Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Stage Fright (1950)

STAGE FRIGHT might be a relatively lesser film from director Alfred Hitchcock, but even a fairly unknown Hitchcock movie still provides some terrific entertainment. I had never seen STAGE FRIGHT before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The film begins with the ingenious use of one of Hitchcock's recurring plot devices, the stage, as a theater curtain rises on the city of London. Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), a rather giddy young drama student, is helping her friend Jonathan (Richard Todd) escape from the police. Via a flashback, we learn that Jonathan made the fateful decision to help actress Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich) cover up her involvement in her husband's death. Eve is drawn deeper and deeper into the case as she tries to stay one step ahead of Detective Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding) and find a way to clear Jonathan of murder before the film's "final curtain."

The plot is slightly hard to follow at times, due chiefly to the flashback scene: Was it the truth, or the creation of a deranged man? It's also a bit difficult to understand why Eve is willing to put herself at such risk for Jonathan; she claims to love him, but he hasn't treated her well, and she quickly forgets him when she meets a man of more substance and charm. Overall, however, the film is quite enjoyable, thanks to Hitchcock and his excellent cast. I especially like Hithcock's lighter, more romantic films, and this film is in that mold.

Jane Wyman does well as the leading lady, keeping her likeable even when she doesn't do the sensible thing. It's hard at times to decide if Eve is a complete bubblehead or quite smart; she repeatedly makes poor choices but then turns around and does a good job getting herself out of trouble again. Wyman was 33 when this film was released, yet she convincingly plays a woman a decade younger. Her lack of a British accent, incidentally, is explained away by an American education. (Considering that Eve's father has trouble scraping together 20 pounds, one wonders who paid for her education in the States!)

Michael Wilding as charming as Detective Smith. His role, simultaneously solving the crime and romancing the leading lady, reminded me of Macdonald Carey's FBI man in SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943). The film really takes off once his character enters the storyline; I enjoyed the interplay between "Ordinary" Smith and Eve.

The film also boasts the amusing presence of Alastair Sim as Eve's "unique" father. Sybil Thorndyke, Joyce Grenfell, Kay Walsh, and Patricia Hitchcock are in the cast as well.

The movie runs 110 minutes.

STAGE FRIGHT is available on DVD and also VHS. The DVD extras are a 20-minute featurette and a trailer.

Update: STAGE FRIGHT will be reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive in September 2018.

Update: STAGE FRIGHT will be available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive in January 2022. My review of the Blu-ray may be read here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I laugh still over memories of Alastair Sim in this film; of Joyce Grenfell as well. They were delightful.

Have you seen THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE (1950), whose company includes Sim, Grenfell and Margaret Rutherford?


10:46 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I haven't seen that one, Carrie! What a great cast. Thanks for the recommendation. (I see it has an impressive IMDb rating of 7.5.) I'm adding it to my list of "films to watch for"!

Best wishes,

10:59 PM  

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