Hitchcock’s “Stage Fright” (1950) starring Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding, & Richard Todd

Commodore Gill: The best thing you can do, my girl, is go back to the Academy; practice your soul-shaking antics in surroundings where they can’t do any harm.

Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) is wanted for questioning by the police who suspect him of killing the husband of a famous theater actress. His friend Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), offers to help him hide; she’s infatuated w/ Jonathan. He says that his lover, actress Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich- fabulous at age 49), is the real murderer. He even carries a dress smeared w/ blood! Eve’s father, Commodore Gill (Alistair Sim- famed as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol), reluctantly decides to let Jonathan stay in his seaside cottage. Eve wants to investigate the murder herself! She follows one of the cops in charge of the case, Detective Inspector Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding- who later became one of Elizabeth Taylor’s husbands), to a pub. To get close to Charlotte, Eve becomes a substitute for her maid/dresser, Nellie Goode (Kay Walsh). Eve’s unsuspecting mother, Mrs. Gill (Sybil Thorndyke), thinks that her daughter is busy w/ classes at R.A.D.A.

D.I. Smith: Perhaps you’re allergic to bars. Look, would you feel less uneasy if I sat with you? Or, more uneasy? Perhaps you’re allergic to strange men too.

Eve Gill: No, I love strange men! I mean, I’m very fond of them.

Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s 21 y.o. daughter, Patricia, was studying at R.A.D.A. (one of the settings for the movie) at this time. He wanted to spend some time w/ her (after being based in Hollywood for several years); Pat has a small part in the movie. Hitch also had Pat double for Wyman in the early scenes that required “dangerous driving” in the opening. Pat is given the unflattering name of “Chubby Bannister,” which was a term of endearment according to Hitch (b/c she was “a girl you could always lean on”).

Charlotte Inwood [to Eve]: Oh, darling, don’t confide in me. Pour some tea will you?

The novel upon which this movie was based, Man Running by Selwyn Jepson, appeared in serial form in Collier’s Magazine (August 9, 1947 to September 13, 1947). Hitch thought of Stage Fright as “more than a murder mystery, it is a critical examination of the acting craft” (a subject that long fascinated him). Eve wears costumes, puts on an accent, and creates a role for herself. This movie is significant b/c it broke a (long-established) cinematic convention that flashbacks were always a true account of earlier events. In Stage Fright, the opening flashback turns out to be a lie, which confused then angered viewers of that day (as they felt cheated)!

Ladies must be well fed. -Hitch commented, having steaks and roasts flown in from the U.S. for his two leading ladies (while food was being rationed in London)

Wyman (who had achieved success the previous year at the box office) worked for weeks in to perfect her Cockney accent; Walsh coached her each day after filming was completed. Wyman was required to appear frumpy/dowdy when acting as the maid, but she was reluctant (when Dietrich appeared so glamorous). Hitch said that Wyman would cry when she’d see Dietrich looking glamorous on-set when she had to wear her maid’s disguise. Much to Hitch’s bemusement, Wyman secretly wore make-up or tried other tricks to improve her appearance (so failing to maintain character).

Eve Gill [in disguise]: My Dad says that man on the run might turn up here. Might even get into the dressing room. Might even murder me, madame.

Charlotte Inwood: The scene of the crime, the murderer returns to – not the theater.

In a rare move, Hitch allowed Dietrich creative control, esp. in how her scenes were lit. Dietrich learned re: cinematography from directors Josef von Sternberg (also one of her exes) and Günther Rittau; so Hitch let her to work w/ the film’s cinematographer, Wilkie Cooper, to light and set her scenes the way that she wished. Dietrich’s costumes were designed by Christian Dior. One of the songs that Dietrich sings is Édith Piaf’s signature song, La Vie en Rose. Dietrich and Piaf were close friends; Piaf granted her permission to use the song. Dietrich’s The Laziest Girl in Town (written by Cole Porter) is spoofed in Blazing Saddles (1974). According to Dietrich’s autobiography, she began her love affair w/ Wilding while making this movie.

