Editor's Week 2009

December 19 - 2009
In the process last time of comparing a sequence in Hitchcock's Downhill (1927) to a famous one in Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), I analysed a frame from the latter film (see above) to show how artful it was. Pendant objects, vertical objects, spiral and/or circular designs, life/death (and sexual) symbolism, subtle-yet-bold colour design, lush décor captured on the Technicolor film stock and filling the Vistavision frame - this particular image may represent the film as a whole. (The whole film is similarly designed. I only regret that I could not reproduce the frame in larger size - such an analysis as the above is even more convincing when individual details can be readily seen and appreciated for their decidedly non-random inclusion in the film.) The film itself is about Scottie as victim and as an artist manqué (with Midge as his extension), a theme taken from the original Boileau & Narcejac novel; so the artfulness and the artiness of the film is highly fitting. I also noted previously parallels of Scottie (James Stewart) in Vertigo with an earlier fall-guy, Roddy (Ivor Novello) in Downhill. Scottie's aspiration in Vertigo is upwards, to rise above this mundane world: pride comes before a fall, as they say. Until that fall comes (Judy/Madeleine's but also Scottie's), the actual trajectory followed by Scottie is indeed gradually upwards, in a spiral fashion (though not, of course, without some descending passages on the way). By contrast, Roddy's general trajectory is downwards after his initial fall from grace (his wrongful expulsion from school: cf. Scottie's near-fall off the roof at the start of Vertigo), and only at the end does he rise again when he is exonerated of the misdeed for which he had been earlier found guilty. Both films have a quality of Symbolism, by which I mean that they speak about the nature of 'life' itself, as did the 19C Symbolist art movement (circa 1886-1905) which Hitchcock avowed had influenced him - Downhill speaking more optimistically than Vertigo, though. The latter film is decidedly the more mature work in every way, yet the seeds were in the earlier film. (Not incidentally, a moment early in Downhill when Roddy wanders forlornly down a deserted cloister, after having been expelled from school, forshadows the moment in Vertigo when Midge wanders forlornly down a corridor after she has just told a hospital doctor that Mozart and music therapy aren't going to help Scottie 'at all'.) Something Downhill lacks when compared with Vertigo is simply the latter's rich texture in which each scene reinforces another in a more than sequential way. Thus, as I've suggested, the above-analysed Ernie's Restaurant scene is the complement of the later scene in the Sequoia forest: both are about life and death but where the Ernie's scene finally emphasises ephemerality (symbolised by the rose in the spiral vase) and the red décor is lit by artificial light (more ephemerality), the forest scene is all about longevity, the human figures dwarfed by the tall green trees, and the forest gloom only weakly penetrated by beams of sunlight. Put these two scenes together and you have an iconic statement of what Scottie (and by extension the viewer) wants: to live in the world and yet transcend it, to live forever! (Could this be a statement about the nature of art and film themselves?) Not that Downhill doesn't have a richness of its own. I'll give just one example this time, and it is probably the contribution of the screenwriter, Eliot Stannard. An ambiguity accompanies Roddy's question to the headmaster on being expelled, 'Does this mean, sir, that I shan't be able to play for the Old Boys?' (The happy-ending last shot will show him doing exactly that, playing rugby and scoring a try for the Old Boys. See frame-capture below. Cf. November 14, above.) Hitchcock didn't appreciate this line, probably because of the flack it drew from reviewers and 'intellectuals', but it is brilliant. It is just what a school football hero, immature but idealistic (and already possessed of the English stiff upper lip), might say, surely? And when at the end we see his 'dream' realised (he is indeed now playing for the Old Boys), we may take it two ways. Hasn't all of his experience in the real world - his downhill trip - taught Roddy anything? Does this 'artificial' triumph of scoring a goal for the Old Boys really matter in the face of the suffering (and human duplicity) he has been witness to? On the other hand, maybe it is exactly this artificial triumph that is the most that can be hoped for by most human beings in the face of the infinite 'souring' effect that the real world offers to our earliest hopes and aspirations. This, too, is an anticipation of the message of Vertigo, with its rich Romantic Irony. [Back in two weeks. Have some book reading to do in that time and to enter on our New Publications page.]

December 12 - 2009
[Return next week.]

December 5 - 2009
Last week I suggested how an elaborate sequence involving the unjustly-expelled schoolboy Roddy (Ivor Novello) in Hitchcock's Downhill (1927) prefigured an equally elaborate - and celebrated - sequence involving the recently-dismissed police detective Scottie (James Stewart) in Vertigo (1958). The sequence in Downhill is introduced by a title 'The world of make-believe' (note that Roddy will use a windfall to pursue the duplicitous actress Julia who really loves the actor Archie) while the sequence in Vertigo is about the beginning of Scottie's fantasy involving the mysterious 'Madeleine' (he will pursue her not knowing that she is playing a part and that he has been set up). I described both sequences at length last time - though in the case of the Vertigo one I omitted certain details mainly because I analysed those details here three years ago ("Editor's Week", November 24, 2006). Time to re-visit that Vertigo moment now! See the frame-capture below. 'Madeleine' (Kim Novak) has momentarily paused close to Scottie (offscreen). Beside her is what I am told is a 'trompe l'oeil' painting showing a child: from a slightly different angle the image appears as that of a young woman and from a slightly different angle again the image appears that of a wizened crone! (In other words, a whole lifetime is shown in all its poignance and ephemerality.) Next, notice that the frame is full of upright objects, emphasising verticality - and not least among those objects is the painting itself and the single rose in a tall vase (of spiral design) placed directly below it. 'Madeleine', the painting, and the rose are thus being likened to each other, partly by their contiguity in the frame. But other factors are also at work. For example, next notice the frame's several pendant objects: the emerald below Madeleine's neck, the crystal chandelier, and again the picture. Both vertical objects and pendant ones recur throughout the film, and both subliminally remind us of the film's title and the moment at the start when Scottie hung suspended from a rooftop (while we, the audience, watched in a suspense, or vertigo, of our own ...). Similarly, in Downhill, a visual motif of 'descent' constantly recurs (e.g., when Roddy takes an escalator down into the London Underground), as do spiral designs and spinning objects (e.g., a revolving record, a ship's engine) which remind us of Roddy's inexorable downward spiral until the film's coda appears to reprieve him. But to return to Vertigo ... The colour-scheme shown here has subtleties of its own, not least the general artificiality/artifice of it: remove Madeleine from the shot and the effect is stark and unpleasant! Madeleine's emerald wrap is complemented (set off) by the pink rose; the latter, in turn, is complemented (set off) by both the deep red of the wall and by the rose's dark green leaves. Also, those red walls (like Ernie's itself) may seem removed from the forest which Scottie and Madeleine will visit later - yet, paradoxically, both of those places imply, I think, the inextricability of life and death. (Red in Hitchcock is often the colour of life as well as of death. The Vertigo forest, containing what Scottie claims are 'the oldest living things', is a redwood forest, after all.) Let's stay on this matter for a moment. That rose in the vase is a rich symbol. The spiral or concentric formation of its petals echoes both the grouping of those plates on the back wall and other spiral or concentric images in the film, including the nosegay that Madeleine carries to the cemetery and, of course, the concentric rings of the felled tree in the forest. The beautiful but ephemeral rose is a symbol of Madeleine (perhaps specifically her breasts) just as the nosegay and the felled tree symbolise Madeleine and/or her ancestors, specifically Carlotta, who 'speak' through her (so that Madeleine can say, pointing to the rings of the felled tree, 'Here I was born and here I died'). What Scottie sees in 'Madeleine'/Judy is both her frailty (that's mainly Judy) and yet the Eternal Feminine (or anima-figure) that 'Madeleine' represents for him. (Another such figure in Hitchcock would have been the title character of Mary Rose, which sadly he never filmed though Jay Presson Allen's draft script exists.) In effect, Scottie seeks to be an artist, hoping, via his transfiguring of 'Madeleine'/Judy, to transcend all ephemerality. He is more pro-active than Roddy most of the time, but in fact, in their different ways, both are fall-guys. This Romantic Irony is most pronounced in Vertigo. But there's more to say ...

November 28 - 2009
I have suggested that Downhill is about Romantic Irony (in which the audience is implicated in the film's delirium and 'make-believe') and that it prefigures Vertigo. Quite specifically, its second 'act', which is called 'The world of make-believe', begins with a marvellous piece of dynamic trompe l'oeil. A close-up of Roddy (Ivor Novello) in a tuxedo momentarily tricks us into thinking that he has somehow risen in the world rather than plunged 'downhill' (as we had just been told would happen to him). But when the view widens slightly, we see that he is only a waiter and is serving a couple drinks at a table. The couple soon get up and move right where they begin to dance; meanwhile, Roddy has pocketed a cigarette-case which the woman left behind on the table. Is he, then, a thief? (See frame-capture below.) Now the view widens further and the camera begins to pan right. Suddenly we realise that we have been tricked again! We see that we are in the wings of a theatre (a favourite place for Hitchcock to put his camera: vide The Pleasure Garden, Murder!,The 39 Steps, Stage Fright) and that what we took to be, say, a garden party is in fact a theatre stage! Moreover, this isn't just a play - it's a full-blown musical! A row of chorus girls enters from the wings opposite and soon everybody on stage - including Roddy - is facing screen-right and joining in the dancing. There are a couple of shots from the front of house (the orchestra pit, actually), giving us the full proscenium-framed view of the stage. Then the scene fades out. In the next scene, we cut between the actors' dressing-rooms. Roddy shares his with other actors. He is seated in front of a mirror, pondering. Next we cut to the dressing-room of the male lead, Archie (Ian Hunter), whom we have just seen onstage dancing with the female lead, Julia (Isabel Jeans). Archie, in front of his mirror, puffs on a cigarette. Then a 'thinks' shot shows us Julia, in front of her mirror and also smoking. The effect of this inter-cutting is to suggest a three-way relationship between Roddy, Julia, and Archie, which of course is what subsequent developments will establish and confirm (in which Roddy will be the almost literal fall-guy). The mirror-imagery implicates them all in a complex 'world of make-believe'. I could say more (the cigarette-case will prove to be Roddy's excuse to visit Julia in her dressing-room and strike up a closer acquaintance), but what is most striking, I suggest, in the above, is how closely it anticipates Vertigo. Very specifically, I'm thinking of the virtual start of that film's second 'act' in which Scottie (James Stewart) at Ernie's restaurant first sees 'Madeleine' (Kim Novak) with whom he will strike up an acquaintance and fall in love. This famous sequence in Vertigo (analysed elsewhere on this website by Richard Allen), like the one just described in Downhill, is about a man watching a couple - and for whom he will soon become their fall-guy. Also, it too involves an elaborate widening-out and panning-shot and some brilliant cutting, plus finally an ingenious mirror-effect - all totally appropriate in a film about art and artifice and, yes, another 'world of make-believe'. Here, then, is the sequence in more detail. After an exterior establishing-shot (with track-in), we see Scottie seated inside Ernie's at the bar. He is gazing off-screen. The camera pulls back and we see that he is looking towards the main dining area, which is crowded with well-to-do diners at their tables. The area is separated from the bar by wooden arches which suggest frames - or prosceniums. The view widens further to show all of the dining area with its red-plush walls, and it's as if we, the audience, were being admitted to this privileged area, were being allowed inside the 'painting' or 'stage'. This impression is confirmed and enhanced when the camera, after a momentary pause, begins to move in (excluding Scottie from the shot), and our eyes are drawn towards one particular table at which are seated a man and a blonde woman who is dressed in an emerald-green off-shoulder dress, her back towards us. (This of course is Gavin Elster and 'Madeleine'.). Cut to Scottie, looking. He too has been as drawn to this particular view as we have, yet our view,as I say, has been more 'privileged' (closer) than Scottie's. So, as with Roddy in Downhill, we both share and go beyond what he sees - Romatic Irony at work. One more thing for now. When Gavin and 'Madeleine' leave the restaurant (note: we have just seen, from Scottie's point of view, 'Madeleine' both frontally and in profile, which is very pleasing), they pass in front of a long mirror, which momentarily 'doubles' them. This both anticipates Madeleine's line later, about 'a corridor that once was mirrored', and strongly suggests the onset of Scottie's fantasy about Madeleine (which resembles Roddy's about Julia). In sum, two brilliant sequences, and remarkably alike in several respects. More next time.

