On the Edges of Their Seats: Time and Suspense in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious

         When we think of mad pursuits, slayings, disguises, and flesh-eating birds, Alfred Hitchcock is not far behind. For decades, Hitchcock's films have been pushing viewers to the limits of their imaginations and beyond. If viewers were asked to list the most frequently watched Hitchcock films, Notorious may not be one of the first mentioned. Nevertheless, Notorious (1946) is an important cinematic contribution because it demonstrates Hitchcock's ability to manipulate time in order to create suspense.

         Hitchcock slows time down with different shots, creating suspense at just the right moments. In the party scene, Hitchcock swoops down from the top of the staircase with the camera, the "swooping crane shot," focusing in on the exchange of the key between Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant (Cook 275). When asked about this particular shot, Hitchcock referred to it as "a statement which says, 'In this crowded atmosphere there is a very vital item, the crux of everything'" (Bogdanovich 27). With the exception of the privileged viewer, no one actually witnesses the quick change of hands amongst all the revelry. However, the sense of slowing time down, of focusing on the key and the actors creates an air of suspense.

         The viewer wonders if the characters can pull off the change of hands and gain entry into the wine cellar without being caught. When the characters do gain entry to the wine cellar, Hitchcock provides another suspenseful moment with the wine bottle. He solely focuses in on it, and the viewer can see it slowly creeping towards the edge of the shelf, threatening to expose the characters.

         Moving back to the staircase, the viewer can see another example of Hitchcock's technique, which is how he occasionally substitutes the camera for Bergman and Grant. The viewer can see from their perspective, trying desperately to descend the stairs, but at a slow pace, "step by step, deliberately" (Durgnat 196). When Hitchcock then alternates, shooting them laterally, from below, this adds to the feeling of slowness and heightens the viewer's adrenaline level. Hitchcock also directs the camera to the Nazis waiting below, making this scene very suspenseful. If the couple does not reach the car quickly, the couple may become the next Nazi victims.

         Therefore, Notorious demonstrates Hitchcock's ability to manipulate time and create suspense. Hitchcock focuses in on the key, the wine bottle, and the progression down the staircase. When he focuses in, he manages to give a sense of slowed time, which puts the characters in positions of danger and keeps viewers on the edges of their seats.

Works Cited

Bogdanovich, Peter. The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: The Museum of Modern Art Film Library, 1963.

Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 4th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.

Durgnat, Raymond. Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1974.

Crystal Parrish

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