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Film / Stage Fright (1950)

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Pictured - the laziest girl in town on the right.

Stage Fright is a 1950 crime thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, adapted from the novel Man Running by Selwyn Jepson. The main stars are 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, and Smith knows more than he is willing to share with Eve.

Noted for how its plot twist broke a long-established cinematic convention, something that Hitchcock later regretted.

Provides examples of:

  • Accent Relapse: Eve's cockney accent slips a few times, particularly when she's nervous or distressed. She abandons it completely when she busts Charlotte.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the book, Jonathan Cooper is called Jonathan Penrose.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Eve Gill for most of the movie.
  • Angst? What Angst?: In-universe. Eve tries to use this to convince Smith of Charlotte's guilt, noting how she continues with her work so soon after her husband's death.
  • 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.
  • Betty and Veronica:
    • Eve sees herself as the Betty to Charlotte's Veronica, at least where Jonathan is concerned.
    • Jonathan himself turns into the Veronica to Smith's Betty, with Eve as the 'Archie'.
  • Black Widow: Essentially the reasons Charlotte has for killing her husband.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Subverted for a little gag early on. Eve tries to disguise herself more elaborately before she poses as 'Doris', taking her mother's glasses. But even without them, her mother recognises her instantly.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Jonathan lies to Charlotte that he didn't destroy her blood-stained dress.
  • Cassandra Truth: The Commodore attempts to tell his wife the truth about Jonathan, but she thinks he's making fun of her.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Eve being a RADA actress means she's very good at going undercover and playing a character.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • With Dietrich in the role, Charlotte naturally is an example.
      The only murderer here is the orchestra leader.
    • Commodore Gill is played by Alastair Sim at his most affable, but he still gets off some good zingers.
      I never hope to be appreciated. Yes, your mother cured me of that.
  • 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 is the film's antagonist, and is a sultry seductress. Played with in the sense that she didn't commit the murder in question.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on the novel Man Running by Selwyn Jepson, which was originally published serially in Collier's magazine in 1947.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: During the final scenes with Jonathan trapped in the orchestra pit, scrambling up on the stage, you can hear one of the policemen shouting "Lower the safety curtainnote , cut him off!". The policeman obviously means 'cut off his line of retreat' but it's heavily implied that the 'cut' part is far more literal.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The very first image in the movie is a steel fire safety stage curtain, which the opening credits play out against. At the end of the movie, the same curtain is brought down on Jonathan with fatal effects.
    • Charlotte's song "The Laziest Girl In Town" contains the lyrics "it's not coz I wouldn't, it's not coz I shouldn't, it's not coz I wouldn't" - foreshadowing that she got someone else to commit the murder in her place.
    • When Eve first meets Smith, she puts on a good act of being frail and distressed about the murder. She pulls the same trick on Jonathan in the climax to out him.
  • 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."
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Before the movie even got started no less. Jonathan taking time to smear more blood on Charlotte's dress to frame her for the murder led to him getting caught in the house.
  • Hollywood Homely: In-universe. Eve does this to herself to pass off as a lower class maid. Freddie and Charlotte suggest a few alterations to look attractive. When they see her dressed up for the garden party, it's an in-universe Beautiful All Along moment for them.
  • 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.
  • Ironic Name: Nellie Goode, Charlotte's maid, who's egotistical and greedy and ultimately engages in Blackmail. Lampshaded by Commodore Gill.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Charlotte knows her new temp maid is called "Doris" but keeps calling her things like "Elsie" or "Mavis".
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent:
    • Eve Gill is an English girl but Jane Wyman keeps her American accent, with the Hand Wave that she was educated in America. She does however imitate a working class accent to pass herself off as Nellie's cousin.
    • Charlotte Inwood is presumably English but Marlene Dietrich uses her German accent. Although since Inwood is her husband's last name, she could be German in this universe too.
  • Oh, Crap!: Eve gets worried when she lets slip that she knows that Smith is working the Inwood investigation (which he hadn't told her yet), but nothing more is said about it. Then she has a real moment like this when she sees Nellie at the garden party.
  • Pet the Dog: Near the end, Charlotte gives Eve a little extra money and says she's been happy having her as a dresser. Likewise when she sees Eve dressed up at the garden party, she compliments her.
  • Plucky Girl: Eve goes undercover to try and save her friend from being wrongfully committed of murder.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Once Eve gets the truth out of Jonathan, she seems like she's going to help him escape through the stage doors. As soon as he goes through, she locks them and screams to alert the police.
  • 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.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Eve's actress friends who she tries to get to distract Smith. They end up giving away that Eve hasn't been rehearsing with them. It's a double whammy with Eve's father, whose Indy Ploy to agitate Charlotte with a blood-stained doll blows Eve's cover in front of Smith.
  • The Vamp: Two words: Charlotte. Inwood.
  • 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.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Charlotte says to Eve "it's the scene of the crime the murderer returns to, not the theatre" - but sure enough, Jonathan does come to the theatre.