Communication Arts & Sciences 415
Rhetoric of Film and Television
Fall 2011
–201 Thomas Bldg. – 2:30-5:30 p.m. (film showing and discussion)
Wednesday –171 Willard Bldg - 2:30 - 3:45 (discussion)

 Professor Thomas W. Benson
227 Sparks Building
University Park, PA 16802

office hours: Tuesday 10-12 and by appointment


Alfred Hitchcock and the Critics:

The Rhetoric of the Thriller as Art, Entertainment, and Social Text

"Nobody would seriously compare Hitchcock to a dozen directors and producers who have used the film medium as an art form." O. B. Hardison (1967) "We have . . . passed far beyond the point where formulas like 'skillful entertainer' and 'master of suspense' were felt to be adequate." Robin Wood (1983) "By dedicating his life to the making of films that are calls for acknowledgment, while doing everything in his power to assure that such acknowledgment would be deferred until after his death, Hitchcock remained true to his art, and true to the medium of film." William Rothman (1982) " . . . [A]t the center of Hitchcock's Hollywood films stands a sustained, specific, and extraordinarily acute exploration of American culture." Jonathan Freedman and Richard Millington (1999)












August 22

August 24


 Murder! (1930)




Handel Fane in woman's costume

Handel Fane in policeman's costume

Handel Fane on trapeze

from Murder! (1930)

Introduction to the course

Please be prepared to discuss the required readings for the Wednesday discussion session, and bring a copy of the readings to class.

Readings: William Rothman, "Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder!: Theater, Authorship, and the Presence of the Camera," in A Hitchcock Reader; Patrick McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 1-139.

Recommended Viewing: The Lodger (1926); Murder! (1930) Juno and the Paycock (1930); Battleship Potemkin (1925); The Public Enemy (1931); M (1931); Little Caesar (1930). All of the required and recommended films are available for viewing in the media library, West Pattee Library, second floor.



August 29

August 31




The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

Blackmail (1929)



Readings: Thomas W. Benson, “Mother and Monster: The Rhetorical Structure of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much,” in Monsters in and among Us: Toward a Gothic Criminology, ed. Caroline Joan Picart and Cecil Greek (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2007),  91-116 (on electronic reserve) ; Elisabeth Weis, "Consolidation of a Classical Style: The Man Who Knew Too Much"; Lesley W. Brill, "Hitchcock’s The Lodger"; Leland Poague, "Criticism and/as History: Rereading Blackmail," in A Hitchcock Reader; McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 139-169

Readings:Thomas W. Benson, “Mother and Monster: The Rhetorical Structure of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much,” in Monsters in and among Us: Toward a Gothic Criminology, ed. Caroline Joan Picart and Cecil Greek (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2007),  91-116 (on Angel) ; Elisabeth Weis, "Consolidation of a Classical Style: The Man Who Knew Too Much"; Leonard J. Leff, "Hitchcock at Metro"; Lesley W. Brill, "Hitchcock’s The Lodger"; Leland Poague, "Criticism and/as History: Rereading Blackmail," in A Hitchcock Reader; McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 139-169.

Recommended Viewing: The Rules of the Game (1939); Rio Bravo (1959); Bringing Up Baby (1938); Duck Soup (1933); The Awful Truth (1937): The Blue Angel (1930); Les Carabiniers (1963); The Silence (1963); The Informer (1935); Scarface (1932).

September 5
Labor Day - no classes


Sept 7



Thomas W. Benson, "The Rhetorical Structure of Frederick Wiseman's High School," Communication Monographs 47 (1980): 233-261(on ANGEL); Jean Douchet, "Hitch and His Public"; Maurice Yacowar, "Hitchcock’s Imagery and Art"; Robin Wood, "Retrospective"; John Orr, "Hitch as Matrix-Figure: Hitchcock and Twentieth-Century Cinema," in A Hitchcock Reader.



