Editor's Week 2005

December 30 - 2005
One of the minor classics of late Victorian fiction is 'The Diary of a Nobody' (1892) by George and Wheedon Grossmith, originally published in 'Punch' magazine. Respectable suburbanite, the clerk Mr Pooter, lives with his wife and grown-up son Willie Lupin in a rented two-storey house, including basement, backing onto a railway in Holloway, London. They have a live-in servant, Sarah. An occasional visitor to the house is a Mr Padge, who is 'all moustache' and who always takes the best armchair to sit in. He is never the life of the party, though, for almost his sole conversation consists of the remark, 'That's right!' In other words, he is almost certainly the origin of the little man on the jury in Hitchcock's Murder! (1930) whose excessive compliance in agreeing with the other jurors helps bring a 'Guilty of murder' verdict against the innocent Norah Baring. (In the 1929 novel on which Murder! was based, 'Enter Sir John', one or two jurors do indeed utter the phrase 'That's right!', but not repeatedly and not as practically their only conversation! That's to say, the filmmakers seem to have remembered Mr Padge and made him the basis of the little man in the film. Incidentally, I don't know the name of the individual who plays this character - he appears not to have been a professional actor - but Hitchcock must have been sufficiently taken with him that he brought him back in Stage Fright twenty years later to play the timid little man whom Alistair Sim 'bullies' at the shooting gallery!) Need I also point out that there's something in Mr and Mrs Pooter that links them with another clerk and his wife, Fred and Emily, in Hitchcock's Rich and Strange (1932), although Mr Pooter would certainly consider himself a little more 'respectable', a little more 'genteel', than lowly Fred? No matter. When Hitchcock uses an expressionist décor to depict Fred's office, with rows of desks dominated by a large clock, I'm reminded in turn of the famous American expressionist play, Elmer Rice's 'The Adding Machine' (1923), whose clerk-hero is named Mr Zero! And when you notice that these opening scenes in Rich and Strange, including Fred's trip home after work by subway, clearly prefigure the credits sequence of Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), showing city office workers hurrying from tall buildings and down subways, like a collective tidal wave, we have nearly completed a circle. For what does office worker Roger O. Thornhill's middle initial stand for? Why, 'nothing', he cheerfully informs us! Okay. Of such stuff does Hitchcock's 'pure cinema' consist, and the connection between a Victorian 'nobody', an American 'Mr Zero', and another American of a later generation, Roger O. Thornhill, is clearly all 'just in the mind' - ah, yes, but that mind is the fiercely imaginative one of Alfred Hitchcock! (Nor are we finished, for at least one other character in Hitchcock, in the 1966 Torn Curtain, is heard to say, 'I'm nobody, ma'am.' But the implications of that must be left to another time, in which we talk about how Hitchcock repeatedly depicts in his films degrees of 'life', and not least the moral implications attaching to such an insight.)

December 16 - 2005
The title of the Hitchcock-directed episode of AHP called "Breakdown" (airdate: 13 November, 1955) has a couple of obvious meanings: emotional breakdown and the breakdown of a car. Actually the car doesn't break down but collides with a mechanical grader, rendering the car's driver Callew (Joseph Cotten) paralyzed and unable to signal to anyone that he's alive and fully conscious. But the title also refers to how Hitchcock gradually breaks down Callew emotionally to expose a vulnerable human being beneath the hard and even callous exterior. The episode begins on a beach in Miami where Callew takes a phone call from a recently-sacked employee named Hupka; when Hupka begins to cry, Callew contemptuously hangs up. In breaking down Callew himself - who at the last minute is saved from possible premature burial when he sheds a tear while lying in a mortuary - the episode is like an analogue of what Hitchcock does to audiences! And to actors, for that matter. (Of British actresses in the 1930s, many of whom adopted a supposed 'lady-like' aloofness, Hitchcock said: 'Break 'em down right at the start, it's much the best way!') Watching the episode again tonight, I can only say that I agree with what I wrote here on December 2: it's misguided to see the episode as having a gay subtext. The notion of breaking-down is the key. Callew experiences a succession of fears: at first, of not being found (the accident takes place on a lonely side road), then of being incinerated in the car (some looters come by, one of whom unthinkingly strikes a match), then of not being able to signal that he's alive, then finally, as I say, of being buried alive (or whatever happens to corpses in mortuaries ...). At one point, a second group of looters - escaped prisoners from a chain-gang - strip Callew of his suit, as the first group of looters had stripped the car of its tyres. This incident is something Michael Walker adduces as evidence of a gay subtext, but surely it's no different from how in Lifeboat (1944) Connie (Tallulah Bankhead) is gradually stripped of both a certain aloofness totally inappropriate to her current situation and of her various worldly goods (including a Cartier bracelet). True, after the second group of looters have left, Callew's interior monologue tells us: 'I guess they were company in a way. It's just that I miss them ...' But he is simply admitting to anyone's need for company - not implying that he had been sexually aroused by the (male) looters! In the mortuary overnight, Callew is still saying, 'I'm not going to break down.' But his shedding of a tear marks the final stripping-away of his defences. (See also December 2, above.) Okay, some other points now. First, the name 'Hupka': it's the same name as that of the character in Notorious who momentarily breaks down in panic over the label on a wine bottle - surely not a coincidence! And this particular episode of AHP - the first to be shot for the series - is a technical tour de force, not least because so much of it consists of close-ups of the immobile Callew. (At one point, after the second group of looters have gone away, there's a succession of three shots of his face as he lies on his back: each shot is progressively closer-up, and each is held for the best part of a minute.) One shot I particularly admire: it's the first of the many shots through Callew's eyes, in this case showing trees and sky above the door of the car as he awakens from the accident - and which shifts focus to register not just his attempt to comprehend where he is and what has happened but the sheer fact of his consciousness, life itself. (His interior monologue now begins and it has a suitable echo to suggest precisely the interiority of what we both see and hear.) Such a life/death moment is basic to Hitchcock's filmmaking. The shot just described, and its blurry view of things, has its culmination in the subjective shot that ends the program: of one of the attendants in the mortuary, now smiling reassuringly down at Callew, the image tear-stained. That shot, and the preceding shot of the tear on Callew's face, are both literally signs of life.

December 9 - 2005
As reported here on November 11, Frank Baker's novel 'The Birds' (1936; 1964) was undoubtedly an influence on Hitchcock's and Evan Hunter's 1963 film of that name, even though the filmmakers claimed only to be (loosely) adapting Daphne du Maurier's short story, also called "The Birds". Having recently finished reading Baker's novel - which is a splendid piece of 'dystopian' fiction in its own right, a wise if misanthropic evocation of 1930s British society - I cannot do more than begin to convey here the qualities of the book. Baker has put much of himself into it: he was a bisexual man in a generally staid and uptight society, and the animus that drives the book is deeply-felt and cogent. It effectively poses to Hitchcockians whether their admired film isn't synthetic and shallow by comparison! (I am talking now of the other side of Hitchcock's exemplary detachment and vision of a shared humanity that I have lately praised here!) Nonetheless the film 'borrows' a huge number of Baker's ideas and effects. I'll try and list the main ones. First and foremost, apart from the bird attacks themselves, both Baker's and Hitchcock's stories revolve around a grown-up man's relation to his widowed mother at a time of crisis, including the fact that he has just met a woman whom he may eventually marry. The mother - Lillian in the novel, Lydia in the film - speaks of how she fears her son no longer cares for her. The novel's narrator comments: 'I denied it, but I knew it was half true.' (Panther edition, 1964, p. 132.) We see the mother grow increasingly frail-looking and tired, though at the last minute she will be spared from the birds to join her son and his wife-to-be as together they flee the devastation all around them - which includes the death of a family friend named Annie - to a better life far away. The narrator, alerted by Olga, his future wife, finally sees that he must face up to what the birds mean to him personally, that is, he must learn to be his authentic self: a scene on Hampstead Heath in which he outfaces his 'Demon' bird (pp. 169-70) is the equivalent of Melanie's climactic ordeal in the attic in Hitchcock's film. He writes: 'I stood up. My ankles ached, my limbs were bruised, blood was dripping from my chin. ... [But now] I knew that the metempsychosis which touched and threatened the whole race of man no longer had the power to assault me.' The novel attaches various but related meanings to what the attacking birds represent, but these are distilled in the narrator's reference to '[this] terrible story of the breakdown of men under the prey of their own voracious natures' (p. 141) - which I suggest is close to how Hitchcock's film shows its own avian predators turning Will back against humankind (cf December 1, above). Amongst scenes from the novel: a woman with a feathered hat pecked to death in a London phone booth (p. 29); the birds massing all over the figure of Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square (p. 48: cf the monument to Admiral Dewey in Union Square at the start of Hitchcock's film); military forays against the birds that end up as fiascos (pp. 55-57); a chattering or croaking sound emitted by the birds, 'like a blunt knife drawn over a slate' (p. 95); an out-of-control car without headlights crashes (pp. 136-37); a bird pecks and bursts the wares of an old lady balloon-seller (p. 163); a man preaching Judgement Day is pecked to death (pp. 180-81); the climactic scene in which the birds invade a packed St Paul's Cathedral - described by Baker with great power and skill - and whose first victim is the Archbishop of Canterbury, followed by the deaths of nearly everyone else present (pp. 202-07); the subsequent devastation throughout the country (p. 207ff); an ironic reference to how the fleeing narrator had stopped to eat cold roast chicken in an empty cafe in St Albans (p. 221). It's a splendid novel, as I say, and even has some additional Hitchcockian touches that the 1963 film didn't use: notably, a scene in which the birds invade a cinema showing a newreel of their activities, and shred its screen (p. 137)!

December 2 - 2005
Yesterday's entry here began: 'It is Hitchcock's vision, and detachment, and sense of a fundamental humanity that we all share, that I feel [Michael] Walker's "Hitchcock's Motifs" never plumbs.' And when I say 'fundamental' I mean just that. Two examples today. First, Walker (p. 406) reads the Hitchcock-directed episode of 'AHP' called "Breakdown" as having a gay subtext because finally Callew (Joseph Cotten) sheds a tear, showing he has a 'feminine' side after all. But to feel the need to invoke a gay subtext here is 'a little absurd'. What is so Hitchcockian about that tear is how, in a single image, it says so much, but fundamentally it is a sign of life. Literally a sign of life, and without dualisms. Just life. Also, the tear is another instance of 'autonomous will' - which earlier Walker had noted (e.g., p. 45) is sometimes a characteristic of hands in Hitchcock (I think of Gromek's twitchy death in Torn Curtain). But the 'will' the tear - or the hands - express is ultimately, and in fact, simply life, the body's expression of its participation in the larger, cosmic Will (as Schopenhauer termed it). The tear corresponds to the moment in Lifeboat (note that title) in which Willi (Walter Slezak) involuntarily betrays himself by sweating - while all around him is more salt water, the ocean that so often in Hitchcock (e.g., Rebecca, Vertigo, The Birds) symbolises Will, which is effectively both a life-force and a death-force. Hitchcock knew that we all are fundamentally both male and female, and that both sides of our psyches may find expression in an unrepressed, whole individual. To invoke a gay subtext, then, is to miss the point. Okay, here's example two. Walker refers (p. 265) to the lorry scene in Frenzy during which Rusk (Barry Foster) must retrieve his incriminating tiepin from the literal clutches of Babs's body, set in rigor mortis. Walker cites Peter Conrad on how Rusk's 'fight with [Babs's] intransigent corpse is like a blackly comic attempt to recover his purloined manhood' - the tiepin (by association with men's ties, which hang down in front) is a virility symbol. I've no quarrel with that, except that the tiepin is really the scene's MacGuffin. Much more fundamental here - the scene is emblematic of how the film-as-a-whole is conceived (owing something to the dust-heaps imagery of Dickens's 'Our Mutual Friend') - is how Rusk must effectively go inside a body (the truck) and probe among its entrails, representing the last (or next-to-last) stage of the alimentary process which the film repeatedly likens to the passage of human beings through life. All of those potatoes in the back of the truck with Rusk are like so many items of food that have been ingested and are about to be excreted. That is, as turds. (Prof. Richard Allen reminds me that the original novel has a passage in which Piccadilly Circus is called 'the arse-end of the world'.) Hence the moment when the truck is summoned to stop by a police car and a heap of potatoes and Babs's poor body - its own arse exposed - tumble in undignified fashion from the back of the truck. ('Hey, you're spilling your load!', a helpful motorist had already warned the truck's driver.) Once again, then, Hitchcock in Frenzy succeeds, by means of 'pure cinema', in 'turning the will back on itself', as I said last time. In his superb detachment, he was the most civilised of directors. I simply want to insist that when we interpret Hitchcock we interpret aright and see what is literally fundamental in his films. So many alleged 'subtexts' are not really there at all, mere teases or sudden, fleeting inversions of the normal. Importantly, much of life, and much of art, doesn't consist of 'texts' at all, either.

December 1 - 2005
It is Hitchcock's vision, and detachment, and sense of a fundamental humanity that we all share, that I feel Walker's 'Hitchcock's Motifs' never plumbs. Not detached himself, Walker 'takes Hitchcock seriously' in quite conventional ways, seeing father-figures, mother-figures, son-figures, daughter-figures, gay subtexts, etc., etc. at every turn. But there's a sense in which these are all just aspects of a bigger subject in Hitchcock, and it goes with the detachment. A 'Lost Paradise' motif permeates Hitchcock's work, especially the '40s films (e.g., Under Capricorn), but Hitchcock's own 'pure cinema' stands in for 'Paradise Regained', time and again. The director of a feature film must play God, Hitchcock told Truffaut. That has many implications, but let me just note how while we watch the films we become increasingly 'alive' and 'integrated' and 'empowered' - though of course that's seldom the way of the real world. Hitchcock knew that the crofter's wife in The 39 Steps was probably fated to a life of drudgery and 'quiet desperation'. Not for nothing does Under Capricorn end with a line referring to Australia, 'It's a big country - but not quite big enough.' The (expressionist) implication is that the world's the same! Flawed! Walker follows Robin Wood (with his literary antecedents) and often refers to the 'chaos world'; I would compare that world to the 'flux' that Nietzsche and Bergson pointed to as something to be overcome. And in films like The 39 Steps and North by Northwest, as I've often said (e.g., in my review that's on the Web of Mark Glancy's monograph on The 39 Steps), there's a detectable use of cinema to implement Bergsonian and Nietzschean ideas, especially concerning what it takes to feel more 'alive'. My point is that Hitchcock found himself in a uniquely powerful position - like that of God - which, though, he didn't abuse but rather whose ramifications he explored in a detached way (making Rope, for example), learning and affirming thereby his common humanity. What he learned surely has its clearest 'testament' in The Birds. Okay. On the radio recently I said this: the important thing about the concept of The Birds is that it shows the natural order of things reversed, so that now humankind is 'on the receiving end of a gag'. Not that it wasn't always, if we accept Schopenhauer's view of the cosmic Will as a blind and often cruel 'force'. But I was reluctant to confuse listeners with Schopenhauer - even though it was precisely he who said that liberation must consist in turning an individual's will back on itself. So I was simplifying! The birds in the film are essentially Will, not anything empirical, and each viewer must apply the film's lesson to herself/himself. My host asked about the view (Margaret Horwitz's? Robin Wood's?) that the birds stood for Mrs Brenner's hostility towards Melanie. I replied that such a reading of what the birds represent is quite secondary. And I hold to that view. I think my position corresponds closely to how Hitchcock himself, in his detachment, saw the matter. The birds and 'pure cinema' are closely related - for they correspond to the essence of the real world and of the film world respectively. Ultimately, indeed, they may be the same thing. Hitchcock was liberated by such a realisation, I don't doubt. Making such films as Vertigo and The Birds was his very practical way of turning the will back on itself, of mastering the art of detachment, which is the art of living. But I don't think that Walker's book sufficiently takes this into account. Hence some of its 'little absurdities' - its own 'flaws'! To be concluded.

November 30 - 2005
A minor example of a remark in 'Hitchcock's Motifs' that is 'a little absurd' is this claim: 'Mme Sebastian [in Notorious] is doomed by her quasi-incestuous devotion to her son' (p. 311). How melodramatic! What if I were to tell Michael Walker (jokingly, of course!) that after the son's mysterious disappearance - which the local press speculated about but could never explain - the lady in question joined her neighbourhood bridge club and within six months had become bridge champion of Rio de Janeiro, a position she held triumphantly for twenty years? (She also gave up smoking and gained herself a new husband who took her on world cruises.) But Walker's remark is symptomatic of something that many readers may find limiting about the book: its failure to appreciate the detachment of Hitchcock's filmmaking, including the ultimate grounding of Hitchcock's art not in Freud (to whom Walker admits allegiance) but in 'pure cinema' and the broad view of humanity this allowed its director. Here's another 'little absurdity' from the book, preceded by Walker's excellent description of a moment from the first The Man Who Knew Too Much: 'During the climactic siege ... the police move inhabitants from nearby houses. Two PCs go into a young woman's bedroom, displacing its occupant, and one makes jocular comments about the bed she has just vacated: "I could do with a bit of sleep on that meself" (feels the bed) "Still warm, too." His colleague recognises the sexual intimations: "Gertcha - tell your missus about you." Then they drag the mattress over to the window for cover. But the blind flies up unexpectedly, prompting a burst of fire into the room. The PC who was so interested in the young woman's bed is shot dead ... it's as if, out there in the darkness, a monstrous superego is just waiting to punish even the most light-hearted and harmless suggestions of sexual transgression.' (pp. 67-68) Well, I find that conclusion, too, melodramatic. Rather than invoke 'a monstrous superego', I might invoke, instead, Schopenhauer's marvellous distinction between temporal and eternal justice - a distinction and a theme that runs right through Hitchcock, not least The Paradine Case. But I mustn't get ahead of myself. I'm saying here that the PC's death may just as well be interpreted another way: as showing that sex thoughts are both natural and relatively harmless - whatever official British middle-class mores may have held at the time - and that death itself is infinitely (or eternally) more harmful. So wake up and live, while there's still time, and have a bit of fun, Hitchcock's films of the '30s frequently imply. (The scene in The 39 Steps of the crofter's wife pining for the lights of Edinburgh is a key one.) It's symptomatic of Walker's book, too, that one major motif that is not covered, or even mentioned, is that of 'the Lost Paradise'. Yet the motif is palpably there in film after film. Donald Spoto refers, for example, to the lesson of Shadow of a Doubt: 'The two Charlies are linked by more than blood relationships: they are linked by a common humanity, and it is this point that places Hitchcock among the great creative moral cynics of our age. For if young Charlie aspires to a happy life, she realizes at the end that it can only be striven for in this tangled, fallen garden that is no longer a paradise.' ('The Art of Alfred Hitchcock', 2nd Edition) Continued tomorrow.

November 29 - 2005
Thanks to Joel Gunz for his questions on our Yahoo Group about this matter of why Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) in Dial M for Murder moves the double-bed into the living room. As noted yesterday, Michael Walker's 'Hitchcock's Motifs' suggests (p. 138) that Tony wants to sleep near to where Swann's body had been - a suggestion (of necrophilia?) I find ludicrous. (Why, I asked the Group, doesn't Tony move the bed to exactly the spot where Swann had died? And, in fact, I checked the film again and found that the death spot and the position of the bed are almost half the room apart.) People might have expected Tony to move out of the apartment altogether while wife Margot was awaiting execution and stay with friends. But in that case what would Tony have done with Swann's money? It would have been dangerous to bank it or to be noticed with it. So he decides to stay put in the flat: fewest dangers of the money's discovery that way. (Little does he know!) And, as I say, he moves the bed into the living room, flaunting (for any visitors) his 'grief' over poor Margot's impending fate and how he can't bear to sleep in the bedroom he had shared with her for so long. Hitchcock gives the bed a 'close-up' to itself when Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings) first sees its new position. I'm reminded, to a degree, of how in Rope the two killers flaunt the trunk containing the body of their victim for the benefit of visitors to their soirée, including the dead boy's father. What Tony is in fact flaunting is his sense of his own cleverness - which will be his undoing. Now, there's another strange moment in a Hitchcock film noted by Michael Walker, though again I feel that his explanation of it is 'a little absurd'. Recall in Murder! the famous 'Mousetrap' scene in which Sir John tries to trick the 'half-caste' actor Handell Fane into a confession of being the murderer of a woman who tried to 'out' him. (Hitchcock told Charles Thomas Samuels in 1972 that the term 'half-caste' could be read as 'homosexual'.) During the scene, consisting of a play-reading based on the murder, Fane asks for a poker - a poker had been the actual murder weapon. Sir John forestalls him - and effectively 'unmans' him, as Walker says - by offering him a pencil instead. At the time, this seems like a smart ploy by Sir John (Fane could have turned violent). But perhaps it was more a stroke of fortune. At the end of the scene, notes Walker, after Fane has left the room, Sir John's stage manager Markham, who hasn't figured in the scene previously, 'comes through the window, brandishing a poker. It is a very bizarre moment: the only logical explanation would seem to be that he was arriving, armed, in case Fane tried to make a sudden getaway.' (p. 160) And Walker adds that Markham's arriving with a poker carries 'further intimations of a gay subtext'. Well, I think Walker makes altogether too much of this moment. Nobody these days doubts that Fane is gay and that the patrician Sir John is mocking him, tormenting him. (Elsewhere, I've described the scene as perhaps the most sadistic in all of Hitchcock.) As for what Walker describes as 'the only logical explanation' of Markham's arrival with a poker, that's not how I see it. I think Sir John, the author of the play that Fane reads from ('The Inner History of the Baring Case'), had simply foreseen that a poker might be called for, and, perhaps rather carelessly had asked Markham to bring one - only Markham arrived late. Or did Sir John instruct him to arrive late? No matter. The moment is as much about 'a heterosexual main text' as it is about 'a gay subtext'. The moment has its ambiguity and its irony (concerning the importance of 'who wields the phallus'?), and acts as a quick, neat ending to the scene (for various reasons I think of the milkman's line in The 39 Steps, 'Oi, the empties!'). That is, Hitchcock no doubt felt the need here to boost the scene which otherwise ends on a very downbeat note with Fane's leaving. In the novel, the play-reading scene turns into Fane's confession, and is highly dramatic altogether! But Walker attends too little, I feel, to such matters of staging and timing, and overemphasises 'hidden meanings', especially gay ones. More tomorrow.

