Best known as the wife and collaborator of Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville’s career as a screenwriter and editor has largely been overshadowed by that of her director husband. As Hitchcock was fond of pointing out, however, Reville entered the film industry long before he did and by the time they met in 1921 she was already an experienced editor, continuity supervisor and director’s assistant.
Reville’s film career began at the age of 16, when she joined the London Film Company. Starting out as a tea girl, she was soon promoted to the cutting room and within two years was working as assistant to director Maurice Elvey. In 1918 she played Lloyd George’s daughter Megan in Elvey’s The Life Story of David Lloyd George. This experience may have briefly inspired her with the desire to become an actress but despite a fleeting cameo in The Lodger (1926), the remainder of her career was based behind, rather than in front of, the camera.
In 1921, Reville joined Famous Players-Lasky’s British studio, based in Islington, and worked as an editor and second assistant director.
It is difficult to definitive a complete list of the films that Reville worked on in the late 1910s and early 1920s due to the un-credited nature of the roles she filled. The titles given in the filmography do not constitute her entire oeuvre and while further research could flesh this list out, the construction of an exhaustive filmography (particularly one which covers her time at Twickenham) may be an impossible goal. Reville’s personal papers are not held in a public archive, although her daughter Patricia has made tantalising references to them (and published some useful reproductions) in her biography of Reville, The Woman Behind the Man. Photographs and anecdotal accounts often provide the only real clue as to Reville’s involvement in certain productions.
Although Reville and Hitchcock may have contributed to several of the same films at Islington, the pair did not begin working closely together until 1923. By this time Famous Players had abandoned production in Britain and independent producer Michael Balcon was using the studio. Reville was hired initially as an editor, but soon began working (un-credited) with Hitchcock on scripts for new productions. When Hitchcock was offered the chance to direct, Reville became his assistant director (she later claimed to be Britain’s first female assistant director). During the shooting of his debut feature, The Pleasure Garden, Hitchcock appears to have been highly reliant on Reville, and after each take he turned to her to ask, “Was that alright?”. She also managed many of the film’s financial and practical demands while on location in Europe, and later supervised its editing.
After Reville’s marriage to Hitchcock in December 1926, credited scenario writing for a variety of producers, and increasingly un-credited collaboration with her husband became the central elements of the rest of her silent (and indeed sound) film work. While pregnant with her daughter, who was born in July 1928, she co-wrote the script for Gainsborough’s The Constant Nymph (1928) which was a popular success upon its release.
The majority of the scenarios Reville worked on were collaborative efforts, her only sole credit being the 1929 courtroom drama, After the Verdict. Her final silent film was A Romance of Seville, co-written for British International Pictures, the company with which she and Hitchcock would continue their careers, both separately and together in the 1930s.
Nathalie Morris (a version of this overview appears in the Women Film Pioneers Sourcebook Volume II).
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