Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose #1: Spiralling into View: The Pleasure Garden (1925)

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Hitchcock pulls us into his voyeuristic style through his camera. What does he want us to see? Beautiful legs, ogling men, women wise to the ways of a man, thieves. I can see his first attempts at his art manifested in his later films. His use of silent objects or scenery to make a subtle statement, but only if you are astute. He was a very sharp director telling a story for the keen observer.

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1. Do you see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence? Absolutely. As so many have noted, we are observing the observed. Potential voyeurs, following along with the row of heated gentlemen in the theater.

2. Do you agree or disagree with Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto assessments that this sequence contains elements, themes, or approaches that we will see throughout Hitchcock's 50-year career? Blondes, women as objects of beauty, spiral staircases,danger unobserved by the victim, etc.

3. Since this is a silent film, do you feel there were any limitations on these opening scenes due to the lack of synchronous spoken dialogue?Dialogue is an additional way to understand the films, but the visual presented is the main element.

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1. Although I am familiar with what might be meant by the "Hitchcock touch" through the many different things I have read about Alfred Hitchcock, I confess that I have only seen The Lady Vanishes (1938) and Vertigo (1958) (Also ​The Birds ​(1963), but too long ago for truly meaningful remembrance). Those two films are in the vein of what Hitchcock's name is usually associated with: thrillers, mysteries, or psychological dramas with elements of all three. ​The Pleasure Garden ​(1925), on the other hand, is a silent melodrama, the first scene of which might suggest a voyeuristic comedy; it is not. The question for reflection posed here, although surely meant well, seems to me to belittle the film. It is not simply an early oddity in a storied career or a case of spot-the-theme/technique/what-have-you to be played with little emotional involvement, but a grandly poignant melodrama of fading friendships, romantic infidelity, loneliness and temptation. Perhaps, based on my own limited viewing experience, ​The Pleasure Garden ​is a sign of a road not taken. I'm impatient to dive in to the rest of the Hitchcock oeuvre to see where his expert melodramatic aptitude as shown in this film might reappear.

 

2. Once again, I can't say for sure one way or the other quite yet, but knowing that Hitchcock is a large figure in the ​auteurist canon, I'm almost certain The Pleasure Garden ​contains many things that Hitchcock would revisit throughout his 50-year career. Also, once again this question only addresses the scene shown for the class; I implore anyone reading this to go beyond that somewhat misleading scene and take in the entirety of The Pleasure Garden ​(it's online for free at Open Culture). I was consistently moved by this film in ways that the first scene could have never suggested to me were possible. Hitchcock tackles female friendship, the allure of fame, the affects of time on romance, and the relationship between the excitement of new friends and the comfort of familiar family with a calmly bold style, empathetic compositions, and a grand sense of the intertwinement of tragedy and joy in the everyday.

 

3. The opening scene, in particular, I feel, probably wouldn't have needed spoken dialogue even if it were a sound film. Silent film, for the most inventive of early directors (as Hitchcock proved to me he was with ​The Pleasure Garden​​), wasn't a limitation but a liberation. The cinema was and will always be primarily a visual medium, and (not to diminish or pronounce less the outstanding possibilities and accomplishments by directors using the spoken word inventively) artists working in its halcyon days opened the Pandora's box of visual possibility that set the template for the future to come. The greatest artists have taken those possibilities and gone even further to create masterpieces of visual beauty (Terrence Malick et al.), and lesser artists (or should I say craftsmen) would be better off limiting themselves to silent films so there would be less reason to throw everything against the wall to see what sticks and more reason to look within for visual inspiration.

 

Once again: WATCH THE ENTIRE FILM! To anyone who has, I would love to hear what you think.

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1. Do you see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence? Please provide specific examples.

