Jonathan Cooper is wanted by the police who suspect him of killing his lover's husband. His friend Eve Gill offers to hide him and Jonathan explains to her that his lover, actress Charlotte Inwood is the real murderer. Eve decides to investigate for herself, but when she meets the detective in charge of the case, she starts to fall in love.
Jane Wyman ... Eve Gill
Marlene Dietrich ... Charlotte Inwood
Michael Wilding ... Det. Insp. Wilfred 'Ordinary' Smith
Richard Todd ... Jonathan Cooper
Alastair Sim ... Commodore Gill (as Alistair Sim)
Sybil Thorndike ... Mrs. Gill
Kay Walsh ... Nellie Goode
Miles Malleson ... Mr. Fortesque
Hector MacGregor ... Freddie Williams
Joyce Grenfell ... Lovely Ducks
André Morell ... Inspector Byard
Patricia Hitchcock ... Chubby Bannister
Ballard Berkeley ... Sgt. Mellish
I had never heard of this movie before and had low expectations. However, I was amazed at what a wonderful movie it is. Not only is it "Hitchcocky" and suspenseful, it is also humorous and touching. Jane Wyman and Richard Todd did particularly well in this film. I do not usually like Marlene Dietrich, but I have to admit that she did a splendid job as the flamboyant theater star. This movie is set in London, and Hitchcock did a wonderful job of picking out the crew's British actors and actresses such as Alistair Sim and Michael Wilding. Surprisingly he even gave his own daughter, Patricia Hitchcock, a bit part towards the end. It is too bad "Stage Fright" is not more well known, and I highly recommend it.
With such an unusual set of components, it was probably inevitable that "Stage Fright" would be a little uneven, but most of it works well enough. By Hitchcock's standards, it's average at best, but it is still an entertaining movie with an interesting story and a number of good sequences.
Simply seeing the distinctive persona of Marlene Dietrich and the enjoyably unique style of Alastair Sim in an Alfred Hitchcock film would make for an interesting combination in itself. They are joined by a generally solid group of performers, with their own individual styles, and there are several characters who all get fairly sizable roles.
Hitchcock's own approach here is a somewhat surprising contrast from his usual style of story-telling, and some of the developments must have seemed even more unexpected to the movie's original viewers. Another aspect of this is that for much of the movie none of the characters really takes and holds the focus, and as a result there are times when it seems to lack some flow.
Yet there are a number of good points to it as well. There are plenty of the usual Hitchcock details that make things more interesting, and most of the cast members give good performances in themselves. Most of Hitchcock's movies are rather better than this one, but watching "Stage Fright" is still a better use of one's time than watching the weak present-day efforts in the genre.
I like this film. It has gotten a bad reputation due to Hitchcock's daring to break another film convention about the truth of a flashback. Hitchcock had already broken other conventions over the years, some being of a technical variety (the nine minute uncut takes on ROPE for instance). Here the film begins with Richard Todd describing what he claims happened to the murdered man to ex-girl friend Jane Wyman. Subsequently we learn that the explanation is not totally true.
What I find interesting about this particular issue is that the same people who denounce Hitchcock for cheating on this probably have found other films acceptable despite similar "cheating". Take Billy Wilder's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION. We hear Tyrone Power give Leonard Vole's version of what happened to the rich elderly woman (Norma Varden), about how they met, about what he was doing on the night she was murdered. We do not SEE the actual view of his activities for the night of the murder, but we accept his comments - until the end of the film shows what happened. Also check out Kurasawa's film classic RASHOMON, where we see flashbacks of five people who show "what happened" and at the conclusion we really don't know if we heard the truth or if everyone has lied. The same can be said of the American remake of RASHOMON, THE OUTRAGE. Even a musical comedy, LES GIRLS, leaves us all guessing at the end.
Yet Hitchcock was condemned for his cheating. I think he should be praised for his daring, for this film (of all Hitchcock's movies) develops in a unique way. Wyman is determined to prove the truth of Richard Todd's story, and keeps meeting criticism and common sense from her father, Alistair Sim, and from the police led by Michael Wilding, who don't believe him. And as a matter of fact, at the conclusion, it turns out that some, if not all of Todd's flashback has elements of truth in it.
Hitchcock told Francois Truffaud that he saw STAGE FRIGHT as an opportunity to work with some great British character actors (Sim, Joyce Grenville, Sybil Thorndyke, Kay Walsh). The film was definitely lower budgeted than other films (SPELLBOUND, even THE PARADINE CASE) that he had recently made. The most expensive aspect was working with Dietrich which was costly for her salary and her designer clothing. But Hitchcock wanted a chance to work with Dietrich here (just like he had made MR. AND MRS. SMITH to work with Carole Lombard in 1939). The results were quite good. The British character actors did the most with their parts (including Todd, who shows a nervousness and uncertainty in most of the film that is suggestive of possible insanity at the end). Dietrich also, in her closing moments on the screen, shows a bitterness and hatred that I don't think she ever showed in any other film role. Jane Wyman was criticized by Hitchcock for insisting on dressing up as the film progressed. However she does show a resourcefulness and pluck not usually seen in most of her movies. On the whole the film works pretty well to me.
* Director Cameo: [Alfred Hitchcock] turning to look at Eve in her disguise as Charlotte's maid.
* Marlene Dietrich demanded to be costumed exclusively by fashion design house Dior. Dior demanded a screen credit and Paramount demanded and received a 25% discount.
* Alfie Bass's character is called The Electrician in production papers and on Bass's contract.
* Most of Irene Handi's performance as Miss Mason, the maid, was removed in post production editing.
* Miles Malleson was also working on Golden Salamder at the same time.
SPOILER: This movie is significant because it broke a long-established cinematic convention that flashbacks were always a true account of earlier events. In this film, though, the opening flashback turns out to be a lie, a device which at first baffled then enraged cinemagoers who felt that they had in some way been cheated.