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Hitchcock's Partner in Suspense

Hitchcock's Partner in Suspense: The Life of Screenwriter Charles Bennett

Charles Bennett
Edited By John Charles Bennett
Series: Screen Classics
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Hitchcock's Partner in Suspense
    Book Description:

    With a career that spanned from the silent era to the 1990s, British screenwriter Charles Bennett (1899--1995) lived an extraordinary life. His experiences as an actor, director, playwright, film and television writer, and novelist in both England and Hollywood left him with many amusing anecdotes, opinions about his craft, and impressions of the many famous people he knew. Among other things, Bennett was a decorated WWI hero, an eminent Shakespearean actor, and an Allied spy and propagandist during WWII, but he is best remembered for his commercially and critically acclaimed collaborations with directors Sir Alfred Hitchcock and Cecil B. DeMille.

    The fruitful partnership began after Hitchcock adapted Bennett's play Blackmail (1929) as the first British sound film. Their partnership produced six thrillers: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936), Secret Agent (1936), Young and Innocent (1937), and Foreign Correspondent (1940). In this witty and intriguing book, Bennett discusses how their collaboration created such famous motifs as the "wrong man accused" device and the MacGuffin. He also takes readers behind the scenes with the Master of Suspense, offering his thoughts on the director's work, sense of humor, and personal life.

    Featuring an introduction and additional biographical material from Bennett's son, editor John Charles Bennett, Hitchcock's Partner in Suspense is a richly detailed narrative of a remarkable yet often-overlooked figure in film history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4480-1
    Subjects: History, Performing Arts, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. To Charles at Eighty
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Robert Nathan
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    John Charles Bennett
  5. 1 Sowing the Wind
    (pp. 1-10)

    I used to be young. It didn’t last. In fact, without noticing, I seem to have drifted into what Rupert Brooke called “that unhoped for serene, / That men call age.”⁹ I’m not complaining. A product of August 2, 1899, I’ve learned that age has its compensations—like being able to put one’s feet up without worrying about the gas bill or where the next vodka tonic will come from. I’ve been lucky. I like my home in Beverly Hills, and although I’ve eaten by writing for nearly seventy years, I still like putting words together, perhaps as some enjoy...

  6. 2 Duty, Honour, Country
    (pp. 11-18)

    In 1917 I joined the Royal Fusiliers. I didn’t wait to get conscripted—I was underage. In those days you said, “This is my job, to join.” It was all duty, honor, country. I applied for the Royal Air Force—but the spin test made me giddy. The RAF turned me down, thank God, because in 1918 the casualty rate of pilots in France was 100 percentdead.So, before long, I was on the Marlborough Downs, learning to be a soldier. Actually, learning hownotto be. The camp was very big—known as Chiseldon Camp, south of the...

  7. 3 Shakespearean Actor
    (pp. 19-22)

    Once recovered, I went back to acting. At first I was terrible—I used to get jobs and be fired from them. But gradually I learned to act, playing with theBrewster’s Millionscompany (1920), then the Compton Comedy Company, the Lena Ashwell Players, and the Gertrude Elliott Touring Company, among others. I remember roles with the Henry Baynton Company inAntony and CleopatraandA Midsummer Night’s Dream.I played Lord Fitzheron inTancred(1923) at the Kingsway.

    In 1923 I joined the Alexander Marsh Shakespearean Company, probably the most insignificant Shakespearean company that has ever toured the United...

  8. 4 Keith Chesterton: My Most Unforgettable Character
    (pp. 23-32)

    I was discontent throughout my early twenties—in the eyes of society I was a struggling young actor. But like Antipholus inComedy of Errors,I had my honor to stand for. Like Arragon ofMerchant of Venice,I wanted people to choose me for my worth, “to cozen [my] fortune” with their “stamp of merit.” I needed an opportunity, a mentor.

    Then came the break I had hoped for. I met a prominent woman whose friendship I valued enormously. She helped me find direction and introduced me to London’s most creative and successful society. With her help, I would...