November 28 - 2005
A review of Michael Walker's 'Hitchcock's Motifs' is now on our New Publications page, and naturally I hold to what I wrote there, including about Walker's punctilious concern to avoid rash generalisations and care to make himself understood by his readers. Thank you, Michael! In my review I call 'Hitchcock's Motifs' an 'often splendid book' though I also express reservations about its 'old-fashioned' methodology and its limited range of responses to what is, after all, the genius displayed in Hitchcock's body of work. Walker shows almost no concern for the pictorial/painterly side of the films, and I don't recall a single reference to their scores (or to visual or musical motifs!). Art, music, and philosophy are hardly mentioned in the book. The Tretchikoff paintings in Rusk's flat in Frenzy are interpreted by Walker (pp. 319-20) as Hitchcock having a dig at Rusk's taste in art (Walker quotes a snooty remark about the painter from 'The Guardian'), a dig we're told is 'clearly' there - not the only time I would have to dispute Walker's use of that adverb! The paintings are very right - those of us who are old enough all remember seeing them in shop windows or magazine advertisements - which is to say that, functionally, they are first and foremost a part of the flat's décor, comparable to the print of Thomas Somerscales's 'Off Valpairoso' in Fred and Emily's flat in Rich and Strange. (That painting, in turn, is a precursor of the framed photographs of deserts and lakes in Lowery's office in Psycho, and all of these pictures hint at the restlessness of the respective characters.) I can only re-affirm what I say in my review of Walker's book, that 'Hitchcock's detached and protean - not to say pragmatic - relation to his work and to his audience' is insufficiently appreciated by Walker. In fact, that's the main thrust of my critique of the book, it isn't made lightly, and it's something I'll come back to. (Oh, and incidentally, we talked about Tretchikoff here in "Editor's Day" a few years ago, and I remember visiting websites displaying the painter's work. Some of that work was impressive in its own way, and at least one of the websites made the claim that Tretchikoff was the world's best-selling print-artist.) Okay. I included one other negative comment in my review of Walker's book, namely, that it 'is full of little absurdities'. Clearly I should justify saying that! For today, then, consider this. Of Tony Wendice's decision, in Dial M for Murder, after Swann is killed and Tony's wife has been sentenced to death, to move his bed into the living room (where the killing occurred), Walker says this 'suggests that Tony is identifying himself psychically with the corpse' (p. 138). Well, I think that's nonsense. It's one of several occasions when Walker should have wielded Occam's Razor and cut out such idle speculation that flies against sense and likelihood. That particular detail, from Frederick Knott's play, simply suggests that Tony was acting for appearance's sake, or may even have been genuinely unable to sleep in the bedroom he had shared with Margot for so long. The fact that he has also set her up to be hanged is in keeping with the divided nature of many a murderer in Hitchcock. Well, I hope that's not a rash generalisation. In any case, the matter is something whose capacity to tease is very Hitchcockian. Continued tomorrow.

November 25 - 2005
To get away from the complex implications of the flashback in The Lodger (see last week) - which I believe haven't been plumbed by any single commentator on the film - I'll turn this week to something simple and relatively brief to describe. The current issue of 'The John Buchan Journal' (Autumn 2005) contains an interesting article by Dr Michael Redley, "The 'school of Buchan': inter-war fiction in the Buchan style". I was struck by this observation about the adventure stories that Buchan looked at for the publisher Thomas Nelson and Sons for several years after the Great War, seeking novels 'in the Buchan style' to carry the Nelson imprint (Buchan himself had virtually discontinued writing such novels, though he did write the Richard Hannay adventure 'The Three Hostages' in 1924): 'If there is a single theme which characterises these novels, it would undoubtedly be piracy. Ten of the eighteen stories in which he had a hand [as reader/editor] involve bands of marauders taking, by force or trickery, what belongs to someone else; and seven of them are to a large extent tales of the sea.' Dr Redley adds this comment: 'The conventions of the pirate story underlie some of Buchan's best-known writing. The Thirty-Nine Steps [1915] has its "treasure map", Scudder's "little black book", taken at the start of the story from a murdered man, followed by a long journey in which friends gradually distinguish themselves from foes ... . Even before this, in Prester John [1910] Buchan had adapted to a modern non-nautical setting the pirate theme sketched out forty years earlier in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.' Reading this, it occurred to me that here was another predecessor of Hitchcock's 'MacGuffin'. He himself cited the plans of the fort in some of Kipling's Indian tales set on the Northwest Frontier. And on our FAQs page, I mention some precedents in stage melodrama. Okay. In the same issue of 'The John Buchan Journal' is another article that some of our readers will want to look at: "John Buchan and Alfred Hitchcock", by Prof. Tony Williams. Among the many interesting points he makes is how Hannay's 'political' speech in the film The 39 Steps may well have been inspired by an episode in an early work of Buchan's, The Half-Hearted (1900). There, an extempore speech is delivered by George Winterham on behalf of his friend Lewis. 'It was cunningly done with the natural tact which rarely deserts the truly honest man in his hour of extremity ... slowly the people kindled and listened with eager breath.' The John Buchan Society has a website: here.

November 18 - 2005
Am reading Frank Baker's "The Birds" (see last week) for myself, and shall probably say more about it another time. But now here's another matter that continues to exercise my thinking ... In Psycho, it's never clear, I think, that Norman knows that he is a serial killer: that is, that he has another side of himself, his 'Mother' side, who kills - it's possible that he really does think that his 'Mother' is capable of stirring herself to commit the murders that he then 'dutifully' covers up. Equally, it seems to me that the Ivor Novello character in The Lodger may be no less 'schizoid' - mind you, I don't say that the film insists on this, but only leaves it open as a possibility - just as 'Mr Sleuth' in the novel by Mrs Belloc Lowndes is a true Jekyll-and-Hyde figure (and, there, is undoubtedly the serial killer known as 'The Avenger'). When the character in the film finally gives Daisy his explanation for his recent suspicious behaviour, he claims that he has simply been tracking down The Avenger whose first victim had been his blonde sister. He seems genuinely convinced that the man the police have arrested as The Avenger is the guilty party, adding almost wistfully, 'Now I shall miss him.' However, the possibility that the police could be mistaken, and have arrested a mere imitator of The Avenger, is never raised - yet it's known that in the case of Jack the Ripper (clearly a model for The Avenger) there were several Ripper imitators. (People who merely 'confess' to another's crimes are another matter again, and are a commonplace phenomenon - something that's mentioned in Dial M For Murder, for example.) In Shadow of a Doubt, which is virtually a remake of The Lodger for American audiences (just as Hitchcock's previous film Saboteur had been a virtual remake for American audiences of The 39 Steps), the police quite clearly arrest the wrong man - who is then killed when he runs from them into an aeroplane propellor. Next, consider the flashback in The Lodger to the death of the sister at her coming-out ball. Not only is the brother shown to be literally best situated to have killed her - he was actually dancing with her on a crowded dance floor when the lights went out and the murder occurred - but the connotations of incest here anticipate similar connotations in Shadow of a Doubt (and where the ring Uncle Charlie gives to his niece, young Charlie, emblemises the ideal of a closed family circle, something, I suggest, both the brother in The Lodger and Norman Bates in Psycho also value: cf Norman's line about how, for a time, he and his mother had been 'more than happy'). Quite rightly, then, Michael Walker's 'Hitchcock Motifs' (2005) allows that the brother in The Lodger had felt incestuous longings for his sister (p. 323). Moreover, the brother's love for his sister is conflated with his love for his mother whom we see on her deathbed. The fact that we are shown the son promise his mother that he'll track down his sister's killer may thus represent a similar irony to Norman's dutiful covering up for 'Mother' in Psycho. But there's another aspect of the flashback in The Lodger to consider. We see a hand throw a switch and plunge the crowded dance floor into darkness. But the hand that threw the switch could not possibly be the sister's killer - the person who threw the switch could not have reached the sister in the middle of the dance floor, for obvious reasons (the dance floor was crowded and, besides, the lights seem to come back on almost immediately - though there may be an elliptical cut at this juncture). Accordingly, either the killer had an accomplice (something else that has been mooted about Jack the Ripper) or the whole episode is either 'unreal' or 'symbolic' or both of those things. Which would make it roughly the equivalent of the recurring shots of waltzing couples that we see in Shadow of a Doubt and which symbolise Uncle Charlie's (incestuous) ideal of happiness - one of Hitchcock's 'lost paradise' images. All of which may still, I think, support what I have been contending from the start: that The Lodger represents either a 'schizoid' possibility (in which the audience itself may be implicated) or the possibility of reading the film at more than one level, though neither of these possibilities is insisted on by the film. In other words, the film could be the straightforward story of a series of killings of blondes (where the brother isn't guilty) performed by two people not known to us and only one of whom is arrested (offscreen) by the film's end; or it could be about the brother as his sister's killer with either a real accomplice or a figurative one (who threw the light switch - if a figurative one, then that figure may be seen as an extension of either the lodger's mind or the audience's, for by 1925 Freud had shown that we all harbour unconscious incestuous wishes). Typically of Hitchcock, this is all very vertiginous! And variants of it would inform many elements of his later work. But that's for consideration another time.

November 11 - 2005
Speaking of Hitchcock's 'very strong objection to hatred' (see last week) - part of what I call the Hitchcock paradox - may bring us to The Birds (1963). In the entry on that film in my book, I start by noting the significance of the opening scene in the petshop where we see birds kept in cages, unable to fly around (except for the one canary that momentarily breaks free). 'Both the film and its trailer', I note, 'remind us that birds have been caged, shot at, eaten and otherwise abused by humans throughout recorded history.' But the rest of the film will show us Nature turned upside down, and will imply a salutary lesson. Significantly, lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) tells spoilt Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) in the same opening scene that it's time she found herself 'on the other end of a gag'. Okay, something else I mention in my book is how though The Birds is nominally based on Daphne du Maurier's short story (which had appeared in a 1952 collection of her stories), it wasn't the first story to describe birds turning against humans: precedents were Frank Baker's "The Birds" (1936) and Philip MacDonald's "Our Feathered Friends" (1945). (I remain indebted to the late Leslie Shepard in Ireland for telling me of those stories.) Those two stories are what I want to talk about here, for I'm sure Hitchcock read them before making his film. First, "Our Feathered Friends". Author of detective fiction and successful film scenarist, Philip MacDonald (he also wrote the story on which John Ford's 1934 The Lost Patrol was based) was of course known to Hitchcock personally from their work together on Rebecca (1940). "Our Feathered Friends" is chilling. One hot afternoon in an English wood on the crest of a hill, a young London couple out for a day in the country and 'doing what comes naturally' are besieged by thousands of birds of different sizes - though their leader appears to be a small bird who comes right up to the necking couple before the attack suddenly begins. The story ends: 'There were two feathered mounds which screamed and ran and leapt, and at last lay and were silent.' I was reminded of how in Hitchcock's film the bird attacks are linked to the developing relationship of Mitch and Melanie, and of how the first attack - by a lone gull - occurs immediately after the pair have started getting playful with each other (the race around/across the bay). Also, of how the invasion of the Brenners' house by sparrows and finches seems to be launched by a single sparrow who twitters in the fireplace an instant before a whole mass of birds descends down the chimney. Now to Frank Baker's "The Birds". This is a much more substantial story than MacDonald's (and du Maurier's), being of novella length. To read it is a revelation, for it evidently influenced both du Maurier - like her story, it's basically set in Cornwall - and Hitchcock. The heroine is named Anna and she reports what her dying father has told her of the mass bird attacks on London: they had begun in Trafalgar Square and had reached a climax when St Paul's Cathedral itself had been invaded. Here's a description of the novel that has recently appeared on the Web: 'The birds comport themselves like bleak, ever-attentive emissaries, varying between savagery and stony indifference. [In Hitchcock's film, the bird attacks appear to come in waves. In the lulls between the attacks the birds mill about or are stationary, seemingly indifferent to humans.] Explicitly they are corrupt emanations from the soul of man taking revenge on the host that has betrayed them.' Anna's father refers to 'the mock-world we had set up in place of the real world which was our heritage.' In other words, humans are being punished for having lost their true way, for having inflicted wrong values on the world. The article on the Web invokes Lawrence, Conrad, Huxley ... To read more, click here: WayBack Machine.

November 4 - 2005
Hitchcock could be an angry man at times, as when he constantly muttered obscenities sotto voce at his continuity assistant sitting alongside him on the Rebecca set - she was Selznick's stooge instructed to report to her boss the slightest departure from the approved script! And although Hitch claimed never to lose his temper, in fact he had a more generalised anger working in him, from what I've heard. Fine. A new book by British (Scottish) humourist A.A. Gill, called 'The Angry Isle', is about to appear, and makes the point that the English people are - and always have been - driven by a spirit of anger, which shows itself in, not least, their humour. According to Gill, '[t]he pursed lip and the muttered expletives, the furious glance and the beetled brow are England's national costume'. Reading an excerpt, I was soon reminded of Hitchcock - with qualifications that I'll make shortly. (The excerpt is on the Web: (WayBack Machine) I hate England.) Here are some of Gill's further points: 'Anger has made the English an ugly race. But then this anger is also the source of England's most admirable achievement - their heroic self-control. ... They live and have always lived in a comparatively harmonious and liberal country. There is more give and take and compromise in England than anywhere else you can think of ... the English are an uncomfortably living testament to the benefit, if not the pleasure, of repression. ... The English aren't people who strive for greatness, they're driven to it by a flaming irritation.' Hence, for example, '[t]he anger at sin and unfairness that forged their particular earth-bound, pedantic spirituality and their puce-faced, finger-jabbing, spittle-flecked politics. ... English humour [as opposed to Jewish humour, says Gill] is the sound of the bullies. The overtold story of the English underdog overcoming the big man with laughter is simply not true. The English constantly use their humour as an indiscriminate bludgeon. ... There is hardly anyone who hasn't at some point been slapped with the famous English humour. The bullying and teasing laughs pervade almost every aspect of life.' Gill proceeds to give a striking contemporary example. 'Football stadiums are the places where you really see the shitty end of the English laugh. I sat in the terraces of Chelsea and heard the crowd make a hissing noise as the two teams ran onto the pitch. They were playing Spurs [Tottenham]. "Yid," my neighbour said helpfully. Yes? "Well, they're north London, Jewish and, well, it's the noise of the gas going into the ovens, isn't it?"' Here Gill comments: 'It was so shocking, so astonishingly surreally nothing to do with football that I laughed and my neighbour smirked. And wagged a finger. "Got you." And that's what the English like about a well-aimed joke; they like to make you laugh despite yourself; to make you complicit in something disgraceful.' There you are, reader, and I trust you begin to see why I repeatedly thought of Hitchcock (and G.K. Chesterton) while reading Gill's thesis! Hitchcock's films may not, I believe, have had anything truly malevolent about their humour, but the latter was certainly aimed at vulnerable spots, including the moral hypocrite, in all of us. And it could be surreal. Gill's reference to gas ovens and his football neighbour's 'Got you' inevitably reminded me of the scene in Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966) where Gromek's death in a German domestic gas oven connects Armstrong (Paul Newman) - and, I think, us - to a potential complicity in the Auschwitz atrocities. Not for nothing do some animal liberationists, who would abolish meat consumption, invoke the Nazis and their crimes (as a Schopenhauerian, influenced by Schopenhauer's notion of the world's immanent Will, I'm entirely in sympathy with them); I think Hitchcock would have understood exactly where they're coming from. Of course, Torn Curtain's surrealism is infinitely more profound than the English soccer fans'. For example, I believe it contains an implicit condemnation of all the pettiness and divisiveness that was a feature of world politics (and much more) in the 20th century. Trouble is, as Hitchcock well knew (like Schopenhauer), such myopia seems built into the human condition. To Richard Schickel, Hitchcock quoted the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-96): 'Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.' And commented: 'He must have had some reason for saying that. It's a dogfight. ... [But] I have a very strong objection to hatred. I feel that hatred is a wasted energy. There's nothing good can come out of it.' Hitch's position on anger, then, is another example of what I call the Hitchcock paradox ...

October 28 - 2005
Forgive me, but I'm going to follow up here the entry from last week on Vertigo. I didn't bother to say then - because it seemed obvious enough - that Hitchcock had already raided 'The Tempest' for the title of Rich and Strange (1932). But this week I want to refer to Hitchcock's 'holistic' thinking and to relate that - if there's time - to a 'Shakespearean' outlook in the films. So I'm mentioning the connection now. There were, of course, other borrowings by Vertigo from plays and films of the time. I've mentioned previously the parallel with another Paramount film, The Search for Bridey Murphy (1956), shot in b/w VistaVision and starring Teresa Wright (Shadow of a Doubt). British director Noel Langley's film is based on a supposedly true story about a woman who, under hypnosis, begins to 'remember' a past life in Ireland. Clearly, Hitchcock would have felt the timeliness of this. In effect, Langley's film gave him licence to tell his own, fictional tale of a woman who seems to be the reincarnation of her ancestor named Carlotta. (Of course, there had been earlier such films, not least William Dieterle's exquisite 1948 adaptation of Robert Nathan's novel, Portrait of Jennie, which had starred Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten; the same year had also yielded Terence Young's British film Corridor of Mirrors, starring Edana Romney and Eric Portman, which Madeleine's dream in Vertigo seems to reference.) But there's another film I've not mentioned before, and I'm grateful to Prof. Lesley Brill for telling me of it: he originally cited it at the Hitchcock Centennial conference in New York in 1999. To quote from his paper: 'A vivid sequence in Vertigo - that in which Scottie pulls Madeleine from the bay, takes her home, undresses her, and puts her to bed - heavily borrows from John Huston's Heaven Knows, Mr Allison, released a year earlier.' (Huston's film starred Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum.) So there you have further evidence for what I've often said, that Hitch was less an originator (even in technical matters) than a magnificently eclectic re-worker of 'found' material. That's not the whole story, but I'm reminded of something Germaine Greer has written of Shakespeare: 'Shakespeare's achievement as a thinker ... is not that he formulated original notions or erected a new system of philosophy, but that he took the commonplaces of Elizabethan thought and made them actual. ... His overriding concern was, in modern theatre parlance, "to take the audience with him".' (Hitchcock certainly knew that if he showed Scottie rescuing Madeleine from drowning, taking her home, and undressing her, the audience would follow him!) I'll come back to this, perhaps next week. The last matter I want to raise for now is by way of clarifying what I said last time about the function of the Golden Gate Bridge in Vertigo. I said that it stands for an ineffable 'something' that Scottie is seeking, but really that was shorthand for saying how what Scottie seeks is 'something' he feels is on the other side of the water - the water spanned by the bridge, as if the bridge is beckoning him to cross it. (And, if you like, you can read that as meaning: to make love to Madeleine.) Of course, when Scottie and Madeleine do cross the bridge - literally - to visit Muir Woods/Big Basin State Park, they arrive at a dark and almost deathly forest of still objects, albeit those objects are allegedly 'the oldest living thing'. It's a place that Camille Paglia might explain as the realm of the chthonian, of generation, a place dark and forbidding - especially to males. (The swamp in Psycho is like a parody of the Vertigo forest, which had been already parodied by the prairie in North by Northwest. But in all three films, death is at their heart.) In fact, here Scottie does feel intimations that he is losing Madeleine. To introduce Vertigo in a course I'm giving next year, I'm going to start by screening the 'Alfred Hitchcock Hour' episode called "Beyond the Sea of Death". Do you see, reader, how that title (from Christina Rossetti's "One Day") is like the symbolism of Vertigo, suggesting how Paradise is something a long way off? Next week: I'll try to take up the notion I mentioned earlier, of Hitchcock's 'holism'.

