While we were in England, I picked up a box set of Hitchcock movies, reduced from £62 to £15. The films were North by Northwest, which I haven’t seen since it appeared on television a number of years ago; I Confess, which I saw on video a couple of years back for the first time since it first appeared; Strangers on a Train, ditto; The Wrong Man, which I also have a video copy of; Dial M for Murder, which I don’t think I’ve seen since it was shown in the cinema some time after it was first released, and finally, Stage Fright, which I saw on a re-release many years ago.
I watched Stage Fright tonight. It’s Hitchcock comedy at its best, even though there’s a strong dramatic element to it. Writers on Hitchcock have complained that the flashback early in the movie actually tells a lie. Yet the lie is fair enough considering that the murderer isn’t the person we think it is, and it’s the real murderer who tells the lie. I don’t think it’s such an issue. I don’t remember it bothering me on first viewing, and knowing in advance about it this time, it didn’t worry me at all.
The film boasts a great cast, one of the best to appear in any of Hitchcock’s movies: Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding, Jane Wyman, and Richard Todd are the four principal actors, but there’s also Alistair Sim stealing every scene he’s in (apparently to Hitchcock’s annoyance), a cameo from Joyce Grenfell, Dame Sybil Thorndike (as Sim’s wife), Miles Malleson as an annoying customer in a pub, Kay Walsh as a blackmailing maid, and Patricia Hitchcock in a small role as one of Wyman’s friends.
Sim and Grenfell provide plenty of comedy, but so does Dame Sybil and Jane Wyman (surprisingly). Kay Walsh does a nice line in menace, even though she’s not the villain of the piece, and it’s interesting how different she is in this movie from her role as Nancy in Oliver Twist, which she made a couple of years before.
There are some wonderful moments, but probably the most Hitchcockian is when Sim tries to shoot a duck on the stall run by Grenfell, and keeps getting sidelined by other shooters. He wants to win a cupie doll so he can put blood on it (his own, which causes him some alarm), and startle Dietrich into confession. In order to do this he has a little boy scout take it up to her while she’s in the middle of a song on stage.
But it’s the humour that seems to be the element that Hitchcock most enjoys in this movie. The film bubbles along from one set piece to another, and in one of its funniest moments, the screen is covered with umbrellas, as a host of people attend a garden party in the rain.