Mon September 12

September 14


The 39 Steps (1935)



Readings: Charles L. P. Silet, "Through a Woman’s Eyes: Sexuality and Memory in The 39 Steps," in A Hitchcock Reader; McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 169-197; Ina Rae Hark, "Keeping Your Amateur Standing: Audience Participation and Good Citizenship in Hitchcock's Political Films," Cinema Journal 29 (1990): 8-22 (on electronic reserve).

Recommended Viewing: It Happened One Night (1934); I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932).



September 19

September 21



The Lady Vanishes (1938)




Readings: Patrice Petro, "Rematerializing the Vanishing ‘Lady’: Feminism, Hitchcock, and Interpretation," in A Hitchcock Reader; McGilligan, 198-225.

Recommended Viewing: Secret Agent (1936); Sabotage (1936); Shanghai Express (1932); Snow White and the Seven Drawfs (1937); Modern Times (1936); Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936); Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).



September 26

September 28




Shadow of a Doubt (1943)




sequence 1 from Shadow of a Doubt

sequence 2 from Shadow of a Doubt

note: these sequences are best viewed with a high speed connection



Readings: James McLaughlin, "All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt," in A Hitchcock Reader; Jonathan Freedman and Richard Millington, "Introduction"; Debra Fried, "Love, American Style: Hitchcock’s Hollywood," in Hitchcock’s America; McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 225-327.

Recommended Viewing: Jamaica Inn (1939); Rebecca (1940); Foreign Correspondent (1940); Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941); Suspicion (1941); Saboteur (1942); The Maltese Falcon (1941); Citizen Kane (1941); Dumbo (1941); High Sierra (1941); Casablanca (1943); The Ox Bow Incident (1943)

Paper 1. Due on Friday 30 September

Write a close analysis of a scene or sequence from any Hitchcock film made before 1950. Choose what seems to you a scene that is of some interest for its dramatic contribution to the story and of some interest visually. In your paper, describe and analyze the scene in detail, including attention to dialogue, camerawork, editing, and sound. Consider how the scene shapes a viewer's response both to the scene under consideration and to the film as a whole.What does the viewer know as the scene begins? What does the viewer learn as the scene progresses? How? How is the viewer prompted to feel? You may include captured frames or sketches to support your analysis. 5-8 pages.



Oct 3

Oct 5




Notorious (1946)




Readings: Richard Abel, "Notorious: Perversion par Excellence"; Thomas Hyde, "The Moral Universe of Hitchcock’s Spellbound," in A Hitchcock Reader; McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 328-396.

Recommended Viewing: Lifeboat (1944); Spellbound (1945); Open City (1945); The Best Years of Our Lives (1946); Hail the Conquering Hero (1944); Meet Me in St. Louis (1944); The Killers (1946).



Oct 10

Oct 12




Rope (1948)


Readings: Amy Lawrence, "American Shame: Rope, James Stewart, and the Postwar Crisis in American Masculinity," in Hitchcock’s America; McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 399-438

Recommended Viewing: The Paradine Case (1947); The Naked City (1948); All the King's Men (1949); The Snake Pit (1948); Gentleman's Agreement (1947); Paisan (1946); Crossfire (1947); It's a Wonderful Life (1947); Call Northside 777 (1948); State of the Union (1948); The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).



Oct 17

Oct 19




Strangers on a Train (1951)




Readings: Robin Wood, "Strangers on a Train," in A Hitchcock Reader; Robert J. Corber, "Hitchcock’s Washington: Spectatorship, Ideology, and the ‘Homosexual Menace’ in Strangers on a Train," in Hitchcock’s America; McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 439-472.

Recommended Viewing: Under Capricorn (1949); Stage Fright (1950); The Lavender Hill Mob (1951); The Men (1950); The Bicycle Thief (1949); Home of the Brave (1949); Panic in the Streets (1950); Twelve O'Clock High (1950); The African Queen (1951); A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).