October 21 - 2005
As announced here last week (item deleted by me just now), I'm making this 'column' a weekly one for the time being. There's much else to be done, including the organising and readying of a new feature of this website, while - more immediately - there are several book reviews to be prepared: over this weekend I'll put up a review of Tom Cohen's two-volume 'Hitchcock's Cryptonymies' on our New Publications page. Meanwhile, here's a small item from my correspondence this week. From out of the past, I suddenly heard from Pam S who's a schoolteacher in Canada (and who has got herself married since last she wrote). Pam is teaching a class on Hitchcock's Vertigo, and remembered that Kim Novak and Hitch were reportedly at odds over the grey suit worn by Madeleine in the film. Why was this? Why did Hitch insist that the suit be grey? I replied that, yes, there had been some tension, though Hitch had quickly extracted himself, leaving instructions to Edith Head: 'Tell Miss Novak that her suit may be any colour she likes - provided it's grey!' I added: 'He wanted Madeleine to be associated with a slightly distant elegance, leading to the scene where Scottie rescues her from the Bay. (Now the distance is "bridged" - suitably the Golden Gate Bridge is in the background!) One aspect of the grey suit was to suggest that the character had just materialised out of the San Francisco fog - and might de-materialise, i.e., vanish, just as quickly. She does in fact keep disappearing around corners, causing Scottie (James Stewart) to hurry after her each time.' I think my remark about the Golden Gate Bridge is a fair one. The Bridge is one of the city's landmarks with which Madeleine becomes linked by Hitchcock's (and Robert Burks's) camera, and it stands for an ineffable 'something' that Scottie clearly sees in her and which he has been unsuccessfully seeking for most of his life. At least, we surmise as much, recognising that we each share some such yearning ourselves! And the whole film is built on this conceit of something, or someone, that briefly materialises and then is gone. (Cf the title of The Lodger, A Story of the London Fog.) In turn, the conceit, or conception, seems very palpably to come from a famous passage in Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' that had been going to give a different title to the 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much - at one stage the latter was going to be called Into Thin Air. The passage reads: 'Our revels now are ended. These our actors,/As I foretold you, were all spirits and/Are melted into air, into thin air:/And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,/The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,/The solemn temples, the great globe itself,/Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve/And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,/Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff/As dreams are made on, and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep.' Vertigo is indeed - in the punning sense used by Shakespeare - an 'insubstantial pageant'! And the grey-suited Madeleine is its icon! Significantly, too, in 1956 the lines 'We are such stuff/As dreams are made on ...' had just been heard (mis-)quoted in the Broadway stage production of Eugene O'Neill's 'Long Day's Journey Into Night' - which as I've mentioned in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' provided Vertigo with its reference to a scolding Sister Teresa ...

September 21 - 2005
Sammy Rice (David Farrar), the backroom 'boffin' in The Small Back Room, has lost a foot, something which is never explained, either in the film or in the novel (by Nigel Balchin). I assume that it was shot away in combat, and that Sammy was subsequently drafted into 'research'. (There is no evidence for what one synopsis of the film says: that Sammy lost his foot when attempting to de-fuse a German bomb, which is what he must attempt do at the film's climax - based on the novel's - in a sequence which has physical suspense worthy of Clouzot.) But the missing foot causes him pain and explains his weakness for drink and his general dissatisfaction with his circumstances, thus jeopardising his relationship with Susan (Kathleen Byron). I wonder if Powell and Pressburger, coming straight from The Red Shoes, saw a connection with the fateful role of 'feet' in that film: both Vicky Page and Sammy Rice are people 'driven' by their feet, or an injury thereto, though one film is a 'tragedy', the other a 'melodrama' - and accordingly Sammy, at least, is given a chance to redeem his unsatisfactory life (whereas Vicky departs on the crest of her reputation as a successful dancer). Note that one film is the inverse of the other: one character has lived always in the spotlight, the other always out of it, in back rooms. But maybe it's the fact that both characters are driven that gives the respective films a certain 'surrealism' in common? Also, if The Red Shoes has its own 'Red Shoes' ballet sequence, The Small Back Room has its controversial DTs fantasy-sequence, and both sequences owe a certain debt to the dream in Hitchcock and Salvador Dali's Spellbound (1945). Many of Powell's characters, it occurs to me, have a 'weakness' or 'susceptability' which is announced at the start of the particular film, inviting us to watch how they cope, or don't cope. Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) in Black Narcissus is like so many of Powell's characters (including Sammy Rice) in being of a generally high calibre personally but under threat from 'within' - in her case, from pride and half-buried resentment (she entered holy orders after a lover back in Ireland deserted her). The Hoffmann character (Robert Rounseville) in The Tales of Hoffmann is another tragic figure, destined never to win the girl but only to write of what befell him (and in a tavern to regale his students with his 'three tales of my folly of love'). Mark in Peeping Tom is a psychopath, yet one we're invited to sympathise with, whose inevitable destruction he himself knows must come some day (though moments of false hope are allowed him when he meets, first, Helen Stephens [Anna Massey] and, second, the psychiatrist Dr Rosan [Martin Miller]). I might almost sum up by saying that Powell's films are often literally 'spectacles' which we watch from a certain distance, albeit fascinated or intrigued - whereas Hitchcock typically told stories whose plot twists drew us further and further into them, allowing us minimal opportunity to say, 'I know where I'm going'. [Back in a couple of weeks - K.M.]

September 20 - 2005
(late) Some random, almost stream-of-consciousness thoughts tonight as I hurry to round off these notes on Michael Powell and Alfred Hitchcock. (I have soon to prepare a paper on this topic of the Powell-Hitchcock connection.) First, I note that Powell told Melvyn Bragg that after making A Matter of Life and Death (1946) he had realised how, for him, there could be 'no realism but only surrealism'. Interestingly, his next three films were Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Small Back Room (1949). The last-named certainly looks as if it marks a return to realism - but I'll come to that. Okay. I recently read Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Red Shoes' (it's on the Web) and was struck by how little of the tale's spirit is retained by the Powell and Pressburger film version! Not for nothing was Andersen's middle name 'Christian' (though it's fair of commentators to compare his tales in other respects to those of E.T.A. Hoffmann). The main point of the tale is that the girl's red shoes, clearly a symbol of carnality, lead her thoughts astray; she must be brought to realise that the 'religious' sobriety of the community is superior. At the end of the tale, she finally goes to church and is told by the pastor, 'It was right of you to come, Karen.' Here her heart becomes so 'filled with peace and joy' that it breaks, and her soul goes straight to Heaven, where no-one asks after the Red Shoes that had caused her so much suffering. From this tale, though, Powell and Pressburger fashioned a film that seeks to make Art the true religion - superior, even, to Life! Of course, the end is ambiguous (like that of, say, Lang's Destiny or Hitchcock's Vertigo), and can be read as saying that Life or, rather, Death, will always triumph in the long run. (I also see parallels with Hitchcock's Rear Window, about a professional photographer unwilling to subordinate his job to marriage, but I must tip-toe past that particular film here.) In other words, just as Black Narcissus undoubedly travesties the religious calling, for the sake of its 'surreal' - even Nietzschean - point directed against religious nay-saying (note that 'Art' in Black Narcissus is represented mainly by the film itself - significantly, one critic has likened its opening shot to an interior by Vermeer), so religion is disregarded, or treated as irrelevant, apropos the concerns of The Red Shoes, which is all about Art. As for The Small Back Room, although its backroom scientist Sammy Rice (David Farrar) undoubtedly has personal problems, religion is never so much as mentioned as a 'solution' to them. For completeness's sake, I would like at this point to be able to bring in Powell and Pressburger's earlier film A Canterbury Tale (1944), which of course climaxes with a scene in the famous Cathedral, but I haven't watched it lately. I suspect that any religious overtones are played down in favour of the film's emphasis on a transcendental (surreal?) form of 'Englishness' (whereas Hitchcock films like The Trouble With Harry, or The Wrong Man, or Vertigo, are all 'big enough' to allow a sobering religious note to sound in the background, thus at times mocking the 'hasty reverence' of the generally otherwise-preoccupied characters). As for the Heaven that we see in A Matter of Life and Death, it's purely a fantastical (and witty) conceit, isn't it? Tomorrow: Sammy's foot, and other matters, in The Small Back Room ...

September 19 - 2005
Just a few final entries this week on the Powell-Hitchcock connection (before I go 'on leave' for a fortnight). Watched Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes (1948) at the weekend. Another connection to Lang's Destiny (which had also impressed Hitchcock - see previous entries) occurs right at the start of The Red Shoes: the burnt-out candle signifying a spent life, behind the credits. Yet, as I had half-remembered, Powell and Pressburger's masterful 'backstage' film is also of Hitchcockian interest because it seems to both borrow from Hitchcock and to have spurred him subsequently. For example, the scene in which ballerina Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) and composer Julian Kraster (Marius Goring), who have fallen in love, hire a horse-drawn carriage for an afternoon on the Cornishe, while the carriage's driver slumbers at the reins, recalls a practically identical scene in Hitchcock's Easy Virtue (1927). Of course, both Powell and Hitchcock in the 1920s knew the Riviera well (Powell had worked in the south of France assisting Rex Ingram), so the overlap of the two films in this respect might just be coincidental. But let's recall that Hitch had made 'backstage' films of his own: I'm thinking of The Pleasure Garden (1925) and Waltzes From Vienna (1933), for two, and both of these contain elements that anticipate The Red Shoes. Waltzes, moreover, had co-starred Esmond Knight (playing Johann Strauss Jnr) who subsequently became a favoured actor of Michael Powell's even when he was near-blind. Which reminds me, in turn, that The Red Shoes contains a couple of other actors who had either worked for Hitchcock previously (Albert Basserman from Foreign Correspondent) or would do so later (Austin Trevor, who plays Professor Palmer in The Red Shoes and would play Inspector Buchanan in the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much). Also, elements from The Red Shoes would turn up in such subsequent Hitchcock films as Stage Fright (1950), To Catch a Thief (1955), again The Man Who Knew Too Much, and of course Torn Curtain (1966) - the latter 'borrowing' Powell and Pressburger's production designer Hein Heckroth to design its own ballet scenes. But here's the main point I wanted to make tonight. The impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) in The Red Shoes is said to be based on both the legendary Diaghilev and on film producer Alexander Korda - with, as Tony Williams has noted (in 'Structures of Desire: British Cinema, 1939-1955'), something of Michael Powell himself. When two of Lermontov's protégés and leading dancers, including Vicky, announce separately that they are leaving the company to get married, Lermontov is incensed: why aren't they totally dedicated to their 'art'? Let's face it: this might equally be a portrait of Hitchcock who, in the next decade and a bit, is known to have been privately enraged by successive acts showing, as he saw it, 'lack of dedication' by such actresses as Anita Bjork (fired from I Confess when she arrived from Sweden pregnant), Vera Miles (who turned down the lead role in Vertigo, for which Hitchcock had been grooming her, when she also fell pregnant), Audrey Hepburn (who withdrew from the never-made No Bail For the Judge, supposedly pleading pregnancy), and Tippi Hedren (another Hitchcock protégé, whose private life during the shooting of Marnie he tried to control utterly).

September 15 - 2005
As noted here on September 12th, Fritz Lang's Der Müde Tod/Weary Death/Destiny (1921) greatly impressed both Alfred Hitchcock and the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. So tonight I ran Lang's film, and was powerfully struck by how its ending (though ambiguous, as Luc Moullet has noted) clearly influenced the ending of A Matter of Life and Death. Recall that in the latter film, it is the demonstrated willingness of June (Kim Hunter) to die in place of Peter (David Niven) that so impresses the jury at Peter's trial in Heaven that he wins his case, allowing the lovers to stay together on Earth (though Peter had officially been proscribed 'dead'). For comparison, here's how events work out in Destiny. The figure of Death (a gaunt Bernhard Götzke) literally takes from a village the lover (Walter Janssen) of a young woman (Lil Dagover). Distraught, the girl follows Death to his nearby residence behind enormous stone walls that seem to have no entrance door. A passing apothecary wants to help her. He takes her to his laboratory where the girl chances to read in a book, 'Love is as strong as Death.' She returns to Death's residence and now, as if by magic, she perceives a secret entrance and a long flight of stairs, which she ascends. In the crypt of a thousand candles (as Luc Moullet aptly calls it), Death tells her that he is weary of taking lives but that his hands are tied. Nonetheless, he adds that if the girl can find a substitute for her lover - someone willing to take his place - he, Death, will reprieve the young man. The girl returns to the village and seeks among beggars and old people someone who is willing to die immediately. But, not surprisingly, no-one will oblige her. Then a fire breaks out at the local infirmary. When the girl hears that a baby is trapped upstairs, she rushes inside and saves it by dropping it from a window to onlookers below. But she thereby loses a chance to take the baby to Death in place of her lover, which seems to have been her first thought. Worse, she has placed her own life in peril. But in a sort of 'double jeopardy', it is this ultimate heedlessness of her own well-being that favourably impresses Death, who announces, 'Whoever sacrifices her life wins it back.' A high-shot shows us the girl and her lover departing from Death's residence across a field of white flowers. But is this happy resolution all in the girl's mind? A further shot shows us the burning infirmary and its roof falling in. Has she perhaps imagined all these events? Has she in fact died there? Note: Bernhard Götzke would play the evil Justice of the Peace, Pettigrew, in Hitchcock's The Mountain Eagle (1926).

September 14 - 2005
Parts of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death (or Stairway to Heaven in America) delight me, and I'm sure many other Powell and Pressburger admirers, with a sense of deja vu like nothing that Hitchcock ever filmed! (Possible exception: some of the Santa Rosa scenes in Shadow of a Doubt [1943].) How musical to my ear is the sound of a hand-pushed lawn-mower somewhere across the road from Dr Reeves's house as, one Sunday morning, the doctor chats with June on his wisteria-framed balcony, where the sun is beaming through yellow-paned windows. (Ostensibly, the yellow glass is to darken the room behind them where Dr Reeves has his camera-obscura; but yellow is also used by the filmmakers later, during the scene of a table-tennis game - another homely detail that I love - to lend a certain magic. Jack Cardiff reports that he employed a lemon filter for the latter scene, in which Heaven's ambassador, Conductor 71 [Marius Goring], appears to the sleeping Peter while both Dr Reeves and June stay oblivious of what is happening. Meanwhile, the sound of their table-tennis ball being batted is as meticulously recorded on the film's soundtrack as the sound of the earlier lawn-mowing!) We had just such a lawn-mower when I was a kid, and Dad would push it around our front lawn and nature-strip on Sundays; also, we had a wisteria on a trellis adjoining our front verandah. Now, I don't think it's coincidental that Dr Reeves is soon heard discussing Peter's halucinatory condition as one where 'a combination of vision, hearing, and of idea' may have 'a direct connection to the sense of smell'. Such 'synaesthesia' on Peter's part (he smells 'fried onions' whenever Conductor 71 arrives!) suggests an ideal of the filmmakers: to stimulate all of the audience's senses. Also, in watching A Matter of Life and Death, I was very aware of the almost-certain influence on the filmmakers of a now largely-forgotten book, J.W. Dunne's 'An Experiment With Time' (1927). Dunne's book was very widely read for many years in England and elsewhere, and influenced writers like J.B. Priestley (especially his time-plays, such as 'Time and the Conways'), J.R.R. Tolkien, John Buchan ('The Gap in the Curtain'), and filmmakers like the team responsible for the omnibus-film Dead of Night (1945) which had come out just a year before the Archers' film. Mind you, the latter ends on a detail that suggests that the whole series of events that we've just seen may have been little more than a figment of Peter's injured brain while under anaesthesia and, before that, after he'd fallen into the sea after jumping from his burning plane. Look carefully as the surgeon removes his mask after Peter's operation and you'll see that he's played by the same actor (Abraham Sofaer) who has played the Heavenly Judge during Peter's trial 'up above'! (Here I'm reminded of how in Hitchcock's Spellbound [1945], the same actors [Norman Lloyd, Rhonda Fleming] who play two of the patients at 'Green Manors', turn up in the dream sequence later, in the gambling-hall episode, though barely recognisable because of 'dream-distortion'.)

September 13 - 2005
I said that I'd say something about the alleged 'sadism' of both Hitchcock and Michael Powell. The most notorious story about Hitch in that respect is the one about the unfortunate props man called Harry whom he slipped a laxative after daring him to stay in the studio overnight while handcuffed. The story has a variant, as told by cinematographer Jack Cardiff (who worked on several Archers films as well as on Hitchcock's Under Capricorn). Here it is, from Cardiff's 'Magic Hour' (1996). 'Once Hitchcock offered Harry five pounds if he would have his head shaved, which he promptly did, and [cinematographer] Jack Cox promised a further three if he would wear handcuffs for the next twelve hours. That was the start of the cruellest joke of all. At the end of the day's shooting Hitchcock gave a shaven, manacled Harry a lift as usual, but beforehand he had phoned the pub at Elstree and told them to put a strong laxative in Harry's beer. On their way to London after their usual drink, Hitchcock suddenly exclaimed that he had to go back to the studio as he had forgotten some important documents and pushed a bewildered Harry out of the car in the middle of nowhere. Not only was Harry arrested on suspicion of being an escaped convict, but he also spent the night sleepless with acute diarrhoea.' And here's one of several stories about Michael Powell, told by actress Maxine Audley (Mrs Stephens in Peeping Tom). 'One actor [on an earlier Powell film] who will remain nameless for reasons of simple kindness, was desperately broke and begged Micky for a job. ... When the actor arrived ... Micky neglected to tell [him] that, for maximum surreal effect, he had placed him on a three foot square podium about thirty feet off the ground. ... Worse, Micky knew the actor suffered from vertigo, but that he didn't have enough money for next week's rent.' (Quoted in James Howard, 'Michael Powell' [1996]. Presumably the film in question, containing a 'podium about thirty feet off the ground', was The Thief of Bagdad [1940] on which Powell was a co-director.) Of course, both Hitchcock and Powell were more usually, and typically, appreciative and courteous men, including towards their actors. Maxine Audley herself recalled that, during the making of Peeping Tom, Powell's 'conduct and behaviour throughout ... was impeccable. ... Over the occasional post shoot drink, it was "Maxine" - but, on the studio floor, it was always a decorous "Miss Audley".' Tomorrow: back to the films.

September 12 - 2005
Michael Powell wrote (in 'Million-Dollar Movie'): 'I knew and loved Hitch, as a friend and fellow craftsman, for forty years. At first glance, each recognised in the other the same confidence, the same mastery of the medium.' No false modesty there - only the truth! I'm beginning to see just how many parallels between the two directors (or between Hitchcock and the Powell-Pressburger combination, the Archers) there were. For example, both were influenced by the artiness and the mysticism of the early German cinema, and particularly by Fritz Lang's Destiny (1921). Lang's film was one that Hitchcock cited to Truffaut as having greatly affected him; Ian Christie (in talking of A Matter of Life and Death [1946] in 'Arrows of Desire') reports the same thing apropos the Archers. Both Hitchcock and the Archers seem to have seen the world as essentially, or ultimately, One: I wasn't surprised to learn that the works of Spinoza were to have been discussed in A Matter of Life and Death (though the discussion was cut from the final print). Spinoza, after all, is associated with a 'pantheism' in which mind and matter are conceived as two modes of an infinite substance which Spinoza called God or Nature, good and evil being relative. Significantly, Tony Williams (in his book 'Structures of Desire: British Cinema, 1939-1955') writes: 'Early scenes in [A Matter of Life and Death] suggest the importance of merging opposing positions. ... Synthesis and unity are important features of [this film].' One of those early scenes occurs on a beach where airman Peter Carter (David Niven), who thinks he's dead and in the next world, comes upon a young goatherd playing his pipes of Pan - suitably setting up a mock-pastoral mood. (The very next minute, though, Peter learns he's definitely still in England when a plane from a nearby RAF base suddenly zooms over the sand dunes!) Later, in an idyllic village, we meet Dr Frank Reeves (Roger Livesey) upstairs at home with his camera-obscura, which allows him, he says, to 'see everything clearly and at once, as in a poet's eye'. (This camera-obscura is the benign equivalent of the 'aural panopticon' I detected in Peeping Tom: see entry for September 5, above.) As in another mock-pastoral film, Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry(1955), true love will eventually enable Peter and the American girl June (Kim Hunter) to achieve - for a time - unity on Earth, if not in Heaven. This Anglo-American 'synthesis' was of course timely in post-war circumstances; but Powell and Pressburger's metaphysics, resembling Hitchcock's, underpins the message with a rich suggestiveness. Incidentally, Kim Hunter is in the line of the Deborah Kerr and Moira Shearer redheads of other Archers' films: a parallel with Hitchcock's alleged obsession with blondes! Also, Peter in A Matter of Life and Death is described as a whisky-drinker when he can get it, this being one of many references to whisky in Powell and Pressburger films, and a reminder of the extensive references to brandy in Hitchcock!

September 7 - 2005
Hitchcock kept in touch with Michael Powell. It was Hitch who suggested the casting of Kim Hunter for Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and for the prologue added to the US release of A Canterbury Tale (1944). (My thanks to Tony Williams for telling me of the latter connection.) I've lately watched both Black Narcissus (1947) - magnificent! - and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951) - likewise! Some general thoughts tonight on the latter film and Hitchcock. First, Hitchcock deeply admired E.T.A. Hoffmann's stories, which were typically fantastic or grotesque, and which were written of course by a contemporary of Goethe and Schopenhauer. (Hoffmann's dates are 1776-1822.) Hitch owned editions of Hoffmann's complete works, including a set in the original German. As I've noted in 'The MacGuffin', Hoffmann's 'The Sandman' provided Freud with an underpinning for his psychological theory of 'the uncanny' (written up in his famous essay of that title) and - in the villain Dr Coppelius - a literary prototype for Dr Caligari in the 1919 German film. (A visual prototype for Caligari used by the filmmakers was a rare photo of Schopenhauer!) Further, the same story inspired the ballet 'Coppélia' by Delibes (1836-91) and an episode in the opera 'The Tales of Hoffmann' by Offenbach (1819-80), the basis of the Powell & Pressburger film. In turn, the plot of Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), especially in the matter of Jeff's voyeuristic watching of events across a courtyard, 'uncannily' resembles parts of Hoffmann's tale! One may also detect a Hoffmann connection, possibly via the Powell & Pressburger film's 'Giulietta' episode (the middle episode, set in Venice), to Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958). That episode can be summarised thus: the poet Hoffmann (Robert Rounseville) falls for a courtesan Giulietta (Ludmilla Tcherina) controlled by the villainous Dr Dapertutto (Robert Helpmann) who uses her as a lure to steal men's reflections and thus their souls. In the end, finding that Giulietta has left with Dapertutto, Hoffmann smashes Dapertutto's giant mirror and is released (as is Faust from his compact with the Devil at the end of Goethe's famous play). Perhaps Hitchcock was influenced by this or similar Hoffmann tales to show Vertigo's Scottie (James Stewart) frequently watching the alluring but duplicitous Madeleine/Judy (Kim Novak) in mirrors - especially at the moment in Podesta's flower shop when we see both Scottie and his own reflected image as he spies on Madeleine buying a nosegay. The fact that Hoffmann loses Giulietta and that Scottie loses Judy/Madeleine may remind us that both stories are 'lost paradise' ones (the Hitchcock film's San Francisco is an equivalent of the Venice of Hoffmann's tale). More next week, including about how both Powell and Hitchcock were reportedly at times 'sadistic' towards actors.

