Best Hitchcock heroines

Posted by
Anna Brech

We look back at the female leads in some of Alfred Hitchcock's most iconic films.

Over his long career as one of Hollywood's most celebrated directors, Hitchcock worked with a host of legendary actresses - often securing their status as household names. He was obsessed with nurturing his own image of female beauty and sexuality on-screen, favouring mysterious and elegant personalities such as Grace Kelly.

However his relationship with his female co-stars was far from straight forward; Tippi Hedren claimed he effectively ruined her career after she ignored his advances on Marnie and the portrayal of women as tortured, degraded characters in his films has attracted much criticism over the years - as has accusations that he was a misogynist and treated actors "like cattle." But others among his female co-stars, such as Ingrid Bergman and Eva Marie Saint, admired and adored Hitchcock, claiming he was both a genius and a joy to work with.

Do you have a favourite Hitchcock heroine? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments section below

Photos: Rex Features

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Tippi Hedren - The Birds (1963)

    Considered one of Hitchcock's greatest masterpieces, The Birds sees Tippi Hedren's character reduced from that of a confident young woman to an emotional wreck. Her terror in the attic scene is most likely genuine; Hitchcock had promised that mechanical birds would be used but when the time came, handlers released real birds at the actress, with one cutting her face.

    "I think you're the bravest woman I've ever met," Cary Grant, who stopped by the set, told her.

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Tippi Hedren - Marnie (1964)

    Tippi Hedren's subtle portrayal of the troubled and complicated Marnie, a habitual thief, may have earned her an Oscar - but she claims her nomination was blocked by Hitchcock after she refused his advances.

    The director is widely acknowledged to have developed an obsession with the much younger star and their relationship became strained, although she has since praised him for being a great teacher to her as an actress.

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Scarlett Johansson - Hitchcock (2013)

    Not an original Hitchcock heroine, Scarlett Johansson is nevertheless set to join the director's hall of fame by starring as Psycho actress Janet Leigh in an upcoming movie about the filming of the classic horror flick.

    The biopic, which hits cinemas on 8 February, sees Scarlett star alongside Anthony Hopkins in the role of Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville.

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Janet Leigh - Psycho (1960)

    The 1960 thriller attained cult status and propelled Janet Leigh into the limelight thanks to her gory demise in the unforgettable shower scene. Leigh (aka Marion Crane) wore a flesh-coloured bikini to shoot the scene with chocolate syrup used to depict blood.

    Arguably the most famous of the "Hitchcock blondes," her role in the movie was rumoured to have left her with a lifelong phobia of showers.

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Grace Kelly - Dial M For Murder (1954)

    Grace Kelly was a classic leading Hitchcock lady - beautiful, intelligent and with an aura of mystery and elegance.

    However she was anything but straight-forward in Dial M For Murder, playing the adulterous wife of a murderous Ray Milland.

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Grace Kelly - Rear Window (1954)

    As her film repetoire grew, Grace Kelly came to personify Hitchcock's ideal of feminine beauty in cinema. Her co-star in romance-thriller Rear Window, James Stewart, later claimed Hitchcock was a little in love with the movie icon.

    "How could Hitch not help but fall in love with Grace? Everyone loved her," he was quoted as saying.

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Grace Kelly - To Catch A Thief (1955)

    Grace Kelly turned aggressive suitor in To Catch A Thief, teaming up with Cary Grant to form the perfect on-screen duo.

    Ironically, one of her most famous films also signalled her departure from the movie business; while promoting it at Cannes in 1955 she met and later married Prince Rainier of Monaco, retiring from Hollywood for good.

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Eva Marie Saint - North By Northwest (1959)

    Eva Marie Saint's casting as seductive spy in this 1959 thriller surprised some critics who felt she was perhaps a little too prim for the role. But her mysteriously sexy persona in the dining car scene alongside ad man-on-the-run Cary Grant was both witty and stand-out - and unlike some Hitchcock heroines, she was full of praise for the director.

    “I adored him!” she said. "The moves were all in Hitch’s head. He was a perfectionist."

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Kim Novak - Vertigo (1958)

    Perhaps the most intriguing of all Hitchcock characters, Kim Novak plays a ravishing femme fatale and the object of James Stewart's obsession in this 1958 thriller.

    Critics agree that Stewart's persona is reflective of Hitchcock himself, mirroring his own attempts to capture a perfect image of female beauty.

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Ingrid Bergman - Spellbound (1945)

    Brainy and beautiful, Ingrid Bergman is the epitome of the cool Hitchcock heroine in 1945 film-noir Spellbound alongside Gregory Peck.

    A cinema legend herself, Ingrid was said to be "madly in love with Hitch."

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Ingrid Bergman - Notorious (1946)

    Ingrid Bergman juggles a multitude of emotional states - jealousy, hatred, passion and lust - in this 1946 movie about a woman who is asked to spy on a group of Nazi friends in South America.

    So powerful and controlled is her performance, some believe it threatened to overshadow that of her uber-suave co-star, Cary Grant. An early scene features a lengthy embrace between the two and created considerable controversy at the time.

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Marlene Dietrich - Stage Fright (1950)

    In 1950 Hitchcock managed to persuade the irresistible Marlene Dietrich - already a major name in Hollywood - to star in his thriller Stage Fright, where she delivers a compelling performance as struggling actress Charlotte Inwood.

    "What most impressed me about Hitchcock was his calm authority, his ability to give orders without being taken for a dictator," the screen icon later wrote. "He never failed to captivate, to explain, to rule, to teach, to enchant."

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Madeleine Carroll - The 39 Steps (1935)

    The 39 Steps was one of Hitchcock's most acclaimed early films and brought the classically cool British actress Madeleine Carroll to the attention of US audiences.

    In one memorable scene, she is handcuffed to co-star Robert Donat (pictured), in an event that has a typically Hitchcock-esque back story. The director handcuffed both together in rehearsals then left them like that all afternoon, claiming to have lost the key.

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Joan Fontaine - Rebecca (1940)

    Joan Fontaine stars opposite Laurence Olivier in this psychological thriller. Olivier wanted Vivien Leigh as his co-star in the film and was reportedly "cool" towards Fontaine, an attitude Hitchcock did nothing to discourage since he felt it contributed to the insecurities of her on-screen character.

    Fontaine won an Oscar nomination for her performance.

  • Hitchcock Heroines

    Tallulah Bankhead - Lifeboat (1944)

    Tallulah Bankhead took on the role of fiesty journalist Constance Porter in this story of nine survivors of a torpedoed passenger ship adrift on a lifeboat during World World II.

    It ended up being one of her most stand-out movie performances, as she radiated glamour and commanded each of the many scenes she appeared in. She also delighted in shocking her co-stars between shoots by climbing the ladder to get to the lifeboat set while wearing no underwear.


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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