When I Made The
You know, now that I think of it, it wasn’t that bad. At the time, of course, I pooh-poohed it because I don’t believe in movies that don’t make money, especially if they’re mine. Well, success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. But let’s lay the blame for this one on David’s doorstep. Where it belongs. He kept writing and writing and rewriting, giving the actors the new pages as they stepped on the set in the morning. This is not the way I work. I cannot work this way. David’s version was a compilation of several earlier versions, one of which I wrote, as well as his own brilliant contributions. But that was just like David – trying to do too much and usurp all the credit for himself. It says script by David O. Selznick. As it does on Duel in the Sun, despite the fact that armies of writers worked on it. And on Since You Went Away as well. Let him take credit for that one. A masterpiece of treacle and sentimentality.
Did you catch my Selznick joke in North by Northwest? When Eva Marie Saint asks Cary Grant his name, he says Roger O.Thornhill. She asks him what the ‘O’ stands for and he zings back, ‘Nothing’. And then again with his personalised matchbooks on which are emblazoned his initials, ROT. When he tries to get her attention as she is getting ready to fly away with James Mason and the pre-Columbian sculpture with all the microfilm in it, he tosses one of his matchbooks at her. Of course, David would never get the joke. I suppose he thought of himself as one of the O’Selznicks of Cook County. Thank God no one ever asked me what was on that microfilm that was so important to everyone.
Of course, Gregory Peck was a big mistake. Couldn’t do the English accent at all. Isn’t that what actors are supposed to do? Greying his hair didn’t make him look older, or even prematurely grey. It made him look like an American actor with artificially grey hair. Him we can lay on my doorstep. Selznick wanted Olivier or James Mason. At least we wouldn’t have had the accent problem. When I suggested Peck or Joseph Cotten I suppose I was subconsciously playing into Selznick’s hands since they were both contract players serving hard time under Selznick. They were both big stars although it’s hard to imagine Cotten as a star, even then. He was so affectless he radiated negative star quality. Greg on the other hand has a face that screams out ‘Star!’ Unfortunately, even though his voice is good, and he has movie star good looks, his acting range is, to say the least, limited. Don’t get me wrong. Greg was fine in Spellbound – almost a prototype for Norman Bates – especially when he comes down the stairs with a straight edge razor in his hand – as a weak, awkward, gangly man who is psychoanalysed into health by a strong robust woman, Ingrid. Ah, Ingrid! That story for another time. His emotional range was perfect for a man who plays a stunned amnesiac. He had the right kind of affectlessness that made Ingrid the stronger character. But usually he conveys great emotion by lifting his left eyebrow. Don’t misunderstand. I have nothing against that. After all, that’s what Joan did in Rebecca and Suspicion and look what it did for her. An Oscar. But it’s a dead heat between him and Joan in the left-eyebrow-raised school of emoting. To be fair, though, I found her quivering uncertainty and perpetual vulnerability very charming.
But this was really David’s movie. David wanted Laurence Olivier who did not look old enough in Rebecca but was now the right age for this movie. But he was all caught up in his Shakespeare phase. If he wasn’t doing those unamusing Shakespeare movies of his he was la-de-da-ing Shakespeare on the stage with his wife. On the other hand I didn’t want him for Rebecca but Selznick cast him. Or more to the point, miscast him. Just to make Vivien Leigh happy when she was working on Gone With The Wind. On the theory that lightning strikes twice, which is most unlikely, David wanted her for Rebecca. I had to put my foot down there. Vivien a mousy quivering bit of a woman who’s well on her way to becoming an old maid? No, David, no. I wanted Ronald Colman but, oh no, he didn’t want to play a murderer. I would have loved to play a murderer but I’m not an actor and my name as an actor doesn’t mean very much at the box office. Then we tried to get William Powell but David’s father-in-law, in his infinite wisdom, wouldn’t allow it. Especially after that fiasco he had in loaning out Gable, for that dreary Civil War movie of David’s.
