Hitchcock, “The Dark Side of Genius, ” a Perspective 1-25-2015 Richard J. Garfunkel

Hitchcock, “The Dark Side of Genius,” by Donald Ploto

A Perspective


Richard J. Garfunkel


I just re-read, after a period of many, many years, Donald Spoto’s excellent and unprecedented biography of Alfred Hitchcock, one of the greatest film directors of the 20th Century.

I had always been interested in Hitchcock, and from my young days, in the middle 1950s my parents took me to the movies and I saw many of Hitchcock’s films as they came to the big screen. They were avid fans of his works, and we all watched weekly his television series. He didn’t have much to do with its creativity, but, the themes of each show were always inspired by his vision and droll sense of irony. The special treats were his introductory remarks and his moralistic concluding statement on what had happened. Most of the time, they were the highlight of the production.

As I grew a bit older, I caught up with all of his early works from the Lodger to WWII and then on to Strangers on a Train, which spanned a period from the early 30s to the early 1950s. Hitchcock had a flair for suspense and in his visit to the Center of Advanced Studies at the American Film Institute in Beverly Hills, CA, he discussed at length the difference between the classic “whodunit,” or the difference between mystery and suspense.

I took this direct quotation from one of the last chapters of Spoto’s biography.

There is a great confusion between the words, “mystery” and “suspense.” The two things are absolutely miles apart. Mystery is an intellectual process, like in a “whodunit.” But suspense is essentially an emotional process. You can only get the suspense element going by giving the audience information. I daresay you have seen many films which have mysterious goings-on. You don’t know what is going on, why the man is doing this or that. You are about a third of the way through the film before your realize what it is all about. To me that is absolutely wasted footage, because there is no emotion to it…There is no emotion from the audience… the mystery form has no particular appeal to me, because it is merely a fact of mystifying an audience, which I don’t think is enough.

Hitchcock, unlike other directors, was able to eventually control his “product” and “process” with great originality and uniqueness. This talent and ingenuity harked back to the early days of cinema, when silent film producers and creators like DW Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and a few others were able to control every aspect of their work, from selecting the material, finding the players, writing and re-writing the script, finding the money, of course, and directing the film in the direction and with the message they wanted. As the studio system evolved in the middle to late 1920s, much of this was controlled by the studio heads (Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, Adolph Zukor, and the Warner Brothers) who had actors, writers and technicians under contract, or could borrow or rent contract players from others, buy material, assign producers to guide the business end of the process and hire, and also fire, directors, if they were dissatisfied by the work in progress. As one can learn by this thorough biography, Hitchcock was able to grow dramatically in power and influence when he left London in 1939, for his future career in Hollywood. He was able to sell his name and talent to various producers starting with David O. Selznick, and his success foreshadowed the decline of the Hollywood studios and the rise of the independent producer/director.

Of course, time becomes the great judge and determinate of what lasts. The faddish tastes of the moment often whither as more retrospective is given to any subject or work of art.  What thrilled audiences 75 years ago may have zero impact today? All one has to do is look at the three makings of King Kong or the two versions of Ben Hur, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Manchurian Candidate or even Psycho and see the advances in technology, the short cuts or the differences in casting, style editing and direction.

Interestingly, Hitchcock, like many others, did change. But that change was well within his early notions of the average man/woman caught in often an intractable bind. That bind often was one caused by the legal system, the government, or others who were trying to achieve some goal with the innocent victim in the way.

Aside from the struggle of the average man against injustice, Hitchcock liked to put people in awkward circumstances. Two of the films that come to mind, was his highly rated picture Vertigo and his more controversial WWII film, Lifeboat. In both cases, which are incredibly different individuals have to deal with. In Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart aka Scottie Ferguson has his fear and physical problems with high places exploited. This exploitation leads to murder and retribution. In Lifeboat, a number of survivors of a U-Boat attack are forced to cope with being at sea in a drifting lifeboat, without adequate provisions, and with the prospect of being lost. Hitchcock loved to create suspense with stress.  The survivors must learn how to deal we each other and with the reality that their future depends on a Nazi within their midst.

