Editor's Week 2007

December 22 - 2007
More on how good Under Capricorn is. Set in Australia in 1831, when a new Governor arrives to stir the Colony up - he is based on Sir Richard Bourke (1777-1855) who would implement several progressive reforms - it shows a society still in its infancy and already full of injustice. On the soundtrack, a commentator tells us that the penal colony 'exported raw materials and imported material even more raw - prisoners, many of them unjustly convicted'. So the 'wrong man' theme is sounded, the theme that Hitchcock repeatedly used to symbolise the vulnerability of the individual in society and the harsh, punitive nature of society generally. Which is what Under Capricorn proves to be about, together with the almost fathomless nature of that society. Analyses of Under Capricorn that highlight particular social issues - such as class rivalry or the inferior status of women - tend to miss the point, in my view. The film is more about a situation than about issues per se. Understandably, the film evokes a microcosm - in this case, the situation in the Flusky household - which at the start of the film is stagnant, if not moribund. (There are echoes here of 'Mandelay' at the start of Rebecca.) That situation has become entrenched, and likely needs some sort of upheaval to set it to rights. Cleverly, the film makes the immediate agent for change not the new Governor (Cecil Parker), who is literally remote from 'Minyago Yugilla', Flusky's residence, but the unorthodox, seeming ne'er-do-well Charles Adare (Michael Wilding), the Governor's second cousin. (He functions as an unlikely 'Christ-figure', as I said last time.) Speaking of the critics and scholars who have analysed Under Capricorn ... I am grateful for a passage in Ed Gallafent's article on that film printed in the book 'Style and Meaning' (2005), edited by John Gibbs and Douglas Pye. Referring to the scene in which Flusky, made jealous of Adare's attentions to Flusky's wife Hattie (Ingrid Bergman) - though Flusky had initially invited those (honourable) attentions in order to rehabilitate Hattie from her alcoholism, etc. - shoots and wounds Adare with a horse-pistol, Gallafent writes: 'We have seen Sam [Flusky] re-enact the drama of the elopement [by Flusky and Hattie, back in Ireland], defying a "father" [in this case, the Governor himself, whom Flusky had recently insulted at the Governor's Ball] and wounding, but not killing, a "brother" [here Adare, originally Hattie's real brother Dermot].' Noting how even this 're-enactment' of the original crime does not immediately change matters for the better (cf Spellbound), Gallafent then adds: 'Something has to happen which will release the couple [Flusky and Hattie, from their stagnation], and finally interrogate Sam's conviction that what is opposed to them has always been entrenched class interest. This is the lesson of Milly's attempt to poison Hattie.' In other words, the lower-class Flusky will finally see that the immediate enemy is actually a woman of his own class, the housekeeper Milly (Margaret Leighton), who has set her cap for him, going so far as to secretly encourage Hattie's fear of becoming mad (e.g., the business of the shrunken head) and eventually resorting to the use of poison. (All of this, incidentally, in a self-deceiving way: Milly professes that she is only doing the Lord's will!) What I am saying is that the film employs a 'hefty plot' (Hitchcock's term) that effectively simulates the fathomless nature of reality itself, to remind us once again (it's Hitchcock's perennial theme) that we're all bound in subjectivity - for only God knows the overall picture (cf, say, the lesson of Rope). Finally, I love many of the visual and aural 'touches' in Under Capricorn. For example, during the scene in Hattie's bedroom in which Milly tries to first scare, and then poison, Hattie - and we see Hattie fight back, calling to Sam - the camera's sweeping movement across a white sheet suggests her release. And when Sam arrives, and expels Milly from the room and from the house, the effect is suitably repeated: Milly stumbles from the room and the camera pans her across the white door (see frame-capture below). Earlier, during the marvellous verandah scene towards sunset between Hattie and Charles (see frame-still last time), in which he begins his attempt to rehabilitate her, Richard Addinsell's score constantly presses on, expressing a basic optimism. Nonetheless, it has subtle modulations. Thus when Charles reminds Hattie that she was 'horribly drunk' on the night he first came to dinner, the music momentarily dips and sours, then resumes as before. Clearly, this represents a stage in Hattie's therapy, telling us how she must face the truth about her alcoholism. (She does, although for a moment she is taken aback at Charles's forthrightness.) Likewise, when she speaks of her general feeling of 'weakness', Charles kneels beside her and says, 'You need help, don't you?' Here the music softens, momentarily slows - then presses on again. (More broadly, this is the story of the Colony itself, and again Addinsell's vigorous main motif is suitably applied.)

December 15 - 2007
This is for SC, and is about one of my most beloved of Hitchcock's films, Under Capricorn (1949). The film is based on a fine historical novel (1937) by Australian-born Helen Simpson. The photography by Jack Cardiff, the score by Richard Addinsell, the sets by Tom Morahan, and the costumes by Roger Furse all reflect the novel's elaborate research and deeply-felt themes. The principal theme concerns freedom. A prefatory quotation (from the fictitious 'A Limbo for Ladies') to Book I reads in part: 'Shall Capricornus bind a poore man the world ouer, no part, no Land undiscouered, where hee may shake free? I will not belieue it ...' As adapted by Scottish playwright James Bridie and Hitchcock's friend, the actor Hume Cronyn, the film leaves the question of freedom ambiguous. It is a companion-piece to Rope (1948) in more ways than just the use of long-takes and the fact that both films were made by Hitchcock and Sidney Bernstein's own company, Transatlantic Pictures. Rope had ended by asking of the two murderers, 'Did you think you were God?' Under Capricorn shows its housekeeper Milly (Margaret Leighton) resorting to attempted murder because she tells herself she knows God's way: ironically, she quotes the poet Cowper to the effect that God moves in mysterious ways ... In other words, this is another Hitchcock film that critiques subjectivity even as it allows the possibility that the events shown by the film are indeed all part of God's plan. Both Vertigo and The Birds work similarly. It is fitting that Milly goes unpunished by the law, though she literally brushes with it as she runs from the house, passing Mr Corrigan (Dennis O'Dea), the Attorney General, on the way out. (In Vertigo, Gavin Elster likewise goes unpunished - excerpt in the 'European ending' which Hitchcock reluctantly shot to placate foreign censors - with the implication being, 'Leave him to God'.) The film follows the novel in being about individual redemption, with Christian overtones. Australia itself is a potential or actual Hell (repeatedly referred to as 'this infernal place') where, though, it may be possible 'to build a Heaven in Hell's despair' (as another poet, William Blake, wrote). See 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' for more on this and how a whole visual motif centres on it. From the novel, the film took the name 'Minyago Yugilla' ('Why weepest thou?') for the residence in Woolloomoolloo, Sydney, of ex-convict Sam Flusky (Joseph Cotten) and his wife 'Hattie'/Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman). (See frame-capture below, actually a painting.) The reference is to Christ's Resurrection (see John 20:1-18). Another Biblical quotation, 'a great gulf fixed' (from Luke 16:26), is used to describe the state of Sam and Hattie's marriage when the film begins; into this situation enters an unlikely Christ-figure, the new Governor's unemployed second cousin, the Hon. Charles Adare (Michael Wilding). This is a situation familiar from 19th century novels (e.g., Dickens's 'A Tale of Two Cities', where the unlikely Christ-figure is lawyer Sydney Carton, who goes to the guillotine to redeem both his own wasted life and the marriage of Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette) and stage melodramas (several of which were set in Australia). Another figure very familiar to the 19th-century cultural imagination was the repentent prostitute or Mary Magdalene figure (this links with the passage in John 20, cited above), and it is possible to see Hattie as such a figure. Back in Ireland, she had eloped with Sam and in the process shot dead her brother Dermot - though Sam took the blame and was deported to Sydney where Hattie followed him out, living in squalor 'down by the docks' while he served his term. Thus Hattie anticipates, in a sense, Judy/'Madeleine' (Kim Novak) in Vertigo, another 'fallen' woman who is accessory to a murder but who attempts to redeem herself through love of Scottie (James Stewart). As for the housekeeper Milly, secretly in love with Flusky, she has a scene with him in which she slyly questions Adare's motives in seeking to rehabilitate Hattie, who has become an alcoholic - and it is impossible not to think of Iago in 'Othello' poisoning the Moor's mind against his wife Desdemona. (Just watch the scene and you'll see what I mean.) Such a scene isn't in the novel - it therefore seems to have been invented for the film by Bridie and Hitchcock. Moreover, this 'Othello' motif (which Dr Theodore Price finds in several Hitchcock films) allows Hitchcock to portray his heroine as more sinned against than sinning, and at the same time to bring a tragic dimension to bear because, in this case, of Flusky's susceptibility when he listens to someone from his own (lower) class speaking against the upper class (i.e., both the Hon. Charles Adare and Lady Hattie). At least, that seems to have been the theory. Unfortunately, the scene with Milly is rather stagey - not the only one in the film - though this has a certain appropriateness, as I'll suggest below. On the other hand, Bridie's screenplay is intelligent about the tangled nature of 'reality' and how, at a certain level, such 'reality' is a social construct, allowing room for limited free will (in this case, Adare's, who makes a decision to nobly sacrifice his own best prospects for the sake of the greater good). The whole idea is cleverly conveyed, for example, in the question, 'who gives the orders?'. In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', I wrote: 'The final scene bears at least one similarity to Rope's. [One] of the film's motifs has been the recurring question, "Who gives the orders in Flusky's house?", which Charles gaily puts to the tune of "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush". At the end, as he prepares to sail for home, the soundtrack reprises the tune. But now it's clear that the question it asks is meant in general terms, and that none of the characters fits the bill: they are all "merely players".'

December 8 - 2007
A correspondent on our 'Seriously Alfred Hitchcock' group this week made the familiar observation that film is a 'shallow' medium compared with a good novel. 'I think film can provide behavior studies, but not psychological studies', he wrote. Professor John Carey, in his stimulating book, 'What Good Are the Arts?' (2005), advances a related view: 'I claim that literature is the only art capable of reasoning, and the only art that can criticize.' (p. 257) Carey's view is an extreme one, and it's probably significant that his book has little to say about film except for how the film medium offers admirable examples of 'mass art' (in support, Carey cites film theorist Noel Carroll) whose notable practitioners include 'Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Alfred Hitchcock' (p. 45). No mention by Carey of films like Ma nuit chez Maud/My night with Maud (Eric Rohmer, 1969) or My dinner with André (Louis Malle, 1981), both of which consist largely of extended 'philosophical' discussions, the former, in particular, quite engagingly so. But perhaps it's significant that the very titles of both those films draw attention to the tendency of film to be 'subjective' - whereas literature often passes itself off as an 'objective' description of events and issues. Moreover, in the end, even if you're a literary person, you may still have to accept that others don't hold exactly your preferences. E.M. Forster long ago noted that even good novels come in two types - 'round' and 'flat'. That is, a novelist like Fyodor Dostoyevsky or Patrick White creates rounded characters, of great depth and detailed background, whereas a novelist like Charles Dickens or P.G. Wodehouse may deal in characters with exteriorised traits designed to point a moral or be psychologically revealing or comical (e.g., the complacent, ancestor-fixated Sir Leicester Deadlock in 'Bleak House'). This is a huge subject, but film lovers know that their favourite directors (e.g., Hitchcock, Scorsese) can be simply brilliant in using the medium to its best advantage. They may create a whole 'gestalt' with imagery to match (which, indeed, is what I think Dickens did in 'Bleak House [1853], whose characters are all caught up in a vast malaise). Hitchcock's expressive method in The Wrong Man or Vertigo works like that, echoing the rain and fog imagery of 'Bleak House', in the case of The Wrong Man, and the depiction of the city of Bruges, with its canals and churches, in Georges Rodenbach's Symbolist novella, 'Bruges-la-morte' (1892), in the case of Vertigo. So much of a film consists of selective detail - but the selection, as I say, can be brilliantly suggestive. The correspondent on 'Seriously Alfred Hitchcock' this week was reluctant to accept even Marnie as a psychological study (as opposed to a behavior study), but I can't help remembering how the writer of the original novel, Winston Graham, obtained his inspiration for Marnie's character. I will quote Tony Lee Moral: 'Graham conceived the character of Marnie from a combination of two women he knew in Cornwall.' The first was a young lady named Christine, who had been a nanny to the Grahams' youngest child in London. '"She seemed alright except that she was constantly taking baths, about three a day usually," Graham remembers, "and she was in constant communication with her mother. On one occasion, she left the letters lying about, and I found a letter from her mother warning her about the evils of men and that she must never consider having any connection with them at all. Why that was so, I never knew. She sublimated her interests in horses and spent all her spare time riding." The second woman was a young mother of three children who came down to Cornwall with other evacuees during the war. Her husband was at sea, and she decided that doing her part for her country was offering herself to any soldier that happened to take a fancy to her. ..."' Graham goes into considerable detail about this second woman, including about how, after the war, the woman's 'youngest child began to steal, and it seemed curious to Graham whether it was a consequence of the mother's deprivation [the mother meanwhile had been involved in a court case over a miscarriage].' In turn, Graham drew on a third woman whose case he had read about in the 'Sunday Express' [the British Sunday papers were a source of the young Hitchcock's information, too ...], 'about a girl who kept stealing from her employers and reappeared in various guises: "She took jobs in restaurants or theaters and absconded with about £500 each time.'" (Tony Lee Moral, 'Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie' [2002], pp. 5-6.) So here's my point. Many novelists, and others, have reflected on the ultimate unknowability of the human condition. Many, like Graham, have attempted, and even succeeded, in suggesting that condition while not trying to be definitive of it. Incidentally, Tony Lee Moral quotes one New York critic as calling 'Marnie' the best book about a woman written by a man (p. 6). And, besides, if you particularly want an 'objective' psychological study, there are many clinical ones available. But many novelists, and many filmmakers, prefer to do something other, and perhaps something more, than be 'objective' - which is probably impossible, anyway. And that is to exercise their imagination in order to suggest the mystery I spoke of. The novel 'Marnie' at one point speaks of 'the loneliness of all the world' (Chapter 20). Also - here's a coda - they may exercise ingenuity to imply a character's 'backstory'. In Hitchcock's Vertigo, for example, when Judy (Kim Novak) mentions that she comes from Salina, Kansas, there's a hint that she is fleeing from the small-town situation depicted in Kim Novak's earlier film Picnic (Joshua Logan, 1955), which was part-shot in Salina. More on this another time.

December 1 - 2007
How do a film's 'touches' come about? There are a million answers to that question, of course, but today let's take the lines of dialogue in North by Northwest (1959) spoken at the Chicago airport by Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) and The Professor (Leo G. Carroll) as they emerge from the Northwest Airlines terminal building and head across the tarmac towards the plane that will transport them to Rapid City, South Dakota. (See frame-capture below.) Roger: 'I don't think I caught your name.' Professor: 'I don't think I pitched it.' This little exchange is actually taken from Garson Kanin's romantic comedy Tom Dick and Harry (RKO, 1941) starring Ginger Rogers, George Murphy, and Burgess Meredith. I say 'taken from' rather than 'stolen from' because I suspect that Kanin (best known as the author of the play 'Born Yesterday' and the screenwriter of such George Cukor hits as Adam's Rib [1949] and Pat and Mike [1952]) may actually have sold or gifted it to Hitchcock and his screenwriter Ernest Lehmann. Certainly, Hitchcock that year had used Kanin's story "Six People, No Music" for an episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' (airdate: 4 January, 1959) - the only Kanin story ever adapted by that series. So perhaps Kanin threw in the Tom Dick and Harry dialogue as part of the deal. But that's not really important. What matters is what the film did with it. Some thoughts. The dialogue starts as we notice that Roger and The Professor are emerging from a door marked 'Entrance Only' - one of the many 'touches' in the film that show us Roger leading a charmed, privileged existence even as he battles resourcefully against Vandamm and his villains just to stay - or come - 'alive'. (As I've often said, Roger's coming alive - as he himself notices late in the film - is very much what the film is about. He has his name and photograph spread across the front page of the 'New York Times', begins an affair with a classy platinum-blonde, Eve Kendall [Eva Marie Saint], and gets physical with the landscape. All very much part of Hitchcock's and Lehmann's design, of course, and representing a 'vitalist' paradigm that goes back at least as far as The 39 Steps [1935].) Astutely, the dialogue-exchange is actually bisected by a cut. Unlike Tom Dick and Harry, where the lines may strike a viewer as 'stagey' because delivered all in the one frame, Hitchcock has them coincide with a distinct change in mood and ambience. After Roger's line, 'I don't think I caught your name', the nondiegetic music ceases, and the film cuts to a much closer shot of the two men as the Professor replies, 'I don't think I pitched it'. Simultaneously, they begin pacing across the tarmac. What follows gets through a great deal of more-or-less necessary explication, but the film cleverly disguises this talkiness by, for example, a cut-away to a shot of a plane starting up, whereupon the sound of engines drowns out some of the less-needed dialogue. Some clever miming by Grant and Caroll accompanies this passage. When their words become audible again, the pair are almost at their plane. It remains only for Roger to learn the shocking truth that Eve Kendall is actually an undercover American agent and in peril of being found out by Vandamm unless Roger continues to play her peeved lover. At this precise moment, Hitchcock has the light from a departing plane suddenly shine on Roger's features set in stony determination. And from this close-up, there's a dissolve to another lit-up, stony face - the carved head of Teddy Roosevelt at a sunlit Mount Rushmore, South Dakota - and an iris-effect begins. We realise that we are now with Roger and The Professor on the observation deck adjoining the Mount Rushmore cafeteria. (A mahogany wall matches the colour of the 'Entrance Only' and 'Exit Only' doors that began the previous sequence.) We also realise that Roger has now taken upon himself, if not altogether by choice, the role of defender of the American way, allying him with Teddy Roosevelt. His position in the diegesis thus roughly corresponds to that of citizen Barry Kane at the climax of Saboteur (1942) where Barry must engage in life-death combat with the spy named Fry on top of the Statue of Liberty ...

November 24 - 2007
You won't begin to fully appreciate a film like Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) unless you have read some John Buchan, some G.K. Chesterton, and - perhaps most of all - some of the Bulldog Drummond novels by 'Sapper' (H.C. McNeile). (For a few of my thoughts on Buchan and Chesterton, click here: Great Directors.) The nocturnal Mount Rushmore climax of North by Northwest, with its spies' house built on a rocky cliff, the signalling to an aircraft about to land, and the clambering investigations of the hero, are all anticipated in 'The Final Count' (1926), so-called because it marks the last of the pugilistic Drummond's four encounters with his arch foe, Carl Peterson. (The 'Sapper' climax, though, occurs in Land's End, Cornwall.) You should also look at some of the films nominally based on the novels, and in particular the two starring Ronald Colman: Bulldog Drummond (1929) and Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934). The former has splendid designs by William Cameron Menzies and ingredients that anticipate Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940). As for Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, very loosely based on the novel originally called 'Knock Out' (1933), I want to talk about it here. I watched it again this week and read the novel. The film is perhaps over-rated (notably by William K. Everson in 'The Detective in Film' [1972]), but is nonetheless of interest to Hitchcockians for several reasons. For one thing, it has Ethel Griffies (Mrs Bundy in The Birds) playing the aunt of the heroine, Lola Field (Loretta Young) - see frame-capture below. (Both Mrs Field and her daughter are separately kidnapped by the film's villain, Prince Achmed, played by Warner Oland, and imprisoned in his fog-bound London house, but of course Drummond and his pals manage to break in and rescue them.) For another thing, Roy Del Ruth's film uses the same 'disappearing body' gag - in a mysteriously deserted house - that Hitchcock had recently used in Number Seventeen (1932); in addition, when Prince Achmed and his servants finally turn up, and a policeman is called, they deny Drummond's tale of a body (Drummond has just been to a wedding celebration, so they are able to say he is tipsy) in a manner that anticipates a similar stratagem in North by Northwest. (The same stratagem is used in other films, of course: for example, My Favourite Blonde [1942], starring Bob Hope and Madeleine Carroll.) And again, Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back introduces to film the 'vanishing lady' situation that had first been employed in a story by Mrs Belloc Lowndes and would be used by Hitchcock in both The Lady Vanishes (1938) and in a 1955 episode of his 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' (d. Don Medford), as well as turning up in the British film So Long at the Fair (Anthony Darnborough and Terence Fisher, 1950). Interestingly, Everson suggests that the situation had actually happened, 'at the Paris Exposition at the turn of the century' - though I have never found confirmation of this. (No more have I ever found confirmation that the basic story of Peter Weir's film about vanishing schoolgirls, Picnic at Hanging Rock [1975], actually happened - and in fact I'm quite sure it didn't!) In short, distinguished scriptwriter Nunnally Johnson (The Grapes of Wrath, The Dirty Dozen) probably had a lot of fun adapting the 'Sapper' novel, basically by throwing it away and ingeniously drawing on the ingredients I've indicated. Simultaneously, Hitchcock and Charles Bennett did almost exactly the same thing when they made The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), nominally based on the Bulldog Drummond stories. The climax of Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back occurs on a ship newly-berthed in the Thames, and to which Drummond sets fire because he knows that it contains a cargo of furs that are cholera-infested (another element from the 'vanishing lady' story). I shan't detail more of the film's Hitchcockian elements, but they are there. It's a film worth seeking out.

November 17 - 2007
At the end of Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936), set during the First World War, the foreign spy, an American named Robert Marvin (Robert Young), shoots 'the General' (Peter Lorre). See frame-capture below. The train wreck around them is an almost literal symbol of 'chaos', or the moral condition of war. We have just seen the train, bound for Constantinople, strafed and wrecked on the orders of 'R' (Charles Carson) in London because he knows that Marvin is on board carrying vital information to the enemy - though he also knows that the train is carrying three of his own agents, namely, the General, 'Richard Ashenden' (John Gielgud), and Elsa Carrington (Madeleine Carroll), as well as hundreds of innocent civilians. I mention the film's ending because I now realise that I slightly mis-described it in my book. I wrote: 'In the wreckage of the derailed train, the General places a loaded pistol and a single bullet in front of the mortally injured Marvin. This seems to be the traditional invitation to one's enemy to take his own life ... But Marvin can't help himself. Even as he requests 'water!', he picks up the pistol and shoots the General.' In fact, the General had simply been careless. Stephen Youngkin's biography of Peter Lorre, 'The Lost One' (2005), describes the incident like this: 'Trapped beneath the wreckage, the mortally wounded German agent [Marvin] pleads for a drink of water. Incautiously, the General puts down his pistol, reaches into his coat pocket to retrieve a flask, and is shot in the back by the dying spy.' (p. 134) Actually, I wonder if the scene isn't deliberately ambiguous. We certainly observe the General place something beside the pistol (though it's at the bottom of frame, and so difficult to see). No matter. The irony of the scene comes across. Both the General and Marvin have been portrayed by the film as stop-at-nothing killers, doubles of each other though of different temperaments. The ending of Secret Agent approximates at least one of the alternative endings that Hitchcock filmed for Topaz (1969). The ending that he wanted for that film (but had to discard) has two spies, who prove to be working for opposite sides, facing off in an old-fashioned pistol duel. Note the element of old-world honour here, which is soured when an unseen third party shoots one of the spies, fairly obviously because a government has given orders to eradicate one of its own who is no longer useful and may disclose valuable secrets. I have greatly enjoyed reading Stephen Youngkin's book on the Hungarian-born Peter Lorre (real name László Loewenstein), finding in it much valuable information. For example, Lorre gained a lot of his early stage experience in Berlin as a member of Bertolt Brecht's ensemble in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Youngkin quotes Eric Bentley on Lorre's 'duality': 'Brecht was fascinated by the doubleness in Lorre's performances, in the ... peculiar combinations in his personality between the naive and the sophisticated or between comic and grim, or not comic.' According to Bentley, co-workers sensed an unconscious 'split' in Lorre's stage persona that was consistent with 'a type of acting in which the feelings don't directly come out in a flood but in some way are veiled or kept at a distance. ... For example, the feelings don't get expressed in the voice. If the character is a fiend, the voice will sound like a little child and innocent.' (pp. 45-46) Film director Fritz Lang saw Lorre on the stage and made the actor famous overnight when he chose him to play Hans Beckert, a compulsive child murderer, in M (1931). Later, Hitchcock had that performance in mind when he cast Lorre in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and again in Secret Agent. Youngkin describes the General as 'a professional assassin to whom murder is child's play. ... Both cherub and [womanising] imp, he impulsively plots assassination one moment and scuttles after his companions like a lost waif the next.' (p. 133) Also, he can throw childish tantrums if he thinks that he has been badly done by. But the General puts his histrionics to good use in the chocolate factory when he spots the police arriving and appears to throw a fit, thus diverting attention from Ashenden who sets up their escape ... The General's final scene is under-stated by comparison. Shot by Marvin, he staggers briefly, delivers a suitable curtain line, and collapses. 'New York Times' film critic B.R. Crisler summed up the character as 'one of the most amusing and somehow one of the most appealing trigger men since [stage and screen actor] Victor Moore; a homicidal virtuoso ... repulsively curly and Oriental in make-up.' (Quoted by Youngkin, p. 137) The description of the character as 'Oriental in make-up' was prophetic, for when Lorre returned to America (where he and wife Celia Lovsky had settled), he quickly found himself playing a succession of 'Mr Moto' films - eight in all.

November 10 - 2007
The essence of the inn scene in The Paradine Case (1947) is that two 'adversaries' confront one another and one is bested by the other. Here they are at the start of the scene (see frame-capture below). On the left is the valet Latour (Louis Jourdan), on the right is the barrister Keane (Gregory Peck). Between them, signifying that this is no ordinary two-shot, is the table-lamp by whose light Keane had been examining legal documents when Latour came tapping at the window. Symbolically, the lamp may represent the absent Mrs Paradine (Alida Valli), on whom both men are focussed for quite different reasons. (Latour hates her for seducing him away from his master, the late Colonel Paradine; Keane has fallen in love with her, his client accused of murder, though he is married to Gay, played by Ann Todd. In other words, both men have been made 'disloyal' by her.) In the corresponding scene in the Robert Hichens novel (Chapter XXV) occurs this passage: 'For an instant it was to [Keane] as if there were three in the room, Marsh [=Latour], himself, and Mrs Paradine; the accused woman, her defender, and the man who perhaps was going to witness against her. Had there been a reason for his coming into the North which he had not suspected until now?' In truth, Keane has scarcely recognised his true reasons for coming to Cumberland. (The death of Colonel Paradine had occurred in London.) One is that the nearby house called Hindley Hall is the Paradines' country home, and therefore bears visible witness to Mrs Paradine's having lived there; the other is that Keane suspects Latour of having been Mrs Paradine's lover, and sees him as a 'rival'. The film has already alerted us to this possibility in a scene between Judy Flaquer (Joan Tetzel) and her father Sir Simon Flaquer (Charles Coburn) in which we have heard Judy speculate that Keane is 'after' Latour. And so it proves. During the inn scene it becomes clear that Keane is antagonistic to Latour, and tries to dominate him. For example, Keane literally stands over Latour, one foot on the seat of a chair - the same pose he had earlier adopted when Sir Simon had challenged his exalted view of Mrs Paradine. Latour, a sort of doppelgänger for Keane, insists that Keane had indeed wanted to come on him at the Hall, though Keane, rather unconvincingly, denies this. Now let's go deeper. I have said that one character in this scene is bested by the other, by which I mean that Keane is bested by Latour. I have also just said that Latour is a sort of doppelgänger for Keane. The scene is set on a dark and windy night (like a similar scene in David Lean's Great Expectations [1946] - see below), and the effect is to suggest that Latour's visit to the inn represents Keane's own inner turmoil. In Jungian terms, Latour could be Keane's Shadow (as Bill Krohn this week pointed out to me). Latour, essentially a celibate, shows considerable mental strength that finally exasperates Keane. I think it is his ability to get the better of Keane in a battle of wills that is the important thing here, rather than their differing sexual natures (of Latour, we hear that he is 'a queer one'). Nonetheless, this scene looks back to the 'Mousetrap' scene in Hitchcock's Murder! (1930) and forward to some of the scenes between Guy and Bruno in Strangers on a Train (1951); and the fact that Latour had, in the novel, been especially sensitive to what he supposed Keane wanted of him does suggest a homosexual element - which is also a shading in the films I just mentioned. (But no more than a shading. The essential thing about the 'Mousetrap' scene in Murder! - which I once called 'perhaps the most sadistic scene in all of Hitchcock' - is that the 'half-caste' Fane evades for now Sir John's attempt to incriminate him of murder, thus winning this particular battle of wills. Of course, soon afterwards he hangs himself, another anticipation of Latour ...) At one point during the inn scene, Keane offers Latour a cigarette, which Latour refuses. Keane: 'You don't smoke?' Latour: 'I won't smoke, sir. Thank you.' Here we may think back to the dinner held by Lord Horfield (Charles Laughton), when Keane had snubbed his host (who has had designs on Gay ...) by refusing his offer of a cigar, saying that he would prefer to smoke a cigarette! In other words, Latour gives Keane a taste of his own medicine! But finally, perhaps, it's all One. 'Everything's perverted in a different way', Hitchcock would famously say. Hichens's novel makes a similar point. Another passage from Chapter XXV: 'Keane felt rather like a witness "cornered" in cross-examination; yet, strangely perhaps, he did not resent the extraordinary line Marsh was taking. Afterwards he wondered why he had not done so, and found the explanation in the under things which abolish at moments the class differences, and indeed all the surface differences between man and man, and force men, often against their wills, into a brotherhood that seems to be the deliberate work of destiny.' (The scene I mentioned in Great Expectations also works similarly, marking a turning-point in the protagonist Pip's hitherto snobbish view of the world ...) So that lamp in the frame-capture below may have several connotations. In a film as much about 'blindness' as about seeing the light, it may be ironic. If anything, it emphasises the 'loneliness' of the setting and the characters. But also, if it represents 'Mrs Paradine', it might be understood as a gesture towards the world's Will which is both a life and death 'force'. More another time.

