Stage Fright (1950 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Produced by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Screenplay by||Whitfield Cook
|Story by||Selwyn Jepson
|Music by||Leighton Lucas|
|Editing by||Edward B. Jarvis|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||110 minutes|
Stage Fright is a 1950 British crime film directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock starring Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding and Richard Todd. Others in the cast include Alastair Sim, Sybil Thorndike, Kay Walsh, Hitchcock's daughter Patricia Hitchcock in her movie debut and Joyce Grenfell in a humorous vignette.
The story was adapted for the screen by Whitfield Cook, Ranald MacDougall and Alma Reville (the director's wife), with additional dialogue by James Bridie, based on the novel Man Running by Selwyn Jepson.
Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), an aspiring actress studying at RADA, is interrupted in the middle of a rehearsal by her friend, actor Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd). The frantic Jonathan explains that he is the secret lover of flamboyant stage actress/singer, Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich). He claims that Charlotte visited him after killing her husband in an argument. She was wearing a bloodstained dress and Jonathan agreed to go back to her house and obtain another one. He found the body of Mr. Inwood at the residence, took a spare dress from the wardrobe and then tried to simulate a burglary gone wrong, only to be caught in the act by Charlotte's theatre maid and dresser, Nellie Goode (Kay Walsh). He is now on the run, wanted by the police.
Eve has long had a crush on Jonathan, but accepts that he is not interested in her romantically. She takes him to hide in a house near the coast owned by her father, Commodore Gill (Alastair Sim). Persuaded to help, the Commodore then notices that the blood on Charlotte's dress has been smeared on deliberately, not by accident, and he and Eve suspect that Jonathan has been framed. He angrily rejects this, destroying the dress and thus the best evidence they have on Charlotte.
Eve decides to investigate for herself. Posing as a reporter, she bribes Nellie Goode to pretend that she is ill and cannot work for Charlotte for a while. Eve then utilises her acting skills to affect the false identity and accent of a Cockney maid, claiming to be Nellie's cousin, "Doris Tinsdale", and takes the temporary job of replacing "her cousin" in order to infiltrate Charlotte's household.
In the course of trying to clear Jonathan, Eve meets Detective Inspector Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding). As Eve, she and Smith get quite friendly and she has to go to great lengths to cover the fact that she is also "Doris" the maid when Smith visits Charlotte to ask further questions. As Eve, she is not able to get much from him on the progress of the investigation.
Out to court Eve, Smith visits her and her mother at their home in London. They are joined by the Commodore who drops subtle hints to Eve that Jonathan has left their house by the sea. Meanwhile, in spite of the tragedies that are surrounding her, Charlotte continues to perform at her West End musical show. She is secretly visited by Jonathan who wants her to accompany him abroad and tells her that he still has the dress with the bloodstain. Charlotte makes it clear that she will not give up her career for a hunted fugitive — in any case she is secretly having an affair with her manager Freddie Williams (Hector MacGregor).
Eve again helps Jonathan escape the police and he hides out at the Gill's London residence. He thanks Eve for her support, but she feels torn since she is starting to fall in love with Wilfred Smith.
When Nellie Goode uncovers the deception that is going on, Eve manages to buy her off with blackmail money. With time running out, she persuades Smith to accompany her to a garden party where Charlotte is singing on stage in a large tent. During the performance, Commodore Gill gets a little boy to take a doll wearing a dress stained with blood, Gill's own, up to the stage. The sight causes Charlotte to collapse and Williams summons "Doris" for assistance. Seeing Eve attending to Charlotte and the stained doll's dress leads Smith to put two and two together.
Smith confronts Eve and the Commodore over their "amateur meddling". They persuade him to set Charlotte up into making a confession. Once the theatre has closed for the evening, Eve comes out of character and confronts Charlotte near a hidden microphone — Smith and his men listening in to the conversation from the loudspeakers. Charlotte admits her involvement in her husband's death (making her an accessory) but denies committing the murder itself, blaming Jonathan.
Eve then sees that Jonathan has been brought to the theatre by the police, Smith having guessed that he was hiding in their house. She falls into hysterics, enabling Jonathan to get away. At this point Smith reveals to the Commodore that Jonathan really did kill Mr. Inwood and that he has actually killed before, though he got off on a plea of self-defence.
Hiding below stage, Jonathan confesses to Eve that Charlotte goaded him into killing her husband — but actually in order to make way for Freddie Williams. The story he told Eve when she agreed to hide him was all lies. He has a temper that makes him lash out when provoked. When he threatens to kill her as well, Eve escapes and in the confusion that follows Jonathan is decapitated by the stage's safety curtain.
- Jane Wyman as Eve Gill
- Marlene Dietrich as Charlotte Inwood
- Michael Wilding as Ordinary Smith
- Richard Todd as Jonathan Cooper
- Alastair Sim as Commodore Gill
- Sybil Thorndike as Mrs. Gill
- Kay Walsh as Nellie Goode
- Miles Malleson as Mr. Fortesque
- Hector MacGregor as Freddie Williams
- Joyce Grenfell as 'Lovely Ducks'
- André Morell as Inspector Byard
- Patricia Hitchcock as Chubby Bannister
- Ballard Berkeley as Sergeant Mellish
Though Hitchcock had lived and worked in Hollywood since 1939, this mystery/thriller, which is mixed with humour, was made in Britain with London locations. The only members of the cast who are not British are the two top billed stars, Wyman and Dietrich.
Featured is an original Cole Porter song, "The Laziest Gal in Town", performed by Dietrich in a sultry fashion.
Costumes were designed by Christian Dior.
Stage Fright gained some adverse publicity upon its initial release due to the "lying flashback" seen at the beginning of the film. However, some film critics, including those of Cahiers du cinéma, see the flashback as simply being an illustration of one person's version of the events: the events as recounted by the character whose voice-over we hear, which was presumably Hitchcock's intention.
The film has a few extra-long takes, reminiscent of those that Hitchcock used in Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949), both films produced by Hitchcock for Transatlantic Pictures in partnership with Sidney Bernstein and released by Warner Brothers. Stage Fright was originally to be a Transatlantic release, but became a Warners release.
In the biography of Dietrich by her daughter Maria, Maria recounts how Dietrich did not particularly like Jane Wyman, perhaps because they were such opposites. Hitchcock, however, may have utilised this animosity to the film's advantage. At one point in the film, Dietrich compliments Wyman for a change in the way she dresses, when Wyman appears at the garden party.
Howard Maxford, author of The A-Z of Hitchcock: [The Ultimate Reference Guide], notes that some aspects of the Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters case have similarities to the plot of Stage Fright.
Differences between the film and the novel
Although Stage fright is based on Selwyn Jepson's book "Man Running" (aka Outrun the Constable), still it is different from the book. In the book, Jonathan Cooper is called Jonathan Penrose . In the book, Freddie Williams is the killer. Not Jonathan Penrose .
Alfred Hitchcock's cameo is a signature occurrence in most of his films. In Stage Fright he can be seen 39 minutes into the film as a man on the street turning to look at Eve as she rehearses her scripted introduction speech to Mrs. Inwood. In the June 4, 1950 edition of the New York Times, Hitchcock stated:
- "In Stage Fright, I have been told that my performance is quite juicy. I have been told this with a certain air of tolerance, implying that I have now achieved the maximum limits of directorial ham in the movie sandwich. It isn't true. There may have been a 'MacGuffin' in my film appearance, but not a ham."
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- Stage Fright at the Internet Movie Database
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