At the time I, or more accurately he, wanted Greta. It would have been a great coup to get her – her comeback film. Ophuls had coaxed her out of her cocoon for an unmade movie with James Mason based on a Balzac novel. This is a movie I would have given my eye-teeth to have seen. He was one of the few directors I had any respect for. He knew how and where and when to move a camera. But the financing fell through at the last minute. Walter Wanger who had hired me to do the underrated Foreign Correspondent couldn’t put the deal together. A little too arty, I suppose. If I amused myself with some arty ideas, I always couched it in a commercial context. You can do a lot of experimentation if you can at the same time give people what they want. God only knows what they want but I seem to. In that respect, I’ve been very fortunate. I wouldn’t say that none of my projects fell through but let us say my average of made-to-unmade films is quite high. That’s because I’m a commercial director and my films always made money. Except for this one. Maybe one or two others. But those are all orphans and I never think about them.
To tell the truth, Garbo never did that much for me but for David she was an unattainable dream. This impossibly vulgar Jew capturing the most enigmatic movie star ever. Lest you think I’m anti-Semitic – let me assure you, I’m not – I never took that memo he wrote to me personally but it still rankles. During the shooting of Rebecca he urged me to hurry the pace and the tone of the acting – more Yiddish art theatre and less English repertory theatre, that’s what he said. Not that I was acquainted with either one. And there was the one, to someone else, about me being OK enough, but not the kind of man who you would go on a camping trip with. I find it hard to imagine David alone in the woods rubbing two sticks together, unless his limo is parked a couple of trees away. David. Garbo. How it would have enhanced his reputation, he thought, charming that delicate bird out of her gilded cage of self-imposed early retirement. He would triumph where others have failed, for having captured this elusive, wild but sedated creature. In the book it says that the character was part Swedish or Danish so of course David goes for the most obvious choice. A literalist to the core. When she wouldn’t do it, who do you think he went to next? Ingrid, of course. Swedish. Swedish – get it? Ingrid to the rescue. Didn’t pan out. He had to settle for an ordinary mortal who wasn’t Garbo, some new creature who he would bait into his trap with a multi-picture deal. David was like that. He couldn’t take no for an answer. He had to own everything, everyone. Like the way he tormented that Jennifer girl, his wife, who was never given as much credit for her versatility as she deserved. Even after they divorced he had to control every movie she was in, supervising her hairdos, overseeing her wardrobe, sending memos to the directors as if he was still the head of a studio and the directors were working for him. Sending her into those dismal projects by, at the time, ‘hot’ directors, De Sica and Powell, and then recutting the movies so that they made no sense whatever. And that grim, unnecessary remake of A Farewell to Arms. Once was enough, David. And she … his death liberated her from his infernal interference. He built her career and ended it as well. When he died, she stopped making movies.
Alida Valli. That was another dull idea of David’s – to have her called Valli, as if she were Garbo or other stars who, if they were big enough and their names exotically foreign enough, could be casually referred to by their last names. Like Nazimova. Valentino. Like Dietrich. That Dietrich. Always telling me how to light her. As if I didn’t know how to light a set. As if I never lit a cheekbone before! As for those much vaunted cheekbones, everybody’s got them. Louis and Alida have them in spades. Of course I don’t but that’s the price you pay for being a gourmand. Lee Garmes who lit Dietrich’s (and von Sternberg’s) most impressive cheekbone operas tried to do the same here for Alida. Her face is a gorgeous porcelain mask of imperturbability. Louis’ cheekbones were nothing to sneeze at either. Duelling cheekbones, clanging against each other. Take that Marlene! I must admit, in the courtroom scene, when I cut from Jourdan to Valli, both of whom were achingly beautiful, the Eisensteinian principle of editing was more than realised. Of course I would have figured out a way of having a love scene between these two gorgeous faces but this was David’s baby and he didn’t think it was necessary. Don’t ask me. I’m only the director. But it’s rather like an opera in which the soprano never sings a duet with the tenor, isn’t it?