November 3 - 2007
A discussion this week on our 'Seriously Alfred Hitchcock' group concerned The 39 Steps (1935) and The Wrong Man (1957). I'd like to pick up on one or two things I said there. I started by noting that Mr Memory in The 39 Steps is one-sided and devoted to 'facts' alone. On the other hand, the film works to give the viewer a sense of full participation in 'life', all of our senses quickened. Hitchcock, I recall, likened Mr Memory to schoolteacher Annie Hayworth in The Birds because both characters are fated by a cramping sense of duty. (The script of The Birds indicates that Annie dedicates herself to the Bodega Bay schoolchildren, implying that they are a substitute for children of her own.) In short, Mr Memory is a 'closed' character (though a likeable one) whereas the film itself is 'open'. Our discussion noted that Hitchcock at this time wrote an article that likened a film director to the editor of a large popular newspaper. Hmm. I used to refer to Hitchcock as a director of 'closed' films, contrasting him with a director like Jean Renoir. Expressionism versus social realism, or something like that. But of course Renoir is more 'expressive' than I had allowed, and Hitchcock's films are more systematically 'open' than I had perceived! The 39 Steps deliberately ranges up and down Britain, shows us a cross-section of classes and life-styles, introduces topical references and images (for example, of the gyrocopter called into the police manhunt for Hannay), and generally runs a gamut of emotions from pathos to dizzying excitement. Plus there's more than a touch of suggestiveness (the handcuffs scenes between Hannay and Pamela). That should be enough for anybody - and everybody! Now, it occurs to me that Hitchcock depicted Manny (Henry Fonda) in The Wrong Man within a similar conception: that is to say, Manny is another 'closed' character (but another likeable one) who is shown by the film to be out of his depth, while the film itself takes an almost God's-eye view of his predicament. By this stage in his career, Hitchcock was no longer comparing a film director with a newspaper editor but rather with God! (See the 39 Steps chapter in Truffaut's 'Hitchcock'.) Here's something else I wrote in our discussion this week. 'My position on The Wrong Man is that, like all of Hitchcock's films, it uses a subjective style, i.e., one that fits an appropriate central consciousness, which, however, may be dual, i.e., bigger than life, which means that here we have an Italian man out of his depth, unable to grasp the magnitude of events around him, resulting in a film that combines Italian neo-realism (plus a touch of English 'kitchen sink' realism) with Dickens's "Bleak House" ...' Let me try to briefly explain that. First, 'Bleak House' (1853) had profoundly influenced Hitchcock (as Donald Spoto has suggested). In it, Dickens - himself a former journalist and, since 1850, the editor of an immensely popular magazine called 'Household Words' - set out to show 'how civilisation and barbarism walked this proud island together'. In other words, Dickens, too, adopted an almost God's-eye vantage point from which to tell his story. Next, I have shown elsewhere (an article in 'The MacGuffin') that themes and imagery in The Wrong Man closely match ones in 'Bleak House'. Finally, when I say that The Wrong Man has a 'bigger than life' central consciousness, I really mean that it employs a style suitable to Manny's own consciousness plus the God's-eye perspective (or 'consciousness') I've indicated. (Cf my comments on the 'oceanic consciousness' that informs Hitchcock's Frenzy: see above, October 13.) The fact that Hitchcock in The Wrong Man employs elements of 'kitchen sink' realism is one way that he trumps just the Italian neo-realist elements in the film. Patrick McGilligan's Hitchcock biography, and Nick Haeffner's recent book on Hitchcock, both note the neo-realist elements; neither of them refer to the 'kitchen sink' ones. But they're clearly there - quite literally (see frame-capture below, showing Henry Fonda and Vera Miles). So here's a note about them. 'Hitchcock in 1957', I wrote in our discussion this week, 'was very aware of a new movement just getting under way on the British stage and on television, showing the down-to-earth lives of ordinary, lower class and lower-middle-class people. A now largely-forgotten work, 'Woman in a Dressing-Gown', by Lord 'Ted' Willis, was typical. Anthony Quayle [who plays the lawyer Mr O'Connor in The Wrong Man] starred in a film version that year (with Yvonne Mitchell and Sylvia Syms) and he may have been in the preceding TV and stage productions, I'm not sure.' Of course, another influence on The Wrong Man was Paddy Chayevsky's 1953 television drama 'Marty', about a shy, shambling Italian butcher (Rod Steiger) in the Bronx. Esther Minciotti played Marty's mother. She reprised the role in Delbert Mann's 1955 film version, this time alongside Ernest Borgnine as Marty, and would go on to play the mother of Manny in The Wrong Man. (Not incidentally, Chayevsky's plays for television had also influenced Ted Willis ...)

October 27 - 2007
I frankly love the model-shot in Hitchcock's Young and Innocent (1937) that shows an English village at night (see frame-capture below). Here's how I describe it in my book. 'Erica [Nova Pilbeam] and Robert [Derrick de Marney], on the run, have stopped their car under cover of night beside a railway shunting-yard near a town. Hitchcock here employs a model shot, with a tangible and quite lovely mood. The shot has several ingredients: an elaborate sideways tracking movement as a steam-train rushes under a moonlit bridge where we've just seen a car cross; light playing on house-fronts from the car's headlamps and from a nearby signal box; the sounds of the speeding train, of shunting, and of a tolling bell; and a final downwards-tilt of the camera as, arriving near the parked car, it shows us the focal-point of the tableau, the young couple.' As always, Hitchcock knew exactly what he was doing. Robert begins by seeking to put Erica at her ease, for he senses that she can see no end to the fix in which they find themselves. 'The night,' we hear him say, 'always exaggerates things, doesn't it? Personally, I like the night. It's much more alive than the day.' That could almost be the motto for this often magical film, whose mood, as here, is at times Shakespearean. (Paul Czinner's As You Like It had recently come out ...) Robert then shows further empathy for Erica, joking as another passing train casts its lights on the couple: 'Look at those people eating, actually eating. I'll scout about for something to eat, shall I?' The lights echo the moonlit house-fronts and lit-up train a moment earlier, reminding us forcefully of the couple's present exclusion from the joys and comforts of home and family. However, the film will end happily with Erica asking her father, the local Chief Constable (Percy Marmont), to invite Robert home for dinner. At that time the film's earlier sunny mood will have regained the ascendency. Something else that I love about the film is its essential Englishness. The 'Film Weekly' reviewer put the matter well: '[The film] has something native in its people, background, humours and ways of thought; and all of those things unforced.' The massed houses in the above-described model-shot are only a few of the distinctively English houses that the film features throughout: think, say, of the one at the cross-roads where Erica and Robert must take the left-fork because the other turning is temporarily blocked by road-works. (In the model-shot notice the typical English bay-window of the house on the left that the tracking-shot will shortly foreground.) The film is set in Kent, and the region's Roman past is not neglected, with several shots of long straight Roman roads and glimpses of Roman busts in Uncle Basil and Aunt Mary's house near Tunbridge Wells (at any rate, that's where it's located in Josephine Tey's novel). At the Chief Constable's house, one of Erica's schoolboy brothers remarks that grace at table 'should be said in Latin, really'. I'm not sure if this is supposed to imply that the family itself is Catholic or whether we're simply being further reminded that the country once had Roman connections (until Henry VIII severed them). We're a long way from - yet quite close to - Hitchcock's use of San Francisco and the motif of the spiral in Vertigo here! Now, this may be a personal response, but another, deeper reason for why I love the film's model-shot is that it seems to me evocative of a child's happy, and idealised, view of home and neighbourhood. Which seems to fit the film, because children in Young and Innocent are valorised in a non-sentimental way. Its children seem as capable as the next person of finer feelings when the crunch comes - happily, the young lovers Erica and Robert can also be included in this particular observation. The film has two scenes with Erica's four schoolboy brothers, both scenes set at the dinner table. In the first, the brothers are sharply drawn but with typical schoolboy traits, such as one brother's boast about his prowess with a shotgun - he even produces a dead rat to make his point. Another brother speculates out loud, rather callously, that Robert may be lying dead in a field, 'with crows pecking at his eyes'. (The imagery here picks up on the shots of screeching seagulls wheeling over the dead body of Christine Clay on the beach.) But the second dinner-table scene is quite different. Robert has been arrested and Erica is inwardly distraught. Sensing this, the brothers show in various ways how sorry they are. The scene's tenderness is a key to the film. Indeed just before the end, as Erica goes to help the collapsed man - Christine Clay's husband, and murderer, with the blinking eyes - she tells a policeman who tries to stop her, 'Can't you be human for once?' In sum, the film's unforced Englishness, not unconnected with its vision of a full and happy childhood, is what Hitchcock offers Erica and Robert - and us - as a special gift. According to George Perry, Young and Innocent was the director's favourite among his English films. I was reminded this week of how author Graham Greene had an unhappy childhood, which is projected onto his gangster protagonist Pinkie in 'Brighton Rock' (1938). That's a fine novel but no reason for us to under-value a work like this one of Hitchcock's. Young and Innocent may remind us of just how happy and jolly Hitchcock's own childhood was. Thank goodness.

October 20 - 2007
Hitchcock's Frenzy is, as I say, bountiful in showing us 'life' - although, paradoxically, viewers may only start to realise this at certain moments when the film seems to pull the plug on itself or otherwise to remind us of the possibility of emptiness. (I'll discuss these moments below.) Now, the film's bountifulness = 'the Lost Paradise', a motif from Hitchcock's very first film, The Pleasure Garden (1925). It's evident that Hitchcock was aware of a connection between the two films. A sinister moment in Frenzy - when Babs is suddenly accosted in the street by the villain Rusk, asking to be allowed to help her in her hour of need (she has just walked out of her job) - is a near-echo of a moment in The Pleasure Garden when heroine Patsy, who has just been snubbed by her supposed friend Jill, is accosted in the street by the villain Levett, asking to help her. Both films, of course, have their metaphoric paradises: the Pleasure Garden Theatre in the earlier film; Covent Garden Market in the later film. But these places, in turn, are only virtual metaphors of the respective films themselves. Throughout Hitchcock's career, he sought to make films that systematically restored audiences to a sense of 'wholeness' (or to quote a phrase of Marshall McLuhan's, that put us back together 'like Humpty Dumpty'). I emphasise 'systematically'. Frenzy is full of representative cross-sections of 'life'. Thus its pubs range from the working man's 'Globe' to the more refined 'Nell of Old Drury'. Likewise, in the Oxfords' dinner-table discussions, it shows the pooling of 'reason' (his) and 'intuition' (hers) , i.e., a representative cross-section of two important ways of knowing. Further, Hitchcock was very aware of the human sensorium. Frenzy stimulates, or deliberately offends, our sense of smell (as when Blaney asks Babs to sniff his jacket after his night spent in a Salvation Army doss-house), our sense of taste (in numerous references to food and eating), and our sense of hearing (the soundtrack is rich in memorable 'noises' like the jangling sound from a juke-box at a roadside 'pull-in'). Visually, fine work was done by Frenzy's cinematographer Gil Taylor. Next, I want to mention the film's spectrum of emotions. From the near-bawdy and near-scatological to the tragic, Frenzy puns on the idea of 'waste'. Poor Brenda, in her death-throes, recites, 'I am not afraid of ... the destruction that wasteth at noonday' (Psalm 91). As one of serial killer Rusk's several victims, she is about to become part of the waste of which she speaks. The film, like nature, is prodigal (!) with its images of waste: Blaney's thrown-away (and crushed) grapes, the sacks of potatoes destined to be ploughed back into the ground because of a glutted market, the gourmet food cooked by his wife that Inspector Oxford can't bring himself to eat. These objects, in turn, happen to be suggestive of human body parts or human waste matter ... (We should note, too, how at one point the sacks of potatoes I mentioned tumble from a lorry, causing a passing motorist to warn the driver that he's 'spilling [his] load'. The phrase isn't fortuitous.) Opposing the deliberate sense of prodigality are the film's references to 'frugality' (see last time). Now let's return to the reflexive moments I mentioned at the beginning, concerning 'emptiness'. The half-eaten apple in the rape/murder scene has obvious (and traditional) symbolism concerning Brenda and one of her body parts, but may also contribute to our own sense of waste. Various moments in Frenzy are designed to frustrate us. The 'rhythm' this induces in a viewer is like that described by child psychologists concerning young children who anxiously await the next meal. But it is also the very rhythm of 'life' itself. Wisdom is simply learning to be patient - a theme treated ironically in Psycho and now here. The tone of the scene in Brenda's club is initially one of civilised dining-out. But during the meal Blaney becomes increasingly agitated until finally he breaks his brandy-glass. More wastage, notice, and arguably another grape reference! But the reason I see this incident as reflexive is that the viewer is again frustrated just when 'the good life' had seemed to be within his (and Blaney's) literal grasp. Paradoxically, our awareness of 'life' itself, and the very theme of the film, is heightened thereby. Another example: the swing-door scene outside the Old Bailey courtroom. The very flow of the film (= 'life') is invoked by that 'interruptive' swing door. As it is when Hitchcock signals Brenda's death (and the departure of her soul?) by freezing the film in a close-up of her eyes, in effect reversing the start of Vertigo. Frame-capture below.

October 13 - 2007
We can hardly begin to understand Hitchcock's Frenzy - and how good it is - until we grasp that it is about 'life' in its fullness and the characters' oh-so-human attempts to have more of it. (That such a theme was also central to Rich and Strange, forty years earlier, may be one reason why Hitchcock brought back Elsie Randolph from that film to play Glad in Frenzy. He would often pointedly reference earlier films - not necessarily his own - in ways such as the casting.) When a journalist visited Hitchcock on location at Covent Garden, the director gestured to the bustling scene around them and boasted, 'My film is full of life.' It was not an idle boast. What Hitchcock gives us in Frenzy is an 'oceanic' conception of life - the same conception that informs, for example, Rich and Strange, Under Capricorn, Vertigo, and The Birds. Significantly, in Hitchcock's notes for a high-shot in the first Covent Garden sequence, he requests '"Broad scope music" such as is commonly used in movies for open sea, sailing ships, or open range ...' Related to such an 'oceanic' conception of life is Hitchcock's acute perception, which I quoted last time, that 'everything's perverted in a different way', i.e., that 'life' in its fullness is never actually attained by any of us though we may have an inkling of it from time to time (for example, the real 'oceanic consciousness' that Jung spoke of; or the feeling we may get in watching certain films, not least Hitchcock's, of regaining touch with people and living things, of satisfying our 'biophilia'). Seen in this light, Frenzy makes perfect sense. It is about 'life' and 'perversion'. And about seeing the whole picture again. For example, the film's references to Oscar Wilde and Mae West aren't gratuitous. Both of these 'larger-than-life' figures, in the context of the film, are potentially 'heroic'. Never mind that Wilde was gay and that Mae West has been called the Mother Superior of Drag Queens! Certainly they may have suggested to Hitchcock how the concept of 'normality' has a lot to answer for! Frenzy's Brenda Blaney - she of the 'frugal lunch' - tells 'Mr Robinson', i.e., Rusk, that her matrimonial bureau can't help him, because 'here we have a very normal clientele'. Well, we have already met two such 'normal' clients: the bee-keeping couple! In their own way, they're sadomasochists! Perverted! Only they haven't even begun to realise it or to acknowledge it. How different from Oscar Wilde and Mae West! Round about here we might be tempted to conclude that normality itself is dangerous - and no doubt there is something in that. Nonetheless Hitchcock now proceeds to defeat such a too-simplistic view. With Rusk he introduces us to the truly psychopathic individual. Suddenly, lack of inhibition appears a bad thing, as does the oh-so-human wish to attain more 'life'. In Rusk's case, these things lead to murder. So where are we? My answer: with a picture of the world in its fullness that we must come to terms with and literally try to live with. Our tools will include our individual capacities for love and honesty - and humour. Above all, good humour. Meaning: the ability to appreciate the world in all its ironies. Of which there are a huge number in Frenzy. How ironic, for example, that the most 'alive' character in the film is probably Rusk with his flaming red hair, his job in Covent Garden, his good clothes, his affable manner - and his seemingly unquenchable appetite for killing. In turn, how ironic it is that the Police Inspector assigned to the case is being virtually starved by his wife who is currently taking a course in gourmet cooking! (The pointed joke here is a bit like the cutaway in Number Seventeen to a sign saying 'Dainty teas!' during the climactic bus-train race.) The frame-capture below shows one of the dishes served to Chief Inspector Oxford by Mrs Oxford: quail and grapes. Talk about another 'frugal' meal! And of course the moment has other associations. A 'grapes' motif had been established earlier when Rusk gave a box of grapes to his pal Dick Blaney - who later dashed them on the pavement when he learned of his latest piece of bad luck. (Lacking money, he'd failed to back a horse which had won at 20/1.) Rusk's comment about the grapes had been that they reminded him of something his mother used to say - quoting Mae West - 'Beaulah, peel me a grape!' More 'frugality'! The film in turn picks up on that line later when it shows us a van bearing the single word, 'Beaulah's'. Hitchcock often put subliminal touches like this into his films. I've suggested here before that when Mrs Oxford absent-mindedly snaps one of her breadsticks, the moment not only literally echoes the snapping of a dead woman's finger set in rigor mortis, but carries a reminder of who did it: for the word 'rusk' is sometimes applied to such breadsticks. In Frenzy, all roads lead to Rusk. Next time: waste versus frugality, and a summing up.

October 6 - 2007
We've visited Frenzy (1972) many times here over the years, including our 'defecating lorry' post which noted just how punning Hitchcock's images could be. I looked at the film again today, and again admired it hugely. Purely from an artistic angle, I was struck this time by its sheer facility - in the very best sense. For example, in the prison-hospital ward sequence, note how efficiently Hitchcock establishes the situation: no exterior establishing-shot (not needed, since we've earlier seen an ambulance enter the hospital grounds); one long-shot of the ward at night, a drugged guard slumped at his desk; then three successive tracking shots of the beds with men starting to sit up, each shot moving in a reverse direction from the last, finally coming to rest on Dick Blaney (Jon Finch) - see frame-capture below. The viewer grasps exactly what is going on. But a broader reason for why I admire the film so much is that it clearly states how the murderous impulse is latent in all of us, culminating in the film's climax in which Blaney batters to death, as he thinks, a sleeping Bob Rusk (Barry Foster), the film's serial 'Necktie Murderer'. (The person in bed proves to be a blonde woman who was already dead, Rusk's latest victim.) We're forced to remember Blaney's cry on being sent to prison, 'One of these days I'll get you, Rusk - I might as well do what I'm being put away for.' And right there, we and the film had effectively given him carte blanche. We sense that most people - meaning us - are normally inhibited: a point made again in Family Plot (1976) by its cathedral scene, with the kidnapping of an archbishop in front of a stunned congregation. In Frenzy, Hitchcock goes to great lengths to establish people's repressions, including those of matrimonial bureau secretary Monica Barling (Jean Marsh), who refers tartly to certain men and their 'disgusting gratifications'; and those of the couple named Glad and Bertie (Elsie Randolph and Jimmy Gardner) who run the Coburg Hotel, Bayswater. (They're descended from a couple who run the Cambridge Arms Hotel in Foreign Correspondent.) Bertie says that sometimes 'the lusts of men make me want to heave'; over-protected Glad has apparently never heard of Oscar Wilde! Hitchcock makes gentle (or maybe not-so-gentle) fun of such people even as he implies that we're all part of a larger situation where emotions can get out of control. (So Hitchcock is asking: just how much inhibition, or how little, is a good thing?) Rusk is an out-and-out psychopath; but Hitchcock parallels him with Blaney, whose embittered, sometimes violent, behaviour seems to have a large measure of external cause, including the 'betrayals' of others (from Rusk to Johnny Porter [Clive Swift], Blaney's chum from their RAF days). One way in which Blaney and Rusk are paralleled is by having Rusk ('Mr Robinson') turn out to be a client of Brenda Blaney's matrimonial bureau. In almost successive scenes in Brenda's office, Blaney thumps her desk and 'Robinson', i.e., Rusk, slams shut her filing-cabinet drawer. Now, about Rusk's rape/murder of poor Brenda. Suggestions that Hitchcock had 'gone too far' here were always misguided. For one thing, the whole point of the film is in this scene, a point which can only be made by showing the successive stages of Rusk's act of sexual dementia. (He may in fact be impotent - later we hear Inspector Oxford [Alec McCowan] say something to this effect.) At the very least, the scene is masterfully laid out. Again the viewer grasps exactly what is going on, though the full realisation doesn't happen straight away - no more than it does for Brenda. At the same time, the scene gives Rusk explanatory dialogue that should afford us insight and even compassion for his condition. Most of all, I find it magisterially done, Shakespearian in its lucidity. (Adam Lowenstein's essay on Frenzy, in the anthology 'Hitchcock Past and Future' [2004], sees the note of 'Englishness' in this scene.) The previous year, Richard Fleischer's film about the Christie sex-murders, Ten Rillington Place, had come out, and had been sordid by comparison. And while I'm putting Frenzy in its historical context, let me mention John Huston's excellent Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), closely adapted from the Carson McCullers 1941 novella set in an Army base in America's Deep South. (Huston's film seems to nod to Hitchcock's Marnie once or twice.) Outside of Hitchcock's own work, if ever a film illustrated his famous remark, 'Everything's perverted in a different way', this may well be it: what a florid assortment of people subject to distortion by the sex-drive Huston has assembled! My point is that Frenzy was a timely film for Hitchcock, and, in its own way, at least as honest and compassionate and thought-provoking as Huston's. Now, to finish on for today, here's a piece of seeming trivia. When Monica in Frenzy returns from lunch and sees Blaney leaving the matrimonial bureau, in the background a blue van slowly goes by. We have time to read the single word on its side: 'Beaulah's'. My piece on Frenzy next time will be called "A tale of two grapes" ...

September 29 - 2007
I'm always grateful when Hitchcockians send me observations. For example, this week JS in Utah told me that he is an actual sufferer of vertigo or acrophobia. He reported that he had felt an actual strong urge to jump! Here's what he wrote: 'The gripping panic of being exposed to the potential of falling from a high place ironically produces an urge to do so. That's the terror of it. You feel out of control and compelled to do something self-destructive.' What a telling example of a perverse impulse in the human breast that both Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel made a repeated subject of their films! In a broad sense, I mean. Sigmund Freud called it a universal death-instinct; the poet Keats wrote of being 'half in love with easeful death'. Such Hitchcock films as Suspicion, Under Capricorn, Vertigo,and Marnie all seem to me to be about such an impulse. Now to another recent email. RA in Tennessee sent me a list of observations, including a couple of excellent points about how in The Birds Cathy and Melanie are linked, or share a bond. For example, Cathy in the film celebrates her 11th birthday, which is the very age, we learn, when young Melanie's mother had 'ditched' her and run off with a man from the east. (Incidentally, this detail must have been added at the last minute, as it's not in the copy of the script I have, even though that script does have the relevant sand dunes scene.) On the other hand, occasionally I felt that RA had missed the mark. I hope he won't mind if I give an instance. He wrote: 'The children's song in The Birds partially goes, "She combed her hair but once a year ... with every stroke she shed a tear ... I asked my wife to wash the floor ... she gave me my hat and showed me the door". Is Annie Hayworth leading the schoolchildren in a song about female emancipation/liberation?' In answer, I emailed back: 'No! It's essentially a nonsense rhyme about a woman who isn't much of a wife at all! Another of the song's lines is, "She swept the floor but once a year!" And several of the verses make fun of her peculiarities (e.g., making butter in an old boot).' The nonsense (and the note of sadness) is the thing! Plus, of course, the suspenseful way the song keeps sounding as if it's about to end, then continues (cf the 'Storm Cloud Cantata in The Man Who Knew Too Much). Finally, I'm very grateful to TD in England who recently emailed as follows: 'the heavy-browed, Oscar Homolka look-alike at the start of Frenzy [see frame-capture below] who spots the latest victim of the Necktie Murderer in the Thames is Joby Blanshard, a late British character actor usually noted for playing policemen. What's interesting here is that at the time he was playing Colin Bradley, a member of the "Doomwatch" team on BBC1. This was an sf drama series (1970-72, plus a '72 film) warning about the potential perils of unchecked scientific/ecological progress - of which pollution was a major part.' Ah! Clearly someone (and that person may well have been following Hitchcock's directive) thought about casting sufficiently to ask: what sort of people might turn up at a politician's speech about a cleaned-up Thames? - and then to seek out such people! The Casting Director on Frenzy was in fact a Britisher, Sally Nicholl (1900-1981), who had helped cast Alfie, starring Michael Caine, six years earlier. So maybe Hitchcock, who had seen Alfie and who had wanted Caine for the part of Bob Rusk in Frenzy (as noted here last week), specifically chose Nicholl for the job. He may also have asked her to cast a professional actor for this particular role - taken by Joby Blanshard - because the character has to convincingly deliver the line, 'Look!'