Oct 24

Oct 26




Rear Window (1954)




Readings: Dana Brand, "Rear-View Mirror: Hitchcock, Poe, and the Flaneur in America," in Hitchcock’s America; Robert Stam and Roberta Pearson, "Hitchcock’s Rear Window: Reflexivity and the Critique of Voyeurism," in A Hitchcock Reader; Marshall Deutelbaum, "Finding the Right Man in The Wrong Man," in A Hitchcock Reader; McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 475-506.

Recommended Viewing: I Confess (1953); Dial "M" for Murder (1954); Seven Samurai (1954); Pather Panchali (1955); Aparajito (1956); The World of Apu (1958); High Noon (1952); The Quiet Man (1952); Singin' in the Rain (1952); From Here to Eternity (1953); On the Waterfront (1954).



Oct 31

Nov 2




The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)




Readings: Elsie B. Michie, "Unveiling Maternal Desires: Hitchcock and American Domesticity," in Hitchcock’s America; McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 506-540.

Recommended Viewing: Viva Zapata! (1952); The Robe (1953); The Country Girl (1954); Bridge on the River Kwai (1957); Recommended Viewing: To Catch a Thief (1955); The Trouble with Harry (1955); Grapes of Wrath (1940); Young Mr. Lincoln (1939); My Darling Clementine (1946); Twelve Angry Men (1957); Rebel Without a Cause (1955); Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956).

Paper 2. Due on Friday 4 November.

A 5-8 page paper on any Hitchcock film not seen in class. As an appendix to your paper, include a list of scenes from your chosen film (for an example of how to do this, see a list of scenes from Taxi Driver). In your paper, include an analysis of the narrative/rhetorical structure of the film, attending to such dimensions as story line, point of view, repetition, sequence, suspense, and surprise. But you may go beyond the rhetoric of narrative structure in any direction your analysis takes you, such as the development of formal or thematic patterns, so long as it illuminates the rhetoric of the film.



Nov 7

Nov 9




Vertigo (1958)




Readings: Robin Wood, "Male Desire, Male Anxiety: The Essential Hitchcock"; Marian E. Keane, "A Closer Look at Scopophilia: Mulvey, Hitchcock, and Vertigo," in A Hitchcock Reader; Paula Marantz Cohen, "Hitchcock’s Revised American Vision: The Wrong Man and Vertigo"; Jonathan Freedman, "From Spellbound to Vertigo: Alfred Hitchcock and Therapeutic Culture in America," in Hitchcock’s America; David Blakesley, "Defining Film Rhetoric: The Case of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo," in Charles Hill and Marguerite Helmers, eds., Defining Visual Rhetorics (LEA, 2004), 111-134 (electronic reserve); McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 540-564.

Recommended Viewing: Touch of Evil (1958); Paths of Glory (1957); Some Like It Hot (1959).



Nov 14

Nov 16





North by Northwest (1959)



Readings: Richard H. Millington, "Hitchcock and American Character: The Comedy of Self-Construction in North by Northwest," in Hitchcock’s America; Stanley Cavell, North by Northwest, in A Hitchcock Reader; Alain Silver, "Fragments of the Mirror: Hitchcock's Noir Landscape," in Film Noir: A Reader 2, ed. Alain Silver and James Ursini (New York: Limelight, 1999), 106-127 (electronic reserve); McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 565-578.



Recommended Viewing: On the Waterfront (1954); Anatomy of a Murder (1959); Ben Hur (1959); Breathless (1959); The 400 Blows (1959); Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959); Pickpocket (1959).


    Thanksgiving holiday -- no classes Monday, November 20 - Friday, November 26  



Nov 28

Nov 30




Psycho (1960)



Readings: Raymond Bellour, "Psychosis, Neurosis, Perversion"; Barbara Klinger, "Psycho: The Institutionalization of Female Sexuality"; Christopher D. Morris, "Psycho's Allegory of Seeing"; Deborah Thomas, "On Being Norman: Performance and Inner Life in Hitchcock's Psycho," in A Hitchcock Reader; McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 578-601.

