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Always Tell Your Wife (1923)


Main image of Always Tell Your Wife (1923)
35mm, 2000 ft, black & white, silent
Director (uncredited)Hugh Croise
 Alfred Hitchcock
 Seymour Hicks
Production CompanyComedies-De-Luxe
StorySeymour Hicks

Cast: Seymour Hicks (James Chesson); Ellaline Terriss (Mrs Chesson); Stanley Logan (Jerry Hawkes); Gertrude McCoy (Mrs Hawkes)

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A devoted married man is blown off course by the unwelcome return of an old flame.

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This comic cautionary tale, just one reel of which is known to survive, is sometimes reckoned the directorial debut of the young Alfred Hitchcock, then aged just 23. The claim is tenuous, since Hitchcock's exact contribution is uncertain, and the film may never have come before a paying audience.

Hitchcock had joined the Famous Players-Lasky studio at Poole Street in Islington in 1921, after moonlighting for the firm as a title designer. He rose fast, greatly benefiting from his exposure to the scenario department's seasoned American staff, and in February 1922 The Times referred to the studio's "special art title department under the supervision of Mr. A. J. Hitchcock". But the Americans began to pull out soon afterwards, and Poole Street was leased to independent producers, leaving Hitchcock as part of a skeleton crew.

Hitchcock's activities over the following year, including his abandoned directorial debut Number Thirteen, are comparatively obscure. Seymour Hicks, producer, star and credited writer of Always Tell Your Wife, hired out the studio in February 1923, intending to make ten two-reelers based on his past stage successes, with longstanding ally Hugh Croise behind the camera. Hicks and his wife Ellaline Terriss had first performed Always Tell Your Wife, a marital farce written by E. Temple Thurston, in the programme at the Coliseum in 1913, and first filmed it the year after.

Hitchcock was probably engaged as assistant director, though Hicks described him, no doubt facetiously, as a "fat youth who was in charge of the property room". At some point during filming, Croise either fell ill or fell out with Hicks, who turned to the portly propmaster to replace the older man. It is unknown which of the surviving scenes Hitchcock filmed. The nine remaining films in the projected series were never made, and there is no evidence that Always Tell Your Wife was released.

But it was while working with Hicks that Hitchcock was spotted by tyro producer Michael Balcon, who made the young man an integral part of his new company, beginning with Woman to Woman (d. Graham Cutts, 1923), filmed at Islington a few months later.

Henry K. Miller

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