The Pleasure Garden
The Pleasure Garden Theatre, London.
A clever girl becomes a star, or nearly, and marries Prince Ivan. Her friend in the chorus marries a cad and bounder and murderer.
He is played by Miles Mander, a perfect performance. Hitchcock told Truffaut about the death scene. “The doctor shoots from a distance and the bullet hits the madman. For a moment the shock returns him to sanity.” This recurs as a variation in I Confess. He did not mention the clever girl’s suitor dying of fever in N. West Africa, similarly returned to his senses by a kiss from the chorus girl.
“Boring melodrama,” says ‘Alliwell. Photoplay and Variety agreed, to say the least. British reviews were favorable, “it got a very good press. The London Daily Express ran a headline describing me as the ‘Young man with a master mind.’”
Siodmak and Collinson understood the first shot as emblematic of the cinema, dancing girls descending a spiral staircase to the stage.
Like the anonymous New York Times reviewer who wrote disparagingly of this film in 1928, we can divide it into three parts. After a brisk overture of fresh perceptions Hitchcock never surpassed (London at night), the first part has material subsequently worked out and developed in Blackmail and Murder!, such as the flying squad (here a newspaper van) or Sir John’s visit to the girl’s flat (Mrs. Bunting examining the lodger’s rooms in darkness, only the back room is lit). The middle section tends toward Psycho very powerfully, owing to a resemblance between the set and the Bates house, above all to Mrs. Bunting’s reappearance as the late Mrs. Bates, and there is Daisy in the bath almost interrupted by the lodger at the door. It has been pointed out that the finale evokes Frenzy overall, making rather a hash of the notion that an alternate ending has been supplied contrary to Hitchcock’s wishes. The handcuffs on Daisy suggest Family Plot remotely, and many other general relationships have been noted.
The flashback sequence dollies out from the coming-out party past an ornamental grille, an effect of memory sharply remembered by Bogdanovich in Daisy Miller. The Avenger’s pyramidal calling card is an obvious joke, and so is the inability of some critics to perceive this as the strange, subtle masterpiece it is (the flashback occurs in Marnie, somewhat differently).
To the Times reviewer who complained of the acting, we can quote Godard, “Since The Lodger, Hitchcock’s art has been profoundly Germanic, and those who accuse him of reveling in false and pointless bombast, those mean spirits who are foolish enough to applaud the contemptible—whether in the work of Buñuel or Malaparte—should consider Hitchcock’s constant preoccupation with constructing his themes: he makes persuasion, a very Dostoevskian notion, the secret mainspring of the drama. From German Expressionism, Hitchcock consciously retains a certain stylization of attitude, emotions being the result of a persistent purpose rather than of impetuous passion: it is through his actions that the actor finally becomes simply the instrument of action, and that only this action is natural; space is the impulse of a desire, and time its effort towards accomplishment.”
The blood lust of the crowd is one in a parcel of thematic strands or hares started at once amid the carnival setting. The somewhat brutal nature of the sport is a theme gradually ameliorated by revelation. The development of character by shiftings of plot is a great divulging of Hitchcock’s technique.
Many details have been observed and subsequently acknowledged by the director, who is constantly elaborating the material in moving images like One-Round’s face shattered by an uppercut as his bride tosses a pebble from the bank where he is shaving outdoors.
The function of the champion is to lead, command and instruct, this has its natural limits carefully defined by the nature of championship, neither victory nor loss interferes with this function in the terms set.
Bob Corby, heavyweight champion of Australia, sojourns in London where he wins a sparring partner by besting a carny boxer whose bride sustains an affection for the champ. Her husband rises through the undercards to a climactic bout in which her position is decided.
One of the greatest films in the cinema, with some of Hitchcock’s greatest work, has been generally accounted a nullity.
It is rather more serious than his wont, though he is often very intent, but here he founds the whole thing on a single joke, the boy didn’t do it, leaving himself free for the story.
Virtue suffers, it is deceived, thrown down in rags. Its commodity, as Ozu knew, is “a nice English boy, and very cheap at fifty francs a dance.”
It all ends well, in advance of Sternberg, on the rugby field.
The Farmer’s Wife
The very height of British comedy, also of British workmanship in the transition from wifely prospect number two to number three and number four.
The Paradine Case works the theme out a little differently, but to the same end.
A note of pastoral elegy is sounded at the first as the lady expires with a last command for the housekeeper to air the master’s pants.
The daughter’s wedding reception as dissolves also figures in The Manxman.
Hitchcock frequently has his players act toward the camera à la Stroheim. He takes his time for large effects like the change of expression that comes over a man’s face in reflection.
A masterpiece of silent film technique, a leading film on the other side of Hitchcock away from his fame.
He remembers little of it for Truffaut, incorrectly that there was too much dialogue (“it was largely a title film”), he did the lighting and photography “when the chief cameraman got sick”.
Hitchcock defines the play in cinematic terms, critics have complained that dialogue is missing. The terms are Isabel Jeans as Larita, big, blonde and beautiful in the dullness of a divorce court, posing like Britannia for her portrait, taking the air on the French Riviera, immured at Moat House, Peveril.
Russell pays homage to the initial occasion in Lisztomania’s first scene, Hitchcock unreels a fine technique in closeups that dolly-out on pensive trial witnesses and participants to name a change of scene from description to described, his finest title is dismissed in the interview with Truffaut, who hadn’t seen the film.
The eyeglass utilized by the judge is later a tennis racket where the director returned for To Catch a Thief, Blackmail makes the same case in such a way that even a film critic cannot escape the subtlety, and then there is The Paradine Case, not to mention Murder!.
Hitchcock’s command of actors has patently less to do with a cowboy’s skill than a patient understanding of the range any good camera can render perceptible, and a quick wit.
The sign of the film’s present obscurity is that one does not know what the Father does for a living. The British version identifies him as a “Wall Street magnate”, but reviewers say he is a “Champagne King”, possibly from the German.
The obnoxious Girl is ridiculously spoiled, she sinks a seaplane to reach the Boy in mid-Atlantic, and arrives dirty-faced.
The Man pursues her, glowering and insistent. Father comes to Paris, the market has crashed, he tells her, and dines out.
She works in a swank nightclub as a flower girl. The joke’s up, she and the Boy argue on shipboard over who should arrange to have the captain marry them.
Monumental Hitchcock treatment of comedy. He pops a cork at the camera, lets it drain a glass and view the dancing through the bottom of it.
He is really good at conveying thought in a single take as it progresses through a face.
Stroheim closeups, lighting full of charm, a thousand setups, the theme in Rich and Strange and “Dip in the Pool” (Alfred Hitchcock Presents), a brilliantly witty tour de force.
Hitchcock’s remarks are hardly to be taken seriously, Truffaut sees I Confess in it, Blackmail is on the horizon, the material is worked out consciously in The Paradine Case.
The location filming (on the Isle of Man, or else Cornwall, according to report) is absolutely capital, money in the bank, and the studio settings are equally fine (the New York Times noted this). Hitchcock’s most dreamlike string of dissolves at the wedding feast is the interest on it.
The grand satire of the film is to place the innocent fisherman in pancake makeup before the camera looking past it, openly, until in the last reel he is undeceived during the court appearance by his wife on a charge of attempted suicide. The judge (or deemster) is a friend from childhood, it’s his first day on the bench, he is the father of the fisherman’s infant daughter.
The game might not be worth the candle in Hitchcock’s estimation, but there are other factors. In the opening scene the future deemster has the fishermen sign a petition to the lieutenant governor against steam trawlers interfering with their sailboats in the herring trade. Quickly, both men are seen to be in love with the innkeeper’s daughter, Kate of The Manx Fairy.
The fisherman is summarily dismissed as “a penniless lout” by her father, to the lawyer’s great relief, and goes to work in the African gold mines, leaving his friend to mind the girl, who has promised to wait. This rapid exposition, abetted by views of the unique flotilla and a traveling matte at the very start depicting its triform emblem, is very fast, presumably Hitchcock did not feel the thing was properly worked out. His technique and style are everywhere evident, and of the best.
But admire the workings of this mechanism. The father advances menacingly toward the camera, the fisherman has his lawyer friend speak for him, no luck. A telegram from the Rand Goldmines announces the fisherman’s death, the father rues his decision, the girl tells the lawyer, “we’re free,” they’re in love.
But it’s a mistake, the fisherman returns with money, he’s so innocent they daren’t tell him, which is the purpose of his open gaze. A wedding follows, then housekeeping at the grist mill where the lawyer and the girl had their tryst.
Finally, she seeks refuge in the deemster’s office, he must choose between his career and her. She leaps off the quay at night, a constable rescues her. The truth comes out in court, the deemster resigns apologetically, he and the girl leave the village to taunts and jeers. The boats set out again in the last shot.
The crisis in court is provoked by the father, who understands the truth. The tight symbolism won’t suffer another interpretation, the girl in court is remanded to her husband on the latter’s plea but refuses to go. This rare view of an isolated setting pictures the loss in terms distantly related to Mamoulian’s We Live Again, Vadim finds a different solution in Et Dieu... créa la femme.
“The only point of interest about that picture,” says Hitchcock to Truffaut, “is that it was my last silent one... but it was a very banal picture... it was not a Hitchcock movie.”
The subtlety of the argument, however, and the grandeur of the filming, mark out a typical production by a director who is occasionally obscure and then, dismissed, becomes dismissive himself.
And then again, one extant print runs a quarter of an hour shorter than the ninety-eight-minute version seen by Mordaunt Hall.
Comparison is ridiculous, but the only film one might think cinema’s finest achievement is Blackmail. One could discuss Hitchcock’s debt to Keaton, the shot here of Trafalgar Square at dawn, the phone gag, Renoir and Hitchcock, why the shop’s number is 227, Kubrick’s debt to Hitchcock, etc., but all discussion and description are superfluous, somehow.
The film opens in the manner of Fritz Lang, it represents an arrest, from the radio call received in the flying-squad van all the way to booking and detention. This is silent, and a ritual. A woman views a lineup and identifies the man, standard police procedure.
The scene in the crowded restaurant gives you Anny Ondra’s face in disconcerting close-ups, and John Longden’s out in the street. The superbly hieratic shot of the two at table is a compensation for much sudden camera movement throughout, as when after the murder Longden picks up Ondra’s glove and turns to his fellow detectives—the camera hurtles forward to a close-up of her æsthete friend.
The “discovered cry” of the landlady is a device Hitchcock was experimenting with at the time, and is well known from The 39 Steps. The glass telephone booth featured prominently in the little shop reappears in The Man in the Glass Booth, as may be said. The double image superimposing a smug Inspector on a snug blackmailer was later used in The Wrong Man.
The flying squad is called in again as a structural device later worked in The Quiller Memorandum, a varied repetition. Why the British Museum? To state the law in its basis. Ondra’s confession was repeated by Ian Holm in Night Falls on Manhattan.
The æsthete’s picture of a laughing clown is filed away as a police exhibit, which is an admirable irony, Robert Browning would say.
Emilio Fernandez caught the spirit of the thing as a Nō play out of Milton, say. Hitchcock’s performance on the Underground train is almost certainly his best, even better than his snapshooter in Young and Innocent. Nabokov wrote an extremely funny bit for himself in his unfilmed Lolita screenplay as a butterfly collector (himself) out West who gets asked for directions by Humbert Humbert (another Hitchcock influence, presumably).
Blackmail has a congruency of image and meaning that’s hard to beat, and then the shop scene with its ghostly drama transcends itself, and the cool pictures of the tenement during the arrest are as plain as water, or as serene as a fen. The famous knife scene breaks the spell abruptly, so that it seems young Hitchcock has burbled it, that his Irish is up, but he’s simply cast it into a new level (Kubrick remembers this knife tossed into the air in 2001: A Space Odyssey).
The original ending had the girl arrested, but then we would not have had Scarlet Street and The Phantom of Liberty.
There’s a moment in Paris vu par... that shows you why cinema isn’t literature. Jean Rouch is using a hand-held camera on location to film a conversation in a Paris flat, moving about to show the speakers, and when Sacre-Cœur is mentioned, he simply tilts up off the breakfast table and points his camera at the window, where you see Sacre-Cœur in the distance, briefly, before he pans back to the room. Hitchcock does this, Ondra and Longden at the end emerge from the Inspector’s office and stop in their tracks, looking off right. The camera quickly pans over to show what they’re looking at (a policeman just standing there) and pans back to them.
Juno and the Paycock
Sean O’Casey’s fine tragedy was a comic choice for Hitchcock’s first independent sound film, with its offstage sound and fury and the introduction of a gramophone onto the set. The script slightly streamlines the three-act play in the American manner, and introduces at least one joke (when O’Casey has ‘Captain’ Jack Boyle say, “The sea is always callin’ me,” Hitchcock & Reville condense the two succeeding lines of dialogue into Mrs. Madigan’s “Well, the tide’s out here”, holding her empty glass). There is a stretto just before the end involving the young lovers, the furniture movers, the two irregulars and the votive light that in itself is spectacularly virtuosic.
A very complicated work. For the most part, Hitchcock is intent on setting off the play’s words and music in static ten-minute takes, interwoven with transitions, occasionally animated by dollying-in, and spotted with inserts. The marvelous, lambent evocations of Ireland old and new are brought to pitch over a background set up to project them, in a technique not far removed from the still center of Blackmail. This is capable of turning on a dime, as when a mother’s keening prayer is answered by Boyle’s arch frown at Joxer, who returns the look as they lift their glasses to the inevitability of this proposition. In five seconds or less, and by means of one cut, Hitchcock goes from the deepest tragedy to a natural comedy with surprising ease.
