Stage Fright is one of those Hitchcock films where all the key elements are in place, a whodunit murder mystery, yet falters because it betrays the viewing audience.
Richard Todd is Jonathan Cooper, a man accused of murdering the husband of his mistress, musical comedy star Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich). Dietrich puts on her actor’s face and goes about business as usual ("The show must go on") while Todd is forced to escape to the countryside, with the assistance of his "good" friend, Eve Gill (Jane Wyman).
When Scotland Yard is called in to investigate, Wyman poses as Dietrich’s housekeeper in hopes of exposing Dietrich as the real murderer. Wyman finds herself in a compromising situation when she meets the detective assigned to the case -- Inspector Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding). While she believes in Todd’s innocence, she finds it increasingly difficult not to show her growing affection for Wilding, moreover, maintain the deception of her housekeeper character.
Despite some very funny situations (mainly by Wyman playing her two roles) and some great "zingers" from Dietrich, the story is a letdown only because of what even Hitch himself admitted as a mistake -- lying to the audience. One of the fundamental rules in moviemaking is that flashbacks should not deceive the audience. In this film, we are programmed to believe in one character’s innocence but then later, it is revealed that this was not the case.
Released in 1950, this would be Hitch’s last film in his home country of England until 1972’s Frenzy. The only exception would be 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much in which a few scenes were shot in London. Hitch’s daughter, Patricia, would make her first appearance in her father’s films here; though she is better known for her role in Strangers On A Train. Despite the majority’s opinion that Stage Fright was one of Hitch’s weaker efforts, one can find a saving grace in almost any situation.
The comical element in Stage Fright is quite a diversion as Wyman, who had just separated from Ronald Regan, puts on a great show as the lil "Nancy Drew." Some of the comedic timing is reminiscent of the 70’s TV series Three’s Company where people are coming and going and the whole charade will be over if one person is caught at the wrong moment. Another aspect of the film is the false flashback that may serve as the basic theme of the movie itself.
The film delves into various falsehoods, in almost every scene, from theatrical performances to outright lies. It investigates the deceptions people use to hide the truth about themselves and how this "act" of lying is taken one step further onto the stage of everyday life. Perhaps Hitchcock was making a statement about deception and how the falsehoods of storytelling can lead to the truth or, perhaps, ways in which they betray it. You be the judge.
Hardly your typical Hitchcock film but while the deception may ruin the overall story, the comedic elements add a nice touch.
RATING: 6.5 (of 10).
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