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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Must All Flashbacks Play Fair?


Stage Fright (1950) A Lesser But Still Good Hitchcock

The notorious Hitchcock thriller with "lying flashbacks," these less a cheat than just disorienting, the audience being asked to choose between story dénouement and what they've seen in an opening reel. Had any director used such a device prior to 1950? It didn't help that Stage Fright's narrative lurched besides, a return to English-style (and shot) suspense that had won AH initial favor over here, but not the success he'd have with Frenzy twenty years later. That one forfeited civility we associate with UK setting for a roughest Hitchcock ride since Psycho, and became the hit Stage Fright wasn't. Richard Todd as the wrong (?) man has to give up center spot to upper-billed Jane Wyman and Marlene Dietrich, the latter making SF more a vehicle for herself than quest over guilt/innocence of a gone-for-long stretches Todd. Alistair Sim is Wyman's eccentric dad; after Green For Danger, we'd like him instead as eccentric Chief Inspector. The thing with any Hitchcock, even failed ones, is how masterly he does individual scenes throughout. You could excerpt any from Stage Fright and guess the whole movie is great. Well, it arguably is, certainly so in comparison with anyone else's thrillers of the period. Seen on Warner Instant Archive in HD, and looked fantastic.

5 Comments:

Blogger Caftan Woman said...

"Stage Fright" is like an old friend to me. One of those movies I'm always happy to enjoy.

I can only think of one other movie with a "lying flashback", 1943s "Sherlock Holmes Faces Death".

11:38 AM  
Blogger Robert Fiore said...

Hitchcock was never one to play by the rules. Let us not forget that this is a man who made a movie of The 39 Steps without the 39 steps.

3:07 PM  
OpenID Anonymous said...

The 1943 RKO Falcon picture, The Falcon in Danger, also has a notable "lying flashback;" oddly enough, I first saw it (at the age of 12) not long after I'd seen Stage Fright and been shocked by the flashback deception in it; I was so paranoid after Stage Fright that I immediately got suspicious of the flashbacking character in the Falcon picture, and wasn't surprised when he turned out to be the culprit.

5:27 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson considers the thorny topic of lying flashbacks:


I can accept "lying flashbacks' when it's clear somebody is telling the tale. What bothers me a bit is when a character is recounting events and the flashback includes stuff he/she couldn't have witnessed (a narrow exception being for somebody recounting a theory of what happened).

"Witness for the Prosecution", if I recollect correctly, artfully skated over the "lying flashback" thin ice. Events and behaviors appeared to support the spin the speaker was putting on them, but didn't contradict the truth eventually revealed.

What galls me is when science or the art of illusion are cited, painfully inaccurately, to deal with a major plot point. Especially in a whodunit (Just revisited "Charlie Chan in the Secret Service", where a small hidden eletromagnet pointed at a gun mounted on a wall could pull it forward without affecting any other objects.)

5:52 AM  
Blogger Michael Hinerman said...

I've never seen it, although I've seen clips in various Dietrich docs that look fabulous. Does STAGE FRIGHT play better if we think of it as a Dietrich flick, rather than as a Hitchcock? I need to sign up with Warner Streaming, they have FACE OF FU MANCHU and Burton's vicious VILLAIN on there.

12:29 AM  

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