Editor's Week 2011

December 17 - 2011
Young and Innocent, as I say, is full of 'magic moments', as when Erica thinks that her old jalopy must be running by itself - until Robert pops up and reveals that he has been pushing it. Another such moment, already mentioned, is the shot of lights moving around in a forest, evoking thoughts of Quince and his men in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' rehearsing their play in a moonlit wood (and unknowingly summoning up fairies). And at the heart of the film is a conjuror's performance, as if to mock the whole idea of magic (much as Family Plot will also do, charmingly and with a real sense of the poetic). As for the model-shot of a sleeping town beside a railway siding, I consider this to be one of the most exquisite things in Hitchcock, easily my favourite shot in the film (way ahead of the 'showy' track-in to the man with the twitching eye!). My position on Hitchcock is that he follows Shakespeare (and a passage in Patricia Highsmith's 'Strangers on a Train') in seeing that everything contains its opposite and how all solutions are only provisional. As Alma Hitchcock truly said of her husband, 'He is the most objective of men.' (I think he was like both Shakespeare and the philosopher Schopenhauer in that respect.) Young and Innocent is knowingly a pastoral film, a 'time out'. John Simon, reviewing a production of 'As You Like It', once wrote: 'Romance and pastoral have their festive and sportive charm, and are good antidotes to the periodic perversions of organized society, but eventually they are only a holiday that cannot endure.' In a sense, all of Hitchcock's films are pastoral, commenting on the 'perversions of organized society'. But Young and Innocent is especially that, aimed, I have suggested, at an English public weary of the recent so-called Abdication Crisis. (The late Claude Chabrol's films showed a deep appreciation of the dark side of Hitchcock and of their similar 'scrutiny of human behaviour ... remarkable for its laidback intensity and absence of finger-wagging' - as a 'Slant' critic wrote of The Bridesmaid [2004] which I watched last night. Suitably, that film has a possible nod to Young and Innocent when a garden statue, of the goddess Flora, is brought inside a house and presented as a gift!) Okay, the above sums up our findings thus far. I want now to pay further tribute to the functional beauty of Hitchcock's pastoral. For example, more than once his film makes sportive play with scenes at forks in the road, rural crossroads. At one point Erica must decide whether she will take Robert to Tom's Hat, where a vital clue to his innocence may be obtained. She is still of a mind to carry straight on to town and to end her association with him. But - as if a higher power were guiding their continued partnership - fate visibly intervenes, so that as Erica's jalopy arrives at the crossroads workmen have just erected a 'Road Up' sign on the road to town, forcing her hand. ('I was going to take the other road anyway', she rationalises, which is very human of her.) Note that Hitchcock features several very 'English' things here. The large gabled house beside a green offers an eyeful in itself, particularly as the green is populated by a flock of sheep. (In the further background is a bright sky with light fluffy clouds - which feature in many shots and are often artfully matched to the film's studio close-ups.) You can almost hear the music of 'Sheep May Safely Graze' as the car heads for Tom's Hat - with the irony, doubtless intended, that there a vigorous free-for-all will break out! Another moment of decision for Erica occurs soon afterwards. After the free-for-all, in which Robert is only slightly injured, he realises that he must leave Erica, who is overdue at home. He'll continue the search for the vital evidence (ironically, in this sunny film, a raincoat) on his own, and heads down a long straight road that stretches before him like doom - see frame-capture below. Actually that shot is subjective, from Erica's pov. In other words, we are allowed to feel exactly what she feels. In an elliptical cut, the next shot shows Robert again riding beside Erica as their quest continues. (The pov shot of a car and a lonely road anticipates a similar moment in Vertigo. As Scottie in the stables at San Juan Bautista feels that he is losing 'Madeleine', he looks up to view the road that runs nearby. A car is receding into the distance, seeming to symbolise Scottie's increasing sense of diminishment and inability to be of help to the woman he loves.) Finally, I'll just say this. Young and Innocent is about things coming together. Erica's solid bourgeois background (she is already someone of strong personality, her father is the Chief Constable, and she acts in loco parentis to her young brothers) and Robert's vulnerable character and situation (an unknown screenwriter just back from an extended time in remote Hollywood, whose family background isn't given us, and with a dubious association to the murdered actress Christine Clay), are both being weighed for much of the film, but matters come right in the end. As I say, very satisfying ...

December 10 - 2011
As usual, I have probably not nailed some points I was trying to make about Hitchcock, using Young and Innocent as illustration! For example, when I say that 'sadism' and 'masochism' (and 'sado-masochism') are at the heart of Hitchcock's cinema, and the experience of watching it, I sure-as-anything don't mean to imply that other terms (like 'foot-fetish' or 'penchant for chocolate ice-cream') would do as well. I mean exactly what I say, and that resource by Hitchcock to 'sado-masochism' is due to the fact that 'sado-masochism' is itself fundamental to human nature - with full credit to Hitchcock for understanding this. This is the 'Will' (real, or fundamental) aspect of his filmmaking. (Bettina Rosenbladt wrote in 2004: 'There is no doubt in my mind that Hitchcock had a sadistic streak and that he revels in his artistry to devise ever-new ways of scaring and shocking the viewer.' But even that formulation is too simple. Note the failure to appreciate, for example, a countervailing 'masochism' in Hitchcock's films (e.g., Alicia's 'masochism' in Notorious), not to mention how 'sado-masochism' itself is used by Hitchcock for much more than just 'scaring' and 'shocking' the viewer. It is used to involve the viewer at a fundamental level, as in the 'Mousetrap' scene in Murder! ) Interestingly, a book like Karl Menninger's 'Man Against Himself' first appeared in 1938, just as Young and Innocent was being released. But of course there is also the 'Representation' (appearance) aspect of Hitchcock's filmmaking, and this is where the 'civilised' and 'upbeat' content of his films enters in. Again in the interest of nailing things down, I'll talk for a moment about 'ambiguity' in Hitchcock. The term is heard all the time - 'Hitchcockian ambiguity' - but still with too little appreciation. For example, we really don't know the truth about what went on between Christine Clay (Pamela Carme) and young Robert Tisdall (Derrick de Marney) in the cliff-house where she lived estranged from her husband. Her husband accuses her of keeping 'boys', and it is certainly suspicious (if that's how your mind works) that she leaves Robert £1,200 in her will. (Similarly, in the novel, Robert admits to staying 'in her cottage unchaperoned, but a regiment of servants couldn't have made our relations more correct'. Understandably, when Robert asks the sergeant, 'Does that strike you as so very peculiar?', the frank-speaking policeman answers, 'Very'.) So why does the screenplay retain an ambiguity here? My hunch is: to give Robert something to make amends for, as well as to leave the degree of the husband's guilt up in the air (for it's my strong belief that Hitchcock believed that all guilt is relative anyway, and who are we to judge?). For some reason, I think of the masseuse Stella's remark in Rear Window, 'It gives your circulation something to fight against!' In other words, Robert is a more three-dimensional character for the 'shadow of a doubt' that is allowed to hover over him initially. Hitchcock was also always aware of people's blind spots due to various prejudices and snobberies, and Young and Innocent is full of instances of what I mean. For example, nobody wants to talk about the working-man's café called 'Tom's Hat' when Robert mentions it. Interrogating him, Detective-Inspector Kent (John Longden), says, 'All right, we'll let that go.' And later, when Robert tells the inept solicitor Briggs (J.H. Roberts) that the missing raincoat might be at Tom's Hat, the lawyer mis-hears him: 'Have you lost your hat?' The film will take delight in forcing its audience to visit such places off our regular beat (so to speak). But perhaps most of all, Young and Innocent is about the beauty of 'good old England' to those whose eyes are skinned. I insist on this, precisely because it is too seldom pointed out. Any number of outdoor scenes (the film tends to alternate these with night scenes) begin with some picturesque item of the Kent countryside, and some detail or other that will later figure in the scene. For example, early in the film, an old stone cottage is just one of several such cottages nestled together, but this particular cottage has a petrol-pump outside it. Yet even before we spot the petrol-pump, the shot has been framed by a leafy old tree and, passing underneath, an old Clydesdale horse lumbering along with a farmer on its back - as if in defiance of all innovations like petrol-pumps. There is a direct anticipation here of how Hitchcock photographs the backwater hamlet (little more than a church, a school, and a general-store) depicted years later in The Trouble With Harry. Have a look at the frame-capture below, and next time I'll conclude these brief notes on Young and Innocent with some thoughts on the functional picturesqeness of this remarkable film. (In the frame-capture here, note that on the left a young girl in a white dress is working a petrol pump. But Erica and Robert's car is approaching on the opposite side of the road and will stop at the house there which has a rival pump, run by a Mr Venn, who, his mouth full of bread and jam, will summon his young son from inside the cottage to work the pump - but the diminutive lad will promptly find himself in difficulties. A whole story in a shot or two!)

December 3 - 2011
Quite early in the thé-dansant scene that climaxes Young and Innocent (1937), Hitchcock lets us know that the man with the twitching eye is present in the room: as the crane shot that travels the length of the crowded ball room shows us, he is at one end of the room, looking on. He is The Drummer Man, i.e., the drummer in the hotel band, and he is 'disguised' in black face, like the other members of the band. But one thing that he cannot disguise is his twitch (which we first saw in the opening cliff-house scene where, enraged by his wife's supposed infidelity, he had strangled her). At least, he can't disguise the twitch once it starts up, and that is his misfortune - engineered, of course, by Hitchcock. Note that the musical number that happens to be playing at the very moment we see the drummer twitch, and then twitch again, is ... 'The Drummer Man'. The camera moves relentlessly into his passive face and then, as if on (musical) cue, he twitches. Promptly, Hitchcock cuts away to Erica and Old Will (Edward Rigby), equally passive faced, for they haven't seen the twitch, and have begun to grow despondent at ever finding the man they seek. They decide that they might as well join the dancers. But, as Old Will hasn't a notion of the footwork, all that they succeed in doing is draw attention to themselves (see frame-capture below). It's as if they, too, in Hitchcock's scheme of things, must be humiliated. But it's also a way of Hitchcock's keeping the suspense growing, and that suspense - transferred directly to the mind of the audience - is like the very 'flow of life' that will resolve the situation. (Last week, in analysing the film's children's party scene, which Hitchcock called 'a deliberate symbol ... [a] clue to the whole film', we noted that it is like the film as a whole. It's 'a call to ... press on, to see what develops.') All right, that's the bare bones of the thé-dansant scene. Next note that it, too, is representatively 'English' - up to a point. Such 'tea dances' were indeed a feature of English seaside towns, and the tea-dance here, held in the afternoon, and obviously popular, somewhat anticipates a key scene in Hitchcock's next film The Lady Vanishes which pivots comically (and dramatically) on how the English passengers all take tea in the train's dining-car each afternoon. (At the same time, 'tea dances' were 'international': they appear to have originated in fact in French colonial Morocco, and were not uncommon in the United States, for example.) Hitchcock wasn't overly fussed by such matters in Young and Innocent. In the novel, the action explicitly takes place in Kent, and the film was certainly part-photographed there; but also, for the opening scene, a second-unit was sent to Cornwall to get the clifftop storm scene. (Later, equally relaxed, Hitchcock photographed shots for Family Plot in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, and made a composite of them.) So far as the director was concerned, what mattered was simply that a thé-dansant, open to the public, would sufficiently 'explain' how Erica and Old Will might attend the 'Grand Hotel' (same name as a recent star-vehicle for Greta Garbo, et al.) and search there for the man with the twitching eye. The 'representative' name, and the temporarily lowered class barriers (which teenage Erica and professional tramp Old Will push to the limit), were bonuses, of which Hitchcock took advantage. A later film like Saboteur would also seek to give a cross-section of national life, in the United States this time. In turn, Hitchcock took full advantage of how the thé-dansant, and the ball room, allowed him to once again imply a favourite (Shakespearean) theme of his, 'All the world's a stage'. Old Will dressed up 'like Cinderella' (as a policeman tells him), the drummer in his black-face, and the hotel bell-boys in their 'grand' uniforms, are representative of the general idea. Equally, Hitchcock had long ago realised that fundamental to human existence - no matter how 'civilised' - is a certain 'sado-masochism', and he typically catered to it in his audiences. I once described the 'Mousetrap' scene in Murder! as the most 'sadistic' scene in Hitchcock, but the way in which the camera 'pressures' the drummer in Young and Innocent into betraying himself is very similar. (The opposite in the thé-dansant scene are moments when characters are rebuked and must absorb the ignominy, as when the prim lady at the hotel desk tells Old Will to 'wait a moment, please.' Of course, the drummer is someone else subjected to such ignominy, until he finally goes mad and bursts into laughter at the memory of strangling his wife.) It is this 'mix' in Hitchcock that typically is so satisfying.

November 26 - 2011
Hitchcock called the children's party in Young and Innocent 'a deliberate symbol'. What did he mean? For a start, it is one of the film's literally 'magic' moments - see last time - featuring a conjurer. (In its relation to the film's true 'magic', it is a bit like the 'seance' scenes in Family Plot.) It is also one of the film's typically 'English' scenes, with its nannies and the slightly jarring strains of a BBC children's program heard on the radio. And look at the frame-capture below. Note the conjurer and behind him a Roman bust. That bust will be featured several times in the scene. Like the novel by Josephine Tey, 'A Shilling for Candles' (1936), the film is set in Kent. The novel describes the mile-long straights of English lane which were a legacy, I gather, of the Roman occupation. The film shows several of these. And although there is no equivalent in the novel of the children's party, it does make passing reference to Erica's having a rather fearsome great-aunt who lives near Tunbridge Wells. (For centuries a fashionable watering-place in Kent, Tunbridge Wells was a place to be seen in. The great-aunt, we're told, sometimes promenades 'under the lime trees'.) The film seizes on that reference and depicts Erica's Aunt Mary (wonderfully played by the ubiquitous character-actress Mary Clare) as equally fearsome and of similar social class. She and Uncle Basil (Basil Radford) live in a mansion with servants, and surrounded by quiet, shady roads. At the children's party, Aunt Mary sits in a high-backed armchair and asserts her authority. She is, you feel, one of those Englishers who had recently disapproved of the proposed marriage of the King to a twice-divorced woman - an American at that - thus forcing the King to abdicate. Fortunately, Uncle Basil is a force for tolerance, and that, too, is what the children's party scene is about. Seeing that his wife is determined to block whatever is happening between Erica and Robert, on which she seems to have put the worst possible construction, he literally intervenes (in the game of Blind Man's Buff), and allows the young people to make their escape. Here Erica and Robert signal their gratitude to him. (Without putting too heavy an emphasis on it, Uncle Basil is thus the equivalent of, say, the crofter's wife in The 39 Steps or the blind man in Saboteur, who intervene to facilitate the hero on the run.) As we saw last time, the film climaxes with a plea for being 'human'. Such a plea is linked to what the films themselves offer us, a renewed sense of the fullness of 'life'. But we were inquiring why Hitchcock called the children's party 'a deliberate symbol'. It is symbolic, too, in its swirling ebb and flow, like that of the film as a whole. It has no single centre, and that is its vital point. It is a call to optimism, to press on, to see what develops. And the youngest people can play their part. In this sense, the young man called Harold is the star of the scene. He stands up to Aunt Mary, telling her that he thinks he 'must go' (to the lavatory). Later, when the children sense that Erica has lost interest in playing hunt-the-thimble, it's Harold who pulls young Felicity away, snapping, 'C'mon, we'll play it on our own.' Uncle Basil literally sees Harold as his chance to help the increasingly desperate Erica and Robert to escape the party. (You'll have to look at the particular shot to see what I mean.) Stopping only to swipe a last spoonful of another child's ice-cream, Harold joins Uncle Basil in confronting Aunt Mary. Harold requests another game, Blind Man's Buff. Then he suggests that Aunt Mary herself should be 'Blindman'. He is enthusiastic. 'Tie her up, Uncle', he encourages with the trace of a smirk. Aunt Mary starts to object, but the nearby Robert adds his own encouragement. 'Then you can try to catch me', he says ingenuously. At this moment the radio plays a snatch of 'Three Blind Mice'. (So don't think that Rear Window was the first film in which Hitchcock made adroit use of diagetic sound, from a radio, as commentary on the main action.) After Aunt Mary realises that she has been tricked, and that Erica and Robert have got away, she strides from the room in a huff, her party hat flying away behind her. It's likely that this shot was 'inspired' by the reference to Aunt Mary in the novel as 'promenading'. In sum, the children's party is symbolic at different levels, a microcosm of the film's generally benign, if at times satiric, view of 'good old England'. Another of its set-pieces, one again not found in the novel, is the climactic thé-dansant in a seaside hotel. I'll discuss that next time.

November 19 - 2011
This is a follow-up to last week's item. Many of Hitchcock's films - not just Marnie - tapped a prevailing zeitgeist. Spellbound (1945), released within weeks of the end of World War II, is a good example, so well does it combine its therapeutic theme with hope for a better future. Imagine a capacity audience at the Radio City Music Hall enjoying the film's rhetorical flourishes, even as the film uses amnesia as a metaphor for the possibility of 'lost innocence'. Evoking actual war amnesia and war neurosis, it is 'seriously entertaining'. Equally, I Confess (1953) is about more than its 'religious' storyline, profoundly human though that is. I agree with William Rothman when he notes that 'its story about the courage and despair of a man scorned for his refusal to testify under interrogation is a thinly veiled allegory of McCarthyism and the blacklist [and other witch-hunts at the time]'. ('The Murderous Gaze', 1982, p. 248) Its co-screenwriter, Hungarian-born playwright George Tabori, held left-leaning political views, and was soon blacklisted himself. Tabori's family, apart from his mother, had perished in Auschwitz, which lends a special poignancy to the film's depiction of its refugee couple, Otto and Alma Keller. Which reminds me that the villain in Hitchcock's pre-War Young and Innocent (1937), the man with the twitching eye, is someone else who goes 'bad' (like Otto Keller); and indeed that film's final scene - a wife-killer's last-minute confession in a hotel ballroom - is an obvious predecessor of the end of I Confess. Moreover, Young and Innocent has its own way of tapping into a zeitgeist of the time. Let's talk about that film. Basically it begins with literal and metaphorical Sturm und Drang, then becomes a tale of the formation of another couple, a 'young and innocent' one, and a storyline that is often magical (again both literally and metaphorically), much of it taking place in bright sunshine in Kent (which the later Frenzy will call 'the garden of England'). Even when the action takes place at night, the magical tone continues, as in a night shot of a forest filled with moving lights (ostensibly showing the police searching for the young fugitives) or in an elaborate shot of a moonlit railway siding where we hear Robert (Derrick de Marney) tell Erica (Nova Pilbeam), 'The night always exaggerates things, doesn't it?' In their own way, both of these short sequences are poetic, even Shakespearean, which befits the 'Englishness' of the film as a whole. A reviewer in 'Film Weekly' wrote: 'It has something native in its people, background, humours and ways of thought'. Which is absolutely true. But I was saying how the film begins one way, with thunder and lightning, then switches to being essentially warm and benign, more comedy than melodrama. In that opening scene, a husband with a twitching eye, driven beyond endurance by loneliness and by what he perceives to be unfaithfulness in his wife, tells her: 'You quit me eight years ago to go on the screen - I, who worked for you, took you out of the chorus, took you out of the gutter. Now you spend your time going around with boys, you ...' He is not interested, he says, in her suggestion of a Reno divorce. Note that remark. It is very timely. England had just endured the so-called Abdication Crisis which pivoted on whether the English public would consent to their new king, Edward VIII, marrying an American socialite, Wallis Simpson, twice divorced. Overwhelmingly, the English public were against the marriage, and principally because divorce was frowned on in England (though Mrs Simpson's American nationality also told against her in English eyes, notwithstanding that the American public, and the American press, favoured the marriage). The short of it is this: on 10 December, 1936, after less than eleven months as king, Edward abdicated the throne, and his brother succeeded him as George VI; in June the following year, Edward married Mrs Simpson in what was essentially a private marriage (though he was now called the Duke of Windsor and she was allowed to be called the Duchess of Windsor but without the title 'Her Royal Highness'). Young and Innocent came out in November of that year. So here's my point. Hitchcock, making this most English of his films, had gauged that the public had been through a crisis of their own during recent events at home. (His next film, The Lady Vanishes, would allegorise the increasingly worrying European political scene and English attitudes thereto.) Accordingly, as commentators have noted, he eschewed politics in Young and Innocent and - apart from the dark opening scene - gave his public a charming adventure-comedy that spoke of renewal after a period of tribulation. Like most Hitchcock films, this one might be said to advocate a spirit of tolerance and forgiveness rather than of retribution. In the final scene (frame-capture below) Erica tells a detective, 'Can't you be human for once?', and is promptly rewarded - as if by divine (or Shakespearean) providence - when she locates the man they have been seeking all along. More next time.

