As the film that preceded Hitchcock's "comeback" classic Strangers on a Train, Stage Fright (1950) is typically glossed over in the famed director's filmography. While it's true that it doesn't rank with his masterpieces (e.g., Vertigo, Rear Window), Stage Fright has much to offer: a clever opening, a playful homage to acting, a pair of delightfully quirky supporting performances, and--of course--that infamous flashback.
EVE: Any sign of the the police?
JONNY (looking over his shoulder): It looks like we're getting away with it.
|Jonny enters the apartment--the start of|
a memorable, single-take tracking shot.
Eve, who believes she's in love with Jonny, deposits the wanted man with her oddball father (Alastair Sim). She also becomes determined to prove Jonny's innocence. After a chance meeting with Charlotte's dresser, Eve hatches a risky scheme to go undercover and collect the evidence that will clear Jonny.
The twist in Stage Fright is that Jonny is not Hitchcock's typical innocent-man-on-the-run. Indeed, Jonny murdered Charlotte's husband and everything he told Eve at the start of the film--shown to the viewer via a flashback--was a lie. This revelation slips out as Eve and Jonny hide from the police in an opulent theatre at the film's climax. In a matter of seconds, Jonny evolves from hero to villain.
|Jonny reveals the truth in|
|Alastair Sim, as Eve's father, paying|
off blackmailer Kay Walsh.
One imagines that Hitchcock was drawn to the source material because it stands one of his favorite themes on its head. Quick, how many Hitchcock films can you name about men wrongly accused of a crime who set out to prove their innocence and/or stop the bad guys with the aid of a strong woman? It's dominated his career from Young and Innocent to The 39 Steps to Saboteur, North By Northwest, and others. But in Stage Fright, the innocent man really is a killer--a point that must have amused Hitchcock.
|Marlene singing: "My poor heart is|
aching to bring home the bacon..."
|Joan Grenfell promoting the chance to|
to shoot "lovely ducks."
While the entertainment value is high in most Hitchcock films, I have a soft spot for the lighthearted ones that seem to show the director in a playful mood (this one, To Catch a Thief, and I'm slowly turning the corner on The Trouble With Harry). That's one of the reasons why I find Stage Fright methodically moving up my list of favorite Hitchcock films with each viewing.