By all accounts the 1950s had proved to be a great success for Alfred Hitchcock. Commencing with his 1951 classic Strangers on a Train, the legendary filmmaker would spend the following decade creating some of his most iconic and beloved work, from the voyeuristic thriller Rear Window to his psychological masterpiece Vertigo. He had also begun to broaden his scope with both an acclaimed television series and a venture into the new and exciting world of 3D with his adaptation of Frederick Knott’s recently released play Dial M for Murder. His latest offering was North by Northwest, a big budget variation of the ‘man on the run’ theme that he had established during the silent era, specifically his 1935 hit The 39 Steps. Starring Cary Grant as a man mistaken for the mysterious George Kaplan and kidnapped by henchmen of James Mason, the movie became one of the director’s most revered works, but following a succession of what he considered safe pictures Hitchcock was determined to explore darker subject matters in more explicit detail.
It would be while in the French Riviera shooting To Catch a Thief in 1954 that the filmmaker would first stumble across across a novel that would provide the basis for his most adult and provocative picture yet. Published two years earlier, No Bail for the Judge was a legal drama penned by an English judge called Henry Cecil that told of a man in his profession who seeks the help of a prostitute after almost collapsing in the street, only to wake up one day beside her dead body with the murder weapon in his hand. The story had the basic concept of a Hitchcock movie – a man wrongly accused – yet lacked the sophistication, dark humour and underlying themes that would permeate much of the director’s work. Still, Hitchcock saw the template for what could become his next thriller and, having recently adapted both a true story and remade one of his earlier pictures, relished the challenge of exploring such concepts as prostitution and the legal system.
Hitchcock sought opinions on those around regarding the novel, turning to his screenwriter John Michael Hayes for advice on whether the text would translate well to the big screen. Following an enthusiastic response the filmmaker purchased the rights to the story and while on the set of North by Northwest approached its writer, Ernest Lehman, to assist in its adaptation. ‘But despite the exceptionally generous offer – $100,000 and five per cent of the profits – Lehman turned the project down,’ explained author Simon Braund in The Greatest Movies You’ll Never See. ‘Indignant, Hitchcock refused to speak to him for a week (even though they were in the middle of a picture together) and offered the job to Vertigo scribe Samuel Taylor. He was delighted to accept and, on 11 September 1958, turned up at Hitchcock’s office on the Paramount lot, battered Smith Corona typewriter in hand, eager to start.’
Cecil’s novel followed the story of Mr. Justice Prout, a High Court judge who on the way home from a bar one evening rushes into the road to save a child from being struck by a car. Fearing that he is suffering from a stroke, he asks a young woman, Flossie – a woman the author described as ‘light-fingered and light-hearted’ – to take him back to her apartment and nurse him back to health at the cost of £10 a day. But on the fifth day he returns to her home to find her body on the kitchen floor, a knife buried deep inside her heart. Overwhelmed by the bloody sight before him, Prout collapses beside her and wakes up two hours later with his fingerprints on the handle of the weapon and no memory of the events that occurred before his blackout. Fearing that he may be responsible for her death, he turns himself over to the police and places his trust in the legal system that he has devoted his life to uphold.
Hitchcock was known for his meticulous attention to detail and this would once again come into play when creating the world that the characters of No Bail for the Judge would inhabit. ‘We agreed before Sam started work on the screenplay that we would take a look at prostitutes in action – meet and talk to some of them, if possible,’ recalled associate producer Herbert Coleman. Along with Coleman and art director Henry Bumstead, Hitchcock travelled from California to London, where the novel was set and the filmmaker’s first visit to his native country since the filming of Stage Fright almost a decade earlier. ‘Jim and Linda Swarbrick, two of London’s finest fashion photographers, had promised to photograph the ‘girls’ who frequented Shepard Market. They would make still photographs and sixteen-millimetre movies we could use for casting, wardrobe, make-up and hairdressing at the studio in Hollywood.’
