‘Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up bloody footprints.’ – Alfred Hitchcock
I’ve always been obsessed with films, style, and being blonde, so it’s no wonder really that I fell into that wide chasm of cinema created by Alfred Hitchcock. I say chasm not because I dislike Hitchcock films, quite the opposite in fact, but because once you get sucked into a Hitchcock binge it’s very difficult to get back out again; it’s far easier to just keep going until you emerge from the other side, a little bloodied up and probably with your shoes missing and your stockings torn. Serial killers, suicides, fake suicides, murders, affairs, and demonic birds; yes, Hitchcock has it all. He is one of ‘those’ directors, an auteur, who seems to leave almost too much of himself in his films, until it becomes vaguely embarrassing to watch them, as though you were reading his diary with the complete works of Freud sitting open next to you.
His use and abuse of blonde women is extensive and complex. Several theories about this have been suggested, some by Hitchcock himself, such as his claim that audiences will be less suspicious of a blonde, having been trained by cinematic tradition to see the blonde as the innocent, virginal heroine, or just that their colouring worked better on black and white film. Hitchcock obviously wouldn’t have made a tradition out of having blondes in his films if he didn’t feel some attraction to them, but it is also obvious that this is a very strange attraction. On some level, Hitchcock seems to truly hate his blondes. In Rear Window, he has Grace Kelly climb into the apartment of a suspected murderer and nearly get murdered herself for her trouble; in Psycho he brutally stabs Janet Leigh to death in the shower, stuffs her body in the trunk of car and sinks it into a swamp; he nearly blinded poor ‘Tippi’ Hedren for real in The Birds, and in Vertigo he not only subjects Kim Novak to the dangerously obsessive whims of Jimmy Stewart, who at one point forces her to bleach her hair, but also throws her out of a church belfry...twice. When it comes to perpetuating hatred of blondes, or what I have come to term ‘blondism’, Al Hitchcock ranks above even a certain Barbara Millicent Roberts. Then again, even Barbie has been sold in a stylish green skirt suit with three plastic crows artfully stuck to her person, so it seems as if there is no end to the abuse.
But this isn’t another plea for some respite from the ‘dumb blonde’ jokes, the car horns or the disdaining looks, or even the kitchen knives. Let’s face it, it isn’t just blondes who are often on the receiving end of violence or ‘light hearted’ sexual abuse, it is in fact women in general. But for some reason, in the world of the cinema it always seems to be the blondes that get given the fuzzy end of the lollipop, to put it mildly. Apart from the Hitchcock canon, whose shades range from Janet Leigh’s mussed dirty blonde crop to Kim Novak’s ‘lavender’ iciness, blonde women and their cinematographic hair have always been a movie mainstay. Jean Harlow, Brigitte Bardot, Marlene Dietrich – the list is almost endless. But the true home of the blonde, as Hitchcock knew, was in the horror film. And, in true Hitchcock style, the characters they play are usually evil, weird, brutally done-in and abused, or all three together. Mia Farrow’s pretty blonde-bobbed innocent in Rosemary’s Baby is subject to the evil machinations of a satanic cult, eventually giving birth to the son of the devil. Talking of Satan’s spawn, how could we forget poor Lee Remick in The Omen, unknowingly bringing up the son of Satan in the form of five year old Damian, who viciously scratches her face when she tries to take him into a church, and drives his toy bike sadistically into a chair she is standing on so that she falls over a balcony, eventually plunging to her grisly death from a high window. Damian’s dark haired shenanigans don’t stop there; in the second instalment of the Omen trilogy he murders his blonde best friend and cousin using his psychic powers. It is interesting to note also that the young Harvey Stevens, cast as Damian in the first film, had his naturally blonde hair dyed black for the role. In eerie thriller Don’t Look Now, blonde Julie Christie loses her even blonder daughter in a drowning accident, before running into her lookalike in Venice, who, in what must be one of cinema’s strangest ever surprise endings, turns out to be a sadistic serial killing dwarf who then slashes open her husband’s (Donald Sutherland's) throat. Britt Ekland is also worth mentioning here, for her creepy performance as Willow MacGregor in Anthony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man, helping to lure to Edward Woodward’s Christian policeman to his fiery death. Even the queen of blondes herself, Marilyn Monroe, was not totally exempt from the blonde Curse; chillingly murdered in Niagara, emotionally ruined in The Misfits, and hovering dangerously near the borders of insanity in Don’t Bother To Knock.
The continuing fascination with the blonde, in my opinion, is mostly to with their style. They may have committed suicide, been insane, evil, murderers, murdered, raped, and attacked by mad birds, but they looked damn cool while they were doing it. Kim Novak and Grace Kelly are my two personal favourites; Novak’s iconic grey suit in Vertigo, along with her long white coat and black gloves she wears when she throws herself into San Francisco Bay are the height of melancholy elegance. The first time we see Grace Kelly in Rear Window she looks exactly like Disney’s Cinderella dressed for the ball, and is immaculate in every scene, even when shinning up a fire escape (and let’s not forget that in the end Kelly managed to achieve the difficult task of becoming a real princess). Marilyn Monroe always looks stunning, whether she’s singing, being murdered or having a nervous breakdown, and even as Lee Remick falls off a balcony, her hair and makeup are perfect, her outfit matching flawlessly. They continue to be abused in spite of their fashion sense. As we all know, fear of a minority often equates with hatred of it. You might well ask what there is to fear from a blonde, but we can be pretty creepy when we want to – I know that when I was a child I certainly looked uncannily like an extra from Village of the Damned, especially in photos with a tendency towards red eye. It seems that blondes in the cinema are forever destined to be portrayed as either virgins or whores, both states being of course, equally punishable.