Last weekend marked the 112th birthday of the great Alfred Hitchcock — as if you had to be told, what with all those birthday parties across the nation. To mark the occasion, we considered profiling several elements of the Hitchcock filmography: his technique, his influence, his cameos. But we ultimately settled, as we so often do, on sex.
Over the course of his 60-some feature films, Hitchcock worked with a dazzling array of beautiful women, most of them fitting what became the archetypal image of the “Hitchcock blonde” — smart, sexy, and sophisticated, yet icy and cool. Theories abound as to how and why this specific type of woman was so often his cinematic object of desire (Donald Spoto’s The Dark Side of Genius offers some of the more intriguing ones), but the man knew what he liked. After the jump, we’ll run down his ten most alluring muses.
10. Doris Day Josephine Conway McKenna in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
These days, our image of Doris Day is pretty much locked in on the squeaky-clean ingénue of those chaste romantic comedies of the 1960s. But make no mistake: Miss Day was drop-dead gorgeous in Hitch’s 1956 remake of his earlier 1934 effort. She’s playing a wife and mother, in sharp contrast to the sexy singles that the director tended to favor, but it is a memorable and surprisingly accomplished turn.
Miles is best remembered these days for her turn as the rather uninteresting sister in Psycho — a role, it must be noted, that she was given as a form of punishment by Hitchcock, who had placed her under an exclusive five-year contract back in 1956 and proceeded to find her unavailable to work because she was starting a family with her husband, Gordon Scott. He was furious when she was unable to star in Vertigo, a role he had created specifically for her, because she was pregnant with their third child; “I told her that one child was expected, two was sufficient, but that three was really obscene,” he recalled. “She didn’t care for that sort of comment.” He later cast her in Psycho, but gave the showcase role to Janet Leigh. To fully appreciate Miles’s beauty, one must go back to her first Hitchcock feature, the underrated 1956 Henry Fonda vehicle The Wrong Man.
8. Eva Marie Saint Eve Kendall in North by Northwest (1959)
That Eve Kendall is a smooth operator; she meets Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) on a train, helps him elude police, and then proceeds (as best we can figure, from the reading-between-the-lines required in so many pre-MPAA pictures) to seduce him. In all fairness, it’s Cary Grant — can you blame her? To play the role, Hitch selected Eva Marie Saint, the gorgeous star of On the Waterfront and Raintree County, over the objections of MGM, who wanted him to cast Cyd Charisse in the role. He was unhappy with the costume department’s selections for her, so he took a hands-on approach: “I went along to Bergdorf Goodman’s myself and sat with her as the mannequins paraded by. I chose the dress for her.” Stories like this — which pop out throughout his interactions with his leading ladies — have led to the widely accepted thesis that Vertigo was his most personal film, and Hitchcock owned up to the connection: “I acted just like a rich man keeping a woman. I supervised the choice of her wardrobe in every detail — just as Stewart did with Novak in Vertigo.”
7. Marlene Dietrich Charlotte Inwood in Stage Fright (1950)
By the time Dietrich worked with Hitchcock in the backstage thriller Stage Fright, she was nearly 50 years old; the press proclaimed her the world’s “most glamorous grandmother.” Hitchcock’s film proved them right; as the secret lover of young actor Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd), she’s never been sexier. Much of that was, in fact, her own doing; over the course of her seven collaborations with Josef von Sternberg, she had learned the intricacies of light, shadow, and angle, and would appear early each morning to instruct cinematographer Wilkie Cooper how to best photograph her. Hitchcock may have been a control freak, but he knew an expert when he met one — he told the photographer and his crew to follow her directions.
6. Kim Novak Madeline Elster/Judy Barton in Vertigo (1958)
When Vera Miles was unavailable for the dual role at the center of Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece, the filmmaker settled on Kim Novak, the knockout star of Picnic, Pal Joey, and The Man with the Golden Arm. Their on-set relationship was less than harmonious (and the director would prove dismissive of her work in later years), but her work in the film is both heartbreaking and astonishingly sexy—particularly in the film’s most fetishistic scene, in which James Stewart’s Scottie is able to take in the completion of “Judy”’s transformation into “Madeline.”
5. Janet Leigh Marion Crane in Psycho (1960)
Everyone loves a bad girl, and they don’t come much badder than Marion Crane: sneaking off for afternoon quickies, stealing armloads of cash from her employer, and making a run for it. And then there’s the shower scene: terrifying, yes, but also showing an awful lot of skin for a 1960 movie — and that’s part of the genius of the scene, which throws us off by turning us on before scaring the bejesus out of us.
4. Tippi Hedren Melanie Daniels in The Birds (1963)
Hitch first spotted model-turned-actress Hedren on a television commercial for a diet drink. He had the scouts at MGM seek her out and put her under contract, bringing in Edith Head to design not only an on-screen wardrobe for her, but an off-screen one as well (“It was really very clear, wasn’t it?” noted Vertigo screenwriter Samuel Taylor. “He was doing Vertigo with Tippi Hedren”). It might have been creepy, but it worked: In The Birds, Hedren is smooth, sexy, and sophisticated, as utterly ravishing as she is cool and confident. Of course, that smooth confidence is pretty much in tatters by the time she’s locked in that room full of diving birds, but still…
3. Carole Lombard Ann Smith in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (no relation to the later Pitt-Jolie vehicle) is one of Hitchcock’s lesser-known pictures, primarily because it is so far afield from his usual style: it’s a romantic comedy, with nary an innocent man or a dead body to be found. He made it purely for the opportunity to work with his friend Carole Lombard, the spunky, whip-smart, achingly beautiful queen of the screwball comedy. The Smith screenplay (by the great Norman Krasna) plays to her strengths, casting her as a married woman who discovers that her marriage isn’t legal, and ends up taking the power position in her newly redefined relationship with her husband, forcing him to chase after her when he realizes that she has other options. It’s a funny, sexy turn, and the film’s production prompted a couple of great stories about her off-screen behavior as well: that she not only “directed” Hitchcock’s signature cameo but demanded multiple retakes, and that she responded to Hitch’s already-notorious “actors are cattle” remark by bringing a trio of calves to the set, each with a nameplate for the film’s three stars. (Both of those stories might just be legend, but if they’re not true, they ought to be.)
The elegant Swedish beauty Ingrid Bergman was one of Hitchcock’s favorite leading ladies, starring in three of his 1940s pictures. But her most memorable appearance was opposite Cary Grant in the 1946 thriller Notorious, as the daughter of a Nazi spy who is enlisted by the government to infiltrate a Nazi organization by seducing one of its key members. Things get sticky, though, because she has fallen for the agent in charge of her (again, Cary Grant, so no finger-pointing), and the psycho-sexual ramifications of this turn of events (further complicated by her wild girl past) makes for some of Hitch’s most interesting subtext. And the film has one of the most purely erotic moments in his filmography (if not in cinema history) — this scorching extended kiss sequence between his two leads, broken up into several small kisses to get around the Production Code’s rules on smooching length.
Y’know what, we could write a bunch of words about how sexy Grace Kelly is in the three pictures she made with Hitchcock. But there’s not a thing we would write that could accurately describe the wonder of the clip above. Seriously, what’s hotter than that?