Sara Allgood’s performance is permitted a bit of Abbey Theatre style at the end, a fact that seems to have impressed John Ford, who saw in Mister Roberts the chance of incorporating Henry Fonda’s stage work.
It is impossible to do Murder! justice without a scene-by-scene, shot-by-shot and perhaps frame-by-frame analysis. Broadly speaking, it is in two parts. The first is directly modeled on Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, even to the point of imitation. The second is Hitchcock’s own invention; each part is divided and interlaced, thus:
The “overture” states the theme very brilliantly: Hitchcock first builds up a scene by cutting, then shows analysis by camera movement. The opposition of what we might call “caméra-stylo” and montage is the entire theme of the film, and the “half-caste” trapeze-artist villain is a gag.
The trial sequence is loosely based on Dreyer, and the tennis-audience joke from Strangers on a Train appears here (compare the rapidity and deftness of Hitchcock’s pan around the jury table with Lang’s similar shot of the students in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse).
Sir John’s investigation is the central achievement of the film. It is a landmark of cinema that may never have been equaled, or even attempted, by anyone including Hitchcock before Antonioni and Losey and Godard and Rouch, if then. It beggars description and deserves long study, as it resumes within itself the novelist’s art in pictures that really are “worth a thousand words.” This is a subtlety of camera work and acting that is surprising at every moment, with the camera moving from speaker to speaker, pausing on a gesture, moving in or out of a conversation, or standing motionless on one. Things become real as they are perceived, and change their existence as perception of them changes, or perception itself.
The jail scene is pure Dreyer, a painter’s copy, a direct study, employed dramatically (or even comically) as a foil, it might almost be said.
The dénouement, including the circus scene, simply gives up the joke of this extraordinarily self-referential little masterpiece, which was so fruitful for Hitchcock and others (the visual dichotomy of Torn Curtain again finds a structural use for this study). Twelve Angry Men comes to mind.
The overture, again, affirms Juno and the Paycock as a deliberate choice, Hitchcock uses sound offscreen to introduce matter not in evidence. A voiceover blends the accused’s state of mind with the play she acts in at that hour. Her trial is fanfared on by trumpets. A striking backstage scene, where the audience can only be heard, may have inspired a similar technique in one of Nabokov’s plays, the jury speaks in choral unison at another point (an effect anticipating Nabokov in a play called The Event). The jailhouse colloquy allows an offcamera interlocutor.
The Skin Game
Frankenheimer’s President (Seven Days in May) has useful information on a plotter against the government and reaches for it at the moment of decision, Hitchcock films the consequences of a “skin game” or total fleecing.
Galsworthy’s play is treated to a perfect alteration, lines are fitted to the cinema, a difference of technique.
Hitchcock’s real innovation with sound is most evident all at once in dialogue heard but not seen off-camera (or facing away from it), much satirical use of coughs and throat-clearing round the auction scene with its gag cue, and the “too-loud” Hornblower motor, etc.
Critics have a persistent hallucination that this thoroughly characteristic film, which lies between Easy Virtue and The Paradine Case, is stylistically unimaginative and atypical, a “minor” or “lesser” work (or “hackwork”). Most of them merely parrot what they have read, and so far from any lack of interest shown by the director, this is a signal work of Hitchcock’s early period.
Quite typically, spoken dialogue adds the element of action that frees the camera for more work in Hitchcock’s line, and when the scene is bare you have the dialogue unsupported as in Frenzy at the park, a motion of suspense.
A very brief view from a motorcar rounding a curve in the countryside is direct homage to Murnau’s Sunrise.
Rich and Strange
The first two minutes are a 180° crane shot on complex action followed by fine silent comedy on an Underground train. The premise is established with an experiment in focus (background in, foreground out) followed by the lines of Shakespeare from which the title is taken, on the first of a series of title cards introducing the scenes. These are very properly treated as dramatic introductions, and only cease at the turn of the tide, dramatically speaking, in this contemporary retelling of the parable of the prodigal son.
An incomparable film, which perhaps more than anything else explains the evolution of Hitchcock’s style, as there is enough material in it for at least two films, and almost everything in it occurs in a fraction of the time it takes to describe it, and the very best of it has a certain Shakespearean ineffability, if that is not too strong a word.
Whistler’s view of a seaport, Chaplin’s shipboard camera from The Immigrant, and Man Ray (Les Mystères du château de Dé) accomplish the channel crossing. Paris is seen with the café-window intercutting from The Birds, with a madcap view of the Folies Bergères, and the detail work at ground level that appears throughout. Note the Cunard drop-cloth.
The rich comedy material has drunken Fred, for example, setting his watch by an elevator floor dial. In three one-second shots (ship/gangplank/steaming) the round-the-world trip begins. Fred seasick sees menu items fly off the card at him, and The Battleship Potemkin is paid direct homage with some quick engine room shots. Hitchcock’s characteristic inset shots include a deck-chair conversation interrupted by a Knife in the Water view of lifeboat ropes swaying in the wind (later Emily’s downcast viewpoint will show water scudding past the side of the ship, or asphalt racing by the running board). Texts are treated in the manner of Shadow of a doubt. Lloyd’s A Jazzed Honeymoon is treated to a one-second gag in tribute.
The shipwreck is accomplished in a few shots that take one minute, and becomes an ample quotation from Keaton’s The Navigator. This is followed by a string of cruelties before the redemption and silent return to London (the ending anticipates Pommer’s Vessel of Wrath).
Hitchcock’s use of sound follows on Murder! and Juno and the Paycock with material offscreen and the playing of a wireless. The distinctly Nabokovian touches include a romantic conversation interrupted at what was then called the psychological moment by a rather bluff character smoking a cigarette who simply opens a door (or a hatch) and sticks his head in. The prodigious wealth of detail is almost beyond description; a role later played by Patricia Hitchcock is featured here in an earlier avatar.
The ship seen sailing through the sand (the Suez Canal) recurs in Lawrence of Arabia. As a whole, Huston’s Beat the Devil is a more complete study. The model work is quite uncanny (cf. The Lady Vanishes), handled with a certain wry panache that carries the day.
This is precisely one’s understanding of how Shakespeare composed Hamlet, by imagining a situation and registering all the consequences. The structure of Number Seventeen is a schematization of Hamlet influenced by Murnau and Chaplin, both of whom are cited. Amarcord’s motorcyclist puts in an appearance, and the train scene in The Wild Bunch, as well as the railyard wreck in The Train. The inspiration of Buñuel’s Subida al Cielo may be here, and the penultimate shot is a gag borrowed by Malle for Le Souffle au Cœur and Richardson for Tom Jones.
Two scenes from Torn Curtain occur here, and the plane crash in Foreign Correspondent.
A plot to smuggle the Suffolk Necklace out of England via the ferry-train to Germany.
Detective Barton has sent a telegram to Ackroyd in number fifteen asking him to watch the house, Ackroyd has ventured over, fought with the head of the gang, Sheldrake, and lies unconscious on the upper landing.
Sheldrake’s gang arrive, a posh couple like the one in Family Plot, and Henry Doyle, not one of the gang but planning to steal the diamonds for himself.
The crooks make the train, Barton pursues them in a commandeered bus. The train out of control smashes into the ferry, the gang and Doyle are captured, but the posh lady was an unwilling accomplice, Barton takes her to breakfast.
This is the plot that all writers on this film, from Truffaut to the local critic, have described as “confusing”. Truffaut also told Hitchcock that it’s “very funny”, and indeed it is, extremely funny, what with the fair Ophelia dropping through a skylight onto the scene, followed by Ben “Lloyd George” with his pockets full of holes and string and sausage, among other things.
The striking resemblance of Barry Jones as Doyle to James Gleason is another Hitchcock conundrum, and the score is one of the most charming.
The material turns up later again in Stage Fright, also in the unfilmed screenplay The Short Night.
Waltzes from Vienna
One of the best British films of any period, almost wholly ignored by everyone including the director himself down the decades, but only thirty years ahead of its time as shown by the works of Lester and Russell.
The work of Hitchcock at this point is too subtle and fast even to be perceived down to the present day. The failure of such a film as Rich and Strange, and then Waltzes from Vienna, made for his career’s “lowest ebb” to that time, when his films presented a total blank to critics and public alike.
A house afire, Strauss and Rasi ignoring it, rescued by a rival she, followed down the ladder by him to fetch the skirt she’s lost en route, thence to a fashionable boutique, the countess, and so forth.
A curving track for the camera prepares the premiere of The Beautiful Blue Danube in a circular pavilion, its genesis is much of the substance, also the elder Strauss’s disdain and above all else the main joke not insisted upon but rather inclined toward, is Johann Strauss II a confectioner or not?
The Man Who Knew Too Much
The game at St. Moritz has little Betty’s dachshund spoil Louis Bernard’s jump, and Betty interfere with her mother’s shooting.
Clive the loyal chum stands in for the wife in the dentist’s chair and the Tabernacle of the Sun, where they’ve probably got nothing on.
Thus the surrealism proceeds, shaving brush and all.
The 39 Steps
“An organization of spies collecting information on behalf of the Foreign Office of...”
Analysis cannot go farther than Welles’ The Trial.
The effective ingredients are,
“a man in Scotland”
two commercial travellers in ladies’ undergarments (two “detectives”)
“a kind of professor”
“God made the country”, a hymnal (and topcoat).
The missing topjoint. Mr. Memory. Nothing missing at the Air Ministry.
The MacGuffin “renders the engine completely silent,” in other words Shaw on Handel’s unanswerability.
A year earlier, Frank Capra made It Happened One Night, a year later, Gregory La Cava made My Man Godfrey. John Huston saw this and made The Maltese Falcon (and The Mackintosh Man). Orson Welles remembered bits in Citizen Kane, but probably the sound editing impressed him most. Stuart Rosenberg’s Love and Bullets (and Peter Hunt’s Assassination) owe a debt to it, as well as countless films more or less technically. Fellini paid special tribute to the music hall scene in Amarcord. The writers of I Love Lucy remembered much of it (handcuffs, innkeepers). Hitchcock himself drew upon it repeatedly in nearly all his films, Shadow of a doubt is the antithesis.
In the first place, he reaps the benefit of ten years of work giving him the freedom to take inspiration from, in the second place, an inspired screenplay. Note that the brilliant music hall scene is entirely an invention for the film (in the novel, Hannay is a bored expatriate who spends one sentence at a music hall—here, as a Canadian, his adventures begin there). Third, Hitchcock’s steady advancement of sound techniques blossoms into a complete art. He creates ambience at the train station, creates sound poetry again and again, and shows nothing up his sleeve, as for example in a long motionless shot of the Forth Bridge with the APB being broadcast (note also the musical theme). This shot is echoed in a long take of sundown on the braes.
Another artistic parallelism has Hannay cheerfully expected in the dining car as well as on the speakers’ platform. Godfrey Tearle’s resemblance to FDR is as much a mystery (“he has a dozen names, and he can look like a hundred people”) as the character of Patricia, who appears in Rich and Strange, Strangers on a Train and Stage Fright, if not elsewhere.
The profundity of each shot is reflected in the acting, and mirrored laterally by the rest of Hitchcock’s work. A Borgesian theme, understood as the basis of North by Northwest, the exile and the city.
The secret of critical misapprehension is, as it so often is, the velocity of execution, principally during what we may call the expository phase, but really visible throughout. That is not so much (as it often is) a matter of editing but of terseness, of very succinct individual shots or sequences that are very quick and very hard to read, as it were, without an instantaneous appreciation of each “movement”, each picture composed in a succession of images.
This rare application of technique is of sufficient interest in itself, and beyond that are the performances, of which it may be said that Madeleine Carroll’s is precisely what it was intended to be, a further reach of her appearance in The 39 Steps (and her golden wave is an element of design, an early Hitchcock blonde).
That is self-evident, once the initial problem of perception is overcome. Kubrick and Truffaut will tell you, critics, once is not enough. John Gielgud does everything required of him perfectly, truly a Hitchcock leading man.
Further it will be seen this is closely related to Rich and Strange, and most particularly to Blackmail. Secret Agent is a film concerned with matters and images later dealt with by Lean in Lawrence of Arabia and by Gilbert, for instance, in You Only Live Twice. “Germany is making every effort to buy up the Arabs” in 1916, an enemy agent en route to Constantinople must be killed in Switzerland. Captain Brodie, a novelist, reads in the newspaper that he has himself died at home of influenza. He is given the assignment by “R”.
Richard Ashenden has two passports (British and American), so does his wife Elsa (a female agent). A paid assassin, jocularly referred to as “the hairless Mexican” because he is neither, is seconded to him. Everyone has noticed the vividness of Peter Lorre’s invention (his open stare in a bright moment when the cuckolded informant he has just hit comes back for the payoff, say).
Dreyer figures for us, though neither for Graham Greene nor the New York Times (nor even today the British Film Institute), in the opening scene of a flag-draped coffin in Brodie’s parlor (Ordet), his valet attends the mourners, civilians and an officer. The valet wears several decorations on his jacket, his left arm is missing. He receives a gratuity with some displeasure, bids the weeping maidservants to cheer up, there’s “Red Cross, munitions, whatnot.” He lights a cigarette from one of the tall candlesticks and clumsily removes the empty coffin of unstained and unvarnished wood from its trestles. It falls open beside him, he looks up at the portrait of Edgar Brodie above the mantelpiece, the captain in his Army uniform, and makes a sort of grimace.