In Rebecca, Notorious and Suspicion individual relationships are at the heart of ongoing stress, fear, and hyper-anxiety. These films, which take place in the mid-1940s and all create difficulties for the women with their lovers/husbands. In both Rebecca and Suspicion the audience is never sure until the end of the film what will happen to the suffering wife. In both films, Hitchcock is forced to compromise the original author’s intent, and soften the conclusions. In Notorious, we are led into a tangled web of love, marriage, alienation, spying and international politics. In this treatment, the heroine, Ingrid Bergman/Alicia Huberman is basically forced to marry and spy on a man she does not love. Her safety and well-being becomes almost immediately compromised and her real lover, Cary Grant/TR Devlin must decide where his loyalties lie, with her or her mission.

Of course, Hitchcock liked to deal with intrigue and The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Foreign Correspondent, North by Northwest, The Saboteur and Sabotage all deal with intrigue, spies, espionage and intrigue. In each one, other than Sabotage, the victim is a man or a women, who must convince their casual acquaintance of their sanity and innocence. In each situation, not only is their mental well-being questioned but, their “strange” tale must also be eventually accepted. Aside from that problem, there is always greater threat to life and limb which has to be confronted and eliminated.

Hitchcock, who is married to Alma Reville, a woman he met in his early days as a film maker, has long indulged in fantasy world revolving around many of his leading ladies from; Madeline Carroll, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Fontaine, Doris Day, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, to Tippi Hedren. This so-called obsession, seen as a pseudo-sexual longing, often strained their long marriage and working relationship. How profound it really was, is never really understood or even articulated. For sure, Hitchcock himself always seem to believe that eating and often gluttony, was a wonderful counter balance to the lack of sexual activity and experimentation.

After a long, unique and incredible career, Hitchcock, who goes through many psychological changes, reaches his peak of success with Psycho, the suspense thriller dealing with split-personality and misogynist violence. This film, which was released in 1960, seemed to mark a strong artistic and financial rebound for Hitchcock. But, over the last twenty years of his life, he would fail to reach the success of Psycho, no less his earlier work.  The Birds, Torn Curtain, Marnie, Frenzy, Topaz and others, never were able to resonate strongly with more modern audiences, but to the end of his life, Hitchcock was always seeking that new blockbuster. In the movie bio-pic, with Anthony Hopkins, one gets the impression that Hitchcock risked all for the making of Psycho, but in reality he was quite rich from his decades of successful work, and despite his luxurious tastes, his investments were incredibly successful. At his death, in 1980, he left a considerable fortune of over $20 millions.

