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Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  325 ratings  ·  46 reviews
Spellbound by Beauty offers important insights into the life of a brilliant, powerful, eccentric and tortured artist, and it corrects a major gap in movie history by paying tribute at last to those extraordinarily talented actresses who gave so much to his films.
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 28th 2008 by Crown Archetype (first published October 28th 1992)
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Apr 16, 2010 rated it liked it
Anyone interested in Alfred Hitchcock and his cinema will appreciate this book, whose very specific angle (the complex and ambiguous relationships that the director had with all his actresses) is at the same time fascinating and restrictive. Actually, this book is more like a companion volume to Spoto's The Dark Side of Genius, which explores the life of Hitchock and his films in a much more complete way and which contains information that is missing (deliberately, to avoid repetition) in the pr ...more
Sep 09, 2012 added it
Shelves: 2012, vvv
Mostly recycled from Spoto's earlier book on Hitchcock, The Dark Side of Genius (which is far superior). The only "new" things here are the chapters on Tippi Hedren, which are less "new" than extended (again, from the earlier book), with more from Hedren but nothing that would change anyone's opinion of the relationship who had already read TDSoG. Just about everything else reads like a "worst of" Hitchcock's private life, with a few canned bios of actresses he worked with that are completely fr ...more
Oct 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was the first biography of Hitchcock that I've read, by any author. The revelations of the sadistic, misogynistic, obsessive, harassing (need I go on?) aspects of Hitchcock's personality came as a shock. I just kept thinking about the axiom about there being a small step between genius and madness throughout the book. While the director's body of work speaks for itself, I'll be hard pressed upon future viewings of his movies, to not reflect on the torture (there isn't a better word for what ...more
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think I would have given this five stars but then it feels like I’m partly glorifying Hitchcock. This book revealed the ways he was basically terrible to his female actors which left such an uncomfortable feeling in today’s environment. I will always love his movies and embrace his brilliance as a director but the author does well not to forgive Hitchcock’s transgressions simply because of his talent. Clearly something was wrong w the man which the book plays out from his earliest movies to hi ...more
Megan S Spark
Nov 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Three and a half stars, really. Informative read for fans of Hitchcock and classic cinema, this behind the scenes look is very interesting! The negative-- Hitchcock was a complex, and in some respects, troubled man. I left the book feeling sad and puzzled, and while it's no fault of the author, I can't say this is a favorite book I wish to revisit.
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Disclaimer: I am/was a fan of Hitchcock's films to the point of a brief obsession. This book exposes the man, the lecher. It is so detailed and lacking of hero worship; I simply could not put it down.
Christine Mathieu
Sep 18, 2020 rated it liked it
This book didn't add anything new on Hitchcock that I haven't read before.
I was particularly interested in the making of "Vertigo", "North By Northwest" and "Marnie" and shocked once more by the way Hitch mistreated actress Tippi Hedren.
Aug 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Kind of "gossipy"; but still interesting & added more perspective to my Hitchcock class. This author's written extensively on this topic, wish library had more... ...more
Greg Talbot
Dec 06, 2015 rated it liked it
“I never said actors are cattle-I said that actors should be treated like cattle”- Alfred Hitchcock

Glamour, Razzle-dazzle, and charisma are just some of the characteristics I think of when I think of Old Hollywood actresses and actors. Behind the camera, well that's another story.