I heard she’d only wanted to do it if she were billed above me, and she got her wish. Hitchcock didn’t think much of her. She looks too much like a victim to play a heroine, and God knows she couldn’t play a woman of mystery, that was my part. Miss Wyman looks like a mystery nobody has bothered to solve. -Dietrich on working w/ Wyman

[1] It is the masterful presence of the great Alastair Sim, however, that makes Stage Fright one of Hitchock’s most enjoyable to watch. He is equally at home playing comic relief as he is to serving as the plot glue that makes Eve’s capers possible.

[2] Great use of silent sequences, close ups, slow motion, black humor, and mood lighting… this murder mystery offers all kinds of plot twists and sly humor even though you know the outcome long before it unspools.

[3] The performances here are all excellent, especially Jane Wyman and Marlene Dietrich as Charlotte Inwood, perhaps the laziest girl in town, but also the most flamboyant. The secondary characters are also in fine form and make memorable impressions that adds to the enjoyment factor of this film.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hitchcock on Nature: “The Birds” (1963) starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, & Suzanne Pleshette

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren- in her first movie at age 32), a beautiful/impetuous socialite, meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), a handsome criminal defense lawyer, at a bird shop in San Francisco one Friday afternoon. He and Melanie flirt (have good chemistry), then he plays a practical joke on her. She decides to return the favor. On Saturday morning, Melanie drives 60 miles to Bodega Bay, where Mitch spends the weekends w/ his widowed mother, Lydia (Jessica Tandy), and pre-teen sister, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). Soon after her arrival, the birds in the area begin to behave strangely! This movie and the original story by Daphne Du Maurier share no characters, though both have a bayside town setting, birds behaving oddly/attacking, and the same title. The screenwriter, Evan Hunter (AKA Ed McBain), collaborated w/ Sir Alfred Hitchcock also on Marnie (1964).

Mitch Brenner: Well, uh, these are for my sister, for her birthday, see, and uh, as she’s only gonna be eleven, I, I wouldn’t want a pair of birds that were… too demonstrative.

Hitch saw Hedren in a 1961 commercial for a diet drink. She is seen walking down a street and a man whistles at her figure, then she turns her head w/ an acknowledging smile. In the opening of The Birds, the same thing happens as Melanie walks toward the shop (an inside joke by Hitch). Hedren was provided with 6 identical green suits for the shoot. Suzanne Pleshette (then 25 y.o.) wanted to play Melanie, but settled for the role of Annie, b/c she wanted to work w/ Hitch. He revised the script for Pleshette, making her character younger w/ more depth and a backstory. Mitch Zanich, owner of The Tides, told the director he could shoot in his restaurant if the lead male was named after him, and if he got a speaking part. After Melanie is attacked by a seagull while crossing the bay, Zanich asks Taylor: “What happened, Mitch?” The fisherman helping Melanie w/ the small boat was played by Doodles Weaver, the uncle of Sigourney Weaver.

Mrs. Bundy, elderly ornithologist: I have never known birds of different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn’t stand a chance! How could we possibly hope to fight them?

There is no musical score, except for the bird sounds (which were created on an electronic machine), Hedren playing Debussy’s Two Arabesques on the piano, and the children singing Risseldy Rosseldy. This is considered (by many fans and movie critics) to be an annoying song which also goes on for too long- LOL! Hitch said that 3,200 birds were trained for the movie, claiming that the ravens were the cleverest, while the seagulls were the most vicious. One bird (Archine) really seemed to dislike Taylor; he went out of his way to attack the actor, even when cameras weren’t rolling- yikes!

[1 The tension Hitchcock slowly builds and the atmosphere of impending doom he creates are mesmerizing. This was probably the first true apocalyptic nightmare ever put on screen… Nature just turns on humanity all of a sudden…

[2] A lyrically surreal horror soap opera kind of thing. It visits many of Hitchcock’s obsession’s of course, an icy blond and a castrating mother. I’ve always loved the daring-ness of the pacing.

