Editor's Week 2014

December 27 - 2014
[Our thoughts on Hitchcock's Suspicion resume next time. Meanwhile, Happy New Year to all our readers. K.M.]

December 20 - 2014
'Suspicion is a movie that is structured, from start to finish, around the cultural image [Cary] Grant's image represented; its suspense does not come from whether "Johnnie" (the character) could possibly be a murderer, but if Cary Grant could possibly be a murderer.' (Lesley L. Coffin, 'Hitchcock's Stars', 2014, pp. 31-32) This interesting statement may be very true - but let's never forget that Hitchcock's films are ultimately about the amoral life/death 'force' that one philosopher called 'Will' (in humans). Cary Grant, better than almost any other actor, can represent that amoral Will, and Suspicion is a 'surreal' depiction of a world seemingly governed by Will, although one part of us hopes that finally world and Will will be reconciled. The English setting of Suspicion is ideal, for it brings out in a clear-cut way the struggle of 'civilisation' against untamed spirit. Notice that from the opening moment on the train Johnnie is an anti-Establishment figure: throughout the film he will fall foul of authority and its representatives, many of them in uniform, starting with the railway ticket inspector. (Other such figures include General McLaidlaw, Captain Melbeck, and of course the police.) Strictly speaking, Will will always be with us - and part of us is grateful for that - so that ending a film like Suspicion was always going to be difficult. It could perhaps only be satisfactorily achieved by an act of love. (That is also the message of a film like The Birds.) Unfortunately the ending Hitchcock wanted - in which Lina (Joan Fontaine) sacrifices both herself and Johnnie - proved unacceptable to contemporary audiences, conditioned to expect that Cary Grant must finally 'grow up' and be proven 'good'. (The motif of 'growing up' - becoming civilised and accepting compromise - versus 'not growing up', is a perennial one in Hitchcock's films, going back to The Lodger.) Another ending the filmmakers thought of was for Johnnie himself to finally don uniform and to redeem himself in the RAF: I'm not sure whether this timely ending was ever filmed but it strikes me as brilliant, anticipating films like The Dirty Dozen (1967) and even Hitchcock's own later Cary Grant vehicle, To Catch a Thief (1955), in which jewel-thief John Robie redeems himself by returning to the 'scene of the crime'. The present ending of Suspicion is of course a compromise, if only for the reason I've already given: it goes against the film's grain, in which Johnnie's amoral nature is continually being revealed to have further aspects, just as Will itself is boundless, with both good and bad sides forever revealing themselves anew. The present ending feels artificial, added just to end the film - and yet it has an ambiguity about it for those with eyes to see. (Ditto, for the ending of The Lodger.) Interestingly, Lesley Coffin sees this, and thinks that modern audiences also see it. She writes: 'modern-day audiences are more willing to accept that the film simply has an ambiguous ending rather than a happy one; while Fontaine may accept and be complicit with his behaviour, Johnnie will always be a manipulative and possibly dangerous man.' (p. 32) 'Possibly dangerous' is right. With the present ending, which feels so perfunctory - surely deliberately so, drawing attention to itself, like the 'fairy tale' happy ending of The Lodger - we are perfectly at liberty - indeed invited - to feel that Johnnie may be a sociopath who has already murdered his dear friend 'Beaky' Thwaite (Nigel Bruce) and may have similar designs on his beloved Lina. As Hitchcock was fond of saying, '"Each man kills the thing he loves" ... I think that's quite a common phenomenon, really.' Remember that we are talking about a 'surreal' film - like so many Hitchcocks - yet where the circumstantial evidence suggesting that Johnnie is a murderer is carefully established. The film itself points out that there was a real-life precedent for murder employing a brandy-drinking challenge (such a murder was committed by Englishman William Palmer, though the film mysteriously refers to him as 'Richard Palmer'), and it has carefully given Beaky some telling lines early on. For example: 'That Johnnie, he'll be the death of me.' And: 'He doesn't need more than one second to invent the most howling lie you ever heard.' (The frame-capture below shows Beaky with Lina waiting for Johnnie to 'explain' where the heirloom chairs have gone.) Just remember that latter remark when at the end Johnnie's arm ambiguously circles Lina's shoulder and he turns the car around for the couple to return home. Did he really mean that he only ever meant to kill himself? To be continued.

December 13 - 2014
[Taking a week off to meet deadlines, sorry. Back next time. K.M.]

December 6 - 2014
In coming weeks - with maybe a short break for Christmas later this month - I may be writing here some thoughts on Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941). This site already features an important page on Suspicion, written by Bill Krohn, which supplements other important material that is available, including essays by Mark Crispin Miller, Rick Worland, and Patrick Faubert and a further piece by Bill himself that appeared in the 'Hitchcock Annual' (2002 edition). And when this site is finally re-vamped in a couple of months, we will be featuring a piece on that film by Michael Walker (author of 'Hitchcock's Motifs'), published for the first time. My own work on Suspicion has been extensive - including an article that appeared in the hardcopy 'MacGuffin' (#7) - and Walker has given me permission to cite some it in the editorial remarks I'll be adding at the front of his piece. (Meanwhile, do look at Bill Krohn's piece here.) I just felt the need to brush up on the film again, you understand! From discussing it with Bill, and others, I remember it as hugely under-rated. Bill feels it to be a masterpiece, and I agree with him. As with several other Hitchcocks, once you grasp the principle on which it is constructed, it appears so ... elegant. No other word for it. Today I ran the first half-hour again, and the way in which the film carries you along - playboy Johnnie (Cary Grant) is audacious from the opening scene on a train, spinster Lina (Joan Fontaine) so susceptible to every whim and fancy as she quickly falls for him, though we can see he's probably a cad - is totally deft, and you have to cheer the script by Samson Raphaelson and such things as the film's score, by Franz Waxman, which is constantly (in a Hitchcock phrase) 'taking the curse off' one preposterous situation after another. Then, of course, there's the acting - although it can hardly be separated from Hitchcock's direction. For example, take the comedy of the moment when Johnnie, on returning from their honeymoon, tells a shocked Lina that he is broke (implying that they may have to live on money from her wealthy parents). Quickly recovering, she tells him that there's another possibility to consider - for him to get work. Close-up of Johnnie, obviously taken aback: 'Work?' (Here, a musical 'stinger' underlines his shock.) Close-up of Lina, shrugging, as if to imply the lack of alternatives: 'Yes, work.' Close-up of Johnnie (who mid-way through his remark airily waves a pair of sugar tongs): 'What, you mean put on old clothes and go out with a shovel?' (See frame-capture below.) That moment with the sugar tongs is both expressive and proleptic. It is the first moment when Johnnie will hold up a white object, brilliantly illuminated - a later such moment, of course, occurs at the film's climax where Johnnie carries upstairs to Lina a glass of milk that may be poisoned (and inside which Hitchcock had secretly put a light, to make sure we didn't look away.). I'm not suggesting that Hitchcock put a spotlight (say) on that piece of sugar that Johnnie flourishes so distractedly, but I am noting that the gesture was obviously scripted and that the sugar was certainly meant to be seen by us! It would be just like Hitchcock to have thought of that moment as both a comic underlining (of Johnnie's double-take of a moment earlier) and as foreshadowing a much more important parallel moment later: part of his conditioning of audiences via 'style'. Roughly comparable in Suspicion is its 'postal' motif, as Bill Krohn and I call it. In the film's opening scene on the train, Johnnie is caught out by a uniformed ticket-inspector for travelling in a first-class compartment on a third-class ticket; when the official demands payment of the balance, Johnnie prevails on Lina, sitting opposite (and whom he has just encountered), to help out with a penny-halfpenny stamp. Handing it to the official, he says, 'Legal tender, old boy', and adds: 'Write to your mother!' Fairly evidently, the moment is our best evidence in support of what Hitchcock told Truffaut, that he had intended to end the film with a scene in which Johnnie unwittingly incriminates himself by mailing at Lina's request, just before she (masochistically) drinks the poisoned milk, a letter to her mother - in which she explains why she is content to die but cannot allow Johnnie to roam free. Presumably, Johnnie would have put the postage on the letter before mailing it, thus bringing the film full-circle and repaying his penny-halfpenny debt to Lina. (He would have exited, whistling.) To be continued.

November 29 - 2014
About five minutes into The Lady Vanishes (1938), Hitchcock gives us the conversation in a European inn between Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) in which they speculate on whether they'll get home 'in time'. Charters is doubtful: 'That last report was pretty grim ... England on the brink ... looks pretty black.' (Frame-capture below.) Hitchcock is happy to let the audience think that the two Englishmen are speculating about whether they might become marooned in a foreign country when war breaks out - thus setting the underlying sense of peril on which the rest of the film will trade, both for suspense and for several of its gags, invoking English parochialism in the face of other people's adversity. Typically of 1930s English Hitchcock, the basic idea was not original. (Hitchcock's 'Cromwell Road brains trust' would take on board ideas from anywhere, frequently without acknowledgement. For example, the handcuffed couple at the centre of The 39 Steps come from a 1927 novel, 'Mr Priestley's Problem', by A.B. Cox.) In this case, the idea came from a popular novel by A.G. Macdonell, 'England, Their England' (1933), a satire on Englishness as seen through the eyes of a young Scot, Donald Cameron. Its account of a village cricket match was often anthologised separately as a masterpiece of comic writing. But what Hitchcock and his team seized on was a witty passage where Donald, walking through London, is alarmed by seeing newsvendors' placards saying 'ENGLAND OVERWHELMED WITH DISASTER' (the 'Evening News') and 'IS ENGLAND DOOMED?' (the 'Star'). The subject, he discovers, is the impending defeat of England in a cricket match against Australia! To Hitchcock's credit, the basic idea of Charters and Caldicott's obsession with cricket is beautifully integrated into the larger story and themes of The Lady Vanishes. And they, together with Iris (Margaret Lockwood) and Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) eventually lead the way in rallying the English train passengers in a showdown with the villains who have kidnapped English governess Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) because she knows too much. One of Hitchcock's perennial themes is bringing people - ultimately the film audience - out of themselves, and that's the case here. What is interesting is how, meanwhile, just about everyone in the film seems lost in a private (subjective) world, and that includes its heroine Iris. An early encounter with Charters and Caldicott seems to quickly reach an impasse. Iris: 'I don't see how a little thing like cricket can make you forget seeing people.' Her phrasing is echoed later in the film by Caldicott himself. The kidnapped Miss Froy has been rescued, and she says something that should be fairly evident: 'We're not in England now.' But Caldicott (for the present) can only respond: 'I don't see what difference that makes.' Moments later, he is puzzled again when Gilbert grabs a chair and knocks out a soldier (who boasts he went to Oxford) sent by the villains to negotiate. Gilbert explains off-handedly: 'I was at Cambridge.' Charters: 'Well, what's that got to do with it?' Even the chief villain, the urbane brain surgeon Dr Hartz (Paul Lukas) has his blind spot. The false nun who had been minding the bandaged-up Miss Froy suddenly rounds on the doctor and in broad Cockney chides him: 'You never said the old girl was English.' Dr Hartz: 'What difference does that make?' Notice that Hitchcock maintains a joking tone wherever possible because that very tone implies the film's message, that we're all basically the same, if only we could see it. Sport is used as a convenient metaphor wherever possible, and it's significant that Hartz, finally defeated, uses an English idiom to congratulate his opponents: 'Jolly good luck to them.' (Twenty-one years later, the 'realpolitik' of North by Northwest has its defeated villain, played by James Mason, take a slightly different tone: 'That wasn't very sporting of you, using real bullets.') So the audience of The Lady Vanishes was allowed to treat the events as finally all a joke - if they wanted to. It was no doubt the safest way of appealing to the widest possible audience at the time. Otherwise, the sort of complacency on view in The Lady Vanishes looks forward to later Hitchcock films such as The Birds. (The jaded rich-girl character of Iris foreshadows that of Melanie in the 1963 film.)

November 22 - 2014
Still on Jamaica Inn ... but, first, I looked again at the night-sequence mentioned last time from The Paradine Case and see that my memory had simplified it. It does indeed imply a shared bond, with its successive shots of the principal characters dining at home or lying in bed (nobody speaks) after the opening day of the trial. What I had forgotten was how the sequence opens and closes with low-angle shots of the war ruins adjoining the Old Bailey. The implied 'common cause' (against a recently defeated enemy, and now the task of rebuilding) symbolises the bond I mentioned, a bit like how the incursion by foreign fishing trawlers sets in motion The Manxman (1928) and unites the otherwise divided characters. But of course The Paradine Case was based on the 1933 novel by Robert Hichens, an avowed Schopenhauerian, so it's legitimate to further infer that the bond is one of shared cosmic 'Will', so demonstrably operating in many Hitchcock films (such as The Birds). Jamaica Inn (whose credits sequence influenced that of The Birds) is such a film. The sad thing is that none of its characters can rise above their individual histories to embrace the bigger picture: Squire Pengallan tries, but only succeeds in becoming a master villain, increasingly evil. Also, consider the character of Jem Trehearne (Robert Newton). His affection for Mary Yellan (Maureen O'Hara) will allow a conventional happy ending, but the film doesn't stress it. In fact, Jem - a disguised law officer and naval lieutenant - is made to look a bit of a simpleton at times. After he and Mary escape Joss's cutthroats and arrive at the Squire's mansion - not knowing that they have come to the home of the wreckers' ringleader - Jem prances almost boyishly around the mansion in rags and bare feet. Eventually given a set of clothes belonging to the Squire's guest, Lord George (Basil Radford), he acts even more cocky, like a fop: see frame-capture below. The Squire of course leads him on. The pay-off will come later when the Squire tells the tied-up Jem the facts and that there will be no rescue by 'Captain Boyle' from Truro: 'There is no Captain Boyle, consequently there will be no military.' This is the nadir in Jem's fortunes and those of Mary and her relative, Aunt Patience (Marie Ney). Even Jem's relationship with Mary had plunged into despondency after she had found out that he was working for the law against her aunt and uncle. For a time, she acts the aggrieved young woman who resents having fallen for a man who has manipulated her: shades of Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) and Hannay (Robert Donat) in The 39 Steps. However, as in that film, Hitchcock is also allowing Mary to signal her pluck and courage, as she will notably do when she escapes from Joss's men and improvises a beacon to save an apparently doomed ship - and again at the climax when she escapes the Squire's clutches. (The actress's qualities are on display in her first feature film, My Irish Molly (1938), which I watched recently: I understand that Laughton had spotted her and arranged for her to make the film, which he was then able to show to Hitchcock.) The wrecking scenes themselves are a mixture of ingenious sets and rapid cutting of details (e.g., sailors jumping from mastheads) and some less-than-convincing group-shots and model-shots. (The scenes do make effective use of realistic-looking waves and cascading spray, a foretaste of the storm-at-sea in 1944's Lifeboat.) Inevitably one comes back to Hitchcock's statement that he was mainly interested 'in the Jekyll-Hyde mentality of the Squire'. Right at the end, the by-now crazed Pengallan tells Mary: 'Any man of sensibility would rather see you dead first [than raising children with a non-aristocrat like Jem].' The logic is practically identical to that of the toffish Ivor Novello character in The Lodger (1926) who - the film strongly hints - killed his blonde sister at her coming-out ball to save her from being sullied by the world. (A fantasy of 'eternal childhood', of children who never grow up, was almost commonplace in Victorian and Edwardian drama and fiction, as brilliantly analysed by Jackie Wullschläger in 'Inventing Wonderland' (1995).) In turn, you can see variants on this mentality working in Rebecca (1940) - where Maxim (Laurence Olivier) tells 'I' (Joan Fontaine) never to 'be 36 years old' - and in Psycho, where 'Mother' intervenes to prevent her son (Tony Perkins) from taking a rival lover. 'A boy's best friend is his mother', as Norman himself says. QED.

November 15 - 2014
Jamaica Inn occurs after the death of the 'mad king' George III and the accession of his son George IV. The year is 1820. When we first come upon Squire Pengallan (Charles Laughton), he is toasting the new monarch - in whose circle he had mixed for a while. But he now professes contempt for the new king. 'The fat fool ... [nowadays] he's nothing but a painted bag of matasquita and plum pudding!' (Have I quoted that correctly? Anyone? Also, see frame-capture below.) On the principle of looking after Number One, the Squire seeks to insulate himself from anything that would drag him down - presumably including madness. But the effort is palpably a taxing one, given the isolation in which the Squire increasingly finds himself. (In Psycho, of course, Norman Bates reports that 'they moved away the highway' ...) Invisibly he surrenders some of his powers, and the signs of denial of reality slowly increase. He uses his manservant Chadwick as some people today use the Internet - as a substitute for one's own memory. Asked which lake he had most admired last summer on his annual excursion, the Squire relays the question to Chadwick and is told, 'Lake Windermere, sir!' Such 'schizophrenia' is partly what Jamaica Inn is about. As noted, the lives of the slaughtered sailors murdered by the gang of wreckers, led by Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks), matter nothing to the Squire, consciously. There is, however, a startling passage in Chapter 8 of the novel in which Joss, drunk, vividly recalls to Mary exactly how he had killed even women and children, smashing in their faces with rocks, then leaving them to drown. '[Mary] felt deadly sick ... She looked up at her uncle, and she saw he had sloped forward in his chair ... and his hands were clasped as if in prayer.' It's a study in damnation, all right (of the wreckers and, by extension, the Squire), yet Hitchcock knew that nothing is simple. We had some discussion, apropos Jamaica Inn, on our discussion group this week, of how notions of 'good faith' and 'bad faith' occur in Hitchcock films. I posted as follows: 'Both the Squire and Norman Bates seem finally to enter a state where their inability to face reality tilts them into psychosis, a form of bad faith. (Also, the screenplay of Rope, filmed in 1948, indicates that Brandon is essentially mad from the time he loads a pistol to await the returning Rupert.) The Squire conveniently becomes a Byronic hero; Norman conveniently becomes his own mother ...' Jamaica Inn is clearly about degrees of bad faith (starting with that 'old Cornish prayer' but also such things as Patience's refusal to let herself know where an anticipated wreck will occur - as if that made her less culpable), and likewise Psycho goes out of its way (as Raymond Bellour noted long ago) to show degrees of dishonesty/madness in society. So when a student [of correspondent MP] says of Norman Bates (or a character says of Squire Pengallan), 'he can't help himself', Hitchcock is showing that it's not really that simple: why did the character pass up the chance to settle with God or his conscience before conveniently becoming mad? But that question, in turn, isn't simple either! (Graham Greene explores questions of 'free will' in a novel like 'Brighton Rock' - as does Hitchcock here and in Psycho.) And then there's the aspect I mentioned in passing last time: how (to paraphrase Georges Bernanos) if we really knew 'how closely we are bound to each other in good and evil, we truly could not live'. Again I say: such 'schizophrenia' is what Jamaica Inn is about. It's a theme also adumbrated, very beautifully, in The Paradine Case (1947) which includes a cross-cut sequence, on the evening after the first day of the trial, in which we see the various characters asleep or lying in bed, and a linking high-shot of the city itself that implies, like so many Hitchcock films, that 'we are all responsible'. (I have analysed this sequence previously. Maybe I'll come back to it next time.) Also, I mentioned last time The Trouble With Harry (1955) and its benign allegory of a New England community where, indeed, everyone is 'bound to each other in good and evil' - but happily, having been granted an epiphany of what it would feel like to live free of the guilt that only a joyless puritan like Calvin Wiggs (Royal Dano) insists on! Far from being escapism, The Trouble With Harry is about what Hitchcock suggested, 'the commonplace raised to a higher level'. To be continued.

