Term Paper: Alfred Hitchcock and Women

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Alfred Hitchcock and Women

Alfred Hitchcock and the Pre-Feminist Woman:

An Examination of the Filmmakers Liberal Attitude Toward Women

Before Steven Spielberg and M. Night Shyamalan, the cinema had one of its first giants in British filmmaker/producer Alfred Hitchcock. Effectively using character development, music, and cinematic effects, Hitchcock has managed to frighten, amuse, and awe audiences all over the world for decades. Even today, when film has turned to shocking audiences with gore, sex, and technologically powered special effects, both young and older audiences continue to devour Hitchcock's films with surprising voracity. In addition to being highly viewed, Hitchcock's films are also routinely analyzed. Previous analysts have noted Picture of Dorian Grey or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde themes that run through the accomplished filmmaker's work. Essentially, argues Mogg in his comprehensive study of the producer and his works, Hitchcock's films have their basis in a sadomasochism that is universal in human affairs." In fact, the sadomasochistic lover torturing him or herself over one that cannot be had is prevalent throughout Hitchcock's films: Marion in Psycho tortures her own conscience and peace of mind by stealing money from her employer; David Smith in Mr. And Mrs. Smith tortures himself for want of a wife he thought he did not desire; and L.B. Jeffries of Rear Window tortures his intellect and freedom by obsessing over activities beyond his capabilities instead of enjoying the company of his girlfriend Lisa Fremont. This sadomasochistic trend tends to result in the sadomasochistic character's becoming involved in more misfortune, or even, in Marion's case, death.

Coupled with the stereotype of sadomasochism is that of naivete. Throughout his films, Hitchcock manages to stun audiences with images of murder levied on naive victims. Brilliantly, this theme of naivete allows audience members to become involved in the drama of the murder, caring intimately and reacting strongly when the naive character or one close to him or her is killed. Although this scenario applies to a variety of characters, such as Strangers on a Train's Guy Haines, it is most brilliantly portrayed in Psycho, as naive Marion thoroughly enjoys her shower, unaware that her murderer lurks just outside the plastic curtain. The shower scene, reproduced so many times in both effigy and parody, allows viewers to glimpse the careless Marion lifting her arms, shutting her eyes, and opening and shutting her mouth in obvious enjoyment and relaxation. The audience can imagine and almost feel the hot water scalding on a blissful and naive Marion until Norman Bates throws open the curtain and thrusts a knife into the unsuspecting young woman. Audiences glimpse the anatomy of a smooth and attractive feminine stomach as Marion feebly attempts to fight her attacker. Finally, the scene ends with Marion's head, in all its feminine glory, drooping awkwardly over the bathtub.

This image of an overtly feminine and naive Marion as she feebly attempts to ward off her killer is one of many that seem to suggest Hitchcock's films are misogynistic. Similarly, the scenario involving Norman's psychotic attachment to his mother makes startling implications about women's dominance and Bates' behavior suggests that his over-attachment to his mother has procured a hatred toward women that drives him to kill them, a psychological motivator for many psychotic killers. The unattractive portrayal of female characters similarly suggests the films' misogynic trends. Though female characters are generally portrayed as physically attractive, negative personality traits, like naivete, establish many of Hitchcock's women unattractive characters. For instance, Shadow of a Doubt's Charlie Newton is portrayed as a woman whose boredom gets her into the predicament with her uncle and whose foolishness and sentimentality refuses to get her out. In addition to Marion's character in Psycho, which depicts physical weakness, women's emotional weakness is portrayed by Rose Balestrero in the Wrong Man, as the woman cannot stand up to her husband's ordeal and becomes unresponsive for a time. Finally, while infidelity is most often associated with men, many of Hitchcock's movies' feature promiscuous or forward women. In Blackmail, Strangers on a Train, and Rebecca disaster and murder occur because women take advantage of their significant others and arrange rendezvous with other men.

These reoccurring themes alone have been enough to convince many that Alfred Hitchcock employs misogynic trends in his films. Certainly, the evidence was enough to leave Greg Garrett with questions, as he considered whether or not Hitchcock's films could be "saved for feminism," so the Hitchcock scholar interviewed five Hitchcock actresses, asking them if the fact that so many women "suffered the ultimate fate in Hitchcock's films" could be redeemed by the fact that the women are also "typically the object of very strong sympathy from the audience" (Garrett). Though the actresses mainly responded to the questions based on Hitchcock's style as a director and his direction of women, the fact that Hitchcock's films were not, in fact, misogynic can be proved simply from what is on the screen. Regardless of the fact that Hitchcock portrayed many women as possessors of negative characteristics, feeble, and promiscuous, his portrayal of women, based on their careers and sexuality is remarkably progressive for the age in which he created films.

Hitchcock's portrayal of women with careers is remarkably progressive for his era. In fact, when the filmmaker and producer began making movies in the 1940s, the issue of women with careers was a very controversial one. Although the war effort required most women to do some sort of work outside the home, women were not typically seen as career-savvy. Although Hitchcock's two most prominent career women are Psycho's Marion and Rear Window's Lisa Fremont are characters in Hitchcock's later films, the two are implied to be relatively successful and certainly capable of greater career challenges. Marion exhibits this by her decision to embezzle money from her employer. While this is not necessarily the most ethical way to resolve her situation, it suggests that the woman is not only capable of getting herself out of a bind, but also that she has gained her employer's trust. As for Lisa, the grace and beauty with which the woman enters the room each day show her to be an excellent model, but, hungry for more intellectual, or at least challenging work, Lisa involves herself in a variety of detective activities for her laid-up boyfriend that convinces both him and the audience that she is just as capable as he is of undertaking dangerous men's work. In addition, though Hitchcock's earlier movies did not depict career women, they both implied the dangerousness of allowing women to remain bored and the extreme capabilities of women in intellectual employment. Shadow of a Doubt exhibits this most prevalently. Young Charlotte faces boredom before her uncle's arrival, but afterwards, is able to remarkably defy her age in intelligence, as she determines that he is a killer, and maturity, as this allows her to change her opinion of him. Thus, women endear themselves to the audience through these characteristics of intelligence and ability to perform well in careers. By establishing this trend, Hitchcock not only proves that he is not creating misogynistic films, but also that he is championing the cause of the working and capable woman.

A second aspect in which Hitchcock defies his era in regards to women in film is sexuality. Though some may argue that Hitchcock's women are unjustly promiscuous, implying that all women must be deceitful creatures who should not be trusted, the fact that Hitchcock chose to portray women's sexuality in the first place is a testament to his progressive attitude towards women. In the United States and Britain, the sexual revolution for women did not take place until the late 1960s and 1970s. Before this time, women's sexuality and women's health care were rarely mentioned. This led to a whole host of problems that feminism… [END OF PREVIEW]

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