Monday, June 27, 2011

Hitchcock in the "50s"

I think my favorite Hitchcock films were made in the 50's. The first on the list being: Stage Fright( 1950). A British crime film directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock starring Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding and Richard Todd, Alastair Sim, Sybil Thorndike, Kay Walsh, Hitchcock's daughter Patricia Hitchcock in her movie debut and Joyce Grenfell. The story was adapted for the screen by Whitfield Cook, Ranald MacDougall and Alma Reville (the director's wife), with additional dialogue by James Bridie, based on the novel, Man Running by Selwyn Jepson.

The story begins when actress Eve Gill, is interrupted during rehearsal by her good friend, actor Jonathan Cooper, who tells her that he is having a affair with stage actress/singer, Charlotte Inwood. He also tells her that Charlotte visited him after killing her husband wearing a bloodstained dress and he agreed to go back to her home to get her a clean dress. When he gets there he finds the body of Mr. Inwood then tries to simulate a burglary gone wrong, only to be seen by Charlotte's maid, Nellie Goode.
Eve, takes him to hide in a house near the coast owned by her father Commodore, who notices that the blood on Charlotte's dress has been smeared on deliberately and he and Eve believe that Jonathan has been framed. He does not believe them, destroying the dress the only evidence they have on Charlotte.

Eve posing as a reporter, bribes Nellie Goode to say that she has fallen ill and cannot work for Charlotte for a couple of days. Eve, then takes the temporary job. Soon after, Eve meets Detective Inspector Wilfred Smith. Even though they have become fast friends Eve, has not been able to get much info. about the case from him. Smith visits Eve and her mother at their home in London. They are later joined by the Commodore who drops hints that Jonathan has left their house by the sea.

Meanwhile... Charlotte continues to perform in her musical and is secretly visited by Jonathan who wants her to go away with him. Then tells her that he still has the dress with the bloodstain. Charlotte, tells him that she will not give up her career. The truth is she is having an affair with her manager, Freddie Williams.

Jonathan, goes back to thank Eve for her help, but she feels torn because she has fallen in love with, Wilfred Smith. Will she continue to help Jonathan prove his innocence, or is he...

I thought Jane Wyman, gave a very charming, interesting performance. Marlene Dietrich, also plays her part well, and Alastair Sim gives nice comic relief as the father to Wyman's character. Loved the scene of Eve and the Inspector in the back of the taxi and Hitchcock fans will love the surprise ending...

Fun Facts:

Featured is an original Cole Porter song, The Laziest Gal In Town performed by Dietrich in a sultry fashion. Costumes were designed by Christian Dior.

Stage Fright gained some adverse publicity upon its initial release due to the "lying flashback" which is seen at the beginning of the film. However, some film critics, including those of Cahiers du cinéma, see the flashback as simply being an illustration of one person's version of the events: the events as recounted by the character whose voice-over we hear, which was presumably Hitchcock's intention.

The film has a few extra-long takes, reminiscent of those that Hitchcock used in Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949).

In the biography of Dietrich by her daughter Maria, she shares how Dietrich did not like Jane Wyman, because they were such opposites. Hitchcock, however, may have used this animosity to the film's advantage. At one point in the film, Dietrich compliments Wyman for a change in the way she dresses, when Wyman appears at the garden party.

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo is a signature occurrence in most of his films. In Stage Fright he can be seen 39 minutes into the film as a man on the street turning to look at Eve as she rehearses her scripted introduction speech to Mrs. Inwood.


Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell (born July 7, 1928). Born in London as the only child of film director Alfred Hitchcock and film editor Alma Reville, the family moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1939.

As a child, Hitchcock knew she wanted to be an actress. In the early 1940s, she began acting on the stage and doing summer stock. Her father helped her gain a role in the Broadway production of Solitaire (1942). She also acted in Violet (1944).

After graduating from Marymount High School in Los Angeles in 1947, she attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and also performed on the London stage. In early 1949, her parents arrived in London to make Stage Fright, Hitchcock's first English-made feature film since moving to Hollywood. Pat did not know she would have a walk-on in the movie until her parents arrived. Because she had a resemblance to, Jane Wyman. Her father asked if she would mind also doubling for Wyman in the scenes that required "danger driving."

