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Who Plotted Against Alfred Hitchcock?

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By Brian Hanna, author of Darkness Visible: Hitchcock's Greatest Film.

Fat, ugly man falls in love with beautiful girl and reacts badly when rejected. It's one of the oldest clichés in the world and the version where he is not rejected is commonly filed under Beauty And The Beast. Propose such a scenario to a movie company and the idea would surely be rejected. Not, apparently, if the ugly fat man is called Alfred Hitchcock and he's dead and cannot defend himself.

It's entirely possible that Hitchcock was a horrible man, guilty of despicable crimes, but we have no real evidence one way or the other. The BBC film The Girl promotes itself as a 'true' story, based on interviews etc., but they all come from one largely discredited book by Donald Spoto. The film presents Hitchcock as an ogre obsessed by his new star Tippi Hedren during the filming of The Birds. But there are so many inaccuracies you would need a calculator.

In essence what went wrong between them was that Hitchcock signed Hedren to a long-term contract. There was nothing unusual in this. Producers spending millions turning unknowns into stars wanted to protect their investment not hand a ready-made star to other producers. In order to win their star-making roles in Lawrence Of Arabia, for example, both Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif had to agree to a long-term contract with producer Sam Spiegel. Albert Finney, first choice for Lawrence, refused and did not get the part. It cost Paul Newman $500,000 in 1959 to get out of his contract with Warner Brothers. So these were pretty much a fact of life.

Hitchcock got his Hollywood break thanks to a seven-year contract with David O Selznick in 1940. But the point about such contracts was for the producer to make money, either by using the 'employee' in his own films or farming them out to other producers for a fat fee, substantially more, usually, than the actor was being paid. Hitchcock loved money, all Hollywood did, the place was built on the stuff, so it's inconceivable that, if Hedren refused other projects after Marnie, that he would not sell off her services to the highest bidder.

The problem was - nobody was interested. As far as Hollywood was concerned she was not the next Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn and, without Hitchcock's filming style, which very much protected a novice actress, she lacked the technical skills to convince other directors that she could handle the parts on offer. Unfortunately, Hedren believed her own publicity, just about the worst currency in Hollywood, and thought she could bring in the audiences for a non-Hitchcock film. Equally unfortunately for her, she was wrong. She found parts (in The Countess From Hong Kong and Tiger By The Tail), but not stardom. Her last big film, budget-wise, was a disaster. Roar cost $17m and made $2m.

The moral of the story - don't believe everything you read in books.

Brian Hannan is the author of Darkness Visible: Hitchcock's Greatest Film , published by Endeavour Press.