September 6 - 2005
Michael Powell's Peeping Tom also reminded me of Hitchcock's Marnie (1964) at several points. Like Hitchcock, Powell could give an 'interiority' to his film when required (what Hitchcock once told the 'New York Times' was 'doing point-of-view'). Thus the sequence with the aptly-named Viv (Moira Shearer) begins from the literal point-of-view of this red-headed understudy whom Mark persuades to stay behind at the studio one night so that he can film her in 'audition footage' doing a dance number. That is, the sequence begins from the victim's point-of-view rather than Mark's, the murderer's. (The film will revert to his point-of-view soon enough.) In order to evade a studio security guard, Viv hides in a dressing-room until she senses that the coast is clear. It's rather like the scene in Marnie where Marnie must hide in a toilet-cubicle to evade a night watchman before she sets about robbing the Rutland safe. In Viv's case, she soon joins Mark on an empty sound-stage, but not before he has frightened her by lowering the sound-stage door behind her and she has called out, 'Mark? Is that you?' (On the door is a small sign saying 'Safety first'. Shades of both the safety-curtain in Stage Fright [1950] and of the sign on a bus door, 'Watch your step!', which we glimpse in North by Northwest [1959] as Thornhill alights at Prairie Stop. Neither Powell nor Hitchcock missed an opportunity for ironic or audience-teasing references like these!) Incidentally, I have said that Viv is well-named: 'Viv' for vivacious! The contrast is with the languid Milly (Pamela Green), the blonde model who poses for 'girlie' snaps taken by Mark in a room above a newsagent's shop. Both she and Mark seem bored by such work: both drum their fingers as they wait for him to set up his shots. (Naturally Mark conceals this other job of his from his studio colleagues - one of whom one day excitedly shows him a snap of the very sort that Mark secretly specialises in! Another nice jokey touch by Powell!) 'Interiority' is also employed in various ways to show us Mark's world and his obsessions and fears. His elaborate dark-room, with its dim red light, is suggestive of his murderous pathology. And note the subtle (and not-so-subtle) moment when he is first introduced to Helen's blind mother. Almost subliminally, a curtain is whisked aside as the seated Mrs Stephens holds out her hand: 'blindness' is relative, and we soon learn that Mrs Stephens is very perspicacious indeed. Mark seems to sense this: the soundtrack daringly features a loud heart-beat at this point. And Maxine Audley's eyes positively gleam in several of her close-ups. Tomorrow: further Hitchcock-Powell connections.

September 5 - 2005
I'm trying to give in these entries about Michael Powell and some similarities of his films to those of Hitchcock a succinct account of a psychological mechanism that underlies both directors' films and may, indeed, be universal. It concerns 'sadomasochism' and is, I think, largely what brings us to watch films at all. Now, Hitchcock was fascinated by 'fetishism'. By a natural association of ideas, that's something else that we may expect to find in Powell's Peeping Tom (1960). Mark Lewis as a child was photographed by his esteemed father, a scientist, in fearful situations, and he grows up 'fetishising' (sexualising) cameras and situations involving them, especially situations of women being terrorised by his camera (and its lethal tripod-leg aimed at their throats). Mark's masterstroke is to show to these women their own terror - by means of a mirror that is also a photographic lamp - at the moment of their death, and to photograph the terror on their faces. Unfortunately, at this 'orgasmic' moment, Mark (Carl Boehm) is always let down. As he tells the blind Mrs Stephens (Maxine Audley), 'The lights fade too soon.' Mrs Stephens replies feelingly, 'They always do.' (Why do I think here of Hitchcock's avowed preference for suspense - protraction - over surprise?! And why, too, do I think of the philosopher Schopenhauer's contention that no satisfaction ever lasts, and that it's in the nature of the world that dissatisfaction is endemic? In turn, I detect a relation of 'sadomasochism' to what Nietzsche described, in 'The Birth of Tragedy', as the ideal satisfaction offered by art, a triumphant fusion of the Apolline and Dionysiac - roughly, objective and subjective - modes of engaging with the world and 'life'.) For what it's worth, I was suddenly reminded in watching Peeping Tom of Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955). Near the end, Mark tells Helen (Anna Massey) that the entire boarding-house has always been wired for sound, with hidden microphones in every room. Up on the top floor (of this virtual 'aural panopticon'), Mark has been able to listen in to conversations of the various boarders, including intimate moments of Helen and her ex-boyfriend Tony (Brian Wallace). But now, driven from his seclusion by the tender feelings awakened in him by Helen, Mark arrives at his moment of destiny, for which he has long planned. It does indeed remind me of John Robie (Cary Grant) in To Catch a Thief descending from his 'splendid isolation' in his hilltop villa and venturing down to the town - Cannes - below, where he first meets Francis (Grace Kelly) and then proceeds to a rooftop showdown with his would-be nemesis, Danielle (Brigitte Auber). He's 'where I always knew he'd be some day', says the Police Inspector. More tomorrow.

September 1 - 2005
Finished another viewing of Peeping Tom tonight. Hitchcock parallels are everythere, some more striking than others: some are no doubt just the result of two acutely cinematic minds thinking - and imagining - alike. Tonight I especially noted parallels with Rear Window. Obviously, both Mark Lewis in Peeping Tom and Jeff (James Stewart) in Rear Window are photographers and thus surrogates for both the films' directors and (by implication) for us, the audience. To that extent, both films are mea-culpas for all of us (though the original critics of Peeping Tom hardly appreciated this, one gathers). Sadomasochism is in all of us - even in the women in the respective films: in Peeping Tom, for example, both Helen and her blind mother can be aggressive and punitive, and Helen's curiosity, though it soon leads her into a friendship with Mark, is the very trigger for a transgression of 'the power of the father', both literally and figuratively (as Laura Mulvey has indicated). So there's every reason why it's fitting that Helen should be with Mark at the end when he does literally defy ('transgress') his father's continuing influence over him in a scene that has more than one resemblance to the climax of Rear Window. In Hitchcock's film, Jeff's struggle with the father-figure Thorwald (Raymond Burr), after fighting him off with flashbulbs - an assault on the eyes (= symbolic 'castration') - anticipates how Mark finally lunges to his suicidal death which he photographs both in a series of flash photographs (objectively?) and with his movie camera (subjectively?). Of course, in Mark's case, his final act is one of both defiance (mainly of his own fear - the film emphasises this when he cries out, 'Helen, I'm afraid!', before dying) and of submission (but less to his own father than to society for his crimes). That is, in Mark's case he 'transgresses' his father's continuing dominance of him by submitting to the punishment that society requires, but it's an almost transcendental act (symbolised by the objective/subjective recording of his death, giving him the status of an artist, which is what he has aspired to all along). As for the sadomasochism that has brought all this about - and which I have said is in all of us - I happen to believe that it's a very real mechanism that operates even in young children and later becomes 'sexualised' in various ways, in varying degrees of 'perversion'. ('Everything's perverted in different ways', Hitchcock said.) And, yes, the connection to the acts of looking and/or being looked at, is surely also very real. All of which gives us 'something to fight' as we each seek our particular modus vivendi as adults. I can't help thinking of two different pieces of dialogue from Rear Window, both connected with Jeff's masseuse Stella (Thelma Ritter). The wiry Stella is middle-aged and happily-married (despite not always seeing eye-to-eye with her spouse, a fact she readily admits), so she is entitled to be a spokesperson for a certain kind of wisdom. 'I'm not shy', she tells us with perfect frankness, 'I've been looked at before.' And in the scene where she slaps cold massage-oil on Jeff's upper body, she tells him not to protest: 'It gives your circulation something to fight.' In other words, life wasn't meant to be easy. No pain, no gain. Continued next week.

August 31 - 2005
Michael Powell was aware of a Jack-the-Ripper connection in Peeping Tom. (As far as I know, he didn't refer to a connection with Hitchcock's The Lodger, but I have seen at least one scholar - probably Laura Mulvey - point to such a connection. I'm simply expanding, here, on that insight of Mulvey's.) The opening scene, in which Mark murders a prostitute, is set in 'Newman Passage' which, according to Powell's autobiography, is said to be associated with the Ripper. (Another film had also evoked The Lodger recently. In Alexander Mackendrick's The Ladykillers [1955] the first arrival of Alec Guiness's character at the front door of Mrs Wilberforce [Katie Johnson] echoes the arrival of Ivor Novello's character at the front door of Mrs Bunting [Marie Ault]. I thank Philip Kemp for pointing this out to me.) And while we're on the topic of famous murderers, Mark Lewis in Peeping Tom is not unlike - in some ways - the notorious Dennis Nilsen who was arrested in 1983 for having killed a succession of young men who visited his upstairs apartment at Muswell Hill in suburban London. Nilsen, too, had a day job and could pass as 'normal' with his colleagues and neighbours. I wonder if critics would have been quite as hostile to Peeping Tom had they known of someone like Nilsen - about whom Brian Masters wrote a non-judgmental book-length study called 'Killing for Company' (1985). Hitchcock himself naturally spotted the connection of Powell's film to The Lodger and Psycho, and went so far as to cast Anna Massey in Frenzy (1972) which has its own echoes of The Lodger. Here's Anna Massey on the two directors: 'Both created quite specific atmospheres, and both rehearsed a lot and didn't do very many takes. ... [Both] were such masters that they knew the atmosphere that had to be on set before [the cameras] turned.' (Quoted in James Howard, 'Michael Powell', 1996.) Also, both directors knew the importance of going into detail, and building up the characters and their background. Both The Lodger and Peeping Tom allow a romance to develop between the killer (possible killer in the case of The Lodger) and the girl (Daisy, Helen), and alternate sequences in which the couple 'do' the town (Hitchcock even shows us Daisy at work, as a mannequin) and other sequences showing the more nefarious and introverted side of the male character. In both films, an additional perspective, and sense of suspense, is obtained by focussing on the suspicions of the girl's mother. More tomorrow.

August 30 - 2005
I deliberately raised the topic of Michael Powell, and his connection to Hitchcock, yesterday. Given that Michael Powell's centenary is next month, the matter of how far these two great directors resemble each other is definitely worth considering. I'll be looking at some Powell films over the next month and shall share some of my thoughts about them here. (I understand that Turner Classic Movies in America have scheduled a season of Powell films on Sunday nights through September.) I've already looked at Peeping Tom (1960) a couple of times lately. Watching part of it tonight, I suddenly realised a reason why it and Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) have so much in common: they both share a common ancestor, namely, Hitchcock's The Lodger (1926)! In other words, screenwriter Leo Marks (who had first thought to make with Powell a spy story, then a film about Freud, but had both those projects cancelled) appears to have loosely based the character of Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) on the Ivor Novello character in The Lodger, someone himself loosely based on the real-life Jack the Ripper. And the girl Helen Stephens (Anna Massey), who starts an affair with this mysterious, shy, and somewhat sinister young man from upstairs, despite the misgivings of her (blind) mother (Maxine Audley), is the equivalent of Daisy (June Tripp) in Hitchcock's film. I've come away from watching my DVD of Peeping Tom to write these notes after freezing the image on a three-shot of Mark, Helen, and her 'regular' boyfriend Tony (Brian Wallace) whom Helen soon drops after she meets Mark - exactly as Daisy drops her regular boyfriend, the stolid policeman Joe (Malcolm Keen). (I've thoughts, too, on where Leo Marks may have obtained the character of the blind but perspicacious Mrs Stephens, namely, from John Buchan's 1924 novel 'The Three Hostages', where the villain Medina's mother is also blind, acutely perceptive, and a commanding figure - and who uses her long fingers to explore the hero's face. But I shan't insist on this connection, though it's a scene in the novel that Hitchcock himself once remarked on.) Also, I think it's fair to say that the climactic flashback of The Lodger which represents the Novello character's 'apologia' to Daisy for why he has been behaving strangely (the flashback shows us scenes of his dying mother and his beautiful young sister, the latter murdered at her coming-out ball) is an equivalent of the home-movie footage taken by Mark Lewis's scientist father and which Mark shows to Helen by way of 'explaining' himself to her. So the fact that some of Mark's hesitations and tics early in Peeping Tom resemble those of Norman Bates (Tony Perkins) in Psycho when he meets Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is at least partly accounted for, as I say, by how both these young men are descended from a common ancestor. More tomorrow.

August 29 - 2005
Alfred Hitchcock's life and career overlapped with Michael Powell's more than once, and both men were dedicated to the medium of film. Hitchcock (born 1899) was the elder, of course, but by a mere six years. (Powell's centenary falls on 30 September this year.) Powell worked for Hitchcock as a stills-photographer on Champagne (1927) and The Manxman (1928); and in Blackmail (1929) he had a hand in the film's scripting - though not perhaps in exactly the way, or to the extent, Powell himself reported in the first volume of his autobiography. According to Powell, it was entirely his suggestion that the third act of Charles Bennett's stage play (which had starred Tallulah Bankhead) be replaced by a chase which culminates spectacularly in the British Museum. Here he was remembering his own boyhood visits to that locale, and was thinking of how cinematic it would be for the story's blackmailing villain to fall to his death through the skylight of the museum's Reading Room. What this account by Powell neglects to mention is that (a) spectacular falls from heights had been a staple of stage melodrama for perhaps a century (it is even the way that Dickens climaxes his 1838 novel 'Oliver Twist'), and (b) that the Maurice Elvey film Palais de Danse (1928), scripted by the very star of Blackmail, John Longden (in collaboration with his actress wife, Jean Jay), had recently used a practically identical climax. Here's how Kevin Brownlow describes Elvey's film (in 'David Lean', 1996): 'It is a fast-paced thriller in the American style [shot on location at the celebrated dance hall in Tottenham] ... The climax takes place on the glass dome above the crowded dance floor. The hero struggles with the villain - one of the most repellent characters in British films, played by an unrecognisable John Longden - and they crash through the glass, clinging to beams as the people below watch in horror.' Actually, spectacular climaxes in or near well-known landmarks (a popular new dance hall, the Houses of Parliament, etc.) had been something that Elvey had pioneered on film at least as early as his The Great Gold Robbery (1913). Here's how he justified this trope to film historian Dennis Gifford: the film's 'great detective' dives off Westminster Bridge to waylay robbers absconding with a cargo of gold. This 'enable[s] you to have the Houses of Parliament in the background ... if you could get a landmark in this was a great selling-point.' (Quoted in Christine Gledhill, 'Reframing British Cinema 1919-1928', 2003.) Of these related 'traditions' Hitchcock would obviously have been aware (cf the chase that climaxes The Lodger, and the Albert Hall boxing-match climax of The Ring), so Michael Powell can hardly claim unique credit for 'inventing' the 'Hitchcock climax'! Another interesting thing, though, is how Elvey's influence may perhaps be seen in the climaxes of both some of Powell's own films (e.g., Black Narcissus, 1947, set in the Himalayas) and even of David Lean's (use of Dickens's original climax) in Oliver Twist (1948). A young Lean had been an assistant on Palais de Danse.

August 24 - 2005
The socially-conscious John Grierson thinks that the premise of The Skin Game is phoney and that this is the fault of the author of the original play, John Galsworthy. 'For, of course, Mr Hillcrist and Mr Hornblower never fought at all. They fell into each other's arms seventy and eighty years ago. ... Can you really imagine Mr Hillcrist worrying about the industrial smoke over his demesne? Why, it was the merriest thing in the world when he found coal under it, and no trouble of conscience at all to have it ripped up and ... uglied by workers' slums if the royalties were forthcoming. Can you really imagine Mr Hillcrist worrying about the poor peasant in the corner field? Did he not put his fields to sheep and easy profits, and drive him into Mr Hornblower's factories? Did he not otherwise burn him out of that very cottage and drive him to a wilderness overseas [e.g., Australia?!], Hillcrist himself not caring a hoot in hell where he went?' In other words, The Skin Game poses as social realism but is no more real than The Trouble With Harry over twenty years later! Mind you, Galsworthy does characterise Hillcrist by his daughter's name for him, 'Dodo', which is an admission that the character is an anachronism. Nonetheless, Grierson has a point about the irrelevance we may feel the theme to have. As for Hitchcock's treatment of the material, I will go along with what Grierson says next (as I say, I watched the film again last night): 'The film itself I must proclaim for the fine job it is. It is a smooth account, with all the ingenuity in character. But when, oh, when, will Hitchcock get a theme that will match with his powers of production?' For my part, I particularly liked the way Hitchcock directed the character of the caring and honest Jill Hillcrist (Jill Esmond), as when she detects Chloe (Phyllis Konstam) eavesdropping behind a curtain on the Hillcrists discussing the possibility that Chloe may commit suicide: instantly Jill is able to show genuine concern for Chloe (no show of annoyance at being spied on) and to bid her enter the room. And Galsworthy's ending is still telling. Hillcrist (appalled at the hypocrisy that has been revealed on both sides, but particularly on his own): 'When we began this fight, we had clean hands - are they clean now? What's gentility worth if it can't stand fire?' Here Hitchcock inserts a shot of Jill significantly holding hands with Rolf Hillcrist (Frank Lawton), followed by the shot of a tree falling which I've already discussed. The film thus goes beyond Galsworthy to provide an example of what Donald Spoto calls Hitchcock's 'open-ended pessimism': while there's life there's hope, it seems to say. For comparison, think of the ending of, say, Shadow of a Doubt.

August 23 - 2005
I'm still not sure that the various DVD versions of The Skin Game may not all be missing a scene or two, as reported yesterday (mine is the LaserLight version), but if so then it seems that all of the extant prints of the film may be missing scenes. Certainly the print that was screened on Australian TV a few years ago has no extra scenes as compared with my DVD version (I ran my videotape of the TV print last night). Nor does the long synopsis of the film in Jane Sloan's 'Alfred Hitchcock: a filmography and bibliography' (1995) appear to indicate extra material. According to an email from Dave Pattern (who runs the Hitchcock DVD website), all of the generally-available PAL-format DVDs of The Skin Game run for about 78 or 79 minutes, which is the equivalent of about 82 minutes in the cinema or on NTSC-format DVDs. Yet Dave has checked the original (1931) length of the film as indicated on the BBFC website, and that shows a running-time of about 88 minutes. Which is what various reference books also indicate. In short, the film has lost about 6 minutes since its original release. And when I looked up John Grierson's contemporary review of the film (reprinted in 'Grierson on Documentary' [revised edition 1966]), I was struck by this passage describing the feud between the Hillcrist and Hornblower families: 'You never saw such a fight of hooligans. They storm and threaten and kick each others' shins; they accumulate every species of muck from rotten eggs to cods' entrails and slosh it over each others' heads; they turn to blackmail and reputation-dirtying with an ease which would astonish and even stagger the most hard-baked criminal.' Well, I certainly noted the 'blackmail and reputation-dirtying' when I watched the film recently, but I don't recall things like rotten eggs (which would be another instance of Hitchcock's admitted dislike of eggs) and cods' entrails, nor did I spot any shin-kicking (yet isn't there a still somewhere of Hornblower doing precisely that to Hillcrist?). So it looks as if, somewhere along the line, someone has seen fit to re-issue the film with some of its more lively - or farcical? - moments excised. I wonder who and when, exactly? (I'll try and find out - or would be grateful to hear from any reader who may know.) Speaking of 'farcical' ... that's actually how Grierson describes it: 'If you like your fights faked, this one may stir you. Otherwise, I am afraid, you will find it a very unfunny farce indeed.' I'll expand on Grierson's remark tomorrow, and add some further comments of my own.

