Two upcoming films will aim to shed light on Alfred Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife, Alma Reville, an editor (cum script girl) and screenwriter, who worked closely with him for exactly fifty years, from 1922 to 1972.
In Sacha Gervasi’s “Hitchcock,” which is about the making of “Psycho,” Helen Mirren plays Reville opposite Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock. In Julian Jarrold’s BBC movie “The Girl,” about Hitchcock’s alleged sexual harassment of the actress Tippi Hedren, Imelda Staunton plays Reville opposite Toby Jones; Sienna Miller plays Hedren.
Mirren explained why she wanted to play Reville at a press conference at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival on Saturday. She was drawn to “Hitchcock,” reports Screen Daily, not only by the opportunity to work with Hopkins for the first time and the “fabulous script,” but the substance of the part.
“It was a really great role,” she said. “Alma was one of the great unsung heroines of film. She was extremely proactive in the making of Hitchcock’s masterworks and he himself paid her all the credit in the world. It was great to bring Alma out of the shadows.”
Mirren’s praise for Reville tied in with the speech she gave when accepting the Crystal Globe for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to World Cinema at the festival’s opening ceremony the night before. “I’d love to see more women writers and directors,” she had said. “I never complain about roles for women in drama, I complain about roles for women in life. Today in 2012 is a very different picture than it was ten years ago, and I hope in another ten years the picture will change again.”
Reville was born in Nottinghamshire on August 14, 1899, the day after Hitchcock was born in London. She entered the film industry before he did, starting at 15 as a rewind girl in the editing room at the Twickenham studio, where her father worked. She swiftly became an editor, moving to the London Film Company when she was 16. Two years later she became assistant to the director Maurice Elvey and branched into acting, playing Megan Lloyd George, the daughter of the prime minister, in Elvey’s “The Life Story of David Lloyd George” (1918); she later had a cameo in Hitchcock’s “The Lodger” (1926).
In 1921, Reville joined Famous Players-Lasky and worked as an editor and second assistant director at its Islington studio. It was here that she met Hitchcock, initially hired as a title writer. In later years, she reportedly said that Hitchcock waited until he had more credits to his name as a writer and assistant before he asked her to edit and serve as script girl on Graham Cutts’s “Woman to Woman” (1922). Hitchcock adapted the film (from a popular stage play about a shellshocked British army officer involved with two women), art-directed it, and generally helped on the production.
In 1925, Hitchcock was invited to make his directorial debut on the Anglo-German production, “The Pleasure Garden,” about the mixed fortunes of two chorus girls. With Alma as assistant, it was filmed in Italy and France. In his famous conversations with François Truffaut, Hitchcock described the chaos of working on a low-budget production and how he depended on Reville to find extra bits of money and to listen to his woes. Not wanting to tell the Hollywood star, Virginia Valli, that it was his first movie as director and that it was short of money, “I do a really mean thing,” Hitchcock admitted to Truffaut. “I manage to twist the facts and put the whole blame on my fiancée…I always make my fiancée do all the dirty work.”
Another habit was established on “The Pleasure Garden.” Hitchcock said. “Eventually, we start the shooting and everything works out all right. In those days, of course, we shot moonlight scenes in the sun and we tinted the film blue. After each shot I’d turn back to my fiancée, asking ‘Was it all right?’” Reville, who was married to Hitchcock in December 1926, remained his sounding board for the rest of his career, save his last film, “Family Plot” (1976), on which she was too ill to work.
“The Pleasure Garden,” recently restored by the British Film Institute with an added 20 minutes, features in the three-month season of Hitchcock film starting at the BFI Southbank in London on August 1.
Over the years Reville wrote screenplays for ten non-Hitchcock films and either adapted the stories or contributed to the scripts for Hitchcock’s “The Ring,” “Juno and the Paycock,” “Murder,” “The Skin Game,” “Rich and Strange,” “Number Seventeen,” “Waltzes From Vienna,” “The 39 Steps,” “The Secret Agent,” “Sabotage,” “Young and Innocent,” “The Lady Vanishes,” “Jamaica Inn,” “Suspicion,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” “The Paradine Case,” and “Stage Fright.” Apparently upset by the critical reception of “Under Capricorn” in 1949, she played a lesser role thereafter, but was invariably by Hitchcock’s side on the set or in story conferences, specializing in solving continuity issues. Hitchcock would turn to her for a nod or shake of the head if he wanted confirmation of a decision in meetings. As to their psychologically complex personal relationship in the light of Hitchcock’s obsessions with various of his leading ladies, “Hitchcock” and “The Girl” may be hard pushed to get at the truth.
Reville died in 1982, two years after Hitchcock. Their daughter Pat Hitchcock O’Connell has co-written a book about her mother, “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man.” Lizzie Francke wrote in her book, “Script Girls: Women Writers in Hollywood,” “Perhaps it would be more appropriate to talk of the Hitchcocks’ pictures.”