The explanation for the Woman Double theme of The Virgin and The Whore, which I would like to believe is common cultural knowledge by now, is brilliantly enunciated by Freud in two of his most famous and influential papers: “A Special Type of Choice of Object Made by Men” (1910), and “On the Universal Tendency to Debasement in the Sphere of Love” (1912). The substance of these two famous papers relates significantly to Hitchcock’s films in general and to Vertigo and Frenzy in particular.
– Theodore Price (p. 137)
[Hitchcock] wasn’t unfamiliar with Freud’s writings, having first browsed them in the 1920s, when Freud cast a shadow over all art and literature; and he was more than capable of expounding, for example, on symbols (preferably sexual) and artifacts.
– Patrick McGilligan (1)
The creative mind of Alfred Hitchcock is laid out almost surreally – like an umbrella on a dissection table – in Dr Ted Price’s indispensable book originally published by Scarecrow Press in 1992 and now fronted by an Introduction that asks in no uncertain terms, “When you soon come to my list of Insights, please Pause and Ponder Well”. If I were to call Dr Price the Samuel Fuller of Hitchcock exegesis, it would be to praise him. I quite see that he is not always politically correct, that he seldom bothers with other readings of the same material (yet his new Introduction is most gracious to several Hitchcock authors), that he can be annoyingly rhetorical and repetitive. None of this offends me, given that his book, drawing on a classically Freudian set of insights, and Price’s own Recurrent Themes methodology, seems to disclose the basics of the films, and Hitchcock’s own mindset, more than most other attempts. (And recall, there have been a few of those!) The book discusses all but two of the director’s 50-plus features, including valuable sections on “Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Literature and Film” and “The German Silent Films of the Weimar Era as Clues to Hitchcock’s Films” (emphasising both Jack the Ripper and Homosexuality motifs). No doubt it was the original title – Hitchcock and Homosexuality – along with the robustness of Price’s style, that caused the book to be generally shunned by reviews-editors, and subsequently to be ignored by most university acquisitions-librarians (2). The publication of this new, paperback edition gives opportunity to right that earlier neglect (3). In my view, Ted Price possesses a unique and estimable critical “voice”. As I write this (November 2013), he is about to turn 89. He describes himself as a Disabled Combat Infantry Veteran of World War II and tells me that he saw service with General Patton in the Ruhr and in Czechoslovakia. His division helped liberate one of the death camps. Before his retirement, fifteen years ago, he taught Literature, Drama, and Film at Montclair State College, New Jersey. He has a B.A. from Kenyon College, where he studied under John Crowe Ransom; an M.A. from Columbia University, where he studied under Lionel Trilling and Jacques Barzun; and a Ph.D from Rutgers, where he studied under Paul Fussell. To borrow another phrase, attention must be paid!
Hitchcock and Freud go together, of course. The former was born in 1899, just when Die Traumdeutung/The Interpretation of Dreams was being readied for the press. Freud’s 1905 paper “Psychopathic Characters On Stage” (not published until 1942) effectively anticipates Hitchcock’s and Angus MacPhail’s notion of The MacGuffin when it refers to the importance of “distracting” the play’s “auditor,” or spectator, so “that he be gripped by feelings instead of [explanations]”. A separate passage anticipates Hitchcock’s “subjective technique” (4). Freud writes that it is “the dramatist’s business to induce the same [mental state] in us [as a given character’s], which can best be done if we take part in the same development that it has”(5). According to Bill Krohn, it was the German cinema, fifteen years later, that showed how such an interchange could be effected “using techniques that were not available in theatre”(6). Price, for his part, thinks that The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) satirises Freud, noting that the delineation of Caligari, “the Mad Doctor, the Mad Hypnotist,” was screenwriter Carl Mayer’s revenge for unpleasant experiences inflicted on him by an army psychiatrist. (However, it’s suggestive that the physical appearance of Caligari was modelled by the filmmakers on a photograph of the determinist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (7) who is mentioned again below.) Price adds that Caligari’s storyline anticipates Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945). That observation carries its own reminder. Early in the novel on which Spellbound was loosely based, The House of Dr Edwardes (1927), by “Francis Beeding,” reference is made not to Caligari but to the recent plays of H.-R. Lenormand (1882-1951) that had been attracting attention in Paris for their depiction of psychoanalysis. As someone in the novel says: “He dramatizes the subconscious, you know. It’s like a lot of complexes walking about …”. With a background in Grand-Guignol, Lenormand had turned to writing plays like Le Mangeur de rêves/The Dream Doctor and La Dent rouge/The Red Tooth (both 1922), showing the influence of Freud and Jung. The former play is especially striking for a climax in which a woman patient remembers an incident from her childhood, and her voice suddenly becomes like a little girl’s – thus anticipating Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964). Four years later, another dramatist, Cyril Campion, wrote his melodrama The Lash, first performed at London’s Royalty Theatre in 1926, which “demonstrated how a man’s character might be determined by a forgotten scare in childhood” (8). Possibly Hitchcock saw it. He had recently returned from Germany where he made his first two features, and had just completed The Lodger, which contains Freudian elements of its own. Meanwhile, 1926 also saw the release of the German film Secrets of a Soul. Directed by G.W. Pabst, it starred Werner Krauss who had played Caligari. Price writes: “This is the film supposedly inspired by psychoanalysis, with the orthodox analysts Karl Abraham and Hanns Sachs as consultants. Krauss plays an impotent husband who dreams about stabbing his wife. He is successfully psychoanalysed, after which he goes to bed with his wife, and they have a child”(p. 307). By now, too, the Surrealist movement was effectively writing (or painting) its own Die Traumdeutung. At the decade’s end, Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel’s short film Un Chien Andalou (1929) depicted a figurative rape – with multiple Hitchcock anticipations.