 

I do see a few, however, I feel like I might has missed some, due to having not viewed many of his early/silent work. The first historical Hitchcock "touches" I do recognize begins with the winding staircase, a theme/symbol in many later films. The next touch I recognized was the young ladies, especially blondes, and the use of somewhat subtle sexuality is another touch that stood out for me. I feel the biggest classic Hitchcock touch was the viewing of the young ladies from the gentlemans point of view through the theatre glasses. The blurriness of their form until he uses them allows Hitchcock to make it from the mans point of view, almost a voyerist view, as seen many times over the course of Hitchcock's older films. Last, but certainly not least, was the sarcastic, sharp wit that seems to permeate throughout many Hitchcock films.

 

2. Do you agree or disagree with Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto assessments that this sequence contains elements, themes, or approaches that we will see throughout Hitchcock's 50-year career?

 

I absolutely agree with Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto that there is an array of themes, elements and approaches that we see throughout the 50 years of Hitchcock's career. Within a few seconds, we are shown many examples, and the same ambience we love and got to watch to the end of his career. It is thrilling to see that as a very young, very green director, Hitchcock knew exactly what he wanted and would continue to fight and do as he wanted for his entire career.

 

3. Since this is a silent film, do you feel there were any limitations on these opening scenes due to the lack of synchronous spoken dialogue?

 

As far as silent film being limited because their lack of spoken dialogue, I have reasons to say yes, that is true, and that no, I do not believe that to be true. I feel more is portrayed without a spoken dialogue in many instances. However, in the case of the opening scenes for "The Pleasure Garden", I would tend to agree that spoken, clear dialogue would have served the film better. The cards were vague, though you understood what Hitchcock was doing and what he was setting up for the scenes, to have the Hitchcock dialogue would have truly made this film complete. Although I feel that Hitchcock is very amazing in his use of other elements to make us feel and know all there is to when he wants us to, I also believe that the dialogue would bring the true experience and feel that older films of his do. For example, 'Rope" would not and could not have been the classic it is without the running dialogue between all characters, had it been a silent film, it would have been one we'd never see or attribute to the genius of Hitchcock.

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#1. The beginnings of Hitchcock are very prominent in just the first shot, majority of the women descending the stairs are blond, also staircases are very notable in many if not all Hitchcock movies. Also the old scoundrel with the monocle and binoculars is the first case of Hitchcock's infamy of using voyeurism as a character trait and in turn bringing the viewer into a character's perspective.

 

#2. I agree very much. All the elements, themes and approaches that Hitchcock carried with him throughout his whole career. A Director with purpose, discipline, and knowing exactly what he wanted. 

 

#3. There aren't very many limitations I noticed in this scene his actors convey the necessary emotions and reactions needed to get the scene across. Also fond of the smoking prohibited sign directly behind Mr. Hamilton who doesn't care at all which in turn shows the type of character: Arrogance, right away. And with the dialogue sure it might seem a bit off but I liked when there wasn't title cards either the actors got the point across. 

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I can easily see certain things I would identify with Hitchcock. Perhaps most noteworthy is the theme of voyeurism. Here is expressed explicitly by the audience watching the chorus girls, but also by the stage manager watching from the wings, the pickpockets watching the aspiring actress, the established chorus girl watching the mashers watching the aspiring actress, and so on. This theme comes up again and again in the Hitchcock films I have seen, perhaps most clearly in Rear Window. The opera glasses of the audience member becomes morphed into James Stewart's binoculars.

 

Also, the insertion of humorous absurdity into an otherwise dramatic scene is something that comes up in a lot of Hitchcock films.

 

So, yes, I agree with the writers mentioned that this clip shows evidence of recurring elements and themes in Hitchcock's work that would continue to develop throughout his career.

 

I suppose that the lack of dialog in this clip would be considered a limitation today. The scene moves forward clearly enough without dialog, but the actions of the characters and their motivations would probably be made more clear in a current film by adding dialog. The bigger limitation I think is the lack of sound, not just language. I'm thinking here of the example fro The Godfather provided by Dr. Gehring in the video lecture. Michael Corleone's emotional state is indicated by the sound or the train rather than by any dialog in that example, and that use of sound seems very much like something Hitchcock would exploit. See the climax of The Man Who Knew Too Much for a very obvious example. 