November 21 - 2009
I was talking above about Hitchcock and the topic of Romantic Irony, and last week suggested that Downhill (1927) may be the first of the director's films to systematically embody Romantic Irony. Dr Doug Muecke notes that '[s]omething like Romantic Irony (but it is only a first step towards it) may be found in works of all ages' (starting with Aristophanes). He explains: 'In these works the author expresses his awareness that what he is writing is after all only an illusion by bringing himself or his readers unexpectedly into the work ... We come closer to Romantic Irony when the work is accompanied by a critical commentary on events and characters and closer still when the commentary directs its ironic attention to [artistic] composition in general or even to the composition of the work in hand.' ('Irony', 1970, p. 79) Downhill perhaps doesn't go quite that far (contra, say, Vertigo) but it certainly does manage to compare 'the game of life' (in which Roddy soon finds himself caught up) with the 'game' of performance and the 'art' of story-telling. First, remember that Downhill consists of three sections. The first is called 'The world of youth' (the school scenes, including a fateful episode with a treacherous waitress Mabel), the second is called 'The world of make-believe' (Roddy's involvement in theatre and a brief marriage to the treacherous actress Julia), the third is called 'The world of lost illusions' (in which Roddy in Paris is reduced to near-gigolo status and finally near-death in Marseilles). There is also a coda in which Roddy, reprieved, finds himself playing for the Old Boys - which just goes to show that 'playing the game' and maintaining one's 'honour' (an overt theme of Downhill) may matter more than any naive quest for 'experience' (which will come soon enough anyway). There are many things to comment on here. Tonight I'll take up just one or two. First, you could say that Hitchcock's alleged misogyny is on show in Downhill for the first time. When the waitress Mabel, pregnant to Roddy's room-mate Tim, accuses Roddy of being responsible (she knows that Roddy's father is rich, whereas Tim's is poor) and demands recompense, Roddy shakes her. Here you can practically hear him saying the words Guy in Strangers on a Train says to Miriam, 'You conniving little liar!' To be fair to Hitchcock, though, he does show that circumstances got out of control - the scene in Ye Olde Bunne Shoppe - and that therefore 'no-one is to blame'. In that scene both Tim and Roddy had been present, summoned by Mabel, and both had danced with her. In a fleeting melodramatic shot (see frame-capture below), it is actually Roddy and Mabel who are lit exotically by light filtered through a nearby bead-curtain, and the delirium of passion is implied. (By the end of the film, Roddy will have experienced other kinds of delirium too.) If a customer hadn't entered the shop at just that critical moment, causing Mabel to go and serve her, maybe things would have happened differently. What Hitchcock actually shows in Downhill is that human beings are weak but women especially so. When Roddy has his affair with the actress Julia and eventually marries her - or, rather, she marries him, for the windfall of £30,000 he has come into - we are made aware that she has been put up to the marriage by her boyfriend, the actor Archie, despite initial protest by her. (But both she and Archie know that they have accumulated heavy debts and that here may be their surest way out.) Concerning Romantic Irony, the scenes involving Roddy, Julia, and Archie constitute the film's second act, 'The world of make-believe', in which acting - and mirrors - are integral. There's a foretaste here of Vertigo, something I'll describe next time.

November 14 - 2009
For various reasons, I want to talk this time about Hitchcock's Downhill (1927) - but still in the context of Romantic Irony. Dr Doug Muecke's book 'Irony' (1970) says this: 'Romantic Irony is closely related to that ironic view of life expressed by Renan, "The universe is a spectacle that God offers himself"'. (p. 78) In explanation, Muecke quotes novelist Thomas Mann: 'Nietzsche inherited from Schopenhauer the proposition that "life as representation alone, seen pure or reproduced in art, is a significant spectacle" - the proposition, that is, that life can be justified only as an aesthetic phenomenon. Life is art and appearance, nothing more ...'. (pp. 78-79) I didn't really understand that observation (the word 'justified' was particularly tricky) until I consulted a passage in another fine book, Bryan Magee's 'The Great Philosophers' (BBC Books, 1987), in which, apropos Nietzsche, he interviewed Professor J.P. Stern. The latter points out that the word 'justification' is Nietzsche's own, used repeatedly in 'The Birth of Tragedy'. Stern: '[It's] a very dicey word to use in this context (it's a judicial phrase, isn't it?) - if there's to be a justification for man being here, and being what he is, maybe it is simply as part of this huge cosmic drama.' (p. 249) And Magee comments: 'I suppose the point here is that if there is nothing outside this world - no God, and no transcendent realm of any kind - then life cannot have any purpose outside or beyond itself. Whatever meaning or justification it has must come from within itself: it must exist purely for its own sake, and have import on its own terms alone. All this makes it rather like a gigantic work of art.' (p. 249) Well, reader, let's move to Downhill, the first of Hitchcock's films to feature a particular game of sport (rugby), some others being The Ring (boxing), Strangers on a Train (tennis), and, you could say, Marnie (fox-hunting). In Hitchcock's films, sport typically serves as a metaphor for Schopenhauer's cosmic 'Will' (roughly, the life/death 'force'). I don't think it fortuitous that Downhill opens and closes with Roddy (Ivor Novello) scoring a try - a neat pun, emphasising individual 'will' - and that emphasis in all these sports (as photographed by Hitchcock's camera) is on striving and stretching, literally going flat out, and finally achieving some goal, usually within a clearly demarcated space (whose boundaries, interestingly, serve a bit like the frame of a painting or the walls of a theatre or concert hall - I'll come back to this). See frame-capture from the opening of Downhill below. Another type of 'game' to feature in Hitchcock is of course the 'game' of espionage. The spy Van Damm (James Mason) in North by Northwest (1959) hypocritically laments, 'Games? Must we?', preferring to leave his dirty-work to underlings, though the luxury and the art and the sophisticated sex (or bi-sex) are fine by him. Van Damm's reference to 'games' may invoke what Kipling proudly called 'the Great Game' involving rigid codes of honour by the imperialist powers overseas, and typically extending (in a non-political sense) even to the playing fields back home (such as Roddy's public school). In Kipling's 'Kim' (1900), the Great Game does indeed involve espionage - along the Great Trunk Road in north-west India - and of course it imbues the Hannay novels of Buchan. But now here again is J.P. Stern on Nietzsche: 'He's asking, as indeed Shakespeare did occasionally: Is the whole world really to be taken seriously, or is it not a great game, a great play, some kind of drama played out by we do not know whom, as a spectacle for we do not know whom?' (Magee, p. 249) Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest may be two of Hitchcock's most satisfying dealings with that question - and packed with Romantic Irony as a result - but Downhill already showed clear signs of the sophistication to come. I'll say more next time.

November 7 - 2009
My former tutor, Dr Doug Muecke (see October 24, above), was a recognised authority on irony in literature and art. Richard Allen's book 'Hitchcock's Romantic Irony' (2007) draws extensively on his work. And Dr Muecke was nothing if not a dry humorist at times (on and off the printed page). Here is how he introduces the topic of Romantic Irony, after noting that it was Friedrich Schlegel who first explored the concept. Romantic Irony is 'the irony of the fully-conscious artist whose art is the ironical presentation of the ironic position of the fully-conscious artist.' ('Irony', 1970, p. 20) Got that? Richard Allen did, and brilliantly related it to the work of Hitchcock. Doug Muecke elaborates: 'The artist is in an ironic position for several reasons: in order to write well he must be both creative and critical, subjective and objective, enthusiastic and realistic, emotional and rational, unconsciously inspired and a conscious artist; his work purports to be about the world and yet is fiction ... so that we shall regard it as being ambivalently both art and life.' (p. 20) So how does that relate to our recent discussion of 'doubles' in Hitchcock, and of 'dandies' and 'rogues'? We saw that two real-life 'types' who were prominent in British society after the First World War were indeed the dandy and the rogue. My belief is that Hitchcock modelled himself on both types, and that's a reason why both appear in his films - sometimes in the one character, albeit ambivalently. (Notably, Johnnie in the 1941 Suspicion is something of a roguish playboy/dandy.) Hitchcock was roguish when he staged his elaborate practical jokes, a trait he shared with his friend, Sir Gerald du Maurier. Indulgence in practical jokes, glorified 'japing', was a phenomenon which became widespread in English society after the War, and has rightly (I believe) been seen as a reaction to the War. By the same token, Hitchcock took after the dandy both in his refined dress and manners (as Thomas Elsaesser has shown) and in his decided non-rejection of art. Now consider a film like Vertigo (1958), especially in relation to Dr Muecke's remarks above. Scottie (James Stewart) does indeed play the equivalent of a San Francisco 'rogue cop', if not exactly a Clint Eastwood one! When he accidentally allows a colleague to fall to his death, Scottie must quit the Force - but doesn't hand in his badge. For reasons of his own, he uses the badge to obtain information to which he isn't entitled from the landlady of the McKittrick Hotel (see frame-capture below). He is a 'rogue' in another sense, too, for that's the implication of Midge's having broken off her engagement to Scottie back in college days: she had sensed something intractable about him (which is never spelled out but clearly relates to his ambition which, in a sense, is 'inhuman' and Poe-esque - I once likened Scottie to Hans Pfaall). By the same token, the 'hard-headed' Scottie's 'other' side, embodied in Madeleine (Kim Novak), leads him towards the world of art and necrophilia and the eternal - which doesn't make him a dandy, exactly, but does round out his psyche in unlikely ways, ways that I think make Scottie almost a stand-in for Alfred Hitchcock. (In still another way, the villainous Gavin Elster definitely stands in for the 'director' Hitchcock. As noted here on October 24, the film is in part a metaphor for both film-viewing and film-making.) Which brings us back full circle to Dr Muecke's saying that an artist inclines to Romantic Irony because he recognises that the art-work is both objective and subjective - as the fully-conscious artist himself must be. One inherent irony, though, is that 'perfection' will never be achieved, no doubt a reason why Richard Allen wrote that 'Vertigo has to end' with Scottie's defeat and Judy's death. Nonetheless, such an artist's use of complementary 'doubles' (like that of Daphne du Maurier in, say, her remarkable 1965 novel 'The Flight of the Falcon') may enable him and his audience to better glimpse, or grasp, what Allen calls 'the relationship of the finite to the infinite' (see October 24, above).

October 31 - 2009
We are indebted then to Richard Allen's book 'Hitchcock's Romantic Irony' (2007) for letting us see that Hitchcock's films contain both 'dandy' and 'rogue' male characters, and that these two complementary types sprang to prominence from post-World War I historical circumstances when the young Hitchcock was growing up. It's easy enough to see 'dandies' in Hitchcock's work. The trouble is, they are often villains. Clearly the thrill-murderer Brandon in Rope (1948) is one such aesthete-type. The art-collector Van Damm in North by Northwest (1959) is likely another. Richard Allen specifically names the trapeze-artist Handell Fane in Murder! (1930), the Byron-quoting Sir Humphrey Pengallan in Jamaica Inn (1939), and playboy Bruno Anthony in Strangers on a Train (1951) as three Hitchcock dandies. (p. 128) To find the dandy-as-hero in Hitchcock is harder. Possibly the music scholar Gilbert, played by a young Michael Redgrave, in The Lady Vanishes (1938) qualifies. (Interestingly, the heroine Iris first takes an immediate dislike to him. In the course of the film, both she and he grow up.) The young Irish aristocrat Adare (Michael Wilding) in the historical drama Under Capricorn (1949) may be another such figure. But what about the 'rogue' type? Richard Allen is again specific: 'Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest provides the archetypal rogue persona in Hitchcock's work.' (p. 128) Hmm. Isn't that rather vague? It's true that Robie in To Catch a Thief (1955) had been a circus-performer-turned-cat-burglar before World War II, and at the start of the film lives in wealthy, leisured retirement (also, the film is careful to exclude any mention of art as being among his interests, indicating instead haute cuisine and raising flowers for market!). Does that really mark him as an archetypal rogue? As for the bored advertising man Thornhill in North by Northwest, we are told of his background that he has 'two ex-wives and several bartenders' dependent on him. And during the film he becomes specifically interested less in art than in 'the art of survival'. But once again, does that mark him as a rogue? This is a matter I'll come back to. First, though, I want to recall what I said last week, that the Bulldog Drummond novels by 'Sapper' (H.C. McNeile) depict a rogue type. Captain Drummond had himself served in the War (like his creator, whose nom-de-plume reminds us that he had been a military engineer, 'sapping' enemy positions), and been hugely respected by his select group of men. Bored by life in the post-War world, the pugilistic Drummond and some of his former pals happily engage in a battle of wits (and fists) with the fiendish criminal mastermind Carl Peterson, whose Germanic-sounding name is no accident. In effect, Drummond is carrying on the War, but unofficially and in defiance of officialdom (such as a certain MacIver of Scotland Yard). So that's almost the only common ground Drummond shares with the 'dandies' who in the 1920s fought their own 'war' against officialdom by way of protest at how the nation had been plunged into World War I by seemingly just such unthinking officials. Now, as I say, Hitchcock's friend Sir Gerald du Maurier played Drummond on the stage, and Hitchcock himself had planned to make a film featuring Drummond. Interestingly, that film became The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), though Drummond was now gone, replaced by the father Bob Lawrence (Leslie Banks) whose young daughter has been kidnapped by anarchists. And you could scarcely call Bob Lawrence a 'rogue'. Nonetheless, he has his descendents in Hitchcock. In the director's very next film, The 39 Steps (1935), Richard Hannay must run from the law - he is indeed chased by the police, who think him a murderer (i.e., a rogue) - in order to try and defeat the spies himself. Only near the end does he (and the film) hand back to Scotland Yard the law-enforcing role. What I am suggesting, then, is that Hitchcock merged the 'rogue' character with the 'picaresque' hero (from a literary tradition which produced the novels of John Buchan, author of 'The Thirty-Nine Steps'). That's a possible reason why Richard Allen's formulation may wobble a bit at times. But I want to refer this matter back to the whole concept of Romantic Irony which Allen raised for us in the first place in his book. So ... more next time.