The wrong man is killed in Switzerland. Ashenden had been duteous and keen, Elsa especially eager. “The General”, as the so-called Mexican is known, does the deed. They have been given a wrong clue by the German, and so, a middle-aged Englishman with a German wife falls off an Alp, watched by Ashenden through an observatory telescope, while Elsa with the wife hears the victim’s dachshund whine and howl. “R” confirms the mistake by coded telegram.
Mr. and Mrs. Ashenden are utterly downcast. He had an intuition and held back, she thought it would be “thrilling”. The General laughs heartily, “The wrong man!”
He knows a girl whose fiancé works at a chocolate factory that is “a clearinghouse of information”, this man will give them the enemy agent’s name for cash. Baron Stecker is the humorous American playboy who has been courting Elsa under the name Robert Marvin.
The glossiness of this brash comic performance by Robert Young adds to the speed, the part has nothing to it beyond black tie and Hollywood repartee. It’s entirely self-contained. The Ashendens resolve to quit the Service, Richard goes off with the General to follow this clue, Elsa drops the romance and goes off to Greece with Marvin. At the train station, where passengers are kept from the platform by a soldier with rifle and bayonet, Marvin takes another train instead, for Constantinople. The three counterspies board this train. Elsa means to stop Richard, the General is insistent. “R” orders planes to attack the train. It derails, Richard cannot bring himself to strangle Baron Stecker, who has been injured in the crash and lives just long enough to kill the General. Mr. and Mrs. Brodie send triumphant “R” a postcard, “Never Again.”
Griffith is probably the inspiration for this resurrection from war. The film ends with newsreel footage of victory in the East as a montage culminating in the faces of Brodie and Elsa side-by-side, looking not altogether pleased with themselves, the knowledgeable couple from the earlier films sitting for a portrait.
The long, torturous sequence of Caypor’s murder on the snow has a kind of correlative in the murder of Gromek (Torn Curtain), the false fire-alarm is also here at the chocolate factory. But Caypor as filmed is much closer to The Man Who Knew Too Much, with a peculiar subtlety in the ambiguous victim a perfect example of the careful painstaking lavished over every single detail, as rapid as they are.
Just as Truffaut could never see David Lean or John Huston without breaking out into a rash of ill-tempered criticism, Graham Greene had a blind spot for Shirley Temple and this film, which provoked him into absurd remarks.
“How unfortunate,” he writes, “it is that Mr Hitchcock, a clever director, is allowed to produce and even to write his own films, though as a producer he has no sense of continuity and as a writer he has no sense of life,” in the tones of the Viennese music critic who proposed that Schoenberg be locked up and denied the use of paper and ink. Bennett and Hay and Lasky (for the American) have a part in the denunciation.
This striking film with its uncanny precision well beyond The 39 Steps nevertheless has at least two admirers, Ken Hughes, who remembered in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the candy factory, and Clint Eastwood in The Eiger Sanction—and doubtless there is Furie’s The Naked Runner swelling the chorus as well, though by a curious coincidence all three films are critically disprized, too.
The direct dictionary meaning of the title is inadvertently shown in the London blackout, and only then is there an attempt to establish the additional meaning put forth in the opening credits.
Hitchcock is wrong (and so is Truffaut) on both counts in his assessment of the film, though he is closer in calling it “messy”, owing to its extreme brevity. The bus explosion is a trim calculation that produces the ghost effect repeatedly as well as the “Cock Robin” peripeteia.
The bomb manufacturer kills himself to avoid police capture, and in so doing takes off the back of the cinema (where the screen is) and the private apartments behind.
The brevity might be accounted for by Hitchcock’s rewriting for John Loder, replacing Robert Donat, although the culmination of the film is a situation almost identical with Blackmail, a knife murder.
Luncheon at Simpson’s on bullocks roasted whole, paid for by the greengrocer’s assistant (a London police detective), is the main course, along with the suggestion that Mr. Verloc has changed his sex in allowing himself to be bullied into murder (the suggestion is made twice, at the aquarium and by young Stevie).
The messiness is under consideration in Mrs. Verloc’s reaction to Stevie’s death on the bus, an involved computation of shock at various removes from the event.
Just before “Cock Robin” and Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels), there is the dolly-out on Mr. Verloc’s proposal to his wife, a shot monumentalized by Lewis Milestone (Of Mice and Men).
The ultimate purpose of the sabotage is explained as a distraction for the British public from events abroad, provided by a foreign power.
Young and Innocent
It proceeds from the artist’s studio in Easy Virtue, why not, the suspect is a writer who has sold a story to an English actress in Hollywood, she is strangled by her husband for consorting with boys, the murder weapon is the writer’s raincoat-belt, the husband is a blackface drummer in a dance band at the Grand Hotel who takes pills for his tic.
The old mill is a resting place for the fugitive, his rescuer loses her car in the old mining works. This is the stuff of “melodrama” cheerfully exploited by Hitchcock to make his film (between the two is the children’s birthday party with conjuror and blind man’s buff reportedly cut from the American release).
Frenzy has a go (noticeably), as well as The Birds very swiftly, and even Donner’s Superman (the Morris convertible). Lang’s Metropolis is the key in some sense to the mutable heroine as intermediary.
Very much more than can be accounted for is Hitchcock’s style, much of which has by now been reckoned by film analysts, in this instance. Preminger mounts a handsome rendering in The Man with the Golden Arm.
The Lady Vanishes
A conspiracy to murder in the fictional country of Bandrika (it resembles Germany, having a Propaganda Minister, but is provided by the screenwriters with a language all its own).
Truffaut saw this film twice a week in Paris when it played there, which was often, and always lost himself in it, he told Hitchcock. The opening shot of the railway yard and the avalanche and the town is repeated to advantage as a helicopter shot in Jules et Jim.
Iris’s champagne hop (Notorious) is preceded by the waiter’s triple gaze (The Birds).
Gilbert’s wedding dancers figure in Russell’s Mahler. Sharing a room ever so briefly occurs in Whelan’s The Divorce of Lady X, and in this scene the Colonel Bogey March is heard coming from the bath.
“A street called Straight”, The Needlewoman acrostic. Balto and Shanghai Express. “Vital witnesses”, Madame Kummer (the false Miss Froy).
Da Groodt Doppo, Il Grande Doppo, Le Grand Doppo, his “disappearing cabinet”. Sherlock Holmes and the fight in Torn Curtain. A projected trip to the National Hospital.
The nun in high heels (English with a Bandrikan husband), the accident victim with no face, loss of blood.
“I know too much.” “Precisely.” A children’s governess, to all appearances.
The train diverted onto a branch line. “Things like that just don’t happen.” “We’re not in England now.”
The Man Who Knew Too Much, first version. “The old hand hasn’t lost its cunning.”
The Bandrikan tune bears “the vital clause of a secret pact between two European countries.”
The 39 Steps, whistling. The pacifist barrister, shot dead.
Test Match in Manchester, Foreign Office.
In the first few minutes, it represents a storm at sea, a shipwreck and a massacre. The first fifteen minutes are cut with extreme rapidity. The stagecoach scene includes a one-second POV shot from the driver’s seat, and jump-cutting to indicate his haste departing Jamaica Inn. This opening concludes with a tracking shot on Sir Humphrey in his dining room, with his horse prominent in the foreground (for all this, cf. Murnau’s Nosferatu).
A few lines of Byron introduce a transition, then opens a sequence recognizably heralding Virgin Spring and Kurosawa. The lynching sequence takes up the savagery and ferocity of the opening, with a reaction shot of Maureen O’Hara anticipating The Birds; the escape has a bit of subtle camera work elsewhere avoided in this film. It also has a scene Beckett must have admired, Mary and Trehearne are in a cave (the sound is characteristic) talking when an object is lowered on a rope behind them. The theme is continued with a joke on “three men in a tub” descending the same rope.
After this, material unfolds that transpires in The 39 Steps and on to Family Plot (note the cliffside struggle). The ending might recall The Scarlet Pimpernel, but it plays on a larger scale.
The key film to Hitchcock’s system in at least one of its aspects, and to a good many other films as well. Also, a transitional film that attains a real picture of a black hole, and then lets the light in. One of Laughton’s more monstrous makeups actually enables him to give a sharp caricature of Hitchcock, which is a good trick in itself and the keystone of a sovereign film.
Hitchcock’s first American film is about an Englishman who kills his first wife and marries a young girl. Essentially, it’s a variation on the theme of Blackmail.
The structural point that informs the earlier film (a systole and diastole of collapse and resumption) weighs in architectonically.
The main problem for Hitchcock is to establish the gag (Mrs. Van Hopper=Mrs. Danvers) as swiftly as possible. So, in the Monte Carlo overture, he drops all the activities of a director and embarks upon a meticulous carelessness that you will find in all of his American films. In effect, he tells the crew to film these scenes comme il faut. The result is a survey of Hollywood style, which also lays the groundwork for To Catch a Thief, and is almost certainly an inspiration of Nabokov’s Lolita.
Where his film precisely begins is at the moment when young Mrs. De Winter sees Manderley for the first time. Hitchcock folds up the structure to introduce crazy Ben, then resumes it brilliantly. Ben, who only knows he doesn’t want to go to an asylum, is to Maxim de Winter as Mrs. Van Hopper is to Rebecca.
The theme is thus closely related to King Lear as a study of conformism. Lear’s elder daughters simply want to live the life they read about in magazines. Rebecca wants to make Manderley “the showplace of England”.
There is an astounding quantity of material related to other films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Servant, Scarlet Street, etc. There’s a flavor of Jamaica Inn, and a foretaste of Citizen Kane. C. Aubrey Smith anticipates John Williams in Dial M for Murder. Even Pnin and Ada are fleetingly adumbrated.
An enormous amount of attention has been paid to creating the second Mrs. De Winter, so that when she changes into an evening dress, for example, a momentary alteration of the character is perceived. This is an extraordinarily precise rendering, even for Hitchcock, and fully half the film depends on it. Olivier’s precision is called upon for extremely swift acting.
To Catch a Thief is also prefigured in the distress signal (a thematic cue from Jamaica Inn). The fire at the end is from Jane Eyre. Admiral and Lady Burbank are perhaps a joke.
The material is reworked from The Lady Vanishes (kidnapping and double, secret treaty clause), as Hitchcock pointed out.
North by Northwest in the Netherlands with a long straight road and an airplane, even a touch of Torn Curtain.
HOT[EL] EUROPE, “biggest story of century”, the bath scene figures in Donen’s Charade and ends with Room Service.
Vertigo at the cathedral tower (but also The Lavender Hill Mob), where the quick few frames of the murder attempt are put to use by Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey (the charging pod).
“You cry peace, peace, and there is no peace.”
Lifeboat for the survivors on a wing in the Atlantic.
Van Meer is treated to bright lights and swing music, confidences and torture.
After gauging his entrée with Rebecca, Hitchcock shows himself at once a complete master of the American style. This is combined in the course of the film with his British style.
The substance is a newspaperman’s instinct for a story, per se.
Crowther of the New York Times was so utterly rebuffed by Robert Benchley’s beautiful analysis of a “foreign correspondent” sending government handouts to his editor that he bravely called it “a travesty”.
The Amsterdam streetcars resemble Vertov’s The Man with a Movie Camera, the assassination of Van Meer is taken from the Odessa Steps in Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin.
Truffaut thought it was “a B picture”, never mind the stylistic model is The 39 Steps.
“Crime reporter” Johnny Jones, from Cohan.
The Universal Peace Party figures in Dmytryk’s Mirage, the phony assassination in Donen’s Arabesque.
The key construction element is the traitor’s daughter. George Smiley has a similar case, dir. Simon Langton.
Van Meer’s vision is Capra’s at the close of Meet John Doe.
It is the last week of peace, with a coda the following April.
Welles’ Mr. Arkadin reckons Fisher’s fate.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Hitchcock told Truffaut he’d done Lombard a favor and filmed Krasna’s screenplay “as written” because he had no understanding of the characters in it, which seems the disingenuous professional remark of a Guild member with a flop on his hands (Frankenheimer lavished himself on 52 Pick-Up and afterward said it was for the money), so much for this incredibly funny, superbly racy, perfectly filmed and unmistakably Hitchcockian comedy.
David Smith of Smith & Custer has a portrait of Shakespeare in his office, brief as Hitchcock’s cameo, enough to sign this Taming of the Shrew. And when the press and public fail, Hollywood picks up the pieces, I Love Lucy’s writers had a good time with the essential premise and subsidiary material, The Andy Griffith Show enjoyed Mr. Smith’s night out.
Custer’s second drink causes the room to oscillate slightly as background to a medium close-up, there may be no direct relation to Gradisca’s boudoir scene in Amarcord except by way of Notorious.
The tenet of dramaturgy is later expounded to the skies by Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life), whereas in this instance not even a would-be angel but a man from the county office in Idaho informs Mr. and Mrs. Smith they are not married. Custer, school chum and law partner, takes her in hand, an honorable Southern gentleman still in training from his football days and rather up in the air.
Smith, before he strategizes, dines out with a new chum from the steam room at the Beefeaters Club who knows a couple of lively ones.
Lake Placid in the snow is the scene of the final battle.
A succession of images, like Büchner or Welles. It passes through, among other things, Beaky and Aysgarth as Falstaff and Prince Hal.
The superacute dialogue is a trademark of Hitchcock, from the days when he would avowedly devise it. Beaky speaks racily somewhat, and his catchphrases pall in tempo with his meaning.
The formal spring of Blackmail is here two or three times: deflation, followed by a renewed breath on a higher scale.
