“The Girl” and the Hitchcockian Horrors of Sexual Harassment

“Mr. Hitchcock requests your company in his hotel room over dinner.”.

HBO’s original film “The Girl” has premiered, and has garnered mixed reviews from critics, in part because they recoil from the film’s disturbing portrait of iconic director Alfred Hitchcock, played here by the great Toby Jones, who is almost as uncanny evoking Hitch as he was reincarnating Truman Capote in “Infamous.”  It tells the well-documented story of how Hitchcock chose newcomer Tippi Hedren as his latest blonde obsession (placing her in line behind Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Ingrid Bergman, Janet Leigh and others) and then relentlessly pursued a sexual relationship with the actress during the filming of “The Birds” and “Marnie.” Hedren, not surprisingly, found him about as alluring a potential sex partner as Hermione would regard Dobby the house elf. Less so, probably. Unlike so many actresses subjected to that kind of extortion as their final obstacle to stardom, however, Hedren refused to submit.

The movie is the most powerful and harrowing, portrayal of sexual harassment I have ever seen, and whatever its fate as a dramatic work, “The Girl” has a future, if anyone’s paying attention, in workplace training sessions. One of the Farkers who came here to argue with my criticism of that web site’s jokey commentary about a teenager who was pulled into a sexual relationship with his teacher protested that comparing his plight to rape was unfair, since no physical force was involved, and the student “consented.” If anyone can watch “The Girl” and conclude that Hedren would have been “consenting” to sex with that “walrus dressed as a man,” he has serious cognitive problems, and the situation parallels the inequity of power when a school teacher craves the sexual attentions of a student. What we see in the film is a perfect example of a relationship with a complete imbalance of power, with a power wielder who is willing to abuse his authority in order to bend a subordinate to his will, or make her suffer for refusing. After his clumsy advances were rebuffed, the warped director of “Psycho,” “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest” plotted to punish his prey, rigging on-set accidents for Hedren and making veiled threats. Finally we see the text-book quid pro quo sexual harassment advance: after Hedren is named one of the most promising screen newcomers, Hitchcock tells her that he expects her to be “sexually available” to him at all times, for any purpose, in gratitude for his bestowing her with a Hollywood career. If she refuses, he says, he will ruin her.

That, as film buffs know, is exactly what happened. Hedren did refuse, broke her contract, and was both soured on her profession and blackballed in it. She never appeared in a major Hollywood film again. It’s a stomach-churning story to watch unfold, all the more so if you know that this exact scenario is going on constantly  across America and the world, on movie and TV sets, in corporate offices, in law firms and universities, in factories and on Congressional staffs, Walmarts, athletic teams, prisons and, of course, middle and high schools, except with victims who do not have Hedren’s tenacity, courage and values, and who cannot say “no.” Despite the tightening of workplace rules and laws, most Americans seem stubbornly ignorant or in denial regarding this pervasive phenomenon, as witnessed by the nauseating sight of serial sexual harasser Bill Clinton being given rock star treatment at a Democratic National Convention that was pugnaciously proclaiming its respect for women.

In his tepid review of “The Girl,” Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker writes that “This is not the way I want to remember the man who made ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Strangers on a Train’.” No, by all means, let’s continue the denial of sexual harassment in high places and among the rich, powerful and admired, so victims like Catherine Willey and Paula Jones will be derided in the press, making it harder still for the waitress who is ordered to give Lewinskies to her boss if she wants to keep her job. ‘”The Girl” concentrated on the ‘Birds’ and ‘Marnie’ period of Hitchcock’s career, and told us story we know all too well: Sometimes extremely talented people are rotten, unhappy, pathetic human beings,” Tucker concludes.

Wrong. “The Girl” tells a story that we don’t know well enough or care enough about, one that is going on all around us.

Still.

______________________________

Spark: HBO

Source: EW

Graphic: Living Room Theaters

16 thoughts on ““The Girl” and the Hitchcockian Horrors of Sexual Harassment

  1. Jack, is calling oral sex a “lewinski” a deliberate act to remind us of sexual harassment and abuse of power? Because if it isn’t, I don’t know if it’s appropriate. I don’t think what she did warrants having her name become a sex act.

  2. Toby Jones has the worse luck. First his performance as Capote got overshadowed by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s , and it shouldnt have, and now his Hitchcock may get overshadowed by Anthony Hopkins Hitfchcock.

  3. In my state, they are trying to pass a law that makes it legal for coaches to have sex with students at their school who are at least 16 years of age (age of consent in the state). The argument is that they are coaches and don’t have ‘authority’ over the students, so that’s OK then. I think the pressure for this law comes from the many popular, winning coaches who have had to face charges lately because of this type of behavior.

      • This… AFTER the Sandusky trial? It’s not just Chicago that’s gone national. It’s Hollywood, too. Nor would I be quick to dismiss this movie’s allegations. This is the man who was famous for saying, “Actors are cattle”. I’d be interested to hear any resultant commentary from Tippi Hendren, Eva Marie Sainte or some of the other leading actresses who worked for him. Men with that kind of power over women and children should have to meet the strictest standards of ethics. Especially when they’re generating a lot of money for others in their activities. As we’ve seen, this tends to promote “blindness” in those who benefit.