  9. 5 Sensation
    (pp. 33-44)

    Acting in Paris off and on during 1925 and 1926, I wrote my first three full-length plays. We were performing and rehearsing a different play every two weeks, and I wrote when I should have been sleeping.The Return,my first play, was written in the spring of 1925, inspired by one of several weekend visits to the battlefields where I had fought in the trenches.BlackmailandThe Last Hourwere written in Paris later in 1925 and in 1926.

    I appeared May 30, 1927, in the opening-night performance of my first produced play,The Return,at the Everyman...

  10. 6 Alfred Hitchcock and My Early Talkies
    (pp. 45-62)

    I have five dictionaries. The best of them is an ancient publication by some gentlemen named Ogilvie and Annandale, circa 1912. It gives six definitions of the wordsuspense,but the definition dearest to my heart is: “State of doubt with some apprehension or anxiety.” (The best myNew Oxford Concise Dictionarycan come up with is “State of usu. anxious uncertainty or waiting for information.”)

    The Ogilvie and Annandale definition fits directly into the type of plays and movies that I have spent nearly seventy years writing. Some of these have been quite dreadful; but I am sure that...

  11. 7 Alfred Hitchcock: A Strange and Bewildering Character
    (pp. 63-82)

    As the top writer, constructionist, and story author of Hitch’s early talking films, I knew him extremely well. In our nearly fifty-year association, I became closely acquainted with his brilliance, idiosyncrasies and weaknesses, jealousies and fears, and politically calculating mind regarding his own career. I was also familiar with his sense of humor, which, all too often, was lacking, perverted or misplaced, and verging on sadism. Having known him so, I write not of the world-famous director, but of the man himself—a very strange and bewildering character.

    There were so many sometimes contradictory facets attached to this man. Genius,...

  12. 8 Cause for Alarm
    (pp. 83-98)

    Without question, Maggie’s life and mine in England was a happy one, even though, except for our bed-shared hours, we were seldom together. During the days I wrote at the studios. During the evenings Maggie (stage name Faith Bennett) performed at this or that theater, on some occasions appearing (and three timesstarring) in films out at Elstree or Twickenham or Walton-on-Thames, any of which called for very early rising and pretty late homecoming. But in spite of long periods of such bisection, we were close. We loved each other and remained bosom pals up till her death—in spite...

  13. 9 The British Film Colony and Errol Flynn
    (pp. 99-114)

    I’ve been a member of scores of clubs. Tennis. Equestrian. Flying. Golf. I’m still a proud member of two London clubs—the Savage and the Green Room—and am an affiliate member of the Players and the Lotus in New York, also the Masquers Club in Hollywood. But in Beverly Hills I am now clubless. Like so many pleasant haunts in the LA district, from the famous Garden of Allah to the elegant nightclubs Ciro’s, the Mocambo, the Trocadero, my deeply beloved Cock’n Bull pub on Sunset Boulevard—all went the way of progress.

    But back in 1937 I found...

  14. 10 War in His Pocket
    (pp. 115-129)

    What began as a 1937 contract with Universal Pictures had passed through two comfortable years during which neither Maggie nor I could find any cause for complaint. Many good colony friends. Comfortable and financially gratifying employment. Things looked good.

    Except—it seems that Old Man Satan—perpetually apprehensive that peaceful enjoyment might instill in mankind a belief in faith, hope and charity—decided to inject a fly into the ointment. There are events that can’t be forgotten—and shouldn’t be: the doings that started around 1933 and that, following the “domino theory,” led the world steadily toward John Donne’s tolling...

  15. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  16. 11 A Secret Agent
    (pp. 131-152)

    May 10, 1940: without ultimatums or declarations of war, Hitler’s divisions swiftly seized Denmark and Norway. And within days came the vast tank assault on France. The Maginot Line collapsed. Belgium collapsed. The French army collapsed. Northern France was swiftly overrun. And the already mauled British Expeditionary Force, unprepared for tank warfare, retreated to the Channel coast at Dunkirk.

    The United States took notice, up to a point, but still as a spectator. It seemed that only pro-British President Roosevelt and his direct associates were seeing the writing on the wall. Though Roosevelt’s warnings went unheeded, not so the swift...

  17. 12 Unto the Breach
    (pp. 153-166)

    June 1944, 10:30 A.M., King’s Cross Railway Station: arriving from Edinburgh, and greeted with as warm a welcome as any expatriate couldnotwish for!

