Alfred Hitchcock's Assistant
Alma Reville Hitchcock
Early British Films
Alma and Alfred worked together on several films including Anglo-German productions where they travelled to Berlin. On one of the return trips, Alfred proposed marriage to Alma while both suffered seasickness on board a ship that was floundering in a violent sea. Alfred continued to live with his mother at Leytonstone while Alma lived with her parents at Twickenham. There were suppers after the day's work and an occasional trip to the theatre.
Alfred began to lose his shyness with Alma. Tiny, alert with carrot-red hair, Alma was brisk and outspoken, not having the imagination of Alfred but more realistic. Full of good advice, she took on social responsibilities on behalf of Alfred, and busier than Alfred at the studios, she was in demand as an editor and scriptwriter. Expectations were held for her as a director. Alfred wrote her long letters and when he spoke to her on the telephone in the evening he would want to know if she had read his letter.
By autumn 1926 Alfred had completed three films for Michael Balcon. None as yet had been released but the last one, The Lodger, starring Ivor Novello and Daisy Jackson (pictured right), was so well-received at a press showing that British International Pictures offered Alfred a multi-picture deal for payment of £13,000 a year. The Lodger would become the classic Hitchcock plotline - an innocent man is falsely suspected of a crime and must fight his way through the intrigue and suspicion in order to prove his innocence. The film also starred an attractive young blond woman, another feature which would predominate in Hitch's movies.
Alma converted to Roman Catholicism and the couple were married at Brompton Oratory, Knightsbridge on 2 December 1926. An oddly contrasting couple, Alfred corpulent at five-feet-eight, Alma birdlike at barely five feet, there could be no doubt that each held admiration for the other's talents and shared a passion for the cinema.
On the evening of the wedding, they took the boat train to France and stopped off in Paris en route to the Palace Hotel, Saint Moritz for their honeymoon. On their return they moved into a flat on Cromwell Road. They entertained many visitors including George Bernard Shaw who autographed an original play manuscript given to Alfred and dedicated it: 'To Alma Reville's husband.'
After directing Downhill and Easy Virtue, Alfred directed his own screenplay The Ring with continuity by Alma. The trade papers were ecstatic about it. Alma also worked with the author Margaret Kennedy on the screenplay for The Constant Nymph which starred Ivor Novello and this film was also a great success.
The Hitchcocks acquired a grand country house close to Guildford where Alma set about 'trying to create a home that would match Hitchcock's own serenity.' Despite being pregnant, Alma still worked for Michael Balcon where she met Madeleine Carroll and recommended her to Alfred as a future star.
Their daughter, Paricia Alma Hitchcock, was born at Cromwell Road on 7 July 1928. Within two weeks Alma was back at work writing the script for After the Verdict - the last film she worked on that was not directed by her husband. Alfred directed the disappointing The Manxman and then the history-making first British sound film Blackmail (1929) in which Hitch makes his appearance, seated second left, in scene pictured right. This picture changed the British film industry and Hitch's career. In Blackmail, Hitchcock created 'subjective sound'. A woman stabs and murders a young man and in a conversation with her neighbour the next morning, the neighbour's speech is gradually distorted except the word 'knife' to show the murderer's anxiety.
From this time forward Alma was the ultimate arbiter of the story for a Hitchcock film, her opinion of the final cut essential, the last to see a film before distribution and the last to give an opinion on a scene or narrative. Although her advice was not necessarily taken, it was always considered. Alfred's highest praise for anyone was: 'Alma really liked that last scene you wrote.' Alma had become a supportive wife, always keeping her husband in touch with reality. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) brought Hitch his first wide commercial success.
Of the British films Hitchcock directed up to 1939, Alma was usually credited with the screenplay or continuity and if Alma was on set, Alfred would often confer on the details of a certain shot or line of dialogue. Even before Alfred realised it himself, Alma recognised that he would never be appreciated in Britain, and in July 1938, Hitchcock signed a contract with Selznick International Pictures for a one-picture, twenty-week contract.
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