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8 Trademarks of Hitchcock Movies

29 November 2012 | Features, Other Lists | by David Zou

Who is the best director ever lived on planet earth? As film fans, you must have your own unique answers. But to most non film fans, the name Alfred Hitchcock equals film director. Not only because he contributed probably more than any directors in sound cinema, but also because of his persona has became a cultural symbol that can easily be identified by people around the world. When we talk about Hitchcock movies, you can’t avoid terms like MacGuffin, Blondes, Murder etc. Those are the trademarks of Hitchcock movies, a way Hitchcock distinguished his cinema from others.

MacGuffin

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Searching for Macguffin – The cellar scene in Notorious

MacGuffin is a plot device that drives suspense. It’s something the protagonists pursue throughout the story but audience don’t quite get the reason.It is widely used in films, TVs and literature but Hitchcock popularized the term with his suspense thrillers. Below is how he explained  MacGuffin to François Truffaut in a most understandable way:

It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?”, and the other answers, “Oh, that’s a McGuffin”. The first one asks “What’s a McGuffin?” “Well”, the other man says, “It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands”. The first man says, “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands”, and the other one answers, “Well, then that’s no McGuffin!” So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.

The most notable use of MacGuffin in Hitchcock movies including the military secrets in The 39 Steps, the tune in The Lady Vanishes, the uranium in Notorious and the government secrets in North by Northwest. Other classic use of MacGuffin including the falcon statue in The Maltese Falcon, the glowing briefcase in both Kiss Me Deadly and Pulp Fiction, and “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane.

 

Cameo

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The most creative cameo Hitchcock ever made?

From the very beginning of his career, Hitchcock already knew how to advertise himself. He made his first appearance in his 1927 silent film The Lodger and since then his cameo has become one of the fun things audience could get from his movies. His most difficult and interesting cameo appears in his film Lifeboat, the whole story takes place on a boat so there is no room for cameos. But Hitch thought out a brilliant idea to print his photos on the weight-lose medicine ad which is read by one of the survivors. In his later films, Hitchcock deliberately postponed his cameo time because he was worried that audience might be too distracted for trying to find his cameos.

 

Blonde

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The very blond Kim Novak

Not only “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, Mr. Hitchcock also loves blondes. Have a look at the stars he had used, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Fontaine, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Tippi Hedren, no exceptions. When people asked him why he was so fond of using blonde as the leading female characters in his movies, he answered:”Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.” well, they are not only “functional”, but very good-looking too!

 

Landmark

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The climax scene on Mount Rashmore in North by Northwest

When you watch Hitchcock movies, you are like traveling around America. Hitch will take you to some of the most famous landmarks in the US. He always liked to arrange the climax scene in these places, like the final fighting scene on the body of Statue of Liberty in Saboteur, the auction scene in United Nation building and the climax scene in Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest, it was even called  “The Man in Lincoln’s Nose” originally. Hitchcock took us further than the US in The Man Who Knew too Much(Royal Albert Hall in London) and To Catch a Thief(the French Riviera).

 

Charming Villain

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Charming Cary Grant as villain in Suspicion

“The better the villain, the better the film.” Hitchcock’s movies are never lack of charismatic villains. From the Cary Grant character in Suspicion to Robert Walker character in Strangers on a Train, from Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt to the Necktie murderer in Frenzy, the basic line is you can not tell them from good guys, and their charm is one of the most effective way to get near to the victims.

 

Murder

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The most famous murder scene in all Hitchcock movies

Murder becomes art in Hitchcock movies. The most famous example is the shower scene, Hitchcock completely depended on his film technique, and scared the audiences to death without showing a stain of blood. Another famous is in film Rope, the two murderers commit the crime as an intellectual exercise: they want to prove their superiority by committing the “perfect murder”. There are many ways of murdering a people in Hitchcock films, and the best thing is he never made his murder too violent as it is in other films, it is what happens after the murder we care the most.

 

Bernard Herrmann’s Score

Bernard Herrmann’s brilliant score for Vertigo

Bernard Herrmann’s collaboration with Hitchcock is undoubtedly one of the most successful partnerships in movie history.You can hardly imagine films like Psycho and Vertigo without Herrmann’s brilliant music scores. His score for Vertigo is probably one of the best in 20th century and the shower scene in Psycho would be half less scary without the eerie score he composed. In the film The Birds, though there is no music score, but the sound effect supervised by Herrmann is still terrifying.

 

Edith Head’s Costume

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Well dressed-up Grace Kelly in Rear Window

One of the most overlooked Hitchcock trademarks, Edith Head’s collaboration with Hitchcock last even longer than Hitchcock and Herrmann. As one of the greatest costume designer, Edith Head had won eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design from a total of 35 nominations. As a man who knows fashions pretty well, Hitchcock was lucky to find someone who can dress up his handsome actors and gorgeous actresses. The most notable costumes Edith Head had designed for Hitchcock movies are the ones Grace Kelly wore in Rear Window, Kim Novak’s costume in Vertigo is also quite remarkable.

 

It’s Your Turn

Which Hitchcock trademarks you like the most? And what trademarks are missed from this list?

 

Read other Hitchcock posts on Taste of Cinema

Fashions in Rear Window

Criterion Gems: The Lady Vanishes (1938) dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock – Director of the Year 2012

Top 5 Hitchcock Villains You Wouldn’t Like to Meet

10 Most Underrated Hitchcock Movies You Should Watch Now

 

 

 


   

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