Author Archives: Emily Dabbs


A plot focusing on two leads, one male and one female, and their relationship is a very classic cinema structure, and one which clearly appears in North by Northwest‘s focus on Cary Grant as Roger O. Thornhill and Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendall.   Even outsides of the focus on the relationship between Kendall and Thornhill, North by Northwest‘s plot is clearly derivative of earlier Hitchcock films, such as The 39 Steps, The Wrong Man, and Strangers on a Train.  Despite these lack of originality in terms of Plot, North by Northwest is made complex and thematically rich by the two main characters.  Both Kendall and Thornhill being viewed as objects of lust generates a complexity in the role of gender stereotypes in the films, with Grant’s objectification breaking the male stereotype and Kendall’s supporting female stereotypes.  Kendall’s role as a female spy using seduction as an espionage technique also creates an interesting theme of women taking charge of their lives in terms of employment and sexuality, which relates the film to political events in the women’s liberation movement around the time of the film’s release.  Overall, this paper focuses on analyzing how the two main characters allow North by Northwest to transcend its conventional plot structure and become more thoughtful and thematically meaningful.

Girardet and Müller’s “Phoenix Tapes”

Müller was already an award-winning filmmaker by the time he began working on his collaboration piece with Girardet, “The Phoenix Tapes,” which would be released in 2000.  The pair worked very well together, and would release ten more collaborative films by 2011.  The “Phoenix Tapes” is a series of six films, each focusing on compiled snippets of different Hitchcock motifs.  The first tape, “Rutland,” focuses on Hitchcock settings such as spaces inside houses, urban street scenes, landmarks (ex: the Golden Gate Bridge in Vertigo), and empty, eerie landscapes.  The second tape, “#2- Burden of Proof,” focuses on more material Hitchcock images, such as keys, rings, monograms, weapons, and notes.  These objects are all plot advancers in Hitchcock’s films, and illustrate the violence and treachery that follows the peace and beauty of part one.  Hitchcock’s fascination with the human psyche and Freudian psychology is highlighted in part 3, “Derailed,” which shows clips of restless sleepers, trains, carousels, and scared children.  The classic Hitchcockian depiction of odd or overbearing mother-son relationships (and in the case of Marnie, a mother-daughter relationship) is shown through clips in “#4- Why Don’t You Love Me?”  In the fifth installment of “The Phoenix Tapes,” “Bedroom,” relationships between men and women in bedrooms are shown, which include both scenes of harmonious pleasure, and  scenes of disturbing force and violence.  The last tape, “#6- Necrologue” shows images of people in various states of death and sleep.  By showing similar shots and subjects from various Hitchcock films in close succession, Muller and Girardet were able to explore and visually explain how Hitchcock made his films so instantaneously recognizable.  Repeated images and and similar cinematography echoes throughout all the film clips.  The two filmmakers also created a work of art in their own right, taking the viewers of “The Phoenix Tapes” on an emotional roller coaster of enjoyment and fear alongside appreciation of the visual composition of the film clips.



“Phoenix Tapes (Christoph Girardet and Matthias Muller, 1999).” Make Mine Criterion. 9 Aug. 2014. Web. 5 Dec. 2014.

Elsaesser, Thomas. “Phoenix Tapes.” Thomas Elsaesser. 1 Nov. 2013. Web. 4 Dec. 2014.

Family in Strangers on a Train

    In the movie Strangers on a Train, one character in particular plays a role in creating many of the Hitchcock trademarks within the film.  Bruno Antony’s character is necessary for Hitchcock to utilize Freudian theory and to create one of his classic motifs: the dysfunctional family.

      Bruno clearly has an Oedipal relationship with his mother.  Specific instances when viewed in combination create this evidence. For example, the instance when Bruno wears a tie with his name on it, and states that he only wears it because his mother gave it to him and he wants to make her happy. In another scene, Antony holds his mother just a little too close for a normal mother-son-relationship after viewing her painting.  This painting, and Bruno’s sadistic laughter coupled with his comment, also illustrate an oedipal complex.  The painting is evidently supposed to look like a human, but looks more like a demon, and Antony comments that it looks like his father. This comment along with Antony’s blatant attempt to have his father murdered show the side of the Oedipal complex which involves competition against the father.  These characteristics (mother-loving, father-hating/killing) are part of Freudian theory, and Bruno was a vehicle for Hitchcock to insert Freudian theory into the movie.

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The idea of being a “mama’s boy” also carries other implication, in stereotypes and in this film.  Oftentimes a close relationship between a mother and son is seen as an indication of the son being homosexual.  Other aspects of Bruno’s behavior and manner also point out his homosexuality, such as his effeminate way of speaking, his fashionable clothing choices, his physical closeness to Guy on the opening train scene, his talkativeness, and his careful self-grooming.  Bruno’s homosexuality adds an interesting layer to the his relationship with Guy, implying possible sexual undertones during their interactions.  Another element of Freudian theory suggests that Bruno is Guy’s double- that he represents Guy’s unconscious and conscious desires (i.e. being gay, killing Miriam).

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Wood, Robin. “Murderous Gays: Hitchcock’s Homophobia.” In Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, 338. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.


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.


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.


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?


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