The Picasso gag, if that’s what it is, is followed immediately by mention of The Hogarth Club.
The hilltop scene in Torn Curtain, the lady writer in The Birds, much of Shadow of a doubt, and the timpani theme from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, are all here.
Saboteur is an American version of The 39 Steps, it completely fulfills a progression of complexity and brilliance through Secret Agent and Young and Innocent. None of these subsequent films has been seen, let alone admired, in its true capacity.
The ring of spies is now a ring of saboteurs, again well-placed in society, not agents but fifth columnists. They desire “a more profitable type of government”, consider totalitarians as more competent, “they get things done.”
One (Otto Kruger) is a rancher and prominent citizen in Springville, outside of Los Angeles. His operative (Norman Lloyd) burns down an aircraft plant, the next step is to knock out a dam supplying power to the rest.
Another (Alma Kruger) is a renowned New York society matron who is seen berating a servant, a charity ball at her mansion is attended by the cream, including admirals and generals. Operatives from the Manhattan “office” of the “firm” are shifted to her home due to police surveillance, the main thrust in New York is the sinking of ships.
An aircraft worker literally stumbles over the operative and perishes in the flames, his best friend (Robert Cummings) is accused and flees, tracing the operative. He meets a blind man out of Whale’s Frankenstein and travels with the man’s niece (Priscilla Lane).
The script by three or four hands is steadily brilliant and dramatically complex, Hitchcock’s filming matches it all the way. The famous scene at the Statue of Liberty is “the last refuge of a scoundrel”.
Hitchcock’s regrets about the film to Truffaut are not justified by it but on the contrary rather forced upon the director by a continual inability to perceive Saboteur on the part of critics led, it would appear, by Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, who did not notice that the movie theater in the movie was the Radio City Music Hall he sat in.
Shadow of a doubt
The title is so given, Continentally. The three movements begin with a dual exposition reflecting on Kafka, Charlotte is Gregor Samsa’s sister, the world is her oyster. Charles is Joseph K., two agents attach themselves to him, he spurns them from a higher vantage. Charlotte and Charles are both known as Charlie (niece and uncle).
Charlotte’s conversion is initiated by a dick adhering to Charles. Her uncle is the “Merry Widow Murderer”.
The third movement begins very abruptly with the culminating notion of Charles as a benefactor, a fairy godmother. His three attempts on Charlotte’s life (as a witness, in opposition) are cut stairs, a locked garage and a fall from a moving train. The last kills him.
Speculative murder as a sort of party game prepares the theme of Rope. The European position is brought home most forcefully by Hitchcock with the preponderating assistance and cooperation of Thornton Wilder.
The sum total of all possible analysis and contemplation is given by reflection, from the smokestack at the first to the passing ship at the last, in the works of Fellini.
Technical considerations are beyond all reckoning, and Hitchcock frees himself for a tight continuous vantage of dramatic flexing toward the closeup with a varied camera that generally handles the editing.
A strange line of criticism was broached by Crowther, who was much too much impressed by Stroheim’s Rommel (Five Graves to Cairo), too.
“We wanted to show that at that moment there were two world forces confronting each other, the democracies and the Nazis, and while the democracies were completely disorganized, all of the Germans were clearly headed in the same direction. So here was a statement telling the democracies to put their differences aside temporarily and to gather their forces to concentrate on the common enemy, whose strength was precisely derived from a spirit of unity and of determination.”
The screenplay is by Hitchcock first and last. “I had assigned John Steinbeck to the screenplay, but his treatment was incomplete... found another writer, Jo Swerling, who had worked on several films for Frank Capra. When the screenplay was completed and I was ready to shoot, I discovered that the narrative was rather shapeless. So I went over it again, trying to give a dramatic form to each of the sequences.”
Truffaut saw this “in Paris toward the end of 1944.”
The problem was to invent a person who, at the furthest possible remove from Occupied France, finds himself in it. A Scottish air gunner with the RAF escapes from a POW camp and is helped by the Resistance back to London. An officer in the Deuxième Bureau debriefs him there, then reveals the truth of his escape.
An English cigarette in a French café is like “‘Vive De Gaulle’ in Gestapo HQ” (cf. The Quiller Memorandum), the Scotsman’s Polish comrade-in-arms lights one to lure a Vichy spy and two Maquis, then kills the one to prove himself to the others, he is a Gestapo agent.
The aim is to secure the names of everyone along the escape route, and see the Scotsman off in a plane to unknowingly deliver a private letter to a German contact in Britain.
He is a cheerful, inoffensive mac, this sergeant, very young, always hungry and entirely trusting in the faux Godowski.
“Un film Phœnix, Londres”.
Théâtre Molière (London), its poster fills the screen. A man with his back to the camera enters right (he is in Free French uniform), passes in front of the poster and a sign, “Stage Door/Fire Guard”. He enters a dressing room where two actors are making up at lighted tables on the left, he sits down with his back to them at a similar table on the right and begins undressing. He says he doesn’t know how to play his part, the actor in the left foreground relates his Madagascar adventure, wherein the former Tananarive chief of police has a leading role, a resemblance to the actor who has just entered and the character he is to play inspires him to this.
Paul Clarus (a nom de guerre, the actor plays himself) or Clarousse had been a lawyer in Madagascar, his adventure begins shortly before the fall of France. A silk merchant is charged with Customs fraud, silk is missing from the government depot. Clarus for the defense formally charges the chief of police with hatching the plot himself for the reward paid on discovery. This will be recognized in It’s a Wonderful Life.
Veterans propose to defend the island, the chief nixes that. No-one is allowed to leave, Clarousse organizes regular escapes. He is caught and sentenced to death. Pétain commutes this to five years at hard labor in a penal colony (Clarus is a veteran).
A British warship rescues him en route, he begins broadcasting Madagascar Libre in several languages. He has already decided the choices are three, German slavery, Japan’s yoke, or going on one’s knees to Britain for help. He prefers the latter, his advice is not to fight the British.
They land, and raise the French flag. The chief is arrested.
Two details show the construction midway between both versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Clarousse is betrayed by the fiancée of a man on the escape route, they were about to be married. The chief responds to the English landing by hiding his Vichy water (the joke is from Casablanca) and placing a portrait of Queen Victoria on the wall of his office. The camera dollies in to the crest above this maternal figure and the motto, “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense”.
The actors, now in costume for the play, are called to the stage. The man on the right (his character is a German officer) abuses the lawyer (an ordinary Frenchman) to show he has understood the anecdote. He leaves the dressing room the way he came in, followed by the third actor (un flic) and the Frenchman.
“It was a true story, and Clarousse told it himself. But when it was finished there was some disagreement about it and I believe they decided not to release it.” (Hitchcock to Truffaut)
Spellbound has a key, which is the name of the mental institution, Green Manors (Green Manners). It displays a concept of psychosis related to Prince Feisal’s view of T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s film. “With Major Lawrence,” he says, “mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners.”
The structure is in three parts, a comically Freudian view of repressed sexuality, a consideration of mental breakdowns, and the re-ordering of the mind as a murder mystery.
What is more important than the structure is what you find inside it (unless they’re one and the same), an homage paid to the great Spanish painter Salvador Dali, centered around a brief dream sequence devised by him.
Dali and his wife (and model) Gala are closely mirrored by Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. The resemblance is spellbinding. Dali may well be regarded as the foremost artist of his century, with all due respect to Sir Herbert Read and Vladimir Nabokov (to take two points of view), respectively. That an Englishman should have paid so fine a tribute is all the more remarkable in that Dali himself said he could live anywhere but in England, perhaps (who knows?) because George Orwell was a critic.
End of the war, “we’ll leave that for the appeal.” A bad hangover and l’entre deux guerres. Brazil, Rio, I.G. Farben.
Ben Hecht likes a tight script, indeed, Hollywood has never seen a wit so dry. But he deals out jokes in the overture, as when a drunken Ingrid Bergman tells a sober Cary Grant that her car is outside and he replies, “naturally.”
The actual film begins (after a hilltop scene that also figures in Torn Curtain and Suspicion) with a two-shot in closeup of Grant and Bergman kissing, it moves with them over to the telephone (more kissing), and then to the door (still more), when he leaves. A tour de force, technically speaking, but the real point is simply to be so hot and heavy it establishes Grant’s champagne bottle in the next scene, standing unattended on Louis Calhern’s desk.
“Marriage must be wonderful, with this sort of thing going on every day.” It multiplies into several nervous-making bottles of wine on Claude Rains’ sideboard, and finally explodes into his opulent wine cellar full of black powder (uranium ore). So ends the first movement. Impressions of the Nazi leadership. “I tore my ankle the last time.”
“I hope you feel better in the morning, Emil.”
“Thank you, and I’m very sorry t-to make a scene before strangers, I’m very sorry.”
“Thank you, Alex, for an excellent dinner, and please tell your mother for me that the dessert was superb.” Exit, fade to black. Coppola grasps this finely in The Godfather. On the other side, “gentlemen, it’s the cream of the jest.”
After an entr’acte, closely related to Psycho (Claude Rains and his mother) and Rebecca, Bergman is served little cups of coffee tainted with poison (the main inspiration for Rosemary’s Baby, probably, but cp. Under Capricorn) until Grant takes her from Rains’ house in a scene that ends exactly like The Birds, just after another tour de force, the floating camera down the staircase (cf. Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for the finale, with Rains).
The famous cocktail party at which the director quaffs a glass of bubbly goes far to redress the ball lopped by RKO from The Magnificent Ambersons, Hitchcock’s sickbed shot pays further homage to the director of Citizen Kane (cf. Billy Wilder’s The Apartment).
“When I started to work with Ben Hecht on the screenplay for Notorious, we were looking for a MacGuffin...four or five samples of uranium concealed in wine bottles... this, you must remember, was in 1944... no need to attach too much importance to it... simply the story of a man in love with a girl who, in the course of her official duties, had to go to bed with another man and even had to marry him... we did try for simplicity” (Hitchcock to Truffaut).
“This is truly my favorite Hitchcock picture; at any rate, it’s the one I prefer in the black-and-white group. In my opinion, Notorious is the very quintessence of Hitchcock” (Truffaut to Hitchcock).
“The formidable ovation given Frenzy at the Cannes Festival redeems the contempt that greeted the presentations there of Notorious (1946), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1957), and The Birds (1963)... you could go again and again to see films like The Big Sleep, Notorious, The Lady Eve, Scarlet Street, but these movies never hinted to us that we would become filmmakers one day. They served only to show that, if cinema was a country, Hollywood was its capital” (Truffaut).
Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema), “James Agee perceived the novelistic nuances of Hitchcock’s visual storytelling in Notorious, but most American reviewers have failed to appreciate the Hitchcockian virtues of vividness and speed as artistic merits.”
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “it is one of the most absorbing pictures of the year.” Variety, “force entertainment.” Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), “the most elegant expression of the master’s visual style.” TV Guide, “it's a dangerous chocolate box of poisoned candy.” Leonard Maltin, “top-notch espionage tale... frank, tense, well-acted... amazingly suspenseful”. Wally Hammond (Time Out), “a great film.” Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “classy suspense tale”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “some of Hitchcock’s best work.”
The Paradine Case
Losey in England begins with such a film as this, and though Wilder pays close attention to it in Witness for the Prosecution, Losey may be said to have tackled in true measure all its implications of style and substance time and again, certainly with The Gypsy and the Gentleman, The Go-Between, and The Romantic Englishwoman.
Hitchcock at top speed is streamlined (cp. Number Seventeen) by a more abstract style, The Paradine Case is simply too fast for most audiences and critics to perceive, let alone comprehend, even Agee (who charges it with wordiness), so that a director prized for his swiftness as much as anything else is called to account for a film in constant motion seen by Crowther as “static”, which is exactly what happened to Preminger with Saint Joan.
The actual position of The Paradine Case in Hitchcock’s œuvre is among the very finest things he ever achieved, yet it has been held for years a castaway in one of his “slumps”. It’s the tale of an absolute bloody fool of a barrister whose affections are estranged by an exotic client on trial for murdering her blind heroic husband for love of his valet. Hitchcock exercises all his art to display an English wife in a true vision of her splendor as virtuous, intelligent and beautiful as a perfect counter to this, he ranges the boudoir of the accused out of Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera for dreamlike gorgeousness, he shows the corrupted mind of the barrister in a crooked legal technique and manner, and lets him slink out of the bomb-damaged Old Bailey like a mouse with its tail between its legs only to be embraced in his fall by his own grass widow, all in scenes of the most acute rendering but fatally beyond any consideration of the audience or the studio whatsoever.
Constable is prepared by a church steeple in Cumberland, then Hitchcock gives you a landscape (bridge and stream with cows, Lake District hills) by the painter.
The judge has a wife, Lady Horfield hates a capital case for the “nervousness” it brings her mate. He is unruffled, she knocks over a glass and, while he picks up the shards, expresses an impossible wish for exoneration.
The valet’s call upon the barrister in his room at an inn takes place at night under a glass lampshade that incarnates Col. Paradine’s country house nearby, the two men are situated in its purview or domain, under its authority or not, this is a virtuosic piece of direction exactly understood by Losey.
Franz Waxman takes a bow onscreen as Francesco Ceruomo for his delightful score.
The script by several hands finally passed under Selznick’s, and with any due apology to the critics, it is perfect.
Hitchcock’s remarks to Truffaut on The Paradine Case are to be dismissed utterly as trifles against a commercial failure, preserving however his justifiable pride in certain artistic flourishes for a colleague’s delectation.
