Alfred Hitchcock provided audiences with entertainment over a fifty year career in the film industry: his debut film was the 1925 silent film ‘The Pleasure Garden’ and his final feature length production was the dark thriller ‘Family Plot’ in 1976. Hitchcock was a master of craft behind the production of his films, constantly challanging audiences expectations, incorporating his ‘typical’ macguffin to lead his spectators astray and double crossing them in terms of narrative themes and situations. We all remember wondering what happened to the stolen money in ‘Psycho’ after it played such a significant part of the films first act.
Recently, I wrote a feature defining the James Bond films as a genre; this article lead me to write my own list of top ten and worst ten Bond Girls over the past fifty years. As I sat back, after writing both features, I couldn’t help think how interesting the female characters were in the Hitchcock films. Hitchcock himself was obsessed with women, mainly blondes, leading him to coin his own identifying phrase of the ‘Icy Blonde’ for his female protagonists. These weren’t women of the time: sure they were beautiful and eye-catching (just like the Bond Girls are) but at the same time they were independent, strong, determined and most of all, mysterious.
I often find it’s hard to sum up the ‘correct’ definintion of an ‘Icy Blonde’: Hitchcock stated that he felt blondes made better victims and that audience members would always see them as whiter-than-white. Does this mean that ‘Icy Blondes’ are protagonists or antagonists? Still, the answer is a complicated one. Although Hitchcock said blondes make better victims, more than likely meaning they’re innocent and helpless, he has the likes of Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane in ‘Psycho’ running around with half-a-million dollars in her back pocket after robbing her employers, similar to Tippi Hendren’s Marnie.
When analysing the ‘Icy Blondes’ I find myself defining them as the femme-fatales of the Hitchcock generation: whether good or bad, each and every ‘Icy Blonde’ has a dark side, not many male protagonists should ought too cross. Hitchcock created this; women who don’t conform to contemorary society. They isolate themselves from the realities of life and become something more unique and interesting, and as I’ve stated before, mysterious. The ‘Icy Blonde’ is often the biggest mystery of the film: her loyalties lie with herself and nobody else and depending on what stance she takes, controls the rest of th film.
Hitchcock didn’t include his infamous ‘Icy Blonde’ in every film but when he did he made sure they made an impact, not only on the film, but the world surrounding the film: over the years they have become the talking point when analysing Hitchcock as an auteur. They are the Bond Girls of the Hitchcock films: each as unique and different as the last. Each, with their own motive and own agenda. These aren’t your typical women.
On that note, it’s hard to compile a top ten list when it comes to Hitchcock’s ‘Icy Blondes’ as the analytical scale between each character varys too greatly to define why one is better than another. Each ‘Icy Blonde’ is an interesting and puzzling creature, with so many layers creating and developing their own personal character. Looking over Hitchcock’s film as a voyeur (a position Hitchcock loved to put his audience in), there are a few ‘Icy Blonde’s that stand out as iconic characters in movie history, who rightfully deserve there place there.
Lisa Fremont portrayed by Grace Kelly in ‘Rear Window’
Kelly still remains one of the princesses of the big screen: she was a movie gem in her day and Hitchcock knew this for sure. After working with the master auteur in his film ‘Dial M for Murder’, Hitchcock wanted the blonde beauty back to work on his latest project, ‘Rear Window’. The film is one of Hitchcock’s most famous, respectively, and has earnt it’s place in cinematic history. In the film, Grace Kelly portrays our disabled protagonists socialite girlfriend, Lisa Fremont. Grace brought grace (pun) and elegance to the role: her entrance to the film is on a par with Audrey Hepburn’s entrance in ‘Breakfast at Tiffanies’: iconic.
However, Fremont’s character actually embodies the dominant male characteristics of the time. As our protagonist, Jeff, is wheelchair-bound, he is unable to investigate the suspicious activities that are goin on in the apartment across from him. This leads the seemingly innocent and niave Fremont to investigate herself, actually breaking into the suspected murderer’s apartment across the way.
During the 50’s, the men dominated the action in the films leaving the women to play the helpless victims in need of saving. ‘Rear Window’ switched the gendered stereotypes; although Fremont is introduced as a wealthy socialite who only seems to enjoy the luxuries of life, she soon illustrates a more sophisticated core to her personality, more than the male. An edgier side shines from Grace Kelly’s Fremont making her one of the most well remembered ‘Icy Blondes’ of all time.
Madeleine Elster portrayed by Kim Novak in ‘Vertigo’
To this day, ‘Vertigo’ remains a bit of a mystery, much like it’s leading ‘Icy Blonde’ Madeleine Elster. The film, which has generated cultural recognition over the many years, is said to be a reflection of Hitchcock’s relationships with his women, in particular his actresses. The leading protagonist, Scottie, is fixated with controlling the ‘look’ and ‘appearance’ of a woman he has recently met who bears a resemblance to a woman who recently knew and fell in love with.
