“We know people like to be frightened or scared in movies,” says Eva Marie Saint, the actress who won an Academy Award in 1955 for “On the Waterfront.” But there’s something about being scared by Alfred Hitchcock. It isn’t when, he always said. That’s not the scary part. It’s what leads up to the scary part.”
Though an Oscar-winner for her “Waterfront” performance, Eva Marie Saint was easily more identified for the role of Eve Kendall in “North By Northwest,“ her only Hitchcock film.
She played a seemingly innocent woman on a train, who helps Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), a suave accountant wrongly accused of murder, hide from the police. Little does Thornhill know, she’s actually working for a shadowy syndicate that would like nothing more than to kill him. But when her own life becomes endangered by the same people, Eve and Thornhill conspire to stop a conspiracy involving hidden microfilm. And, of course, they fall in love. While Saint’s career was largely cast in the shadow of “North by Northwest,” she went on to further acclaim and decades later won an Emmy.
Eva Marie Saint doesn’t remember the first Hitchcock movie she ever saw, but the 90-year-old star does recall the most indelible Hitchcock movie moment. “I remember Janet (Leigh) and I were talking about it once, and she said she couldn’t take a shower without locking the door,” Saint told about “Psycho’s most infamous scene. “I said, I have a secret, I can’t either. I take baths. It was so dynamic and the music has so much to do with it.”
The music had everything to do with it thanks to the master of suspense and film composers such as Dimitri Tiomkin, Alfred Newman, and, of course, Bernard Herrmann, whose music for “Psycho“ slices like a steak knife through the popular imagination.
“When people think of a Hitchcock movie, it isn’t just the visual, it’s the sound,” Saint says. “It plays a crucial role in enhancing the movie’s tension.”
In fact, according to Hitchcock himself, “There are so few good, honest murderers left. Most of them are hoodlums or neurotic wrecks with no sense of style or form and certainly no interest in good music. I realize there may be a few who whistle while they work but that is hardly the same thing. This modern notion that all murders should be performed a cappella simply has no historical basis. You don’t think Nero was fiddling for his own amusement, do you? Certainly not!”
Those are a portion of liner notes — written by Alfred Hitchcock — on a 1958 record album, titled “Music to be Murdered By.” Eventually, inevitably, it ended up on CD.
But now this amusing oddity is back where it belongs, on vinyl. This week, “Music to Be Murdered By” (click on the title for more information) will be available on a big 33 1/3 record, with the original cover of the famed director holding a gun and a hatchet to his head.
The album has 20 tracks, including songs such as “I’ll Never Smile Again” … “After You’ve Gone” … “Body and Soul” … “Lover Come Back to Me” and the soundtrack to one of the great scare films of the era, “Circus of Horrors.”
Hitch doesn’t sing, but he does interrupt the tunes occasionally for some dry, morbid commentary, much like those famous interludes on his long-running TV show. With vinyl so big again, this is definitely one for the collectors.
In addition to “Psycho” Herrmann also scored Hitch’s, “North by Northwest.” It was the last of a string of classics the director made in the 50s, including “Rear Window” and “Vertigo,” the films that are also famous for the string of “Hitchcock Blondes” like Grace Kelly, Doris Day, Vera Miles, and, in 1959, Saint, despite the studio’s insistence on using Cyd Charisse.
Saint recalls that “Hitchcock didn’t talk about acting. He worked with me from the outside in. My hair, my makeup, my shoes, my jewelry, my purse, my gloves, everything. And just from creating that exterior for me, he gave me the sense of a spy lady. But we never talked about emotion. He told me not to use my hands, I have a habit of doing that, and to lower my voice. And always, in my scenes with Cary Grant, look directly into his eyes, which was not difficult.”
When it came time to shoot her big kiss with Grant, Saint recalls she could only think of one thing. “I was hoping I wouldn’t step on his feet,” she confessed with a smile. “That was the scene on the train and we had to move like the train was moving and there was a still man taking photos while we were doing the scene. He was up about 12 or 15 steps, he got so involved in the kissing scene he fell off the ladder. He didn’t hurt himself so we can laugh about it. So then we had to do it again, which wasn’t bad.”
Not bad at all for a woman who played opposite nearly every matinee idol of the 50s and 60s, from Paul Newman in “Exodus,” to Montgomery Clift in “Raintree County,” Warren Beatty in “All Fall Down,” and Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront.”
Her years studying first at the American Theatre Wing at the New School and later at the Actors Studio prepared her for that last one, an indelible collaboration with the Studio’s legendary founder, Elia Kazan, and American Theatre Wing alum Marlon Brando, who three years earlier had revolutionized acting in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“North by Northwest” is one of Saint’s personal favorites. She still has a telegram she received from Grant and Hitchcock when the two legends were shooting the famous crop-dusting scene. “They sent a telegram from Bakersfield saying ‘Glad you’re not here.’”
She and her husband, producer/director Jeffrey Hayden, will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. When asked what others can learn from their relationship, Saint isn’t sure how to answer. So she calls out to her husband. “My husband said ‘Patience, humor, and we’re all God’s children.’ I don’t know what that means,” she says, letting out a big laugh. “I am very patient. I take pride in being patient with my husband, my children, my grandchildren. I was patient about my career. I really did feel that if I worked hard, if I were out there every day making the rounds, something good would happen.”
Saint continues to work and appeared last year in Akiva Goldsman’s film “Winter’s Tale,” a May-December romance opposite Colin Farrell. But she’ll always be best known for her work with Hitchcock and Elia Kazan. In a recent interview with NPR, she said that when she watches her old movies “It’s almost another person on the screen.”
When asked what the 30-year-old who appeared in Kazan’s “On the Waterfront“ would think of who she has become over the last 60 years, Saint responded “I think she’d be very proud. She was very fortunate. She met this wonderful man and they have this wonderful family and she is still with that wonderful man. I think the young girl would say ‘She worked hard. She kept her heart open for love in her life.’ And I think she’d be very happy for me because I’m very happy for me.”