Hitchcock’s 1946 film Notorious is a stand out amongst the famous director’s numerous films. Though he made many other films that are arguably some of his best, this one stands as one of his more perfect, in terms of the actors cast to play the roles, cinematography, story, and so much more. I am pointing out three elements to this movie that influenced audiences at the time of its release and in the present, and influenced how Hitchcock made his other films from then on. His cinematography and the way he trumped production codes at the time truly revolutionized the way directing was approached as an art; his utilization of war-time sentiments and politics enabled Hitchcock to invite audience sentiment and personal investment in the movie – utilization of such personal topics such as patriotism is something he continues to use in his later films; apparent in this film is also his usage of strong female characters – films after this one began to churn out stronger females as a result of this bar-setting lead character in Notorious. All three of these factors all come together to make this film a standard for all other films to come.
The piece of art I was assigned to analyze in conjunction with Hitchcock’s work was David George’s Shadows of Doubt, presented in 2011.
The art itself obviously appears to be directly inspired by Hitchcock’s film Shadow of a Doubt, though the artist itself cites the director’s tumultuous childhood, primarily spent in the East End of London. The shadows in the portrait and the architecture reminds one of the eerie, shadowy, distrustful buildings in the movie, and also alludes to the effect Hitchcock’s childhood had on him psychologically and on his films. Hitchcock was intrigued by Freud’s psychoanalysis theories, particularly the idea that our feelings and behavior as adults are primarily influenced by the experiences we have had in our childhood, so it would not be a stretch of logic to assume that George attempted the reflect this in the photograph. This photograph in particular invokes a sense of unease in the viewer, much like the emotions evoked when the protagonist of the film Shadow of a Doubt, Charlie, was running amongst the shadowy buildings of her town towards the looming presence of the library, where she would discover the true nature of her uncle.
When one looks at the haggard architecture and looming height of the buildings photographed, one gets a sense of danger, something Hitchcock always strove to invoke in his viewers. The elements of film noir as evoked by these photographs are evident as well – in the film itself one gets a strong sense of the genre through every camera shot. Shadows are essential to the genre, as they are to the emotion George is trying to emit through these photographs.
David George does an excellent job of evoking not only the feelings of the original film, but the inspiration behind that film and other films made by the evidently tortured Hitchcock.
The films Vertigo and Citizen Kane have been battling it out for the number one spot in most cumulative lists made by prestigious film institutes all over the world ever since their respective releases in 1958 and 1941. Having seen both films, I can say with much resoluteness that these two films certainly have a spot in the top ten most influential films of all time. In my personal opinion, Citizen Kane is a much better movie in all respects than Vertigo, simply because it has that flawless combination of great story, impeccable acting, incredible cinematography, and intuitive directing. Vertigo has all of that as well, but it proves to be a bit top-heavy on the stylistic side than the story side. Rather than striving to be a complete package, this film becomes an artistic tour de force, which is certainly not a bad thing at all. Citizen Kane simply proves to be a more watchable film. I had to watch Hitchcock’s work twice before I could fully understand what had happened, which does not happen when one has watched Orson Welles’ masterpiece. I absolutely love Hitchcock, and Jimmy Stewart – one of my absolute all-time favorite actors – does not disappoint in his performance, but I feel that in the battle of two of my favorite directors, Welles comes out on top.
I believe that the film that epitomizes all of Hitchcock’s strengths and comes out as the better all-around movie in his repertoire proves to be Psycho; I had never even heard of Vertigo, but everyone has heard of the harrowing story in Bates Motel. However, Vertigo proves to have made much of a bigger impact on film itself as an art than Psycho has, though the latter has made much more of an impact on society and movie genres as a whole. I do believe that Vertigo deserves to be ranked higher than Psycho, simply because film as a medium never would have developed quite in the way it has without that particular film. I also believe that Vertigo is a much scarier film than Psycho, and indeed Hitchcock’s scariest film in all. It is not scary in the typical sense of the word, but the way that Stewart’s character completely dominates Kim Novak’s character would have left me shaking and crying in terror if I had not been surrounded by my peers. It is in this respect that this film surpasses other films – its revolutionary characters and character development. Most other films had never before addressed such topics as stripping away one’s identity for love and giving oneself wholly to another, and what happens to one when that happens, and if a relationship under such a premise could ever be healthy. Roger Ebert aptly describes this volatile relationship and characterization in his film critique, in which he describes Vertigo as “one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made”:
“Vertigo… is the most confessional [of Hitchcock’s films], dealing directly with the themes that controlled his art. It is *about* how Hitchcock used, feared and tried to control women. He is represented by Scottie, a man with physical and mental weaknesses (back problems, fear of heights), who falls obsessively in love with the image of a woman–and not any woman, but the quintessential Hitchcock woman. When he cannot have her, he finds another woman and tries to mold her, dress her, train her, change her makeup and her hair, until she looks like the woman he desires. He cares nothing about the clay he is shaping; he will gladly sacrifice her on the altar of his dreams.”