October 24 - 2009
Hitchcock of course was always very conscious that what he was offering his audience was not real, but contrived. ('It must look real but it must never be real', he once said.) His films might even be allegories of the act of viewing a film. (Rear Window is such a film, and the lyrics of the songs we hear from apartments around the courtyard refer more than once to dreaming. Another such film is Vertigo. Self-reflexivity of another sort is demonstrated by such films as Sabotage, Rebecca, and Saboteur, and their film-within-a-film scenes.) For this and other reasons, Richard Allen applies the term 'romantic irony' to Hitchcock's films, drawing on the work of Friedrich Schlegel (though as Allen himself points out, Schlegel never actually used that term in his published writings). 'Irony is a form of paradox', wrote Schlegel, meaning something very like what Samuel Hynes meant in 1961 in a book on the poetry of Thomas Hardy: '[Irony is] a view of life which recognizes that experience is open to multiple interpretations, of which no one is simply right, and that the co-existence of incongruities is a part of the structure of existence.' (Both of these quotes come from Douglas Muecke's fine 1970 handbook called simply 'Irony', p. 22. Dr Muecke was a tutor of mine at Monash University. The fact that this view of irony is the same as a fundamental Buddhist tenet of existence, and that in turn Buddhism teaches 'mindfulness', meaning to be aware of one's own subjectivity, seems nicely congruent with a further observation of Dr Muecke: 'Romantic Irony is the irony of a writer conscious that literature can no longer be simply naive and unreflective ... The author's "presence of mind" must now be a principal element in his work, alongside the equally necessary but "blind" driving force of enthusiasm or inspiration.' p. 78) Richard Allen puts a further philosophical spin on this by noting: 'For Schlegel, irony is not simply a rhetorical ploy in which you mean the reverse of what you say: it is nothing less than a cognitive instrument through which the relationship of the finite to the infinite may be grasped.' ('Hitchcock's Romantic Irony', 2007, p. 5. Not incidentally, this resembles what I understand by the philosopher Schopenhauer's view of a principal function of art: to give a glimpse of the numinous behind the phenomenal.) That's why I said above (October 10) that 'Hitchcock's romantic irony ... by definition ... consistently dwarfs the various characters' designs ...', and no doubt it's also what Richard Allen means by saying that 'Vertigo has to end' with Scottie's defeat and Judy's death ('Hitchcock's Romantic Irony', pp. 36-37). But we have been talking here lately not only about Allen's book 'Hitchcock's Romantic Irony' but also about the author of 'Rebecca', Daphne du Maurier. So it will be convenient to turn now to another topic explored by Allen, "The Dandy in Hitchcock". Drawing on the work of Martin Green (and Thomas Elsaesser), Allen notes: 'World War I did not simply kill a lot of British young men; it challenged Edwardian complacency and self-righteous masculinity.' Besides such figures as Harold Acton and Brian Howard who adopted an 'aesthetic' manner characterised by 'ornament, brilliancy, playfulness, and youthfulness, and by a turning of the back on the old forms of seriousness and power', there emerged another new type. 'In Green's account, the more rambunctious rogue type is allied with the dandy in this act of rebellion: "The rogue," he writes, "is often coarse, rough, brutal, and careless. He is like the Dandy, however, in his conscious enjoyment of his own style and in his rebellion against mature and responsible morality. ...".' ('Hitchcock's Romantic Irony', p. 126) The examples of the respective types that Allen gives, apropos Hitchcock, are two figures of the London stage: actor-manager Gerald du Maurier (Daphne's father, and a friend of Hitchcock's) as an example of the 'rogue' type, and Noel Coward (whose play 'Easy Virtue' Hitchcock filmed), as an example of the dandy. Something I find interesting here is that Gerald du Maurier portrayed the character Bulldog Drummond in a stage adaptation of the novel of that name by 'Sapper' - and that Bulldog Drummond is certainly a good example of the rebellious 'rogue' type. For a while, Hitchcock was going to film one of the Bulldog Drummond novels. To be continued. (Sorry, no frame-still this time!)

October 17 - 2009
Summing up 'the story so far': both Hitchcock (as shown by Richard Allen) and Daphne du Maurier (as shown by Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik) often used 'doubles' in their respective works, the better to explore aspects of the author's (or the audience's) own psyche. Du Maurier felt that she had a strong 'masculine' side and accordingly often told her stories with a male character 'doubling' for her or another character, though he might himself be either disturbed (e.g., John in 'The Scapegoat') or in denial (e.g., the husband called John in 'Don't Look Now', whose 'double' in the story are the two weird sisters). John in 'The Scapegoat' grows stronger for a time, taking advantage of his new-found identity (literally doubling his look-alike, the Frenchman Jean), but must finally accept that he is essentially the person that he has always been. John in 'Don't Look Now' consistently denies an intuitive or 'feminine' part of himself (consistent, in turn, with patriarchy's historical put-down of women as psychologically equal to men), and receives his come-uppance at the hands of a feminine figure in red who may represent the clitoris or the empowered 'phallic' mother (see October 3, above). This outcome could represent Daphne du Maurier 'revenging' herself on men (though meanwhile she has entered into John's male psyche and limned it for the satisfaction of both herself and her readers, who feel its truth). Interestingly, in du Maurier's story 'The Birds', 'revenge' is again at the centre of the symbolic meaning, and again it is based on a reading of history: birds, we're told, have been oppressed by humankind for millennia. And again we may feel that du Maurier takes satisfaction in depicting both sides: she seems to identify with both oppressors (humans) and oppressed (the birds), and be the bigger for it - though clearly enjoying the birds' revenge as righteous. (She is careful to distinguish between smug humans who live in cities and have never known intense existential loneliness, and her finally ineffectual hero, Nat, a partial cripple, who has always lived close to nature.) Which brings me to my next point. As I began to show last week, quoting both Horner & Zlosnik on du Maurier, and Richard Allen on Hitchcock, artists' exploration of 'doubles' may reveal how finally there is only undifferentiated nature, or, in Allen's words, that 'core of irrationality or blind instinct that is lodged within the human, that romantic philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer refers to as "The Will"'. When I said above that du Maurier 'takes satisfaction in depicting both sides' and is 'the bigger for it', I meant that she thereby encounters 'the One' (much as Schopenhauer said that art might give artist and public an intimation of Will, and a sense of being liberated from its trammels). The same goes for Hitchcock's filmmaking. I have referred here in the past to Psycho in terms of the 'force' it invokes from the credits onwards. It can be a very liberating film. Richard Allen has put something of the matter like this: 'At the end of Psycho, a psychologist explains that Norman Bates murdered his mother on account of his jealousy of her taking a lover. Then, feeling unbearably guilty, he kept her body intact and finally incorporated her own personality into his. ... The psychologist's interpretation actually spells out the kind of psychological explanations routinely made by those who interpret expressionist doubling in psychological terms. It is as if Hitchcock invokes this explanation in order to make clear its limitations. The figure of Norman/mother is a deadly force of nature, a monster whose actions defy any psychological explanation.' (p. 182) That resembles what I was saying apropos The Birds at the end of last week's entry here. Now, I would suggest that sea imagery, in both The Birds and Rebecca (both films based on typically elemental du Maurier stories), is itself an intimation of the presence of ubiquitous Will. And just as (in The Birds) the birds themselves - or rather the bird attacks - are like an intimation of Will, and associated with the sea and its tides, so Rebecca in the story of that name is fittingly linked to the sea (not least by a musical leitmotif of Miklos Rozsa). Richard Allen has caught some of this very nicely in the following passage: 'In Rebecca, the presence of the dead Rebecca in the house of Manderley is evoked not simply through her witchlike double, Mrs Danvers, but also through the invasion of deathly and corrosive nature: dead, blackened floral arrangements against whitewashed walls create stark contrasts of black and white; rain shimmers on the whitewashed surfaces of the walls [see frame-capture below]; and wind enters through the mullioned windows, sustaining a play of light and shadow. Rebecca's body has been deposited in the sea, and it is as if the watery play of light and shadow acts as an uncanny emanation of her spirit.' (pp. 181-82) More next time.

October 10 - 2009
As a child, Daphne du Maurier (author of 'Rebecca', etc.) bonded closely with her father, the actor Sir Gerald du Maurier, and created an idealised masculine alter egofor herself, whom she called 'Eric Avon' (a dashing, highly competent figure drawn from the boys' adventure stories that came to prominence in the 1880s, stories which also influenced Hitchcock, probably via John Buchan). However, she was not close to her mother, whom she thought of as 'the Snow Queen in disguise' (a reference to the Grimms' fairy tale, 'Snow White'). Further, du Maurier's biographer, Margaret Forster, points out that the young Daphne bore a close resemblance to the actress Gladys Cooper and that she used to imagine that she was really Gladys Cooper's daughter. Clearly, Daphne had identity problems from the outset; what is also clear is that these persisted throughout her life. (This is one of the main points made by Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik in their critical study of du Maurier's works.) The novel and the film of 'Rebecca' both show this. Of course, the supposedly authoritative Max de Winter is far from that; less than dashing, he is overhung by a cloud; it's one of the story's several significant shadings. (See last week's entry.) And the story's chilling mother-figure is of course the housekeeper Mrs Danvers (whose very appearance seems partly based on the Snow Queen in the 1937 Disney animated film; in addition, she owes something to the oppressive Mrs Unthank in a 1920 novel by E.Phillips Oppenheim, 'The Great Impersonation'). So it's appropriate that Maxim's timid young second wife, his (initially) 'shy bride', should be nameless, i.e., we never learn her name, in either novel or film. Everything appears designed to unsettle her. In a touch which I doubt was fortuitous, Hitchcock cast Gladys Cooper in the film to further intimidate the new arrival at Manderley (who is like a surrogate for the identity-confused Daphne du Maurier herself). My guess is that Hitchcock had heard of du Maurier's fantasy about being Gladys Cooper's daughter, and sensed the psychology behind it. To see Gladys Cooper in the film looking very like Daphne du Maurier, see frame-capture below. However, what I really wanted to do this week (and maybe making further reference to 'Don't Look Now') is explore what both Hitchcock and du Maurier do with doubles. Horner & Zlosnik remind us that du Maurier saw no clear division between 'masculine' and 'feminine' parts of the psyche; but that when one's 'other' is denied (cf how John in 'Don't Look Now' consistently denies a part of himself, represented by the weird sisters), the consequence may be a sense of 'a terrifying force [which] may well invade and destroy the "self"' (Horner & Zlosnik, p. 26). (Hence, in 'Don't Look Now', we have in turn the murderous red dwarf, the apotheosis of John's denial.) I was struck by how closely this formulation corresponds to one in Richard Allen's fine book, 'Hitchcock's Romantic Irony', in the section called "The Role of Nature". Allen points out that beyond psychology is a vaster metaphysical concept, also found in German Expressionism, and that '[i]t is important ... to acknowledge the role of nature in Hitchcock's films, for it suggests the way that Hitchcock's romantic irony [which, by definition, consistently dwarfs the various characters' designs ...] aspires to a "philosophy" or worldview.' (p. 178) Allen proceeds to expand on this: 'But the affinity of the figure of the double with blind nature in expressionism shows the fundamentally antipsychological nature of the double: it demonstrates the core of irrationality or blind instinct that is lodged within the human, that romantic philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer refers to as "The Will".' (pp. 180-81) For what it's worth, I explore this notion of the 'force' or 'Will' behind the rational and psychological realms in my monograph on Hitchcock's The Birds that is on the Web (http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/09/51/hitchcock-birds-synoptic-account.html). When Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) begins her own explanation of what is happening by saying, 'With all due respect to Oedipus [and Freud] ...', the writing is there on the wall! More next time.

October 3 - 2009
My apologies for no entry here last week - events caught up with me. Now, as I have often said, I am always grateful when my correspondents send me information. One such 'correspondent' (and friend) is Richard Allen of NYU, who a while ago recommended to me the critical study called 'Daphne du Maurier: Writing, Identity and the Gothic Imagination' (1998) by Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik. (Richard of course is the author of the remarkable 'Hitchcock's Romantic Irony' published in 2007. I have a reason for citing Richard and his own book here today. Read on.) Lately I have obtained and finished reading the Horner & Zlosnik book, and have much enjoyed its penetrating use of works by feminist scholars, such as Luce Irigaray, to illuminate du Maurier's writings. The analysis of 'Rebecca' was gratifying to me for several reasons, but not least because it confirmed - and sometimes extended, of course - several of my own thoughts about that novel that I have set down here and elsewhere (and intend to publish further in book form). But today I thought I would talk mainly about what Horner & Zlosnik say of 'Don't Look Now', du Maurier's 1971 short story set in Venice - and familiar to many people via its superb film version (Nicholas Roeg, 1973). For example, the authors start by giving a basic Freudian reading. 'In its use of eyesight/blindness and fear of madness as recurrent motifs, du Maurier's tale, like E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Sandman, [expresses] fear of death and castration.' (p. 176) In turn, I want to cite something suggested by Dr Barbara Creed of Melbourne, in her scholarly book 'The Monstrous Feminine' (1993), which concerns the significance of the dwarf figure in her red riding-hood, a figure who is the ultimate villain of du Maurier's story. (Spoiler ahead, sorry.) Creed sees this figure, who will murder John the husband at the end of the story, as representing nothing less than the clitoris. I think this is very likely right. It is entirely conceivable to me that du Maurier would have arrived at such an otherwise unlikely and grotesque figure as the red dwarf by wanting to somehow image the clitoris; roughly parallel is how Rebecca in du Maurier's 1938 novel appears monstrous to the patriarchal Maxim, her husband, once he learns of her polymorphous sexuality. (I have addressed this matter previously, here and elsewhere. I am also somewhat reminded of how in Hitchcock's Spellbound [1945] some of the symbolism, in the Dali dream-sequence and other parts of the film, strongly suggests that the amnesiac 'J.B.' fears both castration and adult sexuality. As critics have noted, fork-marks drawn on a table-cloth at one point have a vagina-shape, and visibly unnerve 'J.B.') Horner & Zlosnik don't actually cite Creed (whom they don't appear to have read) but they do interpret du Maurier's story as constituting a 'metadiscourse' on prior discourses that form how patriarchal society thinks (cf. p. 180) and conclude that 'the labyrinthine ways of Venice [through which John wanders to his death] may be read as a manifestation of patriarchal society: John is killed by the "phallic" mother. That is, he is killed by what has been repressed within Western culture [whose] symbolic order involves a failure to represent the mother tantamount to matricide.' (p. 182) More on this another time. Meanwhile, something else I'm reminded about is my entry here previously (e.g., January 12, 2000, which I'm about to quote) on Hitchcock's film Rebecca (1940): 'And of course the lightweight dumbbell carried to the fancy-dress ball ... by Major Giles Lacey [Nigel Bruce] is a symbol of his impotence, matching his wife's "impregnable" costume of chain-mail - she is dressed as the legendary Boadicea [and played by Gladys Cooper]! As I point out in "The Alfred Hitchcock Story", a deathly pall has descended on Manderley, and all of its males appear de-natured or impotent.' (See frame-capture below.) The main point here - but not how it fits a broader motif of the film - is stated by Richard Allen, unfortunately without acknowledgement (!), in his 'Hitchcock's Romantic Irony', p. 130. So although I'm hugely grateful to Richard for recommending Horner & Zlosnik's book to me, I do wish that he had given me the credit in his book for the point he makes as his own! (He cites me on a couple of other matters.) As for how the young Daphne du Maurier was said to bear 'a startling resemblance' to Gladys Cooper (Horner & Zlosnik, p. 4), I'll say more next time.

