Alfred Hitchcock was nicknamed “The Master of Suspense” with good reason. There is something in our human nature that craves that nail-biting, on-the-edge-of-our-seat experience and it could be argued no one understood that better than Hitchcock. He was, above all, a visual storyteller: the camera – and consequently, the audience themselves – became his main players, with every scene meticulously played out to create the greatest cinematic experience possible. The following is just a little of what went on behind some of Hitchcock’s most iconic scenes.
*Note: Contains Spoilers
The Phone Booth & Attic Scene in The Birds
In Hitchcock’s The Birds, when chaos breaks loose in Bodega Bay, Tippi Hedren’s character, Melanie Daniels, takes refuge in a phone booth. What we didn’t see during the attack on the booth was Hedren getting a face full of real glass during one of the shots – instead of what was supposed to be safety glass. Hedren also spent a week filming the attic scene in which she had live gulls hurled at her, and after sustaining an injury to her eyelid, she had a nervous breakdown and production shut down for a week to allow her time to recover.
Hitch Fact: One particular bird – a Raven named Archie – attacked Rod Taylor, who played Mitch Brenner, at every opportunity. They had a strong mutual dislike of one another. Rod would begin his day by inquiring: “Is Archie working today?”
The Fatal Shower Scene in Psycho
Janet Leigh developed a lifelong fear of shower-taking after filming the shower scene in Psycho, despite the fact that she shared the scene with body double Marli Renfro. If Miss Leigh had to stay overnight somewhere where only a shower was available, she would take precautionary measures. Said Leigh: “I make sure the doors and windows of the house are locked and I leave the bathroom door open and shower curtain open. I’m always facing the door, watching, no matter where the shower head is.” Really, who can blame her?
Hitch Fact: In order to give movie-goers the full Psycho experience, Hitchcock insisted that no one be admitted to the theater after the picture had started.
The Mount Rushmore and Crop Dusting Scene in North by Northwest
Hitchcock was granted permission to film at Mount Rushmore provided he didn’t portray any acts of violence on top of the memorial. Upon learning that that was exactly what Hitchcock had in mind, the U.S. Department of the Interior revoked his permit and a replica had to be built in its place. The reproduction was so convincing that movie-goers believed the scene was actually filmed at Mount Rushmore; thus the Department of the Interior insisted they be removed from the film credits in which they were “thanked for their cooperation.” Hitchcock also planned to film a sequence in which Cary Grant’s character, Roger Thornhill, hides in Lincoln’s nose and is overcome by a sneezing fit, but it was considered disrespectful, and therefore dismissed.
Hitch Fact: The famous crop-dusting scene was filmed in Bakersfield, California, but Grant and the plane were filmed separately, with a few shots taking place in the studio. Many would agree that it’s one of the most renowned scenes in film history.
The Deadly Carousel Scene in Strangers on a Train
The famous scene where a plucky elderly man crawls underneath an out-of-control carousel moving at breakneck speed was performed by an actual carousel operator who volunteered for the part and not a stunt man. Despite the fact that the carousel did not move at the same velocity as what was presented on-screen, it was, nonetheless, a truly dangerous stunt. Hitchcock said that it was one of the most frightening scenes he ever directed and that, “If the man had raised his head even slightly, it would have gone from being a suspense film to a horror film.”
Hitch Fact: Hitchcock’s daughter, Pat, plays Anne’s younger sister, Barbara, in the film. She did not, however, receive any favoritism and had to audition for the part like everybody else. A gifted actress, Pat also appeared in roles in both Stage Fright and Psycho, as well as 10 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
The False Flashback Scene in Stage Fright
One of the most discussed and debated flashbacks in film history is the scene labeled ‘the false flashback’ in Stage Fright. Most people put it down as fact that a flashback is a reliable representation of truth. But what happens when a flashback is viewed through the lens of an unreliable narrator? If we accept it as fact, then it changes the game entirely. Different rules. Different suspects. Some critics and movie-goers didn’t take well to Hitchcock’s cinematic deception, feeling that they had been lied to – while others thought it brilliant. After all, Hitchcock completely fooled his audience, which was, of course, his intention. And why should we accept one person’s version of the story as absolute truth, especially when we’re out to catch a murderer?
Hitch Fact: Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in 38 of his 50 films.
The ‘Poisoned?’ Milk Scene in Suspicion
In a truly unforgettable scene, the dubious yet endearing Johnny, played by Cary Grant, carries a glass of milk up to his wife Lina (Joan Fontaine) who half doubts and half suspects that her husband intends to poison her with its contents. In Hitchcock’s original ending, Johnny poisons his wife, mailing a letter she has written afterward, thus convicting himself. However, just as the studio had predicted, the initial audience strongly objected to Cary Grant being portrayed as a murderer, so the ending was softened.
Hitch Fact: Hitchcock placed a small light in the bottom of the glass of milk to give it an eerie, luminescent glow, thereby building the viewers ‘suspicions’ to a final climax.
For a full Alfred Hitchock filmography, click here.
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