Doris Mentioned in New Book about Hitchcock and Actors

Books and articles about Doris Day.
docwheels
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Doris Mentioned in New Book about Hitchcock and Actors

Unread post by docwheels »

In Dan Callahan's brand new book - The Camera Lies: Acting for Hitchcock - Doris's performance in The Man Who Knew Too Much is briefly discussed. Basically, this author thought Doris overacted ("histrionic" and "uncontrolled") in the scene where she's given sedatives by Jimmy Stewart but he thought,

"Day is far more impressive, really, in the virtuoso Albert Hall sequence that uses the same music as the original movie did but with lavishly amplified orchestration and conducting by Bernard Herrmann....Day is tormented over nine minutes of playing time as the music surges forth at Albert Hall and she has to decide what to do, moving through feelings of indecision, nausea, tears, and exhaustion. Jo is like an audience member at a Hitchcock movie emoting, and she is going on a ride that she would prefer, of course, not to be on. This is Hitchcock’s “negative” acting at work again, because here we have a situation where a person has to not do something that they feel they should do, and so this really gives Day’s perpetual anxiety something immense to chew on. Finally Jo screams in close-up, and Stewart’s Ben charges into the box where the assassin lurks."

The author also makes the claim - in a section of the book separate from the discussion about The Man Who Knew Too Much" - that Hitchcock would sometimes deliberately ignore actors to heighten their insecurities and anxieties (even turning his back while the scene was shooting) if he felt that would get them to give the performance he wanted. I thought this tidbit of information - if it's accurate - might explain some of what Doris talked about in her biography of Hitchcock not giving her an direction. Doris biography is actually quoted in this book.

Final note I found the author's discussion of Doris' singing interesting.

"... A band canary in the 1940s, Day was one of the most popular stars of her time, and her stock-in-trade was an aggressive kind of good cheer that seemed to hide a neurotic, resentful side. She was a great singer whose main trick was hitting a note as hard as possible, very intensely, and then drawing back from it as quickly as possible, and the effect of this was dramatic and often very sexy. Day was upset about the poverty of the people she saw in Marrakech and the starving animals, and she was reluctant to make this movie in general because working with Hitchcock made her feel inadequate. Jo is uneasy and unhappy in her marriage, and Day felt similarly on the set. She brings a lot of bad vibes underneath her over-bright smile, and Hitchcock makes ample use of them. “He didn’t direct,” Day wrote in her 1975 autobiography. “He didn’t say a word. He just sat next to the camera . . . all he did was start and stop the camera.” She felt Hitchcock didn’t “relate” to her, and that he didn’t like her. Finally, she could stand no more, and when they got back to Hollywood to shoot some of her most difficult scenes, Day demanded a meeting with Hitchcock along with her agent. She needed some reassurance and told him that she was frightened and insecure. “Everyone’s frightened,” Hitchcock told her. He said that he himself was as frightened as she was. “When I walk into the dining room at Paramount I’m as insecure as everyone else,” he said. “Everybody’s frightened and insecure, and the ones who appear not to be are just appearing not to be. Deep down, they’re as frightened as the next fellow, maybe even more so.”

Callahan, Dan. The Camera Lies (p. 185-187). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

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jmichael
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Re: Doris Mentioned in New Book about Hitchcock and Actors

Unread post by jmichael »

I often wonder if some of these critics and authors have children. If they did, they might understand what abject parental panic and fear look like. It's a feeling of helplessness, guilt and terror like no other. Toss-in Jo McKenna's high strung nature, her resentment towards Ben for uprooting her to Indiana and abandoning her show business career, and her discomfort with being in an exotic country. She trusts no one. She suspects everyone they encounter of ulterior and sinister motives. She is a deceptively sunny firecracker waiting to ignite. Jo McKenna is not a happy camper.

Her reactions when Ben tells her about the kidnapping are in perfect step with what the character is feeling. It's a double whammy. She is reacting to the horrifying news and Ben's betrayal. He has manipulated her into a sedated state to temper her fury and manage her. One suspects he has employed similar tactics before and her reactions are the culmination of many things leading up to that moment.

I agree that her dialog free acting in the Albert Hall sequence is breathtaking. Her face, her posture, her darting eyes say it all. You don't need one word to understand the agony she is feeling.

Michael
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Re: Doris Mentioned in New Book about Hitchcock and Actors

Unread post by Musiclover »

Thanks for a perfectly stated assessment, Michael.

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