November 8 - 2014
Daphne du Maurier liked to 'borrow' basic plot ideas from other authors' successes, and in the case of 'Jamaica Inn' (1936) she loosely based her villain - a clergyman, Mr Davey, who is secretly a pagan-worshipper and leads a band of wreckers in 19th-century Cornwall - on the character of Doctor Syn in the series of novels by Russell Thorndike (1885-1972). (Michael Balcon produced, and Roy William Neill directed, a film of Doctor Syn in 1937, starring George Arliss.) To an extent, the Reverend Davey is a forerunner of the fair-seeming Rebecca in du Maurier's novel of that name (1938): both feel out of place in their own time. As Davey says: 'I do not belong here, and I was born with a grudge against mankind. Peace is very hard to find in the nineteenth century. The silence is gone, even on the hills. I thought to find it in the Christian Church, but the dogma sickened me ...' (Chapter 17) True, 'Rebecca' was always the superior novel - not least because of the title-character's almost Nietzschean (but chilly) polymorphous perfection - but in both cases a part of the author sides with the character and thereby sharpens the critique of a particular Cornish community that has become corrupt or too-rigid. (Simultaneously, du Maurier's heart is in the timeless Cornish landscape - which makes for gripping reading by her many fans.) In the event, of course, the villain of Jamaica Inn had to be changed for the film version: somebody realised that a pagan-worshipping clergyman would not be acceptable in the US market. So now the leader of the wreckers has become Squire Pengallan (Charles Laughton), a distant descendant of Doctor Caligari in the German film classic of that name (produced by Erich Pommer, the producer of Jamaica Inn): both are authority- figures seemingly above suspicion. (From another perspective: the plot-device of a 'benign' official who proves evil soon became hoary, used by everyone from Agatha Christie to Hitchcock again in 1945's Spellbound, based on the 1928 novel, 'The House of Dr Edwardes'. A variant would be Psycho.) The script of Jamaica Inn is ingenious in how it adapts the Reverend Davey's attributes to Squire Pengallan. Davey's death, after taking Mary Yellan captive, and both of them pursued across the moors by Jem (who in the novel is Joss Merlyn's brother), occurs when he is shot in the shoulder and plummets off a crag: compare Pengallan's death in the film after leaping from a ship's rigging. Even Davey's pagan qualities are, in a sense, transferred to Pengallan, both in the latter's corrupting taste for figurines and precious objects (for which he is prepared to sacrifice lives) and his association with the community of 'lost souls' who congregate at Jamaica Inn and display various superstitions. (One of the gang, his hand-mirror shattered, attributes his arrest straight afterwards to the incident. A variant on such belief in superstition occurs in Hitchcock's benign 1955 The Trouble With Harry, where Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) consistently notes Nature's 'omens' - and patently ignores the call to church made by the ringing bell at the film's start. Mind you, the film allows that its essentially decent characters have their lives to live and, in doing so, manage to display what Captain Wiles calls 'hasty reverence' - a form of sacrament in itself.) One of the Jamaica Inn gang is Harry the Pedlar (Emlyn Williams) who is forever whistling (shades of The 39 Steps). At times this seems callous, as when he prepares to string up Jem (Robert Newton) - but he maintains it to the very end, when his own execution is imminent. So Jamaica Inn is a study in damnation - and in ways of living and dying. Also, as noted last time, something like Georges Bernanos's observation applies: 'I believe if God gave us a clear idea of how closely we are bound to each other in good and evil, we truly could not live.' Such insights inform many of Hitchcock's films (1947's The Paradine Case, say), but are too seldom noted. More on this next time. Meanwhile, I thank correspondents MP and DF who both nailed what the coach driver says at the start of the film (see last week, and frame-capture below): 'Queer things [go on at Jamaica Inn]. I won't stop there, not if you were to offer me double fare.' (So Mary Yellan gets carried past her intended destination - and delivered straight into the clutches of the increasingly mad Squire.) (On another matter, we congratulate actor/producer Norman Lloyd on achieving his 100th birthday this week.)

November 1 - 2014
Jamaica Inn (1939) isn't the unmitigated failure you sometimes hear it called, and in light of its pending restoration (see News below), I took another look at it this week. Hitchcock said that he was mainly interested 'in the Jekyll-Hyde mentality of the Squire', and in several ways the film is a precursor of Psycho. Both are studies in solitariness - always a Hitchcock motif - and of damnation. Squire Pengallan (Charles Laughton) is trapped by his very refinement and belief in his own Byronic rightness: at one point you hear him refer to a time when he successfully gambled large sums to return his estate to the black. But then, with options running out, and his self-image (as a wealthy man of the gentry) everything, he aligns himself with a band of local cut-throats and wreckers: as so often in Hitchcock, a descent into irreversible corruption is signalled. In later films, such as Psycho and Marnie, Hitchcock would actually insert a literary text to point the lesson that is being ignored: surrender to God's greater plan. There is just a hint of that here: the hypocritical 'old Cornish prayer' that sets the (false) tone at the very start. On the other hand, as I note in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', a motif of determinism is allowed to run through the film. 'People can't help what they are', Aunt Patience (Marie Ney) says of her wrecker-husband Joss (Leslie Banks) and herself. 'He can't help himself', Mary Yellan (Maureen O'Hara) says of the Squire at the climax. (Some people always want to think the best of others, and to find excuses for them, and Hitchcock - a good Catholic - wasn't going to actually forbid such generosity in his audiences. Interestingly, I'm told by correspondent MP that a film class he conducts was recently shown Psycho and then asked who was the most 'sympathetic' character. The 'winner' by a long way was Norman Bates: 'he can't help himself', as one girl literally put it. And when you think about it, what Hitchcock called 'that fine line' between two opposed states is very hard to pin down. 'I like films with plenty of psychology' he once said, bringing us back to why he filmed Jamaica Inn at all.) There's a scene mid-way through the film (intercut with the actions of the wreckers at nearby Jamaica Inn, thereby adding an extra dimension) showing the high-handed way in which the Squire treats his tenants. To a surly-looking 'rank radical' he gives short measure: 'You're not as good as me, your birth was against it from the start and circumstances since then have only made matters worse.' (But could the Squire be unknowingly describing his own decline, where deterministic 'circumstances' have started working against him too?) On the other hand, when one tenant comes up short with his dues, and gives the excuse that his son can't work because of an injured leg that won't heal, Pengallan refers the lad straight to the local doctor 'with my compliments'. And when his eldest tenant, an old lady, mentions a leaking roof, Pengallan is generosity itself, arranging for her to be given a new roof. Yet this is the man who knowingly has allowed a hundred sailors to go their deaths at the hands of Joss and his wreckers. I love the last shot of the film (frame-capture below) in which the ever-loyal retainer Chadwick (Horace Hodges) is left saddened and depleted by his master's death, whose resounding cry of 'Chaaadwick!' still echoes. (Hitchcock probably took this trope from John Ford's 1937 adaptation of Kipling's Wee Willie Winkie.) The image, while ambiguous (it shows a man pitifully responsible for his own sado-masochistic entrapment - but what else was he to do, become a 'rank radical'?), sums up the mystery that lies at the heart of the film: that interaction in which we all share. To quote another Catholic author, Georges Bernanos: 'I believe if God gave us a clear idea of how closely we are bound to each other in good and evil, we truly could not live.' I think of what Hitchcock said after completing Psycho: 'Reality is something that none of us can stand, at any time.' And indeed, that final image of Chadwick seems to me almost as poignant as our last view of a depleted Norman Bates, at the end of Psycho. Now, I'll have more to say about Jamaica Inn next time. But meanwhile I'm wondering if anyone can discern what is said by the stagecoach driver near the film's start. Whatever else, it isn't what is reported by Harry and Michael Medved in their rather silly book, 'The Fifty Worst Movies of All Time' (1978). According to them, the driver says: 'Queer things [go on at Jamaica Inn]. I once slept there and not a sheet was on my double bed.' (p. 120). What wild imagination! My ears tell me that the driver says something more like, 'Queer things. I once stopped there and [was charged] double fare.' Anyone?

October 25 - 2014
[No entry this week - instead we have added some News & Comment items. KM]

October 18 - 2014
Dear reader. Just in case you didn't know, there's a feast of recent books on Hitchcock out there, of varying quality. Essential reading must be William Rothman's 'Must We Kill the Thing We Love? Emersonian Perfectionism and the Films of Alfred Hitchcock' (2014). It complements the added chapter, on Marnie, in the Second Edition of Rothman's 'Hitchcock: The Murderous Gaze' (2012). The latter includes this: 'The Emersonian point of Mark's fable [of the flatid bugs that 'live and die in the shape of a flower'] is that everything in nature is beautiful, because everything in nature strives instinctively to live, to exist, to become its singular self - including Marnie.' (p. 408) Rothman specifically applies this to 'those whose instinct is to protect themselves from predators by appearing other than what they are' (pp. 407-08) while seeing that 'without taking steps toward realizing our world, toward making our society a more perfect union, it is not possible to [even start to go] in the direction of the unattained yet unattainable self' (pp. 423-24). Hmm. I believe that Hitchcock may indeed have had the Catholic notion of the Communion of Saints in mind when making many of his films. At any rate, now compare Rothman's further observation concluding his 2014 book: 'Hitchcock is a moral artist. At the core of his moral vision is the sad truth that to keep faith with the better angels of our nature, we have to be willing to kill. But we also have to be willing to love. Is this a happier truth? Not if it is also a truth [as Hitchcock said he believed] that "each man kills the thing he loves." ... But Mark Rutland is Hitchcock's ultimate counterexample - an exception that disproves the rule. At the conclusion of Marnie, the film's protagonist, thanks to Mark's help, is changed. Trapped since childhood by her fear that she was fated always to kill the thing she loves, Marnie has finally freed herself from her "private trap," her compulsive need to "clutch at things." She has not escaped from her mortal life, her humanness.' (p. 254) Marnie is also the topic of an appreciative new (2014) monograph in the BFI Film Classics series, by Murray Pomerance. The author has advanced from his position in 'An Eye for Hitchcock' (2004) where he almost seemed to damn Hitchcock's late masterpiece with the faint praise of 'This ... melodramatic tale ... in which we take pleasure in some of the very deftest writing and most carefully modulated acting in all of Hitchcock' (p. 131). (He was, of course, simultaneously mocking the film's detractors who dismissed the film as nothing but melodrama.) Then, in 'Alfred Hitchcock's America' (2013), Pomerance concentrated on the rich sociological content, and poetry, of the American Hitchcocks. For example, he dwelt on the stop-off in Marnie at a Howard Johnson's diner. Excerpt: 'The waitress has swung back like a pendulum, this time with the bill and a little regulation salutation, "You folks be sure and come back, now." In road culture, this mantra is always translated as a general, not a personal, invocation, as in, "Come back to the company, not necessarily this branch. The company wants your affiliation wherever you go, and wherever you go Howard Johnson's will be there to serve you at the side of the road."' (p. 191) (This whole road sequence has some of the grey impersonality that Hitchcock also invested in the office scenes at Rutland's and the racetrack scene, signalling Marnie's loveless state. All superbly, beautifully done.) The back cover blurb of the new monograph includes this: 'Murray Pomerance here [weaves] critical discussion together with production history to reveal Marnie as a woman in flight from her self, her past, her love, and the eyes of surveilling others.' Of the bloody climax - specifically the shot of the dead sailor's blood-coated shirtfront (frame-capture below) - Pomerance evokes it thus: 'That bloody screen. It constitutes the human - the living - condition; we all experience everything through blood. Blood is biology, revivification, identity. It is always somehow blood that speaks, not the calculating mind. Shakespeare knew this, and Hitchcock after him.' pp. 80-81) (Rothman would no doubt invoke Emerson to make a similar point. Catholics might invoke the Mass, and specifically the Eucharist. I see an analogy with Schopenhauer's concept of the world's Will - the life/death force - and how, for example, great drama offers the opportunity to perceive and come to terms with it. Marnie is that great.) Finally, some other books. Neil Badmington's 4-volume anthology, 'Alfred Hitchcock' (2014), sells for (US) $2,741.45. I haven't yet seen - let alone bought - it. On the other hand, I have in front of me, but still unread, both Katalin Makkai's edited volume for Routledge's Philosophers on Film series, 'Vertigo' (2013), and Jonathan Goldberg's monograph for a Canadian publisher's Queer Film Classics series, 'Strangers on a Train' (2012). (Readers are welcome to send me reports on such publications as these.)

October 11 - 2014
As noted last time, Ivor Novello in The Lodger (1926) appears as something of a Christ-figure from the moment he goes to the window on hearing a news-vendor calling out about the latest 'Avenger' killing, and a crucifix-like shadow is cast on his face (see frame-capture below). Given that the story concerns how the character has a pronounced affection for his late sister (did he, though, kill her, not wanting anyone to take her innocence?), related to his no-less strong attachment to his late mother (prefiguring Norman Bates in Psycho), it seems to me legitimate to think that the filmmakers may have been influenced by Ernest Renan's popular 'Life of Jesus' (1863) which was featured in a psychological study by Albert Mordell, 'The Erotic Motive in Literature', first published in 1919. In a chapter called "The Oedipus Complex and the Brother and Sister Complex", Mordell suggests that Renan's extreme attachment to his sister explains 'the gentleness, the moral tone, the kindliness we find in his writings', and adds that Renan's 'love for his sister was a great factor in his making his Jesus somewhat effeminate'. (Just before the scene at the window, the Novello character has recoiled from a series of pictures of young women, culminating - surely significantly - in Millais's "The Knight Errant", 1870, which shows a knight in armour rescuing a nude damsel tied to a tree, her oppressors fleeing in the top right-hand corner of the image: The Knight Errant.) Also, not incidentally, the Oedipal situation is effectively defined by The Lodger as being 'weak' (again as in Psycho): that is, the Novello character's own father is never seen, while the father in the Bunting household is a mildly comic figure (like Mr Newton in Shadow of a Doubt). In short, the young Hitchcock and his team appear to have done ample research - at a time when Freud was becoming more widely known and his influence was reaching the stage and screen in France, England, and Germany - and they appear to have pulled out all the stops to portray Novello's character as a psychological 'case'. In other words, they had made an astute assessment of the Novello persona - which we've been analysing here in recent weeks - and decided to do with it something 'different'. The Lodger was eventually a big box-office success so that, perhaps not surprisingly, Novello agreed to also star in Hitchcock's next film, Downhill (1927), based on a stage play by Novello himself and his actress friend Constance Collier. Ivor Montagu initially worked on the screenplay and was going to edit the film, but apparently he fell out with Hitchcock. In any event, not wanting to portray Roddy as too effeminate - perhaps the filmmakers felt they had gone too far last time - he reported: 'I have worked in two strong feminine parts ... I have also endeavoured to preserve the hero's character. If he is to marry a clean girl, we must keep him as clean as possible. He can be foolish, and quixotic, but not unmanly.' (Quoted by Williams, p. 39) Montagu's name isn't in the Downhill credits. According to Geoffrey Macnab, Montagu evidently did not understand the nature of Novello's appeal, for it was precisely his 'androgynous quality ... which made him a star in the first place. Like Valentino in Hollywood, he contradicted received ideas about masculinity' (Macnab quoted by Williams, p. 40). Maybe, but our analysis has also been about how cleverly Novello adapted his stage and screen appearances to always maintain a playful ambiguity. For a final insight into Novello, I turn again to James Harding's biography. Max Beerbohm (1872-1956), the writer and caricaturist (Hitchcock owned many of his works), had written a short story "The Happy Hypocrite" (1897) to illustrate his theory that we should all adopt a mask in order to live up to our better natures. (The story reads a little like a variant on Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'.) Via a one-act stage version, it eventually became a three-act play written by Hitchcock's friend, the lesbian author and playwright 'Clemence Dane' (Winifred Ashton), for Ivor Novello to star in, in 1936. (By the way, Dane was apparently adept at peppering her conversations with supposedly innocent double-meanings. While dining with the Governor of Jamaica and his lady, she remarked of a mutual acquaintance: 'Do you remember the night we all had Dick on toast?' Hitchcock would have loved such occasions, and had some similar bon-mots of his own!) Significantly, Harding reports that the play held special appeal for Novello, not least because its mask theory 'coincided with his own experience'. It also gave him a meaty role that proved to doubters that he really could act. (Harding, pp. 126-28)

October 4 - 2014
[Revised] Michael Williams ('Ivor Novello: Screen Idol', BFI, 2003) spends a lot of time analysing the moment in The Lodger (Hitchcock, 1926) when the Novello character first arrives at the Buntings' front door, seeking a room to rent, and startles Mrs Bunting (Marie Ault) by his unusual appearance, including his face whose lower features are concealed by a muffler. (See frame-capture below.) Of course, contemporary audiences immediately spotted that the face was that of their adored Ivor - who had first shot to fame when just out of his teens by composing the song "Keep the Home Fires Burning" which became almost a second wartime National Anthem. Impossible to think badly of such a hero! (Teasingly, then, after Novello started making films soon after the War, many of their plots had him committing sexual misdemeanours: adultery, making advances to his best friend's wife, impotence. In The White Rose, 1923, he even played a priest who gets Mae Marsh pregnant.) And now here was Hitchcock teasing his audience that the Novello character might be 'The Avenger', based on Jack the Ripper! If Mrs Bunting is startled, she has reason to be, given the film's opening scenes showing a panicked London. But Williams has a theory of his own: the youthful figure behind the muffler has reminded Mrs Bunting - and contemporary mothers watching the film - of all the young men who went to war and didn't return. Ivor is their representative, and his appearance at the Buntings' door, materialising out of the 'London fog' (as the film's subtitle has it), is almost ghostly. And when we quickly realise that this 'horror-haunted man' (that's Williams's phrase) might represent 'the terrors of modern warfare', any suspicions of the Lodger's malignity are in conflict with our (or Mrs Bunting's) other feelings. (Arguably there's some support for this theory in Hitchcock's Spellbound, 1945, where Gregory Peck plays another troubled young man, an amnesiac, whose symptoms may have multiple causes, including a form of shell-shock or PTSD as we might diagnose it today.) On the other hand, Richard Allen finds a quite different connotation in Novello's appearance at the Buntings' door: our first full-length glimpse of the character shows him to be 'slim, ethereal and phallicly rigid' (Allen, quoted by Williams), allegedly evoking the vampire Count Orlok in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) who welcomes an unsuspecting young man to his Transylvanian castle. And, yes, I wouldn't put it past Hitchcock and his team (including screenwriter Eliot Stannard, editor and friend Ivor Montagu, assistant director and wife Alma Reville) to have intended such a link. You think of Hitchcock's American 're-make' of The Lodger, i.e., Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and how the house-guest there, Uncle Charlie, another caped figure, turns out to be the Merry Widow Murderer! Still, there's another possibility. For what it's worth, my own theory is that the makers of The Lodger were thinking of the murderous young somnambulist Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Robert Weine, 1920). He, too, is seen to be 'slim, ethereal and phallicly rigid' when Caligari first displays him to a fairground audience (and the film audience) by swinging open the lid of an upright, coffin-like box. The very title-designs of The Lodger, by artist Edward McKnight Kauffer, seem part-derived from the stylised German Expressionist designs of Caligari; moreover, there is even a moment in the titles of The Lodger when the image resembles a coffin opening and closing on its titular figure. And another thing. Cesare, of course, had been played by handsome young Conrad Veidt, who was like the German equivalent of Novello - even to the fact of their both being the same age and both gay. (Even more than Novello, Veidt did not attempt unduly to conceal his gayness, appearing in the 1919 'gay lib' film, Anders als die Anderen/Different From the Others.) To clinch my case, there is the fact that Alma Reville scripted the 1935 film The Passing of the Third Floor Back (d. Berthold Viertel) which shows a caped figure arriving at a London guest house, seeking a room - a scene obviously based on the one in The Lodger. And who plays the 'Christ-figure' whose presence in the guest house will henceforth transform the lives of the other residents? None other than Conrad Veidt! Moreover, recall that Novello in Hitchcock's film is also presented as a sort of Christ-figure. To be concluded.

September 27 - 2014
[Revised] Again this time, I can't possibly summarise every part of Michael Williams's elaborate argument about just what Ivor Novello was up to in his various film performances. The essence, of course, is that they were knowingly designed to camouflage his (Novello's) gayness. Another way of putting the idea is that audiences were encouraged to appreciate the star's handsome, supposedly virile 'essence' while being also treated to his range and depth of feelings, something rare in leading men. That Hitchcock in The Lodger wasn't prepared to be so deceiving - at least, not in the by-now clichéd way - but preferred to keep everything enigmatic from the moment of Novello's first appearance, the character's face half-concealed by a scarf, indicates a new 'holistic' approach to film style. In Hitchcock's films thereafter, including Downhill that immediately followed - again with Novello - both 'appearance' and 'reality' are themselves called in question, effectively constituting a worldview. Such 'dignity of significance' is missing from many other, more opportunistic narratives - such as that of Novello's 1926 film The Triumph of the Rat, released at the same time as The Lodger, and which I watched this week. The Triumph of the Rat was a follow-up to The Rat (see last time), and was again directed by Hitchcock's recent mentor, Graham Cutts. I was reasonably entertained: Cutts's films are like variety shows, typically well-paced and with diverse elements, so that you're seldom bored. Nonetheless, I can agree with James Harding's estimation: 'Despite a lavish fancy dress ball intended to impress the audience, The Triumph of the Rat soon dwindles into bathos and incredibility.' ('Ivor Novello: A Biography', 1987, p. 60) It's only loosely a sequel to The Rat. Reformed gangster Pierre Boucheron (Novello) has now joined the ranks of Paris society, with which in the previous film he had briefly flirted in the person of Zélie de Chaumet (Isabel Jeans - playing the same character here). Once again, early scenes are designed to show how assured and dashing Novello is. In the frame-capture below, he kisses Zelie's hand while watched enviously by the film's 'silly old ass' type, the monocled René Duval (Charles Dormer), who laments not being successful with the ladies - despite his writing poetry with titles like 'Purple Passion'. On hearing this, Boucheron barely conceals laughter. When René asks him his secret, Boucheron answers, 'Don't you know, old chap, that in love there are no rules?' The rest of the film is about Boucheron's further sallies into love, including an enforced return to The White Coffin nightclub - suddenly he needs work - where the girls welcome him as before, but new apache rivals prove hostile. Not only are there no rules in love but there are no guarantees either. By the end of the film, a defeated Boucheron is back on the Montmartre streets while at The White Coffin the dancers move in a slow, sad rhythm. In other words, the second half of The Triumph of the Rat - ironic title - is about Boucheron's degradation, which seems to fit the pattern I noted last time, whereby a typical Novello film, having established his 'virility', allows him as wide as possible an emotional range, to further impress his legion of fans. (For example, a show of suppressed anger by Boucheron at one point is impressive.) Degradation will also be the main motif of Novello's second film for Hitchcock, Downhill (1927). But still, why did Novello allow himself to be cast in Hitchcock's The Lodger, which appears an aberration from the usual pattern? That's not an easy question to answer! If the lodger character isn't exactly effeminate, he is certainly neurasthenic, and Hitchcock seems to have enjoyed itemising the character's many mannerisms under stress. Following a hint from Williams, I suppose the fact that the character is a toff, a gentleman, has a lot to do with Novello's accepting the role. Once a gentleman, always a gentleman - and provided contemporary audiences felt that Novello stays gentleman-like to the end, when he appears both exonerated of murder and the heir to his family fortune - and the possessor of Daisy Bunting's hand in marriage - well, who could question his essential 'worth'?! The very knowledgeable Williams invokes Oscar Wilde, specifically 'Wilde's study of the Delsarte voice training system while in America in 1882, to which "gesture and pose" had been recently introduced, that enabled him to become fluent in the art of posing, and to "get away" with an actively constructed, socially visible, but carefully masked homosexual identity'. ('Ivor Novello: Screen Idol', 2003, p. 35) More next time.