September 22 - 2007
One of my 'something different' pieces this time, partly occasioned by my watching Michael Caine in Sidney J. Furie's The Ipcress File (1965) this week. That's Caine as sergeant Harry Palmer in the frame-capture below, about to enter his humble flat in Maida Vale, London. (Located somewhere nearby, a few years earlier, was Tony and Margot Wendice's ground-floor flat in Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder.) Palmer, we learn, is working for a Ministry of Defence organisation after being sent home in punishment for black market activities in Berlin. Though his work involves surveillance and generally keeping tabs on foreign agents and the like, this bespectacled and at-times insubordinate Cockney is not exactly James Bond - which of course is pretty much the point of both Len Deighton's novel and Furie's film. If Hitchcock hadn't been making Marnie at the time - with Sean Connery in a pointedly non-Bond role! - he might conceivably have turned his hand to something like The Ipcress File. Ironically, the latter begins with a railway carriage kidnapping that is a nod to Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes. Palmer himself, late in the film, is kidnapped by the villains, drugged, and subjected to brain-washing. They tell him that he is in Albania and try to instill in his mind a trigger phrase that will enable them to secretly command him when they return him to his superiors. I think that Hitchcock would have enjoyed filming this sequence - though it's fairly gruelling. It has elements of both John Buchan's 'The Three Hostages' (1924) and John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate (1962) about it. Most of all, Hitch would have enjoyed the moment when Palmer escapes - and, exiting the building and seeing a red double-decker bus passing by, realises that he is still in London! Something else about this sequence is interesting. It has another parallel in a film of the previous year, George Seaton's excellent 36 Hours (1964), from a story-concept by Roald Dahl. (For those interested, you may read the story, here: Beware of the Dog.) I have often said that Hitchcock well understood the importance to a film of its having a strong central idea. This is such a film. Starring James Garner as Major Pike, who in 1944 is kidnapped by the Germans in Portugal because he has inside knowledge of the impending D-Day invasion by the Allies (such knowledge is also the 'MacGuffin' of Ken Follett's 1978 novel 'The Eye of the Needle', filmed in 1981), it hinges on an elaborate subterfuge: the Germans drug the Major and then, when he awakens, tell him that six years have passed, that the Allies won the War, and that he is now in an American military hospital. Through the window he can see the hospital grounds with 'American' personnel strolling about; his informants as to what has happened, both of them speaking perfect English (with American accents), are a hearty doctor (Rod Taylor) and a nurse, Anna (Eva Marie Saint). These two persons, in particular, do everything they can to convince the Major that he has just emerged from one of his periodic 'blackouts' alternating with amnesia: they tell him that during an earlier period of comparative clarity he'd even married Anna! (Incidentally, also in the film's cast is Peter Lorre's wife, Celia Lovsky, mentioned here recently.) As I say, it's a strong idea for a story situation, and the resulting film may well be Seaton's best. As for Michael Caine, he never did agree to work with Hitchcock. The latter wanted him for the role of Bob Rusk in Frenzy (1972), but had to settle for the admirable Barry Foster. Ironically, Caine that year made Sleuth for Joseph L. Mankiewicz, from the stage hit by Anthony Shaffer - who had adapted the Frenzy screenplay from a novel by Arthur LaBern, 'Goodbye Picadilly, Farewell Leicester Square'.

September 15 - 2007
Thanks to those people who sent nice comments on last week's entry. It's good to know that the early work of Hitchcock - often as masterful as his later films - is appreciated! More about The Manxman now. For a start, let's consider further the above frame-capture of Pete waving to Kate. It's very likely that the main reason Hitchcock wanted this shot was to establish the size of the distant town and thus how far Pete had to walk to work on the far side of the harbour. In a later sequence, which I once analysed here as an early example of Hitchcockian suspense, Pete will be shown returning from work while Kate and Phil urgently debate whether to tell him that Kate's child is not his, but Phil's. Hitchcock cross-cuts between Pete walking back and waving cheerily to people he meets on the way and Kate and Phil in the cottage, in earnest discussion. There's further suspense when Pete finally arrives outside the cottage and sees through the latticed window Kate standing very close to a man within! What will Pete do? ... My point is that the wide-shot of Pete in the above frame-capture may originally have had a quite utilitarian purpose. But of course that didn't stop Hitchcock from imbuing it with the other qualities I mentioned last time, notably an idyllic (almost Ozu-like) sense of spaciousness and contentment - which sets up both the ironic suspense sequence that follows and, more generally, the sense of freedom-lost that the whole film is about. (Hitchcock was indeed a Symbolist director, as he later told Charlotte Chandler.) That was how Hitchcock would continue to work throughout his career. As he remarked to Truffaut, he was not one of those directors 'who lose control [because they're] concerned with the abstract'. Another thing about The Manxman is its possible indebtedness to Murnau's Sunrise (1927), the latter a favourite film of Hitchcock's - see above, July 20. Again I'll mention symbolism. When Phil and Kate hear - in error - that Pete has been killed abroad, supposedly freeing them to marry, they end up one day in a local trysting-spot, an old mill. At first they face each other across the floor of the mill, for Phil is still not sure what he wants to do - his aunt had warned him not to marry beneath him, as his father had done. But finally he moves towards Kate - across a coil of rope lying treacherously, and symbolically, at his feet. (It could even represent a coiled snake, like the snake-bangle in The Ring.) There is further rope-symbolism in the film. When Pete unexpectedly returns from abroad, having made his fortune, Kate is trapped by her earlier promise to him into marrying him. Ironically, the wedding breakfast is held in the old mill. And on the wall immediately behind the newly-married couple is, of all things, a length of rope resembling a noose! (See frame-capture below.) An appropriate symbol of ill-boding! The wedding breakfast itself is photographed in considerable detail (including a range of local characters) and is artfully lit, both Murnau-esque qualities. But it is the symbolism that may particularly remind us of Sunrise. Recall in Murnau's film the shot of footsteps in the muddy swamp where The Man (George O'Brien) and The Woman From the City (Margaret Livingston) have their assignation - clearly a shot that is a comment by Murnau on the relationship. Equally, recall how more than once Murnau photographs both The Man and The Woman From the City against a background of (potentially entangling) fishing nets ... Finally, just a couple of further points about The Manxman and Hall Caine's novel. The film takes as its motto the passage from Mark 8:36: 'What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?' Maurice Yacowar in 'Hitchcock's British Films' (1977) is wrong to say that the passage doesn't occur in the novel. In fact, near the end Phil muses that 'he had gained all that this little world could give; and what was the worth of it? What was the price he had paid for it?' Here he repeats to himself the passage from Mark. (On the other hand, the film's elaborate lighthouse symbolism - and shots of waves breaking on rocks - is not to be found in the novel. Hitchcock and screenwriter Eliot Stannard's symbolism here warns that disaster may come at any time, to anybody. I'm reminded of how in The Wrong Man, nearly thirty years later, a somewhat similar role is accorded to the constant roar of trains, both underground and on railway overpasses. Hence in the scene where Manny comes home one night and, in the silent house, we hear the bedside clock give a mere tinkle, there's a sense of an implacable calamity approaching ...) Nor do I quite agree with Yacowar when he calls Kate's father, Caesar, 'the most malicious, craven, unattractive character in the film'. That's not really either the film's or the novel's emphasis. Caesar is partly a comic figure. In the novel, he's a zealous Methodist, much given to quoting the Bible. Hall Caine has some fun at Caesar's expense when he has someone trick him into buying back his own ailing cow. Whereupon Pete tries to console him by telling him, 'it'll be all set right at the Judgment'. Those words, too, could serve as motto for both the novel and the film ...

September 8 - 2007
Hitchcock's silent film The Manxman (1929) is very touching, though I find it ultimately old-fashioned in its morality (it comes from Sir Hall Caine's long best-selling novel of 1894). At the climax, when Philip the deemster (judge), played by Malcolm Keen, admits in court that he had impregnated Kate (Anny Ondra) who ultimately married Pete the fisherman (Carl Brisson) and then bore a child that wasn't her husband's, though he suppposed it was, Philip speaks as if he has betrayed Pete, his friend since boyhood. In fact, both he and Kate had been informed that Pete had died abroad - and then, some time later, Pete had turned up alive to claim Kate for himself (the 'Enoch Arden' theme)! So all Philip is really guilty of is sex out of wedlock. This may be shocking enough to the film's characters on the Isle of Man, where the story is (symbolically) set, but was never a substantial issue for film audiences, either in 1929 or today. Hitchcock himself was reportedly bored during the making of the film, and later told Truffaut that the story was 'banal'. The film was not successful with audiences when it was released - belatedly, in 1930, I have heard. That said, it still has many virtues. All of the main characters certainly suffer, notably from 'ambition' (both their own and others'), yet the film is lucid about how the situation is not any one person's fault. In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I put it like this: '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.' Pressure is exerted on them all from the very start by the island's economic plight - caused, in part, by the inroads into the fishing fleet's catch by encroaching British trawlers (themselves representing the wider world's 'ambition'). Pete the fisherman is a beautifully depicted character, never effeminate but guileless and innocent, whom I characterise as a Holy Fool. (In the novel he asks: 'But what is the Manx poet saying, sir? "I have no will but Thine, O God." That's me, sir, truth enough.') He is given the single most beautiful shot in the film, a wide-view of the island in which he waves to Kate as he leaves for work on the first morning after their marriage: see frame-capture below, taken from Kate's point of view. In its beauty and function, the shot reminds me of the wide view of San Francisco in Vertigo after Scottie has recuperated from his acrophobia and with seemingly the whole world once more at his feet. Pete, too, feels that way, for as yet he has no inkling that anything is amiss. (Incidentally, the view strikes me as being a meticulous painting, yet the water in the foreground is seen to move and sheets on a couple of clothes-lines in the middle-distance are seen to flap! I do not know that the Schüftan process of the time could accomplish such elaborate effects, so I remain puzzled by the shot - but am thereby only the more astonished by it!) Moreover, and pointedly, the shot is the very antithesis of a major motif in the film: recurring shots through latticed windows, representing constriction, exclusion, the limitations imposed by 'ambition' (and human subjectivity generally). It will be a motif in many Hitchcock films to follow. Now, speaking of Vertigo, there is of course another moment in The Manxman that anticipates almost exactly the later film. When Kate attempts suicide she does so, quite significantly, by standing at the harbour's edge, momentarily looking upwards at the mast of a boat moored there, then suddenly lunging forward and diving into the inky black water. (The inkiness is emphasised in a cut to the deemster's inkwell, a cut that itself anticipates a famous cut-to-blackness in Psycho - though the original inspiration may have come straight from Hall Caine's novel in which Kate and Phil one day visit 'a little round pool, black as ink ...') Kate's attempt at suicide anticipates both of Madeleine's apparent suicide attempts in Vertigo. First, her sudden plunge into the harbour prefigures Madeleine's leap into San Francisco Bay. But also, Kate's glance upwards before she runs to her intended death prefigures how Madeleine, on the lawn in front of the old tower at San Juan Bautista, tells Scottie that he should remember that she loved him - just before she glances upwards at the tower and then breaks into a run, clearly intending suicide ... Kate's glance up at the ship's mast is a gesture of abandoning all hope, for ships and the sea figure in the story as essentially symbols of optimism - which Kate now renounces. And something similar is implicit in Madeleine's glance up at the church tower. Equally to the point, though, is that Hitchcock used (and clearly wanted) very similar dynamics and gestures in both scenes. He knew exactly what he was doing. More next time.

September 1 - 2007
The following is not original by me, having been raised in the form of a question on a Hitchcock newsgroup back in 1998. I have simply added some comments (plus the frame-captures). Below are two moments from Hitchcock films, the first from North by Northwest (in which Vandamm's housekeeper, Anna, confronts Roger with a pistol), the second from The Birds (in which Melanie plays a Debussy 'Arabesque' for Cathy Brenner). What have they in common?

Answer: both moments are making artful use of statues to reinforce their respective story-points. In the North by Northwest shot, a pointing Oriental figure 'echoes' Anna's gun pointing at Roger. The upright statue also reinforces the other verticals of the shot, notably those of the stone doorway and of Roger himself, poised in mid-step after he had crept down the stairs. In the shot from The Birds, two china figurines 'stand for' Cathy and Melanie respectively. The figurine on the left is holding its shoulder with the opposite arm and is gazing ahead - as Cathy is holding one of her arms in the other and is gazing at Melanie; the figurine on the right is bare-armed and caught in motion, head turned to one side, echoing the bare-armed Melanie playing the piano and turning her head towards Cathy. The subliminal effect in both shots is to emphasise to the viewer the 'importance' of the particular moment. Hitchcock's compositions often carry such subtleties. (Think of the numerous compositions in Vertigo that emphasise verticality, balance/unbalance, and literal suspense: such objects as hanging oil-lamps or chandeliers.) In fact, the two shots shown here are themselves 'over-determined', with multiple 'meanings'. Thus the Oriental statue sets off the essentially 'American' setting, a house on top of Mount Rushmore that could have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright himself; and that's not to speak of our representative American salesman-hero, i.e., Roger, who now finds himself held up yet again at gunpoint (as he was by Vandamm's men at the start of the film) as well as being 'pointed at' by, significantly, an Oriental stone statue, representing his potential imminent death! (In English thriller fiction, going back to, say, Wilkie Collins's 'The Moonstone' and a Bulldog Drummond novel by 'Sapper' like 'The Final Count', especial menace was often invested in Eastern villains and chinoiserie - objects and settings from the Orient - that literally or symbolically opposed the vitality and well-being of the WASP hero and his love for the heroine. That English literary tradition underlies North by Northwest.) Also, figuratively speaking, the hero in shirtsleeves is both virile and vulnerable, something that several Hitchcock climaxes manage to represent: for example, Mitch Brenner at the climax of The Birds. There are visual contrasts at work throughout the latter film. In our frame-still, in which Cathy wears red and Melanie green, two people's growing liking for each other is being emphasised by visual and aural references to the preciousness of art and of family (that's Cathy's late father in the portrait above the piano). At the same time, those white figurines, echoed by the white keys of the piano and by Cathy's white smock, anticipate the - fragile - white cups and crockery that will soon be smashed by the birds as they invade the very domains of home and family: the Brenners' living-room, and farmer Al Fawcett's kitchen and bedroom.

August 24 - 2007
A couple of items from this week's correspondence. First, my thanks to SC for his question about possible allusions in Rope (1948) to the novel 'Crime and Punishment'. Here's what I replied. 'It is absolutely true that Hitchcock's film includes elements from - and alludes to - "Crime and Punishment". Dostoyevsky's novel is, to my mind, one of the great psychological novels, one of the great novels of sin and redemption, which I read as an undergraduate and was enthralled by. I remember noticing at the time that [police inspector] Porphiry plays "cat and mouse" with [the student] Raskolnikov, and that there were similarities with Rope. In Part Three, Chapter 5, Raskolnikov is introduced to Porphiry by mutual friend Razumikhin. Porphiry is investigating the brutal killing of an old lady moneylender and her sister. Almost immediately, Raskolnikov feels that Porphiry is on to him, the murderer. In his head, Raskolnikov asks, "Why do you play with me like a cat with a mouse?" Later in the same chapter, Porphiry reveals that he has read an article that Raskolnikov wrote a year ago in which he had argued that some persons, of superior abilities, might, in certain circumstances, be "above the law" and might commit bloodshed to ensure that their ideas were implemented. I have no doubt that ... the filmmakers ... knowingly tried to create the tense central situation of Dostoyevsky's novel. So, Rupert is to Brandon and Phillip as Porphiry is to Raskolnikov.' (A couple of references in the film show that Phillip has indeed read 'Crime and Punishment'.) And, second, my thanks to Stephen D. Youngkin, author of a huge, amazingly detailed book on actor Peter Lorre. Dr Youngkin this week cleared up a misconception that in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) Lorre's wife Celia Lovsky appears in an early scene. At least one website claims that Lovsky is the young woman seen here seated at a table with Lorre (playing the anarchist Abbot) who reacts with amusement when Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay) is shot:

But Dr Youngkin was adamant that the woman in this scene is not Celia Lovsky. Nor does she appear elsewhere in the film, including in any of the other St Moritz scenes, which we looked at again this week. (Perhaps the notion of her being in the film began when someone heard that Lorre had married Lovsky during the film's production, which is true. For an amusing account of how Lorre rushed from the film set, still in makeup, to his wedding, see Charlotte Chandler's 'It's Only a Movie' [2005].) Dr Youngkin helpfully sent along a photo of Lovsky and Lorre taken in the summer of 1934. Here it is:

And here's what Dr Youngkin told me. 'I once asked Celia about her rumored appearance and she laughed and said something about her English not being good enough to work in English-speaking films at that time. It was clear to me that the suggestion of her having appeared in the picture surprised her. Of course, memory fails, hence the need [to check the matter out]. Whenever I first watched TMWKTM on 16mm, I kept an eye out for Celia, but never saw anyone who came close to fitting.' Dr Youngkin further commented: 'I think it was one of the pulps that first planted this notion. Once in print - without being debunked - such rumors seem to gain credibility. Case in point. Lorre is often credited with appearing in Der weisse Teufel/The White Devil (1930). Just to be certain, I pored over long cast lists in German archives. What I finally concluded is that someone at some point confused Der weisse Daemon/The White Demon (1932) and Der weisse Teufel, hence we now see the film listed under Lorre’s credits. Even Pat McGilligan (who is a friend, so I’m not knocking him) made this mistake in his Lang bio.'

August 17 - 2007
(revised) I love Anny Ondra's performance as a modern young miss in Blackmail (1929). I once wrote: 'Her character is more engaging and convincing than that of Kate in The Manxman, and her performance is both deeper and more sensual.' I'm not taking into account the rather unsatisfactory - if necessary - substitution of Ondra's Czech-accented voice in the sound version of Blackmail by Joan Barry's affected English one. Indeed, when I looked again at Blackmail this week, I preferred to watch the silent version, which is very good indeed. So the following comments are mainly about that version. Alice White (Ondra) starts out a bit confused about whether she wants to marry the careerist Frank Webber (John Longden), a young detective at Scotland Yard - he frankly isn't sexy enough for her. But this reluctance to make up her mind is a trait of many Hitchcock heroines in the silent films, and is a sign of these women's own sexiness: they're aware of the limitations of any future marriage and hence susceptible to temptation. A sudden big close-up of Alice's handbag during the scene with Frank in a Lyons Corner House restaurant prepares us for the revelation that immediately follows: while Frank's attention is diverted, Alice takes out and reads a note from a secret admirer, the artist Crewe (Cyril Ritchard), arranging an assignation there that very evening! So Alice must have been manipulating Frank all during the preceding sequence when she had met him after work and complained that he had kept her waiting - even though we've heard him say to another detective that work has finished early today! Though it's not quite clear - I think by design, on Hitchcock's part - Alice appears to deliberately drive Frank to a quarrel so that she can leave the restaurant without him and rendevouz instead with her admirer. (When she spots Crewe in the restaurant, Hitchcock inserts a couple of close-ups of her radiant, and suddenly quite sophisticated, expression, as the pair secretly exchange signals. I think Alice has aspirations to be a 'flapper' - sigificantly, the role of Alice was first played on stage by Tallulah Bankhead. And of course in the sound version of Blackmail, Crewe plays for Alice on the piano the song "Miss Up-to-date".) The sexiest scene in the film is naturally the one in which Crewe persuades Alice to accompany him back to his studio on the top floor of an apartment building: the elaborate rising-camera shot that shows the pair climbing several flights of stairs is saying in effect: they're not likely to be disturbed. Crewe initially acts the perfect gentleman but clearly has hopes that a few drinks and a fashionable frilly tutu left hanging on a screen near his artist's easel - plus a young woman's curiosity - will persuade Alice to disrobe. He helps things along a bit by inviting her to try her hand at a daub, which he then completes for her as a suggestive nude. (It's particularly suggestive in the silent version of the film, having an extra brushstroke or two ...) The whole scene works very like the lead-up to the murder of Marion Crane in Psycho, thirty years later: the moment when Crewe, aware that Alice is donning the tutu behind the screen, turns his back and seems lost in thought, is the equivalent of the shot of a preoccupied Norman Bates sitting at the kitchen table after having spied on Marion undressing in the motel. (It's also a bit like the moment when Scottie in Vertigo waits for a transformed Judy to emerge as 'Madeleine' from the bathroom in her hotel, ready for love.) Of course, Crewe himself ends up stabbed to death - shades of Dial M for Murder. But Alice's feelings of guilt at her own concupiscence, a guilt exacerbated when the blackmailer Tracy (Donald Calthrop) is wrongly suspected of the killing that she committed (albeit in self-defence), are a key to the rest of the film. So too are Frank's own guilty actions in concealing evidence against Alice, and his final complicity in hounding Tracy to death (albeit an accident). When at the end of the film Alice explicitly tells Frank that, yes, she killed Crewe, it works partly like a confession and partly like ... a forced marriage vow! That is to say, Alice and Frank's futures are now bonded together but the bond is ambiguous. Being 'blackmailed' into marriage would be a theme of Marnie, over thirty years later ... Now, the film has many other interesting aspects. Here's just one. Among the film's best scenes is one showing the male cameraderie of the detectives at the end of a day's work when they come together briefly in the washroom. Hitchcock shows us the informality and impersonality of this going-home ritual. A lot of the shots are of men's bodies (clothed, but emphasising maleness, such as the shots of men at the washbasins with their backs and buttocks to the camera) rather than their faces. In one interesting closeup (see frame-capture below) a detective is almost thoughtlessly using a pair of handcuffs to lever open a tin of bootpolish (?). The fact that the handcuffs are otherwise a symbol of someone's loss of liberty carries an almost sadistic note. (Is there a connection to the end of the film when an old policeman jokes that soon there may be female detectives at the Yard - he seems to find this very amusing!)

August 10 - 2007
As informed Hitchcockians know, The Skin Game (1931), from John Galsworthy's play, takes its title from the bitter feud waged between the landowner Hillcrist ('We've been here since the Elizabethans') and the arriviste industrialist Hornblower. It's one of the finest depictions of raw human nature ever written and filmed - the 1920 play was Galsworthy's first big success - in which you just know that the word 'Hypocrite!' is going to be hurled before long. (When it comes, it is hurled by Hornblower; though a saddened Hillcrist is allowed to speak the play's famous last line: 'What's gentility worth if it can't stand fire?') True, John Grierson's review of the film (printed in 'Grierson on Documentary') suggests that the Hillcrists and the Hornblowers, rather than be at loggerheads, had long ago taken to living happily in each other's pockets: 'Can you really imagine Mr Hillcrist worrying about the poor peasant in the corner field? Did he not put his field 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, Hillcrist himself not caring a hoot in hell where he went?' Maybe, but the play is still a lucid, as well as dramatic, depiction of the clash of 'enlightened' versus 'opportunist' viewpoints, and still rings true today - not least because of some fine casting. As Hillcrist, C.V. France, of aristocratic bearing and stern but benign expression, looks very like photos of playwright Galsworthy himself; Edmund Gwenn, who had played Hornblower on the stage (and in a 1920 film version of the play), is chipper and nigh-unquenchable in his role. (In 1939 appeared a virtual comedy version of the basic story, with the same two leads, transposed into a feud between progressive and traditional breweries; it was called Cheer Boys, Cheer and directed by Walter Forde.) In lines omitted from the film, Hillcrist tells his daughter Jill (played by Jill Esmond in the film), that 'all life's a struggle between people at different stages of development, in different positions, with different amounts of social influence and property. And the only thing is to have rules of the game and keep them.' She listens respectfully but calls him 'Dodo' (!) and isn't afraid to suggest that his appraisal of Hornblower as unprincipled may be too harsh. (Both play and film make Hornblower a Nonconformist and Hillcrist, by implication, Church of England.) Jill is perhaps the first of Hitchcock's outspoken daughter-figures, anticipating Erica (Nova Pilbeam) in Young and Innocent and Barbara (Patricia Hitchcock) in Strangers on a Train. But what may have most attracted Hitchcock and his scenarist Alma Reville (Mrs Hitchcock) to the Galsworthy play is the considerable sympathy it arouses for poor Chloe (Phyllis Konstam in the film), Hornblower's daughter-in-law, who is first snubbed by the formidable Mrs Hillcrist (Helen Haye in the film) and then has her unfortunate past dredged up by the same dragon of a lady. We learn that before her marriage to Hornblower's eldest son, Charles (John Longden), the good-looking Chloe had been forced by economic circumstances - her father had been declared bankrupt - to work in the divorce industry, entrapping married men by sleeping with them. When Hornblower learns of this, even he reviles his daughter-in-law, who answers pitifully, 'If you'd been me! --' And later, explaining to Jill and her father why she hadn't told Charles of her past, Chloe says: 'When I deceived him, I'd have deceived God himself - I was so desperate. You've never been right down in the mud. You can't understand what I've been through.' As I say, I feel that Chloe's plight, culminating in a suicide attempt (and the loss of her unborn child), appealed very strongly to the Catholic Hitch and Alma, whose films speak for themselves: the 'wronged woman' theme runs through several of them, from Easy Virtue to Marnie (both of which I've recently discussed here), and most of those films are, to my mind, masterpieces. Several of them, too, such as Easy Virtue and Notorious, have dragon-women at their centre, and again the result is one of great impact. Of course, Hitchcock's The Skin Game came early in the sound era and is notable for several technical experiments that would be refined in later films. Of The Skin Game's debt to Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet (1930), I'll let readers turn to my book to learn the details. (I'll only note here that Hornblower's intention to build chimneys next to the Hillcrist land probably sparked Hitchcock's lively imagination to make the allusion to Cocteau I'm thinking of!) And the film has a very cinematic rendering of the play's auction scene. At least one of its details turns up later in North by Northwest. Much of the scene is filmed from the auctioneer's point of view (see frame-capture below: Hornblower on left, Hillcrist on right). With the camera whipping and panning to catch each bid, the actors must have had to be quite as alert to the camera's movement as any of the actors in the later Rope!

August 3 - 2007
About The Birds, I said last time that Mrs Brenner's round-trip to and from the Fawcett farm owes something to the first lake scene in Murnau's Sunrise. The whole of Hitchcock's film is in fact built on a series of comings and goings. So Melanie (Tippi Hedren) comes from San Francisco to Bodega Bay and departs at the end with the Brenners in their car. Soon after her arrival in Bodega Bay, she motorboats across the bay to the Brenner house; but when Mitch (Rod Taylor) spots her, the scene becomes a race back to the town between Melanie in the boat and Mitch in his sportscar. (The race across different terrains is an intriguing idea, a variant of which is used by Peter Weir in an early scene of Gallipoli [1981], involving a footrunner and a mounted rider.) There is also the scene where Melanie drives to the schoolhouse to pick up Cathy Brenner (Veronica Cartwright), and which becomes a scene of terror when the birds attack the schoolchildren as they run to the nearby town. Even Melanie's fateful ascent to the Brenner attic at the film's climax forms the front half of a scene which concludes when her inert body is carried back downstairs by Mitch. Critic Robin Wood thought that the essence of Murnau's art might be the director's 'feeling for the expressive force of movement'; at the least, Hitchcock's art shows a similar understanding of the many ways in which movement in a film can convey both inner and outer states, especially by contrast (as in the coming-and-going, before-and-after examples I've cited). Contrast was also something that was going to figure in the final scene of the film - never in fact shot - in which the Brenners and Melanie in their car would travel back through the town before heading south for San Francisco. During the race across/around the bay by Melanie and Mitch, we are shown Mitch's white car passing a derelict barge (see frame-capture below). Leaving town at the end, the Brenners' car would have driven past the same derelict barge but now, in the words of the script, it 'is covered with waiting seagulls'. (Similarly, the several dialogue references in the early part of the film to Brinkmeyer's General Store - which is presumably the well-stocked store-cum-post-office which Melanie visits to ask directions and to hire a motorboat - would have been picked up at the end of the film; only now we see that the store's 'roof and sills are covered with birds. The window is smashed in, canned goods are strewn all over the sidewalk, bolts of cloth run in a riot from the open door and across the road, dead people are lying in the gutter. But in the hotel [next door], we see some faces behind broken windows.') So why didn't Hitchcock shoot this long final getaway sequence? My guess is that, quite apart from the logistics and expense, he sensed that it would have been anti-climactic, merely stating what is implicit in the film's last shot as we have it. The nice touch of withholding an 'End' title may also have appealed to him, given the present film's deliberately inconclusive ending. The withholding of the 'End' title wouldn't have had the same subliminal force if the film had appeared to come full circle and complete itself. (In the script for the getaway sequence, the last line is Mitch's fairly positive, 'It looks ... it looks clear up ahead.' But such a line sounds dangerously like one of the clichés of countless 1950s s-f films which Hitchcock and Evan Hunter were keen to avoid at all costs.) Besides, not to give closure is only being true to what the film is about, a realistic evocation - albeit in an allegory - of that Angst (a marvellous German word) which all creatures capable of taking thought for the morrow must feel. Murnau boasted that critics called him 'a mental director'. Once again Hitchcock deserves a similar label.

