Alfred Hitchcock | Genre in Hitchcock | Ban the Bomb | Easy Virtue | Champagne | Murder! | Young and Innocent | The Lady Vanishes | Foreign Correspondent | Saboteur | Shadow of a Doubt | Spellbound | Strangers on a Train | Rear Window | To Catch a Thief | North by Northwest | Arthur | Psycho | The Horseplayer | I Saw the Whole Thing | The Birds | Marnie | Torn Curtain | Family Plot

Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)

Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock as Himself

Hitchcock was the star and introducer of his long running TV series (1955 - 1966); he was a household name in the United States during this period, and for a considerable period after, due to reruns. He also appeared in the trailers for his films, was a guest on TV talk shows, and in general was a celebrity. Before Hitchcock, Cecil B. DeMille was host and frequent director of the Lux Radio Theater, a high quality series of the 1940's. It made DeMille famous. Later DeMille hosted many of the trailers for his films, as well as appearing as himself in such films as Sunset Boulevard and Son of Paleface. Both of these men were much better known to the public, than any other directors who were not also actors (such as Orson Welles or Laurence Olivier). One suspects that De Mille was a role model for Hitchcock in these matters.

Hitchcock's cameo appearances in his films are the visual equivalent of a signature. Hitchcock is a deeply visual director. These appearances perhaps constitute the real signing by Hitchcock of his films, rather than the verbal "directed by Alfred Hitchcock" that appears in the credits.

Spy Films, and Hitchcock's use of genre

From The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) up to Notorious (1946), Hitchcock's tales tend to be espionage films, although Young and Innocent (1937) is an exception, being a crime story without espionage. He also did some romantic dramas, about hero-worshipping women who were involved with men who eventually got them caught up in murderous situations: Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943). From The Paradine Case (1947) through Marnie (1964), Hitchcock converted over to pure crime thrillers, largely without spy elements. His TV show also concentrated on such themes. There is a major change of approach here. Hitchcock did make some major spy films during this later era: the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and North by Northwest (1959).

During his earlier period, Hitchcock was a member, perhaps the leading member, of a group of British directors who also frequently made espionage films: Michael Powell, Carol Reed, Tim Whelan (Q Planes). As in Hitchcock, these directors' works mixed spy thrills with comedy. The comic elements are usually comedy of manners, as Andrew Sarris has pointed out.

The espionage background of these films gave all of these directors a ready made genre. Spy stories were common in prose fiction, especially those of British writers. They typically featured thrills and suspense, and avoided the puzzle plots of the Golden Age mystery writers who were their contemporaries. Hitchcock had filmed a Golden Age whodunit, as Murder! (1930), early in his career, but such films would never be his forte. Hitchcock in fact satirizes whodunit mysteries in Shadow of a Doubt.

In the late 1960's, Hitchcock reverted back to the spy film in full force, with Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969).

During the 1960's, Hitchcock branched out into the horror film, with Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963). The horror film was one of the major genres of 1960's and early 1970's film making, attracting much of the top talent of the era. Peter Bogdanovich, William Castle, Roger Corman, Curtis Harrington, Seth Holt and Roman Polanski made horror films, as did Robert Aldrich with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) and Byron Haskin with The Power (1967), a film greatly influenced by Hitchcock's style. The Outer Limits (with its several Gerd Oswald episodes) and Twilight Zone TV shows also often fell into this category. The 1960's was the last period when most major Hollywood figures made genre movies. Such genre filmmaking had served Hollywood well for decades, at least since the 1910's. But from The Godfather (1972) and Deliverance (1972) on, Hollywood would turn instead to violence as an audience drawing card, ignoring all other storytelling features.

Hitchcock's television films are entirely restricted to the suspense genre. One would think that Hitchcock could easily have gotten assignments to direct Westerns or science fiction, if he had so chosen. He might also have wangled assignments to direct "serious dramas", or comedies, though this would have been more of a stretch.

Ban the Bomb

Both Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969), like the earlier Notorious (1946), are deeply concerned with avoiding nuclear war. Topaz is about the most frightening event of modern times, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, where the world was nearly plunged into war.

Hitchcock is often seen as an abstract filmmaker, one with little to say about social issues. But these films are full of social commentary about the dangers of atomic warfare. The Birds (1963) was widely seen as an allegory about the horrors of atomic warfare, an interpretation that Hitchcock neither embraced nor denied. Rear Window (1954) contains a photograph of an atomic bomb, and much discussion about political "trouble", a vague but ominous reference to current world conflicts.

Hitchcock himself insisted that he was an abstract filmmaker. His concept of the MacGuffin, a meaningless item around which a suspense film is built, contributed strongly to this idea. Supposedly, the atomic sands in Notorious are nothing more than an insignificant gimmick, around which a suspense plot is constructed. Allegedly, they could just as easily have been a bag of smuggled jewels, or a contact list for the Mob, and Notorious would have been just the same film. At the risk of contradicting Hitchcock himself, I beg to differ. If Hitchcock was unconcerned about the meaning of the atomic weapons here, why did he recur to them in his last major films, and with such ferocious insistence?


Easy Virtue

Hitchcock and Lubitsch: Sophisticated Society Romance as a Genre

Easy Virtue (1928) takes Hitchcock away from his typical suspense film. It is a kind of film not much made today, but which was hugely popular in the silent era: a romantic melodrama set against a world of upper class wealth. It reminds one in general terms of Lady Windemere's Fan (Ernst Lubitsch, 1925). Hitchcock does surprisingly well with this kind of material. The conflict between a worldly, sophisticated woman with a secret past, and a proper family in British upper-crust Society, is at the center of both works. Both films revel in their depiction of Society amusements. Both films also have a subtlety, and delicacy of playing.

Lady Windemere's Fan is based on a play by Oscar Wilde; Easy Virtue on a play by Wilde's successor, Noël Coward. Coward would later return in a more comic way to similar material, in his play Relative Values. This work was made into a delightful film by Eric Styles, in 2000.

Hitchcock's Champagne (1928) will also be in the Lubitsch mold.

This opening of Easy Virtue is a trial scene - shades of Hitchcock to come. It occurs in what is otherwise not a suspense or crime film.

Trouble Fitting In to a Conformist Family

In Hitchcock at Work, Bill Krohn reveals the parallels between Easy Virtue, and the personal relationships in The Birds (1963). His detailed discussion is a coup of auteurist criticism, showing how Hitchcock's personal themes evolved, despite a thirty-six year gap. Easy Virtue also anticipates other Hitchcock films.

The contrast between the sophisticated heroine and the stuffy traditional family is a recurrent one in Hitchcock.

Like Rebecca, Easy Virtue starts out with an idyllic romance abroad at a resort, then deals with the difficulty the bride has fitting in with family traditions back home, at the hero's stately (and highly isolated) manor.

The year before, in The Lodger (1926), Hitchcock had contrasted the worldly, and very gay acting, lodger, with the terminally dull family with which he boards. This collision is both comic and tragic, with the stupifyingly conformist family unable to adjust to the delightful Bird of Paradise in their midst.

Uncle Charlie offers another colorful (but much more sinister) challenge to the heroine's bourgeois family in Shadow of a Doubt.

Hitchcock's fifties films offer a series of sophisticated women trying to adjust to a conformist man played by Jimmy Stewart. Grace Kelly's sympathetic sophisticate has to prove she can fit in with James Stewart's narrow (and nasty) definition of a help-mate wife in Rear Window, Doris Day has to give up her singing career to meet husband James Stewart's expectations in The Man Who Knew Too Much, and the exotic Kim Novak offers a glamorous intruder into James Stewart's conformist world in Vertigo.

Scenes that will be developed further in later Hitchcock

There are other seeds in Easy Virtue that flowered in later Hitchcock works. These tend to be scenes, sequences whose plot events or settings will be transposed into later Hitchcock films. Usually with further development. (The first three are in the film's opening, which is quite seminal in Hitchcock's work):

Hitchcock choose the tennis scene for his least recognizable cameo in his films: he goes by with a walking stick, his back to the audience.

A Unique Montage: Cutting between different points in time

The opening is full of a complex montage. It is quite different from anything else I have ever seen. Hitchcock cuts back and forth between the trial, and flashbacks showing the events being testified about at the trial. The fluid cutting between different periods of time anticipates Resnais, and his time experiments. The flashbacks are not marked by the elaborate use of dissolves, wipes, fades, etc., as flashbacks often are in film. Instead, there is a direct cutting. Hitchcock takes delight in "fooling" the audience about where we are in past or present, that is a bit similar to some of the tricks played by Resnais in L'Année dernière à Marienbad (1961).

Past and present are often linked through showing objects, such as a decanter or letter. This structure somewhat recalls the associational montage found in some of Fritz Lang's early films, although this peaks in such Lang works as Spione (1928) and M (1931), made after Easy Virtue (1927). Lang's montage does NOT cut between numerous different points in time, unlike Hitchcock's here.


Champagne

Imagery anticipating later Hitchcock

The opening of Champagne (1928) has imagery that anticipates Hitchcock's later films:

New York City: Hitchcock's Negative View

New York City is often depicted as the ultimate wonderful place in Hollywood films. Hitchcock's Rear Window is more-or-less in this tradition. But many other references to New York City in Hitchcock are more negative: These films are especially negative about the upper classes in New York City. By contrast, the innocent victim and his wife in The Wrong Man are conspicuously middle class.

The Nightclub scene

There are signs in Champagne that Hitchcock might have been watching Lubitsch's So This Is Paris (1926). The Lubitsch has a spectacular Artist's Ball scene, in which superimpositions are used to emphasize the frenetic dancing of the crowds at the ball. Champagne includes triple superimpositions, in the shots that show the hero's view of the heroine on the storm-tossed ship. And the whole later scene in the nightclub has a relentless kinetic quality in its dancers that recalls the Lubitsch. Still, the Hitchcock has an ostinato quality that is seemingly unique. In general, Champagne is in the same genre as the "sexy comedies of high life" made by De Mille, Lubitsch and others in the silent era.

The long nightclub scene in the second half of Champagne is one of the great set pieces in Hitchcock. Indeed, one can recall nothing like it in the rest of his films. It is shot in a spectacularly complex night club set. The set has two levels of arcades running around its edges. This is a bit like the hero's home near the start of Fritz Lang's The Spiders (1919). The pillars of the arcade serve as a strong rectilinear framework for most of the shots. But some of the pillars have complex curving abstract designs on them, which form a contrast in the compositions.

Hitchcock keeps crowds in constant motion in the background of the night club. Often times, the crowds are in full rhythmic dance mode.