September 20 - 2014
This week I finally caught up with the Ivor Novello film The Rat (1925), directed by Graham Cutts and produced by Michael Balcon for Gainsborough. A huge popular success, it illuminates Hitchcock's The Lodger (1926) in ways that I'll suggest. Note, though, that I'm indebted to Michael Williams's superb study 'Ivor Novello: Screen Idol' (BFI, 2003) for my main argument, which is that Novello's film performances were consistent-to-a-purpose, one which the actor knowingly adopted. Also, that certain comments by Hitchcock to Truffaut about The Lodger, suggesting that Novello's casting meant that the character's guilt or innocence could not be left ambiguous, are misleading. (In fact, that is something I have long maintained, most recently, in an enjoyable correspondence with SG.) About the last shot of The Lodger Williams asks rhetorically, 'Is this really a closure that obliterates the Lodger's guilt, ... or is it just Hitchcock's way of having his cake and eating it?' Definitely the latter, I think! Now, here's what I thought of The Rat. Novello plays Boucheron, an Apache - Paris gangster - who has a succession of mistresses until he meets Odile, a waif, played by Mae Marsh, and feels especially protective towards her. But one night in his regular hangout, a nightclub called The White Coffin, he encounters a lady from the upper classes, Zelie (Isobel Jeans), who is 'slumming' for the evening - she is the kept woman of a rich banker, Stetz (Robert Scholtz), who has allowed her to spend a night on the town with friends. (First they visit the Folies Bergère, then come on to The White Coffin.) Stetz is the film's villain. Although Boucheron flirts with Zelie, he intends no mischief; whereas when Stetz turns up at the nightclub and happens to see Odile, who is passing by, he immediately lusts for her. Right from the start, my impression was that Novello - who wrote the original treatment - was showing off his 'virility'. The first reel is little else but a demonstration of the character's insouciance and daring. We see him eluding two pursuing gendarmes by opening a grating, then hiding in the space underneath, and even cheekily taking out his pocketknife and cutting the shoelaces of one of the gendarmes who has stopped, baffled, on the grating! Eventually Boucheron arrives at Odile's tiny room in a poor-but-respectable quarter of the city; by now, he is smoking a cigarette which hangs jauntily from his mouth. Sauntering into the room, still smoking, he nods to Odile, hangs his cap on the wall (a deft throw of the pocketknife makes a makeshift peg), then seats himself at the table and, with a flourish, takes out a folded-up newspaper. (See frame-capture below. Btw, just visible at the top-of-shot is the alcove where Odile keeps a statue of the Virgin Mary to which she regularly prays.) Following Williams, I would say that this is all image-building by Novello, whose gayness was an open secret in the acting profession but carefully concealed from his huge public. His boyish good looks were his principal asset but they could have worked against him if they weren't countermanded, in effect, by the content of the films. One of Novello's biographers, James Harding, puts it like this: 'With The Rat Ivor established himself as the leading British film star of the time. The swagger he adopted in the main role compensated for the slightly effeminate look critics had up to then remarked on, and his air of cynical raffishness carried off the part with bravura.' But why, then, did Novello proceed almost immediately to make The Lodger - which, at a glance, might have seemed likely to offset most of the gains his 'image' had just achieved? (After all, there Mrs Bunting is heard to say that her lodger 'is a bit queer'.) Williams's answer to that question, which considers Novello's further work for Hitchcock on Downhill the following year, is elaborate - I'll leave it for next time. Meanwhile, here's my contribution. Novello knew that there was more to his 'image' than just undercutting any impression of effeminacy. An actor should have 'range' and 'depth', and his/her 'image-building' needs a positive side to it. In fact, as The Rat progresses, and melodrama begins to build - with Odile accused of killing Stetz - Novello is called on to show emotion, not just a set of gestures. There is even one scene towards the end when Boucheron is exhausted and momentarily seems at the end of his tether. The contrast with his initial raffishness is important dramatically. But so, too, is the fact that Odile's landlady (a strong old bird - she also tends bar at The White Coffin), played my Marie Ault, cradles Boucheron's head in her arms in a motherly gesture. It seems almost a proxy moment on behalf of Novello's legion of female fans - and in some ways anticipates Ault's role in The Lodger. To be continued.

September 13 - 2014
The Rope screenplay notes that from the moment Rupert returns to Brandon and Phillip's apartment, ostensibly to find his mislaid cigarette case, 'Brandon, from here on, is a madman'. (Brandon has just told Phillip, 'No one is going to get in my way now', and we see him load a revolver before opening the front door.) Actually, Rupert suspects the worse - but can hardly admit it to himself - for he secretly carries the rope that had served Brandon and Phillip as a murder weapon. He evidently plans to taunt the killers into a 'confession': shades of the cat-and-mouse game between Porphiry and Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' (1866). Indeed, when Rupert claims to find his cigarette case behind some books, both the audience and the killers know that he is lying, and that he has just put it there. From now on, Brandon's hand hovers near his pocket containing the revolver, and the suspense builds. It's alleviated by black comedy and double-entendre, of course, as when Rupert speaks of how 'pleasant' it is 'to sit here with a good drink and good company'. And soon, as if playing a guessing-game, Brandon challenges Rupert to imagine what may have happened to the missing David. Obligingly, Rupert - and the moving camera - re-create the moments leading to David's death (much as Maxim in the boat-house scene in the 1940 Rebecca describes the last moments of Rebecca before 'she stumbled and hit her head on some ship's tackle'). But suddenly Rupert notices Brandon's hand in his pocket, and must think quickly. Here occurs the last of the film's 'invisible' cuts (not counting the ones on black objects). From a shot of Brandon's pocket, representing Rupert's pov, the film cuts to Rupert's face, noticing. (See frame-capture below.) Turning away from the chest, he suggests that David's body could have been carried downstairs and put in the car. For the moment, Rupert is off the hook - but the arrogant Brandon won't have it. Driven by what the Freudian psychoanalyst Theodor Reik called 'The Compulsion to Confess' (the title of his 1925 book), Brandon immediately points out, 'You'd be seen ... You said yourself ... [whatever happened] must have happened in broad daylight.' And so we rapidly move to a showdown in which it's impossible to feel that we, the audience, at some level, are not implicated. I have already discussed this aspect, both above (e.g., entry for August 30) and elsewhere, notably in the essay "Melancholy Elephants" in Mark Osteen (ed.), 'Hitchcock & Adaptation' (2014). The gist of my point there is that Hitchcock knowingly took the climax of Rope, in which a flashing red, green, and white electric sign shines on the several characters in a room, from the novel 'Enter Sir John' (1929) by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson (the novel on which Hitchcock's 1930 Murder! was based) - and that the novel's symbolism was used by Hitchcock to underline Rope's idea of complicity by all parties concerned, even the film's audience. 'Enter Sir John' is about the world of theatre, and the three colours are explicitly compared by the novel to the colours of the comic character Harlequin in the Italian Commedia dell'arte (which has been called 'pure theatre'). By extension, it's only fitting that the three main characters in Rope should be similarly bathed in Harlequin's colours, for they are all, ultimately, jesters in the game of life - fallible and subject to error. Or, as Shakespeare would say, they are all 'merely players' (cf. 'As You Like It': 'All the world's a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players'), something that the 'theatrical' look and feel of Rope, confined to a single 'set', constantly underlines. Essentially this is a compassionate view of life, not incompatible with Hitchcock's Catholicism. However, it is also of a universal significance, which was touched on this week in our Hitchcock discussion group. I posted: 'Hitchcock's position [in Rope is] that there is more to Life than the Id - just as [the philosopher] Schopenhauer [proceeded] from his basic insight about the nature of Will (or life/death force) to an "ethics of compassion" that saw how Will is everywhere responsible for suffering and that it can best be offset by compassion for its victims, i.e., all of us. ... [That is, ethics can] take account of the bigger picture, the plight of humanity as a whole - which Brandon can't see, thinking only of himself.'

September 6 - 2014
[Held over until next time. KM.]

August 30 - 2014
[Revised.] First, I'll finish my observation of last week, about how Rupert in Rope is a smoker (thus validating the moment when his gold cigarette case serves as his excuse to return to Brandon and Phillip's apartment after the cocktail party) ... It would be too 'obvious' if Rupert alone, of all the film's characters, were a smoker, so the screenplay includes a pointed scene where we notice that both Janet and Kenneth also smoke. (See frame-capture below.) No matter that this 'intimate' moment is a virtual Hollywood cliché, for that serves Hitchcock's characterisation nicely. Janet and Kenneth had once been close, and their manipulative host Brandon (the film's other smoker, I should note) seeks to bring them back together, thereby mocking their (as it were, clichéd) 'ordinariness'. He has just suggested to Kenneth that he 'switch on the radio or play some records ... a little atmospheric music goes a long way' - and now, besides watching the business with lighting-up, we listen to the audio cliché of a pop tune performed on the radio by the then-popular group The Three Suns. (By contrast, the only other diegetic music heard in the film is that played by Phillip at the piano: atonal music by Francis Poulenc who had just completed his first concert tour of the United States accompanied by baritone Pierre Bernac, his gay lover.) Hmm. During the week, on our Hitchcock discussion group, I noted that Rope's gay screenwriter Arthur Laurents had reportedly dated three male members of the film's cast! (See Charles Kaiser, 'The Gay Metropolis', 1999, p. 59.) In other words: John Dall, Farley Granger, and one other. Ruling out James Stewart and Cedric Hardwicke, that really only leaves either the actor playing Kenneth (Douglas Dick) or the one who plays the dead David (Dick Hogan). Reader, you guess! The point I was making was that the film's director, a good Catholic boy, and married to Alma, meanwhile observed all this from a distance, bemused by the passing parade and its rich 'characters'! And that this was reflected in the film. How different, I felt, from the director Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose Salo (1975) is devoid of characterisation, and coldly pornographic. This was in the context of another claim of mine (to our group's avowedly gay member, BD) that if there is one single text, besides Patrick Hamilton's original play ('Rope's End', 1929), that can be likened to Rope, it is André Gide's immensely lucid 'L'Immoraliste' (1902) - influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche and Oscar Wilde. There, the gay 'risk-taker' Ménalque is to the story's bisexual young narrator Michel as Rupert is to Brandon and Phillip, a sort of existential agent provocateur. (Note. Elsewhere I have argued that the character of Rupert derives from Wilde's 'Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young', published in 1894, although, as Laurents's memoirs confirm, once James Stewart joined the Rope project the script couldn't develop that line any further.) Obligingly, BD recalled a remark of François Truffaut: 'Alfred Hitchcock makes films as Gide writes books - "to disturb"'! And it's so true! Here I pointed to Hitchcock's admirable (relative) objectivity, and how it had been presaged by Gide whose successive texts would critique the apparent position of others by him, earlier or later. Also, each text would put ideas in a human context. Here's a pertinent observation by Gide biographer Alan Sheridan: 'L'Immoraliste is not so much an apologia for Nietzschean ideas as an exploration of what can happen if such ideas fall into the hands of someone too weak to sustain them.' (Introduction to Penguin edition of 'The Immoralist', p. viii.) Not only does Rope suggest that none of us is without human weakness, but that none of us has the right to declare oneself above others, finally. At the climax, just before Rupert's denunciatory, 'Did you think you were God, Brandon?', the script gives him this: 'Now I know the truth .. that humanity cannot be divided into categories to suit our own ends. We are each of us a human being, Brandon, with the right to live and work and think as individuals. Yes, but with an obligation to the society we live in.' To come back to 'L'Immoraliste', it's worth noting that it is narrated by Michel in retrospect, now a sadder and wiser man, to a group of friends he has summoned to hear the cautionary story of his life so far. And after hearing it, their spokesman notes: 'By not condemning [Michel's] actions at any point during his long explanation, we were as good as accomplices. We were in some way implicated.' (p. 123) More next time, while concluding this brief look at Rope with an examination of its finalé in greater detail.

August 23 - 2014
Hitchcock's films from, say, Rebecca (1940) onwards, typically come complete with back-stories, and Rope is no exception. While we're not told the details of how Brandon and Phillip first met (perhaps in prep school where bachelor Rupert was house-master?), yet we do know that they have been firm friends for many years. And that Brandon clearly has 'influence' over his partner, probably to the extent of being the instigator of the murder of young David Kentley, i.e., a homosexual 'thrill killing' designed to bond the partners and to show their intellectual superiority which they rationalise as being in keeping with Nietzsche's ideas propounded by Rupert, their mentor (and ersatz father-figure). We also know such things as that Brandon's wealthy mother owns a farm in Connecticut where Phillip has long been welcome, and which even Rupert has visited. Also, we know that Brandon had an unlikely affair with Janet before she turned to, first, Kenneth and then David. (So is the killing of David partly Brandon's 'revenge' for being dropped by Janet? Likewise, is Rupert's interest in Nietzsche a way of compensating for his 'impotence', symbolised by his limp from a war-wound but which can be further interpreted as a symbol of his own gayness? Note his bizarre remark about the aging housekeeper Mrs Wilson: 'I may marry her.') Equally, given that the film's three principal males are a dandified show-off (Brandon), a sensitive artist/musician (Phillip), and a conscientious 'super-ego' figure (Rupert) - who yet has affinities with the other two - we may be allowed to see Hitchcock's long interest in making the film as due to his feeling an affinity with the overall situation (including an 'obsession' with murder) - and which, via Rupert, he seeks to 'exorcise'. (For further reason why Patrick Hamilton's play would have appealed to Hitchcock, see August 9, above.) Now, I said last time that Rope is vastly different from Pasolini's Salo - a film that came up on our discussion group recently - precisely because Hitchcock's film 'about' homosexuals is full of characterisation whereas Pasolini's homosexual view 'of' sexuality per se is almost devoid of characterisation, a reading clearly supported by Gary Indiana's monograph on Salo (BFI, 2000): 'Although Salo is the ultimate chamber piece, not all of its figures emerge as "characters". On the contrary, none of them do.' (p. 34) I find it impossible when watching Salo (which I told our group I consider 'hard-to-take and eventually tedious') not to think that its parade of pornographic tropes isn't the result of its director's reported near-nightly 'cruising' of the gay scene. And that its content is vastly different from the relatively 'rounded' characters and psychologically astute observation that inform Rope. Hmm. When Hitchcock spoke to Oriana Fallaci (cf. August 9, above) about his understanding of the sexual proclivities of Nordic women - and English women, too - she understandably asked him, 'Forgive my asking: but how do you know these things, Mr Hitchcock?' To which he replied, frankly enough, 'What a question! I listen to what people say, I find out about things. Obviously the information is second hand. Scientists ... know that if you mix one powder with another powder you'll be blown up. But they don't have to be blown up in order to know it.' (p. 91) So there you have two different aesthetics! And yet both films refer to Nietzsche, and seek to say things about society in general. (Pasolini's Marxism is another aspect of that poet-filmmaker.) Interestingly, Indiana claims that 'Salo engages voyeurism rather than empathy' (p. 57), yet although Hitchcock is often spoken of as disposed to voyeurism, you would have to say that there is an admirable balance of those two elements in Rope - whereas Salo feels decidedly unbalanced. More about these matters another time. To conclude, here's something about Rope that I had not really noticed before, and which goes to show the care that went into the script. Rupert is a smoker. He is smoking a cigarette on his first entrance and quickly goes over to the piano where Phillip is playing in order to stub out the cigarette, while remarking, 'Your touch has improved, Phillip.' (See frame-capture below.) Yet within minutes he lights up again. We see him take out his gold-plated cigarette case from an inside pocket of his impeccable grey suit. He is, you must feel, an urbane individual, possibly with something preying on his mind, who yet carries himself well. And of course that gold-plated cigarette case has a vital role to play at the film's climax ... More next time.

August 16 - 2014
Actually, the first cut (of at least four) in Rope comes right at the start, after the camera, which has been looking down into a New York street ('in the East Fifties', according to the script), pans to the window of Brandon's upper-story apartment where the shades are drawn - and we hear a literally strangled male cry. Next minute, we are inside the darkened apartment, forced to watch the moment of death of a young man killed by two strands of rope drawn around his neck by the gloved hands of Phillip (Farley Granger). Meanwhile, Phillip's partner, Brandon (John Dall) - whom the script calls 'the accessory' - has been restraining the victim and using gloved hands to do so. The fact that both partners wear leather gloves is one instant sign that the murder is pre-meditated. Next, the partners lift the body into an adjacent chest, and close the lid ... Now to come back to that cut. It isn't to a reaction-shot of a character exactly, because as yet we haven't met any characters (just observed a policeman down below ushering two schoolchildren across a pedestrian-crossing). Nonetheless, you could say that the cut is 'demanded' by the audience's aroused curiosity, our urge to know. After the strangled cry, Hitchcock holds on the window for a second or two to allow that urge to build. Then he cuts. But we scarcely notice the fact of the cut because our attention is diverted by, first, our impatience to know what has happened and, second, our instant shock on seeing the dead boy. In effect, the cut is invisible. The film will apply this 'invisibility' technique at least three more times - and in each case link it to an actual reaction-shot. My point, from last time, is that Hitchcock uses audience psychology - specifically, our not noticing what is essentially 'invisible' - to make us feel that we have experienced in Rope one continuous 'shot', and have been 'locked in' with the characters whose story is somehow ours. The film doesn't actually state that we are implicated in what has happened, yet implies it. Thus the film is a 'cautionary tale', albeit more elaborate than the one of Brandon's about a maiden on her wedding-day who got trapped in a chest with a spring-lock, and whose skeleton was only found years afterwards. Shortly, I'll expand this topic by comparing a notorious film of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Salo (1975), which I had occasion to watch this week. However, let's concentrate for now on Rope's 'invisible' reaction-shots. The first comes with the arrival at Brandon and Phillip's cocktail party of Janet (Joan Chandler), the missing boy's current girlfriend: as Janet enters from the hallway, she is observed from the next room by Kenneth (Douglas Dick), her previous boyfriend - and a virtually invisible cut as she says 'Hello Kenneth' shows us his surprise and mild embarrassment at seeing her. (The manipulative Brandon has effectively set the two people up, manoeuvering to bring them back together, or 'playing God' as the script will pointedly have it.) The next such moment occurs at a dramatic climax when the nervous Phillip has reacted angrily to Brandon's story about his strangling chickens: 'That's a lie!' The line virtually demands a reaction-shot and that's exactly what Hitchcock gives us - by cutting to the instantly-thoughtful face of Rupert (James Stewart) and holding on that view for some twenty seconds (see frame-capture below) while the other guests' conversation resumes off-screen. (Again our psychology helps make the cut 'invisible' - and now, note, we begin to feel that it's only a matter of time before Rupert solves the mystery of what is going on.) And the third reaction-shot utilises our growing sense of suspense. The suspicious Rupert has just remarked to his two hosts, 'There's something upsetting you a great deal', when the voice of housekeeper Mrs Wilson (Edith Evanson) is heard from off-screen: 'Excuse me, sir' - and we suspect that disclosure may be only seconds away! So Hitchcock takes the opportunity for another near-invisible cut (to disguise the next reel-change) by showing us the deferential Mrs Wilson as she completes her speech: 'There's a lady phoning for either Mr Kentley or Mrs Atwater.' She is actually addressing Brandon but momentarily we think that she might be about to take her cue from Rupert's remark and reveal to him the evidence he is searching for! The script is often hugely clever in just such nudging-along ways! But now notice something else: how each of those reaction-shots isn't just linked to a particular character, it actually helps disclose a character, that is, something about the person speaking or the person/s addressed. This fully supports the claim made by the film's screenwriter, gay playwright Arthur Laurents (on the Rope DVD), that Rope is one of the best films ever made about homosexuality - precisely because it is concentrated on character/s. By contrast, next week I'll go into some detail about why Pasolini's Salo, while it arguably has a homosexual outlook, is bereft of character (and infinitely more pornographic). As Gary Indiana's study of Salo (BFI, 2000) says, 'the subjective life of anybody in Salo is terra incognita' (p. 42).