July 20 - 2007
F.W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927), his first American film, enormously impressed such directors as John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock. I know that I have said that films by other German directors, such as Dupont's Variete/Vaudeville (1925) and Lang's Spione/Spies (1928), were hugely influential on Hitchcock - and so they were (as I'll further demonstrate here one of these days). But I now think that Sunrise was the single film by another director that Hitchcock most often returned to throughout his career. For example, I don't doubt that the bus ride in Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966), from Leipzig to East Berlin via a wooded countryside, took its inspiration at some level from the famous scene in Sunrise in which a young farm couple, The Man (George O'Brien) and The Wife (Janet Gaynor), board a trolley car and arrive, moments later, after some lyrical shots of a countryside and lake, in the (unspecified) city where they have various adventures and become reconciled to each other (although he had earlier thought of killing her so that he might run off with The Woman From the City, played by Margaret Livingston). There is the same condensing of time and the same sense of a crucial transition (essentially psychological) - although of course Hitchcock's bus scene is also milked for realism and suspense. There are at least two moments in Sunrise which Hitchcock has obviously borrowed and 'cited' in his own films. The first comes from the very start of Murnau's film: see frame-capture below. The film begins, after the credits, with a title announcing "Summertime ... vacation time" over a painting of the interior of a glass-domed railway station in which are reflected city buildings; almost immediately, the painting comes to life, and the people and the train start to move. The effect is of the whole film coming to life - and being about life. (Another title has just said that the film is not about particular people but rather about people everywhere, i.e., people in general ...) It was an idea that Hitchcock took to heart. As for the moment itself, it is of course copied at the start of Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) in which an abstract design of cross-hatched lines becomes the front of a New York skyscraper in which is reflected peak hour traffic. (So Hitchcock's film, too, comes to life, indicating one of its main themes; recall that at its climax - significantly set in a pine forest - hero Roger Thornhill will announce, 'I never felt more alive!') The second moment from Sunrise that obviously influenced Hitchcock - obvious, because he talked about it - is the one in which the soundtrack plays Gounod's 'Funeral March of a Marionette' to comic effect (it comes during the charming scene set in a photographer's studio). Hitchcock admitted that this scene inspired him to use the Gounod music as the theme tune for his television series that first went to air in 1955. Now, another point. Though the opening of North by Northwest, described above, clearly borrows from Sunrise, it also very definitely seems to take inspiration from T.S. Eliot's famous poem 'The Waste Land' (1922) with its 'unreal city' inhabited by ghosts (the poem itself is influenced by Dante at this point). In turn, the scene is a variant on the start of another Hitchcock film, Rich and Strange (1932), showing home-bound office workers. (All of this I have analysed in my book and here - many times. If you have a problem with it, gentle reader, email me!) In other words, if you want to understand the deepest nature of Hitchcock's creative imagination, you really have to appreciate how very often he used what Arthur Koestler, in 'The Act of Creation' (1964) and 'Janus: A Summing-Up' (1978), called 'bisociation' - the bringing together creatively of two or more seemingly disparate ideas. Here's another example involving Sunrise. A crucial scene involves the sudden blowing up of a storm just when The Man and The Wife are rowing home across the lake. (Much of this scene was shot in the Fox studio tank, which Hitchcock himself would use 17 years later to shoot Lifeboat.) It is, I'm sure, one inspiration for the marvellous scene in Hitchcock's I Confess (1953) in which Michael (Montgomery Clift) and Ruth (Anne Baxter) are caught in a sudden storm while on a ramble in the Quebec countryside and have to take shelter in a gazebo. However, as I showed here just a few weeks ago, the I Confess scene is also directly adapted from Chapter 6 of one of Hitchcock's favourite novels, 'Love and Mr Lewisham' (1900) by H.G. Wells. Note: I see no contradiction here - just another instance of Hitchcock's genius for 'bisociation'! In conclusion, here are two more instances of how Sunrise influenced Hitchcock. Early in Sunrise, when The Man is thinking to murder The Wife by drowning her, Murnau shoots the first moments on the lake very slowly: the man rows listlessly, lost in thought. But after the scene's climax, in which The Man shows his hand and then tells The Wife that he shan't harm her, the scene moves very quickly and The Man rows energetically for shore. It is definitely a precedent for Hitchcock's scene in The Birds (1963) in which Mrs Brenner drives to the Fawcett farm at normal speed but, on finding Dan Fawcett pecked to death, drives back home at a tremendous rate. And there's this. Throughout much of Sunrise The Wife has her hair severely tied in a peasant-woman's style, almost flat on her head. But, at the end, when love between The Man and The Wife has re-ignited, the screen becomes radiant and, for the first time, we see The Woman with her hair down beaming at her husband in happiness and joy. It is a wonderful piece of direction by the brilliant Murnau - and Hitchcock imitated the general idea many times, but perhaps most memorably in Lifeboat where, when Kovac (John Hodiac) and Constance (Tallulah Bankhead) start to fall in love, there's a Murnau-like close-up of a glowing Constance with her hair down. (Their romance has a parallel in that of Stanley [Hume Cronyn] with Alice [Mary Anderson], and again there's a hair reference - but mainly in the dialogue this time, as befits a subplot.) Back in a fortnight. KM

July 13 - 2007
Hitchcock's cameo in Psycho (1960) is seldom fully appreciated nor even - these days - always remembered accurately! On an academic film newsgroup the other week, one person thought that the cameo occurs when Hitchcock 'crosses the street in front of Janet Leigh's car while she is standing at a light'; another person correctly remembered that Hitch is seen 'just outside Janet Leigh's office the first time we see it' but unfortunately added, 'As I recall he's walking a pair of dogs'. (In fact, of course, he's standing still, hands in pockets, and wearing a stetson hat: see frame-capture below.) On the other hand, another correspondent, who may have read Raymond Durgnat's book on Psycho, not only knew the cameo accurately but added the observation that Hitchcock's stetson links him to the oil-millionaire Cassidy who enters the office shortly afterwards, 'AND Cassidy is depicted as a guy with a singularly problematic relationship with his daughter, AND Hitchcock's own daughter Pat appears in this scene, AND Cassidy gets all sexual with Marion [Janet Leigh] while the character played by Pat Hitchcock is blatantly asexual (even anti-sexual) ... [which is surely Hitchcock being] provocative - if not perverse'. (To be clear: the correspondent is referring to Hitchcock's 'aligning himself' with Cassidy.) While there is definitely some truth in this - certainly in the matter of Hitchcock and Cassidy being linked by their respective stetsons - the whole interpretation may be a fraction over-ingenious. That interpretation isn't, I think, how we read the relevant shots on first viewing nor even in hindsight. For one thing, both Cassidy and the Pat Hitchcock character, Caroline, are associated with more things than just problematic relationships: Cassidy is also associated with tax evasion, for example. (So are we supposed to see Hitchcock as supporting Cassidy's tax-evasion?!) Here, then, are some of my thoughts on the matter. First, as I see it, the main reason for Hitchcock wearing a stetson is to help establish more of the Phoenix, Arizona, ambience before the wealthy Cassidy enters the story. We have just come from a somewhat run-down hotel where Marion and boyfriend Sam (John Gavin) have been enjoying an extended lunch (as the film effectively calls it). Hitchcock by his cameo is reminding us that Phoenix is actually quite a well-to-do town, where some people dress assertively and even flamboyantly. He wants to 'take the curse off' the possibility that Cassidy will appear outlandish and unbelievable to audiences. An exact parallel occurs in the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much. For reasons of the story, the Doris Day character will arrive for a symphony concert at the Albert Hall dressed in a daytime outfit, a grey suit. To circumvent audiences finding this slightly absurd, even risible, Hitchcock inserts a wide shot of another lady arriving at the concert in a virtually identical outfit. The next thing to say is this: notice, from the frame-capture, how Hitchcock's cameo in Psycho slowly dissolves from a shot of a dejected Sam, head bowed, back in the hotel room. Sam is dejected because he knows that with his present income from his small hardware store in Fairvale, California, there is no immediate prospect of his marrying Marion. So the dissolve pointedly contrasts a hangdog Sam, in shirtsleeves and bare-headed, with the cocky, dressed-up Hitchcock. On the other hand - and this is typical of the director's films - the dissolve paradoxically links the two characters. For both are 'waiting'. There is a whole 'waiting' motif in Psycho. Sam expects to have to wait before he can marry Marion; she, on the other hand, steals Cassidy's $40,000 precisely because, as her sister Lila (Vera Miles) will say, 'Patience doesn't run in my family.' (Later, we'll hear Lila tell Sam who wants her to mind the hardware store while he goes out to the Bates motel, 'What am I expected to do? Just sit here and wait?') The 'waiting' motif has an almost metaphysical meaning, not unrelated to Hitchcock's ultimate theme that we're all in a Lost Paradise situation, and to that extent we're all alike, all problem-ridden. That is indeed a message of Psycho (as I've often shown by analysis, here and elsewhere). Which may bring us to the father-daughter thing which the cameo does hint at, undeniably. When Marion arrives back late from lunch, she hurries past the stetsoned Hitch and into the office where we immediately see Hitch's daughter playing the part of Caroline. However, from Caroline's dialogue we soon learn that one of her problems is an over-supervisory mother: e.g., 'Teddy called me; my mother called to see if Teddy called.' That sets up the moment when we learn that Cassidy (who keeps his stetson on indoors) has a daughter too, one who is about to get married and settle down in an expensive house that he is buying for her. (Marion hears all of this and is stung into action shortly afterwards ...) Also, and importantly, we hear Cassidy call his daughter his 'baby'. In other words, if Caroline has a bossy mother (there's no mention of the father), Cassidy's daughter appears to have a bossy father (there's no mention of the mother). What we have here is an anticipation of the parent-child-spouse difficulties that are writ large in the case history of Norman Bates. Finally, the reference to Cassidy's (if not Hitchcock's) 'baby' is itself crucial. As I show in my book, Marion - like Patsy in Hitchcock's first film The Pleasure Garden (1925) - is desperate to have a baby. The novel emphasises that Marion is acutely conscious that time is running out: she is in her late 20s. In the film's next scene, as she packs her bags, we are repeatedly shown a picture of a baby on the wall (it's presumably either herself or Lila). In effect, the maternal instinct (rather more than the paternal instinct) is what Psycho is all about, even when it's parodied. Note how the film helps things along, in its own surreal fashion, with references to milk, a favourite motif of Hitchcock's. For example, Cassidy's very first line is about the temperature: 'Wow, it's as hot as fresh milk in here!'

July 6 - 2007
In Noel Coward's play 'Easy Virtue' (which I read right through this week, preparing for today's entry here), it is striking that Larita can talk her way out of any situation she is accused of. That is, until a description in 'The Times' of her past 'misdemeanours', as she calls them, is uncovered by the still almost schoolgirlish (and naively shockable) younger Whittaker daughter, Hilda. Gasp and horror, Larita has had several 'lovers', one of whom comitted suicide. Note: in the play Larita admits quite early to a horrified Mrs Whittaker that she is a divorcée - whereas it is this latter piece of information (about Larita being divorced) that Hitchcock's film focusses on and makes the reason why the Whittakers finally turn against Larita, forcing her to leave. In other words, the play makes the Whittakers not up to the level of a sophisticated, free-thinking society of which the gay Coward was himself a part; whereas the film, though it implies those same things (see below), emphasises that the Catholic Whittakers are principally shocked by the matter of Larita's divorce. (For the record, the Whittakers are Catholics in both play and film.) The play, a typically clever Coward 'talk-fest', gains much of its effect from Larita's ability to see through the repressed attitudes of the Whittakers, finally having her tell the elder daughter Marion (at the end of Act II): 'All your life you've ground down perfectly natural sex impulses, until your mind has become a morass of inhibitions - your repression has run into the usual channel of religious hysteria.' (Colonel Whittaker, whom Larita calls 'intelligent', and who is easily the most sympathetically-disposed of the Whittakers to her, is a partial exception to the statement that the Whittakers are all repressed. He has had several affairs - which the grim Mrs Whittaker forever holds against him, and uses to keep him tractable, thus finally ineffectual.) On the other hand, the play may be too clever for its own good. It rather assumes its own cleverness, and never shows Larita making an effort to help or educate the individual Whittakers to be better people, or to see the world more clearly. I think the film is actually superior to the play, and more profound in its social critique. Without in any way being preachy - Hitchcock forbid! - the film's motif of cameras and lenses, which I mentioned last time, adds a whole Symbolist dimension to the story, representing how society and the world can be pitiless. Here the character of Sarah becomes crucial. Sarah is a girl of the neighbourhood, who was always assumed (especially by Mrs Whittaker) to be the person whom John Whittaker would marry. When he brings back Larita as his wife, you might expect a certain hostility between Sarah and Larita. But it doesn't happen, in either play or film. Moreover, the film, having established just how pitiless and intolerant some people can be (e.g., the woman-juror mentioned last time, the very press itself with its paparazzi - in this respect, Easy Virtue anticipates La Dolce Vita by several decades!) - gives Sarah a key line, delivered to Mrs Whittaker standing a step below her: 'I feel so sorry for both of them [Larita and John].' (See frame-capture below.) Pity and compassion for the world as a whole, the ability to rise above petty, overly-subjective viewpoints, will become recurring content in subsequent Hitchcock films - as it is a mark of some of the world's other great thinkers and writers (Shakespeare, for one). Later, as Larita prepares to depart the Whittaker household, she tenderly kisses Sarah on the lips, and remarks that she should have been the one to marry John. Analysing that moment in my book, I wrote: 'The kiss suggests Hitchcock's belief in a free-flowing Eros as the surest way of keeping us all human.' Keeping us open to the true personalities and needs of others, I meant. And I see now how much of that insight came from Noel Coward - and which Hitchcock took to heart. Finally, a warning - and a recommendation. Marc Raymond Strauss's book on 'Alfred Hitchcock's Silent Films' (2004) was mentioned here previously (May 25, above). I can report that his chapter on Easy Virtue is just as quaint, and sometimes as dead wrong, as his chapter on Champagne, though there are some useful passages in it, too. Regardless, if you are wondering where to obtain a DVD of Easy Virtue, I have found that the inexpensive LaserLight/Delta disk is perfectly watchable, with a good musical track, and that it comes with (the sound) Blackmail, besides.

June 29 - 2007
(revised) Noel Coward's play 'Easy Virtue' and Hitchcock's 1927 film of it (which we're currently discussing) are critical of a matriarchal family and its sterile insularity - whereas Hitchcock's The Birds, made 35 years later, ultimately pins everything on a family whose matriarch becomes able to accept an outsider into it, thereby sounding a note of hope and love. (Of course, this is a variant of the 'incestuousness overcome' theme of The Lodger and Shadow of a Doubt.) But why are the love-birds at the end of The Birds such an ambiguous symbol? Hitchcock's own answer, which I think is profound, was simply this: 'It just goes to show that even the word "love" can be made to sound sinister!' In other words, there is something in human nature - in all nature - that seems to be infinitely malleable. As Hitchcock himself observed, 'Everything's perverted in a different way, isn't it?' (For some reason, I am reminded of what French author and intellectual Michel Onfray notes in 'The Atheist's Handbook' [2007]: that all three holy books of the three monotheist religions - the latter contending with each other as fiercely as ever - contain innumerable passages that are contradictory, such that a believer can find in them justification for whatever line of action he desires. God help the world!) However, as I have often said, there is good reason to think of Hitchcock, like Dickens, as exemplifying not dogma but the mutable 'poetic character', meaning that these artists come down on the side of neither one 'perversion' or another (or another) but concern themselves with something else - something fundamental. Easy Virtue and The Birds are not about opposites but finally about the same thing, the life-force, which, let us believe, can be used for good and even for just having fun (something Onfray would approve). Of interest is how often Hitchcock worked from a gay text: Easy Virtue, from Coward's play, was probably the first. In the play, a trembling Larita throws a copy of Proust's 'Sodom and Gomorrah' at 'an imperfect statuette of the Venus de Milo which is smirking at her' in the Whittakers' dining-room! The film tones this down into the scene where Larita throws an unidentified book at a camera - representing society's judgemental scrutiny. (See frame-capture below.) Hitchcock has taken Coward's point about repressiveness, all right, but has broadened it. Cameras and lenses, representing both cold objectivity and imperfect human subjectivity, are emphasised throughout the film. It opens with a shot of a wigged judge raising his head to squint at the assembled courtroom through his (symbolic) monacle. Has he just bowed to the court? He seems to find it distasteful! Has he been dozing? A moment later he yawns and rubs his right eye. All very ambiguous! (Likewise, in Hitchcock's 1947 film The Paradine Case, which is again taken from a text by a gay author, Robert Hichens, we are shown the statue of blindfolded Justice on the roof of the Old Bailey, but are also made aware of just how perverted one of His Majesty's judges can be in his private life - and perhaps not just in his private life. The novel tells us that he is a sadist and a 'hanging judge'.) A little later, a woman juror seems to be sympathetic to Larita when she writes on her pad, 'Pity is akin to love' - but not a bit of it. She is implying that the man, an artist, who had shown pity to Larita (at that time married to a brutal first husband) was her lover. So both the artist and Larita are seen by the woman as reprehensible. Once again, so much for love! The woman is a foreshadowing of Mrs Whittaker herself - and of another cold and stern woman-juror in Hitchcock's Murder! (1930), based on a play co-written by the lesbian 'Clemence Dane'. (I have analysed that film here recently: see May 4 and following.) Now consider this. Easy Virtue locates the Whittakers' home, called 'Moat House', in 'Peveril', England. To the best of my knowledge there is no Peveril in England - but there is an old ruined castle of that name in Derbyshire. So the fortress-like insularity of the home is doubly emphasised - or even more so, given the bleak, featureless landscape through which Larita and John are shown driving to reach it. There is a definite foreshadowing here of 'Manderley' in Hitchcock's 1940 Rebecca, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. The name 'Moat Castle' is meaningful enough in itself, but may also allude ironically to a famous speech about England in Shakespeare's 'Richard II' ('a moat defensive to a house, /Against the envy of less happier lands ...'). 'Manderley' - which is another sterile dwelling, presided over by the butch Mrs Danvers (cf the bare-armed Mrs Whittaker) - is certainly intended by du Maurier as a symbol of a repressive England; and its burning down at the climax of the novel must have given her a deal of secret, if ambivalent, satisfaction. Coming full circle now, such a climax anticipated in turn du Maurier's climax for the destruction of the human race in "The Birds" - and which Hitchcock's film The Birds tones down only slightly ... Next time: I'll tie threads together, with particular reference to the character Sarah in Easy Virtue.

June 22 - 2007
Hitchcock made both 'wrong man' and 'wronged woman' films, and among the latter is the early masterpiece Easy Virtue (1927). Yes, a masterpiece. Adapted from Noel Coward's play into rich cinematic terms, it is based ultimately on what happened when, at age 20, heiress and poet Nancy Cunard became engaged to a young man of respectable-but-conservative family, Sydney Fairbairn. The choice of Fairbairn understandably surprised Nancy's usual companions, including the painter Augustus John and the poet Ezra Pound. The marriage ended in a formal separation after about twenty months, though the divorce was not final until years later (1925, when Coward's play was first performed). Both play and film are indictments of closed thinking and ungenerous, anti-life attitudes: I like to think that Hitchcock identified closely with the wife Larita against the oppressive Whittaker family led by its matriarch, Mrs Whittaker. (Her husband, Colonel Whittaker, is ineffectual, though he is sympathetic to Larita.) Much of later Hitchcock comes from the Coward play and its film version. For example, in the play's final Act (Act III), Larita defies Mrs Whittaker and attends a dance that is being held downstairs. Just as Mrs Whittaker is telling the guests that Larita has a headache and may already be sleeping, 'LARITA appears at the top of the stairs. Her dress is dead-white and cut extremely low ... There is a distinct gasp from everybody.' Not only does Hitchcock astutely 'rhyme' this moment with one that he and screenwriter Eliot Stannard invented for earlier in the film - our first glimpse of Mrs Whittaker herself, looking formidable at the head of the same stairs - but of course he modulated it years later into a key moment in Rebecca (1940). (In other words, don't think that the moment in Rebecca is adapted from one in William Wyler's Jezebel starring Bette Davis! More probably, Jezebel took the idea from Coward's play or Hitchcock's film of 'Easy Virtue'!) In turn, that first appearance of Mrs Whittaker morphed in 1946 into our first glimpse of the formidable Mrs Sebastian descending the stairs in Notorious. And Mrs Whittaker (as Bill Krohn has noted) is also clearly a forerunner of Mrs Brenner in The Birds (1963). (More on that soon.) Equally, there's a moment in Easy Virtue when Larita (Isabel Jeans) awakes from a nightmare and calls out to her husband John (Robin Irvine) - who appears from an adjoining bedroom - that is clearly the predecessor of Marnie's troubled sleep in Marnie (1964). But John Whittaker is no Mark Rutland and - influenced by his mother - is already turning against his wife. Later, when John learns in front of Larita and his assembled family that he has married and brought home a divorcée, i.e., Larita, we see that he is psychologically troubled by this: shades of both the Ivor Novello character in 1925's The Lodger (the character there, I have often said, feels that his sister's sexuality has sullied his idealised image of their mother) and Scottie's reaction in Vertigo (1958) on finding that he has been all along tricked by a collaboration between Gavin Elster and Judy Barton; also, of Alex Sebastian finding out in Notorious and confessing to his mother that he, too, has been tricked: 'I am married to an American agent.' In short, there is a sort of Oedipal humbling for all of these male characters: the lodger, John Whittaker, Alex Sebastian, and Scottie Ferguson. (For a frame-capture of the boyish John's reaction on learning about Larita's past, see below.) I'll discuss the film further next time, but here's how I'd like to end today. The Mrs Brenner character in The Birds overcomes her initial hostility to the interloper, Melanie (on this, I don't agree with Camille Paglia, who argues otherwise!); and Marnie and Mark Rutland in Marnie may eventually get their marriage-act together, so to speak. So you could say that the later Hitchcock is more positive than the earlier one. Here, I like to think that he has seen something that he didn't see before. On the other hand - I freely admit - perhaps he was merely being a better rhetorician than before, giving audiences exactly what they wanted, a happy ending in spite of everything! To be continued.

June 15 - 2007
First, a little more about those two British films - Seven Sinners (1936) and Non Stop New York (1937) - whose influence is detectable in Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940). All three films have a climax involving a crash that is filmed directly from the front of the train (Seven Sinners) or the transatlantic airliner (Non Stop New York, Foreign Correspondent) involved. The footage preceding the crash in Non Stop New York actually looks very like that in Foreign Correspondent - in both cases we see the water flashing by under the pilot's window - and the crash itself is effectively done. (Hitchcock's boast to Truffaut and others about how he did the crash in Foreign Correspondent using a paper cockpit and dump-tanks makes a good story, but the scene works well for other reasons, in any case!) Interestingly, Hitchcock in the 1930s wrote an article somewhere, which I can't locate tonight, about the importance of the camera getting right 'inside' an action, and gave as an instance exactly this idea of a crash filmed 'subjectively'. (He may even have cited the instance of Lang's Spione/Spies, which I watched again this week, and which I mentioned last time. Certainly the Lang film is one he 'borrowed from' more than once.) Next, a connected point. If Foreign Correspondent did in fact 'borrow' from both of the British films just mentioned, not to speak of Lang's film, that was no more than its due. Both Seven Sinners and Non Stop New York were made for Gaumont, and both employ variants on the idea of the villain with the top joint of his little finger missing, from Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935), another Gaumont picture. The villain in Seven Sinners has a distinctive way of holding his cigar; the villain in Non Stop New York betrays himself when someone recognises his peculiar, one-handed manner of striking a match. (I have reported previously on how Hitchcock and fellow-director Robert Siodmak seemed to often 'borrow' from each other, and of course Hitchcock and Lang did likewise. During his career Hitchcock undoubtedly got used to finding his own 'touches' used by others, and from time to time he took this as licence to make 'borrowings' in turn - though often, too, he 'borrowed' from literary and art sources, not always with acknowledgment. But I dare say he saw the whole wider artistic world as a community to be creatively entered into, and engaged with; and surely there is nothing wrong with that? It strikes me as rather splendid, indeed!) Now another related matter. I have indicated that the transatlantic clipper scene in Foreign Correspondent is likely inspired by both the climax of the Bulldog Drummond novel 'The Final Count' (1926) - see June 1, above - and by the futuristic transatlantic airliner scene in Non Stop New York. But there may be a deeper-lying source again, and that is a now almost-forgotten play of the 1920s called 'Outward Bound' by Sutton Vane - a play whose characters meet on an ocean liner where they discover that they're all dead and bound for either heaven or hell. The play is in fact cited in 'The Final Count' as 'strange and wonderful ... no break - you just go on'. It was twice filmed, the first time in 1930 when it starred Leslie Howard, the second time in 1944 when it was re-titled Between Two Worlds and given an updated wartime setting. The star this time was John Garfield, though amongst the cast were such Britishers as Sara Allgood, Isobel Elsom, and Edmund Gwenn. Right, that's almost it for now on Foreign Correspondent - though, believe me, we have only begun to touch on that film's many 'borrowings' and cross-references and parallels. (As I say, we once spent nearly an entire issue of 'The MacGuffin' on them.) In conclusion, here's the answer to my question from last time. Fisher's dog in his London house is of course a Great Dane. (Gary Giblin, thanks for your email.) I strongly suspect that such a breed of dog suggested itself to Hitchcock because a Great Dane accompanies the grandfather, the Earl of Dorincourt (C. Aubrey Smith), in John Cromwell's Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), made for Selznick. Anyway, the choice was a master-touch on Hitchcock's part. Not only does it underline Fisher's (would-be?) aristocratic status - he has antecedents in novels by Buchan, et al. - but it hints at his true allegiance, namely, to Germany. Despite its name, the Great Dane is a German breed, also known as the German Mastiff, and was once used in that country as a boarhound. And the scene of the frame-capture last time where Fisher feeds tidbits to his dog while discussing with Krug how to do away with the 'inconvenient' Johnny Jones, is arch! Johnny is himself to be fed in casual fashion to the German cause, it seems!

