Editor's Week 2013

December 28 - 2013
The moment in The Farmer's Wife when Farmer Sweetland (Jamerson Thomas) proposes to his housekeeper Araminta Dench (Lilian Hall-Davis), and she accepts him (see last time), is somehow archetypal. It represents a moment of crux, and it does so in a way that defines the inner significance of that moment. Hitchcock often made films that hinged on some such inner meaning of events, and was guided in his choice of projects by their having concerns audiences could share. Many of his films are about marriage, including an idealistic aspect - although often the pov is oblique or satirical. For example, I think that Murder! and Rope are such films. (Note, in the former, that its 'play-within-a-play' is described as being about 'the inner history of the Diana Baring case'.) The Farmer's Wife, though, is relatively direct in its approach - which is not to say that it lacks either humour or poetry (it has plenty of both) - and it follows Eden Phillpotts's play in finally wearing its heart on its sleeve. From the play it takes Araminta's acceptance of Sweetland's proposal in these words: 'Us knows each other's tempers very well ... and give and take be the whole art of marriage, so far as I can see from the outside. [Gives him her hand.] I'll enter in, Samuel ... and proud to enter in along with such a man as you.' That phrase about 'entering in' is explained by Araminta: she is about to follow Sweetland into marriage, where he has been before her (as Maxim in Rebecca has married twice, the second time to the young woman he proposes to in Monte Carlo, and who 'grows up' during the course of the film). Yet the phrase retains a mystical resonance, which the film's visual poetry is designed to reinforce, in an almost surreal way. I referred last time to the film's 'emphasis on the daily round that is also timeless'. The beauty of the Devonian countryside is part of the effect (see, for example, the moment when Sweetland sets out on horseback into the mist on the hillside, on his way to propose to Louisa Windeatt; or the sequence of the communal hunt with hounds - a foretaste of Suspicion and Marnie - in which Sweetland remains behind in the local pub, conducting his own 'hunt', his quarry this time being the buxom barmaid, Mercy Bassett). Weight is given to the story's comedy, which is as it should be, for much of that comedy is about 'the daily round' in its non-timeless aspect, as directly experienced by its participants. The film's (and play's) central episode is Thirza Tapper's party which is an extended piece of social comedy - and Hitchcock's direction is up to it. A brief example: Sweetland arrives early, bearing a basket of plums, as Thirza is next on his list of marriage candidates (after his rejection by the Widow Windeatt), and he thinks to make his offer straight away. But he is very self-centred. His early arrival only flusters Thirza who has the thousand-and-one details of organising the party on her mind - yet Sweetland is heedless of everything but to press his intentions on her. The basket of plums nearly knocks over a vase of flowers on one of the already crowded dining tables, so Thirza (who hasn't yet grasped what Sweetland wants of her) quickly picks up the basket and escapes with it into the kitchen at the back of the house - where there's further confusion and fluster because of an inexperienced maid and the presence of a reluctant serving-man, Churdles Ash (Gordon Harker), awaiting his instructions. The film seems to emphasise Thirza's consternation by its very editing: as she scurries with the basket from the front-parlour to the kitchen (see frame-capture below), cumulative shots serve to protract her journey, turning the house (which is clearly a large one anyway) into a darkened mini-labyrinth to be negotiated! (Another foretaste of Rebecca?!) About Churdles Ash now. He is Sweetland's manservant, a grumpy bachelor, whom Thirza borrows for the day. Gordon Harker gives a comic performance in broad style that helps keep the tone of the party scene one of impending social mishap! But more, the character, with his graceless bachelor ways, represents an unpolished side of Sweetland that must be overcome before, chastened, the farmer becomes worthy of his devoted housekeeper, Araminta. (This is something noted long ago by Maurice Yacowar in his excellent 'Hitchcock's British Films', 1977.) To be continued.

December 21 - 2013
Hitchcock, I suspect, had fond memories of The Farmer's Wife (1928), and some time in the 1960s he watched a print in his private screening-room at Universal Studios. He would surely have been pleased with what he saw, as the film remains a splendid 'pastoral comedy' about, notably, the institution of marriage. The basic material comes from a play by the prolific Eden Phillpotts (1862-1960) in which housekeeper Araminta Dench says, 'there's something magical in the married state. It have a beautiful side.' Indeed, towards the end of the film, there's a defining moment which I feel is as profoundly 'Hitchcockian' as any to be found in the director's work, and I'll come to it shortly. The play and film are about the search by Farmer Sweetland, a widower, for a new wife, especially after his daughter marries and leaves home. With Araminta's help, Sweetland draws up a list of candidates, none of whom proves quite suitable - or, more to the point, seems willing to marry the no-longer-youthful Sweetland. But there is someone whom the farmer has overlooked ... In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I invoke the work of Phillpotts's literary neighbour, Agatha Christie (1890-1976) - who, like him, lived for much of her life in Devon, England. 'The Farmer's Wife', I note, 'has the loose-seeming shape of a typical Christie detective story, with its alarums and excursions and final disclosure. Indeed, the two centrepieces of The Farmer's Wife are a wedding breakfast and a tea party whose main plot function is to let us get to know the women on Sweetland's list of candidates, or "suspects".' But the real beauty of Phillpotts's play and Hitchcock's film concerns marriage, and what it takes. When Sweetland, now chastened and shorn of excessive presumption, finally sees that the right woman for him was living in his house all the time - his pretty housekeeper - his proposal is sincere and heartfelt. He humbly hands to her a 'revised' list of candidates, but now all of the women's names have been crossed out with the exception of hers, which he has just added at the top of the page. In the frame-capture below, Araminta has studied the list and, realising what Sweetland is suggesting, looks up (directly into the camera) and smiles her acceptance of his offer. It is this moment, and the complex emotion the audience feels, that I was referring to when I called the moment 'defining' and 'profoundly Hitchcockian'. Here's why. Basically, it is an early example of Hitchcock's 'subjective technique', not only because Araminta looks straight at the audience, as if it had just made her the offer of marriage, but because the set of sudden emotions she feels - surprise, delight, recognition of Sweetland's new contriteness, above all her appreciation that 'yes, truly, this is what our exertions together have really been about!' - this set of emotions acts like a meme (or instant summation) of what the audience feels, too! (Also, as so often in Hitchcock, the moment is in a sense archetypal ...) All along, Hitchcock has involved the audience in the anxieties and hopes and presumptions and disappointments of Farmer Sweetland and how he has shared them all with his capable housekeeper on whom he has become increasingly dependent, virtually ever since his wife died (shown in the opening of the film). Yet neither Araminta nor the audience - consciously - have given thought to where this all might lead. On the other hand, as in an Agatha Christie novel, the signs were there from the start, but coded. The first wife's dying words had seemed mere babble or beside-the-point ('Don't forget to air your master's pants'), and yet can be re-interpreted in the light of subsequent events to mean something unspoken - a directive or permission or a premonition (or all of those things). The bucolic Devon setting, superbly photographed by Hitchcock regular, Jack Cox, with its emphasis on the daily round that is also timeless, is apposite. If there are subsequent Hitchcock films to which The Farmer's Wife looks forward, they are The Trouble With Harry (with its own emphasis on such matters) and Rebecca (which brings a Freudian knowingness to its study of a young woman learning to be a suitable wife to her patrician husband, whose first wife had died). More next time.

• On Rebecca, readers may like to look at a long review of Ted Price's 'Superbitch!' in the latest issue of 'Senses of Cinema', here: Superbitch!. Also, as many of you know, Joan Fontaine died last week. An obituary and tribute will shortly appear in our News & Comment section.

December 14 - 2013
[No "Editor's Week" this time - but two new items have been added to our 'New Publications' page.]

December 7 - 2013
With the imminent publication of the memoirs of actor/playwright/screenwriter Charles Bennett (1899-1995) - a long excerpt from which appears on this website - it is timely to remember how Bennett met Hitchcock and went on to write several of the thrillers that really put Hitchcock on the map, beginning with The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). (Cover of Bennett's book, edited by his son, John Bennett, below. We thank the latter for originally supplying us with the excerpted material.) It appears that Bennett was largely self-educated and spent seventeen years as a touring actor. During that time, interrupted only by Army service, he was employed by various theatres and drama companies. He claims his stage career began 'when I tumbled into a job as a child chorister in Max Reinhardt's production of Charles Cochran's The Miracle at London's Olympia in 1911.' Soon afterwards, at age 13, 'I attempted to write ... my first three-act play.' (Note: some of this information may be slightly inaccurate or misleading - for example, the actual author of The Miracle was the German Karl Vollmoller, and a production didn't reach London until 1912, when Charles Cochran turned the Olympia into a virtual cathedral - but there is no reason to doubt its essential accuracy.) Here's how Bennett describes those years: 'I never had dough for drama school, but after playing a different part in a different play every week at two repertory theatres [and] wandering around the British provinces with no less than three Shakespearean companies ... I think I really learned to act, developing the ability either to "proclaim" or play naturally.' Then, 'acting in Paris off and on during 1925 and 1926, I wrote my first full length plays. The Return, produced at the Lyceum, was written in the Spring of 1925 ... Blackmail and The Last Hour were written later in 1925 and 1926.' Bennett tells how Blackmail 'was based on the experiences of a girl of whom I was once very fond, an adventure she had after attending the Chelsea Arts Ball. Blackmail opened at the Globe Theatre on February 28, 1928. It was directed by Raymond Massey, and starred the lovely and very young Tallulah Bankhead.' When Hitchcock saw the play, he immediately wondered how he might adapt it to the screen: it would become both his last silent film and his first sound film. Bennett took no part in writing the screenplay - that was done by Benn Levy. Nonetheless, the ambitious playwright seized the opportunity of meeting Hitchcock, to whom he was introduced on the film's set at British International Pictures (BIP). Immediately the two men became firm friends and drinking companions! Thus it seems likely that Bennett told Hitchcock at this time of his experiences as a travelling actor, which may well have influenced Hitchcock to make his early sound film Murder! (1930) depicting just the sort of repertory company in which Bennett had toured. However, although Bennett soon found himself on the BIP payroll - he claims he was contracted to deliver three film stories a year for two years - the teaming with Hitchcock was still several years away, when both men had left BIP. The story of how they finally got together in their immensely successful collaboration is well known, so I shan't recount it here. Instead, here's what Bennett suggests are the reasons Hitchcock so liked Blackmail. Bennett writes: 'being a somewhat conceited individual, I like to believe that ... it was my sense of suspense which moved Hitch to enlist me as his regular writer ... Hitch loved the story - his kind of stuff (and mine). Attempted seduction. Murder. The young innocent murderess being blackmailed. The switch in which the blackmailer himself is the true suspect of the murder. Suspense.' And so on. All likely very true, although the various points may need elaborating. For example, Bennett's claim that he started Hitchcock off on the 'wrong man [or woman] accused' story pattern doesn't stand up: such a motif operated in four of Hitchcock's earliest films, from the second, The Mountain Eagle (1926), to the fifth, Easy Virtue (1927). As for 'attempted seduction', there's undoubtedly something in that. Not only is the scene in the film quite erotic - as Hitchcock author Dr Ted Price reminded me in an email this week - but it clearly took inspiration from the play, beginning with the long attempted seduction of Alice by the artist in his Chelsea studio, and becoming almost pornographic as he resorts to attempted rape ('He seizes her frock at the neck but it tears right down, revealing pretty "Cami-knickers" beneath'; etc.). Nonetheless, if I had to specify the single most important element of the play in terms of its influence on later Hitchcock films, and on Blackmail itself, it might be how each of the main characters is complicit in a crime for which the opportunistic bystander Tracy pays with his life. (I'm referring to the artist's rapaciousness, Alice's concupiscence, her policeman boyfriend's perjury, Tracy's resort to blackmail.) More another time.

November 30 - 2013
Scott Murray is former co-editor of both 'Cinema Papers' (for many years Australia's quality film journal) and the online 'Senses of Cinema' (still Australia's most prestigious film website). Retired from both those positions, Scott continues to write outstanding movies-on-TV previews for Melbourne's 'Age' newspaper. Recently he previewed a late-night screening of Hitchcock's Marnie (1964). He had only about 300 words, and here are just a few of them. 'Marnie is ... beyond great, perhaps the finest film Alfred Hitchcock ever made ... Many were troubled at the time by Scot Sean Connery playing an American East Coast WASP but, better than any other actor could, he captures the perverse desire Mark has for Marnie and the sexual excitement he gains from thoughts of the illegal things she is up to. But can Mark tame this delicate creature without killing what it is about her that so thrills him? ... In every imaginable way, Marnie is filmmaking at its best.' My comments this week are written out of gratitude to Scott. They are mainly about the hunt scene in Marnie. Mark does not feature in that scene, which, like much of the film, is essentially about Marnie herself. It is surely one of the best-edited scenes in Hitchcock. Consider the frame-capture below, showing Marnie's horse Forio rising up to clear a fence. It appears to have been shot in the studio, with back-projected footage, but exactly how it was done I'm not sure. (Conceivably, it was obtained on location with a telephoto lens, although I doubt it.) The point is, the shot lasts only a few frames, and is unique to Hitchcock. I'm practically certain that there is nothing like it in the hunt scene of Tony Richardson's Tom Jones (1963), which Hitchcock had certainly seen - and designed his hunt scene not to emulate but to surpass in emotional terms. The shot of Forio is part of the sequence in which Marnie rides away from the hunt whose upper-crust participants have sickened her (along with the killing of the fox), and is pursued on another horse by the vindictive Lil: the close-up puts the viewer 'inside' the action of horse-and-rider jumping a fence, a viscerally-induced empathy that is crucial to what follows. The moment follows hard on the breathtaking helicopter-view that had begun as a tracking-shot through trees and then suddenly 'widened' to show the two riders and the countryside stretching before them. This 'widening' moment, too, is highly visceral - but its full effect is dependent on how, hitherto, Hitchcock had not allowed us any extended view of Marnie riding, including two scenes at Garrods' stables that were notable for 'cramping' our pleasure at Marnie's post-robbery relaxation: the moment, for example, when Hitchcock inserts a brief close-view of Marnie on Forio, her hair streaming behind her, but where we see immediately that the background is studio-projected and the expression on Marnie's face forced. (This is abruptly followed by a cut to a high-shot of a Baltimore slum, as if to reinforce the feeling that Marnie - while mysterious - is not free.) Now, there is of course much more to say about this use of back-projection in Marnie, so widely misunderstood, beginning with the film's reviewers at the time. I would describe these shots as imparting simultaneously both objective and subjective information about Marnie: in a word, how she thinks that she is free but really isn't. There had been precedents: in both The Manxman (1929) and I Confess (1953), a woman is heard to say, 'We're free!' - and then the film's events show how wrong she is! Recall, too, that Hitchcock in 1960 had said, 'Reality is something that none of us can stand'. Thus Marnie is both like us and yet - a la Norman Bates - is an extreme case. The back-projected shots invite the spectator to feel both empathy and yet caution (Marnie is very much a cautionary tale), and there is something both sad and comical about how she is shown as 'alienated' even as her face says that she thinks she is (or should be) happy. But that's not the end of this particular matter. I only wish that Hitchcock could have the final word (and perhaps he may, one day). In John Russell Taylor's 'authorised' biography of the director, 'Hitch' (1978), we read: '[Hitchcock] has never cared too much, right back to silent days in England, about giving more than a formal nod towards what he considers technical inessentials. If you get the idea that a character is riding a horse, that is all you need; to be completely literal about it is excessive.' (pp. 272-73) Allowing for the simplifying of a complex issue, some of us will still say, 'Hear, hear!' Hitchcock's expressed position is intelligent, and if it flies in the face of today's 'conditioned reflex' - or 'fetish' - for realism, then the loss is ours. Marnie is a masterpiece, as Scott Murray has indicated.

November 23 - 2013
This week I found myself reading Agatha Christie's 'Murder is Easy' (1939). I was struck by how she cites two real-life murder cases - disguised as the 'Abercrombie case' and the 'Castor case' but clearly referring to the Major Armstrong case and the Patrick Mahon case - and draws on both of them for material in her novel, just as Hitchcock did for several of his films. The Armstrong case influenced the characterisation of the murderer Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) in Rear Window: like Major Armstrong, Thorwald kills his wife who is a hypochondriac and a nagger (see frame-capture below). As for the Mahon case, Hitchcock told Truffaut that it gave him the idea for what the dog was digging for in Thorwald's flower bed (and how Thorwald had tried to dispose of his wife's remains there). But Hitchcock neglected to say that the Mahon case also provided material for Rebecca. In 1924, Mahon took his mistress, Emily Kaye, for a 'liaison' at his seaside bungalow on a lonely part of the Sussex coast - and there killed her, then cut up her remains with a knife and saw, and disposed of them as best he could. (According to Christie, who may have been embroidering a little to titillate her readers, 'they found little bits of the poor girl pinned up all over Castor's seaside bungalow' - Chapter Fourteen.) Arrested, Mahon claimed that Emily had attacked him and, falling down, struck her head on a coal bucket. There's an obvious foreshadowing here of how Maxim (Laurence Olivier) in Rebecca claims that Rebecca in their seaside cottage had tripped and fatally hit her head on some ship's tackle. (In Daphne du Maurier's novel, Maxim was always the murderer of Rebecca - he had struck her in the same seaside cottage when she goaded him by revealing that she was going to have another man's child.) Hitchcock of course was fascinated by real-life murder cases, and I like how Dr Ted Price in his book 'Superbitch! Alfred Hitchcock's 50-Year Obsession with Jack the Ripper and the Eternal Prostitute' (1992; 2011) refers to Hitchcock's close knowledge of the Mrs Bartlett/Rev. Dysan case and how it may have given him ideas for the Madame Grandfort/Father Logan relationship in I Confess. (Indeed, Hitchcock told Truffaut that the Bartlett/Dyson case gave him the idea for the Not Proven verdict against Logan in the film. And he might have added a further influence: David Lean's 1949 film Madeleine, based on a famous Scottish case.) Briefly, Adelaide Bartlett was tried at the Old Bailey in 1886 on a charge of murdering her husband with liquid chloroform, but was acquitted by a jury because the prosecution couldn't convincingly show how the poison was administered. Strange but true! Most people believed that Adelaide - and her lover, Rev. Dyson - had colluded to kill her husband, Edwin, but the jury and, for that matter, public opinion, were sympathetic to her, and acquitted her! No doubt Hitchcock was titillated - to use that word again - by both this miscarriage of strict justice and by the unusual minage a trois situation that had led to the murder. Apparently Edwin and his wife regularly entertained Rev. Dyson, a local pastor, in their home, and Edwin was happy to look on as Adelaide and Dyson became increasingly close. Dr Price comments: 'Although Hitch does not say so, and may not consciously have even thought so, the idea of the elderly, impotent husband sitting there rocking and "puffing at his pipe" [can suggest] the husband masturbating while he watches another man make love to his wife.' (p. 258) Price proceeds to show how there's a classic Oedipal situation both here and in I Confess: 'an older man, a youngish wife, and a young man - a parson! - where the wife and the "father" get rid of the husband so that they can be "free" to make love'. (p. 259) Price explains that the 'older man' in I Confess is Pierre Grandfort (Roger Dann) whom Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter) never really loved, instead being increasingly infatuated with Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift) even when he decides to become a priest. It's a brilliant observation by Price - whose book is subtitled 'a Psycho-analytic Interpretation' - and I can't help noticing that something similarly Oedipal is known about Daphne du Maurier. In her 1977 book 'Growing Pains'/'Myself When Young' she recalls that, as a teenager, she suddenly fell deeply in love with her visiting, 36-year-old, married cousin, Geoffrey, when he visited them at the seaside, and that her feeling was 'curiously akin to what I felt for D[addy], but which stirred me more, and was also exciting because I felt it to be wrong'. (This incident probably provides the basis for the relationship of Rebecca to her cousin, Favell, in 'Rebecca'.) Note: to inquire about ordering Dr Price's 'Superbitch!' book, email: nadine@yawnsbooks.com

November 16 - 2013
I want to briefly return to the 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, which we were discussing here last month. And again I'll take my cue (or a couple of them) from Ruth Alexander's novelisation of that film, based on its screenplay. First, recall how Hitchcock contrives to give the film a sense of importance (in Goethe's phrase, 'the dignity of significance'), of something being at stake that really matters. The danger, of course, had been that audiences and critics would see the story as ultimately just another melodrama, albeit one full of ideas. Even the fact that the story concerns a family whose child has been kidnapped (aka the recent Lindbergh baby case) was 'old hat': several 19th-century stage melodramas had such a plot. However, anticipating North by Northwest, with its Cold War allusions, Hitchcock in 1934 was able to imply that nothing less than world peace was involved. He did this in the scene where Gibson of the Foreign Office is talking to Bob and Jill Lawrence, parents of the kidnapped Betty. The fact that a foreign statesman who is visiting London is earmarked for assassination by terrorists is mentioned, and we hear Bob explain the implications: 'What [Gibson] means, dear, is that - that is how [the war of] 1914 began.' To make the situation even more dramatic - akin to the impossible one of 'irresistible' force versus 'unmovable' object - the story links this back to Betty's quandary. 'Jill stared before her with wide-open, terror-stricken eyes. "War!" she murmured. "It couldn't happen again! I don't believe it! And even if it did, don't you realize that I'm a woman, and I've got a child - I'm fighting for her life?"' To which Gibson replies kindly, '"I may be fighting for a million other women who've got children ...".' (Chapter V) Hitchcock, whose sense of reality was strong, loved paradox. He, and audiences, sensed that this made his films more life-like, and not just some 'line' being spun by a politician or even a screenwriter who knows all the clichés! And he was careful, as here, to have a character voice the situation, which an audience might otherwise not be willing to confront. (Cf The Birds in which Melanie tells Mrs Bundy what the birds intend: 'To kill [people].') Another aspect of Hitchcock's 'outflanking technique' was to exploit the situation for irony or bathos. Thus, in TMWKTM, a later scene is the hypnotism episode in the Tabernacle of the Sun. Looking on, Bob feels '[t]he whole thing was simply preposterous - a lot of children play-acting. Yet behind it all he was certain of some sinister influence. He watched, every sense taut.' (Chapter VIII) Now, my thanks again to Brian Hannan, of 'Cinema Retro', for sharing with me his further thoughts on how the initial success of Hitchcock's films, such as TMWKTM, in America has been exaggerated (or simplified) by Hitchcock's biographers. Yes, several of the films were successful with critics and audiences in New York - but not elsewhere. Brian notes in an email: 'The studios [exhibitors] pushed Hitchcock like crazy, everyone recognised the [films'] artistic merit, but the public just did not buy it. In Los Angeles [TMWKTM] opened as the supporting feature to the Laurel and Hardy film Bonnie Scotland. The 39 Steps did not even play a whole week, and The Lady Vanishes had the shortest run of the year at its first-run cinema. All over America, [Hitchcock's] movies were relegated to the lower part of a double bill or yanked off the screen after playing only a few days. In the bulk of the cities where the three films played, the Hitchcock came bottom or second bottom in the box office rankings.' Hmm. According to John Russell Taylor, in 'Hitch: The Life and Work of Alfred Hitchcock' (1978), The 39 Steps 'had a sensational success in the States as well as in Britain, and Hitch was truly an international figure. Offers began to come in from Hollywood for Hitch, some of which he never even heard of [because his studio, Gaumont-British, or his producer and friend, Michael Balcon, suppressed them, wanting to keep Hitch in Britain].' (p. 131) For his part, Hannan argues that some of these offers were only from the British arms of American companies, so again biographers like Taylor could be said to be misleading. (On the other hand, it's irrefutable that when Hitchcock did go to America in 1939, to work for the discriminating David O. Selznick, he was quickly assigned to Rebecca, which Selznick saw as his follow-up picture to Gone With the Wind, no less. And once Rebecca was released, Hitchcock's name became known throughout the entire country, as Selznick must have anticipated!) Note: Brian Hannan's monograph called 'Hitchcock at the Box Office', Volume 1, covering TMWKTM to The Lady Vanishes, is now available for download on Kindle, price £2.99 or equivalent.