…in The Birds, Hitchcock created a horror that is uniquely quiet. The great man appreciated something that so few others do- the atmospheric potency of silence, and how, in different settings, silences can differ in character.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hitchcock’s Black Comedy: “The Trouble with Harry” (1955) starring John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine, Edmund Gwenn, Mildred Natwick, & Jerry Mathers

Well, I wasn’t tall or thin or ethereal, so he wasn’t going to grab at me. So, I became his eating buddy. I gained about 15 lbs. during filming, and the studio got concerned. -Shirley MacLaine on her experience w/ Hitchcock

There is a dead man in a meadow in the hills above a small Vermont town. Capt. Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), comes across the body, and believes he accidentally shot him dead while hunting rabbits. Capt. Wiles wants to hide the body instead of going to the authorities. Capt. Wiles sees several other people stumble across Harry, most of whom don’t seem to know him or notice that he’s dead! A middle-aged woman, Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick), sees Capt. Wiles moving the body; she vows to keep it secret. A young single mother, Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine- her first movie after working as a chorus girl), does know Harry and seems happy that he’s dead. Her son, Arnie (Jerry Mathers), saw the body first. This is a time when 6 or 7 y.o. kids played alone outdoors! Later, struggling artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe- long before Dynasty) comes along and starts sketching near the body; Capt. Wiles confides in him.

Capt. Wiles: [after Dr. Greenbow trips over the body] Couldn’t have had more people here if I’d sold tickets.

This movie was Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s experiment to see how audiences would react to a movie w/o famous stars. He thought that sometimes big names hindered the flow and style of the story. He also wanted to test how American audiences would react to a subtle brand of humor than usual. Although a perverse sense of humor permeates all of his movies, this was only Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s second outright comedy. American audiences of the ’50s were perhaps uncomfortable w/ black comedy, so this was a box-office failure upon initial release. It ran for a long time in England, France, and Italy.

I just saw this movie for the first time after reading a few rave reviews on a Facebook group. Fans esp. seemed to like the scenery; though filming was done on location in New England, most of the scenes set in the forest were shot on a Paramount soundstage. The musical score is playful, funny, and quirky, adding much to the story. Lyn Murray, who worked on To Catch a Thief (1955), suggested Bernard Herrmann for this film. Thus began a long professional relationship between two innovative creatives; Herrmann composed the music for seven of Hitch’s movies.

[1] Part of the joke is that “nothing happens.” Hitchcock’s “anti-Hitchcock” film defies expectations for action, shock, mayhem, suspense, spectacular climaxes on national monuments, etc. Instead, it’s a New England cross-stitch of lovingly detailed writing, acting, photography, directing and editing.

[2] No Hitchcock film divides viewers more than this one. Some consider the film a masterpiece of understated black comedy; others deem it a plot less, pointless time-waster. …I’d say The Trouble With Harry is a great film that was probably a good two decades ahead of its time. The performances are wonderfully outrageous, especially the elders (Gwenn and Natwick) who give perceptive comic turns that actors nowadays just don’t seem to have the range to do. Forsythe and MacLaine are delightful too

[3] A light film for Hitchcock, but it does contain the transference of guilt theme, and the guilt bounces all over our main players. A small gem of a film that often gets overlooked, watch this one and you’ll be charmed by the trouble that Harry causes.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hitchcock on the Law: “The Paradine Case” (1947) starring Gregory Peck, Ann Todd, Charles Laughton, Charles Coburn, Louis Jourdan, & Alida Valli

Sir Simon Flaquer: [about Mrs. Paradine] You’ll find her a strange woman with an almost mystical charm.

London police charge a young woman, Maddalena Paradine (Italian actress Alida Valli), w/ the murder of her older/blind/British husband, retired Col. Richard Paradine. She’s a woman w/ a past, but became wealthy/glamorous b/c of her marriage. Her solicitor, Sir Simon Flaquer (Charles Coburn), refers the case to his friend/colleague, Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck). While spending time building her defense, Tony becomes infatuated w/ Mrs. Paradine, threatening his long/happy marriage to Gay (Ann Todd). Tony goes to the country estate where the Paradines previously lived; he sees the grand house and meets the valet, Andre Latour (French actor Louis Jourdan).

Mrs. Paradine: It won’t shock you, I assume, to learn that I am a woman, what would you say, a woman who has seen a great deal of life.

