Department of Theatre and Film
Knife Skills: Women and the Cut in Hitchcock's Cinema
Leslie H. Abramson
For all the food preparation and consumption that take place in the films of the single director whose epicurean proclivities are nearly as famed as his cinematic ones, appetizing displays of the culinary arts are rarely produced by women in domiciliary settings. Among the myriad meals served throughout Hitchcock’s oeuvre–the slices of roast beef, quiche, sautéed haddock, fried eggs, baked stuffed lobster, sauced pig’s feet, roasted chicken, and cold sandwiches–not only the generally more palatable but least disconcerting and pernicious dining experiences tend to involve restaurant fare. Considerably more problematic is domestic, gastronomy-affiliated women’s work, which seldom provides comforting sustenance but more often is a challenge to the palate, the olfactory senses, ocular pleasure, psychic contentment, or the integrity of the male body. To be served food by a woman, or to encounter a woman wielding cooking implements in Hitchcock’s films, is oftentimes to risk everything from indigestion and menace at the family table to gruesome displays of butchery and death.
More than culinary prowess, what Hitchcock’s women have picked up in the kitchen are knife skills, which constitute an absolute threat to masculinity. From Alice White, who stabs her would-be rapist to death with a bread knife in Blackmail (1929); to Mrs. Verloc, who fatally lacerates her husband with the carving knife used for a roast in Sabotage (1936); to Mrs. Bates, who lethally slashes a showering motel guest and a detective with a chef’s knife in Psycho (1960)–acts that truncate her own son’s existence; to the farmer’s wife, who plunges a kitchen knife into an East German agent’s chest before sending him to his Holocaustian death via gas oven in Torn Curtain (1966), women are allied with the literal and figurative execution of the cut.1 In Hitchcock’s comestible-laden filmic corpus, this facile bladework is often identified with something more than domestically-situated gender horrors. The masterful cutlery skills of these women constitute not only an absolute grave danger to individual men, but a formidable display of the power of cinema itself. In critical scenes of houseknivery punctuating Blackmail,Sabotage, Psycho, and Torn Curtain, women’s artful terminal cutting functions as a menace to the male that, via its affiliation with innovative editing sequences, resonates as a challenge to classical stylistic practices and ultimately constitutes a celebrated contribution to cinema aesthetics.2
Female bladework on screen has often been associated with the phallic woman, a threat to masculinity emergent as a typology during the mid-1910s in the figure of the sexually predatory vamp, an image that spawned generations of specularized lethal femininity.3 Among the subsequent lineage of menacing women in cinema, those who bear long-handled cutting equipment–as well as others who wield firearms, wear jacked-up high heels, and pronouncedly draw on cigarettes—are not unfamiliar, nor is their interpretation as a castrative presence in analyses of such figures as the femme fatale in film noir and neo-noir, as well as murderous women in thrillers and action films.4 Situated within this genealogy, Hitchcock produced the most extended oeuvre to incorporate female knife-wielding as a repeated motif, stretching from his first half-decade of filmmaking, in the latter 1920s, through one of his final releases, in the mid-1960s. Moreover, as opposed to such early film images of notoriously dangerous women endowed with elongated instruments of power as the cigarette holder-brandishing vamp, or the continual resurgence of those who unexpectedly flourish concealed bladed or barreled weaponry, Hitchcock’s work scrupulously naturalizes women’s knife skills.5 As he explained to Andy Warhol regarding the importance of drawing narrative components from settings, “Well, you say to yourself [in the case of such films as Secret Agent (1936)], ‘This film is laid in Switzerland. What have they got in Switzerland? They’ve got Alps, chocolate factories, they’ve got lakes, and cuckoo clocks,’ and I’m always a believer in working into the film some of the elements” of the environment (Warhol 199).6 In an interview at the American Film Institute, he more specifically identified such elements as those that are “indigenous” to the character (Hitchcock, Dialogue 85).7 Accordingly, throughout Hitchcock’s work, displays of the woman’s authoritative cut foreground the locus of origins–origins that are both conventionally domestic and distinctly self-reflexive insofar as they are pointedly allied with the artistry of editing.
