Friday, September 16, 2016

A Dose of Hitchcock

Let’s talk about Hitchcock. Best plot twist in a Hitchcock film? Strangest character? A setting you’d like to use in one of your novels?

by Paul D. Marks

I have a confession to make. I love Hitchcock! Not everything, but plenty and not without reservations, though that’s for another post. And though I didn’t come up with this question I think it’s a fun one, so:

Plot Twist:


Since I’m writing this ahead of time, I’m sure someone else mentioned my chosen plot twist as their best plot twist in a Hitchcock movie. Mine is the Kim Novak character, Madeleine, in Vertigo (one of my fave Hitchcock movies).
Alma Reville, Alfred Hitchcock's wife

Briefly, Jimmy Stewart, a former detective suffering from vertigo, is hired by an old friend to follow the friend’s wife, Madeleine. Jimmy falls for her—no pun intended (if you know the movie you’ll know why it’s a pun…). Something happens and he loses her. But some time later he finds another woman who reminds him an awful lot of her, which leads to some very intriguing plot twists.

The first time one watches Vertigo these twists come on like a tsunami and, indeed, give the viewer a sense of vertigo. Wow! Where did that come from? But not ‘where did it come from’ in the sense of it’s out of the blue, but in the sense of ‘I didn’t see that coming’. It does work and it does grow from the plot. That said, it does strain credulity just a little, but one of the main conceits of movies is to suspend disbelief and truly great movies do that with panache.

Strangest Character:

As to who the strangest character is. Well, I’m not sure if he’s the strangest but I love Hume Cronyn’s Herb in Shadow of a Doubt. He plays the next door neighbor of Charlie (Teresa Wright) and her family, and along with Henry Travers, who plays her father, has a macabre fascination with murder and talks about it with a certain glee. You can see Hitchcock’s dark sense of humor bleeding through in their characters (pun intended). They’re constantly talking about how to kill people and get away with it.

Herbie Hawkins (Cronyn): Well, if I was gonna kill you, I wouldn't do a dumb thing like hitting you on the head. First of all, I don't like the fingerprint angle. Of course, I could always wear gloves. Press your hands against the pipe after you were dead and make you look like a suicide. Except it don't seem hardly likely that you'd beat yourself to death with a club. I'd murder you so it didn't look like murder.
Shadow of a Doubt

Joseph Newton (Travers): We're not talking about killing people. Herb's talking about killing me and I'm talking about killing him.


Herbie Hawkins: He ran plunk right into the propeller of an airplane.
Joseph Newton: Ooh boy!
Herbie Hawkins: Cut him all to pieces. Had to identify him by his clothes. His shirts were all initialed.


There’s so many great locations in Hitchcock, I’d love to use them all. Brazil in Notorious. Bodega Bay from The Birds. Denmark in Topaz. England in Frenzy. The middle of the ocean in Lifeboat, which occasions his most creative cameo.

And not so much a setting I’d like to use in one of my novels, but one inspired by Hitchcock: the use of famous Landmarks. In North by Northwest there’s the very famous climax on Mount Rushmore. And before that in Saboteur the climax on the Statue of Liberty. And my novel Broken Windows (the sequel to White Heat, and coming soon…I hope) opens with a woman climbing the Hollywood Sign, though I won’t tell you why here, and it also appears later in the story. I don’t really know if it was inspired by Hitchcock, but for the purposes of this article let’s say it was ;) . Also, I’d like to set something on the French Riviera, a la To Catch a Thief, mainly so I could go over there, have a swell time with the swells and write it off. And then there’s Marrakesh, from The Man Who Knew Too Much. And the list goes on. Click here to view a video of Crosby, Stills & Nash performing Marrakesh Express 


All the movies mentioned here are worth a look if you’re looking for something to watch some cold, rainy night.


Well, a lot of people are at Bouchercon this week. And Amy and I were supposed to be there too. Unfortunately we had to cancel. But we hope everyone’s having a great time and good luck to Art and Catriona on their nominations. And Bob Levinson, whose story The Dead Detective, from the Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea anthology (which Andy McAleer and I co-edited) is nominated for a Best Short Story Shamus Award.


Check out Akashic's St. Louis Noir anthology with my short story Deserted Cities of the Heart.

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Unknown said...

Your enthusiasm is contagious, and now I must see Shadow of a Doubt. Thanks for the recommendations and puns, and I'm sorry you couldn't make it to Bouchercon. Everyone in the world is going except you and me I guess!

GBPool said...

Nothing like a dose, even an overdose, of Hitchcock every now and then. Hitch shows how a great location can be a character in a story just like the hero or villain. And since his locations are memorable, we should throw in a killer locale one once in a while. Great post, Paul, as usual.

Sally Carpenter said...

I've seen Vertigo, but don't remember it. Time for a repeat! I'll have to look up Shadow of a Doubt too; that one's new to me.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, RM. And yeah, I am really bummed about having to cancel out of Bouchercon. They’re all great but this one promises to be especially good.

Let me know what you think of Shadow of a Doubt. I believe Hitchcock said that’s his favorite movie of his.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Gayle. And I agree about locations being a character in Hitchcock’s stories as much as the people. Sometimes I wish there was less rear screen but that’s the way they did it in those days.

Paul D. Marks said...

Sally, I’d be curious to hear what you think of both of those. They’re couple of his best, imo.

Stephen Buehler said...

I've seen Vertigo at least twice and just don't get it. Maybe I can't believe that Kim Novak played both characters and Jimmy Stewart couldn't see that. It's like Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, (which is a film I really like) but I can't get past Henry Fonda can't see it's the same woman.
My favorite is North by Northwest. It's one of the best, everyone is against me - the police, the bad guys - even the girl I love. The dialogue is fun, inventive and engaging. Even though I can see the set pieces as back screened or fake, for some reason I buy those images of the plane chasing Cary and the rocks on Mt. Rushmore.
Great post - thanks for bringing up the topic of Hitchcock.
- Stephen

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

What a great post! Loved all those movies. I'll have to go back and look at them again.

M.M. Gornell said...

Always enjoy your posts, Paul, but this one I enjoyed a lot, and on several levels. Of course the name Madeleine grabs me (smile), and I have Vertigo, and settings are so important in my enjoying a book or movie--and your line "... but one of the main conceits of movies is to suspend disbelief and truly great movies do that with panache." is so right on the mark!(name pun intended) Love Hitchcock, and great post!

Paul D. Marks said...

Stephen, I do agree that one has to suspend disbelief in Vertigo, but I still think it’s a great movie. And I agree with you on The Lady Eve, which I also really like. But again it’s hard to see how Fonda can’t see it’s the same woman. You just sort of have to go with it. And it either works or doesn’t. I can do that for Vertigo, but there’s others that I can’t.

And I love North by Northwest too. Again with the rear screen, etc., it’s just how it was done in those days. I don’t like it but you have to sort of ignore the phoniness of it.

Thanks for your comments.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thank you, Merilyn. They are great films. And I think you’ll enjoy them if you go back and take another look.

Paul D. Marks said...

PS, Sorry I spelled your name wrong. Just a typo and no way that I know of to go back and fix it now.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thank you, Madeline. And aha, so maybe you were the real Madeleine :) !

Bruce Cantwell said...

Since I consciously set out to make my latest serial "Hitchcockian," I'll take a stab at this one. The most elegant plot twist in Hitchcock is the one at the beginning of NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Two thugs want to identify a joker named George Kaplan who's been following them, but they've never seen Kaplan and don't know what he looks like. They have him paged in the hotel bar. Coincidentally, Madison Avenue ad man Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) beckons a bellman at the same moment, the thugs figure he's Kaplan, and off we go.

I couldn't resist using a character named George Kaplan for my wrong man plot. After all, Ernie Lehman just used the name not the character. He was the man who wasn't there.

Strangest character? Aside from Norman Bates, I like Bruno Anthony from STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. What kind of psychopath would pop a kid's balloon with his cigarette? How about viciously kicking someone off a merry-go-round. I deliberately named a character Senator Morton as a STRANGERS homage in my last serial but didn't use him until my current one.

As for setting, I'm with you on Mt. Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty. In THE MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES, Hitch said that he enjoyed bringing disorder to things that stood for national stability. I tried to find a similarly iconic locale to play with, especially since such locales are now potential targets for terrorist plots.

I think a runner up for my favorite Hitchcock twist, (and, again, we have to stipulate PSYCHO), is this final line. To avoid spoilage, I won't mention the movie, but if you'll know it: "Mr. Rusk, you're not wearing your tie."

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Bruce, for all your suggestions. They're all terrific! And North by Northwest is definitely another great Hitchcockian twist.

Art Taylor said...

Catching up here post-Bouchercon, but enjoyed the post! And thanks for the good wishes! You brought me luck! :-)

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Art. Glad you enjoyed it. And I'm also glad I brought you if I could only bring some my way. Or maybe you can ;)