August 22 - 2005
Further to the entry on The Skin Game (August 16, above), I looked again at that film on DVD last night. I think I may owe an apology to Bill Warren whom I castigated last year (was it?) for putting down that film on the newsgroup. The film really does impel listlessness in the viewer! Some of its attempts to 'improve on' the literal staginess of the dialogue scenes are pretty desperate-seeming! (I was reminded at times of when 3-D arrived in the 1950s and directors delighted in having actors throw objects at the camera. There is indeed a shot like that - Chloe [Phyllis Konstam] imagining figures from her past coming at her like missiles! - half way through The Skin Game. Infinitely more subtle, and absorbing, is the extended scene in Marnie, made over 30 years later, of the figure from Marnie's past, a man in a pork-pie hat, whom she encounters at a racetrack.) Was Hitchcock trying to pass the buck when he began the film with the title, 'A talking film by John Galsworthy'?! Nonetheless, I had remembered the film as ... interesting. Best of all are the opening and closing scenes, added by the filmmakers (and obviously inspired by Cocteau's recent The Blood of a Poet), of a tree being chopped down. Symbolically, this situates the film in a fleeting moment of time: everything is so relative, the message seems to be. (The equivalent in Vertigo is the sequoia-forest scene.) I also like the character of Jill Hillcrist (Jill Esmond) who isn't afraid to speak her mind about the 'passing parade' and the follies she - accurately - sees there. She even affectionately calls her patrician, old-fashioned father 'Dodo' (after the extinct bird), though of course the play and the film show Hillcrist, abetted by his wife (Helen Haye), fighting back against the nouveau-riche industrialist Hornblower, even resorting to some pretty low-down tactics of blackmail (involving the shady past of Hornblower's daughter-in-law, Chloe). Jill is thus an early version of other forthright young ladies in Hitchcock: Erica in Young and Innocent, Barbara in Strangers on a Train, et al. Another pre-dating occurs in the scene in the street after the land-auction, at which Hornblower had out-bid Hillcrist by a trick: Hornblower comes up to the Hillcrists in their car and, putting one foot on the running-board, regales them with his unwelcome remarks about how astute he's been. It's the predecessor of the scene in the street in Rebecca in which Favell (George Sanders), puts one foot on the running-board of Maxim's car and regales Maxim and his wife with his unwelcome warning about the way the inquest may go. ('What does one do with old bones? Bury them, eh what?') I'm going to look at the film again - on video this time, as I'm not sure that the DVD may not be missing a scene or two - and shall report further then.

August 17 - 2005
My thanks to Rob P in San Francisco who sent me a recording of a recent public appearance (at the Castro Theatre) by Tippi Hedren. One of the things Tippi mentions is the horrendous - on the face of it - screen-test that Hitchcock gave her, with Martin Balsam (specially flown in) feeding her lines. Apparently, Hitchcock, off-camera, would begin by insulting her, or telling her dirty jokes, plus anything else he could think of to unnerve her and - according to Tippi - make her cry. Here's a condensed version of how I responded to Rob in an email ... 'I guess Hitchcock wasn't joking when, as far back as the 1930s, he said of actresses: "[Try to] break 'em down at the start, it's much the best way." [In Tippi's case, then,] Hitch was only being consistent! Also, the tone in which he did all of this must count for something, and I'm sure it was "civilised", with a sense of joking. You must know the famous footage of Hitch telling the joke about the sailor and the girl to Blackmail actress Anny Ondra. That footage is actually rather charming, I think [though not everyone may agree]. Also, of course, the whole screen-test thing with Tippi was being "chaperoned" by the presence of Marty Balsam and a cinematographer and crew. And again, Hitch's wife Alma once said that he was the only man she knew who could tell a dirty joke in public and get away with it. That must count for something! Come to think of it, what else is a film like Psycho than a kind of dirty joke told in public? It has toilets, nudity, transvestism! Yet, Hitch, we love you for it! Actually, the composer John Addison said that Hitch was "the most civilised man I have ever met". I take this to mean that Hitch could converse frankly and, of course, intelligently, but with full consideration of the feelings of his listeners. Being civilised is being honest, with wit and sensitivity. That was Hitch! A couple of related things. I've always seen Hitch's remark about actresses in the context of British society and British middle-class women, including actresses, of the time (the 1930s). From what I've heard, and seen (movies of the period), such women were often pretty artificial and stuck-up. And such phoneyness was precisely what Hitch most disliked in anyone - male or female. I don't think we'd have a problem with that today, would we? Which brings me to my final point. I recently wrote a profile of Hitch in which I noted how he believed in the idea of the "self-creating personality". This was somebody who consistently dared to do more than just the easy, "polite", or "self-effacing" thing. Think of Hitch's lift-story routine that so startled Peter Bogdanovich when he first encountered it. (In a crowded lift, Hitch would turn to his companion and begin to tell the story, apparently true, of having been present at a murder-scene. "You should have seen the blood!") Telling that story out loud in a lift took guts! My point is that Hitch would not have made such interesting movies if he hadn't been such a "self-creating", forthright person. And that even in something like a screen-test, he showed the same forthrightness, and respected people who could take whatever he dished out. It was, indeed, a test. (And Tippi seems to have passed hers with flying colours. Incidentally, I tremendously respect that lady, not least for her love of animals and wild creatures.)'

August 16 - 2005
Little more than a piece of trivia tonight, perhaps. Hitchcock's The Skin Game (1931), from John Galsworthy's play, depicts the 'game' between a nouveau-riche industrialist, Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn), whose land-clearing plans include demolishing the cottage of an elderly couple to build a new factory, and the lord, Hillcrist (C.V. France), who thinks he shouldn't - but who, in any case, is probably himself still smarting because until recently all the local land had been in the Hillcrist family for generations. In other words, this is a film about mixed motives, and about contending views of how things are and should be. Hillcrist uses high-flown words to declare in favour of the elderly couple: 'their heart's in that cottage'. The down-to-earth Hornblower replies: 'Have a sense of proportion, man. My works supply thousands of people, and my heart's in them.' From this initial clash of subjectivities (a situation typical of much Hitchcock), the 'game' gets dirty when Hillcrist attempts to use a scandal in the Hornblower family in his own favour. Meanwhile, to quote critic David Shipman, 'Jill Esmond and Frank Lawton are the Montagu-Capulet lovers'. Okay, here's the trivia. I quoted Shipman's perceptive comment because his 'The Good Film and Video Guide' also has this description of another British film made eight years later (which I haven't seen), Walter Forde's Cheers, Boys, Cheer: '[an] ever-topical comedy about two breweries - the powerful, mechanized one which wants to take over the small, old-fashioned one. You don't need to be told which makes the best beer. C.V. France is one tycoon; Edmund Gwenn is the one to boo. Their children, the romantic leads, are [Hitchcock actress] Nova Pilbeam and Peter Coke.' Plus ça change ...

August 15 - 2005
A little more on Waltzes From Vienna. In a way, the opening sequence encapsulates the whole film. After all the consternation (including when a marching band turns up), and the fire is put out, the restaurant owner, Ebezedar (Rasi's father, who also owns the pastry-making business in the same building) spontaneously hands out canapés to everyone. Here, then, all's well that ends well. A benign spirit reigns, if uneasily. (Already there are tensions between Rasi and the Countess.) A similar thing happens at the end of the film's two-back-to-back climaxes (in the uncut print) when the première-performance of Schani's Blue Danube Waltz prompts couples to spontaneously get up and dance. (There's a superb close-up here of a girl, enraptured by the music, looking up joyously at her lover.) And again at the end, after the impetuous Count (Frank Vosper) narrowly avoids catching the Countess alone with Schani, as she congratulates him on his triumph, and business with ladders (echoing the film's opening) enables Rasi to take the Countess's place in a nice moment of reconciliation between the two women, the film cuts to the now nearly deserted bandstand and dance floor. A young girl comes up to the chastened elder Strauss (Edmund Gwenn) who is wandering there, and asks for his autograph. He distractedly gives it to her, then spontaneously calls her back. He changes his signature from 'Strauss' to 'Strauss Snr'. After all the film's consternation, forebearance! I have many favourite moments in this excellent, under-appreciated film. One of them, near the start, almost anticipates Vertigo. It's the moment when the Countess is in the high-class dress-shop (cf Magnin's!) over the road from Ebezedar's Restaurant. She is there to make a purchase. The shop owner enters, claps her hands, and the shop's models come in to show off the merchandise. These are the same models whose flimsily-clad derrières we'd seen lined up at a window as they watched the fire over the road! But now, as the models strutt their stuff for the Countess, Hitchcock wittily cuts in a shot of the marching band in the street outside. The band's music and step are both in time with those of the models. A delightful, lively moment! Rather more complex (it includes a cymbal-crash, as if anticipating The Man Who Knew Too Much) is the scene in the uncut print when Rasi runs from the room where the elder Strauss is conducting (after she has thrown his music in the air, in dudgeon) and nearly loses her head as the room's doors close like a blade! In close-up, we see that she is crying. But worse is to come, for in an adjoining room she finds Schani with the Countess and they are playing what Rasi had thought was 'her' song: Schani had in fact dedicated the piece to both Rasi and the Countess. Such rapid compounding of emotions shows Hitchcock, in effect, readying himself for the fast-paced thrillers that were soon to establish his international reputation.

August 11 - 2005
The start of Waltzes From Vienna is its weakest episode: a small fire in a Vienna restaurant where nobody panics very much, so that business-as-usual carries on at tables moved to the pavement outside, and the firemen's efforts to extinguish the fire are treated by all-and-sundry as an entertaining diversion. Maybe this was meant to characterise Vienna as a place of relaxed charm, and the lackadaisical pacing meant as another joke, but individual gags (e.g., a dropped wedding-cake) seem not particularly funny. Nonetheless, the film's own charm soons kicks in once we get to know the main characters, who include Schani Strauss (Esmond Knight), his sweetheart Rasi (Jessie Matthews), and the older woman, the Countess (Fay Compton), who proves to have Schani's best interests at heart as he struggles to establish himself as a composer. (Of course, the film tells the story of the older and the younger Strausses, Johann Snr and Johann Jnr, and of the father's jealousy of his son, here called Schani. In short, the situation is an Oedipal one, played mainly for comedy; and an essentially benign mother-figure, the Countess, is an important instrument in resolving it. In a way, the film anticipates Spellbound where another Oedipal situation is overcome with help, this time, from a benign father-figure, Dr Brulov [Michael Chekhov]. The situation also has pre-echoes of Rear Window, as I've noted in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'.) Full marks, then, to Patrick McGilligan who writes that, seen today, Waltzes is 'a deft, glittering imitation of a German light musical, chuckling more winningly than Number Seventeen at its own conventions'. I agree. (A cut-down, French version of Waltzes can be obtained from the Hitchcockiana-supplier indicated near the head of this page; the ludicrous copyright matter preventing distribution of a full version of the film - a print of that version is held by the BFI - is described in my long review of McGilligan's book elsewhere on this website.) I just want to add that I've seen the full version of the film and can say that it's another good instance of Hitchcock making films for audiences. Dr Tag Gallagher has also seen the full version, and enjoyed it. We commented to each other on Hitchcock's clever 'visualisation of sound' in the film's bakery sequence, and Tag pointed out that it actually 'comes of course from [F.W. Murnau's] Sunrise ... but I think it was frequent in films of the era (1926-34, more or less): Riley the Cop (Ford), So This is Paris (Lubitsch), etc.' Thanks, Tag. Easy to forget these connections. But here's a joke from Hitchcock's film to end on. Reader, do you remember the reference to Mozart in The Wrong Man, where one of Manny's boys says something like, 'I'm six years old, so I should be able to compose like Mozart'? Well, Waltzes has a similar gag. A gangly guy after the climactic performance of the Blue Danube Waltz, to his girlfriend, having noticed Rasi hurrying away: 'She must be a wonderful girl, if she inspired him [Schani] to write that waltz.' The girlfriend: 'I'm a wonderful girl, and what have you ever done?'

August 10 - 2005
Can I possibly tidy up the above, which, for one thing, suffers from being over-condensed?! Well, for a start, when I say that Hitchcock films begin enegetically, plunge the hero into a period of alienation, but end with an (almost magical) reminder of all-at-onceness and wholeness, think of The 39 Steps (which I have analysed elsewhere on the Web - see link under 'For those who care', near the top of this page). The initial visual reference to the music hall with its brilliantly-lit marquee sign establishes the sense of energy that effectively propels the rest of the film. (But just about all Hitchcock films, from The Pleasure Garden to Family Plot, begin with energetic credits-sequences, often having a theatrical connotation or a sense of hidden powers at work.) Later in the film, the hero may find himself on the run, estranged from the lights of the city, yet learn that he is not alone in this (e.g., the crofter's wife pining for the lights of Glascow on Saturday night: cf the line in Psycho, 'Sometimes Saturday night has a lonely sound'). Antonioni, too, often put characters in similar circumstances (e.g., the Steve Cochran character wandering through a wintry Po Valley in Il Grido) and used neon signs ironically to suggest alienation. Finally, in a Hitchcock film, the hero may return, chastened and wiser, and maybe with the heroine as his companion, to something like his starting-point, but having won at least a conditional freedom based on a sense of 'community' that his travels have given him. In this, Hannay is different from, say, Fred in Rich and Strange, because he seems more intelligent and appreciative of what he has seen. The butt of the climax of The 39 Steps is the dying Mr Memory who knows only 'facts' (in a way, he is the equivalent of dull Fred, or of the 'one-note man' who plays the cymbals in the Albert Hall climax of The Man Who Knew Too Much while 'life', represented by the 'Storm Cloud Cantata', swirls around him: cf the use of the "Tinkle, Tinkle, Tinkle" number from the film Evergreen performed by the onstage chorus while Mr Memory lies dying). Which reminds me: I see that I may have misrepresented the ending of Rear Window above (entries for August 8 and 9). After all, it looks like Lisa (Grace Kelly) is prepared to make some sort of compromise and join Jeff on his travels for a while (she is seen reading both the travel book 'Beyond the High Himalyas' and a copy of 'Harper's Bazaar'), that is, if the poor guy ever recovers from his second broken leg! Maybe she intends to marry him first and then head off with him overseas for a time, 'roughing it' as best she may. Or is her reading of that travel book (which she soon puts down when she sees that Jeff is asleep) just a bluff? As I was trying to say above, Hitchcock, like Antonioni, holds out no promises for the lives of his characters once a film is ended; each film (the 'theatrical' event itself) has balanced Will and Representation, and it's that 'magical' balancing-act that is so exhilarating. Once the film is over, and we re-join society's 'game', we may become as alienated as ever. But that's my cue to discuss Waltzes From Vienna - tomorrow.

August 9 - 2005
Anything film can do, Hitchcock can do better - than Antonioni. Well, arguably! Antonioni's Blow-Up does a marvellous job of reminding us that Will (energy, which may 'blow up' if misapplied) and Representation (appearances, which may need 'blowing up' in a different sense, i.e., photographically, to be meaningful, but maybe not even then) are interconnected. The fact is, we don't really understand the nature of either energy or appearances - not even Stephen Hawking, as far as I can tell, has 'solved' what used to be called the world-riddle - and that's why we are all 'alienated'. Antonioni's principal theme runs deep. Also, Immanuel Kant explained philosophically why it's in the nature of the finite human brain that we can't solve the world-riddle, only state the riddle itself (as he and Schopenhauer, et al., proceeded to do) - and has never been refuted, again as far as I can tell. (Sure, Nietzsche, for one, simply denied the Kantian proposition, in the interests of getting on with 'living', but that's not the same thing as refuting it!) All of which is implicit in Antonioni, whose films are very lucid and intelligent. But Hitchcock, a well-read Catholic, started out by exploring the nature of the film medium and soon arrived at many, if not all, of the same insights as Antonioni. Moreover, he did so from directly inside the medium (Antonioni, a Commerce graduate, and briefly a film critic, came to film with socio-political predilections, as I recall), so Hitchcock films are very audience-centred. Typically, they begin by involving us in an intriguing situation, not least with their energetic titles-sequences, and only then veer into a condition of character 'alienation' (e.g., Hannay's on-the-run encounter with the crofter's wife in The 39 Steps) before 'solving' the condition, at least for the audience, by giving us a climax in which 'all-at-onceness' and 'wholeness' are implied, if not without ambiguity. (Again I think of the photographer Jeff in Rear Window, with his two broken legs and the possibility that he may give up his globe-trotting job to get married - even if it will be marriage to the beautiful Lisa [Grace Kelly] and even if his apartment is already well-stocked with souvenirs - symbols - of his travels!) Also, I watched Hitchcock's underrated Waltzes From Vienna (1934) again recently, and wrote to a film-buff friend, comparing it to Blow-Up: 'Antonioni gives us his climactic tennis match, which refers, in cerebral fashion to how "society" bestows meaning (the only meaning, according to Peter Brunette's commentary on my Blow-Up DVD) whereas Hitch gives us the climactic Blue Danube Waltz and shows couples getting up to dance ...

August 8 - 2005
I began the notes on 'pure film' here recently by citing (August 1, above) Prof. Don Culpitt's remark that Antonioni's films provide a good example of 'Schopenhauerian' cinema, i.e., films that deal with Will (reality, the fundamental life/death 'force') vs Representation (delusionary, multitudinous appearances). The term 'vs' may be misleading: Will and Representation are really two sides of the same coin, not to be thought of as contending entities. At least, any individual (who is bound in subjectivity, by Kantian definition) needs to be aware that whatever he does, and whatever he interprets, will have limited application, limited validity. But both action and interpretation are necessary. The term 'pure film' reminds me that film is like Will in having 'energy' and action/flow but is always subject to interpretation - and needs both to 'work'. (An uninterpreted film is nothing.) The very title of Antonioni's Blow-Up(1966), which I watched at the weekend, manages to hint at how Will and Representation are connected. Set in 'swinging London', that is, a city pleased with itself and its up-to-dateness, it shows us Thomas (David Hemmings) who is at once 'out of it' (by dint of his profession of observer/photographer: the same paradox Hitchcock explores in Rear Window) and 'with it' (by dint of his modishness: cf Jeff's job working for 'Life' magazine in Hitchcock's film). During the film, Thomas tries to solve the mystery of what 'really happened' in a park by enlarging ('blowing up') photographs of what looks like a body. Seeking to verify his suspicions, he returns to the park - and finds the body. But next time he goes there, later the same night, the body has gone. The whole mystery has 'blown up' in his face. This other, 'apocalyptic' connotation of 'blown up' (not one of mere interpetation now, but of survival!) links the film to other Antonioni films, such as The Eclipse (1962) and Zabriskie Point (1969), as well as to the films I mentioned here last week, such as Hitchcock's The Birds, where 'blown up' again refers literally to explosions, energy. Well, Thomas learns his lesson, it seems. At the end of the film, in a coda that Antonioni's countryman Pirandello might have scripted (Pirandello, a Schopenhauerian, wrote the play 'Right You Are - If You Think So'), Thomas chooses to participate in an imaginary tennis game with some happy-go-lucky students - only to promptly vanish, like the body earlier. So much for simply being 'with it'! (Why do I think of Jeff's apparent decision to settle down and marry at the end of Rear Window?!) Antonioni's film is a masterly cerebral exercise in what Will vs Representation is all about. But where does that leave Hitchcock? Answer tomorrow!

August 3 - 2005
Spielberg's Jaws achieved something that Hitchcock's The Birds didn't: I'm thinking of the absolutely satisfying moment in Spielberg's film when the shark takes Quint in its jaws and - convincingly - bites him in two. By comparison with that, all of Hitchcock's bird attacks look relatively conceptual and phoney. No matter that the fundamental impulse in us to see the unthinkable happen is ignoble: it's simply Human Nature to experience impulses that are sadistic, and to positively welcome mayhem provided that we ourselves stay safe. (If we weren't safe - in our cinema seats, or in front of the TV - our feelings would be rather more mixed!) If nothing else, the Jaws scene gives a heightened meaning to Coleridge's phrase about poetry being 'emotion recollected in tranquility'! But I'm suggesting that it also gives expression to something fundamental in us, what the philosopher Schopenhauer called Will, and which he characterised as an amoral cosmic force or impulse that underlies everything, including human thought. Nobility is literally secondary. Okay. Whatever I said above, The Birds is still a fine film, not least - I maintain - because the birds effectively symbolise Will. Here's how the entry on that film in my Hitchcock book begins: '"Doesn't this make you feel awful ... keeping birds in cages?" Mitch asks Melanie in the pet shop. "We can't just let them fly around the shop," she replies, missing (or evading) his point. That point proves an important one. Both the film and its trailer remind us that birds have been caged, shot at, eaten and otherwise abused by humans throughout recorded history. All of which illustrates the working of ... Will, typified by human egoism and rapaciousness. Understandably, Schopenhauer (who coined the term) considered Will to be a cruel joke, best turned against itself, notably with the help of art or music [or ethics]. The Birds is an almost literal enactment of that thought. As Mitch leaves the pet shop, he says that it's time Melanie found herself "on the other end of a gag". He gets his wish - writ large.' Hitchcock was scathing of attempts by audiences and critics to 'interpret' the bird attacks - he might well have cited the line in the film, 'It's happening, isn't that a reason?', i.e., isn't that sufficient explanation? - but I'm saying that the birds themselves symbolise Will and that we, the audience, with all of our mixed, at times ignoble, impulses, are having our own intrinsic participation in Will turned against us. Other interpretations, such as that the bird attacks represent tensions between the characters, are again literally secondary (at best). Tomorrow: so what has all of this to do with what I've been talking about here this week?

