acting and (tiresome little theme, this) "the masks that we all wear to the world." For the most part, though, the film is at its best when relying on the actors, the visual panache and the mellow pacing to pull the film through.
Marlene Dietrich headlines, but she only has a few scenes. At heart is Jane Wyman's performance as Eve Gill, aspiring actress in love with Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd, who never got his career going consistently but did get to play the Disney Robin Hood), who, he insists, is being framed for a murder by Dietrich. Wyman decides to become Dietrich's personal assitant (since Dietrich is a spoiled star singer) and find as much incriminating evidence against her as possible. Dad (the marvelous Alastair Sim) and policeman "Ordinary" Smith (Michael Wilding, who fell to his death in 1979) get tangled up in the complicated
business as well.
At 110 minutes, Stage Fright isn't paced for optimal tension or suspense. Hitchcock cheats with his false flashback, and audiences back then were outraged; now it just means he's keeping up with Christopher Nolan. He gives all British mystery conventions a good workout, from the dithering mother to the charming, sympathetic policeman and the unlikable star. Although some tiresome dialogue works over the obvious acting theme, Hitch is really encapsulating the stereotypical image of the plodding Britisher, who shows up for a "Tropical Carnival" in the pouring rain under his umbrella.
Stage Fright isn't awfully original, but it's hardly the incompetent misfire some have pigeonholed it as. It's a pleasant, well-acted trip into a mythical world, constructed wholesale from long-forgotten mysteries. Although Wyman's performance is good, she and Hitch didn't get along. His next all-British film would be 1972's Frenzy, a film designed to show that things had changed considerably. Lighthearted and filmed with some typically memorable shots, Stage Fright is worthy, if lesser, HItchcock.
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