Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers to “Revenge,” one of Alfred Hitchcock’s short films from his 1955 TV series.
When Alfred Hitchcock was four or five years old, his father handed him a note to bring to the police. At the station, the police read the note and locked toddler Hitchcock in a jail cell because he was, they said, a “naughty boy.” This mysterious event (the father’s reason for which remains unknown) roused in him a fear of the police from then on.
Hitchcock experienced a certain level of confinement in his youth because his family moved around the United Kingdom quite often, making it difficult to maintain friends. He was the youngest of his siblings and had to watch all of them grow up and leave home. After his father died in 1914, fifteen-year-old Hitchcock took a job as a technical clerk at a telegraph company in order to support him and his mother.
His entrance into the cinema business was a steady process. He first started dabbling in the publishing industry by writing copy and drawing graphics. He submitted title card drawings for an upcoming film to the production company, and they hired him in 1919. The rest is really history! He worked his way up to film director and producer at various studios in London and eventually in Hollywood.
“Revenge” short film
Hitchcock created the short film, “Revenge” (Season 1, Episode 1, 1955), for his Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series. I watched it on Hulu recently after having not seen any of his films in years. It drew me back into his film aesthetic and interesting narratives, making me want to binge watch the entire series.
In “Revenge,” actress Vera Miles plays a pretty former ballerina who, we learn, experienced a mental breakdown during her first ballet performance. Ralph Meeker plays her caring, dashing husband. The two characters are newlyweds and are nameless to the audience. They’ve moved into a beachy trailer park with the sound of ocean waves lapping in the background.
The film begins with the couple comfortably settling into their new home and roles as husband and wife. The wife seemingly recovered and, while still fragile, is in good health. However, her condition eventually changes as Hitchcock delves into the disturbing effects trauma can have on the mind. I greatly appreciate how he doesn’t shy from mental illness in his films; here, he shows how a beautiful dancer with a wonderful life can still face mental anguish.
The short film ended on a cliff hanger. What kind of illness did she have? Does she ever recover? Did her husband really kill an innocent man? And, most importantly, what really happened to her while her husband was at work? Hitchcock does a superb job of leaving an element of mystery behind after his films end.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Hitchcock films I’ve seen—Vertigo, Rear Window, Psycho, Notorious (my favorite film of all time), Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and North by Northwest—have left indelible marks on my psyche.
Hitchcock’s film endings are typically satisfying (save Psycho, and perhaps a few others I haven’t seen yet) because they end the way we all want them to end: the police catch the culprit and save the victims. After “Revenge” ends, we can gather that the unseen ending off-camera involved the police catching the murderer and putting him in prison. Perhaps ending his films in this way was also satisfying to Hitchcock on a personal level; he was no longer a child in a prison cell, but instead a director putting the real criminal in prison.
Hitchcock accomplished many feats through his films. His skills included developing complex, intriguing characters, and dynamic scenes from all angles. His scenes, especially the romantic ones, are particularly emotive. They emote suspense and drama, and endearing looks of love or playful smiles etched in the actor’s faces, actions, and even silences. He films characters as if we’re watching through a shadow box. The electric connection between characters is almost tangible.
In conclusion, one could consider Hitchcock’s films as subconscious acts of revenge on his past upbringing. Freedom is a common goal in the plots. A Hitchcock storyline envelops the viewer to the point that they feel free from reality, a prison cell, work, family, or any other obligations.
(Cover photo of Vera Miles in 1959 from General Electric Theater, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.)