August 9 - 2014
This week I had occasion to re-visit Rope (1948). What an ambitious project it was on Hitchcock's part - and I don't mean just technically. (But I'll talk about that aspect shortly.) If all of us are bound in subjectivity - a basis of the 'lost paradise' discussed here last time - then one moral inference from that fact is the need for humility. Rope and The Birds are probably the two most schematic demonstrations of such a lesson in Hitchcock's oeuvre, and to see the teacher Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) receive his epiphany at the climax of Rope is to be moved by the power of the film's irony: the teacher taught. With him are his two former students, now revealed as murderers, Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger). To them, Rupert confesses: 'Until this moment the world and the people in it have always been dark and incomprehensible to me.' I like this comment on Stewart's performance in a new book, 'Hitchcock in Context' by Stephane Duckett: 'He does a credible job but an actor like James Mason would perhaps have conveyed the facile intellectual snobbery of the university professor more credibly. Cedric Hardwicke's role as [the dead boy] David's father is a perfect foil to Rupert Cadell's shallow and cavalier banter on murder; largely due to the superb script but also Stewart's working of those lines, the transition he achieves from the somewhat supercilious flirtation with fascistic ideas to the complete rejection of the actions of Brandon and Phillip is credible.' (pp. 77-78) And Duckett adds astutely: 'It would be too strong to suggest that Hitchcock was anti-intellectual but he clearly did not gravitate towards the rarefied world of ideas and intellectualism.' Which is surely true. In 1963, at the premiere of The Birds, Hitchcock told Oriana Fallaci: 'There's nothing more stupid than logic. Logic is the result of reasoning, reasoning is the result of experience, and who's to say whether our experiences are the right ones? ... My films are based only on suspense, not on logic. Give me a bomb: and Descartes can go boil his head.' ('Limelighters', 1967, p. 93) Watching Rope this time, I was indeed moved by how frequently someone at Brandon and Phillip's cocktail party asks where David is - the mounting concern of his father (and his mother, who rings up from her sick-bed) is especially touching. Brandon may have remarked to Phillip that such people as David (interestingly, a Harvard undergraduate) 'merely occupy space', but clearly he was much loved and much respected (and like all of us, a connecting link between persons, even if the self-centred Brandon can't see that). It's worth remembering that Hitchcock probably first saw Patrick Hamilton's play 'Rope's End' at one of its initial performances in London in 1929 (when it was directed by Reginald Denham who soon afterwards moved to the United States and became type-cast as a director of suspense plays; the part of Brandon was played by Brian Aherne who married Joan Fontaine and would later appear in Hitchcock's I Confess). At precisely this time, as John Carey has shown in his brilliant book 'The Intellectuals and the Masses' (1992), the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche had empowered British intellectuals to adopt an attitude of almost insufferable snobbery towards those they considered 'inferior'. So Hamilton's play was something of a social document that Hitchcock, to his great credit, sensed could be given new pertinence in a post-Hitler world. There's a subtle ambiguity, even so. The irresponsible teachings of Rupert about Nietzsche were not those of a first-class mind: Rupert had been merely a housemaster in a prep school, and clearly liked to 'show off' to his students, who, the film implies, took him and his explanation of 'the Superman' too much at face-value. At any rate, the hero-worshipping Brandon did, and seduced the submissive Phillip, his gay partner, into joining him in committing a would-be 'perfect murder' to demonstrate their 'superiority'. Brandon professes to despise 'weakness', but his habitual stutter suggests that he, too, is a fallible being - like the rest of us. As I say, this is a film about subjectivity, through and through. In a way, Hitchcock's filmic technique plays on our own fallibility. The film is essentially photographed in 'ten-minute takes' and joined into one continuous 'shot', thereby subliminally locking us into the 'huis clos' ('closed door'/'no exit') world of Brandon and Phillip's (and even Rupert's) limited perception. The ending, when Rupert throws open a window, is almost visceral in the sense of release it offers. But along the way, Hitchcock's 'trompe l'oeil' has further tricked us, as when he disguises the necessary edits sometimes by tracking into and out of a dark area (hiding the cut) but also, on at least three occasions, by use of reaction-shots where the cut goes unnoticed because of a simple matter of audience psychology. More next time. [I couldn’t find Ken's linked images on this and someolder posts. I've added relevant images where possible - AF]

August 2 - 2014
This week Australian scientists have confirmed how certain types of dinosaurs - the smaller, more agile, meat-eating ones - are the likely progenitors of birds (a paper in the August 2014 issue of 'Science'). Straight after reading that, I happened to finally watch Jurassic Park (just 21 years late!) and then read Peter Wollen's article "Theme Park and Variations" ('Sight and Sound', July 1993, pp. 6-9) in which he likens Steven Spielberg's film to Hitchcock's The Birds, not least because in both films, under threat from the natural world, 'a couple is formed and a bachelor learns to care for "wife" and "family", as a prelude, we suppose, to marriage'. (In Jurassic Park, the palaeontologist played by Sam Neill initially has no time for kids, not even the two bright grandchildren of the Park's billionaire owner played by Richard Attenborough; in The Birds, Melanie's initial interest in Mitch is offset by hostility both from Mitch himself and from his mother.) Wollen goes so far as to claim: 'While The Birds, like the classic slasher film, represents displaced, stylised rapes, Jurassic Park seems to represent displaced, stylised child molesting.' (Hmm. I looked up James Kincaid's 'Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting' [1998], discussed here previously [April 19, May 3], and found that he takes a more relative view of Jurassic Park, seeing it as one of the rare films featuring kids' relationship to adults where 'even adorable children have a strange integrity that is so tough to fathom that it may be best just to record it and to honour its variety and tenacity' - p. 136. Actually, I think that's the more accurate reading of this aspect of Spielberg's film.) But I liked this further observation by Wollen: 'The dinosaurs themselves ... are sexually ambiguous. Although they left the laboratory female, they are able to change sex and become male. Thus like Norman Bates in Psycho, they are of uncertain sex and also seem to displace their sexual impotence into violence ...' That may help to show why - in a surreal way - Norman is arguably the most 'sympathetic' character in Psycho (I don't just mean because 'They moved away the highway'!) and the avians 'in the right' in The Birds. To be discussed another time.) Best of all, I liked Wollen's tracing of the 'dinosaur cult' to the 19th century, consequent on the work of palaeontologist Richard Owen. 'When the Crystal Palace was moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham, after the closing of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Owen [seized] the opportunity to design a series of dinosaurs to be erected on an artificial island in the Exhibition Park ... an enclosed palace for tourists which "depicted paradise ... the largest greenhouse ever built ... a climate-controlled reconciliation of Arcadia and industry, a garden for machines."' (Wollen is here quoting Michael Sorkin's 1992 book, 'Variations on a Theme Park'.) Seems to me that both Jurassic Park and The Birds (as well as Psycho, in view of such things as another line of Norman's, 'We were more than happy ...') are 'lost paradise' films, and knowingly contrast childish innocence and adult hubris in the face of nature (or similar, such as the blind cosmic 'Will') to make their point. In this, they are following on from 19th-century models, possibly at the time unconscious ones (arguably the Crystal Palace itself?). In Jurassic Park Laura Dern, playing a paleobotanist, earnestly criticises Richard Attenborough for mistakenly thinking that he was ever in control, which is what he thinks his money and his 'Jurassic Park' have given him. Hmm. My regular readers know that I detect a 'lost paradise' motif in a majority of Hitchcock films, from his 1925 feature The Pleasure Garden (significant title!) to the polished Rebecca (1940), to the comic 'pastorale' The Trouble With Harry (1955), to 1958's Vertigo (set in a quintessential 'lost paradise' city, San Francisco). Typical 'lost paradise' iconography can include gardens or parks, islands, walled cities, deserts, snowfields - all somehow invoking the original 'Eden' or equivalent (e.g., in Persian myth), with or without irony. The fact that such places may appear protected or anyway peaceful - until horror or disaster strikes - invites a certain 'sublime' treatment (one definition of 'the sublime' being awe at nature's power but with a feeling of being safe), and indeed Wollen detects in Jurassic Park what he calls the 'sadistic sublime' occasioned by how 'Paradise Regained quickly turns into Paradise Lost'. In turn, there are many possible explanations concerning the aetiology of the 'lost paradise' motif, typically invoking childhood (or a time before that, the experience of being in the womb). Kincaid cites several. Here is one: 'In a touching passage that concludes "Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious" ... Freud says that we seek in ... humour ... a "euphoria" that once came to us easily, "the mood of our childhood, when we ... were incapable of jokes and when we had no need of humour to make us feel happy in our life."' (p. 282)

July 26 - 2014
First, thanks to DF for suggesting this week that the reference in North by Northwest to the 'old Gestapo trick ... shoot one of your own people to show that you're not one of them' may be no more than 'the clever figment of some filmmaker's imagination' (although DF feels that there was an incident along those lines that happened in occupied France). Just possibly, then, North by Northwest's screenwriter Ernest Lehman thought the idea up himself - or simply adapted it from Foreign Correspondent. (We don't actually know, do we, that Stephen Fisher's Peace Party doesn't have Gestapo backing?) Oh, and coming back to our theme of the 'eclecticism' of Foreign Correspondent, the film had several writers, such as comedian Robert Benchley, who plays Stebbins and who wrote many of his own lines. Someone else who was an uncredited advisor to the film was the famous Hungarian Jew Arthur Koestler (1905-83), whose first novel 'The Gladiators' (1939), about the revolt of Spartacus, had just come out - forming the first part of an anti-totalitarian trilogy that would also include the celebrated 'Darkness at Noon' (1940) and 'Arrival and Departure' (1943). I find this tidbit of information fascinating, for it seems in keeping with Hitchcock's later readiness to research the 'deep background' of his films. (Please, does anyone reading this know anything further about the Koestler connection with Foreign Correspondent?) But it was Hitchcock's knowledge of other films that he particularly drew on at this time. The two 1930s Gaumont films, Seven Sinners (see last week) and Non Stop New York, both exemplified the idea Hitchcock had touted in 1936, of putting the camera right in front of the action. The last half-hour of Non Stop New York takes place aboard a transatlantic airliner. Several members of the cast had come straight from making Hitchcock's Sabotage (e.g., John Loder, Desmond Tester, William Dewhurst, Peter Bull). Set in 1940, the film has an element of science fiction about it: a notable suspense scene involves the villain's attempt to push an unwary victim from the plane's 'observation platform'. Not only is he unsuccessful, but he soon falls to his own death when his parachute fails to open. (This is one antecedent of the death of Rowley in Foreign Correspondent - another may be the death of Frollo, played by Cedric Hardwicke, thrown from the cathedral tower in 1939's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was directed by William Dieterle and starred Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara, both of whom had just co-starred in Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn! Notice how, almost certainly, Hitchcock knew of all these films we're citing!) But here's what I was particularly leading towards. Another occasion when Non Stop New York anticipates Foreign Correspondent - the respective footage looks practically identical - is the crash-landing at sea. In both cases, we're shown the water skimming under the pilot's cockpit window. (Hitchcock just 'freshened it up a little' by using 'dump tanks' to show the water actually crashing through!) Still, if Hitchcock's film did borrow from both of these Gaumont films, that was no more than its due. Both of the Gaumont films reprise memories of the villain with the top joint of his little finger missing in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935), itself made at Gaumont. The villain in Seven Sinners has a distinctive way of holding his cigar (in turn anticipating how James Mason in North by Northwest holds his cigarette, as described last week); the villain in Non Stop New York betrays himself when someone recognises his peculiar, one-handed manner of striking a match. (So often when Hitchcock, throughout his career, borrowed material from other directors, it can be shown to have been a sort of mutual-influence, even mutual-admiration, thing! Hitchcock and Lang, and Hitchcock and Siodmak, provide notable instances, as I've previously pointed out.) Finally, I've time to indicate just a few more of the ways in which the films of Walter Wanger, producer of Foreign Correspondent, are echoed in Hitchcock's film. Hitchcock, or his screenwriters, do seem to have dutifully looked at some of Wanger's work. In the case of The President Vanishes (1934), I can only speculate about a possible influence, for I've never seen it, but certainly its synopsis (not to mention its title!) has a familiar ring: something about the US president dropping out of sight for a few days, pretending to have been kidnapped by fascists, so that his country won't be drawn into a European war. (For more, click here: President Vanishes.) But I have seen Tay Garnett's Trade Winds (1939) and I would say that much of the opening scene of Hitchcock's film, set in a newspaper office, is indebted to Garnett's film. One example: the latter's counterpart of Johnny Jones is its police detective (Frederic March) whom we first see slacking in his office because he's just been fired (in his case, for getting too intimate with the sheriff's daughter) ... More another time.
Bonus item. A bit off-topic, but fascinatingly eerie, apropos Vertigo. Thanks to CA who was the first to alert me to it. Click here, folks, to be astonished: San Francisco Street

July 19 - 2014
I can't resist beginning this next note on Foreign Correspondent (cf. previous) by observing how impersonation of a double is one of the most popular plot-devices in fiction - and that writers of thrillers especially loved it. Wilkie Collins's 'The Woman in White' (1859) used it ingeniously; 'The Prisoner of Zenda' (1894) gave it a political setting (an impending coronation); E. Phillips Oppenheim's 'The Great Impersonation' (1920) kept millions of readers guessing with a plot referring to near-contemporary events (the German menace). Novels by Edgar Wallace and 'Sapper' used the device in startling fashion and influenced filmmakers in turn. We examined the 1939 film of Wallace's 'The Four Just Men' (1905) last time, and previously noted how Sapper's 'The Third Round' (1924) is echoed in Foreign Correspondent (when the villains kidnap an elderly hostage and then publicly shoot his double to lull suspicion that he is still alive). Meanwhile, events in Europe may themselves have influenced the filmmakers to include impersonation and assassination as plot-devices, not without irony. In Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), Leonard (Martin Landau) refers to the 'old Gestapo trick ... shoot one of your own people to show that you're not one of them'. (Is that perhaps a reference to the infamous Night of the Long Knives in 1934, when the Army and the paramilitary SA were forced to reconcile their differences? Or something else? Anyone?) Note, by the way, that Leonard's allusion may not be the only one in the film to the Gestapo: as James Naremore's 'Acting in the Cinema' (1988) points out, the way Vandamm (James Mason) holds a cigarette 'like a Hollywood Nazi' fits the same pattern. Now, I promised to mention instances of another popular plot-device used by Foreign Correspondent, namely, the exposing of a phoney (or misguided) 'pacifist'. Again we saw last time that this goes back at least as far as 'The Four Just Men'. And John Buchan's 'Mr Standfast' (1919) has its German villain living in an English village and calling himself 'Moxon Ivery' while he poses as an academic pacifist. He is effectively a descendant of respectable Professor Jordan in 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' (1915). If the makers of Foreign Correspondent were indeed recalling Moxon Ivery's pacifism, it may not have been their only borrowing from the 1919 Buchan novel. Ivery appoints a would-be assassin named Gresson to get rid of Richard Hannay by pushing him over the side of a ship; when the attempt fails, Gresson must feign concern for Hannay's welfare - shades of Rowley's attempt to push Johnny Jones under a London truck (and later off the tower of Westminster Cathedral). Next, another 1939 film. When you investigate the casting of Joel McCrae in Foreign Correspondent - after Hitchcock was turned down by his first-choice, Gary Cooper - you find that McCrae's most recent role had been as a prospective young diplomat in Lloyd Bacon's Espionage Agent, for Warners. There, his character falls in love with a German spy (Brenda Marshall) who turns out to work for something called the World Peace Organisation in Switzerland. Now I'll mention a British film. Albert de Courville's Seven Sinners (1936) was scripted by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat just before they wrote the script of Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes. Fast-moving and fun, it includes a train crash filmed from the driver's cabin. (Hmm. In 1936 Hitchcock wrote an article "Why Thrillers Thrive" in which he referred to the use of subjective camera to involve an audience - and cited the case of Howard Hughes's Hell's Angels, made in 1930, which put the viewer right in the pilot's seat during a crash. I'll come back to this.) The film's villain uses a peace organisation as cover. On this occasion, it's called The Pilgrims of Peace. All right. We were mentioning just now films that depict a crash - of planes, trains, ships - subjectively. One such film is, of course, Foreign Correspondent itself. But there are several others of interest. Fritz Lang's Spione/Spies (1928) is another film where a train crash is shot from the driver's cabin (and thus a likely influence on Seven Sinners). A related film is Frank Borzage's History is Made at Night (1937) which climaxes at sea, in a liner's head-on collision with an iceberg. Borzage shot this event entirely from on board the ship. And the film's producer was Walter Wanger - the producer of Foreign Correspondent. Further, a notable film for our purposes is again British, namely, Robert Stevenson's Non Stop New York (1937) whose last half-hour takes place aboard a transatlantic airliner. I'll discuss it next time, along with other Walter Wanger films and whatever else I can cram in as I conclude this series (of six posts) on the 'eclecticism' of Foreign Correspondent.

July 12 - 2014
I'll start by expanding what I said last time about Houston Stuart Chamberlain (1855-1927) being the likely 'model' for Herr Dollmann in Erskine Childers's novel 'The Riddle of the Sands' (1903), and Dollmann, in turn, being possible inspiration for the traitorous Stephen Fisher in Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940). As noted, scholar Sam Simone was the first to suggest a parallel between Chamberlain and Fisher. Simone records that at the beginning of the 20th century Chamberlain, the son of an English admiral, married a German woman (Eva Wagner, daughter of the composer). Chamberlain had already written a number of pro-Teutonic books, such as 'Foundations of the Nineteenth Century' (1899), that eventually helped gain him an audience with Hitler, whom he admired. Yet Simone misses something - how, earlier, public controversy in England about this renegade English aristocrat may have prompted Childers (1870-1922) to make Dollmann a disgraced officer in Her Majesty's Navy who goes over to the Germans, taking his trusting English daughter, Clara, with him. Certainly it's demonstrable that the makers of Foreign Correspondent saw a resemblance between Dollmann and Clara (in the Childers novel) and Fisher and his daughter Carol (in the Hitchcock film). In particular, both works end in similar fashion, with the father going to a watery suicide. The episode in Chapter 28 of the novel concludes: 'We cruised about for a time, but never found him.' Now, there are other connections of Foreign Correspondent to literary works, but it's time to mention at least a few of its many film connections - which further help make this the most 'eclectic' of all Hitchcock movies. I'll start by mentioning what may be no more than a coincidence, but an instructive one. Actually, it has a literary connection as well. In 'The Detective in Film' (1972), William K. Everson writes: 'The films of Alfred Hitchcock were enormously popular [in England in the 1930s], the detective novels of Edgar Wallace, E, Phillips Oppenheim, and A.E.W. Mason extremely useful as a reservoir of plots and characters ...' (p. 169) Everson is referring to English film thrillers in general, I think. And soon he singles out what he calls 'one of the best and most elaborate of all British Edgar Wallace mysteries, and a kindred spirit to Alfred Hitchcock's espionage movies', namely, The Four Just Men (Walter Forde, 1939). It's the story of four private individuals who take it upon themselves to expose - and even kill - a respected public figure, a political pacifist, whom they believe is leading the country into danger (and who consorts, perhaps unwittingly, with enemy agents). Pointedly, the original Wallace story (1905) has become in Forde's film a warning of the looming Nazi menace, although Adolf Hitler is never named (newsreel footage of goose-stepping Nazis that ends the print I watched was reportedly added for the film's re-release in 1944). It is basically an entertaining thriller set in London's streets and homes and public buildings - and its principal scriptwriter was none other than Hitchcock's good friend, Angus MacPhail. The cinematographer was Ronald Neame, another Hitchcock protégé. And several members of the cast (e.g., Edward Chapman, playing a newspaper editor) had previously worked for Hitchcock. However, none of this proves that Hitchcock saw Forde's film before making Foreign Correspondent a year later, and indeed Forde's film appears to have had limited distribution in the US, where it was reportedly handled by the lowly Monogram Pictures. Yet its case is instructive, as I say. Both directors must have been confident that their respective entertainments could alert audiences of the approaching danger and, in particular, of enemy agents already installed close at hand. (In this respect, compare Anatole Litvak's 1939 film for Warner Brothers, Confessions of a Nazi Spy.) Indeed, they probably saw the thriller as the ideal vehicle to convey such otherwise unpalatable 'home truths'. Espionage was tailor-made for thriller purposes, and pacifist-figures a suitable target for exposure. (There were plenty of other precedents for this, as I'll show next time.) Worth mentioning is the climax of The Four Just Men. The pacifist politician (Alan Napier, looking more than a little like the conservative Neville Chamberlain - no relation to Houston Stuart Chamberlain - who had notoriously sought appeasement with Hitler) is electrocuted in his bath. Seizing their opportunity, before the news gets out, the 'Four' install one of their number, a professional actor, in the politician's place, just when he is due to make a speech to the House of Commons. In a perfect impersonation, the actor warns the world of why pacificism will no longer work. The Hitchcock of the bravura set-piece (e.g., the Amsterdam Town Hall scene in Foreign Correspondent) would have been proud of Angus MacPhail's screenwriting on this occasion. To be continued.