The big night club set piece in Champagne is mainly a visual-kinetic experience. It is a huge engine that pulses rhythm and visual patterns. It has to be seen and experienced. It almost overwhelms the viewer with rhythmic energy and visual flow. I have never seen anything much like it on screen.

The sequence does have some formal similarities to Rear Window. In Rear Window, we are always seeing groups of people in the distance in the shots, in the courtyard or their apartments. In Champagne, we keep seeing groups in the nightclub in the background, usually dancing or somehow keeping time with the music. The many different groups are almost as varied and well-portrayed as the apartment residents in Rear Window. The dancers also tend to be separated by the many pillars of the complex arcade set in Champagne, a bit like the various apartment windows in Rear Window.

Rear Window has a man watching his neighbors, who often tend to be female and sexy. Champagne has a female lead, and the people in the background can be quite male. The orchestra men she talks to have the most phallic looking bunch of instruments in film history - just like the female sculptor and her symbolic Hunger with a hole female symbolism in Rear Window. The whole dance number suggests sexuality running out of control and about to explode.

Costumes

The heroine is introduced wearing a leather flyer's suit. This glamorous costume reflects silent movie traditions, by having characters in elaborate leather outfits. Usually, however, these are men: Hitchcock is unusual in having such an elaborate costume worn by the heroine. It suggests both her financial power, and her interest in exploring alternative sexual experiences.

The hero is always dressed in the most proper and most glamorous upper class British clothes. He is as well-tailored as Cary Grant will later be in Hitchcock. He also seems as bit as clueless and easily overtaken by events as Grant will be in North by Northwest. While the heroine and her father seem to be Americans, the hero's clothes suggest he is English. He is actually played by a French actor - something not uncommon in the silent cinema, where stars played roles of every nationality. After all, no one could hear their voices or national accents. Between the French leading man and Paris setting of much of the film, one wonders if Hitchcock were trying to appeal to the French film market.

In the first half of the film, on board ship, the hero's clothes just make him seem glamorous. His outfits include such party-friendly items as tuxedos and glamorous overcoats. But once in Paris, the hero upbraids the heroine for not wearing clothes in simple good taste. From this point on, the hero's correct garb seems like a rebuke to the heroine for not following the restrictive norms of proper English behavior, both in dress and sexually. The hero is in tasteful but severe suits from this point forward. He still looks good, but he has become a spokesman for social restrictions. The conflict here between dull stultifying convention and dangerous freedom and risky behavior will be a theme of much later Hitchcock, including Shadow of a Doubt.

Champagne is unusual in that the heroine's rebellion against conformity seems so explicitly sexual. She is neither a demure young woman, like Young Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt, nor one of the icy blondes in later Hitchcock who mask their sexuality behind a haughty frozen exterior.


Murder!

Links to Rear Window

Murder! (1930) opens with tracks down a row of windows on the outside a hotel. We see various guests in the rooms. This recalls the apartments across the way in Rear Window.

Later, inside a pair of rooms, there is a virtuosic scene, in which characters keep moving back-and-forth between two rooms, a kitchen and a dining area. The camera tracks back-and-forth with them. This anticipates scenes in Rear Window, where the characters move between rooms of their apartments. A woman makes tea in this scene: anticipating scenes in Rear Window where Miss Lonelyhearts sets a table for her guest.

Circles

The jury room has a series of spectacular curved tables, that make a nearly full circular arc. Other features of the jury room are circular: Such an emphatically circular environment recalls Fritz Lang.

We see a clock on a tower. Its elaborate face is full of intricate patterns. It reminds one a bit of the geometric paper doily the hero cuts out and puts over his face in Foreign Correspondent.

Against Prisons

A juror offers a brief but memorable denunciation of prisons. This ought to become much quoted, in this era when mass incarceration is an out-of-control problem.

Psychology Discussion

The jurors' deliberation involves detailed discussions of the accused's mental state. Such concepts as "fugues" and "dissociation" are analyzed in detail. Later, the finale of Psycho will also have lengthy psychiatric discussion about an accused criminal. The Psycho finale has been much criticized and ridiculed as an example of a boring psychological discussion tied on to a film's finale, made mandatory by old-fashioned conventions of "explaining everything at the end". But the jury discussion of psychological issues in Murder! is also long and detailed. There are extensive psychology discussions in Spellbound. One suspects that Hitchcock liked such scenes. And that they are in his movies not out of obedience to film conventions, but because Hitchcock though they were worthwhile.

The jurors' discussion invokes the possibility that the accused might have a split personality. This too will be explored in depth in Psycho.


Young and Innocent

The Grand Hotel sequence of Young and Innocent (1937) is one of Hitchcock's delightful set pieces. It has ties to many other Hitchcock films. The drummer recalls the cymbal player in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934): both are percussion players on stage with an orchestra, both are parts of major suspense sequences. The festive, well dressed guests who throng the Grand Hotel recall the resort patrons at the start of The Man Who Knew Too Much. The stage scenes here also recall Mr. Memory in The 39 Steps (1935).

The Grand Hotel: Camera Movement

The famous overhead traveling shot picks up rectilinear patterns on the ballroom floor, made up of tables and the arrangements of dancers. It anticipates the overhead geometric abstractions of the cemetery scene in Family Plot. It also anticipates the many shots of the grounds and opposite building and its windows in Rear Window.

The sequence is full of splendid camera movements. Most of these are synchronized to music - if the thriller genre had not existed, Hitchcock could still have had a great career creating music videos! The band leader / singer disappears from the great crane shot at the precise moment his vocal solo ends, and the instrumental music takes over.

Earlier, the "Drummer Man" song starts near the beginning of the fascinating tracking shot where the heroine and Will move behind the pillars. The music seems to emerge out of the tracking shot somehow. It is hardly noticeable at first, seeming to be just atmospheric music, but eventually it plays a key role in the plot.

High level crane shots gradually moving on down to a ground floor level exist in films before Hitchcock's: Sous les toits de Paris (René Clair, 1930) offers a famous example. As in Hitchcock, Clair's crane gets closer and closer to a group of musicians. Clair's sound recording makes the musicians' singing grow louder and louder as his camera converges on the singers.

Many of the camera movements in Young and Innocent have a strong forward propulsion. One sees similar forward tracking shots earlier in Murnau, and later in such Otto Preminger movies as Fallen Angel (1945) and the opening of In Harm's Way (1965).

There is a second, retreating crane shot, moving back from the musicians to give an overall view of the ballroom. Both here, and in the earlier forward crane shot, we often see the musicians on stage from a considerable distance. These shots remind one of the figures seen through windows in Rear Window: they are small figures seen in long shot, yet tremendously vivid in their pantomimed activities.

The opening of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) has a shot closing in on the cymbal player in an orchestra, that resembles a small scale version of the "Drummer Man" movement.

The Grand Hotel: Sets: Lobby and Windows

The big crane shot shows us the lobby, from both sides of the row of pillars. This produces a striking geometric effect. There is something very interesting about seeing the camera move over the top of this row of pillars. It anticipates the hotel lobby to come at the start of Torn Curtain, which also features a row of pillars. In both films, the registration desk and its clerks are prominent. Earlier, in Easy Virtue (1927), Hitchcock had offered an similar set-up: a registration desk, opposite a row of pillars marking off the rest of the hotel lobby. The ship in Champagne (1928) is essentially a floating hotel, and the heroine enters it through a lobby-like region with a registration desk. All four hotels are extremely lavish; they are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the tacky Bates Motel in Psycho. Still, the reception desk clerk in Psycho, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), plays the biggest role yet of any such character in Hitchcock.

Many shots peer through windows, leading from the lobby into the ballroom. These anticipate the window shots in Rear Window. The windows here tend to have elaborate pane effects, with sloping lines and a diagonal central pane. Hitchcock uses these for his compositions, as he later will use the sloping lines of the studio window in Rear Window.

The Grand Hotel: Moral Themes and Social Commentary

The band leader is a caricature that works on many levels. Like most real-life band leaders of his era, he is a well dressed pretty boy who keeps smiling at the audience and oozing charm. Away from the audience, he is a stern taskmaster to his players, and a really odious tyrant. Hitchcock here satirically looks behind the image that band leaders projected - many had reputations in show business of being penny-pinching jerks. He anticipates in a comic but vivid way the horrors of work shown in such films as The Wrong Man and Psycho, where work is dehumanizing and relentlessly grim. He creates great sympathy for the villain, who is a player in the band.

Such themes also occurred in Hitchcock's TV series. Perhaps the best of all of the TV shows directed by Hitchcock is Breakdown, in which a similar tyrannical boss is put through an ordeal that forces him to become human. In Breakdown, there is a direct attack on the code of macho behavior for men. On a more comic note, perhaps the funniest introduction to any Hitchcock TV show opens with Hitchcock seated in a director's chair on a film set. He is unaware that the camera is turning - he has his back to it - and he is chewing out his crew, just like the band leader here. He is just dreadful, and says things in classic mean boss mode. Then he notices that the camera is turning and that the audience at home can see him. He becomes all phony smiles, and says that the audience can see that he and his crew are just one big happy family. I will not spoil what comes next...

Linked to the work aspects are the class ideas. Helping the heroine is a Cockney who is now dressed in a parody of upper class clothes. He is hounded by the police, simply for being a lower class man who is stepping over the line into an upper class preserve. Although these scenes are played for comedy, they have real satirical bite. The familiar Hitchcock theme of "fear of the police" is now linked to the enforcement of the British class system.

Young and Innocent and Rear Window are full of vivid religious ideas. In Young and Innocent, it is only when the heroine insists on helping the sick man that the mystery is solved. Her act of concern for a fellow human being changes everything. Similarly, in Rear Window Thelma Ritter and Grace Kelly are genuinely concerned with helping their neighbors, whereas James Stewart only wants to watch them. Their intervention brings a genuinely religious dimension to these films.

Young and Innocent also has a dog, like Rear Window, once again associated with a woman who cares about people. The early shot of the blinds being raised in the police interrogation room anticipate the opening credits of the later film.

The Grand Hotel: Food Processing and Hitchcock's dream project

Some shots are set in the alley outside the Grand Hotel's kitchen. We see crates of food arriving and being unpacked. These anticipate Hitchcock's dream project, one built around a day in which raw foodstuffs arrives in a city and are processed. They also anticipate the restaurant kitchen scene in To Catch a Thief. The whole sequence shows many aspects of the running of a hotel, with desk clerks, waiters, cooks, musicians and so on all having continuing roles. This whole vast machine of operating a hotel runs in the background of the sequence. It is not really noticeable till a repeated viewing, but it helps give the sequence its immense complexity.