Alida was very beautiful in her Italian films when she was in her late teens and early 20s but her exotic charms eluded me. At the time I thought Alida was too cold, too fancily lit, a little too beautiful, if you know what I mean. Maybe it was her dark hair. My sympathies, as everyone seems to know and prattle about endlessly, are always with the blondes. And Ann Todd’s page boy hair do was obviously a dry run for the Eva Marie Saint look in North by Northwest, more than a decade later – although at the time of Paradine my yen for blondes was not yet identified and categorised as one of my obsessions. They tell me it started with Grace and ended with Tippi. Some say it even started as far back as Madeleine Carroll. Well, they ought to know. They are, after all, scholars.
But she was delicious, Ann. Maybe you can tell how much I thought so by the feverish and unearned tracking shot into her naked shoulder from Charles’ point of view. Scrumptious! When Charles was squeezing her hand and she was trying to wriggle out of his vice-like grip as fleshy and clammy as a none too fresh fish, how I wished that I could have been in Charles’ place. Take after take. I would have been in heaven. As written in the book and in the earlier versions of the script, Charles’ character was a real sadist. We had to tone all of that down because, first of all, it was a Hollywood movie and, secondly, his sadism didn’t have much to do with the plot. And sadism for it’s own sake, is frowned upon in Hollywood. Unless it’s a Biblical spectacle, of course. Or when a producer does it to a director or a director does it to his actors. Charles’ role had little to do with the story but he acted as if his character was the most important role. Which is good. That’s what actors should do – feel that their role is what the movie is about. That said, what a ham. But I enjoyed working with him even though he mugged outrageously. We had so much in common. Charles and I we were both born in the same year with just a month separating us. We were both overweight and he was a very talented man, really. I don’t mean just as an actor, either. People who are only actors and nothing else are quite dull. He was acting in some Brecht play or other. Galileo. He also co-wrote the English-language version and was the driving force in getting it on the boards. Directed by Joseph Losey, who would soon be a name to contend with. Laughton was among the more political actors in Hollywood, hanging out in those German refugee salons, as well as with Chaplin and other lefties. I was never political. I felt that my work was so revolutionary albeit in a modest kind of way and that I made my little contribution, with my formal innovations and new and unexpected ways of getting people to view the world. And that movie of Charles’, The Night of the Hunter, had some merit to it. Not the way I would have done it, of course, but there you are. And he had, as I did, a very delightful wife. Although I don’t think that mattered all that much to him. I suspect that he made Elsa very unhappy although she never seemed to show it. That was where the similarity between Charles and me ended. I was, thank heavens, no invert like Charles. Oh, indeed I liked women and they found me very droll but all too often being droll is not enough.
Selznick had originally purchased the book by Robert Hichens when he was at MGM in the ‘30s, ostensibly for John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore and Diana Wynyard. But that never happened. It still had the stench of an MGM quality production of the early ‘30s with Norma Shearer miscast as that Paradine woman and Robert Montgomery or Clark Gable equally miscast as the lawyer who falls for her. I don’t think Garbo would have done it even then. She was already too mysterious to be cast as a mysterious woman. What would the mystery be? It doesn’t much matter though, does it? But to make this old chestnut after World War II just shows how old-fashioned David was, longing for a past that I knew better than anyone was now long over. I completely remade myself when I came to America. I thought it was time now for David to grow up, stop trying to top that overwrought lumpy historical melodrama of his. No structure, no tension. Nothing to look at but people running back and forth in their grey uniforms. Even Vivien’s crinolines were overwrought. He thought it was the pinnacle of his career and was always trying to top himself. I thought the pinnacle was that big ape movie he made. My palms got moist when the ape held that screaming blonde in his hairy paw, eyeing her lustfully with those beady unseeing eyes of his. As far as pinnacles go, one could also do worse than having Rebecca and Spellbound on your resume. But David always had a very inflated opinion of himself. He thought he was someone else. Napoleon maybe. I doubt he would even recognise that I patterned Raymond Burr after him in Rear Window. No sense of humour about himself. None at all.
