Sunday, April 10, 2011

Stage Fright

Title: Stage Fright
Year: 1950
Studio: Warner Brothers
Screenplay: Whitfield Cook. Adapted by Alma Reville with additional dialogue by James Bridle
Source Material: Man Running by Selwyn Jepson
Running Time: 105 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 10th April, 9:45am
Last weekend I was simply too busy to get around to doing this blog. You have to understand that it takes a few hours to watch the film (with plenty of pausing to jot down notes and scribble down great lines) and then another couple of hours to write it all up. This is why I am single.
I figure that if I only have one weekend off from here on in, I should finish this blog on Hitchcock's birthday (if all goes to plan...)
Once again, I am going to try my best to truncate the plot so I don't have to spend ages detailing every tiny little moment. It may seem rushed, but I'm hungry and want some lunch.
(I will also take it as read that whoever reads this knows the ending of the movie...)
(Gosh, I love brackets)

Eve Gill - Jane Wyman
Charlotte Inwood - Marlene Dietrich
Inspector Wilfred 'Ordinary' Smith - Michael Wilding
Jonathan Cooper - Richard Todd
Mrs Gill - Sybil Thorndike
Nellie Goode - Kay Walsh
Mr Fortesque - Miles Mallerson
Freddie Williams - Hector MacGregor
Woman manning the "Lovely Ducks" stall - Joyce Grenfell
Inspector Byard - Andre Morell
Chubby Bannister - Patricia Highsmith
Sergeant Mellish - Ballard Berkeley
Commodore Gill - Alistair Sim

The Safety Curtain raises to reveal London.
Eve Gill is driving through town with alacrity as her passenger, Jonathan Cooper, relays his tale of adventure. He has been caught up in a murder. His lover, famous actress Charlotte Inwood, has killed her husband and has come to him for help wearing her bloodstained outfit. He helps her out by returning to the scene of the crime to pick up a clean dress for Charlotte and to rearrange things to make it look like a break-in only to be caught in the act by Nellie, the maid. The police come looking for Jonnie but he evades them and goes in search of Eve so that she can help him out. He finds her at RADA rehearsing...
Eve, upon hearing teh story and being slightly enamoured with Jonnie, agrees to help.

She takes him to her father's place by the sea where Jonathan burns the bloodstained dress. Eve wants to go and talk to Charlotte to talk to her and help Jonnie. Commodore Gill keeps a roof over Jonnie's head and asks Eve to not get involved as it could be dangerous. The next morning, Eve sneaks out, disregarding her father's wishes, only to find a note from him in the car:

Remember she's a dangerous woman, so BE CAREFUL
Your loving Father

Back in London, Eve manages to wheedle her way into the life of a detective named Smith by playing the weak and feeble bystander. They build up an immediate rapport and she is able to get some information from him whilst becoming a little attracted to him. Nellie, Inwood's maid, enters the same public house and starts nattering about what she knows.

Eve pretends to be a reporter and offers to pay Nellie so that she can take her place and do some snooping. Nellie is a mercenary woman and agrees. Eve 'becomes' Doris Tinsdale and replaces Nellie as Charlotte's maid as Nellie feigns illness. However, this means Eve has to avoid Wilfred Smith when ever he comes to talk to Charlotte about the murder.

At a fund-raising garden party where Charlotte is performing Eve and her father try to expose Charlotte as the guilty party . The Commodore wins a doll, smears some of his own blood on the doll's dress and persuades a young scout to deliver the doll to Charlotte whilst she performs. Charlotte is taken aback and almost collapses. Unfortunately for Eve, she is needed as Charlotte's maid and thus is exposed to Detective Smith with whom she has attended the event.

Afterwards, the Commodore and Eve have to tell Smith everything. He is not impressed by their meddling nor by the fact it seems he has been used by Eve. She tries to persuade him that she did once love Jonnie and that is why she got involved but now she is falling for Smith.

With help from the police and the theatre, they try to catch Charlotte out by bugging the quick-change dressing room and getting her to talk about the dress and the murder. Eve gets Charlotte talking but the confession is not quite what was expected. Charlotte blames Jonnie and reveals how he was the one who committed the crime. Eve is reluctant to believe it until soon, Jonnie is on the run again and she hides him in the theatre basement. It turns out he has a criminal history and he believes the only way he can get away with his life intact would be to plead insanity. The only way to prove his unhinged mental state would be to kill again for no apparent reason.
Eve says she will help him but locks him in the orchestra pit and screams for help.
The police come for him and he tries to escape, only to be crushed by the falling safety curtain as he clambers onto the stage.

Wilfred Smith embraces and consoles Eve as they walk off-stage together.


Great Lines

Commodore Gill and his daughter discuss the anoozing Jonathan:

Commodore Gill: "He's a friend of yours is he?"

Eve Gill: "Oh yes..."

Commodore Gill: "I see - More than a friend, eh?"

Eve Gill: "When I am with him, I get a feeling in here that... that's sort of..."

Commodore Gill: "Yes, well... we'll go into symptoms later. Meanwhile, I take it you're either keen on him or still hungry."

When Charlotte is being dressed for the funeral, she is not keen on the style:

Charlotte Inwood: "If we could only work in a little colour somewhere. Oh well..."

Charlotte on detectives:

"They are only policemen with smaller feet."

Charlotte on small talk:

"I hope you're not going to turn into one of those explicit people who always tell you exactly how they feel when you ask them."

And for all other great lines, just listen to all scenes with Alistair Sim and his brilliant delivery.

I love the way we are thrown straight into the plot. there is no faffing around. As soon as that curtain is raised, we're knee deep in plot and adventure, even if it is not all is it seems to be at first.
The whole 'stage' theme is played continually throughout, sometimes subtly, sometimes brashly, but either way effectively. As Shakespeare wrote: All the world's a stage...

There are a number of utterly delightful scenes within the movie. For a start, the scenes at the home of the Gill's are always glistening with sparkling dialogue - particularly when Sybil Thorndike and Alistair Sim are trading their banter.
The scene where Marlene is singing Je vois la vie en rose as the cub scout produces the doll with the blood stained dress is eerily directed as only Hitch could.
My favourite scene has to be where Alistair Sim tries to purchase a doll from the hilarious Joyce Grenfell at the "Lovely Ducks" stall. First he offers to buy the doll until he realises how much he'll have to fork out. Then he tries to win one, but fails miserably. He pretends a larger fellow's winning turn was his own, but his opponents threatening nature persuades him to give that one up and, with this lesson in mind, turns the tables on a weaker chap to his right who turns out to be easily intimidated. It's a golden moment of comedy.

Finally, two little casting notes.
Ballard Berkeley who plays Mellish will always be Major Gowen from Fawlty Towers to me.
Patricia Hitchcock, Alfred's daughter, makes her first of three appearances within her father's films - this time as the oddly monikered 'Chubby Bannister'. It makes me think of something easy to slide down but too wide to grip. Thank heavens this isn't a Carry On film.

My Verdict
Hitchcock is wonderful at blending comedy with thriller. The mystery is played out very well and Jane Wyman is as entrancing as she is attractive. The twisting plot is gripping too. The only negative thing is the all-too convenient placing of Jonathan in various scenes. He seems to be terrible at hiding. 8/10

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