Was Alfred Hitchcock a Misogynist?

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Of course Alfred Hitchcock was a misogynist, or at least had a neurotic compulsion to mistreat women in his films: everyone knows that. Or do they? If so, one must assume also that most of his heroines were masochistic, in that nearly all his leading actresses seem to have adored him. And if there was mistreatment, it mostly seems to have been meted out, and perceived by its apparent victims, as all in the spirit of innocent merriment.

Ivor Montagu, longtime friend and script collaborator of Hitch, told me that one of the first famous examples, the ordeals undergone by Madeleine Carroll while handcuffed to Robert Donat in The 39 Steps, arose because he and Hitch had known her before she went off to Hollywood as very much one of the lads, and suspected she might need to be jollied out of any Hollywood big-star nonsense. And, moreover, that she gave as good as she got, involving Hitch in succession of practical jokes.

Well, what about that snippet of sound test for Anny Ondra in Blackmail, in which he reduces her to helpless giggles with a couple of off-colour jokes? Subject to passionate feminist condemnation, it yet seems to be perceived by both participants as whimsically flirtatious, and Ondra and her husband, the boxer Max Schmelling, remained close friends of Hitch’s for the rest of their lives. True, there appears to be little fun in Tippi Hedren’s ordeal in the attic with the birds, but then that arises inevitably from the dramatic situation in the film. And even Hedren, despite her quarrels with Hitchcock over his more-than-professional possessiveness, had no complaints about the support he normally gave her.

In his private and professional lives Hitchcock was always surrounded by women. He and his wife had just one child, a daughter, and she produced three grandchildren, all daughters. But where choice was available, in his professional dealings, his office was entirely staffed by women.

There was a succession of female personal assistants, as...
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