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Hitchcock The Master Of Suspense Essay

3279 words - 14 pages

The Master of Suspense


Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was indeed one of the most iconic and influential film directors in the history of the medium as well as being internationally recognizable throughout his life. This paper delves into his earlier works, concentrating on his narrative elements such as the MacGuffin technique, the likeable antagonist, the innocent man or woman whom is falsely accused or misunderstood, and the act of balancing suspense and tragedy with humor and comedy. From a stylistic standpoint the paper conveys Hitchcock’s profound use of atmosphere and landscape, song as a suspense device, landscape of crowd caricatures, and point-of-view technique. Looking at The 39 ...view middle of the document...

The MacGuffin can be added to mean anything. Because Hitchcock was able to allure the viewers to a significant amount of empathy for the characters through other methods, the dilemma or conflict grew to be quite trivial. “The main thing I’ve learned over the years is that the MacGuffin is nothing. I’m convinced of this, but I find it very difficult to prove it to others”-Alfred Hitchcock (Truffaut, p.139). This became a recurring theme throughout Hitchcock’s career. In The Lady Vanishes (1938), the MacGuffin is the encoded tune memorized by Miss Froy. There are subtle hints to it over the course of the film but it is never said outright until the end. The audience only wants to know the mystery of how or why Miss Froy disappeared, not about some secret musical tune. In Saboteur (1940), it is the secret plot to destroy a military naval ship. Neither the audience nor characters know what the secret is but the plot is driven by it throughout.
Hitchcock regularly portrayed his antagonists to be appealing, likeable adversaries without the usual unsophisticated and malevolent traits audiences were used to seeing in the run-of-the-mill villain. The viewers were sometimes torn between wanting them to be brought to justice and secretly hoping that in the end they would get away with their dastardly plans. Hitchcock believed that the villain and the hero are not always evidently different and in many ways may be the same. “What it boils down to is that villains are not all black and heroes are not all white; there are grays everywhere.”-Hitchcock (Truffaut, p.153). A prime example of this is Joseph Cotten’s portrayal of the titular character Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt. What sets this apart from Hitchcock’s other films, with the exception of Psycho, is that the central figure of the story is also the villain. We are introduced to Uncle Charlie and immediately fall in love with him. He is refined, charming and even though there may be something mysterious about him the audience cannot help but be attracted to his polished and warm demeanor towards his young niece and her family. This attraction lasts even after he is found out to be the one murdering all the old widows because the viewer cannot help but find that there is something moral about his judgment. Hitchcock reinforces this sympathy towards Charlie by never actually showing him committing a murder, therefore creating this dispute of whether or not he is good or bad, black or white when in reality it could be argued either way.
A similar example of this narrative technique is seen in the seemingly respectable Professor Jordan of The 39 Steps, although his pleasant appearance is much more short-lived than that of Uncle Charlie. He is an amiable and reputable man amongst many and held in high regard within the small Scottish village he resides in. In The Lady Vanishes early on the audience is introduced to a Dr. Hartz, a outwardly caring physician who, again until the...

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