Earlier scenes in the film are also meal-set: the family scenes in the heroine's home, the pub in which the characters first learn about old Will.

Other Scenes in Young and Innocent

The mill in the countryside anticipates the later windmill in Foreign Correspondent. Both also recall the mill in Dreyer's Vampyr (1931).

The heroine's difficulties with her bourgeois family anticipate Shadow of a Doubt. In both films, the heroine has a cozy family, but wants to break away and lead a more exciting life. But she ultimately gets more than she has bargained for.


The Lady Vanishes

The Lady Vanishes (1938) is both a mystery-detective story, a spy film, and a tale of suspense.

Social Defiance

The heroine builds up to a genuine act of social defiance, when she demands that the public look for the missing woman. This climaxes in her pulling the cord that stops the train. The social protest aspects of The Lady Vanishes seem key. They are urging us in the audience to take similar actions against social wrongs.

One also suspects that the heroine is doubted because she is a woman. Caldicott and Charters act bored and contemptuous of Miss Froy and her conversation, at the dinner scene where they first meet her. It is played for laughs. But it is also a scene where men express contempt for women as people. It anticipates the dinner scene in Shadow of a Doubt, where Uncle Charlie denies the humanity of frivolous women, and says they have no right to live.

Sports and Adultery

The British upper and upper middle classes between the wars had a few overriding interests. In British mystery novels of the era, they are shown to be obsessed with sports, drinking, gambling and adultery. There is not much about gambling and only a little about drinking in The Lady Vanishes. But sports and adultery are central to the film.

Caldicott and Charters are obsessed with sports. They don't just see the cricket match as the Key Event of Our Times. Caldicott turns out to be an expert marksman, in an era when hunting and shooting was an upper class obsession. While sports are viewed satirically in the Caldicott and Charters characters, one has to point out that sports were the only upper class interest of the day that was wholesome or healthy. While the mania of the rich for sport was excessive, it was in fact one of their few positive interests. While Caldicott and Charters are serious moral failures through much of the film, lying to the authorities and failing to help Miss Froy, they eventually reform and become good guys. This is reflected in their mania for sports, rather than some vice: they are trivial, superficial, passive, but ultimately they convert to decency. Similarly sports are an often trivial upper class pursuit, but they are one of the few morally decent activities of the rich.

The judge who is on an adulterous tryst gives a devastating view of the upper classes of the era. He is a judge, supposedly a man guarding British justice. But he is engaging in corrupt activities, and he is willing to become fully corrupt to protect his reputation: lying about a woman in trouble, collaborating with Nazi swine. It is an appalling picture of the hidden life of Britain's elite.

An Imaginary Country

The country at the beginning is an imaginary one. It has a new, made-up language, spoken on screen. We also see the country's architecture and folk dancing. This anticipates: The model of the village at the beginning is fascinating. It recalls the model trains in Number 17. The "model world" perhaps enhances the concept of an "imaginary country". The film has a "toy world", one that it explores.

But as Caldicott and Charters point out at dinner, this place full of "people like happy children" has some very ugly politics.

Miss Froy and Doors

In her hotel room, Miss Froy opens double doors to he balcony, to listen to the song. The camera moves towards the opening.

At the end, doors are opened in the ministry, and the camera moves through them to reveal Miss Froy. Now she is the one playing the song.

Miss Froy is linked twice with the same imagery. Opening doors and hearing things are symbolic expressions of truth being revealed, and new ideas being heard.

The Hotel

The hotel centers on that favorite Hitchcock locale: the registration desk.

Both the hotel dining room, and the train dining car, are also favorite Hitchcock settings: respectable, wholesome restaurants, just a bit upscale.

The way Caldicott and Charters and others try to force their way into the dining room booth, anticipates the opening of North by Northwest. In that film, we see people, but not Hitchcock, forcing their way on to a bus. And dubious "hero" Cary Grant forcing his way unfairly into a taxi.


Foreign Correspondent

Links to The Lady Vanishes

Foreign Correspondent (1940) is a spy thriller. Like The Lady Vanishes, it deals with the ominous rise of the Nazis and the coming war in Europe.

The Lady Vanishes is set on a train; Foreign Correspondent has a climax on an airplane, that is quite similar.

Both films show people being foolishly complacent about the rise of the Nazis. A woman on the plane refuses to believe there is any danger. She is promptly shot by Nazis. This recalls the danger the train is in at the end of The Lady Vanishes. It also gets shot at.

An Activist Heroine

The Lady Vanishes has a heroine who starts out as non-political, but eventually makes an impressive act of social defiance. The heroine of Foreign Correspondent is also courageous and determined in her political stand. But she starts out as a committed political activist, with well thought through principles, right from the start of the film. She makes many speeches and press statements, and stays true to her convictions throughout the story.

I especially liked her denunciation of the idea that people heave no choices, and that events are "out of their control". She insists that people do have choices, and can take action to promote peace. Like the women in Rear Window, she stands up for moral right.

Newspapers

Foreign Correspondent repeatedly glorifies newspapers and reporters. They are seen as sources of truth, and a progressive social force. Such ideas were widespread in books, films and comics of that era.

Hitchcock's cameo shows him reading a newspaper, deeply interested. This underscores the pro-newspaper theme of the film.

The famous newspaper correspondent Richard Harding Davis is mentioned admiringly. Davis will be similarly referenced in the newsroom in The Tarnished Angels (Douglas Sirk, 1957).

Rotary Motion

Foreign Correspondent is full of machines that spin around. This "rotary motion" is prominent: Revolving machines will recur spectacularly in the fairground attractions in Strangers on a Train. A windmill is also in Young and Innocent. The sinister clock in Four O'Clock has a slowly revolving arm or lever on its back.

Rotary motion is prominent in the films of Raoul Walsh, Orson Welles, and Curtis Harrington. Revolving architecture is prominent in Howard Hawks. The linked articles document the specific instances where such rotary motion occurs in the directors' films, offering detailed lists.

Revolving architecture appears in silent films:

A flour mill and it machinery form the climax of Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932). One wonders if Hitchcock saw this. Rotating machinery also plays a role in Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928).

The Notes

The hero passes notes to the heroine at the luncheon. These recall the notes passed by the jury members in Murder!, each of which has "Guilty" or "Not Guilty" written on them.

The notes in Foreign Correspondent are elaborate. Some have pictures on them: recalling illustrated title cards in silent films. Hitchcock used to illustrate such title cards, during his early days in the film industry.

The luncheon is another Hitchcock meal, set in a genteel, highly respectable restaurant. Such restaurants are favorite Hitchcock settings.


Saboteur

Point of View

How do Hitchcock's Point of View sequences fit into his film technique? Hitchcock himself linked this approach to the montage experiments of Pudovkin. One can see several things that they do. First of all, it integrates shots that would be otherwise disconnected with the story line. In Saboteur, Hitchcock could have left the shots of the sunken Normandy as just an element of a montage. Instead, they are the POV of the saboteur in the film. The audience can "understand" the shot: it is something seen by one of the characters. Secondly, it gives a reason for including camera movement in the film. The saboteur is driving by in a cab, so Hitchcock shoots the Normandy with a tracking shot past its hull. One suspects that Hitchcock wanted a tracking shot, anyway, here: it is more visually dramatic. Also, it gives the audience a more detailed look at different sides of the ship. Making the shot a POV gives him an excuse for filming the shot this way, with a moving camera.

One possible reason why Hitchcock adopts POV so much is that it is one of the few types of montage permitted by Hollywood conventions. It allows him to integrate a very different type of camera image into his films, making them more technically complex. It adds a huge new range of shot construction possibilities to Hitchcock's visual grammar.

Another reason: the POV has a mind behind it. In an ordinary shot, the viewer is perhaps encouraged just to sit back and let the images wash over him, as if he were a passive spectator. In a POV, the audience is conscious that everything they see is also seen by a character in the movie. This makes them scrutinize every detail in the shot, for its impact on the character. Will he discover something new about the plot? Will he find the location of the hero, or the sinister clue the hero has been trying to conceal? This encourages the audience to take an active role, scrutinizing everything in the POV shot for interpretation and significance. The audience role in such scenes can be seen as "critical": they take on an active interpretive and analytic function. Hitchcock presumably prefers people in such a state. One suspects that he himself saw things with extraordinary acuity and intensity, and wanted his audiences in such a state as well, to understand and appreciate his visual creativity.

One might point out the similar "critical" role performed by readers of a puzzle plot mystery. They scan everything in the book for possible clues, hidden meanings, and different interpretations of events, different from their surface meanings. Detective tradition also encourages them to constantly critique the author for logic, admiring the author when the logic is good, condemning the author when the logic fails or is shoddy. Mystery books are written for such "active readers". It is part of the cultural tradition of the detective story. Similarly, Hitchcock apparently wants active, thinking viewers, and POV sequences help encourage the viewer to assume such as critical role.

The Mansion and Politics

Fancy mansions serve as centers of political power in Hitchcock: Both places look enormously ornate. They symbolize both the upper classes and political power. There are also suggestions of corruption in the sinister political radicals at the embassy in The Man Who Knew Too Much. Both buildings have some of Hitchcock's most elaborate staircases.

The mansion in Saboteur resembles these government residences. It too is ornate, upper class, and with a formal staircase. It is not part of any official government - yet. But it is the home of wealthy American Nazi sympathizers, who explicitly want to be part of a Nazi regime that has conquered the United States. This gives it a "center of political power" feel. These people are radicals with a violent agenda, also like the embassy radicals in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Leather Jacket

The hero wears a leather jacket in the film's first half. This symbolizes his job as a working man. Quite a few 1940's men in film wearing leather jackets are "working class good guys on the edge of the law". The hero is an example: he's a good guy, but also a hunted man falsely blamed for the sabotage thought much of the film. Leather jackets were becoming a fashion statement in this period, too. For a detailed list and history, see my article on Leather Jackets in Film.

Shadow of a Doubt

Uncle Charlie and Homosexuality

What is the sexual orientation of Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)? The film never specifies explicitly. The film does posit there is some unusual link between Uncle Charlie and his niece, Young Charlie. This is perhaps a clue that Uncle Charlie has female characteristics.