Around the time that Hitchcock began developing No Bail for the Judge another picture would enter pre-production that also dealt with violence against prostitutes, although with a far less graphic approach. Much like Hitchcock, Michael Powell had enjoyed something of a career boost during the 1940s and ’50s but it would be the 1960 horror Peeping Tom that ultimately ruin the director’s career. Following the hideous deeds of a young man who mounts a camera onto his weapon so he can film the faces of his victims as he take their lives, the movie caused considerable controversy upon its release, primarily for portraying the events from the murderer’s point-of-view, thus making him the protagonist, while also depicting acts of violence in a sexual context. It would be during the development of both pictures that new laws would be introduced that would have a significant impact on the narrative of No Bail for the Judge and how Hitchcock intended to portray the story on screen.
The Street Offences Act 1959 prohibited public solicitation in an attempt to keep prostitutes from out of the doorways and streets and confined to the windows of their apartments or suitable establishments and with this legislation came a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. Hitchcock had intended on showing the young women in his movie working the streets and providing an easy target for the killer who had targeted Flossie but with these new changes in the law that would come into effect on 16 July 1959 ‘ladies of the night’ would no longer be able to ply their trade out in the open. ‘They would have signals, or whatever and the guy would come in the building,’ explained producer an occasional actor Norman Lloyd. ‘This absolutely destroyed Hitch’s concept of the world – it had to be on the streets, he couldn’t see himself shooting people knocking on windows.’
During their visit to London Hitchcock had insisted on a realistic portrayal of the sleazy underbelly of London’s late night industry and so sent Coleman and Bumstead out to obtain pictures of the rooms that women would turn their tricks in. Making their way to Curzon Street in Mayfair, the same road referenced in Cecil’s story, they met with the Swarbricks and ventured into the nearby Shepherd Market in an attempt to photograph the girls at work. Coleman approached one of the women under the pretence of being an American tourist and managed to take several pictures, but once the director learned that at the end of each evening the money earned was taken to their pimps Hitchcock wanted more. After consulting with a Fleet Street reporter, they made their way to a secluded bar in a rundown part of the city to observe both the pimps and prostitutes concluding their business.
Despite common sense warning them of the danger, the fear of disappointing their director proved even more worrying and so the group descended down a set of narrow stairs into the darkness. ‘We stepped inside a large basement room. Off to one side was a small bar with a coffeemaker, a few bottles and a bartender lounging against the back bar. There was one unoccupied table near the door that we headed for. No one among the crowd of pimps and their girls sitting around the twenty or so tables noticed us. But I sure took a good look at them,’ continued Coleman. ‘A few ‘girls,’ late arrivals, came in and hurried to join their pimps. We’d been there only about five minutes when two ‘girls’ arrived. To my dismay one of them was the woman I’d talked to at Shepard Market. She’d glanced at me and a puzzled look replaced the smile on her face.’
While Coleman and his associates witnessed the dangerous world of prostitution, Taylor was safely back in the States working on the first draft of the screenplay, incorporating many of the ideas that he had discussed with Hitchcock on how the film would differ from its source material. A stronger emphasis on the relation between sex and violence was a strong element that would run throughout the script, while the character of Elizabeth Prout, the judge’s intelligent and resourceful daughter, would be elaborated into one of the central roles. Hitchcock had become renowned for featuring strong women in his pictures, from Madeleine Carroll and Margaret Lockwood in his early British thrillers to such Hollywood stars as Grace Kelly and, most recently, Eva Marie Saint. He envisioned Elizabeth to be another of these independent heroines and so the casting of his female lead would be integral to the success of the movie.
In the six years since her Hollywood debut and first Academy Award at the age of twenty-four with the charming romantic comedy Roman Holiday, Belgium-born actress Audrey Hepburn had already become one of the most iconic women of her generation and a respected artist known for her integrity and dedication to her performances. As early as March 1955 she had expressed interest in working with Hitchcock and Coleman, who had collaborated with the young star on Roman Holiday, had passed along her request to the director prior to the release of To Catch a Thief. When it came to casting No Bail for the Judge several years later the director informed his associates that Hepburn would be the perfect choice for the role of Elizabeth. Coleman was not the only artist involved in the production that had worked with Hepburn before, as Taylor had adapted his own novel Sabrina for filmmaker Billy Wilder in 1955, another performance that would earn the actress an Academy Award nomination. Prior to be approached for the part of Elizabeth, Herpburn had completed work on the epic wartime drama The Nun’s Story, which would depict the life of a young woman who is forced to turn her back on her convent as the Nazis begin to occupy her homeland. One of Hepburn’s most acclaimed roles, she would receive yet another Oscar nomination the following year.
