cast - both Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine were at the top of the world at the moment of its release. The general reception was good, but the motion picture falls short on too many occasions to lift it from the average zone. It contains a cult scene though, in which where Lina is about to receive... a drink from her husband. A memorable moment that definitely deserves to be mentioned among the director's top scenes.

front cover of Shadow of a Doubt: young Teresa is looking at something obviously worried and afraid, in the background her uncle casting a giant shadow.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Hitchcock's favorite is definitely one of his best as well. Its main success lies in that it contains many elements present in different kinds of Hitch's movies while at the same time being very much unlike his other works. The ending, for example, is completely different than what the viewer would expect knowing his style and his way of thinking. It is the only cooperation between him and an acclaimed novelist-turned-scriptwriter Thornton Wilder, who at the moment of signing a contract for Shadow of a Doubt was still a rookie in the film business. As the film debuted, it changed fast! Alma Reville and Sally Benson also participated in the script. The original story was Gordon McDonell's, whose wife personally convinced Hitchcock to look into Gordon's ideas.

Front cover of Stage Fright: two main characters are looking at something scared, in the background sits Marelene Dietrich with two other people behind her.

Stage Fright (1950)

Hitch finally got his wish and landed the iconic Marlene Dietrich. The base for it was Selwyn Jepson's novel Mad Running and Alma sat down with Whitfield Cook to convert it into a script. The result was good, if you can swallow the slightly annoying main character. One thing for which it was criticized, and here Alma and Whitfield messed up, was the flashback near the beginning of the movie. A turn of events was presented, but later it turned out that it didn't. Visual reminders obviously don't point to fake stories - a rule that even the least intelligent moviegoers understand on an instinctual level. Outside of it though, the film was decent.