Wednesday, July 1, 2009

MacGuffin Trivia

The MacGuffin, a phrase coined by Alfred Hitchcock, is a cinematic device that appears most commonly in suspense thrillers or action movies. Basically, its sole purpose is to drive the narrative forward by giving the characters something to care about, kill for, or die for. It can be an object, event, or thing that is of great importance during the first act. Ultimately, however, the MacGuffin itself is often meaningless - it really could be anything.

But you all probably knew that already, so let's have some fun today. Can you name the movies in which the following MacGuffins appear?

-The Sankara Stones
-The Process
-The Rabbit's Foot
-Letters of Transit
-The Holy Grail
-The Case***(No, I'm not thinking of Pulp Fiction here)

*** My favorite example of a MacGuffin is "The Case." In this particular movie, the screenwriter is being a bit devious by making the MacGuffin ultimately meaningless, not just from the audience's perspective, but also WITHIN the context of the story. As it turns out, The Case may or may not contain anything. The protagonist was never even interested in it. It's a great turn of events and one of the things that elevates this particular movie above the standard action thriller. That, my friends, is the ultimate MacGuffin, and also a pretty cool play on the concept.

Beware of SPOILERS if you read any of the comments to this post.


Nathanael Green said...

I don't think I'll get a passing grade on this one, sadly.

I've got the letters of transit with "Casablanca;" the Holy Grail with any number of movies like Indiana Jones or my first thought - Monty Python; and Rosebud with "Citizen Kane."

I'm tempted to say the process is from "The Trial" since its original title is "Der Prozess" but I'm not sure if that's what you're going for. Or maybe I just want to relate everything to Kafka.

Phil Stiefel said...

tones are from an INdiana Jones movie too?.?. I think temple of doom but my mind is shot this morning.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Nater -

Good call on the letters of transit, the Grail, and Rosebud.

The Process is from a film that's not fairly well known, but seems to have a decent cult following.

Were there any MacGuffins in Kafka's works? It would seem to fit with his type of storytelling: something that seems important but is in reality meaningless.

Brian O'Rourke said...


Good call on the Sankara Stones.

"Drop them, Dr. Jones! They will be found! YOU WON'T!"

seanag said...

Can't add any winning guesses here, but I must admit that though I have heard the word 'MacGuffin' in relation to mysteries, I had never really bothered to figure out what it meant. I think, if pressed, I would probably have said a red herring.

So typical.

Brian O'Rourke said...


Does this qualify as a mini Confession of Ignorance?

Red herring is a good guess, as it's kind of a distant cousin to the MacGuffin, IMHO.

adrian mckinty said...

My favourite McGuffin is in North By NorthWest showing us that the chace is everything...

Grant: Whats this all about?

Govt. Man(laconically): ooh, atomic secrets, perhaps?

Nicely done Hitch.

seanag said...

That's a nice example.

Yes, Brian--another confession. I suppose a red herring is a distant cousin, but as a guess it's... wrong.

Brian O'Rourke said...


Good one there. Hitch really perfected the MacGuffin, didn't he?

Brian O'Rourke said...


You're much too hard on yourself!

adrian mckinty said...

Cant believe I wrote "chace". Dear oh dear.

Incidentally on LofA. I went to Aqaba primarily because of LofA. Very nice little town. We went snorkling there and the boat taking us out on the reef accidentally veered into Saudi waters. The Saudi police came. You know how much they love uninvited westerners in Saudi Arabia...yeah it was like that.

Brian O'Rourke said...


You've been everywhere, man! That's a crazy story re: Saudi police. Did they give you a real hard time?

If memory serves, I think they built a set in Spain for the Aqaba sequence in LoA.

seanag said...

What is LoA? Tried to get it from the thread but I'm not spotting it.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Sorry Seana, we started speaking geek again and were referring to Lawrence of Arabia from the previous post.

seanag said...

Actually, I probably should have figured that out, given the location. Too stuck on LoTR and LoT to see it.

Brian O'Rourke said...

So here are the answers to the rest of the trivia questions:

The Rabbit's Foot - Mission Impossible 3

The Process - The Spanish Prisoner

The Case - Ronin