September 19 - 2009
A few observations on The 39 Steps (1935). First, the scene at the Professor's house begins with a splendid moment that confronts the audience when the maid lies through her teeth to Hannay's pursuers that there have been no strangers call at the house lately. I describe this moment as 'splendid' because, firstly, it is thoroughly in keeping with the film's on-the-edge-of-the-probabilities pacing and plotting. Also, it leaves us momentarily puzzled, on two counts. First, we last saw Hannay waiting at the door while the maid went to tell the Professor that someone was asking to see him. (We don't actually see Hannay slip inside the house through the door which the maid has left ajar.) Second, how can the maid know to lie like this to the police, and carry it off so coolly? (In a moment we'll learn that she never got to talk with her boss, the Professor, until after Hannay's pursuers had been sent away.) As actor Norman Lloyd once pointed out, Hitchcock liked to leave audiences just a little puzzled like this! It gave them something to talk about afterwards! Another classic example of what I mean is the McKittrick Hotel scene in Vertigo (1958) in which 'Madeleine' appears to vanish and, indeed, according to the lady proprietor, 'hasn't been in today'. Both Scottie and the audience are left puzzled - though in retrospect (and if we have seen the 1945 Humphrey Bogart film Conflict), we can deduce that the proprietor has deliberately lied. Likewise, in the case of the maid in The 39 Steps, we can deduce that either she has been given prior instructions by the Professor to lie to the police if Hannay should turn up or Hannay himself has come after her and asked her to tell that lie. In fact, the later is probable - for the scene proves to be based on one late in the John Buchan novel (Chapter VIII) in which Hannay is hotly pursued by the police through the London streets and turns up at the residence of the English security chief Sir Walter Bulliphant. Breathlessly, Hannay states his business to the butler and asks him to tell his pursuers that he hasn't been there. The immaculate butler carries out the request without demur. 'He opened the door, and with a face like a graven image waited to be questioned. ... I could see it all from my alcove, and it was better than any play.' Full marks to Hitchcock, then, and screenwriter Charles Bennett, for keeping this scene in their film - which, of course, has a motif of 'theatre' or 'music hall' running through it, as various commentators have noted. (The same motif turns up in North by Northwest [1959], as when Thornhill exclaims about one of the spies, 'What a performance!') Now, another observation (which I recently made to a class to whom I showed The 39 Steps). At the end, backstage at the London Palladium, when Mr Memory lies dying after revealing the enemy secret, Hitchcock films a leggy chorus-line in the background. (See frame-capture below.) The musical number they are performing comes from the recent film Evergreen, which is fitting in itself, for Hitchcock's film is about life-going-on (as I have analysed in detail previously, here and elsewhere). (Again there is a carry-over in North by Northwest where Thornhill is heard to say, late in the film, 'I never felt more alive.') But further, the 'legginess' of the chorus-line has a suitably surreal connection to the earlier scene at the inn, in which Hannay (Robert Donat) had bedded down for the night with Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) to whom he was handcuffed. Moments before, he had invited Pamela to remove her wet stockings, adding gallantly, 'May I be of any assistance?' He, and we, had then been treated to a protracted view of Pamela's legs, itself an intimation that this pair might eventually marry (the handcuffs serving as a foretaste of the wedding ring!). I shan't spell it all out. By the way, though, the last few bars of the film's soundtrack quote the not-innapropriate number, 'Ain't she sweet?'!

September 12 - 2009
The Academy's Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, California, contains many fine oral testimonies. One of the fascinating ones for Hitchcock scholars - I'm told by BK - is the 'rich, moving oral history that Barbara Hall [of the Herrick Library] did with Peggy Robertson [personal assistant to Hitchcock for many years] at the Motion Picture Retirement Home' in 1995. Peggy Robertson (1916-98) first came to work with Hitchcock as a script assistant on Under Capricorn (1949), shot in England for Transatlantic Pictures. Hitchcock stayed in England for his next picture, Stage Fright (1950), and Peggy Singer (as she then was) accompanied him - the IMDb credits omit her name so it may have been in an unofficial capacity. But at one point Hitch had to go back to the US and left Peggy - to her great surprise - in charge of the second unit. BK writes: '[Hitch] loved sticking it to crew people who were incensed at the idea of a woman directing second unit ...'. However, Peggy got married and her relationship with Hitchcock came to an end. BK: 'They parted, [yet] even though she had heard that when you left Hitchcock there was no going back, she ended up script supervising for him [again] on Vertigo [1958]. Nothing was said about her long absence when she came on the set - it was if she had always been there, she says [in the oral history]. She became his personal assistant after that.' Peggy's oral history, which is 402 pages long in its transcribed version, contains many wonderful stories. BK: '[Hitch] and [cameraman Robert Burks] put an orange filter on the camera for the cornfield sequence in North by Northwest [1959], in imitation of Van Gogh. [It makes Cary Grant's grey suit appear brown in some shots, but Hitch wanted the filter regardless, notes Robertson!] In later days, if he was working with a new cameraman, he'd leave either a Vermeer art-book or a Rembrandt art-book on his desk or on the soundstage, depending on the film. "Why don't you just show him what you want?" said Robertson. "He'd argue with me if I did that," said Hitchcock. "This way he'll see it lying there, look through it, and maybe we'll get a Vermeer!"' [See frame-capture below, from Topaz (1969), photographed by Jack Hildyard. The shot is obviously indebted to a Vermeer painting like 'The Music Lesson'.] BK was interested in Robertson's account of shooting the rape scene in Frenzy (1972). He writes: 'She stresses at some length that Hitchcock hated violence, and reports that he said to her that morning that he was "dreading" shooting the scene, but it was necessary for the story. She adds that she never saw him so anxious and upset. Barbara [Hall], who obviously doesn't like the scene, really drilled her on that one [during the interview], repeatedly returning to it. One comment that emerged when she asked Robertson who the audience identifies with, is interesting: "You identify with the murderer," she says, "as I believe you were meant to."'

August 29 - 2009
I'll be away from here for a couple of weeks. KM.

August 22 - 2009
(revised) I concluded last time by saying of Ballyntine in Spellbound that he's like Robie in To Catch a Thief - in dread of some 'intolerable fear' - and so the initial part of his dream is escapist, set in a gambling-house that might also be a brothel (as well as signifying Green Manors, itself a place of refuge, a mock-Arcadia). I might also have likened Ballyntine to Jeffries in Rear Window. For all three men may be seen to dread marriage and what it signifies, social commitment. (Of course, in Spellbound, which is about the complex nature of psychoanalysis, and dreaming, the dread is also of Ballyntine's fear that he may have killed Edwardes and, even further back, Ballyntine's young brother.) In the cut ballroom episode of the dream, Ballyntine is one of several couples on a dance floor we see in frozen motion - like a scene from Last Year at Marienbad. Ballyntine's narration here goes: 'I was dancing with Constance, and she had a dance card and asked me to write my name on it. I refused ... The dance card kept getting bigger. It was full of names and addresses. And Constance turned into a statue.' So here is another impasse, this one concerning the progress of Ballyntine's and Constance's relationship, though it's not the only impasse in the film (see August 1, above). A couple of times in the uncut dream sequence, Constance's inaccessability would have been implied: another instance (besides when she becomes a statue) would have shown her behind her desk in the 'weird deserted desert' (as the script calls it) and Ballyntine running towards her - whereupon she disappears. I'll come back to this last part of the dream shortly. I haven't yet finished analysing the first part, the gambling-house episode. The card game and gambling are typical expressionist motifs, not unrelated to the view of life implied by To Catch a Thief (see June 20, above). It isn't just Green Manors-as-microcosm-of-the-world (and/or refuge from it) that is represented here, and in fact the locale is nominally The Twenty-One Club in New York. Note that Ballyntine in an everyday grey suit is playing cards 'with a man [in a dinner jacket] who had a beard'. When the latter deals a card and says, 'That makes twenty-one, I win', his remark conforms to Freud: 'A spoken remark in a dream ... [often alludes to when] the remark in question was made.' But more than that: by being first to reach 'twenty-one' (in the card game of that name, also known as blackjack), the bearded man seems to be asserting his maturity and wisdom (also represented by his beard, etc.). Yet, next minute, he seems, with his blank cards, to be saying just as forcefully that he's above all that - gambling - and is somebody special. No wonder the 'proprietor' accuses him of cheating! This masked 'proprietor' represents Dr Murchison, the head of Green Manors, whom we had seen wearing a mask in the operating-theatre scene and who is madly envious that Dr Edwardes is due to replace him (see July 25, above), but he speaks for others in the film: thus Brulov had earlier - in Ballyntine's hearing - referred to Edwardes as 'impossible'! So here we are being given 'motivation' for killing such a man and - by extension - any analyst who, by the nature of 'the transference' (see August 1 and August 8, above), may sometimes seem infuriating and to hold all the winning cards. By such a person (even Constance), Ballyntine, for one, may feel threatened with 'castration', something which is a motif in any number of Hitchcock films (Rebecca, Rear Window, North by Northwest, et al.: cf August 1, above). Now notice that behind Ballyntine's table in the gambling-house, on a pedestal, is what appears to be a knob-shaped lamp. And let's move to the end of the dream, to the 'weird desert' (Dali-esque place of 'cosmic anguish'), where Ballyntine is seen running away. Pursuing him in the sky is a winged figure that is at once harpy and angel, perhaps representing the two opposing images that Ballyntine has had of Constance all along. At any rate, in the background stands a huge pair of pliers. These may seem as innocuous as, initially, the crop-dusting plane in North by Northwest had seemed - but don't be fooled. In fact, they're potentially castrating. A glance at their outline shows them to be the complement of the gambling-room lamp with its 'knob' (see frame-capture below). They're designed to grip or crush such a shape. (Also, don't forget that one of Constance's patients had once dreamed of her as an eggbeater ...) Next time: not Spellbound!

August 15 - 2009
(late) The Spellbound dream sequence begins with a tracking camera - 'inwards', past some star-like points of light (see last time), then a succession of realistic, though disembodied eyes, arriving finally in the gambling-house with its grotesque, staring eyes painted on the drapes. In other words, we come in from the cold cosmos, and pass, first, through 'New York' (a place the film has shown to be full of prying house-detectives, bell-boys, and railway ticket-inspectors - those realistic eyes do in fact look quite masculine), then come to the gambling-house. Its grotesque eyes are painted on labia-like drapes and look mainly feminine. That's because the gambling-house is primarily a place of wish-fulfilment, which is typical of dreams, as Freud noted. The eyes there are like 'orifices' - read on - though there is also a secondary 'memory' of Green Manors with its (male) guards, watching. In dreams, things may be represented by multi-valent objects, often representing their opposites (in other words, don't expect strict logic!). Further, once we are inside the gambling-house, and the camera continues to track, we become aware of two (or three) more sources of 'eyes'. On the right, Ballyntine at a table is playing cards with a bearded man; curiously, the room's tables and chairs don't have the customary wooden legs but, instead, women's legs in high heels! And on each table are metronomes with swaying cutout eyes. Behind Ballyntine's table, on a pedestal, is what appears to be a knob-shaped lamp. Further back again, revealed when a man with giant scissors cuts the drapes at the end of the room - a symbolic sex act - is another disembodied eye that seems to hover above the horizon (see frame-capture below and compare with the eye on the drapes shown in the entry for July 18, above). Already there are many dualisms at work in this brilliantly-conceived sequence. For example, eyes. In 'The Interpretation of Dreams', Freud notes that '[t]he genitals can ... be represented in dreams by ... parts of the body: the male organ by a hand or a foot and the female genital orifice by the mouth or an ear or even an eye.' That's a fairly objective rendering by the dream of the object in question. Yet eyes considered more or less subjectively often figure in dream-symbolism as male, as when Freud tells us: 'The blinding in the legend of Oedipus, as well as elsewhere, stands for [male] castration.' That latter meaning, castration, seems to be present in the Spellbound dream at one and the same time as the other meaning. That's to say, the man with the scissors (played by Norman Lloyd, who also plays the patient Garmes at Green Manors who had tried to murder Dr Fleurot and then cut his own throat) is both performing symbolic sexual acts (cf Bunuel/Dali's Un Chien Andalou) and venting his displeasure. But then, why not? Our very language has a phrase that can be used in like manner! Now another thing about 'eyes' in the dream. All of the card-players in the gambling-room are men. (But the scantily-clad girl, the 'kissing-bug' as Brulov calls her, who comes to the men's tables is like a waitress or a seductress in a brothel; she is played by Rhonda Fleming who also plays the patient Miss Carmichael at Green Manors and whom Fleming herself described in an interview as a 'nymphomaniac'.) Naturally, as the men sit at the tables, their legs brush against the voluptuously 'female' table-legs. And the swaying 'eyes' on the metronomes - an old idea of the artist and filmmaker Man Ray, a contemporary of Dali's - suggest copulation or masturbation. None of these details conflicts with Freud, who in fact wrote of gambling in real life that it's a form of sexual compensation, or sublimation. Later, another psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson, elaborated the same idea: 'The gambler masochistically enjoys his fear of losing and continues it as long as possible, because when he leaves the table or racecourse to take up his ordinary life some really intolerable fear awaits him ...'. Spellbound (like To Catch a Thief) pivots on the applicability of this notion to its ailing hero, as we'll see next time (when I try to wind up these brief notes on Spellbound) ...

