Stage Fright (1950 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Produced by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Screenplay by||Whitfield Cook|
|Story by||Alma Reville (adaptation)|
|Based on||Man Running|
by Selwyn Jepson
|Music by||Leighton Lucas|
|Edited by||Edward B. Jarvis|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
Stage Fright is a 1950 British film noir thriller film directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding and Richard Todd. Others in the cast include Alastair Sim, Sybil Thorndike, Kay Walsh, Hitchcock's daughter Pat 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) is an aspiring actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London. She is interrupted in rehearsal by her friend (and crush), actor Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd), the secret lover of flamboyant stage actress/singer Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich). Via a flashback, he says Charlotte visited him after killing her husband; she was wearing a bloodstained dress. Jonathan claims he went back to her house for another dress, but was seen by Nellie Goode (Kay Walsh), Charlotte's cockney maid/dresser. He escaped the police and needs help.
Eve takes him to her father's house on the coast to hide. Commodore Gill (Alastair Sim) notices that the blood on Charlotte's dress has been smeared on deliberately; he and Eve think that Jonathan was framed by Charlotte. Jonathan angrily destroys the dress and thus the most useful piece of evidence.
Eve starts to investigate. She hears Charlotte's dresser Nellie Goode boasting about her new found notoriety in a bar. While she is there, Eve meets Detective Inspector Wilfred O. Smith (Michael Wilding), and they become friendly. Eve then poses as a reporter; she bribes Nellie to tell Charlotte she is ill and to introduce her cousin "Doris Tinsdale" as a replacement. Using her acting skills, Eve becomes "Doris" and starts working for Charlotte. Eve discovers Charlotte is having an affair with her manager Freddie Williams (Hector MacGregor).
Eve and "Ordinary" Smith become more friendly. When Smith visits Charlotte, Eve has to disguise the fact that she is also "Doris" the maid. Smith makes a courtship visit to Eve and her mother at home, where the commodore drops subtle hints that Jonathan has left the seaside house.
Despite her widowed status, Charlotte continues to perform her West End musical show. Jonathan comes to her dressing room asking her to accompany him abroad. She casually tells him no, but he says he still has the bloodstained dress. The police search for Jonathan, and Eve again helps him escape. He hides at the Gill's London residence. He is grateful to Eve, but she is starting to fall in love with Detective Smith.
Smith and Eve kiss in a taxi on the way to the RADA garden party, where Nellie Goode confronts Eve, demanding more blackmail money. Eve does not have enough, so Eve's father comes to give Nellie more cash. Freddie Williams spots Eve (thinking she is "Doris") and orders her to help Charlotte, who is to sing on stage in a tent. During the performance, Commodore Gill gets a small boy to carry a doll wearing a bloodstained dress onto the stage as Charlotte sings "La Vie en Rose". Charlotte collapses and "Doris" has to help.
Seeing this, Smith confronts Eve and the commodore, but Eve proclaims her true affection for Smith as well as Jonathan's innocence. They persuade Smith to set Charlotte up. Once the theatre has closed, they use a hidden microphone and "Doris" tells Charlotte she has the bloodstained dress. Smith and his men listen using the theatre loudspeakers. Charlotte admits planning her husband's death, but says that Jonathan actually committed the murder. Charlotte offers Eve 10,000 pounds to keep quiet.
Eve sees that Jonathan has been brought to the theatre by the police, but he escapes. Charlotte realizes her conversation with Eve was broadcast to the detectives, and that she will be charged as an accessory to murder. Detective Smith tells the commodore that Jonathan really did kill Mr. Inwood and that Jonathan has 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. His flashback story was all lies, and he was the one who smeared more blood onto the dress. He alludes to killing Eve in order to justify a plea for insanity in court. Eve pretends to help Jonathan escape, but locks him onto the stage and alerts the police about his presence. As Jonathan is pursued from all directions and cornered, he is killed by the stage's falling safety curtain.
- Jane Wyman as Eve Gill
- Marlene Dietrich as Charlotte Inwood
- Michael Wilding as Wilfred "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
- Gordon Bell as Chauffeur
Though Hitchcock had lived and worked in Hollywood since 1939, this mystery/thriller, which is mixed with humour, was made in 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. Dietrich's costumes were designed by Christian Dior. Dietrich was allowed an unprecedented control of her shots by Hitchcock during the filming. When asked during the filming about working with the famously controlling, and technically adept Dietrich, Hitchcock replied "Everything is fine. Miss Dietrich has arranged the whole thing. She has told them exactly where to place the lights and how to photograph her." Later, he said of Dietrich "Marlene was a professional star. She was also a professional cameraman, art director, editor, costume designer, hairdresser, makeup woman, composer, producer and director."
Stage Fright garnered some adverse publicity upon its initial release due to the "lying flashback" seen near 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 intended to be a Transatlantic release, but became a Warners release instead.
The biography of Dietrich by her daughter said that Dietrich did not particularly like Jane Wyman, perhaps because they were such opposites.
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 short story "Man Running" (also known as "Outrun the Constable"), it differs in some ways. In the original story, Freddie Williams is the actual murderer.
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 4 June 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."
Contemporary reviews were mixed. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that Hitchcock "and his writers have contrived to give a fine cast of actors some slick and entertaining things to do. But we must quietly advise you that these things, while amusing separately, build up very little sustained excitement or suspense. They are simply a wild accumulation of clever or colorful episodes, tending for the most part to the comic, without any real anxiety." John McCarten of The New Yorker agreed, writing that "the picture doesn't lack for comic touches, but none of its episodes ties in very closely with the succeeding one, and the result is disappointing." Variety printed a more positive review, reporting that Hitchcock "has a choice cast to put through its paces, and there's not a bad performance anywhere. The dialog has purpose, either for a chuckle or a thrill, and the pace is good despite the 110 minutes of footage." Harrison's Reports called it "a rambling murder thriller that wavers constantly between comedy that is delightfully funny and melodrama that is rarely more than moderately exciting. The overall result is a spotty entertainment that is too dragged out to keep one's interest constantly alive." Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote that there were "so many beguiling people and moments" in the film "that it's curious the picture as a whole isn't better." The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote: "Stage Fright is not without effective moments, reminding us how Hitchcock once excelled in the simple melodrama with ordinary, naturalistic backgrounds; but too much of it has the heavy, corpulent quality that made Rope and in particular Under Capricorn so lifeless and unreal."
Trade papers called the film a "notable box office attraction" in British cinemas in 1950.
According to Warner Bros' accounts the film earned $1,012,000 domestically and $896,000 foreign.
- Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 31 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
- Maria Riva (1993). Marlene Dietrich by Her Daughter. Random House. ISBN 0394586921.
- Maxford, Howard (2002). The A-Z of Hitchcock: (The Ultimate Reference Guide). London: B.T. Batsford. p. 239.
- Crowther, Bosley (24 February 1950). "The Screen In Review". The New York Times: 27.
- McCarten, John (4 March 1950). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 85.
- "Stage Fright". Variety: 6. 1 March 1950.
- "'Stage Fright' with Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich and Richard Todd". Harrison's Reports: 30. 25 February 1950.
- Coe, Richard L. (18 April 1950). "Some Rare Types Liven 'Stage Fright'". The Washington Post: 14.
- "Stage Fright". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 17 (197): 82–83. June 1950.
- Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48 2003 p213
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