November 12 - 2011
The authors of the book 'Scripting Hitchcock' (2011) write: 'Hitchcock always strongly desired to connect the plots of his films to the contemporary culture.' (p. 16) I have no argument with that! (I would add, however, that he typically aimed for both timeliness and timelessness in the stories he filmed - the 'timeless' element of a film like Vertigo or Marnie is connected to its Symbolist content. For example, there is something of the fairytale about Marnie's slums-to-riches rise, as we'll note.) Another of the points made by 'Scripting Hitchcock' is how Mark Rutland in Marnie is a departure from the protagonists of earlier Hitchcock films: 'he displays little of the compromised and insecure manhood of Hitchcock's earlier 1950s male protagonists who seem to suffer from the postwar crisis of masculinity that cultural critics saw infecting American society. Instead, Mark embodies ... values that could be linked historically to the ruling elite to which he belongs and that were embodied in the young President Kennedy.' (p. 23) John F. Kennedy (1917-63), a Democrat, was of course the first Catholic to become President of the US, and came from the extraordinary Kennedy family: John's father, Joseph, industrialist and diplomat, had been ambassador to the UK 1937-40. John's wife was the lovely Jacqueline (who later would marry the Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis). Now, as a timeline on Tony Lee Moral's webpage (now only on Wayback Machine) - Marnie - reminds us, Marnie began filming the week after President Kennedy's assassination. (On arriving at the page, you'll need to run your cursor over the visible text to see the timeline. While you're there, also check out the activities in which Tony Moral, author of 'Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie', is currently involved ...) There's little doubt that Hitchcock and screenwriter Jay Presson Allen had Kennedy in view when they were preparing Marnie. Indeed, the authors of 'Scripting Hitchcock' suggest that he was also an influence on the shaping of the Mitch Brenner character in The Birds, released the previous year. 'On one level,' they write, 'Mark [Rutland] seems a continuation and intensification of the portrait of Mitch Brenner ... with his energetic, assertive, take-charge, Kennedyesque masculinity. But Mark ... is a more potent and effectual male presence than Mitch. He is in every sense more like the vigorous, activist Kennedy ... whose tough-minded Ivy League liberalism he seems to share.' (In lines dropped from the final Marnie screenplay, note the authors, Mark's father says that Mark went to Columbia University, whereupon Lil adds that he is 'a registered Democrat'.) (p. 107) But perhaps there's even more to the parallel of Mark Rutland to John F. Kennedy than all of the above. What if Hitchcock was actually thinking of the Rutland family and its circle as in some ways like the Kennedy family and President Kennedy's entourage? I wouldn't put it past Hitchcock to have imagined his characters, and his casting, in those terms. Robert Schoen, author of the remarkable 'Hitch & Alma' (1998), not only put that idea to me last year, he had thought it through in detail. Four characters in particular, besides Mark Rutland, he singled out: the character Strutt, Marnie's employer immediately before she lands at Rutland's, resembles Dean Rusk, Kennedy's Secretary of State (see photos below); Mark's 'banking cousin', Cousin Bob, looks like Defence Secretary Robert McNamara; Mr Ward in the Rutland office looks like the then Vice President Lyndon Johnson; and Mark Rutland's cousin Lil very definitely bears a resemblance to Jacqueline Kennedy (see photos below). Robert offered further parallels between Mark Rutland's circle and Kennedy's, the latter understandably known as 'Camelot' (the fairytale element!): for example, 'Mrs Strutt could have been inspired by Ladybird Johnson ... the elegance of Rutland and Marnie at the party compared to the Strutts [being] comparable to how the suave Kennedys outclassed the boorish Johnsons'. Well, there you are, reader, you decide the matter for yourself - but I thank Robert Schoen and the authors of 'Scripting Hitchcock' (Walter Raubicheck & Walter Srebnick) for their respective very astute insights. More about Hitchcock's casting, and other matters, next time.

Strutt (Martin Gabel): Secretary of State Dean Rusk: Lil (Diane Baker): Jacqueline Kennedy:

November 5 - 2011
[No entry here this time. But there's a review of the book 'Scripting Hitchcock' on our New Publications page. See link here. KM]

October 29 - 2011
A forthcoming book on Hitchcock is 'The Men Who Knew Too Much: Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock', edited by Susan M. Griffin and Alan Nadel. I'm no expert on Henry James (1843-1916), whose novels and stories deal with the lessons of European culture for the US soul, so I look forward to a learning experience (in two senses?!) when the book appears. I do sense in James's main theme an analogue of the uncultured child versus the morally sophisticated adult, which is inherent in a Hitchcock film like North by Northwest (1959) when you think about it: the brash Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) versus the cultured Vandamm (James Mason). (Of course, there you feel that Vandamm's sophistication is of an over-ripe, decadent kind, with more than a hint of cruelty, which makes it appropriate that Thornhill, representing the life force, and accompanied by an equally re-invigorated Lady Eve, should win in the end.) But let's talk about James's story 'The Aspern Papers' (1888) which I have done here before, comparing it in some respects to Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960). It's set in Venice. To that picturesque city comes a US publisher who cunningly talks his way into a peaceful, aristocratic household headed by the hundred-years-old Juliana Bordereau, said to be bedridden, who had once been the mistress of the US poet Jeffrey Aspern, and who owns never-published papers from that relationship, which she keeps in a green box. Juliana has vowed to destroy the papers before she dies. But the publisher works on the lady's niece, Tina, to try and persuade her to get him the papers. The papers are a classic MacGuffin, if you will. At one point, the self-interested publisher - the story's narrator - is told that he seems to think the papers contain 'the answer to the riddle of the universe'. He narrates how his quest for the papers, and the setting of Venice, make him feel 'part of the general romance and the general glory - I felt even a mystical companionship, a moral fraternity, with all those who in the past had been in the service of art'. Interestingly, when Sir Michael Redgrave wrote and starred in a stage production of the story in 1959, the publisher was given the name of 'Henry Jessamine' (same initials as Henry James). The publisher flirts with the withered niece, raising her fluttering hopes, and quite enjoys himself, though his sole intention is to obtain the papers. 'Meanwhile the real summer days arrived and began to pass, and as I look back upon them they seem to me almost the happiest of my life.' Nonetheless, the present time seems to him to lack the romance - in every sense - of Jeffrey Aspern's own time, roughly the 1820s. The narrator thinks that Aspern 'had found means to live and write like one of the first; to be free and general and not at all afraid; to feel, understand and express everything'. Shades of Scottie in Vertigo who sees in 'Madeleine'/Judy a link to 'the gay old bohemian days' of San Francisco when men, if not women, had ready access to 'colour, excitement, power, freedom'. As for the climax of 'The Aspern Papers', it is like Psycho's. I have described it in detail previously, so shall just sketch it this time. It is a classic scene. As in the novel 'Caleb Williams' (1794), by William Godwin, the narrator is drawn to a mysterious box or chest, on which all of his doubts and hopes have become fixated. (The influence of the Gothic novel on 'Caleb Williams', then in vogue, is evident.) Late one night, assuring himself that Miss Tina is not nearby, the publisher stealthily enters the darkened room where the papers are said to be kept. The suspense is palpable. Especially so, as at first the narrator won't admit to himself, or the reader, his larcenous intent. (Henry James was a master of ambiguity as a story-telling device.) As he approaches the writing desk, something causes him to look over his shoulder. What he sees is startling, not least for the reader. 'Juliana [the supposedly bedridden old lady] stood there in her night-dress, by the doorway of her room, watching me; her hands were raised, she had lifted the everlasting curtain [veil] that covered half her face, and for the first, the last, the only time I beheld her extraordinary eyes.' Of those eyes, the found-out narrator says: 'They glared at me; they were like the sudden drench, for a caught burglar, of a flood of gaslight; they made me horribly ashamed.' One can only agree with Anthony Curtis, in his Introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of 'The Aspern Papers', that this is no conventional crime story: 'Conventional burglars do not feel "horribly ashamed" when they are caught.' Btw, other new Hitchcock books are due out: I'll list them on our New Publications page in the next few days.

October 22 - 2011
Some thoughts this time on what Hitchcock called 'pure film'- and I'll use an illustration from Blackmail (which we've been discussing here) to introduce the topic. On October 1, above, we noted how in the original play by Charles Bennett, no sooner has Alice White crept away from the studio of Crewe, who lies there dead, than pebbles start hitting the window, which is what Tracy (the blackmailer) would do to annoy Crewe into giving him some money. It's a nice touch by Bennett, because something more than cadging a few coins is now at stake. But the film couldn't very well accommodate that bit of business just at this moment, for it needed to stay with Alice as she wanders, dazed, through the London streets at night. The 'wandering' sequence is itself an instance of 'pure film' in the basic sense of images carrying the entire meaning (e.g., when Alice in Piccadilly Circus gazes at the electric signs, and one appears to show a knife making stabbing motions while another proclaims ironically, 'White for purity': n.b., not much has changed, as witness the modern-day view below). The views are subjective, and they tell us graphically about Alice's thoughts. But there is more to 'pure film' and how Hitchcock understood the concept than just this. As I emailed someone this week, Hitchcock often liked to take a bit of business, just because it was visual, and then use it somehow - any way he could. Sure, the business of the coins thrown at the window in the play 'Blackmail' couldn't be used in the film, not at that point, and not exactly in that form. But, reluctant to give up the idea, Hitchcock applied his ingenuity and invention. That's how, I'm practically certain, he came up with a moment during the film's opening sequence when the (very middle-class-looking) detectives go upstairs in a London slum tenament to arrest a ruffian and suddenly a stone breaks through the window. Time and again during his career, Hitchcock would show that, for him, film was an infinitely flexible commodity, to be applied expressively in the same way that an artist uses colour, tone, light and shade. (See also the note on this site about what the poet Keats called the 'poetic character'.) I could give many more instances, but the film Marnie (1964) comes particularly to mind. For example, in the Winston Graham novel Marnie narrates how her mother had one night given birth to a second child (Marnie being the eldest), a boy, but it died. And she explains that the boy died because the poor were badly done by in those days: 'When it came time for the baby to be born they sent for the doctor, but it was before National Health and he was busy with some more profitable cases, so Mother had the baby ... with only the district nurse to help. Something went wrong, the baby died, and ever afterwards Mother dragged her leg. There was a court case against the doctor, but ... he got off scot free.' As things turn out, this is all less than a half-truth. The baby was fathered by one of Mrs Edgar's 'customers' and she herself killed it soon after it was born, then disposed of it somehow and afterwards denied all knowledge of it. (However there was a court case and Mrs Edgar was found not guilty by reason of 'puerperal insanity'.) Apparently her injured leg - which would be her stigma - occurred when she left her childbed and disposed of the child's body. Little of this is in the film, of course. Not really. Instead, the film's ingenious flashback (based on one in the 1959 Joseph L. Mankiewicz film Suddenly Last Summer) makes Marnie the killer of a sailor (one of Mrs Edgar's 'customers') - but 'innocent' because of her young age - and the mother's injury the result of the sailor falling on her leg. In addition, the note of sadness which the novel attaches to this whole sordid business, not least because of the poverty and social circumstances involved, is brilliantly evoked by the film (and Jay Presson Allen's screenplay) - not least in its use of a children's skipping rhyme which begins, 'Father, Mother, I am ill,/ Send for the doctor on the hill'. The children's rhyme is a real one, included in the celebrated book 'The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren' (1959) by Iona and Peter Opie, even down to the line about the mysterious 'lady with the alligator purse'. And my point? Basically, that Hitchcock drew on literally everything he could possibly use from the novel and other sources, converting them at every step of the way into expressive 'pure film'. Heck, there is even a passing reference in the novel to young Marnie's picture book containing an image of an elephant and a sunset, over which Marnie one day cried: 'It was a cheap book ... and my tears made the colour run until it looked as if it had been crying blood.' If you look carefully just as the film's flashback begins, you will see a white china elephant in the corridor of the Edgar house, an apt symbol of Marnie's drawing on her memory at this point. And the flashback will indeed climax with an image of running blood (accompanied by the sound of a child's wailing cry). As for the mysterious 'lady with the alligator purse', isn't she the inspiration for the film's opening shot, showing the mysterious Marnie walking away from the camera, with a bulging purse under her arm? I suspect so, at any rate!

October 15 - 2011
I'll note below one or two 'errata' concerning what I wrote here last time about Blackmail (1929). But I need to press on with trying to say what Blackmail is about, thematically. In claiming that the film shows a cross-section of London life, I was implying that it's also an early example of a Hitchcock microcosm, about 'life' in general. I think that Sidney Gottlieb is right to say that Alice (Anny Ondra) is prompted from the outset 'by a restless and in many respects admirable urge to break from her [social] restrictions, escape from a relationship that promises nothing but dull routine, and for once experience the liveliness of life'. (However, I question whether marriage to Frank - John Longden - would necessarily involve 'nothing but dull routine'. The film shows him to be a bright young policeman who has already risen in the ranks from bobby to detective, assigned to the Flying Squad and Scotland Yard, no less. Alice is being flighty and unappreciative when she tells him that 'if it weren't for Edgar Wallace no-one would have heard of Scotland Yard'. Mind you, I'm not saying that Frank is without his faults, too.) Gottlieb adds that Alice is like Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), many films later, 'complicit in her fate but still ... far more sinned against than sinning'. That's very true. But what, in turn, is the relation of Blackmail to its audience? My answer would be that the 1929 film is again a clear progenitor of Psycho (1960) and Frenzy (1972). In all of these films, Hitchcock first gets us involved and then turns the spotlight back onto our complictness. Take the scene where the artist Crewe (Cyril Ritchard) lures Alice to his studio and then sets about seducing her. The scene is initially very sexy. In the frame-capture below, Crewe has just completed the picture that Alice (ineptly) began, by turning it into a nude complete with breasts and even a hint of pubic hair. ('Ooh, you are awful', Alice tells him.) All the while, he has been standing (very) close to her and guiding her hand on the brush, as if it were her thoughts he were leading. At one moment, Alice slips, and Crewe steadies her with a hand applied to her waist, which he leaves there for an appreciable time. Meanwhile, in the background we can see the costume, a ballet dancer's tutu, that we just know Crewe will ask Alice to put on ... and we tacitly approve. Only after the attempted rape, when Crewe lies dead behind a curtain, knifed in self-defence by Alice, do we watch appalled as she moves almost trance-like out of the studio (after first getting dressed and then erasing her name from the picture), proceeds downstairs, and goes out into the streets where she wanders all night. This long 'aftermath' sequence, like the long 'build-up' sequence before it, has equivalents in such later Hitchcock films as Strangers on a Train (1951), Psycho, and Frenzy (the latter even has drawn-out, slithery music when Rusk is disposing of Babs's body at night in a deserted Covent Garden that sounds like similar music in Blackmail as Alice wanders the streets). At the least, these 'aftermath' sequences are needed for audiences to regain their bearings and composure ... Now, eventually another man - the blackmailer Tracy - will die as a result of the events in which we, the audience, have been complicit. So who can we blame? Crewe? But we were almost urging him on at one point, as he teased - dared - Alice with his playing and singing of 'Miss Up-to-Date'. (True, the Catholic Church, to which Hitchcock belonged, condemned as mortal sin all sex outside of marriage - though it also named as mortal sins such things as drunkenness and gluttony. Was Hitchcock trying to say something about how how difficult it is to be even 'human' if you want to go without sin? A fine Catholic novel like Evelyn Waugh's 'Brideshead Revisited' seems almost to take that stance.) Frank? After all, he had behaved in high-handed, even sadistic, manner towards Tracy once he learned that the police suspected that unfortunate individual (see below) of the killing. No magnanimity or compassion there by Frank! But we had been thoroughly behind him when he initially covered up for Alice by concealing the glove that showed she had been in Crewe's studio. We thought: how noble and gallant of him to do this for his girlfriend, especially after how she had 'cheated' on him by going with Crewe in the first place! Alice herself? Like the original Eve, she has been weak and yielded to temptation, true. But look at the terrible price she pays for what Gottlieb calls her 'restlessness' (and which he himself finds somewhat admirable). Tracy then? But he, too, it turns out, seems to be 'more sinned against than sinning'. Which brings me to my main error last time. I described Tracy as 'working-class'. I was wrong. My thanks again to CP who tells me that in the original play it's made clear that Tracy, although he's a bit of 'a rogue by instinct', is a (fallen) gentleman, indeed another artist - hence his accessibility to Crewe to cadge from him. And now, in the play, he has apparently added drunkenness to his list of sins. In sum, Blackmail seems to be about Original Sin or what the philosopher Schopenhauer called Will (the life/death force, whose principal manifestation is sexuality in all its forms). More next time.

October 8 - 2011
First, just to complete the point about the use of a vertical tracking shot in Blackmail (1929) and in some earlier films ... Another likely candidate for having influenced the ascending staircase-shot in Blackmail is a similar shot in the Buster Keaton film The Cameraman (1928), which someone has described as 'Keaton marching up a building's staircase courtesy of a breakaway set'. So, take your pick of that shot or of the staircase shot in Borzage's Seventh Heaven (1927) as most likely to have influenced the Blackmail one. Maybe there was a chain influence, of course. Now, talking of chain influences, today I want to begin to say what Blackmail is about, thematically. The film makes evident (in a recurring shot near the end) that Alice White (Anny Ondra) bears the brunt of the guilt for the accidental death of the blackmailer Tracy (Donald Calthrop), even though Tracy had been bullied by Alice's detective boyfriend Frank Webber (John Longden) - in effect, a case of meeting blackmail with blackmail - and despite the fact that the original crime was the attempted rape of Alice by the artist Crewe (Cyril Ritchard), whereupon Alice had killed Crewe in self-defence. Of course, going still further back, the question arises of why Alice had given Frank the slip and agreed to accompany Crewe to his studio, and even whether there were underlying social causes. After all, the film is about a cross-section of London life and begins with the arrest of a felon in a London slum. By contrast, to quote Gary Giblin's very useful book 'Hitchcock's London' (2006): 'In the [Charles Bennett] play ... the principal characters live, work and play in London's artsy Chelsea district [and] Hitchcock retained this setting for the homes of both Alice ... and the artist'. (The picking-up of Alice was based on a real-life event, known to Bennett, which had taken place at the Chelsea Arts Ball.) The odd-man-out here is Tracy who, although he hangs around Crewe's apartment for purposes of blackmail, is clearly working-class, like the felon seen at the start. Tracy is the film's scapegoat, anticipating, say, the transvestite Fane in Murder! (1930), who was himself being blackmailed, in effect, by a friend of the woman, Diana, he aspired to marry. More on Tracy in a moment. I referred last time to a recent essay by Sidney Gottlieb on "Hitchcock's Silent Cinema" (in Leitch & Poague, 'A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock'). There, he describes Blackmail as 'a provocative critique of the forces of order and authority in society', adding that it shows 'how men silence women and attempt to shape them to suit their interests ... [being] a case study in guilt'. One of Gottlieb's particular insights concerns the stand-off of Frank and Tracy in the Whites' parlour: 'when Tracy extends just his arm into the frame while pleading with Frank near the end, recalling the artist's dying gesture [and that of a tramp in a doorway], we know he is doomed'. See the frame-capture below, and note Frank's supercilious air towards the man who a moment ago was threatening the well-being of himself and his girlfriend, i.e., Alice - Frank has just learned that the police suspect Tracy of being Crewe's killer, and are on their way. (The dialogue in the film's silent version has Tracy say at this point: 'Don't you try and swing this thing on me. That won't get you anywhere.' How wrong Tracy is!) Where I don't altogether agree with Gottlieb is in his reading of the film's social dimension. For example, he effectively lumps the Whites in with Tracy, in being particularly downtrodden, remarking that while Alice's parents 'are not the self-satisfied and censorious monsters they are in the play ... their bland domesticity and weary ordinariness represent exactly what we have in mind [whenever] we say ... there must be more to life than this'. On the contrary, the Whites seem to me to be a likeable and busy middle-class family of shopkeepers whose livelihood (like Hitchcock's parents') keeps them in touch with people and events around them and whose very shop is filled with interesting objects and diversions (e.g., ever-changing newspaper and magazine posters, a patent device for patrons to light their cigarettes and cigars, even a telephone kiosk). Their Chelsea parlour is comfortable if not large. By the standards of the time, the Whites are better off than, say, the Bunting family in the novel and film of The Lodger or the suburbanites depicted so tellingly in Ernest Raymond's 1935 novel (loosely based on the Crippen case), 'We, The Accused', which Hitchcock wanted to film. With the Great Depression about to happen, I'm sure that the Whites would have come through it safe and sound, envied by many. More next time.

October 1 - 2011
More on Blackmail (1929) this time. First, I thank CP who has read Charles Bennett's play (in a 1934 edition) for confirming that it doesn't actually provide extended description of Alice's emergence from the artist's studio after the killing. CP: 'She exits the building (creaking stairs are heard), and then pebbles start hitting the window, which earlier in the play it was said that Tracy [the blackmailer] would do to annoy the artist into giving him some money ... [Thus] ends the first act'. So Charles Barr's point which I quoted last time - 'Bennett's stage directions for the exit of Alice from the [artist's] studio ... are almost like a script for the sequence that Hitchcock makes of it' - is misleading. It's not as if Hitchcock would have been stuck for ideas here, and in fact the moment quickly ends, to become (in the film) Alice's long, dazed walk through the London streets at night. To be fair, Barr's point about the latter is that, while it isn't in the play (for obvious reasons), it is nonetheless evoked in the play's second act when Alice, at home, is quizzed by her sceptical family about where she has been: five times the word 'walking' occurs. Barr: 'the repetition of the word ... invites us to imagine, to see, the walk itself, which we, unlike the family - who are all certain that she has been involved in the unforgiveable: sexual activity - know that she will have taken and at agonizing length'. My point, which I won't labour, is that Barr is so concerned these days to valorise the writers of Hitchcock's source material that he tends to unfairly denigrate Hitchcock's own cinematic contributions to the films. (A much more objective recent view of Blackmail is Sidney Gottlieb's fine essay, "Hitchcock's Silent Cinema", in 'A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock' - to which I'll come.) Btw, two sources report that Bennett's original play wasn't particularly successful when it opened in 1928 in London's West End. Barr notes that it had only a short run and that 'its subject matter seems to have made both reviewers and audience uneasy' - one of those reviewers called its story 'rather tawdry'. And a recent book, 'Blood on the Stage, 1925-1950' (Scarecrow, 2010), by Ammon Kabatchnik, notes that 'Blackmail' had a rowdy opening and the audience was largely displeased by its concluding on Alice's confession, expecting another scene to follow, which Bennett did thereafter write. (Again I thank CP, of our 'advanced' Hitchcock discussion group, for drawing my attention to Kabatchnik's book.) Now, a moment in Blackmail that is celebrated is the vertical crane-shot that shows Alice accompanying the artist up two flights of stairs to his studio: see frame-capture below. Its principal function is surely to tell the audience that even if Alice screams, she is unlikely to be heard below. But were there precedents for it? Well, this week I have learned of at least two, which I'll share. Both are 1927 films. First, Harold Lloyd's The Kid Brother contains what film lecturer GS describes as 'a brilliantly staged vertical tracking shot for a scene in which Lloyd scales a tree'. I haven't seen it, so can't comment further. Second, another film lecturer, JP, thinks that an 'amazing' shot in Frank Borzage's Seventh Heaven may actually have inspired 'Hitchcock's similar shot in Blackmail', and I think that's likely. JP notes that the film itself is on YouTube, here: Seventh Heaven. The shot begins at the 2'19" mark and runs for over a minute, to the 3'51" mark. It is more elaborate than the Hitchcock shot (at least four flights of stairs this time!), and seems to want to emphasise how very high up the sewer worker named Chico (Charles Farrell) lives. As he says to the girl named Diane (Janet Gaynor), a prostitute, whom he has rescued from her murderous sister, 'Not bad, eh? I work in the sewer but I live in the stars!' More on Blackmail next time.

