Scottie (Jimmy Stewart) looked to his ex-fiancee (Barbara Bel Geddes) as a mothering figure, whom he used for guidance. It is widely publicized that Hitchcock would seek advice from his wife, Alma, before making any major decisions -- like a child asks permission from his mother. One should also take note of Midge's occupation -- designer of brassieres. Was Hitchcock fixated with a woman's breast (which has all types of allusions back to motherhood, breast-feeding, etc.) or was he restrained from fulfilling his sexual desires?
"...the bra as a kind of restraint is reinforced by Scottie's discomfort at having to wear a corset" (Brown 35).
While Midge might have represented Alma, Kim Novak's character is indeed the depiction of the type of women he could not have.
"...when Kim Novak is first seen as Judy Barton, she's not wearing a bra which was fairly unusual at this time" (Brown 35).
Scottie is obsessed with the "perfect woman" and attempts to reconstruct that image of female sensuality that is, in his (Hitchcock's) eyes, impeccable. While Vertigo is just one illustration of constructing the flawless female, there are many instances in which Hitchcock dressed his actresses for the camera (Grace Kelly in Rear Window is an another example). So what was this underlying reason for putting forth so much effort in the appearance of his leading ladies? His solitary lifestyle as a youth seems to have some connection behind this infatuation.
"The central figures of Vertigo and Psycho struggle to understand and resolve destructive personal histories; they fail. Their defeats reflect the unforgiving necessities of Hitchcockian tragic irony. The gay-hearted playfulness of the comic romances is overwhelmed by moral inexorability ...confusion and ambiguity baffle resolution. Both films give centrality to human illness and decay, not healing. In both movies, the disease of the past is incurable" (Brill 200).
Was it Hitchcock's disease of the past that made him lust for and take control of his leading ladies? And if he wished to construct perfectionism why would he then seek to destroy it? In Psycho (1960) Hitchcock shaped the entire film around the infamous shower scene. What decadent craving did such a brutal scene satisfy? It certainly wasn't suspenseful, the trademark of Hitchcockian films. It was explicit...sadistic... coming home to roost? At the time around the making of this film, Hitchcock was feeling rejection or disinterest with various leading ladies. Some critics argue that it was not Norman Bates slashing Janet Leigh's character to death but actually Hitchcock who was experiencing anxiety and confusion with the opposite sex. In Frenzy (1972), Hitchcock once again lets his inner demons loose onto the big screen.
"I will argue here that Frenzy is not only centered on the victimization of women, projecting a point of view in which women's welfare and safety are negated, but that its black humor despairingly demonstrates the dread of vulnerability which men project upon women, sharing their fear and confirming men’s need for control and dominance" (Allen 30).
Control and dominance. Two motifs prevalent throughout Hitchcock's films. Handcuffs, for illustration, play a prominent role in several of his earlier works [The Lodger (1926) and The 39 Steps (1935)]. What was this fascination with handcuffs? Hitchcock went in to some detail in his interview with Truffaut:
Hitch: "Psychologically, of course, the idea of the handcuffs has deeper implications. Being tied to some-thing...it's somewhere in the area of fetishism."
Truff: "...handcuffs are certainly the most immediate symbol of the loss of freedom."
Hitch: "There's also a sexual connotation" (Truffaut 47).
David Thompson adds:
"...Hitchcock's nervousness of people induces his flinching caution that they are menacing and nasty. His style is tyrannical, premeditated, and icily framed, because the initial disposition is afraid of human liberty" (28).
Hitchcock was famous for his preference in shooting on a studio lot (as opposed to 'on location') for it provided him with, yet again, complete autonomy.
"Hitchcock's denial of all freedom to his actors and crew ... attest sufficiently to his desire to deny rather than direct a communal effort, places him in the position of he who wills the world, and since in Hitchcock it is a world of murder, he who wills murder" (Scheib 61).
Did Hitchcock will murder? The gravest threat for this British-born filmmaker was being under another constriction. His brief stint in a London jail cell was enough for him to develop a lifelong abhoration for the long arm of the law that controlled society.
"...Hitchcock's sensibility is one of voluntary and neurotic enslavement. He regards the law without a mature appreciation for its ethical basis, but in paranoid awe of its authority...I cannot forget that this putative great artist admits a dominant anxiety about having a policeman knock at his door. Whatever the childhood trauma, to go through life so overshadowed is to suffer a huge burden upon the spirit" (Thompson 27).
