Spoilers down below.



Film Having watched Hitchcock’s career, it’s quite easy to see what Alfred Hitchcock was trying to do with The Wrong Man. Just as Saboteur was a summation of his British talkies, The Wrong Man seems like a late reconfiguration of three of his earliest films: The Lodger, Blackmail and Murder! In challenging himself by selecting an outrageous true story, Hitch wanted to make the film look at realistic as possible and to achieve this, either consciously or not, he recalls the framing, shading and directorial flourishes of those previous classics, especially Blackmail as he often simply rests the camera on, in this case, the titular shadow chaser Henry Fonda, whose sullen face constantly reminds up of the unfolding injustice. No wonder the director himself turns up in the opening moments to explain what he was trying to achieve (his most obvious cameo!) and why the film did particularly well in Europe (Jean-Luc Godard wrote volumes of criticism about it). It’s particularly noteworthy that Hitch tells the whole film from Fonda’s point of view, even in the courtroom scenes were the proceedings continue about him in the middle distance, the legalise deliberately heightened so as to become the foreign language it must seem to him.

The psychological games continue in Vertigo, a film I didn’t really understand until university where I had to study it in conjunction with the modern French work Place Vendôme (by Nicole Garcia) which was visually heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s film, with Catherine Deneuve’s character in particular sporting Kim Novak’s hairstyle and fashions. In her seminal essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", feminist theorist Laura Mulvey talks about ‘the gaze’. Put simply, that’s the moment in a film when a nice lady appears and the director cuts to a bloke whose very impressed with what he’s seeing and it’s through him that our appreciation of the woman is defined. In Vertigo, we’re offered a window into Jimmy Stewart’s mental state by the look he gives Novak at various points in the story – from chaste attraction to dangerous obsession making Vertigo Hitchcock’s most complex film. It’s also a perfect example of what the director talks about when he says he prefers suspense to surprise; a hack might have withheld the secret of Novak’s duality through to the end; Hitch takes time to explain what has occurred to the audience so that we instead agonise over what Stewart’s reaction will be and how this single piece of information will either save him or tip the lapsed police officer over the edge.

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