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STAGE FRIGHT, 1950
Classic Movie Review
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich
Review by Steven Painter
Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), an aspiring young actress, shelters a fellow acting student, Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd), from the police. He is suspected of murdering the husband of his mistress, Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich), a famous singer. Jonathan claims that he became implicated when he tried to help Charlotte destroy the evidence. Eve’s eccentric father, Commodore Gill (Alastair Sim), agrees to hide Jonathan in his house while she proves his innocence. To do this, Eve becomes Charlotte’s temporary maid. Eve’s Father devises a plan to force Charlotte to confess in front of the inspector investigating the case, Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding). When the plan doesn’t work, Eve tries blackmailing Charlotte into a confession while the police listen outside her dressing room. Charlotte agrees to pay, but insists that Jonathan is the real killer.
For most directors, making a good movie is something to be proud of. When your name is Alfred Hitchcock, making a good movie is considered mediocre. Stage Fright (1950) is an example of a good, solid movie that would be a highlight for many directors. That is not the case with Hitchcock. The movie is rarely mentioned as one of his best and does not compare with his other masterworks of the 50s.
It isn’t that Stage Fright is bad. It has a little of everything. A big star in Marlene Dietrich. A hit song as Miss Dietrich gives a wonderful rendition of Cole Porter’s “I’m the Laziest Gal in Town.” There is a good story filled with romance, suspense and comedy. The story even has an original twist to it. But for me, there are better Hitchcock movies. The highlights really come at the beginning and the end.
In a bold and controversial move, Hitchcock begins the movie with a flashback. Starting with a flashback is not bold or controversial as a lot of Hollywood movies have done that. What is different about this one is that the flashback is untrue. This ruffled a few feathers with critics and audiences. Hitchcock even admitted later that he probably should not have included the false flashback. A few people, including myself, thought the inclusion of a fake flashback was brilliant.
People tend to assume that flashbacks are true for some reason. Perhaps it is because what we are being shown can never be confirmed since it happened before the time of the story we are watching. It also seems like there would be no point in deceiving the audience through a false flashback. Although in this case, the use could be justified.
Jane Wyman plays Eve, an aspiring actress. Her boyfriend, Jonathan, played by Richard Todd, happens to have the hots for the more established Charlotte (Marlene Dietrich). The movie opens with Jonathan explaining to Eve that Charlotte’s husband has been murdered and he needs her help to get away from the police as he is the prime suspect. In flashback, he explains to her how he is innocent. We later learn that this is not true and that he in fact did murder Charlotte’s husband. So the flashback is justifiable because it comes from the mind of a psychopathic killer.
Eve believes Jonathan though and agrees to infiltrate Charlotte’s house in order to figure out how she murdered her husband. Eve does this in the guise of the maid’s cousin. Eve gets rid of the maid by paying her off and saying that she needs to get access to Charlotte in order to write a newspaper story. With Eve being so many different things to so many different people, it is funny watching her try to keep it all together. A farce has broken out in the middle of a murder mystery. This might be one of the reasons why I personally dislike the movie. Hitchcock was no Billy Wilder or Howard Hawks when it came to comedy.
The middle of the movie is filled with comedy and mystery as Eve tries not to be exposed as just an actor, while trying to find out how Charlotte killed her husband. A romantic plot is even introduced as Eve begins to fall for police Inspector Wilfred Smith. This is all very nice, but nothing special.
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