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Saturday, January 2, 2016

"Stage Fright" (1950)

For years afterward, Alfred Hitchcock would give this fine little film of his short shrift, saying he'd made a structural plot mistake that adversely affected the viewer's following of the story. He felt he didn't play fair with the audience. Yes...and no. I think the plot device he's referencing doesn't make or break one's appreciation for the film at all. There are too many other delightful ingredients in the mix here to dismiss it out of hand. Jane Wyman is an aspiring actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She's got a crush on another actor (Richard Todd) who the police believe has murdered the husband of London's biggest musical theatre star, Marlene Dietrich. Wyman turns into an amateur Nancy Drew trying to get the goods on Dietrich by going undercover as her maid to prove the diva did it. She even enlists the help of her doting father, the good-natured Alistair Sim, while she gets romantically involved with the dashing detective working on the case, a very likable Michael Wilding. There are lots of comic bits and scenes in the ambling plot, all infused with a light British sense of underplayed humor. But undoubtably the reason to see the picture is La Dietrich playing the prima donna role to the hilt. She's sly, sexy, suspicious, and irresistible to watch, stealing the picture right out from under everybody. Cole Porter even wrote a big number for her ("The Laziest Gal in Town") that would later become one of her signature concert staples. Who can resist her purring a number like that in a Dior original? It's obvious Hitchcock couldn't, he films her throughout in the most flattering closeups imaginable.


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