I loved the contrast between the brutally asexual Anglo-Saxon couple with milk in their veins – every time Peck touches Ann she pulls away as if, heaven forbid, he’s going to muss her hair – pitted against those dark-haired Latins having at each other, hating every minute of it but unable to help themselves. Oh, I know I’ve said in interviews that I really wanted Robert Newton to play Paradine’s valet but it would have been too much like Charles lusting after Ann. And me lusting after ... Oh, forget it. And you know how much I like to be perverse in my interviews, telling them what they want to hear and what will make good copy. Talking about overheated acting, Newton at his dyspeptic best put Laughton in the shade. When Charles overacted he was still good. Newton couldn’t do anything but overact, although he was fairly restrained in Jamaica Inn. I suppose Jourdan was good enough. Louis’ brooding, handsome looks made Mrs. Paradine’s passion for him more understandable, matching Alida’s cheekbone for cheekbone.
Oh, it was a hoity-toity affair all right, pinkie in the air kind of eyewash, the British upper classes and how they lived, something I knew nothing about except from the movies, mostly my own. David, needless to say, knew a lot less about it than I, but was much more entranced and intimidated by it than I. I think part of the problem was all those mansions. Everyone’s house looked like everyone else’s house. The interiors were interchangeable. Any one of the characters could easily have lived in any of the other mansions or we could have done it all on one set and no one would have been the wiser. I think there should be more to look at than undistinguishable, plush, over furnished sets. Tell it to David. He thought money should be profligately splashed onto the screen, whether it makes sense or not, so that every ticket buyer should get what they paid for.
I was also amused that two of the main principles, Laughton and Charles Coburn, were as, well, rotund as I – Coburn hinting at what I might look like in 20 years, if I didn’t go on a diet. His bulldog jowls were certainly a prescient warning. A roomful of fat men. A sobering thought, all that tonnage. And David was no sylph, either. Charles was a great deal of fun. Laughton I mean. Alida was OK but it might have been a language problem and Greg was the most boring actor I’ve ever met – no stories, no anecdotes, no tales out of school, no war stories. If you’re going to be that tight-lipped and above all that gossip stuff, you don’t belong in movies. Louis, on the other hand had many interesting and amusing stories to tell about his being a Resistance fighter in France. He was quite a character. Actually, his stories helped me when I made To Catch a Thief in which everyone, including Cary, had been in the Resistance together. Apparently, all you have to do is scratch a Frenchman, any Frenchman, and you will find that everyone in France had been in the Resistance.
But the movie wasn’t a total wash for me. I like the swooping, vertigo-inducing shots of the unattainable Mrs. Paradine. The camera circling around her endlessly as if she, the two dimensional actress on the screen, were a three-dimensional sculpture that could be understood only if we saw it in the round. But nothing can penetrate the mystery of beauty, even if that’s what, to some extent, movies are all about. And I thought that those three shots of her out-size portrait of her on her bedstead from Gregory’s point of view suggest very vividly his passion for her, unable to take his eyes off her, trying to capture her elusive beauty with his eyes. I like portraits of beautiful women in movies. Rebecca and, of course, Vertigo, complete with Midge’s hilarious parody of the mysterious woman portrait. Then there’s also Laura’s portrait in Laura but I’m not here to shill for other directors’ works. On the other hand, why would one want a larger than life portrait of one’s self over one’s own bed? Actually I thought it was like those ceramic ovals with the portrait of the deceased in Italian cemeteries. I wondered how one could sleep or do the other things one does in the bedroom under such a grotesquely over-stated image hovering over the proceedings. But it looked good in the Rebecca-sized bedroom.
