Saturday, December 17, 2011

Considering the MacGuffin

[Originally published in a longer version at]

By J. J. Murphy

Have you ever heard of a MacGuffin? And, no, it’s not a new breakfast sandwich at McDonald’s.

If you’re a movie buff, you probably know this term. It was used by film director Alfred Hitchcock to explain a certain kind of plot device. Specifically, a MacGuffin is a valuable item that both the heroes and the villains are desperately trying to obtain. It’s often used in thrillers or mysteries, but it can appear in other types of films or books as well.

One classic example of a MacGuffin is the black bird statuette in the film, “The Maltese Falcon.” Another is the Ark of Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Yet another is the sled, Rosebud, in “Citizen Kane.” A MacGuffin is a kind of holy grail, sometimes literally, as in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

The MacGuffin is often an object that has no meaning other than simply being valuable. It’s sometimes just a thing that the story revolves around, something that moves the plot forward. For example, we never find out what’s actually on the secret microfilm in Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.”

But this object, because it’s pursued by many people, becomes the repository of their hopes and desires.

“The stuff that dreams are made of,” said Humphrey Bogart (as Sam Spade) in “The Maltese Falcon.”

Tell us, what’s your favorite MacGuffin – and where can it be found?

Photo: J. J. Murphy and spouse.

J.J. Murphy writes the Algonquin Round Table mysteries, a humorous historical series that features Dorothy Parker as a witty sleuth in 1920s New York. The most recent title in the series, You Might As Well Die, focuses on the tale of Ernie MacGuffin, a second-rate artist and a first-rate nuisance who jumps to his certain death off the Brooklyn Bridge. It takes Parker, the other members of the famed Algonquin round table and master magician Harry Houdini to determine what really happened to him.


J.J. Murphy said...

Bail Bonds Van Nuys, even though I know you're nothing but a 'bot, I'm so glad you liked the "organized content." Cheers!

Msmstry said...

As usual, I can't think of an illustration on command, but I do have an extended thought on MacGuffins. At your next mystery event, consider a "MacGuffin Hunt" instead of the same-old-same-old scavenger hunt.

Some of the items could be mystery-related, but the one that gave most folks the most difficulty was an uncooked potato.

During a Magna cum Murder weekend, my daughter thoroughly enjoyed the 3-day hunt and was delighted to come in second place. Somehow, she charmed the hotel restaurant's chef into giving her the potato.

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