Recommended Viewing: The Entertainer (1960); L'Avventura (1960); La Dolce Vita (1960); La Notte (1960); Shoot the Piano Player (1960); Jules and Jim (1961).



Dec 5

Dec 7




The Birds (1963)





Readings: Camille Paglia, The Birds (1998); John P. McCombe, ""'Oh, I See....': The Birds and the Culmination of Hitchcock's Hyper-Romantic Vision," in A Hitchcock Reader; McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, 605-750.

Recommended Viewing: Marnie (1964); Torn Curtain (1966); Topaz (1969); Frenzy (1972); Family Plot (1976); The Hustler (1961); Lawrence of Arabia (1962); 8 1/2 (1963); The Conformist (1970); M*A*S*H (1970); The Godfather (1972); Le Boucher (1970); Le Chien andalou (1928); Philadelphia Story (1940); Bonjour Tristesse (1958); The Time Machine (1960); Barbarella (1968); Suddenly Last Summer (1959); On the Beach (1959)

Paper 3. Due on Monday December 12. Write a paper in which you

(1) Consider some aspect of the rhetoric of Hitchcock's filmmaking in one of his films. You might, for example, concentrate on a formal issue (such as camerawork; point of view, suspense, mise en scene, editing, sound) or on a thematic element (such as gender, guilt, voyeurism, or some other theme that has come up in our readings or discussions); or

(2) compare a Hitchcock film with its remake (such as Psycho; The 39 Steps; Sabotage (1936) [remade as The Secret Agent (1996)]; Dial M for Murder [remade as A Perfect Murder, 1998]); or

(3) compare a Hitchcock film with the literary source from which it was adapted; possibilities for this include Hitchcock's Sabotage, based on Joseph Conrad's Secret Agent; 39 Steps, based on John Buchan's 39 Steps; Rear Window, based on Cornel Woolrich's Rear Window; Strangers on a Train, adapted from Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train; or

(4) apply the analytical techniques you learned in the first two papers to a different Hitchcock film, considering both the larger structural development of the film and examining in close detail at least one scene as part of that pattern.

The point in all these assignments is to use detailed comparative analysis at both the micro-level of particular scenes (as in paper 1) and in the analysis of the larger structure of the film (as in paper 2) to see how Hitchcock's rhetorical choices are designed to create his effects.

Please note that this third paper will have double the page limit and will count almost twice as much as either of the first two papers. You will be asked to provide more detailed analysis of the film, with close readings of scenes, structures, and invited response, as well as to demonstrate mastery both of the assigned readings and additional scholarly sources that you discover on your own. There will be no final examination.

Remember that in the case of any of these assignments, you should try to engage in detailed description and close analysis of the film as a structure inviting an audience response. 10-20 pages.

Please leave the paper before 5 pm in Professor Benson's mailbox in room 232 Sparks Building--send electronic versions to Turnitin and ANGEL drop box. (If you will be out of town on Monday, December 12, you may arrange with Professor Benson to send the electronic copy in lieu of the paper version).








No final exam -- instead the page and credit allowance for the final paper are doubled from the earlier papers


Required Textbooks

(note: local bookstores have been provided with this booklist; you may also want to shop at online bookstores to compare prices).

Deutelbaum, Marshall, and Leland Poague, eds. A Hitchcock Reader. 2nd ed. Blackwell, 2009. ISBN: 1405155574

Freedman, Jonathan, and Richard Millington, eds. Hitchcock’s America. New York : Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN: 0195119061

Paglia, Camille. The Birds. London : British Film Institute, 1998. ISBN: 0851706517

McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. Harper/Collins, 2003. ISBN: 0-06-039322-X

Harvey, Gordon. Writing with Sources: A Guide for Students (Hackett, 2008). ISBN: 978-0872209442

The New York Times and USA Today -- as a Penn State student, you are eligible for free subscriptions; try to read them daily to keep up both with general news and film writing.

