Alfred Hitchcock had a thing for blondes–just look at Rear Window, North by Northwest, Vertigo, and The Birds if you don’t believe me. Some of Hitchcock’s greatest leading ladies share particular qualities: blonde, chic, sensual, sarcastic, and definitely easy on the eyes. Hitch was meticulous in the details, from the right outfits (usually designed by the great Edith Head), the right hairstyles, and the right cool attitudes. Below are my picks for the top ten Hitchcock heroines. Some of these actresses have been in several Hitchcock films, so their placement on the list may represent several different roles.
10) Tallulah Bankhead as Constance Porter in 1944’s Lifeboat
Known primarily as a stage and radio actress, Tallulah Bankhead starred as sophisticated, materialistic reporter Connie Porter. After the boat she’s on is torpedoed by Germans, Bankhead finds herself stranded on a lifeboat with the other surviving passengers. One of the German soldiers is rescued and put on board. The passengers must decide his fate as well as their own in order to survive. Bankhead’s funniest moment may be when the crew are finally rescued and she instantly realizes she’s been without her makeup, “my lips! My face!” she screams.
9) Barbara Harris as Blanche Tyler in 1976’s Family Plot
In one of Hitchcock’s dark comedies, Barbara Harris plays Blanche Tyler, a fake psychic working with her boyfriend (Bruce Dern) to locate a woman’s missing nephew in order to earn $10,000. Some of the best scenes include Harris working her mojo as a psychic.
8 ) Shirley MacLaine as Jennifer Rogers in 1955’s The Trouble with Harry
The trouble with Harry is that he’s dead and no one knows what to do with his body. This was Shirley MacLaine’s first movie and she radiates on screen. MacLaine plays Harry’s widow, and she’s not too concerned with her husband’s demise. This was one of Hitch’s greatest black comedies and probably the only “non-blonde” Hitchcock heroine that fits the role of the Hitchcock woman.
7 ) Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. De Winter in 1940’s Rebecca and as Linda McLaidlaw in 1941’s Suspicion.
Hitchcock’s first “American” film (and the only Hitchcock to ever win Best Picture) features Joan Fontaine’s breakthrough performance in the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. There’s a lovely frailty about her in this performance as she tries to understand her husband Max De Winter’s (Laurence Oliver) past history with his first wife, Rebecca. Fontaine should have won that year, but instead it went to Ginger Rogers (a huge mistake, Academy!). Instead, Fontaine won a makeup award the following year in Suspicion, opposite Cary Grant, as a woman who suspects her husband may be trying to kill her in order to collect her life insurance.
6) Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendall in 1959’s North by Northwest
In what may be one of the most seductive performances of all of Hitchcock’s heroines, Eva Marie Saint plays Eve Kendall opposite Cary Grant. Her best scene is upon meeting Grant on a train, and she mentions to him that, “I paid the porter $5 to sit you next to me.” Some of her racy dialogue would have to be edited out before the final release. Her original line, “I never make love on an empty stomach” was changed to “I never discuss love on an empty stomach.”
5) Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels in 1963’s The Birds and Marnie Edgar 1964’s Marnie
Tippi Hedren may be the best example of one of the actresses that Hitchcock “molded” to fit his vision. Her part as socialite Melanie Daniels, who is terrorized by the unexplainable bird attack, was physically challenging to the actress and she suffered severe trauma when they filmed a scene where live birds were actually thrown at her face for hours at a time. Her follow up, Marnie, about a sexually frigid thief, contains a disturbing rape scene. She and Hitchcock had a huge falling out and he blacklisted her by refusing to let her out of her contract for years.
4) Janet Leigh as Marion Crane in 1960’s Psycho
About 40 minutes into the film, Hitchcock kills off his protagonist in one of the most iconic shower scenes in movie history. Marion Crane has stolen a great deal of money from her employer and finds herself on the run when she checks into the Bates motel. She will not be checking out. Leigh was deservedly nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role as the sensual, yet terrified Marion Crane.
3) Kim Novak as Madeline Elster/Judy Barton in 1958’s Vertigo
Novak stars opposite James Stewart in this psychological thriller in the dual role as Madeline Elster and Judy Barton. In the first half of the film, Novak portrays Hitchcock’s icy blonde to a T, and then reappears as mousy Judy Barton in the second half of the film. It is Novak’s remarkable transformation from Judy to Madeline that always stays in my mind. Set against the eerie green light and Bernard Hermann’s fantastic musical score, Kim Novak’s transformation is stunning.
2) Ingrid Bergman as Dr. Constance Peterson in 1945’s Spellbound, as Alicia Huberman in 1946’s Notorious, and a Lady Henrietta Flusky 1949’s Under Capricorn
One of the films greatest icons, Ingrid Bergman made three films with Alfred Hitchcock throughout the 1940s. Notorious remains one of the strongest performances of any Hitchcock performance as Bergman goes undercover and marries a Nazi spy (Claude Rains) even though she’s in love with agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant). Bergman’s best scene may be when she secures a key to get to the basement wine cellar to uncover Nazi secrets for Cary Grant. Her character’s duplicitous nature is countered by her wonderfully vivid laugh and smile.
But of all these ladies, the greatest Hitchcock film has got to be Grace Kelly
1) Grace Kelly as Margot Wendice in 1954’s Dial M for Murder, as Lisa Fremont in 1954’s Rear Window, and as Frances Stevens in 1955’s To Catch a Thief
Grace Kelly best represented the kind of woman Hitchcock wanted on film: icy, cool, funny, sexy, and sophisticated.
Kelly’s greatest part in my opinion is that of Lisa Fremont in Rear Window. As Jimmy Stewart’s sophisticated girlfriend, Kelly radiates in her style and humor. She becomes engrossed with the idea that Stewart’s neighbor has killed his wife. One of the best scenes is when Kelly actually goes over to the neighbor Thorwald’s apartment to find his wife’s wedding ring. She is cheeky, funny, and refreshing in the part. Kelly was nominated the same year for The Country Girl opposite Bing Crosby and William Holden as a boringly drab housewife and won the Oscar over Judy Garland in A Star is Born. In reality, she should have won for this performance, which was the embodiment of the classy, gutsy Hitchcock heroine.
by N. DiSabatino