The first display of formidable female knife skills in Hitchcock’s oeuvre emerged in a work that was renowned as Great Britain’s inaugural full-length sound film, Blackmail. Released in 1929, a time when international film culture expressed a great deal of concern regarding the impact of sound on the aesthetics of cinema–generally thought to have reached its peak of refinement as a silent medium–Blackmail was celebrated for its artistry, hinging in significant part on incisive editing directly allied with the knife-wielding woman. In the film, a tobacconist’s daughter, Alice, anxious to experience the world of sophistication, forsakes her stalwart boyfriend (a Scotland Yard detective) for a date with a painter in the wake of an argument at a crowded restaurant. After abandoning the security of the restaurant, the naïve Alice falls for the oldest trick in the masculine book, accepting an invitation up to the artist’s studio. Once there, she agrees to another of his propositions by changing into a tutu, an act that eventually arouses him into forcibly pulling Alice onto his curtained bed and attempting rape. The sounds of Alice’s protests accompany a shot of the jostling curtain, denoting the exertions occurring behind the scrim. Within seconds, Alice’s flailing hand emerges from the curtain and eventually settles on the handle of a long-bladed knife lying on a plate beside a loaf of bread on a bedside table. Grabbing the knife and quickly pulling it behind the curtain, Alice is soon able to end the struggle, emerging from behind the curtain, blade in hand. At this conjunctive site of bed and bread–the locus of two consuming appetites–Alice much prefers to handle the equipment of the latter.
Alice’s terminal cut is followed by an eruption of diegetic and extradiegetic incisions–all motivated from her perspective–that challenge the conventional use of male apparatus and established masculine aesthetics, and are ultimately extolled as innovative film artistry. The stabbing of the artist with his own bread knife is succeeded by a gesture in which Alice literally rips traditional representational art by tearing a hole in his painting of a classical jester. The scene is followed by a subjective visual montage sequence psychically motivated by Alice, in which she wanders the streets of London in a daze, suturing the sights with images of the knife in motion and the artist’s immobile arm. This unconventionally cut, expressionistic visual sequence is soon accompanied by the film’s most widely-lauded passage: a scene at the family table the next morning–again, executed from Alice’s point of view–orchestrating subjective and nonsubjective sound, image, and editing, all literally and figuratively associated with bladework.
In the celebrated “knife scene,” as Alice and her parents consume their breakfast, a gossiping female customer stands in the doorway to the parlor, incessantly chattering about the newly-discovered murder: “I mean it’s one thing to buy chocolates out of hours, but it’s quite another to stick a knife into a gentleman . . . . A good, clean, honest whack over the head with a brick is one thing. There’s something British about that. But knives, nope, knives is not right. I must say, that’s what I think and that’s what I feel. Whatever the provocation, I could never use a knife. Now mind you, a knife is a difficult thing to handle. I mean any knife . . .” As the camera pans to the still-dazed Alice, followed by a cut to a medium close-up emphasizing her subjectivity, the offscreen jabber fades in and out from her aural point of view such that the only audibly recognizable word, repeatedly enunciated, is “knife.” In response to her father’s request to cut the loaf on the table, Alice reaches for the bread knife on this second occasion and, after deliberatively turning it in her hand, is startled amidst the muffled drone of the customer’s patter, by the suddenly exaggerated volume and accentuated intonation of the iterated word, registering as “KNIFE!” In alarmed response, her hand jolts upward with a staccato slicing of the air, she lets the knife loose, and it pitches onto the floor, motivating both a film cut and her father’s ironically cautionary advice: “You know you ought to be more careful. Might have cut somebody with that.” In this pioneering use of expressionistic sound and editing foregrounding Alice’s overarching perspective, not only has the knife returned to its domestic origins, once again situated beside a loaf of bread, but the cuts emanate from women’s oral and physical knife usage, as well as from the feminine reinterpretive “imaginary.” Further, the female cut is recognized as culturally antiestablishment by a woman–the customer–who has noted that the use of a knife for the executional laceration is not “British.”
