Jump to: navigation, search

CineAction (1999) - The Use of Glass in Alfred Hitchcock's "Blackmail"




In Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail the protagonist, Alice White, works in a tobacconist's shop run by her family. The shop is a large room at the front of the White house, with a large glass window and an entry directly from the street. To one side of the shop is the family dining and sitting room, divided from the shop by a glass wall, half-curtained. In the shop itself is a telephone booth.

Hitchcock himself grew up in just such an environment, the child of greengrocers. Donald Spoto, in The Dark Side of Genius, describes the director's early childhood home in this way:

In 1896 the family moved to 517 The High Road, Leytonstone, leasing the modest premises from a grocer who retired to the quieter Chichester Road. By 1899, when Alfred Joseph was born, the store had been somewhat enlarged and fronted the family quarters: they lived behind and over the crates and shelves of produce, and unless they went around through a back alley to a small rear door, they had to pass through the shop to reach the family rooms. In the middle of a small, dark, and unsuccessful garden was the family outhouse. Privacy was even rarer than silence or sustained sunshine.(1)

Critic Robin Wood also grew up in a similar setting, and described the emotional environment in the following terms:

Blackmail was made a year before I was born and is set in a milieu thoroughly and depressingly familiar to me. My parents were antique dealers, hence a few rungs higher in the social scale than tobacconists, to whom they would have condescended, but in terms of sexual mores the differences would be minimal. In the environment in which I grew up all bodily functions were regarded as shameful. I was made to feel deeply ashamed of pissing and shitting, and these simple natural functions had to be referred to (if at all, in cases of direst necessity) in whispers, using absurd euphemisms ... I never heard the word "sex" spoken within my family ... I developed a vague sense that it was an obscenity, a "dirty word" that must not be uttered and that presumably referred to something even dirtier.(2)

Alice's family life, as delineated in Blackmail, shows no overt signs of such repression. Her father seems more avuncular than paternal, and her mother's parental rigidity is considerably softened by various signs of affection. It is possible that Hitchcock did not allude to t...

[ to view the rest of the article, please try one of the links above ]


(1.) Donald SpotoThe Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: 1983. p. 14

(2.) Robin WoodHitchcock's Films Revisited. New York, 1989. p. 260

(3.) See for instance the opening pages of Alexander Walker — The Shattered Silents. London, 1978

(4.) William RothmanHitchcock: The Murderous Gaze. Cambridge, 1982. pp 57-107, passim.

(5.) This also contributes to the obsessively symmetrical nature of the film, which was so effectively diagrammed by Robin Wood in his chapter on Blackmail in Hitchcock's Films Revisited that the similar symmetries of Hitchcock's other films becomes more visible to the reader.