Icy… and So Mesmerizing
Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert once wrote that ALFRED HITCHCOCK‘s female characters “reflected the same qualities over and over again: They were blonde. They were icy and remote. They were imprisoned in costumes that subtly combined fashion with fetishism. They mesmerized the men, who often had physical or psychological handicaps.”Critics have hooted at Hitchcock’s ‘obsession’ with cool blondes, which began in the 1940s and reached a climax with the troubled, secretive women of Psycho (1960) and Marnie(1964). Still, the director must have been on to something: three of his ‘blonde’ flicks were listed among the top 100 American movies of all time by the American Film Institute in 1998. Here’s a look at the most famous of Hitchcock’s Blondes.
INGRID BERGMAN starred in three Hitchcock films: Spellbound (1944), Notorious (1945) and the not-so-famous Under Capricorn (1949). In Spellbound she’s an early prototype of the cool Hitchcock blonde: a brainy Freudian psychiatrist who falls for a confused Gregory Peck. (The film also featured dream sequences by Salvador Dali.) Notorious is one of Hitchcock’s best-known films, with a more passionate Bergman juggling love, duty and uranium with Cary Grant.
GRACE KELLY may have been elegant and reserved, but icy she wasn’t. The star of three Hitchcock films, she’s an aggressive suitor in two, pursuing Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief (1955) and Jimmy Stewart in 1954’s Rear Window (in which Stewart’s unlikely resistance to Kelly’s advances is played for comic effect). Kelly also starred as an adulterous wife and victim-to-be in Dial M For Murder (1954). Hitchcock is responsible in a roundabout way for Kelly’s departure from Hollywood: it was while visiting the Cannes film festival, after filming To Catch A Thief on the French Riviera in 1955, that Kelly met Prince Rainier of Monaco. After their marriage the next year she became Princess Grace and retired from the silver screen.
KIM NOVAK‘s appearance in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) was “less a performance than a helpless confession of herself,” according to David Thomson in his Biographical Dictionary of Film. Vertigo was #61 on the AFI’s top 100 list; the film features Jimmy Stewart as John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, a detective obsessed with Novak’s mysterious femme fatale. As noted in a 1996 review by James Berardinelli, “Hitchcock scholars are in general agreement that John is a subconscious representation of the director — a man constantly striving for his own image of perfect female beauty.”
EVA MARIE SAINT made one film with Hitchcock, but it was a doozy: North By Northwest. Saint plays an innocent girl — or is she? — who gets romantically tangled with on-the-run ad man Cary Grant. (Grant wins a prize for appearing in films with three different Hitchcock blondes.) The film ends with a famous chase across the face of Mt. Rushmore, with the players clinging to the heads of the presidents as shots ring out. (Legend has it that one suggested title for the film was “The Man in Lincoln’s Nose.”) North by Northwest was #40 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 films of all time and co-starred James Mason.
Psycho is possibly Hitchcock’s best-known film, and it put JANET LEIGH in the front rank of Hitchcock’s actresses. Leigh plays Marion Crane, a runaway secretary who is attacked in the famous shower sequence in the Bates Motel. Leigh was a major star (and married to another big star, Tony Curtis) at the time — which made her demise halfway through the story all the more shocking. (Nearly forgotten in all the hubbub is the film’s other cool blonde, Vera Miles.) Psycho was #18 on the AFI’s all-time list — and was named the #1 “heart-pounding film” of all time on another AFI list in 2001.
Hitchcock used TIPPI HEDREN twice, in The Birds (1963) and the psychodrama Marnie (1964). As the title character in Marnie she is perhaps the iciest of all Hitchcock blondes: a habitual thief driven by a secret trauma, who nonetheless captivates a young Sean Connery. Hedren proved to be more warm-hearted in real life, founding the Shambala Preserve to care for lions and other wildlife. She is also the mother of actress Melanie Griffith.