Blackmail has been widely recognized for its innovative film artistry as well as for its incisive examination of the cultural and cinematic position of women. Discussing early critical responses to the film, Tom Ryall notes, “The ‘knife’ sequence, with its expressionist manipulation of the soundtrack, seemed to demonstrate the possibilities of a departure from the ‘photographs of people talking’ that dialogue films seemed to invite” (52). Feminist readings by Deborah Linderman, Tania Modleski, and others have focused on the film as a commentary on woman’s status in the regime of masculine authority. Linderman points out that after the murder, Alice “hold[s] the knife in groin position perpendicular to the floor. There is no way, after all to represent woman as potent except by representing her as symbolically empowered” (26). Yet, Linderman resists acknowledging Alice’s prowess, arguing that she lacks masculine “signifying privilege” and the knife symbolizes her “unintelligibility” (ibid). Modleski examines the film’s alliance with the woman’s point of view, foregrounding its emphasis on “the problems of woman’s speaking” (21) and “the extent to which the film undermines patriarchal law and creates sympathy for and an identification with the female outlaw” (30). Such illuminative feminist analyses nonetheless overlook how Blackmail’s repetition of knife images emphasizes Alice’s pointedly lethal power through the cut, as well as how the film carefully identifies the source and nature of this potency (including the implement’s extensive accessibility to women) by twice locating her bladework at the site of its conventionally domestic indigenous origins.
In Sabotage, Hitchcock again returns to culinary work to foreground women’s imposing cutting skills as both a danger to the male and a display of innovative editing techniques. During this 1936 film, Mr. Verloc, owner of a cinema and a covert anarchist, sends his wife’s brother to deliver a bomb, concealed in a film can, to Piccadilly Circus. The literally incendiary film explodes in transit, killing the brother–a catastrophe of which Mrs. Verloc, unaware of her husband’s anarchist activities, is apprised close to dinnertime. After Mr. Verloc confesses his role in her brother’s death, the stunned Mrs. Verloc passes from their apartment into the movie theater, where she momentarily experiences the palliative and distractive power of cinema upon watching a portion of the Disney cartoon, Who Killed Cock Robin? She laughs with the audience until she witnesses the songbird’s murder, whereupon she is inspired to return to her apartment behind the movie theater and begin her own series of cuts, slicing a roast for her waiting husband with grave consequences.8 In a sequence of approximately twenty separate shots comprising a 1 ½ minute montage sequence, images of Mrs. Verloc wielding the carving knife to plate the evening’s dinner, turning the utensil while deep in thought, her visage displaying an emotional struggle, and her hands releasing and grabbing the knife, are intercut with shots of Verloc casually and callously discussing dinner, noticing the knife, recognizing its implications, and approaching his wife, whereupon she fatally stabs him.
In the wake of Sabotage’s release, as was the case with Blackmail, women’s potent bladework was again associated with the pinnacle of cinema artistry. Off screen, Hitchcock repeatedly pointed to the dinner scene as an example of particularly adroit–one might say cutting edge–editing, in which “the screen . . . speak[s] its own language, freshly coined . . . [by] treat[ing] an acted scene as a piece of raw material which must be broken up, taken to bits, before it can be woven into an expressive visual pattern” (Hitchcock, Direction 256).9 Hitchcock explained to Francois Truffaut that the scene’s editing strategy was motivated by the female point of view:
You see, to maintain the public’s sympathy for Sylvia Sidney [Mrs. Verloc], her husband’s death had to be accidental. And to bring this off, it was absolutely essential that the audience identify itself with Sylvia Sidney. . . . the knife acts as a magnet; it’s almost as if her hand, against her will, is compelled to grab it. The camera frames her hand, then her eyes, moving back and forth between the two until suddenly her look makes it clear that she’s become aware of the potential meaning of that knife. At that moment the camera moves back to Verloc . . . . Then . . . back to the hand and the knife. . . . As a film director I must try to convey this woman’s frame of mind to the audience by purely cinematic means. (Truffaut 110-111)
Paradoxically, albeit identified with not only the woman’s perspective but her essential moral innocence, the editing sequence clearly establishes her menacing innate incisive potency. Further, whereas the male displays other hungers, the woman discovers–again to her surprise–that she has a powerful appetite for the exertion of the penetrating cut. Considered in terms of classical Hollywood cinema’s constitution of woman as subject of the gaze (as theorized by Laura Mulvey and interrogated by innumerable others), via innovative sequences motivated by the bladework of Mrs. Verloc and her knife-wielding feminine cohorts in Hitchcock’s films, these individuals become formidable figures of the conventional masculine look’s reconstruction through the female-activated, reconceived cut.
