All the Love Scenes Had Been Shot Like Murder Scenes, and All the Murder Scenes Like Love Scenes

Alfred Hitchcock? François Truffaut? Grace Kelly? Sam Mendes?

Dear Quote Investigator: Director Alfred Hitchcock was a master of suspense and horror. For decades his filmmaking techniques have been closely studied by other directors, screenwriters, and critics. One observer uncovered a disquieting connection between Hitchcock’s portrayal of homicide and intimacy:

The murder scenes are filmed like love scenes, and the love scenes are filmed like murder scenes.

This assertion has been attributed to fellow director François Truffaut, popular actress Grace Kelly, and Alfred Hitchcock himself. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1974 a gala honoring Hitchcock was held at the Lincoln Center in New York. A series of film scenes from Hitchcock were shown to attendees during the evening. The clips were arranged into different categories, e.g., chase, love, suspense, catastrophe, and murder. When François Truffaut saw those extracts he developed his thesis connecting scenes of mayhem and amour. In May 1976 the Canadian film magazine “Take One” published a piece by Truffaut. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

What struck me that evening while reseeing all of these little bits of films I know by heart (isolated from their context and put together for a single evening) was the simultaneous sincerity and savagery of the Hitchcockian oeuvre. I realized that all the love scenes had been shot like murder scenes, and all the murder scenes like love scenes.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1966 François Truffaut with Helen Scott published a book based on many hours of discussion held with Alfred Hitchcock titled “Le Cinema Selon Hitchcock” (“Cinema According to Hitchcock”). The quotation under examination appeared in neither the French edition 2 nor the English edition 3 of this work.

In the 1970s Truffaut planned to publish a revised French edition, and he composed new material about Hitchcock. The 1976 “Take One” article cited above was an English translation of text from Truffaut’s new material. However, the publication of the revised book was delayed.

In March 1979 Truffaut published a piece in “American Film”. The contents of this article overlapped the article in “Take One”. The translator was Annette Insdorf, and the phrasing of the excerpt differed: 4

What struck me most that evening in reseeing all these bits of films, known by heart but for one evening isolated from their context, was the simultaneous sincerity and violence of the Hitchcock oeuvre. I realized that all the love scenes were filmed like murder scenes and all the murder scenes like love scenes.

Also in March 1979 the American Film Institute gave Alfred Hitchcock a Life Achievement Award. “The Washington Post” reported that Truffaut delivered a speech during the ceremony, and he employed a variant of the quotation: 5

The other surprise was a rare English-language speech by fellow director Francois Truffaut, a fervent Hitchcock admirer. Looking tres francais with a long white silk scarf knocked over his tuxedo, Truffaut said, “In America you respect him for shooting scenes of love like scenes of murder, while in France we respect him for shooting scenes of murder like love.”

Alfred Hitchcock died in 1980, and the revised book “Hitchcock / Truffaut” was at last published in Paris in 1983. 6 The English edition appeared in 1984. 7 Truffaut placed his observation into an additional chapter about Hitchcock’s final years. Here is an excerpt in French and English:

. . . la sincérité et la sauvagerie de l’œuvre hitchcockienne. Il était impossible de ne pas voir que toutes les scènes d’amour étaient filmées comme des scènes de meurtre et toutes les scènes de meurtre comme des scènes d’amour.

. . . the sincerity and the savagery of Hitchcock’s work. It was impossible not to see that the love scenes were filmed like murder scenes, and the murder scenes like love scenes.

Truffaut shared another thematically related observation:

. . . il m’apparut que, dans le cinéma d’Hitchcock, décidément plus sexuel que sensuel, faire l’amour et mourir ne font qu’un.

It occurred to me that in Hitchcock’s cinema, which is definitely more sexual than sensual, to make love and to die are one and the same.

In 1993 “The Alfred Hitchcock Quote Book” edited by Laurent Bouzereau included a statement based on Truffaut’s 1979 speech: 8

“In America, you respect him because he shoots scenes of love as if they were scenes of murder,” Truffaut declared. “In France, we respect him because he shoots scenes of murder like scenes of love.”

In 2002 “The Arizona Republic” printed an article in which director Sam Mendes attributed the saying to Hitchcock: 9

“There’s a great Hitchcock line,” he says. “‘Shoot your murders like love scenes and your love scenes like murders.’”

Prominent actress Grace Kelly died in 1982. In 2010 the book “A Touch of Grace: How to Be a Princess, the Grace Kelly Way” by Cindy De La Hoz attributed the following remark to Kelly: 10

“Mr. Hitchcock taught me everything about cinema. It was thanks to him that I understood that murder scenes should be shot like love scenes and love scenes like murder scenes.”

In conclusion, François Truffaut should receive credit for the comment which appeared in “Take One” in 1976 and “American Film” in 1979. These two instances were translated from French. Truffaut delivered a version in English himself at a ceremony honoring Hitchcock in March 1979. In addition, Truffaut published a version in French in “Hitchcock/Truffaut” in 1983 which was translated into English and published in 1984. The instances attributed to Alfred Hitchcock and Grace Kelly appeared many years after they had died.

(Great thanks to Mark Milano whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Many thanks to Dave Wilton who obtained page scans from “Take One” and “American Film”. Also, special thanks to S. M. Colowick who obtained page scans from the 1983 French edition of “Hitchcock/Truffaut” via the New York Public Library.)

Notes:

  1. 1976 May 21, Take One, Volume 5, Number 2, Alfred Hitchcock: A Friendly Salute, Subsection: Hitchcock in 1976 by François Truffaut, Start Page 43, Quote Page 44, Unicorn Publishing, Montreal, Canada. (Verified with scans; accessed via HathiTrust)
  2. 1966, Le Cinéma a Selon Hitchcock by François Truffaut Avec La Collaboration de Helen Scott, (The quotation was absent), Editions Robert Laffont, Paris, France. (Verified with scans)
  3. 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), (The quotation was absent), Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1979 March, American Film, Volume 4, Issue 5, My Friend Hitchcock by François Truffaut, Article translator Annette Insdorf, Start Page 24, Quote Page 25, American Film Institute, Washington D.C. (Verified with scans; accessed via HathiTrust)
  5. 1979 March 9, The Washington Post, Testimonial With a ‘Hitch’: AFI’s Life Achievement Award Goes to the Master of Surprise (Continuation title: Honoring Hollywood’s Master of Surprise) by Kenneth Turan, Start Page D1, Quote Page D4, Column 3, Washington D.C. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1983, Hitchcock / Truffaut par François Truffaut Avec La Collaboration de Helen Scott, Edition Definitive, Chapter 16, Quote Page 294, Column 3. Éditions Ramsay, Paris. (Verified with scans from The New York Public Library)
  7. 1984 (1983 Copyright), Hitchcock by François Truffaut With the Collaboration of Helen G. Scott, Revised Edition, Chapter 16: Hitchcock’s final years, Quote Page 345 and 346, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)
  8. 1993, The Alfred Hitchcock Quote Book, Edited by Laurent Bouzereau, Chapter 1: Rear Window on Love, Seduction, and Marriage, Quote Page 3, A Citadel Press Book: Carol Publishing Group, New York. (Verified with scans)
  9. 2002 July 12, The Arizona Republic, Mendes bent gangster-film genre by Bill Muller, Quote Page P5, Column 3, Phoenix, Arizona. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 2010, A Touch of Grace: How to Be a Princess, the Grace Kelly Way by Cindy De La Hoz, Chapter 3: Fire and Ice, Quote Page 69, Running Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans)