Psycho

Despite being a horror and mystery movie, there are clear similarities between the plot of Psycho and Shadow of a Doubt. These similarities include similar dispositions between Norman Bates in Psycho and Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt. However, by the end of Psycho, it becomes evident that both characters are actually mirrors of each other; while Uncle Charlie attempts to change the world around him in order to preserve his childhood perception of a perfect society, Norman Bates is unable to escape his mother’s domineering presence on his life, even long after her death.

In the fruit cellar scene, Norman Bates seems to be attempting to keep his family’s matriarchy alive with little success; however, the psychiatrist explains to the audience that Bates shows signs of childhood trauma, causing him to create a split personality for his mother, which continues to keep Bates queered by her long after her death. While Uncle Charlie is also queered by his mother, he attempts to impose the matriarchal system on the world around him, while Bates is isolated by this queer relationship. Both characters’ mentality towards matriarchy creates a vast contrast between these Bates and Uncle Charlie, displaying how this unconventional relationship can impact individuals in vastly different ways.

North by Northwest

While all of Hitchcock’s movies seem to circle around the same deeper themes surrounding masculinity, gender, and the unknown, North by Northwest creates a further distance from these themes. Rather than focusing on these themes themselves, Alfred Hitchcock explores the premise of each theme. By doing so, North by Northwest still focuses on the common ideas of Hitchcock’s movies while at the same time exploring these themes on a deeper level.

The most obvious metacommentary within the film is the theatricality and performance of each character within the film. Despite writing the character of Roger Thornhill for James Stewart, Hitchcock ultimately casts Carey Grant in the role, due to his on-screen reputation as both a serious and comedic actor. Throughout North by Northwest, characters constantly commentate on Thornhill’s acting, and by doing so, also commentate on Carey Grant’s acting. This brings along new questions that are not asked in previous films following the same themes, such as the difference between Carey Grant “acting” as Thornhill versus actually “being” Thornhill. This deeper look into characters, gender, and queerness allows both Hitchcock and the audience to explore what makes each topic so suspenseful and engaging on a much more primal level.

Vertigo

Within many of Hitchcock’s films, the patriarchal relationship between man and woman allows for the male to “frame” the female in order for the male to feel more secure with his own masculinity. By forcing the woman to comply with his restraints and obey him, he is guaranteed control and affirmed as the head of the patriarchy. After beginning to court Judy Barton due to her physical similarities to Madeleine Elster, Scottie attempts to frame her in the image of Madeleine, unaware of the fact that both characters are actually the same person. Even with the same woman, Scottie is unable to see Judy in the same way as Madeleine, leading to obsessive commands and changes that Judy resentfully agrees to. In Vertigo, Hitchcock separates male fantasy from reality by making the male imagination’s framing of a woman unattainable, leaving the male’s masculinity in a constant state of risk.

Scottie’s obsession with Madeleine Elster makes him unable to frame Judy Barton to his own satisfaction, despite both persons actually being Judy Barton; Scottie has “Madeleine Elster,” but he still wants his original perception of Madeleine Elster, a fictional character. Despite Scottie falling in love with Judy Barton’s portrayal of Madeleine Elster, Judy knows that she must once again win Scottie over in order to construct a stable relationship. Scottie is unable to look past Madeleine and see Judy as her own person and instead fixates on a fantasy of once again falling in love with Madeleine. Despite already having his fantasy in his possession in a way, Scottie is unable to change his focus from fantasy to reality.

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Although The Man Who Knew Too Much seems to be a thriller mystery with espionage driving the main plot of the movie, these themes are mere subplots by which Hitchcock chooses to explore masculinity in a new way. The film follows Dr. Benjamin and Mrs. Jo McKenna as they attempt to unravel an assassination plot against a high-ranking member of the English government. However, the McKennas are less worried about the assassination attempt than they are about their kidnapped son Hank, going so far as to withhold critical information about the assassination plot in order to ensure Hank’s safety. The film centers around the patriarchal relationship between the three McKenna’s and the unusual challenges against Dr. McKenna’s masculinity that these relationships create.

Due to Jo’s fame and success from her acting career, Dr. McKenna constantly feels as though his masculinity is being challenged by his wife, causing the two characters to clash frequently. One of the more noticeable disagreements between Dr. McKenna and Jo is when he sedates her before informing her of Hank’s kidnapping. Rather than working together with his wife in an attempt to save their child, Dr. McKenna feels as though Jo may disagree with his plans, and might use her influence to begin searching for her son in whatever way she believes would be best. However, this almost creates even more problems for Dr. McKenna, as the sedatives do not wear off in time for the flight, almost causing the McKennas to miss their flight. While Dr. McKenna is clearly a successful and intelligent figure in the film, Jo McKenna seems to be just as successful and intelligent, giving her more power than what was commonly found in a patriarchal family in the mid-1900s.

Rear Window

As the first shot of Rear Window pans around a courtyard with views into apartments, the audience is immediately teased by the limited insight they have been given into these characters’ lives. Each character seems to stand out from one another, acting as more than simply background characters that fill the scene. Because of this clear view into each character’s life, the audience is just as intrigued by the characters as L.B. Jefferies. This sympathy creates a different sense of suspense than most of Hitchcock’s movies.

In most of the movies that we have studied so far, Hitchcock would use perspective to create suspense, letting the audience know something that was unbeknownst to the protagonist. In the case of Rear Window, the audience knows no more than the protagonist. In many ways, this film centers around the unknown; whether it’s the tied-up chest, the murder of Anna Thorwald, or the personal information of another neighbor, many questions are raised throughout the film with unexpected answers, or with no answer at all. The audience is only satisfied once they learn the real truth about Mr. Thorwald and the truth is exposed to the police.

Strangers on a Train

Although Strangers on a Train at first seems to follow two men with similar perspectives on life, Guy Haines and Bruno Antony turn out to be two vastly different men with similar concerns. Both characters are confronted by challenges that threaten their own masculinity – Haines by his manipulative wife and Antony by his own father – creating parallel plots that are affected by one another. Straight from its opening scene, Strangers on a Train centers on the duality of man and its limits: morality, perspective, and other variables that make up an individual’s perspective of the world around them.

Haines and Antony are the Yin and Yang of the film, constantly pushing and pulling one another in an attempt to regain control of their own realities. Even though Haines pretends to entertain Antony’s scheme for a perfect double murder that would help relieve beach of their struggles with their own masculinity, he refuses to murder a stranger, while Antony chooses to strangle Miriam without a second thought. Antony then pressures Haines into finishing Antony’s double-murder plot, pushing both characters out of their own reality. Antony follows Haines to multiple events with Haines’ friends and family, and Haines attempts to sneak into Antony’s father’s house to warn him, going so far as to try and convince Antony to seek help. The difference between characters causes each decision made by one person to affect the other, and vice versa, forcing both Haines and Antony to struggle for masculine power over their own reality until one of the two opposing forces is eventually destroyed.

Rope

When Hitchcock originally released Rope, many were quick to criticize the film’s opening scene. By allowing the audience to know about the murder of David right from the start, they believed that Hitchcock lost the most suspenseful aspect of his film. With Rupert slowly suspecting the wrongdoings of Brandon and Phillip, the suspense was built through a character getting closer to the truth that is known by the audience. However, the main suspense within the film had very little to do with the main plot: instead, the suspense was built through the relationships between three of the four men in the film.
Hitchcock creates an entirely different theme for the audience to eventually figure out, pushing the limits of film in the 1940s through homosexual tension. Phillip, Brandon, and Rupert create a romance triangle that is unbeknownst to the others in Rope, and must also slide past censorship as well. In the Golden Age of film, the Catholic Church heavily censored films before they were released to the public, which created a difficult obstacle for Hitchcock to work around. While the censorship of the Catholic Church may have limited Hitchcock’s ability to present homosexuality within the film, it also helped to create one of the most suspenseful themes we have witnessed in his films yet. Without any mentions of sexual orientation or past romantic relationships, Hitchcock delicately weaves this subplot into the word choice throughout the film, creating a hidden theme that the audience must interpret.

Notorious

At the start, Hitchcock’s film Notorious does not have particularly likable protagonists. The female protagonist Alicia has a sense of entitlement that bothers other protagonists. Very little is known about Devlin, the other main protagonist of the film, making it difficult for the audience to create a deep connection with him. Despite all of this, Notorious is a suspenseful and riveting story, with loads of character development and audience sympathy packed into a love-and-espionage-centered plot.

One of Hitchcock’s most effective tools for suspense in Notorious is the strong development of both the good and bad characters throughout the film. While Alexander Sebastian is portrayed as a threat to America as an undercover Nazi, nothing about his character – at least for the majority of the movie – seems to be particularly unsettling or dangerous; rather, as a man looking for love in a romantic film, it is hard not to sympathize with Sebastian. Alicia’s misguided interest in Sebastian only fuels the sympathy for the antagonist, keeping the viewer guessing as to how the film will resolve. As Sebastian and his mother are left in the hands of his fellow undercover Nazis in the closing scene of the film, it is hard to not feel bad for him, despite his malicious acts towards Alicia and the greater United States.

Shadow of a Doubt

In the opening scenes of Shadow of a Doubt, the film seems to follow two separate – and dissimilar – storylines. On one hand, the audience is given insight into the life of the Newton family; a family with a very simple and stereotypical suburban life. On the other hand is a man living an unpredictable and lonely life of lawlessness, on the run from two men. However, both plots are not as simple as they originally seem. By combining both stories, Hitchcock creates a unique cross of genres within Shadow of a Doubt, combining Charlie’s coming-of-age story with the thrilling and suspenseful conflict of her uncle. This genre-bending allows for complex character development that is unpredicted by the audience.

While the Newton family may live a standard suburban life in America, many of these family members are anything but simple. Charlie is dissatisfied with her family’s simple life and searches for a deeper purpose in her life. Similarly, her Uncle Charlie finds himself with no clear direction in his own life and chooses to live with the Newton family in an attempt to escape the police and rekindle bonds with his family. Charlie sees her uncle as a possible escape from the simple life of her hometown, and while his arrival does exactly that, things quickly escalate between her and her uncle, making her wish for him to leave so that she can return to her daily life once again. In the end, Charlie settles for her life in a small town, burdened with the secret of who her uncle truly was.

Rebecca

Throughout the film Rebecca, Hitchcock deeply explores and creates the male fetish of dominance over the woman. From the film’s start to end, Mrs. DeWinter struggles to satisfy expectations that she has created in her own head, first as the paid companion of Mrs. Van Hopper, and later as the young wife of aristocrat Maxim DeWinter. Mrs. DeWinter’s emotion is easily sympathized with by the audience, playing well alongside Hitchcock’s unique manipulation of suspense.
Rather than focusing on Maxim’s love for who she already was, Mrs. DeWinter was conditioned by the constant comparisons between herself and Rebecca DeWinter. Considering Rebecca was her husband’s first wife and was described as a “perfect woman,” Mrs. DeWinter attempted to change her outward appearance in order to better please her husband. Instead, it only seemed to drive him further away, leaving her with a sense of helplessness. This fetishistic creation of helpless emotion was a common theme across many of Hitchcock’s movies, coinciding seamlessly with Hitchcockian suspense.