The Hitchcock/Truffaut Tapes #5
A prolonged discussion of The 39 Steps dominates Part Five of The Hitchcock/Truffaut Tapes. Though to call it a discussion might be stretching the term somewhat, since both parties seem to be speaking around one another more openly than at other points in these recordings. Much of the 39 Steps colloquy, for instance, is consumed with François Truffaut describing sequences from Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film to Hitchcock himself, as the director listens with wearied patience ("Mm-hm. Yes, yes, yes. Uh-huh, yes"), stopping just short of telling him to get to the question, already. He also tries to score points by running down Ralph Thomas's not-so-terrible 1959 remake. Hitchcock, for his part, doesn't react.
But today's excerpt isn't quite so dreary an affair. Hitchcock does get an opportunity to speak a few times: relating the process he employed in constructing film from a detailed scenario; among other, genuinely interesting nuts and bolts matters. Only once does he veer into arrant pointlessness by retailing the "dirty story" that supposedly served as inspiration for the farmhouse sequence in The 39 Steps; a deeply unfunny joke manqué that goes on forever (Truffaut can't even bring himself to do more than chuckle at the thing when Hitchcock mercifully concludes, which says a lot).
As for the personal dynamics that make these recordings such a compelling listen (at least to these ears), they only rise to the surface in the final moments, as Hitchcock betrays a touch of retrospective anger at the New Yorker's review of his 1959 film North By Northwest. But the key, wince-inducing moment comes just before this, when Truffaut speaks of people's general reaction to the seamless mix in "Mr. Hitchcock's" work of the plausible with the implausible.
And Hitchcock tells him what he thinks of a critic who talks to him about plausibility.
It is perhaps a measure of Truffaut's tenacity in pursuing his subject that he didn't just crawl out of the room on his hands and knees then and there.
This excerpt concludes, as many do, with Hitchcock ponderously telling yet another dead-on-arrival joke.
The laughter that ensues (before the punch-line and after) is plentiful.