For Price, the Oedipus Complex is fundamental, tallying with what a Melbourne psychologist told me, that it is ubiquitous in clinical practice. Freud taught that the primary male fantasy is the little boy’s one of sleeping with the Mother. (Clearly, on hearing this, Hitchcock could scarcely keep a straight face: mothers in his films are often gargoyles!) But not only is such an act “forbidden”, the mother is simply “unavailable” to the little boy. He quickly learns that he has a “rival”, his father, and that the mother, far from being pure, becomes each night a “whore”. Accordingly, in his unconscious, the little boy is torn between two images of the Mother: one image will be revered, the other abominated. Thus when, in 1888, the serial-killer Jack the Ripper allegedly wrote to the press, “I am down on whores,” he expressed (one half of) a deep-set attitude. Price takes this as his key to Hitchcock’s films. Drawing on two famous papers of Freud, he explains the dynamics of Vertigo (1958) in terms of “the Woman Double theme”:
All men, says Freud, tend in some way to gravitate towards women who consciously, preconsciously, or unconsciously remind them of their mothers. Where things work reasonably well, most men will surmount the infantile and adolescent fantasies of possessing their mothers (which can result in such guilty feelings that they will be unable to make love successfully to their women). They will psychologically “leave” their mothers and “cleave to” their wives.
But with others (more than one might at first suppose, says Freud), there is, as T.S. Eliot puts it, a “dissociation of sensibility”: they can only make love to women who act like or are in fact prostitutes. [A related fantasy involves “saving” such women – in Freud’s experience it is almost always associated with water.] (p. 138, 140)
Some of the above was applied to Vertigo by photographer/scholar Victor Burgin in the 1980s (9). Price doesn’t appear to know of Burgin’s pioneering work but, in any case, his analysis goes further. What Price says can explain why: (1) Scottie (James Stewart) on the rooftop suddenly learns that he has a “weakness,” acrophobia, signalling his particular “dissociation of sensibility”; (2) Kim Novak as the grey-suited “Madeleine”, initially so remote from Scottie, represents the “pure” or “forbidden” aspects of the mother; (3) Novak as the “understanding” shop girl Judy is a virtual prostitute-figure who consents to go with Scottie because he “doesn’t look much like Jack the Ripper”; (4) Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) in his office is photographed “above” Scottie to imply that he is the archetypal dominant Father; (5) Scottie lacks passion towards Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) precisely because she is too “motherly” and loyal – “You know there is only one man in the world for me,” she tells him – and therefore doesn’t need “saving”; and (6) Judy with her conspicuous breasts is another tragic figure, caught in a recurring ancestral syndrome of first seduction and then “ditching” by men: she is powerless against the syndrome itself. But then, this being a Hitchcock film, one can ask: are men better off? (10) The universality of the Oedipus trap (which includes its distaff permutations) (11) – and the “noblesse oblige” theme of Rebecca (1940) and Marnie – may suggest the contrary.
That last is my observation. I’ll emphasise below that a reader should look beyond even Price’s typically over-determined interpretations because Hitchcock was a master of “secondary discipline” or “secondary elaboration”. (For example, there is a powerful Jungian dimension to Vertigo no less than a Freudian one) (12). But as The Lodger was described by its director as “the first true Hitchcock film” – and as Price has written brilliantly on the essence of that film (both in his Hitchcock book and elsewhere) – that is our logical next stopping-place. Unerringly, what Price says of Vertigo he applies, mutatis mutandis, to The Lodger. The killer calls himself “The Avenger” because he is avenging “all men, all little boys, to whose unconscious their mothers have appeared to act like prostitutes” (p. 168). He kills the look-alikes of his blonde sister (and ultimately of his revered mother) lest in Othello’s words they “betray” more men (p. 167). It all fits! The film contains a crucial flashback to the sister’s coming-out ball, where she is last seen alive dancing on a crowded floor with her brother (Ivor Novello). That flashback, it can be demonstrated (13), was derived by screenwriter Eliot Stannard from a passage in the novel by Mrs Belloc Lowndes, representing a letter sent to the press by a concerned member of the public (there were many such letters at the time of the Jack the Ripper killings). The letter-writer argues as follows: The Avenger, far from being “the usual type of criminal lunatic” whom the police are looking for, is more probably someone who “comprises in his own person the peculiarities of Jekyll and Hyde”. Probably he “is a quiet, pleasant-looking gentleman who lives somewhere in the West End of London,” but someone with “a tragedy in his past life – “a dipsomaniac wife,” say – who now lives “maybe with his widowed mother and perhaps a maiden sister”. To these latter he is doubtless respectively “an excellent son” and “a kind brother”.
