edited by John Charles Bennett
(University Press of Kentucky, $40)
Reviewed by Larry Cox
In 1928, British actor Charles Bennett’s play “Blackmail,” starring Tallulah Bankhead, opened in London to critical acclaim. The following year, Bennett collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock in the film version of his play. The movie is credited as being the first British sound film ever produced, and the first film project that involved both Hitchcock and Bennett.
They eventually would make six British motion pictures together, including four major classics: “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934), “The 39 Steps” (1935), “Secret Agent” (1936) and Sabotage” (1936). Bennett’s British film work brought him to the attention of Hollywood. His first American project was “The Adventures of Marco Polo” released in 1938, and about three dozen additional film projects followed.
Bennett had a colorful career that spanned the history of cinema from the Silent Era to the 1990s. He was an extraordinary man who excelled as an actor, director, playwright, film and television writer, and as a novelist. During the 1980s, Bennett began compiling what eventually would become his autobiography. Although he died before it was completed, his son, John Charles Bennett, edited it for publication. The result is a fascinating behind-the-screens look at the man who helped develop Hitchcock’s signature style, and in a very real sense, advance modern cinema.
When Bennett and Hitchcock began their collaboration, they agreed from the start that the fundamental thing was to get the story line first, to know the ending before the beginning and then construct the story in a suspenseful, meaningful way. Their method obviously worked, since they produced some of the most memorable stories ever filmed.
With an introduction by Bennett’s son, this is an intimate narrative by a most remarkable figure, a man who helped define 20th-century entertainment. Bennett died in Los Angeles in 1995. He was 95 years old.