Sunday, September 06, 2009

Alfred Hitchcock's "Stage Fright": a real theater piece (1950)

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Stage Fright” (1950), for Warner Brothers, is a “transitional” film, one of the last before his style would open up into more international and American settings. And it is a “theater piece” in the sense that Leonard Bernstein would have called his “Mass”. The story, totally character driven, moves in and out of real life into the actors’ roles as “actors”, with much of the movie taking place in performance venues – the home where Eve (Jane Wyman) impersonates a domestic, doing the physical work, at the garden party where the evil Charlotte (Marlene Dietrich) sings the special Cole Porter song, “The Laziest Gal in Town”; and on the formal rehearsal stage, where the conniving (we find out) counterparty actor Cooper (Richard Todd) shows himself a future Norman Bates – before his own “stage fright” leads to his gams, balding or not, being whacked off.

OK, high school students – if this is really a theater piece – it’s fair warning – for your first English literature test this fall on Julius Caesar or something like that, you need to know the eight parts of the Elizabethean theater, including the proscenium doors. At least I had to memorize this in tenth grade.

Charlotte – well, will she become the precursor of “Hush Sweet Charlotte” or will she morph into Katrina, the evil grandmother of “Days of our Lives”?

The movie is noted for having a narrating character (Jonathan Cooper) actually lie in a flashback or backstory, as he has to get Eve’s “trust”.

A friend of mine, who composes and sometimes performs, tells people that he has “state fright” – but not to the catastrophic end of this film. Jonathan, it turns out, is really chilling, whispering, dissolving, becoming chopped into pieces.

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