September 24 - 2011
One of the films that greatly influenced Hitchcock was F.W. Murnau's The Last Laugh (1924), which he watched being shot at the UFA studios in Berlin. Emil Jannings plays the ageing hotel doorman who will soon be humiliated when he is demoted but who in the opening sequence cuts a splendid figure as he goes about his job, the literal front-man for the posh 'Hotel Atlantic'. The camera descends inside a lift into the hotel foyer, and sheer fluidity of movement is the essence of the sequence we now watch. The hotel's revolving door is at the centre of it all, like an emblem. The entire edifice, including the rainy streets outside filled with passing cars and pedestrians and Stimmung (radiant lighting effects), was created in the studio. Towards evening, the doorman returns home. Murnau sets up this next sequence by showing the working-class tenements and courtyards - little better than a slum - with their archways and high concrete walls, and down-at-heel inhabitants. (One such couple limp by.) Here the doorman is a hero. As he proceeds across the courtyard he is like a ship entering harbour, and housewives break off their evening gossip to stop and curtsey to him, for he is still wearing his magnificent doorman's uniform (and is clearly pleased with himself!). When Hitchcock referred to The Last Laugh during a talk he once gave at USC, he said that it was about the 'German reverence for uniforms', and this sequence is the epitome of that. No wonder that you can detect its influence in his own films. Notably, the opening of Blackmail (1929) shows a 'Flying Squad' van speeding through the London streets and making a U-turn as it receives a radio message directing the detectives on board to bring in a suspect from a nearby slum area. The van's spinning front wheel is shown in close-up to eblemise the dynamics of the sequence. But on arriving at the slum, the detectives disembark and proceed on foot through a couple of archways past watching housewives and other loiterers. The very architecture is like that of the tenement in The Last Laugh, with added touches of Hitchcock's own: see frame-capture below. Note the two lamps, including one whose lamppost supports a makeshift clothes-line. (Cf also Chaplin's Easy Street and the use it makes of such a lamp!) By the end of this sequence, which contains several further 'touches', Hitchcock no doubt felt that he had made good use of the film's opening moments to establish the police's working milieu, which will figure further in the film. I'm reminded of something critic Bill Krohn said to me in an email this week after seeing the Graham Cutts/Alfred Hitchcock film The White Shadow (1924) at its 're-premiere' in Hollywood. Apparently, at the time of its making, Hitch hadn't yet watched another German film that would have a big influence on him, Fritz Lang's Doctor Mabuse the Gambler (1922). For Bill writes: 'The White Shadow is a much better film than expected, but ... it confirms [things] we already know - for example, that seeing Mabuse had an earth-shaking effect on Hitchcock, because in The White Shadow he and Cutts are still using the standard decoupage that Hitchcock learned at Famous-Players Lasky.' Okay, let's return to Blackmail and a couple of other things I learned about it (or thought about it) recently. Charles Barr has studied the original play by Charles Bennett, and reports that the film often sticks very closely to its source. For example, the extended and at times dream-like sequence in which Alice (Anny Ondra) wanders all night through the streets of London after stabbing to death the artist (Cyril Ritchard) who had tried to rape her, is said to support Bennett's assertion, 'I'm not kidding myself ... the film was [largely] my play'. According to Barr, 'Bennett's stage directions for the exit of Alice from the [artist's] studio ... are almost like a script for the sequence that Hitchcock makes of it.' ("Blackmail: Charles Bennett and the Decisive Turn", in Palmer & Boyd, 'Hitchcock at the Source', 2011). (Of course, Barr is a regular campaigner for emphasising the input of Hitchcock's writers to the films, and downplaying Hitchcock's own input in the same scenes, so I wonder if we have any readers familiar with the original play who can comment on how objective Barr is being here? CP, where are you?) One last point now. When Alice gets home, after her sleepless night, she is soon called down to breakfast and is haunted - famously - by the repeated use of the word 'knife' in the conversation of a gossipy neighbour in the kitchen. This sound-sequence is justifiably celebrated, I dare say, but credit should be given - and seldom is - to Hitchcock's clever observation here, namely, how it's Alice's sleeplessness (as well as her guilt feelings) that is (are) responsible for her audio-hallucination. It's a good early example of Hitchcock's use of subjective effects. Cf my point recently (August 27, above) about the 'exaggerated' sound in Psycho when the rain stops: seldom pointed out is how sound is typically magnified after rain!

September 17 - 2011
I imagine that Hitchcock saw Maxwell Anderson's smash Broadway hit, 'The Bad Seed', when it first played in 1954. Adapted from a novel by William March, it seemed to show that Anderson could write 'well-made plays' in the murder/suspense genre that Hitchcock himself had made his own. Anderson's play is pitched somewhere between Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and his yet-to-come Psycho (1960), by which I mean that it has a 'small town' feel while being about an unusual psychopath - in this case, an eight-year-old girl named Rhoda Penmark. Hitchcock had always admired the renowned Anderson's work, going back to the 1930s and such plays as 'Winterset' and 'The High Tor', the latter full of ghostly effects. Very soon Hitchcock would hire Anderson to write the screenplay of The Wrong Man (1957) and a first draft of Vertigo (1958) - though the latter was not a success and Anderson was soon fired. (For more, see Dan Auiler's fine, painstaking account in 'Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic'.) Here I just want to give some thoughts about the film version of Anderson's play, directed by Mervyn LeRoy in 1956, and which I have finally seen. (I had been hearing reports about it for years.) The first thing to say is that it's entertaining, in a Warner Brothers 'social record' sort of way: the performances of the cast, several of them brought from the Broadway run, are all excellent, and give a real feel of the social values of the time. Rhoda's mother, Christine Penmark, is played by Nancy Kelly; her successful marriage to an Army Colonel, Kenneth Penmark (William Hopper), is only spoilt by how he must be away from home for long periods, working at a desk in Washington D.C. However, a matronly landlady, Monica Breedlove (Evelyn Varden), who lives upstairs in the swank apartments where Christine and Rhoda (Patsy McCormack - see frame-capture below) are tenants, drops in every day and spoils little Rhoda while talking volubly to Christine and whoever may be visting her - such as her respected father, Richard Bravo (Paul Fix), a veteran journalist and commentator. So 'normalcy' of a kind seems to prevail. (By the way, or perhaps not, there are one or two scenes between Bravo and another visitor to the town, a fellow writer and public speaker, Reginald Tasker [Gage Clarke], in which they discuss true crime, which are quite Hitchcockian and set the tone for what ensues.) But LeRoy's direction is true to form: critic Andrew Sarris wrote of this middle-brow veteran: 'From Little Caesar [1930] to Gypsy [1962], LeRoy has converted his innate vulgarity into a personal style. As long as he is not mistaken for a serious artist, LeRoy can be delightfully entertaining.' That sounds fair comment to me. This story of a little girl who murders one of her school mates (because he won the gold medal for penmanship which Rhoda coveted) and the mentally retarded local janitor (the latter played brilliantly by Henry Jones, who would be the coroner in Vertigo), is presented as 'serious insight' into ... well, I'm not sure, exactly. Heredity? Adoption? One of Christine's parents had been a psychopath and she had been adopted without her knowledge by foster parents. I think I've got that right. Now Christine must face the fact of both her adoption and the fact that her daughter has inherited 'bad seed'. Which is too serious, given the vagueness of the subject. LeRoy might have done more with the comedy and suspense elements - Hitchcock surely would have. However, I don't want to be unfair. First, the sense that even 'normalcy' is precarious is a worthwhile lesson, and comes across. And second, when Hitchcock went to Warners to make The Wrong Man the following year, even he made a film that was too serious. So, to conclude, here are just a couple more Hitchcock-related points about a film that I recommend Hitchcockians see - once, anyway. As I implied earlier, The Bad Seed is a predecessor of Psycho. Not in the way the respective stories are told but simply in their material. It seems that Rhoda may have killed before, when an old lady had fallen down some stairs. Shades of Norman Bates. Just how many people did Norman kill? And, in particular, how did his father die? The film leaves this open! Lastly, it's interesting to note that The Bad Seed got around some censorship problems with the original ending - in which Rhoda goes unpunished - by means similar to those Hitchcock regularly used in Alfred Hitchcock Presents (first aired in October 1955). As we know, murderers there sometimes went unpunished, or effectively so, until Hitchcock came on at the end and told some anecdote that reported justice was done, perhaps accidentally! That's pretty much what happens at the end of The Bad Seed. But then, just to make sure that we don't feel that it was all too cut-and-dried (I guess), the cast return and a perfect joke of a retributive ending is given us as well: mother puts daughter across her knee and spanks her!

September 10 - 2011
This time some miscellanea on Frenzy (1972). In the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, California, there's a rich oral history, several hundred pages long, in which Hitchcock's assistant Peggy Robertson (1916-98) talks to Barbara Hall. One of Peggy's anecdotes almost certainly refers to cinematographers Jack Hildyard (Topaz, 1969) and Gil Taylor (Frenzy), the latter mentioned here recently as having been clapper-boy on Number Seventeen (1932). According to Robertson, who doesn't name names, when in later days Hitchcock was working with a new cameraman, he would leave either a Vermeer art-book or a Rembrandt art-book on a desk on the soundstage, depending on the film. 'Why don't you just show him what you want?' Riobertson asked her boss. 'He'd argue with me if I did that', replied Hitchcock. 'This way he'll see it lying there, look through it, and maybe we'll get a Vermeer!' The ruse must have worked. As noted here before, there's a Vermeer-type composition in Topaz when Tamara Kusenov (Tina Hedstrom) is playing a piano in the 'safe-house' in Washington D.C. And there is certainly some Rembrandt-like chiaroscuro in some of the interiors of Frenzy! (Also noted here before, a journalist who visited the set of Frenzy reported seeing in Hitchcock's caravan art books featuring Vermeer and Corot.) Robertson also talks at length about the rape scene in Frenzy - Barbara Hall, who obviously doesn't like the scene, keeps drilling her about it. Robertson stresses that Hitchcock hated violence and reports that he said to her on the morning of the scene that he was 'dreading' shooting it, but that it was necessary for the story. She adds that she never saw him so anxious and upset. Hall asks Robertson who the audience identifies with. Robertson's answer is interesting. 'You identify with the murderer', she says, 'as I believe you were meant to.' Now, for my next point, I'm indebted to Peter Hutchings's essay on Frenzy in Charles Barr (ed.), 'All Our Yesterdays' (BFI, 1986). Hutchings writes: 'British comedy also finds a place in Frenzy. Note, for a start, the mere presence of Rita Webb (as the killer's mother) and of Bernard Cribbins (perfectly cast against type, as the pub landlord) - two minor comic icons of British popular culture.' And Hutchings goes on to suggest that 'the concept of a marriage bureau ... is very Carry On in its potential, if not in its actual execution in this film. Significantly, or otherwise, the Carry On team had already given us their marriage bureau film two years previously, in 1970, with Carry On Loving.' My ears pricked as I read that. Knowing that Hitchcock had looked at various English films before making Frenzy, such as Alfie (1966) and Twisted Nerve (1968), I was sure that he would have checked out Carry On Loving. Sure enough, the evidence was plainly there. In the film, a grizzled Sid James and a burly Hattie Jacques run the Wedded Bliss matrimonial agency. And among their (or another agency's) clients, featured in a typical Carry On sight-gag (my notes from several years ago tell me), are a large woman and a little man whom we see coming out of a Citizens' Advice Bureau where the unmarried marriage-guidance counsellor is ... campy Kenneth Williams! That is, the sight-gag predates the not dissimilar one in Frenzy of a new couple, Mrs Davison (Madge Ryan) and Mr Salt (George Tovey), exiting the Blaney (Marriage) Bureau and being congratulated by the bespectacled Miss Barling (Jean Marsh) - see frame-capture below. Something else that struck me was this. Another member of the cast in Carry On Loving is matronly Joan Sims playing a 'corset-consultant'. Interestingly, in her figure and blonde hairstyle, she could be a less demure version of Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) in Hitchcock's film. Moreover, the Sims character has a painting on her wall of a dark-skinned native girl by none other than Vladimir Tretchikoff (1913-2006), for many years a doyen of popular painters. (Wikipedia reports that his "Chinese Girl" 'is one of the best selling art prints ever'.) In Frenzy, you'll remember, genial Cockney Bob Rusk (Barry Foster), the film's murderer, has not one but two Tretchikoff paintings on his wall. Hmm.

September 3 - 2011
More on what I took from Cynthia Erb's article on Psycho in 'Cinema Journal', Summer 2006. Apparently she had recently watched a TV "Biography" program (first broadcast 21 July, 2004, by A&E) on Ed Gein, the real-life killer in Wisconsin who became the basis for Norman Bates. Erb reports 'that Psycho's art designer may have consulted news photography from the Gein case, especially for the design of Sam's hardware store [see frame-capture below] and aspects of Mother's bedroom'. No real surprises there, though note that the hardware store was photographed entirely in the studio, from within. Contra the real shops in Solvang, California, seen in William Castle's Psycho-imitation Homicidal (1961), Hitchcock decided not to show the Fairvale main street, indubitably for budget reasons but also in keeping with the 'interior' emphasis that the film's very title implies. (He did, however, show the 'Fairvale Church', only from the outside, and fairly obviously using the studio's back lot. Like the very names 'Fairvale' and 'Fairvale Church', that modest building characterises the outward face of the community as benign and banal, both. There's a likely German Expressionist influence here.) In the same vein, Erb refers to the final scene of Norman confined. She compares the scene's minimalism - 'bare wall, barred window, and Norman wrapped in a blanket (standing in for a straightjacket)' - to the imaging of the insane in the 1940s exposés of psychiatric institutions, such as Albert Deutsch's book 'The Shame of the States' (1948). According to Erb, a shot in The Snake Pit (also 1948) 'of a straightjacketed Virginia [Olivia De Havilland] facing a barred window, with her back to the camera, is an exact quotation of a news image published in Deutsch's book'. Writers like Deutsch and Albert Maisel (who wrote the 1946 'Life' magazine essay "Bedlam" cited here last time: cf the plot and title of Mark Robson's film Bedlam, made the same year, notwithstanding that it is set in 18th-century London) did not mince words, both comparing contemporary American asylums to Nazi concentration camps. Deutsch slightly qualified this: 'No, indeed, we are not like the Nazis. We do not kill [the inmates] deliberately. We do it by neglect.' In the article I am working on at the moment, focussed on Psycho, I am arguing that there is a surrealism about Hitchcock's films that obliquely reflects another reality, not shown. I wasn't thinking only of physical reality, more of a spiritual, Bressonian kind, but clearly films like Bedlam and Psycho do manage to imply harsh realities that the commercial cinema seldom manages to portray, indeed that once took a rare person like the philosopher Schopenhauer (for whom the cosmic life/death force was bound up with suffering) to so much as mention. But back to Erb. She writes: 'As deinstitutionalization [reform of the institutions] played out in the media, Hitchcock was working on a cycle of films, in which he continued to experiment with ways of imaging madness.' She is referring less to Spellbound than to The Wrong Man (1956), Vertigo (1958), and Psycho. For example, 'Psycho relates realist effects to surrealist techniques of justaposition', and again, 'Psycho is famous for its textual inscription of psychosisis; symptoms are pushed into the film's form.' We cited a couple of instances here last time. Now here's another. Erb writes: 'Norman's performance of vulnerability and confession in the parlor scene marks the one time in the film when he seems passionate and "complete." Part of Psycho's refusal involves access to the "depth" of Norman which is consistently blocked: we never see Anthony Perkins shifting between performances as Norman and Mother - a textual refusal that separates Psycho from practically every other film featuring the split personality conceit.' I guess that's true of the various versions of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, for example, and I note that it's also true of the aforementioned Homicidal which rather anti-climactically (at the climax!) literally demonstrates the 'shifting between performances' mentioned by Erb (though there's still a topper to follow, good enough to inspire the classic Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode "An Unlocked Window" in 1965). Erb astutely adds how, 'following the parlor scene, Norman seems increasingly remote and impenetrable. Hitchcock underscores this with insistent photographic emphasis on the hard angularity of Norman's features. The image of Norman out by the swamp, with hard shadows cast on Perkins's face, and his angular body juxtaposed with a barren tree, have a tendency to construct the madman as pure graphic design, à la Caligari.'

August 27 - 2011
Have been working on Psycho lately (not here), so thought I would look at one or two articles that I have had on file for some time, notably Cynthia Erb's "'Have You Ever Seen the Inside of One of Those Places?'", published in 'Cinema Journal', Summer 2006. (Of the many recent books on Psycho, regular readers may remember that I particularly like 'The Psycho File: A Comprehensive Guide to Hitchcock's Classic Shocker' by Joseph W. Smith III, published by McFarland.) I'm glad I did. Erb writes about 'Psycho, Foucault, and the Postwar Context of Madness' - that her article's subtitle - in sober, serious terms that are illuminating. It made me think of what a sanitised version of 'insane asylums' we see in Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) in its depiction of 'Green Manors' in Vermont: that's clearly a special, privileged institution compared with the reality elsewhere which would soon be exposed in popular articles like a photo-essay "Bedlam 1946" which was first published in 'Life' magazine and reprinted in 'Reader's Digest' the same year - and which led to the making of a film like Anatole Litvak's The Snake Pit (1948). Well, Hitchcock made up for the one-sidedness of the view in Spellbound when he directed Psycho fifteen years later and had Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) ask Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), 'Have you ever seen the inside of one of those places ['madhouses']? The laughter and the tears and the cruel eyes studying you?' Note that the subtext of Psycho goes out of its way to make Norman a not-unsympathetic character. Perhaps next week I'll write more about the revelations in Erb's article. This week, however, I'll concentrate on a couple of her insights into Psycho itself. The first concerns the soundtrack, and specifically how the film sometimes seems to draw on descriptions by Foucault and others of how it feels to be suffering from psychosis. Erb notes that 'auditory hallucination ... is still regarded as the definitive symptom of psychosis. Schizophrenic sound is sourceless, in that the patient cannot determine whether the voices emanate from within or without.' By extension, thinks Erb, its appropriate that the voice of Mother in Psycho uses 'a method of spatial experimentation'. For example, when Marion at the window of her cabin suddenly hears upraised voices from the Bates house (see frame-capture below), Erb thinks that, strictly speaking, 'the sound is impossible: if Marion is down at the motel, [albeit] near an open window, how is it that she can hear a conversation between "two" people in a closed house up the hill?' Although I disagree with Erb's use of 'impossible' about this particular instance - I have written here before with admiration about how Hitchcock has caught precisely the after-rain effect when sounds do appear hyper-naturally clear and distinct - I take her broad point. She gives other examples. When Norman carries Mother downstairs to the fruit cellar, Hitchcock employs a famous crane-shot that keeps us at a distance for obvious reasons which Erb does not deny. Nonetheless, she can legitimately claim, I think, that because we can't actually see who is speaking (though we hear both Mother and Norman) this effect again approximates a 'psychotic rupturing of space'. As Erb sums up: 'the inscription of Mother's voice is consistently psychotic in the sense that it is never properly stabilized in space, either at the diegetic or extradiegetic levels (affecting the characters, affecting the spectator)'. Or, as I'm content to think of the general effect, there's always something a bit eerie, a bit skewed, about the scenes in which Mother figures. Now here's a slightly different effect that Erb notes. She writes: 'Foucault's study of psychotic experience in "Mental Illness and Psychology" [1954, revised 1962] also foregrounded mental illness as a disturbance in temporality. He described deep mental illness as "a particular style of abandoning the world" ... [where,] for the patient, "time no longer projects itself or flows; the past piles up; and the future, which opens up, can contain as promise only the crushing of the present by the ever increasing weight of the past".' Erb cleverly applies this observation to Psycho. In the first part of the film, organised around Marion, there's an emphasis on urgency and speed and transit. 'The slashing of the credit sequence, the title obsessively marking time as 2:43 p.m., the "quickie" that Sam [John Gavin] and Marion have just finished, are but a few of the figures' in this part of the film. By contrast, in Norman's part of the film, he seems trapped in 'what Foucault called the eternity of delusion. Signifiers of psychotic time cluster about Norman: the way he is compared to an owl arrested mid-flight; the way his days are occupied with meaningless tasks performed at the motel for nonexistent occupants; the way he repeats parts of the original speech with Marion to each new arrival at the motel. Even the way Norman disposes of bodies in cars' that 'pile up' in the swamp. Okay. More on Psycho and madness next time.

