Print

Print


GWF asks:
">The glow that emanates from the briefcase is meant to remind us of the
>McGuffin in Robert Aldrich's "Kiss Me, Deadly" (1955).
>
 
What is a "McGuffin"? --GWF"
 
A McGuffin is Hitchcock's name for the device that motivates the plot
(stolen jewels, government secrets, or whatever) but that is not too
important in and of itself.
 
2 classic examples from Hitchcock:[SPOILERS FOLLOW?]
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1. The uranium in the bottles at Claude Rains' house in Rio.  It doesn't
matter what's in the bottles, Hitch insisted, it's a pretext to get Bergman
to meet and eventually marry Rains and for Grant and Bergman to be thrown
together, as well as to provide a reason for the suspense.
 
2. In NORTH BY NORTHWEST, the statue with microfilm inside that Van Damm
(James Mason) buys at an auction is the McGuffin.  When government spy
Leo G. Carroll is asked by Thornhill (Cary Grant) what's on the microfilm,
he replies, "Oh, government secrets, perhaps."  There is no indication that
national security will be in danger if the secrets leave the country, but
without them there would be no story: Van Damm wouldn't be spying, Eve
(Eva Marie Saint) wouldn't have been recruited as a double agent, the
fictitious "George Kaplan" wouldn't have been created to divert Van Damm's
attentions, and Thornhill wouldn't have been confused with George Kaplan--
hence, no story.
 
 
One could argue that "Rosebud" in CITIZEN KANE is a McGuffin, though possibly
of *some* greater importance.  In PULP FICTION, the briefcase is the
pretext for Jackson and Travolta to go to the apartment with the (college?)
kids.  What's in the briefcase?  What are the kids even doing with it, and
why is Marcellus so upset about it?  One hardly needs to ask.
 
 
BTW, Hitch claimed that the term came from a shaggy dog story: 2 men are
riding on a train.  One notices a large box on the luggage rack above the
other and asks, "What's that?"
        "Oh," the other replies, "That's a McGuffin."
        "What's a McGuffin?"
        "It's a device for trapping lions in the Scottish highlands."
        "But there are no lions in the Scottish highlands."
        "Well, then!  That's no McGuffin!"
 
(*You* figure it out.  Maybe Pete Clinch know the answer ;-)  )
 
--Don Larsson, Mankato State U., MN