July 5 - 2014
This time, more about the superbly paced and choreographed Foreign Correspondent, which must be at least as dynamic as any film musical, so full of various movements (including camera movements) is it! First, though, my thanks to correspondent JC in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the following correction. That's not a stuntman dressed up as Scott ffolliott in the scene mentioned last time, in which ffolliott jumps from a window into a canopy above a London footpath. It's actually a life-like dummy, its arms and legs bent to perfectly simulate someone jumping into a blanket or, in this case, veranda canopy. The fact that it's night-time (and a shadow has been deliberately painted across the dummy's face, it looks like) further helps make the illusion perfect. As noted, Foreign Correspondent is full of illusion (and Hitchcock, trained as an electrical engineer, had the technical 'nous' and sangfroid of a top stage illusionist, something he even seems to suggest himself in 1938's The Lady Vanishes with its reference to 'The Great Doppo' whose speciality is 'vanishing' ladies - a step up from the party conjuror seen the previous year in Young and Innocent). Now let's come to the film's climactic clipper scene. In every way, this represents filmmaking of the highest craftsmanship. And, yes, Hitchcock's and Charles Bennett's 'eclecticism' is again in evidence, with a certain tone that is the foundation for the technical bravura, which might otherwise strike the viewer as merely clever. That tone, I suggest, has its literary sources, and one in particular: another 'Sapper' novel, 'The Final Count' (1926). (Recall that Bennett had once been set 'homework' for the screenplay 'Bulldog Drummond's Baby', namely, to thoroughly familiarise himself with the several 'Sapper' novels featuring the pugilistic and masterful Drummond. Years later, a parallel situation arose when Hitchcock was going to film barrister Henry Cecil's 'No Bail for the Judge' and asked screenwriter Samuel Taylor to read not just that particular novel but all of Henry Cecil's fiction, invariably set in the world of London's law courts and criminal underground.) Specifically, I'm thinking of the 'Sapper' novel's memorable climax in which the villain Peterson sets out in his giant airship, the 'Megalithic', intending to first poison the invited dignitaries on board, including his arch-foe Drummond, and then commit suicide. The evening is calm and the mood inside the dirigible is festive. Someone remarks on how masses of flowers give the interior a heavy, oriental scent. Drummond casually likens it to being in a coffin ... then suddenly realises what's afoot, though he's too late to save one individual, a red-faced man. When Drummond yells out, 'Don't drink. For God's sake - don't drink. It's death', the man merely protests at what he calls 'this damned foolery'. He drains his glass - and falls dead. (Chapter 12) Although for reasons I'll give shortly we can't be sure about the exact degree of influence of this scene on the climax of Foreign Correspondent, certainly the mood is comparable (and will be felt again during the moonlight climax on the face of Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest). Hitchcock's passengers aboard the clipper carry on their own desultory conversation at first, with one of them, Carol Fisher (Laraine Day), even remarking that it would be pleasant to just keep on flying 'for a long time'. Then, suddenly, the clipper finds itself being shot at by a German ship. Told to put on a life-jacket, a woman passenger protests, 'I never heard of anything so stupid.' Next instant, she's shot dead. Now, notice further that earlier remark of Carol's. Unwittingly, she may be invoking a now almost forgotten play of the 1920s, 'Outward Bound' by Sutton Vane - a play whose characters meet on an ocean liner where they discover they're all dead and bound for purgatory. That play and its mood is in fact referred to in Chapter 11 of 'The Final Count' where it's described as 'strange and wonderful ... no break - you just go on' - and it was filmed at least twice by Hollywood, the first version being in 1930 when it starred Leslie Howard. Lesson: mood in Hitchcock is far more important than ideas for their own sake, because mood works upon an audience in subtle, even poetic ways, and this was something the director learned from his English literary sources, above all. The mood of 'quietude' and 'nirvana' at the beginning of the clipper scene in Foreign Correspondent feels to the audience like the calm before a storm, with an almost subliminal reference to the War. Obviously, that mood can offer a false security, and the astute Hitchcock was quick to show a need to literally fight for one's life, to be ever-vigilant. And yet the same 'deathly' mood is also proleptic, here foreshadowing the noble self-sacrifice by Carol's father a few minutes later when the clipper lands in the sea. Ideals remain afloat, so to speak. The film's ambivalence here is very Hitchcockian, to be further analysed another time. Suffice it to say that Hitchcock gives Fisher a chance to explain to Carol how he has been an Englishman only in appearance, his heart having remained with his fatherland. Interestingly, a little-known book (more accurately, a published thesis) on the director, 'Hitchcock as Activist' (1982) by Sam Simone, suggests a real-life model for Fisher in the English writer Houston Stuart Chamberlain who in the late 1800s left England to marry a German woman, and whose writings became increasingly pro-Teutonic. What Simone fails to spot is how Chamberlain was in fact the likely model for the character Herr Dollmann in the classic espionage novel 'The Riddle of the Sands' (1903) by Erskine Childers - a novel whose finalé certainly prefigures the death of Fisher in Foreign Correspondent. To be continued.

June 28 - 2014
By drawing attention to Hitchcock's 'eclecticism' - how a film like Foreign Correspondent has literally dozens of 'sources' - I believe that I am illuminating the nature of Hitchcock's creativity in an appreciable, concrete way. For example, you can often detect exactly how Hitchcock went about the adaptive process. Note that my essay "Hitchcock's Literary Sources" for the 'Alfred Hitchcock Companion' (paperback 2014) merely begins to break the ground - there is a huge amount still to be said! Moreover, I do think that Hitchcock was remarkably 'poetic' and 'evocative' in his effects, so let's look now at further instances in Foreign Correspondent. First, a principal source, noted last time, was the novel by 'Sapper' called 'The Third Round'. The kidnapped Professor Goodman (a forerunner of Foreign Correspondent's Van Meer) ends up being held prisoner by the villain Peterson in a remote house in the New Forest, Hampshire - Peterson, a master of disguise and alias, is now passing himself off as a respectable country squire (showing the influence on 'Sapper' of John Buchan). The novel vividly describes the two men dozing in chairs before an industrial-type furnace as they tend the making of one of Goodman's artificial diamonds. The glowing furnace casts a circle of light, and beyond that is darkness. The description prefigures, to some extent, the superb chiaroscuro of the scene in Foreign Correspondent where Van Meer is imprisoned in the Dutch mill - more on that connection in a moment - but even more it anticipates the visual effect Hitchcock achieves during the film's torture-scene in London where the kidnappers train lights on Van Meer to encourage him to talk, and where the background in contrast is pitch-black. (Note: 'Sapper' pioneered graphic torture scenes in 'respectable' English thriller fiction, starting with 'Bulldog Drummond' in 1920. Hitchcock probably saw the stage version of that novel, starring Gerald du Maurier, when it opened in London in 1921.) Further, there's a moment in 'The Third Round' when the dozing Goodman nearly gives Drummond away by waking with a start and then mumbling that he thought he'd seen someone at the door. Peterson investigates, supposes he detects some movement or other, but finds the passage empty and resumes his seat. Clearly this incident anticipates a couple of times in Foreign Correspondent's mill scene when Johnny is nearly caught: for instance, when Van Meer sees a movement behind his captors, who investigate, then conclude that it must have been a bird. Reportedly, Hitchcock, for the mill scene, had 300 linnets flying around - more than two decades before The Birds! Always he was prepared to go to great lengths to consolidate an effect. In this respect, he could be like a master illusionist. Recall the description last time of how the photographer/assassin smuggled a pistol alongside his camera trained on the fake Van Meer by disguising it as a photographic plate to be 'loaded'. The 'load' is indeed a magician's term for when objects (e.g., doves) are surreptitiously introduced into a receptacle (e.g., the magician's top hat) previously shown to be empty. On a much grander scale, the moment when the clipper plane crashes into the sea utilises an effect - described last time - as inventive and split-second as some of the effects (e.g., the lady 'vanished' from a cabinet) employed by stage illusionists. And here's one more example. Study the moment when Scott ffolliott (George Sanders) plunges from a window into a canvas canopy several floors below, then gently lowers himself through the torn canvas onto the pavement. In fact, it is one more case of the-eye-deceived. The plunging figure is a stuntman dressed up as ffolliott; at the moment he hits the canopy, which is photographed in such a way as to appear bulky and enveloping, George Sanders as ffolliott (who has been hiding there all along) lowers himself through the pre-torn hole further along the canvas onto the pavement. The illusion of continuity is perfect. But now I want to thank correspondent DF in Heidelberg, Germany, for his email this week about Foreign Correspondent. He points out that the hotel manager in Amsterdam mysteriously speaks German, and wonders why. (Even the schoolgirl outside the mill speaks the local lingo - Dutch - as she translates for two policemen Johnny's description of what has happened to him.) I don't know the answer to DF's question, except to speculate that maybe they couldn't find a suitable Dutch-speaking actor in Hollywood, so settled for a German-speaking one instead. And gave him as few lines as possible - just a couple of sentences with gesticulations! And even his words are nearly drowned out - because this is the scene in which Johnny's bedroom suddenly becomes impossibly crowded by hotel employees deliberately sent there by Johnny who needs to create 'cover' for a valet to slip in unnoticed and bring Johnny his clothes. (If you haven't seen the film, don't ask why - it's too complicated!) The other point I would make is that this moment is, of course, indebted to a famous scene in the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera (Sam Wood, 1935). See what I mean about Hitchcock's 'eclecticism'? But there are dozens more examples ... To be continued.

June 21 - 2014
The recent Criterion release of Foreign Correspondent (1940) on dual-format Blu-ray and DVD is disappointing in some respects - notably some of its 'extras' including a matter-of-fact introduction by James Naremore in an accompanying booklet - although the print itself has been cleaned up splendidly using the latest proprietary technology. (For more on the latter, see the page headed "About the Transfer" in the booklet.) And a valuable feature on the 'extras' disc is the one about the film's special effects, employing an animated diagram to show exactly how back-projection and 'dump tanks' were used to create the climactic moment when a clipper plane crashes into the sea. More on that scene in a moment. Now, there are of course many wonderful things about Foreign Correspondent, including its superb sense of style and visual texture and rhythm and counterpoint. And much wit. But insufficiently commented on is just how ingenious the film is at many levels - as well as audacious, and even impudent! I'll concentrate on those latter aspects this time. In preparing the screenplay, Hitchcock was re-united with his valued collaborator Charles Bennett, and it shows. For example, just as Bennett's script for The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) had been indebted to the Bulldog Drummond stories of 'Sapper' - Hitchcock and Bennett had originally thought of filming a script called 'Bulldog Drummond's Baby', which gave them the germ for their kidnap plot - so the same source or sources can be detected behind Foreign Correspondent, only more so! The Dutch diplomat Van Meer (Albert Basserman) who appears to be assassinated in Amsterdam but later turns up alive, held prisoner by his kidnappers in first a Dutch mill and then in a seedy upstairs room off the Tottenham Court Road in London, is descended from the character named Professor Goodman in the Bulldog Drummond novel 'The Third Round' (1924). (Goodman has invented a formula for making cheap industrial diamonds, and is kidnapped and tortured by a gang of crooks who want his formula at any price.) What is especially striking is that even the idea of assassinating a double of the kidnapped man comes from the same novel. (The crooks use this extreme measure to make it seem that Goodman has died in a laboratory accident, thus concealing the fact that he has been kidnapped.) But whereas the 'Sapper' novel makes some sense in this respect, you would have to say that the assassination in Foreign Correspondent is outlandish in every way! Think about it! Van Meer is kidnapped in London, and a telegram is sent, ostensibly by him, saying that he has been called away. Within 24 hours or so, he appears to turn up for a conference in Amsterdam, where he is shot dead by a photographer using a concealed pistol. That's fast work by the gang led by Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall) who have not only had to set up a convincing double to be the fall-guy (obviously not telling him what his fate is to be!) but also arranged for the gunman to do his stuff. That's improbable enough but the fact that the real Van Meer has meanwhile been transported from London to Holland (where he is held in the Dutch mill) and then returned to London and the room off Tottenham Court Road makes no sense at all! (Does it? I'm open to suggestions!) Nonetheless, Hitchcock has had his fun and has provided his audience with successive scenes of excitement and frisson. Incidentally, even the moment when the film's hero Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) thinks he recognises Van Meer coming up the Amsterdam Town Hall steps towards him is 'borrowed' from a roughly parallel scene in 'The Third Round' when a pal of Drummond, Algy, thinks he recognises a colleague of the 'late' Professor Goodman coming up some church steps towards him to attend Goodman's funeral. More to the point, Hitchcock's ingenuity (seldom adequately commented on by scholars of his films, I suggest) is also apparent in the details of the assassination itself. Watch the moment closely. The pistol is smuggled alongside the photographer's camera by 'camouflaging' it as a photographic plate which the photographer unwraps at the last possible moment, as he pretends to load the camera for his 'shot'. The pistol fits beside the camera as if it were an extension, or indeed a part, of the camera. (The following close-up of Van Meer's bloodied face seems to owe something to the Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 classic Battleship Potemkin - and to illustrations of wounds in textbooks of forensic medicine. Hitchcock always did thorough research.) As for the celebrated moment immediately afterwards, when the assassin escapes through a sea of umbrellas, it works beautifully - but wasn't exactly original. The moment seems indebted to the 'umbrellas' crowd scene in William Dieterle's The Life of Emile Zola (1937) with perhaps a nod, too, to the funeral in the rain in Sam Wood's Our Town (1940), from which William Cameron Menzies ('production designer' on Foreign Correspondent) had just come. The technical brilliance and ingenuity with which the 'clipper' scene (mentioned earlier) was worked out by Hitchcock and Menzies has several other equivalents in the film, is what I'm saying! To be continued.

June 14 - 2014
[Back. Sort of. No actual "Editor's Week" yet, but you'll find one or two News & Comment items we've added. KM]

June 7 - 2014
[Technical problems continuing. Big apologies. Hope to be back next week. KM]

May 31 - 2014
In Young and Innocent (1937) there's an amusing moment when the camera enters a provincial courtroom (see frame-capture below). A case is just ending, in which a wife has sought an injunction against her unruly husband. She tells the magistrate that she doesn't want a separation, just a restraining order. The magistrate nods and addresses the husband: 'Very well ... I shall bind you over to keep the peace for six months.' Here the wife interjects: 'Oh sir, couldn't you make it eight months to carry me over Christmas?' Magistrate (annoyed): 'No.' Cut to the corridor outside as the next case is called and the husband and wife come out - already arguing. He says he shan't come straight home, he's 'off to see an old pal'. The wife intimates that he means the local pub. 'Oh, stow it!' he says. Hmm. It's impossible to tell who is more in the wrong - or the right - here, which of course is the point. Marital relations in a Hitchcock film are seldom open-and-shut, i.e., one-sided, like much else in those films. What is always throbbing away behind the films is the life/death force. Sensing that, Hitchcock depicted it as 'neutrally' as possible, the better for the audience to identify with the film as a whole and not be distracted by partisanship over non-suspense issues. He wanted the audience 'inside' the film. The result was what his wife, Alma, would say of him at the time of Psycho: he 'has the most completely balanced mind I have ever known and ... a talent for total objectivity'. Of course, from a purely screenwriting or 'constructionist' aspect, the Young and Innocent scene just described must support the thematics of the film. And that is also illuminating. For the film pivots on the results of an initial husband-wife quarrel, in which successful screen actress Christine Clay is accused by her older husband of being a perennial liar, and having affairs with 'boys'. I took you out of the chorus-line, he tells her, and helped make you a star. But 'you lied to me then and you're lying to me now'. For her part, she complains, 'Why won't you listen to me?' But it does her no good - she ends up murdered. Of course, murder is murder, and the husband is clearly guilty, whatever exonerating circumstances there may have been. He goes on the run - as the film's screenwriter hero, Robert (Derrick de Marney), one of Christine's 'boys', who protests his own innocence, also finds himself on the run. As in many Hitchcock films, the plight of one character is reflected by the plight of another. Such a construction makes for a film that can draw on the widest spectrum of emotions, of life and death issues, which we experience to the full. And there's another aspect. Whether or not Christine Clay's husband is right about her alleged deceit and lying (and we may think, 'where there's smoke there's fire'!), what is clear is that he is is fearful for a fundamental reason: he has married a much younger woman and now dreads being abandoned. We may think forward to Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) in Dial M for Murder (1954) who frankly admits that, on first finding out that his beautiful wife, Margot (Grace Kelly), was having an affair with a television writer, 'never felt so scared'. But let's come back to the couple in the Young and Innocent courtroom. They are not the only married couple, besides the Clays, we shall meet in the film: there is also the heroine Erica's (Nova Pilbeam's) Aunt Mary and Uncle Basil, who have a forbearing relationship, you could say, one where compromise has produced reasonably happy results (and late-in-the-day offspring). (All of these relationships give perspective on the central 'young and innocent' relationship of Robert and Erica, even if that doesn't always seem so very different from any of the others: e.g., pleasant one moment, stormy the next!) But not all people are capable of the forbearance that most marriages require, and which Hitchcock would valorise. This time one may think of the Thorwalds in Rear Window (1954), where the wife's nagging eventually proves her undoing. (Hitchcock was well aware of famous murder cases, such as the Crippen case and the Armstrong case, where the wife's nagging led to murder.) In sum, when critics sometimes speak of the 'surreality' of a film like Young and Innocent, they imply the unspoken range of possibilities that the film intimates emotionally about marriage and other universal topics. Universal? Well, Hitchcock's own marriage to Alma was of the forbearing sort, but with the other possible variants seemingly sometimes not far away! Recent films like The Girl and Hitchcock have both suggested as much. There's a touching yet pathetically raw moment in The Girl when Hitchcock, in his cups, tells his assistant director James Brown that if he didn't have Alma he would be nothing. Draw your own inferences. [Reader, apologies if, for technical reasons, the frame-capture supposed to appear below is not visible. We're working on the problem. Also, please note that further News items and updates will be added soon, immediately below. And updates to our New Publications page will also be added soon.]

May 24 - 2014
[No "Editor's Week" this time. But check out News & Comment items added.]

May 17 - 2014
Is serial-killer Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt a 'hero' (as suggested last time)? Yes - at one remove! An epigraph for several films by Hitchcock could be what John Fowles wrote in 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' (1969): 'You know your choice. You stay in prison, what your time calls duty, honour, self-respect, and you are comfortably safe. Or you are free and crucified. Your only companions, the stones, the thorns, the turning backs; the silence of cities and their hate.' At some level, Uncle Charlie might be the latter person, someone who has fled moribund cities and bourgeois suburban comfort. His later 'descendants' in Hitchcock arguably include (by force of circumstance) 'Manny' Balestrero in The Wrong Man and Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest. Compare the Fowles quotation to the Kierkegaard one excerpted here on April 26, in which the bourgeoisie are critiqued thus: 'they have never felt homesickness for something unknown and far away, nor the depth which consists in being nothing at all, of walking out of Norreport [in Copenhagen, Denmark] with a penny in one's pocket and a cane in one's hand ...' Hitchcock was a poet-artist as well as an entertainer (cf. the essay "Hitchcock's Literary Sources" in Leitch & Poague, 'A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock', paperback 2014). Moreover, everywhere in Hitchcock are examples of paradox and 'contraries'. Young Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt exemplifies what Kierkegaard calls 'dread' in the young, whom we think of as 'innocent'. Yet the determinants of dread show 'the characteristic ambiguity of psychology. Dread is a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy. One easily sees ... that this is much more truly a psychological subject than it is a concupiscence. Language confirms this completely. One speaks of a sweet dread, a sweet feeling of apprehension ...' ('The Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard', pp. 163-64) Such dread still exists in adults - it is often the basis, I suggest, of Hitchcockian suspense, and a response to the nature of the life/death force itself. (Hence Hitchcock could famously say, 'everything's perverted in a different way'.) Compare, in turn, what I cited last time, James Kincaid's suggestion that we feel a fascination-repulsion apropos stories of child molestation. Sexuality is the prime instance of the life/death force, and its manifestation in each individual is further determined by that individual's history (as discussed here lately). In Marnie the climactic flashback and its immediate aftermath in Bernice Edgar's self-disclosure (frame-capture below) constitute no mere melodramatic device, but - in a film devoted like Psycho to showing false consciousness and (Freud's term) 'screen memories' - a virtual aetiology of sexuality, including social and psychological factors (even the 'primal scene'), to whose basic truth we may all relate. Marnie claims, 'I am not like other people', but she is mistaken. Walter Lowrie once said of Kiekegaard that he was the only thinker 'with such a strong sense of the solidarity of the race that Original Sin [made] any sense to him'. But writers and poets have also felt and shown such solidarity, among them Charles Dickens ('we [are] all so connected ... without knowing it') and G.K. Chesterton (who reacted strongly against the literary 'pessimists' of his time). Both those writers influenced Hitchcock. In Hitchcock's case, he was both 'pessimistic' and (following Chesterton) 'anti-pessimistic' - another paradox, of course - thereby manifesting what Richard Allen calls Hitchcock's 'romantic irony'. In Marnie, it can remind us that Hitchcock always sought to confront sexuality and its mysteries while knowing that 'reality is [finally] something that none of us can stand'. (Even Kincaid is never so forthright!) False consciousness is everywhere evident in the film: even Mark Rutland has his fetish for 'the criminal female'. Incidentally, the very nature of the subject-matter of Marnie seems to have driven Hitchcock to foolish acts, as documented by the recent TV film The Girl. But finally, I want to note this. As Theodore Price reminds readers of his book on Hitchcock ('Superbitch!', 2011), Freud and his followers arrived at the conclusion that 'All sin is apprehended as incest in the unconscious' (Ernest Jones, quoted p. 189). The 'incest' motif is very strong in Hitchcock's The Lodger (1926), as a careful analysis of its brilliantly assembled flashback can show (cf my review of Price on the Web, "Back to Freud!") - and already that film is one that seeks to implicate the viewer in a universal condition (albeit we may deny the specifics). What I have been suggesting here is that such awareness on Hitchcock's part is further manifested in both Shadow of a Doubt and Marnie. Nor is it exclusively a Freudian matter. Writer Daphne du Maurier (three of whose stories Hitchcock filmed) was fascinated by the incest motif, not from the sexual aspect but as manifesting the urge we all feel to return to our families. (Sheila Hodges, quoted in "Back to Freud!") So the 'going home' motif (e.g. in Rebecca and Shadow of a Doubt), discussed earlier, is also part of the pattern I have been describing. Q.E.D. [Note. Our News & Comment section will be updated shortly.]