    Carrying two suitcases, I strode proudly out under the terminus’s impressive front portals just as a buzz bomb hit and exploded across the station’s entire front square, annihilating the Regent Theatre and much around it. I had personal feelings about the Regent, having played there inBlackmaillate in 1928. This was where Nigel Playfair presented an unforgettable production ofThe Immortal Hour,and where once I had seen John Gielgud play Romeo opposite the...

  18. 13 A Foreign Correspondent
    (pp. 167-176)

    During my first month in England, I stayed a short weekend with my old friend Sholto Douglas, commander in chief of Coastal Command. I had known Sholto since 1932. He and his dear wife, Joan, had the apartment above Maggie and me at 4 West Halkin Street, and the four of us became immediate friends—a friendship that was to last for around four decades. Upon learning that I was back in London, he took the first available opportunity to invite me to his residence adjoining Coastal Command Headquarters. Both Sholto and Joan were wonderful hosts. And they were still...

  19. 14 Unconquered
    (pp. 177-184)

    On January 31, 1945, I opened a discussion at London’s PEN literary society with a question that has plagued me in one form or another since Al Woods first asked me to rewrite act 3 of my playBlackmail,which culminated in the Tallulah Bankhead press fiasco. “But why do they have to alter the book?” I asked. “It seems an awful tragedy that a fine story should have to pass through the hands of another writer—possibly not so competent as the original author.” Little did I realize that these remarks would foreshadow difficulties in my postwar career.


  20. 15 No Escape
    (pp. 185-202)

    In 1945, within a few months of my return to Hollywood from London, I had met twenty-two-year-old Betty Riley, a secretary in the office of my Beverly Hills tax accountant. Betty was bright as a whip and fluent in English literature and poetry. She was a hit in Hollywood—looked like Ingrid Bergman and had the best figure in town. Hitchcock wanted to give her a screen test, but Betty declined. He could have made a success of her; he could show any actress exactly the way a scene should be played—this little fat man telling a beauty how...

  21. 16 Curtain Call
    (pp. 203-208)

    Retirement is to me a dirty word. If I’m not writing a picture, I’m writing something else, at least five hours every day well into my nineties. But I am interested in writing only what I really like, no matter what the payback. I get too many ideas, and like to work. I wish I could live to be 120 and get all the ideas down on paper. But I’m not likely to do that—not unless the devil is willing to strike another deal. I wish to live so long as I can hold a pencil—no longer.


  22. 17 Where Danger Lives
    (pp. 209-222)
    John Charles Bennett

    The publisher has questioned why my father made such slight mention of my mother despite their marriage of thirty-seven years. I feel no satisfaction in writing this chapter—hers was a hard-luck story. But as Charles’s memoir deserves its full telling, his omission requires my painting two unfortunate portraits.

    People have asked, “What was it like growing up in Hollywood? Did you meet Hitchcock?” If I did, I don’t remember it. I was bound to the old English expression “Children should be seen and not heard.” Besides, few industry professionals would visit our house. Mom was the antithesis of my...

  23. 18 The Avenger
    (pp. 223-240)
    John Charles Bennett

    My father was the second of three sons born to Lilian Bennett, the eldest child of a wealthy shipping magnate. Lilian was the caretaker of eight siblings; and when inevitably she rebelled, she was cruelly cast off. Described by Charles as “wildly stagestruck” and by her cousins as “a bit frisky,” Lilian hooked up with itinerant actors and a theatrical con man.

    Her sons were bastards. Charles was told that his father—unbelievably surnamed Bennett—had died in a London boiler explosion when Charles was four. But that story doesn’t stand up to scrutiny—Charles’s earliest memory of the brokers’...

  24. A Tribute
    (pp. 241-242)
  25. The Works of Charles Bennett
    (pp. 243-252)
  26. Charles Bennett’s Awards and Distinctions
    (pp. 253-256)
  27. Notes
    (pp. 257-260)
  28. Suggestions for Further Research
    (pp. 261-266)
  29. Index
    (pp. 267-280)
  30. Back Matter
    (pp. 281-288)