With the exception of Kubrick, no other director is described with the level of shot-by-shot control that Hitchcock was noted for. His interest was not so much with leading his cast in how to “act”. Instead he brought
Feb 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I love Alfred Hitchcock's films and got hold of this book from the library having seen a drama on TV about his relationship with Tippi Hedren when she starred in his productions 'The Birds' and then 'Marnie'. This book is a real 'warts and all' portrayal of Hitchcock revealing him as a shy and solitary man, virtually friendless and almost a sociopath, embarrassed by his fluctuating weight, married but not particularly 'active' in his marriage who lives out his fantasies as a voyeur of his actors ...more
Jan 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
"It was OK". If you've already read Truffaut's Le cinema selon Hitchcock or have an otherwise moderately informed opinion on Hitch and his movies, then this book will read as shallow sensationalism. It confirms as true every single little piece of tabloid gossip ever spun around the man, his sex life and the movies he made: Hitchcock had a sexless marriage, he was a wannabe Cary Grant but a reluctant Jimmy Stewart, Ingrid Bergman betrayed him for Rosellini, Vera Miles betrayed him for her pregna ...more
Feb 06, 2009 rated it liked it
This is the final book in the author's trilogy about Alfred Hitchcock and documents fifty years of the director's attitudes about and behavior toward the female leads in his films. Calling himself "Svengali Hitch", he attempted to control every aspect of the lives of many of his starring actresses culminating in his physical and emotional abuse of Tippi Hedren (for example, he kept her chained to live birds for five days before she collapsed in hysteria). The author documents Hitchcock's negativ ...more
Jul 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Fascinating insight into what Hitch's leading ladies went through in the course of making the films that define his genius, and their talent, as well as a skimming of his psychological profile that made him and his films the successes, and failures, that they were.

Too repetitive, though, which could be expected from the third book by this particular author on Hitch and his life and works. Seems that Spoto started with a wide angle shot and kept getting closer with his successive examinations of
Feb 27, 2013 rated it liked it
This book was a surprise. It's lightweight and filled with juicy, repeatable anecdotes movie fans will love. But it's not the scholarly work I expected from *this* author on *this* subject. "The Art of Alfred Hitchcock" is a classic of the genre and has a place on my book shelf. While I haven't yet read "The Dark Side Of Genius: The Life Of Alfred Hitchcock," I understand that it's a serious exploration of what inspired what we saw on the screen.

That's not the kind of book this is. In addition t
Leslie Zampetti
Feb 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
An excellent analysis of Hitchock's relationships - or lack thereof - with his leading ladies, Spoto continues his examination of Hitchcock's life and art in this third volume of biography. Spoto dovetails both analysis of the man himself and his art to produce a vivid portrait of perhaps the twentieth century's best loved misogynist. While it's not necessary to have seen all of HItchcock's movies, a prepared reader would have watched at least those with Madeleine Carroll, Ingrid Bergman,Grace K ...more
Scott Williams
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is Spoto's third book on Hitchcock and the material is stretched a bit thin. The final third of the book is the most interesting. In it, Spoto details the tragic decline of the genius as he succumbs to the depression that a lifetime of being obese and lonely has caused. Spoto explores Hitchcock's dangerous obsession with his female stars (especially Tippi Hedren) honestly and painfully. The book may have benefitted from more psychological commentary but, instead, Spoto focuses on just the f ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it liked it
3.5 stars...I have been a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies for the longest time and couldn't wait to read this book, maybe hoping for something about the director's life that I hadn't read about before. This book didn't shed any new light into his life however it still made for a fascinating read and I liked reading about his earlier leading ladies. This book left me with a bit of a sad feeling for Hitch as it seems that for all the fame and money he obtained, the one thing he was missing was ...more
Amanda M.
Apr 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A fascinating topic. From other biographies I knew Alfred Hitchcock treated his leading ladies oddly and attempted to mold them into his dream woman, an icy elegant blonde. However I never knew about the sexual harassment, torturous filming conditions, and embarrassment he inflicted upon them. I won't give anything away but the cases of Tippi Hedren and Madeline Carroll were particularly memorable. Hitch was a cruel, strange, and yet fascinating man. And I enjoyed learning biographical informati ...more
Jun 15, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Hitchcock fans
Shelves: arc, cinerelated
While I enjoy many of Hitchcock's films, I am by no stretch of the imagination a Hitchcock aficionado: I am not one of the people who will be disturbed and offended by the revelations unearthed by Mr. Spoto in this, his third book on the Master. Focusing on Hitchcock's relations, both professional and personal, with his leading ladies, I found this book to be more than anything else a very useful overview of Hitchcock's films. I don't know: maybe I just don't shock easily. It is true that the ch ...more
Tom Fuchs
I will probably hold back a bit here, as I plan on reviewing this for CHUD. However, it's essential to Spoto's now-trilogy of books on Hitchcock; kind of the missing link, finally getting out there all of the sexual fetishes and neuroses that fueled so much of Hitchcock's best work. It also shows how it eventually overtook him and led to his career stalling in late years as he became like the characters he sculpted. A very necessary book, but it feels slight still, unsurprisingly, as it feels li ...more
Apr 21, 2014 rated it liked it
The book is readable enough but should have been called Hitchcock and SOME of his Leading Ladies. The author spotlights the actresses for the films he personally seems to like, or that he had an extended relationship with, Tippi Hendren and Grace Kelly. But for others he hardly glances at them. For instance Priscilla Lane, the star of Saboteur, and Ruth Roman, star of Strangers on a Train, gets about a page an a half mention each and the entirety of his group of films after Marnie gets a total o ...more
Jan 23, 2010 rated it it was ok
it was just ok. donald spoto is a well-known biographer, especially on alfred hitchcock. but his book falls flat. suffering from uneven writing, and glossing over facts/stories/leading ladies when they don't fit into his thesis, spellbound becomes less than spellbinding. i would suggest reading another one of the hitchcock bios if you're looking for continuous representation of substance & history. ...more
May 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
I love old movies, with a fondness for Alfred Hitchcock. I found this book a bit disturbing.....about him and how he treated his female stars and pretty much ignored the men. He was a very lonely man, and quite psychotic. He especially treated Tippi Hedren with such contempt. His fixations on women could have gotten him in deep trouble nowadays; too bad they weren't tighter on him then. But would he have made the movies he did.....if he was?
Nov 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have always enjoyed Hitchcock films. I watched the HBO film The Girl and decided I'd read the book that it was based on. It was riveting and I couldn't put it down.

