Friday, 27 June 2008

Stage Fright (1950)

So lacking in compulsion and intensity you could almost mistake it for imitation Hitchcock rather than the master himself. But it's still witty and put together with skill. As Hitch's first British film in eleven years, feels like a deliberate return to his roots to regain his bearing, after several dud films and prior to his rip-roaring return to form with Strangers on a Train. Hitch emphasises his delight in returning home by throwing in disjointed but amusing cameos by Brit character actors like Joyce Grenfell and Miles Malleson, and lets Alistair Sim walk off with the film as heroine Jane Wyman's canny father. The film skips in unexpected directions just when you think it's settled into an obvious rut. This does keep the audience on their toes, but it also prevents the plot from solidifying into a truly involving tale - no idea ever quite seems to go anywhere as interesting as Hitch ususally takes us. At the core of the film is a piece of unreliable narration which is a pretty bogus stunt Hitch should have had better sense than to employ. Wyman is cute in a wishy-washy role, trying to pretend to be interested in leading men as dull as Richard Todd and Michael Wilding. Marlene Dietrich is uncharacteristically inert as the villainness of the piece. The one moment of high-Hitchcockian drama involves Richard Todd's slightly creepy hero, revealed as a baddie, the camera cutting between his and Wyman's faces, bathed in shadows except for their contrasted eyes. In throwing off this light and amusing bit of standard British mystery-comedy, Hitch seemed to redefine just exactly what his own cinema was about, and proceeded accordingly.

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