Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville and Young and Innocent
Hitchcock's film Young and Innocent was based on Josephine Tey’s 1936 crime novel, A Shilling for Candles, and was released in Britain in December 1937. Starring Derrick de Marney as a young man wrongly accused of murdering a famous actress, and Nova Pilbeam in her first adult role, the film was celebrated for its light comic touch, elaborate model work and a spectacular climax in which the camera tracks 145 feet across a crowded dance floor to within inches of the villain’s face. It was Hitchcock's own favourite among his British films; 75 years later, it stands up to his original estimation of its qualities, anticipating later classics such as Notorious, Marnie and North by Northwest.
Hitchcock contacted Tey's publisher to enquire if she would work with him on the script, but his offer was not accepted. Instead, the script (which soon departed from the book) was developed by playwright Charles Bennett and Hitchcock's wife and lifelong collaborator, Alma Reville.
Hitch and Alma were born a day apart on 13th and 14th August 1899, and often described themselves as being as old as film. Reville began her film career first, four years earlier than her husband. At 16, she got a job at the London Film Company just round the corner from her home, where she used to cycle as a child to watch the actors turn up. She started in the cutting room because it was the only place to begin without any experience, worked her way up in editing and continuity, then moved to Famous Players-Lasky, where she first met Hitchcock; they began their professional collaboration on a film called Woman to Woman in 1923. In the 1920s and 1930s, Reville continued to work - with Hitchcock and independently with other directors - as scriptwriter, continuity girl and assistant director.
Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville moved to Hollywood with their daughter, Patricia, in March 1939, shortly after Hitchcock had completed Jamaica Inn. Alma eventually gave up her professional career, but continued to be her husband's closest and most significant collaborator - and, according to him, his severest critic. At his request, Alma always attended the first week of filming on set and legend has it that she 'saved' Psycho by noticing Janet Leigh blink as she lay 'dead' in the shower; Hitchcock recut the film and the scene became one of the most iconic moments in film history. Her credits as co-writer with Hitchcock include The 39 Steps; Young and Innocent; The Lady Vanishes; Shadow of a Doubt; Stage Fright and I Confess.
In 1979, when Hitch was awarded the Life Achievement Award by the American Film Institute, his acceptance speech named only four people: a film editor; a script writer; the mother of his daughter; and 'as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen'. All of them were Alma Reville.
Alma Reville died in 1982, two years after her husband. Her contribution to film, though often unacknowledged by all but him, was immense.
Left to right: Mary Clare, Nova Pilbeam, Derrick De Marney & Basil Radford in Young and Innocent, 1937
The Genius of Hitchcock
Starting with the London 2012 Festival, the BFI is exploring Alfred Hitchcock's complete works with a celebration which includes gala screenings of the silent classics and a full retrospective at BFI Southbank.
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