Much of the film concerns suspicions from his family about Uncle Charlie's deep, dark secret. In real life, such family suspicions often center on a family's wondering if someone is gay. Other films about family members with a secret, such as Leo McCarey's My Son John (1952), are widely read as gay allegories. Such a reading can easily apply to Shadow of a Doubt, as well. Even in the surface reading of the film, Uncle Charlie's secret can be interpreted as a "failure of heterosexuality": Uncle Charlie pretends to be in love with rich widows, only to kill them and take their money. This pretense of heterosexual romance, faking relationships with women, was an unfortunately common aspect of some gay men's behavior in that era.

Disruption

Uncle Charlie is deliberately disruptive with his comments in the bank. This anticipates the hero's disruption of the auction in North by Northwest - although Uncle Charlie does not get expelled.

Love Thy Neighbor

Like Young and Innocent and Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt preaches the Christian theme of "Love Thy Neighbor". SPOILERS. The neighbor Herbie is often not viewed highly by the characters. He is today what we might call a "nebbish" or "nerd". He is completely unglamorous, and gets none of the acclaim that keeps getting showered on Uncle Charlie.

Yet he is the one who rescues Young Charlie from the garage. It is his concern for his neighbor that saves a life, and makes a huge difference in the world. His sticking to fundamental principles, concern for other people, makes a profound impact.

Women's Work

The mother makes a big speech at the end, about how she felt submerged and lost as an individual person, till Uncle Charlie showed up. This speech has feminist dimensions: it mentions marriage and being lost in helping her husband as the cause of her distress.

Throughout the film, the mother is always doing housework. Shadow of a Doubt shows some examples of women's work:

Dreary offices for women will appear in The Wrong Man and Psycho. Jonathan Rosenbaum has insightful commentary on what these places say about society.

Spellbound

Spellbound (1945) has several features in common with Hitchcock's later films.

Romance and its Aftermath - and Vertigo

Like Vertigo (1958), Spellbound opens with a beautiful, emotionally intense love story, before any detective elements in the story get underway. This love story is conventionally romantic, and full of passionate feeling. In both films, romance will be associated with walking in outdoor settings, full of trees and vegetation. Later, in both films, the opening love relationship will be modified both by mystery thriller elements, and intimations of abnormal psychology in one of the romantic pair. In both cases, it is the man who is emotionally disturbed. His obsessions and severe emotional problems cast a shadow over the second portion of the film.

Years ago, when cynicism about Hollywood romance was at its height in the 1970's, there was a tendency to pooh pooh the opening romances of Hitchcock's films. The later sections showing the romance overshadowed by mystery and obsession were taken as "deconstructions" of romance, an expose of its serious problems. Today however, with romance so often missing in today's films, the romances that open Hitchcock's films seem precious and awe inspiringly beautiful. Audiences tend more to feel grateful for these scenes, and resent the interruption of them by thriller material later.

Links to Rear Window

The scene where the doors open by themselves in Spellbound anticipate the shots in Rear Window (1954) of window blinds opening and closing by themselves. In both cases, these are bits of fantasy imagery integrated into otherwise realistic movies. In both cases, they are seen as figures of style. They reveal intense things about their heroes' psyches.

The many psychiatrists and patients in Spellbound each have their own small, personal story, which contributes to the overall mosaic of the plot. Hitchcock will achieve a more elaborate version of this in with all the apartment dwellers and their tales in Rear Window. Even the two policemen we meet in the professor's house in Spellbound have their own psychological tale, here played for comic relief.

The Bathroom scene - and Psycho

The bathroom scene in Spellbound shows Gregory Peck's mental problems being triggered by the white fixtures of the bathroom. The scene reminds one strongly of the bathroom stabbing scene to come in Psycho (1960):

Dreams - and The Birds

The dream sequence in Spellbound shows the hero being chased by a winged creature above; we only see the shadows of its giant wings on the ground. Later, Hitchcock will make an entire film about people being chased by The Birds (1963). What was part of a surrealistic dream sequence here becomes a whole fantastic film later in Hitchcock's work. It is hard to say what this means in terms of genre. Does this mean that The Birds is a dream sequence? Or is the dream mechanism in Spellbound an attempt to include personal feelings in a way that would make them acceptable in the realistic conventions of 1945 cinema? In any case, it shows what a deep personal interest Hitchcock had in this imagery, at an early date.

Triggers for Mental Problems

In both Spellbound and Vertigo, the man's problems are triggered by a visual image: heights and a pattern of zoom and tracking in Vertigo, and a series of parallel straight lines against a white background in Spellbound. These are abstract visual patterns in both films. The color red will trigger similar feelings in the heroine of Marnie.

Hitchcock was not the first storyteller to show mental problems being triggered by recurrent imagery. Cornell Woolrich wrote a number of prose mystery short stories in which seemingly normal people respond to triggers that turn them into homicidal maniacs: see "The Case of the Killer-Diller" (1939) and "The Death Rose" (1943), in his collection Night and Fear.

Calling Dr. Gillespie (Harold S. Bucquet, 1942) is an early Hollywood use of this device, with its mild-mannered looking young college student transforming into a killer whenever he hears a train whistle. This killer encounters that Woolrich favorite character, a taxi-dancer in a dance hall, and she refers to him as "Killer-Diller", suggesting that the film's creators might possibly have been familiar with Woolrich's work. Then again, maybe not: the film's story is credited to screenwriter Kubec Glasmon, who died in 1938. Calling Dr. Gillespie is an eerie suspense film; it is set in a hospital, and has as its hero a young doctor in training to be a psychiatrist: features that somewhat anticipate Spellbound. It is far less Freudian than Spellbound, however.

Spellbound differs from all of these in that the trigger is an actual visual pattern (black parallel lines on a white background). Hitchcock, with his mastery of visual style, and visual thinking, has come up with a purely visual structure to represent his trigger.

The skiing tracks that eventually exemplify the pattern, anticipate the criss-crossing train tracks near the start of Strangers on a Train.


Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train (1951) is one of Hitchcock's most popular films.

Links to Shadow of a Doubt

Strangers on a Train shares many features in common with Hitchcock's earlier Shadow of a Doubt:

Promiscuity and Punishment

Strangers on a Train contains a dubious yet popular idea: that sexual activity, especially promiscuous sexual activity, should be punished by killing. This has been a cliche in horror films of the last few decades.

The wife goes out with two men, at the amusement park. This suggests, as much as the censorship of the era allowed, that she was sleeping with both men simultaneously. She is immediately killed.

I find this idea morally doubtful. They are all consenting adults - and it is nobody's business if they sleep together.

Selwyn Jepson's mystery novel I Met Murder (1930) deals with a serial killer targeting people he considers "evil". Some of these victims are evil by any standard, including a war profiteer. Others are merely sexually active. One victim is a promiscuous woman whose most notable act was getting drunk at a party and sleeping with three men at once. She anticipates the wife in Strangers on a Train. Hitchcock would film Jepson's short story "Man Running" (1947) as Stage Fright (1950).

The Villain - and Technology

During the first meeting, the villain discusses his love of technical thrills: high speed cars, jet planes. He talks about wanting to be on a moon rocket. Later, he uses further science fiction imagery, about Mars. This links both technology and space travel to the villain.

The other most prominent aircraft in Hitchcock, the attacked plane at the end of Foreign Correspondent, the crop duster in North by Northwest, are also scenes of frightening suspense. The crop duster can be seen as evil.

Hollywood had just made its first "modern" science fiction film, Destination Moon (Irving Pichel, 1950), about a rocket to the moon. Hollywood would make countless more sf films in the next twenty years. However, Hitchcock was not part of the science fiction film movement.

The brief discussion of calculus from the drunken professor brings mathematics into the film. There is a bit of mathematical discussion in Torn Curtain.

At the fairground, villain Bruno is frequently photographed against whirling attractions. We see him against the ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl and merry-go-round. These are all elaborate machinery, all have bright lights, all have circular motion. This too links the villain with technology.

Revolving Circles

These fairground attractions are circular and revolving. They are insistently geometrical in their visual style. In this they recall the mill in Foreign Correspondent. There is also a mill in Young and Innocent.

Watching

Bruno tails Guy's wife and her two men friends at the fairground. He is always watching the three. This resembles the hero watching the characters in the other apartments in Rear Window. Bruno's motivations are different: he is stalking the wife, and his watching is a byproduct of this stalking, while the hero of Rear Window is doing pure watching for its own sake.

Bruno watches as the three sing a song. The hero of Rear Window watches the musical activity in the composer's apartment.

Youth - and the Audience

The US film going audience in 1951 was mainly young people. Its core was the 13 to 25 year old age group. This well-documented fact is often ignored or forgotten by film historians.

Characters in Strangers on a Train are very young. They and the film might be designed to interest and appeal to a youth audience.

Both Farley Granger and his screen wife look extremely youthful. So do the young men the wife dates at the amusement park. The heroine's kid sister gets a prominent, even scene-stealing role (played by 22 year old Patricia Hitchcock). Both Granger and the amusement park men are dressed in sports clothes: clothes associated with young men who are not quite old enough to wear suits, the mark of the adult male. Granger also wears a lot of sports coats, also a more casual-looking substitute for suits. Farley Granger was 25 when Strangers on a Train was shot, but his clothes make him look even younger. Kasey Rogers who played his wife was also 25.

Robert Walker is distinctly a bit older looking (he was 32, and alcoholic). But Walker himself had spent the last decade playing extremely young heroes, in roles that seemed oriented to youth audiences.

Surrounding the youthful leads, are conspicuously adult, older characters, notably parents, police, sports officials and the music shop owner. These all have social authority roles. These men are usually in suits, and pretty official looking suits.

Celebrity Worship and its Perils

The hero Guy gets plenty of attention, as a celebrity athlete. There are signs he likes this, as when the porter effusively greets him at the station. The attention also gets him support and adulation from older adult men, despite his youth - something that was none too common in the authority-centered, older-man dominated culture of the era.

But celebrity worship is also the means where the older villain Bruno gets close to and exploits the hero. As a whole, Strangers on a Train suggests that being a celebrity and taking fame seriously, can harm a person.

Hitchcock told Truffaut, that Hitchcock made bad career moves in the late 1940's, because they led to celebrity attention being paid to Hitchcock. Hitchcock said he became more concerned with newspaper publicity about him, than his filmmaking. Perhaps the negative view in this 1951 film Strangers on a Train about celebrity is a rueful reaction on Hitchcock's part.

Influence on Bresson

Robert Bresson would include amusement parks in his films Pickpocket (1959) and Mouchette (1967).