Blackmail and Sabotage emphasize the instinctual nature of female knifework and women’s awe of their own lacerative agency and its consequences, suggestively allied with the feminine imaginary.10 Further, these early films thematize the transference of guilt from a predatory male to a woman who uses culinary knifework as a corrective to misguided masculine dominance. However, Hitchcock’s later work harbors no such female reservations. As Sidney Gottlieb points out, the dinner scene in Sabotage constitutes “Hitchcock’s major tour de force of montage until the shower scene in Psycho” and, in the latter masterful display of cutting via kitchen implement and cinema editing—and its successor, Torn Curtain—women wield their knives authoritatively (236).
The shower scene in Psycho, released in 1960, is the most analyzed display of female houseknivery in Hitchcock’s work. Myriad scholars have examined its intricate orchestration of shots synchronized with the slashing motion of Mrs. Bates’ knife and the cutting tones of composer Bernard Herrmann’s metallic “screeching violins.” However, what has gone unnoticed is that the diegetic source of Hitchcock’s crowning editing achievement—the pinnacle of his cutting-edge displays of knife skills puncturing the classical Hollywood screen–is a woman’s kitchen.
In Psycho, Marion, a secretary, absconds with $40,000 from her office and drives hours to reach her debt-ridden boyfriend, stopping for the night at the Bates Motel. There, she is greeted by the proprietor, Norman, who, after determining that she does not plan on driving to a diner for supper (as we now know, a much safer choice), brings her food from his invalid mother’s kitchen. Marion subsequently takes a shower, at which time Mrs. Bates stabs her to death with a kitchen knife. Later, Mrs. Bates murders a detective by repeated stabbing. Eventually, the murderer is revealed to be Norman; under the control of his long-dead mother’s identity and in her guise, he has become a serial killer. In this case of schizophrenia, Norman is ultimately consumed by Mother’s personality.
Among other psychoanalytic diagnoses, the blade-wielding Mrs. Bates has been characterized as a phallic mother, most notably in the work of Raymond Bellour. In “Psychosis, Neurosis, Perversion,” Bellour situates Mrs. Bates within her son’s reflexive “chain in which the excessiveness of the psychotic-perverse desire of the [voyeuristic] male subject can be structured–from the man to the camera, his true measure . . . The chain may be written phallus-bird-fetish-mother-eye-knife-camera” (250). Psycho invites readings of the abnormal mother-son relationship foregrounding the masculine subject insofar as Freudianism is introduced into the film by a psychiatrist who analyzes the case (albeit inadequately) in the penultimate scene. Yet, to unsheathe Mother from Norman’s body, in terms of the film’s alternate order of diagnostics, Psycho matches issues of psychic inherency with the domestically indigenous nature of Mrs. Bates’ potent knifework. When Norman returns to the house to prepare Marion’s dinner, “mother” asserts her dominance by emphasizing her ascendancy over home cookery, ranting, “She’ll not be appeasing her ugly appetite with my food or my son.” As a result, Marion’s final meal principally consists of a platter of sliced bread. If, as Modleski points out rather tongue-in -cheek with regard to power relations between devourer and devoured, “You are . . . what you eat” (107), then, under the authority of Mrs. Bates, Marion is something cleaved into pieces.11 In fact, the film locates the origins of the knife sequence in the woman’s kitchen; just prior to the shower assault, Norman sits distractedly at the kitchen table.
As opposed to Blackmail, Sabotage, and Torn Curtain (to be discussed shortly), the knife-bearing “woman” in Psycho initially poses a deadly menace to another female (Mrs. Bates subsequently stabs a predatory male, the detective Arbogast). However, the shock of the shower scene ultimately gives way to a more disturbing consequence, one visited upon the male and his self-constructed masculine order. Even more fundamentally troubling than Marion’s death is the ultimate narrative result of Mrs. Bates’ superior cutlery skills: the vital ligature between Norman and his mother becomes terminally riven and the son’s identity no longer exists. In Psycho, the lethal woman’s emergence as both knife- and child-bearer registers as Hitchcock’s most haunting figure of feminine production through the apparatus of the cut.
