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‘Never spoke to me again’ Alfred Hitchcock’s fury at British star over ‘disgusting’ film | Films | Entertainment


Hitchcock’s controlling and sometimes disturbing treatment of his leading ladies is well documented. He went no easier on male stars, especially if he felt they had somehow crossed or defied him. For years, the director and Michael Caine ate at the same famous restaurant in Hollywood every Friday night, but the famous director refused to even acknowledge the actor’s presence. It all started over one of Hitchcock’s films, which was his only one to get an ‘X’ rating in the UK – and which Caine slammed on moral grounds. In fact, Helen Mirren and Vanessa Redgrave also turned down a role in it and Eileen Atkins blasted the script as “disgusting.” The director’s own daughter refused to let her children watch it – but it was Caine who Hitch refused to forgive.  

In 1972, Caine was riding high on 1971s Get Carter and was a worldwide star thanks to Alfie, The Ipcress File and The Italian Job. Hitchcock wanted him for his latest film, Frenzy. It was to be his first film shot entirely in his native England since 1950’s Stage Fright and the director was determined to have Caine as the central character, Robert Rusk.

The film would go on to be a major box office hit but the actor was horrified by the role. The film was the most explicitly violent and sexual of Hitchcock’s career. He had never included nude scenes before – this had four – and it openly presented themes which the likes of Psycho only alluded to.

The Alfie star turned the Hollywood legend down flat. He was never forgiven. Although Mirren later admitted she regretted turning down the role of Babs Milligan, Caine explained why he would never have signed on.

Caine said: “He offered me the part of a sadist who murdered women and I won’t play that. I have a sort of moral thing and I refused to play it and he never spoke to me again. It was a film based on a real killer who cut women to smithereens. I said, ‘I can’t play this. I don’t want to play it.’

“I would see him every Friday at Chasen’s restaurant (in Los Angeles) and he would totally ignore me.”

Caine has said he had always wanted to work with Hitchcock, but their feud put paid to that and the director would only make one more film, 1976’s Family Plot.

In fact, a few years later, Caine himself went on to make films like Dressed To Kill, which deal with equally graphic themes of serial killers and twisted sexuality, and the 1981 Oliver Stone horror The Hand.

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Frenzy was based on the book Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square, which was inspired by the real-life unsolved crimes of the serial killer Jack the Ripper, who terrorised London in the 1880s.

The role of a serial rapist and murderer that was offered to Caine eventually went to Barry Foster. Despite a troubled shoot disrupted by Hitchcock hurting his back and his wife suffering a stroke, it is now highly regarded by critics and was a major hit with the public.

Despite the dark themes, Hitchcock had promised “It will be done comedically” and the audacious mix of sly humour and gritty themes propelled the film to over $12million at the box office on a $2million budget.

Years later, Michael Caine and his wife Shakira still attended the Seventh Annual American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Awards which honoured Hitchcock on March 7, 1979 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Whether the two men spoke remains a mystery.

Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps is on BBC2 at 1.15pm on Saturday October 8.



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