Thursday 26 March 2009

Stage Fright

Stage Fright is a Hitchcock film of 1950, boasting a mixed and noteworthy bag of ingredients. A young man who has become embroiled in the murder of his actress lover’s husband flees from the police and seeks help from a much more dependable woman, Eve Gill. It’s a neat and suspenseful situation which results in a watchable movie. There are, however, two flaws. First, the story sags in the middle – a shortage of meaningful plot, I felt, although the ending is strong. Second, the flashback which opens the film turns out to be a bit of a cheat.

The cast is impressive, and makes the very best of the material. Marlene Dietrich is suitably sultry and malevolent as the scheming actress, and sings a Cole Porter song during that rather laboured middle section of the film. Richard Todd, a heartthrob in his day, is her neurotic and unreliable stooge. Eve Gill is played by Jane Wyman, whose greatest claim to fame is that she was President Reagan’s first wife. He was her third husband. Jane, a pretty woman, was obviously quite a character; she later married yet again, divorcing only to re-marry the chap before divorcing again, finally abandoning marriage, no doubt exhausted, and turning to religion.

Eve’s father was played by Alastair Sim, and there were minor parts for Miles Malleson, omnipresent in films of that period, and Ballard Berkeley, who is now remembered by many as the Major in ‘Fawlty Towers’.

The story comes from a novel called Man Running, one of six books featuring Eve Gill and written by Selwyn Jepson. His reputation has not survived the passage of time too well, but he was prolific as a novelist and screenwriter, and came from a literary family. His father, Edgar Jepson, was an early member of the Detection Club, and co-author of a legendary detective story, ‘The Tea Leaf’. And Selwyn’s niece is the notable author Fay Weldon.


Philip Amos said...

You're a bit hard on Jane Wyman there, Martin. After all, she was nominated for the Oscar as Best Actress in a Leading Role four times, winning it for her performance in Johnny Belinda.

Martin Edwards said...

A good actress, then, as well as good-looking. But I must admit that previously I only know of her via the Presedential connection!

Anonymous said...

Joyce Grenfell's in there too, isn't she?

I've only seen this once, about twenty-five years ago, but always wondered why it was classified as "minor". The cast is interesting, and there are a few unusual moments. Maybe it wasn't much of a hit. Hitch certainly wasn't on much of a roll (The Paradine Case, Under Capricorn) at the time.

pattinase (abbott) said...

She is quite good in several of the Sirk films (Magnficent Obsession) as well as Johnny Belinda and The Lost Weekend. She was always measured in her performances, none of the histrionics of Bette Davis or Joan Crawford.