August 2 - 2005
As moviemakers, both Antonioni and Spielberg have much in common with Hitchcock, of course. (Both The Passenger and Jaws remind me of The Birds - I'll come back to this in a moment.) Typically, Hitchcock had done something first, and then either Antonioni or Spielberg 'copied' him. Even some of the seeming innovations in The Passenger had been tried out by Hitchcock years before. For example, in The Manxman (1928) Hitchcock had used shots that might be either literal point-of-view shots or imagined, 'thinks'-type shots, as when on a beach Phil tells Kate that Pete had not died in Africa and is even now returning home: here, the film cuts in a shot of Pete's packet-boat approaching harbour, but it isn't clear whether this is an actual reverse-angle shot from the beach or merely what Phil is imagining as he speaks the fateful news (Kate had promised herself to Pete). Similarly, in The Passenger, there's a shot of Locke's wife in London looking down from a balcony at where he had once been burning leaves in their garden: it's not clear whether this is taking place in the present (Rachel thinking that David, reported dead, is gone for good) or is merely a case of Locke re-inventing the earlier moment, with him literally 'out of the picture'. The very inconclusiveness suggests melancholy, and the 'mystery' of being alive. It also, as in a Hitchcock film, subtly draws attention to the film medium. Antonioni, I suspect, must have shared the lament of novelist E.M. Forster who wrote of how a novel must tell a story - 'oh dear, yes' - but that he wished 'it were not so, that it could be something different - melody, or perception of the truth, not this low atavistic form [i.e., the story]'. Well, Hitchcock compared 'pure film' to 'melody', and ultimately both things are like pure, running energy (like water from a tap, or electricity) or the very Will of the world. And both Antonioni and Hitchcock - and Spielberg - were capable of using that analogy for expressive purposes. Speaking of 'perception of the truth' ... there's a line of dialogue in The Passenger that is pure Schopenhauer. The girl played by Maria Schneider says to Locke (Jack Nicholson), 'People disappear every day.' He replies, 'Yes, every time they leave the room.' This is exactly how Schopenhauer explained that though the world is just Will and nothing else, we have to experience it subjectively, as Representation. Accordingly, and famously, 'the world is my Representation'. Reality is only what I see and experience for myself - 'objectivity' is always elusive. But, Schopenhauer conceded, we may experience the noumenal (the ultimate) as 'force', as that which, flowing within us, is at one with ubiquitous Will. Hence the power of film to make us 'feel more alive'. When the shark in Spielberg's Jaws 'impossibly' thrusts its snout through the very woodwork of Quint's (the Robert Shaw character's) boat, it's like the moment in The Birds when the attacking birds 'impossibly' thrust their beaks through the woodwork of a closed door. Both of these 'exhilarating' moments are the more effective for leaving to the audience's imagination the 'force' behind what we see. For that matter, Antonioni repeatedly allows key moments to take place off-camera: indeed that's how Locke's death is represented to us (while the camera itself moves beyond his room into the ubiquitous 'out there'). That moment, too, is exhilarating ...

August 1 - 2005
1 By chance, I watched two 1975 films at the weekend that both coincided with my notion of film - especially 'pure film', in Hitchcock's terminology - as energy, life-force. They were Antonioni's The Passenger, starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider, and Steven Spielberg's Jaws, starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss. I remember corresponding a long time ago with a knowledgeable British philospher/author, the renowned Prof. Don Culpitt ('The Sea of Faith', etc.), who suggested to me that Antonioni's films provided a good example of 'Schopenhauerian' cinema. I see no reason to disagree with him. As you watch The Passenger, you have a strong sense of a man's life, if not life in general, being expended. (The film, about a TV reporter named David Locke who takes over the identity of a look-alike, named David Robertson, whom he finds dead in a Saharan hotel, only to learn to his cost that Robertson had been on the run from an African dictatorship, might almost have been called The Patsy, except that Jerry Lewis had used that title - and a not dissimilar premise - a decade earlier.) When Locke (Nicholson) discovers Robertson's body, and conceives his plan of swapping identities, a flute is heard through the window, suggesting his foolish hope that he may now be a free soul. At the end of the film, in another hotel room, in Spain, the sound of a pasodoble from a nearby bullring is heard. The suggestion this time is that Locke is like a bull that was fated to die all along.) Antonioni's fatalism, resembling Schopenhauer's, is ever-recurring. In Barcelona, an old man talks to Locke about watching boys grow up: 'The same old tragedy [begins] over again.' Earlier, a key piece of dialogue had been Locke's, spoken on tape, in which he had complained of feeling habit-bound in action, perception, thought. (Apropos Antonioni's intention here, I'm reminded of the adage of Russian literary theorist Victor Shlovsky: 'The function of art is to challenge habitualisation'. I thank Vahid in Tehran, Iran, for drawing my attention to this quote recently.) But behind all of this fatalism - similar, as I say (I could quote matching passages!) to Schopenhauer's - is a sense of a general energy. That, too, is what you may come away with from watching Spielberg's Jaws. There, the energy's most immediate symbol may be the shark itself. However, there's also a memorable passage of dialogue, spoken by the old sailor played by Robert Shaw, in which he tells his World War II story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. He had been one of the crew. Of the 1,100 men who went overboard, he says, sharks ate all but 316 before rescue came. Significantly for my point, the Indianapolis was the ship that had just delivered the atomic bomb for dropping on Hiroshima. By implication, then, the energy I'm referring to is especially represented by the atomic bomb; the fact that the film climaxes with the blowing up of the shark is the richly ironic pay-load of this ultimate in American revenge movies (which takes place on a July 4th weekend). Critic Roger Ebert praises it - and effectively distinguishes it from Antonioni's film - for how Spielberg has played down all 'significance'. Yet 'significance' is there, just as in The Passenger. Moreover, both films achieve their 'significance' by means of 'pure film', meaning that it's non-literal. Tomorrow: implications re Hitchcock.

July 27 - 2005
At a book remainder-sale recently I triumphantly picked up a paperback copy of Charles Kaiser's 'The Gay Metropolis' (1997), a history of gay New York, about which I had read in some scholarly articles on Hitchcock. For one thing, there indeed in Kaiser's book was the gen on the Oak Bar (or Oak Room) in the Plaza Hotel, featured at the start of North by Northwest (1959). And one of the principal informants about this favoured pick-up spot for (well-to-do) gay men in the 1940s (and afterwards?) was none other than playwright Arthur Laurents (Rope [1948]). According to Laurents, 'There were two great [gay] bars in Manhattan. The Oak Bar at the Plaza and the bar at the Savoy Plaza. Oh, the cream of the crop.' (p. 40) Given that Cary Grant chose to stay at the Plaza Hotel during the shooting of North by Northwest, one wonders if he had 'nostalgic' reasons for doing so. (Cf 'Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart' [1989] by Charles Higham and Roy Moseley.) More to the point, one wonders if Hitchcock deliberately wanted a certain ambience at the start of North by Northwest. It would fit with how Guy (Farley Granger) in Strangers on a Train is implied to have certain affinities with Bruno (Robert Walker), without his necessarily being aware of them. That is to say, Guy unwittingly, or unwillingly, 'flirts' with a shadow-world, represented by the homosexual Bruno, just as Thornhill (Grant) in North by Northwest 'flirts' with the world of the bisexual, elegant Vandamm (James Mason). Which brings me to something else mentioned by Arthur Laurents. 'Bill Holden and I were in the army together', he writes, 'and on payday we'd have a contest to see who could drink the most martinis.' (p. 39) Laurents isn't necessarily saying that Holden was gay, but it's interesting that Hitchcock had originally wanted Holden to play Guy in Strangers on a Train (rather than Granger, whom Hitchcock knew to be gay, and for whom he eventually settled). Had he been tipped off by Laurents that Holden would be amenable, or suitable, to the role? I've written elsewhere that Hitchcock very possibly had in mind the 'macho' tennis player 'Big Bill' Tilden as the real-life model for Guy, as the character was originally conceived. (For the 1947 scandal involving Tilden, see Kaiser, p. 52.) Finally, what most of all intrigued me, apropos Hitchcock, in reading Kaiser, is this passage, again about Laurents: 'Laurents had a four-year affair with Farley Granger [Philip], who starred with John Dall [Brandon] in Rope... Dall was also gay, as was a third actor in the film whom Laurents had also dated.' (p. 59) The mention of a third gay actor was entirely news to me! Who was he? Surely not either James Stewart or Cedric Hardwicke, so it must have been either Douglas Dick (who plays Janet's ex-boyfriend, Kenneth) or Dick Hogan (who plays the dead boy, David Kentley). My guess is Douglas Dick. Which in turn reminds me: doesn't the film imply that Kenneth had briefly been another of Brandon's lovers? Clearly, then, Hitchcock stuck even more rigidly than we might have suspected to his principle of always casting actors whose life-experiences fitted them for their roles!

July 26 - 2005
Someone on the Film-Philosophy newsgroup asked for the titles of films containing characters with headaches. Some of the suggestions were both witty and accurate. One suggestion was John Brahm's Hangover Square (1945) from the novel by Patrick Hamilton (Gaslight, Rope) - and with a score by Bernard Herrmann - in which Laird Cregar plays an unhinged composer who kills when he hears loud noises. Another suggestion was David Cronenberg's exploding-heads film Scanners (1981). My own offering was more sedate: Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), I noted, has an early scene in a realty office in which Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) tells her co-secretary, 'Headaches are like resolutions - you forget them as soon as they stop hurting.' She's just got back from a torrid lunch-hour with boyfriend Sam in a stuffy hotel room, so her headache needn't come as a surprise. But what's interesting, of course, is what the line is doing. For a start, it marks the bottom of a graded curve of 'head conditions' in the film, culminating in the split personality of Norman Bates: Marion's 'splitting' headache (and co-worker Caroline's neurosis re marriage), her boss's secret drinking, the millionaire Cassidy's undeclared income, Marion's 'crazy' stealing of $40,000, even the repressed sheriff's wife - all represent stages on the way, so to speak, to our final encounter with 'the other side' of Norman. And, of course, there's no denying the truth of Norman's own observation, 'We all go a little mad sometimes.' (My English teacher at school once told us, apropos 'King Lear', about the saying, 'Anger is short madness' - and, come to think of it, Shakespeare's play has its own graded scale of madness, from The Fool's not-so-silly remarks, to the wicked daughters' [Goneril and Reagan's] unfilial hostility to their father, to Lear's full-blown madness as he is turned out of doors by his daughters to roam the heath amidst a raging storm that literally echoes his own rage.) But Marion's line about headaches and forgotten resolutions also hints at other psychological conditions - amnesia, complacency, even 'blindness' - that provide motifs in Psycho. Hitchcock is rarely given enough credit for his insight into matters of everyday psychology that surely incriminate (good word!) all of us of callousness, moral turpitude, hypocrisy, and worse. But Psycho, The Birds (1963), and Marnie (1964) hinge on such matters. Of course, the idea for the 'headaches' line in Psycho had already been tried out in Suspicion (1941) where Lina (Joan Fontaine) complains of a headache but - on receiving news that Johnnie (Cary Grant) wants to take her to the Hunt Ball after all - instantly loses it again. Of such small stuff, the everyday psychology that we all understand but which may defy theoretical analysis by Zizek-Hitchcockians and others, is so much of a Hitchcock film comprised! (Or so I often think.)

July 25 - 2005
A rounding-off entry. First, references to superstition and the occult, as in the novel's episode of 'the fairy's dubb' (see previous entry, July 20), are also provided by Hitchcock's film version of The Manxman: note, for instance, the upturned horseshoe nailed to the wall beneath Kate's bedroom window in the scene (anticipating a scene in Under Capricorn [1949]) where Pete climbs up to her on Phil's shoulders to ask her to wait for him while he's overseas, making his fortune. Hitchcock would ensure, equally, in The Trouble With Harry (1955), to include not just Christian allusions but also references to local superstitions (such as a legend of a phantom coach). (I discuss this multi-tiered texture of Harry in my profile of Hitch that's now on the 'Senses of Cinema' website - there's a link to it above, under the heading 'For those who care'. I also note in the 'Senses' article how Harry does indeed seem at times indebted to silent films, such as Cecil Hepworth's The Pipes of Pan [1922].) Once again, then, we see how so much of Hitch's genius lay in his eclecticism, including self-referential 'quotations' re-worked from his own previous work or texts he'd read in connection with that work. Back to The Manxman. I mentioned last time that the novel's 'fairy's dubb' scene may anticipate the use of 'Que Sera Sera' in the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much. I'm aware that the songwriting/composing team, Livingstone and Evans, are said to have offered the song to Hitchcock already written, and that Hitchcock was happy to accept it. Fair enough - but he would assuredly have first considered its pertinency to his film, i.e., to his sense of what was apt to the story and how he might tell it. (We know that he probably also remembered, or learned from his research at the time, that according to folklore a song had been the vehicle by which the kidnapped Richard I had been reunited with his loyal troubador Blondin, and thus provided the means for his escape.) Theorise all of that, you Zizek-Hitchcockians! Finally, still on The Manxman, my thanks to Richard Allen for recent correspondence. (Reader, have you read yet Prof. Allen's piece on camera-movement in Vertigo, elsewhere on this site?) He notes that on a recent viewing of the film he was 'particularly struck by the way it incorporates expressionist idioms (doubling, etc.) into a seamless (classical) style anticipating [Hitchcock's] "mature" American style (in contrast to The Lodger) as well as into [its own] deeply moving story'. Yes!

July 20 - 2005
When the suicidal Kate in The Manxman looks up at a ship's mast before attempting to drown herself, Hitchcock gives us a close-up of her face, her blonde hair blowing behind her. The expression on her face is resigned, ethereal. This is surely an image of Kate's eternal soul. The image may well have its origins in the work of Pre-Raphaelite painters - a rich source of inspiration for Hitchcock, as Guy Cogeval and Dominique Païni have shown. (I've put their book on Hitchcock high in the bibliography included with my long critical/biographical profile of Hitchcock about to go up on the 'Senses of Cinema' website.) Variants of that image are included in The Lodger, Rich and Strange, and Lifeboat (where it's a close-up of Tallulah Bankhead as Constance, her face and hair artfully framed by a coil of rope she's lying against). I'm also reminded of Psycho's Marion Crane seen in the shower moments before her death. Such an image is particularly relevant to the conception of The Manxman as soul-drama, which I've been insisting on here, and which is also strongly present in Hall Caine's novel, of course. Now, moments later, Hitchcock cuts from a shot of the murky, bubbling water where Kate has dived into the harbour to a shot of literally inky blackness: it's a close-up of the ink-well into which Phillip dips his pen as he begins his first day in court serving as Deemster (judge). The match-cut is clearly not fortuitous, nor merely 'arty', because, for one thing, it gives us the very image of death and oblivion that is appropriate at this moment: its inspired descendant is, of course, the match-cut in Psycho from the dead Marion's eye to the blackness of the bath's plughole from which the camera begins its ironic spiralling withdrawal - 'ironic' because there's no bringing Marion back. There's also irony in the Manxman cut because, although Kate has been saved from death (by a passing policeman), the man before whom she's brought for sentencing for her attempted suicide is none other than the man whose baby she bore, i.e., a man probably as culpable for her alleged crime as Kate herself. And there's another thing. It's likely that in including that telling image of inky blackness, Hitchcock and scriptwriter Eliot Stannard were inspired by a quite different scene in the novel. In a memorable passage, Kate and Phil, out walking in the countryside, had once paused beside 'the fairy's dubb', described as 'a little round pool, black as ink' where Kate had wondered what her future would hold. So her attempted watery suicide is the pay-off, so to speak, to that moment, which the film attempts to evoke by its close-up of ink in an ink-well. (Perhaps, too, that scene in the novel inspired the use of 'Que Sera Sera' in the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much!)

July 19 - 2005
Of course, I don't want to turn these jottings on The Manxman into something that sounds like notes for a class in Art Appreciation I - and, yes, I'm aware that many silent films strove to emulate the look of classic paintings! Sometimes, indeed, silent films would proclaim in an inter-title: 'View of Toledo. After the renowned painting by El Greco.' That sort of thing! For that matter, in Hitchcock's Topaz, in a scene of Kusenov's daughter playing a piano at the safe-house outside Washington D.C., the composition is clearly inspired by Vermeer. (And a long-shot of the Mission San Juan Bautista near the end of Vertigo seems unashamedly - and aptly - a homage to El Greco's 'Storm Over Toledo'.) My point has been that viewing a quality print of The Manxman has made me much more aware of that film's constant visual richness. Still, what most matters is how such visual qualities are integrated with the ongoing narrative and 'meaning' of the film. Which is something that I'm always regretting Hitchcock 'fans' seem not able to discuss, or seemingly care about; even the contributors to our Yahoo Group seem unmindful of it. 'Great shot!' or 'Fine performance!' or 'Must have annoyed hell out of the producer!' are typical comments - but seldom do the comments extend to giving reasons and analysis for just what these things signify in the film. (Sorry, Group!) But back to The Manxman. I've already mentioned a significant parallel with Vertigo: like some other Hitchcocks, both carry the moral (The Manxman explicitly), 'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?' - which is also close to the 'Faust' theme, obviously. Scottie in Vertigo is offered 'colour, excitement, power, freedom' but his worldly ambition ('excitement' certainly includes sexual excitement, and 'power' certainly includes power over women) leads him astray. Like Pete in The Manxman, he thinks for a while that he has it made, only to find that he's been deluded. Moreover, Hitchcock seems to have had The Manxman in mind when depicting Judy/Madeleine. Kate's suicide attempt in The Manxman has not one, but two, striking parallels with the later film. For one thing, she jumps into the harbour exactly as Madeleine jumps into San Francisco Bay. Equally, before she does so, she looks up at the mast of the moored ship beside her - exactly as Madeleine, on another occasion, looks up at the Mission San Juan Bautista before she begins her fateful dash up the tower steps to seemingly throw herself off. (Why such a shot? Perhaps because in both cases Hitchcock wanted the sense of precipitancy and resignation that such a gesture seems to carry.) Two other shots in this sequence I'll discuss tomorrow.

July 18 - 2005
The visual qualities of The Manxman were what so impressed me when I watched it again recently - within a day or so of visiting an exhibit of paintings by 17th-century 'Dutch Masters' on loan to Melbourne's art gallery from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. (Beforehand, I had studied a book of Vermeer's paintings.) Talk about having one's eyes skinned! Take that view of the harbour seen from Pete and Kate's cottage that I've described above. I'm not so sure now that it is a diorama/model shot: the water that suddenly moves could have been stirred by a gust of wind blowing across the harbour. (But is the gust of wind itself a symbol, a hint of the disrupted calm that will soon follow?) And in the town, whose buildings and yards are panoramically laid out to our eyes, washing flaps on clotheslines. A lovely detail! But my earlier point about how this whole view represents 'the world' seemingly now at Pete's feet is a valid one, I think. The view of the town and harbour has been magnificently realised in its beauty and lighting, and thus might be compared with some of the serene views of towns seen across water painted by the Dutch painters. Vermeer's 'View of Delft' is famous, but doesn't quite fit here because it shows only a small section of the city and, moreover, is comparatively horizontal in composition. The view in The Manxman fills the whole frame from top to bottom. Nonetheless, many such paintings did capture a sense of a thriving, industrious community, and that is what Hitchcock has achieved here - prior to disrupting that peace and sense of common purpose, as I say. (A hint of what was to come was given right at the start, in the meeting of local fishermen at the Manx Fairy, concerned about intrusions into their fishing grounds by foreign trawlers. Also there was the small detail, seen in long-shot, of two boys sparring outside the inn: significantly, 'when friends fall out' is a theme of the film. The Dutch painters were adept at including in their canvases small details that helped the viewer to interpret the overall 'meaning'. Often, these might contain Biblical allusions: for example, in Vermeer's 'Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window', the letter is meant to be a love-letter, and a nearby bowl of fruit containing apples and a half-eaten peach is commonly said to allude to Eve and the Fall.) Also, several of the film's interiors, especially those of Pete and Kate's cottage, reminded me in their composition and profusion of realist detail of the incredible eye for such matters shown by the Dutch painters (e.g., Jan Steen, Peter de Hooch). More tomorrow.

July 14 - 2005
Talking about Dial M for Murder here recently, I wrote of how each character has some inkling of the true situation but is slow to see it. The prototype in Hitchcock for this pattern comes in The Manxman, where Pete is particularly slow to grasp what has happened. Almost a 'Holy Fool', he has to be explicitly told by the worldly, and aptly-named, Caesar in the climactic courtroom scene: 'Don't you see, Pete, don't you see?' But each of the story's characters has his/her worldly weakness - Pete's is his very simplicity, seen at the moment when his fear of Caesar (Kate's father) causes him to ask his lawyer friend Phil to 'plead' for him to be allowed Kate's hand (and here Pete is blind to how his friend also wants Kate) - and this is symbolised right at the start of the film. Citing a well-known Hindu parable, I wrote in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story': 'The Manxman opens with a shot of the triskele (three-legged) symbol of the Isle of Man, and proceeds to tell a story that perfectly illustrates how none of its three main characters sees - at least until too late - the whole truth. The gaze of each has been clouded by worldly ambition.' This is nothing less than Hitchcock's recurring view of how things are, as shown in film after film. (Compare, for example, Rope and Rupert's accusation to the would-be Nietzschean 'Superman': 'Did you think you were God, Brandon?' That is, did you think you knew everything? Incidentally, the matter of how to reconcile what Rupert is saying here with Hitchcock's own Nietzschean/Wildean self-creating persona may look like a paradox, but I don't believe it is, really. I think that Hitchcock's remarkable detachment is the key here - but let's not go into such a matter just now.) That panorama-shot I described yesterday thus stands for 'the whole world' which might almost - but not quite - be Pete's to inherit, after his successful trip overseas to make his fortune and his marriage to Kate on his return. Pete may not have lost his soul, but he hasn't reckoned on the treachery of worldly appearance and the weakness of others - which only mirrors his, after all. (While he was away, Kate, believing Pete dead, had begun an affair with Phil. And Phil, despite reservations, had succumbed. The ironic and symbolic moment when Kate runs across sand to Phil, just as Pete, unknown to her, is sailing home, is typical of many such moments in the film.) So, reader, do you see the great pertinence of the 'subjective technique' I mentioned yesterday to involve us fully in the soul-drama of the film? Ultimately, Pete, like Scottie in Vertigo, is only representative of an aspect of our own drama. And hence the great effort and trouble Hitchcock expended to make that panorama-shot so right and appealing. Next week, I'll perhaps deal more fully with the visual qualities - not just symbolic matters - in The Manxman.

