Film

Hitchcock 101: Day Four, 1941 - 1943

As the war in Europe raged, Hitchcock remained in the relative safety of his adopted home far from the bombs that rocked his home country, but Hitch put together a series of fascinating movies dealing with themes of betrayal, paranoia, deceit, and the creeping horror of doubt.

As the war in Europe raged, Hitchcock remained in the relative safety of his adopted home far from the bombs that rocked his home country. Perhaps feeling a sense of guilt over abandoning his nation to the approaching Germans (or, more likely, swept up in the surge of paranoid fifth-column films that emerged from Hollywood at that moment) Hitch put together a series of fascinating movies dealing with themes of betrayal, paranoia, deceit, and the creeping horror of doubt.

Suspicion
(1941)

In Suspicion, Hitchcock sculpted a stylish erotic thriller set among the English aristocracy. Joan Fontaine plays Lina McLaidlaw, the shy, withdrawn daughter of a wealthy general. Pursued by a dashing playboy named Johnny Aysgarth, played with reckless charm by a young Cary Grant, Lina falls under his sway (but not without putting up a fight). Ignoring the rumors of his womanizing and gambling, Lina marries Johnny, and they Honeymoon in style before moving into a fashionable, opulent house in the country. But soon, through friends and acquaintances, she finds out the extent of Johnny's incorrigible and corrosive habit of lying to protect his own pennilessness. Indeed, Johnny is mired in gambling debt, has stolen money from private accounts at work, and appears to be in pursuit of what he imagines will be Lina's considerable inheritance. As the circumstantial evidence mounts -- culminating when the police inform Lina that Johnny’s business partner in a failed endeavor has suddenly turned up dead -- Lina begins to suspect (along with the audience) that Johnny might be plotting to kill her. In the 1932 novel on which the film is based, Before the Fact by Frances IIles, Johnny ultimately poisons Lina, who is too pathetically obsessed with him to protest or escape. Naturally, due to Grant’s popularity as a wholesome matinee idol, Selznick ruled out this ending.

Suspicion falls into the early-middle Hitchcock period, along with Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, and Spellbound: glossy, black and white films of the early 1940s that were deliberately, almost painstakingly, sly in their character development. The story usually revolved around a charismatic and attractive leading man (Joseph Cotton, Gregory Peck, Aida Valli, and Cary Grant) who, under a veneer of charm, was perhaps sinister and deadly. The films were popular and à propos to the excitement and uncertainty of the Second World War, where Nazi spies were feared to be lurking around every American street corner and under every British table. Hitchcock, always fascinated by duplicity, reveled in the implications of an anxious era in which things, people, might not be what they seemed. Suspicion, ultimately, is remembered as a showpiece for Cary Grant. The dashing leading man here shows off his considerable skills as an actor, playing against type as a cad and a scoundrel ( and maybe even a murderer to boot!).

Fontaine won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance -- it has been said that this enraged Cary Grant so much that he avoided her for the rest of his life. There's a jolly supporting turn from English character actor Nigel Bruce, who went on to play Watson opposite Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes. But audiences will mainly remember this film for an extraordinary piece of staging: Johnny, the potential killer, carrying an eerily luminous glass of milk up a flight of darkened, winding stairs. Hitchcock, in a rare, idiosyncratic touch, inserted a small light bulb inside the glass to achieve that particular glow.

Farisa Khalid

 

Saboteur
(1942)

Saboteur was simultaneously the first Hitchcock suspense film set in America, the first he made after the U.S. had entered WW II, and his first American “wrong man” thriller. Although the film suffers from a somewhat lightweight cast -- Hitchcock had to settle for Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane (the most successful of the Lane Sisters) instead of Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur -- it is largely redeemed by Hitchcock’s enthusiastic exploration of the American landscape and monuments as well as some memorable action sequences.

The plot resembles that of his other “wrong man” films. Falsely accused of setting fire to an aircraft factory, a man sets off across the country to find the man he believes to have been the real culprit. Along the way he thwarts saboteurs who want to blow up Hoover Dam, encounters a traitorous millionaire who wants America to become a fascist state, and meets up with a group of circus freaks who shelter and befriend him.

Although Hitchcock was under contract with David O. Selznick, because the two had incompatible working styles, he preferred lending his director out to other studios. Making the movie at Universal (a studio to which he would return at the end of his career), Hitchcock would, in a scene lifted directly from fellow British director James Whale’s Frankenstein (made at Universal Studios in 1931), have Robert Cummings’ character find help in the home of a far-seeing blind man, just as the monster would after fleeing Dr. Frankenstein.

