Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Key Fairy-Tale

Stop me if you've heard this one before: A young woman marries a wealthy older gentleman and goes to live in his beautifully appointed mansion. She is given the run of the place, except that she is forbidden to go into the cellar, which her husband keeps locked. Unable to contain her curiosity, the woman steals the key to the cellar and sneaks in. There, she uncovers a dreadful secret. She quickly leaves, endeavoring to conceal the fact that she went where she was forbidden to go. But a telltale dark-red stain alerts the husband that his wife broke into the cellar and discovered what he was hiding there. He becomes enraged and is on the point of killing his wife when, at the last possible moment, a rescuer arrives and saves her life.

Obviously, this is "Bluebeard," as told by Charles Perrault, right? Yes... but isn't it also the story of Hitchcock's Notorious?

The connection hit me today with such force that I'm surprised I never noticed it before--because I love Notorious and am fascinated by "Bluebeard" (I even wrote a "Bluebeard" song once). The dark-red stain is especially remarkable--Bluebeard's magical bloodstained key vs. the traces of red wine in Alex Sebastian's sink.

Of course there's more to the story of Notorious than this, and it functions on many more levels than Perrault's tale does; the addition of the Cary Grant character turns it into an extremely complex love triangle, rather than a fable about curiosity. I love knowing, though, that one reason the movie is so powerful is because part of its story is based on this time-tested and mythic structure...

Photo: Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) prepares to open the cellar door. Image from the 1000 Frames of Hitchcock Project.


Lexi said...

wow, I never thought of that before..I like that. and I once shot a movie of Bluebeard!

Marissa said...

I know you did! That's why I was definitely thinking of you when I wrote this post.