Category Archives: Silent to Sound

Hitchcock and Blonde Women

In The Lodger and Blackmail, Hitchcock begins his use of blonde women in his movies.  He uses particularly blonde women because the light hair and fair skin symbolize purity and innocence. However, because Hitchcock is Hitchcock, he twists the women characters and shows a darker side that juxtaposes their innocent look. This is in an effort to show the audience how even the most innocent person is capable of doing dark, unpredictable things.

The Lodger 

Daisy is the “Hitchcock blonde” in The Lodger. Daisy is immediately drawn towards the mysterious Lodger. For much of the film, the Lodger is presumed to be the killer, so for Daisy to fall for him shows that Daisy has an inclination towards the dark and dangerous.

Also, the killer in The Lodger is killing specifically blonde women which again associates blonde women with evil and darkness.

Blackmail

Alice is the “Hitchcock blonde” in Blackmail. Alice murders a man in self-defense, and is then haunted by guilt. This again shows how even though she maintains an innocent and pure outward look, she holds an inner darkness.

The Lodger and Blackmail: The Motif of Stairs

Within both The Lodger and Blackmail, the motif of staircases is prominently used. Though the integration of staircases in these films can be interpreted into several different ways, it is evident that they share the same effect of invoking suspense among the audience. Looking at an early scene in The Lodger, Hitchcock uses a montage sequence, cutting back and forth between the Lodger descending down the stairs and to Mrs. Bunting’s reaction. With the audience watching the specific scene (shown below), through a bird’s eye view, they can clearly see his smooth and slow movement down the spiraling staircase. The only part of the Lodger’s body that is revealed is his hand, which gradually and ambiguously slides down the staircase railing. The stairs deliberately slows time and in combination with the editing, effectively creates the uncomfortable feeling of intensifying suspense.

http---makeagif.com--media-9-21-2014-hs57EO

Created through Makeagif.com

Similarly, Blackmail has a prominent scene involving the motif but with the protagonist and antagonist going up a spiraling staircase together. This time, the perspective is shown through a profile continuous shot, appearing as if the audience was seeing through the wall. Consequently, it creates the same affect with their ascension being an unusually long scene. It builds up the tension and a sense of uneasiness among the audience. Especially in this film, both the ascending and descending of the staircases implicate or foreshadow a pivotal event.

Black Mail Stairs (1)

Blackmail Stairs (2)

Blackmail Stairs (3)

Blackmail Stairs (4)

Screenshot from Youtube

It is clear that these early works act as a model for Hitchcock as the staircase will be seen and used as a motif for many of his later films. This along with several other characteristics will eventually define and contribute to the emergence of Hitchcockian cinematic style, which continues to be an influence for films today. With his style and the effect of it in his films, it is appropriate to attribute the director as “The Master of Suspense”.

The Staircase

The staircase looms in the background as the lodger enters the house.

A short video showing several staircase scenes in Hitchcock films.

One of the important themes present in Hitchcock’s early films The Lodger and Blackmail that will define Hitchcockian style throughout his career is the presence of a staircase. A staircase in a Hitchcock film not only takes the actors to a new place, but it also may transport viewers to fears, dangers, and a feeling of self-awareness.

In The Lodger, the stairs are used to represent the distinction between social classes and how it is difficult to move between them if one is not destined to do so. Right when the lodger enters the house, he goes straight up the stairs and doesn’t spend much time downstairs throughout the entirety of the film. The lower level of the house where Daisy’s parents, Daisy, and Joe spend most of their time, represents the middle class; whereas, the upper level where the lodger resides signifies the upper class. The difference between Daisy and the other middle class characters in the film is that Daisy is very comfortable being upstairs in comparison to the others who clearly are not. This tells us that Daisy belongs in the upper class with the lodger. At the end of the film when Daisy and the lodger are embracing at his home, the staircase is in the background, showing that Daisy will soon make her ascent into the upper class.

In Blackmail the staircase in the artist’s apartment takes Alice from a place she is familiar with and knows well to a new and risky one. Once Alice is upstairs, she is really alone with the artist, a man she doesn’t know well, for the first time. The stairs bring her up to this scenario and isolate these two from the outside world, even the police patrolling the streets don’t seem to notice them. Alice is lured upstairs because she thinks she wants to experience the unknown, but really she is quite naïve and doesn’t understand what that will entail. Stairs transporting characters to an unknown place is a theme that will continue to show up in Hitchcock films.

