THE DARK SIDE OF GENIUS: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock by Donald Spoto
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THE DARK SIDE OF GENIUS: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock

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That Hitchcock's films reflect a sin-obsessed, sadistic, and fearful sensibility will hot corne as news to readers of the Hitchcock-criticism shelf. But Spoto (the uneven Art of Alfred Hitchcock, 1976), through a combination of research and speculation, now makes detailed, explicit connections to Hitch's personal life--in a sometimes tortured but undeniably revealing biography, one that digs into all the dark corners left unexplored by John Russell Taylor's genial, semi-authorized Hitch (1978). Even as a child, it seems, Cockney/Catholic Alfred--""the clever fat boy who had no friends""--was a player of cruel practical jokes. He was more ambitious than previously acknowledged in his silent-film rise from title-designer to director, with an ""ungenerous streak"" as regards collaborators. And though he cherished respectability and married loyal, quietly powerful colleague Alma, he seethed (says Spoto) ""with inner demons of lust and possessiveness,"" with repressed sexuality, with love/hate yens for beautiful blondes, with insecurities, fears, and envies that gave him the need to submit others (including audiences) to ""humiliation and danger."" Result? A ""Jekyll-and-Hyde mentality"" (duty vs. desire)--on display in the double-imagery of Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, and others, while Vertigo was ""his ultimate disclosure of his romantic impulses and of the attraction-repulsion he felt. . . ."" Unfortunately, Spoto never really offers (aside from Catholic/social generalities) an idea of where all these ""inner demons"" came from. His film/life parallels occasionally seem overstated or strained (with inadequate treatment of other, esthetic matters). And the non-cooperation of Hitchcock's widow and daughter may have led to an exaggerated picture of the old, drunken Hitchcock as utterly lonely and miserable. Still, the heaping-up of interview material to support Spoto's view of Hitchcock--from on-the-set cruelties to his love/hate treatment of Tippi Hedren--is impressive. And though Spoto has the familiar film-student problem of maligning screenplay sources (Juno and the Paycock is ""talky melodrama,"" Tey's Shilling for Candles is ""overwritten and unthrilling""), he is strong on production details, studio business, and--above all--on distinguishing director contributions from those of the writers. Flawed, overreaching life-in-work biography, then--but a major research-feat that easily supersedes the Taylor book. . . and is likely to be the Hitchcock-life source for some rime to come.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1983
Publisher: Little, Brown