August 20 - 2011
The main interest of Number Seventeen these days is in watching Hitchcock try out things he would later do more purposefully - and better. There's a protracted fight in a bathroom between Ackroyd (Henry Caine) and one of the crooks Sheldrake (Garry Marsh) that is filmed mainly in close-ups. (Years later Hitchcock would criticise many fights in Westerns because they were photographed from too far away - you need to put the camera 'inside' the action, Hitchcock said.) For variation, Hitchcock cuts away to a tied-up Fordyce and Rose Ackroyd watching in frustration from the nearby landing, or he allows the action to move around the room. Also, the two antagonists do more than exchange head-punches. At times they aim a punch to the stomach or even try pushing the other guy's head back (see frame-capture below - that's Ackroyd on the right). And once or twice Hitchcock speeds up the action in the camera (something he would do again, in Strangers on a Train, for example). What lets the scene down is mainly its sheer pointlessness - though you could say that that is the point of Number Seventeen! - plus some poor dubbing in which the sound of blows is either out of synchronisation with the image or just not very convincing. (This was just a few years into the sound era of movies.) At a narrative level, the business with handcuffs is fairly perfunctory here - except at the climax when the crooks have handcuffed Nora for betraying them, and Fordyce rescues her from drowning after the crooks' train plunges into the icy waters of the English Channel - but of course it looks forward to The 39 Steps where handcuffs very effectively serve dramatic and comic purposes. Actually, when Fordyce saves Nora's life at the climax, it is the second time he has done that - we noted last time how he had taken a bullet that was heading in her direction. In turn, she re-pays the favour half way through the film when she somehow releases Fordyce and Rose from hanging suspended in space after the banister-rail to which they were tied collapses. How she does it is unclear - of course Hitchcock cheats here! (Similarly, we never see how Scottie in Vertigo got down off the roof after hanging from guttering high above a San Francisco street!) Note that the film for a time has two possible 'heroines' - young Rose or the lady-like (but initially 'deaf and dumb') Nora. The fact that Fordyce goes through ordeals with both of them can leave us unclear which of these two women is the potential love-interest. It turns out to be Nora and of course Rose is fairly young - Fordyce might have had to be a cradle-snatcher to choose her, though, on the other hand, she doesn't seem any younger than Erica in Young and Innocent a few years later. What this does is leave the film with a broken-backed narrative typical of the 'carelessness' that Hitchcock later admitted it had. Also, Rose and her injured father (after the fist fight) are simply forgotten about when the story needs to move on: the last we see of them is in the bathroom where Rose is nursing his wounds and Fordyce tells her to go and get a doctor. (She refuses, telling him not to worry but to chase after the crooks.) But I haven't said much yet about the climactic nightime chase between train and bus. This chase redeems the film. (Imagine how much less impact the climax would have had if Fordyce hadn't fallen off the train and had to commandeer the bus to try and catch up!) Here the soundtrack works very well, contributing immeasurably to the excitement. The highly realistic clanking of the carriages for the train scenes (in which Ben teams up with Nora to try and foil the crooks) provides an almost musical ground from which the film rhythmically cuts away and returns. Likewise, the whine of the bus's motor (with Fordyce and the driver and some shaken-up passengers aboard) contributes its note of urgency, allowing subtle effects like a cut to a hanging sign outside a tea-house when the bus speeds by. 'Stop here for dainty teas' invites the sign (yeah, right!), and the faintest of breezes sways the board as silence begins to settle again on the countryside. But I'll conclude by mentioning one witty wipe-cut during the train scenes. A drunken Ben has just clambered along the outside of the train to join Nora in the guard's van (the crooks have tied up the guard, and are heading back along the train in a chase of their own because of a falling-out between them). Nora hails Ben with the words, 'You might have been killed' - whereupon the film uses a diagonal wipe-cut that acts for all the world as if it were a passing train running Ben down! Point taken! (A few moments later, the film daringly does show a railway employee being run down when the train fails to stop at the Channel. Shades of the 1976 film Silver Streak, in which a passenger train crashes at speed into its Chicago terminal.)

August 13 - 2011
(Hitchcock's birthday) In 1932 Hitchcock made what he afterwards called 'little more than a quota quickie', Number Seventeen, and decided to have some fun with it. It begins as an 'old dark house' film (n.b., James Whale's film of that title, from J.B. Priestley's novel, was made the same year), and is noticeably slow in its first half. The actors have clearly been instructed to perform almost in slow motion, this very likely being Hitchcock's way of satirising some acting styles of the silent cinema; but of course the initial slowness highlights the fast-paced 'chase' that follows (a bus chasing a train). The fact that the plot involves a house built over a railway line flummoxed Maurice Yacowar ('Hitchcock's British Films', 1977) who said it was 'ludicrous', but I assure him that I once (in East Melbourne) lived just down the road from such a house! There's actually something exciting and surreal about such a house - it reminds me of paintings by Magritte and Delvaux that feature trains - and 'jolly good fun' in a British sort of way (I guess I'm thinking of novels like the Bulldog Drummond stories by 'Sapper', and children's adventures by, say, Enid Blyton). But Yacowar must have sensed something of the kind, noting its 'distinctive line of comedy ... hovering between the burlesque and the surreal'. The film was actually based on a London stage success called 'Joyous Melodrama' by J. Jefferson Farjeon, first produced by Leon M. Lion at, I think, the New Theatre in 1925 (it played in various theatres over the years), and who starred as its 'lovable Cockney' Ben (of the Merchant Navy). Lion became associated with the role and plays it again in Hitchcock's film, which he helped finance. (He didn't appear, however, in a 1928 German film version of the play, directed by Géza von Bolvary.) Plausability is something that apparently didn't greatly worry either the original author or Hitchcock about the story. For example, the film retains the moment from the play in which Gilbert Fordyce (played in the film by John Stuart) 'magically' stops a bullet that would have hit Nora (Anne Grey), and who emerges from the incident with just a bandaged wrist. (The frame-capture below shows him putting out his arm to protect her. Btw, Stuart had starred in Hitchcock's first film, The Pleasure Garden.) Fordyce later turns out to be Detective Barton, who is on the trail of crooks who deal in stolen diamonds and who use the house over the railway line as a means of boarding the trans-Channel train to escape to the Continent. Famously, at the film's climax, which was added by Hitchcock, the train goes out of control and plunges into the icy waters of the Channel, threatening to drown Nora, but she is rescued by Fordyce/Barton. Meanwhile Ben has managed to steal back the valuable diamond necklace that the crooks were escaping with - it's Hitchcock's first MacGuffin, as Charles Barr has noted - so all ends happily. Some other pieces of trivia now (I'll get slightly more serious next time). First, J. Jefferson Farjeon was so delighted with the success of his original play, and no doubt of its film versions, featuring the Cockney character Ben, that he wrote at least seven other works about Ben (e.g., a novelisation of 'Number Seventeen', plus various other novels such as one called 'Ben Sees It Through'). Following up the note here last time, which quoted Donald Spoto on how brandy appears 'in fifty-one of [Hitchcock's] fifty-three films', we can report that brandy certainly figures in Number Seventeen: Fordyce conveniently has a hip flask of it, which he administers at suitable moments to both Ben and to the young girl Rose Ackroyd (Ann Casson) who literally drops in from the house next door. (Ben is particularly partial to brandy. When he hears Fordyce question something he has said by asking, 'Have another think', his eyes light up and he replies, 'Don't mind if I do.' But when Fordyce's hand comes from his pocket, he is holding not the flask that Ben had anticipated but merely a handkerchief. Ben looks crestfallen.) Finally, a couple of things about personnel on Number Seventeen. The film's clapper-boy ('clapper loader') was a young Gilbert Taylor who, as Gil Taylor, would photograph Hitchcock's Frenzy forty years later. And this week I was asked a question by AB in Japan: was the assistant cameraman (to Jack Cox) on Number Seventeen, namely, one Bryan Langley (the film's credits have 'Byran Langley'), related to Herbert Langley who played a train guard in the film? AB knows of an opera singer called Herbert Langley who did indeed have a son Bryan, but he isn't sure if they're the people involved in Hitchcock's film. (Can anyone help?) More next time.

August 6 - 2011
No entry this week, but we have added some News & Comment items and some notes on new and forthcoming books (on our New Publications page here). KM

July 30 - 2011
Some thoughts on brandy (and cigars) in Hitchcock's films. Donald Spoto's 'The Life of Alfred Hitchcock' makes the hard-to-believe claim that Hitchcock's 'beloved brandy ... appears, like his own cameo, in fifty-one of his fifty-three films'. Although I have never attempted systematically to check that claim, I must say that brandy is mentioned in the film we have been looking at here recently, Secret Agent, and also, I happened to notice, in Mr and Mrs Smith. And most of Hitchcock's late films have memorable brandy scenes (Melanie drinks brandy in The Birds, for example). I'm not sure about Torn Curtain. The dinner scene at Leipzig University, where Professor Lindt surrounds himself with attractive young ladies, and makes merry, features bottles of Slivovitz (plum brandy) and, I think, a kind of cherry brandy, but I didn't spot any conventional (grape) brandy when I looked recently. No matter. I am happy to agree with journalist Luis Rendon, who is writing on this topic (Hitchcock and brandy) for 'Barcode' magazine next month, that fine brandy is particularly apt when it appears in Hitchcock's films: 'brandy is never really trendy but rather a classic that is always in style' - like the films themselves! Hitchcock's own liking for fine brandy goes with his preference for haute cuisine (especially French haute cuisine) in general. James Vest's book 'Hitchcock and France' notes how Hitchcock's 'penchant to have gourmet specialities from Maxim's [in Paris] flown to Los Angeles became legendary'. And Vest quotes Grace Kelly that 'although Hitchcock might live in America, he was very British in his habits and very French in his preference[s] for food and wine'. I suggested to Luis Rendon that both of those Hitchcock traits are implicit in The Paradine Case (1947), notably in its dinner and post-dinner scenes at Lord Horfield's house. The frame-capture below shows Horfield (Charles Laughton) about to share a box of cigars with his guests; if that isn't brandy on the tray in front of him, it was certainly present in the dining-room to which the men will return shortly. (Horfield, already slightly tipsy, will make advances to Keane's wife, played by Ann Todd.) I think that brandy and cigars went together in Hitchcock's mind. Cigars I think he associated with Winston Churchill: btw, the library where Hitch worked in his Bel Air house included the collected works of Churchill as well as those of Wells, Shaw, Dickens, Buchan, and others. Brandy I think he associated with good company, and both with a certain image of masculinity. In turn, my hunch is that the portly Hitchcock associated fine brandy or cognac, served in the correct, ballooon-shaped glasses, with his own physical and mental self-image. A potent mellowness in a striking container, something to be valued by epicures and people who appreciated the best! On that note, Luis Rendon asked me: 'Do you think Hitchcock put alcohol and brandy in his films as a reflection of his personal taste and appreciation?' Yes, I said. He felt more comfortable and creative in familiar surroundings (cf how many of his films and TV shows, even in America, were English-set). But it works both ways. He cultivated his love of fine food and liquor for their 'cosmopolitan' attributes, knowing that he could draw on his connoisseur's knowledge in his films. James Vest reports that Hitch started 'educating' screenwriter John Michael Hayes about haute cuisine and restaurants, both for the pleasure it gave him and because he knew that he and Hayes would shortly be making To Catch a Thief whose milieu is the high-life on the French Riviera. (Contrariwise, it pained the fastidious Hitchcock to see people ignoring the 'rules' of good eating and drinking.) Lastly, I reminded Luis Vendon that Hitch's films are about 'life' which he sought to give audiences in abundance. There is an almost surreal dimension to this. A famous remark by the Surrealists was: 'Fear, the incongruous, and the fascinations of luxury are emotional factors to which we never appeal in vain.' In other words, Hitchcock wanted to put good living and high style on the screen for the sake of counterpoint. Truffaut probably sensed this when he suggested that the essence of the films is 'fear, sex, and death' - to which Hitchcock responded, 'Well, isn't the main thing that they be connected with life?' Now, there are several extended scenes involving brandy in Hitchcock's films (in The Lady Vanishes, Suspicion, and Topaz, to name three). Maybe I'll discuss those another time.

July 23 - 2011
I received something of an eye-opener this week. In correspondence with a very intelligent filmmaker, CD, I was startled to learn that he believed the Universal Hitchcocks of the 1960s were budget-restricted and looked cheap, starting with their titles sequences, indeed with the very logo at the start of each film. I didn't spare him my response that this was nonsense and that he was talking about some of the greatest title sequences in movies! Author and critic Bill Krohn chimed in, confirming that for the logos, at least, Hitchcock 'had all the money he could spend on The Birds, Marnie, and Torn Curtain'. Bill added that Hitchcock 'had an installation artist create the Torn Curtain credits sequence' - something I'll come back to (since it happens to be one of my all-time favourites). Knowing that CD was an industry professional, I chided him. Mate, I said, you aren't appreciating the Symbolist mode in which these late Hitchcock sequences work. You have to go beyond the everyday (industry) 'winking consensus' mindset! And to prove that Hitchcock knew exactly what he was doing, I cited how, from Vertigo (1958) onwards, he had worked with graphic artist Saul Bass and composer Bernard Herrmann to almost literally chill the responsive viewer from the very first image and sound of each film (yes, even the image of the company logo). Vertigo, a colour and VistaVision film, opens with a b/w image that is disturbing and brilliant - the Paramount logo! See frame-capture below. Straight away you (should) feel that something is up, that this is to be no ordinary film. Especially so, when the b/w effect continues for several moments into the images that follow (though I read somewhere that some recent DVD and/or Blu-Ray versions of Vertigo have attempted to 'right' this 'aberration' - no comment!). Similarly, North by Northwest (1959) opens with its quite startling green-and-white image of the MGM lion that is as sinister as any film image I know. And again, Psycho (1960) starts with its unorthodox, absolutely silent shot of a snowy (Paramount) peak that looks like it has been 'scanned' for TV: the effect is to make it seem from another realm - certainly not the everyday comfort-zone one. (Next moment, as if to confirm that dreadful things are brewing, Herrmann's pounding score begins and Bass's fractured credits straight away suggest, well, abnormality! Reader, I'm aware that each of these openings merits an essay to itself, but my main aim for now is to show the continuity from Vertigo to Torn Curtain.) Next, The Birds (1963). I will only say that its opening title of 'Universal Pictures Presents' (cerulean blue lettering over a stylised globe of the world, anticipating the film's bird's-eye shots later) manages to both chill and reassure in one paradoxical image that will stay with me for ever. Unfortunately, CD felt that it 'looks kind of cheap'. Oh no! Likewise, the opening title of Marnie (1964) less than impressed him. He felt it 'looks like imitation Selznick ... and very cheap'. Well, at least I can agree with the first half of that assessment. I wrote here years ago that the turning-pages effect that opens the film is deliberately a throwback to the literary adaptations that Selznick specialised in during the 1930s (e.g., David Copperfield and Little Lord Fauntleroy); however, that's only a small part of what is going on. The sedate, almost 'nursery-deco' design (and turning pages) of the opening logo and ensuing titles sequence is accompanied by Herrmann's loud and richly suggestive music that begins with a simulated cry in the night: the overall effect is to suggest that what follows will be a 'case study' both archetypal and terrible yet which might just finally turn out all right. As for Torn Curtain (1966), the chillingness has not departed (here, bear in mind also the verbal or visual references to coldness in Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie). It opens with a swirling grey mist that is akin to the soupy chaos with which - creation myths tell us - the world began. Although this will be assimilated in a few moments to the image of a misty fiord and a ship whose heating system has broken down, what first emerges out of that 'soup' is one of Hitchcock's great Symbolist passages: using a split screen, it implies that the world is nothing less than a place of 'tortured souls and torturing devils' like those described passionately by both the philosopher Schopenhauer and the poet Baudelaire - both of whom were influences on the Symbolist movement and thus, if only indirectly, on Hitchcock. (I elaborate on this in my chapter "Hitchcock's Literary Sources" for the 'Alfred Hitchcock Companion'.) But I'll give the final word to Bill Krohn (whom I thank). To me and CD he wrote: 'In Torn Curtain Hitchcock was showing he could create a stunning credit sequence without Saul Bass [or Bernard Herrmann]. That instinct for experimentation and adventure never left him.'

July 16 - 2011
Actually, I think the 'angels' references in Secret Agent, et al., are all to the end of adding a further layer of 'poetry'. Done, of course, with the lightest of touches, even humour, but nonetheless reminding us that Hitchcock's films are soul-dramas. At the climax, Elsa will say that she doesn't want a (further) killing 'on our conscience'; the psychopathic General will respond that he has a job to do and that 'Heaven is always with a good cause'. We can take that how we like, just as we could a remark of Marvin's to Elsa immediately before this: 'You know I never loved you, don't you?' (Next moment, he kisses her passionately.) All along, Marvin has used reverse-meanings - as when he had telephoned Elsa at the hotel to ask, 'Hello, is that the uglist woman in the world?' - so it's by no means clear that he means what he says now. And in Hitchcock, as in life, actions do speak louder than words. For her part, Elsa, largely inactive to this point, is ever-resourceful at the climax on the train. First she tells Marvin that she is no spy, but soon afterwards, when it becomes necessary, she lies again, telling him that she's loved him all along, since she first set eyes on him. (We know why she's doing this because a 'thinks' voice-over has just intoned, 'Save Ashenden, save Ashenden'.) And she is the equal of Marvin's every move. He rises, intending to have the train searched. Guessing his intention, Elsa rises too. 'Why don't you have the train searched?' she asks daringly. Marvin: 'That's exactly what I'm going to do.' Elsa (bluffing like crazy): 'Do so, and perhaps then you'll believe me.' Whereupon, he calls off the search-request, adding, 'I hope you're not bluffing me.' Elsa: 'Why should I? Surely a clever man like you can guess [that] I loved you from the first day we met.' Elsa is clearly in the tradition of other gutsy, beautiful Hitchcock heroines who take the contest right up to the enemy, like Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) in Notorious, Lisa (Grace Kelly) in Rear Window, and Eve (Eva Marie-Saint) in North by Northwest. Nonetheless, such heroines can get out of their depth. When Elsa intervenes to stop Ashenden and The General from killing Marvin by saying she doesn't want his death 'on our conscience', what other options remain? Ashenden remonstrates with her: 'It's his life against the lives of thousands [of troops at the front].' Elsa (weakly): 'What do I care?' Here I think of Jill/Jo in the Albert Hall climax of the respective versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much. All that is left to her (Jill/Jo), finally, is to scream. The equivalent in Secret Agent is the sudden end of all discussion when the train is derailed by gunfire from British planes. And yet, Hitchcock lets us keep our cake and eat it too. He shows Ashenden's hands reaching out to strangle Marvin (see frame-capture below), then withdraw because his conscience will not let him do such a thing to his enemy counterpart - a fellow human being, already dying. This moment anticipates the one near the end of Marnie where - after the death of Marnie's beloved horse Forio - she can no longer do what she once did habitually: rob her husband's (or some other businessman's) safe. Marnie's inability to go through with the deed is signalled by the camera zooming in and out of the open safe full of bundled banknotes. Psychiatrists would call the moment one of 'abreaction', because Marnie's complexes (invested in her love for Forio) have begun to unravel. She is now ready to advance to a higher stage of her 'cure'. Forio's death is the equivalent of the phrase from Wilde that Hitchcock liked to quote: 'Each man kills the thing he loves'. (Hitchcock: 'I think that's quite a common phenomenon, really.') And something similar is happening in the moment I've described in Secret Agent. Suddenly we may glimpse why the 'angels' imagery was introduced earlier. As I said, the films are soul-dramas. (And the fact that a hard-nosed, ironic ending follows - in which Marvin shoots The General who had once thought to kill him, Marvin, but had now momentarily trusted him in order to give him water - shows that the world remains an imperfect place.)

