Exploiting Ambiguity: Murder! (1930) and the Meanings of Cross-Dressing in Interwar Britain

O'Rourke, Chris (2020) Exploiting Ambiguity: Murder! (1930) and the Meanings of Cross-Dressing in Interwar Britain. Journal of British Cinema and Television, 17 (3). ISSN 1743-4521

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Exploiting Ambiguity: Murder! (1930) and the Meanings of Cross-Dressing in Interwar Britain

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Abstract

The crime film Murder! (1930), directed by Alfred Hitchcock for British International Pictures, and based on the novel Enter Sir John (1929) by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson, has long been cited in debates about the treatment of queer sexuality in Hitchcock’s films. Central to these debates is the character of Handel Fane and the depiction of his cross-dressed appearances as a theatre and circus performer, which many critics have understood as a coded reference to homosexuality. This article explores such critical interpretations by situating Murder! more firmly in its historical context. In particular, it examines Fane’s cross-dressed performances in relation to other cultural representations of men’s cross-dressing in interwar Britain. These include examples from other British and American films, stories in the popular press and the publicity surrounding the aerial performer and female impersonator Barbette (Vander Clyde). The article argues that Murder! reflects and exploits a broader fascination with gender ambiguity in British popular culture, and that it anticipates the more insistent vilification of queer men in the decades after the Second World War.

Keywords:Alfred Hitchcock, British film, cross-dressing, queer film, queer history
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V146 Modern History 1920-1949
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V210 British History
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P303 Film studies
Divisions:College of Arts
ID Code:34729
Deposited On:01 Nov 2019 16:31

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