Yet, far from being “excellent” and “kind,” a part of the Lodger character is given to murder and thoughts of incest! In the novel he is indeed The Avenger, and neither Price nor I doubts that in Hitchcock’s film the character played by Novello has killed his sister and her look-alikes – whatever the police suppose and the audience is finally directed to think! First, here is a passage from Price (a paper by him on Henrik Ibsen’s 1884 play The Wild Duck) which I regard as a “missing link” in my previous thinking about The Lodger:
According to orthodox psycho-analysis, the Brother/Sister theme [in literature, etc.] is a reflection … of the primal Oedipus Complex theme. The sister is, so to speak, once removed from the mother. The little boy falls in love with the sister, who’s a symbolic replacement for the mother. (The sister is sort of The Mother Young.)
He contends for her love just as he contends for his mother’s love with her rival. The would-be lover of the sister becomes so to speak a father-figure (14).
When the film shows us the brother dancing with his sister at her coming-out ball (which Price likens to the ill-fated Hedvig’s imminent fourteenth birthday in The Wild Duck, calling it “her Bat Mitzvah, so to speak”), it’s the clearest possible hint that the brother is the proper suspect for her murder which occurs immediately afterwards – following which (when the ballroom lights return) a card from “The Avenger” is found near her body.
Price quotes Ernest Jones: “All sin is apprehended as incest by the unconscious” (p.189). Note that the first “Avenger” murder occurs inside the very house of the brother and sister (and of their dying mother – there is no father evident), while subsequent killings occur in public, on London streets or squares or the Thames Embankment. Just as significant to Price’s thesis is the casting of gay matinee idol and songster Novello as the brother, whose neurasthenic performance anticipates other such characters (typically played by gays) in future Hitchcock films. In short, we can infer that the brother holds an exalted view of women and resents his sister’s prospective deflowering by an “outsider”. Perhaps he sees her as betraying their mother whom he had never thought of as a sexual being – this is said to have been a common Victorian phenomenon. Imagine, then, his state of mind after the sister’s murder. Summoned to his mother’s deathbed, he promises that he will hunt down The Avenger – himself! We are in Oedipus territory with a vengeance, more than thirty years before Psycho (1960). Of course, 1926 was also the year of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which bears its own indebtedness to Caligari (15).
Price writes of “those well-known sets of male Double figures throughout Hitchcock’s films” and of how “by their thematic presence alone” they should “make us suspect that homosexuality plays a key role in the films” (my italics) (p. 113). In The Lodger Hitchcock resorts to a dodge that he would use again in Shadow of a Doubt (1943). The ambiguous Novello character is given a double. For the climax, Hitchcock and Stannard, no doubt recalling how the real Jack the Ripper crimes had inspired copycat killings, were able to placate their producers (mindful of Novello’s adoring fans) by having the police announce breathlessly, “My God! He is innocent! The Avenger was taken red-handed ten minutes ago!” Nonetheless, an astute audience may well question the official verdict. (In Shadow of a Doubt, it is patently wrong!) Again Caligari was a forerunner: Caligari’s agent, the effete Cesare, kills at least two people, in turn provoking a common thug who is caught trying to murder an old woman, whereupon the authorities smugly congratulate themselves. Altogether, The Lodger is a richer, more subtle film than many commentators have allowed.
We might consider another storyteller who until recently was under-appreciated at the hands of reviewers and scholars, namely, Daphne du Maurier. Like Hitchcock, she takes as her field virtually the entire human psyche. Inspired by Price’s chapter, “Hidden Meanings in Rebecca,” I discovered the following. First, many reviewers were repelled by the theme of incest in du Maurier’s stories, either not noticing it or deciding it was something “better not to mention” (16). Fortunately, recent commentators like Sheila Hodges have faced the matter more squarely: “[Du Maurier] was fascinated by the phenomenon of incest, which is a recurring thread in her books – not from the sexual aspect, but as a manifestation of the urge that she believed exists in all of us to get back to our families” (17). (In truth, du Maurier was a Jungian, especially impressed by Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious (18) whose influence spills into Vertigo – but Freudian content in du Maurier exists too!) Again, when Price analyses Hitchcock’s Rebecca and even more I Confess (1953) in relation to “the Father-Daughter theme,” and especially a father’s possessiveness (which the daughter may reciprocate), evidence for such phenomena can be found in the life and works of both Hitchcock and du Maurier. Du Maurier always loved her father, the actor Sir Gerald du Maurier, and invariably took his side against her mother. When Daphne was a teenager, her thirty-six-year-old, married cousin Geoffrey came to visit them at the seaside, and she fell deeply in love with him. (Her fantasy provides the likely basis for Rebecca’s affair with cousin Jack Favell in Rebecca.) She later wrote that her feeling for Geoffrey “was curiously akin to what I felt for D[addy] …” (19). And a decade later, when she suddenly announced that she was going to marry Major Frederick “Boy” Browning, her father’s first reaction was startling: he burst into tears and declared, “It isn’t fair” (20). This is pertinent to Hitchcock because Price, drawing on Donald Spoto’s biography, shows how the director was, if anything, even more possessive of his own daughter Patricia growing up. The situation echoes the brother’s possessiveness towards his sister in The Lodger, suggesting Hitchcock’s empathy in such matters.