July 9 - 2011
Secret Agent continued. A delight in watching a Hitchcock film is to spot the many 'touches' that contribute to clarity and continuity. On arriving back at the hotel after hiding out in the church where the organist had died - hiding, that is, in the belfry so as not to be suspected themselves - Brodie/Ashenden and The General are 'still blind in the ear' (as The General puts it) because someone had repeatedly rung the church bell to summon help. (The belfry and the bell-ringing anticipate Vertigo, which has its own atmospheric and completist 'touches'.) We see The General poking his ear, and we instantly make the connection, even before he explains. The pair head for the nearby casino to join Elsa and Marvin. However, they pause at the entrance because Ashenden recognises the dog tied up there as the one whose paw he had trod on earlier. 'He doesn't seem to bear any malice', Ashenden comments, in effect a reflection on the dog's gentle owner, Caypor. But of course Hitchcock basically wanted this shot in order to set up the bit of business that soon follows, in which the dog, trailing its broken leash, is seen running the length of the casino hall to join its master. In a reverse-shot Caypor snatches it up (see frame-capture below) and begins to explain to casino officials that there's no reason to get excited. The shot, note, is composed like a horizontal tableau, in contrast to the in-depth shot preceding it; in turn, its single plane readily allows Hitchcock to cut in close-shots of Elsa and Ashenden (and, joining them, The General) as they discuss how 'he's our man' (to be killed). Yes, the gentle Caypor! The incident with the dog will allow introductions and the fatal invitation to Caypor to join The General and Ashenden on a mountaineering trip next day. But look further at the shot of Caypor with his dog. Next to him Hitchcock has positioned a military figure in uniform (sorry, I'm not sure what ranking his three stripes signify) who is missing one arm. It's like a subliminal reminder of Brodie/Ashenden's one-armed batman whom we met in the film's opening scene, the fake funeral. No doubt the military man is on leave, and a credible figure to be seen in the casino in wartime. But also, like the batman, he is representative of the War and its victims, another subliminal reminder: compare the film's use of sound, as I suggested last time. As for Caypor in his knickerbockers, he cuts a respectable figure of a rather sporty retired Englishman - though with a German wife - and thus holds his own in the present company. He too, very pointedly, will become a victim of the War. Another interesting shot now follows. Hitchcock has introduced a dog into the proceedings, but he needs Caypor to remain in the casino to get acquainted with Ashenden's party. So what to do with the dog? It would look awkward if Caypor simply carried him around inside the casino for the ensuing scene in its lounge. Well, don't let it be said that Hitchcock didn't try to satisfy 'the plausibles' (as he called them)! He first takes witty advantage of the situation by having The General (who has said he hates dogs) carry Caypor's dog into the lounge. (As a do-anything psychopath, The General more than once reminds me of the calculating Bruno Anthony in Strangers on a Train.) Then, as soon as possible, and with no distraction to the narrative, we're shown the dog being carried away by a member of the casino staff who has come to the table. The view is out of focus, in the shot's background, but it's there all right. One other matter now. Many Hitchcock films contain references to 'angels', and Secret Agent is no exception. But it appears to be done jokingly (even if no Hitchcock film is just a joke!). When Brodie/Ashenden first meets his assigned 'wife', he calls her 'Angel'. Standing nearby is Marvin, who has been keeping Elsa company, and he explains this by saying, 'A good angel threw us together.' Soon afterwards, when they are alone, Ashenden asks Elsa why she elected to take such a demanding job, adding, 'You might have been a nurse or something.' She replies, 'I'm no ministering angel.' Hmm. As with the church and belfry references, I think that something is going on here beyond the merely functional. Call it 'tone', and I'll have more to say about it another time.

July 2 - 2011
We are discussing Secret Agent. I think I once noted here how Gavin Lambert ('The Dangerous Edge', 1975) describes a moment in one of G.K. Chesterton's stories: 'A photographer with a black cloak over his head apparently focusses his camera - [and] only the unnatural posture of his leg reveals that he was murdered hours ago and propped up against his tripod.' It's quite likely that Hitchcock read that passage in Chesterton (one of his favourite authors) and remembered it when he created a variant: the death of a church organist in Secret Agent (see frame-capture below). Lambert's point is that many of 'Chesterton's high points are ... visual rather than narrative'. Well, so is the death of the church-organist in Secret Agent but of course it's also strikingly aural because the dead organist has slumped on the organ keyboard which omits one sustained chord and this sounds, at first, deliberate on the organist's part, a bravura effect! So many of the effects in Secret Agent are aural and drawn-out, and it's worth mentioning some of them. For example: the death of the innocent Caypor (see last week) is accompanied on the soundtrack by the extended whining of his pet daschund back at the hotel, the dog seeming telepathically aware of its master's death. (I once found this to be one of Hitchcock's silliest effects - whereas the mention of possible human telepathy between uncle and niece in Shadow of a Doubt is raised in the context of a joke, which makes a difference. Nonetheless, and despite seeing a documentary recently which could find no substantial evidence of canine telepathy, I now regard the Secret Agent sequence as powerful in its own way. If nothing else, it's like a metaphor for the higher feeling which Secret Agent is about. And, incidentally, this sequence, too, has a precedent in a Chesterton story, "The Oracle of the Dog", as well as in one of the Somerset Maugham stories that are the nominal basis of Secret Agent. The English, it seems, have always had particular rapport with their animals, and there are worse national traits.) But I was listing some of the sustained aural effects in the film. After Caypor's death, a downcast Brodie/Ashenden and Elsa attend a village dance where coins are being swirled in bowls to create a 'musical' accompaniment. The sound is somewhere between a drone and a whine, a subliminal reminder of the dog's whine, and it goes on and on, quite mournfully. (Not content with this aural effect, Hitchcock keys it to the image of a swirling button, which has its own significance in the narrative.) Eventually, this sound modulates into a yodelling by the same dancers, but again it manages to sound as much mournful as joyful, and again it is extended. Indeed, it continues in the background when the pair escape from the dance hall (they have just learned that the dead Caypor was indeed 'the wrong man', i.e., innocent, though that fact only amuses the callous assassin, The General, played by Peter Lorre) and board a boat on Lake Geneva to be by themselves. In turn, this sequence has its own sustained background sound, the steady 'roar' of the passing waves (the soundtrack exaggerates the sound) which is a suitably oppressive accompaniment. Several shots of the waves are cut into the sequence, so it was clearly an intentional thing on Hitchcock's part. But there are further examples. The entire chocolate factory sequence is accompanied by the steady roar of machinery (again picking up on the earlier 'roar' effects, which may even surreally suggest the wartime setting and the battlefields which are shown only at the start and end of the film), and which eventually modulates into the almost bizarre sound of the machinery running by itself, so to speak, as the factory has suddenly been cleared of workers by The General who has triggered an alarm bell. (There's a roughly matching moment in Torn Curtain - not the only overlap of the two films.) Astutely, the sound recordist has got this sound down convincingly, for it is quite different from the lower pitched sound earlier when the noise of the machinery was presumably part-absorbed by the many people inside the factory. Lastly, another steady roar is heard later: the noise of the train on the way to Constantinople. And again it is eventually cut off, when British planes bomb the train which is derailed. So apart from the sheer urge to experiment, why did Hitchcock have so many related sound effects in this film? My guess is that, yes, he wanted to suggest the roar of the guns and the whine of the bullets on the distant battlefields. More broadly still, I think he was establishing a deadly and impersonal realm of sound as a counterpoint to the living humanity that Brodie/Ashenden and Elsa eventually opt for after completing - almost by accident - their particular mission and then quitting to get (really) married.

June 25 - 2011
For some reason, the Granada 'Hitchcock: The British Years' DVD of Secret Agent (1936) has better sound-volume (on my equipment, at least), but the Region 4 Madman DVD of Secret Agent has a thoughtful commentary by Melbourne research student Mairead Phillips, and is recommended. I watched the film this week, and found it quite Catholic - but also radical. For example, as usual, Hitchcock has nothing against sex. He takes advantage of the fact that British agents 'Richard Ashenden' (John Gielgud) and Elsa Carrington (Madeleine Carroll) are nominally married - with passports to 'prove' it - to slip past the baffled censors a scene in which the pair have clearly just made love. And we hear Ashenden say, 'There are times, Mrs Ashenden, when it's almost a pleasure to be alive.' Note the underlying cynicism, or at least pessimism, in that remark. It catches the film's tone exactly. This is another Hitchcock film about realpolitik and the need, if possible, to uphold some morality or code of conduct in the face of it. Significantly, the assassin named The General (Peter Lorre) is first introduced chasing servant girls below stairs (the realm of the id) and quickly established as an unprincipled, stop-at-nothing killer. As his employer at the English Foreign Office, 'R' (Charles Carson), says, 'He's more than a lady-killer.' He is something of a Dionysian figure in a film that is about (in Nietzsche's terms), Dionysian versus Apollonian. Significantly, his opposite-number, the man who will turn out to be a dangerous agent working for Germany (the film is set during World War One), though neither the audience nor the English characters know this until the end, is also a Dionysian figure. His name is Robert Marvin (Robert Young), an American, and we first come upon him dangling an immense bunch of grapes before his mouth and making a lazy play for Elsa/'Mrs Ashenden' at the same time. Even 'R' himself is a sensualist, and callous - you could say he is allied with both life and death (see below) - who worries that the bombs on London may disturb the goldfish in his office but won't hesitate to sacrifice men's lives if it helps the English war effort. Late in the film, we see him receive a report on the war from an officer (Tom Helmore, who would play Gavin Elster in Vertigo) while indulging himself in a sauna, even to the extent of smoking a cigar at the same time (but it soon unravels!) and plotting the incidental deaths by bombing of scores of both British and foreigners, including civilians, on a train heading for Constantinople that has the fleeing Marvin on board. (See frame-capture below.) This broad pattern of the film is related to a theme which sees Elsa gradually changing her outlook after she has first craved danger and excitement, and killing, almost as if it were chocolate (a metaphor I use deliberately), because it will give her the opportunity 'to do something worthwhile'. She is a predecessor, clearly, of Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) in North by Northwest who becomes an American double-agent - and the mistress of foreign spy Vandamm (James Mason) - 'because I had nothing better to do that weekend'. Seeing the light after the death of an innocent man named Caypor (Percy Marmont), Elsa prevails on Ashenden to abandon the mission, and he wavers, but then word comes that a clue to the wanted man's whereabouts will be found in a local chocolate factory (we are now in Switzerland), and he rushes there with The General. The resulting scene is one of the film's big set-pieces. The fact that it is exciting, and we enjoy and relish it, is significant. Hitchcock as usual knows that an audience - like the life/death force itself - is basically amoral. We crave life like many of us crave chocolate, and Hitchcock is happy to give it to us because, paradoxically, he is thus freed to show us reality in its fullest extent. (We have been discussing this here recently - see "Editor's Week" above.) As indicated, he even shows us the realpolitik of 'R' dispatching the Royal Flying Corps to shoot up a crowded train that has his own agents on board, as well as the German Marvin and numerous civilians. Easy to think of present-day parallels, such as civilians killed during drone attacks on the Taliban in Afghanistan, and full marks to Hitchcock for anticipating it. He wanted to resort to an almost surreal effect at this point and, when the train crashes, have shown the film appear to visibly catch fire (cf Ingmar Bergman's Persona, 1966). He commissioned experimental filmmaker Len Lye to design the effect, using red film, but was finally overruled by his producers who feared it would confuse, even panic, audiences. Hmm. As they say in Psycho, 'When reality came too close ...' More next time.

June 18 - 2011
In sum, we have been looking here recently at the 1956 AHP episode "Wet Saturday" (directed by Hitchcock himself) and the peculiarly English Hitchcockian humour whose literary roots go back to Thomas De Quincey ("Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts"). Helped by essays by Nick Haeffner and James Naremore, I have tried to show that such humour allows Hitchcock to present the world in its amoral fullness (rather than filtered through moral didacticism, for example). Such humour is almost surreal. Moreover, Hitchcockian humour accords with Freud's view of certain types of wit and comedy that he calls 'liberating' (see last time). Something important to note about the English family shown in "Wet Saturday" is that, up to the moment when daughter Millicent suddenly turns murderer, it would have appeared perfectly respectable, if a bit old-fashioned and musty. Apart from the father (Sir Cedric Harwicke), the other members - wife, daughter, and son - are all shown to be lacking in imagination and, yes, moral awareness. 'Oh Millicent, how could you?' we hear the weak mother say, as if that were sufficient of a reprimand (and a reprimand would suffice). The son has failed his medical studies and has difficulty coming to the point. The father is greatly exasperated at the start of the episode when he tries to get both son and daughter to tell him the information he needs. For his part, he is already thinking of how to conceal Millicent's crime, for, as he says, 'Our family has held a position of respectability in this community for generations and I have no intention of seeing its good name undone by the stupidity of one foolish female.' Note two 'critiques' here: (1) of either an absence or a 'perversion' of imagination which is itself shown to be a moral quality (since imagination proceeds from 'life', not from some dead, half-remembered rule of conduct or attitude), and (2) of patriarchy, the social order that provides the supposed yardstick for proper conduct (but can itself be overly rigid or narrow, or subject to 'perverted' interpretation: cf our analysis of Hitchcock's Murder! recently). Among Hitchcock's remarks at the end of "Wet Saturday" (see frame-capture below) is how 'heart-warming' it is 'to see a family standing shoulder to shoulder in the face of adversity'. This literally brings the program home to its TV audience, but only obliquely implies the true moral - which, however, may be rather more elusive than any simple moral precept we have been taught. To conclude, here are further comments on Thomas de Quincey, taken in part from a book review by Michael Dirda in 'The Washington Post' (30 December, 2010). De Quincey does have counterparts or epigones outside of English literature. For example, Dirda calls him in some respects 'a British cousin to Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire'. Of "Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts", Dirda astutely notes: 'Conceived as a lecture to a society of connoisseurs, it remains the foundational text for the grisly black humor of films such as Kind Hearts and Coronets [Robert Hamer, 1949] or Patricia Highsmith's novels about the talented Mr Ripley.' (Apropos of something I've been saying here, I'm also reminded of Highsmith's non-Ripley novel, 'Strangers on a Train', in which Guy tells Bruno that 'the greatest wisdom in the world' is 'that everything has its opposite close beside it'.) As for De Quincey's other most-famous essay, "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth", Dirda summarises: 'In De Quincey's view, the killing of Duncan occurs during a "suspension and a pause in ordinary human concerns," in a kind of temporal "parenthesis," and the knocking signals the return to the normal goings-on of the world, while also revealing to the Macbeths the full horror of what they have just done.' Exactly, and as I've said before, the (surely knowing) Hitchcockian equivalent is to be found in Psycho, in a combination of the clean-up by Norman after the murder and the scene of 'the lady buying the pesticide' in Loomis's Hardware Store. (For what exactly 'the lady buying the pesticide' means to the film's audience, see 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'.) In turn, some of the clever sign-offs by Hitchcock at the end of his TV shows are also in that same vein.

June 11 - 2011
In the Hitchcock-directed AHP episode "Wet Saturday", which we've been discussing here, the humorous tone is set by such things as the evident near-madness of its upper middle-class (and very patricarchal) family. Btw, the decor could almost be that of Lina's parents' house in Suspicion (1941) or even Manderley in Rebecca (1940). Now, particularly dotty is the daughter Millicent who, you'll remember, killed a local schoolmaster. She constantly uses wild hand-gestures (see frame-capture below) or, ostrich-like, buries her head in her cardigan. But we have also been talking about how Hitchcock's films and TV episodes reflect what Keats called 'the [amoral] poetic character' which sees the artist often taking one position one day and its opposite the next! (See May 28, above.) And last time, at the end, quoting James Naremore, I noted how that phenomenon resembles Northrop Frye's observation about the two poles of melodrama, the serious and the ironic/satirical - if you push one type of melodrama too far it may turn into the other! (See June 4, above.) In turn, we have have been noting how some of Hitchcock's humour is based on a similar facility, or agility, allowing a certain surrealism of effect. (See May 28.) Thomas De Quincey was the Englishman who pioneered such humour, and famously, in "Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" (1827 and 1839), he treated murder not as a moral issue but as an aesthetic one. T.S. Eliot, then, probably had De Quincey in mind when he wrote: '[Y]ou can never draw the line between aesthetic criticism and moral and social criticism [because] however rigorous an aesthete you may be, you are over the frontier into something else sooner or later.' (That's quoted in Robert Morrison's Introduction to Thomas De Quincey, 'On Murder', Oxford World Classics, 2006, p. xvii.) Now let's turn again to James Naremore's essay "Hitchcock and Humor" for how he references Freud in this connection. Specifically, he notes that in 1928 in the paper "Humor" Freud spoke of how wit and the comic are "liberating" when they result from the ego's rising above something that might otherwise be painful to it: this, says Freud, is a 'triumph of narcissism' and 'the ego's victorious assertion of its own invulnerability'. Ultimately, the 'rebellious' ego here displays not only its own triumph but also that 'of the pleasure principle' which is strong enough to assert itself in the face of 'adverse real circumstances'. (Quoted by Naremore in Allen & Ishii-Gonzales - see last time - p. 28.) My thinking is this. First, the family in "Wet Saturday" may not be humourists, exactly, but the episode invites us to look on murder that way! And second, I repeat my feeling that Hitchcock's films, etc., are both 'realist' and 'creative' at the same time, i.e., Hitchcock allows us to have our cake and eat it too. We are shown truths (in which Hitchcock was something of an expert, like a criminologist or a philosopher) but by means of humour we are protected from, even unaware of, them, and thereby made to feel 'superior'! Note what I said at the end of the entry on May 21, above, about old-style 'prescriptivist' linguistics versus new-style, politically-correct 'descriptivist' linguistics: that Hitchcock would not have been satisfied with either type by itself. He said about his kind of filmmaking, 'it must look real but it must never be real'. Hmm. That's enough on Hitchcockian humour for this week. To end on, here's something I just found out. Hitchcock always looked for strong basic situations, and one of the best examples from among his TV shows of a strong basic situation or story-concept is of course "Lamb to the Slaughter" based on the story by Roald Dahl. Well, apparently Dahl himself was given the idea by his friend Ian Fleming, the future creator of James Bond. One night in New York at a dinner party, after several martinis, Fleming took Dahl aside and proposed the perfect murder plot: 'Why don't you have someone murder their husband with a frozen leg of mutton which she then serves to the detectives who come to investigate the murder?' (Source: Jennett Conant, 'The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington', Simon & Schuster Paperback, 2009, p. 333.)

June 4 - 2011
Nick Haeffner's essay on Hitchcock which I quoted last time draws in turn on both James Naremore's essay "Hitchcock and Humor" (in Richard Allen and Sam Ishii-Gonzales, eds, 'Hitchcock: Past and Future', Routledge, 2004) and on the excellent Introduction by Robert Morrison to the Oxford World's Classics edition of essays by Thomas De Quincey, 'On Murder' (2006). All agree that De Quincey's own "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" (1827 and 1839) achieves its classic status and its humour by daring to aestheticise murder rather than treat it as a subject of moral concern. Which brings us to where we left off last time, discussing Hitchcock's delightful AHP episode "Wet Saturday" (airdate: 30 September, 1956). It is one long deliberate joke about a bourgeois family and their attempt to transfer the blame for a murder committed by the daughter onto a fall guy, a neighbour named Captain Smollet (John Williams) - see frame-capture below. The episode is book-ended as usual by Hitchcock, who is taking a cup of tea and who jokes that Americans have their own quaint ritual (they watch advertisements inserted in TV shows!). Which sets the humorous tone nicely! And when the episode ends with the family appearing to have successfully implicated the hapless Smollet as the murderer, Hitchcock - pouring himself another cuppa - does draw a joking moral: 'Well, I guess that shows that blood is thicker than water.' We laugh for two reasons: (1) it's hardly the moral we would have expected (aren't such stories supposed to end with a 'crime does not pay' moral?), and (2) the play on the word 'blood', just by being associated with Hitchcock, strikes us as both witty and funny. (Of course, Hitchcock has another joke up his sleeve. He goes on to let drop that afterwards the daughter Millicent became confused and killed Daddy with the croquet mallet allegedly used by Smollet. Which led to the truth finally coming out!) Now, as Haeffner notes, the episode, until Hitchcock's final twist, is quite Dickensian in tone. Haeffner quotes a passage from 'Great Expectations' (originally quoted by Robert Morrison, who places it in a 'tradition' begun by De Quincey), in which the amateur actor Mr Wopsle hears of a new murder and becomes excited. 'A highly popular murder had been committed and Mr Wopsle was imbrued in blood to the eyebrows.' For his admiring friends, he proceeds to play out the various parts, thus aestheticising the murder. The narrator tells the reader: 'He enjoyed himself thoroughly, and we all enjoyed ourselves and were delightfully comfortable.' (Haeffner, p. 551) The 'comfortableness' of murder - how cosy it is for the reader or spectator! - is something that George Orwell would famously comment on in "The Decline of the English Murder" (1946). Orwell, too, was writing in a De Quincey tradition. Hitchcock plays up to the idea and in "Wet Saturday" (based on the short story by British-born John Collier) is careful to show rain on the windows throughout the episode, the better to make us feel subliminally our own cosiness! But what else can we say about the tone of the episode, including its final twist? Here James Naremore is helpful for he locates Hitchcock - the films, the TV shows - in a tradition that may indeed owe much to De Quincey (as Naremore says) but is also typically imbued with, specifically, black humour. He draws on both Northrop Frye ('Anatomy of Criticism') and Sigmund Freud ('Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious') to show, firstly, that the tale of murder was crossed with the thriller in the 19th century to soon become a staple of melodrama. Think of Hitchcock as you read this passage from Naremore's essay: 'In its melodramatic form, [the thriller] deals with the "triumph of moral virtue over villainy," and is always in danger of becoming "advance propaganda for the police state". Nevertheless, Frye notes, the genre tends to be surrounded by "a protective wall of play," and the more serious and melodramatic it becomes, the more likely it is to be looked at ironically, with "its pity and fear seen as sentimental drivel and owlish solemnity." From this point, it easily develops towards the opposite pole of melodrama, which Frye describes as "comic irony or satire' ...' (pp. 25-26) I ask the reader to note my point last time about the 'poetic character' and how easily such a form might cross over from saying one thing to its opposite. More next time.