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A lifelong New Yorker, who now lives full-time in Palm Beach County, Richard was raised in Mount Vernon, New York and he was educated in the Mount Vernon public schools He graduated from Boston University with a BA in American History. After spending a year on Wall Street as a research analyst with Bache & Co., he joined a manufacturing and importing firm, where over the next twenty-five years he rose to the position of chief operating officer. After the sale of that business, Richard entered into the financial services field with Metropolitan Life and is a Registered Representative, who has been associated with Acorn Financial Services which is affiliated with John Hancock Life Insurance Company of Boston, Ma. Today, he is a retired broker who had specialized in long-term care insurance and financial planning. One of Richard’s recent activities was to advise and encourage communities to seek ways to incorporate “sustainability and resiliency” into their future infrastructure planning. After a lifetime in politics, with many years working as a district leader, which involved party organizational work, campaign chair activity and numerous other political tasks, Richard has been involved with numerous civic and social causes. In recent years, Richard served in 2005 as the campaign coordinator of the Re-Elect Paul Feiner Campaign in Greenburgh, NY and he again chaired Supervisor Feiner’s successful landslide victory in 2007. Over the next few years, he advised a number of political candidates. He has served as an appointed Deputy Supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh, with responsibilities regarding the town’s “liaison program.” He was a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board of the Town of Greenburgh, NY. Richard has lectured on FDR, The New Deal and 20th century American history in the Mount Vernon schools, at the Westchester Council of Social Studies annual conference in White Plains, and at many senior citizen groups, which include appearances at the Old Guard of White Plains, the Rotary Clubs of Elmsford and White Plains, and various synagogue groups around Westchester. In the winter of 2006 Richard was the leader of the VOCAL forum, sponsored by the Westchester County Office of Aging, which addresses the concerns of Westchester County’s Intergenerational Advocacy Educational Speak-out forums for senior citizens. Richard has given lectures for the Active Retirement Project, which is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center on the Hudson, the Greenburgh Hebrew Center, and other groups around Westchester County. Richard also is the founder and Chairperson of the Jon Breen Memorial Fund, that judges and grants annual prizes to students at Mount Vernon High School who submit essays on public policy themes. He also sponsors the Henry M. Littlefield History Prize for the leading MVHS history student. Richard serves on the Student College Scholarship Committee of Mount Vernon High School. In past years Richard chaired and moderated the Jon Breen Fund Award’s cablecast program with the Mayor and local and school officials. Richard has been a member of Blythedale Children’s Hospital’s Planned Giving Professional Advisory Board, and was a founding member of the committee to re-new the FDR Birthday Balls of the 1930’s and 1940’s with the March of Dimes’ effort to eliminate birth defects. Their renewal dinner was held at Hyde Park on January 30, 2003. Richard is currently an active contributor to the Roosevelt Institute, which is involved in many pursuits which included the opening of the Henry A. Wallace Center at Hyde Park, and the Eleanor Roosevelt – Val-Kill Foundation. In 2007, he proposed to the City of Mount Vernon an effort to develop an arts, educational, and cultural center as part of a downtown re-development effort. Richard was a team partner with the Infrastructure & Energy Solutions Group. IEFG which has developed innovative strategies for the 21st Century. Richard hosted a weekly program on WVOX-1460 AM radio, called “The Advocates,” which was concerned with “public policy” issues. The show, which was aired from 2007 until May 15, 2013, has had amongst its guests; Representative Charles Rangel, Chairperson of the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, along with hundreds of others. All the 300 shows are archived at http://advocates-wvox.com. Richard currently gives lectures on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR and the Jewish Community, The New Deal, FDR and Douglas MacArthur, 20th Century American Foreign Policy Resulting in Conflict, and Israel’s Right to Exist. Richard lives in Boynton Beach, Fl, with his wife Linda of 44 years. They have two married children. Their daughter Dana is a Rutgers College graduate, with a MS from Boston University, and is the Assistant Director of Recruitment at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Their son Jon is an electrical engineering graduate of Princeton University and a senior software architect at NY/Mellon Bank in NYC. Richard J. Garfunkel rjg727@comcast.net Recent Appearances: KTI Synagogue, Rye Brook, NY- Long Term Care & Estate Conservation- Anshe Shalom Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY- Long Term Care- American Legion Post, Valhalla, NY- Long Term Care and Asset Protection- Doyle Senior Ctr, New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care and Asset Protection- AME Methodist Ministers, New Rochelle, NY, LTC and Charitable Giving- Profession Women in Construction, Elmsford, NY, LTC and Business Benefits- Kol Ami Synagogue- White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Disability - Beth El Men's Club-New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care-Is it Necessary- Greater NY Dental Meeting Javits Ctr, NY, NY- LTC and Disability- IBEW Local #3 , White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Asset Protection, Health Fair -Bethel Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY-LTC and Disability, Heath Fair- Riverdale Mens Club CSAIR- Riverdale, NY- LTC- Life Weight Watchers of Westchester and the Bronx-LTC and Tax Implications Sunrise Assisted Living of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, NY-LTC Sprain Brook Manor of Scarsdale-LTC- November 15, 2001 Sunrise Assisted Living of Stamford, Connecticut, February 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, February, 2002 The Old Guard Society of White Plains, NY, April, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY August, 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, October, 2002 JCC of Scarsdale, Scarsdale, NY, November, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY, January, 2003 The Rotary Club of White Plains, NY January, 2003 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY April, 2003 Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, NY January, 2004 Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon, NY March 2004 Kol Ami/JCC of White Plains, NY November, 2004 The Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, January 2005 The Sunrise of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, April, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, November, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, December, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, January, 2005 Rotary Club of Elmsford, April, 2006 Kiwanis Club of Yonkers, June, 2006 Greenburgh Jewish Center, November, 2006 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, February, 2007 Hebrew Institute, White Plains, March, 2007 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, NY, April, 2007 Westchester Meadows. Valhalla, November, 2007 Hebrew Institute. White Plains, November, 2007 Art Zuckerman Radio Show- January, 2008 JCC of the Hudson, Tarrytown, February, 2008 Matt O’Shaughnessy Radio Show, March, 2008 WVOX –Election Night Coverage, November, 2008 WVOX – Inaugural Coverage, January 20, 2009 The Advocates-host of the WVOX Radio Show, 2007- 2010 Rotary Club of Pleasantville, February, 2009 Hebrew Institute of White Plains, May, 2009 JCC Hudson, Tarrytown, December, 2009-10-11-12 Brandeis Club, Yonkers, March 25, 2010

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