Madeleine is on the other end of the spectrum to Lisa Fremont: she is much darker and much more of a troubled soul. I always slightly find myself lost for words when analysing Elster’s character, as much is left to your own interpretation. Elster is believed to be haunted by a deceased woman who she is fascinated with, according to her worried husband, Gavin. The film is about fascination and fixation: Madeleine is both fascinated and fixated, possibly even haunted by the soul of a woman known as Carlotta Valdes while Scottie is facinated and fixated with creating his ideal woman in a stranger: his ideal woman, is Madeleine.
Madeleine is represented as a dragon in human form: she is often seen calm and brooding, waiting for that moment to strike when she can’t control her inner-emotions and feelings causing her to break away from the chains and illustrate her anxest and anger, leaving others, especially men, in a vulnerable state. This is what is interesting about Madeleine; her deep character. Her personality can change with the snap of her fingers.
Over time, ‘Vertigo’ has become one of Hitchcock’s most celebrated films and Madeleine Elster is surely one of his most memorable characters, thanks to Kim Novak who brings her to life on screen with such dark beauty and a haunting presence.
Eve Kendall portrayed by Eva Marie Saint in ‘North by Northwest’
Some see ‘North by Northwest’ as the first James Bond film as it incorporates all the elements that a James Bond film of the early days had. Although I don’t fully agree, I can completely understand why. Part of this comparison boils down to the character of Eve Kendall, who, on screen, is represented as Hitchcock’s version of a Bond Girl, in an ‘Icy Blonde’ form.
What strikes me with Kendall is how close she is too Ian Fleming’s own Bond Girls in his written novels. It’s as if Hitchcock wanted to get there first on showing the world what a real Bond Girl would look like on screen along with how they should be illustrated in terms of character loyalty: as we know, not all our Bond Girls are so loyal. Kendall isn’t always a loyal ‘Icy Blonde’: her loyalties often switch between our protagonist and our antagonist, until we understand the real plot twist.
Eve Kendall was a sophisticated woman of her time: like Grace Kelly in ‘Rear Window’, she doesn’t always need a man for protection. She is just as smart as she is beautiful, but a word to describe Kendall is ‘devious’. Until the end of the film we don’t know the real Eve; this is something common in Hitchcock films. Hitchcock positions us as voyeurs: we’re not supposed to know too much.
Marion Crane portrayed by Janet Leigh in ‘Psycho’
Probably the most iconic of all ‘Icy Blondes’, Marion Crane is a dangerous woman. Unusual for any film, not just Hitchcock’s, Crane meets her demise halfway through the movie: something that left many film-fans baffled at the time and still has the same effect on us today. From first seeing Marion, audiences knew something wasn’t right, but we were still stunned when she robbed her work and intended to start a new life of luxury with forty-thousand dollars.
Leigh captured that ‘woman-on-the-edge’ persona: a woman who seemed to have it all, but all wasn’t enough. She had a good job, was surrounded by friendly people and was most of all liked and trusted. ‘Icy Blondes’ can never be trusted: they are too devious and manipulating, hence their over-shadowing mystery. Marion was agenda driven: she knew what she wanted and she intended to see her plan through only before realising what she’d done would gloom her life forever.
In comparison to the Fleming Bond Girl characterisation, Marion embodied the doomed-Bond Girl role: a woman who would meet her maker after putting herself and the protagonist in danger. Stealing the money from her employer put her in danger, Marion just didn’t realise how close danger was when she pulled up at Bates’ Motel to stay the night. Marion is not only a complex character, but an icon on screen: her death infamous death scene is one of the most remembered and one of the most haunting of it’s generation.
These four ‘Icy Blondes’ were iconic of there time and represented a new woman: the Hitchcock woman, one that we will not fully understand even to this day. Many theorists may come and go and try and make solid interpretations of the characters but I don’t think even Hitchcock could tell you the facts about these women. They’re too secretive for even the auteur to understand fully.
If this list was to carry on, other famous names would appear: Tippi Hedren started her career by working as Hitchcock’s leading ‘Icy Blonde’in the sinister-thriller ‘The Birds’ and collaborated with him once again playing the title character of ‘Marnie’ alongside Sean Connery. Hedren’s career came with thanks to Hitchcock who put her in the spotlight but after Hitchcock illustrated ways of his former controlling protagonist Scottie in ‘Vertigo’, Hedren realised the famous auteur was fixated with her in an uncomfortable and uneasy sense.
Grace Kelly also starred in ‘To Catch a Thief’ where she played ‘Icy Blonde’ Frances Stevens: yet another independent and smart woman of her time. Carole Lombard starred as Ann Smith in ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’: a woman who was determined to show her resilience to a man illustrating the fact that she can stand on her own two feet. The list is endless and it makes us question, could Hitchcock himself be seen as a genre?
The question is there and the facts are on screen: one thing for sure is, the Hitchcock ‘Icy Blondes’ were femme fatales of their generation, and it was as interesting watching them on screen over the years as it is analysing their complex characteristics now.