Category Archives: Silent to Sound

Hitchcock Motif – The Evil Police

In many of his films, Hitchcock has the police as antagonists, getting in the way of the heroes of the movie. This likely comes from the story that Hitchcock was allegedly locked in a jail cell when he was young. The police are often portrayed in a negative light, such as in The Lodger when Joe and his men arrest the title character. Even though the audience has every reason to believe the Lodger is guilty (he has just been found with a gun and a map with the location of the murders marked), most people still sympathize with him and Daisy and do not want him to be taken away; thus, the police are seen as wicked for doing their job.

The Lodger’s arrest.

Similarly, the opening scene of Blackmail features police in the shadows as they are about to arrest a man. Again, they’re only doing their job, but Hitchcock manipulates the lighting to make them appear sinister.

These do not look like your friendly neighborhood constables.

These do not look like your friendly neighborhood constables.

Hitchcock would continue the theme of antagonistic police (primarily in the form of police wrongly chasing an innocent man) throughout his career as a director, in films such as The 39 Steps and North by Northwest.

The Complex Damsel

Throughout his film career, Hitchcock became infamous for casting beautiful, graceful women (often blonde) as the leading lady characters.  The Lodger and Blackmail were no exceptions to this rule- there is no denying that both June Tripp and Anny Ondra are gorgeous actresses.

However, there is far more to both of these women in the movies than merely their looks.  The characters Daisy Bunting and Alice White raise serious questions as the films progress.

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Daisy and Alice both manage to have two men wrapped around their fingers at the same time- for Daisy they are the Lodger and Joe, and for Alice they are Detective Frank and Crewe, the artist.  In neither movie, however, are the girls’ feelings ever really explicitly indicated, and the viewers are left to ponder how these women could so swimmingly transition from man to man without more pronounced expression of guilt or indecision.

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Not only do the viewers question the moral compasses of the ladies of The Lodger and Blackmail, but we question their ambiguous fates come the end of each film.

Daisy, we are fairly certain, will wed the Lodger and live happily ever after in his upper class home. However, the unsettling idea that Daisy is almost a replacement for his dead sister remains along with the question of how that could factor into their relationship.  The question also remains as to whether Daisy will go back to visit her family- will she descend from that upper class world where she so seems to belong to see the people who raised her?

Anny Ondra’s character meets an even more ambiguous end than Daisy’s- did she actually kill Crewe or did he die at the hands of the Blackmailer?  Could it be considered her fault that the Blackmailer died falling from the roof of the building?  Did the Blackmailer jump or did he fall, and would the answer change her guilt or not? Will she marry Frank?  Could Alice have convinced the police of her possible guilt in the crime? However, all of these unresolved questions stem merely from the end of the film. From the beginning we still have to ask- how far did Alice really intend to take her stunt with Crewe?  Did she meet him at the restaurant and go to his studio out of boredom or did she really like him?  How would Frank have reacted had the murder-issue not gone on?

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In the end, we must acknowledge that Hitchcock’s women are very, very complex characters with maze-like motives and morals.

 

Love Triangles in Hitchcock’s Lodger and Blackmail

A staple in romantic fiction since its inception, the love triangle was implemented by Hitchcock in his early romantic thrillers The Lodger and Blackmail. However, Hitchcock uses the love triangle in vastly different ways in these two films.

In The Lodger, the love triangle is played traditionally between the three lead characters: Daisy the model, Joe the policeman, and the titular Lodger. At the beginning of the film, Joe tries unsuccessfully to win the affections of the beautiful Daisy, who does not return his feelings. A mysterious man soon takes up rent in the house of Daisy and her parents. It does not take long before Daisy and the Lodger begin to fall in love.

The Lodger and Daisy bonding over a chess game

Jealous of the Lodger’s relationship with Daisy, Joe accuses the Lodger of being the Avenger, a serial killer who targets women. His jealousy, and the measures he uses to remove his competition are typical of the antagonistic corner of the love triangle. Eventually, the real Avenger is caught, and Daisy and the Lodger live happily ever after.

Joe confronting the Lodger

In Blackmail, we are introduced to Scotland Yard detective Frank Webber and his girlfriend, Alice White. They get into an argument while on a date and Alice runs off with Mr. Crewe, an artist whom Alice agreed to meet with earlier. Here, it appears that we are going to have another traditional love triangle.