Rear Window

A Free Camera

Hitchcock's camera is free to explore anywhere. This freedom is indicated by Hitchcock's camera technique. Often times the camera moves around. The movements are extremely precise, but they often change the view of the architecture. The camera will move in or move back. In the process, the rectangular segment of wall revealed will become continuously larger or smaller. The camera is clearly independent of the architecture. It can choose to look at a larger or smaller segment of it. And the viewer frequently sees that segment change in size and scope.

Even when Hitchcock is not using a moving camera, his camera technique emphasizes his freedom. Hitchcock can cut to a view of the wall opposite. His camera can frame any section of that wall at will. Often times, there are no boundaries on the wall corresponding to the frame of the screen. For example, Hitchcock might show Burr's apartment. The apartment windows are contained within the camera's frame. The edges of the frame are just "meaningless" parts of the brick wall. They are just where Hitchcock put his camera, because he wanted to look there. Hitchcock's framing has plenty of meaning: the frame and the lens are exactly positioned to reveal just what Hitchcock wants to see in the opposite apartment. They are controlled by Hitchcock's sight. But they are not linked to or determined by the architecture of the building. Hitchcock's camera can and does land anywhere on the wall opposite. Whatever he wants to see, he simply picks out. It has no boundaries, and can explore anywhere in the building.

This is all so different from Fritz Lang. Lang's camera placement is closely tied to the architecture. The camera frame and the architecture are designed together, so that they reveal a meaningful architectural whole on screen. The two gain meaning when combined with one another. They are designed to be viewed as one unit.

Hitchcock works with his set designers ahead of time too. The point is not a method of work - both Hitchcock and Lang plan ahead - but rather the way the two directors view architecture.

In Hitchcock, the camera and the architecture are contrapuntal. They are two independent voices that weave together in interesting ways. In Lang, they are more chordal, designed to reinforce one common architectural effect.

Rope resembles Rear Window, in that its camera is constantly on the move, taking in any view of the set it pleases. It too has a "free" camera. Rope stays within an apartment however, instead of exploring an aerial view (except for its opening shot).

Hitchcock's films are full of amazing set-pieces in which his camera soars through the air. One thinks of the Drummer Man sequence in Young and Innocent, and the shot with the key in Notorious. Both of these shots start with grand overviews, and gradually converge on tight close-ups. Similarly, some of the early camera moves through the courtyard wind up on close-ups of Jimmy Stewart's face. Here we have a whole film, in which Hitchcock's camera explores everything from the air. Such aerial camera movements seem like the visual heart of Rear Window.

In Psycho, we see a multi-roomed apartment building through the window behind John Gavin. Hitchcock has a fondness for such shots, such as the apartment complex in Rear Window, and the Riviera hotel at the beginning of To Catch a Thief. We do not see any boundary or edges on this building; it just fills the view one can see through the window. This framing also reminds one of Rear Window.

Other filmmakers occasionally included shots in their works, of cameras traveling across the facades of apartments, looking into the rooms. There is the vertical crane shot near the beginning of Sous les toits de Paris (René Clair, 1930), and several horizontal tracking shots in Lubitsch films, such as Trouble in Paradise (1932) and Angel (1937). Clair's huge building is also full of balconies, and roof tops, as in Hitchcock. A song plays a recurrent role in the lives of Clair's apartment dwellers; Hitchcock works a song into Rear Window more realistically, showing its composition throughout the film.

Organization into Vertical Zones

The opening shot of Rear Window organizes the courtyard set into a series of vertical zones. These strong vertical regions are separated by the vertical bars of the window. Later, shots of the composers studio apartment with be visually organized into different regions by the slanting diagonals of his windows.

Is Rear Window REALLY a metaphor for Cinema?

I am a little dubious, about the oft-repeated idea of the various windows in the courtyard representing film screens. The concept of Rear Window as a metaphor for the cinema has become a critical truism. But Hitchcock often films events in the courtyard, not just in the windows, and often shows action moving from one window to another. All of this contradicts the "window as metaphor for cinema" concept. The film seems more about "complex staging across an elaborate set, watched by a spectacularly moving aerial camera". This is the same idea that animates the Grand Hotel sequence in Young and Innocent.

Moral Themes

Rear Window can be seen as a religious movie. It centers on the Golden Rule: "Love thy neighbor, as thyself". This theme is made explicit in the powerful speech given by the wife who owns the dog. She talks about concern for neighbors, as a central principle of life. The film dramatizes two different approaches: first, James Stewart looks on his neighbors uncaringly, just watching; later, both Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter will get involved, out of genuine concern with their neighbors' well-being.

Color

Rear Window is largely designed in shades of red and green. The brick of the apartment house is a pinkish-red, and we see green grass and foliage. Many of the apartment walls are in light shades of red or green - often being pinkish. The restaurant seen through the gap has red check table coths, and a red neon sign. The light in Burr's hall glows red-orange. Both Grace Kelly and Miss Lonelyhearts wear green clothes, at times. Kelly also has a pinkish negligee. (This is similar to Rope, in which the living room of the apartment is in green with green furniture, and the dining room is in pinkish-red. Rope also has a red-orange neon sign, visible through the window.)

Very occasionally there are flashes of yellow, such as the taxicab, or yellow wrapping on the flash bulbs at the end.

Jimmy Stewart is dressed in blue throughout much of the film, making him stand out. At the end, Burr is also in a blue suit. It perhaps suggests that Burr and Stewart are doubles. (Each character in Rope also wears clothes in one strong color.)

Kelly enters in a white and black dress. Later, she is in a white dress with gold trim. Such neutral tones are striking, and form an exception to the general color schemes. The light gray suits and white tuxedo of Wendell Corey also stand out.

Influence from Fritz Lang's Metropolis, M, House by the River and The Blue Gardenia

The huge set in Rear Window recalls the giant architectural sets of Fritz Lang's silent movies, such as the underground city of the workers in Metropolis (1926), and the staircase outside Haghi's office in Spione (1928). The set is especially close in architectural style to the office building in Lang's crime thriller M (1931). The windows in the section containing Thorwald, Miss Lonelyhearts and the fire-escape couple with the dog are especially similar to the building in M. And the building in M has a high section where a sharp 90 degree corner is cut off by a diagonal facet: the high balcony at the far right in Rear Window is a similar diagonal cutoff of a corner. It is not surprising that Hitchcock, who was always deeply influenced by Lang, would want to create a film that was similarly ambitious, in being based on a very large set. The set is also filled with Lang's beloved staircases.

The set also reminds one of the backyard set that opens Lang's House by the River (1950). This giant set shows two backyards, and as well as the houses behind them. There is a space between the two houses, forming a corridor that leads to the front street - in exactly the same position a similar corridor appears in Rear Window.

Hitchcock is glimpsed winding up a clock here - surely a piece of Langian imagery. In a miniature way, it recalls the workers and the hero adjusting the giant clock dials in Metropolis. Clocks are a recurring subject in Lang films.

M gives a cross section of life in a modern city. In a somewhat similar way, Rear Window gives a cross section of life in Greenwich Village, an intellectual and artistic center in New York.

Telephone conversations are a significant part of the narration in Rear Window, just as they are in M.

Rear Window centers on that Lang subject, the ever tightening manhunt for a murderer. In this it recalls such Lang films as M, and Lang's most recent work before the making of Hitchcock's film, The Blue Gardenia (1953). The Blue Gardenia was released March 28, 1953; Hitchcock's involvement with Rear Window was announced in July 1953, with the first treatment coming in September, according to Bill Krohn's Hitchcock at Work.

The Miss Lonelyhearts subplot is not in Cornell Woolrich's original story. Instead, parts of it resemble events in Fritz Lang's The Blue Gardenia. In that film, Anne Baxter has dinner for two with an imaginary companion: in her case, it is to celebrate her connection with her boyfriend who is off fighting in Korea. Later, she will have a terrible struggle with a date, having to fight his advances off in an apartment, just as Miss Lonelyhearts does. The vicious date in Gardenia is played by Raymond Burr, who in Rear Window is not the date, but who is rather playing the main villain of the movie.

The heroes of both films are globe-trotting journalists - Lang's is a columnist, Hitchcock's is a photographer. Lang sends his hero off to cover a H-bomb test; Hitchcock has a photo taken by the hero of a bomb explosion. Both Lang and Hitchcock were deeply concerned about the atomic age. The dialogue of Rear Window keeps talking about "trouble coming", and suggests that it might be political. This underlying anxiety about the atomic age is a disturbing background to Rear Window. So is all the talk about war. Hitchcock makes a cameo as a photographer in Young and Innocent, so this is part of his persona.


To Catch a Thief

Landscape and Exteriors: Visual Style

To Catch a Thief (1955) opens with a view outside a Riviera hotel. This shot of the outside of a building recalls the numerous shots of the courtyard in Rear Window. Several similar shots of hotel exteriors follow.

The film continues with a series of exterior long shots of the Riviera, which continue right up until the restaurant sequence. These are of real locations - not studio sets, unlike Rear Window. But they otherwise have much in common, with Hitchcock's camera exploring multi-story locations in long shot. Sometimes the camera is at a high level, looking horizontally out at Riviera locales spread out on hills before it. Sometimes Hitchcock is on high, looking down, as in the car chase scene. In both cases, the camera explores a series of complex architectural panoramas, just like the courtyard in Rear Window. Hitchcock had earlier included similar Riviera panoramas in the background of shots in Easy Virtue (1927).

The intricate floor plan of the terraces outside Cary Grant's house, anticipate the complex cemetery in Family Plot. Both are geometrized outdoor mini-landscapes, through which are threaded complex paths. The overhead shot in which Grant and Kelly drive to a loop on the hills above the city, then beyond, is also a geometric landscape.


North by Northwest

Scenes in common with Vertigo - and their comic-absurdist transformation

Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) contains several scenes in the style of his previous film, Vertigo (1958).

Several scenes in Vertigo show monumental buildings, most memorably the rooming house, an old gingerbread gothic mansion that anticipates the house in Psycho. Hitchcock's photography of the UN building in North follows in this tradition.

The scene in Kaplan's hotel room is shot in a similar style to the introductory scene in Madge's studio in Vertigo. Both are scenes that would be static and talky in other directors: expository scenes full of dialogue, shot in a single room. Hitchcock's camera follows the characters in both, including camera movements and changes of shot. He manages to add visual interest in both scenes. The changes in camera setup mirror subtle changes in the characters' emotional states in both works, as well.

The restaurant scenes in the first film recall the dining car scene in the second, shot in similar styles.

