Alfred Hitchcock: The Master’s Mind Manipulation Poster Campaigns!

7 Jun

Alfred Hitchcock: The Master’s Mind Manipulating Poster Campaigns

3nd article in our 7 week series on Psychological Thrillers.

It’s well established that Alfred Hitchcock was a genius in the psychological thriller film genre and still leads the field today, but what made us want to go and see them in the first place? What ways did he lure us in? We’ll take a brief look at five of his film, from the 1950’s to the 1960’s, (which are considered to be when he produced his best work) to find out the many techniques he used in his posters to entice us into the movie theatres!

Stranger on a Train (1951)

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Stranger on a Train is Hitchcock’s 43rd movie and starred Farley Granger, Ruth Roman and Robert Walker. The plot centres on two strangers who meet on a train and plan the prefect murder. They will kill each other’s intended victim as they believe that as they are strangers, there would be no motive to trace back them and would get away with the crime.

The first poster grips the audience with its tag lines. We find out that passion plays a part in the film and that the film’s journey is not going to be mundane. It features a few drawn stills of the movie which helps to draw us in. It provides us with more evidence of love playing a major role and struggles and fights that will take place in the film. The train tracks on the poster helps to reinforce the title and also provide something for the audience to remember. Also having two tracks reminds us of many things. One is that there are two people on tracks that are running parallel to each other meaning that they are both in the same unhappy situation. Secondly, it shows us that the fact there are two tracks, one for each of the main characters, shows that they are individuals that may not chose the same path and thus causing problems ahead. The bleak colours add to the desperate situation both characters are in and also the continuing negative effects of each other’s choice that may happen. Finally it seems to have a brief description but unfortunately it’s too small to read!

The second poster shows less information than the first but is still effective in conveying the message. This one shows Alfred Hitchcock adding an “L” to the title which would make it “Stranglers on a Train”. It suggests that strangling will be one of the methods of murder used in the film. Also with strangling there is always a struggle and will imply of many fights to come. The way the title is positioned on the poster helps to imply the title. Starting in the foreground and moving towards the background, suggests movement and a journey. An image of someone putting on gloves implies that someone is preparing for dirty work that includes no trace being left behind. Once again the tags add to its promotion. The running time of the movie and the statement of “matchless suspense” says that this film will be full of quality entertainment that no other film can provide. By telling us that our hair will stand on end adds to the intriguing effect of the overall message that will draw us into watching it. Finally the lack of many colours in the background suggests the films bleakness, leaving the colour of the title (black and red) implying the danger.

Dial M for Murder (1954)

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Dial M for murder is Hitchcock’s 45th film and stars Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings. The plot is about a man who plots to kill his wife after he finds out that she’s been having an affair. He blackmails an old friend into committing the act but the plan fails and he’s left to quickly think of another plan.

The poster is relatively simple in its design and was created by Bill Gold. It features a dark brown and red background which implies the darkness of the plot and the danger too. A couple is shown struggling on the floor with the woman desperately trying to reach for the phone. So it obviously implies that there is going to be a great struggle between the couple, and that the fact that the woman can hardly reach the phone suggests she will fare worse than the man. It also gives the audience suspense, will she or won’t she be able to reach the phone? The lettering is very simply, perhaps to imply that the plan should be simple but the red “M” may indicate that it may be a lot tougher than what was originally thought. Finally its tag line, “Is that you darling?” can be interpreted in many ways. Does she say it in a way that gives the impression that she thinks her husband is innocent or in a way she might have an inkling as to what is going on? Is she asking her lover it or is she asking her husband it, perhaps to see if he suspects anything? There are many ways for the audience to try and interpret it, which creates mystery.

Rear Window (1954)

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Rear Window stars James Stewart playing an injured photographer spying on his neighbours to pass the time while he recuperates. He begins to think that one of the neighbours has murdered their wife and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly), nurse (Thelma Ritter) and a detective (Wendall Corey) help to investigate his claim. This is Hitchcock’s 46th film.

This poster is vastly different from Strangers on a Train’s two posters. The poster features part of the view from the main character’s window. The dark colours suggest the claustrophobic and paranoid feelings in the main character, as he’s trapped in his apartment and the only witness to this supposed crime. The two windows give us a brief glimpse at some of the neighbours but doesn’t imply which apartment is the place of the murder. In fact it implies the opposite. The top window show a man trying to console or comfort a woman, perhaps they have had a bad argument. In the lower window there is a woman dancing and a hand and the shadow of its owner ominously reaching out to her. This creates intrigue for the audience as we’re almost put in the middle of a scene and creates suspense. Who is it that gets murdered? It also features the main character, staring out from the poster with a pair of binoculars creating a sense of someone watching you and the creepy feeling it brings. The binoculars are also used as an icon which reminds us of the plot without saying so. Grace Kelly stands behind him which implies she will be heavily involved in the story and also in possible danger too. Finally the light blue of the lettering suggests that they are perhaps glass or windows looking out to the sky. This gives the impression that we could almost look out into the world and find the solution to the mystery but unfortunately it is too small. We feel the desperation of trying to solve the puzzle but can’t because we are restricted, just like the main character.

Vertigo (1958)

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Vertigo is Hitchcock’s 51st film. The plot is about an acrophobic retired detective played by James Stewart who helps an old friend, played by Tom Helmore. He is asked to follow his friend’s wife, played by Kim Novak, because he fears she is possessed and may harm herself. He agrees but a tragic incident happens which could have been prevented had the detective not suffered from acrophobia. The detective tries to solve what happened but things take an unexpected turn.