Valli, Alida Valli, call her what you will, had a good run for her money – my film, then David’s The Third Man and Visconti’s Senso and all those earlier Italian movies. But after that her looks – stop me if I sound catty here – began to fail her. It’s an ugly business being beautiful. It’s not for everyone and to get down to the not-so-amusing basics, it can only burn with gem-like flame for a very short period. Not that I know from personal experience but I’ve directed many a beauty in my day. Speaking of which I would have loved directing Catherine Deneuve and that was one of her regrets, too. If only we had stepped into the river at the same time ... Alas, it was not to be. When I saw Belle du Jour – the scene where mud, or is it cow manure? (I certainly hope that’s what it was) is flung at her – my heart palpitated so much, Alma insisted I pop a pill for my high blood pressure. Ah, that Luis, very droll fellow and makes movies that are almost as interesting as mine, although I’ve had all those Hollywood resources and major movie stars at my disposal and he didn’t. That scene in Tristana – the shot where the one-legged Tristana is using her last remaining foot to press the piano pedal ... I sincerely wish I had thought of that. Brilliant and perverse. In equal proportions. Shake thoroughly and serve. When I met him at a party to honour him for his Oscar for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, every major director who was still alive and ambulatory at the time or even able to crawl was on hand to honour him – Cukor, Wilder, Stevens, Wyler. You name it, they were there. Even directors whom one would never have suspected of having even heard of Luis were there. But you know how directors are when there’s a free lunch. I said to him, admiringly of course, in my cockney-accented, rusty French, ‘C’est jambe, c’est jambe!’ I think he knew what I meant. A compliment is a compliment no matter how bad your French accent is. The foot on the piano pedal ... Ah! In Hollywood they don’t give you the opportunity of thinking like that. If you want to make art, go to France or Italy. Or Sweden. Or some other god-forsaken country with a money-starved, government-subsidised film industry. This is not the right country for you. I make entertainment that is sometimes art. I can get away with it because my ability to entertain and, not least of which, to make money, has given me the freedom to. Well, let’s take that scene in Psycho when Janet has already been murdered. The guilty bloodstained water swirls down the drain. Dissolve to a huge close up of Janet’s eye as if the eye is the drain. She is lying on the bathroom floor, her nose and her cheek pressed against the cold tile floor. A close up of her pupil – shades of the main title credits in Vertigo? – the camera, mimicking the movement of the water going down the drain, turns 75 degrees counter-clockwise as it pulls away from her, wrapped in the shower curtain. The drain, what looks like a tear on her cheek, the way her body is positioned, the camera move ... Art! Not arty, just art. And that Janet. Take after take in that uncomfortable position. Not a single complaint. What a trooper. Unlike ... oh, what’s the point in raking over those old coals?
Because I made such commercially successful diverting entertainments, I could get away with a lot. There’s that very last scene when Ann welcomes Greg back into her arms and, I suspect, under-utilised bed – she always pulls away slightly whenever he wants to kiss her. Ann forgives him after he’s sinned with Valli – although only platonically. But certainly not for want of trying, I suppose he had no trouble imagining himself under that gargantuan portrait on her headboard. We see Gregory’s face as if he is looking into the camera, but not quite, she says, ‘I want you back on the job as fast as ever you can.’ If that’s not frightening enough, she brushes her hand against his cheek as she says the last line of the film, ‘Incidentally, darling, you do need a shave.’ I think you have a pretty good idea where that marriage is going. I thought it was among my more piquant last lines but then I came up with, ‘They’ll say, "She wouldn’t harm a fly."’ But I absolutely topped myself in Marnie when Tippi says to Sean, ‘I don’t want to go to prison, Mark. I’d rather stay with you.’ Of course, as usual, nobody got it. Even though that was never among my most popular or well-regarded movies, it’s a zinger right up there with Billy’s ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, or Luis’, in Viridiana: when Viridiana’s cousin, in the presence of the housekeeper he’s sleeping with, says to Viridiana after she’s been ravaged and raped and brought down a peg or two from her saintly posturing, ‘As soon as I saw my cousin Viridiana, I said to myself, someday she will play cards with me.’ Would that I had written that! One can die a happy man if that’s all that one has written in this lifetime. And apparently it was put in to mollify the Spanish censors who had objected, shall we say rather strenuously, to the original ending. Ah, that’s how you get around these sticky problems – censors, political and otherwise, but isn’t all censorship political, even the kind we have here in Hollywood? Censorship of the purse. Censorship of the mind. Self-imposed censorship. But Luis really put one over on them. They’re so obtuse they don’t even realise that they’ve won the battle but we, we tatterdemalion band of film directors, have won the war. But ‘Incidentally, darling, you do need a shave’ is pretty good, don’t you think? You have to give them something to think about before they run up the aisles, heading for the exits.
© Mark Rappaport and Rouge 2004. Cannot be reprinted without permission of the author and editors of Rouge.