She had small roles in three of her father's movies: Stage Fright (1950) in which she played a jolly acting student named Chubby Bannister, one of Wyman's school chums, Strangers on a Train (1951), playing Barbara Morton, future sister-in-law of Guy Haines (Farley Granger), and Psycho (1960), playing Janet Leigh's plain-Jane office-mate, Caroline, who generously offers to share tranquilizers that her mother gave her for her wedding night.

Pat Hitchcock also worked for Jean Negulesco on The Mudlark (1950), which starred Irene Dunne and Alec Guinness, playing a palace maid, and she had a bit-part in DeMille's The Ten Commandments.

As well as appearing in ten episodes of her father's half-hour television program, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Hitchcock worked on a few others, including Playhouse 90, which was live, directed by John Frankenheimer. Acting for her father, however, remained the high point of her acting career, which she interrupted to raise her children. (Hitchcock has a small joke with her first appearance on his show - after saying good night and exiting the screen, he sticks his head back into the picture and remarks: "I thought the little leading lady was rather good, didn't you?") She also served as executive producer of the documentary The Man on Lincoln's Nose (2000), which is about Robert F. Boyle and his contribution to motion pictures.

Next on the list.. Strangers on a Train (1951). By a chance meeting on a train, two men meet and talk about getting rid of people who are causing them problems in their lives. Problem is.. one of the men is serious. Farley Granger uses some elements of his performance in Rope, Strangers continued the director's interest in the possibilities of blackmail and murder. Robert Walker, was best known for "boy-next-door" roles, plays the villain in this film.

Fun Facts:

The stunt where the man crawled under the carousel was not done with trick photography. Alfred Hitchcock claimed that this was the most dangerous stunt ever performed under his direction, and would never allow it to be done again.

Alfred Hitchcock originally wanted William Holden to play the part of Guy Haines.

The train station scenes in Metcalf were filmed at the former New Haven Railroad station, Danbury, Connecticut, which is today the home of the Danbury Railroad Museum.

This was the last full feature for Robert Walker who died eight months after filming from an allergic reaction to a drug.

The character of Bruno was named after Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the convicted kidnapper/killer of the Lindbergh baby.

Film debut of Marion Lorne.

This is the movie that determined the location of Carol Burnett's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1951, she was working as an usher when this film was playing at the Warner Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. A couple arrived late, and Burnett, having already seen the film, advised them that it was a wonderful film that should be seen from the very beginning. The manager of the theatre very rudely fired her for this. Years later, when Carol Burnett was asked where she would like to have her star placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she requested that it be placed in front of that theatre.

Three very popular films starring Grace Kelly followed the first: Dial M for Murder (1954). was from the popular stage play by Frederick Knott. Ray Milland plays the villain, an ex-tennis pro who tries to murder his unfaithful wife Grace Kelly for her money. When she kills the hired assassin in self-defense, Milland manipulates the evidence to pin the death on his wife. Her lover, Mark Halliday, and Police Inspector Hubbard, try and save her from execution.

Fun Facts:

One of the best scenes is when Tony Wendice at a party, frequently looking down at his watch. It is already past eleven when he notices that it has stopped. He gets up from the table, hurries to the phone booth, has to wait there, and eventually calls his apartment after eleven o'clock, at the very moment Lesgate is about to leave. This is a race against time full of dramatic music, complete with a cut to the telephone exchange.

The courtroom scene: the camera is on Margot, using only various colored lights, and the people at a trial are only there in voice-overs, other than the judge when he is receiving his black cap.

The claustrophobic atmosphere of other Hitchcock films (Lifeboat, Rope, Rear Window) can also be found here. Most of the action is performed on a single set. The angle of the camera is also of interest, several times shot from a bird's eye view, other times shot low, so that the scene shows where the body was found.

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo, can be seen thirteen minutes into the film in a black-and-white reunion photograph sitting at a banquet table among former students and faculty.

Hitchcock then filmed, Rear Window (1954), starring James Stewart, Kelly, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr. Stewart's character, a photographer, is layed up with a broken leg and out of boredom he watching his neighbours across the courtyard, and becomes convinced one of them has murdered his wife. Stewart tries to convince both his girlfriend, and his policeman friend to to believe him, and eventually succeeds. Hitchcock used closeups of Stewart's face to show his character's reactions to all he sees, "from the comic voyeurism directed at his neighbors to his helpless terror watching Kelly and Burr in the villain's apartment".