A fourth pair of similar scenes are the love scenes in the forest. Each involves sensitive emotional interaction between the characters. Each has a similar visual style, dominated by the many verticals of the tree trunks. Both are in clear forests, with little undergrowth or brush, and much room between the trees for the characters to walk around in. In both, there are simply limitless paths for the lovers to pursue between any of the tree trunks. There is no one clear direction to follow. The scene in North is much less intense than the one in Vertigo, however. The trees in South Dakota have much smaller and thinner trunks than the California redwoods in Vertigo. The dialogue in Vertigo emphasizes that they will survive the humans by thousands of years, underlining that film's themes of survival after death, either through reincarnation, as in the first half of Vertigo, or resurrection, as in its second.

This decrease in intensity is a common feature throughout North by Northwest. It is a film comedy, of course. But it also seems to be functioning in part as almost a parody of Vertigo, in some ways. Scenes and images that have an intense emotional charge in the first film, return in the second in much more light hearted forms. It is as if Hitchcock were making a psychological recovery from the tragic emotions of the first film to the comedy of the second.

The plot of North by Northwest can be seen as a spoof of the plot of Vertigo. In the earlier film, the Kim Novak character has her personality taken over by that of a dead woman, with tragic results. Here, the Cary Grant character has his identity taken over by an imaginary spy, Kaplan. While the early film grinds away relentlessly and logically towards its tragic conclusion, the plot of North is a shaggy dog story, merely a gigantic meaningless accident that has unfortunately happened to the hero. He spends much of the film trying to track down the "real" Kaplan, a character whom the audience knows to be fictitious and nonexistent. So the plot of North by Northwest is deliberately absurd and meaningless. It is not just absurd, but Absurd, one reflecting all meaningless fates that can engulf anybody.

Hitchcock's Suspense-Comedies of Travel

North by Northwest recalls such earlier Hitchcock spy films as Foreign Correspondent and Sabotage. All three are comic extravaganzas, involving much traveling to different locations, a series of brilliant set pieces, and a suspense sequence atop a famous high landmark. Before that, Hitchcock included cross-country journeys in such British adventure films as The 39 Steps (1935) and Young and Innocent (1937).

The shots of the hero scrambling down the rocky cliff to discover the body near the start of Young and Innocent anticipate the Mount Rushmore finale of North by Northwest. And the scenes in which the heroine dangles from the mine shaft, held by the hero's hand, are the paradigm for the Statue of Liberty scene in Sabotage and the Rushmore scene in North By Northwest.

Cary Grant being hidden on the train, recalls Dame May Whitty's disappearance on a train in The Lady Vanishes. Here the audience is "in" on the secrets of how the vanishing is done, unlike the earlier film, where it is a mystery.

The woman agent in Carroll's spy agency also recalls Whitty in The Lady Vanishes. Both are middle-aged women spies of high intelligence. She develops into another of Hitchcock's characters who try to persuade others of the value of human life. These characters are typically of lower social status (this one is female) trying to persuade someone more charismatic and much better at public speaking, that killing is always wrong (here agency head Leo G. Carroll, who is highly articulate). Similar conversations took place in Shadow of a Doubt and Rope.

Forced into a new identity - A Prose Fiction Ancestor

The early scenes show the spies forcing the hero into a new identity, that of Kaplan; abducting him, and using their superior social position to have the hero treated as delusional by the police. While the specific plot details differ, there are general precedents for such events in prose thrillers, such as A. Merritt's novel Seven Footprints to Satan (1928): see Chapters 1 - 3.

The United Nations

The lobby at the United Nations looks like one of the check-in desks at a Hitchcock hotel. Such desks and hotels run through Hitchcock's films. The women receptionists, the well-dressed people in the lobby, the air of gentility: all are marks of Hitchcock hotels.

The photographer, who is white, is snapping pictures of a group of black diplomats, in the background. In 1959, a white man showing deference to a group of black men was highly atypical, especially in the movies. The diplomats are well-dressed in business suits. They look "important": also quite unusual for blacks in 1959 Hollywood. There is an implication that the United Nations was one of the few places where such a scene could take place. The UN reversed the roles of black and white people. The white man is also well-groomed: he is not a low-life, but a man who has middle class status, as least as good as most of the audience. This underscores his deference and gratitude to the black diplomats, who are allowing him to take their picture. Soon, we also see a group of East Asian diplomats. The UN is presented in racial terms, a place where race relations are completely different.

The photographer is in a bright gray suit that almost exactly matches the carpeting. He really stands out. He also sets off an enormous circular blaze of light, when he uses a flash bulb. This recalls Rear Window.

Overhead Views

When the hero flees the UN after the killing, we get one of Hitchcock's geometric overhead landscapes. This one is notable for including circular arcs, as well as rectilinear regions.

Soon, the opening shots of the cornfield will also provide a strikingly geometric landscape.

Getting on the Train - and Rear Window

In New York, Grant moves rapidly down the outside of the train. His gray suit almost exactly matches the color of the train: a striking effect. It turns into a dynamic display of motion and color.

Each train window seems tinted or lit to a different color. Inside, we see little tableaux of people on the train. The multiple windows remind one of the windows in the courtyard in Rear Window.


Arthur

The Perfect Murderer: A Hitchcock Tradition

Arthur (1959) is a half hour episode of Hitchcock's TV show. This delightful comic tale has all sorts of relationships with Hitchcock's theatrical films. Arthur is a poultry farmer, and the film opens with a shot of chickens all over the poultry house, an image anticipating The Birds (1963) to come. Arthur is also one of the many gay characters in Hitchcock who commit The Perfect Murder - see Rope, Strangers on a Train, Dial M For Murder (where the Ray Milland character seems gay), perhaps Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt, and Psycho. There is also the accused but innocent gay man in The Lodger. I confess I am not happy with this recurring character type in Hitchcock - the whole idea is homophobic. Still, Arthur is the most sympathetic of all of these characters, and clearly a favorite of the director. Whether enthusing about cooking - a hobby of Hitchcock himself - or denouncing heterosexual marriage, Arthur gives it his all. Gay actor Laurence Harvey has a field day with his performance.

Arthur is a strangler - like Bruno in Strangers on a Train. Arthur also has Bruno's sly humor. However, Arthur is much less snobbish than Bruno, or the killers in Rope, and he is a middle class man who earns who own living through honest work. He is also one of Hitchcock's most civilized characters. Arthur's opposition to marriage recalls Uncle Charlie, and the way he served as a means for his sister to escape temporarily from a stifling bourgeois marriage in Shadow of a Doubt. Arthur can be himself, just as the sister learned how to be, due to Uncle Charlie's presence in the house.

Arthur runs a complex institution in the countryside (his poultry farm) all by himself - just like Norman and the Bates Motel in Psycho. The way Helen shows up at his farm, and the subsequent history of the crime and the investigation, offers some parallels to Janet Leigh in Psycho. Even the geography of the farm recalls a little bit the various buildings in Psycho.

The Source Short Story

Arthur is based on a short story by Arthur Williams, "Being a Murderer Myself" (1948). This is the only known mystery work of the author, the pseudonym of a never-identified South African. The brief tale has been considerably expanded in the film version, partly to make Arthur much more sympathetic, and partly to create a dramatizable story, with characters and events. For obscure reasons, the action has been shifted to New Zealand. Perhaps Hitchcock wanted to avoid any political controversies surrounding South Africa. The setting also recalls Hitchcock's Australian film, Under Capricorn.

Williams' tale has roots in the Realist School tradition in prose mystery fiction of R. Austin Freeman, being an inverted mystery about a Perfect Crime, and also deeply concerned with "disposing of the body". The same could be said about Patrick Hamilton's play Rope, and much of Patricia Highsmith's fiction. Fritz Lang also had strong ties to the Realist School, producing many works about manhunts, such as M, The Woman in the Window, The Blue Gardenia, While the City Sleeps, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

Talking Directly to the Audience

The way Arthur directly addresses the audience is unusual in Hitchcock, and film in general. It does recall a bit such stage characters as Mr. Memory in The 39 Steps, who directly talk to their audiences.

Direct address of the audience is more common on TV - such characters as Dobie Gillis and Gidget did it regularly - perhaps a sign of radio's influence on TV.

At davekehr.com on December 11, 2009, I suggested that "The Dobie Gillis pilot (1959) has direct address and non-realistic staging techniques. My guess is that they were modeled on Thornton Wilder's experimental stage play Our Town (1938). The pilot (1958) of Gene Barry's popular TV Western of the late 1950's Bat Masterson, also uses techniques modeled on experimental literature," such as Barry talking to the audience. Barry Putterman immediately replied: "The fulcrum point between Our Town and Dobie Gillis was George Burns. Burns publicly said that he used Our Town as his model for transferring The Burns and Allen Show from radio to television using the direct addresses and non-realistic staging that you mention. Dobie Gillis producer Rod Amateau worked on The Burns and Allen Show as well as The Bob Cummings Show which came from Burns' production company and had Dwayne Hickman in the cast."

The short story "Being a Murderer Myself" is narrated in the first person, and gets much of its charm from this. Perhaps the adaptation is trying to preserve this. The heroine's narration at the beginning of Rebecca is another example of such narration preserved from prose fiction.

Hitchcock's introductions to his TV shows are another case of such address - Arthur has the same relationship with the audience as Hitch himself, another example of some autobiographical aspects of the character. The technique also emphasizes what a solitary person Arthur is.

Please see Film Studies For Free for many links on direct address.


Psycho

Psycho and Greek Myth

Psycho (1960) draws on imagery found in the ancient Greek myth of Agamemnon. This story was the subject of the greatest of all Greek dramas, the Agamemnon of Aeschylus. Just as in Agamemnon, the hero's wife stabs him in the bathtub, so does the mother in Psycho stab her victims in the shower. In the myth, the son in turn murders the mother in revenge. The son in the Greek myth is pursued by the fates, the Eumenides, female spirits who want to avenge his murdered mother; the son in Psycho is mentally "pursued" by his mother, who takes over his personality.

Camera Movement

The opening of Psycho includes a series of shots in which the camera approaches a Phoenix hotel from the air, then passes through a hotel window into a room containing the characters. These recall the finale of Foreign Correspondent, in which the camera moves closer and closer to an airplane traveling in mid-air, then through a window into the inside of the plane.

Psycho contains some of Hitchcock's bravura aerial camera movements. The shot going up the staircase in the house, which turns into a straight overhead angle, is especially complex.

Sets

The motel contains four staircases: there are two in the house, leading upstairs and to the basement; there are outdoor steps leading from the motel to the house; and the walkway of the motel itself is a gently sloping series of steps, which gradually move characters from level to level. This outdoor walkway contains a 90 degree turn, like the steps leading from Jimmy Stewart's apartment building in Rear Window. Both of these 90 degree staircases are at the lowest level of their sets.

