Hitchcock’s Final Steps on the Path to Destruction

Hitchcocks Final Steps on the Path to Destruction.jpg
Full Essay Available for Free at: Popmatters.com

“Once a man commits himself to murder, he will soon find himself stealing. The next step will be alcoholism, disrespect for the Sabbath and from there on it will lead to rude behaviour. As soon as you set the first steps on the path to destruction you will never know where you will end. Lots of people owe their downfall to a murder they once committed and weren’t too pleased with at the time.” — Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock’s films are heavily punctuated with remarkable twists and turns, secrets and reveals, MacGuffins and red-herrings, but, to borrow an observation from Billy Wilder’s Fedora (1978):

“Endings are very important. That’s what people remember. The last exit. The final close-up.” Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), and Psycho (1960) in particular, are three prime examples of how the closing few shots in a film are inextricably linked with the content that has come before it in a way that is so much more complex than simply concluding a story. In these three films, morality is intertwined with sexuality and desire, and as the Hitchcock quote in the title to this essay suggests, it is in the conclusions of these films that the accumulated assumptions of the audience are further teased and tested, and made memorable.

Roll Over Beethoven

Rear Window is based on the 1942 short story, It Had to Be Murder by Cornell Woolrich, and most of the narrative has been transferred, yet the endings are substantially different. To quote Hitchcock, the short story “climaxes with the killer taking a shot at the man from the other side of the yard, but the invalid manages to grab a bust of Beethoven… so that Beethoven gets the bullet.” (in Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock, [1968] p. 181) Beethoven’s bust will get its socially-symbolic cameo in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), but Woolrich’s original ending is neither dramatically ironic nor tense enough for Hitchcock’s film. In Rear Window, the transgressional invader is symbolic of the sanctity of interior-space being punctuated, a process that has repeatedly occurred throughout the film, and it is in a neat reversal of this dynamic that ‘Peeping-Tom’ Jeffries’ literal inability to move from the window prohibits him from fleeing the intruder into his own personal domain, inviting calamity…


The full 2,900 word version of this essay is published at Popmatters.com, where you can read the rest of the article for free.

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