November 9 - 2013
KM has a couple of deadlines to meet this week, so no "Editor's Week", sorry. But do check out the News & Comment item about a unique season of Hitchcock films in London.

November 2 - 2013
Recently I was sent some questions about Hitchcock for a radio program, and I wrote out my answers. One of the questions rather surprised me, so I'm going to share it here and give an expanded answer. The question is this: 'I was hoping you could explain how you think Hitchcock's films are often about people trapped in time or space looking to find themselves?' (My questioner may have remembered something I said to him on a previous program, a few years ago.) My first, general point in reply was this. Characters in Hitchcock films often aren't just physically trapped, they suffer the same mundane restrictions as the rest of us - but exaggerated. Who can they turn to, what place might provide a haven (or freedom)? The hunted priest (Montgomery Clift) in I Confess (1953) has no-one to turn to - except God. The usually itinerant photographer Jeff (James Stewart) in Rear Window (1954) is confined to a wheelchair, and during the day is alone in his apartment which he calls a 'swamp of boredom'. Scottie (James Stewart) in Vertigo (1958) thinks he glimpses in 'Madeleine' (Kim Novak) the extra-mundane world, but his acrophobia (fear of heights) restricts his ability to intervene and to understand. (He says he lacks 'the key'.) The humans in The Birds (1963) are made to look puny by the winged birds! (Also, I thought of what we started to discuss here last week: why the congregation in the Ambrose Chapel in the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much look so worn-down, and why they are given the line to sing, 'Why hides the sun in shame?' I think that Hitchcock does imply something shameful about the congregation, but it certainly isn't directed at its individual members. The shame is that of the un-liberated, torn-apart, inequable human condition generally: roughly parallel is the depiction of the citizens of East Berlin in Torn Curtain, 1966, who emblemise all of us. This is Hitchcock's Symbolism at work, and it's significant that the superb credits sequence of Torn Curtain features sun imagery on the left of the frame while a succession of agonised or smug faces on the right implicitly represent the human condition, with its winners and losers. The imagery on the left and the imagery on the right is in apposition, so to speak: the burning 'sun' is 'life' itself, or the life-force, and the people shown on the right embody that force even as they seek more of it: compare William Blake's 'Ah! Sunflower': Ah! -Sunflower.) In effect, Hitchcock’s characters represent us, his audience. Now, as far back as the 1930s, indeed about the time of the first version of TMWKTM, Hitchcock suggested that a reason we go to movies is that we are in danger of becoming 'sluggish and jellified'. We need stimulation and a sense of connectedness, and the cinema is the best means of giving us those things. Accordingly, Hitchcock's films became increasingly designed to let us for two hours be the opposite of sluggish and jellified, to let us feel that we are soaring and free! Recall how in North by Northwest (1959) Leonard (Martin Landau) awaits the plane that will fly him and his boss (James Mason) out of the country, and we hear him murmur (almost rhapsodically!), 'ceiling and possibilities unlimited'! I think Hitchcock deliberately planted that line at that point. It tells us something about what he felt his 'pure cinema' could give us - and he could share with us. 'Pure cinema' (editing, etc.) allows an overcoming of time and space! Interestingly, the same film has its iconic image of someone who seems trapped in time and space: Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) at the lowest point in his 'Oedipal trajectory' (as Raymond Bellour calls it), strafed by a plane at the prairie crossroads. But there is similar iconic imagery elsewhere in Hitchcock: for example, another image of a cross, as the priest in I Confess wanders alone through the streets of Quebec until, outside a church, he reaches his point of decision, his (almost) Golgotha-moment, and next minute ascends the church steps to pray for divine guidance. See frame-capture below.

October 26 - 2013
I mentioned last time how I had been reading Ruth Alexander's 1936 novelisation of Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), evidently based closely on the film's screenplay - which allowed me in effect to 'slow down' the film. What reading the novelisation also did was to indicate some changes that were made by the filmmakers from the screenplay. This time, using the novelisation, I want to look specifically at the scene where Bob (Leslie Banks) and Uncle Clive (Hugh Wakefield) visit the 'Chapel of the Sun-worshippers' ('The Tabernacle of the Sun' in the film) and which turns out to be a front for the kidnappers, who have young Betty (Nova Pilbeam) imprisoned upstairs. I'll also want to make some comments on the corresponding scene in the film's 1956 re-make, set in the Ambrose Chapel. (That latter scene has already been splendidly analysed on this website by Murray Pomerance, and I'll refer to Professor Pomerance's analysis as well.) First, then, why a chapel of sun-worshippers (which occasions Bob's quip, 'They've probably got nothing on!')? The obvious answer, I'd say, is that Hitchcock relished the 'poetic' contrast with the drab waterfront area of Wapping where the shabby building is located (the novelisation reveals that the dentist's rooms - location of an earlier scene - are part of the same building). The re-make employs a corresponding contrast when the story moves from hot and sunny Marrakesh in North Africa to the generally drab back streets of London (a taxidermist's premises; the Ambrose Chapel). But in turn Hitchcock was able to make another kind of comment. The novelisation describes the interior of the chapel thus: it contains 'a congregation of about thirty people, mostly spinsters and old ladies. The walls at the other end were covered by a tawdry banner, upon which had been sewn a representation of the "All-seeing Eye." ... Obviously [Bob and Clive] had stumbled upon one of those cranky sects occasionally to be found in great cities. The two men tiptoed farther into the chapel and found a couple of vacant seats in the back pew.' (See frame-capture below.) Although there is a note of social observation here, with the seeds for something stronger and deeper in the re-make, the tone seems to me subordinate to the film's general insouciance: a sense of smart comedy is never far away. (More on this shortly.) The novelisation is also useful for providing some of the words of the hymn the congregation are singing: "Praise we Apollo's beams/ ... all life below/ The flaming Eye ..." (This part of the hymn can be heard in the film just as Bob and Clive start to enter the building.) Its imagery keeps the idea of sun-worship going, and also subtly anticipates the moment soon afterwards when Clive finds himself literally hypnotised by the horse-faced lady (Cicely Oates) who first addresses the congregation and then focusses on him her own intense eye ... Hmm. Re-reading Pomerance's essay called "Why hides the sun?" on this website, I could see how the equivalent of the hypnotism scene in the original (when the horse-faced lady, also known as Nurse Agnes, gazes direct into the camera lens) is the moment in the re-make when Lucy Drayton (Brenda de Banzie) does the same inside the Ambrose Chapel - she has just spotted Ben and Jo McKenna (James Stewart, Doris Day), the parents of the kidnapped boy. Pomerance writes: 'Lucy is now the sun, the central element in this planetary system which includes the McKennas, the Draytons, kidnapped Hank ...' Isn't it fascinating how in both films Hitchcock establishes a correspondence between actual sun imagery in his setting (note: the congregation in the Ambrose Chapel intone a hymn about the sun) and the eyes or gaze of a character? For some reason, I think of how in North by Northwest Hitchcock wanted Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) on Mount Rushmore to hide inside Lincoln's nostril - and have a sneezing fit! Or of how in Torn Curtain a desperate Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) eludes his pursuers in the theatre, after spotting paper flames on the nearby stage, by suddenly calling out 'Fire!' - which causes a convenient stampede! This is really putting a setting to work, as Hitchcock might say - and don't worry too much about whether it makes a lot of sense! Desperation by a character or characters has its own logic. But now here's my other point. Pomerance spots that the re-make of TMWKTM took an actual hymn and its line 'Why hides the sun its rays?' and subtly changed the line to 'Why hides the sun in shame?' Pomerance wonders why. My own answer is a little different to his, and I would link it to the more serious, less flippant tone of the re-make I implied above. I do think that Hitchcock saw something shameful in the unfulfilled psyches of the Ambrose Chapel congregation, their gullibility, their quiet desperation. More on sun imagery in Hitchcock - and his profoundly Symbolist filmmaking, beginning in about the 1950s - another time.

October 19 - 2013
Reading Ruth Alexander's 1936 novelisation of Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) had its rewards this week - it 'slowed down' the film in ways comparable to the installation called '24 Hour Psycho' (Douglas Gordon, 1993). For example, the novelisation let me appreciate just how inventive and ingenious the Cromwell Road 'brains trust' had been in compiling a workable narrative from a lot of disconnected ideas (and a likely indebtedness to an earlier script called Bulldog Drummond's Baby). How efficient it was, I thought, to cut straight to an elaborate scene in Bob and Jill's apartment in London after they return from Switzerland: when the police come calling, accompanied by Mr Gibson (George Curzon) of the Foreign Office, a lot of exposition is quickly accomplished despite the fact that Bob (Leslie Banks) and Jill (Edna Best) obviously don't want to admit that their daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam) has been kidnapped to silence them. The scene plays in three parts: Bob 'entertaining' his visitors in a front room while a tense Jill talks in desultory fashion with 'Uncle Clive' (Hugh Wakefield) in Betty's play-room; and then, after the police have left, Jill's dramatic entrance into the front room, saying, 'Bob, you didn't tell them anything did you?', only to notice that Mr Gibson is still present (an ingenious script-manoeuvre in itself, allowing for an emotional loosening up and the admission that, yes, Betty has indeed been kidnapped). [See frame-capture below.] But then the phone rings and it is the kidnappers warning Bob and Jill not to say anything more - the kidnappers mysteriously know of Gibson's being there - and letting them speak briefly to Betty. In turn, the call provides the first clue to Betty's whereabouts for it is traced by Gibson to a public call-box in Wapping ... Now, speaking of The Man Who Knew Too Much, I am grateful to Brian Hannan, columnist for 'Cinema Retro' magazine, who has been sharing with me some box-office information about that early Hitchcock film and The Lady Vanishes (1938). (This information and more will be available as a downloadable Kindle book from 15 November, to be called 'Hitchcock at the Box Office', Volume 1.) Brian doesn't think that producer Charles Woolf was necessarily so opposed to The Man Who Knew Too Much as has often been suggested (an opposition Hitchcock biographers date back to Woolf's shelving of The Lodger for several months before eventually allowing its release in 1926). Brian thinks that Woolf was merely trying to do his best for the film's chances. Despite its modest box office success in the West End, Woolf felt that it would not succeed on the circuits, and warned against its general distribution. Then he relented, to the extent of putting Hitchcock's film on the lower half of a double-bill with the American Mrs Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (Norman Taurog, 1934), starring Pauline Lord and W.C. Fields. Later still, seeing that audiences and critics continued to enthuse about the film, he allowed the billing to be reversed! (And in 1936 Ruth Alexander's novelisation was published - possibly to promote a re-release of the film.) Brian also thinks that in America in the 1930s Hitchcock's films took time to be noticed - except by some New York critics and their readers. He quotes some illuminating statistics. 'If English films were in vogue in America at Xmas 1938,' he writes, 'it was not because of Alfred Hitchcock.' The top English film in New York that season was Anthony Asquith's Pygmalion, starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller, based on the play by George Bernard Shaw. Another big English picture opened on Xmas Eve - not Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, though, but Erich Pommer's Vessel of Wrath (1938), now called The Beachcomber, and starring Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester. In fact, The Lady Vanishes had 'slipped in unobtrusively' (as 'Variety' put it) for the frantic Xmas period to New York's Globe cinema, but its arrival was so far under the radar that it was not reviewed in (the American) 'Variety' until 22 March, 1939. Brian also pours cold water on the idea that Hitchcock commanded high salaries from the start of his American career. Deals to work for MGM (from September 1937) and Twentieth Century Fox (from June 1938) - but both basically to make pictures in Britain - had fallen through; finally, David O. Selznick signed Hitchcock up to come to Hollywood on a one-picture deal and a salary of $50,000. Brian comments: 'The salary was low-range for a good director at the time. Roy del Ruth was the top earning director of 1938 on $216,000, followed by John Ford ($169,000), Frank Lloyd ($150,000), Preston Sturges ($143,000), and Howard Hawks ($141,000).' Thanks, Brian Hannan. But let's return to TMWKTM. Did you know that the 'Storm Cloud Cantata' was not commissioned for the film at the outset? Apparently, the shooting of the foreign diplomat, Mr Ropa, at the Albert Hall was originally going to take place during the climax of the '1812 Overture' by Tchaikovsky!

October 12 - 2013
Someone has asked me whether the avians in The Birds represent the hostility of Mrs Brenner (Jessica Tandy) towards Melanie (Tippi Hedren) when the latter turns up in Bodega Bay. Well, this was a matter first raised I think by Margaret M. Horwitz in a 1982 essay called "The Birds: A Mother's Love". And I would say, first, that the film is certainly designed to allow such a reading. (But note. Lydia Brenner's hostility towards Melanie doesn't last. It has softened by the middle of the film, when Melanie brings Lydia breakfast in bed, and there is a further mellowing at the end of the film - after Melanie's near-death experience in the attic - when Lydia smiles kindly at poor Melanie who is in a state of shock. See frame-capture below. Camille Paglia's reading of The Birds, in her BFI monograph, seems to me simply wilful when it asserts that Lydia is feeling triumphant here. Such a reading doesn't accord with the on-screen evidence - nor with something Hitchcock said, as reported in Tony Moral's recent book on the making of The Birds, to the effect that Lydia is the most fragile of the main characters, and whose show of hostility and defiance soon crumbles.) So what do the avians represent? Hmm. As I said, we are allowed to read them initially as expressive of Lydia's feelings. But that is only a partial, subjective - because reactive - reading, and clearly they can be seen to represent more than this. Ultimately, as I suggested in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', they represent Will. Or, as I put it recently (introducing Frank Baker's novel 'The Birds'), they are essentially a given: 'Hitchcockians may think of them as the "reality" that Norman Bates in Psycho (1960) could not face.' And I proceed to add: 'We are at one with the birds if only we could see it; they are not as "other" as our closed minds tell us.' Interestingly, this understanding of what the birds represent - the ultimately mysterious cosmic Will, or simply 'reality' - seems to me to coincide with a phenomenon reported by Robert Wicks in his book 'Schopenhauer' (2008) where he is discussing the notion of Will, 'which manifests itself as human consciousnesses that have representations' (in other words, partial understandings). I suggest that the following paragraph, in which Wicks continues the above train of thought, is very pertinent to how we relate to a Hitchcock film: 'The basic structure of Schopenhauer's philosophical vision compares to an act of frustrated self-conscious reflection, where a subject [person] thinks about an object [which may be another person, but perhaps even a horde of birds] that is indeed that subject in an objectified form, but where he fails to recognize the object as his own reflection. There are many examples of this sort of phenomenon. It is like falling in love with someone who looks and thinks exactly like oneself, without realizing that one has only narcissistically fallen in love with oneself. It is like trying to annihilate an enemy, without realizing that the person is another human being, and that one is trying to annihilate only oneself. It is also like being afraid of monsters in a nightmare without realizing that the monsters are of one's own psychological making. With the exception of a few people who realize what is actually happening, Schopenhauer maintains that the Will is likewise benighted.' (p. 63) (In other words, Will is forever turning on itself, creating havoc and suffering. It may be manifested as human vindictiveness, as a phenomenon of nature like a tsunami, as simply a mind-state like boredom or ignorance.) Hitchcock's films, I'm suggesting, are designed to reflect back at us our own condition and our own nature. Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut that in Rear Window (1954) he deliberately designed the apartments across the way to show 'a real index of human behaviour. ... What you see across the way is a group of little stories that ... mirror a small universe.' Hmm. One of Schopenhauer's panaceas for the working of Will is human compassion. In The Birds, the turnaround in Lydia Brenner's attitude to Melanie is not only satisfying dramatically but has a profound, if unconscious, resonance for members of the audience who seek to resist, at some level, the way of the world, which is forever pushing us towards chaos. (Note. Hitchcock was surely one of those 'few people' who Schopenhauer saw 'realize what is actually happening'.)

October 5 - 2013
No "Editor's Week" this time - but we have updated our New Publications page with a long review of Tony Moral's new book.

September 28 - 2013
A copy of 'The Making of Hitchcock's The Birds' (kamerabooks.com, 2013) by Tony Lee Moral arrived here this week. I hope to review it properly on our New Publications page soon. Meanwhile, here's how Moral describes a striking moment late in the film: 'Just as suddenly as they have arrived, the birds retreat, their cries fading in the distance. Hitchcock uses an impressive low-angle shot to show the weight of the house bearing down on its main characters. First we see Mitch step into the low angle, followed by Melanie, followed by Lydia, each entering from opposite sides of the frame for visual symmetry. Finally, a masterful track back reveals all three standing motionless, listening to the now-distant bird cries, hoping and praying that the danger has passed.' (p. 134) (The frame-capture below shows the conclusion of the track back, bringing Melanie and Mitch into the frame along with Lydia and young Cathy in the background - the group now unified by their relief at the apparent retreat of the birds. Just moments earlier, in actual screen time, there had been visible disunity of the four people. Lydia, in particular, had seemed on the verge of breakdown.) Moral's more-than-adequate description of the moment conveys the general idea. It reminded me, though, of one of the first pieces of Hitchcock analysis - for the Monash University student newspaper - I ever wrote, namely, of this same moment from The Birds; in particular, the analysis made me aware of what would prove to be a key to Hitchcock's filmmaking, his involvement of the audience subjectively. Briefly, here's what I wrote. A shot of the ceiling alone is momentarily puzzling to the audience, or anyway makes an obviously incomplete statement, but then Mitch rises into the left of frame in a listening attitude, and we understand how he is responding to the sudden dying away of the bird cries. Next, another shot of the bare ceiling is again only completed when Melanie, this time, rises into the right of frame. Finally, a third shot of the bare ceiling shows Lydia rising into the centre of frame, as if the film were acknowledging her privileged position as the family matriarch, and then - having joined the three people together in this way - the camera tracks back to affirm the unity of the family in the long shot shown below. We can note other things. First, the time taken by the track back corresponds to the extra time in which the listeners - including us, the audience - are able to ascertain that the bird cries have indeed ceased, and that the attack seems ended for now. Similarly, the initial puzzlement induced in us, the audience, by the three shots of the room's bare ceiling corresponds in each case to the sense of relief and wondering ('Have the birds really gone away?') by the individual characters who rise into those shots. Third, note that the order of showing the characters is one of power and potency (Mitch, Melanie, Lydia) but is balanced by how Lydia - the matriarch - is given a privileged centre-of-frame position in her individual shot. All of this is pure film - and highly expressive! Interestingly, this week also brought me a little-known 1905 paper by Sigmund Freud (my thanks to BK) in which he writes of "Psychopathic Characters On Stage" and seems to anticipate Hitchcock. I shan't quote much of the paper (BK has his own forthcoming uses for it) but would mention what sounds very like the idea of Hitchcock's MacGuffin (in which the spectator has 'his attention distracted [so] that he be gripped by feelings instead of [explanations]', as well as this. 'It would seem to be the dramatist's business to induce the same illness [read: feelings] in us, which can best be done if we take part in the same development [as the characters]'. In other words, we're again talking about subjective treatment - twenty years before Hitchcock made his first feature film, The Pleasure Garden, whose early scenes in a music hall feature voyeurism, something whose (audience-involving) potential would continue to fascinate Hitchcock throughout his career. Incidentally, Tony Moral summarises the attack on the Brenner house in The Birds by saying it 'is a marvellously realised scene because of Hitchcock's use of silence, sound and suggestion'. (During filming of the sequence, everyone stopped work one day to give Veronica Cartwright, playing Cathy, a surprise 13th birthday party. Sounds a possible inspiration for a line of Cathy's in the film! A huge cake was produced and everybody sang 'Happy Birthday'. Jessica Tandy gave Veronica a sweater and Tippi Hedren a pair of lovebirds. Hitchcock wrote on a piece of cardboard the inscription, 'To the woman I love, Veronica.' She still has it - framed - to this day.)