He then goes on to expose Scottie’s hypocritical anger at Gavin and Judy, in which Scottie laments that he could not shape the woman he so desired, as the woman he loved was pure fiction. In no other film has this topic been scrutinized to the length that it was in this film, and in no other film does the treatment and complete submissiveness of the woman strike such fear into the viewer as this film. This characterization and the gleeful pleasure Hitchcock takes in playing with audience expectations and preconceptions, as well as the unnerving examination of the role of women in society and in romantic relationships, combine to help make this film into the work of art that it is.
While I do not think that this Hitchcock film is necessarily the best film ever made, it assuredly deserves to be in every top ten list of best movies ever made. Its contributions to film-making as an art is undeniable.
Ebert, Robert. “Vertigo.” Ebert Digital LLC, October 6, 1996.
Hitchcock proved time and time again throughout his film career his fascination with family dynamics. Possibly espoused from his familial relations when he was a young boy, Hitchcock loved to portray twisted family relationships on the screen. His fascination with unhealthy family relationships especially becomes apparent while one watches his 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt. In this film, Hitchcock uses shots, dialogue, and other film-making devices to exacerbate the unsettling relationship between Uncle Charlie and the niece named after him. He also shows a certain fascination with Freud’s theories, far before the release of Spellbound in 1945 fully realized his fascination with the psychoanalyst. The first shot of Charlie in the film shows her relaxing in her bedroom, much like the position the viewer saw Uncle Charlie in not too long ago. The position she is resting in proves to be the very one that “Freud [describes] as being conducive to the relaxation of the ego’s vigilance over the unconscious,” and sets up the uncertainty and immoral themes of the rest of the film. Charlie allows herself to entertain an unhealthy, borderline incestuous relationship with her uncle, abandoning all common sense and not seeing the harm he intended to inflict upon her and the family until much later in the film. Even when she does realize his intentions and his murderous past, she does not truly take action until immediate events on the train force her to kill Uncle Charlie in an act of self-preservation.
Charlie does not like her family, and spends the early portion of the film complaining about her family’s shortcomings, yet at the end of the film decides not to turn Uncle Charlie in to protect that very family she felt such antagonism for at the beginning. Through one particularly harmful familial relationship, Charlie briefly attains all she had dreamed of with the arrival of her uncle, but that one relationship that brought her bliss, brought her nothing but stress and tears in the end. Hitchcock does not like the happy family portrayed in so many other Hollywood films – he highly enjoys portraying unhappy and unhealthy family relationships, and is unashamed in doing so. His characters may suffer in the process, much like Charlie did in this film as her ego struggled to regain control of her unconscious, but the story certainly does not.
McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader, Second Edition, 145–55. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.
A theme that appears in pretty much every single one of Hitchcock’s films has been that of the domineering men – that is, men that show assertive, controlling, or even abusive behaviors towards other characters, especially women. Hitchcock’s two films The Lodger and Blackmail can most assuredly be credited with helping to start this trend.
In The Lodger, there are two main male characters that can be seen as domineering, in very different ways. The lodger himself is a looming figure that strikes distrust into the heart of the viewer once he makes his arrival to Daisy’s home, his dark, hooded figure filling the doorway in his very first shot.
Though we learn throughout the film that the lodger is really a nice guy, not capable of murder or of standing up for himself when the police officers search his bag (seriously, YOU HAD A CHANCE), we still see Hitchcock’s desire to cast him as somewhat possessive of Daisy – some could even argue that he has become something of a “sugar daddy” for Daisy near the end. He gets in her space, is occasionally very handsy of her, and likes to be near her… very, very much.
Now, I personally like the lodger a LOT as a person/character, but there is no arguing that he is, to a certain extent, an example of an obsessive and domineering Hitchcockian male character. He is a poor example, admittingly, as the lodger is a much better example of the handsome leading man in Hitchcock’s films. I simply use him to the sake of argument. A much better example of the domineering male character in this film is, of course, Joe, the character that looks like he’s a member of the undead.
Joe is the domineering male of this film, though he is not, storywise, supposed to be seen as the villain. He is the policeman, the sort-of-boyfriend of Daisy, and the rival of the lodger. He immediately comes across as being very overtly aggressive in his romantic advances, and is always somewhat trying to corner Daisy and hide her from the admiring eyes of the new man in the house. He, in a sense, is corralling Daisy, along with the lodger, though he is the clear domineering and distasteful male in the scenario.
