Review by Ed Nguyen
Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding, Richard Todd
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Video: Black & white, full-screen
Studio: Warner Brothers
Features: Making-of documentary, trailer
Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: September 7, 2004
had a dog once. He hated me. At
last he bit me, and I had him shot."
Stage Fright (1950) is one of the
director's most underrated films. Appearing
in the same year as the masterful Strangers on a Train, the light and jovial Stage Fright was simply over-powered and over-shadowed in its
initial release and generally dismissed by casual fans ever since.
Perhaps its release onto DVD will remedy this situation, because Stage
Fright is actually a lot of fun.
film stars Jane Wyman as Eve Gill, a young and aspiring drama student.
Eve is amorous of Jonathan (Richard Todd), but his affections are divided
between Eve, who he considers just a dear friend, and stage star Charlotte
Inwood (Marlene Dietrich), who he absolutely adores.
as the saying goes, is blind, and in this case, Jonathan is oblivious to the
fact that Charlotte is a deceitful, lying femme fatale.
As the film starts, Charlotte has just murdered her husband at home
before showing up at Jonathan's apartment in a bloody dress.
Furthermore, she sends Jonathan to her home on an errand to retrieve a
clean dress for her, knowing fully well that the maid will be there.
It's an obvious frame-up, and Jonathan is spotted before he runs out with
the dress. Chalk it up as another
twist on the familiar Hitchcock theme of the mistaken identity.
Charlotte's maid, having stumbled across Mr. Inwood's body and seeing
Jonathan running away, naturally believes him to be the murderer.
While Jonathan hasn't killed anyone, he is at least an accessory to the
a word to describe Jonathan's gullibility, and that word is...sucker!
Yes, it's that old femme fatale trick - bat a few long eyelashes, strike
a demure pose, and the guys fall for it every time.
To his credit, Jonathan is not a total sucker, just a partial one.
He retains enough common sense to save the bloodied dress, just in case
Charlotte decides to turn him in herself to save her own skin. Then again, he is so smitten with her that he soon tosses the
dress into a fireplace regardless. So
I'll again revise my statement; Jonathan is
a total sucker, love-struck by the charms of a deadly femme fatale.
police are soon hot on Jonathan's trail, and he runs to his reliable friend Eve,
who secretly shelters him in her father's home. Upon hearing his tale of woe, the ever-faithful Eve decides
to masquerade about in a Nancy Drew-ish fashion to bring the true murderer,
Charlotte Inwood, to justice. Eve
pretends to be a reporter and then later a maid, replacing Charlotte's own maid
(after a small bribe, of course). For
Eve, it's almost like a game of play-acting, as her father even points out:
"Everything seems a fine acting role when you're stage-struck, doesn't it,
my dear?" This theatricality
of Eve's entire world is further suggested by Stage
Fright's opening shot, of a theater curtain raising to reveal London behind
it. All the world's a stage, after
her clandestine games, Eve somehow finds time to fall for a handsome suitor,
Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding). As
fate would have it, Wilfred is also the detective working the Inwood murder
case! So, not only is Eve
pretending to be Charlotte's new maid, but she must hide her dual identity from
Wilfred whenever he calls upon the Inwood residence to question the widow
Charlotte. As if matters weren't
complicated enough, our lovelorn Jonathan soon sneaks out of hiding, so
determined is he to see Charlotte despite the obvious risk of capture by
the plot thickens, and this tangled web of intrigue becomes ever more tangled.
Stage Fright's humorous situations are almost screwball in nature,
making the film more of a madcap whodunit than an icy suspense-thriller.
Eve, our cute little wide-eyed pixie, Jane Wyman is very amusing.
Although Wyman was better known as a dramatic actress, winning the Best
Actress Oscar a few years previously for Johnny
Belinda (1948), she proves in Stage
Fright that she is a very capable comic actress as well.
Marlene Dietrich is even better, stealing all her scenes as Charlotte,
that prima donna of a femme fatale (one nearly expects Dietrich's dominating
Charlotte to walk all over poor little Eve).
Clearly, Dietrich had a lot of fun with this role, which also introduced
the naughty Cole Porter tune "Laziest Gal in Town" that would become a
classic signature song for her for years to come.
I'm going to make a small confession - my partial plot synopsis isn't entirely
true. It's full of little
half-truths and white lies, and while I cannot reveal anymore, I can say that
Hitchcock throws a few unexpected twists into Stage
Fright, and not everything is as it seems.
released in the same year as Hitchcock's superior Strangers
on a Train, has always been unfairly dismissed as light and inconsequential.
While Stage Fright is not high
art, it is at least equal to such popular Hitchcockian fare as To Catch a Thief or The
Trouble with Harry. Stage
Fright is certainly still enjoyable, providing laughs, chills, and thrills
presented in its original full-screen format.
The image quality is slightly grainy and occasionally contrasty but
generally clear. There are some age
marks and scratches on the print but nothing too unusual for a relatively old
film like this.
original English monaural soundtrack has been cleaned of the background hiss or
pops common to these older films. The
audio quality is quite presentable, even though it will certainly not wow
featurette Hitchcock and Stage Fright
(19 min.) reveals some key plot elements, so I wouldn't recommend watching it
before seeing the film first. The
featurette discusses some of the narrative devices used in the film, such as an
unreliable narrator, and some of Hitchcock's more impressive tracking shots,
including one involving a large breakaway set.
Fans of Marlene Dietrich will also get a brief overview of the glamorous
movie star's career.
only other bonus is a vintage trailer which opens on an award ceremony for Jane
Wyman before showing clips from the film itself.
TRIVIA: Hitchcock's own daughter,
Pat, appears in this film as Chubby Bannister.
Michael Wilding was later to become one among Elizabeth Taylor's many