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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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