May 10 - 2014
When young Ann Newton (not her brother Roger - my mistake last time!) in Shadow of a Doubt says almost proudly, 'I broke my mother's back three times!' (referring to a children's game), she is already displaying signs of what T.S. Eliot would call in another context, 'dissociation of sensibility'. I contend that Hitchcock saw how such a 'dissociation' is shared by all of us - in some degree or other - and that he gave it its most startling expression in Psycho (1960) and then Marnie (1964). He also saw how such a 'divided consciousness' goes back to childhood, very probably the Oedipal period, though it does not become 'fixed' until puberty or later. It is that latter event which represents a 'fall' into adult consciousness, and adult sexuality, and which Kiekegaard defined as well as anyone - and whose definition I briefly quoted last time apropos the brilliant public library scene in Shadow of a Doubt. It seems to me that James Kincaid in his book 'Erotic Innocence' (1998) could profitably have referred to Kierkegaard - and Hitchcock - when he repeatedly sought there to show how adults both feel, yet deny, erotic attraction to children (who themselves have erotic feelings), and are therefore susceptible to imagery (in art, literature, films, news stories, advertising) that exploits such an ambivalence. Kincaid: 'It is important ... not to try to counter erotic attraction to children with nothing stronger than nostalgia and talk about how sweet children are. For one thing, nostalgia and sweetness are not antidotes to eroticism but ingredients of it; for another, they are trifles. I believe most adults in our culture feel some measure of erotic attraction to children and the childlike ...' (pp. 24-25) In truth, Hitchcock in Shadow of a Doubt was clearly capable of seeing past 'nostalgia and sweetness' as a way of looking at the world as a whole (which even then was in danger of tearing itself apart on the European, African, Middle Eastern, and Pacific Fronts). Shadow of a Doubt is one of Hitchcock's definitive films about 'growing up'. (Another such film is, of course, the teasingly titled Young and Innocent.) The aforementioned library scene shows Young Charlie removing from her finger the ring she has treasured since her uncle first gave it to her, and where the act of removing it is like an acknowledgement of what master-psychologist Kierkegaard says, that in the extreme point of the synthesis of body, soul, and spirit - when 'dread' yields to a sexualised understanding of good and evil - 'the spirit cannot take part'. Now, as I note in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', there is a further complication: Uncle Charlie's face when he gave Young Charlie the ring had been eloquent - 'he invests the gift with great spiritual weight ... [and] her own initial reaction likewise has a spiritual intensity'. (See frame-capture below.) Like Norman Bates in Psycho, Uncle Charlie here is already 'fallen', and with precisely the split consciousness that we all share to a degree. (He, too, has gone through at least two symbolic childhood 'events'. First, falling off his bicycle as a boy and being severely concussed. Second, 'chasing around the world since I was 16' - as he tells Young Charlie in the 'Till Two' Bar - with pre-echoes of Judy in Vertigo who tells Scottie that she has been 'understanding' since she was 16.) In sum, the library scene defines a split in consciousness that Hitchcock believed we all share ... though only 'exceptional' individuals take it to the extreme of murderous psychopathology! In turn, that split is very like what Kincaid seeks to define as governing our ambiguous attitude to sexuality, manifested at the time of his book (1998) most particularly in a fascination-repulsion apropos stories and images of child molestation. But there's still a lot more. Consider Kincaid again: 'We commonly live in and through our children and then hate ourselves for doing so ... What is it we are loving, really, and what are we seeking to recover? The child's love, Freud asserts, is "boundless," ... but Freud also reminds us that the child's desire is infinite, has no concrete aim, and is thus always doomed to frustration. In seeking to recover the child, we seek the inexhaustible, the ecstatic, and we refuse to accept any limits; but ironically, the child we want to love us in return has no interest in "us" and wants the same oceanic love-without-end. We return to impossible erotic fantasies ...' (pp. 71-72) Effectively Kincaid shows us why 'bourgeois consciousness', as defined by Kierkegaard (see above, April 26), still prevails, to its own detriment and frustration: nowadays we seek escape through ever-more extreme fantasies - not just the crime stories that occupy Mr Newton and neighbour Herb in Shadow of a Doubt - but thereby remain prey to a perennial 'dissociation of sensibility'. But at least Uncle Charlie has experienced this at first-hand, in the world, making him almost a Kierkegaardian hero! To be concluded.

May 3 - 2014
Seems to me, from reading Freud and James Kincaid and others, that the course of human sexuality does indeed begin at childhood and in a sense, for each individual, is determined there. According to Freud, there is 'infantile sexuality' (when the individual is still 'polymorphously-perverse') and then, until puberty, a 'latency period' - but Kincaid insists (e.g., p. 56) that the 'latency' isn't really so! Kids are pursuing sexual 'interests' even then. (Just this past week, a researcher at the University of South Australia reported on young children sexually abusing other children - and of teachers being in denial about it: children abusing peers.) According to Kincaid, adults don't want to acknowledge childhood sexuality and their own stirred feelings, so - given a convenient 'out' by Freud - attribute to children 'purely affectionate emotional' feelings, effectively saying that's how we feel towards children too, with purely affectionate feelings! (p. 56) Further, as Kincaid suggests, it took Graham Greene and his famous remarks about young Shirley Temple, and her 'coquetry', to see that many of our media images of childhood exploit our mixed feelings, though we may continue to deny it. (p. 114) Hmm. All I wanted to suggest about Hitchcock's Marnie (in the past two entries above) is that the director, for reasons of his own, was tapping deep emotional attitudes to childhood sexuality. The real subject of the film, like the novel, is actually what the novel (Chapter 20) calls 'the loneliness of all the world'. As for the wartime Shadow of a Doubt, I cited Kierkegaard to begin to show that the emphasis there - while again exploring dynamics of childhood and adolescent sexuality - is on how the world is indeed in some ways a sad place, a fallen world, even right under our noses, though we may again deny it. (The scene where Uncle Charlie and Young Charlie in the 'Till Two' Bar encounter the sad waitress, Louise, powerfully suggests Kierkegaard's '"dark realm of sighs" ... [where] one sees the broken victims of seduction and inveiglement ...' - as quoted last time.) It is amazing how many of Hitchcock's 'mere thrillers' have such a note of sadness about them - Psycho is another. (Just listen to some of Bernard Herrmann's passages associated with Norman in particular.) But Shadow of a Doubt is patently and explicitly about The Fall, as evoked in the public library scene where the camera's upward retreat signals Young Charlie's terrible discovery of the truth about her revered uncle. Here her loss of innocence is suddenly total - the culmination of her 'dread' (again see last time) that has beset her since the start of the film when she telegraphed Uncle Charlie to come and 'save' her (ordinary bourgeois) family. For several reasons, Shadow of a Doubt can move you profoundly, not least because it shows that same family as in fact precious; another reason is the magnitude of an intelligent girl's (Young Charlie's) sudden awakening to the real nature of the world - her loss of innocence. Moreover, that awakening is depicted by the filmmakers with a psychological acuity that is rare. Which may bring us back to Kierkegaard and the whole matter of sexuality that I have been noting here these past couple of weeks. Regardless of whether pre-pubescent children are already 'sexual' or not, it is clear that for Kierkegaard an actual loss-of-innocence eventually occurs, and it is a sexual thing. (The aforementioned public library scene in Shadow of a Doubt has definite sexual connotations, as when Charlie removes the ring that she had treasured since her uncle placed it on her finger soon after his arrival in the Newton household. More on this matter later.) Charlie's younger sister, Ann, remains relatively 'innocent', even if she is heard saying things like, 'I never can tell when I may want some privacy.' (See frame-capture below.) And young Roger is no less 'innocent', even if his games include the one about how, if you 'step on a crack [you] break your mother's back'! But Young Charlie's 'fall' is perfectly in keeping with what Kierkegaard says about the need to reconcile body, soul and spirit - after the 'extreme point of the synthesis' has passed: 'Once the sexual is posited as the extreme point of the synthesis, it is no use ignoring it ... But ... in the culmination of the erotic the spirit cannot take part. I will speak here with Greek candour. The spirit indeed is present, for it is this which constitutes the synthesis, but it cannot express itself in the erotic experience ...' Etc. ('The Living Thoughts of Kiekegaard', pp. 172-73). The public library scene is of course symbolic, but it serves to distinguish Young Charlie from the more-literally-fallen Louise (the waitress in the 'Till Two' Bar) - and I believe it can explain why Kincaid finds such ambivalence in adults towards matters of sexuality, including childhood sexuality. More next time.

April 26 - 2014
For at least a couple of reasons, please indulge me this time! Shadow of a Doubt, like Marnie, is a film that can move me to quiet tears, not least when Uncle Charlie first arrives in seemingly idyllic Santa Rosa and is immediately given pride of place at the head of the family table - it's a family, you see, whose mother and father remind me of my own, and I must also admit to identifying with Young Charlie to an extent! Of course, to really explain the appeal of Shadow of a Doubt, one can't just cite its realistic detail, or its depiction of 'innocence'. (For one thing, Sally Benson's dialogue includes the words for the children's game in which 'to step on a crack is to break your mother's back'!) In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', I claim that Shadow of a Doubt is 'a brilliant study of adolescent psychology. Young Charlie's state of mind in the early part of the film resembles what the philosopher Kierkegaard called "dread", a state of innocence or dreaming that awakens a thirst for the prodigious and the mysterious.' In turn, the overall outlook of the film may recall Kierkegaard's critique of 'the bourgeoisie'. (Again I request your indulgence: long quotation coming up.) 'Morality is to them the highest,' he wrote, 'far more important than intelligence; but they have never felt enthusiasm for greatness ... Their ethics are a short summary of police ordinances; for them the most important thing is to be a useful member of the state, and to air their opinions in the club of an evening; they have never felt homesickness for something unknown and far away, nor the depth which consists in being nothing at all ... they have no conception of the point of view (which a gnostic sect makes its own) of getting to know the world through sin - and yet they too say: one must sow one's wild oats; they have never even had a glimpse of the idea which is behind that saying, after one has forced one's way through the hidden and mysterious door into that "dark realm of sighs" ... [where] one sees the broken victims of seduction and inveiglement ...' (W.H. Auden, ed., 'The Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard', Midland Book edition, 1963, pp. 37-38.) That, from the 'father of [Christian] existentialism'! Now, I suggest that the above quotation might serve as a worthy epigraph for several Hitchcock films, Shadow of a Doubt and Vertigo among them - provided it is understood that Hitchcock's villains, like Uncle Charlie and Gavin Elster, are hapless parodies of someone who elects to 'get to know the world through sin'. As an artist, Hitchcock's sympathies may well go out to these people in their quest for something treasured but now lost (cf the nostalgic image of waltzing couples in Shadow of a Doubt and the evocation of 'colour, excitement, power, freedom' in Vertigo), but only because they are representative of the darker side of life which an artist must know but be detached from. When Kierkegaard refers to a 'homesickness for something unknown and far away' he is describing something that is innate in the human breast, at least where repression hasn't dulled all the senses (cf discussion of a 'going home' motif in films like The Trouble With Harry and Hatari!, March 29 above); and when he writes of 'the depth which consists in being nothing at all' he is surely like the poet Keats who coined the term 'negative capability' and proceeded to define the 'poetic character' as happily - and necessarily - amoral. (Kierkegaard: 'All that people say about a poet having to unfold a moral view of life in his works is, of course, nonsense ... Those who really have a moral attitude ... do not quarrel with the poet for depicting the enormous success of immorality, how it achieves greatness and power ...' - p. 39.) I am really trying to make a connection with our topic of last week, which was James Kincaid's attempt in his book 'Erotic Innocence' (1998) to show how society seems unable to come to terms with a particular type of 'immorality', namely, child molesting. The reason, I suggest, is that we are divided inwardly, in much the way Kierkegaard has indicated above, especially when he notes that the bourgeoisie (in particular) baulks at entering the 'dark realm of sighs' (although we may already be there psychologically, if only we would admit it). Okay, so what the hell am I talking about, and what has it to do with Hitchcock?! Well the definitive answer to that first question will have to wait until next week - but the answer to the second question is simply, 'a great deal'. When Hitchcock filmed Marnie, in which there's a suggestion that young Marnie was molested and thereafter denied warmth and intimacy by her mother - who, though, claims that she always loved her daughter - the director was drawing on a broad theme of 'incest' (or, rather, the 'incest taboo') that runs in his work from The Lodger through Shadow of a Doubt to Marnie, and which speaks to us all, I believe. To be continued. Frame-capture: 'police ordinances' in Shadow of a Doubt (with the Bank of America behind).

April 19 - 2014
What has KM been reading lately? Answer: two related books, one by Adrian Schober called 'Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film: Contrary States' (2004), the other by James Kincaid called 'Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting' (1998). Link here: Child Narratives in Literature. But it's Kincaid's book - and theories - that I'll mostly talk about this time, particularly in connection with Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie (1964) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943). First, I was struck by Kincaid's general idea that our culture is obsessed by 'stories' (including news stories) about child molesting, as if we see in them something that speaks to our inner selves and our own childhoods, real or imagined. (For what it's worth, apropos imagination, I was also struck by Kincaid's mention, on p. 145, of how 'Rousseau traced the formation of his sexual tastes to childhood spankings.' That's one instance, is seems to me, of a more general mechanism.) Second, I immediately thought of Hitchcock's claim in 1964 that his view of audiences 'is all based on Red Riding Hood; so that what [audiences are] frightened of today are exactly the same things they were frightened of yesterday'. Note that Hitchcock was being interviewed on the BBC by Huw Wheldon about his latest film, Marnie - which of course has its memorable flashback in which there is indeed a hint of child molesting (of young Marnie, by the sailor played by Bruce Dern). Now here's a passage from Kincaid that opens his chapter on "Recovered Memory" (a phenomenon often linked by lawyers and others to its alleged relative, 'false memory'): 'When we picture our own childhood, what do we see? Reaching back into memory, we locate a figure all but irresistible ... Irresistible is what a child is in our culture ... Why should we not locate the origins of our being in a child that is both innocent and erotic, pure and violated?' (p. 240) Thus Kincaid, writing in 1998, is contending that current stories about child molesting - whether true or false, and seemingly no matter how horrific - fascinate us psychologically. Further, he is contending that there is something inside us that responds to such stories because our culture currently has stereotyped preoccupations in that direction (in roughly the same way, I suggest, that Hitchcock reported that stories about murder trials were sure-fire sellers of Sunday newspapers in the England of his day). Here Kincaid is ambivalent. On the one hand, he writes: 'I suggest that our memories are structured as much by deep cultural needs as by raw experience, that we draw our plots largely from a cultural storehouse made available to all of us in pretty much the same form.' (pp. 241-42) On the other hand, towards the end of his book, he suggests that it's high time we redirected our preoccupations, to be less stereotyped in our thinking, to be more detached, so that our genuine love of children (which we are in danger of denying) can have healthier expression: he finds a couple of models in stories by Dickens but also in Michael Ritchie's 1976 film The Bad News Bears. Of the latter he writes: 'Try to emulate Coach Buttermaker ... get the hell off the field and let the kids go at it by themselves.' (p. 289) He means, see kids for what they are, which includes their sexuality and erotic appeal (seemingly displaced in Ritchie's film by the kids' foul language, a trope which critics noticed without necessarily understanding it), just don't - please pardon the pun - interfere with them! Now to bring this back to Hitchcock. Kincaid is asking for a more compassionate attitude to children and to childhood sexuality. Dickens (like Hitchcock) is 'sometimes caricatured as a [maker] of melodramas' but 'for Dickens it was not the child's innocence that was in danger but its life; he did not think people loved children in a sick or perverted way but that they did not love them at all, simply did not care'. Moreover, for Kincaid, we are dangerously like the Victorians of Dickens's time: despite, or perhaps because of, 'our frantic babble over outrages to the sexual being of children', we are really masking 'our lack of concern, our willingness to overlook the battered and the starving, the impoverished and ill-educated, those without comfort and without hope'. (p. 290) That, I suggest, is also what Hitchcock is telling us in a broad sense about the complacency and indifference to suffering that are displayed in Marnie (and emblemised in its memorable hunt scene). I mentioned above how Hitchcock saw an analogy between his films and the story of Red Riding Hood and the wolf. One such film is surely Shadow of a Doubt, where Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) is the wolf who descends on the 'innocent' household of Mr and Mrs Newton and their three children (see frame-capture below, showing Uncle Charlie from Emma Newton's pov). I'll take up this theme next time.

April 12 - 2014
["Editor's Week" returns next time. A News & Comment item, with others to follow, have been added. We'll also be adding items to our 'New Publications' page shortly. KM]

April 5 - 2014
As I remarked to correspondent DF, last week's analysis of Rear Window in terms of Buddhism's 'Seven Factors of Awakening' could certainly be extended to a large number of other films. (I mentioned last time Howard Hawks's Hatari!, about animal-catchers in Africa. It, surely, exemplifies 'mindfulness', 'ease', 'concentration', etc. - those are practically Hawks trademarks in his action films.) However, my original purpose was to demonstrate the 'civilised' qualities of Rear Window, and the fact that Hitchcock's film does seem intent on bringing its characters alive - awakening them - is certainly part of what I had in mind. So, too, is its extension of that 'awakening' to us, its audience. Photographer Jeff (James Stewart), sunk in his 'swamp of boredom', serves as our surrogate - for he is essentially a 'watcher' of life. When not injured and confined to a wheelchair, he tours the globe taking pictures for 'Life' magazine. In Hawksian terms, he is thus currently doubly 'feminised' (both out-of-action because of his broken leg and yet still always a 'mere' photographer - like Elsa Martinelli in Hatari!, who must prove herself worthy of the male animal-catchers!). But that's just part of what Hitchcock offers. Civilised values are themselves part of 'life', and much of Rear Window consists of its exemplary 'tone'. For example, the screenplay emphasises that Carl, the waiter from the '21' Club, should be middle-aged and that, far from being annoyed when kept waiting by Lisa, he should show 'tender amusement'. (She has hired him to bring a champagne dinner to Jeff's apartment.) In a symbolic sense, Carl is 'castrated' (cf Freud's 'Civilisation and its Discontents')! Yet there's much of Hitchcock himself here - David Selznick once remarked that Hitch was 'not exactly a man to go camping with' but was a pleasant fellow nonetheless! Something else I remarked to DF was this. Rear Window 'isn't, let's say, a diatribe or a panegyric, but rather a satisfying investigation of what I regularly insist Hitchcock gives us - a Symbolist situation representing things "universal" and "significant". Human suffering isn't discounted, likewise human perversity.' (Buddhism insists on seeing things as they really are.) And full credit to screenwriter John Michael Hayes. When I interviewed him, a long time ago, in Hollywood, he told me that he came to Hitchcock after viewing many of his films, and had concluded that these were invariably brilliant but coldly analytical. (I think he instanced The Paradine Case.) Accordingly, he determined in Rear Window to give Hitchcock 'warmth'. Specifically, he felt the need to break down any audience resistance to the film - and any tension towards fellow viewers - as early as possible. Hence the remark given to Stella (Thelma Ritter) about 'General Motors' going to the bathroom. That gag, said Hayes, bonded the audience, who could now settle down to enjoy themselves. (Remember that another 'factor of awakening' is joy.) Which is exactly what happens. We readily enter into the film's 'world'. Actually, Hitchcock had symbolised our entry into that world straight after the credits, when the camera had moved out of the window and the soundtrack had become that of the courtyard itself, with a slight 'echo' effect. Now let's move our attention to the following evening, just before we meet Jeff's girlfriend, high-fashion model Lisa (Grace Kelly). Again the occasion begins with a camera movement - a pan across the courtyard, parts of which are illuminated by the setting sun. Note the frame-capture below. It shows many aspects of Hitchcock's brilliance. For example, the scene is like a Dutch genre painting brought to life. At several windows, people are just arriving home (that's Miss Torso looking out of her window, and actually wearing street clothes, in centre-frame!). The side alley (typical of genre painters like Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer) shows passers-by across the road, and a street vendor has set up a barrow at the end of the alley. On the ground floor, the lady sculptor ('Miss Gargoyle', I have seen her called!), whom we met earlier, is wearing an orange robe, to match the sunset, and emerging from her house to feed her cat. ('When you make a film', said Hitchcock, 'you must fill the frame!') But that's not all. Atmospherically, the shot sets the mood for the arrival of Lisa. And pragmatically, the setting sun (cf Rope and Under Capricorn) provides the light-source for the 'effect' with which Hitchcock introduces her (her shadow falling across Jeff's sleeping face beside the window). Also, the shot typifies Hitchcock's attention to sensuous detail, as when - later again, in the early hours of the morning - a summer shower drives the sleeping couple from their fire-escape balcony. In effect, the day-night cycle in Rear Window is like the cycle of the seasons in The Trouble With Harry (whose Fall setting is complemented by references to the coming winter) - a rather 'Buddhist' effect in itself. (Cf the films of Ozu, or the South Korean film called Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter ... and Spring!) This exemplifies Hitchcock's Symbolist 'concentration' - while the intervening film, To Catch a Thief, offers more an example of what the Buddhists call 'letting go'. But all of these films, surely, are highly civilised!

