Tag Archives: Joyce Grenfell

Stage Fright (Alfred Hitchcock, 1950)

This is my contribution to the Sleuthathon organised by Movies Silently. Please do visit and read the other entries. The film I’ve chosen is controversial because of some plot elements. I won’t discuss this aspect until the end and will give a spoiler warning, since, as so often with Hitchcock, this is a film where you definitely don’t want to know what’s coming in advance! 

Stage Fright 3Jane Wyman stars as young actress Eve, who turns detective to prove the man she loves is innocent of murder. That’s the starting-point for this unusual Hitchcock thriller, also starring Marlene Dietrich and Michael Wilding. For my money, the movie disproves the claim that he couldn’t do comedy, with many hilarious moments from British character greats such as Alastair Sim and Joyce Grenfell. At times the humour does slow the pace, but it’s all so enjoyable that it’s hard to care – and the tension still builds to an unbearable level whenever the plot calls for it. In particular, the ending of the film is increasingly tense, achieving the same sort of edge-of-the-seat agony as many better-known Hitchcocks.

Hitchcock was keen to work in London at this time because daughter Patricia was at drama school there, and he gave her a small part as a character with the wonderful name “Chubby Bannister”. Despite a mainly British cast, probably with an eye on the US box office, he chose an American actress for the lead role. I’ve just been watching Jane Wyman’s most famous films made with Douglas Sirk, so I was interested to see her in a very different part here. This was made only four years before she played an older woman in  Magnificent Obsession, yet here she is cast as a fresh-faced ingénue who still lives at home with her mother. Well, with her mother (Sybil Thorndike in sublime grande dame form) half the time, and her father (a gloriously grumpy Alastair Sim) the other half.

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The Pickwick Papers (Noel Langley, 1952)

pickwickpapersMy Dickens in December season is getting properly under way with this review – come back tomorrow for another posting! Compressing an enormous, rambling book like Dickens’ Pickwick Papers into a single film of under two hours sounds like a daunting task. But director and screenwriter Noel Langley did a great job in his 1952 film, and really captured the exuberant, improvised flavour of this young man’s novel. Sadly, as in most Dickens adaptations, there is no narrator – but Langley’s dialogue keeps the rhythms of Dickens and many witty lines are there intact.

James Hayter as Pickwick and Nigel Patrick as the charming swindler Mr Jingle head up a wonderful British cast. Patrick simply IS Jingle – whenever I return to the book from now on, I’m sure I will hear his voice. Added to this, Wilkie Cooper’s black-and-white cinematography, Frederick Pusey’s art direction and Beatrice Dawson’s Oscar-nominated costumes make a stunning combination – often feeling almost as if Phiz’s famous illustrations have come to life. Although director Langley was South African-born and had worked in America, the film feels very English. It was made at Nettlefold Studios in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, and features some unmistakably English scenery.

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