Influence from Fritz Lang

Such use of staircases is both a Hitchcock tradition, and an inheritance from Fritz Lang.

Also Lang-like here is the use of mirrors. There is a mirror at the reception desk, and a complex set of infinitely reflecting mirrors in the mother's bedroom.

The asylum at the end, with its mad super-criminal, recalls Lang's The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933). The shot of Perkins, alone against a blank wall in the asylum, echoes a shot of Death standing against a huge wall in Lang's Destiny.

The house looks much like the Victorian house in Lang's House by the River (1950). That film also includes a shot of water swirling down a bathtub drain, and another shot of a curtain being pulled off the rings that connect it to a rod, by a dying man grasping and pulling it loose. This curtain is not a shower curtain - but it is still a close visual echo. Lang's film has a number of quick images flash by. This perhaps anticipates some of the subliminal images in Psycho.

Psycho and Film Noir

The pure overhead angles in the upstairs of the house recur in film noir, for example, in Robert Siodmak's Criss Cross (1949). There are signs that Hitchcock was using a film noir approach in Psycho, including black and white photography. The swirling light bulb in the cellar towards the end, recalls a similar figure of style in Anthony Mann's Desperate (1947). The use of psychoanalysis at the end is also a noir tradition. So is the private eye character.

The opening sequence of the film is full of noir features: a crime involving money and financial corruption, the prominence of police, especially uniformed police, the mixture of night and rain on the drive, a look at the problems and dark side of middle class life. Most of the features center on the desert drive, and recall Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour (1945), a desert drive film which is also full of motels - and a motel shower. Both Detour and Psycho include a scene where a tired driver pulls off the road to sleep, only to encounter an ominous policeman later.


The Horseplayer

The Horseplayer (1961) is a half-hour episode of Hitchcock's TV show. It stars Claude Rains as the priest in charge of a desperately poor parish, and Ed Gardner as a parishioner involved with gambling.

Genre

Like Arthur (1959), this is one of Hitchcock's more comic TV shows, and all the better for it. The Horseplayer is not as creative a work as Arthur, however. It starts out strong, and has some nice touches along the way. But its twist ending is easy to predict, and the show has its routine side.

One can argue that The Horseplayer is not a suspense film at all. There are no crime elements, no violence or danger. The audience is in suspense over the outcome of the final horse race: the only suspense in the film.

Religion and the Poor

Catholicism is seen as a religion of the poor. Most of the congregants are distinctly on the poor side. The main layman characters are played by raffish character actors, who have vivid common man personalities. Only contractor Mr. Cheever looks more prosperous, and even he is more middle class than upper class.

By contrast, the bishop is in a wealthy-looking office. He is not a sympathetic character, even though there is nothing explicit in the dialogue against him.

Religion: Links to Family Plot

The Horseplayer looks forward to Family Plot (1976):

The Sacred Heart: A real life religious devotion

The Horseplayer also recalls The Wrong Man (1957). In that film, Henry Fonda prays to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, at his moment of extreme need. This is a Roman Catholic religious devotion. The Horseplayer opens with the priest conducting a prayer service for the Sacred Heart.

The Sacred Heart is a religious devotion, designed to help people get a closer involvement with religion in their daily lives. It is especially designed to help men. Many Roman Catholic religious activities are centered around women, at least in their de facto practice. This was a conscious attempt to create a devotion that would involve men, and bring them more closely into their religion.

Here Hitchcock is making two films about it, suggesting that he himself was involved. Certainly, it is closely tied to Henry Fonda's character in The Wrong Man, and brings Ed Gardner's character into church in The Horseplayer. Both are regular guy, middle-aged men, who might not otherwise be closely involved with their religion - exactly the sort of people who take part in this devotion in real life. Hitchcock shows both the church services associated with the devotion here, and the pictures in the home in The Wrong Man. The depiction in the latter film is deeply realistic, showing the devotion's emphasis on the inner side of personal life. It is one of Hitchcock's most powerful and touching scenes.

The Damaged Roof

The church roof leaks: a vivid image. This recalls:

I Saw the Whole Thing

I Saw the Whole Thing (1962) is an hour episode of Hitchcock's TV show. It seems to be Hitchcock's last work for television.

Some Hitchcock films are about "seeing", notably Rear Window. I Saw the Whole Thing expresses skepticism about eye-witnesses, and their reliability concerning what they think they have seen.

The Opening: Experimental Storytelling

The opening uses some unusual storytelling tactics. Perhaps working in TV allowed Hitchcock to be experimental: Hitchcock resisted answering Truffaut's question on whether Psycho was an "experimental film". One can ask whether the opening of I Saw the Whole Thing is "experimental", at least in its storytelling techniques. Ot whether Breakdown is in fact an experimental film.

The Street Corner

The end of the opening shows the accident scene from an elevated angle. This is one of the geometric overhead views that Hitchcock liked. These evoke abstract art, such as Mondrian or the geometric Soviet painters.

The arched entrance to the flower garden gives a three-dimensional aspect to the otherwise two-dimensional street layout. The curved top of the arch recalls a bit the round fairground attractions in Strangers on a Train. The arch serves as a gateway to the garden, like the bigger gateway to the fairground in Strangers on a Train.

A street corner is shown in downtown Santa Rosa in Shadow of a Doubt. This corner is organized by a policeman. Heroine "Young Charlie" tries to cross it: another young woman linked to a street corner, like the teenage witness in I Saw the Whole Thing.

The courtroom diagram of the street corner is an abstract map, showing the same location as in the geometric overhead view. This map recalls the map Bruno gives Guy in Strangers on a Train, showing the floor plan of the house. Both maps have arrows, showing the route the protagonist is supposed to take (Strangers on a Train) or actually took (I Saw the Whole Thing). Such arrows and routes bring movement and narrative events to the diagram.

The street corner imagery returns, often transformed, in Family Plot:

The Hero: A Crime Writer

The hero is a writer of crime fiction. Mystery fiction was much talked about in Shadow of a Doubt. Here is a writer of such fiction, materialized as a Hitchcock hero.

The hero's home looks upper middle class. He is clearly a successful person, in the financial sense. Actor John Forsythe played a successful lawyer on his TV series Bachelor Father (1957-1962), a well-to-do man with a house in Beverly Hills. He would embody the idea of an upper middle class man for TV viewers of the era. This gives the character in I Saw the Whole Thing a certain hidden clout: he is of higher social standing than many of the people he encounters. His lawyer character on Bachelor Father was highly effective at solving problems, and suave in negotiating with people in all walks of life.

The chair at his desk is sleek, and made of black leather. Black leather chairs in 1962 were associated with President John F. Kennedy, and were symbols of power. Both the priest hero and the bishop in Hitchcock's The Horseplayer had leather chairs; the bishop's is fancier. The hero of The Rifleman TV series had a black leather chair.

The Police - and Social Class

The scene where the hero has to turn himself into the police, echos the similar scene early in North by Northwest, when the hero winds up in the hands of the police after the mountain road incident. Both films show "modern", suburban style police stations, manned by skeptical, serious and intelligent acting officers. These officers seem like "normal" Americans, the kind that might have responsible jobs in business or industry. Both groups of officers treat the hero with disbelief and polite but deadly skepticism.

Both groups of police are neatly dressed. The uniformed cops are trim and well-groomed, without being sharp or in dressy militaristic police uniforms. Their clothes suggest the police are responsible middle class men. So does their behavior and conversation.

In both North by Northwest and I Saw the Whole Thing, the police view the hero as having dangerously violated driving laws. Among other things, driving crimes are a plausible way for an otherwise respectable upper middle class man to get in trouble with the police and the law. In I Saw the Whole Thing, the hero's lawyer friend (Kent Smith) at first laughs and makes jokes about the idea that the hero could be in trouble with the police. The hero's life is remote from most crime. But after the lawyer hears about the driving crimes of which the hero is accused, the lawyer drastically changes his mind, and starts taking the charges seriously and becomes frightened.

The heroes of both North by Northwest and I Saw the Whole Thing are successful upper middle class men. They unexpectedly wind up in the hands of the police, who have middle class attributes. In most situations, upper middle class men are outside of the control or power of the middle class, and don't have to answer to them. These films instead show upper class men being judged negatively by "responsible" acting members of the middle class.

The heroes of both North by Northwest and I Saw the Whole Thing are both "creative" types: an ad man and a successful crime novelist. These are professions seen as outside of the norms of middle class organizations, such as the police forces in both films.

Vertigo contrasts Gavin Elster, a well-to-do upper middle class businessman with a lavish office, and the ex-policeman he hires (hero James Stewart). Stewart's ex-cop is noticeably middle class, wearing modestly priced suits and looking like a "normal" middle class American. This contrast between upper middle class men and middle class cops anticipates North by Northwest and I Saw the Whole Thing.

Jacques Tourneur repeatedly contrasted middle class and upper middle class men. Please see the linked article for details.

Hitchcock told interviewers how afraid he was of the police, and police scenes in Hitchcock films are often interpreted as expressions of this fear. Certainly, the scenes in North by Northwest and I Saw the Whole Thing show an innocent hero in the hands of the police, and might be seen as expressions of "fear of the police". However, it might also be well past time for other meanings police scenes might have in Hitchcock to be explored.

The hero of Strangers on a Train is also an upper middle class man, who has to report to polite but deeply skeptical police.

Courtroom Drama

I Saw the Whole Thing is unusual for Hitchcock in that it is mainly a courtroom drama. It recalls the courtroom scenes in Easy Virtue and The Paradine Case, the inquest in Vertigo, the brief courtroom scene in North by Northwest. There are brief, abstractly stylized courtroom scenes in Strangers on a Train and Dial M for Murder.

The Witnesses

The ditzy teenage woman is none too smart, and her characterization is perhaps is a bit sexist. But her slang-filled speech and contemporary-for-1962 dancing also links Hitchcock to Modernity. This sort of 1960's zeitgeist is actually fairly rare in Hitchcock. Topaz might have a little of it, especially in the New York City scenes. The likable, earthy teenager Lucy in John Ford's Sergeant Rutledge (1960) also evokes a bit of the same contemporary US teenager feel. Don Weis' Billie (1965) is an in-depth, progressive look at a female teenager. Kate Osann's one-panel comic strip Tizzy, about a "typical" US female teenager, was also popular in this era.