I’m sure there some readers who don’t want to take sleeping pills, so maybe this movie will do the trick (LOL)! How can such a great cast (incl. theater veterans) be wasted? While Sir Alfred Hitchcock (personally) liked the actors, he felt that Peck (w/ white streaked hair to age him up), Valli (one-note and lacking charm), and Jourdan (handsome/intense) were unsuited for their roles. Producer David O. Selznick insisted that the director use them. Judge Horfield’s (Charles Laughton) nervous/bullied wife, Sophie (Ethel Barrymore), had several scenes cut; this will be obvious to astute viewers.

Gay Keane [joking w/ Tony]: I wouldn’t like a woman to be hanged, any woman, just because my husband had a rendezvous with her. In jail.

This movie (part melodrama/part courtroom drama) was nearly as expensive as Gone with the Wind (1939)! Selznick constantly interfered w/ Hitch’s production, incl. having him do many re-shoots. Selznick supervised editing (the movie feels long) and the (over-the-top) musical score from Franz Waxman. This was Hitch’s last movie in his contract w/ Selznick; it’s not very suspenseful (though the trial was somewhat interesting). I liked some of the dialogue; the domestic scenes between Peck (only 30) and Todd (10 yrs. older than her leading man) were done very well.

Judy Flaquer: Men are such horrible beasts. I wish I were married to Anthony Keane for just one hour. I’d make him jump through hoops.

Sir Simon: I wish you were married to someone. Perhaps he could put up with your clap-clap better than I can!

Though The Paradine Case was a box-office failure, critics praised two performances. Time Magazine (January 12, 1948) wrote: “The only characters who come sharply to life are the barrister’s wife (Ann Todd) and her confidante (Joan Tetzel).” Also, Variety wrote: “Ann Todd delights as his wife, giving the assignment a grace and understanding that tug at the emotions.” Judy (Tetzel) could be thought of as the precursor to Barbara Morton (played by Hitch’s daughter- Patricia) in Strangers on a Train (1951); they’re both single, intelligent, and fascinated w/ crime (which could be considered “unfeminine”).

[1] Many viewers feel let down by the film because it lacks the energy and excitement found in most of Hitchcock’s films, and because the courtroom setting creates expectations that are not quite filled.

Many Hitchcock fans will not particularly enjoy this one…

[2] I like Peck normally, but in this film, he’s too young and never convincingly English, despite his accent. Even without the accent, he doesn’t suggest someone who is passionately and irrationally swept away, as the role calls for.

[3] THE PARADINE CASE is generally conceded as among Hitchcock’s lesser films. It’s most interesting parts of the performances of the leads (except for Alida Valli, who is quite dull), and the famous sequence of the portrait of Valli whose eyes seem to follow the camera (standing in for Gregory Peck/Anthony Keane) as it passes from one room to the next.

[4] It is not typical Hitchcock, and fails to fascinate the audience. The high point is the verbal clashes between Laughton and Peck (sometimes assisted by Leo G. Carroll as the prosecutor), Jourdan’s collapse in the witness box when Keane attacks him for secretly betraying his master with the defendant, and Valli’s final condemnation of Keane in court.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The Mother of All Horrors: Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, & Martin Balsam

Marion: Oh, we can see each other. We can even have dinner but respectably in my house with my mother’s picture on the mantel and my sister helping me broil a big steak for three.

Sam: And after the steak, do we send Sister to the movies? Turn mama’s picture to the wall?

A secretary in Phoenix, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), is tired of how her life is going. She has to meet her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), on lunch breaks at a cheap hotel. Sam has to pay alimony to his ex-wife and lives in the back of his hardware store, so thinks they can’t yet get married. One Friday, Marion is trusted to take $40,000 to the bank by her boss. (Pat Hitchcock plays Marion’s co-worker.) Marion decides to steal this money and head to Sam’s town in Northern California. When she’s caught in a storm, she gets off the main highway and pulls into the Bates Motel. It’s managed by a young man, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who seems to be dominated by his mother. Later on, we meet others, incl. Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) and a PI named Mr. Arbogast (Martin Balsam).

Marion: Do you go out with friends?

Norman: A boy’s best friend is his mother.