Rupert’s game leg from the war, discernible at the last, gives the game away.
The camera technique is in service of the unbearable presence, of which Crowther backwardly writes in the New York Times, “and this may be simply a matter of personal taste—the emphasis on the macabre in this small story is frightfully intense. And it seems to this public observer that time could be better spent than by watching a waspish cocktail party in a room with a closely present corpse, placed there by a couple of young men who have killed for a thrill and nothing more.” So also Variety, “could have chosen a more entertaining subject”, probably reflecting the ennui of the young principals and their native hysteria, an important study in its own right.
Nietzsche is put off the course of modern German history at the end by Rupert’s denunciation.
Pinter’s Party Time and The New World Order are exactly cognate.
Rupert’s discovery is mirrored in Gilbert’s Alfie. He gives Walt Whitman’s definition of democracy.
The themes are characteristically Hitchcockian (Blackmail, Rebecca, and so on), the technique and style as well (Juno and the Paycock, Number Seventeen, Notorious, Rope), yet it meant nothing at all to critics who said it was unlike Hitchcock, who also made Jamaica Inn, and they didn’t like that furious masterpiece either.
Whether as a function of such criticism or not, Losey made good use of the material in The Servant and The Go-Between. Russell’s prime study is Gothic, with Fuseli’s nightmare in its own right.
The thrilling camerawork has begun to be noticed even by those who are not French directors of the Nouvelle Vague, but Hitchcock’s production company went as bankrupt as Rembrandt and Whistler (“the bank reclaimed it,” Hitchcock tells Truffaut, speaking of Under Capricorn).
As always, in the face of such a defeat, the blame is shared out everywhere. Bergman complained, Cotten wasn’t Burt Lancaster, Cronyn was inexperienced, Bridie couldn’t write third acts. Somehow the picture was made despite these obstacles.
The structural angle is groom marries lady, housekeeper wants groom.
Lady shot brother in self-defense, groom took the blame and was transported to an Australian chain gang. She insists on joining him there, he becomes rich.
To this Irish couple in New South Wales, an Irish governor and his nephew. The lady is wasting away in drink and terrors, nursed by the housekeeper. The nephew, a brilliant young man of no fortune and an old friend of the lady’s, tries to cheer her up into reclaiming her household duties, usurped by the housekeeper.
Stage Fright is among the most perfect of Hitchcock’s films, in a particularly comfortable and rich style inaugurated with Under Capricorn that finally caught on with the critics and public in Strangers on a Train (unless we are to concede Bosley Crowther’s point that suspense was lacking). Not even Truffaut liked Stage Fright.
An ornate safety curtain slowly rises during the opening credits on St. Paul’s and vicinity after the Blitz. The famous “false” flashback is a sequence of three scenes, from The 39 Steps (Hannay’s flat), Number Seventeen (the camera from a position in the street enters No. 78 with Richard Todd and climbs the staircase to a dead body), and finally Shadow of a doubt for the return to the present as Todd eludes two detectives.
Cinderella is the overriding theme (Mankiewicz’s All About Eve was released that year).
The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and Spellbound (Jane Wyman and Todd at her father Alastair Sim’s seaside home) lead to Sim’s evocation of Boleslawski’s imagination exercises directly from the book.
The delicate tessitura of voices in the pub is Hitchcock at home, he has evolved a point of technique as a last scrap of overheard conversation there and then a policeman’s word behind Wyman’s back at No. 78.
Sybil Thorndike’s salon is one of the greatest comedies Hitchcock ever achieved, he delivers it in installments.
Marlene Dietrich’s theatrical extravaganza is prepared by Murder! or The 39 Steps, “The Laziest Gal in Town” not only registers on film but at the same time, in one of Hitchcock’s most virtuosic displays, leaves a sense of theatrical triumph in the minds of an unseen audience as well, all the time a backstage drama is working itself out.
Hitchcock insisted with Truffaut that the theatrical garden party to aid the Actors’ Orphanage was satisfactory. The brollies are from Foreign Correspondent or The Rake’s Progress, the shooting gallery scene is again a comedic triumph. The long shot of Dietrich onstage, arms raised, briefly suggests the tragic muse of old, just before Sim cuts his own hand for blood to smear on a doll’s front to shame the actress with...
And back to the theater. Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, Charlotte’s dog (her nickname’s Charlie), the murder that began the series, a possible third murder to prove insanity, curtains for the culprit.
Detective and acting student walking off in pools of light.
Strangers on a Train
Analyses are “many and various”, because the scenes are. English and American critics are humped over the mystery of character, Truffaut notes An American Tragedy, Chabrol and Rohmer a visual plan (initial record player and concluding merry-go-round, in the one instance) anticipating Torn Curtain (Hitchcock: “Isn’t it a fascinating design? One could study it forever.”).
We have in Hitchcock’s “Back for Christmas” (Alfred Hitchcock Presents) a very similar joke (from The Lodger, like Psycho) on Hitchcock in America, or else Strangers on a Train may be regarded as a political satire on the rich and powerful. The storm drain sequence inverts the end of The Third Man. Prof. Collins drunkenly reclines, half an X, and stretches out his hands to Guy in gesticulation, one of several mirrors to the encounter.
Bruno is identified with Thomas Jefferson because “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” His snobbism suggests rather an avatar (cf. Gass in Huston’s The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean). The elaborateness of the joke is a nightmare heightening of effect in a truly monstrous film.
Lumet’s Lovin’ Molly picks up the two swains (“Triumph and Disaster”) with Miriam for a Jeffersonian game of doubles, and there is Allen’s Match Point.
Anne, the senator’s daughter, carries a torch for Guy, the tennis player. Wealthy Bruno takes it up and drops it down the storm drain on his way to planting it as evidence at the murder scene, he has strangled Guy’s two-timing wife Miriam at a carnival Isle of Love. He reaches down through a grate, straining to the uttermost, to retrieve the lighter (“From A to G”, recalling Dorothy Parker’s famous squib on young Katharine Hepburn). So much for the “abnormal psychology” also noted by Truffaut.
The horses’ hooves on the merry-go-round nearly pound Guy, who is not a snob, and when the brake is applied after the operator is accidentally killed by police, Bruno is crushed to death, releasing the lighter he has palmed.
The true complexity of the work is in the combination of variables, the piece by Hans Lucas (Cahiers du Cinéma 10) is a masterpiece of circumlocution. These notes are only, at best, a step in the right direction.
Bum-crazy (according to some academics) crazy bum (he is an idle dropout with plans for “smelling a flower on Mars”) Bruno has been seen as a projection of Guy himself (the self-love of a tennis pro, presumably), he is rather the Shakespearean villain (Iachino, Iago) in a tight, modern setting.
The performances (except Walker’s) are sometimes disprized, notably by Hitchcock with a showman’s disdain for his wares. The mechanism of the direction is responsible for this (Crowther disliked it), the unreality of the representation or joke enforces it, therefore Ruth Roman is statuesque, apperceptive and sensitive, Granger is fluid not ductile, Patricia Hitchcock brilliant, wounded and vivacious. On the other hand, the director must praise the cinematography.
The dog at the top of the stairs is Herbert Marshall’s in Foreign Correspondent, thus the nature of the pirouette observed by Truffaut, Mr. Anthony in bed is Bruno (the dog growls at first, then ostentatiously licks Guy’s hand). An inexhaustible masterpiece upon which critics and analysts have lightly exhausted themselves.
The little Freudian joke has Bruno help a blind man to cross the street. Hitchcock is said to have called Strangers on a Train his first real film in America.
A priest does not wear a cassock to dun a man or cancel his sojourn among the living, though little girls eating policemen’s biscuits might think so.
The priest’s calling is a much rarer thing and hardly to be spoken of. Pinter completely mystified John Simon by explaining nothing, whereas Hitchcock is notoriously a wine-bibber of prevarications at a pinch.
The film has been badly misunderstood over the years, and is beginning to be seen in patches, for this or that among its virtues. Owing to which, perhaps, we have The Wrong Man (just as Auden & Kallman wrote The Rake’s Progress to accommodate singers’ mannerisms, Hitchcock might have made a film to fit the misapprehension).
Madame loved a soldier who wrote her serious letters she didn’t want, she married a Member of Parliament instead. The soldier is now a priest, her husband addresses the question before the House, parity for “female schoolteachers”.
The murdered man wanted a tax break, he knew Madame had a liaison.
Hitchcock at the top of the stairs, DIRECTION, DIRECTION, DIRECTION...
A perfectly made film, perfectly real.
Dial M for Murder
A very curious film, this represents the development of the flat in Murder! with the little still life in it, a profound movement necessitated by that work, and having as its immediate inspiration the provocations of Strangers on a Train (Ray Milland at the outset is right out of his mind as the husband, and those lamps revolve in dolly shots like little merry-go-rounds) and Notorious (the key). The strenuous labors of Rope have paid off here in a subtle depiction of time passing in a given room.
The phone call announces the montage in Sylvia Miles’ apartment from Midnight Cowboy, and the body on the floor is cited from Manet. Tippi Hedren’s quadruple look in The Birds is Grace Kelly’s ordeal “expurgated, accelerated, improved and reduced,” which itself is doubtless imagined out of Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, the film Hitchcock modeled half of Murder! on.
Inspector John Williams combing his mustache at the end is more than just an evocation of one of Hitchcock’s jokes, it is related to Godard’s use of hands in Détective (a pianist placing one hand over the other, congruently, before attacking the keyboard), and the signature of a film whose 3-D version is as much to be preferred as the Globe to a proscenium stage.
It looks back on Foreign Correspondent and the war, entirely the basis of the action (and just ahead to the “affluence” of To Catch a Thief).
To Catch a Thief
The theme is stated in the opening shot, France, a place one travels to. The English ally, “it’s a kind of travel folder heaven where a man dreams he’ll go when he retires.” John Robie’s prewar anecdote suggests a continuation of The Serpent’s Egg (dir. Ingmar Bergman), the theme continues in a way through Saraband...
A fille du régiment takes up cat burglary d’après (cf. Terence Young’s Triple Cross). A projected trip to South America (“people say it’s a virgin country”). Becker’s Touchez pas au grisbi premiered a year earlier. Manet’s black cat (for Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema a “visual correlative”), Republican France, Imperial France.
“The American woman with the diamonds and the daughter” (cf. Asquith’s The Yellow Rolls-Royce). The extensive second unit process photography directed on location by Herbert Coleman under Hitchcock’s supervision in Hollywood anticipates Torn Curtain. The fireworks are those of the Fourth and the Fourteenth. “You know, I have about the same interest in jewelry that I have in politics, horse racing, modern poetry or women who need weird excitement, none.”
“Everyone who counts will be there... it’s an eighteenth-century costume affair.”
“Almost everybody in Philadelphia reads the Bulletin” (after the great Bergmanesque passage outside the Sanford villa).
Hitchcock introduces himself by way of a gag in Renoir’s La Règle du jeu more closely imitated in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, and cites La Grande illusion on the searchlighted roof. Kelly invents Deneuve. Suspicion is reversed on the road above Cannes, with Grant. The twofold conclusion is repeated in North by Northwest.
A film of great complexity and range, it will be observed for example that the arrival of the police and flight of the suspect at the beginning are mirrored in Shadow of a doubt... after the funeral of Foussard, the homicidal wine steward with a Diaghilev shock in his hair, the conversation at Kelly’s car with an up-angle of overhead power lines in the reverse shot is repeated after dinner at the Brenners’ in The Birds...
The evident inspiration for Edwards’ The Pink Panther, also derived from Conway’s Arsène Lupin. The feminine career of the purloining Cat and Samuel Fuller per contra on the tigrero or cat-catcher (vd. Kaurismäki’s documentary), at one and the same time.
Delmore Schwartz of The New Republic started writing “a dud” but suffered a sea change and ended up with “vividness and vitality of personality, genuineness of experience, a renewal of the excitement of curiosity and wonder,” for what things like that are worth.
“Whereas literary experts nowadays praise a play or a book only in so far as it conclusively seals all exits round it (cf. James Joyce’s Ulysses or Samuel Beckett’s Fin de Partie), we on the other hand praise To Catch a Thief, Eléna et les hommes, Voyage to Italy or Et Dieu... créa la femme because these films conclusively open new horizons” (Godard, tr. Tom Milne).
“That happened in the winter of 1955, when Alfred Hitchcock, having completed the location shooting of To Catch a Thief on the Côte d’Azur, came to the Saint-Maurice studios, in Joinville, for the postsynchronization of the picture. My friend Claude Chabrol and I decided to go there to interview him for Cahiers du Cinéma. Armed with a long list of intricate questions and a borrowed tape recorder, we sallied forth in high spirits.
“In Joinville we were directed to a pitch-black auditorium, where a loop showing Cary Grant and Brigitte Auber in a motorboat was being run continuously on the screen. In the darkness we introduced ourselves to Hitchcock, who courteously asked us to wait for him at the studio bar, across the courtyard” (Truffaut, cf. Edwards’ A Shot in the Dark).
“Once more Hitchcock remains absolutely faithful to his perennial themes: interchangeability, the reversed crime, moral and almost physical identification between two human beings” (Truffaut).
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “does nothing but give out a good, exciting time.” Variety, “while a suspense thread is present, director Alfred Hitchcock doesn’t emphasize it, letting the yarn play lightly for comedy more than thrills.” Time Out, “lightweight”. TV Guide, “a bubbly and effervescent Alfred Hitchcock romantic-suspenser that finds the Master in a relaxed and purely entertaining mood.” Tara Brady (Irish Times), “it’s all very superficial, but carried off with impeccable style.” Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “fluffy romantic thriller”. Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian), “superbly insouciant”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “very slow, floppy and rather boring”, citing Variety furthermore, “a drawn-out pretentious piece”.