June 8 - 2007
Continuing this matter of Foreign Correspondent's extraordinary 'eclecticism', I'll skip how the villain Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall) seems based in part - especially at the film's watery climax - on Herr Dollmann in the classic spy story 'The Riddle of the Sands' (1903) by Erskine Childers, a character himself seemingly inspired by the real-life Houston Stuart Chamberlain. (Chamberlain in the late 1800s left England to become a German citizen and marry a German woman - Richard Wagner's daughter, Eva.) I've written about that connection before, both here and in my book, as well as in the Foreign Correspondent issue of 'The MacGuffin' (#16). But as Childers's novel influenced John Buchan, today let me start by mentioning how an episode in Buchan's 'Mr Standfast' (1919) seemingly provided one (but not the only) basis for both of Rowley's attempts to kill Johnny in Foreign Correspondent. You remember the first such moment in the film: in a windy London street, Rowley (Edmund Gwenn), pretending to be Johnny's friend and bodyguard, tries to push him into the path of a passing truck. Later, at Westminster Cathedral, he tries to push him from the tower. Well, in 'Mr Standfast', Chapter Five, hero Richard Hannay is standing in the bows of a ship near the rail, holding onto a rope because of the worsening weather, when suddenly a shipboard acquaintance named Gresson cannons into him, sending him over the side. Hannay, though, manages to grab the ship's anchor and regain the deck, where he hears Gresson call out to him in mock concern. In truth, Gresson is working for the novel's villain Moxon Ivery (as Rowley in Foreign Correspondent is working for Fisher). Moxon Ivery himself appears to be a respectable citizen, an academic pacifist. Remember that. Okay. In my book I listed some of Foreign Correspondent's non-literary borrowings. I wrote: 'Here's a partial list of films (including two produced by Wanger, and two from Gaumont-British) whose influence is detectable in Hitchcoc'ks movie: Frankenstein (1931), Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera, 1931), A Night at the Opera (1935), Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), Seven Sinners (1936), Non Stop New York (1937), The Life of Emile Zola (1937), History is Made at Night (1937), Trade Winds (1938), Espionage Agent (1939).' I can't discuss all of those films (and several others) here, but take the last-named, Lloyd Bacon's Espionage Agent. This Warner Brothers production is presumably where Hitchcock had recently seen Joel McCrea and proceeded to cast him in Foreign Correspondent, that is, after failing to lure Gary Cooper. In Espionage Agent, McCrea plays a young would-be diplomat who falls in love with a German spy (Brenda Marshall) who works for something called the World Peace Organisation in Switzerland. I haven't seen the film for many years but Halliwell's 'Film Guide', after noting its anti-isolationist message directed at American audiences, understandably describes it as 'a rather sketchy cross between Foreign Correspondent and Confessions of a Nazi Spy [1939]'. So now we have two possible sources of the Universal Peace Party in Hitchcock's film: Moxon Ivery's organisation in 'Mr Standfast' and the World Peace Organisation in Espionage Agent. But there's at least one more! In the above list of films, two of them are English. Both are of interest to Hitchcockians, and presumably Hitchcock and screenwriter Charles Bennett had seen them on first release. Albert de Courville's Seven Sinners was in fact scripted by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat just before they wrote what became Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938). Fast-moving and fun, it includes a train crash filmed from the driver's cabin (though that had already been done, as I recall, in Lang's 1928 Spione/Spies, when it was seen by Hitchcock ...). But, too, this is another work whose villain uses a peace organisation - here called The Pilgrims of Peace - as cover. As for Robert Stevenson's Non Stop New York, its last half-hour takes place aboard a transatlantic airliner. Sound familiar? I'm coming to that. Several members of the cast came straight to the film from Hitchcock's Sabotage (1936), among them John Loder, Desmond Tester, William Dewhurst, and Peter Bull. Set in the near future - 1940 in fact - the film has an element of science fiction about it: a notable suspense scene involves the villain's attempt to push an unwary victim from the plane's 'observation platform'. Not only is he unsuccessful, but he later falls to his own death. But, no, his name isn't Rowley (or similar)! That's about it for today. Next time, I'll write one more entry on Foreign Correspondent and its 'borrowings'. Meanwhile, does anyone know what breed of dog we see accompaning Fisher at home in London? Is it a Great Dane? (There's a frame-capture below.) If you know, please email me (muffin@labyrinth.net.au). Thanks! KM

June 1 - 2007
In Foreign Correspondent (1940), notes Jack Sullivan (whose book 'Hitchcock's Music' is reviewed on our New Publications page), 'Hitchcock works with musical shards that race through the narrative, infusing objects, psyches, and source music' (p. 100) '[Alfred] Newman's score has ninety-four cues, more than in most Hitchcock films ...' (p. 98). But all of this is in keeping with the film itself - which must be the most 'eclectic' and helter-skelter of any movie that Hitchcock made, and that's saying something! Even The 39 Steps (1935), itself no slouch in the 'borrowings from other sources' and 'swift transitions' departments, can hardly match the 1940 film. Nominally, the latter is based on the Vincent Sheean memoir 'In Search of History'/'Personal History' (1935), to which producer Walter Wanger had held the rights for many years. But apart from a mention in the film's opening scene of the doyen of American war correspondents Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916), who had inspired Sheean, Foreign Correspondent virtually jettisons the Sheean book. Its crime reporter whose name is Johnny Jones (soon changed by his editor to 'Huntley Haverstock') and who becomes a 'foreign correspondent' despatched to Europe to cover the likely outbreak of war, is actually a composite of several figures: among them, pioneer radio journalist Edward R. Murrow (1908-65), who was even then broadcasting from Blitz-torn London, and the naïve writer of nature columns, William Boot, in Evelyn Waugh's brilliantly satirical novel 'Scoop' (1938), who is sent by mistake to cover a war in 'Ishmaelia' (Abyssinia/Ethiopia). Now, I can merely begin to list here all of the many other 'sources' for scenes and particular details in Foreign Correspondent (in fact, we spent nearly an entire issue of the hardcopy 'MacGuffin' #16 discussing them ...). But here goes with some of them. Many of the film's most celebrated moments echo the Bulldog Drummond stories by 'Sapper' (which Foreign Correspondent's screenwriter Charles Bennett had once dutifully read in preparation for writing the film Bulldog Drummond's Baby, which eventually morphed into The Man Who Knew Too Much). Notably, the assassination of a man's double to conceal the fact that he has been kidnapped combines two separate incidents from 'The Third Round' (1924), in which the kidnapped man is a Professor Goodman, who has invented a formula for manufacturing cheap diamonds. A memorable mis-recognition scene in the novel occurs outside a church at a funeral; in the film its counterpart occurs outside Amsterdam Town Hall. Further, the novel's church episode is soon followed by Drummond's discovery that Goodman wasn't killed after all and is being held prisoner by the villain Carl Peterson, now posing as a country squire called William Robinson at his house in the New Forest, Hampshire. The novel gives a vivid description of 'Robinson' and Goodman dozing in chairs before an industrial-type furnace as they tend the making of one of Goodman's artificial diamonds. The glowing furnace casts a circle of light in which the two men sit, and beyond that is darkness. It's a description which prefigures both the chiaroscuro of the scene in Foreign Correspondent where the kidnapped Van Meer is imprisoned in an old windmill outside Amsterdam, and the visual effect employed later during the film's torture-scene in London, where the crooks train lights on Van Meer to encourage him to talk, and where the background in contrast is pitch-black. (More on the torture scene in a moment.) There's even a moment in the novel when the dozing Goodman nearly gives Drummond away by waking with a start and then mumbling that he thought he'd seen someone at the door. Peterson investigates, supposes he detects some movement or other, but finds the passage empty and resumes his seat. This seems to anticipate the couple of times in Foreign Correspondent's windmill scene when Johnny is nearly caught: for instance, when Van Meer sees a movement behind his captors, who investigate, then conclude that it must have been a bird. As for the film's memorable torture scene, it, too, derives from 'Sapper', notably scenes in the novel 'Bulldog Drummond' (1920), the stage adaptation of the same year which starred Gerald du Maurier, and the celebrated 1929 film which starred Ronald Colman - and whose sets were designed by William Cameron Menzies, who worked on Foreign Correspondent. I must mention one more of the Drummond novels. Specifically, I want to invoke the tense climax of 'The Final Count' (1926). It's about Peterson setting out in his giant airship, the 'Megalithic', intending to first poison the invited dignatories on board and then commit suicide. The evening is calm, and the mood inside the dirigible is festive. Someone remarks on how masses of flowers give the interior a heavy, oriental scent. Drummond, who's one of the guests, likens it to being in a coffin. Suddenly he realises what's afoot, though he's too late to save one individual, a red-faced man. When Drummond yells out, 'Don't drink ... It's death', the man merely protests at what he calls 'this damned foolery'. He drains his glass - and falls dead. To an extent, this episode is clearly the forerunner of Foreign Correspondent's own climax, set on a transatlantic clipper plane. We can't be sure about the exact degree of influence, for reasons that I'll indicate next time. But certainly the scene in the film begins in a comparable fashion to the scene in the 'Sapper' novel, with the passengers on the clipper carrying on their own desultory conversation and one of them even remarking that it would be pleasant to be able to just keep on flying 'for a long time'. Then suddenly the clipper is shot at by a warship. Told to put on a life-jacket, a woman passenger protests, 'I never heard of anything so stupid'. Next instant, she's shot dead (see frame-capture below). To be continued.

May 25 - 2007
The high-point of Hitchcock's Champagne (1928), splendidly restored recently by Studio-Canal, may be the close-up of The Girl (played by Betty Balfour, the so-called Squibs girl) when she finally learns how her millionaire Father (Gordon Harker) has been keeping tabs on her with the help of The Man (Theo von Alten). The frame-capture below can only begin to convey the comedy of her double-take: her eyes start out close together, then rapidly move apart! It's gloriously funny! Champagne is in several ways a companion-piece to Downhill (1927) which was about a boy's eye-opening adventures in Paris, instead of a girl's. Both films are told in almost surreal fashion, deliberately touching on the more sordid aspects of life in society (note their respective scenes in dance-halls that are like barely-disguised bordellos, anticipating the dream sequence in Spellbound [1945]). Of course, they are done with all of Hitchcock's inventiveness and wit - and an ultimate happy ending that permits the audience a certain denial. Hitchcock polished his technique in Champagne. When The Girl first arrives at the dance-hall where she will work as a euphemistically-called 'flower-girl' (a likely reference to Squibs), she is innocent of what goes on in the place. An elderly lady (Hannah Jones) leads her inside to meet the boss, and the camera tracks in front of them. Suddenly, Hitchcock inserts a close-up of Betty stopping and looking off-camera, then walking backwards! Now we see what she sees: she has spotted a couple in a side booth, kissing passionately. In close-up Betty gathers her thoughts, then gives a barely perceptible shrug. Cut to a front view again, and the elderly lady is waiting impatiently for Betty to catch up with her! The pay-off to this moment comes a bit later when at one of the tables in the dance-hall Betty is drinking (some of) the titular champagne with The Man - whom we, like her, suspect of being a lecher. When The Man remarks, 'Don't you realise that anything could happen to you in a place like this?', Betty looks at him; now the familiar shot from earlier in the film, of him peering at her over his upturned champagne glass, returns. It seems to act like a trigger. The next moment he appears to escort Betty past the couples on the dance-floor and into one of the side booths, where he vehemently kisses (and almost rapes) her. And yet, almost immediately the two of them are seen conversing over their drinks again! So whose fantasy have we just seen? The Man's? Betty's? Ours? All of those? The film is indeed often suggestive, though sometimes commentators see such moments where they hardly exist! I recently read Marc Raymond Strauss's account of the film in his book 'Alfred Hitchcock's Silent Films' (2004), and couldn't help noticing several passages where he gets things wrong. Describing the moment when Betty comes on board a ship at sea, he mentions how she climbs the ship's rope ladder in a shot that includes 'a view of a man looking out of a porthole up her dress!' In fact, the man at the porthole is just one of dozens of onlookers watching Betty come on board, and she is wearing a dress that descends almost to her ankles! The sequence of Betty abandoning her sea-plane and being rowed to the ship, then coming up the rope ladder (in high heels!), is definitely interesting, though. It shows Betty to be the forerunner of Constance Porter in Lifeboat (1944), Lisa Fremont in Rear Window (1954), and even Melanie Daniels in The Birds (1963). Notice, for example, how before entering the lifeboat Betty powders her face in a give-away gesture. The film is about how this spoilt, headstrong girl must have her eyes opened to the harsh realities of the world. Nonetheless, at the very end of the film, she exasperates her loving father one last time by saying that she knows he'll have a private plane waiting for her and The Boy (Jean Bradin) at the airport in New York when they get back home. By the same token, she'll allow The Boy to arrange with their ship's captain to marry them - previously, she had been going to make that arrangement (which had exasperated The Boy!). Compromise is all! Such an ending anticipates Rear Window's.

May 18 - 2007
Last week I tried, in three posts about Hitchcock's 'wrong man' and 'transference of guilt' motifs/themes, to show something of how his films steer a course through situations that reflect - for most viewers, subconsciously - the ironies and injustices of life. Our 'perilous human condition' I called it, on May 11. As we watch the films, and get distracted by MacGuffins and things, we may momentarily feel many of the points Hitchcock is making (often in no more than the twinkling of an eye, as when Mitch in The Birds addresses Melanie, and asks, 'Doesn't this make you feel awful ... keeping birds in cages?'). But so rich is the surface texture of each film and so many its twists and turns, that - very reasonably - we may be content to enjoy the story itself while telling ourselves, vaguely, that 'Hitch is a bit of a clever joker, isn't he?' Of course, if we're sensitive and intelligent, we can't also help feeling how the best of the films have a certain 'dignity of significance' that sets them apart, and so may promise ourselves to go back and study them later. (In one of his advertising campaigns, Hitchcock actually referred to how you should see his latest film 'at least twice'! Lordly of you, Hitch, lordly!) Today I just want to talk a bit about Hitch's debt to the German cinema (compare the end of the May 14 entry, above), and the rich texture of the films I just mentioned. During the week I finally watched on DVD the beautifully restored print of F.W. Murnau's Phantom (1922) and watched again the episode of Brownlow and Gill's 'Cinema Europe' dealing with the German silent cinema, an episode called "The Unchained Camera". A correspondent, P.O'N, had alerted me last year to how he thought Phantom might have influenced Hitchcock's Vertigo, because of its use of Lya de Putti in a double role and a young man's infatuation with the two characters - seeing in the second woman the image of the unattainable first. The very title of Murnau's film comes close to anticipating that of Hitchcock's, for both films hint at 'ghosts' as well as 'dizziness' and 'delusion'. I told my correspondent that Dr Ted Price in his book 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality' had already suggested the connection (without himself, apparently, having seen Murnau's film). And so it proves. That is, the connection looks quite likely. Alfred Abel, who had just appeared in Fritz Lang's Dr Mabuse the Gambler, and who would later star in Lang's Metropolis (1926) and Hitchcock's Mary (1930), here plays the young man who aspires to be a successful poet. In fact, he ends up without success in either career or marriage - at least not marriage to either of the women he had pursued. Instead, after a spell in prison, he marries the loyal girl-next-door (Lil Dagover), a sort of Midge figure. Earlier, he had wooed the second Lya de Putti just as Scottie had wooed Judy: by taking her to a dress shop, by buying her flowers at a street-stall, and by taking her to dinner. But it was at the dinner that he had a premonition of coming calamity. Suddenly, the room seemed to swirl and the very dining-table seemed to descend, in a spiralling motion, though the floor into a vertiginous pit (see frame-capture below). True, as Siegfried Kracauer noted long ago in his excellent book 'From Caligari to Hitler', a 'spiralling' motif is not uncommon in German films of the time, but its use here is indeed striking. And Murnau was one of the young Hitchcock's most admired directors. Another thought is this. As Brownlow and Gill remind us, the early German filmmakers were very adept at making use of elaborate mechanical and technical apparatus. As I watched (on the DVD) how Murnau constructed the apparatus for his dining couple to descend through the floor, and (on the Brownlow and Gill program) how for a 'drunken euphoria' effect in The Last Laugh (1924) Murnau put actor Emil Jannings on a revolving turntable with the camera, I was inevitably reminded of the elaborate lengths Hitchcock went to in Vertigo to film the 360° 'memory' shot of Scottie making love to Judy/'Madeleine'. One final point for today. Brownlow and Gill describe The Last Laugh as being about 'the German respect for uniforms'. I have never heard the film described that way before - except once. On a tape given me by Richard Franklin of a talk by Hitchcock to cinema students at USC in the 1960s, the British director used a practically identical phrase: The Last Laugh, he said, was about 'the German reverence for uniforms'. Which only goes to show, once again, that Hitchcock knew his film history and was a pretty astute fellow!

May 15 - 2007
The thread of this and the last two posts (May 11, 14) concerns Hitchcock's 'wrong man' motif and its relation to 'transference of guilt', the focus of several 'Cahiers du Cinéma' critics who in the 1950s closely analysed Hitchcock's work. Today I'll start by mentioning a little-known fact about I Confess: like several other Hitchcock films (e.g., The Paradine Case, Rope), it derives from a sensational real-life crime. On 2 January, 1894, the abbot Fricot of Entrammes, in north-west France, was found murdered. Within days, the police arrested a priest, Father Bruneau, and charged him with both the murder and embezzlement. Despite his denials, he was found guilty of murder, and was duly executed on 30 August, 1894. Only later did it emerge that the person who initially accused the priest, the housekeeper of the murdered man, was shielding the real killer, her nephew. In other words, this was another 'wrong man' case. Eight years later its bare facts, considerably altered, were adapted into a play, 'Nos Deux Consciences', by the journalist 'Paul Anthelme' (nom de plume of Paul Bourde, a boyhood friend of the Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud). He wrote the play as a vehicle for the famous French actor Constant Coquelin, and dedicated it to him. Which brings us to I Confess itself. Like Murder!, I find it to be a film of tough-minded compassion by the Catholic Hitchcock. In the case of Murder!, I think that Hitchcock saw clearly just how sadistic and ruthless was the privileged Sir John towards the film's nominal villain, Fane. (Its situation is a variant on the irony in Blackmail, made a year earlier, in which a mere blackmailer is hounded to death by the police while the actual killer of the dead artist, the girl Alice, goes scot-free: Blackmail ends with the image of a pointing jester, accompanied by sardonic laughter. As I've mentioned in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', that effect was 'borrowed' by Hitchcock from the play 'Right You Are, If You Think So' by Luigi Pirandello, renowned as the playwright whose principal subject was theatre itself - and for his compassionate understanding of madness.) Now, speaking of theatre, and compassion, let's remember that the nominal villain in I Confess, the sacristan Keller, dies where so many other Hitchcock villains also die: on or beside a stage. Once again, the suggestion is how 'all the world's a stage' (see yesterday's entry), and that we're all actors - or 'impostors' (a word suitably invoked in Strangers on a Train, apropos both Guy and Bruno) - in the play, or game, of life. (Note the connection, too, between the pointing jester in Blackmail, the 'harlequin' scene in the novel from which Murder! was derived, and the eventual use of that same 'harlequin' scene by Hitchcock at the climax of Rope, as discussed here on May 4.) Okay. Just now I called Keller in I Confess that film's nominal villain. I see him as a bit like the unfortunate, weazily-featured blackmailer in Blackmail or the homosexual Fane in Murder!. Circumstances conspire against all of them. The German refugee Keller begins the film as a mere thief who apparently had been caught in the act of stealing by Vilette and struck him dead out of fear. So there are some exonerating circumstances: Vilette's death was not pre-meditated. The fact that Keller took with him a priest's cassock to use as a disguise on his way home we must also see as no more than his way of protecting himself from being recognised. But later he caves in to his inner torment and frames Father Logan as the murderer, using that same cassock. (How close are we here, I wonder, to the two circumstances defined by John Gray that I quoted yesterday?) Hitchcock in interviews often used the phrase 'the fine line', and at this point we approach something that seems to have concerned him in his films time and again: if we all start out somewhat guilty, by reason of Original Sin (or what the philosopher Schopenhauer called universal Will), at what point does a person experience 'real guilt' as opposed to 'false guilt' (terms I've seen used elsewhere)? In The Mountain Eagle, the scheming and bullying magistrate Pettigrew is clearly more villainous than the aptly-named hero Fearogod (despite the latter's nominal sin of living with a woman out of wedlock for a time, after rescuing her from Pettigrew); the irony at the end of the film seems to consist in the fact that Pettigrew doesn't really reform, and agrees to publicly shake hands with Fearogod only because he knows that a witness - his son - has returned to the village and will otherwise tell what he knows about his father's previous behaviour towards the woman. But perhaps there's another way of approaching this matter, and that is to say that you are only as guilty as you feel. Many years ago, a Catholic acquaintance drew my attention to the scene in I Confess in which Father Logan out-faces Keller; this scene, I was told, was crucial, and showed Logan's moral superiority to Keller. By the same token, the wife Rose in The Wrong Man who goes temporarily insane (in a very Pirandellian episode) while her husband struggles to keep working and support the family, despite being falsely accused of armed robbery, seems to belie the generalisation that how you feel is sufficient guide to guilt or innocence. Prima facie, both wife and husband are good Catholics. 'Transference of guilt' may well be operating here, but what does it mean? If that is Hitchcock's question, I think he leaves it open.

May 14 - 2007
More thoughts today on the 'wrong man' and 'transference of guilt' motifs in Hitchcock. I think it's hard not to agree with a couple of ideas advanced by Prof. John Gray in his important (if relentlessly anti-humanist!) book 'Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals' (2002). They are: (1) 'The ancient Greeks were right. The ideal of the chosen life does not square with how we live. We are not authors of our lives; we are not even part-authors of the events that mark us most deeply. Nearly everything that is most important in our lives is unchosen. The time and place we are born, our parents, the first language we speak - these are chance, not choice.' And (2), 'Morality is supposed to be universal and categorical. But ... it is a convenience, to be relied upon only in normal times.' (To read Gray's illustration for this latter claim, the central episode from Auschwitz-survivor Roman Frister's 'The Cap: The Price of a Life' [1999], click here: John Gray's Bad Faith. I might add that a parable teaching a similar lesson, involving a mother trapped with her baby by rising water in a cave, used to be told to his students by my revered yoga teacher, 'Veejay'.) Moreover, because these can be uncomfortable truths, a lot of us live our lives denying them. Hitchcock knew our propensity for self-deception, and (tongue in cheek?!) makes it the central insight of his film Psycho (1960). As I indicate in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (the English edition), self-deception is the point of the episode in the Loomis Hardware Store where a woman, professing her concern not to inflict pain, buys a can of 'Spot' - though it's clear that she doesn't know whether the product meets her criterion. (Compare Pat Hitchcock's line in the realty office earlier: 'Headaches are like resolutions. You forget them as soon as they stop hurting.') Now let's return to the film Murder! which I've been discussing here recently. Like the novel, Hitchcock's film stresses the theatrical element: Hamlet's observation, 'All the world's a stage!', is strongly implied. (For example, a clever curtain-rising effect links a real theatrical curtain and the observation-flap on a cell door. Note the implicit subjective-observer both times.) Equally, Shakespeare's sense of life as a dream, and as a contest between 'chance and necessity' informs much of the story and its background. 'What is real?' the film seems to ask. 'What is justice?' it seems to add. To me, the nominal villain Fane is to the nominal hero Sir John rather like Falstaff in Shakespeare's 'Henry IV' to Prince Hal. (Of course, the characters themselves are vastly different.) The boisterous Falstaff is an immensely sympathetic figure (see Orson Welles's film Falstaff/Chimes at Midnight!) though much about him is bogus. (I'm not sure about his title of 'Sir John' - that may be one of the few things that is real!). We cannot be surprised that the young Hal seeks out and enjoys Falstaff's company, much of it spent in taverns (another 'unreal' locale, like the very theatre in which Shakespeare's play was performed). But finally, tragically, when Hal succeeds to the throne, and must soon lead his country into war (the subject of 'Henry V'), he publicly spurns and repudiates his old friend - whom we now see has been condemned all along by his weakness and lack of 'proper' associates to this fate. One commentator writes: 'Falstaff is both knight and vagabond, a vital link for the future king between the court he knows and the submerged life of London's back streets.' Okay, the analogy with Murder! is only very approximate, but nonetheless I think it catches something of the spirit in which Hitchcock conceived his film. Already he was trying to depict a canvas on which a 'representative cross-section of society' was shown (as, for example, in Rear Window [1954]), and whose story captures in almost a Symbolist or German Expressionist manner something of a universal condition, of high and low, privilege and abjection, justice and injustice. But this has seemingly taken us a long way from the matters I was talking about last time: Hitchcock's 'wrong man' and 'transference of guilt' motifs. Nonetheless, I think there's a connection. Tomorrow I'll attempt to draw such a connection between three or four of the films The Mountain Eagle, Murder!, I Confess, and The Wrong Man. By the way, did you know that I Confess is ultimately based on a real-life incident involving a 'wrong[ed] man', a priest?

May 11 - 2007
This is for Bill Krohn. The other day, in England, they found a print of the silent film The Man They Couldn't Hang (1921), about John Lee, a 19-year-old servant who became a legend after surviving three attempts to hang him for murdering his employer, an abstemious wealthy spinster. (To read more about the Lee case, click here: The Man They Could Not Hang.) The film was directed by an Australian, Arthur Sterry, who later played Lee's father in a 1934 remake, directed by another Australian, the celebrated Raymond Longford. Australians have always had a soft spot for an underdog or a bit of a rascal - as well as for a good story. Vide the case of bushranger Ned Kelly and his band of brothers. (The reverse side of this is the Aussie suspicion of exceptional achievers, manifested in the so-called 'tall poppy syndrome'. But perhaps it's a fairly universal phenomenon.) What was new the other day in the report about the 1921 film (on the 'Times' website) was this: '[Lee] later received a confession to the murder written by a woman on her deathbed.' So the case turns out to be one involving a 'wrong man', to go with many similar cases. The most famous such case in England is that of Adolf Beck who, although completely innocent, was twice convicted (and ended up serving five years in gaol) after being wrongly identified as 'John Smith', confidence trickster. Details of the Beck case found their way into Hitchcock's film The Wrong Man (1957). I have written about the Beck case here before. Pointing out that Hitchcock's recurring 'wrong man' theme goes back to his second film, The Mountain Eagle (1926), in which a hulking local store-owner and magistrate Pettigrew (Bernard Goetzke) falsely imprisons his rival, the gentle hero Fearogod (Malcolm Keen), I suggested that the 'wrong man' theme became for Hitchcock a metaphor of our perilous human condition. (More on this in a moment.) I also noted that a real-life 'wrong man' theme is very 'English' inasmuch as such literary figures as Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had long taken an interest in actual cases where justice was known, or strongly suspected, to have miscarried. (For instance, in 1886 Collins agreed to write three stories for 'Youth's Companion', published in Boston. All three were to be accounts of people wrongly hanged for crimes on the basis of circumstantial evidence alone.) Also, I've pointed out here that a John Galsworthy play like the ironically-titled 'Justice' (produced 1910, filmed 1917 - the screenplay was by Eliot Stannard, who later wrote most of Hitchcock's silent pictures) seems to have contributed tangible elements of its own to the tone and content of The Wrong Man. Now I'd like to add a few more observations. This weekend I hope to finally watch Errol Morris's much-praised The Thin Blue Line (1988) about an apparent true case of wrongful arrest in Texas in 1976. Reportedly, the emphasis of the film is as much on 'the lowlife who fingered' the arrested man, a hitchhiker, as on his actual ordeal. By contrast, I suspect that Hitchcock would have emphasised the institutional aspects, the injustice inherent in the operation of 'the system', in order to play up the paranoid feelings of the innocent man. Be that as it may, I don't doubt that real-life cases of 'wrong men' are widespread. (Among books on this topic is one by Michael Mello, actually called 'The Wrong Man: A True Story of Innocence on Death Row', published a few years ago by the University of Minnesota Press.) My point above, that such a theme may represent the human condition, is what I now want to develop. Bill Krohn sees in Hitchcock's 'wrong man' theme the germ of the 'transference of guilt' motif which critics from 'Cahiers du Cinéma' since the 1950s have regarded as the key to Hitchcock, the single most profound 'tie that binds' all of the films together. Bill doesn't think that 'transference of guilt' is particularly pronounced in Murder! (1930), discussed here last week, yet I see striking similarities to The Mountain Eagle. Both are about a man of privilege who uses his position to oppress someone less privileged. Moreover, in both films, the oppressor has impure motives involving a woman whom he covets and who apparently loves the other man. By linking oppressor and oppressed together in this way, Hitchcock, I feel, was stressing that both men are somehow guilty - note that Fearogod in The Mountain Eagle actually appears to 'live in sin' with the woman for a time, before they are finally married - which in turn may be seen as some sort of metaphor for Original Sin. We are all guilty innocents, as I once put it here. But more: both these films, but particularly the sophisticated Murder!, seem to recognise that none of us is truly free, and must start out with the hand we have been dealt by fate; and, moreover, what we call morality is always relative, when it isn't simply being used as a weapon by the oppressors. I'll develop these ideas next time.

