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Daily Dose #7: Mr. Memory (Opening Scene from The 39 Steps)


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#201 tshawcross

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Posted 05 July 2017 - 08:19 AM

1. Now that you have seen multiple openings to Hitchcock's British films, how does this opening both fit a pattern you have seen previously as well as deviate from other opening scenes? 

 

This film has another opening that fits the previous pattern of showing spectators at a performance in a public place and introducing the protagonist. It deviates from the other openings in that there is no hint of villainy in any of the characters (except for the revelation that the protagonist is Canadian - actually, I am just kidding here, I love Canada and Canadians), and in gradually revealing the protagonist by first showing only his shoes and legs, and then his back, before finally revealing his face. Hitchcock used a similar device in Strangers on a Train, when he opened by showing just the shoes and legs of the two protagonists as they walk into Union Station in Washington, D. C. The fact that one of them was wearing distinctive spectator shoes tips us off that we had seen him enter the station when we later see his shoes and his face on the train.

 

I shared Dr. Edward's interest in the opening shot of the light bulbs slowly spelling out "Music Hall." For an otherwise fast-paced film, this slow opening is a curious deviation. I am wondering if such signage was common for British Music Halls or if such signs held some sort of personal significance to Hitchcock, who seemed to be fascinated by unusual lights/lighting. When Edward Hopper painted "Nighthawks" in January of 1942, I suspect part of his interest was in painting the diner patrons as they looked under fluorescent lighting, which had been introduced in 1938, when Hopper was 60 years old. Think how the introduction of a new type of lighting would impact a man who once said of himself "Maybe I am not very human. What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.”
  

 

2. Do you agree or disagree with Rothman's assessment that Hitchcock in this film is focused on introducing a more innocent lead character than in previous opening sequences of his films? 

 

​Given that the lead character is not a serial killer or some other type of person with obvious issues, it seems fair to say that this lead character is more innocent than the previous ones.  

 

 

 

3. Reflect on the role of yet another public space opening a Hitchcock film--this time a music hall--the prominence of a performer (Mr. Memory), and the reactions of the audience in the film to Mr. Memory's act. How does these on-screen elements play into the Hitchcock touch as described by Gene Phillips? 

 

3) “…The settings of Hitchcock films are quite ordinary on the surface, thereby suggesting that evil can lurk in places that at first glance seem normal and unthreatening.” Check.

4) “[Hitchcock’s] villains commit their mayhem in amusement parks and respectable restaurants, places where the viewer might often find themselves—not in locations that we tend to avoid in order to escape potential harm, such as dark alleys and dives…” Check.


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#202 Mandroid51

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Posted 05 July 2017 - 07:45 AM

3. Reflect on the role of yet another public space opening a Hitchcock film--this time a music hall--the prominence of a performer (Mr. Memory), and the reactions of the audience in the film to Mr. Memory's act. How does these on-screen elements play into the Hitchcock touch as described by Gene Phillips?


Having went back in and read the Gene Phillips list I'd say 3, 5, and 6 can be applied to the elements of The 39 Steps opening. Particularly not an extraordinary setting nor extraordinary protagonist. Hitchcock is sort of lulling us into the story is my observation and opinion...
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#203 Mandroid51

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Posted 05 July 2017 - 07:13 AM

1. Now that you have seen multiple openings to Hitchcock's British films, how does this opening both fit a pattern you have seen previously as well as deviate from other opening scenes?

Having read the lecture and daily notes for the British sound years in the course I agree that The Lodger and 39 Steps are both a bridge and a break when dissected. The mystery first in the Lodger without a reveal and the play on the mystery by revealing the protagonist in 39 Steps. He was a Canadian eh?! Winnipeg to Montreal? Cool!

2. Do you agree or disagree with Rothman's assessment that Hitchcock in this film is focused on introducing a more innocent character than in previous opening sequences of his films?

Absolutely agree and see where the break from previous films could be applied. I've seen 39 Steps but to be honest watching these early films will be like watching with fresh eyes. Setting PVR...

3. Reflect on the role of yet another public space opening a Hitchcock film--this time a music hall--the prominence of a performer (Mr. Memory), and the reactions of the audience in the film to Mr. Memory's act. How does these on-screen elements play into the Hitchcock touch as described by Gene Phillips?