The second woman witness is thoughtful and intelligent. As a woman who thinks, and who expresses herself articulately and thoughtfully, she anticipates Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) in The Birds, Hitchcock's next film.


The Birds

Explaining (and not Explaining) the Bird Attacks

The Birds (1963) was very widely viewed in its day. It was one of the most discussed films of its time, both in print, and in word of mouth among the general public. It also had extensive television showings after its theatrical run, helping to keep it in public consciousness during those pre-video days. The Birds' startling difference from other movies of its day also stirred up audience interest. Hitchcock himself was a famous celebrity in this era, due to his hosting of his long running TV show, which began in 1955, and which was still on the air in 1963.

According to Bill Krohn's Hitchcock at Work, early versions of the script had many explanations and suggestions of possible meanings for the birds' conduct. Hitchcock took most of these out of the final shooting script. But reviewers and the general public immediately filled the gap, raising many of these same ideas as suggestions for the film's meaning! This suggests that the ideas were already so clear as possible readings of the film, that there was no need to make them explicit.

The Birds resembles somewhat the Theater of the Absurd, at its cultural height during the 1960's. These were plays, which had strikingly vivid, but often logically unexplained, fantastic situations and plots.

The discussion of the bird attacks and their causes in the seaside restaurant, echoes earlier discussions of the Nazi horror in The Lady Vanishes. In both films, there are many people who deny that a menace exists. They prefer comfortable illusions to facing up to sinister realities. Hitchcock severely criticizes such people. One might add that the birds are indeed Nazi-like, in their sudden, unprovoked attack on civilian populations.

A Possible Influence: The Hawkman comic book

Hawkman was a super-hero of the Golden Age of comic books in the 1940's. He was a man who could fly, using a pair of wings he had made. In "Smoke from Nowhere" (Flash Comics #23, November 1941), he becomes the leader of Earth's birds, learning their language, and drawing on the birds as his allies. This became a permanent part of his characterization. Here, and in later tales, the birds mass in large groups, and attack human bad guys. The scenes where birds attack humans here oddly anticipate Alfred Hitchcock's film, The Birds. I have no idea if Hitchcock ever saw any Hawkman comics tales. They do anticipate both The Birds (1963), and such earlier Hitchcock films with sinister bird imagery, such as Spellbound (1945) and Psycho (1960).

Bill Krohn's Hitchcock at Work (1999-2000) documents interest in comics by Hitchcock's collaborators during the making of Strangers on a Train. These included Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates, and Charles Addams. It would not be surprising if Hitchcock liked Charles Addams: both men mixed the macabre with sly humor. One also wonders if Patricia Hitchcock read comic books while growing up, and if she ever shared them with her parents. Other directors, such as Fritz Lang, Federico Fellini and Alain Resnais are on record as loving comic strips.

Hawkman was revived as a character during a 1961 - 1962 tryout period, then got his own permanent magazine again in 1964. This Hawkman revival was available at many US newsstands and drug stores. One would not have to actually read comics, to see their brilliantly colored covers in grocery stores and pharmacies. The 1961-1962 tryout was available during the time when Hitchcock was preparing and shooting The Birds. The first Hawkman revival story appeared in February-March 1961; the first draft script of The Birds was finished late in 1961, according to Krohn's book. Shooting on the film was finished by mid-1962, while the Hawkman tryout was still running. However, there was no Hawkman magazine being published in 1963 when The Birds was released in theaters, and it would not have been prominent in the minds of most viewers in 1963. While The Birds led to extensive critical and public discussion of its possible meanings on its first release, I do not recall any comparisons at that time to Hawkman.

Birds in earlier Hitchcock films

The Birds recalls the strange small talk about the birds in a London park near the beginning of Foreign Correspondent. This seemed like an absurd little comic episode in that film, but it gathers associations from The Birds. There is also the sinister early scene on the beach in Young and Innocent, in which the sea gulls are associated with the discovery of the corpse, and the discussion in the same film about what the rooks might do to the hero if he gets killed. One also notices the birds on top of the ballet dancer's roof in Rear Window. They look so innocent there - but one suspects they are up to no good! The birds are linked to a woman here, as they will be again in The Birds. Rear Window has a second woman with a bird-cage, which she is always moving around - just like the cage of lovebirds being carried around in The Birds. Cary Grant sits next to a woman with a bird cage on the bus in To Catch a Thief. Bird imagery also plays a role in Spellbound and Psycho.

Hitchcock traditions

Some of Hitchcock's most personal films were shot in San Francisco, and in regions immediately around it: Shadow of a Doubt, Vertigo, The Birds, parts of Family Plot, and the crop dusting sequence in North by Northwest.

The opening of the film evokes several different previous Hitchcock works. The brief shots of downtown San Francisco recall Vertigo, with elegant Tippie Hendren recalling Kim Novak in that film, wandering around the city. The shot of the birds flying over San Francisco landmarks, recalls earlier shots of London in The Lodger.

The romantic scene in which Mitch and Melanie wander among the dunes recalls the opening love scenes of Spellbound. Both sequences involve lovers getting to know one another, while in isolated, beautiful romantic settings outdoors. And the children's birthday party which follows recalls the similar party in Young and Innocent.

All of these earlier films are much less horror driven than The Birds. Structurally, these evocations of earlier Hitchcock films have the role of "light-hearted introductions to serious horror". This is somewhat of an odd perspective.

Sets and Landscapes: Hitchcock's Visual Style

The pet store scenes feature an elaborate, two story set, as in Rear Window. In both works the action is on an upper story, with the camera frequently looking out and down on a lower area, here the lower floor of the pet store. Complex geometric patterns abound in these aerial views, just as in the earlier film. Hitchcock is seen here, walking two dogs; dogs symbolized love and goodness in Rear Window. Dog licenses are available later at the general store in Bodega Bay, according to a sign.

When the action shifts to the countryside around Bodega Bay, we get aerial landscapes showing the highway embedded in complex landscape views. These recall the shots of Riviera roads, around 15 minutes into To Catch a Thief. We also get an overall view of the town from the water, recalling similar townscapes on hills in the earlier film.

The introduction to the Brenner house also recalls Rear Window. The house, barn and the grounds form an elaborate, multi-level complex, like the courtyard in Rear Window. The grounds are laid out into a series of regions, by the use of white fences, just like the differing regions of the courtyard in the earlier movie. Just as James Stewart stared at the courtyard from afar, here Melanie watches the Brenner house and grounds from the boat. Hitchcock's camera constantly picks out different views and framings of the Brenner house - his vision is "free" to pick any angle or sectional view here, just like the free camerawork in the earlier film. Melanie eventually penetrates the landscape she is watching, just as Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter do in Rear Window. And people inside in turn discover Melanie: Mitch discovers and watches her, just as Raymond Burr watches Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window.

There are some complex pans which explore elaborate landscapes. These include early shots of Melanie in the dock area, and the shot which follows Jessica Tandy as she enters the farm house. Both involve characters moving through 90 degree turns onto new paths. The farmhouse scene reveals an elaborate set of paths and fences in the farmhouse courtyard. These invoke both the Brenner house, with lots of white fencing, and Hitchcock's love of geometric sets, such as the cemetery in Family Plot.

The white fencing also recalls the Western house in Saboteur. It has a similar wholesome looking architecture as the Bremer house here, although sinister events eventually take over both places.

Color

Some of the interiors in the town are in the blue and red-orange color scheme, used in the 1950's by Vincente Minnelli, George Cukor and others. These include: Other scenes have red-green schemes, common both in Minnelli and some Hitchcock. When the heroine approaches the outside of the restaurant, we are mainly in red-green. And when the heroine approaches Pleshette's house, she is in her green suit; there is green grass, Pleshette is in red, and so is her red mailbox.

The neutral tones that frame these bright colors are distinctive in The Birds, too. They are unusually warm. The heroine's light fur coat is nearly honey colored. The hero wears an off-white sweater, light gray suits, and later a white shirt. Woodwork throughout is light and cheerful. This makes the neutral tones in The Birds much lighter and brighter than in many films.

The hero sometimes wears green pants. This echoes the heroine's light green suit. this underscores a unity between the hero and heroine.


Marnie

Marnie is full of scenes that echo earlier Hitchcock films: The rope-skipping rhyme previously appeared in Jules Dassin's The Naked City. Its mention of the alligator purse keeps up the animal motif that runs throughout Marnie, and its doctor-nurse questions anticipates the healing of Marnie in the film. There is also a little girl glimpsed playing hopscotch on the street near the start of Rear Window.

The suspense shot of Marnie and the cleaning woman recalls Ozu. The very low angle of the shot is Ozu's favorite camera position. Its frontal approach, so that the frame is parallel to the walls of the building, also seems Ozu-like; so do the deep corridors and perspectives revealed in the shot.


Torn Curtain

Torn Curtain (1966) recalls Fritz Lang's Cloak and Dagger (1946). Both films are spy stories, with an American physicist going to Germany to be involved in atomic secrets. Both films have a suspense sequence, in which the hero must kill an enemy agent in complete silence, so as not to give away his activities. Both sequences are ferocious and harrowing.

The panic at the theater in Torn Curtain recalls the earlier theater disturbance in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935), and the big fight at the pub in Young and Innocent (1937). In both cases, civilized order breaks down into frightening chaos.

The sympathetic man who accompanies and watches the hero, recalls the sympathetic police tails assigned to accompany the hero in Strangers on a Train.


Family Plot

Family Plot (1976) is Hitchcock's final film.

The discussions of Hitchcock TV episodes The Horseplayer and I Saw the Whole Thing, detail how imagery from these shows was transformed and re-used in Family Plot.

Influences

The phony medium recalls Fritz Lang's Ministry of Fear (1944). Both works are cautionary, denouncing the paranormal and superstition as frauds.

The place where the helicopter lands, looking for the kidnap victim, evokes the park in Blowup (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966). Both are green spaces, full of mystery. Both have a woman wandering around. Both eventually include a body, stretched out on the ground.

The Garage

The basement garage rooms are full of the bright colors Hitchcock liked: red brick, a green hose, brightly colored plastic bottles.

This garage environment looks a little like the general store in The Birds, although the colors are different. Both are full of handyman type supplies.

The garage, like the anti-hero's workroom at his business in Four O'Clock, is a private place with brick walls where sinister things are constructed. The basement at home in Four O'Clock also resembles these rooms: it is full of equipment, and has brick walls.

Color

When Barbara Harris is doing her phony medium routines, she is often in rooms full of red furnishings. This is true of both the opening scene, and of a later reading at her home.

Bruce Dern's cabman outfit is full of black and gray.