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Hitchcock's Partner in Suspense

The Life of Screenwriter Charles Bennett

Charles Bennett. edited by John Charles Bennett

Publication Year: 2014

With a career that spanned from the silent era to the 1990s, British screenwriter Charles Bennett (1899--1995) lived an extraordinary life. His experiences as an actor, director, playwright, film and television writer, and novelist in both England and Hollywood left him with many amusing anecdotes, opinions about his craft, and impressions of the many famous people he knew. Among other things, Bennett was a decorated WWI hero, an eminent Shakespearean actor, and an Allied spy and propagandist during WWII, but he is best remembered for his commercially and critically acclaimed collaborations with directors Sir Alfred Hitchcock and Cecil B. DeMille.

The fruitful partnership began after Hitchcock adapted Bennett's play Blackmail (1929) as the first British sound film. Their partnership produced six thrillers: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936), Secret Agent (1936), Young and Innocent (1937), and Foreign Correspondent (1940). In this witty and intriguing book, Bennett discusses how their collaboration created such famous motifs as the "wrong man accused" device and the MacGuffin. He also takes readers behind the scenes with the Master of Suspense, offering his thoughts on the director's work, sense of humor, and personal life.

Featuring an introduction and additional biographical material from Bennett's son, editor John Charles Bennett, Hitchcock's Partner in Suspense is a richly detailed narrative of a remarkable yet often-overlooked figure in film history.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Screen Classics

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

To Charles at Eighty

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

When the young actor Charles Bennett sang these lines, he could not anticipate the depth at which Shakespeare’s words would strike his soul and shape his life work. Neither has the film industry recognized the degree to which his Shakespearean legacy and psychology shaped twentieth...

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1. Sowing the Wind

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pp. 1-10

When the young actor Charles Bennett sang these lines, he could not anticipate the depth at which Shakespeare’s words would strike his soul and shape his life work. Neither has the film industry recognized the degree to which his Shakespearean legacy and psychology shaped twentieth...

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2. Duty, Honour, Country

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pp. 11-18

In 1917 I joined the Royal Fusiliers. I didn’t wait to get conscripted—I was underage. In those days you said, “This is my job, to join.” It was all duty, honor, country. I applied for the Royal Air Force—but the spin test made me giddy. The RAF turned me down, thank God, because in 1918 the...

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3. Shakespearean Actor

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pp. 19-22

Once recovered, I went back to acting. At first I was terrible—I used to get jobs and be fired from them. But gradually I learned to act, playing with the Brewster’s Millions company (1920), then the Compton Comedy Company, the Lena Ashwell Players, and the Gertrude Elliott Touring...

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4. Keith Chesterton

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pp. 23-32

I was discontent throughout my early twenties—in the eyes of society I was a struggling young actor. But like Antipholus in Comedy of Errors, I had my honor to stand for. Like Arragon of Merchant of Venice, I wanted people to choose me for my worth, “to cozen [my] fortune” with their...

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5. Sensation

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pp. 33-44

Acting in Paris off and on during 1925 and 1926, I wrote my first three fulllength plays. We were performing and rehearsing a different play every two weeks, and I wrote when I should have been sleeping. The Return, my first play, was written in the spring of 1925, inspired by one of several...

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6. Alfred Hitchcock and My Early Talkies

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pp. 45-62

I have five dictionaries. The best of them is an ancient publication by some gentlemen named Ogilvie and Annandale, circa 1912. It gives six definitions of the word suspense, but the definition dearest to my heart is: “State of doubt with some apprehension or anxiety.” (The best my New Oxford...

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7. Alfred Hitchcock

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pp. 63-82

As the top writer, constructionist, and story author of Hitch’s early talking films, I knew him extremely well. In our nearly fifty-year association, I became closely acquainted with his brilliance, idiosyncrasies and weaknesses, jealousies and fears, and politically calculating mind regarding his...