The single laudatory aspect of Mrs. Bates’ knifework is, of course, its artistry. The shower scene, an approximately 2 ½ -minute montage composed of more than 70 shots, is the most widely-extolled exhibition of intricate, innovative editing in all of Hitchcock’s work. The montage cuts together shots of Mrs. Bates’ upraised, kitchen knife-bearing arm, the blade slashing downward, segments of Marion’s dripping head and screaming mouth, the knife juxtaposed to her torso, and shreds of blood raining into the bathtub, among numerous other images. As Susan Smith notes, the knife’s “wounding power is conveyed here as much aurally as visually, the bird-like shrieks of the violin serving to punctuate the soundtrack in ways that mirror the stabbing action of the knife itself” (97).12 Mrs. Bates’ superlative slicing not only violates classical Hollywood cinema by excising the protagonist approximately halfway through the film via a cutting-edge montage, but further contravenes patriarchal order by censoring Norman’s “normal” masculine desire for a male-female relationship and by stabbing to death a figure of masculine law, the detective. With regard to the former, Hitchcock stated that the film was “probably one of the most cinematic pictures I’ve ever made” (Hitchcock, On Style 288).13 Peter Bogdanovich observed that, in Psycho, Hitchcock’s “ideas about montage reach . . . a culmination” (7). As Bogdanovich’s 1963 comment implies, Psycho activated a domestic critical reassessment of Hitchcock, specifically with regard to the director’s aestheticism. In his inaugural Village Voice review, critic Andrew Sarris wrote, “A close inspection of PSYCHO (sic) indicates . . . that Hitchcock is the most-daring avant-garde film-maker in America today,” concluding that the film “stand[s] in the same creative rank as the great European films” (“The Movie Journal,” n.p.).
The final exhibition of terminal female houseknivery in Hitchcock’s work occurs in Torn Curtain, a 1966 release in which not only does the woman wield a blade with absolute authority and conviction, but the execution of the cut bears an altogether different aesthetic approach to the feminine incision. In this film, an American scientist, Michael Armstrong, feigns defection to East Germany with the covert aim of obtaining a critical formula from an Iron Curtain scientist. He is followed by an East German agent, Gromek, who correctly suspects that the American scientist remains loyal to the West. In a key scene, Armstrong travels to a farmhouse to contact western sympathizers. There, the threatening agent is exterminated, a turning point enabled by the superior knifework of the farmer’s wife.
In Torn Curtain, the fatal laceration from a carving knife occurs directly in the kitchen, as Hitchcock ultimately returns to culinary work’s locus of origin to make an altogether different comment about the art of murder. Hitchcock explained to Truffaut, “In line with our old principle, the killing has to be carried out by means suggested by the locale and the characters. We are in a farmhouse and the farmer’s wife is doing the killing. So we use household objects: the kettle full of soup, a carving knife . . . and, finally, the gas oven” (311). As Gromek begins to call the authorities from a phone in the kitchen, the farmer’s wife throws a pot of soup at his head. Subsequently, she pointedly inserts herself into–and definitively transforms–the arduous physical struggle between Gromek and the insufficiently powerful Armstrong by grabbing a long-bladed kitchen knife from the drawer and plunging it into Gromek’s chest, exhibiting her significantly expurgative agency. In this indigenous setting, the woman’s incision produces a display of the ghastly, slow-cooked nature of actual homicide; after the stabbing, the German operative is dragged across her kitchen floor and retributively gassed in the oven. Hitchcock noted, “In doing that long killing scene [approximately 3 ½ minutes], my first thought . . . was to avoid the cliché. In every picture somebody gets killed and it goes very quickly. They are stabbed or shot, and the killer never even stops to look and see whether the victim is really dead or not. And I thought it was time to show that it was very difficult, very painful, and it takes a very long time to kill a man” (ibid).14
Among Hitchcock’s female knife-wielders, not only is the woman most closely allied with domestic work–the apron-wearing farmer’s wife–the most notably self-composed in employing the implement. As her expression reveals just before she plunges the utensil into Gromek, the blade-bearing woman is ultimately divulged as an individual who displays a healthy appetite for the act of laceration. In this case, the ferocity of her initial cut, which breaks the knife in Gromek’s chest, results in the newly inventive sequence. Embedded in Gromek, the blade is a lasting mark of the female slice (and its apparatus), one that engenders a powerful, aesthetically innovative lacerative restraint in the composition of the scene.