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1. Do you see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence? You definitely see the beginnings of the Hitchcock touch within the clip. The main way that I felt you saw the 'touch' was through the use of the characters and their facial expressions. It paves the way for the later Hitchcock films that were made.

 

2. Do you agree or disagree with Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto assessments that this sequence contains elements, themes, or approaches that we will see throughout Hitchcock's 50-year career? I do agree as there are many different elements that we see later on in his career. For example we see the different camera angles that he uses and adapts throughout his career. We also see different character types develop.

 

3. Since this is a silent film, do you feel there were any limitations on these opening scenes due to the lack of synchronous spoken dialogue? There were not any limitations because as an audience we were able to understand the narrative without the speech. This was due to the use of titles and due to over exaggerated facial expressions of the characters that helped to tell the story.

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Went back and looked at the clip again and have an updated response. So, you've got the Hitchcock "blonde" here. Wouldn't say this one is a "cool blonde" but she’s a blonde nonetheless. BUT the curl that's a hairpiece -- this foreshadows many of the blondes in Hitchcock's later films -- in the sense that these blondes appear to be one kind of person and then they turn out to be another kind of person completely. Madeleine Elster in Vertigo; Eve Kendall in North by Northwest, etc. When this chorus girl tamps down the man’s interest in the curl by pulling it and giving it to him. It’s the reveal that she’s not what he thought. The object of his interest – or in later films-- his “obsession” isn’t what it appears to be. So, there’s that I think.

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You can clearly see examples of "The Hitchcock Touch" in The Pleasure Garden (1925), starting with the cool, attractive, blonde showgirl who reappears as a staple character throughout Hitchcock's filmography.  Subtle humor is another element sprinkled through these otherwise taunt dramas.  The male patron stepping on the toes of an audience member while being distracted by the showgirl as well as the backstage manager puffing away on a cigar while standing next to a "Smoking Prohibited" sign.  The showgirl herself making fun of the high society, tux and tails "gentleman" who claims to be attracted to her "lovely curl of hair", which she promptly removes and hands over to him. One other Hitchcock touch in this clip is the way he carefully forces the audience's attention onto key objects or actions such as the close-up shot of the woman's handbag while observed by the pickpocket.  Not only is this a close-up shot as opposed to a medium view of the action but the close-up is done in a vignette, so the handbag is saturated in brightness while the entire image is framed in blackness.  Basically leading his audience by the nose as to where and what they should be seeing and thinking.  And not always in the right direction but often just to toy with us.

 

I agree with Strauss, Yacowar and Spoto's assessments and this sequence contains multiple elements and techniques clearly refined and reused throughout Hitchcock's career. He was a visual director and therefore had no need of synchronous spoken dialogue to illustrate his vision.  Story telling with well planned and well crafted scenes was his forte.        

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Went back and looked at the clip again and have an updated response. So, you've got the Hitchcock "blonde" here. Wouldn't say this one is a "cool blonde" but she’s a blonde nonetheless. BUT the curl that's a hairpiece -- this foreshadows many of the blondes in Hitchcock's later films -- in the sense that these blondes appear to be one kind of person and then they turn out to be another kind of person completely. Madeleine Elster in Vertigo; Eve Kendall in North by Northwest, etc. When this chorus girl tamps down the man’s interest in the curl by pulling it and giving it to him. It’s the reveal that she’s not what he thought. The object of his interest – or in later films-- his “obsession” isn’t what it appears to be. So, there’s that I think.

 

That is a good point.  I watched the film in bits and pieces due to lack of time and there are tons of people in it that don't end up being what you think they might be at first.

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1. I see the Hitchcock touch in a few ways.