Psycho (iconic to modern viewers, yet controversial in its day) was made b/c Sir Alfred Hitchcock wanted to experiment w/ a sparser style of filmmaking. He used a crew mostly of TV veterans (incl. from his show– Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and hired actors who weren’t yet well-known. Hitch bought the rights to the novel from writer Robert Bloch for a mere $9,000. He also bought up as many copies of the book as he could find (to keep the ending a secret). Before cast/crew began work, they had to raise their right hands and promise not to reveal one word of the story. Hitch didn’t even tell his cast the ending until he needed to shoot it. The director made all the movie theater owners sign a contract that they wouldn’t let anyone in until the start of the film. Once they were late, they’d not be let in until the next showing. This started the process of mandatory seating times at theaters which continues today!

Norman: It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?

Marion: Yes. Sometimes just one time can be enough.

Paramount gave Hitch a small budget (under $1M), b/c of the studio’s distaste of the source material. He shot in black-and-white b/c he thought it’d be too gory in color and to save money. The studio gave 60% of the proceeds to Hitch (in lieu of a salary), thinking the movie would fail. Though most film critics hated it, Psycho was a big hit and Hitch ended up earning over $15 million- LOL! Hitch was so happy w/ the strings-only score (by Bernard Herrmann) that he doubled the famed composer’s salary. Hitch commented: “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.” The director originally wanted the shower scene to be silent, but Herrmann scored it anyway; Hitchcock immediately changed his mind when he heard the music!

Arbogast: All right, then let’s say for the sake of argument that she needed your help and that she made you out to be a fool in helping her…

Norman: Well, I’m not a fool. And I’m not capable of being fooled! Not even by a woman.

In the novel, Norman is short, fat, older, and unlikable; Hitch decided to re-imagine him as a “boy next door” type. He cast Perkins (his first choice) who has an earnest quality; he is tall and thin w/ boyish looks. Perkins does a terrific job, creating a subtle, creepy, and very unsettling young man. The dinner conversation w/ Marion (amidst the stuffed birds) is a scene studied by budding filmmakers in school. Sam is in most ways the polar opposite of Norman; he represents ’50s “old school” masculinity, while Norman suffers from gender confusion. Sam is bossy w/ the women around him; Norman is timid. Sam’s relationship w/ Marion is portrayed as healthy, but Norman’s relationship w/ her is predatory. Hitch didn’t want Gavin for the role of Sam, but the studio insisted (b/c of his “beefcake” status). Looking back, viewers thought Gavin did a fine job w/ the role.

The structure of this film is rare for its time. We think the protagonist will be Marion, but then the focus shifts to Norman; eventually we follow Lila and Sam. Lila (introduced just before the 1 hr. mark) may be conventional when compared to the risk-taking Marion, but she’s a determined woman also. Miles and Leigh look like they really could be sisters. Arbogast doesn’t have a big role, but he has a fine scene w/ Norman. Hitchcock wasn’t a fan of authority figures; notice how the highway patrolman is portrayed in a sinister manner (never even removing his sunglasses). Many have commented how they hated the scene just before the ending (as did Hitch); the studio insisted on having the psychiatrist wrap things up for the audience.

[1] We can see that he is moody when he angrily leans forward and delivers an angry, though controlled tirade against putting people in institutions. Every camera angle and line of dialogue in this scene has meaning and carries enormous weight, and yet the drama plays out in a light, relaxed mode, and the performers seems truly connected to one another at its conclusion, strangers no more.

[2] …this movie doesn’t have the shock value today for audiences

But, what you WILL see in this movie is (1) superb acting; (2) a fascinating lead character; (3) excellent photography, and (4) a bizarre story.

[3] You can feel the decade literally shifting out of ’50s and into ’60s with this one. Norman Rockwell touches abound, like the decor of the motel, but look at what’s going on around it. People dress well, they still wear fedoras and jackets, but in their tense conversations and hooded gazes, you can feel the culture just ticking away like a time bomb waiting to explode.

Most especially, there’s Anthony Perkins, who plays motel clerk Norman Bates in a very oddly naturalistic way, complete with facial tics and half-swallowed words, not the polished image one expected to see then.

– Excerpts from IMDB reviews