In Hitchcock’s strikingly executed scenes of houseknivery displaying blade skills indigenous to spaces of consumable cultural production, the audience is transported not only back to the originary site of culinary work as a source of the female cut, but to the origins of cinema production. Specifically, the woman’s superlative bladework is a formidable exhibition of prowess rooted almost as solidly in the conditions of early filmmaking as in the kitchen. In cinema’s first decades–particularly in the fledgling British and American film industries of the 1910s and 1920s–women oftentimes held the position of film editor, an occupation then commonly known by the distinctive appellation “cutter” and associated with screen aesthetics. Nathalie Morris notes, “Commenting on the American industry, an article in The Motion Picture Studio in 1925 claimed that women were ‘among the greatest “cutters” and film editors.’ It suggested that they were ‘quick and resourceful . . . ingenious in their work [with ] a strong sense of what the public wants to see’” (4).15
In fact, during the 1920s, Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville, was a highly regarded cutter in the British film industry, a professional distinctly committed to the aesthetics of editing.16 In her 1923 article for The Motion Picture News, “Cutting and Continuity,” Reville asserted (in reference to the title),
These two very important branches of the film business have been sadly neglected, and it seems incredible that such necessary items should be continually overlooked.
These two words will always go hand in hand, and until the art of both is thoroughly mastered we will still have to bear with ‘that long-drawn-out film’ . . .
If Mr. Producer would give just a little more forethought to the continuity and cutting of his production before commencing it–and keep these two words continually in his mind whilst he is building it up–how much worry and time he could save in the cutting room . . .
The art of cutting is Art indeed, with a capital A, and is of far greater importance than is generally acknowledged.
Reville concludes, “the art of cutting . . . until it is more thoroughly mastered, will prove a holdback to British pictures” (Reville 33-34).17 At the time the article was written–two years before Hitchcock’s directorial debut–Reville evinces a clear vision of editing as a method of achieving continuity, yet advocates for the importance of cutting as “an art and technique” of alchemizing a cinematic “drag” (one of “many pitfalls into which it is very easy to slip” when editing) into a “snappy” film, indicating her interest in aesthetically unconventional bladework as well (Reville 32-33).18
Reville was Hitchcock’s closest creative advisor throughout his career, one whose consultation he deemed critical to his work.19 Their collaboration was initiated through the function of cutting when, as an assistant director, Hitchcock hired Reville as an editor on Woman to Woman (1923). Her creative sensibilities with regard to editing led to a dispute on their next film together, Hitchcock’s first as a director, The Pleasure Garden (1925). According to Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell in her biography of Reville, “Following the end of filming, my parents had their first–and rare–disagreement. It had to do with the editing of the picture, which my mother supervised; my father said it was ‘flashy’! What I believe he meant was that the scenes were more edited than usual. With her editing skills, Alma had made the film more dynamic but might have overdone it a bit” (O’Connell and Bouzereau 42). A cutting-edge sensibility may have been natural to Reville; Morris notes that subsequent films on which she worked with other directors contained inventive visual sequences as well (20-22).20 Although Hitchcock’s knife-wielding women are not figurations of Reville (who was also an accomplished home chef), her work and that of her female colleagues constitutes a significant historical basis for the alliance of innovative editing and the feminine in his films.
Through the site of indigenous cultural production, Hitchcock’s work both recognizes and opens up an aesthetic space for penetrating women, one not only acknowledged in the industry and experienced firsthand behind the scenes, but through his work manifestly inscribed on screen. Informed by the conditions of early film production and authorship, in reflexive displays of superlative women’s knife skills through cutting-edge sequences, the director’s films pointedly speak in the lexicon of a vital female voice—significantly, when the most is at stake cinematically. Menacing as it may be to male narrative dominance and masculine Establishment conventions of domestic culture at home and in the cinema, female bladework bears the responsibility of cleaving apart the patriarchal order to advance screen artistry. Historically, in the film industry, women’s original investment in the cut was foreclosed by men, who largely assumed the position of film editors in the sound era. However, in Hitchcock’s work, women remain endowed with the incisive power of an aestheticism unavailable to men–except by plumbing the female imagination. In effect, women’s artful knife skills etch a piercing, feminine inventiveness into Hitchcock’s work, cooking up what the opposite gender cannot.