        Purses- Hitchcock often focuses on purses or handbags as a sexual symbol. I think of Janet Lee's 

                     basket style purse in Psycho. Also Grace Kelly's red bag in Dial M for Murder. Also Grace

                     Kelly's "Mark Cross" overnight bag in Rear Window.

        Coil of hair- Hitchcock seemed to be obsessed with a coiled hairdo. We see it in Vertigo and also

                            in Tippi Hedren's french twist in The Birds. It seems a kind of focal point- a kind of

                            visual metaphor for the vortex of the unknown feminine mind.

        Audiences- Hitchcock likes to turn the camera on the audience. We see in Foreign Correspondent

                            and also The 39 steps and again in the Man who knew too much. He likes to watch

                            the voyeurs being voyeurs.

2. Yes, I agree.

3. No, I don't think the form limits Hitchcock at all because he's so good at visual storytelling. He shows us where to look & why.

 

Thanks!

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Wow, so many good answers, from what I've seen so far.

 

Questions 1 & 2:  In addition to the staircase thing, I'll add that some elements of Hitchcock include

 

  -- people at performances in a theater (behavior in the public sphere)

  -- lasciviousness

  -- women with snappy lines & confidence

  -- crime & criminal intent

  -- dramatic irony (audience knowing something a character doesn't)

 

Question 3:  I do find myself curious at what the pickpocket and his crony are saying, but mostly no, no dialogue screaming for clarity without a title card.

 

Interesting how the players are named on the title cards.  If that's what that was.  I don't remember seeing that before.  Was that a convention in silent film?

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I see beautiful blondes. I think that is a Hitchcock touch.

I do agree there are elements we will see throughout his career. There are the beautiful women in his movies. I think he has a fondness for binoculars and close ups.

I do not think there are limitations because it is a silent film. I think because it is a silent movie you have to depend on the actor's expressions and movements to tell the stories. I think you have to pay more attention when you watch a silent movie.

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1). Yes.... The out of focus view of the chorus girls reminds me of Vertigo. The shot of the girls from the side through the wooden supports is also very Hitchcock style. The binoculars - think Rear Window.

Lots of things come to mind.

2) themes. Yes, the alluring power of that male customer over the chorus girl reminds me of Marnie, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt. He thought he could have anything like many of his leading male characters. Love the locket line- very Typical Hitchcock comeback line as well.

3). Oh I wish there was sound in this movie. I'd love to hear his visible gasp when she delivers that locket line.

I enjoyed that clip. Looking forward to seeing that movie .

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The Daily Doses and the discussion about them was one of my favorite parts in both previous courses and I already think this is going to be the case here too!

 

I'm not very familiar with Hitchcock's British films, especially the first, silent ones, but in this very first scene of his very first film I think there is a Hitchcock touch, especially in the opening stairs sequence. The whole is scene is humorous yet disturbing, subtle yet suggesting, weird combinations that made a trademark of Hitch's long and distinguished career that had just started.

 

The rapid cuts referred by Spoto was the first thing that came to my mind as "Hitchockian" when I was watching the scene. However, there are more. Hitchock's self-contradictory view of sex and seduction is certainly there as we see well-dressed, serious-looking men behaving like a bunch of teenagers watching the lightly dressed girls dancing. And then, hilarity and levity are followed by a much more serious sequence until the scene comes to an end.

 

Hitchcock generally used dialogue very deftly in his sound films, but I don't think there are much that could be changed if this particular scene contained dialogue. As is most often the case with silent films, dialogue could just help the director express his ideas more clearly, yet its absence leaves the viewer to use his imagination about what could be said and how the scene could unfold.

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I see instances of what would be called the "Hitchcock touch" in the of depth of field camera work, wherein action in the foreground is complemented by the scene playing out in the background. I found myself watching for his trademark cameo appearance somewhere in the wings of the theater.

