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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.


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.


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”.