That little boy’s name is Stevie.
That puppy, the old lady, and little Stevie are about to die:
And you can’t do anything about it.
That’s a scene from the 1939 Hitchcock movie “Sabotage”. Moments later, the bus they are sitting on will explode and all three, along with everyone else on the bus, will die.
This scene sparked the ire of many a group. Protests were held. The movie was banned in Brazil because of the scene. It “upset public order”.
What were people incensed about? Was it the old lady? The bus full of people? That precious puppy? Or Stevie?
It was Stevie. Hitchcock built him as a sympathetic character and then killed him in a horrific manner. The audience felt that Stevie should be avenged. Makes sense. If you invest in caring for the little boy, there should be a pay off. And there wasn’t. If Hitchcock had gone on to show that Stevie’s older sister got revenge for the death of her brother, then the scene on the bus would have been a blip.
The old lady and the puppy aren’t sympathetic characters, but they build our relationship with the scene. They cement us in the normality of the scene. We can relate to puppies and old ladies.
But let’s get back to the puppy. Is it OK to kill dogs? After all, puppies, just like Stevie, are the epitome of innocence. The answer is ‘yes’. Cinematically, you can kill the dog.
There’ s a rule that says, in horror movies, you don’t kill the dog. What this means is that you don’t show the dog being killed. I know you’ve told me a hundred million times not to exaggerate, but I can give you a bazilion examples of horror movies where dogs died.
Jaws, Day of the Dolphins, The Thing, Cujo, Amityville Horror, Hills Have Eyes. Trust me on this. I’m not even trying. The list goes on and on.
Getting back to Hitchcock. The scene on the bus. The old lady. The puppy. Little Stevie.
Hitchcock later expressed regrets about how the scene turned out.
In fact, from that scene and the surrounding bad press and publicity it generated, Hitchcock said ”never kill a puppy”. And there you have it. A cinematic “rule” was born.
Except. Wait. That never happened. Hitchcock did express regret about the scene. He wished that he had done it differently. He later conceded that “the ‘bus bomb’ scene was wrong for it built up the audience’s suspense but then didn’t relieve it”. Hitchcock never uttered the words “you can’t kill a puppy” or anything remotely similar to that idea.
Hitchcock didn’t want to change the fact that Stevie, the puppy, and the old lady died. That would stay. He’d change the way he shot it to make it pay off better.
You can kill dogs in movies.
L.A. went well. More another time.
M A R K