By this point, however, Hepburn was more known for her wholesome image and romantic-themed pictures than violent features and her only experience of thrillers was the low budget Ealing drama Secret People seven years earlier, in which she played the younger sister of a woman affiliated with a spy ring attempting to assassinate the dictator responsible for the death of their father. With Hepburn signing on as the lead, the producers were able to obtain the services of a distinguished supporting cast. A regular collaborator of Lewis Gilbert, Laurence Harvey, much like Hepburn, had first made a name for himself in England before relocating to the United States in the early 1950s and would be nominated for an Academy Award in 1960 for his role in Jack Clayton’s British drama Room at the Top, although he would lose to Burt Lancaster. Another veteran of Sabrina who was approached for No Bail for the Judge was actor John Williams who, much like in his previous collaboration with Hepburn, was once again cast as her father, Mr. Justice Prout.
When Taylor having completed the screenplay to Hitchcock’s satisfaction, the manuscript was then sent to Coleman. Initially impressed by the careful balance of tension and humour and the development of the Elizabeth character, he soon grew concerned when reaching an integral scene that had not been a part of Cecil’s original story. With Elizabeth having taken to the streets dressed as a prostitute in an attempt to track down the identity of the real killer and clear her father’s name, Taylor had added a a sequence in which following her release from prison she is accosted by a man called Edward, the leader of the local pimp ring, who forces her into the trees of Hyde Park and sexually assaults her. Coleman’s greatest concern, aside from the issues this could create with the British censors, was how Hepburn would react after reading this sequence.
‘I waited until cocktail time to discuss with Hitch what I’d read. When I got the Hyde Park rape scene I told him I thought he and Sam had made a serious mistake in the way they’d developed the scene,’ recalled Coleman. ‘You missed the chance to continue the sequence. Hepburn wouldn’t submit to him so readily. She’d play him like a fine chess player. Build his desire while she draws from him any information about her father’s involvement in the murder of the prostitute.’ Hitchcock, known for inability to deal with criticism, was hurt by his friend’s comments and tried to defend the scene but Coleman was adamant that this would damage any chance of getting the movie made. ‘I said, ‘And Hitch, don’t forget Hepburn has recently starred as a nun in The Nun’s Story. Like every dedicated actress, she’ll live that part for years to come. When she reads that scene in the script, she’ll refuse to do the picture.”
Hepburn would eventually back out of the project and while film historians would often cite her reluctance to shoot the rape scene, in truth there were other events that influenced her judgement. Since her marriage to actor and producer Mel Ferrer in 1954 she had dreamed of becoming a mother but the following year she had suffered a miscarriage. Considering turning away from the industry to raise a family she was delighted to discover that she was once again pregnant but, during a horse riding sequence in Mexico wile filming The Unforgiven for John Huston, she fell from the animal and was rushed to hospital. The unborn baby would survive and she was able to return to the set to complete shooting, but when the contract for No Bail for the Judge arrived she was concerned that committing to another shooting schedule overseas may cause further complications or, if having already given birth, she would miss out on those early weeks of motherhood. While a consummate professional, Hepburn decided she would put her family before her career.
Unwilling to travel to London so soon after her child’s birth on 19 May 1959 she contacted her agent, Kurt Frings and informed him that she would be unable to accept the part of Elizabeth. ‘The stated reason for this, which Frings issued to the press, was that her doctors ordered complete rest until and for some time after the baby’s birth. That was true – but it was not the whole story,’ says biographer Donald Spoto. ‘Since Sabrina, Audrey had the privilege or script approval before beginning work. On or about 15 May Paramount sent her the draft of No Bail for the Judge, in which her character was to be nearly strangled with a necktie. This upset her enormously; variety she savoured, but violence like this she loathed. Instead of asking Frings to negotiate the matter with Hitchcock, she simply withdrew from the production – doubtless very much aware that the scene was central to the film and that Hitchcock did not welcome story counsel from actors.’
