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Hitchcock's Stars

Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System

Lesley L. Coffin

Although he was a visual stylist who once referred to actors as cattle, Alfred Hitchcock also had a remarkable talent for innovative and creative casting choices. The director launched the careers of several actors and completely changed the trajectory of others, many of whom created some of the most iconic screen performances in history. However, Hitchcock’s ability to fit his leading men and women into just the right parts has been a largely overlooked aspect of his filmmaking skills.

Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System, Lesley L. Coffin looks at how the director made the most of the actors who were at his disposal for several decades. From his first American production in 1940 to his final feature in 1976, Hitchcock’s films were examples of creative casting that strayed far from the norm during the structured Hollywood star system. Rather than examining the cinematic aspects of his work, this book explores the collaboration the director engaged in with some of the most popular stars in Hollywood history. Coffin explains how the master of on-screen manipulation exploited the nervous insecurity of Joan Fontaine for the lead in Rebecca, subverted the wholesome image of Robert Walker to play a deranged killer in Strangers on a Train, and plucked an unknown actress,, Tippi Hedren, to star in The Birds.

Documenting Hitchcock’s Hollywood output from his arrival in America through his final effort,
Family Plot, the author chronicles each film’s casting process, performances, and the personas each star brought to his or her role. Inspiring a fresh look at several films, this book will engage fans and encourage them to reconsider a number of Hitchcock classics in a new light.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 246Size: 6 1/4 x 9
978-1-4422-7803-5 • Paperback • January 2017 • $25.00 • (£15.95)
978-1-4422-3078-1 • eBook • September 2014 • $23.00 • (£15.95)
Lesley L. Coffin is a freelance writer on film and popular culture. She is the author of Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector (2012).
Introduction: Hitchcock’s Livestock
1. Rebecca
2. Foreign Correspondent
3. Mr. and Mrs. Smith
4. Suspicion
5. Saboteur
6. Shadow of a Doubt
7. Lifeboat
8. Spellbound
9. Notorious
10. The Paradine Case
11. Rope
12. Under Capricorn
13. Stage Fright
14. Strangers on a Train
15. I Confess
16. Dial M for Murder
17. Rear Window
18. To Catch a Thief
19. The Trouble with Harry
20. The Man Who Knew Too Much
21. The Wrong Man
22. Vertigo
23. North by Northwest
24. Psycho
25. The Birds
26. Marnie
27. Torn Curtain
28. Family Plot
Conclusion: Hitchcock’s Influence
About the Author
There’s a well-known story about film director Alfred Hitchcock that says he believed actors were like cattle. In fact, he said they should be treated like cattle—a subtle but important distinction—but the big question is whether he actually believed what he said. As the author demonstrates in this perceptive look at Hitchcock’s American films, the director definitely believed that actors should service the story, not the other way around, but, on the other hand, he could be almost infinitely patient, allowing a performer to ease into a scene (as he did with Ingrid Bergman), and he seemed to have a keen ability to match an actor with a character (the poor performances in Hitchcock’s movies, Coffin notes, were usually due to casting choices imposed on the director by the studios). It would have been easy for Coffin to paint Hitchcock, as so many writers have already done, as a heartless director who thought actors were an inconvenient necessity, but the truth is rather more complex than that, and Hitchcock’s legion of fans should be happy that Coffin is interested in finding it.

At present, the books and critical studies on film director Alfred Hitchcock and his movies far outnumber the films themselves. This book . . . deals in a unique fashion with the 28 Hollywood films Hitchcock directed, beginning with Rebecca (1940) and ending with Family Plot (1976). In this volume the author focuses on the leading actors in each film (usually two or three per film), the characters they portrayed, and the quality of each performance. In six to eight pages per film, the author discusses casting choices (who got the roles, who did not, and why), pertinent background material on each featured actor, a brief analysis of each character portrayed (prior knowledge of the film is helpful), progress and problems in the shooting of each film, Hitchcock’s treatment of each of the stars, the critical reception to the film and, most important, an evaluation of the nature and quality of each actor’s performance. Here, the author quotes generously from other film critics and often from Hitchcock, the master himself. However, usually the opinions expressed are those of the author and they are candid, honest, discerning, sometimes very harsh, but always interesting. The book concludes with source notes for each chapter, a filmography that gives a complete cast list and a rundown of the production staff of each film, and a brief index. Throughout the text there are numerous black-and-white photographs, many of them taken during filming. Because of the author’s unique approach to her subject, this book sheds new light on this master director and his output. This work is recommended for large libraries and nay institution involved in film studies.
American Reference Books Annual

Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System tackles a topic that is rarely discussed in any amount of detail. Coffin’s text attempts to shed new light on Hitchcock’s method of using actors (or 'stars') in interesting ways throughout his career in Hollywood. . . .There is a lot to like about Coffin’s text, and the book was a noble undertaking. It is a very enjoyable read, and it is certainly nice to see that this particular topic is finally receiving a book-length treatment.

[Hitchcock's Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System] is strongest in the moments when Hitchcock discusses dealing with stellar images of some actors and actresses in specific roles.... [This book] is worth reading. (Translated from the original Czech)