Monday, 22 August 2011

Stage Fright: Hitchcock's Unsung Brilliance

Alfred Hitchcock- the man who shocked the world during the 1930's-1970's with his masterpiece thrillers is still today, as revered and talked about by film critics and film theorists more than any other director. 'The Master of Suspense' is famous for so many classics that have stood the test of time like Rear Window, North by Northwest, The Birds, Strangers on a Train and Psycho to name a handful. Yes directors like Wilder, Leone, Ford, Huston and Scorsese have made many great films, but none can boast a more solid quality and quantity of work than Hitchcock.

However, it is disappointing that in that body of work, many look over some of his less-successful and less-acclaimed pictures, like Stage Fright (1950). Even Hitchcock looked down on it because of the 'false-flashback' in the movie, which he called his second greatest error in all his works.

But please, do not let Hitchcock's perfectionism or film critics who praise his most famous film discourage you. Stage Fright is my favourite Hitchcock film, it may not be his most innovating and suspenseful, but it is thoroughly enjoyable and contains much of Hitchcock's directorial greatness.
Boasting a sensational cast headed by Jane Wyman, who although is not as remembered today, was a big star at the time and an Oscar-winner. Also in there is one of my favourite British actors, Alastair Sim, lending his comic abilities beautifully to the film. There are other fine performances from Richard Todd, Michael Wilding , Sybil Thorndike, and every other actor in this film makes a considerable contribution that makes the film so wholly wonderful. Of course, we cannot forget Marlene Dietrich, playing herself masterfully. She not only looks sensational, but she sings songs like 'Laziest Gal in Town' memorably, and also shows her comic abilities in the picture.

The plot is basically about a man, Joanthan (Richard Todd) who is being helped by his friend Eve (Wyman) to escape the police who suspect him of murdering the husband of an actress Charlotte (Dietrich). This actress was having an affair with our fugitive, and killed her husband, but after sending her lover back to get her things, he is spotted by the maid and reported to the authorities. Eve is also in love with Jonathan and wants to help him be cleared of murder, but needs evidence against Charlotte. By posing as her maid, getting help from her father (Sim) and getting friendly with the detective working on the case (Wilding), Eve tries to gather as much evidence against Charlotte as she can. The film is full of love, laughs, deception and ends with a
massive and frightening twist.

Just some shades of Hitchcock's brilliance which I would like to point out is how we never see the door shutting behind Jonathan when he goes back to get Charlotte's dress. The camera simply zooms over the car, into the house with the sound of the door closing behind us- seemless and flowing. I also love the scene in the theatre store room, whre Eve finds out Joanthan is a murderer- Hitchcock only has the eye's of both lit, thus showing Eve's realisation and fear at the fact she is alone with a murderer, and showing the madness in Jonathan's eyes, the wild eyes of a murderer. And finally I absolutely adore how Hitchcock lights Dietrich, possibly paying homage to how Von Sternberg would light her immaculately in her earlier career.

There is an extreme close-up of her face, softly lit to show her beauty, but with focused shadow around the edges showing her darker side e.g. having her dog shot, convincing Jonathan to kill her husband.

Stage Fright is definitely one of Hitchcock's unsung treasures- fully entertaining, with a superb cast and some cleverly constructed shots by the man himself, it is worth a watch. It is different to the others because it isn't so serious and dark, there is a lightness and humour that makes it refreshing. A perfect film for a lazy day. And ofcourse, don't forget to look out for Hitchcock's cameo.

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