Friday, August 18, 2017
Alfred Hitchcock | Stage Fright
wheels within wheels
by Douglas Messerli
Whitfield Cook and Ranald MacDougall (screenplay), Alma Reville and James Bridie (story adaptation, based on Man Running by Selwyn Jepson), Alfred Hitchcock (director) Stage Fright / 1950
Dumping off Cooper at her father’s house, Eve rushes back to town, where she witnesses the discovery of murder victim by the police, poses as a overwhelmed passerby to get information from the detective investigating the case, Wilfred “Ordinary” Smith (Michael Wilding), and pretends to be a journalist in order to bribe Inwood’s maid and dresser to allow her to play the country cousin temporary replacement for those roles, Doris Tinsdale. Before she knows it, she is falling in love with the detective and beginning to perceive some rather contradictory information about Cooper, all the while trying to keep her two lives separate and secret. Meanwhile, the perfectly evil chanteuse, Dietrich, sings a hilariously sultry version of Cole Porter’s "The Laziest Gal in Town", and struts the stage as if she were in a English version of The Blue Angel. And that’s all in the movie’s first half!
Obviously, it’s difficult keeping up two vastly different lives simultaneously, particularly when you’re a shy good girl like Eve. Hitchcock uses wonderful character actors such as Sims, Thorndike, and the aforementioned Greenfell to keep the movie’s “wheels within wheels” running smoothly. Hitchcock, himself, even shows up late in his film to visually comment on Eve’s attempt to learn her lines for her role as the country maid.
Cooper admits that he was the real killer, but that he was made to do it by Inwood before he attempts to make a run for it. Hitchcock saves the day in grand Grand Guignol fashion by dropping the front stage’s iron curtain, presumably severing the murderer’s head. Eve goes off hand in hand with “Ordinary” Smith, the piano-playing detective, to live happily ever after.
Nobody is quite who he seems in this film, as Hitchcock quite joyfully forces all to play so many different roles that by the end of his film we’re not quite sure any longer who any of them really are, a question the director will force us to ask the next year in one of his greatest films, Strangers on a Train, in 1954’s The Trouble with Harry and 1958’s Vertigo, as well as several others of his works.
Los Angeles, August 18, 2017