Hitchcock Was No Psycho When It Came To Cars
Hitchcock’s love the for the automobile shines through his films
It has been parodied a million times, even if you’ve never seen the movie, the discordant violin screeches from the shower scene in Psycho resonate throughout time in such a way as to make that particular tone synonymous with nothing else. When Alfred Hitchcock made the movie he did so with his own money when Paramount Pictures thought it too risky.
The kind of dedication that drove him to spend his own money on a story he had to tell (as all stories by true artists are) carries over into the cars used in his movies. Hitchcock is actually somewhat famous for not driving, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t appreciate the automobile. He specifically found ways for cars to both create suspense and to complement his characters.
When Hitchcock started on The Birds he wanted to take elements from the screwball comedy genre and have that evolve into “stark terror.” That essence can be felt in protagonist Melanie Daniels’ Aston Martin DB2 Drophead Coupe. Its look is that of a spunky sidekick, there’s something funny and endearing about the front grille and headlights. It’s almost as though it’s smiling sheepishly at you. But that 2.6 straight-six gives that spunk some elements of Hitchcockian fright.
Hitchcock delighted in making everyday mundane things scary. He hated big monsters and alien spaceships that delighted most horror movie fans back in the 50s. You can see the subtle and insidious nature in the classic scene from North by Northwest where the bad guys get Cary Grant drunk so they can stage his murder to look like a drunk driving accident.
The car used in the scene, the 1959 Mercedes-Benz 220S Cabriolet, is the very epitome of refinement and control. And it’s this refinement and control that is lost during that car chase for Grant’s character. All of his debonair quipping couldn’t get him out of that jam - just the Merc’s superb handling. There really is no better juxtaposition of the restraint of European luxury and the chaos of real-life hitting you hard.
Finally, we come full circle to where we started – Psycho. This is considered Hitchcock’s masterpiece, and for good reason. One of our favorite things about this movie is the 1957 Ford Fairlane which Janet Leigh’s character drove. It was the Honda Civic of its day with over 20,000 being sold that year. It made Janet Leigh’s thief seem all the more commonplace, almost invisible, as she committed her crime and melded into a crowd and disappeared. And that made her death all the more striking. There was nothing particularly special about her, but then again one doesn’t need to be for a psycho to become obsessed with a person.
Hitchcock wanted to show that anyone can be a thief (and a murder victim), or that something comedic can turn into pure terror, or that a suave advertising executive can lose control and suddenly find himself on the wrong end of an international conspiracy. And the way he did it was through the cars his characters drove. He did it so much so that the cars themselves become characters.