September 21 - 2013
Here now is a precis of what novelist Jenny Diski says in her short article "The Ticking Clock" ('Sight and Sound', August 1991). She says she became intrigued by the apparent equivocation of Hitchcock's endings. For example, 'was the ending of The Birds just an inability to wriggle out of the corner he had painted himself into, or was that corner the truth he was unable to escape? ... Is James Stewart going to jump to his death at the end of Vertigo, or if not, will he go back to that nice lady who became JR's mum?' Hitchcock's films, thinks Diski, are suspense stories about our own inevitable death. But more than that - in a wider view they are about 'the awful possibility that the [individual] end holds no resolution'. Diski mentions how where David Lynch or playwright Samuel Beckett rejoice in the notion of a meaningless or absurd universe, 'Hitchcock manipulates the everyday world to find a mystery that might keep him, and us, from the terrible suspicion that there may be no solution, because there's nothing to solve'. Rear Window is thus a quintessential Hitchcock film: Jeff (James Stewart) dwells on the mystery of whether the salesman over the way has murdered his wife because he, Jeff, doesn't want to face 'the tedium of the ordinary ... the tedium that is far more alarming than danger itself'. True, Jeff turns out to be right about the salesman, but at the end the mundane reasserts itself [if disguised by Hitchcock's ability to distract us] and Jeff's future with Lisa (Grace Kelly) 'is settled and inescapable'. Indeed, 'the spell not only hasn't worked, but it has reversed all the chaos that [Jeff] was hoping would keep him safe. Miss Lonelyhearts is going to live happily ever after with the sad musician; the newlyweds are going to become Mr and Mrs Domestic America ...' And Diski concludes: 'Hitchcock could never quite let go of reality ... there's no escaping the fact of the ordinary and its inescapable conclusion' - in other words, escape into 'freedom' will always and forever be defeated. (Frame-capture from Rear Window below.) Well now, I find little to disagree with in the above. The endings of Hitchcock's films may be more complicated than Diski indicates (for example, the ending of Under Capricorn, where a marriage is saved and some other persons' futures remain uncertain; or the question of why the nun at the end of Vertigo is either sinister or sage - 'God have mercy' - depending on your viewpoint). But essentially it's as Diski says: Hitchcock was always a respecter of reality. And because 'reality' is itself complex, Hitchcock tried to respect that fact too. The ending of The Birds is really at least two endings: a family is saved and hopeful new relationships formed (the 'happy' ending), while at the same time the rest of the world is left in a parlous state and may be doomed (as thinkers like John Gray actually remind us from time to time) (the 'unhappy' ending). (Interestingly, Frank Baker's 1936 novel 'The Birds' ends in exactly the same fashion; in Baker's memoirs he notes the egoism involved, since the people saved are his hero, based on himself, and family.) The subjective element is unavoidable, it seems - as other thinkers, among them idealist philosophers like Kant and Schopenhauer, have insisted. I'm also reminded of the following phenomenon. Society itself is organised along lines of 'compulsory optimism' (as someone has called it) - although the evidence suggests that we thereby live a deception. Barbara Hannan, in her book on Schopenhauer, 'The Riddle of the World' (2009), writes: 'It often seems to me as if radical free will were a "noble lie," a falsehood we ought to inculcate in our children because believing it will make them better people. The most intelligent among them will eventually figure out that it isn't true, but having believed it in their youth will have enabled them to reach their full potential. Throughout life, whatever our theoretical convictions, free will remains a necessary practical illusion.' (p. 66) (Thinkers in other fields tend to agree with this. For example, biologist Anthony R. Cashmore writes: 'Progress in understanding the chemical basis of behavior will make it increasingly untenable to retain a belief in the concept of free will' - quoted in an article by Sally Satel, "James Q. Wilson and the Defense of Moral Judgment", 'The American', 8 August, 2013.) But surely there is something like free will in the short term, or anyway the illusion of it, for otherwise we might all be immobilised and unable to make even simple rational or moral decisions! Mitch Brenner in The Birds seems capable that way, though Melanie at one point has to tell him, 'No Mitch!' (he had momentarily snapped and was going to throw a stone at the birds). All of these things Hitchcock took into account when designing his films. No wonder the late Jacques Barzun once reportedly said, 'Hitchcock never insults our intelligence!'

August 31 - 2013
Technical problems this week, so further thoughts on Hitchcock endings are held over. Meanwhile, big thanks to correspondent BC for sharing this URL of fascinating footage showing 'London as it looked back when Hitchcock was making his first films': London 1927. The footage was shot by cinematographer Claude Friese-Greene, son of cinema pioneer William Friese-Greene whose story is told in The Magic Box (John Boulting, 1951), starring Robert Donat. Also, BC adds: 'it turns out the BFI has its own channel on YouTube', and here's the URL: BFI. The channel includes several Hitchcock items (or possibly many - neither BC nor I have finished exploring!). As Claude Friese-Greene ends his film with a view of the famous Thames Embankment, maybe go straight from that footage to the BFI trailer for the restored The Lodger (Hitchcock, 1926) which includes some brief shots I don't think I have seen before (excised for censorship reasons?). KM

P.S. May be away for another week. KM

August 24 - 2013
Under Capricorn (1949) probably doesn't excite film lecturer Wendy Haslem (see July 27, et al.) because it isn't exactly an example of the 'Bluebeard' story informing Hollywood Gothic films of the 1940s and showing the male to be a monster! (As I'll demonstrate in a moment, males finally come off quite well in Under Capricorn.) Nor does it support Haslem's thesis that, as the 1940s progress, the wife-figure in Hollywood Gothic films becomes more perceptive of what her wicked husband is about. True, Lady Henrietta in Under Capricorn overcomes her alcohol-induced obfuscation and in a climactic scene defeats the scheming housekeeper Milly, calling out to husband Flusky to overcome his own 'blindness' (a condition implied by his very name, Samson) and to see what Milly is doing (poisoning Lady Henrietta). Further, I don't find unsatisfying the film's ending - rather, I find it true to life - in the way that Haslem would like to think is typical of Hitchcock: she quotes approvingly novelist Jenny Diski, who wrote (in 'Sight and Sound', August 1991), 'For someone who understood the dynamics of tension, Hitchcock was almost pathologically irresolute when it came to finishing the job'. Hmm. Under Capricorn is a variation on Hitchcock's own Rebecca from 1940, with its potential 'Bluebeard' theme inherited from the novel by Daphne du Maurier (where husband Maxim kills his supposed paragon of a first wife, Rebecca, and then for a while behaves morosely and angrily towards his second wife, the naive young woman he met during the off-season in Monte Carlo). But it would be foolish to pigeon-hole either of these Hitchcock films as essentially a re-telling of 'Bluebeard'. Hitchcock is bigger than that. I love both films (I am happy to speak of Under Capricorn in the same breath as Visconti's 1954 Senso!), and find them perceptive and wise. As I said last time, Under Capricorn is typical of Hitchcock in being about sexuality, which 'victimises' both males and females! (Observation: if Lady Henrietta didn't support herself by prostitution when she lived for years in squalor 'down by the docks' while she waited for Flusky to serve his prison term for a crime she had committed, then how did she support herself?! At any rate, literally and symbolically, she degraded herself for love.) Under Capricorn is about 'sacrifice' (a recurring word in the film) and humiliation, and finally self-overcoming. That is the point of the scene near the end where Adare - beseeched by Lady Henrietta, another man's wife, whom he clearly loves - tells a 'white lie' about how Flusky came to shoot him with a horse-pistol (see frame-capture below). In a variation on Rebecca, the Governor can see that the real truth is complex (indeed, the Attorney-General, Mr Corrigan, protests, 'Your Excellency, there's more to it than that!'), but accepts Adare's story, so that matters can rest. Adare must now return to Ireland, after uttering the wonderful line, 'Australia is a big country, but not quite big enough!' - implying that this isn't the best of all possible worlds. As I've shown elsewhere, a recurring theme in Hitchcock concerns what philosophers call 'temporal justice versus eternal justice', and in that respect Under Capricorn follows on from Rebecca and especially The Paradine Case (1947). Likewise, I have demonstrated how Hitchcock's films, such as Vertigo (1958) and The Birds (1963), typically have a baseline that is pessimistic (in effect, the human condition seen long-term) but contrive to leave the viewer with a sense of hope, at least in the short term. (I call this motif one of 'pessimism versus anti-pessimism', and trace it back to one of Hitchcock's favourite authors, G.K. Chesterton. Another name for the motif might be 'reality versus illusion', whose classic expression on the stage in the 19th century was in Ibsen's 1884 play 'The Wild Duck' where idealist Gregers Werle destroys the 'life-lie' of his friend Hjalmar Ekdal - with tragic consequences for Hjalmar's hitherto-happy family. Hitchcock himself once said on the BBC, 'Reality is something that none of us can stand, at any time.') Can you begin to see then, reader, why I so much admire Hitchcock's typically ambiguous or 'irresolute' endings? They leave room for the individual viewer to interpret the film in the way s/he needs. But there's more to it than that. As Jenny Diski herself admitted in her 'Sight and Sound' article, 'Hitchcock could never quite let go of reality' - Diski helpfully offers her own understanding of what that 'reality' is. And basically I agree with her! It's in the nature of Hitchcock's films to reflect how he saw the world of both himself and his viewers. To be continued.

August 17 - 2013
I see that Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik, in their book 'Daphne du Maurier: Writing, Identity and the Gothic Imagination' (1998), basically agree with what I said last time about the ambiguous ending of Rebecca. They write: 'Four characters finally harbour the secret of Rebecca's death at her husband's hands, since the narrator and Maxim are well aware that Frank Crawley and Colonel Julyan (the local magistrate), in accepting the doctor's "explanation" of Rebecca's death when they both suspect Maxim of murder, collude with his crime.' These characters are effectively agreeing to 'a discursive sanitizing of the violence at the heart of the patriarchal order'. (p. 105) There you have the same idea as author Wendy Haslem (see last time), that some of the Hollywood Gothic films, such as Rebecca, are altogether too kind to the male sex! Well, I don't agree, and, moreover, I don't think that's how Hitchcock saw things. I think that he recognised that the laws of patriarchy are certainly flawed, but that they hurt males just as much as females. Moreover, I don't see the 'Bluebeard' story (and the 'Bluebeard' cycle of films) as necessarily showing males as basically nasty and females as basically victimised by males (as Haslem implies) Rather, I see the 'Bluebeard' story as an allegory of how both males and females are subject to sexuality, the supreme example of the working of the cosmic Will. In this allegory, murderous impulses symbolise the male sex drive, while a curiosity to investigate and risk the consequences represents the female sex drive (with implicit permutations of the allegory, e.g., to accommodate gay sexuality). Which brings me back to Daphne du Maurier. What a fascinating author! Like her 'heroine' Rebecca, she was polymorphous! An excellent 1987 book about her is the little-known 'Daphne du Maurier' by Professor Richard Kelly for the Twayne's English Author Series (mysteriously not mentioned by Horner & Zlosnik nor by Haslem, nor by Nina Auerbach in her 'Daphne du Maurier: Haunted Heiress' [2000]). Drawing largely on du Maurier's own frank disclosures, Kelly assembles many revealing facts and anecdotes. For example, du Maurier assessed her father, Sir Gerald, as having a 'definite feminine strain' - he was 'feminine but not effeminate' (Kelly, p. 6). For her part, as a youth she had powerful yearnings to be a boy - she even invented an alter ego for herself whom she named 'Eric Avon', captain of cricket in School House, Rugby. (p. 6) But she was fair-minded. 'When I was a little girl,' she once told a friend, 'I was always irritated by the phrase "God the Father." It seemed to me grossly unfair. ... What about "God the Mother?"' (p. 26) To the same friend, she gave another instance of her resort to ambiguity in her fiction. Asked if the heroine of 'My Cousin Rachel' (1951) was actually a murderer, she replied, 'I wish I knew.' 'Yes, I created her,' she went on to say, 'but I don't know if she was a poisoner, and I never shall.' (p. 26) (By the way, Kelly reminds readers that the ending of the novel 'Rebecca' is more ambiguous than the film's. He notes that Mrs Danvers is never mentioned as dying in the blazing Manderley, and that the narrator actually begins her story by saying, 'Mrs Danvers, I wonder what she is doing now. She and Favell.' As Kelly comments, this 'clearly suggests that they are both still alive and went off together after the fire' - p. 62.) Now, in much of what I have just quoted, I see the equally fair-minded Hitchcock. He almost certainly had read Freud on 'how frequently, or how invariably, a girl who enters a household as servant, companion or governess will consciously or unconsciously weave a day-dream, which derives from the Oedipus complex, of the mistress of the house disappearing and the master taking the newcomer as his wife in her place.' (Freud, "Some Character-Types Met With in Psychoanalytic Work") This of course is the same fantasy that informs such works as 'Jane Eyre', 'Rosmersholm', 'Rebecca' - and the 1937 novel by Helen Simpson, 'Under Capricorn', the latter filmed by Hitchcock in 1949. Something I admire about Hitchcock and Under Capricorn is how objective he is. The fantasy element is now relegated to the malicious scheming of the servant Milly (Margaret Leighton), while the wider narrative involves a virtual 'quadrangle' comprising the master Flusky (Joseph Cotten), his wife Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman), the ambitious young nobleman Adare (Michael Wilding), and Milly. But at no point does Hitchcock point a condemnatory finger - not even at Milly, who is last seen stumbling from the house into an uncertain future (see frame-capture below). Rather, the true 'villain' is shown to be human sexuality, the cosmic Will. To be continued.

August 10 - 2013
On July 27, above, I quoted a recent book by Wendy Haslem on Hollywood's Gothic films of the 1940s in which she notes, 'lack of resolution [is] a feature of much of Hitchcock's oeuvre'. In other words, the typical ending of a Hitchcock film is open-ended or ambiguous. That's hardly a contentious observation, but I did question Haslem's apparent criticism of Hitchcock for such endings. She quoted novelist Jenny Diski (writing in 'Sight and Sound', August 1991): 'Hitchcock was almost pathologically irresolute when it came to finishing the job'. Writing with a feminist emphasis, Haslem seems at times to suggest that the Hollywood Gothic films - most of them with a 'Bluebeard' theme - 'improved' as the decade progressed because (1) the 'heroine' becomes bolder and less confused, and (2) the 'hero' is increasingly shown to be depraved and wicked, without exonerating circumstances or an obfuscating narrative that effectively disguises how he is really a 'villain'. 'Some B films', writes Haslem, with evident relish, 'are vehement in their configuration of masculinity as depraved and beyond redemption' (p. 133) - referring in particular to the outlandish (in two senses) My Name Is Julia Ross (1945), directed by Joseph H. Lewis. (As you may remember, the heroine Nina Foch is kidnapped by her employer Dame May Whitty and imprisoned in a remote Cornish mansion as a second bride for Whitty's mad son, George Macready, whose first wife he had murdered.) In contrast, Haslem is severe on films from earlier in the decade, like Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941), because their heroines are relatively weak and the husband, in both those films, is let off the hook rather than exposed as the homicidal monster that Haslem feels he really is. While I agree that Suspicion has an unsatisfactory ending, my short response to Haslem's position here is that (1) Rebecca is more complex than she admits (in particular, she doesn't inquire into what the first wife, Rebecca, stands for in the overall narrative, inherited from Daphne du Maurier's 'visionary' novel), and (2) Suspicion is something of a special case, a deliberate 'tease' that by its 'what if?' nature isn't really resolvable onscreen (not least because Hitchcock always felt that his films are best resolved in the minds of his audience). Right, let's talk about Hitchcock's endings in general, starting with Rebecca. I don't think Haslem sees how du Maurier's narrative isn't 'just' a feminist text. My research suggests that Rebecca is du Maurier's true heroine, but an ambiguous one. In Freudian terminology, Rebecca is 'polymorphously perverse' and thus defies the patriarchal society that was Britain's at that time. Du Maurier, married but with a lesbian side, envisaged a future age in which full sexual expression would be allowed; but another aspect of her, the high social status she inherited by being born into the du Maurier family - her beloved father was the actor Sir Gerald du Maurier, and her grandfather was the successful fin de siecle novelist George du Maurier, author of 'Trilby' - reconciled her to many of the patriarchal values that are present in the novel and film called 'Rebecca'. So Maxim de Winter was never meant to be an outright villain, and Haslem does du Maurier's story an injustice by implying that's what he should be! The world-view on display in 'Rebecca'/Rebecca is complicated, and indeed contradictory, which is a merit rather than a fault - we read literature and watch movies for their humanity rather than for their embodiment of some purely rational idea! Now, Rebecca is hugely influential on many of Hitchcock's later films (e.g., Notorious, Under Capricorn, Vertigo, Psycho) as well as on many other directors' films of the 1940s and beyond. And that includes, often, their endings. I like the ending of Rebecca very much, precisely because of its ambiguity. Ostensibly, it is a 'happy' one, with the previous obfuscation (abetted by the chilly Mrs Danvers) ended, including the invidious influence of Rebecca herself. Why, we even hear good, simple Frank Crawley - Maxim's loyal steward and friend - say, 'Thank Heaven we know the truth!' (This occurs outside Dr Baker's residence in London - see frame-capture below.) He is referring to the news that Rebecca died of cancer, which superficially does explain a few things. Yet, in fact, little is resolved, 'Manderley' is destroyed, and there is no guarantee that Maxim and his second bride will live happily ever after. (The long-suppressed last chapter of 'Rebecca' confirms that they remained together, but childless.) Such 'open-endedness' is very true-to-life, as Hitchcock appreciated. More next time.

August 3 - 2013
Limited time this week, so I'll have to come back to the matter of Hitchcock's endings (see above). Meanwhile, I have added a few lines to our New Publications page (link at foot of this page). Now, a couple of other things. On the matter of Indian remakes of Hitchcock's films (see last time), someone told me this week that there have been two such remakes of Rebecca. Most recent of these was Anamika: The Untold Story (2008). ('Anamika' means 'girl without a name', and apparently the film is a follow-up to the 1973 Anamika, about a girl who claims to be suffering from amnesia.) The other film is Kohra or Kohraa (1964), and there's an interesting item with frame-captures about it, here: Kohraa 1964. Lastly, my thanks to AK in France who has sent along frame-captures from The Passionate Adventure (see July 20, above), the film co-scripted by Hitchcock in 1924 for director Graham Cutts, and which includes an incident in which a person's life is saved when a cigarette case in his breast pocket stops a bullet - one antecedent for a similar moment in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935). Here's a close-up of the damaged cigarette case:

July 27 - 2013
Correspondent CR, who was so helpful about The Passionate Adventure (see last time), has followed up by sending details of various film versions of Frederick Knott's play 'Dial M for Murder', some of which were discussed here on June 22. At that time I mentioned a 1959 West German production, but gave no details. Now CR tells me that it was called Bei Anruf ... Mord, the same as the German title of Knott's play and of Hitchcock's 1954 film, and that it 'is pretty standard TV fare' while running about ten minutes longer than the Hitchcock version. (I see that it was directed by one Rainer Wolffhardt and starred Heinz Drache as Tony Wendice.) Somewhat mysterious is an undated Hong Kong film version of Knott's play. All that CR could tell me is that it was made by RTV HK, 'an outpost of the Rediffusion empire' - and that he has managed to track down a still from the film, which I have included below. Next, he noted that a 1967 TV film starring Laurence Harvey and Diane Cilento, mentioned here on June 22, was indeed a British production (contra what the IMDb shows), having been shot at studios located in Wembley, northwest London - and that Rediffusion were again involved. (It seems that they leased the Wembley facility from 1955 to 1968. Only a small part of the studio exists today, and is known as Fountain Studios.) Finally, one other piece of information from CR made me smile - or grimace. 'There were of course a number of Indian remakes [of Dial M], mostly standard Bollywood fare ...'. Ah yes, the eternal ripping-off of Western movies by non-Western countries! (I was reminded of an Egyptian version of Vertigo which screened a few decades ago in Australia on our ethnic television channel, SBS-TV!) In particular, noted CR, 'Aitbaar [1985, directed by Mukul Anand] is interesting for the almost frame-by-frame recreation of the attempted murder scene [from Hitchcock's version] and [likewise?] the expose at the end of the film'. Big thanks, CR! But now for a change of pace, and topic. I have been reading this week a very informative book by film lecturer Wendy Haslem, '"A Charade of Innocence and Vice": Hollywood Gothic Films of the 1940s' (2009). Haslem's key idea is that many of these films of the 1940s, including Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941), Jacques Tourneur's I Walked With a Zombie (1943), George Cukor's Gaslight (1944), Fritz Lang's Secret Beyond the Door (1948), and many others, all drew on the legend of Bluebeard, whose best-known expression is probably the pre-Grimm tale by Charles Perrault, 'La Barbe bleue' (1697). Writing largely from a feminist perspective, Haslem suggests that the films from earlier in the decade tend to finally show the wife to have been, well, over-imaginative, whereas the post-War films tend to vindicate the 'clarity' of her perception, and to show the husband as a monster. So Haslem takes the orthodox line that the ending of Suspicion is a cop-out (which Hitchcock himself would not entirely have disputed - see his remarks to Francois Truffaut), explaining, 'Suspicion is an example of a film that does not reconcile the paranoia that it raises.' (p. 137) However, Haslem then goes on to generalise that 'this lack of resolution [is] a feature of much of Hitchcock's oeuvre', and enlists in her support a short piece by novelist Jenny Diski in 'Sight and Sound' (August 1991, p.35). Diski makes special reference to Rear Window, The Birds, Psycho, and Vertigo. That's fair enough, for indeed many of Hitchcock's endings were open-ended (Donald Spoto has referred to their 'open-ended pessimism'). But what struck me is how Haslem seems to want to chastise Hitchcock, and Suspicion in particular. I felt that her thesis about the 1940s films' Gothic content was finally blinding her to the other content in such films. Haslem uses the following quote from Diski like a cudgel to knock Hitchcock down: 'For someone who understood the dynamics of tension, Hitchcock was almost pathologically irresolute when it came to finishing the job.' To me, that's simply not fair, not appreciative enough of Hitchcock's sophisticated sense of 'reality', and how every film is finally determined in the mind of the individual viewer, i.e., not by its presentation of some particular concept or thesis. Is this yet another case of what Robin Wood meant when he said, 'Hitchcock is too sophisticated for the sophisticates'?! To be continued.

