Offering further proof of Hitchcock’s disinterest in the whodunit as narrative trope, Stage Fright sees a return to the theatrical world last seen in the director’s Murder! and Mary diptych of twenty years prior. Lacking the ambiguity or visual élan that marked the climax of those pictures, it’s an uncharacteristically lazy picture, both plodding and conceptually awkward in its telling.
Hitchcock himself was the first to admit that the misleading flashback which opens the picture proved an error of judgement, but at least it falls in line with the rest of the film’s broad thematic plays on the nature of performance and the lies we tell ourselves and each other. Coasting along on a few larger-than-life performances from the likes of Alastair Sim and Joyce Grenfell (providing better value for money than the lacklustre male leads), Stage Fright offers little in the way of suspense, with even Marlene Dietrich making faint impression as the ‘r’-twoubling femme fatale.
If Jane Wyman (The Lost Weekend, All That Heaven Allows) works hard to keep us engaged and Sybil Thorndike entertains in a minor role, it’s not really enough to save the film from slipping into mediocrity, especially when viewed in the chronological context of the two pictures that sit on either side of it.
Stage Fright - 1950 - United Kingdom - 110 mins - Alfred Hitchcock