Friday, July 6, 2018

THE SECOND ANNUAL ALFRED HITCHCOCK BLOGATHON: Stage Fright (1950)


The site Maddy Loves Her Classic Films hosts The Second Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon on July 6 and 7. Click HERE for the contributions. Thank you, Maddy.

By necessity, my discussion of Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright is not a spoiler-free zone. This is due to the fact that the very thing that annoys some viewers about the film is the very thing that tickles me no end.

Alma Reville adapted Selwyn Jepson's novel Man Running for this film which was filmed in London. The movie was Hitchcock's first in his homeland since leaving for Hollywood a decade earlier.


The first thing we observe on the screen is this theatre safety curtain whose function is to hide and then reveal a world of make-believe on stage, or in this case, on screen. The story we are about to observe is set in the professional and academic worlds of the theatre. The characters with whom we about to become involved are actors by calling or nature. We should be prepared for a world of distortion and misrepresentation. We have been warned by the safety curtain.

Jane Wyman, Richard Todd

Eve Gill is a student at RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, who has harboured a burning crush on her handsome and intriguing friend Jonathan Cooper. When he comes to her in trouble and on the run from the police, she doesn't hesitate to help him escape.

Nova Pilbeam, Derrick De Marney

We can sense the echo of an earlier Hitchcock heroine. Erica Burgoyne in 1937s Young and Innocent got caught up in the similar troubles of Robert Tisdall. An actress was at the root of Tisdall's troubles and Erica quickly became a confederate of the troubled and alluring stranger. Perhaps we are being told not to be too credulous in situations involving actresses and murder and attractive fugitives.

Marlene Dietrich, Richard Todd

Johnny tells Eve the story of the murder of actress Charlotte Inwood's husband and how he came to be blamed for it by trying to protect the woman he loves. Here is where some audiences part ways with Hitchcock. They are upset that the story presented to them on the screen in flashback turns out to be nothing but a bold-faced lie. There is precedent for such a twist (see Sherlock Holmes Faces Death), but some feel a trust has been broken. They have invested in Johnny's innocence only to be made fools.

Personally, I enjoyed Stage Fright immensely upon my first viewing. We are taken on the journey of our heroine and shown that the adventure is not always as anticipated. On subsequent viewings, it is fascinating to watch the interplay of the characters knowing the layers of lies which complicate the story.

Alastair Sim, Jane Wyman, Michael Wilding

Eve is a highly imaginative girl who is drawn to the melodramatic in life, and the chance to help Johnny, for whom she carries a torch, is irresistible. She draws her rather eccentric father Commodore Gill into the goings-on and he is a most willing participant.

Her sleuthing efforts also introduce Eve to a romantic complication in the form of Detective Inspector Wilfrid O. (O for Ordinary) Smith. The Detective Inspector is attracted to our Eve and has no idea she is playing amateur detective. Eve finds herself drawn to the man behind the badge. However, she still feels a strong sense of loyalty to the "innocent" Johnny.

Marlene Dietrich

Eve puts her acting prowess to the test by replacing, for a fee, Charlotte Inwood's maid. What does Eve hope to accomplish? A clue, a confession, something to turn the police's attention to the woman she knows has framed her Johnny. Do you think a woman like Charlotte Inwood, so bound to the axiom of "the show must go on" would be so foolish as to give anything away?

Michael Wilding, Jane Wyman, Alastair Sim, Sybil Thorndyke

The closer Eve gets to "Ordinary" Smith the more complicated and dangerous her involvement becomes. The above cozy family scene has "Ordinary" sharing his musical skill, Eve trying to get back to her job as Charlotte's maid Doris, and the Commodore amusing himself with the absurdity of the situation. He realizes that Eve has needed an ordinary man in her life all along.

Eve's mother, who lives in her own world, is enjoying the music and with unselfconscious irony compares it to Sherlock Holmes and his violin. "A stream of beautiful sound and then suddenly out pops the solution."

Patricia Hitchcock

Here is Eve's RADA friend Chubby Bannister who inadvertently presents Ordinary Smith with the hint that all is not as he suspects with Eve, or with their burgeoning romance. They meet up at a Garden Party in aid of a theatrical charity. Charlotte Inwood is performing. Eve is performing in her multiple roles of Eve Gill, charity pamphlet distributor, ladies maid and dresser, and young woman finally falling for the right guy.

Kay Walsh, Jane Wyman

Also attending the fete is Nellie Goode, Charlotte's regular maid who was willing to sell out her position for a few days. Nellie has decided she needs more money for exposing herself to the loss of a good job. As if Eve needed further complications! The Commodore will be on hand with the necessary funds, as well as a plan to trap Charlotte. As we know from Chubby's admission to Ordinary, it is Eve who will be trapped.

Richard Todd

Eve, now a most contrite amateur detective officially assists the police in a plan to get information out of Charlotte Inwood. Eve is also still acting as Johnny's loyal friend. The police, however, have a very different theory. At the eleventh hour Eve will learn the folly of her gullibility.

Jane Wyman

The sociopathic Johnny admits everything to Eve when there is no choice left to him. His only course of action will be to murder Eve. Johnny believes this will prove to the authorities that he cannot be held responsible for his actions. Under such horrifying circumstances, Eve is able to keep her wits and escape. Johnny is unable to escape the police and fate in the form of a theatre safety curtain.

I find Stage Fright layered and engrossing. Jane Wyman plays Eve Gill with a winning combination of naivete and confidence. Eve's most important relationship and the most fun to watch is that with her father the Commodore. Alastair Sim is always a scene-stealer, and here it works not only to his advantage but to that of the film and his co-stars.

