Catching an Oversized Talent: All about Hitch

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Catching an Oversized Talent: All About Hitch

ThomasLeitch, The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Checkmark Books-A Division of Facts on File, 2002

Thomas Leitch's superb reference work, The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock, inaugurates Facts on Files' new series, A Library of Great Filmmakers, a project supervised by James M. Welsh, longtime editor of Literature/Film Quarterly, and his colleague John C. Tibbetts. If Leitch's book is typical of others to come in the series, including recently released volumes on Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles, then all libraries should enter a standing subscription at once.

Planned as a comprehensive resource for students, writers and scholars, the Encyclopedia exceeds expectations for books in this genre. Leitch's alphabetical entries cover four main areas: (1) individual films by Hitchcock; (2) collaborators; (3) commentators; (4) themes, motifs, and topics of general interest. The accomplishment of this ambitious agenda is aided by the wise decision not to summarize journal articles or the plots of films, both of which are already available in Jane Sloan's Alfred Hitchcock. (To his credit, Leiten does summarize the less familiar plots of the twenty segments Hitchcock worked on for his two television series and for Ford Startime, which are not included in Sloan's book.)

For each film, Leitch provides the most detailed and reliable credit lists to date-the result of what must have been mind-numbing comparisons among the films themselves, their credit screens, Sloan's book, Charles Barr's English Hitchcock, and the Internet Movie Database. Leitch's lists are more accurate and comprehensive than his predecessors': he gives not only the names of actors who played even the most minor roles but also more complete names of characters: first names and surnames that are missing from Sloan's book-important examples include Saboteur and Rope-are supplied. Leitch identifies "The Girl" in The Ring as "Mabel," in contrast to Sloan, who unaccountably and incorrectly gives the name as "Nelly." The name "Mabel" can be discovered only from a close reading of the inside address of a telegram she reads. Similarly, Leitch establishes the correct spelling of the surname of Jimmy Stewart's character in Rear Window ("Jefferies"), a detail knowable only through an examination of the cast he wears in the final frames. It makes a difference to understand, too, that the name of the French assassin in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1955) was "Rien." The time and tedium of Leitch's double- and triple-checking are not to be contemplated. Also included in the category of individual films are production histories. In his introduction Leitch calls these "brief," though they are detailed and usually focus on issues of central importance, like Hitchcock's split with Evan Hunter over the rape scene in Marnie. Donald Spoto's accounts of the production process are often modified with new information derived from the work of Hunter, Robert Kapsis, and Leonard Leff, among others. Production histories are usually followed by a synopsis of critical debate. Perforce these are highly selective, and space constraints are sometimes felt: discussion of the reflexivity of Rear Window is omitted, for example, and the generalization that critics see Spellbound as expressing "earnest faith in the talking cure" stands without qualification. These sections are always bright and helpful but should not be taken-clearly they are not intended-as summative.

Leitch's second category accounts for the greatest number of entries, and here his work also proves immensely valuable. Information on every performer, writer, set designer, and technician, many uncredited, has been included. In his introduction, Leitch prompts the reader to consider a recurrent pattern-Hitchcock's habit of returning to the same collaborators, sometimes after intervening years. For example, Leitch discovered that Eliot Stannard-credited or uncredited-may have written or cowritten all of Hitchcock's silent films. …