Joe is the man in charge, the man that ostensibly is in charge of the household and the people inside – Daisy’s parents look to him for advice and guidance, and he, of course, has an obsession with acquiring Daisy for his own. He also puts Daisy’s lover in danger for his own selfish desires, and tries to assert his control over Daisy by accusing the man she had fallen in love with.
I think we have established how dominating Joe is, so let us move on to the movie with the ultimate selection of domineering male Hitchcock characters, Blackmail.
The two domineering male characters in this movie are, of course, Frank and Mr. Crewe. Both are extremely overbearing and imperious characters, albeit in different ways. Frank is emotionally domineering, while Crewe is physically domineering. Crewe could be used as the ultimate example of the Hitchcockian domineering male character, as he does so in the most invasive of ways – rape. Given, it is only an attempted rape, but the attempt is enough to set him at the top of my list. He asserts his masculinity and possessiveness by forcibly kissing Alice and coercing her into sex. He overpowers her both physically and emotionally, stripping her of her innocence and safety in one go.
The other domineering male is arguably the more harmful one to Alice; he is the one silencing her and controlling every aspect of her life – how she presents herself, how she thinks, what she says, etc. At the beginning of the film, he is rebuffed by Alice, but still keeps up his pursuit.
After the rape attempt occurs and he finds the glove and goes to speak to Alice, it is from that point on that he truly becomes a oppressive presence in the film and in Alice’s life. He does not allow her to defend herself, thinking that he knows better than she how to handle the situation, despite not even knowing the details of what had occurred. He literally keeps Alice next to him at virtually all times, and shadows over her every move with the air of suppression hanging around him. There are many other characters like Frank in other Hitchcock films, such as the crofter in The 39 Steps, who literally keeps his wife closed away from the rest of the world.
In the end of the film, Frank has ensnared Alice in his trap, and she can no longer escape his vise without fear of being discovered – both as being the victim of a near-rape and of killing her soon-to-be rapist. She has been completely dominated, mind and soul, by the emotionally manipulative Detective Frank Webber.
There are many other domineering men in almost all of Hitchcock’s films, and one finds that this theme begins in these two early films of his, especially his first sound flick. This is unfortunate for the victims of these domineering characters, but not for the enthralled audience! More torture for the characters, more tension and fun for us!
In this New Yorker article, Anthony Lane talks about the mysterious allure of Hitchcock and his films. He piles praise upon Hitchcock for his unsentimental directing and artistic mastery, while commenting that his personality perhaps made his art more accessible and simultaneously off-putting than it would have been otherwise. His entertaining article perfectly elucidates why we love Hitchcock despite his follies, and points out all the ways he still continues to mystify us today. Hitchcock was a casual liar, a manipulator, and a genius. He was not a great thinker, but his common-sense understanding of human fear and weaknesses allowed him to reach inside our minds and play with our thoughts; through skill and a masterful understanding of film, he controls audiences with an ease that makes one shiver as much as the content in his films do. His sadism, aloofness, meanness and masochism are all traits that make him both a detested man and a beloved filmmaker. His movies were art, and his personality a show, and our love for him is undying.
Hitchcock was a film genius, understanding the art of cinematography and frame psychology like no other director after him. He and his silhouette are universally recognized, making him perhaps the only director in history to become a permanent part of international vernacular. He was conscious of this fact, appearing in cameos in most of his films and creating two TV shows featuring his name and himself in all episode openings. He crafted his persona to fit what he desired to be, and spun many fantastical stories about himself and his childhood to the media to generate and satiate public interest in himself and his movies. Because his persona was simultaneously carefully crafted and so obviously just that – a persona – his aura of mystery was able to carry over into his films and permeate the emotional connections generated in audiences whenever they heard the name “Hitchcock”. He was able to condition his audiences to think a certain way even before seeing a film of his! He injected his own fears into his films, as a way to make it more personal; he was obsessed with procrastination – a trait cultivated by his stint in a Jesuit school and community – and this often aided him well in his thrillers.
Hitchcock was truly the Master of Suspense, generating emotions in audiences no other filmmaker has single-handedly been able to produce. He made more than fifty films in his career spanning six decades, using his ability to manipulate the audience’s feelings of anxiety, fear and empathy to keep people coming back for more. He pioneered many different His films spanned from 1925’s “The Pleasure Garden” to 1976’s “Family Plot;” his film-making spanned two eras – his British era ended with 1938’s “Jamaica Inn”, and consisted of darker, seedier storylines. His American era started in 1940 with his masterpiece “Rebecca”, and consisted of physically brighter and better-constructed films as Hollywood gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted, with minimal constraints. My personal favorite film of his is 1954’s “Rear Window” with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.