July 20 - 2013
More on The 39 Steps. Let's begin with an addenda to last week's item. First, my gratitude to correspondent CR who points out that the device of a bullet lodging in a hymnbook had effectively been used by Hitchcock previously - in the film he co-scripted for Graham Cutts, The Passionate Adventure (1924), starring Clive Brook - only there it was a cigarette case that stopped the bullet! (CR mentions another 'first' found in that film. We noted last time the likely influence of such screwball comedies as It Happened One Night on The 39 Steps. Capra's comedy is of course famous for its 'Walls of Jericho' scene. Well, ten years earlier, a modest Marjorie Daw in a bathing scene in The Passionate Adventure is seen constructing a 'wall' of her own out of brooms and a sheet while Brook pretends to look the other way. Both scenes of course anticipate the comedy of the inn scene in The 39 Steps where Hannay and Pamela's 'enforced intimacy' is occasioned by their being handcuffed to each other.) Next, I overlooked last time one probable source for the close-up in The 39 Steps of the villain's missing joint on his little finger - John Buchan's novel itself. The novel's villain doesn't have a maimed finger, but another character - a French political person, who tells of a close encounter with a lion in Senegal - certainly does. 'He held up a hand which lacked three fingers.' (Chapter IX) It sounds like the makers of John Ford's The Iron Horse, with its two-fingered villain (see last time), may have read Buchan's novel - and that Hitchcock spotted the overlap and the more readily sensed how effective such a shot would be in his film. At all events, Hitchcock and his Cromwell Road team were ever-alert for story ideas, and highly ingenious in transposing them from their original source, or sources. Let's stay with Buchan's novel. Remember the scene in the film when Hannay on the run slips inside the Professor's house after the maid leaves the front door ajar (after telling Hannay to wait); and how, when the police arrive a moment later, the maid answers the door to them and, deadpan, says that no-one has been there 'for the last half-hour'? And did you think that this was a case of Hitchcock, off his own bat, simply having a bit of fun with his audience? (Norman Lloyd has confirmed that Hitchcock did like to leave audiences a bit puzzled at times!) Well, no, it's not quite that! The elaborate business with the super-cool maid is lifted from an episode late in Buchan's novel. Having returned to London, Hannay is walking to the house of Sir Walter Bullivant who will help him round up the spies when suddenly someone in the street recognises Hannay as the 'Portland Place murderer'. The same person had figured in the novel earlier, when he had been identified as Marmaduke Jopley, an effeminate stockbroker whom Hannay calls 'an offence to creation' (Chapter V). Now, as a crowd of people begins to gather and a policeman comes up, Hannay allows himself the satisfaction of socking Marmaduke on the jaw, then fleeing. (Did Hitchcock re-work this incident, at least twice, in North by Northwest? I think so!) Gaining a lead on his pursuers, Hannay arrives at Sir Walter's residence in respectable Queen Anne's Gate, and is promptly admitted by the butler. A breathless Hannay instructs him, 'If anyone comes and asks if I am here, tell him a lie.' Moments later, there is a furious ringing at the bell. And Hannay reports: 'I never admired a man more than that butler. He opened the door, and with a face like a graven image waited to be questioned. Then he gave them it. He told them whose house it was ... and simply froze them off the doorstep. I could see it all from [inside the house], and it was better than any play.' (Chapter VIII) Exactly. The climax of The 39 Steps is of course different from that of the novel, in which the spies are rounded up in their house by the sea as they wait for a ship to take them abroad (again there is some foreshadowing of North by Northwest here). Nonetheless, when the spies masquerade as respectable Englishmen, even to chuffing each other about their golf handicaps, and Hannay feels bewildered - 'These men might be acting; but if they were, where was their audience?' (Chapter X) - the allusion to life-as-theatre (and vice versa) is palpably what licensed Hitchcock to use an English music hall for his film's climax, for the basic idea is the same: that showmanship and life itself (considered as a verb, life lived) are somehow of a kind, and so the ultimate audience of The 39 Steps is each individual spectator with whom the filmmakers are sharing their life-enhancing exuberance, as actors on a stage share their vitality with a darkened auditorium and hope that individual spectators can appreciate it. In both Buchan's novel and Hitchcock's film, the spies are exemplary. When Hannay in the film is told (at the start, by Annabella Smith - see frame-capture below), 'These men act quickly', he is effectively being exhorted to emulate them and to go one better, to come fully alive. The 39 Steps is about quickening.

July 13 - 2013
Recently I wrote a chapter-length article on Hitchcock's 'ingenuity', using The 39 Steps (1935) as principal exhibit. Here are a couple of further examples of such ingenuity (i.e., ones I didn't use in the chapter). First, remember how Hannay (Robert Donat) escapes death when a bullet fired at him by the spy chief Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle) inadvertently lodges in a hymnbook in the breast pocket of the coat he is wearing? (See frame-capture below. The coat belongs to the crofter in whose house Hannay had spent the previous night, and the hymnbook, we see, is 'authorised for use in public worship' by the Church of Scotland, et al.) Two sources for the incident suggest themselves. First, in a freak incident from World War One, the life of a French soldier was saved when a bullet fired by a German sniper was stopped by a French translation of Kipling's 'Kim' in the soldier's breast pocket. (Source: Peter Hopkirk, 'Quest for Kim', 1996, p. 1. We know that Hitchcock had read several stories by Kipling; moreover, as I have suggested elsewhere, the very structure and tone of 'Kim' suggest a likely influence of that novel on various Hitchcock thrillers, including The 39 Steps and North by Northwest.) Second, the same real-life incident must have been noted by Fritz Lang, for as Mark Glancy has written, Lang's Spione (1928) contains at least two foreshadowings of The 39 Steps, including 'a bullet stopped by a book'. (Mark Glancy, 'The 39 Steps', 2003, p. 27. Glancy also astutely points out a clear influence of two 1934 Hollywood screwball comedies on Hitchcock's film: namely, W.S. Van Dyke's The Thin Man and Frank Capra's It Happened One Night. Both comedies, with their 'bantering romantic relationships, containing more acrimony than affection, came across as fresh, liberated and entirely modern in 1934'.) Now here's another example of Hitchcock and his screenwriters' ingenuity. The villain in John Buchan's novel - Professor Jordan in the film - is said to be identifiable by his mannerism of 'hooding his eyes like a hawk'. Sure enough, no sooner has Hannay sought refuge from his police pursuers in the stately house of a balding archeologist on the Scottish moors than his host's 'eyelids seemed to tremble and to fall a little over his keen grey eyes' - and Hannay realises that he has stumbled into the lair of his mortal enemy! Of course, what the filmmakers did was substitute for the villain's (not very cinematic) mannerism the visually striking feature of a missing joint of his little finger. Very possibly, as correspondent Christopher D has informed me, they remembered the moment in John Ford's The Iron Horse (1924), in which a sudden close-up betrays the two-fingered villain (Fred Kohler) to the startled hero Dave Brandon (George O'Brien). Anyway, a moment later, in Hitchcock's film, Hannay appears to get shot - and a fade out ingeniously conceals how by feigning his death Hannay somehow manages to escape Jordan's clutches (in other words, an awkward plot detail is conveniently elided!). Next, I want to try to raise this discussion of The 39 Steps 'to a higher level' (to borrow a phrase of Hitchcock's apropos The Trouble With Harry). It seems to me that the filmmakers spotted how, at the start of Buchan's novel, no sooner has Hannay professed to the reader that he is bored than he encounters the man Scudder (transposed by the film into Annabella Smith) who startles Hannay by asking to stay in his apartment, and explaining, 'I'm a bit rattled tonight. You see, I happen at this moment to be dead.' In other words, there's an element of dream-logic here, one which bears significantly on the film's own life-against-death motif. As in the novel, Hannay will 'come alive' - and with him, the film's viewers. (Audiences attend the cinema, said Hitchcock in 1936, because civilisation has become too sheltering, and people are in danger of becoming 'sluggish and jellified'.) A character like Mr Memory (essentially an invention of the filmmakers, although based on an actual music hall performer called Datas, real name William Bottle) is a scapegoat. He is less than intuitive, knowing only 'facts', and prey to his own excessive sense of duty: he dies at the film's end. Hitchcock compared him to Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) in The Birds, someone else who has retreated from 'life' and is therefore 'expendable' in the poetic logic of all these Hitchcock films. By contrast, Hannay and Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) do indeed come alive, facing hardship and triumphing over adversity rather than submitting to it. They are thus not only extensions for the audience but of the ingenious filmmakers themselves (the Cromwell Road 'brains trust'), whose very mode and method has been resourceful and inventive and who breathe 'life' into old material in a way that is both entertaining and, yes, re-vivifying.

July 6 - 2013
Still catching up, so no actual "Editor's Week" again! But do please read the items that have been added to our News & Comment section.

June 29 - 2013
No entry this time, due to illness. Back next time!

June 22 - 2013
This time I'm going to wear my film historian's hat and reveal something of the history of Frederick Knott's play 'Dial M for Murder' (1952) and how it has been adapted into large- and small-screen versions, as well as to the international stage. Knott devoted fully 18 months to writing the play, then suffered initial disappointment when various London managements turned it down. Finally, he consented to its presentation on British television - 23 March 1952 - when it starred Emrys Jones, Elizabeth Sellars, and Raymond Huntley (the latter as Inspector Hubbard) and enthralled several million viewers. Later that year, the play opened in both London (with Emrys Jones and Olaf Pooley from the television production - Pooley as Captain Lesgate) and on Broadway where the cast included Maurice Evans as Tony, John Williams as Hubbard, and Anthony Dawson as Lesgate. Both productions had long runs. Hitchcock's 1954 film starred Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, John Williams, and Anthony Dawson, and naturally helped spread the word about how good the play was. Here's an eye-opening statistic. As of 2011, 'Dial M for Murder' had been translated into 25 languages and presented in more than 30 countries. As enthusiastic as any nation about the play was the USSR - at least initially. In 1957, under the title 'Telephone Call', it was performed successfully in Soviet provincial theatres, Moscow's Pushkin Theatre, and the Leningrad Comedy Theatre. But then, later that year, the official Soviet newspaper 'Pravda' spoke out, charging that the play was a 'base and vulgar boulevard drama profoundly alien to Soviet morals'. (A similar official reception often greeted Hitchcock's films in Russia, alleging that they portrayed Western decadence.) No matter. Times change! In 1981 Russian television screened 'Dial M' under the title 'Oshibka Toni Vendisa' ('Tony Wendice's Mistake' - thanks for the translation, AK), starring handsome Russian actor Igor Kostolevky as Tony/Toni. Meanwhile, in the US, yet another television production went to air - there had been several, both in the US and Britain - this 1981 production starring Christopher Plummer as Tony, Angie Dickinson (surely miscast?) as Margot, Anthony Quayle as Hubbard, and Ron Moody as Lesgate. (I have seen it and remember it unfavourably.) Earlier television productions included one in 1958 (with three cast members from the original Broadway production: Messrs Evans, Williams, and Dawson) - see publicity still below - and a 1967 British version (though the IMDb says 'US') starring Laurence Harvey, Diane Cilento, Cyril Cusack (as Hubbard) and Nigel Davenport (as Lesgate). I also know of TV productions in West Germany (1959) and Sweden (1960). I trust that Frederick Knott died rich! But that's enough about the play. Some of you may like to read further correspondence I've had this week with filmmaker friend PT about the 1998 film A Perfect Murder. I emailed him as follows: 'I do share your "captivation" with A Perfect Murder. You know that. My reservations concern a general non-novelty (all the many glimpses of New York could be called hackneyed: from the office of Steven to the ferry trip past the Statue of Liberty, to the UN General Assembly, to the black ghetto, to the loft where David hangs out, to the very house of Steven and Emily - cf, say, Robert Wise's Audrey Rose [1977] for a similarly memorable NY dwelling with views over Central Park). Also, I found the plot tortuous whereas Dial M is truly masterly in its clarity. And don't you think Steven's lunging at David with a knife in the train compartment is over-the-top whereas in Dial M Tony is always superbly under-stated? On the other hand, [there is so much that is] nuanced and impressive about Dial M. And if you find notions of 'best-ever film' puerile and ridiculous, why can't one say the same about notions that 'all films from stage plays must be opened out'?! Hitchcock told Truffaut that he deliberately kept the closed-down quality of Dial M because so much of the effect on an audience depends on that - a bit like a crossword puzzle being confined to a symmetrical format, in which the solver appreciates the nod to the intellectual beauty that stays within bounds but implies infinity, a la Borges!' Well, here's the gist of Peter's reply (I'm sure you'll see why he is always good to argue with!). 'Thanks Ken, these are good discussions. We'll always find a way to view things differently. Steven's lunging at David with the knife was for me a nice "surprise", not at all over the top when compared with my favourite shower scene in the world. And compared with the way Hitchcock sets up the murder of the young man in the opening scenes of Rope, which I regard as one of the most clumsy representations of a killing ever presented on the silver screen, well .... I understand the arguments in favour of the deliberate closed down quality, and your reference to crossword limitations/ infinity/Borges etc... but although I accept these as points of argument, I did not "feel" them while experiencing the film. Now to the big one... I do not really mean that all films from stage plays "must" be opened out... Yes, it is possible to make a satisfying cinematic work in a confined and limited space. Yes, to all the arguments you raise. But I am not captivated by Dial M, as I have outlined previously.'

June 15 - 2013
I want to say a little more this time about Andrew Davis's A Perfect Murder (1998), loosely based on the play 'Dial M for Murder' (filmed by Hitchcock in 1954). Readers may like to consult the elaborate synopsis of the film that is on Wikipedia. My discussion with friend PT this week was very fruitful. In Peter's brilliant way, he put his finger on just what the title A Perfect Murder refers to. Even allowing for irony, it almost certainly doesn't refer to Steven Taylor's plan to murder his heiress wife Emily. (After all, Emily manages to stay alive, whereas Steven ends up dead - as does the person sent by Steven to murder Emily, the artist David ...) Rather, it probably refers to the way in which Emily, on realising what has been happening, fights back and makes her killing of Steven look like self-defence. The film takes pains to show how intelligent Emily is - she is perfectly capable, once alerted to Steven's intentions, of matching him in his ingenuity. Accordingly, the final scene shows her telling Inspector Karaman (David Suchet) that she was forced to shoot Steven, and we see the Inspector nod understandingly - while almost certainly knowing that this isn't the whole truth. (Very aptly, the film includes an earlier scene in which multi-lingual Emily enters sympathetically into the arabic Inspector's worry over a sick child. The two of them share a special wisdom, beyond words.) The Inspector tells her in his own language, 'May God be with you', and she responds in English, 'And the same to you.' It is a superb ending. And yet, of course, as I reminded Peter, Hitchcock had done something very similar over sixty years previously. Reader, do you remember how Sabotage (1936) ends? There, another husband-killer, Winnie Verloc (Sylvia Sidney), goes scot-free, which is what 'true justice' requires - Mr Verloc (Oskar Homolka) had been responsible for the death of Winnie's beloved brother, the boy Stevie. And, besides, Hitchcock had filmed Verloc's killing by Winnie in such a way as to make it decidely ambiguous, as if it were more than half willed by Verloc himself. The ending therefore simply compounds one ambiguity with another. This time, the Superintendent (Matthew Boulton) can't remember a crucial matter, making it seem as if Winnie must be innocent of Verloc's death - which is very satisfying to us, the audience, and leaves Winnie free to resume her life with the kind detective Ted (John Loder). (See frame-capture below.) But back to A Perfect Murder. It nods to at least a couple of other Hitchcock films, including both Psycho (including the opening shot) and I Confess (a scene on a ferry). Nonetheless, my friend Peter argued strongly that Davis's film is actually better than Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. He cited the characters. Despite how both Steven (Michael Douglas) and Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) are would-be murderers, Peter 'prefers' Steven - not because of the performance or charisma of the respective actors but because 'Steven as a character engages me while Tony does not' (email from PT). Well, I responded, I did say that Tony Wendice is situated in a never-never world - so surely you must take him on his own terms, as simply a malevolent force, an evil genius, who was (we're told) a tennis champion at Wimbledon and now faces a terrible thud on falling back to earth (in the knowledge that his wealthy wife may leave him for another man, the crime writer, Mark Halliday). Peter then further disagreed with me about the respective heroines. 'Even though I adore the beautiful Grace Kelly [who plays Wendice's wife, Margot], especially as she appears in Rear Window, her character in Dial M is passive and insipid, whereas Emily [Gwyneth Paltrow] as written and portrayed is anything but insipid. And in the course of the story Emily rises ever higher as an active character taking responsibility for finding her own solution to the situation she finds herself in [as already noted].' Hmm. That's true about Emily, undoubtedly, but again you could surely argue that Margot as the wife who toured the world with her husband and loyally kept a scrapbook of his press clippings - but then met Mark and began to realise that something was missing from her life - also arouses great sympathy. Some of us admire the way Hitchcock has not tried to complicate the original play, which was everywhere hailed as an already intricate suspense machine. (But Peter argues the other way: that both Dial M and Rope [1948] miss opportunities - 'the whole resources of cinema were open to them'.) Finally, apropos the would-be murderers, Peter 'prefers' David (Viggo Mortensen) to Swann/Lesgate (Anthony Dawson). (And certainly it was clever of the screenwriter of A Perfect Murder to merge lover and murderer from the original play into one character.) Peter writes: I am not drawn into the character of Swann at all, and don't really believe he would so quickly accept the terms offered by Wendice ...' (I disagree - I have always felt that Swann/Lesgate was fiendishly trapped by Wendice who had studied his every move for a year.) 'Whereas in David's case I am drawn in and do believe his switch from averse to compliant.' Hmm. In short, A Perfect Murder is definitely worth a visit (or re-visit) by Hitchcockians.

