Book Review: ‘Hitchcock’s Blondes’ wants to see old Hollywood stars not through the director’s gaze

This cover image released by Putnam shows "Hitchcocks Blondes: The Unforgettable Women Behind the Legendary Directors Dark Obsession" by Laurence Leamer. (Putnam via AP)

Though often lauded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Alfred Hitchcock was also known for having a dark side, including his authoritarian tendencies as a director and sexually inappropriate behavior toward the women in his films. Tippi Hedren, who starred in "The Birds" and "Marnie," has even alleged in recent years that the late director sexually assaulted her and threatened her career after she rejected his advances.

For the famed auteur, women, and actors in general, were props to be controlled and molded with the sole purpose of realizing his vision.

In "Hitchcock's Blondes: The Unforgettable Women Behind the Legendary Director's Dark Obsession," Laurence Leamer seeks to divert the reader from seeing the female actors through the director's gaze, constructing instead vignettes that attempt to memorialize these women as more than their captivating beauty.

"Hitchcock's Blondes" is part biography of the auteur, part crash course into his catalogue of movies. But mostly this book is just what it says it is: a survey of the women on whom Hitchcock relied to bring his artistry to life.

Although Leamer betrays a reverence and appreciation for the filmmaker, Hitchcock is very much the complicated antagonist of the story, the women the sympathetic stooges.

His warranted efforts to accentuate Hitchcock's problematic behavior are sometimes executed at the expense of conveying a holistic picture of reality. Despite occasional references to their narcissism and ambition, Hitchcock's blondes are often portrayed as wooden innocents with little agency or autonomy -- objects at the mercy of the powerful director no matter how hard he pushed them or out of line he became.

Though at times meandering, "Hitchcock's Blondes" dishes sufficient old Hollywood gossip to keep interested readers entertained.