 

I do agree many seeds of what blossoms into Hitchcock's style are evident in this sequence. He sees the world through his own eyes, after all. It seems Mr. Hitchcock always had an eye for the ladies, most particularly blondes.

 

Throughout his entire career Hitchcock could tell a story, or any portion of a story, simply with motion and music. I'm sure this art was nurtured in the silent era. So no, I didn't miss synchronized spoken dialogue in this clip from The Pleasure Garden.

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1.  Fine attire belies a coarse disposition found in Ray Milland, Dial M for Murder. Misunderstanding with the stolen letter results in a distinct vulnerability as in the mistaken identity of Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

 

2.  Yacowar's brilliant observation that "Hitchcock masks off the sides of the screen, as if the whole world were shrunk to that staircase. For the men of binoculars and monocles, all asteam, the world is that narrow."

 

3. Silent film had no limitations for Hitchcock.

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1. As many others have already noticed, Hitchcock already uses elements that he would later become famous for. The man is obsessed with Pasty, who is a gorgeous blond. Hitchcock also employs the camera to be a view through the binoculars, which he would famously do in Rear Window. There is also an element of voyeurism, as the man eyes Patsy's legs, used in such films as Rear Window, Vertigo, and Psycho. 

 

2. As stated above, we do see a lot of elements that Hitchcock would later perfect in his career as a director. They are not perfect yet, since this is only his first movie, but the elements are there.

 

3. Since we are so used to sound in films, the lack of sound might be a limitation to most people. However, you can still get the general idea of what is going on through the acting and title cards.

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I see instances of what would be called the "Hitchcock touch" in the of depth of field camera work, wherein action in the foreground is complemented by the scene playing out in the background. I found myself watching for his trademark cameo appearance somewhere in the wings of the theater.

 

I do agree many seeds of what blossoms into Hitchcock's style are evident in this sequence. He sees the world through his own eyes, after all. It seems Mr. Hitchcock always had an eye for the ladies, most particularly blondes.

 

Throughout his entire career Hitchcock could tell a story, or any portion of a story, simply with motion and music. I'm sure this art was nurtured in the silent era. So no, I didn't miss synchronized spoken dialogue in this clip from The Pleasure Garden.

I don't think the cameos started until Blackmail, but that would have been awesome to see him in his first directing assignment.

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1.    Hitchcock reveals the subjective POV of the audience members, by blacking out sides of the spiral staircase and also by masking and vignetting images depending on what “viewing platform” (i.e. monocle, binoculars) the various audience members use to look at the ladies.

 

Hitchcock also knows how to employ suspense—when our lead woman walks in, we notice the two rogues steal something from her purse before she herself is aware of it, making the audience feel the suspense and anticipate what may happen next.

 

2.    It seems pretty clear that Hitchcock’s use of the subjective camera is quite prominent from his very first film and is prevalent throughout his later works.

 

 

3. Emotionally, it would have been nice to hear the women sing, but from this short clip, I didn’t feel that anything was lacking. 

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The first motif I noticed was the use of voyeurism, which Hitchcock also used effectively in the film Psycho, with Anthony Perkins spying on Janet Leigh through the hole in the wall in the very famous shower sequence, and using the camera to simulate monocles and binoculars in The Pleasure Garden.  Hitchcock conveys the idea of voyeurism as well in The Pleasure Garden by framing the opening scene with the black bars on the sides of the film.  This motif tends to objectify women, showing them as defenseless victims in a world dominated by men.  In both Psycho and The Pleasure Garden, it seems that Hitchcock explored the awkward dynamic of the male/female interaction.  Norman is clearly very nervous and unsure of himself when talking with Marion, just as the patron at the club is very awkward while talking with the dancer, with both men failing at engaging in any meaningful dialogue--Norman speaking about birds' appetites, and the patron complimenting the dancer's looks and hair, respectively.  However, also in both films, Hitchcock seems to include very strong willed women who seemingly break the stereotypical social expectations of women during the respective time period when each film was shot.  In Hitchcock's later works, he seems to return to the victim motif (most notably women?), but in almost every case the aggressor meets his reward.