June 8 - 2013
Let's start by talking about the receptive way in which many good screenwriters work. (Hitchcock and his 'Cromwell Road brains trust' in the 1930s were especially adept at this, I think.) Here's a very small example. In the original play 'Dial M for Murder' by Frederick Knott, reference is made to one of swindler Lesgate's wealthy victims, a Miss Wallace, who lives in Belsize Park, north London. Hitchcock's 1954 film version retains that reference. But the makers of A Perfect Murder (1998), adapted from Knott's play and Hitchcock's film, have shifted their general locale to the United States. So now the swindler/hired murderer David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen) refers to taking his victims on holiday to Belize in Central America (adjoining the Caribbean), and fleecing them there! Cleverly, screenwriter Patrick Smith Kelly (surely a pseudonym - the IMDb has minimal information about him) works a further reference to Belize into the dialogue towards the end, nailing a point by speculator Steven Taylor (Michael Douglas) who is trying to convince his wife Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow) that he isn't lying to her, or worse. (All in vain, as events turn out!) Clearly, the screenwriter knew that the film's audience would remember evocative 'Belize' and make the connection back to its earlier usage by artist David, as Emily herself does. In fact, the film is full of backwards-and-forwards associations like this. For example, Steven literally walks David through the plan to murder Emily, using the word 'bludgeon' and reaching out to some hanging kitchen objects, which make a metallic sound when he touches them. (Not incidentally, the film is full of metallic sounds.) When we hear a tape recording later, the merest snatch of conversation containing 'bludgeon' followed by the clang of kitchen utensils is sufficient to tell us that this is the same conversation we heard earlier, and that David has recorded it to protect himself. All right, the foregoing is to introduce a brief discussion here of A Perfect Murder which I said last time I would be looking at soon and discussing with my filmmaker friend PT - actually I'll be visiting him on Monday (a public holiday in Melbourne), and he has set aside the afternoon for us to discuss Andrew Davis's film which we agree we both like. That is to say, I recommend it, although it received a mixed press when it came out, and despite its considerable differences from the more restrained and classical treatment that Hitchcock gave Knott's thriller which had first aired on BBC television (23 March 1952) and was first performed on stage at London's Westminster Theatre (19 June 1952) and New York's Plymouth Theatre (29 October 1952). In other words, Davis's film 'opens out' the play, something which Hitchcock largely resisted, saying that the effect of the play works best in its tight stage format. In my view, that's certainly correct - as I'll explain - but that nonetheless Davis has made a powerful film in its own right. My readers will know that the play involves an elaborate piece of business with a key, and that audiences need to concentrate on the several twists and turns of the plot being masterminded by Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) in the Hitchcock film, and by Steven Taylor in Davis's film. Where Hitchcock's film succeeds beautifully, I think, is in delivering maximum 'understandability' and deftly highlighting the storyline's ingenuity - whereas A Perfect Murder is over-tortuous that way. Hmm. While watching the DVD of A Perfect Murder this week, I stopped it several times while I tried to work out just what was happening with several pieces of business. The film has a rich texture but its storyline is not exactly 'clean'. But then, it is clearly aimed at a generation that seems to take complications in its stride and to want films to reflect the 'feel' of society, which is not clean-lined itself (in fact, can get downright 'dirty'). Put it this way. Hitchcock's film exists in a never-never world (albeit the Wendices' Maida Vale flat looks real enough) whereas A Perfect Murder gives a solid impression of New York City (and upstate), including ethnic lifestyles, and of power-thinking: the chiseled-featured Douglas reprises some of his Gordon Gekko character from Wall Street (1987); blonde, willowy Paltrow as Emily is shown working as a translator at the United Nations and using her language skills to take her into even ghettos; and Mortensen as David likewise glides smoothly between milieux, including both gallery openings and prison. (Nonethless, Paltrow is no match, I feel, for Grace Kelly in Hitchcock's film, when it comes to winning audience sympathy. But that fact may itself only underline the basic differences of the two films which I have tried to describe.) The hard 'metallic' look and sound of A Perfect Murder tells you a lot about it. Frame-capture below: Steven comes on Emily and David in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

June 1 - 2013
This week I watched Leslie Arliss's period melodrama, A Man About the House (1947), set largely in Naples, which has elements in common (but no more than that) with Rebecca and Notorious. Disappointed by it, I emailed my friend PT, asking him to help me explain 'in a few words just why Hitchcock is so much better than those run-of-the mill filmmakers like ... Arliss who borrow from him (e.g., the poisoning scenes in A Man About the House)'. Elaborating, I wrote: 'For example, Hitchcock's Under Capricorn has elements of Arliss's Gainsborough melodramas, and itself develops into a partial re-run of Notorious (Ingrid Bergman being poisoned). So is an important aspect of an answer to my question the fact that Hitchcock stamps his authority on his film from the opening moments and never lets go? Early scenes in Under Capricorn include the pomp and ceremony of the new Governor's arrival in the colony (but that pomp and ceremony is quickly 'deflated' by a conversation in the crowd between the Governor's nephew, Michael Wilding, and a local), then by technically-adroit, sweeping-camera scenes inside Government House (although again 'deflation' occurs: e.g., the Governor, Cecil Parker, converses with Wilding from a hip bath in his office - clearly he is keen to get as much work done as possible!), and then there's a scene inside the Bank of New South Wales, with emancipist Joseph Cotten, that further establishes a down-to-earth, businesslike tone.' And I added: 'Could one say that Hitchcock effectively conducts a symphony, or composes a newspaper (his own metaphor for his juxtaposition of elements), where others (e.g., Arliss) strive just to tell a linear narrative which quickly appears thin and obvious?' (To clarify: in Arliss's film, the 'man about the house' is the virile major-domo, Kieron Moore, who is all good-natured charm at first but then suddenly switches to being a resentful schemer.) Thinking about it, I saw how Hitchcock's conception is invariably both audacious (e.g., there's some Big Idea at stake) and designed to allow room for ironic counterpoint. He seldom paints himself into a corner! A partial exception is Juno and the Paycock (1930) which begins dramatically enough with a crowd listening to street-corner orator Barry Fitzgerald but being suddenly forced to dive for cover when a terrorist opens fire: the setting is the Irish 'troubles' of Sean O'Casey's play. Unfortunately, the play itself is too dialogue-centric to make for great cinema, or so Hitchcock felt. On the other hand, the pomp-and-ceremony openings of Under Capricorn and Frenzy (1972), although both rapidly 'deflated', set a mood of optimism (e.g., for Australia's future) that is never quite lost sight of despite the dark elements in the personal stories that unfold. My discussion with PT led to us agreeing to watch soon Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder and to compare it with Andrew Davis's version, A Perfect Murder (1998). I may report back here about that! Meanwhile, last night I watched again the start of Dial M. Some thoughts. It is an 'occasion' film - a 3D filmisation of the highly successful play by Frederick Knott. Accordingly, Hitchcock straight away plays up the 'theatrical' elements, not least the scarlet dress with which he introduces his stunning new actress named Grace Kelly (see frame-capture below). I said that Hitchcock stamps his authority on a film from the outset! Further, the scarlet dress is instantly associated with both adultery (we have just seen Kelly kissing Bob Cummings while her husband Ray Milland is away) and with murder - the dress is identical in colour to the letter 'M' of the film's credits. Similarly, Hitchcock soon tosses off several attention-getting 3D effects. The credits are very powerful in that respect; almost equally attention-grabbing in the first few moments is a row of wine and spirit bottles in the foreground, which are supposedly against a wall (thus are seen from an 'impossible' position, the camera effectively being the removed wall). Again, little curlicues of music run behind the early conversation between the three main characters, thus warming the dialogue and setting up a cosy mood which we guess will soon change. Which is indeed what happens - Hitchcock's capacity for realism soon asserts itself. Such a capacity is closer to the work of a great playwright like Henrik Ibsen than to that of a run-of-the-mill director like Arliss. This week I read Ibsen's advice to a young actress appearing in one of his plays. 'No declamation! No theatricalities! No grand mannerisms! Express every mood in a manner that will seem credible and natural ... present a real and living human being.' ('No wonder', comments biographer Michael Meyer, 'Sarah Bernhardt and Henry Irving disliked the demands this awkward dramatist made.' - 'Ibsen', Penguin edition, p. 589.) Hmm. For a light-hearted take on this, readers may note the News item that follows.

May 25 - 2013
One of the most charming episodes of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' is surely "The Horseplayer" (Sixth Season, airdate 14 March 1961), personally directed by Hitchcock and starring Claude Rains as Father Amion, the pastor of a small-town church badly in need of repairs. (See frame-capture below showing Amion outside the local bank - where a key scene occurs.) Unfortunately the cost of fixing the leaking church roof is likely to be at least $1,500, with no immediate prospect of the money being raised. But then a new parishioner named Sheridan (Ed Gardner) turns up, and he swears that prayer has changed his life. Down on his luck, he had quit his job in the hardware business to become a racetrack gambler - with remarkable success. He attributes it all to prayer, and wants to share his good fortune with the church. He claims that he has backed 16 winners from his last 18 bets, and now knows of a colt named Sally's Pal that is a 'sure thing' in a race being run this very afternoon. Driving up behind Amion in the street, in his new, fully paid-for car, he pleads with the priest to put money on the horse. For his part, Sheridan says that he will place everything he owns on Sally's Pal and then head for Florida where he has bought a house in a perfect location, 'right between the church and Hialeah'! (The same racecourse is mentioned in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man.) At first, Amion reproves Sheridan (as he has done all along, while expressing gratitude for Sheridan's large donations to the collection plate, and even weakening sufficiently to add, 'but I don't want to hear about the source'). The priest moves off down the street - then stops. He retraces his steps. This time he asks Sheridan (who has been watching him from the car) to wait. The priest goes into the bank and withdraws his entire personal savings of $500. As he exits the bank, Hitchcock places him in almost-sinister shadow (in a shot recalling one of the valet Latour at Hindley Hall in The Paradine Case). In close-up, we see the priest press the money into Sheridan's hand, who acknowledges it and drives off. Immediately afterwards, Father Amion has a crise-de-conscience, and the view dissolves from his troubled face to the study of the Bishop (Kenneth MacKenna). In anguish, the contrite priest asks, 'Help me to understand what I've done. Help me, please, to explain it to myself.' Because there is no way to contact Sheridan in time to stop the bet being placed, the Bishop replies that there is only one thing to be done. To pray for a horse to win is wrong (as Amion had told Sheridan earlier). Both the Bishop and Amion must pray for the horse not to win. 'Not to win?' asks a dismayed Amion, then adds, 'I'll do as you say, Your Excellency'. I'll not disclose the episode's exact ending, only report that the Runyanesque story (actually written and scripted by Henry Slesar) finds a way to confirm the power of prayer and yet still solve the matter of the leaking church roof! The ending is very powerful, and it's no accident that momentarily the score seems to take on the grandeur of Bach's 'Gloria in Excelsis Deo'. Claude Rains's performance is in the noble vein of Montgomery Clift's in I Confess, and yet Hitchcock manages to keep the overall tone entertaining and whimsical. All of the performances are strong. Ed Gardner looks suitably battered - Sheridan has had a hard life - yet projects a humility that says he is no scheming villain. (I chuckled at his telling Father Amion, 'You don't go in for stuff like that [gambling], huh?'). The church verger, Mr Morton (Percy Helton), is likewise a simple, good soul; and the Bishop is strongly, sensitively played by Kenneth MacKenna, a veteran actor (he had played Bulldog Drummond in the 1930 film Temple Tower) who was employed by Stanley Kramer the same year to portray a judge in Judgement at Nuremberg, then died in 1962 at the age of 62. The episode has some amusing touches where Hitchcock has estimated to a nicety what he can get away with (e.g., when the verger signals in delight to Father Amion in mid-service that a large-denomination note has turned up in the collection!). And, as usual, Hitchcock bookends the episode with his personal appearance, scripted by the witty James Allardice. Here it involves a pun on 'horse-player', with some possibly surreal comment on the story's 'divided' characters. Note. Jack Seabrook of the 'Bare Bones' website has contacted me to say that he has begun a blog in which he will gradually work through all the episodes of the Hitchcock TV series. Click here: Hitchcock Project.

May 18 - 2013
In what may be the last (of four) items I have devoted here to Dr Ted Price's highly estimable book on Hitchcock, 'Superbitch!' (1992; 2011), I want to concentrate this time on Vertigo, and specifically on the paper that Dr Price has sent me based on the relevant chapter in his book. (For complimentary copies of this paper, and ones on The Birds and Frenzy, please email me at . To order the book itself, email .) Price's specialisation, Recurrent Themes, is such that, once again, apropos Vertigo, he concentrates on The Theme of the Mother. (Naturally he acknowledges that there are other themes in Vertigo, such as 'the theme of Orpheus and Eurydice, with James Stewart trying to bring his beloved Kim Novak back from the dead' - a theme prominent in the original French novel. But it isn't a recurring theme of Hitchcock's. If you want to read about this particular aspect of Vertigo, see film musicologist Royal Brown's book 'Overtones and Undertones', 1994, and a separate paper Brown wrote in 'Literature/Film Quarterly' #14, 1986.) Price observes: 'Freud describes six rather peculiar "conditions" that must be present before some men can make love successfully: (1) the woman must belong to another man; (2) she must in some way be promiscuous, that is to say, she must in some way be a cheat; (3) it is especially important that she be a cheat; (4) she must make the man jealous; (5) even if he finds the moral courage to break off with such a woman, who must prove so unfaithful to him, he goes on to find just such another one, and the pattern starts all over again; and (6) the most peculiar of all the "conditions": he has a longing to rescue her.' In short, 'the woman must remind the man of the Whore aspect of the Mother'. Here's the Freudian explanation (still as paraphrased by Price): '(1) The Mother always belongs to another man, the Father. (2) The Son desires her, and unless she be a cheat, he can never hope to possess her. (3) Since she is the one type of woman for him, it is especially important that she be willing to cheat on the man to whom she "belongs". (4) Since every night she goes to bed not with him but with the hated rival father, she is giving him continual reason for jealousy. (5) Since a man can only have one mother, he can never really find a truly acceptable surrogate, so he goes on from one woman to another, always, after a while, disappointed in the woman at hand. And (6) against all logic, he would like to have her in conditions 1-5, yet "save" her from immorality notwithstanding.' Thus Price is saying that the Kim Novak character in Vertigo is presented as a subjective fantasy (Scottie's, but by identification, ours): Judy is basically a 'whore' whom Elster makes 'available' to Scottie without telling him (Scottie must think she is 'cheating' on Elster), and whom Scottie sees as 'the Mother' (suitably named 'Madeleine' and dressed in an un-sexy grey suit) whom he does indeed 'rescue'; but eventually, and predictably, he learns that he has been tricked, whereupon he effectively 'gets rid of' her. Price writes: 'What he "does" is to become, like Jack the Ripper, enraged and (for all practical purposes) kill the girl. For as Freud points out ..., what [the man] has discovered is that his mother, who makes love to his father, is no different from a whore ...' Thank you, Dr Price, that does explain a lot (more even than photographer/scholar Victor Burgin did when, in the 1980s, he was the first to spot some of this syndrome in Vertigo, drawing in particular on Freud's paper, also cited by Price, "A Special Type of Choice of Object Made by Men", first published in 1910). In no particular order, it explains: (1) why Elster in his office is photographed 'above' Scottie - he is the 'remote' father-figure; (2) why Scottie is not passionate towards Midge - she is too 'loyal', saying, 'You know there's only one man in the world for me', and represents only the 'good' mother; (3) why Judy, with her pendulous breasts, is such a tragic figure, stuck in an ancestral syndrome of seduction by men who end up 'ditching' her - she is the 'whore' mother who would reform if she could but is powerless against the syndrome itself (but are the men any better off? - there is some impersonal 'force' at work here). (By the way, someone else who has written on this theme in Hitchcock - but only in a passing reference - is Volney Patrick Gay in his 2001 book, 'Joy and the Objects of Psychoanalysis: Literature, Belief, and Neurosis', where he refers to 'Virgin Bitches' and 'Prostitute Bitches'.) Hitchcock always liked to be able to describe his current film in a sentence or two; and by describing Vertigo in terms of Scottie's perverse quest for the Mother, Dr Price may have brought us as close to Hitchcock's own thinking as anyone has. Frame-capture below: Judy in street on her way to the Empire Hotel, 'swinging her handbag', as Price notes.

May 11 - 2013
To bring us back to what the astute Dr Ted Price has to say about The Birds - without ever pausing (it must be noted!) to consider the film's visual beauty or special atmosphere or philosophical pessimism or several other qualities - here's a passage where he reminds us that birds may not be just phallic symbols but 'also vagina or girl symbols'. (Think: 'chicks'!) Noting that Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy) and Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), with their similar upswept hairstyles, might be mother and daughter, Price writes: 'In The Birds, as often in Hitchcock, the bird in this feminine sense sometimes functions as a castration symbol. It stands for the cool Hitchcock blonde (the Virgin Bitch) who will tease, but not go to bed with you, or for the possessive mother, who will not, of course, sleep with you herself, yet will not let you sleep with any other woman either.' This, quite clearly, is an incontestable statement - given Hitchcock's own remarks in interviews (notably in the UK journal 'Movie') and given the palpable emphasis by the film on Lydia's continuing enmity to, first, her son's former girlfriend, schoolteacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), and then, for a while, to Melanie herself, the latest love-interest of Mitch (Rod Taylor). (Such resentment by a widowed mother towards a possible 'rival' for her son's love is one of the striking parallels between Hitchcock's film and Frank Baker's 1936 novel The Birds mentioned here last time. Another, less surprising, parallel concerns how the new girlfriend has a particularly strong and determined outlook, and a certain desperation, stemming from a 'tarnished' reputation - albeit through no fault of her own.) All power to Dr Price for pointing this out. Someone has to say the fundamental things and relate them to the overall work of the auteur in question, as Price has done for Hitchcock, in his definitive 400-page book. Fundamental? Yes! My own view that Hitchcock's films depict the cosmic life/death force, Schopenhauer's 'Will', certainly does not clash with either Schopenhauer's or Freud's (or Dr Price's) emphasis on sexuality. 'Sexual desire is the ultimate goal of almost all human effort', Schopenhauer wrote. 'It knows how to slip its love-notes and ringlets even into ministerial portfolios and philosophical manuscripts.' I do wish, though, that Price had extended his analysis of Hitchcock to more than just Recurrent Themes; for the omnipresent obverse of Will, the One, as Schopenhauer insisted, is Representation, the Many (and the sexual drive may fuel any number of other human concerns). Similarly, Schopenhauer's philosophy isn't just about Will and Representation but has aesthetic and ethical dimensions. Ditto, Hitchcock's films. For example, Schopenhauer puts considerable emphasis on how the individual Will might be 'tamed', or turned against itself, in order to free the individual for self-determination and unselfish love, which is surely an issue of The Birds (as it is of Frank Baker's novel, soon to be reprinted, by the way) - though you wouldn't know it from reading Price! But I don't want to do Price an injustice. Before discussing two other papers by him (based on his book) which he has sent me, on Vertigo and Frenzy respectively, I'll just mention something I noticed this week. Last time I thought I was being innovative when I described Price's 'Virgin-Whore' archetype as 'the woman you love to hate'. But I was amused to notice in his book (pp. 365-66) that Price describes a variant on the archetype in just that way. Writing about the character Hetty Porter in Frenzy, Price describes the actress playing her as his favourite of all the 'marvellous' British stage performers in the film: 'My favorite of all (it was the first time, alas, I ever saw her, and I immediately fell passionately in "hate" with her): the perfect, the complete Bitch of a Wife (surely Mrs Crippen must have been very much like her), is Billie Whitelaw.' (See frame-capture below.) Price acknowledges that Hetty's enmity towards Dick Blaney (Jon Finch) is ostensibly a matter of his supposed murder of his ex-wife Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt). But then Price, pursuing one of his main topics, alleges a homosexual element. 'For what we, the audience, see is a woman angry, who observes two men (one of whom is her husband) greeting each other warmly ... In Frenzy, we soon learn that Clive Swift, Billie's husband, is an old "buddy" of Finch's from the R.A.F., during the war ... And when we see Swift up close, we see that he is a mousy, eminently passive man, quite under the sway of someone like ex-squadron-leader Finch. In this context, Billie must surely think: I thought he had given up all that (meaning I thought he had given up all that gay life); and here they are together again after all these years! That is why she is so angry.' My main problem with that is how it may exaggerate a British form of 'mateship' (especially prevalent in wartime) - and yet I quite see how it could reflect Hitchcock's own thinking. At any rate, I am grateful to Price for suggesting it!

May 4 - 2013
Last week I began to describe the paperback book 'Superbitch! Alfred Hitchcock's 50-Year Obsession With Jack the Ripper and The Eternal Prostitute' (New Discoveries, 2011) by Dr Theodore Price. (It was originally published in hardcover in 1992 as 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality', and has long been out of print - unjustly, considering its enormous number of insights, not least an eye-opening chapter on "The German Silent Films of the Weimar Era as Clues to Hitchcock's Films".) I note that Amazon.com have a photo of the paperback edition on their site but are otherwise unhelpful with information about its availability. Best to email direct and arrange purchase with them. Now, I ended last week's entry by quoting Dr Price on The Birds, about how Melanie (Tippi Hedren) 'is our Strawberry Blonde Superbitch: the great Virgin-Whore', and how the aim of the birds 'is to rape the life out of her' (italics in original). Let me defer a direct answer to the question I posed - 'Is this helpful writing?' - while I attempt to briefly sketch Dr Price's thesis. It is this. Like many Englanders (and others) who grew up in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, Hitchcock soon heard about the brutal Jack the Ripper knife-murders that had occurred in the East End of London over the space of a few months in 1888 and whose victims were said to be all prostitutes. Londoners, and others, were at once shocked and enthralled by the successive reports of each new murder, and felt a certain bonding as they read about the crimes. (For a rough parallel, compare the recent Boston Marathon killings and the effect on Bostonians in particular.) But over the years, the public's fascination with the Ripper's crimes did not diminish. It seems that something special about the crimes caught the public's imagination, and a note allegedly left by the Ripper ('I am down on whores!') may provide a clue as to why. Drawing on Freud and Karl Abraham, in particular, Dr Price develops his thesis about the Eternal Prostitute, and successfully, in my view, relates it to the films of Hitchcock. In the Unconscious of every male, is the unrealised wish to commit incest with the Mother. But because this was always forbidden (even to Psycho's Norman Bates, though he is almost the exception that proves the rule), the 'unattainable' Mother becomes a duality in that same Unconscious. On the one hand, the Mother is revered as pure, even virginal. It is said, with evidence, that in Victorian and Edwardian times - and perhaps for long afterwards - it was well-nigh impossible for many boys and young adult men to think that their mother was ever a sexual being. On the other hand, frustrated in his infantile desire to sleep with his Mother, the boy develops 'murderous' thoughts towards her. As Price puts it: 'But since he cannot face up to projecting directly fantasies of incest, he does the next best thing: he projects those of murder.' For always sleeping with the Father but not with him, the boy's Unconscious begins to think of the Mother as 'whoring around'. And so the 'Virgin-Whore' archetype is formed (and which Price shows is central to a film like Vertigo, with its two Kim Novak characters, and where Judy actually tells Scottie, 'You don't look much like Jack the Ripper'). Hitchcock's preoccupation in his films with blondes, whose names almost invariably begin with 'M' (for 'Mother' but also invoking the two 'Marys' - the Virgin Mary and the supposed prostitute Mary Magdalene) is easily related to the Virgin-Whore archetype. Because of her duality, she is like the woman you love to hate! A surprising number of Hitchcock's male characters (e.g., Rusk in Frenzy) are heard referring to such women as 'bitches' - whose conflation with the Virgin-Whore archetype entitles them, in turn, to similar nomenclature themselves: as 'Superbitches'. (The 'Strawberry Blonde' tag is essentially a nod by Price to the song heard during the fairground sequence in Strangers on a Train, where the blonde Miriam figures and draws the wrath of psychopath Bruno for being a 'tramp', i.e., a whore). To identify Melanie in The Birds with the Superbitch, or the woman you love to hate, is simply a way of acknowledging the Unconscious or Preconscious dynamics that Hitchcock is drawing on. But what about Price's claim that the birds are sent to 'rape the life out of her'? In a way, this is fair. Hitchcock may well have been using his film to realise the unrealisable (see above, on Norman Bates). Just this week I have been writing elsewhere about the 1936 novel called 'The Birds' whose author, Frank Baker, admitted that his fundamental motivation for inflicting his killer-birds on his characters was self-satisfaction, to settle old scores. However, I also made the point that in both Baker's novel and in Hitchcock's 1963 film the birds are ultimately just a given - while adding that, for Hitchcockians, the birds are like the 'reality' that Norman Bates in Psycho cannot face. I'm not sure that Dr Price has himself faced the fullness of what Hitchcock's birds represent. To be continued (obviously!).