    • Where do you live, Michael?! Not that it matters who has the most power (both are adults with authority over their students/athletes and have a duty of care) but my gymnastics coaches definitely intimidated me more than my school teachers. They see you in a more vulnerable state, and it’s basically their job to push you to do things you don’t necessarily want to. Allowing a sexual dimension to be added to the mix is crazy! Sixteen is so young.

      As for Hitchcock, what a dirtbag! I had no idea about any of this. I guess I’m still a fan but yikes.

  4. “The Girl” ist nothing than an insulting piece of dirt and will rightly be forgotten soon. But Alfred Hitchcock’s films will remain cinematographic masterpieces. He remains the most brilliant director of all time.

    A few questions: What took Tippi Hedren so long to tell her stories? Why had she to wait until the accused was already dead a few years? Why didn’t she sue him at once? Why didn’t she (or one of the directors supposedly so desperate to work with her) sue herself out of this supposedly so terrible constricting contract? Controlled Alfred Hitchcock whole Hollywood or the whole filmmaking world? How much was she paid for her vivid imagination? Would anybody in this world still speak or even know her if there weren’t “The Birds” and “Marnie”? One single man destroyed her career? Was it not rather so that she had very limited acting skills and she received mostly only lukewarm reviews by the critics (only one Golden Globe, wasn’t it?) and that’s why her career went into nowhere. Hard to face the truth, isn’t? So better accuse a man who is already dead and unable to defend himself. Would she still speak of sexual harassement if the supposedly indecent proposal have been made by a far more a far more handsome man? At least it was she who said “How can a woman be frigid with a man like Sean Connery?”

    Hedren attented numerous gala dinners to praise Alfred Hitchcock and attended even his funeral. In numerous interviews she stated that she owes her career only to him and that he was a marvellous person. In the Making Of “The Birds” and “Marnie” (DVDs) she never says one unfriendly word about him.
    And now suddenly Alfred Hitchcock is a monster that ruined her life because of his sexual sexual harassment towards her. What happened? Some money came in from gossip loving people? The need to have people still talk of her?
    And finally: when did she lie – when she praised him or when she demonized him?

    Alfred Hitchcock had a lifelong friendship with Grace Kelly (the two of them changed over many years very touching letters) and Ingrid Bergman (she visited him shortly before he died). Why haven’t we heard such stories by them? Maybe because people still admired them and their acting abilities weren’t limited at all.

    Stop taking every word for granted spoken by a bitter woman. Stop believing in every gossip that is told.

    • Most of Hitch’s blondes had similar stories, and the sick obsessions of Hitchcock are extensively documented, by his own biographers as well as others. The woman who played the comely blonde dancer in one of the apartments in “Rear Window” recently alluded to the fact that her career was permanently stopped because she wouldn’t accede to a certain director’s demands. Everyone knew who she meant.

      Your questions and implied slurs on Hedren, who is by all accounts pretty level-headed, are despicable and unwarranted examples of blaming the victim. Sexual harassment was and is absurdly common in show business, not just with Hitchcock and not only in films. That doesn’t mean he should be cut any slack at all; he was one of the worst offenders, by most accounts. The fact that you can’t handle the ugly truth isn’t my problem.

      AH’s talent as a director isn’t diminished by the fact that he was a sexual predator, but your willingness to be blind to what he did according to all sources and associates is exactly how he got away with his terrible behavior for so long. Perhaps you want to defend Roman Polanski too?

      Don’t tell me how to do research and who to believe because you’re gullible and deluded. There is every reason to believe that “The Girl” is pretty accurate, if not restrained.

      And nobody serious and informed believes that Hitchcock is “the most brilliant director of all time,” though you are welcome to your favorites. Ford? Welles? Mammoulian? Kubrick? Hawks? Vidor? Mannelli? DeMille? Spielberg? Howard? Wyler? Zinneman? Capra? Scorcese? Not one of them ever allowed or would allow scenes as a embarrassingly acted as the cafe scene in “The Birds” [ “You’re EVIL!!!! EVIL!”] or the rant by the woman with the dead dog in “Rear Window” [ “Did you do it because he LIKED YA???”] to make it past the editing room. He wasn’t quite a one-trick pony–he had a couple tricks—but I wouldn’t even put Hitchcock in the top 10 directors, with or without his harassment of actresses.

      • Who are you to call me gullible and deluded!? Keep your insults to yourself! Unlike you I don’t believe every word, rumour or gossip spread by some people is the truth.

        I’m absolutely not surprised to read that you don’t like Hitchcock. That makes some sense at least! Oh, he wasn’t a brilliant director because of these two scenes you didn’t like? Too bad to hear this!

        And please spare me other answers by you!

        • Who am I? Well, 1) I run the blog that you voluntarily posted to, and thus have every reason and right to comment on the obvious. 2) You made an absurd and demonstrably false assertion that I have an obligation to my readers to flag 3) You told me what to believe, when it is you who have chosen to ignore facts and 4) I know delusion and ignorance when I see it, as it is part of my job.

          You also cannot read, which explains a lot. I did not say that I “didn’t like” Hitchcock: I like him a lot. “Strangers on a Train” would make a list of my top 10 movies; Many of his films are favorites of mine, and his quirky sense of humor appeals to me. Not being one of the 10 best in a field where there are many great artists is not an insult. And I’m a professional stage director—I have some expertise in spotting rotten acting.

          If you come on here, you are asking for responses. If you don’t like that, you can spare the readers here your biased foolishness, and we all win.

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