May 4 - 2007
Apropos Hitchcock's Murder! (1930), someone this week asked me whether Fane in the novel cross-dresses (as he does in the film, making him a forerunner of the transvestite Norman Bates in Psycho). The novel is called 'Enter Sir John' (1929), and was written by two of Hitchcock's friends, the flamboyant lesbian Winifred Ashton (using her pen-name 'Clemence Dane') and Helen Simpson (who later wrote 'Under Capricorn'). The novel is incredibly knowledgeable about the theatrical world. Another friend of Winifred Ashton's was Noel Coward, who based Madame Arcati in 'Blithe Spirit' on her. But no, I told my inquirer, the novel doesn't have Fane as a cross-dresser. What it does have is a core ambiguity. Fane is called (by Martella = the film's Diana) 'chi-chi', which Sir John immediately interprets as meaning 'of mixed race' - which is indeed one of the term's meanings. But the same term also means, when applied to decor, etc., 'fussily affected'. And in Jamaican slang (for what this may be worth) the term means an undesirable person, frequently a homosexual. In the novel, Fane goes into hiding as an acrobat, teaming up in a double act at the Hippodrome, Tower Hill, with a young Jew. (In the film, he performs solo, dressed as a woman. See frame-capture below.) What follows next, in both novel and film, is the 'Mousetrap' episode whereby Sir John attempts to trick Fane into confessing that he killed the woman Edna Druce. Here the novel is much more conclusive than the film. Fane does indeed confess to killing Edna - who had been blackmailing him. His confession is accompanied by a flashing red/green/white light from a theatre sign outside the window, thus turning Fane into a Harlequin figure (the quintessence of 'pure theatre', as in Jean Renoir's great 1953 film La carrosse d'or). This moment, of course, was remembered by Hitchcock and used by him at the climax of Rope (1948). Yet the novel and film both continue to tease us. Having mentioned that he was being blackmailed by Edna, who was threatening to tell Martella about him, Fane in the novel says that he had dared to hope ('dreamed the impossible') of marriage to Martella. This, although he knew that she was repelled by half-castes. (We find out later that she knew all along that he was 'chi-chi'. So presumably she never intended to marry him. That is, it seems she was only ever being nice to him. Perhaps she was simply siding with Fane against Edna because the latter, the wife of the touring-company manager, had once angered her by declaring that never in a hundred years would Martella have the temperament to play Lady Macbeth!) The novel provides further background not in the film. '"We [Edna and Fane] - we'd lived together once," said Fane with that sallow flush of his. "She - she knew how to get hold of a boy. The war broke it: and I thanked God for the war. I loathed her. Cheap, she was. Well, after the war I came back: nerve gone: couldn't get a job: ran into her in an agent's office, picking up suckers. She'd married that tippling fool Gordon [Druce]: and I - I was out of a job," said Fane weakly.' Here, Fane sounds remarkably like another murderer, Jonathan, in Selwyn Jepson's 1948 novel 'Man Running' (filmed by Hitchcock two years later as Stage Fright). Jonathan mentions how 'I had a difficult war ... rather more mental as well as physical strain ... than some chaps had to take'. (The screenplay of Stage Fright describes Jonathan thus: 'His handsome face seems immature ... and a trifle weak'. And of course there are several other resemblances of Stage Fright to Murder!, including the theatrical background in both stories.) My point is simply that in both the novel 'Enter Sir John' and its film version Murder! the emphasis - befitting works showing an inside knowledge of the theatre scene - is surely on (fluid) sexuality - not race. Nonetheless, Fane's confession in the novel focuses on the latter. As the red/green/white light continues to flash, we get this: '"My mother was an Eurasian," said Handell Fane defiantly. "'Where is Eurasia?'" some fool asked once. Well, wherever it is I come from it. Half-caste, that's what I am - neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor -" "Steady," said Sir John, watching him intently.' But perhaps the matter of race is the novel's MacGuffin, distracting attention from its real subject. In discussing the film with Charles Samuels, Hitchcock readily agreed that it was about homosexuality.

April 27 - 2007
One final entry for now on Marnie, the novel of which I recently re-read in conjunction with the film's script. Like so many of Hitchcock's films, Marnie is about a life-imperative. I mean that literally. In the novel, Marnie's attempted suicide on her honeymoon with Mark differs from how it's portrayed in both the script and the finished film. In the novel, the honeymoon takes place on a trip to the Mediterranean. Feeling that her life has lost all direction ('But now my life had run bang into this blind alley of marriage ...'), Marnie swims out to sea. Then, she tells, us, 'I just stopped swimming and sank. Yet even though I tried not to, I found I was holding my breath the way I'd done jumping off the pier by the Hoe [at Plymouth] when I was a kid. I tried to force myself to let go of life, but I came up again choking and coughing. As I came up [Mark] got me.' (Incidentally, Mark later speaks of his own feeling of encountering obstacles, as when he pleads with Marnie to continue seeing Dr Roman. 'It's like groping along in hope of finding some way out and suddenly coming up against a brick wall. If you don't go back to him there isn't any hope any more.' This imagery, of course, has implications for several elements of the film, including the bolting Forio's fatal injury and the film's 'open/closed doors' motif.) The film's script transfers the honeymoon to the South Pacific and the suicide attempt to the swimming pool of the cruise ship. After Mark rescues his wife, he asks her, 'Why the hell didn't you jump over the side?' The script gives her the sarcastic reply, 'I hate heights' - which is improved in the film to 'The idea was to kill myself, not feed the damn fish!' (See frame-capture below.) But in each case Marnie is admitting that a part of her, however perverse, still clings to life. I have suggested before how often Hitchcock's films take much of their force from the incredibly powerful and/or intriguing situations at their centre - though the true situation may initially be hidden - as in, say, Rebecca or Rope or The Trouble With Harry or Rear Window. All of those films are about life contending with death, the most perverse of them being Rope (where the theme is symbolised by a meal served from a virtual grave, a chest containing a body). Well, Marnie is similar, I think. That is, it's quite close to Rope. For all that Brandon and Phillip are murderers, they are more alive - if more misguided - than the people around them. I also think of Rear Window, about which Hitchcock said that it would have been very dull if the windows opposite Jeff's hadn't contained a cross-section of people going about their ordinary lives. The paradox of that is that the perverse, voyeuristic Jeff is the film's hero - as, in a way, the Nietzsche-quoting gays, Brandon and Phillip, together with their equally misguided mentor, Rupert, are the 'heroes' of Rope; and the anti-social, potentially lesbian thief Marnie is the heroine of the film that bears her name. (The novel, before the end, makes her a bit of a do-gooder, making friends with the Rutland gardener's family and with a couple of blind men living down the road. The film, though, simply shows us Marnie's inherent life-affirming qualities, such as her intelligence and her considerable, but not absolute, resilience, and that is enough.) Now, in terms of 'powerful situations' at the core of a work, for some reason I'm reminded of the macabre Scots ballad 'The Twa Corbies'/'The Two Crows'. If ever a work (not by Hitchcock, that is!) was dramatically powerful, while being obliquely and perversely about human life-affirmation, come what may, it's that poem. I wouldn't be surprised if Hitchcock knew of it, and learnt from it. (I suspect that there's a reference to it in Young and Innocent.) A citation of it on the Web refers to how people 'act primarily in response to their biological imperatives. ... The whole poem could be read as an illustration of the power of the "selfish gene".' Worth googling.

April 20 - 2007
The final flashback in the film Marnie is ingeniously adapted from revelations in Winston Graham's novel, which are actually quite different to those in the film. No sailor is killed in the novel - at least, not in the way we see in the film. The facts in the novel are briefly these. Marnie's mother had married shortly before the Second World War, and subsequently Marnie was born. The family name was Elmer. On the outbreak of war, Mr Elmer joined the Royal Navy (the novel is set in England). We're told that Mrs Elmer 'was a very passionate woman and a very inhibited woman - and also rather an innocent woman'. With her husband away at sea for long periods, and finding herself evacuated with Marnie to a strange town, Mrs Elmer became friendly with soldiers on leave. She became a prostitute. If a soldier known to her turned up at night, he had only to tap on the window to be admitted. But one night in 1942, Mr Elmer came home unexpectedly, found an inteloper in his bed, and after a fight threw the man out. Mr Elmer now divorced his wife. Later, word came that he had been killed at sea. Meanwhile, Mrs Elmer found herself pregnant. The night the baby was born, she killed it and hid the body. She might have got away with the murder, except that she started severely haemorrhaging and a neighbour called a doctor. It is these dimly-remembered events, and her mother's subsequent behaviour towards her, that have affected Marnie into her adult life. Potentially at least, she's a lesbian. There are two passages in the novel where she says she sometimes thinks she's 'a bit queer'. A corresponding moment in the film occurs during the honeymoon. Marnie tells Mark: 'I didn't say men weren't interested in me. I said I wasn't interested in them' - and the screenplay notes that here Mark 'considers the possibilities of this line of thought' (but is then distracted, or, perhaps more accurately, we are distracted ...). Otherwise, both novel and film, no doubt for commercial reasons, leave this matter unaddressed. (Compare Rope, which conveniently ignores the homosexual issues at its very centre.) But I wanted to talk about the film's ingenious flashback. In the novel, young Marnie is told of her father's death at sea, and she starts to cry. Here's what she later tells her psychiatrist, Dr Roman: 'When he died I had a picture book with an elephant on [the cover] and I didn't say anything but just put my head down on the book and let the tears run on to the elephant. It was a cheap book because there was a sun behind the elephant and my tears made the colour run until it looked as if I'd been crying blood.' Moreover, near the end of the novel, Mrs Elmer dies, and only then does Marnie find a faded newspaper clipping describing how her mother had once been brought to trial at Bodmin Assizes: 'Nurse Vanion would tell how she came to the house and found Mrs. Elmer in a state of prostration. Mrs. Elmer informed Nurse Vannion that she had had a miscarriage but the nurse's suspicions were aroused ...' The film's flashback, then, re-works some of this. The sailor (Bruce Dern) killed by young Marnie with a poker substitutes for both the soldier that Mr Elmer had fought with and for the dead Mr Elmer himself, killed at sea. (Interestingly, in the film, Marnie's mother had started to hit the sailor and then Marnie had finished him off when he had fallen on her mother's leg. Neither mother nor daughter is thus wholly free of guilt for what had happened that night, though of course both of them had reasons for doing what they did. Ambiguously, the sailor had stroked Marnie's hair and then had lowered his head to hers. Did he intend to molest her? Probably not, but that's how it had looked to Marnie's mother at the time ...) The flashback has a bleached look about it (see frame-capture below), and this corresponds to the faded newspaper clipping in the novel. The tone and the look of the flashback also owe something to climactic flashbacks in other recent films that Hitchcock had undoubtedly seen: among them, Joseph Mankiewicz's Suddenly Last Summer (1960), John Huston's Freud (1962), and Serge Bourguignon's Sundays and Cybele (1962). In Marnie that tone is definitely a compassionate one: note also a link to the doctor/nurse rhyme that the film gives to the children playing in the street, and discussed here last time. Further details come from parts of the novel: the child's voice of the adult Marnie as she starts to remember the events in the flashback ('I began to cry like a kid', reports Marnie in the novel about one of her memory-sessions with Dr Roman), the tapping, the thunderstorm, and above all the spreading, haemorrhaging blood. As for the elephant on the cover of the child's picture book, it was too good a detail in its random, bizarre way, not to be somehow included in the film. So notice the china elephant as the flashback begins: it serves as a symbol of memory that is either pathetic or powerful, depending on what we make of it ...

April 13 - 2007
Summing up last week's post: we found that the novel 'Marnie' contrasts the haves and have-nots. That's one of the points of the hunt scene in the novel. Like the people at the rose show earlier ('I wondered if these people knew they lived on the same planet [as working-class people]'), the hunt people are privileged. Marnie observes: 'They were a queer-looking lot, a good many of them ugly, even the women, and hard in a way; I mean tough. I'd swear none of them had ever been short of anything important all their lives.' A few pages later, she mentions their propensity for cruelty. 'They hadn't any real feelings at all. All they wanted was their own pleasure.' Coming from Marnie, that's ironic - as the novel undoubtedly intends. Here's what her psychiatrist, Dr Roman, had told her: 'I suspect that for a good deal of the time you live in a sort of glass case, not knowing real enthusiasm or genuine emotion; or feeling them perhaps at second hand, feeling them sometimes because you think you ought to, not because you really do.' It all adds up to a great theme - civilisation and its paradoxes - about which there's no easy answer. Hitchcock often chose such 'archetypal' works to film: I suggest Patrick Hamilton's 'Rope' was one, and Mrs Belloc Lowndes's 'The Lodger' another. The latter speaks at one point of 'the infinite misery, the sadness and strangeness, of human life'. I've already (last week) quoted Mark in 'Marnie' saying, 'We're all trapped the instant we're born - and we stay so until we die.' Near the end of the novel, after learning of her mother's death (and finding out about the sordid events her mother had concealed from her), Marnie tells herself: 'Stop being so broken-hearted for yourself and take a look round. Because maybe everybody's griefs aren't that much different after all.' And she adds: 'I thought, there's only one loneliness, and that's the loneliness of all the world.' What I want to indicate tonight is the inspired way in which Hitchcock's film uses the children's skipping rhyme to suggest a lot of the above. The children's rhyme isn't in the novel. And although the film changes the words slightly, the version we hear consists essentially of an actual English rhyme (there were also American and French-Canadian versions) whose words were published in 'Lilliput' magazine, September 1952, then reproduced in the famous book, 'The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren' (1959) by Iona and Peter Opie. The rhyme begins: 'Mother, mother, I am ill,/Send for the doctor from over the hill./In comes the doctor,/In comes the nurse,/In comes the lady with the alligator purse.' The film's screenplay then adds some lines of its own (i.e., they differ from the ones in the 1952/1959 texts): 'Mumps, said the doctor,/Measles, said the nurse,/Nothing, said the lady/With the alligator purse.' Now, I don't know for sure who the enigmatic lady with the alligator purse is, but it's interesting that in the novel Marnie's mother is identified with an 'old, black imitation crocodile bag of hers that she'd carried everywhere'. So perhaps the lady with the alligator purse is Marnie's mother (or her friend Lucy Nye), and that emphatic 'Nothing' is the denial of life that Marnie has learned from her mother and which she must be cured of. (In the film, Marnie is indeed heard to say that she believes in 'nothing'.) Of course, the 'Nothing' is ambiguous. It can mean that the real 'disease' that afflicts people is the perceived nothingness of the universe. Or it can mean something quite opposite, that there is nothing to fear. Hitchcock said of The Birds that during the bird attack on the Brenner house he showed Melanie retreating from 'nothing' - that is, he showed a large space beside her as she cowered on the settee. But again that 'nothing is ambiguous! Another point now. In the novel, both doctors and nurses figure more than once, and Marnie is shown to be afraid or suspicious of them - apparently because, as we finally learn, a doctor and a nurse had attended Marnie's mother, a prostitute, after she murdered her illegitimate baby (and the young Marnie had been lied to about what had happened). So the film's use of the children's rhyme, which we see chanted by children outside the mother's house (see frame-capture below), cleverly suggests both a universal condition (which the Opies suggest is a knowledge of death) and that it's really nothing remarkable, and that there are kind people to help us cope with it. We shouldn't fear doctors and nurses, if only because life and death are inextricable. They go together. More next time.

April 6 - 2007
Let's stay with Marnie for a bit. Douglas in Germany tells me that it often screened on East German TV in the Communist days. (His ex-girlfriend was from there.) I asked a couple of people about this and they confirmed it. Dr Uli Ruedel remembers that it screened several times on West German TV as well, as did various crime series starting in the early 1970s: 'for instance, there was a series of noirish Edgar Wallace thrillers that were hugely popular. This series was also [eventually] heavily shown on East German TV ... Killers motivated by capitalist greed and lust apparently fit[ted] very well into East German ideology. I think that [these transmissions] were usually scheduled to begin at the same time as the West German TV news broadcasts so that people wouldn't watch those.' As I re-read Winston Graham's novel 'Marnie' (1961) this week, I noticed how heavily it emphasises the theme of social division. Marnie herself, of course, has been brought up in the back streets of various provincial towns on the coast of southern England. (Remember that in the film she says, 'We were poor, we were grindingly poor!') When she comes to London to work at Rutland & Co, publishers, Mark Rutland invites her to a rose show. There, Marnie sees 'people of the type I'd only really seen since I came to London. Although I'd like to have put a bomb under them, you had to admit they carried their money well. I stood by and listened to one woman ordering six dozen Peace and four dozen Dusky Maiden and three dozen Opera, and I tried to think what the size of her rose garden was, because she only wanted these as "replacements".' Invited to visit Mark's mother in her comfortable, tastefully-furnished London flat, Marnie can't help thinking of her own mother. 'My mother had been the better looking of the two, but it was like comparing Forio with a horse that had been used to pull a dust cart all its life. It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair.' Mark and Marnie spend their honeymoon in the Mediterranean. On the island of Ibiza, Marnie notices a pretty young girl talking to some older women 'who were all in black, and wrinkled and weatherbeaten as if they'd spent forty years in the sun and rain'. Marnie guesses that the girl will look like them soon enough. She says to Mark, 'She's trapped - no escape.' He is (literally) philosophical: 'Oh, yes, I agree. Though if you weep for her you weep for all the world. We're all trapped the instant we're born - and we stay so until we die.' Hitchcock first read Winston Graham's novel when he was preparing The Birds. One brief passage in the novel shows that he probably borrowed from it for the current film. Mark Rutland's cousin, and rival for Marnie, is Terry Holbrook. (A bit of a bounder, he reminds me of both Jack Favell in Rebecca and the aggressive Lil in the film version of Marnie. Lil isn't in the novel.) At one point Terry tells Marnie that she lives in 'a gilded cage'. She informs the reader: 'I tucked my legs under me on the sofa, and then, seeing Terry's look, pulled my skirt down.' In short, it's possible to see in Marnie a continuity from at least Psycho (with its 'private traps') through The Birds (where Melanie also tucks her legs under her on a sofa) to Torn Curtain (with its actual contrast of East Berlin, amidst its war ruins, and the more 'progressive' capitalist West). Now, I want to return briefly to one of Douglas's emails that came during the week. He writes: 'I wonder whether the name Forio is not also intended to remind us of the "Furies" - in this case, the "Furies" hiding within Marnie, but also within Mark, and all of us. The dark horse theme [see March 30, above] lends itself well to this.' Indeed it does. In the novel, Marnie is indeed called 'a dark horse' (by one of her office colleagues). And the novel makes a point of likening both Marnie and Mark to cats. Forced by Mark to return to Rutlands, and taken to visit his mother, Marnie feels 'like a caged cat pretending to be a blushing timid canary'. (In the film, of course, after one of her former victims, Strutt, appears, Marnie gets herself up 'like a cat burglar and packed for a world cruise' as she prepares to flee. See frame-capture below.) During the honeymoon, after Mark has finally lost patience and had his way with the frigid Marnie - the novel isn't unsympathetic to either character - she tells the reader that 'his strength, like a cat's strength, didn't show'. Suddenly she is properly awake, 'and in a second my mind was full up with every second of recollection as if suddenly an empty cage was full of flapping vultures.' Suicide seems the only way out. More next time.

April 1 - 2007
As you were on the matter of word-origins of the name of the Italian seaside town Forio (see above entry). Douglas in Heidelberg, Germany - our regular esteemed correspondent DF - who is a professional linguist, says that neither of the suggested derivations stands up linguistically. Both are merely the speculations of what Douglas calls 'folk etymology'. He does note that there's a Latin word 'foria', meaning 'diarrhoea', but feels that such a meaning is 'hardly a candidate'! (Still, if that volcano behind the town was once active ...) So I suggest that the black volcano itself may be the association of the name given to Marnie's horse by author Winston Graham. The volcano does look a bit horse-like in the photo above, doesn't it?

March 30 - 2007
While I've been away, Marnie came up a couple of times in correspondence. I've mentioned before how it's possible to say that Freud arrived on the London stage in 1926 - the same year that the German film Secrets of a Soul (d. G.W. Pabst), about a knife phobia, first screened there, and Hitchcock's film The Lodger, about a possibly-murderous young man with a sister-complex (which may be linked to a mother-complex) received its world premiere there. (At about this time, notes Patrick McGilligan, Hitchcock 'browsed' some Freud.) The play was Cyril Campion's 'The Lash', described as showing 'how a man's character may be determined by a forgotten scare in childhood'. It opened at the Royalty Theatre, and was successful enough to receive a provincial run the following year when a young actress named Madeleine Carroll appeared in it. All I really know of its plot is that at the climax an angry father goes berserk and almost beats his grown-up son to death with a horsewhip. At this point, I imagine, some sort of flashback occurs ... Unfortunately, the 1934 film version, a 'quickie' directed by Henry Edwards and featuring John Mills in the cast, seems to have disappeared. But an antecedent of Marnie it certainly was. I've also discussed before the brief scene in Marnie where Mark on the honeymoon cruise tells Marnie about African flatid bugs which may spend their lives clustered together 'in the shape of a flower' (as camouflage against predators). It's like a Nietzschean parable, I've suggested, aimed at the timid souls whose 'herd morality' Nietzsche (and now Mark?) abhorred. If you would like to know more about flatid bugs, here's a link: http://www.mobot.org/mobot/madagascar/drytropical.asp?order=40. Now, have you ever considered the significance of the name of Marnie's beloved black stallion Forio? On Forio she lavishes, and gets back, all of the physical affection and love that a forgotten childhood trauma - involving her mother and a sailor - has prevented her giving and receiving from other people, starting with her mother. The horse is so-named in Winston Graham's excellent 1961 novel. I also note that there Marnie goes to a psychiatrist named Dr (Charles) Roman - read on. Well, Forio is the name of a small coastal town on the island of Ischia, in southern Italy, a town physically dominated by the large black extinct volcano behind it. (See photo below.) That does seem apt, don't you think? (Why am I reminded of Mitch Brenner's unflattering description of San Francisco in The Birds: 'an anthill at the foot of a bridge'?!) Moreover, apparently the name of the town derives from the Latin 'flos', meaning 'flower'. Alternatively, the town and the name come from the Greek 'Khoria', which in the late Middle Ages indicated non-fortified villages, open to enemies. Hmm! I think we can make something of that! And perhaps Winston Graham intended some sort of contrast with the name of the psychiatrist Roman - whom the novel treats with respect - because of the association with Rome, the eternal city. Of course, the sheer fact that Forio in Graham's novel and Hitchcock's film is literally 'a dark horse' shouldn't be forgotten. Nor should the meaning of such a creature in dream-symbolism: Jung's 'Man and His Symbols' (1964) notes that a black horse may represent the Unconscious. (So the scene in the film in which Forio bolts with Marnie on him, nearly killing them both - Forio has to be put down - thereby gains in significance. The scene, which I find incredibly moving, leads in any case to Marnie's 'abreaction' at the film's climax.)

March 26 - 2007
Sorry, my main computer (from which this webpage is published) has unexpectedly been away at the service-centre for a couple of weeks. I didn't mean to leave up for so long my 'note of protest' that was in last time's 'blog' (and is now removed). Blogging of the regular kind (film analysis, and the like) resumes tonight or tomorrow. Some News & Comment items are also coming in the next few hours. K.M.

March 9 - 2007
If my readers will forgive me, there's no extended "Editor's Day"/"Editor's Week" entry today. However, here's a short item that will interest some of our readers. If you were struck by Michael Walker's recent report in our News & Comment section on Maurice Elvey's film The Water Gipsies (1932), co-scripted by Alma Reville, the good news is that it's available in an American version on VHS. The bad news is that this American version (59') appears to be about twenty minutes shorter than the recently-seen UK version (78').

March 3 - 2007
We were talking yesterday of author Wilkie Collins (friend and collaborator of Charles Dickens) as a major predecessor of Hitchcock. T.S. Eliot referred to Collins as 'never dull' - practically what Truffaut said of Hitchcock. Both Collins and Hitchcock are acknowledged masters of suspense - and of sheer story-telling. Hitchcock defined his intentions thus: 'We try to tell a good story and develop a hefty plot.' Collins wrote: 'I'm sick to death of novels with an earnest purpose. ... Good gracious me! isn't it the original intention or purpose, or whatever you call it, of a work of fiction to set out distinctly by telling a story?' Staggeringly, Collins isn't even mentioned in the book 'Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism' (1995) by Paula Marantz Cohen. Well, Collins's 'The Woman in White' (1860) is one of my favourite novels, and its 'hefty plot' not the least of its delights. But that apart, it offers the reader one of the most intriguing apparition-figures in all fiction, Anne Catherick - she of the novel's title - as well as one of the most beguiling of all villains, Count Fosco. On this website, I have likened Collins's 'woman in white' to Hitchcock's 'woman in grey suit', i.e., 'Madeleine', in Vertigo, and Count Fosco to the same film's Gavin Elster. The nocturnal opening of 'The Woman in White', in which a distraught Anne Catherick is encountered on Hampstead Heath (an incident based on something that actually happened to Collins) is one of the most memorable scenes in fiction: the makers of Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly gratefully adapted it to the opening of their 1955 film noir in which Mickey Spillane (Ralph Meeker) suddenly sees in his car's headlights a woman (Cloris Leachman) dressed only in a raincoat, and has to brake sharply before offering her a lift. In real life, one summer's night in the 1850s Wilkie Collins was walking with friends (among them the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais) in North London when they heard a piercing scream from a nearby villa and then suddenly a beautiful woman dressed in flowing white robes was running past them. Collins, intrigued, pursued the woman into the night. According to accounts published years afterwards, the woman was Caroline Elizabeth Graves who ended up living with Collins for many years. The knife-wielding apparition in Collins's "The Dream Woman" (see yesterday) may be an early version of Anne Catherick/Caroline Graves. Suggesting this, N.P. Davis ('The Life of Wilkie Collins', 1956) develops an interpretation of the story in which the dream-woman (whose 'double' marries the story's Isaac Scatchard) is opposed by the suspicious, protective mother, who may herself be based on Collins's own mother Harriet. As noted yesterday, a later Collins biographer, Catherine Peters, seems to accept this interpretation of "The Dream Woman", speculating that the story is about Collins's fear of marriage. Certainly the story's mother is dead-set against her son's marriage to the woman called Rebecca Murdoch. At one point she exhorts him: 'Be warned! Oh, my son, be warned! Isaac! Isaac! let her go, and do you stop with me!' Obviously there are Hitchcockian elements in some of this! Another story mentioned yesterday aprops Psycho was Collins's "The Lady of Glenwith Grange". The house itself, with a figure glimpsed at one of the windows, is like a premonition of the Psycho house as we first see it. The interior of the house also may make you think of Psycho. It has been preserved - at the request of a mother on her death-bed - exactly as it was years earlier. Here's the narrator: 'Every work that I took up had been written at least fifteen or twenty years since. The prints hanging round the walls (towards which I next looked) were all engraved from devotional subjects by the old masters: the music-stand contained no music of later date than the compositions of Haydn and Mozart. Whatever I examined besides, told me, with the same consistency, the same strange tale.' Could Hitchcock have used this passage as a basis for Lila Crane's exploration of the interior of Norman Bates's house? Finally, I'll just mention one more Collins story, "Miss Jéromette and the Clergyman" (1875). As we noted here recently, Hitchcock's I Confess was based on a 1902 French play. And in fact stories and plays about clerics or would-be clerics tempted by love were commonplace at the turn of the 19th century. Hall Caine's 'The Christian' (1897) comes to mind. But Collins's story was dated rather earlier. It's basically a ghost story, and it hinges on the fact that as a young man the clergyman had had an affair with Miss Jéromette, even though she frankly admitted that she was a 'love-slave' to another man. Some years later her ghost appears to the clergyman, revealing that the other man had murdered her ...

