Hitchcock: match cuts & dissolves

Also called graphic match, a match cut is an editing technique in which two successive shots are related to each other by a visual similarity. Match cuts are frequently accompanied by another editing technique, the dissolve. In a dissolve, one image fades out while the next image fades in; as a result, the images overlap and for a moment both are visible simultaneously.

Rhetorically, both match cut and dissolve suggest a thematic or symbolic connection between what is shown in the two separate shots.

Psycho

In one of the most famous match cuts in cinema, a shot of water swirling down the drain dissolves into a shot of the dead eye of the victim murdered in the shower. As an added connection, the shot of the eye rotates clockwise in contrast to the counterclockwise swirl down the drain. The match literalizes the metaphor of a life "down the drain."

The Wrong Man

As the falsely-accused man prays for strength, Hitchcock slowly dissolves to the the actual criminal, who walks into the frame until the two faces overlap. In the following sequence, the criminal is caught and the innocent man exonerated. The film thus suggests that prayers were answered.

The 39 Steps

The cleaning woman discovers a body: as she opens her mouth to scream, Hitchcock cuts to the whistle of the train carrying the escaping chief suspect.

[no sound]
[shriek of train whistle]
Young and Innocent

Another match on sound. When a body is discovered on a beach, the women's open mouths cut to loud seagull calls.

[no sound]

[shriek of seagull calls]
Sabotage

Here, match cutting provides suspense. A young boy unknowingly carries a bomb, set to explode at 1:45, through the city streets. Match cuts dissolve between the bomb mechanism, clock faces, and the face of the boy.

Frenzy

A victim of the "necktie murderer" cuts to Richard Blaney putting on his necktie. (In this instance, there is no dissolve.) Blaney will become the chief suspect. The match cut thus provides a clue that turns out to be misleading.