Familiarity with Hitchcock's characterization? Seems 'a touch' to first allow us to not be intimidated but rather climatizing us to the people and surroundings only to hit us with another of his touches which from what I recall is the double chase structure known from Hitchcock. I'd say based on this scene alone we can see the juxtaposition of both theatre space and crowd along with the first images of electronic signage. He's setup the elements in a short space of time giving all important info immediately. Seems a touch of his to show most his hand but to hold on revealing say the mcguffin to keep us on the ride til the end (was it lions business?) With the 40's through to the 70's of his masterworks in mind I'd say hugely the juxtaposing of both his settings and the characters co-existing within those spaces seems a standout 'touch'
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#204 Alynia

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Posted 05 July 2017 - 06:53 AM

1. Now that you have seen multiple openings to Hitchcock's British films, how does this opening both fit a pattern you have seen previously as well as deviate from other opening scenes? -- People, people, people... Mystery can start in a crowd. You're not safe anywhere. The film deviates from the others in that it has sound. There is also a sense of calm, for being in the midst of a crowd - who watches a performance and not of dancing girls, but of Mr. Memory - an unattractive man. Swiss.  Am I right?

2. Do you agree or disagree with Rothman's assessment that Hitchcock in this film is focused on introducing a more innocent character than in previous opening sequences of his films? -- I Disagree. The only character I've seen that was suspect was the Lodger... and that he was supposed to be Jack the Ripper but for the fame of the star, I think that is the reason. I enjoy the films because ANYONE can be sucked into an adventure - but only if you're aware enough and loyal enough to be so.

3. Reflect on the role of yet another public space opening a Hitchcock film--this time a music hall--the prominence of a performer (Mr. Memory), and the reactions of the audience in the film to Mr. Memory's act. How does these on-screen elements play into the Hitchcock touch as described by Gene Phillips? -- They work to build the scene. This is the first time we've followed the main character into the scene; before the scene was done to set the tone and this is no exception, but this time we have a mystery to start us right out. Who is this man? And when the gun fires, was he the shooter or the target? And by the time we figure out what's going on, we are sucked into the story.


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#205 Chillyfillyinalaska

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Posted 05 July 2017 - 04:17 AM

1. Hitchcock uses graphics to set up his opening (as he did in his silent films) by advertising that we are in a music hall. Thus, we are ready for some relaxing entertainment, and the film does not disappoint. The audience is properly ribald, making lots of amusing comments in response to the MC and Mr Memory, as well as other audience members. Hitchcock's sense of humor sets him apart from other filmmakers.

Another construct is to create interest in the main character by introducing him feet first and then his entire back. (Think Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window"). Donat's handsome face is first seen in the crowd before we get a closer shot. The closer shot shows him amused by the lad whose question for Mr Memory tramples on Donat's question. Our hero's good nature is obvious because he reacts with amusement to the impudent youngster who shouted over him. Hitchcock commonly cues the audience that the hero is a good guy with a laid back personality (think the introduction of Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window," Cary Grant in "North By Northwest," and Michael Redgrave in "The Lady Vanishes"). So, the use of graphics as a kind of shorthand for the audience, showing any part of the hero except his face first to create a little intrigue about our leading man, and cuing the audience quickly that he is a good guy are all part of the opening orthodoxy of a Hitchcock film.

2. I think Hitchcock is cuing the audience that the hero is a regular, likeable guy it can relate to.

3. The nature of the music hall would have been a non-threatening place of enjoyment and entertainment for British audiences. Any suggestion that intrigue, suspense and danger could lurk there would not occur to the audience. Consequently, when it does happen, the audience is jarred from a false sense of security into a state of wariness for the rest of the film.

4. Although "The Lodger" was a wrong man film, "39 Steps" is a kind of bridge from the less smooth transitions of the early Hitchcock silent and sound period to the smoother presentation of the wrong man plus double chase themes of many subsequent Hitchcock films ("North By Northwest," "Saboteur," "Strangers on a Train," "The Wrong Man," "I Confess," and "Frenzy" to name a few). A wrong man being chased by the authorities, who in turn must chase the real culprit in order to exculpate himself is a common (but thoroughly entertaining) Hitchcock construct.
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#206 dwallace

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Posted 05 July 2017 - 04:12 AM

This has always been one of my favorite Hitchcock movies, the 39 Steps has everything you expect from Hitchcock. In the opening Hannay buying the ticket, going into the Music Hall (like Vaudeville in America). It was a place where people went for fun and to make fun of the acts, an early view of the “Gong Show” idea.

