McGuffin by Hitchcock

July 20th, 2010 by

A cool video from FilmmakerIQ, where Alfred Hitchcock explains the concept of a “McGuffin”:

For those of you who don’t have 1:44 to watch the video, here is some of what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

The director and producer Alfred Hitchcock popularized both the term “MacGuffin” and the technique, with his 1935 film The 39 Steps an early example of the concept.[3] Hitchcock explained the term “McGuffin” in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: “[We] have a name in the studio, and we call it the ‘MacGuffin’. It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers”.[4]

Interviewed in 1966 by François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock illustrated the term “MacGuffin” with this story:[5]

It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?”, and the other answers “Oh that’s a McGuffin”. The first one asks “What’s a McGuffin?”. “Well”, the other man says, “It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands“. The first man says “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands”, and the other one answers “Well, then that’s no McGuffin!”. So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.

Hitchcock related this anecdote in a television interview for Richard Schickel‘s documentary The Men Who Made the Movies. Hitchcock’s verbal delivery made it clear that the second man has thought up the MacGuffin explanation as a roundabout method of telling the first man to mind his own business. According to author Ken Mogg, screenwriter Angus MacPhail, a friend of Hitchcock’s, may have originally coined the term.[6]

Some examples of McGuffins in movies:

What other McGuffins can you recall?

4 thoughts on “McGuffin by Hitchcock

  1. johnnyboymalloy says:

    -The Bank Robery Show in "Network"
    -The Money in "No Country For Old Men"
    -Idea Inception of Robert Fisher in "Inception"

    and just to be cheeky

    -The Glowing Contents of the Briefcase – "Pulp Fiction"

  2. George says:

    It's the thing the characters on the screen worry about and the audience doesn't care. Lolz Brilliant!

    The stuff you find, how do you do it?

    Other McGuffin's?
    The dead man's gold in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The mysterious suitcase in Pulp Fiction.

  3. George says:

    Just realized the suitcase was already mentioned so I got to make up for it.

    More McGuffins:

    Private Ryan in "Saving Private Ryan"

    Bill in "Kill Bill"

    A few dollars more in "For a Few Dollars More"

  4. Atlanta says:

    The precious ring, so very precious, in Lord of the Rings.

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