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8. Cause for Alarm

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pp. 83-98

Without question, Maggie’s life and mine in England was a happy one, even though, except for our bed-shared hours, we were seldom together. During the days I wrote at the studios. During the evenings Maggie (stage name Faith Bennett) performed at this or that theater, on some occasions...

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9. The British Film Colony and Errol Flynn

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pp. 99-114

I’ve been a member of scores of clubs. Tennis. Equestrian. Flying. Golf. I’m still a proud member of two London clubs—the Savage and the Green Room—and am an affiliate member of the Players and the Lotus in New York, also the Masquers Club in Hollywood. But in Beverly Hills I am now...

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10. War in His Pocket

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pp. 115-130

What began as a 1937 contract with Universal Pictures had passed through two comfortable years during which neither Maggie nor I could find any cause for complaint. Many good colony friends. Comfortable and financially gratifying employment. Things looked good. Except—it seems that Old Man Satan—perpetually apprehensive that...

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11. A Secret Agent

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pp. 131-152

May 10, 1940: without ultimatums or declarations of war, Hitler’s divisions swiftly seized Denmark and Norway. And within days came the vast tank assault on France. The Maginot Line collapsed. Belgium collapsed. The French army collapsed. Northern France was swiftly overrun. And the...

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12. Unto the Beach

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pp. 153-166

June 1944, 10:30 a.m., King’s Cross Railway Station: arriving from Edinburgh, and greeted with as warm a welcome as any expatriate could not wish for! Carrying two suitcases, I strode proudly out under the terminus’s impressive front portals just as a buzz bomb hit and exploded across the...

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13. A Foreign Correspondent

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pp. 167-176

During my first month in England, I stayed a short weekend with my old friend Sholto Douglas, commander in chief of Coastal Command. I had known Sholto since 1932. He and his dear wife, Joan, had the apartment above Maggie and me at 4 West Halkin Street, and the four of us became...

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14. Unconquered

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pp. 177-184

On January 31, 1945, I opened a discussion at London’s PEN literary society with a question that has plagued me in one form or another since Al Woods first asked me to rewrite act 3 of my play Blackmail, which culminated in the Tallulah Bankhead press fiasco. “But why do they have to alter...

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15. No Escape

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pp. 185-202

In 1945, within a few months of my return to Hollywood from London, I had met twenty-two-year-old Betty Riley, a secretary in the office of my Beverly Hills tax accountant. Betty was bright as a whip and fluent in English literature and poetry. She was a hit in Hollywood—looked like...

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16. Curtain Call

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pp. 203-208

Retirement is to me a dirty word. If I’m not writing a picture, I’m writing something else, at least five hours every day well into my nineties. But I am interested in writing only what I really like, no matter what the payback. I get too many ideas, and like to work. I wish I could live to be 120 and get...

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17. Where Danger Lives

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pp. 209-222

The publisher has questioned why my father made such slight mention of my mother despite their marriage of thirty-seven years. I feel no satisfaction in writing this chapter—hers was a hard-luck story. But as Charles’s memoir deserves its full telling, his omission requires my painting two...

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18. The Avenger

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pp. 223-240

My father was the second of three sons born to Lilian Bennett, the eldest child of a wealthy shipping magnate. Lilian was the caretaker of eight siblings; and when inevitably she rebelled, she was cruelly cast off. Described by Charles as “wildly stagestruck” and by her cousins as “a bit frisky,” Lilian...

A Tribute

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pp. 241-242

The Works of Charles Bennett

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pp. 243-252

Charles Bennett's Awards and Distinctions

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pp. 253-256


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pp. 257-260

Suggestions for Further Research

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pp. 261-266


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pp. 267-280

Series Page

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813144801
E-ISBN-10: 0813144809
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813144498

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Screen Classics

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Subject Headings

  • Hitchcock, Alfred, 1899-1980 -- Friends and associates.
  • Bennett, Charles, 1899-1995 -- Friends and associates.
  • Authors, English -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Screenwriters -- Great Britain -- Biography.
  • Bennett, Charles, 1899-1995.
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