The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stage Fright

Directing as early as the 1920s, Alfred Hitchcock continued to work through the 1930s-1970s, making over 40 films. While I've yet to find a Hitchcock film I didn't at least partially like, my favorites from the director started in the late 1940s and continued into the 1950s, films like North by Northwest, Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo and several others. Always trying to see more of his films, I recently added 1950's Stage Fright to the list.

A struggling young actress looking to make a name for herself in post-WWII London, Eve Gill (Jane Wyman) is in love with Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd), but Mr. Cooper is currently involved in an affair with acclaimed stage actor, Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich). Now, Cooper is in trouble though, on the run for suspicion of killing Charlotte's jealous wife. Wanting to help him out, Eve agrees to hide him at her father's farm in the country, but while he's away, Eve hopes to figure out what was really going on. Blackmailing her way into the position, Eve gets a job as Charlotte's assistant, and she intends to figure out what actually happened and who really killed Charlotte's husband.

The film master of suspense and thrills, Hitchcock makes it look almost effortless at times. At the time -- and even watching it recently in 2012 -- it created an uproar over a storytelling device that infuriated audiences. I can understand that objection too because it certainly threw me off. Is it a major deal? I suppose it will depend on the viewer. I did feel slightly duped as if Hitchcock assuredly enjoyed pulling a fast one on the viewing audience. He filmed partially on-location in London, and as was his usual, kept the focus fairly pointed on a handful of key characters and situations rather than expanding to something bigger and far more unnecessary.

With some of Hitchcock's lesser works, I had some of the same issues here in 'Fright.' His stories at their best were dripping with tension, always kept the momentum heading forward, and for the most part were incredibly serious. Yet he sometimes felt the need to throw this out-of-place light side and humor into the story which I've never understood. A quick detour here has Eve's father, Commodore Gill (Alastair Sim), trying to win a prize at a carnival shooting game from carnie Joyce Grenfell. It feels forced and out of sorts as the story looks for some laughs. The same goes for Eve's plan; posing as an assistant where both sides know her as someone else. These overdone interactions should be serious, but instead they're played for laughs.

A year removed from winning an Oscar for her part in Johnny Belinda, Wyman is the right mix of precocious innocence and stupid decisions in playing Eve. She thinks she loves Todd's Jonathan but realizes he doesn't feel the same way toward her. Dietrich is Dietrich, bigger than life as always and even given a chance to sing (watch it HERE). Her performance as the mysterious and possibly murdering Charlotte is the film's best performance. Todd is all right as Jonathan, but his part requires him to disappear for long stretches. Michael Wilding is the requisite very British character, Smith, the police officer investigating the murder who gets caught up in one web after another. Sim is a big positive too as Commodore Gil, always looking for trouble and building it up to be more than it actually is.

As he was prone to do -- good most of the time, bad the rest -- Hitchcock is able to pull a few tricks from his sleeve toward the end of the movie. Thanks to that already mentioned storytelling device, you as a viewer believe you know what's going on. The last 10 minutes provide quite a good twist, making up for some of the slower portions it took to get to the end. Not a classic Hitchcock film, but one I did enjoy enough to give a mild recommendation.

Stage Fright <---TCM trailer/clips (1950): ** 1/2 /****

No comments:

Post a Comment