Film / Stage Fright

Stage Fright is a 1950 crime thriller film, based on the short story Man Running by Selwyn Jepson. It was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The main stars were Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding and Richard Todd.

The events of the film take place in London and involve students of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Eve Gill (Wyman) is one such student. She has long had an unrequited crush on fellow student Jonathan Cooper (Todd). One day, Jonathan interrupts her rehearsal. He is frantic and seeking her help. He explains that he got himself in a mess. He is the secret lover of Charlotte Inwood (Dietrich), a well-known singer and actress. Who happens to be married. Or rather WAS married. He claims that Charlotte killed her husband in an argument and then left her house in a bloodstained dress. She visited him in his apartment and got him to go back to her house. He was only supposed to get her a clean dress. He decided instead to re-arrange the crime scene and make it look as if the death was the result of a burglary gone wrong. He got caught in the act and is now on the run. He is a wanted man and needs a place to hide.

Eve convinces her father, Commodore Gill (Alastair Sim), to help Jonathan stay out of sight for a while. The Commodore notices something peculiar in the bloodstained dress Jonathan carries with him. The blood spatter is not random enough to be accidental. It looks as if someone deliberately smeared the cloth in blood. Eve concludes that Charlotte has framed poor Jonathan for the murder. She decides to investigate Charlotte and her activities first hand. She bribes Charlotte's maid to play sick for a while and poses as temporary replacement "Doris Tinsdale".

Both as Eve and Doris, our amateur sleuth meets Detective Inspector Wilfred Smith (Wilding) and starts falling for him. But all is not as it seems. Charlotte may have benefited from the murder but there are clues that she is not the actual killer. Jonathan may not be as innocent as he acts. Smith knows more than he is willing to share with Eve. Charlotte convinced Jonathan to kill her husband for her. Much of his sob story was fabricated. He has actually killed before and has a violent temper. He eventually turns on Eve and tries to kill her too. Even the flashbacks are unreliable.

Provides Examples of:

  • Amateur Sleuth: Eve Gill.
  • Blackmail: Eve bribes Charlotte's regular maid to take some sick days from work so Eve can get close to Charlotte as the temp maid. The maid then begins blackmailing Eve for more money.
  • Chiaroscuro: Used to great effect in the film's climax.
  • Clear My Name: Why Jonathan needs Eve's help. Subverted when he turns out to be guilty.
  • Creator Cameo: As usual with Alfred Hitchcock. Here a very obvious one, as he walks right past Eve and glances back at her as Eve is going over her fake "Doris" identity.
  • Distressed Dude: Jonathan. Wanted by the police and in desperate need of protection.
  • Doting Parent: The Commodore is apparently willing to do everything for his daughter, including harboring wanted criminals.
  • Driving a Desk: Very obvious on mutliple occasions as people are driving around.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Eve pulls this on Charlotte.
  • Fainting: Eve does this in a very obvious manner to prevent Smith's partner from catching Jonathan.
  • Femme Fatale: Charlotte Inwood. The 49-year-old Dietrich gives a sexier performance than Wyman.
  • Graceful Loser: Charlotte Inwood takes the news that she's confessed to being an accessory to murder rather well.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Jonathan is implied to have ended up this way after the stage's safety curtain lands on him.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Must be dreadful to sing and dance and be gay with that horrible picture still burning in one's mind."
  • In Medias Res: The movie opens with Eve driving a panicked Jonathan to safety. He then tells her the story of how Charlotte got him to clean up for her after she killed her husband.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Charlotte knows her new temp maid is called "Doris" but keeps calling her things like "Elsie" or "Mavis".
  • Meaningful Name: Averted with Charlotte's maid, Nellie Goode. See Blackmail above. Lampshaded by Eve's father.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Wyman, playing an Englishwoman, sounding like Wyman. Although she does take some stabs at a working class accent when pretending to be Doris the maid.
    • It's mentioned in passing that she was educated in America to explain her American accent.
    • This also applies to Marlene Dietrich, whose character is also (presumably) English, but who keeps her famous German accent.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Jonathan Cooper. This movie is significant because it broke a long-established cinematic convention that flashbacks were always a true account of earlier events. In this film, though, the opening flashback turns out to be a lie, a device which at first baffled then enraged cinemagoers who felt that they had in some way been cheated.
  • The Vamp: Two words: Marlene. Dietrich.
  • Widow's Weeds: Charlotte's insincerity is demonstrated in a scene where she's preening and primping while putting on widow's weeds, wondering if she can show more cleavage.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Jonathan pretends to be the innocent victim of Charlotte. He may be her victim, but not really innocent.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Charlotte was cheating on her husband with Jonathan.