Dorothy Parker’s left-wing and anti-business draft of the script was softened in subsequent rewrites, but several barbs against the very rich and the dangers of big business managed to survive. And the film’s most memorable villain (compellingly played by Otto Krueger) is -- as in other films like The 39 Steps and North by Northwest (both significant “wrong man” pictures) -- a wealthy socialite.

The climax of the film is one of Hitchcock’s most unforgettable, as Cummings pursues the saboteur from his success in blowing up a new battleship (represented by footage of the overturned hull of the French liner Normandie, which after being confiscated from Vichy France caught fire while undergoing conversion to a troop ship) to a showdown at the Statue of Liberty. The film ends in a terrific scene in which the villain tries to escape by blending in with a tour group. Fleeing up the statue’s arm, he falls over the edge of the torch. Although Cummings tries to save him, holding him by the sleeve, both saboteur and his would-be rescuer watch helplessly as the seams of his jacket pop stitch by stitch. His fall from the torch is one of the most indelible images from any Hitchcock film. It would not be the last time in his career that Hitchcock would employ a famous American monument for an exciting ending.

Storyboards from this film were published in Theatre Arts and helped create the myth (and it was to a very great degree a myth) that Hitchcock planned every shot of each picture beforehand, envisioning every angle, containing the entire film in his head. Bill Krohn in his book Hitchcock at Work, has carefully documented many of the changes that Hitchcock made on the sets of during filming, but it was a fable that brought Hitchcock enormous publicity and helped build his celebrity. It was a myth he did everything within his power to promote.

Robert Moore

 

Shadow of a Doubt
(1943)

If you think it was David Lynch who discovered the inherent evil lurking behind the bland white picket fence malaise of sunny suburbia, you haven't seen what many consider to be Hitchcock's first true masterpiece. The storyline is quite simple -- bored little Charlotte Newton (a beaming Teresa Wright) thinks that nothing exciting ever happens in her happy little town of Santa Rosa, California. Without missing a beat, it is announced that dashing debonair Uncle Charlie (an astonishing Joseph Cotton) is coming to visit. Before his arrival, however, a couple of undercover policemen show up and warn the young girl that her favorite relative might just be the Merry Widow serial killer. Indeed, during his stay, our heroine does witness some odd behavior on Uncle Charlie's part.

Thus begins a brilliant cat and mouse composed of mixed motives, cheery innocence, calculated evil, and a mid-act confession that twists everything into a battle between right, wrong, family, and psycho-sexual miscues. Since they share more than just a heritage (Charlotte's nickname is "Charlie", after all), Hitchcock explores the darker elements of the relationship, positioning his villain as someone with a wink for his niece but an overall hatred of women -- especially those he views as “fatted pigs” worthy of slaughter. Since she is also female, Charlie poses a complicated issue. She is willing to do almost anything to protect her uncle, but when a policeman starts to show interest in her, such flagging loyalties could mean his discovery and capture. As a result, the film focuses on the unspoken dynamic between the main characters, and how a murderer chooses to cover his tracks.

Our Town's Thornton Wilder came up with the initial story, and he penned the script with help from Sally Benson and Alma Reville. The results are rife with Americana; this is a movie which takes the mythos of the United States and set it on its ear. It’s interesting to note that this was a pre-US intervention effort, with several time cues reflecting events which played out before 7 December, 1941. Though it was released during WWII and made just as the United States was stepping into the fray, it argues for a prescience that Hitchcock had to be aware of. Indeed, prior to the Allied/Axis conflict, communities like Santa Rosa were seen as safe, secure havens for neighbors and friends to share streets, dreams, and memories. But as we would soon see, the '50s and '60s would pervert the landscape, proving that beneath the serene veneer was a malevolence as black as the smoke belching out of Uncle Charlie's arriving train.

While he made other significant films prior to its release (including the original The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Lady Vanishes, and Rebecca), Shadow of a Doubt stands as the moment when Hitchcock truly tapped into his demented, more devious side, deciding to spend the better part of his remaining career exploring same. For him, the story of the two Charlies and their mutual attraction/co-conspiratorial complicity marked a move into the type of material at which he would soon excel. While he was no slouch beforehand, Shadow of a Doubt made Hitchcock a name to remember -- and we have ever since.

Bill Gibron

Music
Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Recent
Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.