Fear Thy Neighbor

Fear Thy Neighbor
(AP Photo, File)

In an age of rancor, one thing we can all agree on is that it makes a certain amount of sense to fear the police. What other force in civil society is authorized to intrude on private life, and deny its benefits and freedoms, in quite the same way? It may be the law-abiding members of society who fear the police most palpably. While actual criminals carry knowledge of their own guilt, the innocent must live with the knowledge of how easily we could be wrongly accused, misidentified or railroaded.

Alfred Hitchcock did more than any other popular artist in the last century to help form a certain image of the police in the public consciousness. From The 39 Steps to Saboteur to North by Northwest, Hitchcock was perpetually drawn to the drama of the innocent man mistakenly stalked, hounded or pursued by law enforcement. Arguably his best-remembered film, Psycho, is chock-full of terrifying sights, but is any of them as alarming as the giant close-up of a police officer, his eyes obscured by sunglasses and his mouth stubbornly unsmiling, looming outside the car of a sleeping Marion Crane (Janet Leigh)? Of course, Marion is guilty of a little larceny, but Hitchcock understood that audiences will invariably recognize themselves rather than the pursuer.

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