Peeping Tom

Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Page 5Page 6    by Iain Morrisson -- page 1 of 6

Before the "shower scene" in Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock had directed only three other sustained murder sequences. The vast majority of murders in Hitchcock's movies occur either off-screen, or they are as brief as the flash of a gun.NOTE 1 The three prolonged sequences prior to Psycho include the stabbing of Crewe in Blackmail, the stabbing of Swann in Dial M for Murder, and the strangling of Miriam in Strangers on a Train. Thematically these murders divide into two groups. First, Blackmail and Dial M for Murder give us two morally-ambivalent women who kill their attackers. Second, Strangers on a Train and Psycho give us two transgressive women who are murdered by sexually deviant males with peculiar relationships with their mothers. Because Hitchcock chooses to film extended murder sequences in these scenarios, he provokes many thematic and psychological questions about his portrayal of women and their guilt and punishability.NOTE 2

It is quite remarkable that a filmmaker so clearly fascinated by murder and death should have only four extended murder sequences during this lengthy career. This can be partially explained in terms of Hitchcock's belief in the creative power of audience imagination.NOTE 3 Because the mere glimpse, or even threat, of violence is often enough to provide suspense, the actual amount of screen violence can be reduced.

In this essay, I will take a detailed look at murder sequences in Blackmail, Strangers On a Train, and Dial M for Murder and argue that Hitchcock's mastery of cinematic representation builds through these three sequences and comes to a culminating point in Psycho. In looking at these sequences, I will argue that each displays a dominant feature and that this feature is reprised in Psycho.

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