1. Other Hitchcock works containing culinary-affiliated perils and macabre exhibitions include Shadow of a Doubt, in which the evening meal becomes a locus of anxiety for Charles Oakley as his niece, in the course of clearing away and serving dishes, insinuates that she is aware of her uncle’s hidden identity as a serial murderer; Notorious, in which Alicia unappetizingly hacks at a partly burned chicken that she has roasted for a romantic dinner with Devlin; and Frenzy, in which the cooking experiments of the Chief Inspector’s wife result in visually and gastronomically unpalatable dishes for her husband.
2. Although not associated with the kitchen, domiciliary cutting equipment is employed by a woman to kill a masculine adversary in Dial M for Murder (1954), when Margot Wendice fatally stabs her would-be male strangler with a pair of scissors in her London flat. Wendice’s bladework is doubly allied with innovative cinematic practices and female domesticity as well insofar as the visually climactic moment of this 3-D film (Hitchcock’s sole foray into the then-new technology) occurs when Margot, lying on a desk with a stocking tightened around her throat, reaches straight back towards–and seemingly into–the audience to grab a pair of sewing shears, which she plunges into her attacker’s back.
3. Though little of her work survives, evidence suggests that the archetypal vamp, Theda Bara, was associated to some degree with bladework and sharp edges. Some publicity stills (including Bara as the title character in Cleopatra) picture the actress poised with knives and emphasize her elongated, sharp fingernails. Further, Bara wields a knife in the few surviving seconds of Cleopatra (1917). Gertrud Koch notes that the vamp is “in some cases even stylized into a phallus. Tailored dresses were exceptionally well suited for this purpose. They enwrapped the body like a luminous second skin. In a similar style tight caps often adorned the head to emphasize the rod-like form.” “Why Women Go to the Movies,” Jump Cut 27 (July 1982) 51-53. http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC27folder/KochonWmSpectship.html
4. See, for example, identifications of iconography associated with the femme fatale and other threatening women in the following: Janey Place, “Women in Film Noir,” in Women in Film Noir, ed. E. Ann Kaplan (London: BFI Publishing, 1998) 54; Chris Straayer, “Femme Fatale or Lesbian Femme: Bound in Sexual Différance,” in Women in Film Noir 155; and Krin Gabbard and Glen Gabbard, “Phallic Women in the Contemporary Cinema,” American Imago 50:4 (Winter 1993) 421-439.
5. Needless to say, Hitchcock’s work is rife with pop-Freudianism as well. With regard to weaponry, women bearing sharp instruments–indigenous and otherwise–are not, of course, otherwise absent in cinema (e.g., the title character in Cleopatra  as noted above, the dagger-bearing Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles’ Macbeth , the kitchen knife-wielding femme fatale in Fatal Attraction , and the hypodermic needle-equipped nurse in Misery ). However, Hitchcock’s oeuvre continuously and from an early date situates female bladework in a specifically naturalized setting.
6. This interview, conducted by Warhol and others, was originally published in INTERVIEW magazine, September 1974.
7. Hitchcock explained, “. . . in the picture Rear Window, James Stewart is a photographer, so naturally he fends off his attacker with the use of photographic material, such as a flash gun. That’s only because it is indigenous to him. As much as I possibly can, I always insist on using those elements that belong to the character and involve them in the actions of the story.” This interview, conducted in 1970, was originally published in Dialogue on Film, no. 5, American Film Institute: Center for Advanced Film Studies, 1972.
8. The sequence does not exhibit Mrs. Verloc slicing the meat, although this action is implied. When she lifts the cloche, the roast is in one piece and she picks up the carving knife and fork. The montage then cuts away to a shot of Mr. Verloc and, when it cuts back to Mrs. Verloc, the meat is carved.
9. This essay was originally published in Footnotes to the Film, ed., Charles Davy, in 1937.
10. The alliance of women’s knifework with the deeply imaginary is manifest through the portrayal of Alice and Mrs. Verloc in trancelike states literally envisioning the knife (in the montage depicting Alice walking the streets of London) or considering its implications (as both Alice and Mrs. Verloc deliberate upon the knives in their hands at the family table).
11. In The Women Who Knew Too Much, Modleski points out how the “devouring, voracious mother” is a menace that repeatedly surfaces in Hitchcock’s films, embodying the anxiety (identified by structural anthropologist Levi-Strauss) inspired by “the common cultural ‘equation of male with devourer and female with devoured’ [which] may be intended to reverse the situation man most fears”: sexual absorption by the woman of the male’s “vital force.” In any case, Modleski argues, “the identification of male with devourer and female with devoured may not always have the psychic effect of negating the imagined ability of the female to absorb the male, since food is frequently endowed with the power to transform the eater into its likeness. You are, after all, what you eat.” (106-107.)
