Hitchcock heroines, some blonder than others!
Rebecca, Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film, won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1940, though the director did not win an award for his own efforts (the first of several such Academy slip-ups; he was honored with a Thalberg award in the late ’60s but never won competitively).
In the director’s first Hollywood film, Joan Fontaine starred as ‘the second Mrs. de Winter,’ paid companion who, on holiday, captures the heart of handsome, wealthy and aristocratic Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), widow of the late…Rebecca.
Fontaine, younger sister of Warner Brothers star Olivia deHavilland, was more brownette than brunette or blonde and played a mouse rather than a seductress, but Hitchcock elicited from her one of the great performances of her career. A year later she won an Oscar for her portrayal in Hitchcock’s Suspicion, a fine film marred by it’s reworked ending.
Hitchcock worked with Ingrid Bergman on three films, Spellbound, Under Capricorn and, best of all, Notorious (1946), one of the director’s great masterpieces. Bergman and Hitchcock’s favorite male lead, Cary Grant, co-starred and created memorable chemistry as lovers driven apart by a poisonous combination of duty and guilt.
Like Fontaine, Bergman was more blonde-ish than blonde…but it’s doubtful Hitchcock noticed or cared. Bergman’s trademark combination of purity and passion rarely failed to stir movie audiences during the Word War II era.
Marlene Dietrich was certainly a blonde…and she was nothing if not iconic, but by the time she and Hitchcock worked together on Stage Fright (1950), the actress enjoyed living legend status, having been molded and exalted by director Joseph von Sternberg 20 years earlier and having already maneuvered the first of a few career comebacks.
Dietrich was given license on Stage Fright that few, if any, other performers were accorded on a Hitchcock set – she was allowed input on how she was lit and shot in her scenes. Hitchcock knew that Dietrich had learned much during her five years and seven films with von Sternberg and considered her a technical expert on lighting.
Janet Leigh, though her screen time in the film was brief, proved to be one of Hitchcock’s most memorable blonde heroines (or anti-heroines), thanks to her shocking demise early on in his 1960 blockbuster, Psycho. Leigh was a top star at the time she was cast in the horror classic, and married to another Hollywood superstar of the era, Tony Curtis. Leigh’s film career began in the 1940’s and slowed down by the mid-’60s. Though she appeared in other major films (Welles’s Touch of Evil, Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate), her half-hour turn as ill-fated Marion Crane is the performance for which Leigh is best known.
Click here for my sampling of ‘Hitchcock Blondes’ at The Lady Eve’s Reel Life.