When in Rome, “it was a lightweight story” (Hitchcock to Truffaut, vd. Woody Allen’s remark on Hollywood Ending).
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Early morning in a seaside trailer park, a system of shots establishing this, including an up-angle or rather a knee-high shot of a convertible’s front end, which figures in North by Northwest. The progression of shots becomes an interior, with a quick pan across the kitchenette, then the bedroom with its sleeper and alarm clock concludes on a note from Rich and Strange (the shipwreck).
Young couple, his first day at work. She clings to his morning kiss in bed, he makes breakfast. He returns from work, a cake is burning in the oven, she’s unconscious. “They killed me.”
He takes her to a hotel, she sees the salesman who throttled her. He goes up to the man’s room and beats him with a wrench. They drive along the coast, she sees the salesman who throttled her...
This is Browning’s “Parting at Morning” (after “Meeting at Night”), expounded as a tertium quid. The murder is laconically presented as a shadow in a mirror. The punchline is not a secret, but the tempo accomplishing this most certainly is, the point being that it comes as a complete surprise to the husband.
The wife’s situation of torpor is repeated in The Wrong Man, and with the same actress.
The Trouble with Harry
The true structure is indicated by Captain Wiles, naturally, who shoots a beer can and a No Hunting sign and a rabbit, and thinks he’s ended Harry’s existence.
The related exemplar is Goldilocks, Harry is too cold with his wife, too hot with Miss Gravely—and just right as the artist from Tuscaloosa.
The main technical initiative evidently is landscapes derived from The Thirty-Nine Steps, for example.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The tale is of the utmost simplicity and starkness. A New York executive vacationing at the seaside receives a telephone call from an accountant in his firm whose job has been eliminated to accommodate a new sales program. To the executive’s disgust, the man on the telephone is crying.
Driving home, the executive encounters a detour that leads him to a prison road gang climbing onto a truck. A skip loader emerges on his left, he swerves to avoid it and hits the truck. When he comes to consciousness, his neck is broken and he cannot move even to close his eyes. The guards are dead, the prisoners have fled, and he is entirely alone.
What follows figures prominently as a theme of Poe’s. “Well,” Hitchcock observes, “that was a bit of a near thing,” after the man has just escaped premature burial. The teleplay borrows from Dickens the indignities suffered by the immobilized executive, and Hitchcock supplies a most brilliant analysis of intercutting static shots on his inert, staring protagonist, whose thoughts are expressed as voiceover dialogue.
The Case Of Mr. Pelham
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
A specific circumstance allowing Hitchcock to make a unique formal joke obtains in the omission of opening credits on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. “The Case of Mr. Pelham” is that someone is apparently impersonating this mild, quiet, conservative bachelor, taking his place at his own investment firm when he is out of the office, appearing at his apartment while he’s away, completely fooling his butler, who is the only other resident.
Buñuel must have had this somewhere in his mind with Cet obscur objet du désir, since it’s all filmed as flashbacks to a conversation in Pelham’s club between the unfortunate gentleman and a psychiatrist, over drinks. The dolly shot bringing the two men from the bar to a table convinces you this is Hitchcock, but a wavy dissolve to a flashback dissuades you.
The psychiatrist counsels a change of habit to throw off the studious copycat. A split screen at the end gives the butler a choice, but his master would never wear such a loud tie, as the double in his apartment points out, adding directly to Pelham’s face, “You’re mad.”
Pelham is committed to an asylum, and his usurper goes on to become a millionaire.
Back For Christmas
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
As in “The Case of Mr. Pelham”, Hitchcock’s hand is revealed almost at once in a superb camera movement. Mr. Carpenter is digging a wine cellar downstairs in his English home, the camera to the side at one end tilts up along the suspiciously familiar trench to domineering Mrs. Carpenter standing above the other end. After she goes upstairs, Mr. Carpenter checks her statistics in their passport.
The joke here, which is broad enough to bear a few divergent interpretations, is that Hitchcock’s American version of The Man Who Knew Too Much premiered three months later. Mr. Carpenter in his Wilshire Boulevard apartment learns that his wife ordered a surprise for him, a professional conversion of their cellar to store wine, including a refitting of the walls and a new floor.
Long takes punctuate this major little opus, a static shot of the two at lunch eating and conversing, another of Mrs. Carpenter changing the dust cover on a hanging lamp in preparation for their trip to America (Mr. Carpenter holds the stepladder), another of Mr. Carpenter hiding in the foreground from a couple who have just come through the front door in the background, and a mainly static shot on the balcony of the Los Angeles apartment where Mr. Carpenter has beer with breakfast (“it’s just the thing”), types letters signed with his wife’s name, receives a guest from his new place of employment, and greets the maid, with slight camera movements to accommodate the action, which extends from medium close-up to far background, each time returning to the fixed position.
The technique is from The Lodger and Juno and the Paycock. Camera movement is minimal and, when required, punctual. The main feature apart from these steady scenes is a matter of camera position and editing. After lunch, the Carpenters have guests, and the camera stays mostly on a close-up of Mr. Carpenter standing at the hearth, listening and smiling at them.
This is where Los Angeles gets described as “large, casual, and very disorganized.”
The Man Who Knew Too Much
The unique example of Hitchcock holding the ground gained, which results in a million facets like the diamond in the last shot of his last film.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The country squire’s daughter bops her lover on the head with a croquet mallet felicitously shown later on, the body is dumped down a sewer in the stable, the unfortunate fellow’s rival goes to gaol.
Thus, over tea, a well-conducted British marriage, with a sideshow of the daughter’s monologue to the camera like a Bergman.
The Wrong Man
A tricky problem is cited in a complicated series of abstractions. Difficulties of structure and form are entirely determined by the anecdote.
The problem is the nature of inspiration. The veni creator spiritus excites a rivalry that is as much illusion as you please, but extricating the human subject is generally a long process.
Here we see the Whitman doubling as materially represented, the inner man filling out his portion to rob a Mom and Pop deli.
The dual beauty has the subject’s wife repine that she has failed him, her depression reaches madness, time and treatment cure her.
Godard famously puts this alongside Dreyer’s Ordet, two miracles.
Truffaut wanted a documentary, but praised the film in his review.
The Kafka theme (The 39 Steps, Shadow of a doubt) gets introduced in this way, a long evening at the Stork Club winds down, Balestrero walks out the front door just as two policemen are passing, and he becomes one of their number.
Mr. Blanchard’s Secret
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Hitchcock’s own version of Rear Window as a comic parody with a simple explanation. It opens with a page of typescript being proofread by a mystery writer who keeps her husband up at night speculating on the neighbors, where is Mrs. Blanchard? Why is Mr. Blanchard teaching in a small-town high school (he is English, with a vague resemblance to Hitchcock)?
The action proceeds very much like the original, except that after the writer has been surprised in the Blanchard home, Mrs. Blanchard pays a visit. Mr. Blanchard swiftly collects his wife.
After a second visit, the silver table lighter is missing. Mrs. Blanchard, then, was not murdered as a dangerous drunk, but is kept on a tight leash as a kleptomaniac. The story gets written that way, typed and stacked.
Mr. Blanchard’s secret is, he’s good at fixing things like table lighters, he and his wife present it at the door.
Hitchcock applies a quintessentially English technique in long takes and precise setups that take in all the components of a shot as complete views, telling loads about the people in each island selected by the camera, a sofa and writing table, a corner of the kitchen, the bed where dithering drives a husband under the covers.
One More Mile To Go
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Long shot of an isolated house at night. A closer view, outside the window. A husband and wife are arguing, her bitter words can’t be understood, the camera shifts position a bit as they move, he finally takes a fireplace poker and bashes her brains out. There’s blood on the cuff of his sweater. He wraps the body in the trunk of his car with chains and weights, drives to the water.
A motorcycle cop stops him for a busted taillight. He dutifully goes back a mile to Bob’s Super Service. A new bulb is installed, doesn’t work. The cop arrives, jiggles the light on with a crowbar to the trunk, the key having gone missing.
The drive continues, down to the water (it looks like the approach to Bodega Bay). The cop again, no light, there’s a mile to the headquarters garage. They drive off, the fin tail has a fixture shaped like an eye or mouth, it blinks on and off.
Hitchcock has his Kafka theme twice over in the two thieves who tie up the husband for the explosion that never happens and the beetle observed by a little boy, they’re side-throws to the main act, an insanely jealous man who attains sanity and something more at the end of his ordeal.
“Breakdown” for Alfred Hitchcock Presents is a similar analysis of immobility and repentance.
The Perfect Crime
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The great detective explains murder as a work of art, not the crime passionel, nor the lust for gain, but simply the elimination of a person from the world. He longs to add a trophy from the perfect crime to his glass case. “How would you know about it?”, asks his visitor, a defense attorney.
The detective’s latest triumph is an error, the man condemned and executed was covering for his mistress, who killed her husband because he refused to grant her a divorce. The attorney has been out of the country, knew the parties and can prove the facts.
The detective throttles him with a bent elbow and disposes of the body in his ceramics kiln. The ”special clay” resulting from this is re-fired in the form of an unglazed white flower vase small enough to fit into his trophy case.
A period flavor adds the chivalric note. Hitchcock has the dialogue arranged in the manner of Dial M for Murder or Rope, with a flashback to the crime as it happens in the attorney’s telling of it to the thunderstruck New York detective (only a man in London and one in Paris can compare to his fame, he is acknowledged by the attorney as the greatest detective in all the world, recalling Hannay’s jest on the wolves in sheep’s clothing who chase him round the heath and under a rustic bridge one dark night—a Kafka number from The 39 Steps).
The theme is stated three times, by Gavin Elster in his office, by Pop Leibel in the Argosy Book Shop, and by John Ferguson at the top of the belltower, it is “power and freedom”. This, the most anguishing of Hitchcock’s critical and commercial failures, could hardly have been more straightforward.
The power and freedom of yore, Carlotta’s day, the power and freedom that comes with killing Mrs. Elster and liquidating her family business, which is shipbuilding.
Kubrick nevertheless drew vital material for 2001: A Space Odyssey from the nightmare sequence and the tone of voice in Elster’s office.
The past recaptured leads to the truth of the thing, exposes the memory and makeover created for a false witness, and cures the patient of acrophobia so severe he cannot stand on a footstool and must resign as detective on the San Francisco police force.
The false Madeleine has an obsession with the past, the true one is murdered to secure a future for Elster. Between them, the present is imperceptible, Ferguson neglects Midge at her drawing table busy representing a brassiere that “works on the principle of the cantilever bridge.”
Lamb To The Slaughter
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The murder weapon is a frozen leg of lamb, cooked by the murderess and then eaten by investigating officers. The victim is her husband, a policeman who had just announced he was leaving her, pregnant as she is.
The novelistic touches of realism are very bold, a sweep of headlights across the front windows as he pulls in, the bright light from a doorway as she crosses the dark garage to the freezer.
The ending is precisely a foretaste of Psycho, as she sits against a wall in the next room giggling while the officers, who have searched high and low for the weapon used by a supposed burglar or jealous mistress, exclaim just how delicious her cooking is.
Dip In The Pool
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
An awe-inspiring masterpiece, though the technique is very plain, as Nemerov said of Barnett Newman.
Anything to escape a culture-vulture voyage. The pun and the punchline only build to the secondary point that was the main one all along, about the tourist.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
A man in bed with a snake, his business partner calls the doctor, certain facts about their situation become evident. “I made you a drunk,” says the calm and smiling partner. There is a Julie, from France.
The scene is Malaya, a bedroom, a single lamp.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
A cod, serviceable food, presented with the utmost style.
The murderer is brought to the scene of his crime, an actress plays the victim as ghost, he confesses and is arrested. As in “Revenge”, it isn’t the punchline that counts but the reaction to it, a really dumbfounded ex-Inspector in 1903 (John Williams, who with Max Adrian and Reginald Gardiner is a corking table wine next to port and sherry, while Kenneth Haigh brings in the Burgundy and Hilda Plowright supplies the liqueur).
North by Northwest
A great picture of conversion to the cause, like Ford’s The Rising of the Moon. A New York advertising executive, mother-bound and provincial, is treated to a Kafka exposition (Welles, The Trial) and bourboned toward oblivion, at first he rebels but then (at the art auction) he summons the two himself, and again (at the hospital) orders bourbon on his own.
The Founding Fathers, of course, and the founder of national parks.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
His address to the camera is just the sort of urbanity that is usually reserved for a two-shot or champ contre champ to frame the story (“The Case of Mr. Pelham”, or Buñuel’s Cet obscur objet du désir). A fickle female goes into the feed he gives the chickens he raises and strangles on a one-man farm in New Zealand (the style pointedly recalls Dial M for Murder).
Laurence Harvey picks up the theme again in Abroms’ “The Most Dangerous Match” for Columbo.
The Crystal Trench
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
It exists by virtue of the Alpine murder in Secret Agent, and is to be understood in that light.
Even the telescope on the terrace is present to witness a death on the summit in 1907 and the body exhumed by a wife faithful forty years.
Cp. “The Long Morrow” (The Twilight Zone, dir. Robert Florey).
The film is divided into two nearly equal halves or acts. The first ends with Marion’s car sinking into a swamp, the second with the car emerging.
The hidden blazon is a tacit Chinese poem rendered by Pound.