A number of articles relating to Hitchcock's films and to film criticism more generally have been placed on electronic reserve. For a list, and for access, see the section of the syllabus on Electronic Reserves.

Please bring critical essays to class on the days they are scheduled for discussion.

Internet Resources

For a guide to Internet sources on Hitchcock, try the Alfred Hitchcock Scholars MacGuffin page. The Penn State library system, available online through LIAS, can guide you to full-text academic journal databases and to published film reviews. If you are in doubt about how to locate these resources, consult the instructor or a librarian. As you research your paper, be sure to check such academic databases as Communication and Mass Media Complete; JSTOR, and PROJECT MUSE..

cell phones and laptops

Cell phones and laptop computers are distracting to you, your fellow students, and the professor; please do not turn them on during class or during film screenings. Please turn your phone OFF and put it away during class time. If you use your cell phone during class or a film showing you may be asked to leave the classroom and will be marked absent.

water is okay

It is okay to bring bottled water to class; Penn State asks that you do not bring any other food or drink to the classroom.

Recommended Viewing

Each week, I have recommended several films that you might wish to view in connection with that week's required reading and viewing. Viewing a selection of these films will allow you to see more of Hitchcock's work, and to see films that are mentioned in the week's readings, or that were made at about the same time as the Hitchcock film featured in the week's viewing and discussion. Most of these films are available for viewing or check-out in the music and media library, which is part of the Arts and Humanities library in Pattee Library, 2nd floor, West Wing.

Electronic Reserves

Some of the assigned course readings are available at the electronic reserves site in Pattee Library. You can access these files from any Internet connection, using your Penn State ID and password. To get there, sign in to the libraries web page and then click on the icon for course reserves. Once you have signed on to the electronic reserve site, search for the listings for the instructor (Benson), then for our course. Please have the assigned readings prepared and bring a printout to class to help support group discussion.

The readings on electronic reserve would be an excellent place to start as you consider possible sources to cite for your papers.

Regular Reserves

Because many students will be needing access to the library's collection of books about Alfred Hitchcock, I have placed a number of these books on reserve in Pattee Library, some about Hitchcock and some about film more generally. For a list of books on reserve, see the course reserve page on the library catalogue. You may want to consult these books while you are preparing your papers.

Academic Integrity

All work submitted for the course is assumed to be your own unless otherwise indicated. Violations of this standard will result in failure of the assignment and possibly in failure of the course or sanctions by University disciplinary authorities. You may of course discuss your work with other students, but all work that is quoted or paraphrased should be clearly identified. Do not submit for this course work that you have also submitted or plan to submit for other courses. Please consult me if you are in doubt about how to handle these issues.

The College of Liberal Arts policy states that, "Penn State defines academic integrity as the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner. All students should act with personal integrity, respect other studentsí dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts (Faculty Senate Policy 49-20). Dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated in this course. Dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, or tampering with the academic work of other students. Students who are found to be dishonest will receive academic sanctions and will be reported to the Universityís Judicial Affairs office for possible further disciplinary sanction."

All course papers will be submitted to Turnitin as part of your submission process.


Grades will be based on

  • assigned papers -- 20% each for first two papers; 40% for the final paper. (total 80%)
  • final examination -- there will be no final examination.
  • participation in class discussion and Angel message boards, 20%

Try to keep up with the reading; the instructor may at any point use short quizzes, including un-announced quizzes, to check on student progress with the assigned readings. Final grades will be based on the instructor's judgment of the student's work in detail and as a whole. Information about the Penn State grading system may be found at the office of the Registrar.