July 13 - 2005
Watching the recently-released French DVD of The Manxman last night - in all its clarity - I lost most of my doubts about this film, which previously I had felt may have been too hackneyed for its own good. Hall Caine's best-selling novel was already 'old-fashioned' when published in 1894, being obviously inspired in its basic story by Tennyson's narrative poem 'Enoch Arden' (1864). A silent version of the novel was filmed in 1916. Nonetheless, Hitchcock's version is superbly scripted by Eliot Stannard - every scene is a gem of concentrated feeling and symbol - and has been directed and acted with great insight. Like so many of Hitchcock's films, this one has archetypal qualities; by constant use of 'subjective technique' (notably, characters addressing the camera which - as at a memorable moment in The Birds - functions simultaneously as both another of the characters and, by extension, the audience) the soul-drama is brought directly home to us. The already-mentioned symbolism is also effective in this respect. The revolving light of the lighthouse whose sweeping beam figures in at least two key scenes is not present in the novel; it implicates everyone in this story of basic human emotions and lack of sufficient insight. (So, too, does the symbolism of the revolving mill-wheel and its grinding mechanism - referred to by the rather hypocritical Caesar at the wedding-breakfast when he speaks of how 'the mills of God grind slowly' - but that's something that the film knows more about than he does: I would relate it to the theme of slow-moving time in a philosophically-adroit film like The Wrong Man. More on that on another occasion, though.) Tonight I want to praise the film's visual qualities and I'll start by singling out one shot. The morning that the newly-married Pete sets out for work from his and Kate's cottage, the film shows him waving back to her from their hilltop front garden. Spread out behind him is the harbour, the portside, and the sun-flecked village, and behind those the hills on the other side of the bay. This magnificent panorama shot, I'm almost convinced, is really a meticulously-constructed painting and model, à la the dioramas you see in some museums. (The movement of the water in the 'harbour' is the give-away here: it betrays the puddle/pool the water really is.) The shot corresponds to the famous panoramic panning-shot in Vertigo following Scottie's recovery from illness, when the world seemingly lies at his feet again. But why such correspondence? And why in The Manxman did Stannard and Hitchcock want this particular (and marvellously achieved) effect just here? The answer, I think, has to do with the film's explicit moral: 'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?' More tomorrow.

July 12 - 2005
That matter of including cross-links in each of our ACADEMIC HITCHCOCK pieces has now been attended to. Tomorrow, or the day after, normal "Editor's Day" will resume. But I've been particularly busy lately - forgive me for neglecting you, reader! One pleasant reason why I've been preoccupied is that yesterday I attended the "Dutch Masters" exhibit that's currently on loan from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, to our Art Gallery here in Melbourne. The exhibit consists of paintings and other art objects from the Golden Age of Dutch Art - the 17th Century - and it may inspire one or two comments I want to make next time on the visual qualities of the fine Hitchcock film, The Manxman (1929) ...

July 11 - 2005
Just a line or two tonight to thank the three contributors of the initial pieces in our ACADEMIC HITCHCOCK series, now up on this website. (Links to the individual pages are at the bottom of this page.) Prof. Murray Pomerance has contributed his thoughts on why the words of the hymn heard in the Ambrose Chapel scene of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) have been subtly changed from the version of the hymn that was available in the Paramount Studios library. Murray's piece is called "Why Hides the Sun in Shame?", and it's surely true that Hitchcock was both interested in and adept at showing in close-up shamed characters at such moments as Murray describes when Ben and Jo McKenna virtually sneak into the chapel while a service is in progress, and then get 'found out'. (Compare, for example, the reference to 'a shame-faced office girl' in the previous "Editor's Day", or the look of shame on Paul Newman's face in Torn Curtain when his East German 'minder', Gromek, accuses him of being an American agent.) The second of our initial contributors to ACADEMIC HITCHCOCK is Prof. Richard Allen. His piece on camera-movement in Vertigo is incisive. And our third contributor is Dr Theodore Price, writing on Marnie. His style is rhetorical and single-minded, but illuminating of his particular thesis (as originally set out in his disgracefully under-appreciated book 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality' [1992]). The good news is that Dr Price has sent along a further piece on Marnie which will go up here soon. P.S. I see that the three ACADEMIC HITCHCOCK pieces aren't cross-linked. I'll attend to that later today. Also, I always appreciate it when readers report things like broken links, or make other helpful suggestions! KM

July 7 - 2005
I can't emphasise enough how Mike Finney, the man-on-the-run in the novel 'The Bramble Bush' (which Hitchcock nearly filmed in the early 1950s), is a prototype, in particular, for Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959). (I'm aware of other protypes, of course, including the vacuum-cleaner salesman cum British spy in Grahame Greene's 'Our Man In Havana', who sends his bosses back home a sketch of a non-existent Cuban secret weapon - it's really just a new model vacuum-cleaner! - but Finney must definitely be counted among these figures.) At one point, someone recites a long list of the crimes Finney has supposedly committed, which may recall Thornhill's similar recital of his own supposed crimes. 'In addition to all your idealistic [i.e., political] crimes of the past, you've now re-entered the country with forged papers and under a false name; you've slugged a police surgeon, broken jail, kidnapped a woman, and to all appearances stolen and wrecked an automobile. Somewhere along the line you must have been guilty of breaking and entering, and God knows what else you've done that's going to come to light later. Shows what can happen when a man strays from the straight and narrow.' See, reader, what I mean?! (Incidentally, the speaker is an expendable private detective by the name of Tuttle, and he has followed Finney from Mexico much as another expendable private-eye, one Arbogast, in Psycho, tracks Marion Crane's sister across a couple of state borders.) In North by Northwest, Hitchcock even includes a scene - Thornhill's clifftop escape from a car that was meant to carry him over the edge - that is taken holus-bolus from 'The Bramble Bush'. Likewise, a moment from the novel in which a shame-faced office girl is suddenly confronted with the look-alike - Finney - she's told she has mis-identified to the police, is clearly the forerunner of a scene in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957). The novel even has an emotive 'lost paradise' theme, something that Hitchcock often included in his films: Finney was originally from outback Montana, and now yearns to return to the remembered snows of yesteryear and to a girl called Betty Witherspoon, his first love. Of course, he doesn't make it back home and must literally settle at the end - after a showdown with his double - on a 'private island' in the Gulf of Mexico. In sum, 'The Bramble Bush' virtually indexes several of Hitchcock's best films.

July 6 - 2005
On June 28, above, I wrote: 'surely at least half the power of Hitchcock's films comes from the clean lines of the screenplays, which lack all superfluity, and which have been thought out in every last detail' - and I emphasised how often an effect in one film refines or reworks an effect used in an earlier film. Importantly, I might have added: or an effect that Hitchcock was going to use in an earlier film but which never got used, perhaps because the film itself was never made. Take his aborted film of the 1948 novel 'The Bramble Bush' by David Duncan, which he had thought of making for Transatlantic Pictures or, subsequently, Warner Brothers. In 1953, it was because the 'Bramble Bush' project wasn't working out that Hitchcock decided to 'run for cover', as he put it, and make Dial M for Murder instead. Curiously, there are elements of Dial M in Duncan's novel: I'm thinking of how the girl named Catherine Tremaine is suddenly exonerated in the hero's eyes because of a matter of a set of car keys. But that's not even the half of it. 'The Bramble Bush', set largely in San Francisco, anticipates memorable or major elements of several '50s Hitchcock films, including Vertigo, and also has a scene where the hero escapes from hospital by overpowering a doctor, and walking out of the building wearing his white coat, that Hitchcock used in Frenzy (1972) - the scene is not in the Frenzy novel (by Arthur La Bern). The hero's name is Mike Finney, and he lands in deep trouble when, fleeing from Mexico, he takes on the identity of a look-alike, Philip Tremaine, only to find on arriving in San Francisco that Tremaine is wanted there for the killing of an attorney. The plot is actually quite close in its broad outlines to Antonioni's Professione reporter/The Passenger (1975), supposedly from an original story by Mark Peploe. But several individual details and incidents are Hitchcockian, and not only ones that Hitchcock used subsequently (to which I'm coming). For example, Mrs Reba Tremaine - whom we last see outside San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honour - proves to be a cold and lethal mother-figure in the tradition of Mrs Sebastian in Notorious (1946). Above all, some of the emotional charge of Duncan's novel is Hitchcockian. The ambiguous figure of Catherine Tremaine anticipates both the Judy/Madeleine of Vertigo and the Eve Kendall of North by Northwest. Mind you, Finney behaves towards her at times more like Mike Hammer than Scottie Ferguson: in a scene in a run-down hotel in the city's Mission District (the 'skid row' of Vertigo), he ties her to a bed prior to gagging her. She tells him that she's glad she hadn't succeeded in killing him ('When I heard you'd escaped ... [i]t was like coming to life again after being dead and buried'), but for the time being he simply can't trust her. He exits into the street. 'The city', he tells us, 'was like a veil of mist. You could see into it but you couldn't see through ... I had the giddy sensation that I'd lost the way.' Next minute, someone delivers him a blow to the back of the head, and he crumples to the pavement. Concluded tomorrow.

July 5 - 2005
I do want to wind up our present discussion of Dial M for Murder tonight. First, Prof. Tony Williams tells me that he saw the 3-D version 'years ago in London, and [Grace] Kelly’s hand reaching to the audience for help was little short of breathtaking. Also, the 3-D depth involved placing characters in particular spatial relationships which changed whenever the plot took a particular turn. For example, Tony’s superior depth placement became altered as the real facts emerged.' Ah, yes! Now, finally, let me conclude on the Matter of the Squeaky Shoe. Had you noticed, reader, that when Swann makes his fateful decision to accept Tony's '£100 on account' - thereby sealing their agreement that he shall murder Margot - he takes a step or two across the room and picks up the bundle of notes from a chair where Tony had contemptuously tossed it - and that in doing so, his shoes very audibly squeak (or one of them does)? It's a variant on the effect that Hitchcock had employed in Sabotage (1936) when Mr Verloc, suddenly aware of the carving-knife in his wife's hand, backs away from her, and his shoes squeak, emphasising the dramatic tension (and almost seeming to goad Winnie Verloc into her fateful act). In Dial M, of course, at the moment Swann actually picks up the money, we hear a sharp Dmitri Tiomkin chord, implying 'there's no going back now'. But I've mentioned Dial M's use of the squeaky shoe effect mainly because it represents the culmination (or are there still later instances of it?) of what had begun with a ruined take during the shooting of Hitchcock's first sound film, Blackmail (1929). I've told this anecdote here before. On the Blackmail set, Hitchcock reportedly stifled his annoyance at the actor concerned, and remarked: 'It's cost us a re-take now, but it's an interesting sound and I'll use it in one of my films one day.' Reader, you know the rest! Tomorrow: a new topic (TBA)!

July 4 - 2005
We must stay on Dial M for Murder for another day or two! My best thanks to Gary Giblin (again!) who has pointed out to me that the stocking-hidden-under-the-blotter was an innovation of the screenplay/film. In the play, Tony 'hides' this second stocking (i.e., the twin of the one supposedly used by Swann to try and strangle Margot) in the wastepaper basket. Chief Inspector Hubbard is heard asking Margot accusingly: 'We found [this same] twin stocking wrapped in newspaper at the bottom of the wastepaper basket. Can you explain why your attacker should do that?' Margot of course can't explain it - since Tony put it there secretly. He would have known that the police would find it eventually and assume - as Gary Giblin says - that Margot hid it to make it look like Swann himself brought the murder-weapon (the other stocking, the one with knots in it, which the police find near Swann's body). Gary's further thoughts: 'Why the switch from the wastepaper basket to under the blotting paper? The film version allows Tony to take an even more active role in setting Margot up. Assuming this was the goal, then it is easier to expose a stocking under blotting paper than in a wastepaper basket. Moreover, the new method of concealment looks even hastier, thereby making her look even more desperate, and, of course, is all the more easily exposed. Now, why get rid of the scarf [the actual intended murder-weapon]? Surely, Margot, in Tony's scenario, could have improvised a weapon with Swann's scarf as well. So, he disposes of it either for forensic reasons, or, as my wife suggested, because having the weapon come from their own home makes her look even guiltier. It now looks as though she has tried to suggest that the weapon came from outside - that this man intended to kill her - and has, in her haste, devised a rather poor scheme to make that point, viz., knotting one of her own stockings, bruising her own throat, and trying to dispose of the other stocking.' Yes, that sounds the likely explanation, I agree! (The fact that the police never apparently ask why, if Margot wanted to get rid of the second stocking, she didn't quickly burn it in the fire - as we see Tony do with the scarf - is not a question that an audience would have time to think of, I guess.) Tomorrow: one last observation or two (for now) on Dial M

June 30 - 2005
(late) There is considerable sleight-of-hand exercised in both the play and the screenplay/film of Dial M for Murder. Perhaps the best example of what I'm talking about is the whole business of the two stockings. Swann had intended to murder Margot with his scarf - which the play specifies must be stocking-coloured so that Margot tells Tony that she thinks she was attacked with a stocking. In setting up the evidence to try and incriminate Margot, the quick-thinking Tony burns the scarf and substitutes two stockings from Margot's mending-basket, placing them near the window. One of the stockings he knots to suggest premeditation of murder, and drops it just outside the window, knowing the police will find it. The other stocking he 'hides' under the blotter on the desk in front of the window. He knows that eventually the police will find it too (indeed he 'helps' them to do so). Mind you, just why he puts this other stocking under the blotter at all, rather than leaving it in the mending-basket, had never been quite clear to me until I thought the matter out recently. (I'm coming to this!) And of course a stocking, even a knotted one, is a pretty flimsy murder instrument anyway. We can rule out any thought that Tony meant it to look like Margot had intended to use the stocking on the burly Swann: we can infer that (in theory) either Margot may have premeditated killing Swann with the scissors or, more likely, that her killing of him with them was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. (It was that in fact, of course, done in self-defence.) But we must also infer that Tony wants it to look as if Margot used the stockings as the best intended murder-weapon she could improvise from what was available in the flat, and that she tried to make it look as if Swann had suddenly knotted one of them, when he spotted them out on the desk, goaded by her telling him that she was not going to meet his blackmail demands. Remember that Chief Inspector Hubbard does say to Margot: 'You could have put those bruises [on your neck] yourself.' That's logically why she would have resorted to use of the scissors against the attacking Swann. Okay. The matter is so complicated that playwright Frederick Knott would have despaired of actually explaining it all to the audience. And in fact it gets even more complicated later, when Mark Halliday comes up with the story (very close to the truth) he wants Tony to tell Hubbard. Which is surely why we get this line spoken by Tony: 'Oh, yes, the stocking. Perhaps I'd better tell this. It may sound more like a confession. I substituted ... [to MARK] Is that the right word? I substituted one of my wife's stockings for - er - the other one - you follow me, don't you?' And of course probably no-one does follow it exactly, but Knott has cunningly distracted us from that fact!

June 29 - 2005
Gary Giblin wrote me: 'I found little relevant to the casting of [Dial M for Murder] in the Warner Bros. archives. Knott's final draft screenplay of July 17, 1953 (filming commenced on the 30th) lists the following ages: Tony Wendice 35-37; Margot 25-30; Mark 30-35. Swann/Lesgate is said to be "about 35 to 40." Now, interestingly, Milland was 46 (or 48; sources disagree) when filming started, Kelly was 23, Cummings was 45 and Dawson was 36 - a decade younger (or, perhaps, more) than his "junior" at Cambridge. So what prompted the casting of these men? Obviously, Knott envisioned Tony as some years older than Margot, but not old enough to be her father! The same with Mark. It may be nothing more than another iteration of the ancient Hollywood casting paradigm in which male actors are cast opposite women young enough to be their daughters. Look at the average age of Kelly's leading men (Crosby - born in 1904, as with Grant; Gable even older). Hitchcock did this quite often; it's appalling in the Roger Moore Bonds, and continues in mainstream films (e.g., As Good As It Gets). So, the actors were available, attractive, and their ages be damned!' Hmm. Thanks, Gary. But why, I ask myself, does Hollywood cast young women against much older leading men? And what about in the case of Dial M in particular? Well, I do think that we're supposed to feel that Tony first charmed Margot into marrying him - helped by the glamour of his tennis triumphs - and then started to 'boss' her in ways she was scarcely fully conscious of. As I wrote in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story': 'If [Tony] Wendice has become reliant on his wife [and her money], the reverse is also true. Margot has been subtly intimidated and bullied without ever quite realising what is happening. The film is finally about her liberation.' Further, Milland's age of 46 or 48 works to suggest a further reason why Tony may fear that if he loses Margot he may not easily find and marry another such attractive and wealthy young lady! (Cf how, in Suspicion, the penniless ne'er-do-well played by Cary Grant marries the both attractive [out of her glasses] and wealthy Lina, played by Joan Fontaine. Incidentally, in real life hadn't Cary Grant just announced his engagement to the not particularly pretty Barbara Hutton, the Woolworths heiress? Don't think that Hitchcock wasn't aware of such piquancies. He was!) But, contrariwise - and this is something Hollywood has always known - to partner a male star with an attractive young woman, or succession of such young women in successive films, is to help keep his star quality looking fresh. The fact that he can play both lover and emotional 'father' to the women in question is no drawback at all. It suggests in him the best kind of virile charm and potency. Now, I had wanted to comment on at least one other aspect of Dial M, namely, the stockings that Tony hastily plants as evidence against Margot. So I may put up my thoughts on those here tomorrow. (Also coming: various News items.)

June 28 - 2005
The writer Mark Halliday in Dial M for Murder almost manages to think himself inside Tony Wendice's fiendish head (without knowing it at the time) and comes up with a version of events that turns out to be very close to what actually occurred; Mark is thus like Rupert in Rope who likewise almost pieces together the monstrous crime committed by that film's two young killers, Brandon and Phillip, and which he finally solves by theatrically throwing open the chest containing the body. (For a while, perhaps because he was stalling for time, he had hypothesised that the body had been taken away down the stairs.) Meanwhile, Chief Inspector Hubbard in Dial M has also been slow to get all the facts straight in his head (he was clued in by sheer chance to what had actually happened, when he wanted to check Tony's bank statement, ostensibly in connection with some local robberies, and had tried to 'lift' a key to the apartment from Margot's purse: only then did he learn that the key wasn't the apartment key at all ...). In a way, he, Hubbard, reminds me of the aristocratic, narcissistic Sir John Menier in Murder!, which is another film about a near-miscarriage of justice involving a woman sentenced to death and which is only put to rights when Sir John's gallant fantasies are aroused by hearing - by chance, while shaving - a broadcast of 'Tristan and Isolde'. Hubbard, a self-described 'professional', is both vain and narcissistic (as the film's last shot reminds us) who speaks of how 'my blood was up' (with various connotations). These, then, are just two interesting parallels of Dial M with earlier Hitchcock films (another is how Tony uses Swann to give himself an alibi, much as Bruno and Guy in Strangers on a Train are involved in a comparable situation involving the murder of Guy's wife). I cite them here because surely at least half the power of Hitchcock's films comes from the clean lines of the screenplays, which lack all superfluity, and which have been thought out in every last detail - an incredibly rich array of details, let it be added! I'm also reminded of how Hitchcock originally wanted Cary Grant to play Tony - shades of would-be wife-killer Johnnie in Suspicion - but was thwarted by Grant's hefty asking-fee. Ray Milland made an excellent Grant-substitute, needless to add. My thanks to reader Gavin in the UK who, on our Yahoo Group, pointed out that Hitchcock may recently have seen Milland in Let's Do It Again (1953), a musical remake of Cukor's famous The Awful Truth (1937), in which Milland played the Grant role. Tomorrow: those casting statistics I mentioned yesterday ...

June 27 - 2005
Speaking of the sheer accomplishment that is Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder ... I am always struck by the exactness of every shot (a Mozartian rightness, if you will), of the pacing, of the balancing of elements. The lighting and colour compositions are masterly, as is the 'size of the image' (Hitchcock's term) each time a basic point is being established. Here are two or three things I noticed tonight. First, the use of a crane shot that begins at a considerable distance as Tony comes through the door of his flat on the day before Margot's scheduled execution and which bores in on him as he sets down an attaché case he has been carrying. The shot's sheer momentum keeps the pace of the preceding shot - Mark's point of view from a taxi as he sees Tony entering the building - thus establishing both the sense of urgency at this stage of the play and the fateful briskness that, broadly speaking, will be maintained until the end, not least by Chief Inspector Hubbard's deft strategems (almost literally: 'moves') and the several back-and-forth panning shots involved. Second, I detected deliberate close-ups of Margot before and after the central triptych (quartet?) of close-ups summarising her trial and which includes (i.e., these central close-ups) the shot against a red background of a judge donning a black cap to pronounce sentence of death: an earlier close-up of Margot had been a reaction-shot when Hubbard had cautioned her that anything she said would be taken down (thus bringing home to her the gravity of her situation), just as a later close-up of Margot is again a reaction-shot as she realises that she is saved. Here she is wearing the same brown coat as in the first shot. That is, together these shots constitute a set of reaction-shots in close-up (all using matched lighting and other elements) that emblemise what Margot goes through. Third, I was struck by the sweeping shot of Margot as she answers the phone on the night she is nearly murdered. It moves from in front of her to behind her, allowing Hitchcock to show Swann's hands entering the frame holding a scarf as he waits to make his move the moment Margot hangs up. The sweeping shot suggests a Hitchcock love scene: indeed, the first shot of Margot kissing Mark had been accompanied by just such a sweeping shot, though of short duration. That fact is suggestive enough here. But such is this shot's power and momentum that it acts like a foretaste of the act of strangulation itself: the camera has itself nearly encircled Margot's throat, so to speak. Of course, these three examples from Dial M for Murder of the precise use of the camera to achieve certain effects (e.g., to engage and even implicate the audience) have numerous counterparts in the same film. Maybe I'll cite some more examples here tomorrow, though I want also to return to matters of casting, as touched on last week. Gary Giblin has sent me some interesting statistics about that ...