Who among them is a man like Han-rei
Who departed alone with his mistress,
With her hair unbound, and he his own skiffsman?
“Let the dead bury the dead” is the injunction Sam heeds too late, and Marion also is bound up with her family. The force of nature or of love perverted takes its way. “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven” applies to her.
The material is first of all seen in The Lodger to a surprising degree. Marion’s inept thievery is observed again in Torn Curtain (a clumsy defection).
Goya’s sleep of reason for the owl (with plain implications for The Birds), Rear Window for Lila’s investigation. Mrs. Bates’ room looks like the prepared boudoir in Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera, in a way. The nursery has Herrmann’s beautiful memory theme from The Twilight Zone (“Walking Distance”, dir. Robert Stevens). The shrunken head in Under Capricorn establishes an obvious relationship.
The final psychoanalysis is a most bitter critique. The joke is you’d have to be crazy to turn down Marion.
Mrs. Bixby And The
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
A regularly unfaithful wife, her lover’s payoff.
She brings it home as a pawn ticket for her husband to redeem. He gives the mink jacket to his secretary and buys the wife a moth-eaten scrap.
The colonel is a horsey fellow, the material is a foreglimpse of Marnie.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The material is curiously related to I Confess like a kyogen in a Nō cycle. The theme is a comfortable one, a priest (Claude Rains) with a leaky roof reluctantly places a wager through the auspices of a new parishioner (Ed Gardner) whose odds at the track have improved by prayer.
The priest confesses to the bishop before the race and is told to pray that the horse will lose.
The surprise conclusion on the second Person of the Trinity is a very useful gag, and tosses in the widow’s mite for good measure.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The farceur of Waltzes from Vienna has become the Master of Suspense in an excruciating demonstration of the art.
The nephew (Billy Mumy) has a toy six-shooter his friend calls “cheesy”. Uncle Rick (Steve Dunne) is back from a business trip to Africa, a hot and backward place, with a pistol in his suitcase. The nephew switches weapons and saunters off to the supermarket.
The prince’s wet dream of fencing to save his wife’s honor yet again is a joke in Waltzes from Vienna treated here as a supermarket demonstrator (Marta Kristen) who offers the little outlaw a snack so he doesn’t shoot anyone on an empty stomach (cf. North by Northwest).
Back home, he takes a potshot at the Negro maid (Juanita Moore) and hits a mirror.
Hitchcock draws a moral on gun safety. The State of California later enacted a law, following on several police shootings of children with toy pistols, requiring toymakers to equip their pistols with bright orange tips. Purists will argue this takes the fun out of it, but the uneconomical alternative would have been to tattoo “BOY” across the forehead of every male infant.
I Saw the Whole Thing
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Hitchcock opens with a longitudinal shot of a city street and sidewalk, pans right on one of the strollers who stops at a corner for a conversation, positioned exactly at the corner of a building, beginning with the young man’s reference to the young woman’s “warden”. The stroller departs, a screech of brakes is heard five times in succession as five bystanders are seen to respond to the sound of an accident at the intersection. Each witness turns to look, and a freeze-frame concludes each shot: the young woman, a man in his rose garden, a driver on the road, a drunk outside a bar, a woman at the bus stop. A high-angle shot shows a car leaving the scene, and a motorcyclist lying in the intersection.
This is the complete incident, which sets up the trial in which the car’s owner defends himself, but the initial conversation is the central introduction. The defendant’s wife is in the hospital, trying for a third time to give birth. Though she never appears, that is the actual basis of the story, surrealistically presented.
Hitchcock was inspired by Du Maurier’s story, of which he seems to have retained only the idea of birds attacking. He engaged Evan Hunter, who had written an adaptation for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, to work out the screenplay with him. On the evidence, it can be inferred that the work is substantially Hitchcock’s, although the only dialogue that can be ascribed to him is an interpolation in the dune scene, which Hunter thought deficient. The restaurant scene, written by Hunter solely, is by comparison essentially undramatic and serves as relief, as well as preparation for the gag that follows. Hitchcock omitted the ending’s continuation into a speedy getaway as the birds tear open the soft convertible top of Melanie’s Aston Martin and are eluded on a hairpin turn.
Hunter credits Hitchcock with the sequence of Melanie crossing the bay (Hunter would have had her drive around), which is meticulously detailed in the script down to the indication MATTE for the process shots. Melanie Daniels’ name suggests the sweetness of honey and dens of lions. Mitch Brenner sounds ardent. Annie Hayworth suggests an affair of the moment. These small details and grand conceptions are what the script is made of, and lest it be thought one is belittling Hunter, he himself disavows any deeper attachment to the work (perhaps out of modesty) than a mutual wish to “scare the hell out of people.”
It’s almost certainly Hitchcock’s greatest film, though it is often described as “second-rate” Hitchcock, placing it in a class with Jamaica Inn, Torn Curtain and Topaz, films that are not second-rate anybody. Blackmail is the standard of perfection, a Miltonic Nō play, but the rather more Shakespearean elaboration and cinematic drive of The Birds surpass the earlier film’s congruency to cinematic form (which is stunning and beautiful) by no longer considering the problem, or rather by inventing “a sequence of images” that allows for a visual expression. And yet, it seems equally absurd to say that, for example, Hamlet is Shakespeare’s greatest play, particularly if you are a critic (like Shaw, who did not think such a thing, and whose “correction” of Cymbeline is almost certainly a joke). Only a failure to grasp the scope of The Birds can have led Stanley Kauffman in The New Republic to describe the acting as “objectionable.”
The title is now as familiar as “the Mona Lisa” and must be translated to appreciate its all-encompassing strangeness. Les Oiseaux, Die Vögel. It’s the title of an ornithological book by Roger Tory Peterson in the Life Nature Library that was published the same year, 1963. The Birds opens in Union Square, a cable car goes by with an advertisement reading “Top of the Mart” as the camera pans left on Melanie (Tippi Hedren) crossing the street and passing behind a poster reading “San Francisco” which fills the screen and allows a traveling matte to complete the pan on the Universal lot as she enters Davidson’s Pet Shop (Hitchcock exits the store simultaneously with two small dogs on leashes).
Melanie has come to pick up a mynah bird. He hasn’t arrived yet, says Mrs. MacGruder. Melanie asks if he’ll talk. Well, yes, says Mrs. MacGruder, well, no, no, you’ll have to teach him to talk. This is when Mitch (Rod Taylor) enters the shop. He asks Melanie if she can help him, and is made to repeat the question. They dance, so to speak, around this garden of Eden misnaming the birds until she accidentally sets free a canary in the shop. The two women chase it briefly, until it lands in an ashtray and Mitch covers it with his hat. (“Can the mystical reside in a hat?” asks Bosquet. “It always resides in hats,” responds Dali.)
The scene must be monitored closely, because it lays the groundwork for the ”detached-center” maze that follows, the only analysis possible of the film relying entirely on this rallying love duet in “the language of the birds” (and see D.O.A. for a prime example of the form). Melanie scans the sky like a haruspex before entering the shop, and comments on the gulls. “Well, there must be a storm at sea,” says Mrs. MacGruder. “That can drive them inland, you know.”
Only a full-scale analysis taking into account at every moment composition, editing, sound, script and acting will render The Birds justice. At least, there are two scenes that register the entire film and can be settled on for the nonce. One is the dumbshow of the final attack on the Brenner home (before Melanie is attacked in Cathy’s room), and the other is a little scene in two parts when Melanie sets off from the dock. Her co-star in this scene is Doodles Weaver, who registers dismay and confusion over this high-class dame setting off in one of his motorized rowboats with a pair of lovebirds in a cage. Hitchcock puts the camera on his face in a medium shot to record this silently, then cuts to the boat below the dock. The camera has a view from beyond the prow, Melanie is seated in the stern, and Weaver covers her body almost entirely from view as he reaches behind her to start the motor, before climbing out and up to the dock. There is nothing untoward in this scene except the camera’s view, Melanie is serenely undisturbed and has the same quality of unconcern that Mitch shows in some psychological “moments”.
The film has much technical artifice, and was a long time in preparation. There are various degrees of effect, all of them governed by artistic necessity. The process shots that figure as composites in the scene of the children running into town are utilized in Melanie’s boat trip rather as Hitchcock used miniatures in the Thirties (that is, freely and frankly), but note the insertion of one as a reaction shot when Melanie rises at the sight of the crows on the playground. There is an effect of composition, a heightening of the visual field, just as the trains in Number Seventeen introduce another dimension, willy-nilly if you prefer, but regarded as such in the artistic economy of the whole.
At the end of the sequence, Mitch is seen to drive around the bay into town. The delicate line of this idea, which recurs several times and in the last shot, originates in Vertigo.
Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy) is introduced with two jokes, one in the dialogue and one in the screenplay. She asks Mitch what he’s doing in town, and he says he had to acknowledge a delivery. While she’s reflecting on this, he grins and says, “Mother, I’d like you to meet...” However, Lydia has now taken in his earlier response, and before Mitch can say the name, Lydia asks, “A what?” A couple of lines later, the screenplay reads, “Lydia thinks she understands. This is one of Mitch’s San Francisco chippies.” The enigmatic look on her face is developed from Psycho, consciously. This scene and the next tracking shot of the pair outside the Brenner home establish the important resemblance of Lydia and Melanie. After dinner, Melanie sits at the spinet piano under a portrait of Mitch’s father, and plays “a Debussy Arabesque.” Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) discusses Mitch’s work as a lawyer, with a wife-murder story that recalls Shadow of a doubt. Lydia on the phone discusses chickens that won’t eat (the composition of this shot, with Mitch and Melanie seated in the background, is notable).
The relationship between Mitch and his mother is all but telegraphed in the kitchen scene. “I know what I want,” he says, and kisses her on the cheek. He wants a girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad.
The unconsciously passionate dialogue between Mitch and Melanie continues outside, until she drives away and he notices a whole flock of birds sitting on the wires.
The dune scene, which Hunter oddly calls an interpolation (it’s in his script, so he must mean the dialogue changes), originally ended with Melanie whispering into Mitch’s ear what she had planned to teach the mynah bird to say to her old Aunt Tessa, and then, ashamed, suggesting they go down and join “the other children.” In the film, this is dropped and instead her mother is mentioned (her father runs a newspaper), which causes her to turn away.
Now, as brilliant as all this is, Cathy’s birthday party enters the realm of El Ángel Exterminador. The lickety-split editing sets the mark also for the chimney swift scene that follows, and the aftermath, as Lydia picks up the debris, serves as contrast to the slow elaboration of a joke.
Lydia’s come-and-go at Dan Fawcett’s farm is a variant of the Vertigo theme and akin to North by Northwest. The essence of the scene, which all occurs from her point of view and is very Hitchcockian, comes at the end when she emerges speechless from her pickup truck and pushes Mitch and Melanie apart to pass between them into the house. Later, inside, the two exchange “a long, full kiss.”
Lydia’s expressed fear of being abandoned is the first of two Cocteau themes (Orphée is cited at the end when Mitch goes to the garage to find out if there is news on Melanie’s car radio), this being Les Parents terribles. The theme of motherhood is developed in the schoolhouse sequence. Melanie sits outside and smokes a cigarette as the children inside sing an accumulative rhyme, and the crows gather. The broken eyeglasses are perhaps the only reference to The Battleship Potemkin in the film (a monologue by Mitch on the revolt of the birds was not used).
There is a curious elision in Hunter’s restaurant scene: one of Miss Bundy’s speeches is left blank, with a note on a vague explanation offered by her, to be obtained from Dr. Stager (presumably this is Kenneth E. Stager, the ornithologist). Miss Bundy picks up the theme by buying a pack of cigarettes from a machine in the restaurant, opening it and lighting one twice. Melanie’s one-two-three-four look at the filling station fire can be traced back through The Maltese Falcon to The Spy in Black and probably beyond. The continuation of the scene has all the women with their backs to the camera, including Miss Bundy, like Melanie in the dune scene, and a mother becomes hysterical, staring at the camera (Melanie) and raving, “I think you’re evil!” All this is not without dramatic value, and shows the interlocking structures and developments that constitute the form. Annie’s death naturally concludes the sequence.
Now comes the grand attack on the Brenners and Melanie. It begins with Mitch seated at the piano but with his back to it, facing the room. His mother comes in and sits in a small chair against the wall beside the piano. A wide shot shows them in the background on the left, while to the right, Melanie on the sofa is holding a compress to Cathy’s bleeding head. As the birds strike, Mitch jams logs onto the fire. A gull crashes through the window, he fights it off and pushes it back. His arm is bloodied by gulls pecking at it as he reaches out to close the shutter, agonizingly. Lydia is now comforting Cathy, and both are cowering in a corner (high angle). Mitch puts them in a nearby chair. Lydia grabs his uninjured arm and attempts to stop him from going, but he gently pushes her back and crosses to Melanie, who wants to treat his bloody arm but he waves her back. The shrieking birds are pecking through the door, so he moves a mirrored coat rack against it. The situation is still precarious, so he gets a hammer and nails to secure it. Once he has nailed it the lights go out with a plaintive cry. The attack subsides.
Melanie goes upstairs with a flashlight and is upstairs in Cathy’s room. The hole in the ceiling is from Mrs. Miniver (and is repeated in the unfilmed continuation of the ending, when the birds tear open the roof of the speeding convertible). The birds attack her, she opens the door a little but is forced against it, fighting ferociously but slowly overcome (the scene comes from Psycho, and may be said to foreshadow Frenzy and Family Plot in some respects). She calls Mitch’s name and softly cries for help.