Now here’s a précis of how Price analyses Hitchcock’s Rebecca. First, he explores the film “from various aspects: the Fairy Tale theme in general, and the Bluebeard theme in particular: the Father Daughter theme, and the Virgin Whore theme”. Then he concludes with an elaborate statement “of the Homosexuality Theme in Rebecca, our ‘forest,’ which we must be constantly on our guard not to miss for the above trees” (p. 168). (Why must we? Because Price has already shown how pervasive the theme is in the misogynistic part of Hitchcock’s creative thinking). The theme is stated by Price “in a nutshell,” thus:
- Laurence Olivier is a closet homosexual.
- When he marries Rebecca and she finds out that he is a homosexual and cannot make love to her, she laughs at him and cheats on him until, fearing exposure, he kills her.
- When he marries Joan Fontaine, and she finds out that he is a homosexual and cannot make love to her, she comforts him and tells him that it doesn’t matter: she will love him and stay with him anyway, even if he does not make love to her.
- In addition to this, Rebecca, notwithstanding her continually going to bed with all those men, is probably (like many real life prostitutes) herself a Lesbian.
- Finally, the story can be considered this way: Rebecca, Olivier’s dead first wife, whom his bride, Joan, thinks he is pining after, was not a girl at all. She was a beautiful young boy (p. 169).
When I suggested above that Hitchcock duplicates du Maurier by exploring the entire human psyche, I meant it. It’s illuminating that Price has no difficulty in attaching his comprehensive readings of Rebecca to the film and/or the novel. One example: what Rebecca describes as the “rotten fraud” of her marriage to Maxim is indeed the wording the situation seems to require – whether the culprit is Maxim or, in a different reading, Rebecca. By 1940, Hitchcock had filmed several stories (e.g., by Ivor Novello, “Clemence Dane,” Somerset Maugham) where the central gender roles probably reverse the reality of their gay authors. To study du Maurier’s life and work is illuminating, to say the least. One of her more fantastical short stories, first published in 1959, is “Ganymede,” her version of Thomas Mann’s “Death In Venice,” which describes the pederastic activities of a classics scholar on holiday in Venice, and whose protagonist has affinities with the lonely middle-aged historian in her doppelgänger novel The Scapegoat (1957). Sally Beauman writes in The Daphne du Maurier Companion:
Throughout her life, [du Maurier] was torn between the need to be a wife and the necessity of being a writer – and she seems to have regarded these roles as irreconcilable. Half accepting society’s (and her husband’s) interpretation of ideal womanhood, yet rebelling against it and rejecting it, she came to regard herself as a “half-breed” who was “unnatural”. To her, both her lesbianism and her art were a form of aberrance: they both sprang, she believed, from a force inside her that she referred to as “the boy in the box”. Sometimes she fought against this incubus – and sometimes she gloried in him (21).
The very term “half-breed” echoes that used in the novel Enter Sir John (1929) co-authored by Hitchcock’s friend “Clemence Dane” (Winifred Ashton), which he filmed in 1930 as Murder! (German version: Mary). He knew what he was doing, all right. And he certainly understood in broad terms what was going on in the novel Rebecca, and appreciated its ambiguity, even richer than that of his own The Lodger. Beauman continues:
[Du Maurier] gave her own shyness and social awkwardness to [the second] Mrs de Winter. She gave her independence, her love of the sea, her expertise as a sailor, her sexual fearlessness … to Rebecca. It is for readers to decide where their own sympathies lie – and du Maurier’s (22).
As Price shows with his alternative readings of “this great, enduring film of Hitchcock’s”, (p. 181) Rebecca permits various Oedipal viewpoints: the son’s, the mother’s, the father’s, and the daughter’s (23). (For the latter, Price makes use of Freud’s 1915 paper “Some Character-Types Met with in Psycho-analytic Work”, with its superb analysis of Ibsen’s 1886 play Rosmersholm.) Feminists may complain that the “daughter” (Fontaine) is initially timid and weak, not herself a feminist., but clearly the ultimate feminist is what the ambiguous Rebecca represents in the story’s scheme of things. Moreover, the story’s perspective thus becomes at least doubly subjective. For a part of du Maurier, Rebecca is the hope of the future, of an England yet to come. Rebecca’s polymorphous mind and sexuality make her a sort of female Űbermensch, reminding us that Nietzsche was a hero of English intellectuals in the early decades of the 20th century, with some definite spillage in Hitchcock’s direction (and du Maurier‘s, too) (24). On the other hand, for another part of du Maurier and for the patriarchal Maxim de Winter (Olivier) – who expresses empathy with his second wife’s late father, an artist, who painted the one tree over and over again – the mercurial Rebecca threatens the male line, and not only psychologically. Yet both perspectives came from inside du Maurier! Her very surname, parodied by Maxim’s, she valued for its indication of nobility (25) and for its link to both her celebrated grandfather, George du Maurier, author of Trilby (1894), and her gifted father, the actor-manager. She felt keenly the high social status she had inherited, and how it was bound up with her creative gifts. But, equally, she could see that patriarchy has an oppressive aspect while imposing obligations (I think that Rebecca’s Barmy Ben emblemises both aspects – though we’ll see that Price still manages to give the character a Freudian reading), and she depicts Maxim accordingly. Maxim is neither saint nor outright Gothic villain. In sum, the world-view of Rebecca is complicated, even contradictory, but of course, that’s a merit rather than a fault. Most of us read literature and watch movies for their humanity, not because they embody some purely rational ideal. Hitchcock knew that! Suggestively, Price lists 16 affinities of Rebecca with later Hitchcock films. Although they are mainly affinities of content rather than form, the inference is that filming Rebecca enlarged Hitchcock’s world-view.
