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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

 

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.

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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)

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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”.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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.

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.

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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.