I think in the beginning of his career, Hitchcock was just a kinda creepy, harmless jerk. But as his career got bigger and he surrounded hisself with yes men, he went nutty. I call this the Michael Jackson syndrome. The book made me want to rewatch the films.
Nov 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Fascinating look at how wealth and success trump basic respect for others. I was slightly disgusted by Alfred Hitchcock and I felt the author, Donald Spoto, shared the disgust but was still able to write objectively about Alfred Hitchcock's accomplishments. ...more
Mar 05, 2009 rated it liked it
I don't know. . .Spoto has been writing about Hitchcock for a long time, so he certainly knows his material (and he knew Hitchcock personally). He also did some good interviewing of some of these women, apparently. But overall this book seems slapped together, and is of uneven interest. Some new info; lots that I've read/heard before about Hitchcock, his family, and his relations on the set.
Mar 19, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-about-film
I have seen most of Hitchcock's movies and count several of them as my favorites. But I never knew much about the man, what a disappointment he was outside his role as movie-maker. A predatory sexual harasser in the days before women had rights. I now know what a biographical movie Vertigo really is.
Megan Jones
May 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cultural
This is a must-read for any Hitchcock fan or anyone who's seen a number of his movies. It goes beyond a standard biography and sheds light on his female stars. Being obsessed with their remarkable, timeless style, it was so interesting to learn Hitchcock's perspective on their style as well as his psychological regard to these actresses.
Beth Farley
Nov 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
Interestingly enough, I never realized what a disturbed and strange man he was. Sort of a dry telling of the subject matter. Not really that interesting until it involved the more recent movies that I was more familiar with and had seen. I think I would like to go back and watch several of his older ones that I have not seen.
Luke Devenish
Aug 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Hmmm, someone was a bit nutty in the nooky department, weren't we? Mad as a cut snake, more like. And thank God, too. Otherwise cinematic gold would have been denied to us. We should send up prayers of thanks to all those shrinks Hitch never got around to seeing. Their loss was our gain. None of this diminishes the love, by the way. Diverting little read.
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A prolific and respected biographer and theologian, Donald Spoto is the author of twenty published books, among them bestselling biographies of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Alfred Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams, and Ingrid Bergman. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages. Donald Spoto earned his Ph.D. in theology at Fordham University. After years as a theology professor, he t ...more

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