August 8 - 2009
At the end of last week's entry I tried to show how the unfolding pattern of Spellbound is both a 'life' pattern - an existential pattern of 'experience' (as also in The Birds and Marnie, for example) - and one related specifically to the process of psychoanalysis (where it typically takes the form of 'the transference', both 'positive' and 'negative'). (Hitchcock was not giving this very clever film enough credit when he called it 'just another manhunt story wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis'.) I shan't go much further into the matter here, but would refer the reader to Paul Denis's article on "Negative Tranference". Here's just one brief passage from that article: '[there are] cases where the patient is afraid of "finding that [he/she] is transfering onto the figure of the physician the distressing ideas which arise from the content of the analysis"'. That may remind us of how, though Ballyntine and Constance fall in love with each other at first sight, the progress of the relationship is constantly threatened by setbacks traceable, we eventually find, to his fear that he may have killed the missing Edwardes and - an even more unconscious fear - that he may have killed his brother in childhood (at about the age of 4, when sibling rivalry related to the Oedipal crisis can be very fierce). I gave an emblematic example last time of the hot-cold progress of the couple's relationship: straight after the 'opening doors' episode (symbolising 'falling in love'), Ballyntine is overtaken by one of his attacks when he sees dark lines on Constance's robe. Every one of Ballyntine's attacks is linked to the music of the theremin which in turn had been associated at the outset with the shot of leaves blowing from a frail-looking tree (a shot suggesting mutability and death but also ongoing life, as in The Trouble With Harry which itself was going to begin with a rapid-motion shot of the budding, growth, and death of a maple leaf). Likewise, no sooner has the film's dream sequence raised hope for a possible solution to the mystery surrounding Ballyntine, than he is plunged into what looks like another attack (see frame-capture below): reflected light from the snow outside the window seems to unsettle him until Constance spots the toboggan tracks there (shades of Citizen Kane, another film about trying to penetrate the veil of memory, and indeed Welles's film is beautifully evoked by a shot here) and she realises that it's the lines that are again the most troubling thing for Ballyntine. (Moreover, Constance immediately guesses that the lines suggest ski-tracks and skiing, and quite soon Ballyntine himself will uncover the terrible memory from his childhood which skiing had evoked for him.) Now some introductory remarks on the dream itself. Amusingly, and cleverly, it is set against reference to another, quite trivial dream, about 'real coffee' - the dream of Dr Brulov (Michael Chekhov), who had not slept properly the night before, having stayed up to keep an eye on the possibly murderous amnesiac, Ballyntine, sleeping upstairs. As Ballyntine relates his own, far-from-trivial dream, the three people (Brulov, Constance, Ballyntine) sip coffee together from elegant cups, a nice contrapuntal touch. (There's a rather similar scene in Topaz.) For the record, the research of James Bigwood and others has shown that there were originally to be four main sections of the dream: '1. The Gambling Sequence, 2. Two Men on a Roof, [3. The Ballroom Sequence,] 4. The Downhill-Uphill Sequence.' As Bigwood, writing in 'American Cinematographer', June 1991, says, 'Three of these sequences are easily matchable to corresponding scenes in the finished film' - and only the one I have put in square brackets (the Ballroom Sequence) was dropped in its entirety. (I have analysed the entire dream sequence, including the Ballroom Sequence, at length in 'The MacGuffin' #15 (February-May 1995.) Here and next time, I'll mention just some salient points. The sequence begins with a forward tracking movement. There's a dissolve from Ballyntine to a shot of several star-like points of light which, in turn, become a succession of realistic, though disembodied eyes; only next do we arrive in the gambling-house with its grotesque, staring eyes painted on the drapes. Note: it's appropriate that we move past those initial 'stars' because Spellbound had actually begun by reminding us, 'The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves' (quote from Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar'). To be continued.

August 1 - 2009
Last week I noted of Spellbound how it invokes fertility myth. (Both 'green' and 'white' are of significance here, for Green Manors is like a dream of what might be - though the institution is currently run by a head who turns out to be insane and a murderer - and whiteness, no less ironically, is associated with both death and life, as we'll see.) In a way, Green Manors is to Spellbound as Manderley is to Rebecca. Both places are microcosms of the wider world. I have written on other occasions of how Manderley is like an old-fashioned ideal of England itself, with Maxim as its nominal 'ruler' though in fact 'the times are out of joint' and at present there's a distinct sterility about the place. The males are all currently de-natured, as an examination of that film's symbolism would show. The novel and the film draw on local Cornish legend - Arthurian legend - to invoke Manderley, and England, as potentialy or actually a Waste Land. And something similar is implied at the start of Spellbound, though the tone is different, as befits the immediate post-War elation of 1945 (with psychoanalysis seen as an emblem of hope for the future, including its potential to rehabilitate some of the war's victims suffering from various traumas). I have often noted that Hitchcock was an avowed Symbolist (I refer to the late-19th-century movement in art and literature), and it's in keeping that he should make both Manderley (in Rebecca) and Green Manors (in Spellbound) like microcosms of the wider world. Spellbound was going to have its inmates stage a performance of Congreve's comedy 'The Way of the World' (1700), and I'm sure that the play's title was a principal reason for Hitchcock's choosing that particular play. (In the novel, there's talk of staging Webster's bloody tragedy 'The Duchess of Malfi' [1623], but its heaped-up horrors clearly made it unsuitable for the mood Hitchcock and screenwriter Ben Hecht wanted. Likewise, they changed the novel's murder-site from the Gorge du Diable to the more hopefully-named Gabriel Valley - that is, named after the archangel who was sometimes regarded as the angel of death but more frequently as one of God's chief messengers.) Many of Hitchcock's films begin with or soon reach a situation of impasse (especially, but not exclusively, marital impasse, as in Mr and Mrs Smith and Under Capricorn), and that's pretty well the situation in Spellbound, though we're not immediately aware of it: will the ageing Dr Murchison (Leo G. Carroll) 'abdicate' as head of Green Manors and allow regenerative new blood to rule? (Related to this motif is the anti-incest motif of such films as The Lodger, Easy Virtue, Shadow of a Doubt, Psycho, and The Birds.) Now here's another analogy. In Spellbound, John Ballyntine's recurrent anxiety attacks (linked by Miklos Rozsa's use of the theremin to the credits imagery of falling leaves) are like the recurrent bird attacks in The Birds. (They're also, obviously, like Marnie's recurrent panic attacks when she reacts to the colour red in Marnie - where 'red' is of course the colour of blood, itself symbolising both death and life.) In other words, ultimately these various 'attacks', in these various films, function as something quite natural, call it 'experience', which must be faced; and if that is done successfully - almost certainly with the help of others - the reward is great. I'll call it 'conditional freedom'. The fact that Ballyntine's anxieties in Spellbound also seem connected to the very process of psychoanalysis is an indication of how clever Ben Hecht's screenplay is. Here's what I noted in 'MacGuffin' #15 about Ballyntine's reaction to the lines on Constance's nightgown (see frame-capture below - the shot comes straight after the elation of the 'opening doors' shot, symbolising 'falling in love'): 'His reaction carries an early hint of how the couple's very relationship will blow both hot and cold; in effect, it marks the onset of what psychiatrists call "the transference". Freud has shown how a subject's attitudes to parental figures are revived during the analyst-patient relationship, which is noted for its "instinctual ambivalence". That's to say, there's a transference onto the analyst of both affectionate and hostile feelings, [marking respectively the "positive" and "negative" transference].' Next time: mainly about the dream sequence.

July 25 - 2009
As I said last time, 'Hitchcock's Spellbound is his film in which the theme of illusion and reality is first raised in a significant way'. As in Psycho ('Mother isn't quite herself today'), there are some clever lines early on whose humour or irony only becomes apparent on second and subsequent viewings. Conversing with Constance, Dr Fleurot (John Emery) tells her frankly, 'Murchison must be really out of his mind to assign Carmichael to you'. (See frame-capture below. On a recent DVD, Rhonda Fleming, who plays Carmichael, described her character as a 'nymphomaniac'. Constance, of course, in these early scenes, is played by Ingrid Bergman like the Garbo character in Lubitsch's Ninotchka [1939], cold and aloof. For example, she tells the amorous Fleurot, 'You sense only your own desires and pulsations. I assure you [that] mine in no way resemble them.') A few moments later, when Murchison himself turns up in Constance's office (see last week), Constance praises him: 'I shall always remember your cheerfulness today as a lesson in how to accept reality'. (And Murchison's reply is more truthful than Constance knows: 'Don't be too taken in by my happy air, Constance. It's the least difficult way of saying goodbye to twenty years.' He also uses a line from Hitchcock's Rebecca, saying, 'I shall hover around for a while like an old mother hen ... until Dr Edwardes is firmly on the nest.' Hitchcock must have really liked the line, which invokes senescence, or sterility, for it turns up again in The Paradine Case, about the homosexual Latour, and Torn Curtain, where it's used by Professor Lindt - himself no spring chicken - about his dithery colleagues. 'Cluck, cluck!', he mocks them.) Now, I'll stay on Dr Murchison for a moment. As the head of Green Manors, he supposedly represents vitality and new 'life'. (In the novel, the institution, high in the French Alps, is called the Château Landry, and terrifies the local villagers almost as if it were Dracula's castle. But the filmmakers probably noted the description of the pastures surrounding the castle - 'unbelievably green grass starred with flowers' - which takes in new-arrival Constance, who feels that she has 'entered into another world, a world of clean air and sweetest fragrance'.) Another key line in the film, then, comes when Murchison hands over the reins of office to his successor, by referring to a different type of reign: 'I don't know the formal words for an abdication, Doctor Edwardes.' (Remember that 'Doctor Edwardes' is in fact the amnesiac John Ballyntine.) In the Spellbound issue of the hardcopy 'MacGuffin' (#15, February-May 1995), I wrote about how Murchison feels threatened by those who would 'usurp' him: 'In a way, both Edwardes and Ballyntine must seem to Murchison to resemble the tribal sons envisaged by Freud in "Totem and Taboo" (1914). In a kind of Oedipal fantasy, Freud there describes how the sons lie in wait for the chance to kill the father-leader. [Beyond that,] the film seems to hark back to Sir James Frazer's "The Golden Bough" (1890) itself - the latter was clearly an influence on Freud's thinking. When Murchison apologises to Ballyntine because he doesn't "know the formal words for an abdication", you think of the famous opening passage in Frazer's work, which describes the anxiety felt by the ageing "King of the Wood". It tells how, in a sacred grove outside Rome, "grew a certain tree round which at any time of day, and probably far into the night, a grim figure might be seen to prowl. ... He was a priest and a murderer, and the man for whom he looked was sooner or later to murder him and hold the priesthood in his stead. ... The post which he held by this precarious tenure carried with it the title of king; but surely no crowned head ever lay uneasier, or was visited by more evil dreams, than his." The King of the Wood was the incarnation of the spirit of vegetation, and the reputed source of natural abundance and fertility; if his vital energies were allowed to decline, those of Nature itself would decline with them.' Next week I'll briefly describe how the symbolic or Freudian use of 'vegetation myth' in Spellbound relates that film to Rebecca.

July 18 - 2009
Hitchcock's Spellbound is his film in which the theme of illusion and reality is first raised in a significant way, a theme whose Hitchcockian apotheosis comes in Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960). (The latter film is about what happened to Norman Bates 'when reality came too close' - to quote the film's psychiatrist.) It's an exciting theme because absolutely fundamental - as Kant's distinction between the noumenal (the supposedly unknowable Thing-in-itself) and the phenomenal (perceived reality, but always shaped by the nature of the brain) may remind us. In turn, Freud's concept of the Unconscious versus the Conscious mind offers a rough parallel. A literary work like R. L. Stevenson's 'Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde' (1886) anticipated Freud, and provided a template for any number of works about 'the divided self' to follow - including Hitchcock's The Lodger (1926), based on a story by Mrs Belloc-Lowndes. 1926 is a watershed year, the year in which Freud definitely reached both the stage and the screen. In London, the melodrama 'The Lash' featured a forgotten childhood trauma which provides the solution to a present-day mystery (cf Hitchcock's Marnie, 1964). And the German film Geheimnisse einer Seele/Secrets of a Soul (G.W. Pabst), about a knife phobia, showed a professor (Werner Krauss) cured of his terrors by pouring out his troubles to a psychoanalyst. Some of the film's dream sequences remain stunning. The novel on which Spellbound was loosely based, 'The House of Dr Edwardes', by 'Francis Beeding', appeared in 1927. What is interesting is that it took some of its inspiration from the work of a now almost forgotten playwright, the Frenchman H. R. Lenormand. His play 'La Dent Rouge'/'The Red Tooth' (published 1924) is specifically mentioned, and we are told that '[h]e dramatizes the subconscious, you know. It's like a lot of complexes walking about; very chatty they are, too, and most informing.' In 1928, Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel combined to make the first Surrealist film, Un chien andalou/The Andalusian Dog, showing definite Freudian influence - which would carry over to the dream sequence of Spellbound, a sequence 'based on designs by Salvador Dali' (see frame-capture below). Another almost forgotten work is the Swiss/German film Die ewige Maske/The Eternal Mask (Werner Hochbaum, 1936), set in a hospital and owing something to the German silent classic Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari/The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920), which had starred the already-mentioned Werner Krauss. Die ewige Maske is described by Parker Tyler as bearing 'a family resemblance to Dr Caligari and other films of the bizarre school, both French and German - films which explore the vagaries of the mind solely for their fantasy or entertainment value'. (He may be forgetting Geheimnisse einer Seele.) Tyler encapsulates the film like this: 'For the first time in films, the Expressionist exterior is used to indicate passage from the ordinary, sane world to one of mental hallucination. Persons: a severely depressed doctor and a snubbed prostitute.' Surely the makers of Spellbound (Hitchcock, Ben Hecht, Angus MacPhail, and Salvador Dali) knew of Werner Hochbaum's film? Next I'll mention a Hollywood film, Moontide (Archie Mayo, 1942), featuring a theme tune, Irving Berlin's 'Remember?', which is 'plugged to death' (as David Shipman says). The film was originally going to be directed by Fritz Lang and include sequences designed by Dali, but the latter were dropped when Mayo took over. Thus the way was left open for Spellbound to be the first popular film to deal with psychoanalysis and to feature Dali's designs. Finally this week, here's an interesting anecdote told by Elliott H. King in his book 'Dali, Surrealism and Cinema' (2007). Apparently portrait photographer Philipp Halsmann, celebrated for his 1954 book 'Dali's Mustache' - not to mention a series of photos of Hitchcock he did over the years - was involved in a bizarre accusation in 1928 that he had murdered his father on a hiking trip in the Alps when Philipp was a 22-year-old student in Dresden. The case became known as 'the Austrian Dreyfus Affair' and there was even a Freud connection (Freud was asked about the Oedipus complex in connection with it). It seems quite possible that Hitchcock would have heard of the case and that it influenced the screenplay of Spellbound (with its death of a father-figure on a skiing trip). More next time.

