Wednesday 22 July 2020

Stage Fright - 1950 film review

Stage Fright is one of Alfred Hitchcock's less well-known films. I watched (and reviewed) it eleven years ago, but perhaps significantly, I found when I looked at it again that I'd forgotten all about it. The script is based on Man Running, a novel by the British writer Selwyn Jepson, whose father Edgar was himself a writer of some note whose output included a number of crime books and who was an early member of the Detection Club. I haven't read the source book, though I gather that Hitch made drastic changes to the storyline, as was his wont.

The first thing to say about the film is that the cast is impressive. Marlene Dietrich plays Charlotte Inwood, an actress whose husband is murdered. Richard Todd plays Jonathan Cooper, her lover. There are also parts for Sybil Thorndike, Miles Malleson, Andre Morell, and Ballard Berkeley (now remembered fondly as the Major in Fawlty Towers). At the start of the film, Cooper tells his friend, an aspiring actress called Eve Gill (Jane Wyman, whose five marriages included one to Ronald Reagan) about the way that Charlotte's behaviour led to his being suspected of the murder, which she committed. We see his version of events in a lengthy flashback.

After Jonathan flees from the police and takes refuge with Eve and her father (Alastair Sim), Eve starts to play detective. This brings her into contact with a likeable cop called Smith (Michael Wilding), who is hunting for Cooper. Although Eve is devoted to Cooper, she finds herself increasingly attracted to Cooper, while using her acting skills to inveigle her way into Charlotte's household.

This is an entertaining film, as you'd expect from Hitchcock, but it's also flawed. The decision to cast Wyman, who makes no discernible attempt to conceal her American accent, as the daughter of Alastair Sim, strikes me as bizarre. It may have made crude commercial sense, but artistically it was foolish. More serious, though, is the way the audience are deceived about what has happened - the antithesis of fair play. Years later, when interviewed by Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock admitted that in misleading us as to what has happened, he'd got it badly wrong. I agree. So while Stage Fright is perfectly watchable, it's also somewhat disappointing.

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