Film Journal Essay
1. How does Hitchcock introduce us to the two principle characters? Where do the scenes take place and how is the camera placed?
In the case of Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), her father’s prison sentence leaves her skeptical of others, yet longing for a new companion in her life. She has a reliance on alcohol to wash her troubles away. R. Devlin’s (Cary Grant) a stranger from the party, a very mystery man. The Party takes place at Miami, FL. The camera pans right across Cary Grant’s back and comes to rest behind his right shoulder. The camera is placed behind and to the right of Cary Grant who is sitting and facing away from the camera. In the immediate foreground masking out a small portion of the bottom left corner of the frame is the silhouette of Cary Grant’s right shoulder and part of his head. This establishes that it is a tacitly objective shot from the point of view of Cary Grant.
As we move to the right though the frame in the foreground Ingrid Bergman is sitting facing towards Cary Grant and the camera at eye level. It is a medium shot from her navel up and she sits nearly in the center of the frame in front of Cary Grant. Their relation relative to each other is conclusive of a possible a romance and long lasting connection. In the background dividing the frame in half behind Ingrid Bergman is a couple dancing. Finally, in the foreground on the right side of the frame sits a man who is profiled and masks out about a third of the bottom half of the frame.
The significance of the guests framed is they act as a sort of mask leading our eyes to Ingrid Bergman’s glances and expressions toward Cary Grant in the foreground of the frame. , the shot establishes Cary Grant’s role as a man of mystery and foreshadows an element of romance between Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. 2. How does Hitchcock get us to identify with and care about the two lead actors Carey Grant and Ingrid Bergman?
One scene that illustrates the tensions in Alicia and Devlin’s relationship is when Alicia enters Dr. Barbosa’s office to ask the investigators for advice on marrying Sebastian. When Alicia enters the room is a long take. As the men stand up to greet her, their shadows eclipse most of the frame except for Alicia’s face. Moreover, the men’s bodies are cut off by the edges of the frame as they accommodate Alicia, while she stays in the middle of the frame in bright light. These three elements emphasize that Alicia is the center of attention. Hitchcock is glorifying Alicia for Devlin to tease him because he cannot discuss his feelings for her. Even though all of the other men surround her, when Alicia says the word, “marry,” there is a cut to a shot of Devlin still standing by the window. The low key lighting allows the venetian blinds to create streaks of light over Devlin’s body. In this situation, these lines represent the entrapment of his emotions.
During the interaction, the shots on Alicia and Devlin become tighter because they are expecting each other to be conflicted with her marriage to Sebastian. Neither, however, will admit their concerns, and they are both surprised. At the end of the scene, the camera pans with Devlin as he exits, giving the effect that he walks a large distance in a short period of time and emphasizes his discomfort. The shot then lingers on Alicia’s expression of disappointment while keeping the door in the corner of the frame. In addition, When the men are alerted to Ms. Huberman’s arrival, there is a close-up of the back of Devlin’s shoulders and head. Cary Grant quickly shifts his weight back and forth which conveys the nervousness that Devlin is feeling because he loves Alicia. However, for the sake of the mission, he must admit it. He also begins to turn around, but has to collect himself once more before joining the conversation to defend Alicia.
The ensuing exchange of banter further divides Devlin from the others as they are portrayed in a wide three-shot, versus the close-up on Devlin’s upper body. This framing choice makes it clear that the sides of this argument are three against one, and that Beardsley and Prescott have lost some trust in Devlin, because they can tell that Devlin has feelings for Alicia. 3. How would you describe the mood or tone of the film in visual terms? Alfred Hitchcock incorporates multiple instances of point of view editing and cross-cutting to explore man’s intimate feeling of helplessness. He accomplishes this task by creating tense situations in which the viewer is more informed than the characters. However, the viewer’s omniscient range of narration is stifled by several occurrences of perceptual subjectivity, creating a momentary feeling of helplessness within the viewer.
The first takes place after Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) has consumed a large amount of alcohol and has decided to drive a car with Devlin (Cary Grant). At first, the camera is stationary and the car is seen rapidly approaching and swerving from a distance. The next shot is from the hood of the car and has both Alicia and Devlin within the frame. It is clear that Alicia is not fit to drive, but the stationary camera does not evoke an immediate response of fear. Hitchcock understands that the scene could be more terrifying and has Alicia bluntly ask Devlin if he is “scared”.