12. Smith further points out how this dual visual and aural proclivity initially surfaces in Blackmail (97).
13. Hitchcock further explains with regard to his use of montage associated with the woman’s cut, “We can have pieces of film that are put together to create an idea, or the pieces of film that are put together to create an emotion. Now the bathtub scene was an emotional putting together of film . . . an expression of extreme violence. Now also in Psycho you had a scene where the detective was coming up the stairs. Now the audience knew that there was a menace around. A monster. So he came up the stairs and when he got to the top of the stairs, I took the camera very high, extremely high. So that he was a small figure. And the figure of the woman came out, very small, dashed at him with a knife. And the knife went out, and we’re still very high, and as the knife started to come down, I cut to a big head of the man. And the knife went right across the face. . . Now that’s juxtaposition of pieces of the film to create emotion.” (Gottlieb 289.) This interview was originally published in Cinema 1, no. 5 (Aug.-Sept. 1963): 4-8, 34-35.
14. The entire scene is approximately 5 minutes in length; it takes approximately 3 ½ minutes to kill Gromek.
15. Despite the characterization of women editors in The Motion Picture Studio and in Reville’s writings in the 1920s, during the previous decade, according to Morris, editing “was not seen as a creative job; the role of the editor was usually to physically cut and splice the film according to the . . . [director’s] specifications, and this is perhaps one reason why so many women were able to find work in this capacity.” (4)
16. Reville began working in the film industry in the mid-1910s.
17. This article was originally published in The Motion Picture News on January 1923 (10), three years before Reville married Hitchcock. Morris points out that the article’s discussion of the necessity of the director working with “‘a continuity writer, who has an experienced knowledge of cutting’” anticipates Reville’s forthcoming association with Hitchcock (Morris, 9).
18. Nonetheless, Reville cautioned against editing that “results in a flashy picture” (33-34).
19. See, for example, Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell and Laurent Bouzereau, Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man (New York: Berkley Books, 2003).
20. In the films of the 1920s cited by Morris in this particular regard–The Constant Nymph (1928), The First Born (1928), and A Romance of Seville (1929)–Reville was responsible for scriptwriting or continuity. Ironically, although Reville was not only a film editor but, among her other capacities in the early film industry and on Hitchcock’s films, an assistant director and screenwriter, she is largely remembered for her credited “continuity” on Hitchcock’s films of the 1930s, a public image of a woman subsuming the innovative into cohesive treatments satisfying the mandates of classical cinema.
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Bogdanovich, Peter. The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1963). Print.
Gottlieb, Sidney. Hitchcock on Hitchcock. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). Print.
Hitchcock, Alfred. “Dialogue on Film: Alfred Hitchcock” in Alfred Hitchcock Interviews, ed. Sidney Gottlieb (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003). Print.
Hitchcock, Alfred. “Direction,”in Hitchcock on Hitchcock, ed. Sidney Gottlieb (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). Print.
Hitchcock, Alfred. “On Style,” in Hitchcock on Hitchcock, ed. Sidney Gottlieb (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). Print.
Linderman, Deborah. “The Screen in Hitchcock’s Blackmail,” Wide Angle 4.1 (1980). Print.
Modleski, Tania. The Women Who Knew Too Much. (New York: Methuen, 1988). Print.
Morris, Nathalie. “The Early Career of Alma Reville” in Hitchcock Annual 15 (2006-07). Print.
O’Connell, Patricia Hitchcock and Laurent Bouzereau. Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man. (New York: Berkley Books, 2003). Print.
Reville, Alma. “Cutting and Continuity” in Hitchcock Annual 15 (2006-07). Print.
Ryall, Tom. Blackmail. (London: British Film Institute, 1993). Print.
Sarris, Andrew. “The Movie Journal,” The Village Voice, August 11, 1960. Print.
Smith, Susan. Hitchcock: Suspense, Humour and Tone. (London: British Film Institute, 2008). Print.
Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock, Revised Edition. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985). Print.
Warhol, Andy. “Hitchcock” in Alfred Hitchcock Interviews, ed. Sidney Gottlieb (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003). Print.