May 28 - 2011
Such famous figures as Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859), Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), and John Keats (1795-1821) were contempories - and all, in their different ways, valued amorality! De Quincey's famous essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" (1827 and 1839) dared to consider the murderer as potentially an artist, and the essay's influence on novelist Charles Dickens (1812-70) and filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) is plain to see and feel. (Nick Haeffner's chapter on Hitchcock for 'A Companion to Crime Fiction', Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, refers to this three-way connection, and I'll come back to it shortly.) The philosopher Schopenhauer propounded brilliantly his belief that the whole cosmos is finally governed by a blind and amoral life/death force which he called 'Will'. Naturally human beings are subject to this Will, and Schopenhauer argued that 'free will' scarcely exists. (Note. I would liken Will to what Hitchcock called 'pure cinema', another amoral 'force'. Interestingly, William Rothman, in 'A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock', Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, writes of The Birds (1963): 'Acknowledging that he is the servant, not the master, of the art of "pure cinema", Hitchcock no longer claims possession of the camera, no longer strives to impose his will over the film's world' - p. 349. More on this later.) Finally, John Keats conceived of 'the poetic character' as essentially amoral and unprincipled, and the poet as happy - for the sake of art and truth - to say one thing one day, the opposite the next! (John Carey's 1979 book, 'The Violent Effigy', shows that Dickens was just such a 'poetic character'.) Truth is elusive, after all, and more than logic and reason are needed to pin it down - if that can ever be done. I would say that a Hitchcock film like Murder! (see last time) makes at least a gesture of showing us the whole picture, but this week I want to turn to one of Hitchcock's television shows, "Wet Saturday" (airdate: 30 September, 1956), and discuss what Haeffner calls 'the studied amorality of Hitchcock's persona' (p. 551). There's truth to be found in this Hitchcock-directed episode, about an unprincipled bourgeois family headed by Sir Cedric Harwicke, but it is surely a surreal truth. The frame-capture below is from the opening scene, and shows a family conference called to consider the fact that the daughter - seen slumped on the sofa next to her mother - has just killed a schoolmaster after he told her that he was going to marry elsewhere. This has caused a family 'problem', and the father's 'solution' will turn out to involve incriminating a neighbour (!), but let's begin by seeing the episode in its Hitchcockian context. 'Hitchcock', notes Haeffner, seems to take considerable pleasure in revealing the ruthless and brutal nastiness of this apparently respectable upper middle-class English family' (p. 550). What a contrast to the seeming valorisation of bourgeois families in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and The Wrong Man (1957)! But that's precisely my point about 'the poetic character'. And who's to say that the delightful family in Shadow of a Doubt is either more or less typical than the family shown in "Wet Saturday" - if we allow that it's the principal of ruthlessness that Hitchcock is illustrating here? I believe I have known such ruthless families! (Alternatively, or equally, it could be shown that the depiction of the families in Shadow of a Doubt and The Wrong Man subtly suggests that things are not ideal, or could have been otherwise. A well-known Buddhist text says that we all have various potentialities in our 'store consciousness', and that what we become depends on which 'seeds' we allow to be 'watered'. Hmm.) But I wanted to end, this week, by remarking that it's Hitchcock's humour that allows him to present such a broad, and wise, view of how things are. Almost certainly, he got it from the De Quincey tradition. Haeffner quotes De Quincey's "Murder" essay for what might be a foreshadowing of Hitchcock's films and their subject-matter: 'People begin to see that something more goes towards the composition of a fine murder than two blockheads to kill and be killed, a knife, purse and a dark lane. Design, gentlemen: grouping, light and shade, poetry, sentiment, are now deemed indispensable to attempts of this nature.' (p. 546) To be continued.

May 21 - 2011
Apropos Murder! (1930), which we've been discussing here lately, I need to repeat what I said on April 30. Sir John (Herbert Marshall) is a forerunner of Rupert (James Stewart) in Rope. Both men spend much of the film - Murder!, Rope - investigating a crime whose heinousness is subtly linked by the film to an oppressiveness in, or by, society itself. (This is less emphasised in Rope. But in the original play, Rupert's limp, from a war-wound, implies that he's both victim and participant in a general destructiveness. For more, see 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'.) Both men trade on their privileged social position and/or intellect, although - a perennial Hitchcock motif - they do become more serious during the course of the film. However, having solved the crime, they then move to distance themselves from complicity in either the crime itself or society's oppressiveness generally. Thus Rupert finally sounds shrill in his denunciation of the co-murderers Brandon and Phillip, being at pains to say, 'There is something deep inside me that would never have let me do such a thing'. Hmm. Deeper thinkers than Rupert might disagree about that. In any case, the film makes clear that it was Rupert's shallow or irresponsible use of the teachings of Friedrich Nietzsche that triggered his two pupils' crime. If Rupert were more honest, he would see that his irresponsibility is only a lesser version of theirs. Likewise, if Sir John were more honest, he would see that his privileged position in society and then his clearly 'sadistic' hounding of the murderer Fane to obtain a confession are only mirror images of what led to the crime in the first place and of the suffering that society inflicts on many, if not all, of its members. (See last week's entry.) Now I come to what I said last time that I needed to discuss: where Hitchcock stands in all this. Quite simply, I think that Hitchcock was, very often, perfectly honest about the ambivalent nature of society, and his own privileged position in it. He saw that he was privileged in many ways - creatively, socially, economically - and generally comported himself in exemplary fashion, as an English bourgeois (with some touches of the dandy). For much of the time, he was a man of minimal prejudice. Even in matters of gender and sexuality, he could see that he was both male and female - something that he often told his actors that they should allow themselves to be in order to get right inside a character. He knew, too, that he had a cruel or sadistic streak in his nature, as we all have. So the 1933 novel 'The Paradine Case', by Robert Hichens, which Hitchcock filmed in 1947, refers to how there's cruelty in 'the best of us'. Which reminds me to mention, too, that both the original play of Rope, by Patrick Hamilton, and the original novel of Murder!, 'Enter Sir John', by 'Clemence Dane' and Helen Simpson, were published in England in 1929, just when a particularly marked division in society was at its height: a division between the privileged intellectual classes and 'the masses'. That division is superbly discussed by John Carey in his 1992 book 'The Intellectuals and the Masses' (see May 7, above), and is clearly a major thematic focus of both Murder! and Rope. To Hitchcock's great credit, although he did sometimes appear to despise 'the moron masses' (as he called them), thereby showing the modernist prejudice of the times, he was big enough to know that it was a prejudice. A part of Hitchcock always loved the Cockney life-style in which he had been raised, and he always loved, for example, the English music hall, whose roots were in lower-class life. He was thus both a remarkably intelligent man, and ahead of his times. Hmm. I was reading this week (on 'The New Criterion' website) an article by Barton Swaim about the celebrated 'Dictionary of Modern English Usage' by H.W. Fowler, first published in 1926. One of Swaim's points is that a 'prescriptivist' approach to language has been supplanted these days by a 'descriptivist' one. Not without a note of regret on Swaim's part - understandable, given Fowler's always lucid remarks on language and usage. Swaim writes: 'the philosophical assumptions underpinning Fowler's attitude to language have been exploded by the academic discipline of linguistics, but ... self-consciously "literary" people [the literary elite] loved his Dictionary because it gave them a sense of importance or power or righteousness.' Reader, it seems to me that Hitchcock, in his own way, combined in his films attitudes that were both 'prescriptivist' (creative) and 'descriptivist' (realist), and were both more satisfying and more true for that!

May 14 - 2011
Further thoughts on Fane and Diana in Hitchcock's Murder! (1930). Last time I made Fane sound like an opportunist, who was prepared to propose marriage to Diana because of what it might do to help his status and respectability - he is just a lowly female-impersonator, she is a rising young actress visiting the provinces for job experience. Moreover, Fane is a homosexual, or perhaps a bisexual. Yet we're told (by one of the members of the jury) that he did seem to be in love with Diana, and I note that the dead woman reportedly said to Diana, 'How dare you? How dare you?' (with a look that Diana remembers as 'half-surprised, half crazy'). What does that suggest? Could Edna herself have fancied him (though she was married)? And/or was Diana prepared to marry him, even if he were homosexual? That might be just the self-sacrificing thing she was capable of, you feel. And why else would Edna have been so upset? Note that I am discounting what Diana says in prison to Sir John, that it was 'impossible' that she could have married Fane because he was 'a half-caste'. That is her normal self talking, but what she had told Fane on the night of Edna's murder has been largely forgotten by her. There is no evidence that Fane somehow twisted her arm to make her agree to marry him, or that he didn't genuinely love her - except that he doesn't come forward to save her when she is accused of Edna's murder (which he committed). But that is understandable, and makes the whole matter more tragic. Now, there are widely differing readings of Murder! Two weeks ago (April 30, above) I quoted Maurice Yacowar, who shows that Sir John is a man of noble intent, once he goes out into the real world on a mission to save Diana. Nonetheless, I would argue (see May 7, above) that the film is well aware that Sir John's privileged birth and station leave him in an ambiguous position apropos his hounding of Fane to his death. That position is argued in an extreme way by Alenka Zupancic in her essay "A Perfect Place to Die" (in Slavoj Zizek's 'Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan ...', 1992). She actually speaks of 'Sir John's hatred towards Fane ... (especially towards the end of the film). He is hitting below the belt - the allusion to Fane's being half-caste in the scene Fane has to play - and his reaction to Fane's death is absolutely cold. He hates him because somehow he is too close to him. Fane reminds him of some uncanny dimension of his own desire ...' (p. 97). Well, while I'm not convinced of anything 'uncanny' about Sir John's attitude, I do think that by the end he is denying the extent of his position of patriarchal privilege, which he has used to effect (even his superior knowledge of Shakespeare) in the hunt to expose Fane. Hence his coldness. It is more a social thing than uncanny, I suspect. This week I read Alexander Doty's essay on "Queer Hitchcock" (in Leitch & Poague, 'A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock', 2011), which cites an essay on Strangers on a Train by Sabrina Barton. Doty reports: 'Barton's psychoanalytic reading considers how the film uses Bruno [Robert Walker] and Miriam (Laura Elliott) to expose the violence patriarchy uses against sexual women and homosexual men in order to maintain its tenuous hold on power and privilege, even while it justifies eliminating "the deranged homosexual" and "the voracious tramp" (p. 487). That about sums up the situation. Patriarchal society will give its members who play the 'game' a helping hand, though if they ever become aware of that fact they may react guiltily or show denial. Now consider what I said last time (May 7, above) about Robin Wood's view of Hitchcock: how 'Wood refers to a recurring "violence against women and ... homophobia" in the films, but wisely notes that these must be set against "Hitchcock's frequently passionate identification with his female characters, and his more troubled and ambivalent, partial identification with his gay characters". Hitchcock was too intelligent and good a man to deny his privileged patriarchal position (which could be labelled WASP if Hitchcock weren't himself Catholic and in any case bigger than the label). But Hitchcock 'guilty' (or felt guilty)? You bet! More next time. Frame-capture below: Sir John at his mirror.

May 7 - 2011
We have been discussing Hitchcock's Murder! (1930). It opens with several subtle touches, such as the use behind the credits of the famous 'Fate knocking at the door' musical passage from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. (Shortly, the film proper will begin with the sound of urgent knocking, whereupon we discover that a murder has been committed.) The first shot after the credits is of a clock face - see frame-capture below - which clearly shows the time to be 7 minutes past 6. Yet the clock is striking the hour! (This seems to indicate that we are in 'the provinces', where they get a bit slack! Cf the scene at the end of Psycho, in the Chief of Police's office, where the calendar on the wall is several days out of date.) Then, during a lateral tracking-shot past several windows of a rooming-house, we see various windows going up. As we come to the third of these, Hitchcock stages a little gag. Here's how the script describes it: 'a glimpse of a silhouette of a beautiful figure and profile on blind. As the latter goes up we find to our disappointment that it is the angry face of a not very attractive woman.' In other words, not everything is as it seems. (Another Hitchcock film about the theatre is the 1950 Stage Fright, and there are similar moments there: e.g., the controversial 'lying flashback'.) But now I want to return to our discussion last time of the film's principal characters, notably Sir John and the man he hounds to his death, the murderer Handel Fane. I think it's now generally accepted that Fane is homosexual, as well as a circus transvestite and 'half-caste', which is what both the original novel and the film call him. (Actually, the film's German version, Mary, calls him 'an escaped convict'.) Hitchcock admitted as much in 1975 when interviewed by Charles Thomas Samuels. In the film, Sir John says to Diana Baring, 'But you're in love with him.' Startled, she responds, 'Oh, that's impossible ... he's a half-caste.' Either way, it looks like Fane wanted to use Diana as 'cover' and/or as a way to gain respectability, and that he committed murder 'on an impulse' (as his suicide note says) when the woman Edna Druce was on the point of 'outing' him to Diana (who either knew the truth anyway or learned it from Edna just before Fane bludgeoned her to death). I rather think Fane is the equivalent of the character Pinkie in Graham Greene's 'Brighton Rock' (1938), recently re-filmed. That is, the young hoodlum Pinkie is a repressed homosexual, and actually despises marriage, though he agrees to marry the innocent girl Rose because it is 'convenient' for him to do so (she knows too much, but a wife cannot testify against her husband). I'll not go into detail, but the novel's depiction of the Brighton underworld, and the public who flock to Brighton for their holidays, is roughly the equivalent of the depiction in Murder! of the backstage world of a provincial touring company and of the public who come to the theatre to be entertained. Both works are about 'what the public doesn't see, or suspect'. And I rather think Hitchcock's treatment of the matter is more profound than Greene's. Both Hitchcock and Greene were Catholics, and Greene certainly touches by design on Pinkie's opportunity to redeem himself - Pinkie feels a stirring of what love might mean but passes it up and finally seems damned. Hitchcock was almost certainly not as interested in theological matters as Greene, yet was able to enter into the essence of Fane's condition in a way that might have been beyond the snobbish novelist (I'm thinking of how Greene is characterised in John Carey's 1992 book 'The Intellectuals and the Masses'). Last time I quoted an astute passage from Maurice Yacowar's 'Hitchcock's British Films'. This time I'll end by quoting a related, and no-less-astute, passage from Robin Wood's 'Hitchcock's Films Revisited' (2002). Wood refers to a recurring 'violence against women and ... homophobia' in the films, but wisely notes that these must be set against 'Hitchcock's frequently passionate identification with his female characters, and his more troubled and ambivalent, partial identification with his gay characters' (p. 345). Next time I'll consider some implications of Wood's remarks.

April 30 - 2011
I started discussing Hitchcock's Murder! (1930) here last time. The Arthaus DVD includes: (1) the 'standard' version, which is the British-release version; (2) the American version, which has extra footage at the end (more on that in a moment); and (3) the German version, called Mary or Mord - Sir John greift ein ('Sir John intervenes'), which was shot on the same sets but with German actors and is comparatively humourless. (Apparently the lead actor, Alfred Abel, vetoed scenes that might detract from Sir John's dignity, which meant that a lot of Hitchcock's satiric touches, at the expense of class mannerisms, and lifestyles, had to go.) What I want to suggest this time is that although Sir John, as played by Herbert Marshall, is largely a sympathetic character - despite subtle digs by Hitchcock at his vanity and accustomed air of privilege - the film also critiques the patriarchal social structure to which Sir John belongs. In a way, he is a bit like the housemaster Rupert played by James Stewart in Rope (1948), who exposes a heinous murder but, you feel, never quite sees the degree of his own complicity in the crime, including the social circumstances that have helped bring it about. Also, I suggest that Murder! looks forward to Psycho (1960) which shows a certain unconscious 'sadism' on the part of Sam Loomis when he comes up against Norman Bates (who, granted, proves to be a multiple murderer - interestingly, Norman is described as a transvestite, like Handel Fane in Murder!). My point is that Hitchcock, without detracting from the force of the story's main moral thrust that wrong-doing must be exposed and punished (especially when, as here, there's an innocent person likely to be wrongfully hanged in the real murderer's place), artfully shows that the killer, Fane, is also 'a human being'. The film's jury scenes subtly remind us that justice is almost never simple, and that society may be 'barbarous' at times. At the least, this is lucid filmmaking of a high order, filmmaking that doesn't insult the viewer's intelligence. Maurice Yacowar puts the matter very well at the end of his chapter on Murder! (in 'Hitchcock's British Films', 1977), and I would like to quote him at some length. At the end of the film, 'Sir John does not discover an aspect of himself,' says Yacowar, but what for the grace of God (and the grease of social custom) Sir John might have been.' And Yacowar continues: 'This is where Hitchcock makes his point regarding class. Sir John was born into the top of society and Fane into the bottom. For no cause of their own, that is, Fane was doomed to the futility of self-concealment, in his theater and in his life, while Sir John was blessed with the expansive fertility of self-acceptance and other-knowledge. In Murder!, from the shaving scene on, Sir John accepts the responsibilities inherent therein.' (p. 138) Apart from that last sentence (which neglects the critical shadings that Hitchcock brings to the film's depiction of Sir John in its second half, such as his sadism and his less-than-pure motivation to save a pretty young woman whom he knows idolises him as an actor), I think that Yacowar is absolutely right. But not enough has been written about Hitchcock's own sensitive respect for the humanity of Fane. For example, look at the frame-capture below, from the American-release print. When Fane commits suicide at the circus where he has been driven to seek obscurity (driven, that is, by Sir John's hounding him without mercy), Hitchcock is careful to show us that Fane's death doesn't go unlamented. On the contrary, the members of the circus troupe are grief-stricken (in a film that conceivably influenced Tod Browning's Freaks [1932]). Note in particular the grief of Fane's dresser on the left. Yet Sir John appears to notice none of this, and at the end is more concerned to tell Diana Baring (now released from prison) to save her tears 'for my new play, where they will be useful' (my italics). One last point for now. The depiction of Fane wasn't a first for Hitchcock, inasmuch that he had already depicted nominal villains with some sympathy, such as the blackmailer Tracy (Donald Calthrop) in Blackmail (1929). Like Fane, Tracy is hounded upwards to his death - in his case, for a crime of murder that he didn't commit - first climbing to the dome of the British Museum, then falling or leaping to the ground. More next time.

April 23 - 2011
Have just watched the excellent Arthaus DVD of Hitchcock's Murder! (1930), and a pleasure it was. Hitchcock seizes the opportunity to go backstage in a provincial repertory company to show the workaday life of its performers. The stage manager is one Ted Markham (Edward Chapman) who has a wife and young daughter to support. When their current show ends its run, the family is 'disengaged' and must advertise in a trade paper for work. Meanwhile, their dumpy landlady (the ubiquitous Hannah Jones, who may have appeared in more Hitchcock films than any other performer) hovers threateningly, ready to evict these non-paying tenants. (A close-up of a child's money-box that has been broken into tells us that the family are down to their last pennies.) But 'Enter Sir John'! Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall) to the rescue! In this film about a 'wronged woman', he is the conscience-stricken juror who realises that he has erroneously helped convict a young actress from London, Diana Baring (Nora Baring), of murder, and must act to save her - by visiting the scene of the crime, the provincial touring company. Ironically, he is a famous actor-manager, someone known to hate touring, whose own performances are exclusively West End. This will be a learning experience for him. In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', I show how the original novel (i.e., 'Enter Sir John', 1929) lampoons its title-character by having a reviewer suggest that Sir John 'should go out into the highways and hedges of real life for a model [for his new play], instead of depending on his shaving-glass.' And how 'Hitchcock seized on that passage, which is the key to his film'. There, Sir John's conviction of Diana's innocence comes to him while shaving, as he listens to a radio broadcast of Wagner's 'Tristan and Isolde'. Immediately, he contacts Ted Markham, offering him and Doucie Markham (Phyllis Konstam) work if they will help him in his quest to save Diana. Markham is proud of his wife, a very versatile performer, it seems. As he tells Sir John, she can go effortlessly 'from [being] Gladys Cooper to Marie Lloyd', and just the other week 'she was pure Tallulah [Bankhead]'. Hitchcock fans should recognise all of those names. Gladys Cooper would appear in Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), and Tallulah Bankhead in Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944). As for Marie Lloyd (1870-1922), she was the beloved music-hall artist famous for her Cockney songs - and whom Hitchcock undoubtedly saw many times onstage. Now, a memorable scene in Murder! occurs when Ted and Doucie arrange for Sir John to stay in the home of a local constable, who had been involved in the Baring case. On his first morning there, Sir John is awakened by the constable's frazzled wife who brings him a cup of tea, and who trails five young children and a kitten, all of whom, to Sir John's good-natured consternation, invade the bedroom. This is (an aspect of) the 'real life' that he has been avoiding! Note that he is good-natured - a pleasing performance by Herbert Marshall - although I'll suggest next time that he is also unwittingly a patrician oppressor, a forerunner in that respect of Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) in Rebecca. Meanwhile, here's a frame-capture of our first glimpse of the man, Handel Fane (Esme Percy), who will turn out to be the - nominal - villain of Murder! Note that Fane is a female impersonator and transvestite. He does look a bit like Norman Bates, doesn't he?!

