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Empire (2010) - The psychopath films




The psychopath films

Time to become acquainted with Hitchcock's other deranged killers

We should make a distinction here between Hitchcock's villains (assorted spy masters, bombers, kidnappers, assassins, Nazis and Scottish gentry) and true psychopaths. The latter are a measure of the director's interest in the truly disturbed — those beyond morality. So, with a passing wave at Peter Lorre's sterling work and Judith Anderson's splendidly barking Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca (1940), we should start with Suspicion (1941), a troubled 'Hitchcock' soft-pedalled by producer David O. Selznick. Cary Grant is the dubious husband to heiress-to-be Joan Fontaine, who might be a stone-cold murderer Intent on serving poisoned milk. Hitch 'curdled' the milk by lighting it from within as Grant slowly ascends the stairs. Sadly, the ending cops out, leaving only the brainboxes at Cahiers du Cinema to posit the theory he may still murder her after the credits!

Shadow Of A Doubt (1943) brings the psycho to smalltown America, Teresa Wright suspecting her Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) might be a serial strangler of widows. Cotten was nervous about accessing — a philosophy which advocated the annihilation of rich widows. Old he feel guilt at all?" "He has no guilt at all!" Hitchcock retorted. "To him, the elimination of his widows is a dedication." Cotten proves chilling.

Rope (1948) pitches two intellectuals trying murder as a game. Strangers On A Train's (1951) Bruno is a different kettle of wacko entirely: a master manipulator and mummy's boy(!), played with valiant oiliness by Robert Walker. His homosexuality is intentional, sexuality being one of the film's subjects. In Hitchcock's defence, he was parodying McCarthy's targeting of homosexuals as enemies of the state. For Norman Bates, the ne plus ultra of all Hitch's psychos, see above. And Frenzy (1972), the most grotesque of all Hitchcock's psychotraumas, is covered next month.