Friday, August 27, 2010


Hitchcock, 1972, 114m

This late Hitchcock is atypical of the period when it is made. It is a strong brew of murder and suspense, seasoned with humor and continual wit. It is suspense not of the who-did-it type, which is clear from the outset, but what-next. It is set in the heart of London, in and around a bustling fruit and vegetable market. Hitchcock is ever innovative in his compositions of violence, which are depicted with economy and restraint, though this time he does go a little further in the gruesome bits. He caters to our love of the gory and unusual, with a very British nonchalant understatement, managing to stay within the bounds of taste and propriety, even at his most outrageous.

Particularly salacious is the sequence where the killer is at the back of a van loaded with potatoes, grappling to extract a tie pin from the hand of a body in which rigor mortis has set in. The potatoes roll out from behind, and then the body. Hitchcock scales heights of creativity in his depiction of the gruesome, achieving something akin to sublimity. This macabre sequence carries the mark of his artistic genius.

In another eery sequence, after following the murderer and his about to be murdered victim up the stairs, the camera retraces it's path down the staircase and into the busy street, hinting at the gruesome events in progress upstairs, leaving them to our imagination. It is sheer poetry, as though the camera momentarily becomes a living being and recoils from the ghastliness. His grip on the audience is unrelenting, playing it "like an organ". This is the master in his element.

Since this film is about a psychopathic serial killer, whose modus of choice is strangulation with a necktie, there is inevitably some psychology talk, but mercifully it is minimal here. Psycho and Marnie are the worst for that, but I believe Hitchcock intends the Freud stuff more as fun poking, since Hitchcock is first and last an entertainer, a showman and an artist of cinema. He does mention in the 1973 documentary about him that he doesn't believe that our personalities are determined by "the awful things that happened to us in childhood."


Anonymous said...

It's a vintage Hitchcock which is the last triumph in his career. Before the scene you mentioned, there is the scence where two characters go inside the house. Rather than follwoing, the camera zooms out from them and observes the street outside quietly. And we clearly know what's happening inside. The great example of understatment.

S. M. Rana said...

Yes, I too admired that curious scene with the camera discretely withdrawing backwards down the staircase and into the bustling street. Hitchcock is artistic even in his wickedness.