Alice and Crewe at Crewe’s studio

However, this love triangle is “resolved” half an hour into the film when Crewe attempts to rape Alice and she defends herself by stabbing him with a nearby knife. Feeling both scared and confused after the situation, Alice flees the room, but leaves behind her gloves. One is recovered by Frank, who wants to prevent Alice from confessing, and the other is found by Tracy, an unpleasant fellow who threatens to turn Alice in if his petty demands are not met.

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Frank and Tracy negotiating the blackmail deal, with Alice in the foreground

Here we have a twisted parody of a love triangle, with two men, Frank and Tracy, fighting over the destiny of the same woman. Alice is caught between turning herself into the police, or living with guilt for the rest of her life; two equally unpleasant fates which the men represent. Unlike a traditional love triangle where the woman has the final word in the matter, neither Frank nor Tracy lets Alice have any choice, instead taking Alice’s fate into their own hands.

When Tracy is framed for the murder and dies fleeing the police, Alice’s option to turn herself in dies with him, as she tries to confess to the murder only to have Frank prevent her from doing so. This is a tragic twist on the usual ending to a love triangle, with Alice seemingly stuck with a bad “choice,” over which she has no real control.

Alice confessing to Frank, who prevents her from telling the police

The comparison of the love triangles in The Lodger and Blackmail shows how Hitchcock grows as a storyteller. He takes a well known trope he used in a previous film and plays around with both it and the audience’s expectations

 

Blondes

A common visual motif often found in Hitchcock films is small blond leads. Hitchcock seems to favor small young blonde women to play the star. This is due to several reasons. First of all during the time that was the idea of beauty. Every women wished to be thin, blonde and beautiful and looks are always a big part of the movie industry. They were also chosen because they seem very naive which is why it is surprising that these women are so competent and able to have ulterior motives which is generally unexpected for the time.

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In the film The Lodger, Daisy, the main character is at first portrayed as a simple model who is still living with her parents but it is later shown that she is very intelligent as she plays Joe, the policeman, into believing she reciprocated the feelings to some degree while really her attention was focused completely on the Lodger. This may have been due to the protection that being associated with Joe provided her with and it was only until her affections grew too strong for Jonathan (the Lodger) that she ended the ordeal with Joe.Unknown

In the film Blackmail, Alice, another young blond female lead is once again portrayed as foolish. She flirts like a school girl with the Artist and dresses in silly clothes for him. However when it comes down to it and she is uncomfortable she stabs the Artist to death. Many would believe such a young innocent gils would not be capable of committing such an act. This shows that Hitchcock really plays off of physical characteristics. Also having blonde hair and light skin reminds people of purity and that makes it easier to root for her character as being inherently good but being caught in a bad situation.

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Therefore, in conclusion, Hitchcock uses young blonde girls to play his female leads because they are what was considered beautiful at the time, they appear innocent and surprise the audience with their intelligence considering the general population at the time believed women were generally less competent than men.

Innocent Character

In many Alfred Hitchcock films, there is an innocent character that is believed to be guilty of a crime by the authorities and the rest of the people that they encounter throughout the story. This theme is a common one and is used in The Lodger, one the Hitchcock’s earliest films.

In the beginning of the film, a woman described encounter with the avenger, the murderer, to a policeman. She shows him with her hands, that the villain’s face was covered. When the audience first sees the lodger, he is wearing a scarf around his face in the same way the woman in the beginning described the avenger. This leads us to believe that we are seeing the avenger for the first time, that he and the lodger are one in the same. The audience thinks that he is guilty.

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The lodger has to run from the police because they, like the audience, believe that he is the guilty one. The authorities are not to be trusted but neither are we. We can not decided who is to blame for the murders and who is not because we are tricked. The police try to arrest him before his true innocence is proven. They cannot be trusted to do their job, following along with the theme.

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The innocent character is later represented by another common theme. The shadow across the lodger’s face is a motif within a motif. There is a cross-shaped shadow across his face in the film shown while he is looking out a window. This cross shadow is representative of his Christ-like innocence.

