Something I’ve always found interesting about Hitchcock’s films is the way he makes sure ordinary people can picture themselves in the same fantastic adventures his heroes experience throughout the course of a film. Hitch achieved this in two major ways. The first way is he used actors we could relate to, like Jimmy Stewart. When Stewart hesitates to marry Grace Kelly in REAR WINDOW because he thinks they’re too different, we get it. I mean, it’s Grace Kelly—she’s the epitome of elegance and beauty. Of course an “average” guy like Stewart is intimidated. We would be, too.
The second way the audience identifies with Hitchcock’s heroes is said heroes’ careers. When you have a job, you can’t help but apply your job’s skills to something else in your life. I’ll use my mom as an example. She used to be a waitress, so now whenever we eat at a restaurant, she feels obligated to gather all of our empty plates and whatnot to make it easier for whoever has to clean up the table. This principle of using job skills outside of the job readily applies to the lives of Hitch’s characters, but it comes with a twist. Instead of these skills being used in a normal setting, the heroes try to bring normalcy to their crazy situations by employing their ordinary abilities. They’re not just trying to get through life, they’re trying to save it. Let’s go through the examples, shall we?
First up is REAR WINDOW’s L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, who is a photographer. Although his broken leg keeps him away from his job, Jeff uses his photography equipment to spy on a suspected murderer. Later, when the murderer finds out about Jeff and comes to his apartment, the wheelchair-bound Jeff has to utilize his camera to set off flash bulbs to blind the murderer until the police can show up.
Next are Ben and Jo McKenna from the 1956 version of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. The McKennas’ son is kidnapped, and it’s up to these two to get him back safely. The audience knows three important things before the kidnapping happens: Ben is a doctor, Jo used to be a famous singer, and Jo and her son have a special song they sing to each other, so when Ben finds out their child is missing, his instincts as a doctor take over. He knows that hysterical people need to be sedated, so before he even tells Jo the bad news, he makes her take a sleeping pill.
Jo’s skills come into play at the end of the film. The McKennas get invited to a party that’s in the same building where their son’s being kept. In order to find out which room he’s in, Jo acts as if she’s entertaining the guests with her singing, when she’s really trying to reach her son.
The mother from the earlier version of TMWKTM also exercises her certain skill set to save her child. At the beginning of the film, before her daughter’s kidnapped, Jill Lawrence is competing in a sharpshooting contest in Switzerland. The conclusion finds the Lawrences and the police at the kidnappers’ hide-out, where a shootout begins. The police kill most of the criminals, but it’s Jill’s shooting skills that save her daughter.
There are a few other less obvious examples, such as Margot Wendice from DIAL M FOR MURDER. One could say that Margot’s occupation is that of a housewife, so when she stabs her attacker with a pair of scissors she used earlier for scrapbooking, she’s using a common housewife’s tool.
TO CATCH A THIEF’s John Robie is a former cat burglar, which implicates him in a string of robberies (notice the similar sounds in “Robie” and “robbery”). In order to clear his name, Robie has to dust off his old tricks to find the real burglar.
It could be argued that Roger Thornhill (NORTH BY NORTHWEST) is able to make it through his situation by lying and quick thinking, which harks back to his profession as an advertising executive, but that may be a stretch. Then again, a man becoming entrapped in a dangerous spy world just because he forgot to tell his secretary something could also be called a stretch…
So, what do you think? Are there any characters/careers that I left out? Comments are welcome!