HITCHCOCK and SELZNICK by Leonard J. Leff
1987 – University of California Press – 383 pages
In retrospect, Alfred Hitchcock’s triumphant arrival in the United States in 1939 seems like a fait accompli, something destined by the movie gods many years before. Behind the scenes there was a considerable period of indecision by Hitchcock. He certainly knew he wanted to come to the States, but he had offers from multiple studios to consider. Ultimately he decided to sign with David O. Selznick, at the time the most powerful independent producer in Hollywood.
For the next eight years, the lives and careers of these two men would be linked together, in a relationship that was was often tumultuous. Author Leonard J. Leff chose this intersecting period in the lives of Hitchcock and Selznick as the subject for his book.
Leff gives us some brief introductory material, setting the scene of precisely where these two men were in their careers at this time. Hitchcock was a big fish in a small pond, and he knew he would have to sacrifice a little creative control, at least at first, in coming to Hollywood. Selznick was riding high, a celebrated producer who was making what would become his greatest triumph, Gone With the Wind.
The meat of this book is the four chapters that focus on the collaborative projects between the two men: Rebecca, Spellbound, Notorious and The Paradine Case. Leff has researched his subjects meticulously, and provides in-depth descriptions of how these films were made, from inception to release. The reader gets a strong feel for the working relationship between Hitchcock and Selznick, the give and take that resulted in some high-quality films.
Leff also provides a chapter titled “Between Engagements” that covers all of the films Hitchcock made on loan-out for other studios while under contract to Selznick. Finally, the book closes with a summation of the immediate aftermath of the partnership.
In most biographies of Alfred Hitchcock, Selznick is cast as an antagonist of sorts, the meddlesome mogul who won’t give Hitchcock the creative freedom he desires. This book, providing an impartial view of both men, shows us a different side of Selznick. At his best, Selznick had wonderful ideas to contribute to a film’s story and structure. He was often indulgent of Hitchcock, even when Selznick felt that Hitch might be taking advantage of him. And yes, he could be overbearing and controlling, but there is no doubt that he cared passionately about the product being released by his studio.
Leff’s narrative is smart, insightful and a pleasure to read, and this book comes highly recommended.