June 22 - 2005
I've been talking about Dial M for Murder to a couple of people lately. Why did Hitchcock cast Welsh-born Ray Milland in the role of the suave villain Tony Wendice? I thought I was onto something when I noticed that in the original London stage production, in 1952, Tony was played by Emrys Jones; and that in the New York stage production of the same year, the role went to Maurice Evans. Both of these well-known actors sounded Welsh to me! But in fact both were born in England! I guess that Hitchcock just felt that Milland would be right for the part, doubtless having followed his career with interest since the young Milland (then using his real name of Reginald Truscott-Jones) started out in small roles in 'quota quickies' at B.I.P. in the late 1920s, that is, at the same studio where Hitch was already a top director. Later, Milland won an Academy Award for his playing of the dipsomaniac in Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945). 'It's been said of Milland's characters', I wrote in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', 'that their ready smile was always insecure and even a little suspect, which certainly fits Wendice. For all his suavity, a part of him has never grown up: his manipulation of Margot [and her money] resembles a spoilt child's of its mother.' That's why there's an almost Oedipal connotation to Tony's line about finding out that Margot (Grace Kelly) has been playing around with 'boyfriends': 'Suddenly ... big tennis had finished with me - and so, apparently, had my wife. I can't ever remember being so scared.' At the time of the Oedipal crisis, a child's jealousy of both its parents (seen as rivals for its love), and of its siblings (ditto), can be very fierce - something which is implicit in the childhood flashback in Spellbound (1945). In a sense, then, Tony Wendice incorporates aspects of both big-tennis player Guy in Strangers on a Train (1951) and of Guy's alter-ego in that film, the out-of-control 'mother's boy', Bruno Anthony. On learning about Margot's affair with writer Mark Halliday, Tony's thoughts had immediately turned to murder. To Swann (Anthony Dawson), the professional swindler and blackmailer whom he is now blackmailing in turn, he confides: 'I thought of three different ways of killing [Mark]. I even thought of killing her.' My point is how well Hitchcock understood this crucial piece of characterisation of Tony, which is itself a key to why the play and film work so well. For many evenings, we're told, Hitchcock had analysed the play (by Frederick Knott) with his entrepreneur friend Sidney Bernstein, who had first brought it to his attention. Those conversations certainly paid off. In its way, Dial M for Murder is as accomplished a film as any of the director's more spectacular productions.

June 21 - 2005
My thanks tonight to Douglas in Heidelberg, Germany, who has been back in touch, including about Strangers on a Train. One of his points: that Bruno's trousers are always slightly too short. The contrast, of course, is with Guy, who is always well turned-out, even when, late in the film, hurrying away from the tennis match, he has to don grey flannels in the taxi to look reasonably inconspicuous as he takes the train from Penn Station to Metcalf. Significantly, though, he makes a phone call at the end of the film (in the so-called British-release print, which I prefer and wonder whether Hitchcock didn't, too) asking Ann to meet him with a full change of clothes, as he is still dressed as he was in the taxi and feels 'silly'. This subtle differentiation of Guy from Bruno was, I'm sure, intentional by Hitchcock, for whom tailoring was important, and about which (or its lack) he could be very judgmental, as witness the anecdote reported here yesterday. It's a characterisation that fits with all of Bruno's other 'faux pas' (aside from murder), such as his wearing a garish tie emblazoned with his name and a picture of a lobster (surreal anticipation of his unclasped hand at the end?), his table-pounding (at least twice), and his literal party-crashing. Which reminds me: the opening scene on the train is an instance of the sort of 'social nightmare' I'm sure Hitchcock felt acutely, in which a famous or upper-class person (or aspirant thereto) is trapped with a vulgarian from the lower orders! That is, it's another 'British' thing (cf John Carey's book 'The Intellectuals and the Masses', which I've quoted here previously) and which, because he felt it so strongly himself, Hitchcock felt confident of being able to convey to audiences (cf June 15, above). Okay. Another of Douglas's points about Strangers on a Train is how there are so many different takes on the truth by different characters: 'Senator Morton's [conservative and snobbish] reactions, Barbara's [unbridled] carryings on, Bruno's [wild schemes and] ideas, Bruno's mother's [quaint] perception of "truth" ...' And so on. Excellent point. It reminded me of something I've being saying lately about the 'subjectivities' in every Hitchcock film, concealing from the characters the true picture or the essential Oneness of everything. In Dial M for Murder, each of the principals seems to have had an inkling of the whole picture (e.g. Margot replies to Hubbard that, no, she hadn't suspected her husband's murderous designs on her, 'and yet...'), but all are (at least for a while) in error about some detail or other. [Cf June 28, below.] Likewise, in The Trouble With Harry, each of the principals thinks that he or she killed Harry. At the furthest extreme, Jill in The Skin Game goes so far as to deny 'the big point of view' exists, adding that 'We're all out for our own'. (The film, from Galsworthy's play, seems designed to refute her.)

June 20 - 2005
Thanks to the good people who wished me 'Welcome back!' And to those who sent along their thoughts on Strangers on a Train. Author Gary Giblin, whom I've already cited here last week, was principally concerned to say how dissatisfied he was in general with the shallow documentaries included on the recent Warner-release Hitchcock DVDs, and particularly those for Strangers on a Train. Can't say I don't agree, though as Gary and I discussed, we should distinguish between the 'public relations' exercise involved and the undoubted technical skills of editor/director Laurent Bouzereau. (Reportedly, Steven Spielberg has signed him to a contract.) One of Gary's complaints was against our good friend Bill Krohn interviewed on the Strangers on a Train disc, who three times (Gary counted 'em!) had the opportunity to mention how the film's out-of-control merry-go-round climax was indebted to the comedy-thriller novel 'The Moving Toyshop' (1946) by 'Edmund Crispin' (British film composer Robert Bruce Montgomery), but never did so. (Hitchcock bought the rights to the novel's scene, having earlier 'stolen' the safety-curtain climax of Stage Fright from another Crispin novel, 'The Case of the Gilded Fly' [1943]!) Gary also claims that the word 'homosexuality' is never once mentioned on the disc. Clearly, I'd say, the people interviewed for Bouzereau's documentaries were given instructions: keep it simple and uncontentious, and don't mention anything that might reflect against Hitch! (Gary's last shot to me: 'Bouzereau should really join the White House press pool.') Okay. Speaking of public relations, the Hitchcock family - all delightful people, I'm sure - continue to try to maintain an image of Hitch that simply won't acknowledge he had a 'dark side' or was anything like as complex as his films show him to be. A case in point occurs in Patricia Hitchcock's book (written with the collaboration of Bouzereau), 'Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man' (2003). On page 82, Pat claims: 'my parents were never judgmental of others'. Yet on page 83, she is telling the story of how when a young man, wearing an open shirt, once approached Hitch, and introduced himself as a director, Hitch sternly told him: 'Real directors wear ties.' Tomorrow I'll discuss the relevance of this to Strangers on a Train and to an interesting observation about that film by another of our readers.

June 15 - 2005
Straight into Strangers on a Train tonight, and my thanks to Gary Giblin who was the first to point out (apropos what I wrote on June 13, above): the Big Ben 'sound effect' is only in the so-called British-release version of the film, and not in the final-release (or 'American') version. (That thought had occurred to me and then I forgot to check it out. Mea culpa!) In the latter version, all that we get are three clock-strikes (not two, as in the British-release version) with no chiming preceding them. I bet Hitchcock was disappointed that he couldn't finally allow the Big Ben effect or, rather, that he couldn't find anything near as stately and dignified as Big Ben when he sought real-life clock sounds that might conceivably be heard in Washington D.C. (The best he could finally do was add one extra clock-strike to the final-release print: after all, what did it matter to the plot whether Guy was getting home at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.? Note that all of this suggests that the so-called British-release print may have been no more than a provisional cut of the film - for Jack Warner's benefit, Gary Giblin reminds me - with some 'effects' included that were always only interim, awaiting a better 'solution' in the final print.) On the other hand, I don't want to abandon the point I made here previously: that if the Big Ben effect sounded right to Hitchcock (as an Englishman), he could reckon on audiences getting the idea, too. After all, Patricia Highsmith wrote in her book 'Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction' that, really, readers or audiences are very pliable when a writer or director makes demands on them - but not absolutely so, which is why authors and directors must be careful just how far they go! And Hitch probably calculated: atmospherically, the Big Ben 'effect' is just what I need here, but unfortunately a lot of Washington D.C. locals will be affronted if they hear a 'foreign' clock chiming the hours in their city (whether or not they recognise the clock as London's famous Big Ben). Okay, one more point about Strangers on a Train in conclusion. At Forest Hills tennis stadium, Hitchcock goes out of his way to photograph Guy beneath a couple of lines painted over a gateway from Kipling's poem 'If ...': 'If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two impostors just the same ...' Wonderful stuff, almost Shakespearean in its suggestiveness (cf, say, 'The Tempest'), and well chosen by the Forest Hills powers-that-be for its aptness to contenders in tennis matches - up one moment, down the next, or here today, gone tomorrow! (That sort of thing!) But the lines can also be applied specifically by the film's viewers to Guy and Bruno. I've just finished writing a long critical profile of Hitch that refers, inter alia, to the 'levelling' tendency in virtually all of his films, their tendency to enforce the notion that, finally, 'it's all One'. So here is another example of that (a theme that also gets quite a work-out in Rope, by the way, and which is finally ambiguous about the exact status of the mentor-figure, Rupert [James Stewart]: indeed, the script remarks that you cannot be sure whether he 'is essentially good or essentially evil'.) And indeed there's a striking passage in Chapter 33 of Patricia Highsmith's 'Strangers on a Train' novel, in which Guy asks Bruno whether he knows what the greatest wisdom in the world is: 'That everything has its opposite close beside it.' Eerie that Hitchcock found on location an almost exact equivalent of the same idea!

June 14 - 2005
(More on Strangers on a Train in a moment.) The promised Academic Hitchcock page on this site, featuring material by guest writers, will start soon. One of the contributors will be Prof. Murray Pomerance whose recent 'An Eye for Hitchcock' has won accolades. Incidentally, Bill Krohn of 'Cahiers du Cinéma' will review Murray's book on our New Publications page just as soon as he can. (Bill has two books of his own in the works: the one on Bunuel is already with its publisher.) I'm also grateful to Dr Ted Price whose book, 'Hitchcock's 50-Year Obsession with Jack the Ripper, and the Superbitch Prostitute: a Psychoanalytical View', is being readied for a paperback reissue after being out of print in hardback for about a decade. It's a remarkable book in several respects - more penetrating on films like The Lodger, Rebecca, The Paradine Case, and Marnie than many I've seen, and employing the technique of 'motifs' and close textual analysis that Ted mastered many years ago after being taught it by the literary New Critics, including John Crow Ransome. Ted has sent along two papers on Marnie, including one that is the chapter on that film from his book. We'll put up lengthy excerpts from these on this website. Now, here's another point about Strangers on a Train to follow up last night's. So often, as that item last night may have helped indicate, 'atmosphere' in a Hitchcock film is a matter of subliminally-registered details, carefully planted by the director. Late in Strangers on a Train, Guy (Farley Granger), still wearing his tennis blazer and top after defeating 'Mr Fred Reynolds' (who looks like an Australian champion of the time, Frank Sedgeman), arrives by taxi at Penn Station on his way to try and intercept Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), who wants to plant incriminating evidence against (the innocent) Guy at a fairground in Metcalf. To help maximise the sense of urgency, and also of what the great Goethe called 'the dignity of significance', in this brief station sequence (opposed to the film's more stately opening sequence, also set in a station vestibule), Hitchcock anticipates North by Northwest by giving the scene a 'United Nations' ambience! Take a look soon. The large letters 'UN' are placed on a wall in one part of the station concourse, immediately above an inquiry counter which Guy twice passes. Pointedly, the camera allows us to spot a poster propped up on the counter advertising - and showing a picture of - the UN Building. As with the significance of the Empire State Hotel in Spellbound, and the featuring of the UN Building itself in North by Northwest, Hitchcock is here giving us, first, a visual icon of New York, to tell us, in effect, that we're at the very 'hub' of things, and, second, a visual reminder that the film's story is just one of countless 'life-stories' of which Guy's and Bruno's is both representative and unique and yet momentarily merging with them: the station, with its UN ambience, is a melting-pot of 'life'. Compare the merging and diverging rails motif in the film's opening sequence. More tomorrow.

June 13 - 2005
Greetings from the Editor, who is beginning again his regular 'column' here which is intended to be of interest to Hitchcock scholars and fans alike. (Each night I'll try, as in the past, to include some all-new idea or piece of information!) I'll shortly indicate what is coming up on this site, but tonight let me first ask this: if any of you have possible questions for the actress Kasey Rogers, originally Laura Elliot, then by all means send them here in the next day or so. Prof. Tony Williams, who is my co-moderater of our Yahoo group (Hitchcock Enthusiasts and Scholars - joining details above), anticipates interviewing Kasey at the Memphis Film Festival next weekend (June 16-18), and invites questions for her. As Laura Elliot (her stage name), Kasey played Miriam in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951). Her other film roles were in, for example, Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1950) and George Stevens's A Place in the Sun (1951). On television, as Kasey Rogers, she is best remembered as one of the stars of the long-running 'Bewitched', but made many other appearances on the small screen. (Here's a short biography indicating the range of her work: Kasey Rogers.) To try and come up with a question or two that Tony Williams might ask Kasey, I took another look last night at Strangers on a Train. Given that Hitchcock reportedly sometimes treated performers according to their character in his film/s, I wondered if the director seemed cool towards Kasey playing 'the consumate bitch' (as the actress herself calls Miriam)! Also, I'm wondering just how he communicated what he wanted. As a film buff himself, did he perhaps say to Kasey, 'Think of such-and-such an actor' (Bette Davis, perhaps!)? Probably not, yet a question along these lines might jog Kasey's memory of something said by the director. Okay. If anyone has their own question or two, they can email either me (muffin@labyrinth.net.au) or Tony (tonyw@siu.edu). Briefly now, here's something about Strangers on a Train I noticed last night. Unless I'm mistaken, Washington D.C. doesn't have a clock that chimes identically to London's famous Big Ben (whose chimes are heard regularly by listeners to the BBC). Yet when Guy (Farley Granger) in the film is first seen arriving there late one night, that's exactly the sound that Hitchcock uses to establish the time: 2 a.m. First we hear the chiming, and then the two strokes to indicate the hour. This all occurs as Guy alights from a taxi and then starts up the steps to his apartment. My guess is that Hitchcock realised that an audience would be somewhat distracted by this activity, and would register the sound subliminally as indication that Washington matters and has dignity! (Guy, of course, hopes to marry Ann Morton, daughter of a Senator.) As so often, he would have reckoned: if it sounded right to him (as an Englishman), he could reckon on audiences getting the idea, too. More tomorrow.

May 9 - 2005
As promised, then, here is the exciting news about the forthcoming book 'Hitchcock's Motifs' (Amsterdam University Press) by Michael Walker. First, the book is sure to be cogent and to-the-analytical-point: Michael is a seasoned and able writer on film (35 years ago he co-authored 'Claude Chabrol' with Robin Wood, and in 1992 was principal contributor to 'The Movie Book of Film Noir'; also, like Brad Stevens, he has a major article in the still-coming 'The Movie Book of Unexplored Hitchcock'). Personally, I think 'Hitchcock's Motifs' may prove to be the most important piece of critical writing on Hitchcock in years and will show up some disappointing academic books on the director that have appeared lately (and not only lately!). Here are excerpts from the book's jacket blurb (by a genuinely respected European academic!) ... 'Starting from recurring objects, settings, character-types and events, Michael Walker tracks some forty motifs, themes and clusters across the whole of Hitchcock's work, including not only all his 52 extant feature films but also representative episodes from his TV series. ... The book can be used as a mini-encyclopaedia of Hitchcock's motifs, but the individual entries give full attention also to the wider social contexts, hidden sources and sometimes unconscious meanings present in the work and solidly linking it to its time and place.' The book has 448 pages, 60 b/w illustrations; it will sell in hardback (ISBN 90 5356 7739) for £52.50, $95 or 69.95 Euros, and in paperback (ISBN 90 5356 7720) for £25, $45, 32.50 Euros. Deliberately, 'Hitchcock's Motifs' does not have a subtitle: Michael says that he wanted it to echo Robin Wood's 'Hitchcock's Films'. The book gives Robin 'a big plug'! Tomorrow, in another special "Editor's Day" item (or maybe in a News item lower down this page), I'll share what Dave Pattern has heard about recent and coming DVD releases in France and Germany of several early Hitchcock films. KM

April 19 - 2005
Here I am, breaking my silence, to thank friend Tag Gallagher for sending me his impressions of the new book by Charlotte Chandler, 'It's Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock - a Personal Biography'. Tag says that if this were a book on John Ford, one of his specialities, he'd be very excited. From what he's read in the book - he hasn't finished it yet - he likes it a lot. 'I think for a Hitch fan, CC's book is great. Because it's all unpublished interviews. About half of it AH's own narrative. For example, about being Catholic: "Just being Catholic meant you were eccentric." That's hardly profound, but I don't recall AH expressing that view in other bios. And that's the way the book is. Nice tidbits. "Some of my happiest memories were on the rare occasions when my father took me with him to the countryside. He would buy a whole field of cabbages ..." CC rarely goes into detail about the films (but there's always a plot summary), except she does a lot of comparing of MARY and MURDER! Nothing about AH's strange behaviour [as reported by Donald Spoto] towards Monty Clift, but stories that Clift always had his acting coach with him and would look to her after each take, which upset AH; but AH didn't interefere with his Method exercises, and Malden talks about Clift getting drunk and vomiting all over Malden's car. According to CC, AH often said, "Call me Hitch, without a cock," which Grace Kelly overheard one day and AH was embarrassed but she wasn't. CC mimimizes the Tippi Hedren business as much less than what's been said, quoting Jay Preston Allen. But she quotes Hedren's daughter saying AH was "a motherfucker".' Thanks Tag. And, by the way, we'll have a review of Murray Pomerance's book on Hitch soon - it will go up on our New Publications page. Murray will be one of the authors who lead off our Academic Hitchcock page - though I don't know exactly when that will go up. My Web designer is dragging his heels on the general site-overhaul that is coming. KM

January 6 - 2005
[Follow-up to yesterday.] Joel Gunz in Portland, Oregon, has located for us a website (Invisible Figures) displaying not only the Salvador Dali painting mentioned here yesterday, apropos Hitchcock's Psycho, but many other Dali works. But none of the latter can be more exciting for Hitchcockians than one called 'Le Voyeur'. It bears an obvious relation to Rear Window. We reproduce both Dali works below. Hearty thanks to both Joel and to GC (that's Giorgio Carbonara!) in Rome, Italy, who first raised this matter yesterday of a likely influence of Dali on Hitchcock. KM

Surrealist Composition with Invisible Figures - 1936

Voyeur - 1921

January 5 - 2005
[Special "Editor's Day" entry] My thanks to GC in Rome, Italy, who has sent along a suggestion and a possible Dali-Hitchcock connection (an influence of Dali on Hitchcock). GC writes as follows. 'The suggestion: I think it would be highly appreciated if you occasionally included references to AH's actors or associates still active in the film business, whenever they are involved in some new production. This thought occured to me after spotting Anna Massey [Frenzy] in a small role in Brad Anderson's thriller The Machinist [2004]. The possible Dali-Hitchcock connection: I've just seen the Dalì centenary exhibition at the Palazzo Grazzi, Venice. On the whole, it was very well prepared, even though, sadly, there were almost no "visual" references to Spellbound. Anyway, I was stunned by the sight of a rarely seen (or reproduced) painting, called "Surrealist composition with invisible figures" (second version of "Rock of Liane"), oil on cardboard, painted in 1936, catalogue number 153, in the center of which is an empty bed with the impression of a female body on a mattress. It strongly reminded me of the bed of "Mother" in Psycho. Regretably, I was not able to find a reproduction of it on the Web to send you, and I don't know if this matter has been raised elsewhere, but it is my pleasure to let you know.' Thanks very much, GC (and for your kind remarks about this page). That scene in Psycho does indeed have a 'surreal' exaggeratedness, and I think it quite likely that Hitchcock was emboldened to do it that way after remembering a Dali painting that he had once seen! As for your suggestion about mentioning new 'appearances' by surviving AH actors or associates, yes, that would be good. Of course, I'm partly dependent on readers such as yourself sending me such material! (Hint, hint!) As for Anna Massey, she is well into her 70s these days. She's the daughter of actor Raymond Massey. Lastly, I see that Roger Ebert, in his review of The Machinist, compares the character played by Christian Bale to Anthony Perkins in Orson Welles's The Trial, 'another film about a man who finds himself trapped in the vise of the world's madness'. KM