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The Earnest Importance of Stair Imagery in Hitchcock films


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In THE PLEASURE GARDEN, Hitchcock"s first outing we are treated to a view of a spiral staircase.

Let me count the ways that we will see that motif repeated throughout his output.  A partial list:  the windmill steps in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, the spiral stairs of the Statue of Liberty in SABOTEUR,  the outside staircase rigged for murder in SHADOW OF A DOUBT, the final tense walk down the grand staircase in NOTORIOUS, the Mission Campanile stairs in VERTIGO, the descent of Mt. Rushmore step by step in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, the fate that awaits Arbogast at the top of the stairs in PSYCHO, and in his final film, the staircase that leads to the chandelier and its hidden jewels in FAMILY PLOT. Those are just a few that sprang to mind.  But, You too can be a carpenter in building a Stairway to Hitchcock Heaven.  Please add more stair scenes to the list.

 

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1. Stare at the stairs in this scene from The Man Who Knew Too Much . . .

 

 

 

And there's this, at the film's climax . . .

 

 

 

2. Do you remember where the key was hidden in Dial M for Murder? Take a guess.

 

3. Lots and lots of stairs in Psycho. For starters, imagine the view of the "haunted house" from the parking lot of the Bates Motel.

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So funny that this topic was brought up because I was actually thinking about stairs in Hitchcock films while watching THE LODGER the other night! I see that the others here posted some of the examples I thought of but here is one more:

 

  • REBECCA: The Second Mrs DeWinter (Joan Fontaine) coming down the stairs at Manderly to utterly horrified looks as she is wearing the same costume Rebecca wore.

I feel like there are more that I am not thinking of though!

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The crooked stairs going down to the beach in Rebecca. I live near Point Lobos where that was filmed and have been up and down those stairs myself many times. To this day, I always call them the "Rebecca stairs". 

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There is also that grand staircase in Claude Rains' home in Notorious, which serves so well as a vantage point for all the comings and goings in the movie and at the end of the film act as both a means of escape for Grant & Bergman and a "Last Mile" decent into a sinister end for Claude Rains. ...a powerful ending.

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Offhand I cannot think of a Hitchcock film in which stairs DO NOT figure prominently...honestly.   Psycho, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Suspicion, Shadow of Doubt--really the stairs are always showing up in Hitchcock.

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To continue with Hitchcock's obsession with stairs...

 

Downhill features a very relevant and symbolic shot of the main character going down some stairs.

 

downhill-011.jpg

 

In this case, it symbolizes Roddy's descent into misfortune, debauchery, poverty.

 

Also, although perhaps not as relevant as in other films, the stairs are also prominently seen in Easy Virtue at the Whittaker's mansion. Almost every wide shot of the inside of the house features the stairs in the background. And they are key to a climatic scene...

 

party1.jpg

 

In this scene, Larita defies her mother-in-law and society to attend a party, even though she was ordered not to. She makes a grand entrance from the top of the stairs of the house, and descends into the party.

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To continue with Hitchcock's obsession with stairs...

 

Downhill features a very relevant and symbolic shot of the main character going down some stairs.

 

downhill-011.jpg

 

In this case, it symbolizes Roddy's descent into misfortune, debauchery, poverty.

 

Also, although perhaps not as relevant as in other films, the stairs are also prominently seen in Easy Virtue at the Whittaker's mansion. Almost every wide shot of the inside of the house features the stairs in the background. And they are key to a climatic scene...

 

party1.jpg

 

In this scene, Larita defies her mother-in-law and society to attend a party, even though she was ordered not to. She makes a grand entrance from the top of the stairs of the house, and descends into the party.

 

That is a great moment from Easy Virtue!

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OMG!!!   How have I not noticed this before???   Thanks for the observation.  Now I'm going to spend the next 4 weeks looking for staircases in the films.

When I look at the notes I'm taking for each film I keep seeing a little staircase and up and down arrows I've drawn for every time I see a staircase, escalator, or elevator.

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