April 16 - 2011
Again no "Editor's Week" this time. Instead, you are invited to read our review of Bill Krohn's 'Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock' (2010) on our New Publications page here

April 9 - 2011
Sorry, no entry this week. Instead, be entertained by this Hitchcock-related clip from a TV show featuring gifted Scottish comic, political satirist, and impressionist, Rory Bremner. (Confession: I'm still not sure if that's the real Sean Connery who guides us through the events shown!) Click here: Connery remembers Hitchcock

April 2 - 2011
Another excellent new book on Hitchcock is Bill Krohn's 'Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock' (English translation 2010). By the 1950s, notes Krohn, Hitchcock was regularly putting the audience at the forefront of his creative concerns (p.65). Krohn quotes Jean Douchet: 'the filmmaker has turned over the mise en scène' to the spectator. But not always, it seems to me. Sometimes Hitchcock put things in his films for his own amusement or for personal reasons - gratitude, say. Of course, this in itself was a way of keeping Hitchcock engaged with his material and thus most likely to engage the viewer. Here's a small example. This week MF asked me whether I had noticed the reference in Rear Window (1954) to 'Slim Hayward'. It occurs when we first meet high-fashion model Lisa (Grace Kelly). She says: 'I had two Fall showings, twenty blocks apart. Then I had to have a cocktail with Leland and Slim Hayward. We're trying to get his new show. And then I had to dash back and change.' Busy Lisa, in contrast to photographer boyfriend Jeff (James Stewart), who is feeling out of it, with his broken leg! I wrote back to MF: 'I do think the allusion is in the film out of gratitude, first of all. (As Lisa herself says, 'You can't buy that sort of publicity.' See frame-capture below.) Steven DeRosa has described (in 'Writing With Hitchcock' [2001]) how it was [producer and talent agent] Hayward who first held the rights to Cornell Woolrich's short story "Rear Window" and who commissioned Joshua Logan to write a treatment - which Hayward then sold to [Hitchcock's agent] Lew Wasserman, "and within a month's time contracts were being drawn up for Hitchcock to direct Rear Window at Paramount".' I added that there were ironies here. 'As DeRosa shows: "For a short time in the 1940s Hitchcock had been represented by ... Hayward, until the latter's agency was bought out by [Wasserman and] MCA." Moreover, as DeRosa notes, Hayward had first tried to interest Hitchcock in "Rear Window" in October 1951, but Hitchcock hadn't bought it at the time - possibly because the story didn't have a female love interest. A love interest was something Joshua Logan's treatment added, a girl called "Trink". And here I commented: 'Hitchcock enjoyed this sort of thing (in-references to show business): there are parallels in The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956], for example. All part of the "texture", to make it carry more conviction with audiences.' Of course, Hayward was well-known, especially in Hollywood - and so was his socialite wife. 'Slim' had previously been married to film director Howard Hawks whose To Have and Have Not (1944) alludes to her in the character played by Lauren Bacall. Ironically, Slim soon afterwards had a dalliance with the novel's author, Ernest Hemingway. Which, as I further noted to MF, raises another element. 'Somewhere along the line, Slim, who married Leland in 1949, had an affair with [writer] Peter Viertel, who had written the screenplay of Hitchcock's Saboteur [1942]. This put a strain on her marriage, naturally. I don't have dates. But if Hitchcock had known of such an affair, it might have further induced him to allude in Rear Window to the Hayward marriage (in a film whose subtext, like that of Suspicion [1941], et al, is about the precariousness of marriage!) Lastly, Lisa in the film is part-based on [screenwriter] John Michael Hayes's own wife but also on Ingrid Bergman when she was married to a dentist Petter Lindstrom and was seeing the celebrated photographer Robert Capa (at the time of Spellbound [1945] and Notorious [1946]). In turn, Jeff in the film is part-based on Capa, obviously. (Ironically, Capa had recently been killed in action while on an assignment in Indo-China.)' To sum up: allusions in Hitchcock's films, like that to Leland and Slim Hayward in Rear Window, may or may not mean anything, but there are nonetheless usually good reasons for those allusions being there. MF was concerned that a film should be an organic whole, but surely anything that adds to its contemporaneous 'texture' is legitimate?

March 26 - 2011
In a recent issue of 'Film History' (Volume 22, Number 3, 2010), its editor Richard Koszarski lamented: 'Because more and more [film books] are published every year, the impact that any specific volume might have is obviously diluted. This would not be so bad if the best of them were still receiving an appropriate level of attention from both specialized journals and the higher end of what was once referred to as "the popular press". Unfortunately, as the number of film books has gone up, the amount of space devoted to reviewing them has fallen precipitously.' I immediately thought of the decision by the 'Hitchcock Annual' (starting with their 2010 issue) not to review new books on Hitchcock any more. Formerly, under Book Reviews Editor Charles L.P. Silet, the 'Annual' performed the very useful service of informing Hitchcock scholars and buffs each year of the major publications in the field; and detailed reviews of several of the new books would typically appear in each 'Annual'. Perhaps Silet has been too busy lately. He teaches courses in film and contemporary literature at Iowa State University, and (reports the 'Mystery Net' website) is currently working on a collection of his interviews with contemporary writers. And, too, perhaps the editors of the 'Annual' find themselves where a lot of editors are now placed. According to David Bordwell, in the issue of 'Film History' already mentioned, the major difficulty of most book review editors is to recruit reviewers they can match to the new titles. For example, film studies is still a relatively small academic field. Accordingly, there are likely to be insufficient suitable reviewers. Bordwell: 'Given a new book, there's a good chance that a couple of the experts read it in manuscript, and perhaps a couple of others wrote blurbs for publicity. The editor may discover that the people best qualified to review a book have already reviewed it.' Whatever the reasons, I'm very disappointed that the 'Annual' has discontinued book reviews. More than ever, I invite readers of this site, and particularly Hitchcock scholars, to email me whenever they hear of an interesting new Hitchcock-related book. Meanwhile, here's news of what is certainly the most important such book to be published this year. 'A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock' is due out from Wiley-Blackwell in April. (That's its cover below.) It's edited by Thomas Leitch and Leland Poague, has chapters from thirty noted contributors, and runs to 624 pages. Unfortunately, it's only available at this time in hardback, and the price is well over $200. The following website gives more details, including a Table of Contents: https://au.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1405185384.html. Now, to end on, let me turn to something else I've read lately: a charming interview/article featuring Edna May Wonacott (now Edna Green) who played the small sister in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943). The piece appears in the latest issue of 'Films of the Golden Age' (#63, Winter 2010-11). Edna remembers being invited several times by Patricia Hitchcock, then a teenager, to spend weekends at the Hitchcocks' home. Both girls had a crush on star Joseph Cotten, who came to dinner on at least one occasion. However, for purposes of the film, Hitchcock simply instructed Edna: 'It doesn't matter how nice he [Uncle Charlie] is to you. Always be suspicious of him, and question why he's doing what he's doing.'

March 19 - 2011
First, I'll conclude our little item from last time referring to the 1957 episode of 'AHP' called "One More Mile to Go". I would wager that the 'F.J. Smith' whose story it is - according to the program's credits - is actually Alec Coppel whose novel 'Mr Denning Drives North' contains a scene anticipating what happens in the 'AHP' episode. All the circumstantial evidence points to it. For one thing, Coppel had recently been hired by Hitchcock to write the first draft of Vertigo. As 'F.J. Smith', he may not have directly received a fee for the use of his material (from 'Mr Denning Drives North') but a suitable sum could have been added to his fee for either Vertigo or for the rights to his well-known stage play 'I Killed the Count' which had just aired on 'AHP' immediately before "One More Mile to Go". The program "I Killed the Count" is actually unique in the history of 'AHP' in being divided into three episodes (airdates: March 17, 24, 31, 1957) which ran in successive weeks. Starring John Williams, it bears some resemblance to Hitchcock's entertaining film Dial M for Murder. Note: Hitchcock may also have promised Coppel additional TV work. Two other Coppel stories (one with Coppel listed as co-adapter) aired on the next season of 'AHP' in late 1957 and early 1958. One day, when the production records of Hitchcock's TV company, Shamley Productions, turn up, someone may verify my speculations above. At present, I'm told, the production records aren't available and no-one seems to know where they are. (Which means that there is just one small file on 'AHP' held in the extensive Hitchcock archive at the Margaret Herrick Library, Beverly Hills, and that there is relatively little documentation about the production of Psycho, which had Shamley connections though it was shot at the Revue Studios, Universal City.) Now, another item. A couple of weeks ago, film scholar BS sent me the URL to a story about Hitchcock - almost certainly apocryphal - that is told by director Abel Ferrara concerning the unusual use of a pool table in Hitchcock's Bel Air home. For those of you curious enought to want to hear the story, here's the link: Hitchcock's pool table. I passed on the information to our 'advanced' Hitchcock discussion group, with this comment: 'I give this story about as much credence as I give the story about Hitchcock and Grace Kelly in (Kenneth Anger's book) "Hollywood Babylon".' One of our members, RM, corrected me: 'The Hitchcock/Kelly story is actually in "Hollywood Babylon II".' (More on that in a moment.) Another of our members, SR, pointed out likely errors in the pool-table story: 'Hitchcock did not have a butler. And if Hitchcock emerged from upstairs, that would have meant he was on the roof or in the attic: his Bel Air home had only one floor.' But let's come back to the 'Hollywood Babylon' matter. I am very grateful to RM for the following: '[Film journalist/historian] David Del Valle contributed to the book ['Hollywood Babylon II'], and at a film screening at the American Cinematheque on March 24, 2004, he told me that Anger fabricated several stories, including the one about Hitchcock and Grace Kelly.' Later, RM explained further in an email to me: 'David Del Valle told us that the publisher commissioned a sequel to the first book ['Hollywood Babylon'] but Kenneth Anger had run out of old-time Hollywood gossip and just made up stories to fill out the book.' I thanked RM for finally laying the Hitchcock-and-Kelly story to rest! Next time: something much less speculative.

March 12 - 2011
Again two items. First, a follow-up to our 'Hennessy' item last time. What I didn't say, but assumed readers would know, from reading Spoto's and McGilligan's biographies, was that Hitchcock was a bit of a brandy tippler. And that his films have many brandy scenes, typically mirroring the good taste of his sophisticated characters. On our 'advanced' Hitchcock discussion group this week, SR (whom I thank) spelt out those scenes ... 'Brandy is the drink of choice for characters in Dial M for Murder, and Grace Kelly says how she is warming some brandy in Rear Window. Scottie proffers brandy to Madeleine in Vertigo, where it's "just like medicine." Annie Hayworth offers Melanie Daniels brandy in The Birds, and brandy (cognac) turns up in Torn Curtain and Topaz. Richard Blaney drinks brandy in Frenzy and, in fact, gets fired from the bar for nicking one glass too many.' (One big scene that SR forgot to mention is in Suspicion, where Johnnie watches his friend 'Beaky' drink brandy and have a near-seizure. When later in the film Beaky dies - offscreen - it is because a mystery person has challenged him to a brandy-drinking contest. Was that person Johnnie?) On the same group, WB (whom I also thank) offered this little piece of information. Cognac in France, the home of the famous Hennessy distillery, for 25 years hosted the Festival du Film Policier de Cognac, a festival devoted to crime thrillers. Now here's the other item for this week. I have just finished reading the enjoyable 1950 suspense novel 'Mr Denning Drives North' by Australian-born Alec Coppel, whom Hitchcock employed to write the first draft of Vertigo. I also watched the 1952 film of the novel, starring John Mills and directed by Anthony Kimmins. In a nutshell, Mr Denning has accidentally killed a man and spends much of the story first disposing of the body in a ditch north of London and then wondering why there is no report of the body having been found. I strongly suspect that Hitchcock saw the film as well as - very likely - reading Coppel's novel. For one thing, the film (but not the novel) has a droll scene in a cemetery where Mr Denning approaches a gravedigger (Wilfred Hyde-White, no less) for information. The man is listening to a loud and scratchy record on a gramophone. From memory, the tune is 'Oh we do like to be beside the seaside', but anyway it's incongruous enough among all those graves! I immediately thought of teenager Marsella in Hitchcock's Family Plot listening to her transistor radio while helping her stonemason boss carve an inscription on a headstone. Also, in both the film and the novel, the look-alike brother of the dead man turns up, much as, in a scene cut from Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, the twin-brother of the dead Gromek converses with a guilty-feeling Michael Armstrong (who had earlier killed Gromek in a farmhouse). But particularly striking was this. A suspenseful scene in Coppel's novel and also the film version (see frame-capture below) occurs when a motorcycle cop pulls Mr Denning over because one of his car's tail-lights isn't working. What the cop doesn't know is that there's a body in the car's boot (trunk)! Sound familiar? It should, because it's clearly the basis for a celebrated episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' (airdate: April 7 1957) called "One More Mile to Go", starring David Wayne, and which in turn was re-cycled again, after a fashion, in the scene between Marion Crane and a patrolman in Psycho. No matter that the credits of the 'AHP' episode attribute the original story to one 'F.J. Smith', with adaptation by James Cavanagh who, ironically, would write the first draft of Psycho! Note: Hitchcock himself directed the 'AHP' episode, and extracted maximum suspense from the fact that there was a body (of the David Wayne character's nagging wife ...) in the car's trunk. Also note: I couldn't locate any 'F.J. Smith' in any reference-work. It is likely a name made up by the filmmakers. Explanation next time.

March 5 - 2011
Two separate items this time. First, I was amazed recently when a US academic who teaches a Hitchcock course wrote to me and criticised the crop-duster sequence of North by Northwest on the grounds that it's 'wonderfully effective and brilliantly made ... but thematically (and in terms of plot) incongruent'. Picking myself up, I wrote back to him ... 'That's surely nonsense! The short answer is that North by Northwest - like so many later Hitchcocks - is 'subjective', a surreal portrait of its principal character, in this case Roger O. Thornhill who is hollow at the core and - at the film's outset - near-moribund. I have developed this argument in my chapter on "Hitchcock's Literary Sources" for the 'Companion to Alfred Hitchcock' [Wiley/Blackwell, 2011]. Thornhill is other-directed and must be brought to a confrontation with the truth about himself, in the process coming 'alive'. The antecedents of the (literally northwest) trajectory in question will be found in [Rider Haggard's] 'King Solomon's Mines', [Kipling's] 'Kim', and [Buchan's] 'Prester John'. The crop-dusting sequence is the nadir of Thornhill's journey, an image of his deadness and hollowness [see frame-capture below]. The Mount Rushmore sequence (where Thornhill in the pine forest says, 'I never felt more alive') is where he confronts the basilisk faces of the Presidents, graven images of an abstract, misleading 'idea': Thornhill may well remark, 'I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me'. The specific antecedent for the Mount Rushmore 'carved faces' climax is 'King Solomon's Mines'. Nonetheless, the implied spiritual/moral journey itself is certainly part of an 'English picaresque' tradition beautifully exemplified in several Dickens novels, such as 'The Old Curiosity Shop' and 'Great Expectations'.' I went on to relate all of this to what Truffaut remarked, that 'emptiness' held a powerful attraction for Hitchcock, which again touches on his surrealism (and, for example, his anecdote cast in entirely negative terms, ending suitably, ''"Then that's no MacGuffin"'). Here, though, I'll just sum up by saying that we're talking about a form of 'English individualism' which is bound up with true freedom, true democratic participation in 'life', but which may be cowered, as much as inspired, by the undue respect we pay our leaders, including dead ones. To be alive, and free, we must individually stay in the present, not submitting to abstractions. Books have been written on this, and I happen to think that Hitchcock held, and lived by, such an outlook. More on it soon. But now, here's something that came my way from another correspondent, SG, recently. Had I noticed, he asked, how there are three characters named 'Hennessy' in Hitchcock? He pointed them out: (1) in Lifeboat, Gus says that 'Hennessy was at the wheel when I went over'; (2) the two detectives in Brulov's house in Spellbound discuss a colleague named Hennessy; and (3) in Strangers on a Train, there's the gumshoe named Hennessy played by Robert Gist. I replied, 'Well spotted! "Hennessy" is a good Irish name, and associated with fine brandy, so it's easy to imagine that Hitchcock would have been attracted to it - especially for steady workers in the ranks of the police force, etc.!' In other words, there's something homely and unthreatening about the name 'Hennessy', especially to someone with Irish blood in his own veins, such as the immigrant Hitchcock himself.

February 26 - 2011
Some final, miscellaneous thoughts on Mr and Mrs Smith. Last week I concluded that it's at the Florida Club, when Ann sees David getting himself into difficulties, that deep down she probably realises that she must return to him. I was remembering, of course, how Em(ily) in Rich and Strange, after a shipboard fling with the bachelor Commander Gordon, decides not to accompany him to his South Seas plantation but to return to husband Fred, who has proved out of his depth after a shipboard fling (with a phoney 'princess') of his own. Hitchcock, always attracted to stories 'with plenty of psychology', has had Em say, 'A wife is always half a mother'. Mr and Mrs Smith seems premised on the idea that rules (instilled into us almost from birth by our mother) are necessary, but that there's something exciting about defying them, about 'illegality'. For a time, that is. As we noted on February 12, there's definitely a motif of 'puritanism' (and the superego) versus 'licentiousness' (and the id) in Mr and Mrs Smith - as there will be in Psycho. Watching the Momma Lucy's sequence in Mr and Mrs Smith again this week (see frame-capture below), I was struck by the moment when Ann's worried mother rings her there to inquire whether David has yet revealed that Ann and David's marriage has been found 'illegal' on a technicality: Ann's mother is a stickler for the proprieties, so hopes and expects that lawyer David will immediately put the matter to rights. No sex outside of marriage, and all that, as far as Ann's mother is concerned (this was in 1941). In effect, her sway over her daughter in this scene is like that of 'Mother' over son in Psycho in the scene where we hear 'Mother' forbid Norman to bring Marion up to the house for a candle-lit supper and 'whisperings'. Of course, we already know that David - succumbing to the lure of the 'illegal' - is delaying telling Ann the truth while he happily pretends to himself that she is his mistress whom he has to romance in her own right. (In Psycho, note, the 'illegality' has been all on the side of Marion - as far as the audience is concerned - who have watched her steal $40,000 and been prepared to sympathise, though no doubt a part of us expects that somehow the crime will eventually be put right.) Like Fred in Rich and Strange, David - capable bread-winner though he is - is a 'baby' who needs 'mothering'. After David has been thrown out of home by an angry Ann and has to spend the night at his club, the scene in the club's spa is both 'hell' (as Lesley Brill interprets it) and a 'nursery' in which we see David wrapped in a blanket that suggests swaddling-clothes. I can't help thinking of the ironic penultimate scene of Psycho set in a white room in which we see Norman also wrapped in a blanket. Screenwriters, I believe, often think at almost 'subterranean' levels and come up with imagery to match. Screwball comedy is certainly like that. (The title of Howard Hawks's 1938 Bringing Up Baby doesn't just refer to the Katherine Hepburn's character's tame leopard named 'Baby' but also to how she regards the absent-minded paleontologist, played by Cary Grant, to whom she has become romantically attached.) Now, I wanted to thank reader DF for another reminder he sent me recently. The references in Mr and Mrs Smith to the Civil War were timely, not least because Gone With the Wind had just come out. Perhaps they manage to imply how the 'battle of the sexes' in Hitchcock's film is itself a folly. Further, Jeff Custer's surname is also evocative of folly (the Battle of Little Big Horn), as well as telling us, perhaps, that Jeff's ancestors on his father's side may originally have come from the North (like George Custer), so that the film's reference remains wide. (For more on Jeff's name, see February 12, above.) Of course, a World War was also taking place when Mr and Mrs Smith came out, though America had not yet entered it. But the times were certainly changing, and volatile. The Momma Lucy's sequence evokes an Italian mother, but she has gone (the current proprietor, an Italian male, asserts, 'I am Momma Lucy'!); interestingly, Ann's maiden name is 'Krausheimer' (German) which she has given up for 'Smith'! Actually, Hitchcock's films generally remind me of an observation I read this week by John Gray (regretting that humans live more by myth than reality): '[I]n a strictly naturalistic philosophy, the human species has no purpose. There are only human beings with their conflicting impulses and goals.'

February 19 - 2011
I have tightened up and (hopefully) clarified last week's item. This week, still on Mr and Mrs Smith, I'll start by noting how Andrea Campbell's comment about screwball comedy (end of last week's item) more or less corresponds to a distinction made by Stanley Cavell in 'Pursuits of Happiness'. As Lesley Brill reports: 'Of the Hollywood comedies of remarriage that Stanley Cavell discusses ... the darkest one, [Howard Hawks's] His Girl Friday, has most in common with Mr and Mrs Smith. Both end not with the rediscovery of a marriage but with the confirmation of old habits. Those habits - the instincts for journalistic predation that join Walter and Hildy [in His Girl Friday] and the libidinal biting and clawing that bond Mr and Mrs Smith - land both films worlds away from the restorative self-creation-in-love of romance.' ('The Hitchcock Romance', p. 177) For her part, Campbell refers to Preston Sturges's The Palm Beach Story. In that film's opening credits, 'the characters go through a series of "traditional" screwball traumas, get married, the words "And they lived happily ever after" come up followed by "Or did they?" and the film begins'. Clearly, we're dealing with a somewhat philosophical genre or sub-genre. Which reminds me. When Ann in Mr and Mrs Smith says that she resents that David was going to conceal that their marriage had been annulled (by a technicality), have sex with her (fantasising, we already know, that Ann is his mistress), and then throw her away like a squeezed lemon (!), she is actually quoting from the great philospher Immanuel Kant. In his essay "The Philosophy of Law" (note that title) the never-married Kant expressed his belief that the sexual act, even in marriage, is demeaning: 'Sexual love makes of the loved person an Object of appetite: as soon as that appetite has been stilled, the person is cast aside as one casts aside a lemon which has been sucked dry.' Hmm. I'm intrigued that screenwriter Norman Krasna saw fit to invoke Kant in this context. We noted here (February 5, above) how David's law partner Jeff has never married and is characterised as lacking in male aggression. I quoted Terry Eagleton on how such people 'are stuck fast in their masochistic delight in the Law' (contra licentiousness). Well, Mr and Mrs Smith is not the only Hitchcock film in which the Law is both valorised and mocked, with marriage held out as a potential 'compromise'. (The genial The Trouble With Harry ends with Jennifer anticipating that marriage to Sam will let her keep her 'freedom', but Sam comments, 'You must be practically unique, then'.) I could say more on the 'philosophy' of Mr and Mrs Smith, but for the moment let's turn to the Florida Club sequence, which nicely showcases Hitchcock's technique. This is the sequence in which David goes on a blind date arranged by his pal Chuck Benson (Jack Carson). When David arrives at the club, Chuck is already inside with two women, his own date Gloria (Patricia Farr) and David's date, Gertie (Betty Compson). If you have the film on DVD, run it to see how cleverly the choreography of David's entrance into the club has been worked out - including the almost balletic timing of people coming and going in the lobby and immediately afterwards as David follows a waiter leading him across a crowded dance-floor to his table. (This sequence owes a lot to Hitchcock's silent film Champagne.) Actually the tracking camera takes in first the bar area and then, with a change of angle, the dance-floor. Here watch David deftly duck and weave, and note several incidental details such as a display of flowers (class!) and a well-heeled couple who smile pleasantly despite the crush (more class!). By contrast, Chuck Benson and the two women, whom we now see, are out of their league here - and the rest of the sequence is about David's increasing humiliation. Worse, Ann and Jeff are on hand to see it! The capper is the subjective shot from David's point of view (Gertie has insisted that he lie on his back while she attempts to stem his nose-bleed), the canted camera echoing a moment in Downhill and anticipating one in Notorious (see frame-capture below). A man next to Ann tells her, 'I knew the way he was acting, he was going to get a punch in the nose.' Paradoxically, I suspect that it's at this moment that Ann first begins to realise that she must soon get back with David. Concluded next time (meanwhile, watch this page for News items coming soon, including a new photo of Hitchcock).

