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Behind the scenes with the Master of Suspense (and VISTAVISION)

Alfred Hitchcock is seen in a VistaVision publicity photo. The shapeless mass behind him is the Paramount homebuilt camera used only to shoot some of the very first VistaVision productions. Hitchcock's films all used the later Technicolor conversions or the Mitchell Elephant Ear cameras developed for the process.

Shown upper left is rooftop photography on a Paramount soundstage of To Catch a Thief, Hitchcock's first film in VistaVision. Upper right, an uncharactersitic Hitchcock in shirtsleeves as he shoots on location in Marakesh for his remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Both pictures depict the Technicolor conversions to VistaVision. These cameras held 1,000 foot rolls, which provided 1/2 the shooting time of conventional 35mm photography. The coaxial 2,000 foot magazine was developed to allow for longer running times.

The Man Who Knew Too MuchBack on the Paramount sound stage, breathy Doris Day had a stint as one of Hitchcock's blonde leading ladies in his VistaVision - Technicolor version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Day played opposite James Stewart in the role of a Broadway singer. Que Sera, Sera didn't seem to help the film, though it became a pop hit. Hitchcock seems not to be paying close attention to Day's facial expression.

The small light mounted underneath the camera lens is frequently called an "Obie", ostensibly named after actress Merle Oberon, who, despite being a beauty, is reported to have had complexion problems that were solved by placing a fill light in this position. Whether or not that's the real source of the term, we really can't say.

Cary Grant's troubles are about to begin as Hitchcock shoots him entering a taxi on location in Manhattan. The camera seen at left is the elephant ear model developed by Mitchell. The film is Hitchcock's only M-G-M film, North by Northwest. The film is argueably Hitchcock's best American effort and it was most certainly the most popular with both critics and audiences. The script was written by the near genius of screen writers Ernest Lehman, working closely with Hitchcock.

Eva Marie Saint and James Mason ham it up on the set of Eva Marie Saint and a not so menacing James Mason on the set of the hilarious Chicago auction scene in North by Northwest. The elephant ear camera swells with the addition of a soundproof blimp. Click on the picture at right to see a large version of the photo.
Photo courtesy of Stephen Paley

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Martin Hart, Curator