April 27 - 2013
I don't have a lot to say about the article "'The Proper Geography': Hitchcock's Adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's 'The Birds'", by John Bruns, in 'Clues: A Journal of Detection', Vol. 31, No. 1 (2013). It coins the term 'anxiogenics' to describe certain anxieties felt by the film's characters in terms of space, or expressed by the film that way. Unfortunately the article is short on examples and long on theory - often the academic way of disguising a lack of hard insight! (However, the author will write a book on the topic, to be called 'Navigating the Hitchcock Landscape', which may deliver what seems to be largely missing from the preliminary hypothesising here.) Something interesting that the article does bring out is the frequency with which Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), in particular, asks directions in the early part of the film (e.g., of the postmaster when she first arrives in Bodega Bay - and where letters frequently go astray, it seems). (See frame-capture below.) Although Bruns doesn't say so, this seems part of the characterisation of Melanie as someone who is already finding herself 'on the other end of a gag' (about which Mitch Brenner - Rod Taylor - had joked), but who is nonetheless just like everyone else in that respect, once the birds start attacking. Bruns does note that one of Melanie's part-time jobs has been for Travellers Aid - 'misdirecting' travellers, she says sarcastically when Mitch questions her about it. (A Wikipedia entry on Travellers Aid points out that the organisation was first started in order to help protect vulnerable travellers, especially young women, against such things as the white slave trade - defined as white women forced into prostitution. I'll come back to this. To read the entry, click here: Travelers Aid International.) Also, as characterisation, it further reminds us of how accustomed - even smug - Melanie has become at using her good looks to prompt men to go out of their way for her, to 'pressure' them, as she puts it good-naturedly. So Bruns's point about how 'the social awkwardness produced by a lack of direction no doubt accounts, in part, for the film's comic tone' has some validity, certainly. But now I want to turn to a rather different take on The Birds, and it was originally published two decades ago. I'm referring to Dr Ted Price's book first published in hardcover by Scarecrow Press as 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality' (1992) and lately republished, with a new Introduction, in paperback. The paperback is called 'Superbitch! Alfred Hitchcock's 50-Year Obsession With Jack the Ripper and The Eternal Prostitute' (New Discoveries, 2011) and can be ordered through booksellers like Amazon or, at lowest cost, from nadine@yawnsbooks.com. But would you like a taster - or two? Then be aware that an excerpt from the book - namely, the chapter on Marnie - is already published on this very website (link at the foot of this page) and that another excerpt (revised), on The Birds, arrived here just last week, sent by Dr Price himself. Now about Dr Price. He is a genuine character. He is 88 and a Disabled Combat Infantry veteran of World War II who, he tells me, fought with General Patton in the Ruhr and Czechoslovakia. His division helped liberate a Holocaust death camp. Before his retirement, he taught Literature, Drama, and Film at Montclair State College in New Jersey. He has a B.A. from Kenyon College, where he studied under John Crowe Ransom; an M.A. from Columbia University, where he studied under Lionel Trilling and Jacques Barzun; and a Ph.D. from Rutgers, where he studied under Paul Fussell. His critical speciality is Recurrent Themes. I have a tremedous admiration for Ted Price - for the concreteness of his observations and (despite a seeming monomania in setting them down, at the expense sometimes of political correctness or consideration of other readings of the same material) for the vigour and ingenuity with which he gathers his evidence. Yes, it is indeed possible, as Dr Price first showed, to read I Confess as being, at some level, about homosexuality in the Catholic Church! (Both Father Logan and his doppelganger, Otto Keller, are played by gay actors - and such casting by Hitchcock was invariably significant, for, as the director once said, it is important to place actors, where possible, in roles to which their life experiences have given them special insight.) So what does Dr Price say about The Birds? In a word, that Melanie Daniels is one of Hitchcock's many 'prostitute' figures. (Hitchcock once described Melanie to Peter Bogdanovich as a 'fly-by-night' - British slang for a prostitute! The description also seems highly apposite to the character played by Tippi Hedren in Marnie.) Dr Price uses italics to put it plainly: [Melanie] is our Strawberry Blonde Superbitch: the great Virgin-Whore. And the truth about the birds in this film is that they are phallic symbols, flying phalluses, whose aim is to rape the life out of her.' Is this helpful writing? To be continued.

April 20 - 2013
There is much to praise about the article "'Dear Miss Lonelyhearts': Voyeurism and the Spectacle of Human Suffering in Rear Window", by Nicholas Andrew Miller, in 'Clues: A Journal of Detection', Vol. 31, No. 1 (2013). Essentially, it agrees with François Truffaut that Rear Window shows 'a display of human weaknesses and people in pursuit of happiness' - and claims, convincingly, that Hitchcock and screenwriter John Michael Hayes were likely inspired by the depiction of human suffering in Nathanael West's novella 'Miss Lonelyhearts' (1933). The fact that a character in Rear Window is referred to as 'Miss Lonelyhearts' might be indication enough, but Miller also reminds us that Hitchcock knew West: the latter wrote a screenplay for Suspicion (1941), although it was finally not used (replaced by the version penned by Samson Raphaelson, Alma Reville, and Joan Harrison). Human suffering, notes Miller, presents us with 'an insoluble conundrum of human community' (p. 46), and he shows how that conundrum informs both West's novella (about a male journalist, 'Miss Lonelyhearts', who is bowed down by the letters sent to his advice column in a New York newspaper) and Hitchcock's film (where 'Miss Lonelyhearts', played by Judith Evelyn, is a lonely middle-aged spinster who contemplates suicide). Miller elaborates: '[West's novella] is a searing fictional record of isolation at the heart of American social life ... The urgency and seriousness of the letter-writers' problems - a teenage girl tells of her severe congenital facial disfigurement and accompanying social ostracism; a boy relates his fears for his mentally and physically disabled sister who was sexually assaulted on the roof of their building - combines with their insolubility to create a crisis for Miss Lonelyhearts, whose job it is to respond to such suffering.' (p. 48) The novella is a great, if unusual, work. In the 1960s Stanley Edgar Hyman called it 'one of the three finest American novels of our century' (along with Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby' and Hemingway's 'The Sun Also Rises') (n. 6, p. 55). To me, it is just the sort of social document that would have deeply impressed Hitchcock even while realising that it is unfilmable: cf his reluctant abandonment of Ernest Raymond's 'We, the Accused' (1935) as a project; or think of the compassion which no less informs several novels/novellas from which Hitchcock did make films, such as Robert Hichens's 'The Paradine Case' (1933), Jack Trevor Story's 'The Trouble With Harry' (1949) - and, to an extent, Cornell Woolrich's 'It Had to be Murder'/'Rear Window' (1942) itself. But, coming back to West's novella for a moment ... Miller has done his research. He has found that West worked from actual letters given him by an advice columnist on a Brooklyn paper. Meanwhile, West supported himself as a writer by working as night manager at the Kenmore Hall Hotel on Twenty-Third Street. Here, from inside the glassed-in manager's office, he was able to watch detachedly, but with concern, the stream of persons who took the Kenmore's cramped, low-rent rooms: 'a menagerie of itinerants - workers, professionals, writers, and artists both young and old, all trying to make their way in the world' (p. 49). There is a clear connect to Jefferies (James Stewart) in Rear Window, who, half-way through the film, Miller shows, is challenged along with his neighbours to rid himself of purely conventional, or even cynical, views of other people, and to start caring about them - but appears to fail the test, at least in the short term. (pp. 52-53) Miller makes an excellent point about how both visually and aurally the film changes after this moment, with more direct appeal being made for the characters - and us - to cease being passive. For example, the soundtrack becomes less generalised: 'for the first time, elements of the setting come to life and speak with an authenticity and an immediacy that demands response' (p. 52). What a pity, though, that Miller misses many of the direct parallels between West's novella and Hitchcock's film, other than the fact of suffering displayed in both (crucial though that is). In 'The MacGuffin' #23 (November 1997) we noted, for example, that Miss Lonelyhearts lives by himself in an apartment he calls a 'dismal swamp' (cf Jefferies's 'swamp of boredom') and that he is having trouble relating to his fiancée Betty, even though, when he is sickly, which is often, she visits him with meals and tries to get him to quit his job as a journalist and do something more conventional (like write advertising copy). In Rear Window, of course, Lisa is forever plying the wheelchair-bound Jeff with gifts, hoping that her actions will end the emotional stand-off between them: she wants Jeff to quit his itinerant photographer's job and settle down with her in New York. Even the endings of the two stories overlap: in both, a man comes to the protagonist's apartment to kill him. Next time: another recent scholarly article on Hitchcock.

April 13 - 2013
Kyle Dawson Edwards's 2006 article, "Brand-Name Literature: Film Adaptation and Selznick International Pictures' Rebecca", is about the marketing of Rebecca and, more specifically, about the branding strategies used by Selznick International Pictures (SIP) to give their independent studio prestige, both with the public and with other studios - which owned many of the cinemas that SIP pictures played in. For SIP, no prestige, no sales! Hmm. No wonder David Selznick was a driven man! (Edwards's article, btw, is published in 'Cinema Journal', Spring 2006.) SIP's first two pictures (although developed at MGM) were Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Garden of Allah (both 1936), and both demanded elaborate set and costume design, thus setting the trend to be followed. Notice, too, that Fauntleroy is already one of SIP's 'big mansion' films, although the corollary idea of 'spectacular destruction' hadn't yet appeared. Edwards notes, in a footnote, how Selznick's Titanic would have been in keeping: 'Titanic would not only allow ... a lavish set that might tower over (literally and figuratively) its actors and director, but also, as an historical adaptation, frame the cinematic destruction of that set, as in Gone With the Wind [1939] and later Rebecca [1940], as an inevitability brought about by its own excess and audacity.' (n. 49, pp. 55-56) The 'humbling of the rich and powerful' is implicit in that observation, with a connection to the filmmakers themselves. In another footnote, Edwards suggests a parallel between the cost-conscious David Selznick and the second Mrs DeWinter in Rebecca as she adjusts to life at Manderley: 'she scales down her activities, confines herself to a select number of rooms, and takes her lunches at odd hours to avoid large meals and the intimidating surveillance of the Manderley staff' (n.59, p. 56). But Selznick's budgetry zeal is undeniable. Edwards notes that when studio manager Henry Ginsberg submitted his preliminary budget for Rebecca of $883,560, Selznick went through it and revised the amount to $689,238 (p. 41); however, the actual final cost of the film 'ballooned to over one million dollars' (n. 52, p. 56)! Edwards comments that Selznick's attempted slashing of Rebecca's costs 'speaks volumes about [his] conception of Rebecca and of that film's relation to the more expensive Gone With the Wind' (p. 41). Which brings us closer to the crux of the article. Both films were adaptations of runaway bestselling novels, and both cost $50,000 for the adaptation rights (p. 41). Also, both fitted with Selznick's general idea that '[a]dapting internationally renowned literary sources enabled SIP to streamline the story development process, promise a built-in audience to distributors and exhibitors, and fulfill its goal of producing "prestige" pictures' (p. 34). (The audience was carefully surveyed in advance, and known to have 'the leisure time and discretionary income to visit the cinema to see the novel transcribed to the screen' - p. 35. As anticipated, the audience for Rebecca was predominantly female: later findings by the Audience Research Index service gave a figure of 71% - p.35.) But Hitchcock's film was very much made in the shadow of Gone With the Wind: for example, two trailers were produced that 'advertised both films and linked them in succession as ... prestige releases. The fact that Rebecca took far less time to produce, cost one third as much, and recycled many of the sets and wardrobes from Gone With the Wind was of course not elaborated in publicity materials.' (p. 44) An intriguing part of the article is about how Rebecca used tie-ins and product-placement. For example, playing down how the first Mrs DeWinter - Rebecca - proves in novel and film to have been a nasty piece of work, retail advertisements encouraged women to buy things like the 'Rebecca Luxury Wardrobe' (produced, sold, and distributed by Kiviette Gowns Inc.) and the 'Rebecca Makeup Kit'. 'In return, SIP agreed to include Kiviette gowns and Robert Dudley hats in the film.' (p. 38) Staggeringly, although Rebecca is never seen in the film, there were Rebecca look-alike contests (p. 38)! But for all his excellent research (much of it in the David O. Selznick Collection at the University of Texas at Austin), Edwards sometimes seems to me off-line, or trivial. He appears patronising towards auteurist film criticism (though admitting it has yielded some "perceptive insights" re Rebecca - n.6, p. 50), and occasionally beside the point. He thinks (p. 42) that Giles and Beatrice Lacey's costumes at the fancy dress ball merely represent cost-cutting (their costumes in the novel were more elaborate), thereby missing how there is a fine sight-gag here referring to Manderley's current 'sterility' (part of an extensive motif in the film): Giles poses as a strong man but with hollow 'balls' (a bouncing barbell); Beatrice as Boedicea wears impenetrable chain-mail ... See frame-capture below. Next time: another recent scholarly article on Hitchcock.

April 6 - 2013
Mervyn Nicholson, author and socialist, ends his article "Alfred Hitchcock Presents Class Struggle" ('Monthly Review', December 2011) by saying about young Charlie (Teresa Wright) in Shadow of a Doubt: 'She crosses the line of fear into rebellion, and confronts an enemy she never dreamt was an enemy. This is not an easy process. She must give up illusions she has taken for granted, illusions she has in fact cherished. It calls for courage, not only to accept the facts but to endure the isolation from others that consciousness brings with it. She must see in a new way.' (pp. 48-49) I want to unpack that thought with reference to Nicholson's article as a whole, which begins by claiming (several times!) that 'academics typically discuss everything about Hitchcock except class' (class in a Marxist sense: e.g., capitalist exploitation of workers). Nicholson turns, first, to Psycho. Although he doesn't say so, it's apparent that Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Psycho has something in common with young Charlie, namely, isolation. Only, they handle it very differently. For if Norman, too, has crossed 'the line' (as the film's psychiatrist says), and in the process has shed a few illusions of his own (his 'nihilistic' speech, as Nicholson calls it, about people in cages, has some truth!), his 'rebellion' takes the extreme form of insanity. On the other hand, young Charlie departs at the end not for a detention cell but for marriage - although that's hardly a universal symbol of sanity, let's note! Rather, in Shadow of a Doubt, it stands for constant vigilance, further symbolised by Charlie's husband-to-be, a police detective. (The world in Shadow of a Doubt is at war abroad and breeds psychopaths at home - yet Nicholson shows that the world of Psycho, too, is pretty bad, what with its greedy capitalists and predatory serial-killers: 'this is a society, a social order, that is [itself] "psycho"' - p. 42.) Now, Nicholson wants to demonise capitalism, so unsurprisingly the greedy capitalist in Shadow of a Doubt is Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) - whereas in Psycho, we're told, it is Cassidy (Frank Albertson), and that film's outright madman, Norman Bates, is only capital's lackey (read on). Here is how Nicholson describes Uncle Charlie: 'a man who does no work, who is rich and lives on those he in fact destroys, and who even theorizes his right to do so, turning vicious crimes into praiseworthy achievements of a superior being. He is the voice of capital.' (p. 48) Hmm. Fair enough, in the sense that Uncle Charlie is clearly a predecessor of Monsieur Verdoux in Charles Chaplin's 1947 film, where Verdoux consciously parodies the capitalist, war-mongering nations. (In turn, Hitchcock's Rope, the following year, attempted a similar oblique satire, and the Hitler-like Brandon uses the Overman theory of Nietzsche to justify murder: Nicholson does in fact cite Rope as an illustration of 'the fascist ideology that lurks within capitalism' - p. 37.) So young Charlie had found herself duped - and eventually nearly killed - by her beloved uncle, and perhaps he does indeed represent murderous capitalism. But that doesn't sound exactly like Hitchcock to me, who certainly didn't want to alienate viewers of his films, who came from all classes. As I wanted to say last week, and tried to explain to a correspondent afterwards, surely 'Hitchcock's (Symbolist) purpose was to allow as many universal meanings into his film as he could, and to exclude as few as he could (I'm putting it roughly, crudely). So that he did indeed sense, during scripting and filming, that he was in touch with some fundamental situation/s.' Well, that referred specifically to The Birds, about which Hitchcock suggested that it targeted human complacency. What I'm wondering is whether Shadow of a Doubt mightn't likewise be best described in those terms: as an object-lesson to young Charlie of evil, which doesn't necessarily need capitalism to explain it? But in a way Nicholson admits the difficulty here, and I quite agree with this statement: '[Hitchcock] had the eye of someone outside society ... which is perhaps what we most require from our artists and creators: to show us what we need to know ... but not force us to see it. We have to see it for ourselves. That is the only way you can see it, by your own perception.' (p. 46) Hence young Charlie's 'new way' of seeing is potentially our new way, too. (However, some things from Nicholson you just have to take on trust - or not. For instance, he sees Norman Bates, 'himself trapped by the economic circumstances he inherited from his parents', as nonetheless 'the "enforcer" of the system - the hidden violence that makes the Cassidys of this world safe' when rebels like Marion steal their money. 'He acts on behalf of Cassidy without acting on behalf of Cassidy.' - p. 41 Hmm!) Next time: another recent scholarly article on Hitchcock.

March 30 - 2013
Merritt Abrash's article "Hitchcock's Terrorists: Sources and Significance" appeared in 'Literature/Film Quarterly', Vol. 39, No. 3 (2012). Its leading idea is this: when Hitchcock in The Birds showed 'scarcely believable large-scale assaults on human life by fearless, merciless, and well organized assailants', it was a case of the film effectively predicting the September eleventh terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York (p. 167). Thus 'Hitchcock had stumbled upon an extraordinary insight into a type of terrorism little in evidence at the time - but did not know what to do with it' (p. 169). After all, terrorist outrages hitherto had been of only two types, both of them comparatively constrained in their conception: either they were (1) directed at important political figures, as in the decades before 1914, or (2) random small-scale anarchist bombings of ordinary people, such as Verloc is ordered to carry out in Hitchcock's Sabotage (1936), which of course is loosely based on Joseph Conrad's novel 'The Secret Agent' (1907) (cf p. 167). (Reading Abrash's article I had to remind myself again just what an agent provocateur like Verloc actually intends. Roughly, it is to embarrass - provoke - someone into action, such as the relatively lenient British government of the time, who had done little to crush radical movements, which greatly annoyed the government of Tsarist Russia. By implication, Verloc's employer is the Russian government, and the bombing was to be passed off as the work of radicals. Conrad's purpose in showing this was, at one level, to expose the selfish, amoral thinking that governed politics (and beyond): the parallel with Schopenhauer's amoral cosmic Will is evident, and Conrad had indeed read Schopenhauer. Incidentally, I imagine that the powers-that-be who send drones over Afghanistan to 'take out' suspected Taliban personnel, often at the cost of innocent civilian lives, aren't Conrad's greatest fans.) But back to Abrash. Another of his points about Sabotage is this: 'In contrast to Conrad, who was more interested in the psychology of terrorists than the mechanics of their acts, Hitchcock's intention was to generate suspense rather than explore motivations.' (p. 167) By the time of The Birds, however, Hitchcock may have been concerned with more than just 'the mechanics of suspense' (as pointed out also by Frank Krutnik - see last week - who noted how the mechanical aspects had by now become a concern of other manufacturers of suspense: e.g., very literally, the makers of pinball machines). Yet Abrash has his doubts. He quotes writer Evan Hunter's brusque dismissal of Hitchcock's claim that the film is about complacency: 'utter rot, a supreme showman's con' (n. 3, p. 172). And Abrash agrees with David Thomson that the birds themselves are characterised as 'spiky, alien, unpredictable, and ungraspable' (quoted on p. 169). Finally, after referring to the scene with the hysterical mother in the Tides Restaurant, Abrash concludes: 'After September eleventh, however, the subject [of the film] is more readily recognized for what it is: demonization [of outsiders], corresponding all too closely to the altered attitudes among a great many Americans toward Muslims.' (p. 171) Hmm. As I see it, the whole article is just a 'bright idea' and the 'recognizable subject' it attributes to the film is as arbitrary as someone's interpretation of a Rorschach pattern. Hitchcock knew what he was doing, well enough - although in the case of The Birds he was happy to extemporise more than usual - because he knew that he was working with characters first and foremost and only after that making a Symbolist work whose 'meanings' are whatever you like - or nothing at all. Well, next to nothing. That is, the only 'true subject' you can attribute to The Birds is an impression of Will itself - blind, amoral, both destructive and creative - and the wave-like attacks of the hostile avians are indeed as good a symbol of Will as you will find in cinema. But no less symbolic of universal Will in The Birds is the adjacent ocean - also featured that way in such Hitchcock films as Lifeboat and Vertigo - while the ambiguous lovebirds, and the humans' reactions to the bird attacks, that ultimately do seem creative and restorative (up to a point), round out the picture of Will-at-work, making a general statement, 'this is how the world goes'. The fact that there are multiple ingredients to that picture should remind us that Will (the One) and Representation (the Many) cannot ultimately be understood separately (as Oliver Sacks has pointed out). One last, related point. Abrash and David Thomson (and elsewhere Richard Allen) are thus only half-right to call the avians 'alien' and 'ungraspable'. The birds simultaneously symbolise, yes, otherness (sadly, many people do indeed feel no connection with birds) and the universal Will that is in all of us (a palpable truism, as Schopenhauer insisted, even if the workings of that Will are finally mysterious). Next time: another recent scholarly article on Hitchcock.