July 11 - 2009
Prompted by a magnificent exhibit running at the National Gallery of Victoria on the work of Salvador Dali (the exhibit draws on major Dali collections in Spain and Florida), I'm turning this week to Hitchcock's film Spellbound (1945) with its dream sequence based on Dali designs. I'll come to the dream sequence later. But first, note the frame-capture below in which new arrival 'Dr Edwardes' (Gregory Peck) turns his head as the retiring head of 'Green Manors', Dr Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), enters the staff common room to welcome him. What follows is what I once called 'one of the great "bluffing" scenes in movies'. Dr Murchison professes not to have previously met the man who has come to replace him, commenting, 'You're younger than I thought you would be.' What is actually going through his head at this moment must be total consternation. For one thing, he knows that the person he is addressing is an impostor and that the real Dr Edwardes is dead - Murchison himself had killed him! (The dream sequence will reveal what had happened: that Murchison, who is insane, had followed the real Edwardes and a companion, the man who now stands before him, John Ballyntine, to a remote ski resort called Gabriel Valley where he had shot Edwardes. Immediately afterwards, Ballyntine had suffered amnesia and taken Edwardes's place. The whole thing is improbable in the extreme - like a dream. In these respects, it closely anticipates the murder scheme in Vertigo, and Dr Murchison is the predecessor of that film's villain, Gavin Elster.) For another thing, Murchison, knowing that the real Edwardes is dead, must have wondered who he was going to see when he met the new arrival. He may have guessed that it would be Ballyntine, and that the latter must have suffered amnesia or some such condition, but how could he be sure? (For that matter, why hadn't he shot Ballyntine straight after Edwardes? He could hardly have known that the only witness to Edwardes's murder would conveniently lose his memory! Read on.) There's a related matter. Prior to the murder, all three men - Edwardes, Ballyntine, and Murchison - had met in the Twenty-One Club in New York, where a dangerously jealous Murchison had quarreled with Edwardes, knowing that the latter was due to replace him as head of Green Manors. Obviously Ballyntine had witnessed this quarrel (the dream sequence confirms this), and presumably Murchison knew who he was, for hadn't he then followed Edwardes and Ballyntine to Gabriel Valley? In other words, Murchison has seen Ballyntine on two occasions prior to the latter's turning up at Green Manors. Yet here we watch him entering the staff room, his mind, although unhinged, presumably in turmoil, yet not batting an eyelid! As I say, it's one of the great 'bluffing' scenes in movies - by which I mean both that Murchison is feigning being amiable and not having seen Ballyntine before, and that the filmmakers themselves - director Hitchcock and his writers - are bluffing that this scene is even remotely plausible! Of course, that's hardly the issue. As I've noted, the whole conception of the film is to give it the verisimilitude of a dream but also something of a dream's crazy logic. In this, I think the filmmakers succeed admirably. And another thing now. The shot of Murchison entering the room contributes to at least two of the film's visual motifs. Doors and doorways are continually emphasised in Spellbound, beginning with an introductory text which refers to 'the locked doors of [the] mind'. (In the same vein, the film is like a labyrinth, and we learn that Dr Edwardes had written a book called 'The Labyrinths of the Guilt Complex'.) When Dr Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) falls in love with the newcomer, it is symbolised by a shot of successive doors opening, with a white radiance beyond. Both the doors and the white radiance are integral to Spellbound's design. Murchison, though, is specifically associated with entering rooms unannounced. On the first occasion, he excuses himself, when he appears at the doorway of Constance's office, by saying, 'Pardon me for marching in.' But arguably the subliminal effect on the viewer is that there is something not quite right, that the character hasn't been vouched for. An identical effect is used to introduce the villain of Kenneth Branagh's Spellbound spin-off, Dead Again (1991). More next time.

July 4 - 2009
Of all the entries on To Catch a Thief that I have put up here lately (we have discussed that film several times over the years), I commend to you what I said on June 20: notably, that it is a 'soul drama' about John and Francie, two people who come together after their respective lives have begun to stagnate (which of course is a common enough situation in Hitchcock's films, but which can be missed in this case because of the comedy - Francie's mother's remark about her daughter's being 'finished' is a case in point). Francie really puts the pressure on John to admit his morally dubious past actions as 'Le Chat', and indeed to admit his very identity (the implication is that he has repressed it, something most of us tend to do about ourselves, most of the time - which is yet another way of being reminded that Hitchcock made 'Symbolist' films of 'timeless' meanings relevant to audiences everywhere). Just this Sunday morning I heard someone quote 13th-century mystic Meister Eckhart to the effect that only the present moment is real and therefore the only place to be 'alive' in. Of course, Francie is very much alive in To Catch a Thief: she is 'turned on' by John precisely because he may be the dashing cat burglar whom everyone is speculating about! So much for the basis of morality (that was the philosopher Schopenhauer's point about the fundamentally amoral nature of the world's Will - and no doubt it tickled Hitchcock). The central scene where Francie really applies the pressure on John to admit who he is (he has been passing himself off publicly as 'Conrad Burns', lumberjack!) is the picnic scene. In the frame-capture below, that's Francie removing her elegant white gloves to get down to business. She had effectively declared her intentions on the drive to the picnic ground, telling John that she knew he was 'The Cat'. (In some prints, Hitchcock experimented with then-controversial 'subliminal' imagery and superimposed an image of John's black cat for a frame or two straight after Francie declares, 'You're John Robie, The Cat' - these images still exist in some videotapes of the film. Hitchcock was no doubt seeking to emphasise the pressure of Francie's challenge to John to 'fess up! Of course, he had used 'subliminal' imagery previously, in the red flash at the climax of Spellbound, and would do so again in some prints of Psycho - but that's another anecdote!) Now, the picnic scene is famous for Francie's offer to John, 'Do you want a leg or a breast?' It's a come-on with a double (or even triple) entendre. Trust Hitchcock to make light of a basically serious moment for both characters. Is Francie talking about food? About sex? Or about getting John to start being fully agreeable, and therefore prepared to admit that he's The Cat? (Answer: all of those.) But what is equally typical of Hitchcock is that he imported the line from elsewhere, and that's also an aspect of his creative filmmaking. Read on! According to my information, Winston Churchill on a visit to America was once invited to a buffet luncheon at which cold fried chicken was served. Returning for 'seconds', he asked politely, 'May I have some breast?' His hostess reacted. 'Mr Churchill,' she said, 'In this country we ask for white meat or dark meat.' Churchill apologised profusely. Next morning, his hostess received a magnificent orchid. Churchill's card accompanying it read: 'I would be most obliged if you would pin this on your white meat.' I bet that story was something else that tickled Hitchcock! After all, he was an admirer of Churchill and had a set of Churchill's collected works in the library of his Bel Air house, where he worked. Next time: a different topic.

June 27 - 2009
As promised last time, I'll be further discussing To Catch a Thief (1955) tonight. But first ... when in the 1940s Hitchcock decided to film Helen Simpson's novel 'Under Capricorn', clearly he saw how it would fit a trend to 'historical melodrama' that was affecting British cinema at the time (including some of the 'Gainsborough melodramas' and even Olivier's Hamlet). But no film would have directly influenced Hitchcock's own choice of film more than the Ealing production Saraband for Dead Lovers (Basil Dearden, 1948), itself an adaptation of a Helen Simpson novel. The fact that Saraband features an ironic wedding-night scene between Joan Greenwood and Peter Bull, accompanied by fireworks, probably stayed in Hitchcock's mind (see following). Only slightly more problematic is the influence on Hitchcock of Vincente Minnelli's Madame Bovary (1949). Both films - Minnelli's and Hitchcock's - include a scene in which a wife is embarrassed by her oafish husband at a ball, just when she is on the point of triumph and being acclaimed by everyone present for her beauty and charm. We know (from Donald Spoto's Hitchcock biography) that Emma Bovary was Hitchcock's favourite character in fiction; and it is just possible that Hitchcock independently remembered the scene from Flaubert's 1858 novel - there is no equivalent in Simpson's 'Under Capricorn'. But what I think more likely is that Hitchcock learned of Minnelli's forthcoming film and obtained a copy of the script: a friend of mine in Hollywood tells me it is common practice there for scripts to circulate for a year or more ahead of a film's production and release. I speculate, then, that Hitchcock was so struck by the ball scene in the Minnelli script that he decided to film a variant of it himself in Under Capricorn (which was also released in 1949). It would not be the first time that he had learned of another director's upcoming film and decided to 'match' or 'better' some of its content. It would also prove a forerunner, I suggest, for what happened six years later - when David Lean's Summer Madness/Summertime (1955) and Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (also 1955) both contained spectacular fireworks scenes accompanying their central couple's lovemaking. (The Lean film was based on a story by Arthur Laurents, who had scripted Hitchcock's Rope [1948].) Of course, the symbolism involved had antecedents, one of which (Saraband for Dead Lovers) I have already mentioned. Another antecedent was Kenneth Anger's poetic (indeed Cocteau-esque) underground short film about gay lovers, Fireworks (1947), which literally reaches climax with a shot of a firework, its fuse alight, protruding from the protagonist's crotch area. (Fireworks is on the Web - Google it.) For several reasons, I think it likely that Hitchcock saw this much-talked-about film. It may well have been included in his research for Rope. Also, he attended or watched many types of film. (I have long suspected that the award-winning short film by Norman McLaren, Neighbours [1952], influenced Rear Window [1954].) And no doubt Jennifer's memorable line in The Trouble With Harry (1956), 'Careful Sam, I have a very short fuse', is in the Anger tradition. On the other hand, my research tells me that fireworks symbolism is centuries, if not millenia, old! Recently I attended a stimulating exhibit at the National Gallery of Victoria, called 'The Satirical Eye: from Hogarth to Daumier', which included engravings by such English masters as Hogarth, Rowlandson, Gillray, and Cruikshank - all, or most, of whom were represented in Hitchcock's private art collection. Two engravings by Hogarth (1697-1764) particularly caught my eye, and the first of them, called "Before" (1736), is shown below. Notice the cherub in the painting on the wall: he is lighting a rocket! In the second Hogarth engraving, called "After", the same two people are shown, but now the man is buttoning up his breeches. And the knocked-over dresser in the first engraving now lies on the floor, revealing a second painting in which the cherub is grinning - and the rocket has gone off! (These Hogarths in turn probably influenced one of Goya's famous 'Caprichos'/'Caprices' called "And his house is on fire" - btw, you can Google it too. As Bill Krohn has reminded me, Goya was revered by Luis Bunuel and quite probably by Hitchcock.) Next week I'll try to tidy up with one more item about To Catch a Thief. Meanwhile, I thank the several people who contacted me this week (or I contacted them) on this matter of fireworks, and I invite further correspondence! KM

June 20 - 2009
Robie, the retired cat-burglar in To Catch a Thief, makes a distinction between his professionalism - of which he is very proud, but which in terms of the film's 'soul drama' threatens to undo him (I'll come back to this) - and the 'amateur' thieves of everyday life (such as Hughson, vide the scene at Robie's villa over quiche lorraine). As the analogy with the film Father Brown, Detective which I drew last time should tell us, herein is a central issue of Hitchcock's film. Robie is like master-thief Flambeau, and must be 'saved'. That is the real significance of Robie's return to the limbo world of the rooftops at the film's climax. He has a little unfinished business to attend to (though he may not know it), and that is the saving of his soul. His imitator Danielle thus serves as God's instrument, much like the scheming housekeeper Millie (another lower-class figure) in Under Capricorn, who quotes from William Cowper, 'The Lord moves in mysterious ways ...'. That line might serve as the epigraph of both films. Notice that neither Millie nor Danielle is treated unsympathetically by Hitchcock (and Danielle is actually given the line about how she and her father, Bertani, and his Resistance colleagues - except for Robie - have been forced by economic circumstances to 'work like idiots for a loaf of bread'). Robie, though, is a professional, almost a Nietzschean figure, glorying in his remarkable cat-burglar talents that have separated him from the common 'herd' and netted him a fortune - thereby threatening to make him unredeemably arrogant. (Again compare Flambeau, the brilliant art thief who tells Father Brown, 'I don't care about other people.') Robie is thus like the central characters in Rope, including the rather arrogant college professor, Rupert, who have all been misled by Nietzsche - not necessarily Nietzsche's fault - and must be shown up by the film. Ironically, it is Rupert's two pupils, Brandon and Phillip, who commit murder and must therefore be punished, whereas Rupert goes scot-free at the end. This outcome might be seen as another instance of what I have called 'temporal justice versus eternal justice' (see June 6, above), a motif which is carried over into To Catch a Thief itself where it is linked to the innumerable references to 'gambling'. Now, Danielle hardly appreciates all of this, and how Robie, too, like everyone else, has his soul to save; and at Foussard's funeral makes a scene. Seeing only Robie's worldly wealth, and no doubt stung by both jealously and the pain of the death of her father's colleague, she turns on Robie, calling him 'killer' and 'thief' - which of course technically he is (he killed 72 people during the War). But that is not really the point (the film is telling us). Robie slaps her in a gesture, and walks away. Here, Danielle is to Robie as the hysterical mother in The Tides restaurant in The Birds is to Melanie. The parallel is exact since not only does the hysterical mother make a scene (accusing Melanie of being the cause of the bird attacks) but Melanie must slap her and walk away. I am sure that Hitchcock was knowingly drawing on the earlier film when he filmed the scene in The Birds. And the exact 'meanings' of the respective scenes are very close, I would say. I spend several pages analysing the significance of the hysterical mother's accusation and Melanie's response - which frees her to get on with her life and leads to the film's attic climax which has resemblances to the rooftop climax of To Catch a Thief - in my monograph on The Birds to be published next week as a downloadable e-book by 'Senses of Cinema'. So that's all I'll say here about the To Catch a Thief scene: that it sets up Robie to get on with his life, too. Robie's life (and Francie's, and 'life' in general) is the very theme of To Catch a Thief, as I have often noted. After all, the film begins with a shot of a travel poster saying, 'If you love life, you'll love France'. And I don't think it's merely coincidental that Francie's name echoes that of France itself. Finally, apropos fireworks scenes in To Catch a Thief and elsewhere, here's a still of Katherine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi from David Lean's Summer Madness/Summertime (1955) and its fireworks scene - in a moment she'll drop that shoe! - which offers an exact parallel to the one in Hitchcock's film of the same year. Next week I'll talk about how this seeming coincidence may have come about - and, briefly, about fireworks scenes in art and film generally. (In the meantime, send me other instances, by all means. KM)

June 13 - 2009
Last week, at the end, I posed the question apropos To Catch a Thief (1955) of what we are to make of John Robie's background and whether he changes as a result of the events in the film. (Formerly a cat-burglar, he has kept all the proceeds of his robberies; nor has he shown contrition or regret for having killed 72 people during the War.) I am grateful to R.M. in our 'advanced' Hitchcock study group for his astute observation this week: that Robie may resemble certain characters in 'WWII "commitment" films where the protagonist is introduced as self-serving and amoral ("I stick my neck out for no-one," says Rick Blaine in Casablanca) but [eventually] comes round to committing himself to the war against fascism.' R.M. names some other of those films, such as Mr Lucky (H.C. Potter, 1943) - which is interesting, since Cary Grant, its star, called his character the one 'most like me' - and Uncertain Glory (Raoul Walsh, 1944), which is also interesting, since its star, Errol Flynn, plays a thief who reforms. But I think there's more to Robie than simple reformation (if that's what happens to him), and I am fairly certain in any case that a particular film influenced this aspect of Robie more than any other: namely, Robert Hamer's Father Brown, Detective (1954), based mainly on the G.K. Chesterton story "The Blue Cross". Alec Guinness plays Father Brown, and Peter Finch plays the selfish art thief, Flambeau (who does finally reform). Hitchcock loved the writings of Chesterton, and, moreover, would have rushed to see Hamer's film both because of its Catholic content and because of Hamer's very high reputation at the time (for such films as It Always Rains on Sunday [1947] and Kind Hearts and Coronets [1949]). There are striking foreshadowings in Hamer's film of Hitchcock's, and I can imagine Hitchcock discussing such content with his screenwriter John Michael Hayes. For example, in the frame-capture below, we see Flambeau at the film's climax fleeing from the police over rooftops after being warned of the police's approach by his housekeeper. Notice some of his stolen art treasures (and also his childhood rocking-horse, beside the window, which Father Brown chides him about: 'Pity you've never outgrown it!') This scene prefigures a couple in Hitchcock's film, but there are many more instances (for example, an earlier scene when the flat-footed police are again tricked with the help of one of Father Brown's parishioners, Lady Warren [Joan Greenwood], and her chaffeur [Sid James], into pursuing a milk van, thinking Father Brown and Flambeau are inside, but in fact the latter pair have alighted and made a leisurely escape). Father Brown quite literally abides by the notion that you have to 'set a thief to catch a thief' and does indeed commit a small theft (of Flambeau's cigarette case, with his French family crest engraved on it) in order to track Flambeau down. Also, Father Brown is frank about having 'gambled' the safety of a priceless blue cross in order to use it as bait 'for the soul of Flambeau' (this is the film's 'prodigal son' motif). Flambeau is a thoroughly professional art thief, who loves beautiful things, and freely admits, 'I don't care about other people.' He says (in a conversation that prefigures one in To Catch a Thief, between Robie and Hughson): 'You must realise, Father, that there is a great difference between a good professional and a good amateur.' But Father Brown tells Flambeau: 'You are imprisoned by your own arrogance.' Significantly, Flambeau lives alone in his hillside chateau with apparently only a housekeeper and his art treasures for company - though we see him happily joining the local populace in their village down the hill for the annual grape harvest festival (just as Robie in To Catch a Thief regularly travels down to Monte Carlo and Nice and Cannes, and would have joined in the annual Monte Carlo mardi gras which was to have opened Hitchcock's film but the scene was cut for weather and budgetary reasons). The point in both films seems to be that the character has at least the potential for reform inside him. More next time (including reference to those other films, such as David Lean's Summer Madness/Summertime, which I've already promised to discuss).

June 6 - 2009
In that still from To Catch a Thief last time, the 'vertical architecture' in the background is of course a trompe l'œil effect, rather appropriate in a mystery film that has dwelt on artifice-and-reality all the way through (e.g., the costume ball). At the same time, the emphasis on verticality is itself appropriate, given the film's images of the rocky slopes of the Riviera and the nature of the occupation of 'The Cat' (involving intrepid climbing of walls and roofs). Intrepidness, in turn, I tried to suggest last week, goes with many of the Riviera's buildings, many of which are perched in high rocky places. (The area also has some fascinating old ruins - or what appear to be ruins - likewise perched on the sides, or on the top, of cliffs, and which we glimpse in several of the film's extreme long-shots, including helicopter shots, that take full advantage of the VistaVision sharpness and screen-shape.) Again, the visual emphasis on nature and civilisation (or artifice) in close proximity is almost iconic (you could say) of 'the human story' - reminding us again of Hitchcock's acknowledged indebtedness to the 19th-century Symbolist movement in art and literature, which strove for timelessness and Platonic truths. In short, like I Confess (1953), To Catch a Thief looks forward visually and thematically to such later Hitchcocks as Vertigo (1958) and The Birds (1963). Sure, its actual story, simplified from David Dodge's 1953 novel, feels, and basically is, lightweight - though there is some just-discernible attempt to convey that story's deep point. (My notes on the novel speak of the importance of recognising how one's actions determine one's friends for life, and how we must assume that we pass this way but once. 'Robie and Danielle and Paul [not in the film] and Bellini [roughly equivalent to Bertani in the film] all help each other at the climax.') Actually, the film changes this a bit, to an emphasis on 'temporal justice versus eternal justice' (Schopenhauerian terminology, more obviously relevant to a courtroom film like The Paradine Case [1947]), with particular emphasis on luck and fortune, good or bad. (Mrs Stevens inherited wealth after her late husband struck oil back in Texas; meanwhile, the staff at Bertani's restaurant, notes Danielle, 'work like idiots for a loaf of bread' - though Robie, a wartime colleague of theirs, has emancipated himself from their misfortune by dint of his former cat-burglar activities and his subsequent sophistry apropos the wealth he had acquired and somehow managed to retain without scruples of conscience. More on this later.) Now, I'm always grateful to the people who send me their thoughts and pieces of information about Hitchcock's films. I thanked R.D. last time for the rare still from To Catch a Thief he sent me (the one reproduced above). I was also grateful for - and liked - his suggestion that in the omitted scene, one can imagine 'Frances [Grace Kelly] would have come in and picked up one of the pieces of jewellery and remarked, "Do you think I might wear this on my wedding-dress?" - or something like that!' And, speaking of Frances and jewellery, how very acute was the email I received (back in 2006) from S.R. about the car Frances drives: it's 'a 1955 Sunbeam Alpine Roadster in, of course, considering the [film's] jewel motif, Sapphire Blue'. (That's the car in the frame-capture below. Equally apt, no doubt, are its up-to-dateness - nothing but the latest and best for rich Frances! - and its 'Sunbeam Alpine Roadster' name.) Again, I thank the anonymous contributor to one of our Yahoo groups who (also in 2006) noted that Hitchcock always kept informed of current movie trends and that To Catch a Thief 'is rather in the 50s glamour travelogue tradition of Three Coins in the Fountain [Jean Negulesco, 1954]' which is set in Rome. That's a very good point - another film that fits the same 'travelogue tradition' is surely David Lean's Summer Madness/Summertime (1955), set in Venice, and which I'll mention further next time. Finally this week, I want to quote another thoughtful 2001 email from M.A.G. (see last week's entry), and I invite readers to send me comments . Matthew writes abour Robie's war record: 'There are darker aspects to his past that are glossed over for comedic effect (Hughson: "Did you ever kill anyone?" Robie: "Seventy-two! But don't worry, Hughson, not one of them was insured!"). I've often wondered what Robie learns from his dilemma? That he "needed the help of a woman"? Seems a little insubstantial.'

May 30 - 2009
I mentioned last time how 'Wallflower Press [last] week sent me "The Hitchcock Annual Anthology: Selected Essays from Volumes 10-15" which reprints Thomas Leitch's interesting "Hitchcock and Company" which, in turn, contains about the most hurtful - and wrong-headed - criticism of this website that I have received - and to which I was never given the right of reply by the editors of "The Annual".' I'll try to include here soon a fuller listing of the anthology's contents (a highlight is a 24-page article by Nathalie Morris on "The Early Career of Alma Reville" - by the way, did you know that Alma Reville [who became Mrs Alfred Hitchcock] was once an actress and that she co-starred with Norman Page and Ernest Thesiger in Maurice Elvey's triumphant The Life Story of David Lloyd George [1918], now released on a Region 0 DVD?). Today, though, let me just briefly comment on the totally erroneous accusation against me made by Professor Leitch. Back in 2004, as a service to admirers of Hitchcock's films, I put on this website a long review of Patrick McGilligan's newly-published Hitchcock biography and commented that the book was 'less definitive than some of us had hoped for'. To provide Web readers some sort of bona fides about myself, and to establish why I was disappointed in McGilligan's book (which I was careful to say also has many virtues), I noted that McGilligan had not only totally ignored many pertinent matters included in my own book 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (1999) but that, for several years, I had written a nightly blog with a great number of further points. These included thoughts, insights, and 'leads' on Hitchcock, and I had genuinely thought that some of them had a good chance of being picked up by McGilligan for his biography designed as a corrective to the previous Hitchcock biography (1983) by Donald Spoto. (All things considered, I find Spoto's book is still the best Hitchcock biography - despite its over-emphatic animus against Hitchcock personally - for it shows real insight into the films.) But how did Thomas Leitch interpret my criticism of McGilligan's book? Like this: '[You could say that] Mogg attacks McGilligan's attempt to produced a definitive biography of Hitchcock on the grounds that it ignores Mogg's definitive interpretation of Hitchcock's work.' (p. 250) Well, I'm sorry, that's both untrue and ungrateful. (Hmm, there's a Dale Carnegie adage: 'Expect ingratitude!') I was, as I say, simply trying to provide a service to Hitchcock admirers, and to articulate just where McGilligan in my eyes had fallen down (like, for example, his showing no awareness of how top English novelist Arnold Bennett once wrote an entire script for a silent film that Hitchcock had been nominated to direct). Now I hasten to change the subject. My thanks to long-time correspondent, Australian short-story writer and essayist M.A.G., who writes as 'Matthew Asprey' and who teaches creative writing at Macquarie University in Sydney. Matthew is a huge fan and aficionado of Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955), and last week he emailed me to say that his fine short story "Villa des Bijoux", which has a pronounced To Catch a Thief connection, is now up on the Web. I'm happy to recommend the story to readers of this page, so here is the URL (Now on WayBack Machine): Villa des Bijoux Back in 2001, Matthew emailed me to say that he had located John Robie's villa from the film - it's located just below the huge rocky outcrop of Baou de St Jeannet (one of many rocky outcrops in the film, suggestive of how puny humans are, though the humans may emulate nature in all kinds of ways, such as by building superb villas, some of them actually perching on those same rocky outcrops). Another correspondent, B.H.W., emailed me in 2002 saying that he had recently learned that the Sanford villa in the film is actually the Goldman villa in Cannes, so I pass that information on now. (Its architecture is dwelt on by the film - more on that shortly. Btw, for more on the actual locations of the film, readers should visit the hitchcockwiki site to look at Alain Kerzoncuf and Nandor Bokor's fascinating report: Location trip French Riviera) Lastly for this week, I'll mention with gratitude how in 2005 correspondent R.D. sent me a rare still (reproduced below) which shows an omitted scene from the end of To Catch a Thief. It depicts Robie (Cary Grant) and the insurance agent Hughson (John Williams) inspecting the booty recovered from the imitator of 'The Cat' during the exciting rooftop scene set at the Sanford villa. (In the still, notice on the table the black bag which had contained the jewels - and also notice the emphasis on the vertical architecture in the background.) The film's final scene became the one back at Robie's villa featuring a mother-in-law joke, perhaps inspired by Ray Milland's crack at the end of The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, 1944), a film which certainly influenced Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958). More next time.

