Peeping Tom

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The murder scene from Strangers On a Train.
(© 1951, Renewed © 1951 Warner Bros. All rights reserved.)

Concealing A Murder

With so many of Hitchcock's films revolving around killing it seems strange he has left us only a handful of sustained on-screen murders.NOTE 4 In commenting on Psycho, in an article on Rear Window, Hitchcock gives us a possible explanation. He says he could decrease screen violence as a film progressed because he had "transferred the violence from the screen to the mind of the audience."NOTE 5 In films such as Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt and Notorious, the effect of suggestion, when it comes to murder, is very strong. For example, in Notorious, who can prevent themselves from thinking of the horrible fate that awaits Alex Sebastian when he re-enters his home in the movie's final shot?

Even when it comes to on-screen murders Hitchcock deliberately plays on the creativity of the audience's imagination and this can be seen in his attempts to partially conceal murders. In Blackmail, the murder takes place behind the curtains that surround Crewe's bed. This sequence should be noted as the most extreme case of concealment--one that renders the on-screen virtually off-screen. A more interesting case of concealment comes in the murder of Miriam (Laura Elliott) in Strangers on a Train.

Through a misunderstanding, Bruno (Robert Walker) plans to exchange murders with tennis champion Guy (Farley Granger). He believes that Guy has agreed to the arrangement; however, this is news to Guy. Bruno plans to kill Miriam, the promiscuous and greedy wife of Guy. He stalks her and her two boyfriends at a carnival. Miriam becomes aware of Bruno and finds his presence intriguing. Meanwhile, Hitchcock's camera emphasizes the incongruous, comical image of Bruno venturing solo into the Tunnel of Love. Miriam peeks back at him. Is he a new suitor?  

When Miriam ditches her escorts--perhaps in hope of talking to Bruno--he surprises her. His hands swiftly and assuredly find her throat. Miriam's glasses fall off.   Hitchcock cuts to a close-up of the glasses. Reflected in one of the lenses, we can make out two struggling figures. Miriam raises her left arm in an attempt to fight him off Bruno, but it is no use. He is exceptionally strong--as we found out earlier when he won the carnival's Strong Man contest. Hitchcock denies us a clear view of what is happening as Bruno strangles Miriam. The view in the glasses is distorted and provides a carnivalesque, fun-house perspective, yet we can tell that Bruno is completely overpowering her. The murder is also hidden from us aurally by the jangle of the carnival organ. By denying us any other perspective and by refusing to chop up the sequence with editing, Hitchcock implies the hopelessness of Miriam's situation. Nothing can be done for her. Nothing can stop Bruno's hands as they continue to close around her throat and life gradually leaves her body.  

The camera angle, the reflected, distorted image, the absence of editing,NOTE 6 the absence of the sounds of struggle, and the lighting all function to conceal the violence of the attack while simultaneously implying Bruno's strength and the inevitability of her death. Cinematic concealment is used to multiply the power of the killer. He kills without struggle. We will see Hitchcock take up the task of concealment again in Psycho, this time with slightly different goals in mind.

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