March 23 - 2013
Frank Krutnik is an English film historian, author of the book 'In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity' (Routledge, 1991). So it was stimulating this week to see him compare the classic CBS radio series Suspense (1942-62) to the noir genre: 'In their build-up of tension and intrigue, their oppressive atmosphere, and their depiction of morbid psychological compulsions, the Suspense dramas resemble the contemporaneous cinematic trend later identified as film noir.' (p. 7) The article in which Krutnik makes that observation is "Theatre of thrills: the culture of suspense", published in 'New Review of Film and Television Studies', Vol. 11, No. 1 (March 2013). Naturally, Alfred Hitchcock features several times. For example, Krutnik clears up one or two misunderstandings surrounding the 1940 pilot for Suspense, a radio production of 'The Lodger' (starring Herbert Marshall and Edmund Gwenn, then currently appearing in Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent), which Hitchcock had filmed in 1927. Many people (e.g., biographer Patrick McGilligan) believe that Hitchcock directed the pilot episode and was host-narrator of it. In fact, 'contractual obligations blocked Hitchcock's participation in both the Forecast programme [i.e., the pilot] and the projected series [i.e., Suspense]' (p. 8), and Krutnik reveals that Hitchcock was impersonated in the pilot by actor Joseph Kearns (see also below), while the pilot's actual director was experienced CBS producer Charles Vanda (n.3, p. 26). One of Krutnik's main points is that with the Suspense series CBS sought to make it a prestige production, to be sharply differentiated from all the horror series that had flourished on the radio since the 1930s. None of your disreputable '"tear-your-throat-out, split-your-noggin-with-a-cleaver school" of radio horror' (p. 8), thanks very much! Of course, Hitchcock himself was detectably of the same persuasion (as he had long affirmed in articles and interviews), which was another reason why CBS wanted to associate his name with Suspense. Both Hitchcock's films and those of producer Val Lewton for RKO (e.g., Cat People, 1942, The Seventh Victim, 1943) set the desired pattern, and Hitchcock himself sought at every opportunity to educate the public's taste for subtlety and suggestion-over-explicit-horror. When Suspense finally started up in 1942, it recruited top people like innovative composer Bernard Herrmann and bestselling mystery novelist John Dickson Carr (the latter as regular adaptor of stories by both fashionable hard-boiled authors, like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and such diverse authors as Agatha Christie, Ambrose Bierce, James Thurber, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Wilkie Collins, and Charles Dickens). The show's guiding force in its early years (1942-48) was writer-producer-director William Spier (from the March of Time newsreel series), who was soon tagged 'the Alfred Hitchcock of the airlanes' (p. 8). Something not noted by Krutnik is this. Hitchcock was not only impressed by Suspense but in 1945 made his own attempt to start such a radio series. He produced his own pilot episode of a series to be called Once Upon a Midnight (from Poe's 'The Raven'), and cast his friends Hume Cronyn (Shadow of a Doubt) and Jessica Tandy (Cronyn's wife, later seen as Mrs Brenner in The Birds) in an adaptation of 'Malice Aforethought' by Francis Iles. He then presented the pilot program on disc to the ABC who, however, did nothing to launch a rival series to Suspense. Nonetheless, some time afterwards - the internal evidence suggests within a year - a radio production of The Alfred Hitchcock Show did go to air, or at least another recording was made, and it was indeed an adaptation of 'Malice Aforethought', but this time starring Joseph Kearns and with a changed script (e.g., the locale was switched from England to Long Island). It isn't clear whether Hitchcock directed it or not. (A recording of this version was released on audio cassette by Milestone Film & Video in 1994.) But back to Krutnik now. Much of the second half of his article is about pinball - yes, pinball! Drawing largely on back issues of the show business journal 'Billboard' (which preceded 'Variety' and then competed with it for several decades), Krutnik notes that many different facets of the entertainment industry were happy to provide 'suspense'. Or a legitimate criticism might be that a circus trapeze act, like that of Freddy Vonderheld (written up in 'Billboard' in 1955), has many climaxes 'but ... there is no building to a peak of suspense' (quoted by Krutnik, p. 16). In postmodernist vein, Krutnik notes the outrage and suspicion shown by judges and other officials at the manufacturers of pinball machines (which became increasingly sophisticated, with their flashing lights, sound effects, ramps, shutes, free-play balls, etc.) and the schoolboys and youths who patronised them (sometimes using their lunch money to do so, and therefore being tempted to steal to make up the deficit). The sheer sensuous alertness and co-ordinated skills (of sorts) that might be needed to play the pinball games were clearly not appreciated by the period's moral guardians. Hmm. Does (or does not) knowing this put Hitchcock's films in a fresh light?! Next time: another recent scholarly article on Hitchcock.

March 16 - 2013
No item this week, sorry. Next time: beginning of survey of recent scholarly writing on Hitchcock.

March 9 - 2013
Just to be clear now. I suggested last time that I Confess anticipates Vertigo in pitting Church (read: spiritual and forbidding) against world(ly) (read: romantic and permissive). The viewer of Vertigo identifies with Scottie when he falls in love with 'Madeleine' although he knows (or supposes) her to be married: the same viewer could (almost?!) condone Scottie's taking 'Madeleine' to bed (as, in effect, he later does, when he - symbolically - beds Judy, in the film's famous 360º shot). Similarly, the viewer of I Confess is invited to (almost?!) want Logan to make love to Ruth in the summerhouse (the equivalent of the 360º shot) because, although she is married, Logan is unaware of that fact (and of course hasn't yet taken holy orders, indeed is just back from the War, which is another 'permissive' factor). A lot of manipulative sleight-of-hand by Hitchcock here! Playing with film as if it were the 'amoral' Cosmic Will (as described by the philosopher Schopenhauer), Hitchcock invites his audience to have their cake and eat it too! (The summerhouse scene is lifted by Hitchcock from the amusingly titled chapter "A Scandalous Ramble" in one of his favourite novels, 'Love and Mr Lewisham' by H.G. Wells, first published in 1900.) I said most of this last time. By way of drawing a parallel, I also quoted last time Dr Adrian Schober on how a Hitchcock film like The Trouble With Harry may knowingly reflect 'an unresolved dialectic between Calvinist and Romantic ideologies of childhood', in other words, forbidding versus permissive. (Is young Arnie a little devil or a little angel? Should his natural impulses be curbed or should they be unfettered?) Dr Schober adds a note to the effect that 'in their metaphysical and moral assumptions about good and evil and human nature, Roman Catholicism and Puritanism form part of a common discourse' (p. ix). Let's return, then, to I Confess. There, Catholicism is pitted against Romantic/romantic and both are given their due. You could say that Father Logan represents the Catholic position (not least in his steadfast forward movement, previously noted) and Ruth Grandfort represents the Romantic/romantic outlook (as exemplified by her dreamy flashback, which includes the summerhouse scene). Hitchcock, as always, wanted to include 'everything', to show life-as-it-is. Interestingly, Father Richard Blake, in his book 'AfterImage: The Indelible Catholic Imagination of Six American Filmmakers' (2000), feels that Logan is a 'cold' figure who must be 'redeemed' by the example of Ruth's 'self-sacrifice and honesty during questioning' about her love for Logan (p. 65). (I would prefer to say that Logan has not had his faith tested in quite the same way before - remember, though, that he returned from the War with a Military Cross - and now comes through his latest ordeal only further strengthened.) For her part, Ruth freely admits that a woman in love is 'selfish', and must be painfully disabused of her remaining romantic fantasy that Logan would have been prepared to kill for her. (Here I think of something that was reported this week on the BBC website, in an article on 'celibacy'. A former Catholic priest, Jimmy O'Brien, who left the priesthood to start a family, remembers that women sometimes saw priests as 'forbidden fruit' and a bit of a 'challenge'!) The war references in I Confess are another foretaste of Vertigo, of course. (Think of Old Fort Point in the latter, a reminder of the time when California and the Spanish were at loggerheads.) We are free to interpret Logan's decision, on returning from the War, to take holy orders as being a direct result of his observing 'man's inhumanity to man' (a recurring Hitchcock theme) at first hand. The fact that the film's villain, Otto Keller, is a German has multiple resonances. Father Blake thinks that he 'inevitably reminds audiences of the dozens of cold-blooded, calculating Nazi spies that populated American screens during the war and postwar periods' (p. 61). But equally, his and his wife Alma's refugee status is emphasised, so again I can't quite agree with the good Father when he says that 'the film does nothing to arouse sympathy for [Keller]' (p. 61). Rather, in keeping with melodramatic tradition, it is the mindless 'mob' outside the courthouse who are a principal Hitchcock target (this goes back to at least The Lodger). And I think Hitchcock is concerned at the end that Keller be 'saved' from damnation. However, Father Blake only says this: '[Ruth's] self-sacrifice and honesty during questioning [has provided] the model of sacrificial and unrequited love that enables Logan to forgive Keller, who has cruelly used Logan and who shows no sign of love for him, for [Alma], or for anyone else.' (p. 65) Correspondence invited!

March 2 - 2013
Apropos I Confess, let's refer to Hitchcock's love of paradox. Cities in Hitchcock's Symbolist art are microcosms of the world, therefore 'corrupted'. (If they are walled cities, such as Quebec City in I Confess or Cold War Berlin in Torn Curtain, or morph into walled estates, like 'Manderley' in Rebecca, or even whole islands or island-continents like the Isle of Man in The Manxman or Australia in Under Capricorn, they may serve as ironic reminders of a 'lost Eden'.) A recurring Hitchcock motif involves the film's hero and/or heroine fleeing a city in order to seek vindication in a supposedly uncorrupted countryside - but finding such vindication only provisionally, and having to return to the city at the end. Think of such films as The 39 Steps and North by Northwest. Now, here's how I began the entry on I Confess in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story': 'Quebec City, site of several military battles, is located at the confluence of two rivers. As [the film] begins, the camera moves towards the city's silhouette dominated by the massive Château Frontenac, which resembles a castle in a fairy tale. Women's voices sing, siren-like. The same musical passage will later accompany Ruth Grandfort's description of her early love affair with Michael Logan. All of youth's ideals, and sense of what life offers, are implicit in the film's uses of that passage. But at the end the camera retreats back across the river, the city again wreathed in darkness. Though a city of churches [and forts], it has proved not to be the City of God.' Hitchcock's pessimism shows itself clearly enough during I Confess - for example, the film's war references and iconography suggest a human condition of recurring strife and suffering - but as always Hitchcock finally foregrounds the personal life, and there hope springs eternal. Father Logan has been vindicated at the end, and his Christ-like steadfastness may serve to transform those who doubted him; Ruth has learnt to 'see things as they are, not to go on hurting [herself]' - for example, she can no longer nurse the secret, unspeakable thought that Logan was prepared to kill for her (although clearly he was prepared to die for the Church he believes in, and thus for all humanity), and her marriage to Pierre may actually be strengthened. Both partners have lately shown remarkable fortitude. In other words, Hitchcock combines pessimism with anti-pessimism, the latter learned from fellow-Catholic G.K. Chesterton. That is one paradox at work in Hitchcock's films. But there are others. For example, apropos the flashback scene in the summerhouse when Logan and Ruth are caught in a storm (see frame-capture below), Hitchcock was asked whether the pair actually slept together. His reply was as follows. 'I hope so. Far be it from me as a Jesuit to encourage that kind of behaviour.' Quoting Hitchcock's words, but making little of them - not even remarking on the oxymoron they comprise - Father Richard Blake merely notes that the summerhouse incident prompts Vilette's attempted blackmail of Ruth (whose husband Pierre is a rising politician, and naturally vulnerable to any scandal). In fact, of course, it was typical of Hitchcock's films - whose 'pure cinema' is so analogous to the amoral life force (Schopenhauer's cosmic Will) - that they regularly gave audiences less 'slices of [ordinary] life' than 'slices of cake' (Hitchcock's own words). That is, they almost let audiences get away with murder, well, adultery - which is what Ruth may have committed here (being already married to Pierre, although not having told her circumstances to Logan, newly returned from the War). In a Hitchcock film, audiences can have their cake and eat it too! Rather more subtly, even Vertigo - I have suggested in 'Companion to Alfred Hitchcock' - does the same thing at the end. Depending on how you read the nun, she is either benedictory (moral and wise) or sinister (as in some of the Songs of Experience of poet William Blake). Hitchcock leaves you free to choose. And in a recent essay, Adrian Schober in Melbourne has shown a similar syndrome operating in The Trouble With Harry. Dr Schober adapted his doctoral thesis into a book, 'Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film' (2004). Now he has shown how young Arnie (Jerry Mathers) in Harry incorporates both Puritan/Catholic (negative) and Roussea-esque/Wordsworthian (positive) aspects of childhood - two opposing views of human nature, in fact. Here's a 'taster' from the book: '[It] adopts as its central metaphor poet William Blake's "contrary states", which is taken to refer to an unresolved dialectic between Calvinist and Romantic ideologies of childhood.' (p. ix) I'll return to I Confess next time.

February 23 - 2013
In the frame-capture below from the final scene of I Confess, Father Logan's striding (see last time) figures again as he moves to confront the wounded Keller, an abject figure at the foot of a stage. Keller is armed and Logan orders him to drop his gun before the police shoot him again. But Keller disobeys and a moment later he dies in the priest's arms, asking for forgiveness. As I understand the matter, Catholics believe that Keller's contrition may save him from damnation (contra, say, the unrepentant hoodlum Pinkie in Graham Greene's 'Brighton Rock'). The scene plays as a confrontation of the holy (the priest) and the profane (symbolised by Keller and the stage) - like the film as a whole. Father Logan is a Christ-figure. His continual striding reminded me of the 'One who had no place of rest' cited in Oscar Wilde's sonnet, "On Hearing the Dies Irae Sung in the Sistine Chapel". Indeed, the 'Dies Irae' (Day of Wrath) itself is quoted in Dmitri Tiomkin's score at the beginning of I Confess, as Keller, wearing a priest's cassock, hurries guiltily from the murder scene. (In a later scene, as Logan - a classic Hitchcock 'wronged man' - walks the streets before giving himself up to the police, black smoke rises over the upper reaches of the city, as if from Hell.) Father Richard Blake, in his book 'AfterImage: The Indelible Catholic Imagination of Six American Filmmakers' (2000), touches on the Symbolist imagery of I Confess when, for example, he refers to how the film begins and ends with shots of the Château Frontenac, adding a note on the 'Direction' traffic-sign also seen at the beginning: 'The action will end at the same hotel, but the way back to the same spot is long and convoluted, even with the Direction sign.' In other words, the film is one of Hitchcock's microcosms of worldly life, of good and evil, which doesn't concern itself unduly with 'what it all means' - but, on the other hand, doesn't deny the possible presence of such meaning, even of the wrath of God only appeased by the goodness of the loving and the truly heroic. One of the few quibbles I have with Father Blake's interpretation of I Confess concerns just how good a man Logan is. I think Father Blake underestimates him! Father Blake finds him cold and with conflicted emotions (p. 65). I think Montgomery Clift gives Logan enormous stature - a man who, yes, deep down may still love Ruth but who means every word of what he tells her on the ferry: 'I have changed. I chose to be what I am. I want you to see things as they are, not to go on hurting yourself.' (I have written elsewhere on how the film is all the more effective for never spelling out why Logan chooses to take holy orders - to dedicate himself to God - on returning from the War, rather than marry Ruth. Some matters are ineffable, and this is one such.) As for Vilette's blackmailing of Ruth, I see no reason to think that Logan fears for himself, only for the reputation of Ruth and her husband. Yet Father Blake describes how Logan supposedly feels on hearing from Keller that Vilette is dead: 'he realizes that the man who was threatening to involve him in a sordid blackmail scheme ... a hated enemy, is dead, but he cannot help convict the equally hateful killer'. Well, yes, there is some conflict here, but, if nothing else, Father Blake's description flies doubly in the face of Logan's own words later, 'I don't hate anyone, Keller.' I think that the film conceives of Logan and Keller as opposites - yet who are 'brothers'. (Also, by the way, note that Keller never intended to kill Vilette, only to rob him.) Logan has a single-minded purity of heart that Keller doesn't, which isn't to say that the priest lacks emotion (as the film makes abundantly clear). When the two men face off in that final scene in the hotel ballroom, Keller's misunderstanding - he thinks Logan has betrayed him to the police - only serves to highlight the priest's heroism. Keller calls him 'a coward ... a hypocrite, like all the rest of us', but in fact Logan has come as close to being a true representative of Christ - and Keller a representative of the Devil - as one might well imagine. I'll have more to say next time, including about Hitchcock's love of paradox and on how I Confess looks forward to the theme of 'waiting' in Psycho (cf February 2, above).

February 16 - 2013
Like many a melodrama, Hitchcock's I Confess (1953) cultivates a mood of paranoia. Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift) must 'suffer in silence' as the police keep asking questions, suspecting him as they do of murder. In fact, of course, Logan is innocent but bound by the sanctity of the confessional from revealing his knowledge of the true murderer - one Otto Keller, a verger at the church in Quebec City where Logan is a priest. Coincidence (or 'synchronicity'?) is rife in I Confess, and the script keeps piling it on. For example, Logan maintains his silence for a double reason: he is also protecting Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter), the wife of a politician, who had been his sweetheart before he took holy orders. It happens that the murdered man, a lawyer named Vilette, had been blackmailing Ruth (over her supposed 'affair' with Logan long ago) and was murdered by the would-be robber Keller just hours before Ruth intended to have it out with the blackmailer. Moreover, Keller had shown 'malice aforethought' by wearing Father Logan's cassock from the crime scene! The film paints Keller as increasingly a Devilish figure. Having confessed his crime to Logan (was that also premeditated? - the film leaves it ambiguous), he hurries to his wife, Alma. He tells her that the murder was an accident, that he only intended to rob Vilette. Whatever momentary sympathy we may feel for Keller - he and his wife are 'displaced persons' from Europe after the War - is quickly dispelled. We see a cunning expression appear on his face as he tells Alma that Logan 'cannot tell ... what he heard in confession'. Now look at the frame-capture below from late in the film. Keller is almost demented as he follows Logan through the church and into the rectory, taunting the priest with the observation that he is afraid but cannot tell the police what he knows. Throughout the film, Logan is shown striding, often upwards (as here). Suddenly, at the end of the sequence, he rounds on Keller and out-faces him, wordlessly. He is the very model of rectitude and moral goodness. Keller shrinks back, defeated for now. The 'paranoia' is maintained in other ways, though. Logan is surrounded by well-meaning people who are unable to help him, and may even add to his tribulation. Logan's superior at the rectory, Father Millais, is aging and ineffective. In an early scene he says vaguely that he has heard of a paint that does not smell. Admitting that 'one should not judge on so little evidence ...', he nonetheless asks Logan if he might next time obtain such a paint. But he fails to heed his own words, and in the days that follow begins to doubt Logan's innocence (as Hitchcock subtly shows). Another priest at the rectory is Father Benoit, who appears simple-minded and is associated with a running gag about his bicycle which he parks indoors and which keeps falling over. (I think of how the feeble-minded Stevie is introduced in Sabotage by his clumsy attempt to remove a roast from the oven.) Even Ruth herself, in the film's celebrated flashback scene (see Robin Wood's 'Hitchcock's Films'), succeeds only in giving the police a motive for why Father Logan may be the murderer. Also, Ruth still cannot rid herself of her love for Logan, and shows her own paranoia when it seems to her that the police have merely twisted her words: 'There was no need for my statement' she complains, which is simply not true. At the very least, she has provided 'backgrounds' for both Logan and Vilette. But more - much more - in the context of the film, both Logan's steadfastness, his grace under pressure, and Ruth's lyrical memory of being in love, and what it meant to her, are vindications of humanity itself, which has seemed in danger of being stuck with the 'smell' of which Father Millais complained. To be continued.

