ALFRED HITCHCOCK, AUTEUR FILMMAKER
"Hitch is a gentleman farmer who raises goose flesh." -- actress Ingrid Bergman
"I read in Cahiers du Cinema that a filmmaker is like a peeping Tom."
-- young male character in Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Dreamers
and master technician Alfred
Hitchcock is deemed an auteur for two major reasons:
1. His modus operandi gave him considerable control over his films.
2. Running throughout his oeuvre are recurrent thematic, aural and visual motifs.
Hitchcock preplanned every detail of his films. He drew a series of sketches (storyboards) that resembled comic strips, spelling out each aspect of a given shot. These dictated the arrangement of actors/objects within the film frame; camera movements, angles and distances; colors (if used); use of light and shadow; and, editing techniques. He designated how sets should look, handpicking on-location sites (when employed) and appropriate furnishings. He oversaw his stars' wardrobes, too, and even stipulated the shade of blonde that Grace Kelly's hair should be in the films he made with her. (With each successive film, her hair become lighter.) If Hitchcock resembles James Stewart's controlling character in Vertigo, who decrees what Kim Novak's hair color and style, make-up and clothing should be, it is not surprising; Hitchcock's heroes are his filmic alter egos -- tall, handsome leading men so unlike himself.
Hitchcock did little improvisation in front of the camera. In fact, the director practiced what's known as "cutting in the camera." This means that the only time he had to film a shot more than once was when an actor flubbed the lines, a prop got knocked over or, if on location, the weather didn't cooperate. Because Hitchcock took care of every detail in advance, shooting usually went smoothly, bringing his film projects in on time and under budget. This means the producers of his films gave him a good deal of freedom and rarely interfered with his filmmaking procedures. Even those who didn't want to cede control had to; they weren't able to recut Hitchcock's films because they were so tightly shot.
But doing so much work in advance work also had a downside. Because the details were worked out ahead of time, Hitchcock's films needed little direction. By the time shooting began, there was little to oversee, and Hitchcock would be bored. To keep from being bored, he'd begin working out the details of his next film project.
The world dissolves into chaos. Politics, government and the police, emblematic of an ordered life, are ineffectual against disorder. Blackmail, Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, The Paradine Case, Torn Curtain, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much
Difficult parent/child relationships, often involving a domineering mother: Notorious, Spellbound, Shadow of a Doubt, Psycho, Marnie
A mother figure who, as postfeminist Camille Paglia has written, is typically "clinging, manipulative...based on Hitchcock's own early family experience," as in Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Psycho
Male/female relationships involve a sexual neurosis: Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, Marnie, Frenzy
Sex and violence are inextricably linked: The Lodger, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Marnie, Frenzy, Strangers on a Train
Preoccupation with guilt and the exchange of guilt: Blackmail, Rebecca, Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, Frenzy
Voyeurism: The Pleasure Garden, Rebecca, Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, Rear Window, Psycho
A Red Herring, known as a MacGuffin, referring to the ostensible plot of the film (when what we're really supposed to care about are the characters' relationships): The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Foreign Correspondent, Notorious, North by Northwest
Juxtaposition of comedy and horror/black humor: The 39 Steps, The Trouble with Harry, To Catch a Thief, Frenzy
Preoccupation with morbid psychology: Suspicion, Spellbound, Psycho, Marnie
Moral ambiguity -- who is really good/bad: Blackmail, Shadow of a Doubt, Lifeboat, The Paradine Case, Strangers on a Train
Theme of doppelgängers: Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, The Lady Vanishes, Vertigo, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Psycho
Personal insignificance of the individual in a vast, potentially inimical universe, ending in a character's vertical fall: Blackmail, Saboteur, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train
Illusion vs. Reality, represented in live theatres or movie theatres: Murder, Sabotage, The 39 Steps, Stagefright, The Man Who Knew Too Much