 

 

 

 

 

Hitchcock’s use of Framing in the Lodger and Blackmail

In both films, Hitchcock utilizes a visual motif which appears to “frame” a character in a scene. These “frames” put more emphasis on them. In his films, these frames can include doorways, mirrors, and arches, where the character is placed inside.

The Lodger

In The Lodger, one of the first framed shots is the Lodger entering the house with Mrs. Bunting at the bottom of the staircase. The scene frames the Lodger in the doorway as he is about to enter. Novello is also slightly blurred, which insists that Novello is mysterious. This is echoed by the Lodger’s actions throughout the rest of the film, which allows the audience to believe that the Lodger is committing the murders. Another scene that uses this effect frames the Lodger in the window. This perspective seems to have been shot from outside of his room. When the Lodger is being chased towards the end of the film, his handcuffs get caught on the top of the fence, leaving him hanging from his wrists. This is shot from the viewpoint of the mob that is chasing him. The view frames Novello in between the bars of the fence. The framing emphasizes his guilt and adds suspense to the scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blackmail

One of the framed shots includes the staircase scene that appears to trap Alice and the artist. Trapping the two characters within the staircases stresses the fact that the two are alone, which foreshadows the attempted rape that takes place after Alice and the artist arrive at the art studio. This scene in particular, was shot continuously, following the characters up the stairs in one shot. This further emphasizes the long walk up the staircase and stresses their moving away from the rest of the building and other people. The same framing technique takes place in the studio during the costume scene. Although Alice and the artist are in the same shot, they are separated from each other, which contrasts from the previous staircase scene. Even though the two are separated by the screen, the audience is put in suspense by the artist’s piano playing and singing. The unusualness of the artist’s playing presents the possibility of the barrier being crossed as Alice changes into the dress. The same technique is used during the chase scene in the British Museum. In this scene, the chase is framed by the hallways of the museum with artifacts on either side. When Tracy climbs up the rope in the museum, he is framed by a large Egyptian piece and an arch, which seem to emphasize his small size.

Domineering Men

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.

The Lodger

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.

lodger-4-copy

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.

6306

I don't know if this is how someone usually kisses - maybe he tripped or something - but this seems a bit grabby, don't you think?

I don’t know if this is how someone usually kisses – maybe he tripped or something – but this seems a bit grabby, don’t you think?

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.

RUN, DAISY, RUN!!!!

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.

triangle lodger 1

the_lodger_1927_hitchcock_still

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.

The-Lodger-1927

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.

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.

cyrilritchard

3156

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!

Nothing is Ever as it May Seem…

Hitchcock has a way with impressions, instead of words. He manipulates the audience’s perception of many of his characters which allows the audience to look at themselves for an instance and to then reflect on their judgments. Hitchcock expresses the “man as a complex of innocence and evil” (p. 26 A Hitchcock Reader) which can be seen in both his works The Lodger and Blackmail. In The Lodger, Ivor Novello, takes on a vampire like persona with his long draped clothes and his covered pale face adding to the audience’s suspicion from the moment he stands at the entrance of the Bunting’s household, long and lanky. Hitchcock has purpose in all he does, the minute details do matter and it is shown through his process of making films. He starts with a story board and throughout the compilation the main focus is portraying certain themes or motifs that manipulate a thought through art. The Lodger is suspected of being The Avenger because Hitchcock purposely give him the attributes which would without a doubt frame him as The Avenger but that would satisfy the audience all too well. Hitchcock leaves his audience in disbelief when they have to take into account that The Lodger is not in fact the serial killer but instead a noble brother looking to avenge The Avenger and Hitchcock follows with this theme in Blackmail.

However, in Blackmail the one who is guilty [Alice] is thought to be innocent by the police. The real villain, the Artist in Blackmail has a gentle type character with admirable qualities yet his intentions are anything but gentle. After the murder scene everything changes for Alice and Frank, they are left with the guilt of knowing how The Artist died. Hitchcock likes to be ironic; to twist the roles and pose a change in the plot of a story because that is what keeps you on your toes.