March 29 - 2014
In a piece called "Universal language" for the 'Australian Book Review', February 2014, Christopher Allen writes: 'The invention of logical reasoning did not bring about the end of art ... Art, which deals with life in its immediate phenomenological form, has continued to be a way of thinking about dimensions of feeling and sensibility that are not amenable to rational analysis.' (p. 38) It's a good point, and I want to relate it to Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954). (Regular correspondent DF has issued me a challenge concerning that film ...) First, though, I was exchanging emails this week with PS, about the wonderful The Trouble With Harry (1955), and noting something that seems pertinent. There, the screenplay employs the song "Flaggin' the Train to Tuscaloosa", with its lines about wanting to go 'home', to create a counterpoint with the charming local colour of Vermont and New Hampshire: a paradoxical effect in keeping, somehow, with Hitchcock's avowed intent to 'elevate the commonplace in life to a higher level'. The lyrics express discontent, yet the singer - artist Sam Marlowe - sings lustily and when he finally comes into view is almost dancing. Moreover, the entire effect is stylised, an example of 'acousmêtre' or 'disembodied voice', further underlining the universal sentiments: yearning for 'home', contradictory emotions. Of course, countless other artists and filmmakers have inserted a 'home' motif into their work: think of the slave Antoninus's song mid-way through Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960) or the animal catchers' sing-song in their jeep in Howard Hawks's Hatari! (1962). My point is that there need be nothing simple-minded when a film director chooses to emphasise a 'universal' motif. Now let's turn to Rear Window. The frame-capture below shows the amusing moment when Jeff (James Stewart) uses a wooden Chinese back-scratcher to relieve a sudden itch under the plaster cast on his broken leg. Reader, you may interpret the moment symbolically if you wish, but I want to just note how it defines Jeff as l'homme moyen sensuel or ordinary non-intellectual man, an everyman. On the other hand, let's not forget that we're talking about James Stewart who, like Jeff, flew bombers for the Air Force in the War. When we first see Jeff, he is asleep. The screenplay describes him: 'A tall, lean, energetic thirty-five, his face long and serious-looking at rest, [he] is in other circumstances capable of humour, passion, naive wonder and the kind of intensity that bespeaks inner convictions of moral strength and basic honesty.' Now, DF has picked up on something I emailed him - about how Rear Window can remind me of Buddhism's 'Seven Factors of Awakening' - and has challenged me to explain. So here goes! The first 'factor' is the common Buddhist term 'mindfulness', interpreted by the respected Thich Nhat Hanh ('The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching', 1998) as detached readiness. At the start of the film, Jeff is indeed sleeping (and will be again, including at the end), so the seven factors can apply almost literally. Very soon, Jeff and the audience will need to have all their wits about them. Appropriately, the second factor is 'investigation of phenomena' - meaning, no closed mind. Jeff and his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and his nurse (Thelma Rittter) will shortly have to 'think the unthinkable'. Thich Nhat Hanh again: '[Along] with mindfulness, investigation takes us deeply into life and into reality.' (The screenplay includes a line about how 'There's a whole world out there.') The third factor is 'diligence' - suffice to note the screenplay's reference to Jeff as 'energetic' and having an 'intensity' bespeaking 'moral strength'. Factors four and five are 'joy' and 'ease', the latter meaning equanimity under pressure. Thich Nhat Hanh: 'It is reassuring that the Buddha regarded joy and ease among [the] seven [factors].' Significantly, Hitchcock and his films seem to almost literally embody them! 'Life' itself - in many of its aspects - is amply celebrated in Rear Window (an urban equivalent of The Trouble With Harry). For what it's worth, too, another book, 'Introducing Buddha' (1999), by Jane Hope and Borin Van Loon, speaks of how 'Zen teaching is always paradoxical and often very humorous' and how its teachers 'were completely fearless in their attempts to shake their students out of habitual ways of thinking'. Some of Hitchcock's 'subjective techniques' to confront and involve the audience are in that spirit, as when the murderer suddenly gazes straight at us. Which raises the sixth factor - 'concentration' - meaning to see intently what is, not to avoid seeing it. Concentration in Rear Window is signified by photographer Jeff's resort to increasingly powerful lenses. And the seventh factor is 'letting go' - meaning, after concentration, to relax and let the 'world' back in, albeit partially and imperfectly. At the end of Rear Window, Lisa's earlier question, 'Jeff, isn't it time you came home?', still hangs in the air.

March 22 - 2014
[Apologies from KM - he is away this weekend. "Editor's Week" returns next time. A couple of items will appear in our News & Comment section, in the next few days.]

March 15 - 2014
Last week (see above) I dated Hitchcock's self-styled 'moving-around principle' to 1934. From The Man Who Knew Too Much of that year I took an example of his 'dynamic' creative thinking involving an assassin's gun, noting how it drew on an effect Hitchcock had previously used in a quite different context in The Farmer's Wife (1928). Next, I noted how, in TMWKTM, the image becomes increasingly 'soft' before, suddenly, the 'hard' barrel of the gun enters the frame. Very possibly, the genesis of the idea was purely verbal: soft>hard. (Think about it!) But its execution, I noted, was robust, involving a subjective pov, a build-up of ideas (suggesting 'softness' and 'tears'), and then the sudden shift to a new awareness. (A further, dynamic and unifying element was the presence of 'The Storm Cloud Cantata', about which much more could be said.) Well, TMWKTM was likely also the film for which the 'Cromwell Road brains trust' first assembled at Hitchcock's house in London to pool their ideas in a 'white heat' of creativity in which everything was potential material for their melting-pot. In effect, several minds became one mind, aiming to realise a storyline whose every element was significant, both as information and as entertainment. Possibly they took their inspiration from earlier screenwriters like Eliot Stannard and from the theories of Sergei Eisenstein and others. Of course - just to be clear - any creative person has no doubt experienced something of the mind-state I'm talking of, if not perhaps a (deeper?) one referred to by poet-mystic William Blake, 'To see a world in a grain of sand ...'! ('Auguries of Innocence', c. 1803) Right, let's move on. Another, still-more-remarkable example of Hitchcock's capacity to think by analogy than the ones I've given so far is this. Consider the frame-capture below. It's from the moment in Notorious (1946) when the newly-married Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) overhears husband Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) demand the keys of the house from his domineering mother (Leopoldine Konstantin). The character of the mother derives from multiple sources, including the film's nominal basis, the story "The Song of the Dragon" by John Taintor Foote (1921), Hitchcock's own Easy Virtue (1927), Young and Innocent (1937) and Rebecca (1940) (the latter containing the mannish 'mother' figure, Mrs Danvers), plus, very notably, Herbert Wilcox's The Yellow Canary (1943). (The latter even seems to have given Hitchcock the mother's defining first-entrance, descending a staircase) But it's the moment itself that I think particularly struck Hitchcock: a beautiful, vulnerable woman (with a secret that she hasn't even told her husband) made suddenly privy to how he's still potentially a 'mother's boy' - though Alex is heard to raise his voice in an impressive act of assertion, 'Please, mother, stop arguing and give me those keys!' (This, too, is a variant on a situation in Easy Virtue.) So now we know that both husband and wife have their uneasy secrets, and may note that a literal 'key' motif has been introduced which will figure again in the film's famous descending crane-shot - almost a counter-rhyme to the mother's descent of the staircase earlier! (But the mother is not necessarily defeated ...) I suggest that it's the combination of elements, including poignant psychological ones, that most satisfied Hitchcock about this moment. That they all fit so well with other elements and ingredients in Notorious shows again how adeptly the director crafted his film in terms of its unifying flow. ('All art tends to the condition of music', as William Pater noted.) But of course that's not all. Nearly 25 years later, Hitchcock remarkably reprised the same moment, and it fitted its new context perfectly, though the narrative was quite different, namely, in Psycho (1960). Two people with guilty secrets, the man with a domineering mother, raised voices, the young woman having to listen in (the subjective pov again), and the subsequent unspoken understanding between her and the man (which is ironic, since it counterpoints their deeper division). And as so often when Hitchcock develops an earlier idea, there is an added dimension. In Psycho, he stylised the mother-son argument (very fittingly, as the plot goes on to show) and yet - brilliantly - he drew on a naturalistic effect, namely, how after rain, sound seems to carry ... So I hope I've made my point tonight about the nature of Hitchcock's genius - how, to him, all was One and all of his films were one film - which came from his acute way of seeing the world. And if, finally, you care to see in such filmmaking, and such a way of seeing the world, some of 'Symbolist' William Blake's remarkable intuitions about our condition, then I shan't argue with you!

March 8 - 2014
Film is a dynamic medium and nobody grasped that fact better than Alfred Hitchcock - which is why I once likened his genius to that of Leonardo da Vinci, someone else with engineering training whose vision of things (whether of inventions like a gyrocopter or compositions like the 'Mona Lisa' or understanding of the anatomised human body) involved swirling movement or dynamic interplay of elements. Composing a film came easily to Hitchcock because he literally thought in terms of successive images unspooling - meaningfully - on a ribbon of celluloid. By about 1934 he had conceived his 'moving-around principle' whereby the ideal cinematic form is the chase. He commented: 'I don't know why. That's the way it is. But just as the film - be it in preparation, in the camera, or in the projection booth - has to move around, so in the same way I think the story has to move around also.' (Quoted in James Naremore (ed.), North by Northwest [screenplay], 1993, p. 179.) Hitchcock had arrived at a way of seeing the film's world, and perhaps the real world, as continuous, where 'all is One'. (For most of us, it's the higgledy-piggledy Many!) A creative benefit of such an outlook was his capacity to place ideas and devices in new contexts, and re-vivify them. Take a simple example. Remember the sight-gag at the start of The Lady Vanishes (1938) in which Charters and Caldicott at the alpine inn interpret Boris's welcoming gesture as meant for them - only to find next minute that in fact he has just spotted the three pretty English girls - Iris, Blanche, and Julie - arriving back from a three-day hike. It's the first of several snubs Charters and Caldicott will experience during the film as they come to terms with how the locals have no special respect for Englishmen just on account of their nationality. As noted here before, the idea of 'growing up' - and painful learning - was one of many universal motifs in Hitchcock's films: its 'film to itself', as Dr Ted Price would call it, was Young and Innocent, made just before The Lady Vanishes. Yet its visual representation in Hitchcock was older than that. Look at the frame-capture below, from Champagne (1928). Here we see the prototype of the above-described sight-gag. This time, though, the person about to find herself snubbed is the good-hearted but naive The Girl (Betty Balfour), who has just begun work as a flower girl at a Paris cabaret and thinks the maître d'hôtel is congratulating her on her appearance - when in fact he is welcoming the well-dressed couple behind her! Note in both instances, how the sight-gag involves a subjective pov, and in fact in Hitchcock's films all subjectivities are essentially one, which is part of the genius of Hitchcock's thinking. Like Leonardo, he saw everything as fluid, in its universal Oneness! Now here's a slightly more complex example. In The Farmer's Wife (1928), which we discussed here recently, a powerful moment occurs when the widower Farmer Sweetland returns home one afternoon, downcast at being rejected by yet another of the women - the barmaid Mercy Bassett - to whom he has offered marriage. He slumps into his accustomed chair by the fire, opposite the vacant chair where his late wife, Tibby, had always sat. In rapid succession, visions of the four women who have rejected his recent proposals pass before his eyes (and we see what he sees). Then, suddenly, into the same chair opposite, slips his pretty housekeeper Araminta Dench, anxious to offer him encouragement (cf frame-capture December 21, above). And now with perfect clarity, Sweetland sees for the first time to whom he should have proposed all along! It's an affecting, powerful moment, as I say. Yet, in Hitchcock's hands, it was capable of being adapted to quite a different context. Recall, six years later, the Albert Hall climax of The Man Who Knew Too Much in which Jill (Edna Best), mother of the kidnapped child, Betty, sweeps her eyes around the crowded auditorium and feels helpless to stop the political assassination she knows is planned. Overwhelmed by her powerlessness, and by the emotional music ('The Storm Cloud Cantata'), she begins to weep silently. Whereupon Hitchcock gives us successive shots of the auditorium from Jill's pov, each more out of focus as if to simulate her increasingly teary vision. Soon, the image on the screen is little more than an empty blur. Then, suddenly, from the edge of the frame, and perfectly sharp, enters the barrel of a gun, and Jill (we realise) is now seeing for the first time, in full clarity, where the threat of assassination lies. (The next minute she will scream, diverting the gunman's aim and drawing attention to his presence in a box nearby.) The technique here - build-up, and sudden, altered awareness, all conveyed to us via subjective-camera - is identical to that in The Farmer's Wife, despite the shift in locale from bucolic Devon to cosmopolitan London! But then, in Hitchcock's brilliant understanding, as noted, it's all One! To be continued.

March 1 - 2014
My gratitude to David Wise and Adam Banner of the Oklahoma Legal Group for drawing our attention last time to the fact of there being so many fine 'legal films' that have come out of Hollywood and other national film industries - the courtroom has proved to be a perennially fascinating place for novelists, playwrights, and filmmakers. Perhaps the best-informed general comment on 'courtroom scenes' in movies is that of the late Leslie Halliwell (in 'The Filmgoer's Companion'): 'Courtroom scenes have been the suspenseful saving grace of more films than can be counted; and they also figure in some of the best films ever made.' (Note: the IMDb under 'courtroom' lists 1,814 titles, including TV shows.) Individual paragraphs in the Halliwell entry are devoted to British courts ('best preserve the ancient aura of the law') and their US counterparts; films where there's a special interest centred on the jury (e.g., Hitchcock's Murder!); specialized courts (e.g., the court convened by criminals in Fritz Lang's M); courts martial (e.g., the one in Edward Dmytryk's The Caine Mutiny); heavenly courts (e.g., the one in Powell & Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death); and TV series. But here now are two or three observations prompted by my reading of the book I mentioned last time, 'Justice Denoted: The Legal Thriller in American, British, and Continental Courtroom Literature' (2003), edited by Terry White. First, I was struck by something in Michael Kahn's Foreword about another recent book, 'Actual Innocence' (2000), 'which details how the government regularly botches capital murder prosecutions' and how 'one out of every seven [persons] sentenced to die [in a 24-year period in the US] 'had their convictions overturned by exonerating evidence, most after spending years in prison'. (p. xii) As I've said here before, I'm sure that Hitchcock was aware of some such statistic when he made The Wrong Man (1957), about an innocent individual accused not of murder but of petty larceny - an experience that proves quite terrifying and bewildering enough for the individual concerned, played by Henry Fonda. Still another book, published in 2008, Jay Robert Nash's 'I Am Innocent! A Comprehensive Encyclopedic History of the World's Wrongly Convicted Persons', shows how wrongful conviction is practically as old as human civilisation itself. In other words, there is something both symbolist and surreal to the motif that Hitchcock made his own from almost the outset of his career (starting with The Mountain Eagle, 1925) - even though that motif, of falsely-accused innocence, was actually 'the most frequently used plot in all fiction' (according to M. Wilsson Disher in 'Melodrama: Plots That Thrilled', 1954, p. 43). Which brings me to my next point. According to Terry White - perhaps surprisingly, in the light of statistics from Halliwell and the IMDb - 'there is a real dearth of courtrooms (or jury-rooms) in the legal thriller still'. (Remember that White is referring to courtroom literature.) He continues: 'Eden Phillpotts' The Jury, [Robert Traver's] Anatomy of a Murder, [Reginald Rose's] Twelve Angry Men, [Theodore] Dreiser's An American Tragedy, [Harper Lee's] To Kill a Mockingbird and a very few others have not been supplanted despite the lawyer-protagonists unleashed after the Grisham-Turow phenomenon of the late-1980s.' (p. xxiii) Hmm. Robert Hitchens's 'The Paradine Case' (1933) serves to be listed there too, in my opinion, although its pre-War upper-crust English society has disappeared from view in a way that the small-town America of 'Anatomy of a Murder', etc., may not have. But White's mention of Phillpott's novel 'The Jury' (1927) is interesting. (We discussed the 1928 Hitchcock film of the same author's play 'The Farmer's Wife' here a few weeks ago.) 'The Jury' is set almost entirely in the jury-room of a West Country Assize Court - the region in provincial England that Phillpotts knew intimately. The young Spanish wife of a local squire has been charged with murdering her husband. Though the jury returns a unanimous verdict of 'Guilty', the final chapter shows the wife to be innocent. According to a reviewer in 'The Spectator' at the time: 'Whether Mr Phillpotts intends the epilogue to be an attack on the jury system, or whether its purpose is [merely] to add spice to the tale, we cannot tell.' That sounds ingenuous to me. There were already precedents in English literature for social dramas that critiqued the British justice system, notably John Galsworthy's superb play 'Justice' (1910), which was filmed by Maurice Elvey in 1917 from a script by Eliot Stannard. Phillpotts (and Hitchcock) would certainly have been familiar with it. In turn, can one doubt that Phillpotts's novel influenced the novel 'Enter Sir John' (1929) by Helen Simpson and Clemence Dane, which was then filmed by Hitchcock as Murder! (1930)? Here's a frame-capture, showing the Hitchcock film's provincial jury-room. (Btw, can anyone tell me what that thing on the left is, on a stand? It looks to me like a light that the cameraman has neglected to move out of frame!) More another time.

February 22 - 2014
David Wise of the Oklahoma Legal Group has kindly sent me some observations by his colleague Adam Banner, including a link to an infographic prepared by Adam on "Best Legal Movies of All Time": Best legal movies. It, and Adam's observations (some of which I'll quote below), set me thinking for myself about courtroom scenes in Hitchcock, and why such scenes appeal to audiences. In thinking thus, I was also helped by an excellent text, 'Justice Denoted: The Legal Thriller in American, British, and Continental Courtroom Literature' (Praeger, 2003), edited by Terry White. It seems to me that the modern courtroom is but an extension of the amphitheatre in which classical Greek drama was performed and where a Hero typically contended with the will of the gods while a Chorus, rather like an impartial (sometimes dumbed-down!) jury, looked on and commented on how matters were progressing. (White notes that Aeschylus's 'The Eumenides' contains an actual trial scene - the trial of Orestes before the goddess Athene and a jury of twelve citizens of Athens for having killed his father, Agamemnon.) Similarly, notes White, it's a matter of careful definition if you want to exclude from the genre of 'legal thriller' Shakespeare's plays 'Measure for Measure' and 'The Merchant of Venice' - not to speak of many other fine works of literature, such as William Godwin's 'wrong man' adventure 'Caleb Williams' (1794) and Charles Dickens's satire on legal process, 'Bleak House' (1853), a likely influence on Franz Kafka's 'Der Process'/'The Trial' (1925). White: 'Nothing else in a story-world is so ideal for the collision of raw emotion and sublimated, precisely-controlled utterance as a well-orchestrated trial with its defendants, plaintiffs, lawyers, judge and jury all figuring in an "unpredictable" denouement.' (p. xviii) Although there are about 13 Hitchcock films with courtroom scenes, the two you are most likely to immediately think of (notes Adam Banner) are The Paradine Case (1947) and The Wrong Man (1957). The frame-capture below shows the former film's establishing-shot of London's Old Bailey: note the queue of people waiting to enter the building, and the wartime bomb-damage. That damage is like a symbol of the law's intrepidness yet fallibility, what White calls 'the disparity between ideal justice as we want it and real justice as we invariably get it in a courtroom of law' (p. xxii). (The philosopher Schopenhauer extended that idea to all of society, distinguishing between 'ideal justice' and 'temporal justice' - a decidedly Hitchcockian theme, it seems to me, of such films as The Paradine Case and Vertigo.) But now I'm going to turn matters over to Adam for his - detectably forensic - description of how and why Hitchcock never won an Academy Award. 'Hitchcock was first snubbed in 1940 for his film Rebecca. He was up against John Ford, George Cukor, Sam Wood and William Wyler. Ford took the award for Grapes of Wrath. (Cukor and Wyler would each go on to win for nominations in later years.) Four years later, Hitchcock was again nominated for his film Lifeboat, alongside Henry King, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder and Leo McCarey. McCarey ultimately won for his direction in Going My Way, which swept the floor with the competition by winning seven Oscars that year. Conversely, Lifeboat had three nominations and lost all of them. Hitchcock was back again the following year for his direction in Spellbound. Clarence Brown, McCarey, Jean Renoir and Billy Wilder were nominated this time around. It was Wilder though who ultimately won for his work in the film Lost Weekend. Nine years ensued before Hitchcock was again nominated for Best Director. This time he was nominated for Rear Window. Other directors nominated that year were George Seaton, William Wellman, Elia Kazan and Billy Wilder (again). In the event, On the Waterfront dominated, winning eight awards, as Kazan took home the Oscar for Best Director, while Rear Window was shut out. Hitchcock was back for his fifth nomination six years later, for Psycho. That film is often considered Hitchcock’s finest and was a runaway box-office smash. However, Hitchcock this time found himself up against Jack Cardiff, Jules Dassin, Fred Zinnemann and once again Billy Wilder, and it was the latter who won for his direction in The Apartment. Time to sum up. Along with Robert Altman, Clarence Brown and King Vidor, Hitchcock is tied for the most Best Director nominations without one single victory. Still, other notable directors such as Federico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick, Sidney Lumet, Stanley Kramer and David Lynch have never won the much coveted statue either. It just so happened that there was someone else every year, every time. That is simply the way of awards. For instance, Billy Wilder was nominated eight times and only won twice. And it just so happens that those two wins both came at the expense of Hitchcock!' [Note: Adam Banner's favourite 'legal film' is Brad Furman's The Lincoln Lawyer, starring Matthew McConnaughey.]