 

When Hannay is finally shown to us, his face is neutral to enjoying the joking and ribbing being given to Mr. Memory. It is a place that middle and lower classes go to, not for the upper class. They enjoy the joking, laughing and rubbing elbows. Precisely the type of place Hitchcock chooses for introducing our people reluctant hero/or villain. Hannay is just a regular guy, who enjoys Music Halls and the variety acts they give. He is there to relax and kill time, not kill some woman in his room. In fact he is surprised when the woman comes to him asking for a favor. That happens to “heroes” not regular guys.

 

This is completely different from Ivor Navarro's character in The Lodger, introduced in darkness, face hidden like the killers. When we finally see him he is anxious, nervous in a way that makes him look guilty of something. That will lead everyone to eventually think of him as the killer.

 

1, 2 and 4 of Phillips checklist is in this opening scene. All six will be a part of the movie.


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#207 barkerjuliea

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Posted 05 July 2017 - 01:21 AM

1. Now that you have seen multiple openings to Hitchcock's British films, how does this opening both fit a pattern you have seen previously as well as deviate from other opening scenes? A pattern I've seen is that there is an audience in many of the openings. This particular film also seems pretty lighthearted, as compared to some with a more serious opening.

2. Do you agree or disagree with Rothman's assessment that Hitchcock in this film is focused on introducing a more innocent character than in previous opening sequences of his films? He certainly seems amiable enough. An outsider, attending a performance at a music hall, and not seeming at all bothered by his "otherness".

3. Reflect on the role of yet another public space opening a Hitchcock film--this time a music hall--the prominence of a performer (Mr. Memory), and the reactions of the audience in the film to Mr. Memory's act. How does these on-screen elements play into the Hitchcock touch as described by Gene Phillips? The space seems happy enough, we have no idea that evil might happen here. The audience heckling the act also seems normal enough. The other elements making up the Hitchcock touch don't seem apparent to me at this time in the film.


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#208 asphaltcowboy

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Posted 05 July 2017 - 01:21 AM

A signature occurrence in most of Hitchcock's films. About 6 minutes and 33 seconds toward the beginning of the film, both Hitchcock and the screenwriter Charles Bennett can be seen walking past a bus that Robert Donat and Lucie Mannheim board outside the music hall. The bus is on London Transport's number 25 route, which runs from Oxford through the East End and on to Leytonstone. As Glancy points out, this was familiar ground to Hitchcock, who lived in Leytonstone and then in Stepney (in the East End) as a youth. The director's appearance can thus be seen as an assertion of his connection with the area, but he was by no means romanticising it. As the bus pulls up he litters by throwing a cigarette packet on the ground. Hitchcock is also seen briefly as a member of the audience scrambling to leave the music hall after the shot is fired in the opening scene. As far as Rothman's contention about "the 39 steps", I do agree with it


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#209 Dr. Rich Edwards

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Posted 05 July 2017 - 12:17 AM

Today's Daily Dose is the opening sequence of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps

Watch the clip in the Canvas course, and then come back here to write your reflections.

Here are some reflection questions to get you started:

1. Now that you have seen multiple openings to Hitchcock's British films, how does this opening both fit a pattern you have seen previously as well as deviate from other opening scenes? 

2. Do you agree or disagree with Rothman's assessment that Hitchcock in this film is focused on introducing a more innocent lead character than in previous opening sequences of his films? 

3. Reflect on the role of yet another public space opening a Hitchcock film--this time a music hall--the prominence of a performer (Mr. Memory), and the reactions of the audience in the film to Mr. Memory's act. How does these on-screen elements play into the Hitchcock touch as described by Gene Phillips? 

Bonus Reflection #4: For those of you who are more familiar with Hitchcock's films, do you agree or disagree with Rothman's contention that The 39 Steps can be seen as a bridge--perhaps the critical bridge--between the early experimentation of the silent films and the mature Hitchcock touch on display in his masterworks from the 1940s - 1970s? 


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Richard Edwards, PhD

Ball State University

Instructor: TCM Presents: The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock (2017)

Instructor: TCM Presents: Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies (2016)

Instructor: TCM Presents: Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir (2015)

 

 





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