The final scene has distinctly a flavor of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Mitch is in the driver’s seat of Melanie’s fast car. Cathy sits in the passenger seat with the lovebirds in their cage on her lap (Mitch’s birthday present). Lydia sits behind Mitch cradling Melanie’s bandaged head. Melanie is semiconscious. They drive slowly out through a world of birds standing on the ground, toward the sunlight streaming between clouds, and are lost around a bend in the distance (a shot derived from the ending of Notorious). There is no end title, but a title card has the words A UNIVERSAL RELEASE.
The exact comparison for Shakespearean formality, stylistic ingenuity and magnanimous dispositions of ambiguity is Melville’s Moby Dick, a thesis no doubt defended countless times.
Ezekiel 6 and Isaiah 5 are cited, the genuine verse explicating the visitation is no doubt Malachi 4:6, “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
The final disaster is not without precedent in the œuvre but is exactly mirrored in Lifeboat, which provides the key.
The informative red herrings are a special class of Hollywood screenwriting before the dénouement, they generate much material that is later collapsed, Marnie and her mother are the main beneficiaries of this.
Polanski seems to have grasped the entire film at once in Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Bitter Moon, etc.
Inattention to the film has caused several misapprehensions about the acting (which is perfect) and the mise en scène (Minnelli uses background plates profusely in The Clock).
The brutal nature of the understanding conveyed requires the somewhat brutal technique because it violates a taboo on the mother-in-law as incapable of representation beyond such caricatures as Kiss Me, Stupid by Dodo Merande out of Billy Wilder, a film made that same year.
The material in its origins goes back as far as Blackmail.
When Truffaut came to Hollywood to see and interview Hitchcock, the very latest film they discussed was Torn Curtain (their first meeting was a brief one in France, where Hitchcock was in post-production on To Catch a Thief and Truffaut was literally wet behind the ears, along with Chabrol).
“I got the idea from the disappearance of the two British diplomats, Burgess and MacLean, who deserted their country and went to Russia. I said to myself, ‘What did Mrs. MacLean think of the whole thing?’”
Truffaut didn’t care for the first third of the picture, which depicts a remarkably clumsy spy observed at nearly every turn by his fiancée.
“We emerged into the blinding glare of daylight, literally bursting with excitement. In the heat of our discussion we failed to notice the dark-gray frozen pond in the middle of the courtyard. With a single step forward we went over the ledge, landing on a thin layer of ice, which immediately gave way.”
The quandary faced by Hitchcock with the first score by Bernard Herrmann resided in its perfect identification with the image, this everywhere is ideal save in the nullifying effect it has on the murder of Gromek (where John Addison achieves a pathos through distancing), and as this is the pivotal scene, Herrmann’s entire conception was thrown out.
The “faculty interrogation” strongly resembles the dream in Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, just as the bus ride from Leipzig to Berlin recalls Murnau’s Sunrise, but perhaps these are incidental considerations.
Dr. Armstrong dumps his girlfriend to see the head man in his field and kills Gromek along the way (he of the defective lighter), Prof. Lindt is “brilliant”, he “jumped a step”.
Variety took a dim view, Bosley Crowther in the New York Times scoffed and jeered. The bus is shortly remembered in Nichols’ The Graduate, the ballet is Francesca da Rimini with Paolo in hell, “One day we reading were for our delight”.
Or, a strictly Hitchcockian thriller on the marriage theme, like North by Northwest. The heating system has malfunctioned on the ship at Osterfjord, Norway, Dr. Armstrong and his assistant, Sarah Sherman, share a bed to keep warm, perhaps, anyway he won’t marry (“you’re on the wrong boat”). His mysterious plans don’t include her but Prof. Karl Manfred. The two men fly to East Berlin, she sits in the back of the plane. Armstrong, however, is unofficially linked to a secret organization behind the Iron Curtain known as Pi, the Greek letter that resembles a pair of legs protruding from a skirt, he is not a defector.
The screenplay is full of complicated, disjunct and analytical imagery. The farmer and his wife are members of the organization, she helps Armstrong subdue Gromek and stick his head in the gas oven of her kitchen. Dr. Koska at Karl Marx University is also a member, she trips Armstrong down the stairs to confer with him while treating his bruised ribs in the university clinic.
Lindt has solved the Gamma 5 problem, an anti-missile defense system. Armstrong bluffs his way into Lindt’s workroom, the two men compare notes, Lindt upbraids the ludicrous American with the correct answer. East German security men have found Gromek buried on the farm with his motorcycle, Armstrong flees along the escape route arranged for him and his assistant, after hastily noting the correct Gamma 5 formula. An ersatz bus on the regular line to Berlin, peopled with Pi, is stopped by deserting soldiers who demand money. Police give an escort, the bus is obliged to pick up a very slow-moving and astonished old woman.
The couple must reach the Friedrichstraße Post Office and Herr Albert. Lost, they meet a Polish countess who desires a sponsor for emigration to America. Herr Albert sends them to a travel agency that is being raided, the farmer now in city clothes finds them across the street outside a television store and sends them to the ballet, where the prima donna in the role pirouettes and recognizes them at every turn. Police block every exit, Armstrong seizes upon a scenic effect and yells, “Fire!” Amid the panic, the two are safely stowed away on an East German ship bound for Sweden with this Czech ballet troupe and its costume baskets, where they hide.
A successful feint in harbor gets two other baskets machine-gunned at the ballerina’s insistence while the couple swim ashore, accompanied by the troupe’s baggagemaster in his red wig, defecting.
A photographer tries to snap the couple through a transom as they sit before a fire, each wrapped in a blanket, Armstrong spreads his to cover them both completely, with their backs to the photographer.
Hitchcock reserves his very finest cinematography (“it’s very good,” says Truffaut) to the precise usages of a brief sequence in Berlin that has Armstrong evade Gromek in a museum on the sound stage with consequences for the final sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“You know, it represented a drastic change for me. The lighting projected against big white surfaces. We shot the whole film through a gray gauze. The actors kept on asking, ‘Where are the lights?’ We almost attained the ideal, you know, shooting with natural lights.”
The factory scene omitted “for time” was probably too much anyway. Because Crowther could not comprehend the exacting precision called for in the performances by Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, he was prepared to accuse Lila Kedrova of overacting as the countess. This shows how far Hitchcock has ventured into something new at the risk of total incomprehensibility among film critics.
“But I’m not happy with the transparencies for that scene [the bus]. For economy reasons I had the background plates shot by German cameramen, but we should have sent an American crew over,” cf. Lang’s Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse.
A tale of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The film can be described as a color modulation through the spectrum of topaz from red in Red Square to Vermeer yellow to irradiated artificial blue and finally the clear light of Paris. This has structural significations overall and locally or topically, in a kaleidoscopic range of inflections.
The subject is the Cuban missile crisis, a Russian defector reveals an aide-mémoire on assistance to Cuba, the neutral French are asked to photograph it, there is a Soviet spy ring in the French government, its code name is Topaz.
Kusenov’s daughter leaves the masculine egregiousness of May Day in Red Square for a factory tour of a Copenhagen porcelain works, the fine flowers are molded in paste, color is applied, she drops a figurine that smashes so as to escape a KGB escort, fleeing Den Permanente she falls over a bicyclist, her bloodied knees in a U.S. Embassy car protrude from her dress like a voluminous and sudden pair of breasts, there is some gunplay, the surrealism of this tacit Kafka opener ends with her sobbing. Ensconced, however, in a stately home outside Washington, D.C. with her mother and father and household staff (the housekeeper is from Rebecca), she settles down in her yellow boudoir to play the spinet in Vermeer’s The Music Lesson.
The French intelligence agent André Devereaux is nominally a commercial attaché in Washington, he has a mistress in Cuba who keeps him informed, his wife is coldly jealous. The Americans have no-one in Cuba since the Bay of Pigs, he ferrets out the facts in Harlem (aide-mémoire) and Havana (missiles and troops), the mistress (shared with a high Cuban official and “widow of a hero of the revolution”) dies in a pool of purple cloth on her chessboard floor (cp. Jamaica Inn, Notorious and Family Plot, Scorsese mimics the shot in Goodfellas).
Devereaux is called back to Paris for that breach of protocol just as Kusenov identifies his former contact there, a high NATO official, and names the leader of Topaz as code-named Columbine (Madame Devereaux is, alas, Columbine’s mistress). Both agents are confronted, both die as suicides or murdered by the Russians, or Columbine escapes.
The details are exceedingly fine, the very minute technique of Torn Curtain is intensified throughout. There are numerous little citations from Hitchcock’s earlier work, Rear Window and Foreign Correspondent and the long lens of The Birds in Harlem, Notorious descending a staircase, The Trouble with Harry in a “portrait of a dead traitor”, The 39 Steps (“Topaz is a code name for a group of French officials in high places who work for the Soviet Union”), etc.
The film was disagreeably shortened before release and a new ending shot to replace the duel between Devereaux and Columbine, which is perhaps meant to evoke (though fought with pistols) the swordfight engaged upon by Serge Lifar and the Marquis de Cuevas in 1958. The new ending (with consequences for Hitchcock’s last, unfilmed project, The Short Night) has Columbine depart from Paris on an Aeroflot passenger jet as Devereaux and his wife simultaneously return to Washington via Pan American.
A third ending, actually released, suggests that Columbine kills himself in Paris. A montage of images from the film (the Pietà of a Cuban husband and wife tortured by the regime, Kusenov’s Paris contact dead, Devereaux leaving Cuba) then concludes in the one shot common to all three endings, a newspaper on a park bench near the Arc de Triomphe, “Cuban Missile Crisis Over”.
Hitchcock has a single image throughout, a symbol or emblem like the “City of London” in the opening frames (a helicopter shot along the Thames through a drawbridge), it first appears on the river as a cleanup program is announced, the speaker is interrupted by the sight of a naked girl strangled by the tie she’s wearing.
The Blaney Bureau (“Friendship & Marriage”) is the site of its second appearance as the proprietress who has just been seen to congratulate a domineering woman and her jockey-sized mate.
Richard Blaney’s mistress is the next victim, found amid potatoes sent back to be plowed under because of unprofitability (and in fact blocking the motorway).
Finally, there is the murderer Rusk assailed by Blaney but discovered to be a blonde victim in Rusk’s bed.
The key details of Blaney’s career are his previous business ventures, a roadhouse that failed when the motorway was changed, riding stables “pulled down by the council”, and his military service as a decorated squadron leader in the RAF during “the Suez business”.
Canby, who had done so well by intuiting the genius of Topaz, meant to praise Frenzy by calling it a meaningless roller-coaster ride in the dark, swelling the point with an observation, “film, after all, is a lesser breed of art.”
The very effective byplay of a sally toward the Continent gives Blaney perhaps the felix culpa that prevents him.
The charm of Inspector and Mrs. Oxford is that they are filmed in the manner of Dial M for Murder.
Mancini’s score, like Herrmann’s for Torn Curtain, was perfect genius with the Max Steiner touch on the screen, melding with the pictures for an inner life of London crime, not at all Ron Goodwin’s emblematic score.
The Wrong Man is brought into play usefully, and the material dates back to The Lodger. Hitchcock himself hears the opening speech in a derby hat. Blaney’s character supports a more correct reading of Clayton’s Our Mother’s House, and of course there is Shadow of a doubt to be evoked.
The indomitable Mrs. Porter and the Salvation Army doss may be considered as literary jests at a certain angle, whereas Inspector Oxford’s investigation reflects Sir John in Murder! (Büchner for the “good juicy string of sex murders” at Covent Garden market).
The artiste is a storyteller, it’s a métier on wisps of the will, the dear departed fledglings of inspiration come back as hauntings of the patron receptive to such ministrations.
Another artifice, another practice defines the rogue pure and simple. Since the task of the one is to confer grace on the other, it stands to reason that an impossibility obtains. And since it was ever thus, the spinner of tales is likely to be more prescient.
The famous schematic graveyard scene looks like an abstract of I Confess, and the injection administered in the garage resembles the wrestling match on the cliff in Jamaica Inn.
The Short Night
Hitchcock’s last project was begun with Ernest Lehman and brought to a level of completion near its final polishing with David Freeman, who published the screenplay in 1984.
A British traitor, Gavin Brand, is sprung from Wormwood Scrubs Prison by IRA “boyos” and heads East. Joe Bailey is put on the case at 21 in New York after a game of court tennis (Bailey’s brother is one of 42 people whose deaths are attributable to Brand, who makes it 43 when he strangles a woman named Rosemary shortly after escaping, because she resists his advances).
Brand is said to be obsessed with his family, particularly his two young sons. Bailey goes to Finland, meets and falls in love with Brand’s wife Carla, who is watched over menacingly by a Soviet housekeeper named Olga.
Brand arrives, tries to kill Bailey and then his wife (by locking her in a sauna with a leaking gas pipe). A Finnish police detective helps in the pursuit as Brand takes a train to Moscow with his sons in tow. The detective commandeers a freight train, but a showdown is averted when Brand continues on his way alone.
In this degree of finish, a relation to Number Seventeen (and Rebecca, North by Northwest, Frenzy, etc.) is perceptible, also Lean’s Doctor Zhivago, Anderson’s The Quiller Memorandum, Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain, Huston’s The Mackintosh Man, etc.
The opening is a crane shot from a close-up of chrysanthemums up, over and down the prison wall to Brand, whose escape (while the rest of the prisoners are at the cinema) is effected by means of a rope ladder. The working title is probably a joke.