Price’s pages on The Fairytale Theme in Rebecca give particular attention to Bluebeard and the motif of the Forbidden Room. The reading is as basic as Price’s Oedipal one, and supplements it. Apropos Rebecca, he notes that the Forbidden Room is actually split in two: Rebecca’s bedroom and the cottage by the shore. “In the bedroom, Rebecca, supposedly, made love to her husband. In the cottage, she made love, indeed had orgies, with her countless other lovers” (p. 152) (In short, she whored around). Price notes that when Olivier discovers that Fontaine has visited the cottage, he flies into a rage, adding, “Don’t go there again! Do you hear?” And here is Price’s classic reading:
From the psychoanalytic point of view we know what the Forbidden Room represents in the unconscious of every little boy or girl (and why the Bluebeard story, and its many variations, is so popular and so frightening). It is the parents’ bedroom, which the children are forbidden to enter when their mother and father are making love (p. 152).
Significantly, Rebecca’s cousin and lover, Favell (George Sanders), discloses that he and Rebecca once caught Ben “peering at us through the cottage window”. For Price, “Old Ben is [thus] the Little Boy; and this Peeping Tom experience is what has driven him mad!” (p. 152)
This episode stayed with Hitchcock. Previously he had filmed pointed moments in which a character peers through a window – in The Manxman (1929) and The 39 Steps (1935), for example – where those moments are already inherently cinematic. But now du Maurier reminded him of the link to the “primal scene” – and he was impressed, as always, by the sexy undertones. Also, he had long been fascinated by the theme of “growing up”, probably from his admiration for the plays of J.M. Barrie whose Mary Rose (1920) he saw on its first London run and was enthralled by. When he made Rebecca, the theme’s Oedipal connotations, and their relevance to the Fontaine character, would have struck him. Thereafter, all these various connotations are detectable when a Hitchcock film implies the primal scene. The latter is essentially what “pure cinema” is about. During the climax of North by Northwest (1959), Thornhill (Cary Grant) is dwarfed as he peers through the window of the spies’ eyrie on Mount Rushmore. The woman he must rescue, an archetypal Hitchcock blonde, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), had earlier told him, “You’re a big boy now!” Clearly, if he is to claim her from the spy chief, the suave father-figure Vandamm (James Mason), he must live up to those words. (And, as usual, Price has an illuminating comment: Thornhill clambering up the house’s stone wall, and Mount Rushmore itself, is “like little Gulliver climbing up and down, and in and out of, the giant breasts of his Brobdingnag princess”) (p. 120). Another such defining moment occurs in Rear Window (1954), which is all about peering through windows. (When a whole film embodies a key Hitchcock motif, Price says that the motif has found a “film of its own”). The proximity of the primal scene explains the visual emphasis – involving a downward crane shot and an extreme close-up – given to the note Jeff (James Stewart) writes to father-figure Thorwald (Raymond Burr). The note asks simply, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HER?”
In truth, Rebecca, whose form and content influenced many of Hitchcock’s subsequent films, has enormous universal appeal. The story has twice been filmed in India, both versions emphasising a young woman’s sudden arrival in strange surroundings and her gradually finding an identity (26). Clearly, a “growing up” motif helps account for the popularity of this tale whose many variants include Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), Elizabeth von Arnim’s Vera (1927), Carolina Nabuco’s A Sucessora (1934) and others (27). However, that’s only an aspect of the situation that du Maurier created – and to which she kept importing additional elements! Long before Angela Carter, “whose own fictions [notes Rebecca Munford] thrive on a dizzying use of citation, appropriation and literary romance” (28), du Maurier was among the most eclectic of writers. Another such artist was Hitchcock (29). Accordingly, he had quickly spotted Rebecca’s indebtedness both to Cinderella – “The heroine is Cinderella,” he told François Truffaut – and to Sir Arthur Wing Pinero’s play, His House in Order (1906). In both of these, there’s a foreshadowing of du Maurier’s sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers: by the oppressive stepmother in Cinderella and by the “handsome” but “chilling” sister of the late wife in His House in Order – who may thus also be a forerunner of Lil (Diane Baker) in Marnie. (Note: the master of the house is an arch conservative, described as having a “fetish” for order). Furthermore, Mrs Danvers owes something to the scary housekeeper Mrs Unthank in E. Phillips Oppenheim’s most famous novel, The Great Impersonation (1919) (30). And again, the Maxim-Rebecca relationship surely borrows from Arthur Machen’s classic horror tale, “The Great God Pan” (1890;1894). There, the male narrator recalls his marriage to the woman Helen, later shown to be the daughter of Pan: “[She] corrupted my soul. The night of the wedding I found myself sitting in her bedroom … She was sitting up in bed, and I listened to her as she spoke in her beautiful voice, spoke of things which even now I would not dare whisper in blackest night, though I stood in the midst of a wilderness”. No doubt the “pagan” side of Daphne du Maurier thrilled to that account! (31)
On Hitchcock‘s part, he always said that he liked stories with “a lot of psychology” (32). Like du Maurier, he could be quite objective about this and in du Maurier’s work I think he found a kindred soul.