February 15 - 2014
When William Rothman's 'Hitchcock - The Murderous Gaze' first appeared, in 1982, the reviewer in, I think, 'Film Quarterly' was particularly harsh, saying in effect, 'This is the most arrogant, self-centred book of film criticism ever written'. (Raymond Durgnat's review, discussed here last week, was more equable in its temper. One might add that Rothman's book, whatever its demerits, has a prose style of magisterial clarity.) Twenty years later, reviewing what critics had said about Gus Van Sant's Psycho (1998), Thomas Leitch echoed the criticism of Rothman's book, and applied it to Rothman's essay on the Van Sant film, published in Allen & Gonzales, 'Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays' (1999). But Leitch was logical, rather than emotive, in how he went about critiquing Rothman. For example, he sardonically summed up: 'Behind the authority of Hitchcock's authorship, which gives his camera movements [according to Rothman] the power Van Sant's lack ... is the authority of Rothman's revelatory commentary, the source of whose power is even more obscure.' (Leitch, "Hitchcock Without Hitchcock", 'Literature/Film Quarterly', Vol. 31, No. 4, 2003, pp. 248-259, at p. 255, my parenthesis) And I think it's true that when you attend to Rothman, influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Stanley Cavell - Harvard men all - you attend (to) a Church and a Community of Souls, bound by a shared faith. (See note on Emerson last time.) Here's a key passage from Leitch on Rothman: 'Even "the gestures of Hitchcock's camera" that "Van Sant copies [apparently] without alteration" ... undergo subtle but telling changes that drain them of Hitchcock's original meaning and force. Since the climactic dissolve from the dead, grinning face of Mother's skeleton now has long hair rather than the original "tight bun" that links her to Madeleine Elster and Carlotta Valdes in Vertigo, and since the courthouse the shot dissolves to no longer has four pillars that echo the "////" sign Rothman takes as Hitchcock's most pervasive visual indication of the entrapment of both characters and viewers ..., Van Sant's dissolve, linking two shots both "stripped of [their] original significance ... does not have the force of a gesture at all".' (p. 253, parentheses in Leitch) Hmm. I can only agree with Leitch that Rothman is being particularly outrageous here - not because the moment referred to in Van Sant's film is other than what Rothman claims - lacking the force of a gesture - but because the reasons Rothman gives are self-centred and wrong. Rothman quotes his own opinions (both of which deal with matters beyond this particular film), and not what the spectator actually experiences. Look at it this way. Never would I argue that (Hitchcock's) Psycho, say, is a great film because I happen to know that its director owned a tasteful art collection and a set of rare first editions. That information is extraneous to the film as the viewer experiences it. But Rothman apparently can't make such a distinction, for his own claims here are about his estimation of Hitchcock-the-artist rather than the film-at-this-moment. (Which is ironic, because Rothman is highly capable of close analysis of a film.) The engaged viewer of Van Sant's Psycho does not think to herself, 'Oh, Mrs Bates's hair is done in a bun like Madeleine's and Carlotta's in Vertigo, and Hitchcock is reminding us of that fact.' (I'll come back to Mrs Bates's hair in a moment.) Nor does the same viewer feel (subconscious) disappointment at the absence of the notional "////" sign but, rather, at the positive absence of the grim humour, the visual conceit, with which Hitchcock had invested the dissolve from Mrs Bates's skull (with its dark eye sockets and row of teeth) to the columned portico of the courthouse, which is a variant on the same visual idea. (Also, as death and impersonality - represented by a grinning skull and an edifice of the law - are involved, there's a rough parallel with North by Northwest and an aggrieved Thornhill looking at the 'basilisk faces' of the Presidents. For more on this, see my essay on "Hitchcock's Literary Sources", in Leitch & Poague, 'A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock', 2011, pp. 34-36 and passim.) But now here's a frame-capture from Van Sant's Psycho showing Mrs Bates's flowing hair. True, it isn't as austere as the bunned hair of Hitchcock's Mrs Bates. And the pink shawl adds another 'softening' touch. But it's time people appreciated Van Sant's film for what it actually does (a big topic). For example, I like how Norman has set Mother in front of his aviary, giving her something to amuse her. (Hitchcock's Mrs Bates was banished to a chilly corner.) Also, I liked the touch immediately before this shot, when Lila (Julianne Moore) thrust aside a curtain to approach Mrs Bates, an apt echo of the shower scene. Such a rhyme is 'gently poetic', like much of Van Sant's film. More on Van Sant's and Hitchcock's 'signatures' (beyond Rothman) another time. Meanwhile - speaking of courthouses - my thanks to David Wise of the Oklahoma Legal Group, who may have things to say here next week about the genre of 'legal films' and about Hitchcock.

February 8 - 2014
A classic book review, of William Rothman's 'Hitchcock - The Murderous Gaze' (1982), is that by Raymond Durgnat in 'Quarterly Review of Film Studies', Winter 1983, pp. 43-48. Durgnat begins by noting how 'Rothman claims to have demonstrated "what no previous criticism has suggested, that Psycho's position is already declared, indeed already worked out, in The Lodger"' (p. 43). He continues: 'Inevitably, I found myself disagreeing with many of Rothman's readings. Sometimes [too] my agreement was bored (as when he informs me of the obvious); sometimes I appreciated corroboration and a change of angle; sometimes a dimmer awareness was usefully crystallized; often enough, there's a fresh angle and a revelation.' (p. 45) And he concludes: 'Rothman's sharp, sensitive exegisis can be useful irrespective of overall agreement. For example, he's interested in Psycho as "an allegory about the camera's natural appetite". ... Perhaps the true test of Rothman's always interesting thesis is its constant usefulness for other "angles" as well as its own.' (p. 48) That's very fair, I think. Please see it as complementing what I wrote here about Rothman last week - and shall write here now. Incidentally, my thanks to correspondent ST in England, who checked out the Notorious racetrack sequence and agrees with me that the group of shots referred to last time is not disorienting, as Rothman claims, but 'all completely unambiguous!' To balance things up, here's a link, given me by ST, to a very fine short essay by Rothman on Notorious, posted on the Criterion website: Notorious. (The essay pinpoints the perversity which is at the heart of the film. Rothman writes: 'That we are capable of killing what we love most is a fact rooted in the condition of being human ... Our all-too-human capacity for inhumanity is the dark mystery at the heart of Notorious.' Note the echoes there of Robert Burns, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Oscar Wilde!) Now back to Durgnat. He finds that Rothman's Hitchcock, like his own, has 'a certain Christian pessimism ... This would evoke the [French] Catholic critics, but Rothman abstains from specifically Catholic ideas ...' (p. 44) (Nowadays we can surmise that Rothman himself feels affinities with Ralph Waldo Emerson - see last time - whose 'Nature' (1836) emphasises self-reliance and the God-like nature of human souls, which are values that Rothman may see as held by Hitchcock, too. I have noted elsewhere how dialogue in Marnie evokes a famous Emerson passage from 'Voluntaries' III: 'So nigh is grandeur to our dust/ So near is God to man.') But Durgnat puts the foregoing in context: 'Hitchcock thinks out, well in advance, roughly what most of his audience is likely to think. But his audience's "conformity" to his prediction isn't the result of its "socialized" uniformity, nor of its "hypnotised" passivity ... The audience responds because it wants to play. It treats films like an adventure playground. Belief is nothing to do with it, dearie.' (p. 45) In other words, ideas-systems aren't as controlling as some people seem to think, and cinema audiences are very flexible - hence can 'understand readings from other ideologies' (as Durgnat says, adding: 'e.g., non-Catholic readers can understand Catholic readings even if they disagree with them' - p. 45). Durgnat's common-sense is also seen in an observation like this: 'Rothman compares the camera's opening movement in Psycho [see frame-capture below] to the swooping of a bird. The spectator is unlikely to think that until he's seen the stuffed birds later, and maybe he needs to have The Birds in mind also.' (pp. 45-46) (Actually the Psycho screenplay shows that Hitchcock had 'fly' imagery in mind as much as 'bird' imagery - and let's not forget that the North by Northwest crop-dusting scene evolved from Hitchcock's fanciful hypothesis, 'What if the baddies were able to whip up a tornado to kill Thornhill?' In Hitchcock, it's first and foremost the dynamics of 'pure film' that matter!) Nonetheless, Durgnat is prepared to consider this topic further. He writes: 'what do Hitchcock's films say about film form? Rothman postulates a kind of feedback from content. Thus in Psycho the extrapolation from Norman's voyeurism to the camera's is obvious enough, but Rothman, creatively, goes further. The presence of Mom and birds ... suggests reading the opening camera-movement as a bird, as mother, and as son being reborn through the mother.' (pp. 46-47, referring to Rothman pp. 251-52) For my part, I see the last as another instance of Rothman o'er-leaping himself, of being too-subtle, as mentioned last time. And in fact Durgnat feels similarly: 'I'm not really convinced, partly because of ... similar camera-penetrations in Clair, Ophuls, Welles, etc.' But he concludes: 'However, it's a legitimate reading, very simulating in a ludic way ...' (p. 47). Next time: Thomas Leitch, and others, on Rothman.

February 1 - 2014
Recent Hitchcock scholarship (resumed). William Rothman's "Silence and Stasis" is a chapter in Alex Clayton & Andrew Klevan (eds), 'The Language and Style of Film Criticism' (Routledge, 2011), pp. 107-120, in which Rothman ruminates philosophically on Hitchcock's Notorious and in particular on how a teacher or scholar may evoke the moments of a film 'in their double existence as transient and as permanent' (p. 107). For example, the teacher or scholar might use frame-captures, either in a classroom situation or in a book. Rothman considers why these situations aren't identical: the teacher may screen the film itself, in which case the mood of the film will obviously be more immediate and accessible: 'all it takes to turn the frozen frame back into a film is hitting "play", which enables us to return to exactly where we left off' (p. 112). Also, moments in a film are both 'transient and ... permanent' because they are experienced by audience and characters both initially and in retrospect; yet, by the nature of film (as opposed to a stage performance), they are indeed unchanging, preserved once-and-for-all by the recording medium. (I thought of Kierkegaard's observation: 'Life is to be lived forwards but understood backwards.') There's a lot going on in Rothman's chapter, although I doubt that it is as profound as Rothman thinks! As his critics have long noted (since the publication of 'Hitchcock - The Murderous Gaze' in 1982), he can be incredibly narrow within his special forté of showing how a Hitchcock film amounts to 'thinking inscribed in [successive] frames'. That phrase about 'transient and ... permanent' is actually Stanley Cavell's (quoted right up front by an uncritical Rothman), and comes from a paper Cavell presented in Paris. His thinking about film, Cavell observed, had taught him 'the necessity to become evocative in capturing the moods of faces and motions and settings, in their double existence as transient and as permanent'. (p. 107) Hmm. Cavell might have more simply said, 'the necessity to evoke the moods of ... '[etc.], but anyway the core phrase about moods serves Rothman well - so much so that he quotes it ten more times (by my count) in his chapter! For example, introducing his analysis of a moment from the racetrack scene in Notorious, he observes: 'if it is by their moods of faces and motions and settings that films express themselves ... a film's "moods" and its "thoughts" cannot be separated'. (p. 109) The trouble is, the analysis that follows is over-cerebral - the give-away is Rothman's single-minded intention to prove that 'mood' effectively becomes 'thought', seemingly largely via the editing - thereby ignoring bigger elements of structure and rhetoric. (Hitchcock deals in paradox and 'contraries', and the film hinges on a conflict between a mission-to-be-accomplished and passion, intriguing in itself - although the film will finally resolve it, after a fashion.) Unfortunately, too, no sooner does Rothman embark on his analysis of the racetrack scene than he errs in a simple matter of fact. He claims that when Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) angrily turns her head and we see Devlin (Cary Grant) in profile - see frame-capture below - that we are disoriented. Here's the relevant text: 'we literally cannot tell whether Alicia is turning her head toward Devlin, or away from him. The following close-up of Devlin, framed in profile [as shown here], compounds our disorientation. Does the fact that we are viewing him from this angle mean that he has turned away from Alicia as she, perhaps, has turned away from him? Are we, perhaps, viewing him from her point of view?' (p. 110) Well, I'm sorry, but repeated checking of these shots in their context tells me that Rothman is being over-subtle and that the audience is never disoriented in the way he claims. (It is a bane of being over-theoretical that the mind sometimes does play tricks and screen out the full picture or context. I have seen it in Rothman's writings before.) In a protracted wide-shot preceding the cuts Rothman refers to, Hitchcock shows us Devlin on screen-left, Alicia on screen-right. They are facing the racetrack behind us (it's implied), and we have plenty of time to orient ourselves to them. So when Devlin reacts in close-up to Alicia's remark, 'You can add Sebastian's name to my list of playmates', by saying, 'Pretty fast work!', and in the next shot we see her turn her head and angrily respond, 'That's what you wanted, wasn't it?', it is perfectly clear (I'd have thought) that she is addressing him, not turning away from him! And that the shot of him in profile that follows is indeed from her pov (as Rothman speculates), a characteristic Hitchcock subjective shot, exactly as we would expect to see him as he continues to stare coldly ahead. Reader, don't misunderstand me! I greatly respect Rothman and look forward eagerly to his forthcoming book on Hitchcock and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Also, I can only agree with his penultimate sentence in "Silence and Stasis", that there's 'a mysterious power that a film's moods of faces and motions and settings possess'!

January 25 - 2014
[As above, including about a News & Comment item. "Editor's Week" should return next time.]

January 18 - 2014
[No entry this week. But see News & Comment item added.]

January 11 - 2014
Let's look at some recent Hitchcock scholarship, as we did a few months ago. This time, let's start with an enjoyable piece, "Jolly Old Sports: English Character, Comedy, and Cricket in The Lady Vanishes" by Gregory O. Smith, published in 'Film & History', Fall 2012, pp. 55-70. Its main idea may seem fairly obvious: that the cricket-obsessed Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne) are 'innocents abroad' (p. 59) - in this, though, they are like nearly all of the English characters on the film's train journey (p. 62) - whose public-school attitudes are first mocked, then valorised when 'direct confrontation [with reality] awakens them to meaningful - and redemptive - action'. (p. 59). In other words, they're English and in need of a wake-up call, but when it comes they show themselves capable of doing the right and valorous thing. (Many years later, in discussing The Birds, Hitchcock indicated that its central characters are likewise redeemed by fire - he compared them to Londoners in the Blitz. I'll mention further evidence for how The Birds and The Lady Vanishes are linked. By the way, that's a frame-still from the trailer for The Lady Vanishes below.) But Smith fills out his article with interesting research. Charters and Caldicott are 'a symbolic, if parodic, example of a key segment of English culture: upper-class products of the public school system, the empire's gentlemen-training establishment.' (p. 56) 'After the reforms of Dr Thomas Arnold at Rugby in the 1820s and 30s, public-school education also took on an air of "muscular Christianity" - emphasizing athletics and character-building as much as intellectual growth ...' (p. 57) The novel 'Tom Brown's School Days' (1857) by Thomas Hughes contributed to the rapid spread of interest in the public-school ethos (p. 57); then, at the end of the century, Sir Henry Newbolt's 1898 poem "Vitaï Lampada" ("The Torch of Life") magnificently linked that ethos to both wider affairs and to the sport of cricket, employing the multi-purpose refrain, 'Play up! play up! and play the game!' (p.63) When the Great War (1914-18) broke out, Newbolt served on the British government's War Propaganda Bureau. (p. 64) Curiously, although Smith compares Newbolt's poem to the adage that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton (p. 64), he makes no mention of the notion of 'the Great Game' so evocatively employed by Rudyard Kipling in 'Kim' (1901) and discussed by Professor Tony Williams in relation to Hitchcock's The 39 Steps and North by Northwest. (Richard Usborne's celebrated study, 'Clubland Heroes', first published in 1953, and cited by Williams, shows how authors like John Buchan, 'Sapper', and Dornford Yates followed Kipling in creating a world of adventure that was nothing less than the world of the British Empire, 'in which leisured London clubmen waged a peacetime Great Game of war against cads, crooks and beastly foreigners' - blurb of revised 1983 edition.) Smith simply notes in passing that Charters and Caldicott are 'related to the kinds of characters cropping up in British film and novel thrillers of the 1930s'. (p. 59) His principal point is that despite sharp questioning by modernist writers and commentators, like E.M. Forster and George Orwell, of traditional public school mores, reforms were slow in coming: for example, 'graduates tended to ignore the real challenges of adult life in favour of peering backward' at sunny recollections of their schooldays. (p. 58) Indeed, much of English society was like that - insular. 'The specter of another, larger world war was unreal to a civilization still in shock from the devastation of the Great War and the Great Depression. To adapt Caldicott, "things like that just don't happen."' (p. 66) Only a relative few of the nation's leaders, such as politician Winston Churchill - himself an old Hanoverian - were ready for the coming trial by fire. 'The effortless wit, civility, and cool reserve famously cultivated in public school were part of the character that made Churchill soothing to his people even as bombs were falling on London and troops were dying on all fronts.' (p. 69) My only general criticism of Smith's article is that it doesn't locate its findings in the widest possible context. For example, it doesn't relate them to other Hitchcock films. Two recurrent, and related, themes in Hitchcock, noted by me and others, are 'the Lost Paradise' and 'growing up' - or 'not growing up'. (A teasingly ambiguous film in this connection is Downhill, about the public-schoolboy Roddy.) Likewise, Caldicott's remark, 'things like that just don't happen', anticipates Melanie's line in The Birds: 'It's happening - isn't that a reason [to act]?' (Melanie's spoilt-but-intelligent character has several attributes of both Iris Henderson in The Lady Vanishes and Constance Porter in Lifeboat.) One can't say too often: Hitchcock will invariably outflank his critics because he himself saw the bigger picture as few of us are capable of doing. One might claim that The Lady Vanishes even, in a sense, foresees Churchill's terrible decision to 'think outside the circle' and order the fire-bombing of Dresden in 1945.

January 4 - 2014
Mercy Bassett (Ruth Maitland), whom I described last time as a buxom barmaid, is an interesting character in The Farmer's Wife. She doesn't appear in the Eden Phillpotts play, although she is mentioned there. The fourth on the list of candidates for Sweetland's wife, she is said to be a publican's widow who lives with her married daughter at 'The Ring o' Bells' public house. (For some reason, the film changes this to 'Royal Oak Inn'.) But the play chooses not to show Mercy in person - presumably to avoid undue repetition. On the other hand, the film, which seizes every opportunity for scenic interest, shows Farmer Sweetland visiting Mercy in the crowded bar of the 'Royal Oak' - see frame-capture below - and throws in shots of a hunt whose riders are gathering outside. (Shortly, the drinkers in the bar will go outside to cheer the hunters on their way, thus leaving Sweetland and Mercy alone to have an intimate conversation - which, however, once again doesn't go as Sweetland intended.) The film has its own ellipsis. We aren't immediately shown Mercy rejecting Sweetland's proposal; instead, the film cuts to the farmer arriving back home, dejected, and we infer what has happened. This is confirmed a few moments later when, in a striking effect, Sweetland gazes at the chair once occupied by his late wife, Tibby, and he imagines in succession all four women who have lately rejected the opportunity to become Tibby's successor. One of those women is Mercy Bassett. But now, the film offers Sweetland - and the audience (see earlier discussion here of Hitchcock's 'subjective camera') - an epiphany, which will turn everything around. Continuing to gaze at Tibby's chair, the farmer suddenly becomes aware that his pretty young housekeeper, Araminta (Lilian Hall-Davis), who has supported him all along, has seated herself in it. Now the farmer knows who he must ask to be his next wife. 'I be tamed to hearing no,' he prefaces his proposal, which just goes to show that he is deserving of Araminta's acceptance! For her part, she is happy to accept him (see December 21, above). Almost immediately, and delightfully, she is transfigured as she dons the party frock given her by Tibby on her deathbed - and we feel a sense of rightness and continuity, as in Nature (cf the seasons imagery in The Trouble With Harry), or a royal court (as in Shakespeare's plays). (One might also think again of Rebecca, where, when Maxim returns to Manderley with his second wife, there is a definite sense that 'the time is out of joint' - only, in Rebecca, the restoration of a rightful order does not occur, for Rebecca's baleful influence continues.) To read Phillpotts's play is to be made aware that he has indeed given these particular nuances to what he calls his 'Comedy in Three Acts', and perhaps they are almost traditional in certain forms of bucolic comedy and of pastorale. The point is, Hitchcock has worked them into the texture of his film - and several of his later films, too. Moreover, the very nature of his 'subjective camera' is such that we feel the weight of the film's archetypal content, which gives an extra dimension to what I've been discussing here (especially last time), the film's inner significance. As noted, The Farmer's Wife speaks of 'entering in' (to the privileged state of matrimony). For what it's worth, this is quite Flaubertian (and Hitchcock himself loved 'Madame Bovary'). I have described elsewhere how Flaubert, who had long been notoriously anti-bourgeois, one day had an epiphany of his own. He was out walking in Paris with his niece. Suddenly he saw, in the garden of a house with a white picket fence, a representative middle-class family. The father was playing with his children, the mother was looking on happily. Whereupon Flaubert exclaimed, without irony, 'Ils sont dans le vrai!' ('They are in the truth!'). Transfer this sentiment to the Devonian countryside, and you have something of Phillpotts's and Hitchcock's message about marriage! But we were talking of Mercy Bassett. Like the other three women who reject Sweetland's proposals (and then, in the play, have regrets!), she has become set in her ways. (So, too, has that confirmed bachelor, Churdles Ash, as noted last time.) This fact constitutes part of the film's message, which is not straightforward. Nonetheless, Mercy seems a happy soul. She may be the prototype for Maisie, the barmaid at the Nell of Old Drury public-house, in Hitchcock's Frenzy. (Note again, fittingly enough, a very English emphasis on continuity with the past!) Next time: another survey of recent Hitchcock scholarship.