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Hitchcock at War

The master of suspense turns his hand to wartime propaganda

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Despite being unfit for active military service, Alfred Hitchcock was very keen to contribute to the war effort, especially after a snide comment by his former producer Michael Balcon about "plump" British directors going to Hollywood "while we who are left behind short-handed are trying to harness the films to our great national effort". Balcon's target was unmistakable, but Hitchcock was restricted by his contract with producer David O Selznick and had to remain in California for much of the war.

He managed to help, though, by shooting some footage for the short Watchtower Over Tomorrow (US, 1941, d. John Cromwell, Harold Kress), and then by accepting an invitation from the Ministry of Information to shoot two propaganda shorts aimed at Resistance fighters.

After tortuous negotiations with Selznick, Hitchcock flew to England to make Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache back-to-back between January and February 1944. The resulting films were all too characteristic of Hitchcock, in other words too suggestive and ambiguous to work as propaganda vehicles, which require a clearly-defined good-versus-evil setting to be truly effective.

As a result, Aventure Malgache was never shown at all, while Bon Voyage was only given limited screenings in France before being withdrawn. Although Fran├žois Truffaut mentioned the films in passing in his seminal 1967 book on Hitchcock, they remained unshown until 1993, when they were finally released as a double bill.

Hitchcock's final contribution to the war effort was a 1945 documentary on the concentration camps, provisionally entitled F3080. Credited as "treatment advisor", Hitchcock supervised the editing of newsreel materials. However, the project was shelved during production, for forty years existing only as 55 minutes of edited footage and a written commentary. In 1985, Trevor Howard recorded the commentary and the result was shown on American television as Memories of the Camps.

Michael Brooke

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