Table of Contents
2. The role of the Hitchcock Blonde
2.1 Dial M for Murder
2.2 Rear Window
3. New approaches:
3.1 The Birds (1963)
3.2 Marnie (1964)
4. The destruction and re-creation of the “Hitchcock Blonde” in:
4.1 The destruction and re-creation of the “Hitchcock Blonde” in The Birds
4.2 The destruction and re-creation of the “Hitchcock Blonde” in Marnie
Alfred Hitchcock, the great Master of Suspense, is one of the best known British film directors and producers of all times. His preferred genre is the thriller in which he connects suspense and humour in a characteristic way. Hitchcock’s main motifs are: anxiety, blame and the loss of identity.
Another important key motif is the so-called “MacGuffin.” It is an element, which expedites or initiates an activity, although it is completely for the development of the characters in the film insignificant with regard to the contents. The only cause for the “MacGuffin,” “is to serve a pivotal reason for the suspense to occur.” Some examples of it are shown in The 39 Steps, North by Northwest or in Torn Curtain. Here the audience is not really interested in the nature of “state secrets“ like the formula for an aircraft engine in The 39 Steps; the government secrets in North by Northwest or the formula for an anti-missile in Torn Curtain. The use of the “MacGuffin” in Hitchcock films symbolizes “an overvalued object which draws the characters who seek to possess it into life threatening situations.”(Walker, 299). Moreover, it is a symbol of Hitchcock’s chaos world which shows the heartlessness of the state that creates the chaos sometimes in conjunction with another state, which similarly overvalues the “MacGuffin.” In all cases, however, it is far more hazardous for the heroine. As soon as the villain notices that his secret is known, and the heroine is involved in it, he threatens her with murder (North by Northwest) even kills (Walker, 302).
A further element which Hitchcock applies is that of “Suspense.” That means that the viewer gets the information about the circumstances from a certain point of time, whereas the characters do not know. An example for this Hitchcock motif is shown in Rear Window. Here Lisa (Grace Kelly) intrudes into the apartment of suspicion to search for evidences for his wife’s death. Her handicapped friend Jeff (James Steward) has to observe the events from the opposite side of the street, seeing that his neighbour returns early. From this point of time, she is in danger but he can not help her.
“Light and colour” symbolize another characteristic Hitchcock motif. He has already used light - and shadow effects in his first films. Lines and bands in shape of shadows are typical for him, which amplify the baleful atmosphere. Moreover, Hitchcock uses extreme contrasts in special scenes to visualize good and bad differences. In Dial M for Murder the costumes of the blonde actress get more grey and dull with the continuity of the film according with her emotional state. The selection of special music is also typical of Hitchcock. Depending on the situation of the scene, he applied music and sound effects to further the dramaturgy.
Another important motif of his film productions exists in the frame of emotion especially represented by the Blonde. That means that each scene reflects emotions like fear, laughter, surprise, sadness, anger, boredom which comes directly from the actor’s eyes. The intensity of emotion depends on the camera angle. If it is close-up on the eyes it will fill the screen by the eyes of the character. In contrast, pulling it away to a wide angle shot it will dissolve the emotion of the character.
But Hitchcock’s main motif is the demonstration of the young, beautiful, strong and cool blonde who has to fend for herself. Frequently she is the protagonist who is involved in threatening situations and has to protect herself. In many cases the male character is fragile, self-absorbed and not able to help her. In some of his films, for example The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock inverts the roles between man and woman. Here, the woman is outclassing the man who gets more and more passive. In this case, she turns the events to good account because she can avoid a premeditated murder and saves her own child from the crime.
In my bachelor thesis I want to focus on the destruction and recreation of the “Hitchcock Blonde” in The Birds and Marnie. Hitchcock’s preference for blonde women appears like a leitmotif through all his films. As director he has the possibility to act out his position of power towards the Blonde. At first, Hitchcock creates her after his imaginations, then destructs her and finally builds her up again. Primarily in The Birds it becomes clear.