Furthermore, Hitchcock is having Alicia ask the viewer if he is scared and follows up the direct line with a point of view shot from Alicia. It is only during this shot from the view of a drunken driver, along with masking the camera with uncontrolled hair that the viewer feels truly out of control and terrified. Although this shot seems like it doesn’t significantly contribute to the plot of the film, it is the first time that the viewer if allowed to peer through the eyes of a main character and demonstrates Hitchcock’s understanding of perceptual subjectivity.
Hitchcock also adds suspense to the film by using cross-cutting to leave the viewer eagerly helpless within the limitations of time. The major scene that uses cross-cutting to compress time and space is during the large party that Sebastian hosts at his house. Before Devlin and Alicia break into the wine cellar, a sense of urgency is immediately generated as Alicia explains to Devlin that they must complete their task before Sebastian’s server has to replenish the wine supply. This line of dialogue creates pressure and sets up the opportunity to use crosscutting to indicate urgency. Hitchcock uses cross-cutting, or “alternate shots of two or more lines of action occurring in different places simultaneously’’ between Devlin and Alicia’s pursuit and the dwindling wine supply in order to make the viewer constantly aware of the overall situation.
This is significant because only the viewer is allowed to see how much time Devlin and Alicia have before they get caught. By alternating between these two shots, Hitchcock also minimalizes the space between the two events. The viewer assumes that once the wine is gone, then Devlin and Alicia will be caught. The viewer is not show the space between the wine cellar and the table upstairs, but rather the immediate surroundings of the separate characters. Hitchcock uses this technique to directly infuse suspense into the viewer’s perception of a situation. 4. Describe a few of the most visually stunning shots?
Hitchcock also uses point of view editing to define the relationships between characters. In the scene when Alicia wakes up after the midnight drive, there is a series of oblique shots of Devlin walking into the room. It is clear that this is the perceptual subjectivity of Alicia because one of the shots rotates to mimic her rotation in the bed. Oblique shots are typically used to show mental instability, which in this case, is caused by Alicia’s alcohol consumption. In these shots, Devlin is seen standing over the camera, which shows that he is protecting Alicia. Even though the two had met the previous night, this gesture allows Alicia to trust Devlin, and their relationship intensifies.
Another stunning shot scene is when Sebastian searches his wine cellar. Since he was engaging in illicit activity, Sebastian could not trust Devlin after he sees Devlin kissing Alicia. He is suspicious that Devlin had stolen the key to steal a wine bottle. Though the cellar appears to be untouched, Sebastian is compelled to look back once more. A cut to a high angle shot of liquid in the sink is enough evidence to tell Sebastian that a bottle had been broken. For Sebastian, this shot reveals that Devlin is an American agent, and that Alicia is involved in his plot. At this moment, Sebastian learns that he cannot trust his wife, or Devlin. The hostility comes to a climax during the last scene when Devlin removes Alicia from Sebastian’s custody. Sebastian’s objection to this is enough let his associates know that he has jeopardized their cover.
Alicia is poisoned is another example of perceptual subjectivity. She does not realize that Sebastian discovered her true loyalties, so she does not anticipate that Sebastian would harm her. After drinking the coffee, there are quick zooms on Alex Sebastian and Madame Sebastian (Leopoldine Konstantin). These show Alicia’s realization of their intentions and that they can no longer be trusted. In addition, there are several shots when the frame gets warped and the other actors become silhouettes. These images are accompanied by a chaotic score, which has an equally nauseating effect on the viewer as it does for Alicia.
These point of view shots are the culmination of Alicia and Sebastian’s betrayal of one another which are very interesting. 5. What are some of the things about the film that impressed you the most? In this move, each of the main character has difficulty in finding mutual trust with one another. Since each character has their own motive, they are only willing to open themselves up enough to achieve their goals. None of them admit to their true feelings until Devlin rescues Alicia, which finally implies that their trust and love are reciprocated. The range of narration, which is mostly omniscient, helps bring out the progression of each character. Alfred Hitchcock really did a good job uses mise en scene to convey the level of trust in each character’s relationships.