Reshaping the Stories: 'Scripting Hitchcock'

How did Hitchcock do it, particularly considering that the sources for Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie all began as literary works that were not particularly “Hitchcockian?”

Scripting Hitchcock: Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie

Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Length: 132 pages
Author: Walter Raubicheck, Walter Srebnick
Price: $22.00
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2011-10

Thirty-plus years after his death, and half a century after he directed his greatest films, the name of Alfred Hitchcock remains vital to any discussion of the best films, and the best directors, of all time. Many books have been written about Hitchcock, but Scripting Hitchcock: Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie finds a niche that seems completely obvious after the fact, yet that no one has previously tried to fill.

What Walter Raubicheck and Walter Srebnick provide in Scripting Hitchcock is an examination of the scripts of three of Hitchcock’s greatest films, with particular focus on Hitchcock’s process of working with his writers (Joseph Stefano, Evan Hunter, and Jay Presson Allen). Raubicheck and Srebnick (I’m resisting the temptation to refer to them as “the two Walters”), both professors of English at Pace University, find the sweet spot between technical academic language and the chattier tone often adopted in books aimed at the casual film fan, and succeed in producing a book which any interested adult will find informative and easy to read, but which does not talk down to its readers. It’s sure to find a home in film school courses as well, as budding screenwriters and directors could benefit from this well-written discussion of how one of the century’s great directors created and maintained an identifiable style while working with a variety of collaborators.

The hallmarks of Hitchcock’s best films include the skillful combination of a tense mystery or adventure story with the exploration of character and human relationships, an emphasis on the visual aspects of film, and a particular interest in exploring the characters’ emotions and though processes through visual and verbal subjectivity, the latter being particularly evident in the three films discussed in this book. Easy to say, but how did Hitchcock do it, particularly considering that the sources for Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie all began as literary works (a novel by Robert Bloch, a short story by Daphne Du Maurer, and a novel by Winston Graham, respectively) that were not particularly “Hitchcockian?” Raubicheck and Srebnick’s primary concern in Scripting Hitchcock is describing the process by which this source material was shaped and modified to produce three of Hitchcock’s most-appreciated films.

One Hitchcock myth Raubicheck and Srebnick put to rest is that he planned all his films in advance, so much so that shooting them was almost an afterthought. Sometimes Hitchcock did do that kind of detailed planning, but not for every shot in every film: instead, to take Psycho as an example, some scenes (usually those with dialogue) were broken down shot by shot, while others were storyboarded, and still others were devised primarily during shooting. Granted, Hitchcock may have had an excellent idea what he wanted to do with the scenes that don’t seem to have been written down in advance, but that’s something quite different from the claim that shooting the film was simply a matter of executing plans already committed to paper.

In interviews, Hitchcock seldom gave much credit to his writers (although at least he didn’t suggest that they should be treated like cattle, as he supposedly once said about actors) but seemed to regard them in a similar light to the assistant director or the production designer, as professionals who worked for him, to execute his vision, and shouldn’t expect to be praised merely for doing their job well. In Hitchcock’s defense, he worked with many different writers, actors, and crew members, and yet you can always tell a Hitchcock film, so perhaps his attitude is more reflective of the reality of working with him than the “I’d like to thank my 300 closest friends” that we’re used to hearing on Oscar night.

What's more surprising is how closely Hitchcock worked with his writers, how much freedom he gave them, and how patient he was during the process of developing a script. To take an example of the latter, Marnie was Jay Presson Allen’s first movie script, and it shows, yet he was willing to work with her to turn an overwritten and dialogue-heavy first draft into something much more visual and appropriate for the cinema.

Scripting Hitchcock is informed by analysis of the shooting scripts and other archival materials, as well as numerous interviews with people who worked with Hitchcock, and their colleagues and family members, but Raubicheck and Srebnick never try to impress the reader by flaunting scholarship for its own sake. Instead, they keep they eye on the prize, which is illuminating Hitchcock’s process of working with screenwriters and demonstrating how that knowledge can increase enjoyment and understanding of his films.

Scripting Hitchcock was nominated by the Mystery Writers of American for an Edgar Allan Poe Award in the Critical/Biographical Category. As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that the inspiration for Scripting Hitchcock lies in two academic conferences, held in 1986 (not long after five major Hitchcock films had been re-released for public viewing) and 1999 (the centennial of Hitchcock’s birth)—if only more academic conferences would produce such delightful results.


From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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