Friday, July 16, 2010

Stage Fright

This was one of Hitchcock’s more famous misfires, enraging audiences almost as much as Sabotage had back in the 30s. Unfortunately, I can’t say how without revealing a major plot element, so for this teaser let us just say that he provides yet another new twist on the Wrong Man motif.

So anyway, a lot of audiences at the time felt cheated by Hitchcock because of the following: the film opens with one of the main characters telling a second main character about a murder a third character had committed, complete with flashback showing the murder. It’s not until the end of the film that we then find out that the first character was the actual murderer, and he had just been straight up lying, something audiences felt was at best dishonest on Hitchcock’s part when he outright showed that character’s version of the murder in flashback. Since this film came out, quite a few more movies have been made with dishonest flashbacks, so it’s not as much of an issue now, but I suppose audiences back in 1950 weren’t really huge fans of such things.


Of course, if that were the only issue one had with this film, that wouldn’t be just cause for a negative review. Unfortunately, my problems with the film run a bit deeper than that, ranging from the story to the acting to the pacing to the music. Like in a great many Hitchcock films, the acting is not as good as it should be. The leads all remain mostly as bland as possible, with only supporting characters Marlene Dietrich and Alistair Sims being allowed to have anything approaching an actual personality. The music is oddly cheerful throughout, as though Hitch wanted the film to be considered a piece of light-hearted fluff rather than anything serious (and indeed, after making mostly darker fare over the past decade, that may be exactly what he intended), which just leaves this feeling tonally awkward . For anyone that doesn’t think music really plays that important a role in a film, just watch this one and feel the airy music suck all tension out of the film.

The plot and pacing are both the biggest problems, though, as so many twists and turns are thrown at us that the film starts to become a bloated, shapeless mess. Compare this to Rope, which was a half hour shorter and had a great deal more tension to it because it was so tightly wound. Now, like I said, it’s very possible that Hitch was just getting a little tired of making thriller after thriller and wanted to try something different, but the something different here was simply not a good film. For that matter, if he really wanted to try something different, why end it with a big chase at the end?

This film is mostly ignored by Hitchcock fans, and with good reason. The 1950s (and early 60s) were when he made most of the movies that people first think of when they remember him, and this does not fit in with the likes of Rear Window or Vertigo one bit. It’s a surprisingly clumsy effort from him, and regardless of the complaints about whether he didn’t play fair with his audience, this wouldn’t have been worthwhile either way. You can happily avoid this one.

Rating: * ½

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