May 23 - 2009
I must be careful, today, to respect what Buddhists call 'right speech'. Wallflower Press this week sent me 'The Hitchcock Annual Anthology: Selected Essays from Volumes 10-15' which reprints Thomas Leitch's interesting "Hitchcock and Company" which, in turn, contains about the most hurtful - and wrong-headed - criticism of this website that I have received - and to which I was never given the right of reply by the editors of 'The Annual'. (I have still to hear from them about that, yet now Leitch's essay is destined to go into libraries around the world, to remain accessible there for posterity, while he and his editors chuckle and I am permanently slandered!) In truth, the 'Annual' has sometimes been unfair to this reviewer, and taken various ideas from me. (Sometimes, though, its editors have been quite nice, I also note.) One pertinent case is how, a year ago, I offered to send them a monograph I had written on The Birds, only to be told, 'We don't do monographs'. Well, I notice that now they are announcing their intention to do exactly that, 'a planned series of monographs and collections of essays on Hitchcock' (p. 2). Hmm. They never got back to me on that one either. Btw, my Birds monograph will now be published elsewhere, as early as next month, as a downloadable e-book on the Web. Coincidentally, my editor has today told me that it is 'magnificent ... a joy to read ... superb.' I only quote him because ... what else can I do? Yet Leitch of course will probably seize on my doing so as one more example of the 'amateur' Mogg being 'theological' and setting myself, like the Pope, or the Deity, above all others (see p. 250), which is nonsense. (I'll say why another time, probably as early as next week.) Okay, now to this week's thoughts on The Trouble With Harry in the reduced space left to me. More or less at random, I'll settle for describing the sequence in which the Captain (Edmund Gwenn) brings Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick) to his house beside a lake (reciprocating his visit earlier to her cottage). The sheer circumstance of bringing an unmarried lady to his bachelor's quarters is itself slightly risqué - in a film that frequently takes such risks - but Hitchcock 'takes the curse off' the moment, and sets its charming tone, by showing the couple's arrival at the captain's jetty in extreme long-shot (see frame-capture below). The shot is one of several such long-shots, often containing autumnal foliage (the mutability motif). We don't see the actual boat trip, notice, but naturally we appreciate its appropriateness to the Captain's (claimed) profession. Also, the mood is less A Place in the Sun than Three Men in a Boat (both of which have rowing scenes, the former tragic, the latter serio-comic - in the well-liked Jerome K. Jerome novel anyway if not the execrable Ken Annakin film of it made in 1956 which I happened to see tonight), and so the film doesn't want to mislead us, if you follow me. And again, the long-shot is commenting on the characters' seeming indifference to the processes of life/death going on around them, and of which they are visibly a part. Inside the Captain's cottage, that idea is picked up, in good-humoured vein. For example, the Captain leans nonchalently on the busty red figure of a woman that had once adorned a ship's prow. He seems indifferent to the provocativeness of his action (he had actually been more concerned about Miss Gravely's noticing his underwear that he had left out to air - though Miss Gravely's profession had been that of nurse!) - yet he does seem at the same time to be boasting of his 'manliness', i.e., telling Miss Gravely who's boss. (He'll later set her to work digging up Harry while he 'supervises'!) Something is stirring in him. Btw, the colour red in Hitchcock is very often associated not just with danger and/or blood but with 'life', and that is the case in this film. Finally, the Captain isn't really what he had claimed to be. He has never gone to sea, but only captained a tug on the East River. So another matter of scale is raised. And Hitchcock wittily literalises it, notice, with the photo on the Captain's wall of an immense ocean liner. In the bottom left hand corner of the photo, dwarfed, is its 'real' subject - in the Captain's eyes - a small tugboat, which most people would easily overlook!

May 16 - 2009
Hmm. There are those of us who love and admire The Trouble With Harry, and not for any vague or wishy-washy reason either, such as its 'charm' or because it repesents 'something different from Hitchcock', but because it is a masterpiece, a near-perfect example of the art that conceals art, the latter a matter of ultimate statement, i.e., Symbolist art (à la the 19th-century movement in painting and literature that later influenced the Surrealists). Some people say, 'But I don't like The Trouble With Harry.' Others say, 'Isn't it a bore?' Well, I'm sorry, both those views are mistaken! I'm prepared to 'do a Robin Wood' and say that if you don't like Harry then you don't understand a certain type of art (when you're exposed to it in Hitchcock's film), if not the nature of cinema itself. (Cf Robin Wood on Marnie: 'If you don't love Marnie you don't understand cinema.') If either of those is you, gentle reader, then please be humble this week as you read what follows! I'll start by quoting from last time Lesley Brill's fine description of Harry, how it represents 'the essential dream that nourishes Hitchcock's work as a whole ... [of] a life in which human beings are complete and fulfilled, justice prevails without the rigidity and inaccuracy of law, and the world and its inhabitants live in harmony retrieved from the corruptions of experience'. That's just about perfect, once we see that Hitchcock is also reminding us of our frailty and pretensions, which are constantly represented in Harry (e.g., by the characters' frequent resort to lies, mainly quite small ones, such as Miss Gravely's feigned, 'Why Captain, what a surprise!' - see frame-capture below - when she had actually invited Captain Wiles to visit her for coffee and blueberry muffins). Something very similar is the case with 'Pickwick Papers' (1837), the first novel by Charles Dickens (who was another major influence on Hitchcock). Notice Brill's phrase, 'without the rigidity and inaccuracy of law'. I would compare Harry to the countryside scenes in 'Pickwick' - most famously the joyous 'Christmas at Dingley Dell' episode - considered in relation to the rest of the book, filled with law courts, prisons, and grave misunderstandings (so that Mr Pickwick becomes an early example of 'the wrong[ed] man', probably showing the influence on Dickens of his reading of 'Caleb Williams' [1794] by William Godwin). Harry is a very 'English' work. I mentioned last time its similarity to the model of the Ealing films, which are often about a community stirred to action by would-be intruders or usurpers. (Edward Gallafent has noticed the initial reluctance of Harry's characters to engage with the outside world. What he hasn't noticed is the similarity to the Ealing model and something else: the fact that Vermont, in New England, where Harry is set, has traditionally been a very conservative state, perhaps most famously in its opposition to any form of Federal intervention in its internal affairs. Significantly, too, Vermont's most famous son was the drawling Calvin Coolidge [1872-1933], no doubt one inspiration for the name of Calvin Wiggs in the film - Calvin has no precedent in the original novel, set in England.) During the week, on our Hitchcock discussion group ('Hitchen2'), we briefly talked about the film's Ealing connection. I referred to the Ealing wartime drama Went the Day Well?. 'There, a tranquil community is stirred to fight for its own continued well-being and, by implication, the country's, when the outside world intrudes: in that 1942 film the intruders are literally invaders, Nazis. I'm sure Hitchcock saw it, as it was scripted by his friend Angus MacPhail, and there's even a character (and accompanying sight-gag) in it who prefigures Captain Wiles and his poaching activities in [Harry]'. One last point for now (I'll say more next time). Harry reminds me, repeatedly, of observations by Norman O. Brown in his famous study inspired by Nietzsche and Freud, 'Life Against Death' (1959). For instance, Brown writes this: 'Man, the discontented animal, unconsciously seeking the life proper to his species, is man in history: repression and the repetition-compulsion generate historical time. ... [U]nrepressed life would be timeless or in eternity.' (Sphere Books paperback edition, 1968, pp. 88-89) Given the film's constant references to both time passing - mutability - and to eternity (e.g., when Sam cuts Miss Gravely's hair, an action, he says, which will take years off her birth certificate and make her 'timeless with love and understanding'), Harry may be seen as a very precise illustration of Brown's claims; moreover, the constant burying and un-burying of Harry's corpse is the very symbol of human subjection to the repetition-compulsion, but a subjection finally overcome. (The film is a 'dream', as Lesley Brill so truly says.) To be continued.

May 9 - 2009
In his DVD review on this page of To Catch a Thief (1955), Brian Wilson refers in passing to the 'underrated but superb' The Trouble With Harry (1956), also made in Technicolor and VistaVision by Hitchcock. I quite agree with Brian. Easily the best essay in English on Harry is that by Lesley Brill in his 1988 book 'The Hitchcock Romance' (though we're not ashamed of our own essay published in 'The MacGuffin' #21, February 1997, parts of which inform the second half of the Hitchcock profile we wrote for 'Senses of Cinema': Great Directors). Brill gets the film's tone just right, remarking that it represents 'the essential dream that nourishes Hitchcock's work as a whole ... [of] a life in which human beings are complete and fulfilled, justice prevails without the rigidity and inaccuracy of law, and the world and its inhabitants live in harmony retrieved from the corruptions of experience' (p. 290). By contrast, a more recent essay, "Matters of Proportion: The Trouble With Harry", by Edward Gallafent, in 'The Hitchcock Annual' 2006-07, errs badly, being reductive and joyless - though it sees that the film's theme of marriage 'involves a degree of insertion into the world, limiting for the men the absoluteness of the retreat into art (Sam) or the fantasy of male action (Captain Wiles)' (p. 104). Nowhere does Gallafent's essay come to grips with - or see the point of - either the film's humour (which owes much to the Ealing model, even the comparatively grim wartime production Went the Day Well? [1942], directed by Cavalcanti, plus the non-Ealing comedy about a vintage car, Henry Cornelius's Genevieve [1953]) or the film's bigger dimension which I will call Symbolist (after an art/literary movement that Hitchcock acknowledged had profoundly affected him). In other words, Lesley Brill understands Harry, whereas Gallafent merely interprets it (with some strain and not always convincingly). Today I want to talk about clouds, doors, and cash registers. The film opens with a shot of a New England church, although during the film God is never directly mentioned by the characters (even when Captain Wiles, who is susceptible to many influences, including superstition, refers to burying Harry 'with hasty reverence'). On the other hand, at a moment like the one illustrated below, showing the Captain approaching Miss Gravely's house for tea, the viewer is perfectly entitled to interpret the glowing cloud as God's presence - or not. That is, Hitchcock included that shot (like many others in the film) knowing perfectly well that such an interpretation was possible, by those who wanted or needed to make it. Related to this, take the matter of the yawning cupboard door that frightens the Captain. Brill is right to say: 'A closet door that spontaneously swings open in Jennifer's living room suggests, in addition to Harry's tendency to pop out of his grave, simple harmlessness.' (p. 288) But it can also function - and Hitchcock, I'm convinced, was constantly alert to such associations - like the mysterious green door in August Strindberg's expressionist/symbolist 'A Dream Play' (1901). What is found behind that door when it is finally opened is - nothing. Strindberg, influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism, and everyone from Poe to Schopenhauer, is commenting on our knowledge of the mystery of the universe, the mystery of life and death. For 'in the beginning,' he said, 'God created heaven and earth out of nothing'; and seemingly nothing in life and human nature and behaviour has changed since then. (As I'll show next time, Harry is constantly making reference to both time passing - mutability - and to eternity. It's a preoccupation of other Hitchcock pictures like Vertigo and Marnie.) Finally, I love the scene in Mrs Wiggs's 'Emporium' when the Millionaire turns up at night to pronounce Sam a 'genius' and to buy his paintings. (Mrs Wiggs is wearing her late husband's dressing gown, equally a possible sign of her conjugal affection - or indifference! - and that times have been hard.) Sam settles for presents to each of his friends. For example, 'Wiggy' is to receive her dearest wish - a cash register, chromium plated, one that rings a bell. What I see here is Hitchcock's awareness of both perennial human subjectivity - each to his/her own, for that's always the way - and its overcoming in what Schopenhauer spoke of as 'the good character [who] lives in an eternal world that is homogeneous with his own true being. [Other people] are not non-I for him, but an "I once more".' If that's not the very tone and spirit of Harry (as noted by Brill), I don't know what is. Next time: 'But I don't like The Trouble With Harry!'.

May 2 - 2009
Some proper blogging will re-commence here shortly. Meanwhile, let's remember that 2010 will be the 50th anniversary of Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Several books will mark the notable event. Getting in first will be our friend Dr Phil Skerry's 'Psycho in the Shower: The History of Cinema's Most Famous Scene' (re-worked from an earlier hardcover book), which is due for release this month in paperback from Continuum. Coming later will be a book on the same film (the book's title has yet to be decided) by Joseph W. Smith III for McFarland. The author tells us that it will appear later this year or early in 2010. Note: our News section is currently being updated (sadly, it includes mention of the deaths of composer Maurice Jarre and cinematographer Jack Cardiff). Check below. Finally, another Hitchcock blog is available, tracing the development of the director's work from The Pleasure Garden (1925) onwards - it's currently up to The 39 Steps (1935). The blogger is the knowledgeable David Cairns. Click here: Hitchcock Year.

[August 30 - 2008]
No "Editor's Week" entry this week and until further notice.
(it's catching-up time for yours truly). KM