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The innocent character running from the law is a very common Hitchcock motif used in many films after The Lodger.

 

The Staircase

The staircase is a prevalent motif in many of the Hitchcock films, and has already been introduced greatly throughout The Lodger as well as Blackmail. In The Lodger, we first see the use of the staircase when the lodger shows up to the hotel, and we see shots of him suspiciously ascending up the stairs in his dark and threatening attire:

Hitchcock uses the staircase to represent the different levels of the human psyche. In The Lodger, the staircase is used to represent how the suspicious and slightly frightening lodger is really a “hero in disguise” who is trying to avenge the death of his sister, who was brutally murdered. On the surface, the lodger is ironically mistaken to be the murderer, but in reality is just trying to right a terrible wrong that had been done to his family, thus explaining his higher moral standard which is represented by his ascension up the staircase.

Additionally, staircases are used widely throughout Blackmail as well. In fact, the winding staircase scene that is so imperative to the plot of Blackmail is one of the most expensive sets that Hitchcock ever produced:

In Blackmail, these seemingly unending stairs serve as a sort of foreshadowing toward to chaotic journey that Alice is about to endure. They also represent the sick psyche of Crewe, who appears to be a gentleman on the surface, but is the villain of the story once we see the true motives of his mind. The twists and turns of the staircase may also represent the twisted views and expectations he has for the women who visit his studio. The real journey of the story develops after Alice escapes from Crewe’s studio and descends down the staircase one last time, thus representing her escape from Crewe’s twisted mind as well as the chaos that is about to follow her throughout the rest of the plot of the movie.

-Elizabeth Stone, FSEM, Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense

Hitchcock’s Classic Blonde

In both The Lodger and Blackmail Hitchcock casts a young blonde woman as his main female role.  In many more of his movies to come, he will often use a famous blonde actress in his leading female roles including greats like Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren.

In his first film, The Lodger, Hitchcock casts a young woman named June Tripp in the role of Daisy Bunting.  Daisy is a young model who is at risk of being hunted by a serial killer called The Avenger who pursues young women with fair curly hair.  Another thing we see with this classic Hitchcock motif is that not only are these women beautiful, but they also start as sort of a naïve girl, but then by the end of the film they show a stronger or more mature attitude.  Daisy at the beginning of the film flirts and plays around with the Lodger, but by the end she seems to have matured and becomes a caring wife figure.  She also shows a hint of defiance because even though her father and mother warn her not to be with The Lodger, she does so anyway.  She also helps him to get away from the police when he is first accused of the murder.  These actions help to convey a sense of maturity and fight in this female character. Lodger1Lodger2

In Blackmail, Hitchcock casts Anny Ondra as his leading lady and she plays the role of Alice White.  Alice, like Daisy in The Lodger,  in the beginning of the film is a naïve and almost immature girl who in trying to get back at the man she is dating at the time ends up going to a weird and mysterious man’s home.  When she is in the man or artist’s home he makes inappropriate advances toward her and at first she is playful as well, but then when he kisses her without her permission and then tries to rape her we see that she defends herself and in doing so kills the artist.  In this first big sequence of the film we see a drastic change in Alice.  She goes from a flirty girl to someone who has to fight to defend herself.  And we see throughout the rest of the film how she struggles with the choice to let Frank(the man she was dating who cares for her) cover it up and help her get away clean or to turn herself in.  This to me, shows a maturity that is way beyond the Alice the audience meets in the beginning of the film.

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Both of these leading ladies were both beautiful blonde women who played characters that could sometimes seem fragile on the outside, but when put to the test could change and fight for themselves and what they want.  In many of his other films, Hitchcock leading ladies were not only beautiful blondes, but they also seemed to have a little spunk or strong attitude that we sometimes would not expect.

Hitchcock’s loves of triangles

In both The Lodger and Blackmail, Hitchcock plays with the idea of love triangles. In The Lodger, there is a triangle between Daisy, Joe, and the mysterious Lodger. Before the Lodger is introduced in the story, Joe is trying to court Daisy, by attempting to win the affection from her as well as her parents. The lodger is then introduced in the film and Daisy needs to choose between the two.