Fun Facts:

The film was shot entirely at Paramount studios. There was also careful use of sound, including natural sounds and music drifting across the apartment building courtyard to James Stewart's apartment. At one point, the voice of Bing Crosby can be heard singing "To See You Is to Love You", originally from the 1952 Paramount film Road to Bali. Also heard on the soundtrack are versions of songs popularized earlier in the decade by Nat King Cole ("Mona Lisa", 1950) and Dean Martin ("That's Amore", 1952), along with segments from Leonard Bernstein's score for Jerome Robbins's ballet Fancy Free (1944), Richard Rodgers's song "Lover" (1932), and "M'appari tutt'amor" from Friedrich von Flotow's opera Martha (1844).

Hitchcock used costume designer Edith Head on all of his Paramount films.

Although veteran Hollywood composer Franz Waxman is credited with the score for the film, his contributions were limited to the opening and closing titles and the piano tune ("Lisa") played by one of the neighbors, a composer (Ross Bagdasarian), during the film. This was Waxman's final score for Hitchcock. The director used primarily "natural" sounds from the normal life of the characters in the film.

The third Kelly film, To Catch a Thief (1955), set in the French Riviera, paired Kelly with Cary Grant, who plays retired thief John Robie, who becomes the prime suspect for the robberies in the Riviera. An American heiress played by Kelly knows his true identity. The witty script and the good-natured acting proved a commercial success." It was Hitchcock's last film with Kelly. She married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956, and the people of her new land were against her making any more films.

Fun Facts:

This was Hitchcock's first of five films in the widescreen process VistaVision. To Catch a Thief is unique in that it is the only Hitchcock film released by Paramount that is still owned and controlled by Paramount. The others were sold to Hitchcock in the early 1960s and are currently distribution with the exception to the "reversion to Hitchcock" rule was Psycho, which Universal bought directly from Paramount in 1968.

In this film Jessie Royce Landis plays Cary Grant's potential mother-in-law. In North by Northwest she would play his character's mother. In fact Grant was 10 months older than her.

This was Grace Kelly's final film for Hitchcock; she became Princess Grace of Monaco in 1956. Edith Head designed Kelly's clothes for the production, including a memorable golden ball gown. Hitchcock later tried to cast Princess Grace in Marnie (1964), but the citizens of Monaco expressed disapproval in her acting in another film; she later served as a narrator for at least two films

Hitchcock remade his 1934 film, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), starring Stewart and Doris Day, play a couple whose son is kidnapped to prevent them from interfering with an assassination.

Fun Facts:

Music plays an important part in this film. Although the film's composer, Bernard Herrmann, wrote little "background" music for this film, the performance of Arthur Benjamin's cantata Storm Clouds, conducted by Herrmann, is the climax of the film. In addition, Doris Day's character is a well-known, now retired, professional singer. Several times in the film, she sings the Livingston and Evans song "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" which won the 1956 Best Song Oscar under the alternate title "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)." The song reached number two on the U.S. pop charts and number one in the UK.

Herrmann was given the option of composing a new cantata to be performed during the film's climax. However, he found Arthur Benjamin's cantata Storm Clouds from the original 1934 film to be so well suited to the film that he declined. Herrmann can be seen conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and singers during the Royal Albert Hall scenes. The sequence in Albert Hall runs 12 minutes without any dialogue, from the beginning of Storm Cloud Cantata until the climax, when Doris Day screams.

The Wrong Man (1957), was a black-and-white film based on a real-life case of mistaken identity reported in Life Magazine in 1953. This was the only film of Hitchcock's to star Henry Fonda. Fonda plays a Stork Club musician mistaken for a liquor store thief who is arrested and tried for robbery. Hitchcock told Truffaut that his lifelong fear of the police attracted him to the subject and was added to many scenes.

Fun Fact:

Alfred Hitchcock narrating the film's prologue. The only time he actually spoke in any of his films.

Vertigo (1958), starred Stewart, this time with Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes. Stewart plays "Scottie", a former police investigator suffering from acrophobia, who develops an obsession with a woman he is shadowing. Scottie's obsession leads to tragedy.Vertigo, marked the last collaboration between Stewart and Hitchcock.

The film North by Northwest (1959). Thriller film, starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason, and featuring Leo G. Carroll and Martin Landau. The screenplay was written by Ernest Lehman, who wanted to write "the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures".

North by Northwest is a story of mistaken identity, with an innocent man pursued across the United States by agents of a organization who want to stop his interference in their plans to smuggle out microfilm containing government secrets .

This is one of several Hitchcock movies with a music score by Bernard Herrmann and features a opening title sequence by graphic designer Saul Bass.

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