Drama Is Life with the Dull Bits Cut Out

Alfred Hitchcock? Leonard Lyons? François Truffaut? Steven Rattner? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Thrill master Alfred Hitchcock made a brilliant observation about storytelling requiring the excision of “dull bits” or “boring bits” from a narrative. Would you please help me to find a citation that presents the precise phrasing for this remark?

Quote Investigator: In 1956 Hitchcock conducted a preview of his latest film “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. Popular syndicated columnist Leonard Lyons praised the taut work and relayed a quotation from the director:[ref] 1956 March 2, The Pittsburgh Press, The Lyons Den by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 19, Column 2, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)[/ref]

It’s perfect Hitchcock, full of suspense, color and constant interest. The director said after the showing: “Movies have lost a lot by this new trend towards documentary realism at the sacrifice of fantasy. After all, drama is life with the dull bits cut out.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1961 the U.K. newspaper “The Observer” published a quiz titled “Who Said That?” containing a sequence of quotations; the goal was to determine the correct ascriptions. Here were two of the items together with the answers:[ref] 1961 January 1, The Observer, Who Said That?, Quote Page 14, Column 5, (Answer Key), Quote Page 15, Column 2, London, Greater London, England. (Newspapers_com)[/ref]

12.—There is precious little in civilisation to appeal to a Yeti.
13.—Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.

12. Sir Edmund Hillary
13. Mr. Alfred Hitchcock

As an aside, the entertaining remark from famous mountaineer Edmund Hillary was spoken in 1960 during a meeting with journalists about locating the elusive Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas.

In 1966 the prominent French director François Truffaut published a volume containing an extensive interview he had conducted with Hitchcock. The English edition appeared in 1967. Hitchcock reiterated the position he enunciated in 1956:[ref] 1967, Hitchcock by François Truffaut, With the Collaboration of Helen G. Scott, English Translation by François Truffaut, (Original French language edition entitled Le Cinéma Selon Hitchcock, Copyright 1966), Quote Page 71, Column 2, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) [/ref]

Making a film means, first of all, to tell a story. That story can be an improbable one, but it should never be banal. It must be dramatic and human. What is drama, after all, but life with the dull bits cut out.

In 1987 “The New York Times” published an article by Steven Rattner that began with a variant statement using “boring” instead of “dull”:[ref] 1987 August 30, New York Times, From Vietnam to Wall Street: Oliver Stone’s Army experiences inspired “Platoon” by Steven Rattner, Quote Page SMA34, New York. (ProQuest)[/ref]

Alfred Hitchcock once said movies are like life with the boring bits cut out.

In 1992 author Patsy Rodenburg constructed a more elaborate remark and applied it to the Bard:[ref] 1992, The Right to Speak: Working with the Voice by Patsy Rodenburg, Chapter 3: The Roots of Habits, Quote Page 26, A Theatre Arts Books: Routledge, New York. (Verified with scans)[/ref]

Shakespeare’s writing could be described as life with all the boring bits cut out of it but all the thrilling bits left in. He might give us thirty seconds of normality in a character’s life before plunging them and us into the terrible tests he imposes on them.

In 2000 “The Times Book of Quotations” included another variant attribute to Hitchcock:[ref] 2000, The Times Book of Quotations, Topic: Cinema, Quote Page 131, HarperCollins, Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Verified with hardcopy)[/ref]

Hitchcock, Alfred (1899-1980)
English film director
Cinema is life with the dull bits cut out.
In Simon Rose, Classic Film Guide (1995)

In conclusion, Alfred Hitchcock should be credited with the remarks recorded in the 1956 and 1967 citations. It is possible that Hitchcock employed variants, but QI has not yet found substantive support for the variants given above.

Image Notes: Camera shown against colorful background from geralt at Pixabay. Studio publicity photo of Alfred Hitchcock accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

(After this article was posted QI received a message from researcher Barry Popik who remarked that he had previously located the 1956 Leonard Lyons citation. QI’s citation search was conducted independently. Congratulations to Popik on his excellent research efforts.)

Update History: On October 21, 2018 a note referring to Barry Popik’s research was added.

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