Tense Driving


The automobile appears frequently in film, as it should, given how pervasive and popular it is within our culture, but what use has Hitchcock for cars in his film? They are generally unnecessary as a device for changing setting, for it rarely requires detailed explanation when a character appears in a different place. Usually, automobiles serve to further the plot, add action, and develop character relationships. This utilitarian approach is evident in the way these scenes are filmed. Most of the time, the characters are filmed full front, through the windshield, so that we can watch their expressions as they speak, and a nice piece of scenic motion footage rolls in the background. This set up provides a great opportunity for dialogue, as the characters have little else to do but speak to one another, but is visually underwhelming. In his later films, Hitchcock seemed to be more aware of the practical and aesthetic value of establishing shots.

Additional commentary can be made on the disproportionate frequency of cases in which the female protagonist acts as the driver as a reversal of stereotypical gender roles. This grants the women more depth of character and audience respect, due to recognition of the independence and responsibility that the position symbolizes. In the example of Barry Kane and Pat Martin in Saboteur, the sense of female control is heightened to domination when Pat uses handcuffs to immobilize Barry.

All else aside, who doesn’t like a good car chase?



Poor Cary Grant. CLICK FOR MOTION ^^

Jimmy Stewart, alone in his car. Scopophiliacs don’t like company.

5 thoughts on “Tense Driving

  1. Pingback: Hitchcock Motifs — UMW Blogs

  2. Pingback: Hitchock Motifs | bavatuesdays

  3. Mary Anderson

    When seeing these car scenes in the films I really enjoyed them because of the added suspense they brought to the movie. I like how you mentioned that it helps to develop character relationships. After mentioning that I can find that true especially in “To Catch a Thief” where the way Grace Kelly is driving is representative of her relationship with Cary Grant, which is unsure of trust. I also like the idea of reversal of stereotype roles. I never noticed that it is predominantly women that are driving in these scenes.

  4. jdabb

    Hello Wander,
    Your observations on the use of motifs of driving are appreciated. The use of drunken drivers in Notorious and North by Northwest reveal much about the personalities of main characters as well as support plot points even though they would probably faced sharp scrutiny by the censor board and would today offend organizations such as MADD. I imagine your touch of humor would have been appreciated by Hitchcock.

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