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I know that people often dismiss plot questions in Hitchcock films, saying that Hitchcock didn't care about the plot and neither should we. Still, when I see a celebrated film and don't understand the plot, I do always wonder whether I've simply missed the point.

The assassin kills the real United Nations diplomat with a knife, apparently to precipitate Rogers's arrest for murder. At the auction, Roger deliberately gets picked up by the police to thwart Vandamm, and then tells the police that he's the killer from the United Nations. Why do Leonard and Vandamm sometimes want Roger in police custody, and sometimes not want this?

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At various points in the time-line they want Roger to take the fall for the killing, and then they want it to be easier for them to silence him permanently.

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  • So when the bad guys killed the diplomat, they wanted Roger in police custody; at the auction, they did not want Roger in police custody. What changed between the two moments, to change their interests? (Perhaps it's dirty pool to keep tagging onto the question like this; but once we see the police bring Roger to meet the Professor at the airport, doesn't it seem silly that the bad guys ever wanted Roger in police custody?)
    – Chaim
    Oct 31, 2017 at 22:41
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The criminals never wanted Roger in police custody. Vandamm never loses confidence that Roger is actually a US agent named Kaplan, and believes that the police would only help him. Later in the movie, near Mount Rushmore, Vandamm says "Not at all. I knew the police would release you, Mr. Kaplan."

So what was the change that led the assassin to kill the real Townsend at the UN? Well, Roger has just informed him that there are criminals impersonating him and living in his home. From the assassin's perspective, their hideout in Townsend's home is now compromised and Townsend himself is a liability.

Your question does make me doubt a different scene however; when Roger returns to the Townsend manor and the fake Mrs. Townsend convinces the police that Roger is just a drunk. If Vandamm was certain that Roger was a government agent and had police support, why would he construct a ruse and attempt to fool the police?

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    If you have a separate question, you should post it as a new question, rather than putting it in your answer here.
    – F1Krazy
    Jan 10, 2022 at 19:28
  • Unfortunately, I've not seen the film since I posted this question 5 years ago. So I doubt my recollections. But you're saying that the killing in the UN was not intended to implicate Roger, although it did implicate him as it obviously would; but was rather intended to allow Vandamm to remain at Townsend's house, although Vandamm does not in fact remain there but leaves immediately, as we discover when Roger later returns to Townsend's house. It seems difficult.
    – Chaim
    Jan 10, 2022 at 23:25

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