Joe, Daisy, and the Lodger

Joe, Daisy, and the Lodger

Alice at Crewe's apartment

Alice at Crewe’s apartment

 

Because of this triangle, Joe mistakenly accuses the Lodger as being the “Avenger” because he wants to win Daisy’s hand. Joe eventually realizes his mistake and gives in to Daisy and the Lodger’s happiness.

 

 

In Blackmail, Hitchcock creates a love triangle between Alice, Crewe, and Frank. In the beginning, Frank and Alice are together in an unhappy and suffocating relationship. This forces Alice to seek attention else where, so she meets up with Crewe. He then attacks her. She’s gets away by using self-defense and kills him. This atrocity causes Alice to end up back in her unhappy relationship with Frank, which is her own personal prison. This film is different than The Lodger, because Alice does not get to make her own decision about who to be in a relationship with, but it still acts as a triangle.

This motif of triangles in relationships will be continued in many films directed later by Hitchcock. Triangles do not always have to be love triangles, but most of the time they are.

Who to Trust? Listen to the Shadows.

Contrasting light and dark is a heavily used technique across all forms of media, but Hitchcock had a special way of playing with the concepts in order to utilize them to their fullest potential while still creating vivifying scenes. Hitchcock played with shadows, his favorite being those splayed across the face of his characters.

More often than not, the shadows are designed to help the audience determine who is “good” or “bad,” to over-simplify. Characters deemed “good” are drenched in light and darkness does not touch them. However, those who have ill intention are often covered in shadows that cover most of their being.

Alice, well lit and glowing. The Artist, dark and sinister.

Furthermore, Hitchcock will also use shadows, once more, especially those across faces to tell more about a character’s personality and intentions. For example, in the film The Lodger, the titular character, Lodger, is often portrayed in dark, uncertain conditions. By nature, one would characterize him as a shifty character, unable to be trusted and most likely the murderer.

Dark, obscured, and with an unnatural glow, The Lodger seems up to no good.

Despite this initial characterization, Hitchcock completely subverts the audience’s expectations and shocks the audience with the fact that The Lodger is not the killer. That being said, is it really so surprising? An earlier scene tells all that one needs to know about The Lodger’s guilt.

The symbol of the cross appears from a window, revealing the goodness of The Lodger

By putting the symbol of a cross directly onto The Lodger’s face (with the aid of a conveniently placed window), Hitchcock reveals to his audience the innocence of the poor man long before the police ever catch up with the real killer.

This motif does not just apply to silent films. Hitchcock explored greater usage of this motif to express more complex ideas in his film Blackmail.

Infamous for his disdain for the police Hitchcock often portrayed them as bumbling and foolish. In Blackmail one of the primary characters is a love-struck cop torn between his sense of duty and his desire to protect the woman he loves. What ensues is a crisis of conscience as he internally conflicts with himself. This moral ambiguity is presented externally as well, in fact, it is in the introductory sequence.

Faces only partially obstructed by darkness showing duality to the characters, especially Frank (right).

The audience is immediately notified that the character presented, Frank, is not going to be your friendly neighborhood police officer. His internal struggle is foreshadowed and underscored by this type of motif constantly appearing in this fashion, with Frank almost never in direct light unless the setting demands it to be so.

Finally, Hitchcock can uses this motif to add a bit of humor to his films. Not everything has to be doom and gloom, so why not take such a serious, thought-provoking motif and let it do its job in a silly way?

Just in case you didn’t notice, HE’S THE BAD GUY.

Hitchcock utilized the symbolism of light and dark interplay ad nauseum, but he does it in such unique ways that reveal so much about the characters, yet are subtle in their own rights so that they cannot be immediately perceived by a casual viewing audience. It is this type of oxymoronic overt subtlety that I think helps define a Hitchcock motif. He is so obvious with the way he presents the scenes, that it becomes lost unless on is paying careful attention.

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In both The Lodger and Blackmail one visual motif that is used in both films is the shadows over the actors’ faces. This is done to denote the actor’s character or intent. In The Lodger we see the lodger looking out of a window causing a cross like effigy to be cast on his face. This motif is emulated in  Blackmail as we see the artist has the stereotypical villainous mustache cast on his face shortly prior to his attempt on our protagonist’s life.