The recent Warner Archive DVD release of the 1950 Hitchcock melodrama "Stage Fright" allows adding the film that generally-unrepentant Hitch acknowledges betrays the trust of the viewing public to your video library. This is on top of newly-former Mrs. Reagan (and future "Falcon Crest" matriarch) Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, and Alastair Sim perfectly playing their parts in the flick that the National Board of Review, USA includes in its list of the Top 10 Films of 1950.
"Fright" also is notable for joining Archive Blu-rays of two Hitchcock films for Warner. The aptly titled (and reviewed) based on a true story "The Wrong Man" has Henry Fonda portraying a musician who pays a heavy price for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The also reviewed "I Confess" has Montgomery Clift playing a priest with a past who agonizes over letting someone get away with murder. Any cinephile will delight in finding a bundle of these three releases under the Christmas tree or the Hanukkah bush.
The amusingly labeled curtain literally going up at the end of the opening credits sets the stage for Hitchcock to particularly show that he and Orson Welles are cousins in filmmaking; "Fright" being in black-and-white and making good use of shadows and other contrasts is another indication that Hitchcock and Welles influence each other.
Our story begins with Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) making a run for the border with the assistance of once (and future?) girlfriend Eve Gill (Wyman). An amusing ancedote by Hitchcock daughter/"Fright" actress Pat Hitchcock in a Robert Osborne-hosted "making-of" feature on the Archive release discusses Dad protecting Wyman by having Pat literally sit in for her in the scenes of Cooper wildly driving through the London streets.
Flashbacks establish that this adventure begins with stage star/current object of affection Charlotte Inwood (Dietrich) showing up at Chez Cooper in a blood-stained dress with a tale of accidentally killing her husband.
The tale continues with Jonathan going to the Inwood home to get Charlotte a clean dress. This leads to a series of mistakes that lead to the police showing up at his door. Our excitable boy rabbiting even before confirming that he is a suspect does not help things and leads to heading out of town with Eve to avoid his destruction..
After safely delivering Jonathan to her roguish and quirky father (Sim) with an eye toward Dad smuggling him to Ireland, Eve figuratively and literally returns to the scene of the crime with an intent to convince Charlotte (a.k.a. Lady MacBeth) to clear the name of Jonathan.
An ideal blend of comedy, melodrama, and meta-references ensue as Eve goes undercover as a maid/theatrical dresser. This coincides with her developing a friendship with potential benefits with "Ordinary" Smith (Michael Wilding), whom Eve subsequently learns is a police detective.
Hilarity and suspense fully erupt when Eve struggles to maintain her cover as Smith escorts her among her theatrical colleagues, a "Gaslight" style plot designed to prompt Charlotte to confess hatches, and Jonathan proves that he is his own worst enemy.
Hitch masterfully keeps several plates spinning in the air throughout the climax until the curtain literally falls on our story. We have Eve confronting not-so-sweet Charlotte and Jonathan wreaking havoc; this culminates in the reveal on which the regret of Hitch is based. It is interesting to see that this man who delights in defying conventions and expectations discover that there are some rules that should not be broken and some lines that should not be crossed.
The first big picture is that "Fright" aptly provides a story that centers around the theatrical world with a strong live-stage vibe. The second big picture is that this movie is a prime example of the more artistic and substantive Hitchcock films.
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