How Penn State calculates grade equivalents:

Quality of Performance   Grade Grade-Point Equivalent
Excellent Exceptional achievement A
Good Extensive achievement B
Satisfactory Acceptable achievement C 2.00
Poor Minimal achievement D 1.00
Failure Inadequate achievement F 0.00
Academic dishonesty   XF 0.00


You are assigned three critical papers; try for about five to eight pages for the first two papers, double that for the final paper. Each paper should engage in close reading of one or more films (see the more detailed assignments in the weekly schedule). In preparing each paper, you should do some library research--in each, you should cite at least three printed sources supporting your research. Wikipedia articles and online reviews may be consulted, but they do not substitute for the three published sources required for these assignments. These might be academic articles about Hitchcock, rhetoric, or film criticism, or they might be contemporary newspaper reviews of the film you are writing about. Citations should be in the format described by the MLA Handbook. For citation help see also the online reference shelf section at the Penn State University Libraries. For help in locating materials, check with me or talk with a reference librarian, and check this link on researching and writing your paper.

Note: although you may of course refer to any of Hitchcock's films in any of your papers, please do not make the same Hitchcock film the main subject of more than one of your papers. It is preferred that you write about a film we are not scheduled to see in class. Under no circumstances turn in a paper you have used in another class or intend to use in another class--that would be considered academic dishonesty.

Your paper should have a title page [see sample in Angel readings and resources folder]; the text of the paper, and a list of works cited. The second paper also requires an appendix--a list of scenes from the film about which you are writing. You may also include a list of scenes with your other papers to support your analysis, and you may include frames copied from a videotape to your computer, or hand drawn sketches or diagrams. Please turn your paper in on the date it is due, to my mailbox in 232 Sparks Building; on the same day, please send an electronic copy of the paper as a single file to the appropriate drop box on the ANGEL site for our course and send a copy to the TURNITIN site for the course.

Here are some general guidelines for your papers:


I would be happy to consult with you about your paper as you are choosing a topic and developing the paper.

Please turn in papers by 5:00 p.m. on the due date in my mailbox in 232 Sparks Building.


Attendance is expected at all film showings and discussions. Readings are due on the date indicated in the syllabus, and students are expected to be ready to discuss them. Please bring to class the assigned readings for the day. Failure to attend will affect final grades. This class is based on a model of cooperation, participation, and collaborative, active learning. Your work is to learn more about film and film criticism, and also to teach others about these subjects through your participation in discussion of course readings and film viewings.

The College of the Liberal Arts policy: "It is the policy of the University that class attendance by students be encouraged and that all instructors organize and conduct their courses with this policy in mind. A student should attend every class for which the student is scheduled and should be held responsible for all work covered in the courses taken. In each case, the instructor should decide when the class absence constitutes a danger to the studentís scholastic attainment and should make this fact known to the student at once. A student whose irregular attendance causes him or her, in the judgment of the instructor, to become deficient scholastically, may run the risk of receiving a failing grade or receiving a lower grade than the student might have secured had the student been in regular attendance."


In order to extend class discussion beyond the Wednesday meeting and to provide an opportunity for each student to participate fully in the discussion, each student is assigned to contribute to an on-line class discussion at least twice each week. These contributions will be counted as part of the class participation grade. At a minimum, each student should send (1) a well considered contribution to the class by Tuesday evening, commenting on the readings that will be discussed in class on Wednesday; and (2) by Friday evening a consideration of the film we have watched that week -- which of course could also mention the readings or our class discussion. Additional comments are welcome, and you are invited to respond to the notes of other students in a spirit of cooperative inquiry. Send your notes to the appropriate Angel message board for each week of the course.


 "The Pennsylvania State University is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to programs, facilities, admissions, and employment without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. The Pennsylvania State University does not discriminate against any person because of age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, or veteran status." Penn State University Affirmative Action Office.

Note to students with disabilities: Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. If you have a disability-related need for reasonable academic adjustments in this course, contact the Office for Disability Services.  For further information regarding policies, rights and responsibilities please visit the Office for Disability Services (ODS) Web site at:  Instructors should be notified as early in the semester as possible regarding the need for reasonable accommodations.

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