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1.  Visually, reminiscent of many Hitchcock films. the lighting, focus on details like the spiral staircase to introduce the dancers and showcase their assets.

 

2.  Hitchcock's blondes the lady that caught one of the ogler's eyes was blonde.  The creepy artistry as the older men watched the female performers who were much younger than their "audience".

 

3.  The lack of words was no obstacle for Hitchcock nor his actors.  Grace Kelly, in Dial M for Murder, peering over her newspaper towards her husband when she saw her lover's picture in the paper without saying a word  communicated a lot about their relationship.

 

 

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1.    Do you see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence? Please provide specific examples. 

 

Though I’m not familiar with this film, the clip suggests that one ordinary individual is about to encounter some extraordinary circumstances, a theme consistent with Hitchcock’s later films.  The scene where the two men steal the items from the young woman’s purse foreshadows something significant. 

 

2.    Do you agree or disagree with Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto assessments that this sequence contains elements, themes, or approaches that we will see throughout Hitchcock's 50-year career? 

 

There are several elements and approaches that stood out in this scene.  Observation seems to be a consistent theme is Hitchcock films.  The scene where the audience members were watching the chorus girls reminded me of the scenes in Rear Window that shows James Stewart observing his neighbors in the adjacent building.  The composition of shots is another element that stood out.  The shot from the rafters in the dance hall, the spiral staircase, the tracking shot of the audience suggest these scenes were well crafted in advance through storyboards and artistic design.  Finally, it seems attractive women with blond hair seem to play a significant role in Hitchcock films (Janet Leigh, Tippi Hedren, Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly).  The blond dance hall girl seemed consistent with other actress in Hitchcock films.

 

3.     Since this is a silent film, do you feel there were any limitations on these opening scenes due to the lack of synchronous spoken dialogue?

 

No limitations due to lack of dialogue.  This film came at a time when the language of film was still being written.  Film directors like D. W. Griffith and several Russian filmmakers were developing innovative editing techniques essential to film storytelling.  A good director like Hitchcock can rely on the juxtaposition and pace of images to tell stories and create suspense without the benefit of sound.

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1. Do you see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence? Please provide specific examples. 

Yes, I see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch."  Several have mentioned this is evident in Rear Window.  It is also noticeable in Psycho when Norman peeks through the hole in the wall into the bathroom.

 

2. Do you agree or disagree with Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto assessments that this sequence contains elements, themes, or approaches that we will see throughout Hitchcock's 50-year career? 

Yes, I agree.

 

3. Since this is a silent film, do you feel there were any limitations on these opening scenes due to the lack of synchronous spoken dialogue?

No, I don't think there were any limitations.  In fact, I think it "forces" one to really pay attention to facial expressions and actions in order to interpret the story.

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One quick piece of the film clip that caught my attention: As the camera pans along the row of men who are in various ways transfixed by the dancers, we get about one second's worth of "a woman's viewpoint"--the last person in the shot is a conked-out woman, who apparently finds the flashing legs boring, even soporific! It's such a sudden contrast to the men's absurd over-interest, and it lasts such a short time, that I find myself chuckling, and just slightly out of sync with what's on the screen.

It looks as though HItchcock often uses female characters as laugh-getters. Thelma Ritter's character in Rear Window comes to mind, as does Barbara Bel Geddes' in Vertigo (she of the not-so-funny portrait), and Barbara Harris' in Family Plot (think of the out-of-control car ride down the mountain road). Let's not forget Jessie Royce Landis in two Hitchcock gems, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest, first as the Cary Grant character's eventual mother-in-law, then as his mother. For that matter, how about Patricia Hitchcock ("He must have noticed my wedding ring") in Psycho!

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