Here are some gifs that represent Hitchcock’s portrayals of innocent or guilty characters:

The Lodger

 

Blackmail

Hitchcock Motifs in The Lodger and Blackmail

In both The Lodger and Blackmail, Alfred Hitchcock used one motif that would appear many other times in his later works: the blonde.

Blondes play a key role in The Lodger, being the target of the Avenger’s killing spree. This fascination with golden hair continues throughout the film, with the mysterious lodger showing a bizarre aversion to the blonde-haired women in the portraits around his room.

The lodger later admits he holds a fondness for Daisy’s hair, almost fixated on it’s color and frequently trying to touch it.

In Blackmail, Alice White plays the role of the Hitchcockian blonde.

As Hitchcock would frequently place his blonde leading ladies in peril, Alice portrays this trope rather well. From the artist’s attempted rape to her evading suspicion for his murder, Alice is constantly in compromising situations.

Though this motif of golden-haired leading ladies would later evolve into more of the icy-blondes Hitchcock would cast in the lead roles, it is important to note that the blonde-trope could be seen even in his earlier works.

The Innocent Pursued

A reoccurring motif in Hitchcock’s films is of the innocent man being pursued by various forces like the police or villains. In the film The Lodger, the Lodger is falsely accused of being the serial kill, the Avenger, and is hunted down by Joe, the police, and an angry mob of civilians until Joe discovers that the real Avenger has already been caught and ends up rescuing the Lodger from a fiasco that he created. In the film Blackmail, though Tracy is a criminal, he is also falsely accused of a crime he did not commit, pursued by Frank and the police, and ends up falling to his death while trying to escape.

The Lodger’s handcuffs caught on metal fence posts while trying to escape from Joe and the police’s clutches. http://www.zyzzyva.org/2014/01/30/the-work-of-love-is-revenge-alfred-hitchcocks-the-lodger/

Joe saving the Lodger from the angry mob after discovering the Lodger’s innocence. http://www.ferdyonfilms.com/page/3/?s=marilyn+ferdinand

Tracy trying escape from the police in the museum. http://moviegoings.com/2008/02/27/week-9-blackmail-1929/

Tracy being chased onto the skylight of the British Museum by Frank and two other policemen. In moments, Tracy will die as he falls through the glass roof. http://filmscreed.blogspot.com/2006/11/blackmail-hitchcock-blog-thon.html

 

 

Staircases in The Lodger and Blackmail

Out of the many prominent motifs Alfred Hitchcock uses in his films, staircases are the key to understanding his view of the world. Coming from a lower-middle class family himself, Hitchcock uses stairs to indicate differences in societal class. In the 1927 film The Lodger, Ivor Novello’s character lives above the family who rents the house out, indicating to the audience that he is of higher societal stature than the rest of the family. The lodger’s class is also indicated when he purchases a very expensive dress Daisy, the landlady’s daughter, models for him. The viewer must pay careful attention to visual clues, like the staircase, which hint at the lodger’s class in Hitchcock’s early silent films.

the lodger

Now adding sound, in his 1929 film Blackmail, Hitchcock uses an elaborately created staircase set design to show their important significance. In this film, the stairs to Crewe’s apartment are like venturing into another world, where everything delves into chaos. Hitchcock shows us the long walk up with Alice and Crewe using a side angle, and then Alice’s lone journey back into the real world after she has defended herself against Crewe. Hitchcock gives us a downward view of Alice running down the staircase, an angle which he will be known for in his 1958 film Vertigo.

b stairs

Blackmail_stairs_1

 

Staircases are a dominant element in many Hitchcock films, and they can indicate a variety of things, like class in The Lodger, and an almost surreal journey into another world in Blackmail.

Blog Post #1

A motif that occurs in both The Lodger and Blackmail is the symbolism of shadows on the characters faces; this motif will eventually be a part of defining Hitchcockian style. In The Lodger, the Lodger had a shadow of a cross across his face, and it didn’t just symbolize the cross in Christianity. This symbolized the possibility of him being two faced or a conflict about to arise.  In the latter movie,  Crewe has a shadow of a sinister mustache on his face. This shows that he is not the gentleman he appears to be, but a villain.

lodger                                            blackmail