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Me and Hitch

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Evan Hunter

Renowned for his bestselling novels such as The Blackboard Jungle and the popular 85th Precinct series (written under the name Ed McBain), Evan Hunter also worked with the famous Alfred Hitchcock, writing film scripts for The Birds and Marnie. In telling … see full wiki

Author: Evan Hunter
Publisher: Faber & Faber
1 review about Me and Hitch

Excellent film memoir of an unsettling collaboration

  • Apr 30, 2010
Rating:
+5
Fans of Ed McBain's 87th Precient novels might know that he also wrote books under his real name, Evan Hunter, but not that he worked on two scripts for director Alfred Hitchcock: "The Birds" and "Marnie." In "Me and Hitch," Hunter/McBain describes his collaboration in the cool, even-handed prose that is a mix of restrained affection, much admiration for Hitchcock's genius, and sometimes unsettling details.

Hitchcock came across Hunter after his novel of juvenile delinquency in New York schools, "The Blackboard Jungle" became a best-seller and later a good movie. He had also bought one of Hunter's short-stories for his TV show. What Hitchcock didn't tell Hunter was that he was looking for a writer who also had some literary credentials (which "Jungle" gave Hunter).

It seems that, despite a long, successful career and several Oscar nominations, Hitchcock wanted more. He wanted respectability. He wanted an Oscar. His previous movie, "Psycho," was successful, but it was also sort of a pot-boiler. Hitch -- I can't resist using his nickname, although no doubt he would insist on me using "Mr. Hitchcock," if he wasn't ignoring me completely -- wanted to be recognized as an artist, at least not the kind who made movies like "Psycho."

If this sounds like a recipe for disaster, it was. "The Birds" was intended for Cary Grant and Grace Kelly; instead, it got Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedron. Hunter's idea to write what he called "screwball comedy becomes terror" was, even he admitted later, a terrible idea. There would be no music. And they never did figure out why the birds were attacking in the first place (Hunter thinks that Hitch didn't want to. Makes it more artistic, doncha see).

As for "Marnie," Hunter's objection to the notorious scene in which husband Sean Connery rapes his frigid wife (Hedron, again) on their honeymoon signalled the beginning of the end of their partnership (a friend later told Hunter "you just got bothered by the scene that was his reason for making the movie. You just wrote your ticket back to New York.")

The end was anti-climatic. After Hunter turned in his version of the script, Hitch fired him through a phone call from his assistant. Later, they met with their wives for a convivial dinner, and that was it. If Hunter suffered for his art, he didn't reveal it.

But "Me and Hitch" is a worthwhile book. Fictioneers and scriptwriters will appreciate the insights into Hitchcock's method of building a script, his fans will eat up the glimpses of the man's private life  he gives autographed books to Hunter's kids; he visits children who want to talk to him; when he's not saying that "The Birds" would be the best movie of his career, he drunkenly confesses he's nothing but a "big fat slob"  and film fans wonder what the hell "The Birds" and "Marnie" were all about will get a few ideas.

Best of all, Hunter/McBain fans get a lovely bit of biography, told in the same laconic, direct style found in his novels. And at 90 pages, it can be read about as fast as a Hitchcock movie.

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