Dominance of past over present or the power of the dead over the living: Rebecca, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Spellbound, Vertigo, Psycho, Marnie, Family Plot
Frequent plot device is the man wrongly accused: The Lodger, The 39 Steps, Saboteur, Spellbound, The Wrong Man, Strangers on a Train, To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest
Character's restless boredom acts as a prelude to chaos: Rich and Strange, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window
Travel, often across the country, and frequently by train (and frequently featuring Hitchcock's cameo appearance): North by Northwest, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, The Lady Vanishes, The Paradine Case
Protagonist's salvation depends upon the trust of others: The Lodger, The 39 Steps, Young and Innocent, Rebecca, Saboteur, The Paradine Case, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Marnie
Characters conceal/change their names to uncover a secret and/or discover something deeper about their real identities: The 39 Steps, Foreign Correspondent, Spellbound, North by Northwest
Names often reveal something about a character, such as Marion Crane in Psycho, Gavin Elster ("elster" is German for a magpie) in Vertigo and Louise Finch in Shadow of a Doubt (all birds' names, hinting at chaos); Mr. Fry, the arsonist in Saboteur
Tall, dark handsome heroes and cool blonde leading ladies. "Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints." -- Alfred Hitchcock: The 39 Steps, Rebecca, North by Northwest, To Catch a Thief, Rear Window, Psycho, Dial M for Murder, Vertigo, Notorious, Spellbound, Saboteur, The Birds, Suspicion, Marnie
Smooth, likeable villains: The 39 Steps, Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur, The Lady Vanishes, Shadow of a Doubt, Spellbound, Strangers on a Train, Notorious, Dial M for Murder, Vertigo, North by Northwest
Jewelry generally indicates a character's shallow concern for outward
appearances at the cost of true values, and/or is a psychological reference point for
relationships between characters. Lifeboat, Under Capricorn, To Catch a Thief,
Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt, Saboteur, Stage Fright, Rear Window, Strangers
on a Train, Vertigo
Aural and Visual Motifs
Close-ups: Young and Innocent, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Psycho
Rapid cross-cutting or montage: Secret Agent, Dial M for Murder, Shadow of a Doubt, Psycho
Long takes and/or lengthy tracking shots: Young and Innocent, Murder, Rope, Notorious, Under Capricorn, I Confess, Vertigo, Marnie
Strong angles: The Pleasure Garden, Dial M for Murder, Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt, The Wrong Man, Psycho, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo
Use of the subjective camera: Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, Psycho, Notorious, The Paradine Case
Color used symbolically: Marnie, Torn Curtain
Expressionistic use of music/sound: Blackmail, Secret Agent, Vertigo, Psycho
Expressionistic shadows, bars, shooting through grillework, strong contrasts of light/darkness: Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, The Paradine Case, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Stage Fright
Traditional literary imagery, such as water and storms: Young and Innocent, Rebecca, Lifeboat, Notorious, Spellbound, I Confess, Vertigo, Psycho
In typical expressionistic fashion, closed forms, often signifying
entrapment: Notorious, Psycho, Rebecca, Vertigo
Staircases leading a character somewhere where s/he doesn't really want to go:: The Lodger, Blackmail, Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt, Rebecca, The Paradine Case, Vertigo, Psycho, Strangers on a Train
Birds as a symbol of imminent chaos: Young and Innocent, Blackmail, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Rear Window, Jamaica Inn, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Shadow of a Doubt, Frenzy, To Catch a Thief
Handcuffed characters (with a sexual connotation or terror at being bound): Number Seventeen, The Lodger, The 39 Steps, Saboteur, Jamaica Inn
Death by strangulation: Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Rope, Frenzy
Stabbing (preferred instrument of death when killer and victim are not of the same sex): Blackmail, The 39 Steps, Sabotage, Dial M for Murder, Psycho, Torn Curtain
Talk of food
and/or eating, as well as important conversations taking place around the dinner table:
Rich and Strange, The 39 Steps, Jamaica Inn, The Paradine Case, Rear Window, Shadow of a
Doubt, Saboteur, To Catch a Thief, The Birds, Frenzy (This no doubt harkens to
Hitchcock's family owning a grocery store, as well as the director's lifelong battle with
OF A DOUBT
"We're not just an uncle and a niece. It's something else.
