Use of Glass in Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail

By Brophy, Stephen | CineAction, Annual 1999 | Go to article overview

Use of Glass in Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail


Brophy, Stephen, CineAction


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 these darker underpinnings of Alice's milieu merely because the social conventions of Britain in 1929 would have strongly disapproved. But the sweetness and light of this fishbowl environment also makes an ironic setting for the secret that Alice carries in from her life outside: she has killed a man who was trying to rape her, and fled from the scene of the killing.

All the glass in this environment creates an illusion of openness which contradicts our awareness of Alice's secret. It also serves many other interesting functions, as barriers between various dichotomous qualities, and as screens. Once the viewer becomes aware of the richness of Hitchcock's use of this substance in Blackmail, it also becomes more apparent in his other work.

I first noticed his use of glass when I was watching the film, trying to pay particular attention to the various ways he experimented with sound in his first sound movie. Most film directors with established working methods were intimidated by the advent of sound technology, and some even spoke out publicly against it.(3) Hitchcock seems to have taken it as another opportunity to develop innovative techniques for his brand of story telling.

His use of a mumbling voice interspersed with sharp ejaculations of the word "knife" to indicate the confused state of mind of Alice on the morning after her misadventure has been widely discussed, as has his restraint in using dialogue in the first reels of the movie. I have not found any mention however of his use of the telephone booth in the shop to modulate the volume of dialogue, or to hint at the secrets being protected, even though it is used as the site of one of the major plot developments--the entrance of the blackmailer--and that use has been carefully prepared by two earlier uses of the booth to stifle sound. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Use of Glass in Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.