The first poster (designed by Saul Bass) is very simple. It features a man and a woman in positions that suggest they are falling. The man is coloured in an opaque black, implying he is solid and real but the woman is transparent, which suggests the mystery of the story. The white spirals are there to remind us of the dizzying effects of vertigo (which is often used incorrectly to describe acrophobia, the fear of heights) and also the decent into mental instability. The lettering is not in a straight line but slightly jagged. It gives the audience an unstable feeling like their footing is not safe. Finally, the red background warns of danger.

The second poster has a lot more detail to it and is a little bit similar to the first Stranger on a Train poster, in that is has drawn stills of the films various scenes. We see a woman that has possibly been pushed out of a window by a man. Or the man could have been trying to save her. This mystifies the audience as to what happens. In the foreground there seems to be a struggle between two men so we can expect fighting to be featured. A man stands beside a woman in bed. It gives off an unsure feeling. Are they lovers? Is the man caring for a sick woman? Or is the man leaving the woman? Behind them is a man rescuing a woman and finally there is a man and a woman running away from something. This implies that a lot of emotions and actions happen between the two and are therefore important to the story. The poster also includes the dizzying spirals although this time they are red with a black background. It gives off an ominous feel. Also has the same jagged lettering as the first poster. What is quite noticeable is that Alfred Hitchcock’s face is looking down upon the scenes. It implies a lot too. Is he like the master puppeteer controlling the characters and our feelings? Is his looking down suggesting he himself has watch something from a height that is falling? Finally the tags add to the film impression. The use of the word “whirlpool” not only implies again the dizzying spirals but also that our emotions will be caught up in it too. By “engulfing” you in terror and tension, gives you no choice in how you feel, you will be overcome by these feelings. It makes us curious as to what could possibly be responsible for this. Also it adds that you should see it from the beginning. At the time audiences turned up at whatever time they wished so adding this advice entices the viewers to go see it, as it must be good to be worthy of watching the whole way through.

Psycho (1960)

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Starring Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, Anthony Perkins, Martin Balsam and John Gavin and is Hitchcock’s 53rd film. The film is about a woman who steals money from her employer in order to help her boyfriend and plans to flee to him. Heavy rain fall forces her to spend the night at a motel in a remote part of her route and encounters the odd motel manager.

The poster is once again simplistic in design. It has a black background suggesting the darkness of the film. Janet Leigh is the main feature which implies her being in the whole movie and steers the audience on to the idea of a conventional plot rather than the twisted one it actually is. Her being washed with yellow makes her stand out again conveying a message that the plot doesn’t take a massive dark turn, yet implies some danger to her. Being in her underwear also entices the audience. The credits down the side cause some confusion however. Vera Miles is listed above her implying a bigger role but she doesn’t feature on the poster. It confuses the audience making them want to see why this is. By giving her name its own section once again confirms her importance. This simple method throws the audience off balance creating a need to see the film to find out what the exact roles are. The blue background of the credits makes this technique stand out. The slashing blue design throughout the poster hints the psychotic nature of the film. Anthony Perkins is on the poster too. His size is small and his expression is kind of like a love sick puppy (with a hint of a dangerous side), staring at what we can assume is Janet Leigh, indicating that may be he is safe. But he also has a reddish brown was which suggests a more sinister side which gives the viewer’s doubt. It also features John Gavin, topless (again enticing the audience) in a pose that implies he is lifting something. He appears to be hero like and lets us know he plays a vital role. There’s also the tag “A new and altogether different scream excitment” bodly proclaims itself as different to any other film including Hitchcock’s previous work. The anticipation of this new and more thrilling film lures us in.  Finally the title! Being in yellow makes it stand out and keeps in the audiences mind. The fact that it is torn up conveys a meaning of someone’s mind cracking up but who? It’s another way to mystify and lure the audience in and also creates an icon for us to remember more easily.

Please join us for an open discussion on Thursday June 7th and Friday June 8th.

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4 Responses to “Alfred Hitchcock: The Master’s Mind Manipulation Poster Campaigns!”

  1. littlebells June 8, 2012 at 11:14 AM #

    Ozzie, great research!!! What I love about posters.THEN were the action angles. It’s like we get a sneak peak of the action as it happens in the film. Posters NOW are very…poised: looking straight on at the camera with a specific look that may or may not have to do with the characters. Some of the worst posters, imo, are from the Twilight Saga. And them some of my favorites are from Back to the Future series.

    Was Hitchcock highly involved with his movie’s posters?

  2. ozzie20 June 9, 2012 at 1:54 PM #

    Yes, he was heavily involved in the movie posters, especially Psycho, in which he changed the way we view films at the cinema!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Hitchcock#Storyboards_and_production

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psycho_%281960_film%29#Promotion

  3. Open Book June 11, 2012 at 7:56 PM #

    Ozzie!

    This is so AWESOME!! I loved AH P&A they were always so compelling, suspenseful and visually provocative for that period. The posters really were more popular than the trailers. Special emphasis and detail on color and graphics to manipulate audiences reactions were at its highest back then IMO.

    • Comic Relief June 13, 2012 at 5:56 PM #

      OB,

      I think you are right about the posters being far more popular than the trailers. Yet today because of computers, we can watch trailers over and over again. In those days we could walk back and forth and see the posters over and over again.

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