The Hidden Trick in Almost Every Classic Hitchcock Scene

By Bryan Lufkin on at

Hitchcock is the unquestioned master of suspense. But what is it about his scenes that makes them so gripping, and why do they stand up to repeated viewings, even when you know the twist?

To answer this, the Nerdwriter turned to blocking—how you position stuff and people in relation to each other—specifically, the blocking in an early interaction from Vertigo. In the lengthy scene, a retired detective (Jimmy Stewart) meets a shipping tycoon (Tom Helmore) in his office, where he’s about to be lied to quite a bit.

During the meeting, Hitchcock uses the chairs to suggest power, with the dominant party at any given time being physically higher than the seated party. Similarly, the back half of the room is slightly raised and blocked by partial walls, almost like a stage—which is why Hitchcock moves the tycoon there to deliver a short monologue. Even though the words are a misdirection to us and Jimmy Stewart, the blocking and movement telegraph everything we need to know about Helmore’s character.

That’s the thing about Hitchcock’s movies: the twist matters less than realising you had a hundred opportunities to guess it.