Price cites another story about a housekeeper and the master of a large house, namely, Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. After listing correspondences of the play to du Maurier‘s novel (p. 147), Price proceeds to quote from Freud’s “classic, analytic interpretation not only of … Rosmersholm (and consequently, of … Rebecca) but of the Cinderella Theme in general”:
The practising psychoanalytic physician knows how frequently, or how invariably, a girl who enters a household as servant, companion or governess will … weave a day-dream … about the disappearance of the mistress of the house and the master taking the newcomer to wife in her stead (p. 153-54).
Price applies this broadly at first: “The Cinderella story is, then, a version of the Oedipus-complex story, with the little girl as star, in the case of Rebecca (the novel), from the point of view of the unconscious of its author, Daphne du Maurier” (p. 154). But eventually, in the course of analysing various character viewpoints, he arrives at Mrs Danvers (played in the film by Judith Anderson, whom Price calls “The Perfect Dyke”) (p. 176). He likens her to the gay manservant Latour (Louis Jourdan) in The Paradine Case (1947), someone else who is hostile to a new spouse (Alida Valli) (p. 177) Given Mrs Danvers’s lesbianism, Price risks confusion by locating her within the Mother Son Scenario, but of course it’s du Maurier’s divided psyche that is finally on display here! By this scenario, “a mother, who has already gotten rid of her husband [brilliant – now we see why the character is addressed as “Mrs Danvers”!] and her son’s first wife [meaning, Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca] so that she may have the son all to herself, now wants to do away with his second wife, … for the same reason” (p. 182). Price seeks to clarify: “In this scenario, Judith Anderson really did not love Rebecca: she hated her”.
Understandably preoccupied with his various scenarios, Price doesn’t always point out multi-valences of another kind: for example, when Mrs Danvers tries to entice the second Mrs de Winter to suicide (“Go on … go on … Don’t be afraid!”), it’s both an invitation to “easeful death” and an attempted lesbian seduction (that is, in Hitchcock’s eyes, and in an audience’s subconscious). Nonetheless, Price assiduously encourages his readers to interpret the films according to all his scenarios and – as if the films were dreams – frequently reminds us how “one’s unconscious (including Hitchcock’s) does not recognize contradictions. It is never a case of either-or, but of both-and” (p. 162).
That last observation has been taken up by Richard Allen in Hitchcock’s Romantic Irony (2007) where Allen goes back to Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829) and defines his subject in terms of “the both/and rather than the either/or logic that governs the universe of Hitchcock’s films” – thus explaining “how it is that critics could construe Hitchcock’s work both as an affirmation of the ideal of heterosexual romance and as a critique of that ideal” (33). Romantic irony is not unrelated to John Keats’s “amoral” and “unprincipled” concept of “the poetic character” which finds its application in Hitchcock’s creative detachment (34). Ultimately, I think such detachment is something else Price insufficiently considers: he is too committed to his overarching Freudian standpoint. Allen sees the bigger picture. In his chapter on “Expressionism”, he observes: “Freudian psychology itself tends to domesticate or rationalize the role of blind nature in romanticism … the core of irrationality or blind instinct that is lodged within the human, [and which] Arthur Schopenhauer refers to as ‘The Will’” (35). Again I think of du Maurier’s secret heroine, Rebecca, identified with both paganism and with the ever-present, moody sea, to which she returns in death. As in several Hitchcock films (and others) (36), the sea is a symbol of Will. Price’s analysis of The Birds (1963), filmed from du Maurier’s short story, is too simplistic: the birds, he says, are “phallic symbols, flying phalluses, whose aim is to rape the life out of [Melanie Daniels]” (p. 191). The fact is, sexuality is only an aspect of Will (albeit ubiquitous, notes Schopenhauer), and Price hasn’t taken the birds’ full measure. Like the sea, with its tides, to which the bird attacks are linked, the birds represent Will itself (37). Or, if you prefer, they are the “reality” that Norman Bates in Psycho cannot face.
Just occasionally, Price overlooks instances of his own theory! The one American Hitchcock film not cited in his book is The Trouble With Harry (1955), set in rural Vermont during the Fall, which perfectly illustrates a basic Oedipal situation. Young Arnie Rogers (Jerry Mathers), at the very age when, according to Freud, Oedipal jealousies start to rage in little boys and girls – the same age, in fact, as Ballyntine in Spellbound who “accidentally” kills his brother while they are playing – finds himself living unopposed in a visible “paradise” with his prematurely widowed mother Jennifer (Shirley MacLaine). Thus Harry complements the later Psycho, about Norman Bates and his mother, which is another film Hitchcock called a “comedy” (meaning, it plays with the audience – it isn’t a documentary). Only, where Psycho is about unfulfilled people and the moribund Bates Motel, Harry is vibrant, even joyous, with the life/death force, or Will.
