Trevor Hogg delves into Writing with Hitchcock by Steve DeRosa to explore the collaborations of director Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter John Michael Hayes in the second of a two part feature... (read part one here)...
During the preparation for To Catch a Thief (1955), Alfred Hitchcock handed a book to his screenwriter composed by first-time novelist Jack Trevor Story; The Trouble with Harry (1955) revolves around the discovery of a corpse and the comedic mayhem it causes in a small town. “It was rather faithful to the novel. I added touches of my own, but still wanted to deepen it somewhat,” stated John Michael Hayes who was instructed by the filmmaker to change the setting from Britain to America. “It was a relief from the pressures of trying to make a big box office success. We were just trying to make a good picture and enjoy it. I don’t think Paramount really wanted to make it because they didn’t see much future in it commercially. But Hitch had done so well with them, they couldn’t quarrel with him.” The first draft was completed during the principle photography for To Catch a Thief. “After the script was done, he wanted me in the office every day for conferences and to have lunch with him.”
When Shirley MacLaine (The Apartment) filled in as the replacement for the ill Carol Haney (Kiss Me Kate) during a theatrical production of The Pajama Game, the young stage actress came to the attention of Alfred Hitchcock. “When she came down on the set and read her lines, Hitch said to me, ‘I’m not going to tamper with this girl. She has such an odd quality and it’s delightful,’” recalled John Michael Hayes who unwittingly gave MacLaine one of the most memorable lines in the picture when upon being kissed by John Forsythe (Topaz), she warns him, “Lightly, Sam. I have a very short fuse.” Hayes was stunned by the crowd reaction. “It rocked the theatre and I looked up in total surprise. I had no idea. It was a fairly common expression. I didn’t mean it the way it came out. I meant that she was very emotional. I didn’t mean that she was climatic, but that’s the way the audience roared with it.” A famous British playwright is quoted by the character of Dr. Greenbow (Dwight Marfield). “It’s my favourite sonnet from Shakespeare. I had to put something in. I don’t think the audience understood what it was all about but it went with the theme. We had Shirley MacClaine and John Forsythe, and there were all sorts of things that prevented them from getting together. They met and got to know each other under the strangest of circumstances but they were destined to be a couple.” Unfortunately, moviegoers did not take to $1 million production which grossed $7 million and was described by Hitchcock as being “an expensive self-indulgence.” At the BAFTAs, The Trouble with Harry was nominated for Best Film and Best Foreign Actress (MacLaine), while Hitchcock contended for a Directors Guild of America Award.
22 years after its original 1934 release Alfred Hitchcock opted to remake The Man Who Knew Too Much. An American doctor while vacationing with his family unwittingly becomes entangled in an international assassination plot which results in his son being kidnapped. The protagonist in the thriller, Dr. Benjamin McKenna (James Stewart), was inspired by the character of Bulldog Drummond who appeared in the British adventure and spy stories penned by H.C. McNeilie. The filmmaker recruited Angus MacPhail, who was the chief story editor for Gaumont-British, to develop the screenplay. At the time, John Michael Hayes was contracted to work on The Captain’s Table (1959). “I was going to do the screenplay and Spencer Tracy was going to play the lead,” stated Hayes. “[Sol] Siegel left Paramount and moved over to Metro; they just stopped the picture.” Hitchcock took advantage of the opportunity. “I never saw the original script and the original picture, except for the Albert Hall sequence at the end, which was pretty much the same as it was in the original. Hitch called me in and said, ‘What I’m going to do is tell you the story, and you take notes and write the story I tell you, your way.’ We talked about a lot of things. I picked out the best ideas I could and made a screenplay out of it.”
“Hitch went off and the script wasn’t even finished,” recalled John Michael Hayes. “We only had maybe a third of it, and gaps in that too because he’d scheduled it before we were ready. They went to Marrakesh and I was sending pages by Pan American pilot to the set. Then I flew to London, wrote on the airplane in the lounge, then wrote all day, mimeographed at night, and brought the script to the set in the morning until we caught up.” Despite the time constraints, the screenwriter was able to infuse a sense of humour into the project. “There were two sets of dialogue, because Hitch wanted something lighter. Ben and Jo were in the marketplace and were going to face a bad situation, and Hitch didn’t want a scene with a family argument over her going back on the stage. It didn’t fit the mood, nor the walk they had to take, so they cabled me and asked for some other dialogue to fit the scene. I went home and I wrote all that stuff about how Ben’s patients had paid for their trip and their new clothes. ‘I’m wearing Mrs. So-and-So’s appendix.’ I sent it to them and remember John Mock saying, ‘Oh, this is so good!’ He got a cable back from Marrakesh saying how delighted they were with the dialogue.”
Like with Rear Window, the screenwriter wanted to create a sympathetic antagonist. “She envied Doris Day [Pillow Talk] and Jimmy Stewart [Vertigo] and their family relationship,” said Hayes when discussing the character of Mrs. Drayton played by Brenda De Banzie (Hobson’s Choice). “It made her more interesting as a villainess that she has feelings which begin to come out. She begins to like the boy and doesn’t want anything to happen to him. She’s seen happiness and a nice family blown apart, and suddenly it’s too much for her.” The Man Who Knew Too Much which cost $1 million to make grossed $11 million and won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Alfred Hitchcock received a Directors Guild of America nomination and contended for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Controversy erupted between the filmmaker and the screenwriter over the contribution of Angus MacPhail. “Hitch had to have somebody to talk things over with and keep notes but it was left up to me to finally write it. Angus was a perfectly nice man. He was a friend of Hitchcock’s from the 1920s, and Hitch wanted to give him credit because he said, ‘He needs a credit. He needs the work.’” Hayes successfully pursued credit arbitration despite Hitchcock threatening never to speak to him again. “I was told that there were pages sent to the Guild that Hitch said Angus worked on. But if that was true, he never showed and mentioned them to me.” The victory came with a great cost as the two men never worked with each other again. “The collaboration got my writing noticed by the critics, the public, and the studios,” reflected Hayes. “It lifted me out of the ordinary journey of the screenwriter’s life, and there were a lot of good writers who never got the chance. I was lucky.”
For more on the collaborations between Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, check out Steve DeRosa's book, Writing with Hitchcock.
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Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.