Until "Frenzy" (1972), "Stage Fright" remained Alfred Hitchcock's last British-styled film, heavily imbued with a wry, playful (and oddly, less ghoulish) wit from an already literate screenplay by occasional cinema scribe Whitfield Cook ("Strangers on a Train").
The featurette assembles the familiar faces of daughter Patricia Hitchcock, director Peter Bogdanovich, historians Robert Osborne & Peter Schickel, and "Psycho 2" director Richard Franklin for a lighthearted overview of a film that contrasts markedly within the director's more serious Fifties shockers.
Made after the experimental diptych of "Rope" and "Under Capricorn," Hitchcock returned to England for the first of his multi-picture deal with Warner Bros. There he found a safe vehicle to return to a more assured dramatic form, and he seemed to give screenwriter Cook some good elbow room to add numerous comedic touches and sparkling dialogue within some already clever scenes. Freed from his previous associations with Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, and Ingrid Bergman, the outstanding cast of British actors also gave Hitchcock's familiar archetypes a new spin - largely reinvigorated by the inimitable Alastair Sim in a less befuddled role from his usual repertoire - and the presence of iconic Marlene Dietrich.
The featurette addresses most of the film's key cast - including "equine-jawed" comedienne Joyce Grenfell - and there's a brief archival interview with Jane Wyman on working with Hitchcock, playing a mousy heroine under the elegant shadow of murderess Dietrich. The rest of the featurette offers a good examination of the opening flashback sequence, which apparently divided critics & audiences at the time, but comes across today as a highly inventive tactic in a film already celebrating the artifice of the theatrical world.
The print source has some evident wear (including a long scratch over the last few minutes), and a few reels have a slightly higher grain crawl at times. The sound quality is a bit rough during the music score's more high-pitched moments, but the original mono mix reveals the director's clever use (and restraint) of sound effects to milk some tight suspense sequences.
Dietrich also performs Cole Porter's "The Laziest Gal in Town," a song that became her trademark piece (and no doubt inspired Madeleine Kahn, in her hysterical Dietrich caricature of Lili von Schtupp, singing "I'm Tired" in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles").
This Warner Bros title is available separately or as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection that includes: Strangers On A Train, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, Suspicion, North By Northwest, Dial M For Murder, Foreign Correspondent, The Wrong Man, Stage Fright and I Confess.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan
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