Despite taking every precaution Hepburn would once again lose her baby, with many biographers citing the incident on the set of The Unforgiven as the cause of the tragedy. Hepburn’s concerns over suffering a second miscarriage had not merely extended to her participation in No Bail for the Judge. Other notable projects she had been considered for were the musical West Side Story and a big budget remake of Cleopatra, previously told in epic scope in the 1930s by Cecil B. DeMille, but following another loss she was reluctant to sign on to any more projects. ‘Soon, however, she was pregnant again,’ recalls author Martin Gitlin. ‘She nervously knitted baby clothes while fearing the worst. She accompanied Mel to Italy while he filmed Blood and Roses and to France as he worked on Hands of Orlac, but otherwise remained close to home. And on 17 January 1960, much to her relief and delight, Sean Ferrer was born.’
Hepburn’s decision to withdraw from No Bail for the Judge would also prompt Harvey to back out, leaving Hitchcock without either of his leads. Unable to move the project forward, the director found that the once-promising picture had now become trapped in development hell. Despite his enthusiasm for the material, there were other participants as well as Hepburn who were grateful that the production ground to a halt. ‘I spent one month in London researching the project with Hitch and Herbie Coleman,’ remembers Bumstead, who would work with Hitchcock again on both the critically-mauled Topaz and the director’s final movie, Family Plot. ‘Audrey Hepburn was supposed to play a prostitute in order to catch the villain and she wouldn’t do it. So the picture was cancelled, thank goodness.’
Hitchcock reportedly erupted with anger upon the news that Hepburn had bowed out of the project. The director had already spent considerable time and money on developing the production, only for it to collapse at the final hour. No Bail for the Judge became the latest of several pictures that Hitchcock had been forced to abandon throughout the decade, following the failed attempts to produce The Bramble Bush and Flamingo Feather. According to Spoto, the director’s initial reaction to the news was anything but pleasant. ‘Hitchcock was in New York when he received the news and the corridors of the Saint Regis Hotel shook with a rare outburst of anger,’ says the writer. After almost a year of development, No Bail for the Judge slipped back into obscurity, with no other filmmakers attempting to adapt the material. Meanwhile, Hepburn would remain out of the limelight following her nomination at the Academy Awards and instead focused her attention on caring for her newborn child, not returning to the silver screen until 1961 with her most iconic role yet.
Sean was approaching two-years-old when his mother finally returned to Hollywood to head the cast of Blake Edwards’ adaptation of the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Taking the role of Holly Golightly, created in text by Truman Capote, Hepburn would make a triumphant return that would not only guarantee her another Oscar nomination but also cemented her reputation as pop culture icon. In their review of the picture Variety declared that, ‘she comes vividly to life on the screen.’ The movie won an array of awards throughout the year that included a Golden Globe for Hepburn and a Grammy for composer Henry Mancini. The film would reignite Hepburn’s career following her brief hiatus and merely two months later she had appeared in a second feature, The Children’s Hour. Her success would continue throughout the decade with acclaimed performances the Hitchcock-style thriller Charade alongside Cary Grant and the hit musical My Fair Lady, before culminating in a final Oscar nomination with Wait Until Dark in 1967.
Hitchcock, too, would return from the disaster of No Bail for the Judge with one of his greatest successes, a low budget picture that would almost single-handedly rewrite the horror genre. The first act of the movie would follow a familiar format; a femme fatale steals money from her company and sets out to join her lover but it would be during a brief stay at a secluded motel run by a quiet young man and his elusive mother that events would take a dark turn. The heroine is suddenly murdered in the shower and the man, upon discovering the scene, cleans up the blood and disposes of the body. The story then follows his attempts to keep the crime a secret until the shocking finale reveals that his mother died years ago and that he has been living a double life. The disturbed man was Norman, the proprietor of the Bates Motel and the movie was Psycho.