2. The role of the Hitchcock Blonde
2.1 Dial M for Murder
Grace Kelly, Hitchcock’s fairest and loveliest of all blonde actresses who portray the epitome of elegance, symbolises the most beloved by the viewers. Grace Kelly is the perfect combination of untouchable polish and poise with the underlying taste of passion. The stylish blonde woman epitomizes the combination of cool beauty and perfection of all Hitchcock blondes. She stares in three Hitchcock films within two years during the 1950s. Dial M for Murder was her first film. Grace Kelly is not only predestined by her blonde hair but also by her British pronunciation which she has learned at drama school. In April 1956, she married Prince Rainer III., and becomes Princess of Monaco. Since then, she was not allowed to play any role in Hitchcock films. In 1982, she dies in a tragic way as a consequence of a car accident.
In Dial M for Murder, Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly), embodies the wealthy wife of the retired professional tennis player Tony Wendice, (Ray Milland). Furthermore, she has an extramarital relationship with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), an American crime-fiction writer. Tony knows about this relationship and decides to have her killed by C. J. Swann (Anthony Dawson), a disreputable fellow of his Cambridge University times. Tony blackmails Swann into murdering Margot or to tell the police about his criminal past. Swann agrees to strangle her in the flat, while Tony will be visiting a night club with his rival. But unexpectedly, the plan fails when the young woman can acquit herself of the stranglehold by the invader. In the course of the following fight, Margot kills the burglar with a pair of scissors. Then she picks up the telephone receiver and pleads for help, not knowing that Tony is on the phone since he gave the murder application through the telephone ring. Realizing, that his plan has failed, Tony answers and portends her not to do anything. At home, Tony finds the key of a flat in Swann´s pocket, puts it in Margot’s handbag, calls the police, sends his wife back to bed, plants a love letter by Mark on Swann, and replaces Swann´s scarf with a pair of Margot’s stockings. In this way, he tries to raise suspicion on his wife and avert it from himself. Inspector Hubbard (Williams) from Scotland Yard who investigates this case finally gets an increasingly mistrust against Tony because of his exaggerated cooperative behaviour. With the aid of Margot and her lover Mark, he sets a snare for the suspect and arrests him by a proving murder.
In Dial M for Murder, Hitchcock presents the audience the “intact blonde” who persists until the end of the film. His intention does not exist in the destruction of the heroine. However, the viewer can observe how Margot’s dressing style and behaviour are gradually changing in the course of the film. The colour of her clothes modifies from bright and colourful to dull, grey and brown according to her emotional state. In this Hitchcock classic, Grace Kelly personifies the conventional blonde as a victim who is abused by her husband.
At the beginning of Dial M for Murder, Margot appears in a long, red cocktail dress with a tulle camisole over her shoulders which symbolize her passion and affection towards her lover Mark who is just kissing and hugging her. In this first scene Hitchcock wants to emphasise her erotic attraction. Furthermore, she wears a valuable white pearl necklace with earrings that go with this necklace. The elegance and coolness of the typical “Hitchcock Blonde” is also shown in her perfect hair style. She wears her hair loose, accurately souped-up, and adapted to her dress and jewellery. The blondness of the heroine can be associated with her beauty, with love and nobility, with erotic attraction, with value and fertility. It also stands for the traditional colour of virgins’ hair. Warner states in this context that,
[On occasions] hair’s connotation with luxuriance and fertility becomes material wealth, literal gold and jewels and riches(…)Blondeness(…)with its much noticed sensuous associations with wholesome sunshine, with the light rather than the dark, evoked untarnishable and enduring gold; all hair promised growth, golden hair promised riches. The fairytale heroine’s riches, her goodness and her fertility, her foison, are symbolised by her hair.
Furthermore, Margot’s voice sounds friendly, clear, feminine and strong. She gives the audience the impression of a young, self- confident and graceful woman who knows what she wants. In the following scene, when Margot and Tony are sitting at the table and are reading the daily newspaper, one can observe in what a cool and aloof way she behaves towards her husband. Their conversation is reduced to the essential. Moreover, she seems absent, concentrating on the newspaper and not too much on her husband’s comments. In this situation the audience gets the impression that their relationship is sagging. In fact Tony married Margot for her money and not for love. With regard to her dressing style, one can argue that she appears elegant again, but also slightly conservative. Here, the blonde actress wears a white blouse, fairly buttoned up. Her hair style is perfect again; each wisp of hair is in the right position. In addition, her behaviour can be described as self-confident and partly arrogant.