Moreover, a recent essay shows us a whole side of Hitchcock’s filmmaking that Price barely implies. Adrian Schober’s “Renegotiating Romanticism and the All-American Boy Child: Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry” (38) both catches the spirit of Hitchcock’s “pastorale” and implies how, by “secondary discipline”, (39) Harry offers something to everyone. Schober’s research lets us see how Hitchcock and his screenwriter John Michael Hayes must have worked out Arnie’s character, attributes and thematic resonances to appeal to as many “biases” as possible, thereby ingeniously reconciling opposites or anyway making them convincingly co-exist in the young protagonist – a budding Everyman. (No doubt, Price would remind us that he’s a potential Jack the Ripper!) During the film, Arnie experiences rudimentary lessons in “growing up,” and begins to sense that his idyll is not perfect. In particular, the entrance of a future stepfather, artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsyth), threatens to disturb Arnie’s paradise. This is one of the film‘s “realistic” elements. But eventually, in keeping with Hitchcock’s Symbolist method (he was never just an expressionist), he tip-toes away, and the film ends on a tranquil “there you have it” note.
Price, I‘m saying, does not concern himself with Hitchcock’s “secondary discipline,” designed to extend each film’s potential appeal and meanings. Equally, Price barely responds to elements of the extra-mundane in Hitchcock (a dimension that Daphne du Maurier also explored). I Confess, for example, can be appreciated at several levels, yet Price’s analysis seems preoccupied with his ingenious theory that Hitchcock, in siding with the film’s wronged “father-figure,” i.e., Father Logan (Montgomery Clift), was compensating himself for his daughter Patricia’s suddenly leaving home to get married (on 17 January 1952) to Massachusetts businessman Joseph E. O’Connell Jr. (40). At the start of this review, I mentioned other “annoyances” that readers may find when reading Price. No matter! Superbitch! is a major book, and Price’s Freudian insights into Hitchcock’s creative mind are nearly always pertinent. There’s indeed a surreal element, and it may be best to read Price “obliquely”. Read him, that is, with a sense of what designers of Web search-engines call “fuzzy logic”. Not only don’t take the various scenarios literally, but appreciate them for the clues they offer to Hitchcock’s own thought processes – as unorthodox and wide-ranging as du Maurier’s. Also, read Price for the “corrective” he can provide to other analyses of the films – structuralist or feminist ones, say – that may be accurate but not necessarily as basic (41).
Theodore Price, Superbitch! Alfred Hitchcock’s 50-Year Obsession With Jack the Ripper and The Eternal Prostitute – a Psycho-analytic Interpretation (Sayreville, New Jersey & Fairmount, Georgia: New Discoveries, 2011).
Dr Price advises that his book may also be available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Patrick McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley, 2003), p. 355.
- When Richard Allen was preparing to stage the Hitchcock Centenary Symposium at NYU in 1999, he found that his university library lacked a copy of Price’s book; resource to Interlibrary Loans showed that few university libraries held it.
- Specific information on ordering the paperback edition is included at the end of this review.
- Hitchcock’s subjective technique, linking an audience emotionally to a character, may extend from a few frames to a whole film. An example of the former is when Hitchcock “blanches” frames at moments of a character’s shock (e.g., when Scottie in Vertigo looks down from Midge’s footstool). An example of the latter is Frenzy, whose “pessimistic” view of London reflects the viewpoint of the protagonist Blaney, a former wartime hero down on his luck, and of his doppelgänger, the serial-killer Rusk.
- Both Freud quotes are included in Bill Krohn’s paper “The Third Subject: Making the Spectator Sick,” part of his forthcoming book on serial-killers in film and literature.
- Krohn, op. cit.
- S.S. Prawer, Caligari’s Children: The Film as Tale of Terror (Oxford: OUP, 1980), p. 173.
- M. Willson Disher, Melodrama: Plots That Thrilled (London: Rockliff, 1954), p. 192.
- Burgin’s “iconographic black and white photo-installation The Bridge (1984)” is further described by John Conomos in his article “The Vertigo of Time” in Senses of Cinema #6, May 2000: http://sensesofcinema.com/2000/6/time/
- Alma Hitchcock once told an interviewer that her husband “has the most completely balanced mind I have ever known and … a talent for total objectivity”. “When the Master of Suspense Bolts His Own Door at Night.” Interview. The Straights Times 7 August 1960, p. 15.
- However, Price only mentions the Electra Complex in passing – along with Frederic Wertham’s “Orestes Complex” and J.J. Putnam’s “Griselda Complex”. See Price, p. 229.
- I describe some Jungian (and other archetypal) content of Vertigo in my Hitchcock book. See Ken Mogg, The Alfred Hitchcock Story, revised edition (London: Titan, 2008), pp. 148-49.
- I have analysed elsewhere how Stannard “almost certainly” derived elements of the film’s flashback from the (fictional) letter to the press featured in Chapter XI of the 1913 novel by Mrs Belloc Lowndes. Notably, see my essay “The Lodger: A Theory (or two)” in the booklet accompanying the Region 4 DVD release of The Lodger (Madman, 2011), p. 10.
- Theodore Price, “New Light on Henrik Ibsen’s Play The Wild Duck” (2004; my copy from its author), paragraph 029. Cf Price, Superbitch!, p. 317.
- If memory serves, Christie’s They Do It With Mirrors (1952) is even closer to the climactic revelation of Caligari (and Hitchcock’s Spellbound). Before all these works, though, there were earlier instances of a murderer “dedicated to the destruction” of someone who turns out to be himself – including, probably, Charles Dickens’s unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870). See Robert Barnard’s chapter on “Strategies of Deception” in A Talent to Deceive: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie (London: Collins, 1980), especially pp. 71-72.