March 2 - 2007
Bernard Herrmann was dead right when in the early 1960s he compared Hitchcock to the popular English storytellers Charles Dickens (1812-70) and (William) Wilkie Collins (1824-89). Collins's advice to his fellow 'sensation novelists' - 'Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em wait' - anticipated Hitchcock by about a century. That is my topic for today and probably tomorrow. (By the way, the Herrmann observation is re-printed on our Dickens page. When I first read it, in 2001, I emailed some friends, including Bill Krohn, about how elated I was at finding my own thoughts on the Dickens-Collins-Hitchcock connection thus endorsed! Moreover, as Dickens and Collins were close friends and collaborators, it almost looks as if Herrmannn wanted to compare that friendship/collaboration to his with Hitchcock. Which was both astute and rather touching of 'Bernie', I'd say.) Hitchcock expressed his admiration of both Dickens and Collins to biographer Charlotte Chandler. His short story "Gas", written while still a teenager, shows a Collins influence perhaps rather more than a Poe influence (contra customary wisdom). I've previously pointed out on this website how a striking moment in To Catch a Thief (1955), when Francie confronts John with the accusation, 'Mother's jewels! Give them back to me!', is taken from a central scene in Collins's novel 'The Moonstone' (1868) - 'Freudian' double-meanings and all! (Hitchcock was probably reminded of 'The Moonstone' by a recent two-part adaptation for the 'Suspense' radio show - November 16 and 23, 1953 - in which daughter Patricia had a small part.) Now, speaking of Freudian mothers, never think that either Robert Bloch's or Hitchcock's Psycho was without some literary precedents, notably in stories by Collins! The latter's "The Dream Woman" was first published in the Christmas Number of Dickens's journal 'Household Words' for 1855, and kept getting expanded by Collins thereafter (the last time in 1874). Here's a synopsis: 'Isaac Scatchard, an itinerant ostler, wakes on the night of his birthday to see the apparition of a woman trying to stab him with a clasp knife. Seven years later he marries Rebecca Murdoch, against the wishes of his mother who recognises her from Isaac's description as the dream woman. Rebecca takes to drink and fulfills the prophecy by attacking him on his birthday. She disappears and Isaac can never again sleep at night for fear she will return to kill him.' From this bare outline, the connection to Psycho may appear slight. That's because practically all of the psychology and atmosphere and suspense have been removed! Nonetheless, for starters, both "The Dream Woman" and Psycho are about what scholar Barbara Creed (in her 1995 book 'The Monstrous Feminine') calls 'the phallic woman', the castrating female armed with her own knife (= penis). That's a scarey enough concept in itself! By rights, women are supposed to 'lack' such an object and to 'envy' men for having it (as Freud pointed out). The fantasy of encountering such a woman may be the particular prerogative of men with Oedipal problems, these linked to a dominating mother - which is just what both Collins's Isaac Scatchard and Hitchcock's Norman Bates have. Notice in Collins's story how the woman with the knife always appears to Isaac - or threatens to appear to him - at the hour of his birth, which is about as forceful a symbol of a man's lasting bond to his mother as you can get. Moreover, apropos an anticipation of Psycho, the crucial first knife attack occurs one dark night at a lonely inn where Isaac, travelling on foot, is forced to put up because rain has started to fall and he is still 'fifteen miles' from home (rather than Fairvale!). Alone in his room, he feels safe and reasonably optimistic about his future (though he has just failed to secure a job at a distant mansion). A light supper of bread and ale with the inn-keeper, and desultory conversation about horses and horse-racing, have further lulled his mind. Suddenly he sits up in bed to see a fine, blonde woman confronting him with an upraised knife which she then repeatedly attempts to stab him with! (Somehow Isaac escapes the attack, and stumbles out into the night, leaving the inn-keeper convinced that Isaac has been dreaming!) Collins scholars speculate that this story is about the author's deep fears concerning the nature of marriage (see, for example, Catherine Peters, 'The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins', 1991: WayBack Machine.) I'll have more to say about this tomorrow. Meanwhile, for another fine Collins short story containing anticipations of Psycho (and of Dickens's 'Great Expectations'), read his "The Lady of Glenwith Grange" (1856). Old dark houses are at least as old as the Gothic fiction of the late 18th century and early 19th century (including stories by Poe). But the description of the titular house in Collins's story, both outside and inside, is closer to Psycho again. For example, on first approaching Glenwith Grange, the narrator notices at an upstairs window a little girl with 'a changeless unmeaning smile on her parted lips'. The significance of the little girl - who is retarded - will only appear later in the story. Continued tomorrow.

February 23 - 2007
How resourceful Hitchcock was. For I Confess, based on the 1902 play by Paul Anthelme, 'Nos deux consciences' (which Bill Krohn tells me is all set indoors), Hitchcock needed to dramatise in a cinematic way how Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift) and Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter) are found in a compromising situation by Villette. (This was when Michael had just returned from war service and before he became a priest. Ruth, who still loves him, hasn't told him that she is married.) So Hitchcock came up with the idyllic day in the Quebec countryside that is interrupted by a sudden rainstorm, forcing Michael and Ruth to seek shelter in a gazebo (frame-capture below), where Vilette, who knows Ruth, spots them ... How clever of Hitchcock to think of that! Well, actually he didn't so much think of it as remember it! The entire incident comes from one of his favourite novels - 'Love and Mr Lewisham' (1900), by H.G. Wells - specifically its chapter called "The Scandalous Ramble". (There, young trainee schoolteacher Mr Lewisham and the girl he knows only as 'Miss Henderson' take a stroll one afternoon across local meadows; when a shower of rain catches them in the open they run for shelter in a farm shed. By the time the shower ends, they have come to know each other rather better - Miss Henderson's name, it turns out, is 'Ethel' - and Mr Lewisham has found Love. Unfortunately, next day he is summoned to the Headmaster's office and told his services are being terminated ...) Now, speaking of the superb I Confess, I'm not sure that its expressionism has ever been done full justice in print. In very limited space, I tried to suggest some of it in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'. For example: 'Quebec City, site of several military battles, is located at the confluence of two rivers. As I Confess begins, the camera moves towards the city's silhouette dominated by the massive Chateau Frontenac, which resembles a castle in a fairy tale. ... But at the end the camera retreats back across the river, the city again wreathed in darkness. Though a city of churches, it has proved not to be the City of God. I Confess is another engrossing film on the "lost paradise" theme.' (While writing some of that, I had both Vertigo and Rebecca in mind.) Also, I wrote this (apropos the city's microcosmic, Old World representativeness): 'I Confess is in various ways timeless. Its subject matter includes murder, blackmail and human suffering. References to the Second World War, and earlier wars, are more potent here than in Rope, and make Keller's murder of Vilette seem part of a much larger scheme of things.' And this: 'indications of human mortality [and transience] are everywhere: the jury foreman combing his hair to hide his bald patch; a crippled girl passing in a street; black smoke drifting over the city; frequent references to eating and digestion.' Invoking the cosmic Will, I concluded: 'The film's "medieval" look is apt.' Another motif of the film is human ego, but I shan't go into that today. I'll simply ask readers to recall my recent quotes here from George Eliot and Henri Bergson (e.g., February 9, above), such as the former's, 'If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.' Well, here are the words of the distant song heard at the start of I Confess and reprised as its love theme, expressive of Ruth's yearning for the 'lost paradise':

Music of the night
One can hear its lonely beat
On each dark deserted street
The dreams and hopes of yesterday
Sigh and slowly drift away: All the sounds of earth unite
Secretly in the night.

February 16 - 2007
I was going to develop the idea of an 'emerging into the light' motif in Hitchcock, something which is particularly strong in Vertigo. That's because the film, especially in its first half, is built on the idea of a slow pursuit of 'Madeleine' by Scottie in which she's continually leading him from light into darkness and out again - and where light = life, and darkness = death. (At one point, 'Madeleine' says that she knows that one day she'll walk into darkness and not return.) Think of such sequences as Podesta's flower shop, the Sequoia forest, the Argosy bookshop. But there's a related motif in Hitchcock, which I'll call the 'And the Band Played On' motif, in which music = life, and its cessation = death. Hitchcock employed such a motif with considerable sophistication in several of his films. The earliest instance might be said to occur in Blackmail with its use of "Miss Up-to-Date" to suggest how the allure of the modern leads Alice into danger. (There is no music during Crewe's murder but afterwards, as Jack Sullivan notes, the music with which the artist had sought to seduce Alice returns: first, in an ironic 'enchanted version' to mark her 'bewilderment and shock', then in a bleak and dark piano version that becomes 'a recurring wind tune'. I take the latter to be what in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I call the 'slithery music' that follows Alice into the street - an effect which Hitchcock must have liked because in Frenzy he had composer Ron Goodwin use something very like it for the scene at night where Rusk disposes of Babs's body.) Another aftermath-effect occurs in Sabotage. After Winnie Verloc learns that her cinema-proprietor husband is responsible for the death of her beloved young brother, Stevie, she wanders into the cinema, disconsolate. But she is momentarily distracted by a Walt Disney 'Silly Symphony' called "Who Killed Cock Robin?". Winnie can't help herself and has to laugh at the image of a singing female robin resembling Mae West. The latter is immediately wooed by a guitar-strumming male robin, the Cock Robin of the cartoon's title. Then a rival Cock Robin appears (see frame-capture below). With his bow and arrow (a different kind of 'instrument') he disposes of the serenader. So life, and its violence, goes on. But who's to say that another would-be Cock Robin won't soon appear? (In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I relate the anarchists of Sabotage - Mr Verloc being one of them - to the terrorists of Juno and the Paycock: both films have a theme of men's violence versus the powerlessness of women. As a line by Sean O'Casey in the earlier film asks, 'Ah, what can God do agen the stupidity o' men!' It's all related to a virility-versus-impotence theme: note that the Verlocs in Sabotage are childless, but at least the end of the film ends on a slightly positive note, with Winnie literally striking a blow for women, then leaving with new friend Ted. However, audiences of the time would have been aware of war-clouds on the horizon ...) Another image I'll just mention briefly is the recurring one of waltzing couples in Shadow of a Doubt. Again it's an image of perversion, set against a time of war, representing (impotent?) serial-killer Uncle Charlie's yearning for 'the good old days' (the 19th century?). It looks like an image of 'normality' and 'life' but in fact, each time it appears, it's associated with Charlie's murders that parallel those on the world-stage. (There's an anticipation here of Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux.) One inevitably thinks of Hitchcock's remark in the 1960s, 'Everything's perverted in a different way'. As for "And the Band Played On" in Strangers on a Train, we noted here recently that the tune is mentioned in the original novel by Patricia Highsmith, and is associated with Miriam, the 'strawberry blonde' who will be strangled (in a kind of 'rape') by Bruno. She, too, has been drawn by the allure of 'having fun', so in a way we've come full circle from Blackmail. But Miriam is killed even while 'her' tune (we've just seen her singing it on the merry-go-round with her two boyfriends) does indeed play on. How ironic! The music stops for her, subjectively, but who is she? After all, hadn't Bruno remarked earlier, 'What's a life or two?' And, interestingly, in the original song, which dates back to the 19th century, events had ended happily: the song's hero named Casey had married the strawberry blonde. Often in Hitchcock, then, there's a short-term view juxtaposed with a long-term one. Even Vertigo works like that. But is it all one vast illusion? I can't help thinking of another observation by Jack Sullivan, this time about music in The Wrong Man. He notes, in effect, how music is the one continuity the film allows, and quotes one of Manny's sons telling the other, 'He'll give us music lessons as soon as he can.' Manny's own advice to his boys is simply, 'Never let them throw you off the beat!' To me this sounds a bit like Kipling's advice, cited in Strangers on a Train: 'If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ .../You'll be man, my son!' But what about the womenin Hitchcock's films? [By the way, I meant to include another piece of music - Poulenc's 'Mouvement Perpetuel', No. 1, that figures so significantly in Rope - in the above discussion. Another time!]

February 9 - 2007
Hitchcock's films are full of tiny moments that have giant impact in the overall effects of his films. Those tiny moments are like our own real-life experiences, indeed they may be drawn (you feel) from such moments. Recently I was delighted, and honoured, that just outside my laundry window a turtle-dove was nesting. Craning forward to look, I forgot that the morning sun was streaming in. Suddenly I realised that the sunlight was striking me, and that the nesting bird could see me behind the glass. (Fortunately, although she was probably as startled as I was, she didn't suddenly fly up and risk breaking her eggs.) As quickly as I could, I retreated backwards, but I had been spotted - the potential damage was done! Well, reader, you know what I thought of, don't you? Yes, I thought of Bruno in Strangers on a Train (see frame-capture below), skulking in shadow at the funfair as he waits to plant the Ronson lighter that would incriminate Guy and suddenly realising that he has advanced into the setting sun's light - so that the fairground employee who looks a bit like Ernest Borgnine can, and does, recognise him. (Whether such a moment invokes Murnau's Nosferatu I leave to you.) In turn, I thought of the wheelchair-bound Jeff in Rear Window when he suddenly realises that Thorwald has spotted him. 'Get back, he's seen us!', says Jeff to Stella, retreating into shadow, but again the damage has been done! Also, I thought of Norman in Psycho after he's cleaned up Cabin One and is about to dispose of Marion's body: suddenly, an overnight lorry (is it?) on the little-used road nearby sweeps by and the light from its headlights rakes Norman with his mop and pail, who must try to look as 'innocent' as he can, i.e., put on yet another act, as if for an unseen camera, which indeed is the story of his inauthentic, schizoid life (but may be the story of yours and mine, too?). Of course, the inverse of this sort of thing is in Stage Fright, where Charlotte Inwood is the arch professional performer. Her whole life is a knowing act, although it depends for its support on others performing up to her. So she surrounds herself with servants and sycophants, and feels betrayed, as if by a pet dog that has bitten her, when she is finally brought to justice for helping to murder her husband. (The story is loosely based on the famous Bywaters and Thompson murder case.) But I don't want to dwell on the 'Pirandellism' of Hitchcock's films just now, whereby Hitchcock 'implicated' his audience in onscreen events. Pertinent to our main theme is how Marlene Dietrich, who played Charlotte Inwood, reportedly was always acutely aware of just where every stage light was situated and what each was 'doing' for her. Reportedly, she supervised the lights and cinematography for all of her scenes in her films (post-Sternberg, anyway), including Stage Fright. Yet perhaps some reference to 'Pirandellism' is inevitable. That's because I think that these moments I've mentioned - and countless others like them in Hitchcock - subliminally remind us of the flow and the texture and the feel of 'life' which, if we were to be fully attuned to it, would be seen as a continuity, not a discontinuity. Cf the quote from George Eliot I put up here on January 11: 'If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.' Henri Bergson, of course, thought that just this awareness of 'the uninterrupted humming of life's depths' could be gained by a superior 'intuition'. But Hitchcock, for one, had his doubts: 'Reality is something that none of us can stand, at any time.' Nonetheless, he strove to make films that were a simulacrum of 'life' (albeit 'with the dull bits removed' - more like 'pieces of cake' than 'slices of life', as he wittily put it), and thereby restore to us that sense of wholeness which is felt to be missing from our lives. That's why I can agree with Robin Wood that there's a 'therapeutic' theme in Hitchcock's films, and why such quintessential Hitchcock movies as The 39 Steps and North by Northwest offer something for everybody, i.e., people from 'all classes' (cf the Prologue in the Theatre in Goethe's 'Faust'!). And why the line, 'I never felt more alive!', spoken by hero Roger Thornhill near the end of North by Northwest, is so potent. Just a couple of further points to end on. First, the moments I've mentioned are part of a broader pattern and texture of 'life' - both in reality (if we could but see it) and in the films themselves. For example, Strangers on a Train is all about being in and out of the public eye and the public gaze (cf its tennis scenes, for example). Rear Window is all about looking and being looked at (and I also think of the moment in which Thorwald unwittingly betrays his presence to Jeff by his glowing cigarette in his darkened apartment - an effect, incidentally, that Hitchcock may have remembered from the stage version of 'Bulldog Drummond' or from the stage version of 'Rope'). Psycho is all about duplicity and guilty secrets and trying to avoid being 'shown up'. (Marion has her own scene of having to 'out-stare' headlights and the gaze of others - moments, incidentally, that may in turn owe something to the road scenes in Saboteur, including the moment when a cop shines a torch in Pat's eyes.) Second, although the moments I've mentioned appear 'painful' ones (e.g., being spotted by someone whom you didn't want to spot you!), I think that there's a paradox at work here. In the context of film, they are actually gratifying. After all, there's a line that was going to be in Vertigo, about how 'You've got to prove you're alive these days!' The moments I've mentioned help to make each spectator feel 'more alive' again, and help put each of us back in touch with a significance we sense was eluding us. To be continued.

February 2 - 2007
Something different today. Dr Nandor Bokor has reminded me how we both once noticed that footage from a favourite film of ours, Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (1955), scripted by John Michael Hayes, turned up in the rather less rosy view of New England presented by Mark Robson's Peyton Place (1957), again scripted by Hayes. Now Nandor has spotted that Harry was also plundered in the episode of AHP called "The End of Indian Summer" (air date: 24 February, 1957), directed by Robert Stevens. (Script was by James Cavanagh, who later did a first-draft of Psycho, and the episode featured Gladys Cooper, from Rebecca, as suspected husband-murderer, nice Mrs Gillespie.) Nandor has sent along frame-captures. The first is from "The End of Indian Summer".

Thanks for those, Nandor. I'm reminded of something I point out in my book: how a charming rural scene from Hitchcock's The Farmer's Wife (1928) turns up again early in The Skin Game (1931), the first of the director's three films to star Edmund Gwenn (Foreign Correspondent, The Trouble With Harry). Now, while I'm thanking people ... My thanks, too, to Prof. Richard Allen, whose interview with the screenwriter of Psycho, the late Joseph Stefano, is now up on this site. Also, Richard has revised his piece on camera-movement in Vertigo (one of our site's ACADEMIC HITCHCOCK items), and that's now up, too. K.M.

January 26 - 2007
Tonight some random, even stream-of-consciousness, thoughts about To Catch a Thief (1955), starting with that travel poster in the credits sequence. The legend on the poster reads, 'If you love life you'll love France'. (See frame-capture below.) In a moment, I'll try and relate this, and the film itself, to some of the things I said last time, notably about how in Hitchcock 'life' is constantly associated by the films' characters, rightly or wrongly, with the summum bonum. (I may also refer to the perennial Hitchcock theme of temporal justice versus eternal justice - the terminology is that of the philosopher Schopenhauer - as specified here last time and discussed in the essay on To Catch a Thief in my book. A related motif in the film concerns luck: Mrs Stevens is a millionaire by simple good fortune - oil having been discovered on the family land back in Texas - and she now suitably celebrates, and shows off, that fortune in Monte Carlo's casinos; meanwhile, John Robie's associates are described as working 'like idiots for a loaf of bread' at Bertani's restaurant in nearby Cannes. The film's moral dimension comes into play here: what do you do with your particular lot in life? But again, when you analyse it, the film provides no clear-cut answers. For example, is the thief Danielle's motivation shameful or rather admirable? - at any rate compared with that of the hero Robie, whom we hear admit that his pre-War stealing had been entirely selfish: 'I kept everything myself.') Now, the first thing to say about that travel poster is that it prefigures the rest of the film in several ways - a film which is itself about 'love' and 'life' and 'France'. Also, the notion of travel will recur in the film, as when Hughson naively describes Robie's home and environs as 'a kind of travel-folder Heaven'. (For Robie, it may actually be more of a Limbo-world, symbolised by the eerie green of a rooftop at night which will be the scene of his showdown with Danielle: I'm reminded of something I wrote this week to introduce some 'Notes on Vertigo' which I've just put up on this site, re-printed from "Editor's Day". In the introduction I mention how various Hitchcock characters must visit and confront a negative, even 'anti-life', image of themselves on their way, one hopes, to a form of redemption. Thus Robie's rooftop scenes may be seen to roughly correspond to the frozen Gabriel Valley of Spellbound or the gloomy Sequoia forest of Vertigo.) Now notice the scene depicted in that poster: it is of the very view from a window of a Cannes hotel that we will shortly see in actuality. In particular, we'll see those same palm trees in the street below the hotel. Hitchcock liked this sort of visual 'echo' effect, and often used it. For example, I'm reminded of the start of Psycho. After the streaming horizontals of the Saul Bass-designed credits, the camera moves toward and under a partly-raised venetian blind whose slats replicate those earlier horizontals; later, in the realty office, a line of print on the sliding glass door of Mr Lowery's inner office similarly 'echoes' the streaming lines of the credits. Another example: the patterned lettering of the Frenzy credits is effectively repeated shortly afterwards in the pattern of a bead-curtain in Forsythe's pub. This sort of thing is part of what I call Hitchcock's making of a 'world', each film having its own particular 'world' unified in tone and appearance. In each case, too, there's a sense of a progression from the schematic to the actual, which is pleasing (though not without a certain 'Pirandellism' since the 'actual' is itself only an image and embedded in a quite stylised evocation of 'life', i.e., the actual film!). It's worth remembering that To Catch a Thief was originally going to start with scenes of a Mardi Gras parade, evoking both 'life' and 'masquerade', thus anticipating the film's climactic costume-ball attended by some of the Riviera's wealthiest people. The 'progression' here (I'm reminded, too, of Mr Memory's 'progress' in The 39 Steps from East End music hall to the West End Palladium) would have anticipated the one of North by Northwest which begins at street level, with its home-bound 'faceless masses' in New York, and moves to its climax adjoining the exclusive, Frank Lloyd Wright-like residence of Philip Vandamm, atop Mount Rushmore. The irony in both cases is that the social and topographical 'progression' is as nothing compared to the private self-reckoning of the hero, involving a would-be nemesis-figure: Robie and his would-be nemesis, Danielle (whom he calls a 'child'); Thornhill and Vandamm's henchman, the leering Leonard. On such a private self-reckoning depends the hero's real future happiness in a life-affirming romance.

January 19 - 2007
MW emailed me to observe how Hitchcock as director normally eschewed the supernatural, exceptions being a couple of his AHP episodes ('Banquo's Chair', 'The Case of Mr Pelham'). Then MW asked about Hitchcock's project of filming J.M. Barrie's 'Mary Rose': 'Wouldn't this have necessarily brought in the supernatural? It just doesn't seem to fit with the other movies.' Well, yes and no, I'd say. You'd have to allow that The Birds doesn't exactly deal with natural behaviour as we know it. And certain films, notably The Wrong Man, admit an ambiguity (apropos Divine intervention). When Hitchcock said, 'Reality is something that none of us can stand, at any time', I'm sure he meant it - and that the reality he was speaking of wasn't necessarily just social reality. After all, as the villainous Milly in Under Capricorn reminds us, 'The Lord moves in mysterious ways/His wonders to perform' - a matter I'll come back to. But first, social reality. Hitchcock's text here might be the same as G.K. Chesterton's in his collection 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' (1922), involving the investigator Horne Fisher. The collection consists of eight tales. The criminals in them are eminent people, even certain members of the Cabinet. So Fisher finds that his detective abilities must bow to unorthodox imperatives. For moral, social, political, or security reasons, justice does not take its usual course. Now, the flawed nature of worldly (social) justice was a perennial Hitchcock theme, most notably, perhaps, in The Paradine Case. (Indeed, Hitchcock himself was fascinated by this idea and, like Lindsay Anderson, director of Britannia Hospital, clearly knew a thing or two about just how human, all too human, were certain 'hanging judges' and other agents of the law.) Actually, at this point it seems only fitting to invoke the philosopher Schopenhauer's distinction between temporal justice - flawed and fallible - and what he called eternal justice, which is the true justice inherent in the scheme of things when it has finally run its course. I find such a distinction implicit, as I say, in any number of Hitchcock films. When Gavin Elster goes scot-free at the end of Vertigo, that's a case in point. Hitchcock is saying: leave him to God (or eternal justice). Note that Schopenhauer was not a 'believer', but that he himself pointed out that many of his philosophical concepts were to be found in various religions in the form of parables, etc. Which raises this further aspect of Hitchcock's remark, 'Reality is something that none of us can stand, at any time'. Not only is society set up in an 'artificial' way, a mere structure of convenience (whose workings are often concealed from us, for one reason or another), but the very nature of the cosmos is hidden from us, so that we all live in a state of illusion, of individual subjectivity (the time-space-causality nexus of external perception, which I believe to be the deep subject of, for example, The Wrong Man). Accordingly, coming now to Hitchcock's Mary Rose project, I see it as combining elements from Hitchcock's 'little people' films (for example, Shadow of a Doubt, The Wrong Man) and Vertigo. And as Vertigo itself owes much to William Dieterle's Portrait of Jennie (which definitely contains supernatural elements), so Mary Rose would have been further acknowledgement of that fact. I conveyed most of the above to MK in an email. Then I resorted to a bit of self-quotation (from 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story') to bring Barrie's 'Mary Rose' into sharper focus. Here's the gist. In Shadow of a Doubt Mr Newton and his neighbour Herb are loosely based on Mr Newland and his friend Mr Amy in 'Mary Rose'. Mr Newton and Herb are two of Hitchcock's 'little people' I mentioned just now. Not so the interloper in the Newton household, Uncle Charlie, who is the Devil incarnate. Early in the film, young Charlie summons her uncle to Santa Rosa, for she feels that her family is stagnating and needs 'saving'. (In Hitchcock, stagnation and boredom are anti-life, and 'life' is constantly associated by the films' characters, rightly or wrongly, with the summum bonum. For example, Fred at the start of Rich and Strange demands, 'I want more life. Life, I tell you.') When a telegram arrives to say that Uncle Charlie is already on his way, young Charlie feels sympatico with her uncle, to the point of starting to believe, with a teenager's zeal, in mental telepathy. Of course, the film leaves this ambiguous. But here's my main point: 'Perhaps in the larger scheme of things Uncle Charlie really does [finally] "save" the Newtons.' That of course is seeing things from the viewpoint of eternal justice; Chesterton might have substituted, 'from the viewpoint of the Day of Judgement'. In any event, compare what I said before about Gavin Elster (another Mephistophelian figure) in Vertigo. Finally, here's another passage from the Shadow of a Doubt section of my book that I quoted to MW: 'By the end of ['Mary Rose'], using the device of Mary Rose's supernatural comings and goings, Barrie has succeeded in showing the audience something beautiful and important about his "average" family, the Morelands. The effect is very similar to that achieved by Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" (1938).' Likewise, it's similar to the effect achieved by Shadow of a Doubt itself. So I would say that Mary Rose both does, and doesn't, 'fit with the other movies'!