February 12 - 2011
Hitchcock couldn't help himself! Many of the details in Mr and Mrs Smith (like its title) contribute to making the film a universal statement about marriage, the battle of the sexes, psychological ambivalence, and more. It is therefore closer to, say, Spellbound or Psycho than appears at first glance. (See last week's entry for some of the details I'm referring to.) It even involves censorious mothers, 'murderous' events (e.g., we hear Ann Smith say to husband David, 'I could break every bone in your body'), plumbing references, a trip from the city to a country resort - with its individual cabins - and skiing. There's definitely a motif of 'puritanism' (and the superego) versus 'licentiousness' (and the id). In effect, the film becomes another example of Hitchcock's indebtedness to Symbolism. ('I even had Symbolist dreams', Hitchcock once told a biographer.) Thinking about the question I posed last time about the film's references to American institutions, including its Presidents, I decided such references have a Symbolist function, too. So David's Southerner law partner Jefferson Custer is named after Jefferson Davis, a Democrat, who became president of the short-lived Confederate States of America, 1861-65. But of course Jeff's name also echoes that of President Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the Democrats, who was the third President of the USA, 1801-09. (I'll come back to this.) As for the 'Custer' part of his name, that's a bit trickier. Why would the filmmakers give Jeff the surname of the man, George Custer, who after a notable military career in the United States Army (including action in the Civil War), died an ignominious death at the Battle of Little Big Horn? My guess is that this part of Jeff's name is simply a joke on the filmmakers' part (Jeff will suffer his own humiliating defeat at the end of the film). Again, when Ann and Jeff arrive at Camp Placid (see frame-capture below) - perhaps anticipating a 'dirty weekend' prior to announcing their engagement - they are told that their booking has been switched from the hotel proper to one of the outlying cabins, Cabin McKinley. As the desk clerk notes, 'All of our cabins are named after American Presidents'. Well, President McKinley was a Republican, 1897-1901, until his assassination in Buffalo, New York. So Hitchcock may be saying: don't think that this film is just about glory and happy endings! It is about universal types, real life, uncertainty. (At a purely story level, David is obviously the person who has arranged the switch of Ann and Jeff's rooms to a cabin, to fit in with his plans to sabotage their relationship and get back with Ann. He has booked himself into the cabin next door.) In short, Hitchcock and screenwriter Norman Krasna wanted to suggest that their film was about America as a whole, including some underlying enmities, and with wider implications. Love and hate are at the centre of Mr and Mrs Smith. I was impressed more than once by Ann's double-minded thinking at the climax. We hear her say of David: 'He may have been putting on an act today but he'll really take to drinking from now on. ... If I could only disillusion him about me ... make him hate me, that'd be the solution.' Ostensibly, she means that she wants to make a clean break from David, and that she intends to make it easier for both of them. But deep down she means the opposite: if only David can be made to 'hate' her, he'll also love her the more (and she him) - the two emotions are inextricable - and they'll soon find themselves back in each other's arms. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, which is another perennial Hitchcock theme. So to end this entry, here's a note posted a few years ago on an academic website by screwball authority Dr Andrea Campbell. 'One of the differences in the two subgenres of screwball, battle of the sexes and liberation comedy, is that while liberation comedy has a traditional conclusion that endorses the value of liberation, battle of the sexes comedies have an uneasy ending. Nothing is resolved, the characters are in the same position in the end as in the beginning, and the audience is left with the feeling that it will all start over again soon.' [My thanks to DF for some information used in this week's entry.]

February 5 - 2011
Hitchcock told Truffaut that although he never fully understood the characters in Mr and Mrs Smith (1941), he filmed Norman Krasna's script as a favour to the 'queen of screwball', Carole Lombard. The latter plays Ann Smith. Although I don't fully understand the characters either - not least 'that pile of Southern fried chicken' Jefferson Custer (Gene Raymond), which is what his law partner David Smith (Robert Montgomery) calls him - I want to say a few things about the film here. I think it is hugely under-rated. Nonetheless, when I watched it again this week I felt a mixed reaction similar to when I recently watched another film I admire (but hadn't seen in ages), Howard Hawks's comedy Man's Favourite Sport? (1963). Sure, I chuckled at scene after familiar scene in the Hawks film (as in the Hitchcock), and think I suitably understood the implied analogy of fishing to having sex. As for the ending, it's one I have always loved (Roger and Abby, unawares, floating out to sea, a metaphor for their future married life) but on this occasion the film somehow over-stayed its welcome and I just wished the ending had arrived sooner! Well, Mr and Mrs Smith posed me a similar problem. Watching it, I enjoyed scene after scene but when the end-sequence at Lake Placid arrived - it occupies the last 25 minutes or so of the picture - I felt that I had already grasped the underlying idea that the estranged couple 'needed' each other and would finally get back together. Accordingly, I grew impatient with the sequence's details. (Implied lesson of the sequence: the 'battle of the sexes' is an intrinsic part of 'the marriage bond'!) Of course, I still loved the sexy final shot of the crossed skis, which implies so much, including about people necessarily 'crossing' each other. And throughout the picture I had sensed a joke on the legal profession, about how (like the commercial film industry, which has thrived on genres like the gangster film and the war film) its members know the appeal of the unlawful while always publicly upholding decent, lawful standards. Note an early scene in Mr and Mrs Smith when David at the breakfast table pales when Ann speaks of imposing yet another 'rule' on their marriage. And how, later that day, when he learns that a technicality has made their marriage 'not legal', he gleefully fantasises about romancing Ann over again - she will be his 'mistress' (as well as his wife)! For a while, he thinks that he will be free to have his cake and eat it too. (By the way, the idea of concealing from oneself one's 'darker' thoughts is obviously something that many Hitchcock films imply, and is here the basis of even the gag about the plumbing noises at the law office - the script had specified the sound of flushing toilets, but this had to be toned down.) Which brings me to David's partner, Jeff. He is made the butt of the film's theme about lawyers: he is so 'good' and 'decent' (as they say in Marnie, which has a similar theme) that he is a 'capon' (as Leslie Brill calls him). He has never married, and is a teetotaller. His 'Bible belt' parents are strict upholders of appearances, of what is right and proper. I would say that Jeff represents what Terry Eagleton, writing recently (in 'Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate') describes as a particular case of 'the lethal deadlock between Law and desire'. Such people 'are stuck fast in their masochistic delight in the Law' (p. 21). It's doubtful that either Ann or Jeff are serious about getting together permanently after Ann and David fall out, and that is the film's life-death point. As Brill notes, the scene of Ann and Jeff stranded in the rain on the parachute ascension (frame-capture below) has a sign behind them ironically flashing the word 'Life'. But something I don't exactly understand about Jeff is why his Southerner parents gave him the name 'Jefferson' (and how 'Custer' fits). Anyone? Next time: the Lake Placid sequence (plus the answer to my question about Jeff's name).

January 29 - 2011
On our 'advanced' Hitchcock discussion group this week, we were tossing about thoughts of 'magic' in Hitchcock's films. My thanks to MP who asked the question - initially apropos The Lady Vanishes (1938) - whether 'magic is an important motif in Hitchcock?' Not surprisingly, we decided that it is. MP noted that the baggage-car scene has its rabbits-in-a-hat (belonging to Doppo the sinister magician) and that the film's lively dialogue contains a couple of 'rabbit' references. You could say that the film is hopping with rabbits, which is apt in a film where anything goes and is full of surprises. The Indian rope trick is also mentioned. Of course, the baggage-car scene, with Doppo's vanishing-cabinet, raises the cheeky question whether Miss Froy hasn't been 'conjured away' by Doppo. A poster for Doppo's act seems to liken him to the evil Doctor Caligari in the famous German film. Actually, the real evil master-mind in The Lady Vanishes is indeed a doctor - the brain surgeon Dr Hartz - who prefigures the diabolical (almost Faustian) Gavin Elster in Vertigo (1958), with his elaborate plan to murder his wife and dupe Scottie into testifying that she committed suicide. Another diabolical murder plot is that of Tony Wendice in Dial M for Murder (1954). But the true master-mind is Hitchcock (who told Truffaut that the director of a fiction film must play at being God, justaposing many ideas and feelings and points of view). I'll come back to that notion. SR stated: 'I've long been haunted by the sense that magic is afoot in Hitchcock's films. I experience [it] most powerfully in sequences and moments where one feels that the bottom has suddenly dropped out, the veil has been pulled back; we are given fleeting glimpses of other worlds, other realities and dimensions.' Yes indeed. I feel an almost Shakespearean magical quality in parts of the film that preceded The Lady Vanishes, namely, Young and Innocent (1937), which has its own surreal central episode (like the baggage-car scene), a children's party with a conjurer: see frame-capture below. Also, many of the film's scenes take place at night. For example, Robert and Erica are on the run, and have stopped their car under cover of darkness beside a railway shunting-yard near a town. Hitchcock here employs a model shot with a tangible and quite lovely mood and use of sound. (I describe the shot at length in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story.) 'The night,' we hear Robert say, 'always exaggerates things, doesn't it? Personally, I like the night. It's much more alive than the day.' For my money, the shot is as masterly as the same film's famous - if obvious - track-in to the man with the twitching eye. And even more magical! Our discussion of Hitchcock's magic also touched on the under-rated Family Plot (1976) where Blanche the medium 'conjures up' information and events to support her predictions, with a bit of help from boyfriend George (though the couple don't initially realise that the truth is larger than they had imagined, and more dangerous ...). The film's trailer confirms that Hitchcock identified himself with Blanche to some extent. If pushed, I would say that the Catholic Hitchcock used his films to make himself available (like Milton in 'Paradise Lost') to reveal and 'justify the ways of God to man'. I recall the lines of another poet, William Cowper, quoted in Under Capricorn (1949): 'The Lord moves in mysterious ways/ His wonders to perform.' (Thus God is the ultimate magician!) Equally, you could say that Hitchcock is like the Dickens of 'Bleak House' (a favourite novel of Hitchcock's since his school days). There, Dickens's vision of an England where nobody except the novelist (in the white-heat of creation) grasps what is going on is a vision of human alienation almost cosmic. I have noted elsewhere that 'Bleak House' is a palpable influence on both Kafka's 'the Trial' and Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957). The latter, ostensibly Hitchcock's most realist film, is told under magical auspices, you feel. [Note. A book 'Hitchcock's Magic', by Neil Badmington, is due from University of Chicago Press in June 2011.]

January 22 - 2011
(late) I have often said that Hitchcock's suspense films and thrillers are significant microcosms, not just genre pieces or stylistic exercises (like a lot of other directors' work in the same genres). That's because they include so many links to a wider world and a contemporary reality. Related to this, I am currently preparing an article on the 'surreality' of Hitchcock films. Reading the novel on which Suspicion (1941) was based - 'Before the Fact' (1932) by 'Francis Iles' (A.B. Cox) - I noted in particular the author's gloomy view of marriage. Early on, we read of Lina: 'Having lived all her life in the country, where people do not talk about these things, she had never realized that the percentage of happy marriages among the population of Great Britain is probably something under .0001.' (p. 13) A few pages later, having married Johnnie, Lina has quickly begun to resign herself to never either getting or giving fulfilment in marriage. We read, though: 'It never occurred to her that the conflicting emotions which possessed her might be something that she was sharing with every other bride that had ever been. Her case was unique. No one before her could ever have experienced feelings so bewilderingly contradictory and so intense.' (p. 29) The point I want to make is that this sets the pattern for the rest of the novel - and the film. In other words, the constant ups and downs of the plot are both subjective - seen from Lina's point of view - and representative of wider experience. In itself, there's nothing especially remarkable about that. But two more things are worth noting. First, the ups and downs continue. Quite soon, 'almost before she knew it had happened, [Lina] found that she was an adequate wife after all'. (p. 33). But later, Johnnie is heard cursing Lina: '"I ... call you a damned hard, stingy bitch - in bed or at board about as much use to a man as a cold in the head".' (p. 95) Ouch! Second, the subjectivity involves an element of psychology, which can raise moral issues, not least for the reader or viewer. Simultaneously with re-visting the novel 'Before the Fact', I read a chapter by David Sterritt on Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957) in the book 'The Hidden God: Film and Faith' (2003) edited by Bandy & Monda. Sterritt notes that Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is at the centre of what occurs - he is 'the wrong man' - but that doesn't necessarily mean that he isn't 'guilty'. As Sterritt puts it: 'Manny's innocence of actionable crime does not mean he is innocent in a profound sense; on the contrary, he may be considered guilty of such moral failings as leading a tedious, habit-driven life and refusing to improve or even question the sociocultural status quo that determines the quality of his existence, even when this status quo turns its most formidable weapons (cops, courts, confinement) viciously against him.' (pp. 96-97) (I was struck by how different is the central rebellious action of the protagonist in the 1930s novel 'We, the Accused' by Ernest Raymond, which Hitchcock had dearly wanted to film. There, the man kills his oppressively bourgeois wife and goes on the run with his young mistress.) Sterritt goes so far as to say that the 'right man' in The Wrong Man is, in a way, less culpable than Manny 'since the thief is someone who has shown some initiative, seized some control of his life, and displayed enough gumption to break society's rules'. (p. 97) What I find interesting here is the parallel with 'Before the Fact' and Suspicion. Lina appears to lack gumption, in contrast to the irrepressible but crooked Johnnie. In the novel, Lina's younger sister, Joyce, urges her not to be so 'spineless' as to stay married to her obviously ne'er-do-well husband. (p. 135) A hundred pages later, Lina remains undecided. 'She wished she had a stronger mind.' (p. 240) By contrast, Johnnie fascinates the reader/viewer by his sheer bravado and resourcefulness (albeit murderous). No wonder that the lady novelist in Suspicion (see frame-capture, below) is heard to say that her villains are actually her heroes! And even near the end of 'Before the Fact', Lina can't yet grasp that Johnnie intends to kill even her. (p. 286) (Hitchcock told Truffaut that this was the ending he had wanted for the film, too.) I find the whole idea positively Kafkaesque, i,e., surreal, which is another link back to The Wrong Man, a work often likened to Kafka's 'The Trial'. More another time.

January 15 - 2011
Some miscellany this time, starting with Hitchcock's first film, The Pleasure Garden (1925) and then some information about Psycho (1960). Last night I watched a BBC documentary Walter Sickert vs John Singer Sargent (2008). As noted here previously, Hitchcock was an admirer of the paintings of Sickert (1860-1942) and eventually acquired several of Sickert's sketches. The documentary spent some time on Sickert's fascination with the English music hall. Specifically, it appears that some of the young ladies who appeared onstage as soloists and in the chorus at a venue like the Old Bedford in Camden Town led double lives. They might be said to have divided their time between the Old Bedford and bed ('If you follow my drift', says the documentary's host/writer/director, Waldemar Januszczak). In those days, the legal age of consent was just 13. And in the audiences at the Old Bedford and a similar venue some miles away near the Hungerford Bridge - both frequented by Sickert - were male patrons whose main motive for attending was pretty obvious, and whom Sickert depicted on canvas several times. I wouldn't mind betting that Hitchcock knew of those paintings and that they influenced his treatment of the opening sequence of The Pleasure Garden (see frame-capture below). Now to Psycho, and my thanks to both Bill Krohn and my Melbourne friend Ross Campbell. Ross, formerly a projectionist for the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), yesterday held a screening at his home of the new Blu-Ray release of Psycho. Something he immediately spotted was that the print is restored to something like its optimum aspect-ratio of 1.75:1 or 1.78:1 - although the box continues to boast 'Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1'! Anyway, joy! Also, for this Blu-Ray release, the film's soundtrack has been re-worked in stereo, to generally acceptable effect. Purists may object to how passing cars during the scene when Marion visits California Charlie now audibly pass from left to right and vice versa; or to the definite rain-on-windscreen sound during Marion's drive (instead of a more undifferentiated sound previously). But in a short documentary on the disc, the engineers insist that they have allowed nothing 'offensive' (for example, no exaggerated sound for its own sake of a car door slamming). They have added sounds (and I have my doubts about this). For example, Ross noticed that in the opening scene, as Hitchcock's camera pans across Phoenix, the engineers have added a distant car horn. To prove it, Ross ran an earlier DVD-release of the film, and the sound was not there. Finally, Bill Krohn has sent me some further results of his Hitchcock research, both for 'Hitchcock at Work' and subsequently. For example, he notes that Hitchcock ran Otto Preminger's Laura (1944) twice while he was making Vertigo. Apropos Psycho, Hitchcock 'seems to have seriously considered Gena Rowlands ... Even had a screen test made ... Inger Stevens too, but no test - just watched her in a TV drama.' 'He had an enormous number of lunches and meetings with [young screenwriter Joseph] Stefano during the writing of Psycho, more than any other writer in the period covered [by Bill's research]. I think he liked having him around. [Ernest] Lehman he saw mostly at his house - Stefano both.'

January 8 - 2011
(late) Just a few notes on Suspicion (1941) this time. The static titles-illustration (see frame-capture below) hardly provides one of the great Hitchcock titles sequences: it isn't Saul Bass! It's almost as perfunctory as the running gothic lettering of the titles for The Paradine Case (1947), a sequence that was supposed to be only a working one, to be replaced in the finished film with something more impressive - but wasn't. The Suspicion illustration showing two rather gaunt trees and a summery sky with clouds doesn't even look particularly English - something that commentators like Raymond Durgnat have noted of the film's exteriors as a whole (which of course, the War being on, were photographed in California). The two trees look more like Australian gum-trees than any variety of English tree! Of course, they anticipate the generally wintery landscapes we see throughout the film, with its several particular references to isolated trees, such as those on the hillock where Johnnie (Cary Grant) and Lina (Joan Fontaine) struggle early in the film. 'What did you think I was trying to do - kill you?', he asks. Suspicion in fact is a marvellously-sustained exercise in ambiguity, even to the final scene. (Just remember what Beaky had said of Johnnie, that he could lie his way out of any situation, and you may read this often-criticised scene rather differently.) I was reminded of Hitchcock's film when watching the excellent B-picture When Strangers Marry/Betrayed (William Castle, 1944) recently. The latter has lately become available on made-to-order DVD in the Warner Archive series (see News item below). Another film from the Warner Archive is Richard Thorpe's Night Must Fall (1937), adapted from the play by Emlyn Williams, and it, too, has elements of Suspicion in it. The fact is, there was a whole cluster of English stories and resulting films that used the idea of a household in which a psychopath or other malevolent person has murderous designs, and Hitchcock was undoubtedly aware of this. One such story was Robert Hichens's 'Bella Donna' (1909), which was filmed at least twice. In the version I have seen, Irving Pichel's Temptation (1946), the husband, played by George Brent, had soon realised that his wife (Merle Oberon) intended to poison him, but his love for her was such that he was content to die. This may well have been what prompted 'Francis Iles' (A.B. Cox) to end his novel 'Before the Fact' (1932) with a similar situation, in which the wife accepts that her husband intends to poison her - and it was the ending that Hitchcock said he had wanted for his film version, Suspicion. A short story by Dorothy Sayers was actually called "Suspicion" and had been published in the volume 'In the Teeth of the Evidence' (1939). It was about a wife who poisons her husband. Fans of Suspicion probably know that the crime novelist in Hitchcock's film (and the original novel), Isobel Sedbusk (Auriol Lee), is a lightly disguised portrait of Sayers 'in all her voluble authority' (as I remember H.R.F. Keating phrasing it). I'll just also mention that the Patrick Hamilton play 'Gaslight' (1938), in which the husband attempts to trick his wife into thinking herself mad, and fit only for suicide, had recently (1940) been filmed in England by Thorold Dickinson. Finally, let's come back to Night Must Fall. The psychopath 'Danny Boy' is played in the 1937 film by Robert Montgomery, who had been excited by Emlyn Williams's performance on the London stage. I haven't seen the film lately, but I do remember that Danny whistles (like Johnnie in Suspicion) and is clearly part-based on the real-life murderer Patrick Mahon - as well as, quite possibly, the Johnnie character in 'Before the Fact'. From my notes, I further remember that Danny is finally caught and handcuffed. Looking down at the handcuffs, he says something like, 'This is the real thing ... All the rest of my life has been acting.' You can't help thinking that this line may have inspired the ironic remark by Vandamm at the end of Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) about the police's 'unsporting' use of 'real bullets'.