Hitchcock, Reginald Ingram Montgomery (‘Rex Ingram’) (1893–1950), film director, was born 18 January 1893 at 58 Grosvenor Square, Rathmines, Dublin, the elder of two sons of Francis Ryan Montgomery Hitchcock, clergyman and Donnellan lecturer at Trinity College Dublin (1912), and his wife, Kathleen Hitchcock (née Ingram). Educated first at Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Reginald (known as ‘Rex’) moved to Kinnitty, King’s Co. (Offaly), when his father was made rector. In 1905 he was sent to Saint Columba’s College, Dublin, where he excelled in boxing and rugby but often fell foul of the school authorities. The death of his mother in October 1908, and his subsequent failure to gain admittance to Trinity College, had a decisive influence on his life and he resolved to leave Ireland. He arrived in New York, 3 July 1911, shortly before his father’s remarriage, and never visited Ireland again.
In 1912 he entered Yale University School of Art, where he studied sculpture under Lee Lawrie. At that time New York was the centre of the nascent film industry. Ingram was introduced to Charles Edison, son of the inventor and part of the famous Edison Studios based in the Bronx, and he abandoned his studies for film (despite never finishing his degree, Yale conferred on him a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1921, the first academic recognition of film as one of the fine arts). Employed first as an artist, he drew titles and painted sets, but he was also employed as a script writer and performer on screen. Moving to the Vittagraph Company in 1914, he continued to act in films, where his dashing good looks photographed well, but his acting limitations were exposed. In 1915 he was hired by the Fox Company and changed his name to Rex Ingram in honour of his mother. Moving to Universal in 1916, he directed his first silent film, The great problem, and three more films followed that year. When the film industry relocated to Hollywood, so did Ingram, and he directed four films in 1917 before being dismissed by the studio. For the Paralta–W. W. Hodkinson Corporation he directed six more films between 1918–20.
Ingram was briefly in the Royal Canadian Signal Corps in late 1918, and apparently suffered an injury (not combat-related) that tormented him for the rest of his life. Having established a reputation for being brilliant but impossible to work with, he was hired by the Metro Picture Corporation (afterwards MGM) in 1920, where he was under the supervision of June Mathis, screenwriter and the first female executive for Metro/MGM. During the filming of Shore acres in 1920 he again fell out with his cameraman and was given the young cinematographer John Seitz to work with, which marked the start of a great collaborative partnership. With The four horsemen of the apocalypse (1921), based on the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibánez, Ingram created a cinematic masterpiece of enduring quality. Shooting began in July 1920 and lasted six months – unheard of since D. W. Griffith’s epics. Together with June Mathis, who wrote the screenplay for the film, he insisted on engaging an unknown actor, Rudolf Valentino, to play the lead, and made him an international icon in the process; Alice Terry played the heroine. Colonel Francis Clere Hitchcock (1896–1962), the director’s brother, advised on military matters, and the filming involved 12,000 people. The eleven reels of the finished film display Ingram’s mastery of the camera, his stunning narrative ability, and his visual audacity. A perfectionist, he always insisted that his cast say their lines in the language of the country in which a scene was set, even though the films were silent. The four horsemen was an international success, though on its opening in Dublin in January 1923 it was savaged by the press. It was followed by The conquering power (1921), which had the same leading actors and was greeted with more critical acclaim. Relations between Ingram and Valentino soured, however, and they never worked together again. More popular success followed in 1922 with The prisoner of Zenda, again starring Alice Terry. Determined to prove that he could make any good-looking actor a star, he took one of his players, Ramon Samaniegos and, changing his surname to Novarro, set out to make him as big a success as Valentino.
Disillusioned with the Hollywood studio system, and never afraid of voicing his criticisms, Ingram moved to France in 1923, determined to make his own films. He established himself in Nice, where he modernised the Studios de la Victorine de Saint-Augustin and directed Scaramouche (1923), Mare nostrum (1925), and The garden of Allah (1927; it is believed that he converted to Islam at this time). After some initial antagonism, he gained the friendship of the director Erich von Stroheim, and in 1925 was entrusted with the cutting of his classic film Greed; the film was afterwards further cut, despite both men’s protests. In 1926 he was awarded the Légion d’honneur francaise and in 1928 established the Ingram Hamilton Syndicated Ltd production company in London. In 1927 his MGM contract was not renewed, and he purchased the Nice studio for $5 million, though he later lost control (being erratic and unreliable when it came to business). He is said to have met the young British director Alfred Hitchcock in 1929 and advised him to change his name if he wanted to get anywhere. The three passions (1929) was his last silent film, and with the advent of sound he lost interest in directing. His only attempt at the new form was Baroud (1931), in which he played the lead himself, but it lacked the assurance of his earlier work and he decided to retire. In 1934 he moved to Egypt, before returning to Hollywood in 1936. He published two novels, The legion advances (1934) and Mars in the house of death (1940), both melodramas.
Ingram married twice: his first marriage (15 March 1917) to Doris Pawn ended in divorce; on 5 November 1921 he married his leading actress, Alice Frances Taaffe (Terry), whose father came from Co. Kildare. Ingram died in July 1950 in California, and was cremated; he had one adopted son, Abd-el-Kadar.
Arrogant, and with a reputation as a hedonist, Ingram was a controversial figure, but one of the true giants of cinema. A genuinely innovative director, he helped to define and develop the cinematic medium, leaving an enduring legacy for future directors; David Lean called him ‘my idol’, while Michael Powell insisted that he was ‘the greatest stylist of our time’ (O’Leary, x). Erich von Stroheim, who considered Ingram the world’s greatest director, said of him ‘He was a very proud man and wouldn’t have done the things I did. He never stooped, he never gave any publicity and was a little huffy—he was very Irish’ (O’Leary, 57). Perhaps the most fitting epitaph was given by James Joyce in Finnegans wake: ‘Rex Ingram, pageant master.’ For his contribution to the motion picture industry, he has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.