January 11 - 2007
Heck, I really need another week of "Editor's Day" to finish this response to Prof. Thomas Leitch! But after yesterday's little item, I can already hear readers muttering, 'Methinks he doth protest too much!' To Leitch, then, I would simply say: why should I evolve my 'critical orientation' on Hitchcock (which I don't think Leitch understands), when - unlike many 'orientations' derived from Theory - mine I believe to be (1) true, because fundamental; (2) pragmatic, because related to my practice of yogic meditation and my belief in openness; (3) attuned to Hitchcock, who clearly was concerned with life/death matters in his art, including in a Bergsonian sense; and (4) sustaining, in that it gives me a counter-position to those of Theorists. Frankly, I regard many Theorists as terrorists, and Leitch on the wrong side (theirs). I think I understand 9/11 (it was aimed at de-stabilising the US and its allies) and can see an analogy with Theory. But I do not condone such tactics of Theory as deliberate obscurantism and bad writing (cf January 9, above), very little more than I condone 9/11. Now, if only because I'm feeling whimsical, here are some quotes ... (1) 'the uninterrupted humming of life's depths' - Henri Bergson. (2) 'We do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.' - George Eliot. (3) 'Human kind/Cannot bear very much reality' - T.S. Eliot. (4) 'Reality is something that none of us can stand, at any time' - Alfred Hitchcock. (5) 'If (and how shall they not?) the sensitive and the imaginative freely let their "hearts lie open" to the suffering of the world, how are they to retain any health or faith for living?' - F.R. Leavis. To Thomas Leitch I say: if I had space enough and time, I would tie all of these quotes to my 'Schopenhauerian' understanding of Hitchcock - an understanding of which I am not ashamed, and which I only regret that Leitch seems to lack the empathy to appreciate. For a hint of what I would make of these quotes, see my note 3 here (where I do in fact comment on the Bergson quote):Dickens - Dream of Cinema. I am sympathetic, to a degree, to Prof. Sid Gottlieb's point, quoted by Leitch (p. 25), on the need for Hitchcock studies to be de-centred (the editor of a 'Hitchcock Annual' would write that, of course). But inasmuch as my own yogic/'Schopenhauerian' 'critical orientation' aims at pragmatically solving the paradox of being open while keeping a certain 'faith for living' (a lot of that faith, in my case, derives from my engaging with Hitchcock films), I'm not about to meekly say: sure, Prof. Leitch, given that all commentators on Hitchcock aren't of equal insight (Laurent Bouzereau, say, isn't up there yet with Robin Wood, is he?), it's quite okay if my own decades-long, full-time specialism in Hitchcock studies, much of it spent discriminating what holds up to scrutiny from that which is merely specious or conceptual - a specialism which you, Tom Leitch, seem to equate with 'authoritarianism' and 'theology' - is simply relegated by you to 'not of the same order as the academic model'. In other words, keep on defining me out and trivialising the way you think about my work. That way, you'll be like a lot of other academics who do the same. Just the other day I emailed one of the editors of the 'Hitchcock Annual' (not Sid Gottlieb this time), who has written a paper on Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock, and asked him whether he could tell me if du Maurier had read Arthur Machen. (I needed that information for my own current work on Hitchcock. I mentioned how I thought that Machen's 'The Great God Pan' had influenced 'Rebecca'.) He ignored my question, and merely fired back, 'Without looking, can you spell the name of James Stewart's character in Rear Window?' (It's 'Jefferies', of course, and the studio screenplay is available.) I rest my case. Meanwhile, I thank reader RBP Jr, who just emailed me to say that he had recently stumbled on my 'wonderful Hitchcock blog'. Hmm. I'll keep it going, then. (Next week: something entirely different.) [Footnote. My thanks to Richard Allen of the 'Hitchcock Annual' who has sent along for publication here his interview with screenwriter Joseph Stefano. It is now up. I also thank Sid Gottlieb of the 'Hitchcock Annual' for his kind email recently. KM.]

January 10 - 2007
A strange thing about Prof. Tom Leitch's put-down of me (for so I'll call it) in the new 'Hitchcock Annual' is that he does it twice. Talk about over-kill! He first defines me out by calling my 'review' of Patrick McGilligan's Hitchcock book 'theological' and 'authoritarian', as opposed to 'academic' (pp. 22-23). Well, I've already responded to that: see entry for January 5, above. Then towards the end of his article he labels my website 'theological' and 'panoptic' (supervisory/authoritarian, after Bentham/Foucault), this time as opposed to 'scholarly' (ouch!) but clearly meaning 'academic' (p. 26). So again Leitch is defining me out. Tonight I'll try and respond to that particular put-down as well as to Leitch's accusation (quoted here yesterday) that my 'critical orientation ... has evolved remarkably little despite half a lifetime's exposure to Hitchcock commentary' (p. 23). Those two things are connected, I feel. That is to say, if some people out there would prefer Mogg to be more 'academic' - with his 'critical orientation' developed and visibly spelt out - then perhaps they should give him the opportunity for those things to happen, not define him out of contention! I feel that I've a couple of major Hitchcock books inside me: maybe Leitch could line me up a juicy contract with his nearby University of Delaware Press for the first (or both?) of those books? After all, when Titan Books, London, approached me in 1998 to write on Hitchcock, I did do it and the resulting book was up to commercial standard! (True, there was help from friends, like Dan Auiler!) Likewise, when 'Senses of Cinema' asked me to write a lengthy profile of Hitchcock, I did do that and the result has been called a real contribution to scholarship. Hmm. Sorry about the self-promotion! But now here are some related thoughts, in no particular order. First, I regret that some academics short-change this site - which was set up to facilitate genuine Hitchcock scholarship (though, yes, I detest narrow theoretical approaches to Hitchcock!). One reason I left academia and went into a personal limbo for a while (reading Schopenhauer, et al.!) was that I felt ill-at-ease in an institutional setting; but I don't see that fact as disqualifying me from scholarship. Sure, my book reviews here - confined usually to one screen of print (600-900 words), and therefore necessarily lacking nuance - are sometimes harsh, but I believe them to be fair. Time and again, some top film professors and critics have privately agreed with my opinions expressed in those reviews. By the same token, some of those same professors are the ones who, like Leitch, have then said, in effect, 'Of course, you're not one of us!' The following is particularly painful to recount. In nearly thirty issues of the hardcopy 'MacGuffin', in my Hitchcock book, and on this website, I have made one particular methodological tool my own: tracking Hitchcock's 'sources', i.e., not just the particular literary text/s being adapted but 'borrowings' from other films, stage plays, novels, true crime, real-life incidents, etc. (Two such 'borrowings' that come to mind: the original of Mrs Danvers in 'Rebecca'; the source of the handcuffs in The 39 Steps. See also the article by me on Vertigo that's on this website.) One day I commented to an editor of the 'Hitchcock Annual' that I had traced at least two hundred of those 'borrowings' and maybe I could write them up as an article on Hitchcock's creativity? For reasons I'm still not clear about, the reply came back: 'We don't think that's feasible!' (I'm paraphrasing). Well, you may say, there's always another day. And indeed there was. Prof. R. Barton Palmer got in touch with me and complimented me on my work. In turn, I sincerely praised his book on film noir, 'Hollywood's Dark Cinema' (1994). The next thing I heard - some time later from a third party - Palmer was now co-editing a two-volume work on ... Hitchcock's sources. It's due out in 2008, and there'll be contributions from a raft of Australian academics. No contribution from Mogg, though. Oh well, I have some regular correspondents whose support I value. Actually, Prof. Leitch, one of those correspondents was in touch with me after yesterday's item here, and made a point that I would myself make. You see, I doubt that you've read some of my stuff that has gone up here for a period (and then, for reasons of space, been removed), such as a long discussion of Schopenhauer and film. My correspondent yesterday - Douglas F. in Heidelberg, Germany - said that my 'critical orientation' and my online discussions of Hitchcock are notable for excluding very little that is pertinent and stands up. He concluded: 'It seems to me that people perhaps don't read what you write as often as they should.' Sorry, but I'll need one more item tomorrow to finish this!

January 9 - 2007
As good fortune would have it, my position is articulated - but by someone far more knowledgeable and able than me - against Jacques Derrida and his followers situated in English departments and suchlike, by Prof. Brian Boyd writing on The American Scholar.org website. The article is found here: (Getting It All Wrong), and employs the insights of the life sciences and evolution to show just how blinkered Derrida and his adherents have always been since they first promoted their particular 'anti-foundationalism' (the idea that there is no secure basis for knowledge) forty years ago. Here are a couple of quotes. (1) '[T]he particular brand of anti-foundationalism Derrida offered in the late 1960s was not the challenge to the whole history of Western thought that he supposed or that literary scholars assumed it must be.' (2) 'Evolutionary biology offers a far deeper critique of and explanation of the origins and development of knowledge, as something, in Derrida's terms, endlessly deferred, yet also, as biology and history show, recurrently enlarged.' (Dear Tom Leitch, I'm going to be very subjective for a moment. Prof. Boyd is from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, which is also the university of Prof. Julian Young, author of 'Schopenhauer' [2005], a fine book which pays particular attention to Schopenhauer's affinity with the viewpoint of evolutionary biology. I shouldn't be surprised if the two professors consulted. However, Boyd's article doesn't actually mention Schopenhauer.) Oh, and there's also this: 'What [opponents] resist in [Derrida-inspired] Cultural Critique is ... the self-contradictory and defeatist claim that all knowledge, except the knowledge of the situatedness of all knowledge, is situated [i.e., limited] and therefore flawed ... [leading to the advocacy by Derrida's followers of deliberate obscurantism]. Hence, in part, the vogue for bad writing, the self-confessedly exclusionary opacity of much writing inspired by Theory.' Gentle reader, I tell you no lies! I have fairly conveyed what the article reports, and which suitably states at the outset: 'Until literature departments take into account that humans are not just cultural or textual phenomena but something more complex, [they] will continue to be the laughing-stock of the [wider] academic world ... [and] continue to lose students and to isolate themselves from the intellectual advances of our time.' Well, at least I now better see through the approaches of Hitchcock 'exegetes' Christopher Morris and Tom Cohen (see January 7, above). And can return to my 'Schopenhauerian' understanding of Hitchcock with a reinvigorated conscience! Who in their right mind would want to, um, read the (deliberately, it seems!!!!!!!!) unreadable Cohen (in particular) when there are so many more worthwhile activities? (For my part, I have George Eliot's 'Middlemarch' waiting. Also Irvin Yalom's 'The Schopenhauer Cure'!) Meanwhile, I'm tempted to merely laugh at this further observation about me by Prof. Leitch in the new 'Hitchcock Annual': '[Mogg's] own critical orientation, which reads Hitchcock's films largely as dramatizations of "the life force - or rather the life-and-death force" - that Arthur Schopenhauer called "the cosmic Will" has evolved remarkably little despite half a lifetime's exposure to Hitchcock commentary'. (p. 23) Leitch, I believe, is quite wrong and/or unfair - and in fact I'll do more than laugh when I explain why, tomorrow.

January 8 - 2007
Dear Thomas Leitch. Speaking of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) ... I rank him tops, as more successful than other philosophers at seeing how the world actually goes, and is. Limping figures who have come later, like Lacan and Derrida and Zizek, are narrow by comparison. (They all, in any case, merely provide further variants on the thought of Schopenhauer's principal mentor, Kant, but - I honestly believe - in less conscientious and wide-ranging ways than Schopenhauer, who believed in 'looking to see'. This matter of actually 'looking to see', and preferring percepts to abstract concepts, is something I'll take up below.) But even if I'm wrong in this, the fact remains that Schopenhauer was the principal father-figure of the Symbolist movement - which we know that Alfred Hitchcock was deeply influenced by. ('For a while, I even had Symbolist dreams', Hitchcock told Charlotte Chandler.) Have you read the last section of my Hitchcock profile for 'Senses of Cinema' (Great Directors), the section headed "Not nothing"? I hold to my view, implicit there, that not only does Schopenhauer's concept of the cosmic Will have empirical validity ('Why is there not nothing?', is indeed my question to you, and what would you call it?!), but that Hitchcock's 'pure cinema' is its close analogue. Accordingly, Hitchcock's films are not about nothing or a mere illusory 'figure in the carpet' (Penelope Houston's derisive term, adapted from Henry James), but about what each viewer senses to be a simulacrum of life itself. That is the deep point of my reading of The 39 Steps that is on the Web (WayBack Machine): The 39 Steps. Now, you accuse me of being 'rarely receptive to the claims of high theory'. Well, it's true that I'm sympathetic to David Bordwell and Noel Carroll's 'post-theory' project (in their 1996 book of that name)! It appeals to my position of yogic detachment and openness. Besides which, as Prof. Tony Williams has reminded me, there is Robin Wood's cogent comment about the 'procrustean bed of film theory': such theory tends to force films into arbitrary straightjackets that often have nothing to do with the dynamic nature of the creative text. That's very like something I've been saying in 'The MacGuffin' for years. But here I'd like to quote from another admired author of mine, Prof. John Carey, whose latest book, 'What Good Are the Arts?' (2005), draws, inter alia, on Noel Carroll's 'A Philosophy of Mass Art' (1998). In criticising many of the baseless, if not ridiculous, claims made for 'high' art, Carey also critiques much 'high' theory. For example, he notes how seldom have such theorists actually 'looked to see': 'It is standard practice for critics to assert how "we" feel in response to this or that artwork, when all they mean is how they feel. Did Aristotle ever check out his theory of tragedy against a cross-section of the audience at Delphi? Apparently not; and criticism has remained resolutely blinkered ever since. The critics of mass art that [Noel] Carroll dissects invariably base their pronouncements on whatever fanciful image of the masses they happen to favour. Consequently their critiques are essentially a branch of imaginative fiction.' (pp. 49-50) Note: Carroll and Carey are talking about such 'high' theorists as Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. Of the former, Carey notes how he claimed of mass art that it 'automatizes and stupifies' people's mental faculties, preventing them from questioning the political and social status quo. But 'Carroll [writes Carey] has no difficulty showing that, in fact, many of the stories and stereotypes of mass art (science fiction, for example, and westerns) are about the possibility of social change. But such evidence would make little impression on Adorno, since his convictions about how mass art works bear no relation to any ascertainable facts. He asserts, for example, that film is such a rapid medium that it "leaves no room for imagination or reflection on the part of the audience". ... Consequently film, as a medium, "forces its victims to equate it directly with reality".' (p. 50) On the other hand, 'Walter Benjamin, another critic who draws his evidence exclusively from his imagination, reaches conclusions about film almost diametrically opposed to Adorno's. He welcomes the advent of film and photography, since they make possible mass-produced art, and replace the semi-religious "aura" of old-style art-works, which instilled respect for tradition. Films, Benjamin believes, encourage critical detachment in their audience.' (p. 50) But Carey soon adds: 'Evidence that watching film enhances an audience's cognitive and perceptual powers in the way he claims is entirely lacking from Benjamin's account, and that is typical of the kind of "theoretical" criticism he is writing.' (p. 51) Tomorrow, hopefully, the threads can start to come together!

January 7 - 2007
Prof. Tom Leitch recently wrote of me: 'Mogg is rarely receptive to the claims of high theory or individual interpretations that conflict with his'. Okay, let me, in back-tracking on something I said yesterday, maybe demonstrate that I'm not quite the impervious-to-theory guy Leitch takes me for. It occurred to me overnight that I may have been too extreme in saying that the Western intellectual tradition has never favoured 'seeing things as they really are'. In my support I had cited Camille Paglia (a passage in which she writes, 'The west insists on the discrete identity of objects ... [a] delusional certitude. Far Eastern culture has never striven against nature in this way') but I should have remembered that later in the same book, 'Sexual Personae', she has another passage with a different emphasis ('The oscillations of the Egyptian calendar [and of the Nile] produced a fruitful duality of point of view, one of the greatest constructs of western imagination' - p. 62). In turn, I remembered Marshall McLuhan's astute characterisation of the twentieth century, how it used 'multiple models for exploration - the technique of the suspended judgment [was] the discovery of the twentieth century as the technique of invention was the discovery of the nineteenth' ('The Medium is the Massage', 1967, p. 69). But that's still not sufficient. The West has had other, if related, approaches to seeing things as they really are, from even earlier times. And I'm not referring to the use of scientific instruments (at least, not per se). At the height of Romanticism (characterized by Jacques Barzun as wanting to embrace all knowledge), Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829) saw how 'the world in its essence is paradoxical and that an ambivalent attitude alone can grasp its contradictory totality'. (In my profile of Hitchcock for 'Senses of Cinema', I demonstrated how it's practically inherent in Hitchcock's 'pure cinema' that it embrace paradox.) Okay. Now let's take one of Leitch's 'high theorists', Prof. Christopher Morris, whose 'The Hanging Figure: On Suspense and the Films of Alfred Hitchcock' (2002) draws especially on the thought of Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man. Morris brings to bear a 'technique of the suspended judgment' all his own. Eschewing the possibility of achieving knowledge by entering directly into the Real - which is always, we're told, mediated by language, thus rendering all analogies groundless - Morris resorts to tracing in Hitchcock's films 'parallel figures' for whatever these can suggestively reveal about the films. His principal such figure is the 'hanging figure' of the book's title. (Morris has heard that the films are about suspense and suspension, but that's not necessarily what he wants to show us.) For each of the films, he nominates an instance of that figure: for example, Alicia 'hang[ing] onto' Devlin as together they descend the staircase at the climax of Notorious; or the birds 'hover[ing] and hang[ing] over Melanie Daniels' in The Birds. Now it's true that in my review of Morris's book for this website, I expressed myself puzzled by the seemingly arbitrary critical 'method' in use here, though I was careful to quote Morris's own explanation: he was seeking to avoid the trap of (conventional) 'Cartesian' and 'hermeneutic' interpretation (no doubt as another Hitchcock author, Tom Cohen, who has read Walter Benjamin, wants to avoid what he calls the 'diauretic trap' when he explicates the films in his grippingly readable 2005 text, 'Hitchcock's Cryptonymies' - spot my little joke). That is, Morris wants to avoid approaches that 'assume the presence of a cognitive or emotive subject representable in language' (conventionally called a person) or assume 'that the meaning of a work's themes are readable in its endings' (as convention would have it). Such negativity! But no matter. Tom Leitch may be surprised to hear that I have read Morris's book - well, much of it - and believe that I have understood many of its insights. One trouble, however, is that I honestly think that a lot of those insights owe nothing to Morris's particular methodology, or to his use of his favoured authorities (Derrida, de Man), but could equally (or better) have been arrived at from a knowledge of Kant and Schopenhauer alone - or from resort to no authorities at all. I am currently preparing my own extended exegesis/report on The Birds, so I regret that I can't very well demonstrate here my position apropos Morris's essay on that film. But, as the central topic of his essay concerns causality, let me invite anyone interested to compare my long 2001 piece on that film, published on the 'Screening the Past' website (WayBack Machine: The Birds). I think the piece stands up quite well (apart from a couple of philosophical-technical matters which I would certainly re-phrase). And I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Dr Nandor Bokor who wrote to me at the time a long email of appreciation. It ended by thanking me for giving him a 'wonderful time' reading my piece and for not writing merely another 'new theoretical "Heath Robinson"' ... Continued tomorrow.

January 6 - 2007
Thomas Leitch in the new 'Hitchcock Annual' wants to categorize my film criticism as authoritarian/theological (see yesterday's entry, above), and cites as evidence my long 'review' of Patrick McGilligan's biography of Hitchcock in which I express regret that McGilligan hadn't read my book, 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (1999), before writing his (2003). Well, I grant that to publicly criticise a top writer for not having read one's own book takes a certain degree of pluck (shall we call it?) - prima facie, at any rate. In fact, I felt that I had to open with that particular gambit in order to write what followed: it was a piece of technique. Three things fortified me, as I recall: (1) the logic of my position (given Dan Auiler's heartening endorsement - thanks, dear Dan); (2) what I'll call my yogic detachment; and (3) a certain tongue-in-cheek rhetoricism - I had in mind some typical 'Positif'/'Cahiers du Cinéma' hyperbole such as Hoveyda's characterisation of Nicholas Ray's Party Girl (1958) as 'a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven'. In addition, despite whatever detachment I was mustering (to give me an overview), I assuredly was stung by McGilligan's ignoring my work (except for some specific emails we'd exchanged): as the philosopher Schopenhauer says, all of us comprise a mixture of compassion, malice, and basic ego (albeit in vastly differing proportions, depending on the individual)! So, yes, there was something 'theological' about that review of mine (I was on a 'mission') - but again in a prima facie way. Heck, the whole idea of my approach to aesthetics is to employ detachment so as to free up both me and my readers to 'see things as they really are' - which I judge is something the Western intellectual tradition has never favoured (see, for example, Camille Paglia, 'Sexual Personae', 1990, p. 5) and has lately washed its hands of even more, at least in the realm of Theory, which so dominates intellectual film criticism - prompting Patrick McGilligan to talk of 'lunacy'. (If I am not averse, in Hitchcock's case, to allowing healthy chunks of directorial 'intentionalism' into my readings of films, I can take support from Denis Dutton's wise essay on "Why Intentionalism Won’t Go Away" (WayBack Machine): Denis Dutton. Besides, not for nothing did Robin Wood say that Hitchcock was often 'too sophisticated for the sophisticates' to understand him.) But I doubt that Thomas Leitch knows what I imply by detachment, and why I prefer percepts over concepts any day. I can recall two occasions when I have offered in emails to academics to explain where I was coming from, critically. The first such academic, back in 1996 or thereabouts, was Dr Greg Garrett of Baylor University; more recently, there was nice Prof. Sid Gottlieb of Sacred Heart University (and the 'Hitchcock Annual'). Both, in effect, said: 'Nope, we're not interested.' To be fair to Sid, he did send me a warm email, which I value, recalling how he had been introduced in high school to the thought of Schopenhauer by his German teacher. My point for Leitch is: I think you simplify my position. Now here's 'Stage 2' (of several - fasten your seatbelts, folks, more bumpiness ahead) of Leitch's criticism of me in the new 'Hitchcock Annual': 'Under a theological model of Hitchcock studies, both McGilligan or Mogg could reasonably aspire to produce definitive work on [Hitchcock], the final word that would be written into canon law or perhaps even assume scriptural authority itself. Putting aside claims McGilligan never makes to definitive status, however, Mogg's counterclaims remain problematic. Even though his MacGuffin website shows that he is both impressively well-informed about Hitchcock and avid to seize on any new facts about the production histories of his films to elaborate his own interpretations of them, Mogg is rarely receptive to the claims of high theory or individual interpretations that conflict with his.' (p. 23) Much of that looks like a beat-up to me. But I'll reply to it tomorrow, and maybe also say a bit more on what detachment means to me.

January 5 - 2007
A Happy New Year to our readers! The first "Editor's Day" entry for the year may be a suitable moment to comment on my two-part 'review' on this site of Patrick McGilligan's 2003 biography of Hitchcock - which I've had no time to revisit or 'tone down' since it was first put up, more's the pity. I sense that it has alienated some readers, and nonplussed others, and altogether driven many of those readers away. Ouch! (That's putting it mildly.) Nonetheless, it was written with as much sincerity as I could muster - I was genuinely disappointed in McGilligan's book, though I could see its virtues and tried hard to spell those out early in the review. I would be among the first to praise McGilligan's flowing, economical, no-nonsense prose, the hallmark of an experienced and trained writer who gets a job done - sensibly and with the reader's understanding constantly in view. Moreover, McGilligan's remark about the 'lunacy' of much academic writing on Hitchcock was fully justified, though predictably it has gone unheeded by some people who needed most to heed it! And of course I was not alone in my general disappointment with the book (Prof. Marshall Deutelbaum was someone whose review came out at about the same time as mine, I remember, and expressed similar reservations). Now I see that Prof. Thomas Leitch, writing in the new 'Hitchcock Annual', agrees with me that Donald Spoto probably remains the foremost Hitchcock biographer. According to Leitch: 'Spoto's biography, for all its oversimplifications and shortcomings, is likely to remain more important than McGilligan's: because Spoto's portrait of Hitchcock as a neurotic, sexually-entranced manipulator is simply more compelling, [with] its power to provoke debate that is more than dissent. McGilligan's more judiciously drawn Hitchcock is neither as interesting as Spoto's nor as likely to lead to further interesting discussions of the director and his work.' (p. 11) That's not the whole story of why McGilligan is disappointing, but here I'd like to move to a related matter. For, a few pages later, Leitch takes issue with my own review of McGilligan. Some years ago, Leitch referred to me as 'keeping [Hitchcock scholars] honest'. Well, it appears that I'm still, in a sense, Leitch's 'Other', but now it's a case of the shoe being on the other foot! To be fair in what follows, I may need to quote several of Leitch's passages in full. Here's how he starts to define me out, and, I think, be jolly unfair about it: 'Clearly, the academic model does not adequately describe the development of Hitchcock studies to date. An alternative model is less institutional and more authoritarian: the theological model in which power flows from a single source (God, the Pope, the Bible) to infuse the followers beneath. This is the model Mogg evidently assumes when he attacks McGilligan on his website as "an interloper to Hitchcock studies" whose biography is "less definitive than some of us had hoped for." The principal evidence for this negative judgment offered by Mogg is that McGilligan "completely ignores [Mogg's book] The Alfred Hitchcock Story, which summarises half a lifetime's findings about Hitchcock and his films by someone said [by Dan Auiler] to know 'more about Alfred Hitchcock and his milieu than any other film critic.'" In other words, Mogg is attacking McGilligan's attempt to produce a definitive biography of Hitchcock, the last word on Hitchcock whose authority is beyond question, on the grounds that it ignores Mogg's definitive interpretation of Hitchcock's work.' (pp. 22-23) Hmm. How much space have I got tonight? Not much, so I'll first zero in on Leitch's last sentence, i.e., the one beginning 'In other words ...'. It's doubly erroneous. First, when I said that McGilligan's book was 'less definitive than some of us had hoped for', I wasn't meaning that I had hoped McGilligan's book would be definitive. I might equally (or better) have said, 'less good than some of us had hoped for'. Second, I have never claimed that my book is definitive. (If Prof. Thomas Elsaesser has called my 'Senses of Cinema' profile of Hitchcock 'definitive', well, that's his prerogative, no doubt tinged with his personal kindness.) As for my regretting that McGilligan hadn't bothered to read my book (published 1999) before finishing his biography (published 2003), I think that a fair regret, given Dan Auiler's observation, etc., etc. More to the point, what I most regretted was that roughly four years of my almost nightly posts on "Editor's Day" were apparently not read by McGilligan. Time and again, I had raised matters in those posts believing that McGilligan - with whom I was often in touch by email - would see them and incorporate (and expand) information from them in his biography. One example I gave in my review: how Hitchcock's work with the novelist Arnold Bennett in the 1920s has never been noted by Hitchcock biographers, nor clarified. (There are some mere sketchy references in Margaret Drabble's biography of Bennett.) Okay, more tomorrow, and if, gentle reader, I end up (or am already) 'the man you love to hate', well, at least you'll be entertained, I hope!