The other men in Eve's life are cast to their strengths with Richard Todd as the emotionally dangerous Jonathan, and Michael Wilding an understated and realistic hero for our fanciful actress. Grand support abounds from Kay Walsh, Patricia Hitchcock, Sybil Thorndyke, and Joyce Grenfell as an over-eager volunteer carnival barker.

Marlene Dietrich is, of course, Marlene Dietrich and we wouldn't have her any other way! Hitchcock is, of course, Hitchcock; giving us a grand entertainment and something to consider about the nature of our stories and ourselves as we sip our tea.















20 comments:

  1. Nice support for a Hitchcock movie that is probably nobody's favorite. I like it but my problem is Richard Todd, an actor I could never warm up to.

    I too never had a problem with the twist though I remember the first time I saw it I did feel cheated somehow. I guess people have the same reaction to The Woman in the Window, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry and Agatha Christie's Roger Ackroyd. All the twists are a bit underhand.

    I'll have to watch it again to gain a bit more appreciation for it. Once you know the twist it's easy to focus on other aspects.

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    1. I've had a thing for Todd since the first time I saw him as Robin Hood for Disney, so it may have been easier for me to get into Stage Fright. I hear you now "Well Caftan Woman, there's no accounting for taste".

      Does this mean I shouldn't hold my breath for Chase a Crooked Shadow to find its way unto Down These Mean Streets?

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    2. Chase a Crooked Shadow will definitively be on my blog at some time. It's a good movie. I'll just imagine a different actor in the Richard Todd role. :)-

      No seriously, I don't hate the guy, he's just not a favorite.

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    3. Hee-hee-haw. You made me giggle.

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  2. Another awesome review! I saw Stage Fright only once, but loved it! And the climax: wow!

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    1. Thanks. Yes, the climax really works. I feel the knot in Eve's stomach.

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  3. I love the twist in this film. The first time I saw it, I was SHOCKED by the revelation that we were lied to. But I had to admire it. It forced me to look at how much we rely on the characters with whom we sympathize – we expect them to be honest with US, even if they're not honest with others.

    Great review! You've made me want to see this again.

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    1. I'm so pleased it has moved over to the "see it again" list. Wouldn't it be grand to have a partner in crime, so to speak, like Alastair Sim?

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  4. Haven't seen Stage Fright, but with Marlene Dietrich in it its bound to be good.

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    1. Marlene is every inch a "shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament." She gets to sing The Laziest Girl in Town and it's great.

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  5. Paddy Lee, another fine review of a really good Alfred Hitchcock movie. I first saw STAGE FRIGHT on the old channel 3 WREC-TV LATE MOVIE during the 1970's. I bought a VHS tape of the movie in the 1990's. I haven't watched STAGE FRIGHT in a long time, but once you see it, you never forget the twist and turn it makes. Some might be put off by this, but it tickled me right down to the floor, and still does. Hitchcock threw us a curve by actually filming the lie, instead of telling us.

    Yes, I agree with Margo, that it is probably nobody's favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie, but I like this so-called lesser effort of Hitchcock, Alma Reville(adapted the novel to the screen), and Whitfield Cook(screenplay). There’s so much that we could talk about in STAGE FRIGHT. The cast, plot, and the humor. Some really good stuff here. Paddy Lee, I need to watch it again.

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    1. Thanks for your response. It was fun to read. Stage Fright, and The Trouble With Harry are both favourites of mine. I think they feel very true to the core of Hitchcock's humour which is something I consider one of his greatest strengths.

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  6. Thanks for a very interesting review. I've never seen it and have been left curious by comments above. So I definitely need to watch it!

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    1. Indeed. If I read some of these comments and hadn't seen the movie, I'd be going crazy wondering what everybody was talking about. I hope you have the opportunity to see the movie soon and that you will find much to enjoy.

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  7. Like you, I've never been bothered by the fake flashback. It's interesting to think why so many viewers feel angry about this. I recall that Agatha Christie wrote a mystery novel in which at the end you find out that the narrator is actually the murderer! My guess with this film is that Richard Todd is so sympathetic that audiences WANT him to be innocent, which may be is why they feel cheated. Which I think is a tribute to Todd, certainly an underrated actor and always so engaging on screen. Just loved his performance in The Dam Busters.

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    1. I think you may have hit on something there with the Todd fans theory. I certainly count myself among them. Oh, The Hasty Heart!

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  8. Nice! It's interesting to see Dietrich in a film like this since she's sort of playing the kind of exotic, mysterious woman she played in the early 30's but she's not trying to emulate that success. She adjusts herself to the genre of the film and the more down-to-earth surroundings.

    Tam May
    The Dream Book Blog
    https://thedreambookblog.wordpress.com

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    1. Aptly put. Marlene knew herself possibly better than many performers. She knew best how to present her talents.

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  9. Love Alastair Sim – he’s a treat in anything he’s in! It seems so funny to me that people get upset about the misrepresentation in this plot. The flashback is told by Jonathan who is a manipulative murderer. To me it makes perfect sense - the fact that the flashback is fake is part of the reveal. I get far more upset by stuff that takes years to build up the bait and switch, like the fact that (Wonder Years Spoiler) Kevin and Winnie don’t end up together at the end (I’m not particularly a WY fan and that still ticks me off).

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    1. Audiences are basically an accepting lot, but don't mess with us just for the sake of messing. Especially in something in which a lot of time and care has been invested.

      I don't trust people who don't enjoy Alastair Sim. That's probably as good a character judgment as we could ever find.

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