- Richard Kelly, Daphne du Maurier (Boston: Twain, 1987), p. 46.
- Sheila Hodges, “Editing Daphne du Maurier,” in Helen Taylor (ed.), The Daphne du Maurier Companion (London: Virago, 2007), p. 30.
- Kelly, p. 8.
- Kelly, p. 10.
- Kelly, p. 19.
- Sally Beauman, “Rebecca,” in Taylor, p. 59. (One wonders how much more impressive the 2012 film Hitchcock might have been, had it explored its subject’s creative psyche with similar boldness – its suggestion that killer Ed Gein was Hitchcock‘s “muse” for Psycho is just bizarre).
- Beauman, in Taylor, p. 59.
- Cf Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik, Daphne du Maurier: Writing, Identity and the Gothic Imagination (Basingstoke, Hampshire, and London: MacMillan, 1998; and New York: St Martin’s Press, 1998), pp. 125-26: “The triangle of Rebecca, Maxim and the narrator can bear, in interpretative terms, a multiplicity of desires: those of the family romance; the father/daughter romance; incestuous desire; lesbian desire; bisexual desire; heterosexual desire. Similarly Rebecca herself manifests a dynamic multivalent negative alterity: she is whore, lesbian, bisexual, vampire, Jew.” (Note: the possibility of a male homosexual reading, like Price’s of Hitchcock’s film, is not raised here. Horner and Zlosnik don’t appear to have read Price’s book).
- Du Maurier’s late doppelgänger novel The Flight of the Falcon (1965) has pronounced Nietzschean content, as Horner and Zlosnik point out (p. 163 and p. 170). Perhaps one may sense affinities with Hitchcock’s Vertigo, given Scottie’s desire to overcome his acrophobia, and his scathing remark about not wanting to be “chair-borne.” James Stewart had previously played a half-baked Nietzschean in Rope (1948). (Ironically, he had been chair-borne, or chair-bound, in Rear Window!)
- The irony here is that the name “du Maurier” had been claimed by one of Daphne’s ancestors, a master glass-blower, Robert Busson, who fled to England in 1789 and decided to give himself a fictional aristocratic past. See Kelly, p. 2.
- The two films are Kohraa/The Fog (1964) and Anamika (2008) – the latter title translates as “the one without a name”.
- The motif of “growing up” thereby joins another – falsely-accused innocence – that is common both in Hitchcock and elsewhere: according to M. Willson Disher, in his book on stage melodrama, “falsely-accused innocence became the most frequently used plot in all fiction” (Disher, p. 43).
- Rebecca Munford, “Spectres of Authorship: Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic Legacy,” in Taylor, p. 68.
- See, for example, my article “The Fragments of the Mirror: Vertigo and its Sources” that is on the Web, here: http://www.labyrinth.net.au/~muffin/vertigo_sources_c.html
- Mogg, 2008, pp. 71-72.
- For du Maurier’s “paganism,” see Melanie Heeley, “Christianity Versus Paganism: Daphne du Maurier’s Divided Mind,” in Taylor, pp. 122-32, passim.
- “Core of the Movie – The Chase.” Interview. New York Times Magazine, October 29, 1950. Reprinted in Sidney Gottlieb (ed.), Hitchcock on Hitchcock (Los Angeles: University of California Press, and London: Faber, 1995), p. 131.
- Richard Allen, Hitchcock’s Romantic Irony (New York, NY, and Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia UP, 2007), p. xiv. Allen is one of the few scholars who, to my knowledge, has read Price. Another, almost certainly, is Volney Patrick Gay who in his 2001 book Joy and the Objects of Psychoanalysis: Literature, Belief, and Neurosis (Albany: SUNY Press) refers to “Virgin Bitches” and “Prostitute Bitches”. Price himself apologises for using the term “bitch” – he took it straight from Hitchcock himself, he says, citing the soundtrack of Frenzy where the Jack the Ripper figure, Bob Rusk, cries out in scorn and hatred, “Women! They’re all the same […] bitches!” Price, p. xi.
- See Ken Mogg, “Hitchcock’s Literary Sources,” in Thomas Leitch and Leland Poague (eds), A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), p. 39.
- Allen, pp. 180-81.
- Notably, Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited (Paramount, 1944), which calls the sea “a place of life and death and eternity, too”.
- Mogg, 2008, p. 165.
- To be clear, the term “secondary discipline” isn’t Dr Schober’s. It was used, I recall, by a French critic to distinguish Vertigo from the less-commercial, but thematically comparable, L’Année Dernière À Marienbad (1961) of Alain Resnais.
- No, I‘m being unfair. Price offers much more on I Confess: equally ingenious is his reading of it as a film “about” homosexuality – in which both the priest and his doppelgänger, the murderous sacristan Otto Keller, are played by gay actors – with parallel story elements, notes Price, in Murder!, The Paradine Case, Rope, Strangers on a Train, and Frenzy.
- Final note. The author of Superbitch!, Dr Ted Price, age 89, widowed and disabled, but as mentally alert as ever, tells me that he would warmly welcome email from Hitch fans sent to <email@example.com>.