February 9 - 2013
An instructive film for Hitchcockians is Lois Weber's one-reel Suspense (1913), which can be viewed here: Suspense (1913). Note that the director also plays the mother in the film. It's basically a 'lonely house' thriller (like Psycho) with a 'chase' climax (à la portions of Strangers on a Train) whose cinema antecedents go back to D.W. Griffith (e.g., The Lonely Villa, 1909) and beyond. (More on antecedents in a moment.) It begins when a maid deserts her mistress, a young mother with a baby, because she can't stand to be in such a 'lonesome place'. Leaving her key under the mat, the maid sneaks away. This significant moment is photographed from a high angle: see frame-capture below. It isn't a pov shot, but its economical statement (the high angle tells us that the house has two stories and it allows all the action to be shown in one shot) will recur later when an intruder finds the key. Hitchcock would have been proud of the thought invested in that shot! What the maid doesn't know is that her departure has been seen by a villainous-looking tramp who will soon enter the house, having seen through a window that there is only a mother and a baby inside. The husband, we gather, is at work. The suspense now builds. The mother, upstairs, opens the window and looks down - straight into the eyes of the skulking tramp below. The close-up of the man's twisted face is as startling as the moment in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) when the murderous Thorwald (Raymond Burr) suddenly stares into the camera lens, telling us that he has spotted Jeff (James Stewart) who has been spying on him. The mother hurries to the phone and the screen becomes a triptych: as she tells her husband the situation, and we see him react, the third portion of the image shows the tramp finding the key. (Again you may think of Rear Window with its multiple actions occuring on adjacent 'screens' ... That film is full of inventions from silent-film days.) The mother hears the tramp enter the house, and she describes her apprehension: 'Now he is opening the kitchen door. Now he is in ...' Still in triptych, the screen includes a close-up of the tramp's hand cutting the telephone wire at the wall ... The dismayed husband rushes from the building where he works and steals a car outside. But the owner has seen him and promptly waves up a couple of policemen who jump into their own car and set out in pursuit of the thief. Shades of the 'double-chase' that Hitchcock so loved in his films like The 39 Steps (1935)! Now it is up to the director of Suspense to both keep the action moving and yet slow it down - to draw things out, thereby prolonging the suspense. This she does expertly. For example, the tramp takes his time before climbing the stairs inside the house: he has found a large pie in the kitchen which he devours with gusto. (Round about here, I thought of the fairground employee crawling beneath the out-of-control carousel in Strangers on a Train who, half way though his dangerous rescue task, stops to blow his nose!) Meanwhile, by means of cross-cutting, we follow the progress of the two cars. As the husband's car rounds a bend in a country road, suddenly the way is blocked by a yokel (said to be a young Lon Chaney) who is nonchalently lighting himself a cigarette, oblivious of his danger. Stopping just in time, the husband sends the yokel on his way and resumes driving. At this point, the camera is artfully positioned to show the police car approaching the bend. Next, we are given shots from the husband's pov as he glances in his rear-view mirror (anticipating Psycho again?!) as his pursuers draw almost level. But the end of the chase is at hand. Arriving at his house, the husband runs inside, just in time to engage in hand-to-hand combat with the knife-carrying tramp. Wife and baby are saved. The police arrive, realise what has been happening, and the film ends happily. Now, what is also interesting about all of this is how it fits into cinema (and stage) history. For example, a slightly different version of the same plot, with a distinctly unhappy ending (the wife is killed by the tramp), had been performed on stage as early as 1901, in Paris. This was the Grand Guignol play 'Au telephone'/'At the telephone' by Andre de Lorde, and it would be revived many times over the years. (To download an English translation, go here: Au telephone.) Moreover, by 1913 it had already been filmed three times. Early in 1908, Pathe released Le medecin du chateau, known as A Narrow Escape in the United States, which substituted the happy ending. Later that year, Edwin S. Porter directed another version called Heard over the 'Phone, and now the non-happy ending was restored. But when D.W. Griffith got into the act, with his already-mentioned The Lonely Villa (1909), not surprisingly - to anyone knowing Griffith - the happy ending was back! So what might Hitchcock have done with such material? Possibly I have already answered that: he would have freely borrowed from it! But for another possible answer, see the entry on the AHH episode, 'An Unlocked Window' (1965), on our FAQs page: FAQs.

February 2 - 2013
It may be helpful, to follow up my observations last time on the broadly 'Catholic' assumptions in Psycho, to note something I wrote here on July 13 2007. Early in the film, Hitchcock dissolves from a view of Sam Loomis (John Gavin) in the Phoenix hotel room where he has spent a passionate lunch hour with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) to our first street-level view of the town, where we see Hitchcock himself standing on the pavement, wearing a stetson. See frame-capture below. (In a moment, the good-looking Marion will enter the real estate office in the foreground, and Hitchcock will slyly glance at her.) Why, I asked, does Hitchcock link himself to Sam (and to Marion) in this way? And why is he wearing that stetson? Answering the latter question first, I suggested that it is to prepare us for the entry of the unpleasant oil man Cassidy (Frank Albertson) in the ensuing scene, where he, too, wears a stetson, even keeping it on indoors. (By contrast, in another scene, the respectful private investigator Arbogast, played by Martin Balsam, will remove his hat on entering the Bates house.) I noted: 'Hitchcock by his cameo is reminding us that Phoenix is quite a well-to-do town [we have only seen the run-down hotel so far], where some people dress assertively and even flamboyantly.' Then I turned to the contrast of Hitchcock, shown looking across the street, with our view of the hatless Sam, head hanging, his gaze inward. 'Sam is dejected because he knows that with his present income from his small hardware store in Fairvale, California, there is no immediate prospect of his marrying Marion. So the dissolve pointedly contrasts a hangdog Sam ... with the cocky, dressed-up Hitchcock. On the other hand - and this is typical of the director's films - the dissolve paradoxically links the two characters. For both are "waiting". There is a whole "waiting" motif in Psycho.' Indeed there is. At the most mundane level, Hitchcock appears to be waiting for a bus. Of rather more consequence, Sam expects to wait before he can marry Marion; she, on the other hand, steals $40,000 precisely because, as her sister Lila (Vera Miles) will say, 'Patience doesn't run in my family.' (Later, we'll hear Lila tell Sam who wants her to mind the hardware store while he goes out to the Bates motel, 'What am I expected to do? Just sit here and wait?') I concluded as follows: 'The "waiting" motif [in Psycho] has an almost metaphysical meaning, not unrelated to Hitchcock's ultimate theme that we're all in a Lost Paradise situation, and to that extent we're all alike, all problem-ridden.' Indeed, as I sketched in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (1999; 2008), Psycho knowingly half-quotes a famous line from Milton to that effect, a line which urges the poet himself to be patient and simply 'wait' on God's purpose. (It was a favourite line of Hitchcock's in the film, knowingly put there by screenwriter Joseph Stefano - as he confirmed to Dr Phil Skerry who interviewed him in Stefano's villa overlooking Benedict Canyon Drive.) Accordingly, I find inadequate David Thomson's 2010 interpretation of Hitchcock's cameo, that because the director's back is turned to Marion, and us, it's 'a signal that he's indifferent to the fates of his trapped, doomed characters'. I don't think that's right. I mentioned last time my 'Bressonian' reading of Psycho in a forthcoming article. Although I note that Hitchcock was probably amused by the theological difficulties raised by someone like Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) with his 'split personality' - according to Catholic teaching the possibility of individual redemption depends on the individual conscience! - yet I was impressed, just as Hitchcock surely was, with the Catholic notion of a democracy of souls. 'What this means, broadly speaking, is "that anyone, finally, is capable of anything, any sin, any virtuous act". Nonetheless, Catholics also believe in the Communion of Saints: Father Peter Hebblethwaite, author of a book on Bernanos, uses the term frequently, as when he notes that [some of the novelist's characters,] because they are ignorant of such a communion, "are isolated in their private hells". The concept involves a spiritual solidarity binding the faithful on earth and the saints and angels in heaven. The participants in this solidarity are all called saints, while the damned are excluded. Who these damned are isn't specified ...' Well, my feeling is that Hitchcock - for whatever reason - wasn't prepared to judge Norman Bates. And I was gratified just this week to read a related interpretation of Hitchcock's broad position, in Chapter 3 of Father Richard Blake's 'AfterImage: The Indelible Catholic Imagination of Six American Filmmakers' (2000). 'Catholics', writes Blake, 'are comfortable with a communion of saints that is far from perfect.' In a word, he sees Hitchcock as portraying 'a sacramental universe' in which 'God's actions are mediated through the actual physical realities of the material world, [including] flawed human beings' (p 65). Potentially, we are all involved - or all waiting.

January 26 - 2013
Prompted by the item above (January 12) on Hitchcock's Catholicism, and by the revised News item below on Psycho and art, I want to extract a few points made by me in an article that is sitting here, awaiting final revision (and which I have shown to critic/author Bill K, who likes it). Broadly, it is an article offering a 'Bressonian' reading of Psycho. More broadly still, it is about Psycho and Catholicism, and I haven't hesitated to cite a spectrum of Catholic writers, including Marshall McLuhan, who in 1971 made this almost Thomist observation: 'One of the advantages of being a Catholic is that it confers a complete intellectual freedom to examine any and all phenomena with the absolute assurance of their intelligibility.' (Cf. January 12, above: 'Hitchcock's Catholicism is undoubtedly part of the man, and predisposed him to a wise artistry and outlook, a rare objectivity'.) I also cite Richard Allen's seminal book 'Hitchcock's Romantic Irony' (2007) which 'concerns how the films embrace contradiction and how they affect us not so much by pointing as by indirect means. Particularly suggestive are some of Allen's observations in Chapter 1 about German writer Friedrich Schlegel, such as how he associated irony and wit, and how, for him, "irony is not merely a local rhetorical play 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".' (Again cf. January 12, above, on how Hitchcock incorporated the ironic mode into his very lifestyle and even some of his characteristic remarks, which is something Donald Spoto neglected to take into account at least once, and possibly more than once.) I go on to argue that the 'poetic' story of Norman Bates (i.e., Psycho) 'has both immediate and transcendent levels, both its "shocker" aspect and a more elevated one. In effect, Norman is both a heinous killer and potentially an angel.' The article likens him to the murderous thug Pinkie in Graham Green's novel 'Brighton Rock' (1938), which maintains a similar ambiguity: is Pinkie damned, or not? Catholics, I'm told, won't say, believing that earthly justice is fallible (which may be relevant to the public furor in Australia at present concerning the Catholic Church's reluctance, historically, to prosecute or expel paedophile priests). And what about the unfortunate (?) young waitress, another Catholic, Rose, whom Pinkie marries? Perhaps everything that happens to us really is 'grace' - as Georges Bernanos's 'Journal d'un curé de campagne' (1936) and Robert Bresson's 1950 film both imply. At all events, my article finds much 'Bressonian' content in Psycho and its famous shower scene symbolising a 'heavenly' space. Marion's death beneath a halo-like shower-nozzle, at the hands of Norman Bates (who, though, is identifying here with his all-powerful mother), had been foreshadowed 'at the moment [Marion] enters Norman's parlour and reacts to two of his stuffed birds. The first is an owl with outspread wings (straight from Goya's "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters") which in subsequent shots seems to soar over Norman as if to suggest his domineering alter ego, Norma Bates. The other, lower down on the wall, is a crow with a knife-like beak - a beak emphasised by its shadow poised above a picture of a flight of angels ascending to Heaven [see frame-capture below]. The prolepsis is unmistakeable, given Hitchcock's "Symbolist" bent. Norman is the black crow, Marion one of the menaced angels. ... Further, Hitchcock at this time must have been taken with halo imagery. Psycho premiered in June, 1960. But possibly even before post-production ended, the director had found time to make an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Mrs Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" (airdate: 27 September, 1960). In a typically playful introduction, Hitchcock seems bemused by a halo that comes and goes above his head. He may well have been grooming audiences to be receptive to just this imagery.' That imagery also has its variants in the film. Norman-as-black-crow becomes Norman-as-black-cherub (both are parodies of his would-be 'angelic' status): 'Norman is literally at home with the winged black cherub which we see when [private investigator] Arbogast enters the house, and whose shadow on a door, emphasising the figure's bow poised to shoot, effectively signals Arbogast's fate.' To be continued.

January 19 - 2013
[Working on computer issues, so no "Editor's Week" this time, sorry. Btw, a new book by our friend Dr Phil Skerry is due out next July. It's called 'Dark Energy: Hitchcock's Absolute Camera and the Physics of Cinematic Spacetime' and will be published by Bloomsbury. More details later.]

January 12 - 2013
(revised) Two articles on Hitchcock and Catholicism that I read this week complement each other nicely, and help to give perspective to Hitchcock the man at a time when, as one writer puts it, 'an apparently unflattering portrait of [the director] in a new Hollywood production' is going the rounds. (I hasten to add that the film in question, called Hitchcock, is entertaining and often insightful.) 'Some of his biographers have not been kind, either', the same writer, Father Mark Henninger, notes. I'll return to his article, "Alfred Hitchcock's Surprise Ending" (Surprise Ending), shortly - it deserves to be widely read, especially as one of the biographers referred to, Donald Spoto, is shown to have got things wrong in a matter involving Hitchcock's Catholicism. (Dr Spoto, incidentally, is associated with another unflattering film about Hitchcock, The Girl, for HBO/BBC.) But it was a correspondent, Amy S (whom I thank), who alerted me to a second article, "Biographers are divided on how to judge the personality of Alfred Hitchcock", published in the London 'Times' back on 5 September 2008. The article can be viewed at the Hitchcockwicki site (Monster or Moralist). Its author is Bess Twiston Davies. What Davies points out is that 'the personal reputation of Alfred Hitchcock remains the subject of heated dispute', and again the matter appears to come down to a contrast between Donald Spoto's 'highly readable' biography of Hitchcock, published in 1983, portraying the director as 'a frustrated lecher', and Patrick McGilligan's 'authoritative' work, twenty years later, showing Hitchcock 'as an iconoclastic if ultimately devout Roman Catholic'. Davies quotes McGilligan on how Hitchcock's 'Catholicism is overt on both a superficial and profound level' (e.g., the irreverent sight-gag showing a nun in high heels in The Lady Vanishes; the famous 'wrong man' theme in so many of the films, which, in McGilligan's words, 'question the infallibility of earthly justice as opposed to God's justice'). The only thing wrong with that formulation by McGilligan in parentheses is that it isn't necessarily a Catholic one: as I noted in 1999, in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', it corresponds to the atheist Schopenhauer's idea of 'temporal justice versus eternal justice'. In other words, it has a more universal applicability than Catholicism, and was 'in the air' after the 19th century Symbolist movement (influenced by Schopenhauer), which Hitchcock himself said had profoundly affected him. But back to Davies's article. Someone else she quotes is Father Richard Blake SJ. Blake writes: 'In a secular world, [Hitchcock's] characters are very Catholic. They actively pursue their own "salvation" in trying circumstances. They get into a pickle and depend on themselves to get out of it. There is no Protestant "by faith alone" here.' But again, this may be unnecessarily dogmatic, or myopic. There's no 'by faith alone' here because Hitchcock was (a) too intelligent to accept a passive 'she'll be right' attitude in his characters (at least not after any complacency has been broken down), and (b) he knew too much about audiences and cinema to allow any easy 'interventionist' solution to a dramatic crisis or personal problem - many sensible people in the audience would simply laugh at it. Nonetheless, Hitchcock's Catholicism is undoubtedly part of the man, and predisposed him to a wise artistry and outlook, a rare objectivity. (In fairness, I can't help mentioning that one of the best books on Schopenhauer was written by a Catholic priest, Father Coppleston SJ ...) Which brings me back to the article "Alfred Hitchcock's Surprise Ending", first published in the 'Wall Street Journal' on 7 December 2012. Its message is summed up in its epigraph: 'A biographer said that the director, at the end of his life, shunned religion. Not true. I was there.' And that's followed by the byline of Father Mark Henninger. On a Saturday afternoon in early 1980 he had accompanied his senior colleague, fellow priest Tom Sullivan, to Hitchcock's house in Bel Air to give the famous director a private Mass. They were there by invitation but found the director dozing in a chair in a corner of his living room, dressed in jet-black pyjamas. Soon, however, Hitchcock awoke, and the Mass proceeded with Alma Hitchcock also present. It was one of several Masses held in the Hitchcocks' house at that period, and it had brought silent tears to Hitch's eyes. Not long afterwards, he died. Here's how Father Henninger's article concludes: 'One of Hitchcock's biographers, Donald Spoto, has written that Hitchcock let it be known that he "rejected suggestions that he allow a priest ... to come for a visit, or celebrate a quiet, informal ritual at the house for his comfort." That in the movie director's final days he deliberately and successfully led outsiders to believe precisely the opposite of what happened is pure Hitchcock.' Indeed it is.

January 5 - 2013
Speaking of 'jaded Will' in Frenzy - see immediately above - that's an 'effect' which Hitchcock had used before, going back at least to Rebecca (1940). There, the situation at 'Manderley' - Maxim's estate in Cornwall - recalls Arthurian legend where a 'dolorous stroke' suddenly turns the country barren. (Since the death of Rebecca, all of the males at 'Manderlay', from Maxim down, seem to have been rendered infertile: even a junior footman, we learn, is 'having trouble with [his] teeth' - with Freudian connotations!) Similarly, a critic has referred to Frenzy's 'wasteland vision', and we saw above (e.g., entry for December 15) how that vision of Hitchcock's manifests itself. It owes something, of course, to William Blake ('London') and to Charles Dickens ('Bleak House', 'Our Mutual Friend'). Right, let's press on. In Arthurian legend the effect of the 'dolorous stroke' might only be undone by the coming of a knight of exceptional valour and purity - with connotations of the Second Coming of Christ. But there's no strong reason to suppose that either Daphne du Maurier (author of 'Rebecca') nor Hitchcock was particularly concerned with that aspect of the situation: as artists, they wanted, rather, to load the situation with as many additional nuances as they could. (Daphne du Maurier was something of a feminist, and lesbian, and secretly sympathetic to Rebecca as the harbinger of a future in which Maxim's - and England's - narrow patriarchal outlook would be overthrown.) True, I did say last time that Hitchcock's films are about both a superficial understanding of the life/death force - meaning an understanding that reduces the world to a process of dust returning ineluctably to dust - and about 'something else left over'. And I noted how Marnie evokes a passage from Emerson: 'So nigh is grandeur to our dust/ So near is God to man.' But I didn't mean that the 'something else left over' necessarily refers to 'God'! Frenzy may finally be appealing to a sense that the world isn't as bad as it seems, that, as Jack Graham says in Shadow of a Doubt, it simply requires a lot of watching. But then, as a policeman, Jack Graham would say that, wouldn't he?! We're back to a fact noted by philosophers and artists, that we're all bound in subjectivity, that none of us has all the answers (or all the questions). If you want to bring God in here, then you may do so. The hubris of the two murderers in Rope implies that they have denied their subjectivity. ('Did you think you were God?', we hear them asked.) The happy ending of The Trouble With Harry implies that none of the characters has really twigged to the 'pattern' or 'divinity' that has 'shaped their ends' - they remain blithely ignorant of their good fortune (or is it, rather, the 'dusty death' that lies in wait for them just around the corner?!). I would say that Harry works as obliquely as Frenzy, although not necessarily carrying the same message - which in any case is only ever implicit. Here's how I summed up this aspect of Frenzy to our 'advanced' Hitchcock discussion group recently: 'Hitchcock knew that there was a bigger picture, beyond the particular subjective style of his film (imagined essentially through the disenchanted eyes of an ex-war-hero, of an impotent sex murderer, and, more generally, the cynicism of a post-1960s zeitgeist). In other words, 'everything's perverted in a different way', as he himself once said. Thus the bigger picture is left inadequately comprehended or comprehensible - except, perhaps, through love, unselfish love, allowing intuition of the "something else left over" ...' It may be pertinent to end by thanking both Christopher D and Bill K for their correspondence during the week (and previously) about lamps in Hitchcock. Of the frame-capture last time, Christopher reminded me that it offers a variation on Murnau. 'The big lamp indicates a blockage in [the Oxfords' relationship], or an inability to communicate. The smaller lamp ... traps the husband to his spot at the dinner table.' (Christopher is currently completing research into this very large topic of lamps in films.) Bill K sent both Christopher and myself the following frame-capture from Frenzy - showing the murderer Rusk (Barry Foster) leaving the scene of his crime - with the slightly cryptic comment, 'I suspect that somehow this lamp holds the key.' As Bill noted in a follow-up email, blue is often the colour of death in Hitchcock (e.g., the blue paint associated with the death of Louis Bernard in the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much). Hmm. Certainly blue is the opposite of red, the colour that is often associated with life in Hitchcock (e.g., some key moments in To Catch a Thief). And the very innocuous appearance of the unlit blue lamp offers a fitting ironic contrast to the devastating rape/murder we have just seen. As Christopher notes, lamps in Hitchcock sometimes signify a changing of dramatic gears - up or down.