While Hitchcock may not have "bumped-off" the police officers in his films, he did make it clear they were inept. An example of this is displayed in Blackmail when the landlady is on the phone to Scotland Yard about the murdered artist in his room.
"The dislocated vaudeville patter not only emphasizes the inability of the landlady and the policeman to communicate but replaces the decisive high-tech (1929-style) response of the police in the first episode with comic futility...By the end of Blackmail we are left with little faith in the legendary efficiency of Scotland Yard" (Brill 157).
Hitchcock's loathing of the police (and women in general?) were quite prominent in Shadow of A Doubt (1943) and Strangers On A Train (1951). Shadow of A Doubt also exposed another side of Hitchcock's Mr. Hyde self through the performance of Joseph Cotton. His role as "Uncle Charlie" showed us a dashing and eloquent gentleman -- who was hiding a sinister character flaw. When his manipulating, killer ego is revealed, we get the true sense of his character. It is interesting to note that when Uncle Charlie first exhibited his alter ego, it was Hitchcock who wrote the dialogue:
"Silly wives...and what do these women do? You see them in the best hotels. Eating the money. Drinking the money. Losing at bridge. Smelling of money. Proud of it but of nothing else. Fat, wheezing animals. And what do we do to such animals when they get too lazy and too fat?" (Spoto 122).
Paul Gordon noted in his freudian analysis that Uncle Charlie's:
"...personality changed from a sweet child into a serial killer as a result of the fractured skull he received from a bicycle injury...["Mama wondered if he'd ever look the same. Mama wondered if he'd ever be the same."]" (Gordon 270).
Hitchcock was attempting to convey a motive behind the madness of Uncle Charlie who was no longer the same due to a trauma he experienced as a child. Was this his way of saying he too wasn't the same due to the events of his earlier years? The film Marnie (1964) delved deeper into this possibility.
"Marnie is about a numb woman who clings to her childhood damage as an alternative to behaving like a grown-up. It is the terrible isolation that trusts no one, but believes superstitiously in a rigged fate, bad seed, and warped nature. It is the gloomy nervousness that allows police states, that stays at home, tends to the garden, and goes to bed early" (Thompson 29).
The character of Marnie just might have been the ultimate personification of Hitchcock. A truly troubled soul unable to experience happiness, social contact, and sexual fulfillment. Marnie was a character screaming inside but did not understand the past demons that haunted her. While Hitchcock may (or may not) have been conscious of his darker demons, they did indeed surface in such characters as Marnie, Uncle Charlie, Norman Bates and others. He was screaming out not in his voice but in many voices.
"Hitchcock the man" vs. "Hitchcock the filmmaker." Despite his personal shortcomings, Hitchcock proved to be one of the great masters of filmmaking. A uniquely complex artist who lived in the grip of fear and longed for love behind the mask of tainted romanticism. Was the acclaimed director a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? One thing is for certain. Throughout his seemingly endless amount of films, he showed us that people are never quite what they seem. If we are to honor him, it is best to remember him as the great filmmaker he was. If Hitchcock had any hidden demons, he took them with him to his grave.
© Terrence J. Brady
Allen, Jeanne Thomas, "The Representation of Violence to Women:Hitchcock's Frenzy," Film Quarterly (Spring 1985), pp. 30-38.
Brill, Lesley. The Hitchcock Romance. Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press, 1988.
Brown, Royal S., "Vertigo as Orphic Tragedy," Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 1, (1986), pp. 32-43.
Gordon, Paul, "Sometimes a Cigar is Not Just a Cigar: a Freudian Analysis of Uncle Charles in Hitchcock's Shadow of A Doubt," Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 4 (1991), pp. 267-275.
Scheib, Ronnie, "Charlie's Uncle," Film Comment, Vol. 12, No. 2 (1976), pp. 55-62.
Spoto, Donald. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock:Fifty Years Of His Motion Pictures. 2nd ed. New York:Doubleday, 1992.
Thompson, David, "The Big Hitch," Film Comment, Vol. 15, No. 2 (March/April 1979), pp. 26-29.
Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock. New York:Simon and Schuster, 1984.