I know you. I know you don't tell people a lot of things. I don't either.
I have a feeling that inside you there's something nobody knows about . . .
something secret and wonderful. I'll find it out."
-- Charlie Newton, speaking to her Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt
Hitchcock's favorite among his own films and the second to be given landmark status by the National Film Registry, an arm of the Library of Congress, is 1943's Shadow of a Doubt. After making Saboteur, the Master of Suspense turned down Gaslight, the romantic thriller costarring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman (one of his favorite leading ladies), and Joseph Cotten (Uncle Charlie in Shadow), because he didn't want to tackle another period piece so soon after the failure of Jamaica Inn. He toyed with making a movie about a ventriloquist whose dummy pushes him to commit bigamy and murder, but he ended up making Shadow instead.
The film explores one of Hitchcock's favorite themes -- the doppelgänger, a German concept referring to a living person's shadow, or evil twin. It was a popular subject in late Victorian literature (the period of Hitchcock's boyhood) in works such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Hitchcock was already intrigued by the concept of guilt; it makes sense that the idea of a good person having a bad or a dark side would also interest him. (Actually, Hitchcock's proposed film about a ventiloquist and his dummy would probably have been quite similar in theme.)
Shadow is based on a bare-bones story by Gordon McDonnell, whose wife was the head of film producer David O. Selznick's story department. It centers on a young woma, Charlie Newton, who lives with her family in the placid town of Santa Rosa, California. (Think of Grovers Corners, the idyllic locale of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town, as Wilder was the main screenwriter on Shadow.) One day her mother's younger brother -- her beloved Uncle Charlie, for whom she's named -- comes to visit. At first, young Charlie is thrilled; her uncle's visit breaks the monotony of her life. Soon, however, she not only discovers some awful truths about her uncle but she also learns that she is not the pure soul, the "clean slate," she thought she was. By the film's end, Charlie realizes that everyone -- even she herself -- is capable of wrongdoing, even committing murder.
Throughout the film, Hitchcock underscores the notion of the two Charlies as twins by presenting a series of aural and visual doubles. For example, there are camera set-ups that occur twice, one focused on the uncle, the other on the niece; words and phrases are repeated; many characters have double letters in their names; there are two scenes in a specific location; and, there are doubles of several people and objects, e.g., two telegrams, two pins on young Charlie's coat, two girls who wear glasses, etc.
FOR YOUR ASSIGNMENT
You need to first read the week's assignments and then see Shadow of a Doubt, either on your own or in IMS, where it is on reserve. As you watch the film, make note of various kinds of doubles, as explained above.
Prepare two copies
(typed) of your doubles list. You'll hand in one copy at the beginning of class and then
have the other to refer to during a discussion of the film's doubles. (You should have
twenty different doubles at a minimum.) Please note: Failure to follow these directions
properly will result in a failing grade on this assignment. If you miss class for any reason, you must either e-mail it to me or
deliver it to my departmental mail box within 24 hours. I will not accept it any later
than this unless you produce a note from the dean's office.
Shadow of a Doubt as a noir construct: http://www.imagesjournal.com/issue02/infocus/shadow.htm
An article which focuses on Hitchcock's daughter, Pat, who appears in three of her father's films, including Strangers on a Train (You'll need to scroll down to access it.)
A piece on "Hitchcock's goofy endings," by Steve Burgess, which includes the denouements of both Shadow of a Doubt and Strangers on a Train. (Again, scroll down to find it.)
An article proffering the views of noted post-feminist Camille Paglia, who teaches in Philadelphia at the University of the Arts, on Hitchcock as cinema's Picasso (Scroll down yet again.)