Hitchcock’s Double Dipping

Paper by Jenna McDonnough.

Alfred Hitchcock is known by many to be the greatest suspense film maker. He has written, directed and produced many films spanning from the 1920’s until the late 1970’s. He was still creating films until he passed away in 1980. He started creating films in Britain, where he is from and in 1940 he signed a contract to work for David Selznick to direct the film Rebecca in Hollywood. In 1958 he created Vertigo and just two years later he created Psycho. One of Hitchcock’s signatures was having a cameo role in all of his films; this generally consisted of him walking past the screen in the background. He often used the camera to mimic a person’s gaze, so that the audience could see what the character would be seeing. This would create anxiety and fear or even empathy for the characters, creating even more suspense. Many films had thrilling plots and twist endings and McGuffin. A McGuffin is “a plot device that moves the story forward but that is irrelevant to the actual story shown”(Maestu FS 120 Lecture Unit 1). He often used the theme of characters doubling as one another and the power of guilt. Many times the women and mother figures played a large role in developing the plot. Many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films still have relevance after over half a century later.

The power of guilt can cause humans to do strange things. For example in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and Vertigo. Norman Bates from Psycho uses his guilt from killing his mother to create a new “mother” in his mind. He has convinced himself that she is still alive by mimicking her voice and wearing her clothes. He feels this guilt because he poisoned her and her lover years before the film takes place. Throughout the film the audience sees Mrs. Bates kill Marion crane and Sheriff Chambers. We discover that Mrs. Bates has been dead for quite a while, which leads the audience to the conclusion that Norman has create an alter ego, and has become his mother. The guilt he feels pushes him to fill the void with this alter ego, who eventually takes over his mind (Williams and Hammond 93-96). A similar situation happens in Vertigo. The male lead is Scottie, who suffers from acrophobia. He had just quit his job as a police detective is asked by an old friend to help him keep an eye on his wife, Madeline. Scottie becomes too close to Madeline, when he saves her from drowning herself. He falls in love with her and once he is ready to tell her she runs away and falls from the roof of the bell tower. Scottie tried to chase after her but due to her acrophobia he gets dizzy and can only make it up the staircase so far. He feels as though if he were normal he could have saved her from falling. His guilt puts him into an institution where he stays for an unknown amount of time. When he is released he spends all day searching for Madeline. One day in town he sees a girl who looks just like her with darker hair. Scottie then befriends this woman, Judy. Judy reveals to the audience that she was hired by Madeline’s husband to portray her and get close to Scottie. Through Scottie’s guilt and depression he slowly changes Judy into Madeline and discovers the scheme used against him (Ertuna-Howison, “Reversal and Recognition”). He uses his guilt in order to replicate the day she fell in order to try to make himself feel better. In both Psycho and Vertigo, the main characters are men who are dealing with a great amount of guilt due to the death of a woman.

In many films from the 1950s and 1960s women are seen as accomplices to the antagonist. In Psycho Mrs. Bates is the mother of Norman, he uses her as his alter ego in order to murder unsuspecting victims. Gavin Elster, the employer of Scottie, uses Judy to portray his wife and also get away with her murder. Alfred Hitchcock has used this theme in many of his films to build suspense. Norman Bates was extremely close with his mother and no one in the world could replace her. He uses her identity to murder those who appear to try to replace her. For example, Marion was a beautiful young woman on the run, and she attempts to be friendly to Norman in order to make herself feel safe. Norman is very attracted to her and this triggers his alter ego of Mrs. Bates to arise and brutally murder her before she can seduce him. Norman Bates has convinced himself that his mother is still with him. He does this by using her memory and her values to motivate his killings. In Vertigo, Gavin Elster, wants to be rid of his wife, Madeline. In order to do this he has devised a scheme to be able to make it appear that his employee, Scottie was responsible for the death. He finds Judy, a young woman who looks a lot like his wife, once dressed up as her. The plan was for Judy to act like Madeline and become close to Scottie so he will fall for her. She is successful and Scottie is put on trial for Madeline’s murder. After being tried and convicted innocent, and he spend time in a mental institution, he finds Judy and uses her to fill the void. Judy is represented as a pawn for Mr. Elster and becomes the victim of his story he created in order to be free of his wife. Although, both women are used as pawns, the uses for them are different. Mrs. Bates and Judy are both present in order to allow Norman and Scottie to not feel alone and ashamed for what they did. Judy though becomes a victim to right the wrong a sick man. These themes and uses of suspense are still relevant today.

The use of political themes and suspense will continue allowing Alfred Hitchcock’s films to flourish and inspire many up filmmakers for many more years. “Thirty-two years after his death, he has become more relevant than ever” (Tanenhaus, “The Psycho Genius”). Hitchcock has become the one of most popular filmmaker of all time. His films have forever stuck with the audiences. For example, I was talking to my grandmother about Psycho and she accuses the shower scene to be the reason she hasn’t taken a shower in over 50 years, she only take baths. The idea that a single film can scar a grown woman is proof that they will always have relevance in American culture. Many filmmakers have used Hitchcock’s techniques in their films to successfully build suspense and an alarming plot line. He defied the systems in Hollywood and drummed to his own beat. Using the themes of guilt and using women as pawns in order to help define a character helps proof the idea that some characters are seen as doubles of each other. Mrs. Bates was a character that was all a psychological myth, who created horror and made many fear her. There is a television show called the Bates Motel, which is based on the story of Norman Bates. It focuses on his life as a young man and his relationship with his mother and half brother. The similarities in the show to the film are uncanny. I saw the show before seeing the film and after watching the movie it seemed as though Hitchcock himself wrote and directed the television show. Vertigo also uses camera work and ideas that are still seen today. For example the trombone shot, which conveys Scottie’s dizziness is still used in many films. Themes in films are very important still today because it helps the audience relate to the characters.

Works Cited

Ertuna-Howison, Irmak. “Reversal And Recognition In Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.”
Explicator 71.1 (2012): 49-51. Acedemic Search Premier. Web.
Hammond, Michael and Linda Ruth Williams. “Contemporary American Cinema”.
New York: McGraw Hill, 2006. Print
Maestu, Nico. “Unit 1: Alfred Hitchcock in the UK”. SBCC. Film Studies 120, Online. Summer Session II. PowerPoint, PDF.
Tanenhaus, Sam. “The Psycho Genius of Hollywood.” Newsweek 160.22/23 (2012) 48-53. Acedemic Search Premier. Web.


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