Stage Fright (1950) / Thriller-Mystery

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for some violent content
Running Time: 110 min.

Cast: Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding, Richard Todd, Alastair Sim, Sybil Thorndike, Kay Walsh
Cameo: Patricia Hitchcock, Alfred Hitchcock
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Whitfield Cook, Alma Reville (based on the novel by Selwyn Jepson)

Review published September 29, 2013

Stage Fright is generally a forgotten film in the filmography of Alfred Hitchcock, mostly only of interest these days to fans of the Master, and, to a lesser extent, for the involvement of Marlene Dietrich.  It has a nifty premise, in which a struggling stage actress gets to put her talent to play various roles to use when she gets caught up in an actual murder mystery to try to save the man she has a crush on.

That 'crush' is named Jonathan Cooper, and he's wanted for murder of the husband of popular stage actress Charlotte Inwood, who may have actually done it herself and is trying to implicate her lover to cover her tracks.  Cooper's on the run when he meets up with drama student Eve Gill, who believes, despite the bulletins by the police, he's innocent, and she commits to helping him wherever possible, including solving the crime herself if necessary.

Stage Fright marks a return of Alfred Hitchcock back to his native England, and in many ways the feel of the film is reminiscent of some of his earlier works, especially in its quirky characterizations and loose explorations of whimsical humor.  It also further explores his well-known theme of 'an innocent man accused', though those who have seen the film will know that Hitchcock gives even that oft-used device a bit of a twist when it is revealed that one of the scenes in the film is a false one (something through which Hitchcock drew a good share of criticism).

Though the title of the film might suggest that it will be a scary time, it's not remotely close to a nail-biter until the foot chase of an ending, and even then, it's a very mild Hitchcock thriller in both tone and content.  The film also suffers from a couple of misguided casting choices in major roles, especially Richard Todd as the rather weak-willed Cooper, and Marlene Dietrich feels so out of place in this Hitchcock vehicle, it's as if she had been ushered in from the set of an entirely different movie.  Wyman is fun as the lead, and her romantic interplay with the dashing detective 'Ordinary' Smith is a true asset.  Alastair Sim is a real dry wit scene stealer in the smaller role of Eve's adventure-seeking father.

 

  Her beguiling turn as the attractive and earnest Eve is taken up a notch when she uses her acting talents pretending to be a madcap replacement maid for Dietrich's mistress. Interestingly, Wyman turned out to be a handful for Hitchcock when she continuously tried to make her character more glamorous to keep up with the sexy Dietrich. Alastair Sim, in a role just prior to his classic turn as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, is excellent in a small role as Eve's father. "It'll be one woman to another," Wyman's Eve explains to him on a proposed confrontation with Dietrich, to which he comically replies, "An impressive situation at any time." Based on the novel by Selwyn Jepson, Stage Fright is a film that falls somewhere in the middle of Hitchcock's canon. His cameo comes 40 minutes into the picture when he passes Wyman on the street and then turns to stare at her.

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo