Editor's Week 2015

November 14 - 2015
In The Wrong Man, you can tell Manny's (first) trial is going badly when a member of the public grabs his hat and coat and quickly exits the courtroom (see frame-capture below). You think of what Hitchcock said of the near-last scene in Psycho, with the psychiatrist, that he feared it would be 'a hat-grabber' (meaning that people in the audience might grow impatient and start to leave the cinema). Manny's lawyer, Mr O'Connor, inexperienced in criminal cases (one more thing that goes against Manny), had lost the respect of the jury from the start when he lectured them on 'the American system of justice'. (He already seemed to be admitting that Manny could be guilty.) Even when he addresses his remarks to one juror in particular, the man looks away. O'Connor's later questioning of witnesses is inept and irrelevant - and boring (hence the hat-grabbing). Finally, when a juror rises and protests ('Your honour, must we listen to all this?'), the judge pronounces a mis-trial. More delay. So much of The Wrong Man (as noted last time) is about time passing - and about different scales of time. For what it's worth, Hitchcock was a fan of H.G. Wells, who wrote both 'The Time Machine' (1895) and 'The Outline of History' (1919). References to both evolution (the 'little lecture' by Rose's dentist) and the descent of modern law from Babylonian times (as we hear the judge invoke it) would have came easily to Hitchcock and his screenwriter Maxwell Anderson (the playwright of 'Winterset', etc.). Also, Hitchcock would have known of one of the classic cases of mistaken identity, that of Adolf Beck in London, at the turn of the 20th century. (Beck spent five years in prison for robbery and swindling, and, three years later, was about to be sentenced on a new charge when an alert detective heard of the arrest of a man named 'Smith' who had used precisely the same approach - and who proved to be guilty of all the crimes, and who looked like Beck. Near the end of The Wrong Man, when a detective observes the strong resemblance between Manny - awaiting his re-trial - and another man brought in for robbery, Manny is suddenly absolved. The overlap with the Beck/'Smith' case was probably not coincidental on Hitchcock's part, but was being 'quoted'.) These days, of course, whole books have been written on wrongful arrest cases, including - chillingly - many capital-offence cases, where the convicted person's innocence was found out too late. (A whole TV series, 'I Am Innocent', is currently running on Australian TV. It is described as showing 'some of New Zealand's most famous cases of people being wrongly convicted of heinous crimes'.) Also, there's another aspect. When Hitchcock was asked about his repeated use of the 'wrong man' motif in his films, he explained that it taps into something that is commonplace: how, perhaps as children, many of us have found ourselves wrongfully accused - of breaking a vase, say. Undoubtedly, children can feel such an injustice strongly, and carry memories of it that allow empathy when we hear of variants happening to others. No doubt, too, we adults know that we're not perfect, and so watch with interest how other people handle themselves when accused outright - rightly or wrongly - of some crime. But back to The Wrong Man itself. 'Miracles happen, but they take time', says Rose's nurse to Manny. Comforting, but not necessarily the whole truth! Hitchcock's film has already shown us several 'small miracles' (such as the arrest of the 'right' man after Manny prays, or the detective's 'lucky' realisation of that person's resemblance to Manny, not to speak of how so many people, including Manny's mother and his colleagues at work, give Manny support when he needs it; perhaps, even, as I have suggested, Rose's 'privileged' insight into the precarious nature of reality, which may benefit the family in the long run, is a sort of 'small miracle', seen aright). At any event, although these things go unremarked verbally within the film, i.e., by the characters, they add up to a 'privileged' view of the world in 1957 that Hitchcock's film surely offered, then and again now. I see it as a work of both Dickensian qualities (I'm thinking of 'Bleak House' - which Hitchcock read at school - another work about a protracted trial or lawsuit, and which Dickens said showed 'how civilisation and barbarism walked this island together') and resembling some of the films of Robert Bresson (including A Man Escaped). But that's for another time.

November 7 - 2015
In The Wrong Man, and then Psycho, Hitchcock is more overt than ever before in entering the mind of a 'mad' person. (Jamaica Inn and Stage Fright are comparatively 'off-screen' or 'melodramatic' in their depictions.) Rose tells her psychiatrist, 'They come at me from all sides' - convincing verbal evidence of her feelings of persecution, anticipating Psycho with its cadences of madness, such as Norman Bates's observation to 'Mother', 'They came after her and now somebody'll come after him ...'. Norman loves repetition, and is quite the master of it. Compare: 'They'll see, and they'll know, and they'll say, "Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly."' Both Rose and Norman retreat into catatonia or passivity - something which the mother in The Birds also talks of doing. Still, I suggested last time that Rose in her enforced 'stillness' may in a sense be 'privileged', for she may see more truly the way the world goes than most of us have time to do, so preoccupied are we with our day-to-day business and with formulating an 'optimism' that will get us through the day. In short, if Schopenhauer was right, and the world's Will is blind and irrational (and 'unfair', you could say), then Rose has intuited this state of affairs even as she is unable to do anything about it. William Rothman, for his part, writes of Rose's 'clairvoyance', adding of Vera Miles that Hitchcock 'envisioned her as projecting a distinctive otherworldly quality ... at this moment in his career when his films were becoming more openly - and more profoundly - metaphysical' (p. 112). Further, in keeping with Rothman's observations, I see Rose's catatonic state as an extension of the (illusory!) 'passivity' of the film viewer or (back to Schopenhauer) of the 'will-less' partaker of traditional art forms who is thereby freed of everyday concerns the better to see the world more truly, and be refreshed. (More on such Schopenhauerian aesthetics another time.) Meanwhile, Rose's husband, Manny, must face up to his own literal 'trial' when he is not going about his everyday work as a musician in the Stork Club or doing his best to attend to Rose and their two boys at this difficult time. In short, Manny's circumstances are like a metaphor for what Schopenhauer called the working of the 'principle of individuation' which threatens to bind (and blind) each of us within the space-time continuum of our everyday preoccupations. (I find it significant that when Manny is released from gaol on bail, and he looks back at where he was arrested a day or so earlier, he says, 'It seems like a million years ago'. His remark is a sign of other 'miracles' involving time and space that will shortly occur - and which the aesthetics of Hitchcock's film permits him to share with his viewers, if we are receptive enough.) Not that Manny is instantly changed by his experiences. When he finally comes face to face with his double - the 'right' man - he can only ask, angrily, 'Do you realise what you've done to my wife?' That is, Manny assumes this man's guilt, exactly as people had done of Manny! Nor does Manny consider the likelihood of exonerating circumstances, such as the other man's need to provide for his own wife and family. (Rothman's only comment, though, on p. 130, is that Manny acts as if he himself 'bore no responsibility at all for [Rose's] descent into madness', which fits Rothman's theory that Manny has been neglectful of Rose, but which I consider not substantiated - see last time.) But I want to end this week's note by returning to Rose's session with the psychiatrist. Or, rather, to what the psychiatrist tells Manny afterwards. 'She's living in a different world from ours, a frightening landscape that could be on the dark side of the moon', he says. (For some reason, I think of the depiction of the Unconscious depicted in the recent animated film from Pixar, Inside Out.) And he adds, even more frighteningly: 'She knows she's in a nightmare but it doesn't help her. She can't get out.' As the psychiatrist starts speaking (see frame-capture below), and then throughout a lengthy close-up of Manny listening, we see on the wall the famous painting by Paul Cezanne, 'The House of the Hanged Man' (1873). (I am deeply grateful to art historian Slobodan Mijuskovic for identifying the painting to me, some ten years ago.) The scene's own grimness is apt enough: as a comment on the Web has it, the painting 'depicts a landscape devoid of human presence and ... an abandoned habitation, isolated, with cracked walls'. The composition is cramped, the house seems squeezed. But there's also an anecdotal detail. 'Despite the title, no suicide or hanging is known to have taken place [in or near] there. Supposedly, the house had been owned by a Breton man named Penn'Du, which closely sounds like the French word for hanged man - Pendu.' (Cezanne) Another wrong[ed] man? I'll seek to tie this together next time.

October 31 - 2015
[revised] I see little evidence for William Rothman's claim (see last time) that in The Wrong Man (1957) Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) contributes to the breakdown of his wife Rose (Vera Miles) by being neglectful of her. Rothman rather overlooks that Manny could hardly have been unaware of Rose's condition after she had laughed hysterically on learning that the alibi-witnesses Manny needed had all died or moved away (see frame-capture below). (In any case, as Rothman himself notes, the lawyer, Frank O'Connor - Anthony Quayle - will soon draw Manny's attention to Rose's deteriorating condition - see last time.) By the time that Rose finally breaks down, and attacks Manny with a hairbrush, he has made every effort to cope with the situation, including suggesting that his mother move in to look after the two boys. In a logic that equals Rose's own, Rothman says that Rose 'sees right through' this hint that Manny thinks she's mad - p. 115. (Shades of 'Mrs Bates' in Psycho: 'You think I'm crazy, huh?') Probably true, but it doesn't indicate that the pressured Manny - his trial fast approaching - has been any less caring than his usual exemplary self. Watch Fonda's superb performance to see this - his performance is as fine as Miles's own. Also, Rothman distorts the facts somewhat. Manny hasn't been irresponsible in running up debts that they couldn't afford: they have been in debt before and apparently largely paid them off. On this occasion, it is precisely Manny's love for Rose that has spurred him to find a way to pay for the dental treatment she needs, by drawing on their life insurance policy. (The film's dialogue has a couple of little homilies about 'evolution' and penal codes since Hammurabi that put the whole matter in an impersonal perspective, one ignored by Rothman - although, to be fair, he does compare The Wrong Man to the pessimistic Book of Job - p. 134.) As I said last time, if Rothman wants to see a couple really teetering on wilful estrangement, but finally brought back together by a last-minute 'miracle', then he should study Rossellini's Voyage in Italy (1954). Now, speaking of pessimism, I must say that I find the philosopher Schopenhauer to be particularly apt to some aspects of The Wrong Man. This week I tried to paraphrase Schopenhauer for friend Tag Gallagher (who long ago wrote a brief 'Schopenhauerian' study of director Douglas Sirk). I sought to explain Schopenhauer's distinction between two types of character. A person's 'empirical character' is what is revealed over time in her actions, etc. But behind the empirical character is the unknowable 'intelligible character' (confusing term!) which is what that person is born with, her character-in-itself, so to speak (by analogy with the unknowable thing-in-itself of Kant). Schopenhauer suggested that we may sometimes feel guilt about our actions when they appear inexplicable to us as a result of our not knowing the intelligible character - and I thought of the irrational Rose in The Wrong Man who, in retreating to what her psychiatrist calls 'the dark side of the moon', may actually be more in touch with her intelligible character than normal, but of course be quite unable to appreciate it, or articulate it. (I was also reminded of Carl Jung's work with dementia praecox patients whose seeming nonsense-utterances actually made a lot of sense once Jung developed techniques to understand the Unconscious.) Unfortunately, I don't think Tag quite followed me! So I moved on to my thoughts about Hitchcock's aesthetics which I see as a 20th century development of Schopenhauer's. The German philosopher wrote cogently about how experience of an object becomes aesthetic when the experience is freed of all willing. And Peter B. Lewis ('Schopenhauer', 2012) comments: 'Schopenhauer here takes seriously what people say when they talk of being lost in contemplation of a flower or a landscape, or totally absorbed in a book, painting or film. In such experiences the natural object or artwork fills our consciousness, displacing for the time being, our habitual concerns about ourselves, our hopes and fears for our well-being [...] We have, Schopenhauer wants to say, lost our individuality, our subjectivity, and become a clear mirror of the object [...] (p. 112) My comment on that to a (still supposedly nonplussed!) Tag was that it's beautifully stated and I see 'in it a parallel with how, in the 20th century, Alfred Hitchcock developed a new form of aesthetics, involving "suspense", which also takes the perceiver out of herself to become - for approximately 90 minutes - one with the perceived' and then return to the world refreshed. 'In other words, perhaps the perceiver of a Hitchcock film becomes - for those 90 minutes - no less "will-less" than Schopenhauer envisaged in the case of more classical art forms.' I'll relate this to The Wrong Man, et al., next time.

October 24 - 2015
So far (in the last two posts) I have been musing about Torn Curtain. Today I'll try to round off my comments on that admirable (if misunderstood) film. First, what can be said about the 'murderous gaze' of the Ballerina? (We have seen that she's the would-be nemesis of Michael and Sarah - until almost the final moment when the two Americans escape from East Germany on a ship to Sweden.) Although I don't exactly endorse William Rothman's theory about such a gaze in Hitchcock himself - I've said elsewhere that I think the director was less than hostile, or murderous, towards his audiences, with an objectivity about himself and his art that Rothman under-values - I'll allow that the Ballerina may, in some degree, represent an aspect of Hitchcock as artist, just as Michael and Sarah may also represent something that Hitchcock saw the need to guard against. Call it (for now) 'a narrowness'. Whereas, the need for 'broad-mindedness' is exactly what Torn Curtain is about: it's a comment on a 'divided' world ('like a neurotic', as Carl Jung said at the time) where democratic values are under threat, certainly not shining-bright as they had been in an ancient Golden Age. (The art gallery scene, with its magnificent mandala - emblem of integrated wholeness - and Graeco-Roman artworks, including a statue of Prometheus - see last time - is only one of several evocations by the film of a 'vanished' age.) Now back to the Ballerina. She's a relatively undeveloped character, and maybe that because whatever 'murderousness' Hitchcock once displayed (in Psycho, say) is here replaced with a more all-round concern, a broad compassion. That of course is extended to the motley organisation of freedom-fighters called 'Pi' (who aptly take their name from that admirable Greek invention, i.e., the mathematical symbol, which the film's scientists, including Professor Lindt, use so unthinkingly in their daily work). All right, that's enough about the Ballerina. Splashes of colour, representing irrepressible 'life', such as the scarf worn by the displaced Countess, are occasionally seen: indeed, we first come upon Michael and Sarah under a coloured tartan rug, in bed together below decks. But by the time the film has turned full circle, and Michael and Sarah have got themselves cold and wet by swimming ashore from another boat, the general colour is subdued again. The pair are last seen cuddling beneath a plain grey blanket - the same colour as the final Universal logo, and definitely the film's predominant colour. A change of direction now (speaking of William Rothman). Last week I likened Michael and Sarah to the couple, the Joyces, in Rossellini's Voyage in Italy, calling the latter couple 'estranged' in a foreign country, until the final scene brings them back together. Tag Gallagher, author of a fine 1998 book on Rossellini, gently told me that he preferred to call the Joyces 'half-estranged' (separated by their own wilful shallowness, accentuated not so much by the foreign country as by absence from their familiar busy routines back home). (Tag had no argument with the parallels I drew with the life/death imagery in both films.) Thinking about that, I was reminded of Rothman's interesting description, in 'Must We Kill the Thing We Love?' (2014), of the Balestrero couple in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957), a film which both Tag and I (as well as Rothman) hugely admire. Rothman argues that after Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is wrongfully arrested, and his wife Rose (Vera Miles) gradually becomes unhinged, her breakdown is at least partly due to how Manny hasn't been as good a husband - aware of his wife's needs - as he could have been, although their daily routines had hitherto hidden the fact. Rothman: 'And since [Manny's] arrest he became so absorbed in his trial that it never occurred to him that Rose could be undergoing a trial of her own. He hadn't even noticed that she was descending into madness until his lawyer called it to his attention [see frame-capture below]. Is it madness for Rose to blame Manny for her madness?' (p. 111) This is a challenging theory by Rothman, and lent prima facie credibility by how in Hitchcock's previous film, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), we see underlying marital tensions in the McKenna family (compare entry for June 27, above). I'm not sure, though, that Manny has been quite as inattentive as Rothman describes here - just not up to articulating his early concerns about Rose's behaviour. (I have elsewhere noted a similar case where Rothman, I think, misreads the apparent lack of concern by Verloc in Sabotage, 1936, when young Stevie is killed.) To be continued.

October 17 - 2015
The moment during the opera-house scene in Torn Curtain when Sarah (Julie Andrews) and Michael (Paul Newman) become suddenly separated by a surging crowd is a telling echo of the climax of Rossellini's Voyage in Italy (as briefly noted last time); at one point, Sarah is swept backwards as if by a powerful wave - Hitchcock also uses that shot to climax the film's credits sequence (see frame-capture below). There, on the right of screen, she is one of the film's characters seemingly in danger of being smothered by a swirling grey mist or fog, while, on the left, an orange flame-of-life steadily burns. (I understand the flame was actually that of a rocket photographed at the Rocketdyne testing works at Canoga Park, California.) Note the life/death opposition or, rather, apposition - the two elements are ambiguously life/death, which is what Torn Curtain (and many another Hitchcock film) is about, at its most basic level. This aspect, too, echoes Voyage in Italy. This week I corresponded with Tag Gallagher (author of 'The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini', 1998) about the two films, both by Catholic directors. I began by commenting how the climax of Voyage in Italy seemingly threatens to separate the couple, the Joyces (Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders), but quickly works to bring them together: 'It's a beautiful representation ... of their new-found realisation of their need for each other.' The entire film to this moment has been spent showing their estrangement - which their visit to a foreign country, Italy, at first only magnifies - with particular attention to the influence of both the people and the Naples locality on them. About the people, the Sanders character remains aloof until almost the end. Of the crowd at the religious procession, he asks, 'How can they believe in that? They're like a bunch of children.' But his wife only comments, 'Children are happy.' As for the locality, I noted to Tag Gallagher such individual items as the volcano Mount Vesuvius, the ruins of Pompeii, the local catacombs, a bubbling sulphur spring. (There's also an art museum, whose larger-than-life statues have a powerful effect on Bergman, who says: 'To think that those men lived thousands of years ago, and you feel they are just like the men of today.') Ambiguous life/death imagery, note - almost as if the couple are being given a choice about which aspect they want their marriage to reflect. To simplify now: both films are about 'opening up' to life (with an implication that compromise will be needed, and that there's a long way to go - Torn Curtain certainly takes this line, as it surveys nothing less than the global situation, circa 1966, and ends on a literally grey note, to which I'm coming). So, back to Hitchcock's film. I said last time that 'the opera-house scene is not only exciting but rich in invention and significant detail'. Visual emphasis is, obviously, on the element of fire, echoing a motif that runs through the film. (At one point, Michael is ambiguously depicted as a Prometheus-figure who would steal 'fire' to which he isn't entitled.) The scene onstage is a representation of Hell: note the moment when devils are about to cast a victim into a caldron, and Michael detectably flinches. A red fire-door has an important part in the scene. The fire motif is also kept before us by the illuminated 'candles' around the auditorium walls. Such imagery has its immediate function as a reminder of danger, besides its underlying symbolic implications - some of which had been anticipated in Voyage in Italy. But also, just as Rossellini's film expresses sympathy for common folk, to whom the Joyces seem at times disdainful - not recognising a common humanity, and thereby hurting their own marriage - so Hitchcock's film proceeds similarly, with the scenes involving 'Pi' crucial. (On first boarding the 'Pi' bus, Sarah looks around, almost shocked, and asks, 'Who are all these people?' Momentarily, she sounds like the husband in Voyage in Italy voicing disdain for the people in the religious procession, but soon her attitude changes - for 'Pi' is clearly a capable organisation and its varied members willing to risk their lives for her and Michael.) The above, then, is the gist of what I discussed this week with Tag Gallagher, who seemed happy to accept the likely influence of Rossellini. Tag commented: 'Shame we don't have [Hitchcock's public] words on Rossellini. What [I know is that Hitchcock hated] Rossellini because of Bergman. So no doubt he saw [the movies she made with Rossellini, her husband] with gritted teeth, [and] it's greatly to his credit that he took in so much.' (In 1976 Hitchcock was clearly 'still smarting over Ingrid' - 'The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini', p. 538.) More musings next time.

October 10 - 2015
This week: some thoughts. First, let me clarify the reference a few weeks ago (September 19, above) to the 'eye' symbolism in Torn Curtain (1966). I mentioned David Greven's description of the Ballerina (Tamara Toumanova) as 'someone who refuses to be erased': Greven has a rather wilful thesis about certain characters - the Countess Kuchinska is one - treated by the screenplay as expendable, to be 'discarded', and he opposes the Ballerina to them. But it's not clear to this reader/viewer that the screenplay 'thinks' like that, nor, in any case, that its 'attitude' to the Ballerina is anything but critical/amused - apart from a general sympathy for all its characters, who all have moments of defeat, some in death. (One exception may be Professor Lindt, the film's self-described 'genius'.) This seems to me a fundamental theme of Torn Curtain, a theme to which Greven appears 'blind'. Back, then, to the film's 'eye' symbolism. In the exciting East Berlin opera-house scene, featuring Tchaikovsky's 'Francesca da Rimini' (1876), the Ballerina performs several pirouettes in quick succession, during each of which she momentarily comes to a standstill, i.e., on her pointes, allowing her to spot her 'rival', Professor Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman), in the audience - Armstrong had earlier at the airport inadvertently taken media attention away from the envious Ballerina. (See frame-capture below.) Michael is accompanied to the opera by his fiancée Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews), and by this stage in the film they have resolved their earlier misunderstanding (about his seeming defection to the Communists), and are now on the run from the authorities. As soon as the Ballerina comes offstage, she rushes to her manager and tells him that the wanted couple are in the auditorium. Through a peephole, she checks that they are still there, and the film gives us a close-up of her vindictive eye studying them. As I noted on September 19 (with frame-still), the contrast is with the benign eye of Dr Koska, a member of the heroic (if motley) 'Pi' freedom fighters, whose late husband died for the democratic cause. The film gives us a close-up of Dr Koska in her clinic, examining Michael's eyes with an ophthalmoscope, and of course the contrast with the Ballerina and the malevolence she represents (in herself, and otherwise) is central to the film's thematics. Perhaps more on that later. Now, the opera-house scene is not only exciting but rich in invention and significant detail. (If you can accept that Michael's sudden exclamation of 'Fire!' would cause the opera audience to stampede - and there are historical precedents - then the scene, to my mind, is perfect.) The detail of a ballerina, in mid-pirouette, spotting someone in the audience, comes from Waterloo Bridge (1940), which Hitchcock would almost certainly have seen on its first release. For one thing, Mervyn Le Roy's film was based on the play by Robert Sherwood, screenwriter for Hitchcock's own Rebecca (also 1940). For another thing, the evocation of London under threat of air-raids (albeit during the First World War) was both timely and evocative: the film had been intended as a vehicle for Vivien Leigh and husband Laurence Olivier (Rebecca), although in the event Robert Taylor was Leigh's co-star - with C. Aubrey Smith (Rebecca) in a supporting part. (Also, it's very possible that Hitchcock had seen the original 1931 film, directed by James Whale, when the adaptation was done by Hitchcock's friend and collaborator, Benn W. Levy.) In Le Roy's film, Leigh plays a young ballerina who is rescued by army captain Robert Taylor during an air-raid; afterwards she hurries to her theatre where, onstage, she is thrilled to spot that a late-comer, Taylor, has joined the audience ... From that single detail, then, Hitchcock took inspiration for a crucial moment in his great Torn Curtain scene, a scene which he and screenwriter Brian Moore developed with much ingenuity. For example, doesn't the moment later in the same scene (which, of course, has Danté-esque connotations, from its 'Francesca da Rimini' material), when Michael and Sarah become momentarily separated after the audience panics and stampedes towards the exits, remind you of another celebrated film? Reader, just this week I revisited Roberto Rossellini's masterly Voyage in Italy (1954), starring Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders (Hitchcock actors both), and marvelled at the final scene in which the husband-wife couple, finally reconciled in a strange land, after spending much of the film apart, find themselves swept along by an excited crowd at a religious procession - and seem suddenly in danger of losing each other again. I'll continue my musings (including on the Rossellini connection) next time.

October 3 - 2015
The culmination of one gag in Number Seventeen (1932), as we saw last time, involves a handkerchief. (Ben had thought Fordyce was going to offer him brandy.) Later, the crook Brant (Donald Calthrop) makes a threatening gesture with a gun, then gratuitously sneezes - and an absurdly brandished handkerchief is again the pay-off. Also, Fordyce's handkerchief figures in the film after he is shot in the wrist, and he uses the handkerchief as a bandage. Altogether, it's as if Hitchcock were already practising a form of 'pure film' in which his witty style replaces content - and where every element relates to every other element, like notes of music in a composition played in a particular key. At times, too, Number Seventeen seems like a comic improvisation in which anything goes - or where Hitchcock experiments to see what he can get away with. When Fordyce and Ben start to pursue the crooks to a railway line that runs under the house, they find their way blocked by a heavy trapdoor in the cellar. Try as they might, the two of them can't open it. At this point, Fordyce straightens up, looks around, and pauses to read a magazine-clipping that has been pasted on the cellar wall: "Ferry that Carries Trains to the Continent". (Fordyce and the audience thus learn about how the house serves as an escape-point for crooks to jump aboard a train that will take them out of the country.) He also happens to notice a loaded pistol that has been left on a bench in the cellar, near a mangle (see frame-capture below). Of course, he pockets it - it will prove useful later! Then, after this little interlude, Fordyce returns to Ben - and now the two of them are able to open the trapdoor quite easily! (To Truffaut, Hitchcock remarked about how you can often solve a narrative problem by cutting away from it. This moment in Number Seventeen may be a particularly blatant example: presumably, the audience doesn't notice - or anyway much care - that a heavy trapdoor suddenly proves to be lightweight after all! Compare, say, the scene in Saboteur, 1942, where Barry, imprisoned in Mrs Van Sutton's cellar, sets off the house's fire alarm - and next moment is seen in the street outside the house, in a crowd watching firemen go inside, without any explanation about how he got there. Once again, presumably, the audience just doesn't notice or care about the lack of explanation: it wanted the action to keep moving, and it has got its wish!) Perhaps there's an element of music hall in all this. Somebody says of Ben, 'What an amusing man!' And he responds, 'Yes, a regular George Robey, that's me!' The allusion is to the popular English comedian and performer (1869-1954), whose comic number "The Fact Is" Hitchcock included among his choice of 'Desert Island Discs' for BBC Radio in 1959. As noted, Ben fancies a drink or two. So it's a surreal moment when, on the train at last, he clambers into an open wagon containing crate after crate of 'Emu Tonic Wine' - and quickly proceeds to get himself properly drunk. (Presumably the reference to an emu by the product's makers invokes that bird's long neck and its suitability to savour the wine on the way down!) In turn, what is remarkable is that afterwards Ben is able to unfalteringly make his way along the train to where the girl Nora (Anne Grey) helps him clamber into a carriage with her. His safe journey down the train is a gag in itself - perhaps inspired by a shipboard drunk Hitchcock had wanted to include in Champagne (1928), remarkably unaffected by the rolling waves that have driven most of the other passengers below decks! The train sequence is incredibly detailed (meanwhile, Fordyce, left behind, pursues the train separately in an all-night bus he has commandeered). Cross-cutting makes for mounting excitement, especially after the train's engineer and driver are shot or indisposed, leaving the train out-of-control as it heads for the ferry waiting at the terminal. (Thus Number Seventeen easily anticipates the 1976 comedy-thriller Silver Streak in which a train slams headlong into the Chicago rail terminal!) Due credit for maintaining the excitement should be given to the film's soundtrack. The highly realistic clanking of the train carriages, and the whine of the bus's motor, are the almost musical ground whose note of urgency allows effects like a witty cut-in (amid momentary restful silence) of a billboard declaring, 'Stop here for dainty teas!' (In the bus itself, an advertising placard suggests to the shaken passengers, 'See the countryside by Green Line'.) And in the film's last shot, Ben proves himself a hero - despite several contrary indications earlier! Reader, if you haven't seen Number Seventeen, and want a real index to many of Hitchcock's later stylistic methods, catch it soon.

September 26 - 2015
Hitchcock's Number Seventeen (1932) opens with a man, Fordyce (John Stuart), chasing his hat along a windy street at night and arriving in front of the supposedly empty house whose number is '17' - a 'To Let' sign is displayed outside, but also, intriguingly, a light is moving around inside. (Fordyce decides to investigate.) This is an early instance of Hitchcock's technique of leading the audience on, thereby bringing us literally 'inside' the action. (Compare how we follow the stolen money at the start of Psycho, arriving with Marion Crane at the Bates Motel one rainy night.) Actually, the first shot of Number Seventeen is of leaves blowing from a tree (frame-capture below), from which the camera pans left to follow Fordyce's hat as he chases after it. In itself, the technique wasn't new: my thanks to Christopher Daly for reminding me that Rouben Mamoulian had done something similar in his first film Applause (1929) which opens with a poster blowing along a grubby street pursued by a puppy until the poster unfolds against a wall and we can read about burlesque artist Kitty Darling and her Gaiety Girls who will be taking part in a Monster Parade this very day (it transpires) - which the camera, following some children, further pans to show is happening now. (There is evidence that Hitchcock admired and was influenced by several of Mamoulian's films.) Both directors - Hitchcock, Mamoulian - thus established a certain tone from the start of their respective films. The opening of Applause already hints at the slightly sordid show business life to which Kitty Darling (Helen Morgan) has descended since her husband left her. The opening of Number Seventeen is a bit different: the tone is more general, exemplifying the life-energy that the majority of Hitchcock's films will henceforth be about, from their credits sequences onwards, whether you think of the opening of Spellbound (1945), with its leaves blowing from wintry trees, or the Saul Bass credits for Psycho in which lines converge and splinter (and Bernard Herrmann's score invokes the eerie and unorthodox). But don't misunderstand me. Number Seventeen is a rather slapdash, even 'careless' (Hitchcock's word), experiment by its director - from which, however, he seems to have learnt many useful lessons, both stylistic and structural. (Every director should probably have the opportunity to play around occasionally, as Hitchcock did here!) Although the 1925 play, by J. Jefferson Farjeon, was called 'Joyous Melodrama', and starred its producer Leon M. Lion (who appears in Hitchcock's film), so that it soon promised to become a hardy annual on the London stage, Hitchcock hadn't wanted to film it. For one thing, a silent version existed, made in Germany in 1928 by Géza von Bolvary. Also, he'd wanted to film a quite different comedy-drama about London, John van Druten's 'London Wall' (1931), set in a solicitor's office. Forced to make Number Seventeen, he and screenwriter Rodney Ackland decided to have fun with it, emphasising what they saw as its absurdities and trying out various thriller techniques. In fact, the first half is sometimes tedious (because emphasising absurdities can make them seem even more absurd or implausible - an extreme example being when Fordyce stops a bullet with his wrist - which he promptly bandages with his handkerchief, as if the wound were a mere graze - and thereby supposedly saves the life of the crooks' moll named Nora, which later motivates her to change sides). But the second half is a Hitchcock chase, between a runaway train and a commandeered all-night bus (some elements here anticipate both the clipper in Foreign Correspondent and the 'Pi' bus in Torn Curtain), and is exhilarating. More about these matters next time. But we have also been talking lately of Hitchcock's fondness of teasing audiences with various forms of 'cognitive dissonance', and arguably some of Number Seventeen's wit anticipates North by Northwest's. Not as spectacularly, true, as when (in an early draft of the latter film) Roger Thornhill has a sneezing fit while hiding inside Lincoln's nostril. But I enjoyed the following. The Cockney character Ben (Leon M. Lion) is soon established as partial to drink. Grateful to Fordyce for a nip of brandy, Ben thinks he hears the offer repeated. In fact, Fordyce (who is secretly a detective) is dissatisfied with one of Ben's statements, and has said, 'Have another think.' Replies Ben: 'Don't mind if I do.' And when Fordyce's hand goes to his pocket, and Ben's eyes greedily follow, it comes out not with the expected brandy flask but with just ... a handkerchief. There's more to this gag - see next time.

September 19 - 2015
Professor David Greven's "Heterosexual Ambivalence and Torn Curtain" is the last of the several articles in the 'Hitchcock Annual' #19 that we have been surveying here in recent weeks (since August 8). I don't think that Greven takes the measure of Hitchcock's misunderstood film - crucially, he ignores the role and significance of the Pi organisation, wherein much of the film's humanity literally resides - but his general idea that the heterosexual couple in Torn Curtain is not the film's main concern (contra the standard Hollywood narrative) is surely right - Hitchcock was attempting to say the ineffable, that 'reality' is so much bigger than any 'official' version of it, on either side of the Iron Curtain, although 'marriage' remains the most proven consolation prize, offering endless possibilities. (Even as I type this, a new five-part series of the religious program 'Compass' is beginning, with the topic "the secret to successful long-term relationships". That includes gay relationships, I gather.) Greven notices that the first half of the film is basically told from the viewpoint of Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews) who is shocked to find that her fiancé, physicist Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman), appears to be a defector to East Germany. Loyally, she follows him behind the Iron Curtain, although he does nothing to encourage her to stay with him or to explain his position. (There's a scene in an East Berlin hotel room, which it's implied may be bugged.) Roughly, Sarah's position is that of Maxim's second wife in Rebecca who initially feels intimidated in her new home, 'Manderley', believing that her husband still reveres the memory of his dead first wife. Then comes the revelation - whose equivalent in Torn Curtain is the scene on the hillock at Leipzig University. Greven notes the symbolism: 'As a Catholic filmmaker ... Hitchcock indubitably saw a great resonance in the garden setting for this scene of truth-telling and reconciliation ... But the garden in Torn Curtain is neither the prelapsarian one of the sinless Adam and Eve nor the postlapsarian one of humanity's fallen state. Rather, it is the garden of a meta-cinema, a deconstructive tableau that highlights the inherent artificiality of the cinema. Through such anti-mimetic touches, Hitchcock undercuts the assumption that heterosexual relationships are inherently natural and embody the authentic.' (p. 59) Hmm. I wouldn't have drawn that conclusion exactly - but Greven has a thesis about Hitchcock's 'ambivalence towards the normative' (p.40)! For my part, I would read this scene as taking the woman's part emotionally while simultaneously implying that there's much more to be done. Its equivalent is both the boathouse scene in Rebecca (where the second wife exclaims melodramatically, 'But you didn't love [Rebecca], you hated her!') and the scene on the hotel balcony in The 39 Steps where Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) suddenly learns that Hannay (Robert Donat) has been telling her the truth about his innocence - however, a few moments later, he'll rebuke her for letting the spies get away! (As I say, in each case Hitchcock is pointing out how the woman has forgotten the bigger picture.) Another part of Greven's thesis is that such characters as Gromek (Wolfgang Keiling) and the Countess Kuchinska (Lila Kedrova) are pointedly treated by the screenplay as expendable - he calls them 'discarded personae' (p. 62) - and there is truth in this, although again I'm not sure that Greven fully takes the measure of the humanitarian point that Hitchcock was making in this, one of his most compassionate films (in fact, follow-up to Marnie, which says something). He is more concerned to suggest that the film gives these characters homosexual connotations (if true, this works as a metaphor for their dehumanisation) - although he should have noted that in fact Gromek, in a cut scene featuring his twin brother, is remembered as a happy family man, father of four children. By contrast, the self-preoccupied ballerina (Tamara Toumanova), because of the scene where she repeatedly glares at the audience while in mid-pirouette, is characterised by Greven as someone who refuses 'to be erased' (p. 72). (Here, though, Greven fails to invoke the complementary eye-symbolism associated with the selfless Dr Koska: see frame-capture below.) Dramatically, Greven concludes that the film's audience, too, is on the receiving end of Hitchcock's criticism: 'In the end, the audience is [itself] discarded by the film, relegated to the status of the minor character.' (p. 74)

September 12 - 2015
PhD candidate John W. Roberts's piece in the 'Hitchcock Annual' #19 on "Hitchcock's Ludic Style" delivers a few striking examples of what he calls 'Hitchcock's playful style, specifically his cameos, hidden picture puzzles, and verbal double entendres' (p. 182). For example, he thinks that the name of the insurance company in The Wrong Man - 'Associated Life' - is apt: after all, Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) who is shown in close-up with the company name on a door finds himself in his predicament precisely because of witnesses who incorrectly associate his life with that of the real hold-up man. In the same film, a sign with an arrow on the police station wall reads 'SHELTER' (a reminder that this is a quintessential Cold War film) - yet noticeably the police lead Manny away from the direction of the pointing arrow, toward his interrogation. When he arrives there, the room, notes Roberts, is 'rather barren with the exception of one object that appears ... at once totally innocuous and incredibly conspicuous' (supposedly we ignore the barred room-heater, trailing electric cords on the wall, the same wall's pock-marks) - on the table sits a wooden 'IN' box but no visible 'OUT' box. Looks like it's expected that Manny may never get out of here! Well, to be fair to Roberts, here's how he reads the matter: ' Perhaps, like Manny, the box comes under suspicion because it is merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the slightly low-angle framing suggests an intentional charade: Manny is being "boxed in" by the detectives.' (p. 198) (They will 'box him in' in other ways too, as when he has to sit between them in the police car - p. 199.) And Roberts hasn't finished with The Wrong Man. Although he doesn't realise it, the scene where Manny is arraigned to appear in court at a later date may owe something to a play and film from Hitchcock's youth, John Galsworthy's 1910 'Justice', filmed in 1917 by Maurice Elvey from a scenario by Elliot Stannard: the emphasis on Manny's dehumanisation is very strong. Roberts notes that he is being 'booked' in two senses: not only as a possible criminal but almost as an entertainer: 'he is forced to stand on a lit stage, complete with brass railings, in front of an audience, and in a grotesque image he is made to speak into a microphone and announce himself - Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero. This charade's cruel irony is that Manny, a professional musician, is forced to make a different kind of stage performance that threatens to ruin his life.' (pp. 199-200) The dialogue even seems to reinforce the idea of Manny as an unfortunately-placed musician, with 'dark jokes' about his occupation. 'When Manny asserts his innocence during his interrogation, the detective replies "You want to play it that way?" and later comments that "If you come up with anything else, we'll listen."' (p. 200) But I disagree with Roberts that such remarks 'crucially threaten to undermine the threatening severity of the detective's scepticism by rendering it comical' (p. 200) - rather, it seems to me, poor Manny is simply humiliated - and terrorised - further by what I suspect are the detective's unthinking use of stock phrases that happen to echo matters in which Manny is normally accorded his greatest respect, as a professional musician and team-player. Of course, some of these things are borderline in their interpretation as we experience the film - of all the items above, only the matter of the ironic 'SHELTER' sign seems to me to be singular and very Hitchcockian in its double-allusiveness (which Roberts had not seen). However, Roberts also has a passage on Vertigo, which is certainly worth sharing. He notes: 'During the scene in which Scotty and Midge inquire about Carlotta Valdes at the book dealer's store, we can see, if barely [hope you've a nice Blu-Ray print, reader!], in the window of the office back-projected across the street, a man who walks over to a woman sitting at her desk and gives her a shoulder massage before returning silently to his side of the window. On its face, this image seems totally innocuous ... Yet for the reader who has already seen the film, the shoulder massage looks suspiciously like a mock strangulation.' (p. 195) (See frame-capture below.) Hmm. Likewise, Hitchcock implants images of 'suspension' (e.g., the chandelier at the McKittrick Hotel) in his film to keep us reminded of Scottie's own condition throughout. (Maybe he remains hanging for his life from the rooftop and everything seen subsequently is in his imagination!) What intrigues me is something further: to the second, after the man over the way has finished his 'strangulation' of the woman, we hear Pop Liebel in the shop conclude, 'A man could do that in those days.' (Throw a woman away, even strangle her?!) Next time: Torn Curtain.

September 5 - 2015
Richard Combs's piece on "Rear Window and Fairy-Tales" in the 'Hitchcock Annual' #19 is clear and scholarly: nearly every point is backed by a general point from fairy-tale expert Marina Warner ('No Go the Bogeyman', etc.) or from a film scholar like Charles Barr (who has written on "Hypnagogic Structures: Hitchcock's British Period", suggesting, for example, that The Lady Vanishes 'could be the dream of Iris' after she is knocked out by a falling flowerpot). In Rear Window Jeff (James Stewart) is constantly moving between sleep and waking, and what he sees in the apartments over the way often seems like a projection of his own anxieties, i.e., to have a dream-like logic. Similarly, Lisa herself (Grace Kelly) is both 'princess' and 'bogeyman' to Jeff (Combs notes that many fairy-tales 'are constructed both to frighten and reassure children' - p. 21), reflecting his anxieties about settling down in marriage. Hitchcock once said that 'nothing has changed since "Red Riding Hood" ... [a] "fright complex" is rooted in every individual' (p. 5). In other words, what we have often called here a theme in Hitchcock of reluctance to 'grow up' is at work in Rear Window, too. Jeff's fears drive Lisa herself to be irrational: at one point, notes Combs, she upbraids him: 'According to you, people should be born, live and die on the same spot' (p. 14) - this of Jeff, an intrepid globe-trotting photo journalist (based on Robert Capa)! However, this is true only of the early and middle stages of the film: as Combs sums up, 'The construction of a proper murder case (in both police and movie terms) occupies the central portion of the film, after the sleeping/dreaming first portion activates it as a figment of Jefferies' imagination' - p. 15. Also, Combs is keen to note another dimension of the film: the valorisation of 'neighbourliness', 'the characters' own sense of themselves and their mutual participation in the world' (p. 19). The penultimate part of the article puts emphasis on the 'carnivalesque' (after Bakhtin), implying that there is an element of wish-fulfilment and letting-go in Rear Window. If the realisation that neighbour Thorwald (Raymond Burr) has probably killed and dismembered his wife is 'a true moment of horror ... it is quite isolated and not in danger of distorting the tone of the film. Rear Window defends us from that by largely treating the subject in what can only be called an amused way ... The insurance nurse Stella [Thelma Ritter] quickly becomes the conduit for this, once she has accepted Jefferies' theory about the killing: "Just where do you suppose he cut her up? Of course! The bathtub."' (p. 20) Combs sees Stella as 'American cousin to the neighbour in Blackmail (1929) who stops by to chat with a family over their breakfast - as Stella's ... comments will disturb Jefferies' breakfast - about a local murder.' (p. 20) (See frame-capture below.) Most of the dreaming in Rear Window is of a simple wish-fulfilment kind (note, for example, 'the wistful ballads that accompany Miss Lonelyhearts's vain search for love [until the coda] - "I'll see you in the same old dream tonight" - [which] almost [suggests] that she and Jefferies are dreamers alike' - p. 26). As for Jeff, '[h]is illusion of separation, from Thorwald and the community, has been literally annihilated' (p. 28). Combs first quotes Miran Bozovic on this ('Thorwald, who will throw Jeff through the window' - p. 28) but also (rightly) sees fit to include Hitchcock's answer to Peter Bogdanovich's question, about whether 'there was any future in Jefferies' and Lisa's relationship ...: "Oh, I don't know, - I never bothered about that very much. I would doubt it myself. He'd be off on some job, you know."' (p. 30) In sum, Combs (for eighteen years the editor of the BFI's 'Monthly Film Bulletin') has done his research carefully, but perhaps doesn't say much that is new. (This page has more than once quoted Marina Warner, for example. And we have constantly suggested that Hitchcock, following such thinkers as Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant, was well aware that most people are dreamers - and that the world is 'bigger' than most of us can grasp. In that respect, the codas of Rear Window and Shadow of a Doubt are alike, reminders that most of us must settle for our own subjectivity, whether or not that subjectivity is shared with a partner!)

August 29 - 2015
One of the most stimulating pieces in the 'Hitchcock Annual' #19 is Brad Stevens's "Notes on Hitchcock's Television Work" - once you get over being repelled by the occasionally excessive (I think) 'Freudian' interpretations: for example, of "The Perfect Crime" (AHP, Third Season) in which the Vincent Price character has killed the James Gregory one 'for possession of ... the Phallus' and used his ashes to make 'a vase with a somewhat phallic shape' (p. 101). (As the murderer is eventually found out, Stevens interprets the shape of the vase as 'one of Hitchcock's finest ironies'. Hmm. To think that most of us had missed that! See frame-capture below.) Not that Hitchcock didn't often employ, in his work, 'dust to dust' analogies, implying 'it's all One' (e.g., the credits sequence of Torn Curtain, with its burning flame on the left in apposition to the mist-enshrouded faces on the right). And the TV episodes could be particularly mordant about it. In both "Lamb to the Slaughter" (AHP, Third Season) and "Arthur" (AHP, Fifth Season), the killer has the satisfaction of watching incriminating 'evidence' being literally devoured. (Stevens, of course, attributes to the frozen leg of lamb in the former a phallic significance; and because it is used by Barbara Bel Geddes to kill her unfaithful husband, he again notes an irony: 'the supreme symbol of masculine potency [served] to the police as a meal' - p. 104.) Indeed, in "Arthur", it's the murder victim herself who is ground up and made into rich chicken-feed, the episode ending when murderer Laurence Harvey presents to the police sergeant a 'brace of cockerels' raised on the feed. (Harvey was contracted to Hitchcock at this time, 1959, to appear in No Bail for the Judge, which was never made. Exactly how Hitchcock used the gay British actor in "Arthur" provides Stevens with the opportunity for one of his best, most elaborate readings: the character himself is shown to be gay - hence his callousness to his fiancée when she leaves him, then wants to come back, resulting in her murder - and Stevens finds in the symbolism of chicken-strangling a parallel with Rope, and the likelihood that the police sergeant, who happens to be a friend of the murderer, is gay himself: 'prohibited from acknowledging the sexual nature of their relationship, the two men compensate by literally consuming the body of a woman' - p. 114.) Much of (critic and author) Stevens's piece, in fact, seeks to show that Hitchcock frequently related one thing in terms of another. I was reminded of the director's description of his cherished project to film 24 hours in the life of a city. The theme would be defilement, how civilisation reduces good things to waste matter. This could be an analogy of war, or a picture of the human condition generally. Stevens refers at one point to Hitchcock's 'tendency to value the general over the specific' (p. 97). That's not hard to see, perhaps, in the case of "Breakdown" (AHP, First Season), where the previously callous Joseph Cotten character is changed by his brush with death. As Stevens puts it: '[his] dignity and masculine control are stripped away, an experience which far from being presented negatively, is seen as potentially enriching' (p. 85) I was reminded of the salutary story, told by Schopenhauer, of the lecherous Ramon Lull (1232-1315) who single-mindedly pursued a married woman; when finally he found himself alone with her, she started to remove her blouse, revealing that her breast had been terribly eaten away with cancer and indicating he should desist in his advances. Reportedly, Lull instantly became a changed man, and modelled his life thereafter on that of St Francis of Assisi. (Schopenhauer sees in this story an archetypal instance of the Will turned back on itself, resulting in enlightenment.) But what about Stevens's reading of "Bang! You're Dead" (AHP, Seventh Season)? Nominally, the episode is about a five-tear-old boy toting a loaded gun. But Stevens sees it, rather, as the tale of 'the awakening of the adolescent male's sexuality' (p. 124). Once again, his reading is 'phallic'. He writes: 'The gun's phallic connotations are obvious and consistent - Jackie [Billy Mumy] holds the gun at waist level as he loads it, his parents find a bullet, clear evidence of masturbation, on the floor, and the feeling of terror that accompanies Jackie's first discharge causes him to run crying to his mother ...' (p. 125). Etc. Hmm. Stevens never stops to reconcile this explanation of the director's intended meaning (if that's what it is) with the fact admitted at the outset that Hitchcock came to the project at the last minute, 'when the original director became ill' (p. 124). So has Stevens's whole piece been about Hitchcock, or something else? I'm not sure! But it is highly recommended!

August 22 - 2015
Another article in the 'Hitchcock Annual' #19 is "Hitchcock and the Tippi Hedren Screen Tests" by Joe McElhaney. Central to it is Professor McElhaney's interrogation of the screen tests - at least, the excerpts included on The Birds DVD/Blu-ray - to see whether they indirectly support the general implication, and element of dramatic licence, of the TV movie The Girl (Julian Jarrold, 2012) which portrays Hitchcock as guilty of sexual harassment. There, notes McElhaney, 'Sienna Miller (another one-time model) portrays a Hedren of the purest of intentions pitted against Toby Jones's heavy-breathing Hitchcock' (p. 132). The movie deals mainly with allegations made by Tippi against Hitchcock to Donald Spoto and duly reported by him in, first, his biography of Hitchcock, 'The Dark Side of Genius' (1983) and then in his book 'Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies' (2008). However, nobody until now has cited the screen tests in such a context of sexual harassment, and indeed Tippi herself is heard saying to actor Martin Balsam at the end of the tests that making them has been 'a beautiful experience' (p. 138). But maybe, suggests McElhaney, she had to say that while in fact speaking 'through metaphorically gritted teeth'! (p. 139) (Before continuing, let me point out two or three things. First, Tippi has never subsequently changed her position on the screen tests. However, on the matters she divulged to Spoto, she declared: 'With Spoto I felt that I had found a writer that I could trust' - quoted in Tony Lee Moral, 'The Making of Hitchcock's The Birds', 2013, p. 211. There speaks a woman of integrity. Also, I can report what I was told by BK of 'Cahiers du Cinéma', that when he participated after Hitchcock's death in a 'round table' with three of the director's closest associates - production designer Robert Boyle, matte artist Albert Whitlock, and storyboard artist Harold Michelson - he was left in no doubt that even before the screen tests, which started shooting on 8 November, 1961, Hitchcock had been 'hot' for Tippi. Okay, read on.) So what does McElhaney see in the screen tests to justify his reading of them? Well, for a start, he suggests that balding, middle-aged Martin Balsam is a stand-in for Hitchcock himself, thus placing Tippi 'at the beck and call of two similar kinds of desiring men' (p. 137) - Balsam in front of the camera, feeding Tippi lines, Hitchcock behind it, giving directions. McElhaney: 'Seen in such a light, the tests might offer early evidence of the sadistic exercise in male power over a helpless [or naive] young actress that The Girl feels compelled to document in a heightened manner.' (p. 137) Indeed, right from the outset of the tests seen on the DVD/Blu-ray Hitchcock tries to wrong-foot Tippi. She is facing the camera and wearing a black-lace evening gown with white gloves and a string of pearls around her neck (see frame-capture below). From off-screen Hitchcock is heard asking: 'And while you're looking into the camera, you can answer my question as to whether you think that would make a good maternity dress or not.' Tippi, though, isn't visibly disconcerted - she stifles a laugh and says, 'No, I really don't think so.' McElvaney comments, not without strain (I feel): 'In one breath, Hitchcock has set up his new discovery as a creature of the utmost desirability (through image) and framed this gesture ironically (through spoken language)' - which, we're told, may be yet another instance of what Richard Allen calls 'romantic irony', that is, 'an orchestration of competing or dichotomous voices that refuses to choose between one and the other' (Allen, quoted, p. 140). (I prefer to recall that the screen tests were several in number, starting with scenes from Rebecca, Notorious, and To Catch a Thief - for which Hitchcock rehearsed Tippi to put her at her ease - followed by the ad libbed scenes with Balsam, involving her in costume changes and different hair styles. Moral, p. 62, quotes Hitchcock: 'To determine the real potential of a newcomer, a test must create all the conditions of a feature motion picture set.') However, there is plenty of other material in the tests with Balsam to support McElvaney's position. For example, when the two actors draw close together, and Tippi says, 'How do you like the mouth?', Hitchcock's voice is quick to urge, 'Try it on, try it on', meaning start kissing! McElvaney notes that The Girl re-creates this moment but draws it out to fully ten seconds, and shows Hitchcock staring, as if 'spellbound by beauty' (p. 136). Also, Hitchcock is heard making some of his usual 'blue' suggestions (e.g., about 'an anatomical term') - although McElvaney mishears one of them (included on the DVD extra, "All About The Birds"). Hitchcock doesn't say, 'remind me to tell you the story about how theremins were manufactured' (p. 151, n. 10) - he says doughnuts! (You puzzle it out, reader!) Next time: another article from 'Hitchcock Annual' #19.

August 1 - 2015
The mock funeral service that opens Secret Agent is a splendid piece of dark humour, not least for some business performed by the 'dead' man's one-armed adjutant who - as soon as everyone else has left - deftly extracts himself a cigarette from a packet and lights it at one of the funerary candles. (How he lost his arm isn't explained, any more than, in Foreign Correspondent, the scar on the face of the villainous Krug is explained - though in both cases we can imagine a violent incident to account for it, and perhaps some consequent psychological scarring ...). The scene nicely sets the sardonic tone of the film that follows, in which nothing will be quite as it seems. Nonetheless, not everyone was happy with the scene. One of Hitchcock's most severest critics, novelist Graham Greene, thought it was implausible that the authorities would draw attention to the person whom they were about to 'resurrect' as an undercover spy, albeit under a new name. And someone else recently said that the scene leaves him feeling mistrustful of what follows, and therefore not as entertained by it as by The 39 Steps. (In a way, that's undeniable, although every Hitchcock film is best watched on its own terms!) Still, the scene effectively sets up what follows. It ends when the adjutant looks up at a full-length portrait of the 'deceased' man (whom we recognise as John Gielgud), and the camera moves towards it. Cut to the nearby upstairs office of 'R', obviously a boss of special operations, as an air raid begins. He lowers the blind on his window, leaving the room in semi-darkness, then calls towards the door, 'Come in.' The door opens and a person casts a shadow on the wall (see frame-capture below). As he advances across the room he is still in shadow until 'R', standing at his desk, switches on the desk-lamp and we see that the new arrival is ... John Gielgud! The effect is elaborate, and Hitchcock would use variants of it again. The initial shadow on the wall effectively prepares us for the shock that follows - the 're-birth' of the 'late' novelist Brodie as secret agent 'Ashenden'. ('R' gives his reasons in the ensuing dialogue.) And, sure enough, the sudden illumination of Gielgud's face in close-up matches the face of the man in the portrait we have just seen. Four years later, Hitchcock would use a similar technique in Foreign Correspondent. Half-way through that film, we suddenly learn that the pleasant-spoken Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall) is not who we took him to be. We are astonished when we encounter the ugly Krug - the man with the scar - in Fisher's London house (we had last seen Krug up to no good in Holland). At first, Fisher tells his daughter Carol (Laraine Day) that Krug is simply someone who works for Fisher's peace organisation. However, when Krug asks to speak to Fisher alone, the camera follows the two men into the next room. And briefly Hitchcock films not Fisher's face but his shadow on the wall. Then there's a cut. In close-up, Fisher is heard apologising to Krug that he has been rumbled, and that he must leave immediately! So now we know that Fisher is working for the Germans! The use of the shadow on the wall to foreshadow a shock revelation is Hitchcock's way of breaking it to us gently. It's largely all a matter of timing. In a way, it literally foreshadows the end of Vertigo. A moment before Judy (Kim Novak) falls from the Mission bell tower, the camera on her face shows her suddenly aware of a sound. Hitchcock cuts to a shadowy part of the belfry, and it takes a moment before we see the figure of a nun, in her black habit, rise up through a trapdoor. The next thing we hear is a scream and suddenly we're aware that Judy has stepped backwards to her death. But now a final point about Secret Agent. It's one I shared with my discussion group recently. Brodie/'Ashenden', I noted, makes a pact with Elsa (Madeleine Carroll) of 'No more killing', only to be 'seduced' by Peter Lorre as the General (aka 'the hairless Mexican') into continuing their assignment. The 'seduction' idea makes more sense, I suggested, if you've read the original story by Somerset Maugham - who was gay. In the 1934 film of Maugham's autobiographical 'Of Human Bondage' the waitress Mildred (Bette Davis) was based on a man. Likewise, in the story 'The Hairless Mexican' someone speculates about the title character, 'With that frightful appearance can he really be the lady's man he pretends?' In other words, he, too, may originally have been someone encountered by Maugham in the gay underworld. In Hitchcockian terms, the murderous General (forever pursuing servant girls when he's not killing someone) may thus be a (disguised) forerunner of other 'murderous gays' in Hitchcock. We actually hear Brodie ask 'R', 'He's a lady killer, eh?', and R's reply, 'Not only ladies!' That can be read two ways! Next time: about the latest 'Hitchcock Annual'.

July 25 - 2015
[Final entry on Secret Agent held over until next week - but a News & Comment item has been added.]

July 18 - 2015
What is meant by saying (as last time) that the coda of Secret Agent is like a disclaimer by Hitchcock that he has been doing anything more than tell a story and create 'pure film'? In a way, the upbeat tone here lets both the director and the viewer off the hook: Hitchcock, because supposedly he has only been telling a story (when in fact he has been seeking to emulate 'life' and even criticise the morality of war); the viewer, because the film has come close, at a subconscious level, to some unpalatable truths (like hint that another war is fast approaching - Secret Agent was released in the same year as Things to Come, which similarly anticipated the Second World War). The coda itself operates at a subconscious level. It simulates a 'happy ending' by means of high-key images of victorious British troops in 1918 and the use of upbeat music, and the postcard from 'Mr and Mrs Ashenden' saying 'Never Again!' seems to refer simply to the newly-married couple's determination not to go back to being 'secret agents'. But the phrase 'Never Again!' can also refer to the well-known sentiment that the First World War was the 'war to end war' and thus subtly hint that such a view is under threat - despite the almost idiot smiles in extreme close-up of Brodie and Elsa ('Mr and Mrs Ashenden') on which the film fades out. (Hitchcock was a master of 'sleight of hand' endings which seem to be 'happy' but, on examination, don't exactly hold up! Think of the ending of Rebecca, in which Maxim spots that his wife is safe from the fire that has destroyed his ancestral mansion, Manderley: the couple's final clinch, accompanied of course by upbeat music, leaves the viewer no time to contemplate the immensity of Maxim's material loss, though we may sub-consciously recall the words spoken in sad tones by the wife at the beginning of the film, 'We can never go back to Manderley!') Now, speaking of Hitchcock's seeking in Secret Agent, and elsewhere, to emulate 'life', recall that last week we noted that he had sought an effect by which the film's climactic train wreck would seem to correspond to the tearing and burning of the film itself - thus implying that the film in the projector was like unspooling 'life' now suddenly brought up short, in all its fragility. By extension, 'pure film', for Hitchcock, was an analogue of 'life'. (I had occasion this week to recall another instance: how his 1948 film Rope presents itself as one continuous shot, and is suitably accompanied - not without multiple irony - by gay composer Francis Poulenc's 'Perpetual Motion, No. 1'.) But it isn't just the 'flow' of the film through the camera and then the projector that is an analogue of 'life'. In 1930 Hitchcock wrote (or ghost-wrote) an illuminating article called "Making Murder!" for 'Cassell's Magazine' (re-printed in Gottlieb, 'Hitchcock on Hitchcock' 2) in which he described how he made films for 'the universal audience'. 'Film producers', he wrote, 'do not produce for one theater or one audience. They are bound to produce for the West End deluxe cinema and the picture house at the other end of the scale.' Accordingly, 'there must be combined in the film popular subject matter and intelligent treatment. One element in the universal audience misses the finer details, but grasps the dramatic whole. The other element, that section [of the audience] demanding intelligent treatment primarily, will enjoy that to the full, and is not offended by the popularity of the subject matter.' (This observation of Hitchcock's corresponds to what I have often noted, the similarity of the broad appeal of his films to the implicit intention of Goethe in 'Faust' whose Prologue in the Theatre speaks of giving something to 'all classes'.) Secret Agent certainly fits the bill. The 'swells' in Hitchcock's audience would have appreciated the casting of John Gielgud in his first film role as the doubting hero (n.b., when the film was being made Gielgud was appearing onstage each evening with Peggy Ashcroft in 'Romeo and Juliet'). Many of them would also have appreciated the casting of famous French stage actor Michel Saint-Denis as a coach driver in an improvised scene (the actor had been visiting Gielgud on set and Hitchcock persuaded him to play one scene with Madeleine Carroll and Robert Young). By the same token, everybody would have enjoyed the film's spectacular chase scene - in a chocolate factory, no less, with its abandoned production line humming away surreally (see frame-capture below) - which again provides a rough analogue of 'life' (or 'pure film') going on regardless ... More next time.

July 11 - 2015
In the train wreckage at the end of Secret Agent, the mortally wounded German agent Marvin (Robert Young) shoots the General (Peter Lorre) before dying himself (see last week). Thus one ruthless assassin kills his opposite number and then dies with him. The watching Brodie (John Gielgud) and Elsa (Madeleine Carroll) then embrace. It's a neat ending, designed to show that villainy in the cinema will be punished. (As originally scripted, the General would have survived - which no doubt appealed to Hitchcock as being more realistic. I recall, for example, that he would have preferred to end I Confess [1953] with the death of the innocent priest, and the true murderer remaining free and at large.) Actually there was another 'alternative ending' scripted for Secret Agent. As Kerzoncuf and Barr show in their informative book 'Hitchcock Lost and Found' (2015), in this version no killing occurs, 'but the final note of superiority over the General is maintained'. Marvin dies of his wounds before the General can shoot him. The script then reads: 'Almost in ecstasy [Brodie] shouts out "He's beaten you - thank Christ he's beaten you!"' And once again Brodie and Elsa embrace (and will soon be married). But there is something fortuitous about this ending, as well as irrational: both Marvin (who strangled the church organist) and the General (who pushed Caypor off a mountain) are ruthless killers, and should surely both be 'punished'. (And how does Marvin's dying in the train wreck, arranged by 'R', who sent British planes to bomb the train, constitute a triumph of Marvin over the General, exactly?) Although the original ending was certainly the best, I like the one we have, up to a point. For example, I like the General's dying gesture. Throughout the film, each time he was introduced to another character, he rattled off his full name and titles (long and unintelligible!). Now he does it again (frame-capture below). He has professed all along not to be a believer, so to whom is he 'introducing' himself this time? It's a teasing touch! Nonetheless, I don't find any of the endings I have described entirely satisfying. They all seem like flourishes designed to please audiences rather than actually say or prove anything! They aren't particularly ironic or ambiguous. Maybe that's simply in the nature of Secret Agent's honest and downbeat attitude to war and killing (whether of one person or of thousands). Those things are ultimately senseless! Fortunately, Hitchcock adds a coda in his usual vein of reminding us of the analogy between film and 'life'. Remember how he told Truffaut that the unravelling ball of wool in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) was 'the thread of life' (Louis Bernard has just been shot). Or how The 39 Steps (1935) ends with the backstage death of Mr Memory while, in the background, a chorus line performs a number from the 1934 film Evergreen, thus saying in effect 'life goes on'. As is well known, for the moment of the train wreck in Secret Agent Hitchcock had wanted artist Len Lye to design an effect of the actual film tearing and catching fire - thus drawing a direct analogy between the film and its content. (Hitchcock was pressured at the last minute to drop the idea in case it caused audiences to panic.) Well, Secret Agent's brief coda shows the British forces triumphing over the Turks, and we hear suitably upbeat music announcing that the end of the War is near. And 'R' in his office glances ruefully at a postcard from 'Mr and Mrs Ashenden' (Brodie and Elsa, now married) saying 'Never Again!', and we gather that they, at least, have managed to convince themselves that they have kept their integrity, despite the nature of the world (and 'life') that the film has revealed. Arguably, Hitchcock here disclaims that he has done anything more or less than create 'pure film' and tell a story (albeit about an impure world). Yet the excessive - almost forced - smiles of Brodie and Elsa at the end are troubling. Perhaps this couple, too, now 'knows too much' for their (or our) own good. The viewer is grateful to Hitchcock for implying all this but without actually dwelling on it! Compare the end of, say, the wartime Shadow of a Doubt (1943). As I often think, Hitchcock was a short-term optimist and a long-term pessimist. Later, in an 'expressionist' film like Marnie (1964), he would end his film in even more subtle ways, but still the message is the same. The children playing innocently in the street, who glance at Mark and Marnie uncomprehendingly (of what has just been revealed inside the house), may each be fated to have a comparable life-experience to Marnie's. More on Secret Agent next time.

July 4 - 2015
Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936) is one of his several 'trial-marriage' films. The first was probably The Mountain Eagle (1926), in which the hero Fearogod takes Beatrice into his remote cabin to protect her from the malicious slander of a corrupt local magistrate; some time afterwards, to end any scandal, Fearogod compels the magistrate to marry him and Beatrice, planning to get a divorce later, if necessary. (The magistrate then exacts revenge by gaoling Fearogod for a year on trumped-up charges.) Another 'trial-marriage' film is Spellbound (1945) in which Ballyntine and his psychiatrist Dr Constance Petersen live together as virtual man and wife (albeit in the home of the 'parental' Dr Brulov) while they seek to cure Ballyntine's amnesia and solve the mystery of who killed another psychiatrist, Dr Edwardes. All of these films end with the couple exonerated and free to (re-)marry. I want now to discuss Secret Agent. It is a daring film for its time, in several ways. Not only do Brodie/'Ashenden' (John Gielgud) and Elsa (Madeleine Carroll) pose as husband and wife in Switzerland, in 1916, as cover for their espionage work on behalf of the British government, but they actually consummate their 'marriage' during the film (albeit off-screen). Also, the film dares to criticise in forthright terms the callous decisions that a government in wartime must take (thereby anticipating by only a few years comparable decisions by Churchill, Truman, et al.). How exactly does the film stage these respective scenes? There is no doubting that Brodie and Elsa have sex one night, despite the subtlety with which the film implies it. Elsa had earlier been disconsolate, almost catatonic, on hearing that an innocent man, Caypor (Percy Marmont), had been pushed off a mountain by their ruthless colleague, 'the General' (Peter Lorre), and that Brodie had (she supposes) participated in the killing. But eventually, on a cold night beside Lake Como, Brodie catches up with her and explains what had happened: he had tried to prevent the killing (despite not yet knowing that Caypor wasn't a German agent), but had only been sent back down the mountain by the General. From a distant observatory elsewhere on the mountain Brodie had watched helplessly through a telescope as the General did the deed - making him (Brodie) just 'one of those long-range assassins', as he says ruefully. On hearing this, Elsa noticeably cheers up (which by no means was the only time when Hitchcock implied that women could be unduly narrow in their outlook: cf Spellbound, where Dr Brulov muses, 'Women make the best psychoanalysts until they fall in love; after that, they make the best patients'). Brodie takes the opportunity to comment on how cold it is, and suggests they return to their hotel. The next shot shows a blind being raised, and we infer that it's the following morning. We see Brodie and Elsa laughing gaily (frame-capture below), and Brodie utters a line worthy of the philosopher Schopenhauer (who wasn't always pessimistic): 'There are times, Mrs Ashenden, when it's almost a pleasure to be alive.' As for the film's depiction of realpolitik, the principal 'villain' here is Brodie's boss, 'R', back in London. Benign on the outside, but ice-cold (during an air raid, his main concern is for his goldfish), he doesn't hesitate when he hears that the German agent in question, actually an American named Marvin (Robert Young), has taken a train to Constantinople. 'R' had all along said that the agent must be stopped 'at all costs'. Now, sitting in a spa, and looking the absolute sybarite (his cigar unravels in the steam), he issues orders for the train to be bombed as it heads for the Greece-Turkey border - which act may kill not only Marvin but many innocent civilians and even R's own agents (Brodie, Elsa, the General, who are also on board). The train does eventually crash, after British planes do their stuff, and the film climaxes in the wreckage. The sequence is complex. Immediately beforehand, Elsa had shown she hadn't changed when she had pulled a gun on her 'husband' and insisted that she wouldn't allow him to kill anyone, which is what they had agreed after their happy, post-coital scene earlier (clearly an idealistic moment). This, despite how, if Marvin were allowed to go free, the information he carries might be used to cause countless Allied deaths. Now, in the wreckage, Brodie is unable to strangle the wounded Marvin. On the other hand, the General has also survived, and he in his way is as cold-blooded as 'R'. As originally scripted, he would have offered Marvin brandy before shooting him. In the released film, an irony is added: Marvin asks the General for water, then takes the opportunity to shoot the General before dying himself. But there's more to the scene (and the film) than this. To be continued.

June 27 - 2015
Finally, how does Robert Lightning see The Wrong Man, the third of the Hitchcock "Domestic Trilogy" films he discusses in 'CineAction' #50? (See last two entries.) He professes to find Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) 'one of the most difficult characters in cinema to criticise' (p. 41). It isn't immediately clear whether by this Lightning means that Manny is an exemplary person or that he's simply critically uninteresting. (For my part, I have always found the casting of Henry Fonda to be a helpful 'way in' - it goes back to the 'wrong man' roles Fonda played for Fritz Lang and John Brahm in respectively You Only Live Once, 1937, and its virtual re-make, Let Us Live, 1939.) As previously noted, Lightning does criticise Manny for not standing up to the capitalist system 'that allows for his easy exploitation' (p. 41). For example, we learn that Manny has borrowed money 'on the instalment plan which keeps his family perpetually in debt' (p. 41) - shades of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman' (1949), though Lightning doesn't mention this further possible influence on Hitchcock, one of the most eclectic of all filmmakers. I have already said that Lightning's criticism of Manny seems to me a bit unfair: another possible reading is that Manny is an exemplary Catholic family provider, whom Hitchcock shows to be under heavy financial pressure (to pay for his wife's dental expenses) even before his wrongful arrest for larceny. Lightning allows that Manny is in some ways the opposite of Ben McKenna in The Man Who Knew Too Much: 'Dr McKenna's power and Manny's impotence are of course products of their respective positions within the American class/economic system' (p. 41). But that's plain enough (as Lightning's 'of course' admits), and the question is, what does Hitchcock do with the respective situations? To some extent, religion figures in both films (for example, the seedy Ambrose Chapel in The Man Who Knew Too Much; Manny's praying throughout The Wrong Man), although the former film takes a broad perspective on the matter, showing different cultures (the Muslim culture in North Africa, the Christian, and sub-Christian, culture in England, though poverty is evident in both places) with a positively 'pantheistic' tone evident in the Albert Hall 'Storm Cloud Concerto' scene, all as background to the family travails of the McKennas. Whereas, the travails of the Balestreros are set mainly against Manny's attempt to maintain his faith and Rose's apparent eventual loss of faith. The real-life Manny was indeed an Italian Catholic, and Hitchcock respected that fact. Such flexibility by Hitchcock in treating subject-matter was in keeping with what the poet Keats called the 'poetic character' which could come close to a form of opportunism. As Hitchcock put it to Truffaut, with only slight hyperbole, no considerations of morality could have stopped him making Rear Window, such was his (Hitchcock's) love of making 'pure film'. Lightning, I feel, never really takes this measure of Hitchcock. Still, he observes the differences accurately enough, as when he comments on 'working women' in The Wrong Man. The two female insurance tellers seem harshly depicted, 'one neurotic and fearful ... the other smug and self-confident' (p. 41). But they are 'countered by the two working women whose actions do most to clear or attempt to clear Manny: the woman at the Cornwall Hotel [in upstate New York - see frame-capture below] (whose memory and intelligence serve to produce a list of witnesses to Manny's innocence) and the valiant woman in the deli who helps capture the real criminal.' (p. 41) Making 'pure film' actually helped Hitchcock - paradoxically - see people (and systems) as they really are, though not without balancing and juggling of characters to give the impression of a certain wholeness and representativeness. Finally, Lightning perceptively notes a contrast (without explaining it) between mother and son in The Man Who Knew Too Much where they are bonded by singing/music in a key scene, and father and sons in The Wrong Man where again music - this time Mozart - is the bonding agent. (p. 42) He adds: 'Additionally the intimate bedroom encounters between parent and child in both films contrast markedly with ugly bedroom encounters between husband and wife.' (p. 42) Even if the scene referred to in The Man Who Knew Too Much is richer than Lightning allows (see last time) and perhaps ditto the scene in The Wrong Man where Rose (Vera Miles), cracking up, strikes Manny with a hairbrush which deflects and fractures a mirror, Lightning's own 'formal' method certainly allows him to see these scenes as significant. His 'serious' criticism has exemplary virtues.

June 20 - 2015
Robert K. Lightning (see above) puts his finger on an essence of The Trouble With Harry when he notes how, in this pastoral comedy, destructive elements have been 'temporally abated', allowing 'an opportunity for personal growth' (p. 37). As I specified last time, the mood is like that of a holiday, and Hitchcock's play with causality and space and time is a special kind of 'suspense' or 'suspension' - in short, the film is a metaphor for Hitchcock's filmmaking in general where, I would argue, 'suspense' is a distraction from our everyday preoccupations, thus letting us see those things more objectively and to finally return to our lives refreshed. (People go to the movies, Hitchcock said, because they are in danger of becoming 'sluggish and jellified', and the filmmaker's job is to entertain and re-vivify them.) I always thought Raymond Durgnat was being only fair and accurate when he once said that Hitchcock's films typically show characters who are less than mature, and that the films invite them - and us - 'to grow up, a little'. Not a lot, because, for one thing, I don't think Hitchcock would make large claims for the power of movies to transform individual spectators. (For another thing, Hitchcock said that he agreed with Sam Goldwyn that 'messages are for Western Union'.) That should help explain why I suggested last time that Lightning was putting too much emphasis on Hitchcock's analysis of patriarchy and not enough on the films' deftness and style. (I must say I like Peter Ackroyd's appreciation of The 39 Steps as 'Mozartian'.) So let's come to Lightning's claims for the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much. Although he stands up to Robin Wood's apparent elevation of Jo (Doris Day) over Ben (James Stewart) in our sympathies, he still palpably distorts the film when he tries to assert Wood's claim that it is deeply analytic of how patriarchy oppresses women, with Ben being the film's chief oppressor. Hence this major slip: 'When Louis Bernard [Daniel Gélin] expresses regret that Jo no longer performs [in musical comedy], Ben returns "I've often thought that myself".' (p. 35) (Lightning wants to make us believe that Ben curtailed Jo's professional career out of masculine jealousy, which largely ignores how, as a doctor, Ben found himself assigned to a hospital in the American Mid-West, and soon, in addition, saddled with a child, Hank, to be raised: such circumstances had simply made it impossible for Jo to continue performing on the world stage. As for Ben's apparent regrets about this, he may indeed feel those - and Jo, too - but in fact Lightning is misquoting here. Read on.) Unfortunately Lightning has misheard. What Louis Bernard actually says, when visiting the McKennas in their Marrakesh hotel room for pre-dinner cocktails, is that he's sorry that Jo's song with Hank, "Que Sera, Sera", had been interrupted by a waiter bringing Hank's bedtime meal. Ben's 'I've often thought that myself' (or similar) may therefore mean no more than that, as a busy doctor-on-call, he hasn't been able to spend as much time with his family as he would have liked. (Hence their present holiday together. Btw, note how, in a way, TMWKTM is like a sequel to Jeff and Lisa's dilemma about marriage in Rear Window.) Now, related to the above, is the scene where Ben sedates Jo before he gives her the distressing news that Hank has been kidnapped. Both Robin Wood and 'Movie' journal (for two), and, implicitly, Lightning, read it as sinister: Ben is described as looming over Jo, the ever-oppressive male taking advantage of his wife to, once again, dominate her. In fact, not only is such a reading excessive, even rather tasteless, but it ignores how the marriage in question is essentially normal, even to the extent of the couple having (we learn) a 'monthly quarrel'. (My own parents were like that!) It's true that, for purposes of characterisation, the film shows Ben to be a little naive, and someone who, when challenged, may exhibit a flash of temper, while Jo is inclined to traces of hysteria: both characters during the course of the film are indeed required 'to grow up, a little' (in individual scenes and then, in the 'coda', together). In addition, the sedation scene obviously appealed to Hitchcock because during it Ben must use the tools of his trade (the sedatives), thus exemplifying a good screenwriting principle (as told by Hitchcock to Truffaut). Watch the scene objectively and you should find it very fine, very moving (frame-capture below). To be continued.

June 13 - 2015
An impressive piece by Robert K. Lightning appeared recently in 'Film International' (hard copy and online) called "In Defence of Hitchcock and Serious Criticism". (I might cavil at Lightning's apparent usurping to himself near-exclusive knowledge and use of what constitutes 'serious criticism' - based essentially on the Robin Wood line whereby Hitchcock is judged a brilliant analyst of patriarchal society, heterosexual self-aggrandisement, and the subjugation of women - because, frankly, the world is bigger, and capable of more, and valid, points of view, than even Lightning will admit to, and which Hitchcock drew on; but as I say, the piece remains impressive.) However, I shan't be looking at that particular piece here (not for now, at any rate) but rather at an earlier work by the same author, which he himself references in the above. It appeared in 'CineAction' #50, 1999, pp. 32-42, and is called "A Domestic Trilogy" because it deals with three Hitchcock films - The Trouble With Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and The Wrong Man (1957) - that all centre on the post World War II nuclear family. At that time, the nuclear family was booming, at least statistically: for example, Lightning cites a claim that, 'In a period of less than ten years, the proportion of never married persons declined by as much as it had during the entire previous half century' (p. 32). However, cracks were appearing even then in the nuclear family, and a Hitchcock film like The Wrong Man (about a family man's wrongful arrest for larceny) put its finger on them. If there is a common thread to these three films, as analysed by Lightning, it is that 'the woman's voice' is subject to attempted suppression by her husband and by patriarchal society generally. Of course, Lightning readily admits that singer Jo (Doris Day) in The Man Who Knew Too Much finally gets to belt it out at the film's climax - singing "Que Sera, Sera" loudly so that the kidnapped son will hear - which is half the point (the other half is that husband Ben - James Stewart - is also on hand to play his equal share in the rescue). And Lightning isn't wrong when he notes that Rose (Vera Miles) is a diminished figure at the end of The Wrong Man, confined to an asylum (which, ironically, mirrors the gaol from which her husband Manny - Henry Fonda - has recently been freed). (Lightning criticises Manny for not protesting enough - or at all - against the system that has brought this situation about. I'm not sure how fair such a criticism is.) However, where I do think Lightning seriously errs is in his assertion that the artist Sam (John Forsythe) in The Trouble With Harry is another potentially oppressive father-figure (once he gets to marry Jennifer/Shirley MacLaine). Sure, Sam is heard to call young Arnie (Jerry Mathers), Jennifer's son by her previous marriage, 'you little creep' - but that's a harmless, jokey epithet aimed at a lad who can sufficiently look after himself (as early scenes show). Lightning chooses to largely ignore not only the film's whimsical charm (where The Captain - Edmund Gwenn - is heard to say, 'No-one could help liking us today!') but specifically Sam's promise to Jennifer that their marriage will be a celebration of freedom ('I respect freedom' - frame-capture below). Admittedly, she, in accepting, murmurs that he 'must be practically unique, then' - but that, too, is in line with the film's good humour, which Lightning can't cope with. Either his analysis of patriarchy is no more than commonplace, even banal, which the film itself takes for granted, and jokes about (implying that no marriage is perfect, and is full of little power-plays), or else the true merit of the film/s is in the style and deftness, not the 'serious' analysis of patriarchy that Lightning claims makes them so good. I would have liked him to acknowledge that Harry is an exercise in a special kind of 'suspense', or 'suspension', inasmuch as its mood is that of a holiday, or idylll, where normal constraints are suspended, the better to allow a higher insight (in Hitchcock's words to Truffaut, one where 'the commonplace is raised to a higher level'). (I have analysed what this signifies in my profile of Hitchcock for 'Senses of Cinema'.) Granted, Lightning does allow some Shakespearean parallels here, correctly pointing out that the film's Mansfield Meadows is no simplistic 'Eden' (as Lesley Brill would have it) but rather 'Eden after the fall', with winter rapidly drawing on. Destructive elements have been 'merely temporally abated', signalling 'a symbolic lull in patriarchal norms and, in consequence, an opportunity for personal growth' (p. 37). But Lightning hardly sees the beauty and significance of all this - so obsessed is he with his 'serious' patriarchal reading! To be continued.

June 6 - 2015
Given the sort of dry, abstract appraisal of Hitchcock thematics in articles like the two above, it can be salutary to remind oneself that Hitchcock was an entertainer - like his near-contemporary, novelist Agatha Christie (1890-1976). I have noted parallels between Hitchcock and Christie here previously, but with the recent publication of Martin Edwards's 'The Golden Age of Murder' it may be timely to take another look at these two English crime specialists. Helpfully, I happened to read Christie's 'The Moving Finger' (1943) this week, which is about poison-pen letters, and a couple of murders, that grip an English village. Like Hitchcock's films, it features plenty of psychology, even pre-echoing a line from Frenzy (1972) when, apropos one of its suspects - a 'grim spinster' - it reminds us that 'sex mania' and 'religious mania' are 'very closely tied up together'. Of course, Christie, like Hitchcock, knows to keep things speeding along and that while it's fine to hint at sleazy or sordid stuff you need to balance it with a 'healthy' line of inquiry and characters who have 'compensatory' tendencies - like, here, the vicar's wife, extolling her Girl Guides and inquiring into everyone's business! Naturally, this being Christie, even the vicar's wife isn't above suspicion - no-one is, and that's the enjoyable, human point - but in fact Christie has other fish to fry. Leading us to believe that the guilty party is a woman-with-a-grudge (the police tell us that much), she makes the killer a bored husband captivated by his children's governess (and whose poison-pen letters were only a cunning distraction from his murderous intentions). Disguising his wife's murder as suicide, and disposing of a servant girl who knows too much in such a way that it appears she has been killed at the front door by an unknown intruder, the husband is only found out by a visitor to the village, the astute Miss Marple. What I found interesting is that Christie trades on the syndrome noted by Freud, in his famous study of Ibsen's 'Rosmersholm', whereby a housekeeper or governess hopes to supplant the current wife: compare Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) and Under Capricorn (1949). However, Miss Marple will only say, 'One sees a good deal of human nature living in a village all the year round.' As Martin Edwards notes, before defending the form, such novels were designed as 'cosies': they offer a cross-section of humanity with its recognisable foibles (Christie is daring enough to include among her suspects a bachelor, obviously gay, who collects Dresden china - but is this so far from some of Hitchcock's gay characters, like Leonard in North by Northwest?). Those foibles, in turn, may be seen as of small consequence compared with the hard realities of murder and 'wickedness' that are happening: in short, we are invited to share a certain wise forbearance, although in Christie's case you may also feel a certain snobbery and class superiority (but then, even Hitchcock was caught referring to his audience as the 'moron millions'!). Further, Christie's story is narrated by another visitor to the village, Jerry, sent there to recuperate after his plane was shot down (the book's sole reference to the War). He's accompanied by his sister. He soon finds himself attracted to the neglected Megan, 20 years of age but more like an adolescent: one day, in a scene anticipating Vertigo (1958), he takes her with him to London where he has her 'transformed' by his sister's dressmaker and hairdresser respectively. Both Christie and Hitchcock knew a dramatic scene when it presented itself and that could speak about their characters' psychology! Also, it's fair to note that because we quickly grow to like Megan, we are held in suspense when Christie hints that the girl could easily be the wanted criminal (and Jerry senses it too). Just as Hitchcock dealt in surprise as well as suspense, so Christie dealt in suspense as well as surprise. The two entertainers, both with designs on their respective audiences, are closer than often appreciated. Of course, there are far richer dimensions to Hitchcock - musical, visual, performative - yet as total professionals both Agatha and Alfred deserved their English knighthoods! Footnote: 'The Moving Finger' appeared the same year as French film director Henri Georges Clouzot's Le Corbeau, with which it has much in common. The reason appears to be that there was a precedent, Richard Llewellyn's play 'Poison Pen' (1938), filmed in England in 1939. The latter was well-directed by Austrian-born Paul Stein, with many Hitchcockians in its cast (e.g., Ann Todd, Robert Newton, Edward Chapman, Edward Rigby, Catherine Lacey, Wilfred Hyde-White). However, the guilty party this time really was the vicar's wife, and she was played by Flora Robson. Frame-capture below.

May 30 - 2015
Elizabeth Cowie's "Rear Window Ethics" is a 21-page chapter (pp. 518-38) in Geiger & Rutsky (eds), 'Film Analysis: A Norton Reader' (2005, 2013). In all fairness, few new observations emerge, so here's what I take to be Cowie's main idea. 'Central to Rear Window', she notes early on, 'is a look that sees without being seen, and it is the desires and consequences involved in such looking that are explored in the film.' Later, when Jeff's 'look' is returned, by the villain Thorwald, Cowie comments: 'This look returned presages a violence to which Jeff will become prey, as if the object of his look were now returning all the aggression Jeff has projected.' However, Cowie has also noted that such 'looking' can be benign, and that 'voyeurism' may sometimes be simply 'the nosiness of concerned neighbours'. (So maybe 'energy' might be a more neutral term than 'violence' or 'aggression'?) Cowie twice quotes Stella. First: 'We've become a race of Peeping Toms.' Second: 'People ought to get outside and look in at themselves.' The first allows Cowie to offer this conclusion: 'Stella's words might sum up Hitchcock's broader project as a filmmaker, namely, to implicate us as spectators ... by making us, too, into Peeping Toms.' Rear Window 'demands that we recognize our implication, and pleasure in voyeuristic looking and what this makes us blind to.' (What it makes us blind to may be that we keep on dreaming, regardless. As Cowie notes, there are several playful shots of Jeff asleep, even at the end. I was reminded of Richard Linklater's 2001 animated feature Waking Life, about trying to choose between opposed philosophical positions, whose young protagonist ambiguously floats upwards as the film ends.) The second of Stella's remarks leads Cowie to comment at the end: 'What is involved here [and in Hitchcock's films in general] is both our self-scrutiny by an other who may praise (the ego ideal) or judge (the superego, the law).' I trust that edifies you, reader. Cowie seldom allows herself to investigate real-world parallels. (That might be messy or appear non-academic!) Although she notes that the challenge Lisa poses to Jeff in her 'perfection' was based on action-photographer Robert Capa's troubled affair, witnessed by Hitchcock, with Ingrid Bergman at the time of Notorious, Cowie never pauses to consider that Capa was a genius in his field - globe-travelling cameraman, often to the world's most dangerous trouble-spots - for whom 'settling down' would have been a death sentence. (Capa continued with his career until tragically killed by a land mine in Vietnam in 1954.) So there is nothing cut-and-dried about what the immobilised, wheelchair-bound Jeff represents in the Rear Window narrative. (Cowie is perfunctory when she says that Lisa has the film's last 'look', albeit thereby 'keeping open the question of desire and the problem of its orderly transaction within human relations such as marriage'.) Nor, I felt, did Cowie once seem to hold a brief for screenwriters! Rear Window is precision-engineered by John Michael Hayes, from input by Hitchcock, as when the screenplay shows Jeff asleep as Thorwald and a woman, perhaps his wife, leave his apartment in the early hours of the morning. (By showing us this moment, the film holds out the possibility that Jeff is making a fool of himself when he later insists that Mrs Thorwald's disappearance is suspicious.) Or again, the fact that Jeff is already on the phone when Lisa is assaulted by Thorwald opposite, so has merely to quickly hang up and dial his local police precinct, is splendid 'plotting' - but Cowie isn't awarding marks for that sort of thing! I did rather like, though, her comments on Jeff's detective buddy, Doyle. When he sees Lisa's compact overnight case, its silken contents visible, his eyes widen, but Jeff with a look warns him 'against jumping to conclusions' - ironic, because that's what he'll warn Jeff and Lisa against in a moment. There is considerable opposing of egos here, including our own, inasmuch as we are on Jeff and Lisa's side by this stage. I had forgotten this: 'Doyle's view of things already has been subtly questioned by Hitchcock in his showing the policeman's uncomprehending gaze at the painting [echoes of Suspicion - see frame-capture below], with its bizarre array of objects whose sensible significance is drawn as much from our unconscious as our conscious recognition.' So, yes, there are several moments of 'cognitive dissonance' (as I've been calling them here lately) in Rear Window, and they hint at large matters that Cowie perhaps never quite puts her finger on. It isn't only detectives who find the world not easy to explain.

May 23 - 2015
It's been a while since we ran our occasional series of reports on recently-published scholarly articles, so now here's a report on "Screening and disclosing fantasy: rear projection in Hitchcock" by Elisabeth Bronfen (in 'Screen', Spring 2015, pp. 1-24). Bronfen believes that the regular use of rear projection in Hitchcock is seldom just for economic or technical reasons: rather, the director is asserting his presence and asking us to enter into the playful spirit of his creation, or he is saying something about his characters' closed worlds, or even about ours. An example may help. When the villain Fry falls from the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur (1942) - see frame-capture below - Bronfen thinks that the image involves rear projection and that this is appropriate. (This particular shot looks more like double-printing to me, but it's certainly true that some of the background shots during this scene, showing the view of the ground from the top of the Statue, and the distant skyline of New York, probably involve rear projection - so the general idea has been established.) Now here's Bronfen's explanation: 'When the film was released, the threat of German Fifth Columnists in the USA was all too real. By foregrounding the artificiality of one agent's demise, this final scene offers a revelation directly aimed at the political reality of the world beyond the screen, the conceptual vanishing point of the fictional reality brought to the screen through this cinematic device.' (p. 14) As I understand Bronfen, her analysis of Saboteur draws attention to how the characters are several times shown against rear-projected backgrounds, thereby hinting that their (and the narrative's) contained worlds are not the bigger truth, which is the War. Bronfen further suggests that there is a 'genre memory' operating here for the audience (she has borrowed the term 'genre memory' from a book by Robert Burgoyne) inasmuch as sophisticated viewers will recognise similar circumstances hinted at by the end of The 39 Steps (1935): the death of Mr Memory (while a chorus-line is rear-projected behind him) draws attention to the threat posed by the spies. As Bronfen explains: 'Attention is drawn to the entertainment in the background as a pleasurable diversion. Yet in screening out the actual threat to national security on the diegetic level of the film, it serves to highlight the mood of vigilance on the extradiegetic level ... [it] references an actual political threat beyond this fictional world.' (p. 16) Some of the inspiration for Bronfen's article came from a piece by Dominique Païni, "The Wandering Gaze: Hitchcock's use of Transparencies", and Bronfen is generous in citing her predecessor. By making sure we notice the rear projection in Hitchcock, both writers agree, he is making sure that we sense an extra level of meaning: he wants us to notice 'a grain in the image, a vibration in the window frames of cars and trains that enclose our vision of the landscape outside' (Bronfen, p. 9) Bronfen explains: 'A worried world is rendered by a troubling of visual phenomena, with the malaise of the characters corresponding to the disturbed homogeneity of the cinematic representation itself.' (p. 9) (This gives an example of what the present blogger calls Hitchcock's 'subjective technique'.) And again, apropos this 'visual trick' of Hitchcock's, Bronfen paraphrases Païni: it 'instals verisimilitude without effacing the illusionist magic by which it is brought to the screen. By producing a dream-like universe, rear projections sustain the tension between a realism in the details of the world viewed (projected in the back) and the fictionality of the screened world as a whole.' (p. 9) (Such a tension is like what I have called Hitchcock's use of 'cognitive dissonance'. Another example is noted, I suggest, by Sidney Gottlieb in 'Hitchcock on Hitchcock', Volume 2, where he praises the director's phrase 'mad tension' to refer to how his films overlay suspense with mystery.) Païni is cited one further time, namely, his view that the late 1950s and early 1960s were a mannerist period in Hitchcock's oeuvre where visual distortions of all sorts - and rear projections, in particular - were 'used to the maximum of their poetic significance' (p. 21) Nonetheless, I have to report that not all of Bronfen's article is convincing. For example, her examples of rear projection in Hitchcock's cameo appearances are hardly representative: the majority of the cameos do not involve rear projection at all (e.g., Under Capricorn, North by Northwest, Torn Curtain). Her final conclusion that the Hitchcock spectator enters into a kind of disavowal - 'I know that this is only a cinematic fiction but all the same I am viscerally involved' - may be true, but Bronfen rather strains to fully explain why this happens.

May 16 - 2015
[As above. Back next week without fail! K.M.]

May 9 - 2015
[No entry this week, sorry. Deadlines press. But note the updated News & Comment item.]

May 2 - 2015
Beneath its generally sunny surface, Young and Innocent, as I've noted before, has a surreal suggestiveness, anticipating aspects of David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986). Both films focus on a youth poised between a married woman - a public entertainer - and a teenager, the daughter of a policeman. In Young and Innocent, the murdered actress may have been Robert's mistress. Her husband who kills her certainly thinks so, although Hitchcock, contra the Josephine Tey novel, leaves the matter open - which suits both the effect he wants and censorship requirements. During the film, Robert (Derrick de Marney) must dispel the 'shadow of a doubt' hanging over him and, in his relationship with teenaged Erica (Nova Pilbeam), earn her trust. (His earlier relationship with the actress is like a metaphor for both 'sowing his wild oats' and for something potentially more unruly. In Stage Fright, the Richard Todd character's relationship with Marlene Dietrich, playing a married entertainer, shows him failing such a test, and letting down the Jane Wyman character. The film's screenplay calls him 'a trifle weak'.) More broadly, Young and Innocent may be seen to imply the Blakeian notion of a progression from Innocence to Experience to a form of Innocence Regained - although the latter, for Robert and Erica, presumably lies essentially in the future. Whereas Hitchcock, as noted last time, all his life seems to have deliberately cultivated a form of Innocence alongside his more knowing self (Experience) - with both aspects contributing to his art. Which may return us to the scene in Young and Innocent that I started to praise last time. The frame-capture there, even by itself, shows the rich 'magic' of the scene. It is knowingly child-like in its loving representation of a sleeping English town: very possibly, indeed, children will best understand what I mean, because they will immediately have resource in themselves to equivalent images of places remembered or conjured up by their imaginations. But, hopefully, my adult readers can also understand! In a moment, I'll suggest some parallels in photography and art that may prove helpful. However, let's stay with Hitchcock for now, because I want to suggest (a) that he knew exactly what he was doing in this scene, and (b) that he could not have done so without 'feeling it' within himself. I think the scene in Young and Innocent owes something to a shot in Number Seventeen (1932). There, you'll recall, the hero commandeers an all-night bus in order to give chase to a gang of crooks who have jumped aboard the Dover goods-train. At one point, as dawn is just breaking, the bus speeds through a town and Hitchcock wittily includes a shot of a church with its 'dreaming spire'. But the shot is more than just witty: it is both well-observed and, in its 'sleepiness', a foil to the chase itself. Now back to the Young and Innocent scene. That scene is elaborate, and brilliant. The ingredients include a remarkable (in a model shot) sideways tracking movement as the train, with lit-up windows, rushes beneath the moonlit bridge where we've just seen a car cross; various lighting effects (more about one of those in a moment); and sounds of shunting, a tolling bell, and of the speeding train itself. Finally the camera arrives at the young couple's parked car. 'The night,' we hear Robert say, 'always exaggerates things, doesn't it? Personally, I like the night. It's much more alive than the day.' This is all quite Shakespearean in its magic. ('The night is the witching time,' wrote Shakespeare.) And it is superbly atmospheric. The signal-box and houses have character, and anticipate the array of house-fronts and buildings, lovingly shot on location, seen in the next-scene-but-one (after Nobby's flophouse), when Robert and Erica and Old Will escape in daylight. As I say, Hitchcock knew exactly what he wanted and how it would work. The night scene may further remind you of certain paintings featuring trains, such as the surrealist Paul Delvaux's 'The Night Train' (1947), albeit without his reclining nudes in waiting-rooms! But most of all, Hitchcock's night scene anticipates the work of US photographer O. Winston Link (1914-2001), who lovingly recorded the last days of the steam train in the 1950s, notably on the Norfolk & Western line. Nearly all of Link's photos were taken at night - see example below - because, for one thing, the night sky showed up the steam from the trains as white. In the day, it photographed as a dirty grey. For Link, it is said, 'the trains were comparable to Garbo and Dietrich at their most glamorous'. Now, I want to suggest that it was Hitchcock's retention of his child-like vision that facilitated the compassion that informs a film like Marnie. But that's a topic in itself.

April 25 - 2015
Much more could be said about Hitchcock's use of 'cognitive dissonance' (related to his 'outflanking' and 'misdirection' techniques - see last time). The suspense principle that informs Vertigo - involving simultaneous fear and hope - is described by Hitchcock in an interview as 'a mad tension' between suspense plus mystery. (Authors like Dickens and Poe and Wilkie Collins were masters of this technique.) It also closely corresponds to the philosopher Kierkegaard's definition of 'dread': a 'sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy'. I have shown how young Charlie in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt experiences such dread as a teenager on the verge of adulthood - and which the arrival of her charming (but murderous) uncle brings to a head. (Shadow of a Doubt is another of Hitchcock's films about the ambiguities of 'growing up', with more than a tinge of sexuality implied.) Kierkegaard speaks of 'a thirst for the prodigious, the mysterious' - beyond which is 'the possibility of freedom'. I thought of it this week when our Hitchcock discussion group suddenly took up the 'rape' scene in Marnie, which I had mentioned in neutral terms: 'At the Hitchcock Centennial in 1999, Robin Wood spoke out for the film's treating Mark with sympathy (but Marnie too, of course), and [screenwriter] Jay Allen [had] agreed with him.' Hitchcock always saw sexuality as a powerful (if not irresistible) force, just as another philosopher, Schopenhauer, saw it as the principal manifestation of the world's Will (thereby anticipating Freud's huge emphasis on sexuality). It is in that 'universal' or 'cosmic' perspective that I think Hitchcock was ultimately locating the film's 'rape' scene - the film dwells on zoology (from insects to horses to humans) and (via Mark's misquotation of Emerson) on an unseen dimension that shapes our ends. But because the 'rape' is depicted subjectively - from both Mark's and Marnie's quite different perspectives (the frigid Marnie is traumatised) - we experience it, once again, with massive 'cognitive dissonance'. Our discussion group, in fact, was divided for a time by matters of sexual politics and political correctness/incorrectness, but member JG astutely noted the way in which the scene is actually filmed: 'These days for me, the brilliance of the scene is in its ambiguity [...] Mark bearing down upon us, dark and animal; Marnie, frozen, trapped, helpless; the absolutely brilliant axis shift of the POV shot onto Marnie as the bed looms up.' The rest of the film shows Mark's sincere and efficacious attempt to make reparation to Marnie (but both parties have, in a sense, been shocked by the incident and its immediate aftermath, Marnie's attempt at suicide in the ship's pool rather than - note - by throwing herself over the side, suggesting her still-present will to live ...). Now, here's something that Peter Ackroyd notes (in 'Alfred Hitchcock', 2015): '[Hitchcock] said, on more than one occasion, "I don't give a damn what the film is about." It had only to be seen, and not interpreted. No philosophical theory or analysis interested him in the least. Or, to put it another way, any film had different and multiple possibilities of meaning, which is perhaps the condition of life itself.' (p. 220) We (largely) concur! That's why, of all philosophies, Schopenhauer's 'single thought' (contra Hegel's 'system'), embracing an empirical life/death view of the world, may so exactly correspond to Hitchcock's films' non-dogmatic and ultimately 'open-ended position (Spoto speaks of their 'open-ended pessimism'). Of course, there is also the all-important note of compassion to be found in both Schopenhauer and the later Hitchcock in particular: for example, Mark remarks, 'Marnie, it's time to have a little compassion for yourself'. For Hitchcock, this element may have come from his Catholicism (perhaps via G.K. Chesterton) - a topic for later. Today I'd like to end by noting that the ambiguity in Marnie reflects something that was always beautiful in Hitchcock but is seldom remarked or properly appreciated. About the significantly-named Young and Innocent (1937), everyone notices and rightly praises the tour de force tracking-shot at the end that reveals a murderer with a twitching eye: that shot is, amongst other things, assertively 'phallic' and a comment on the necessarily destructive side of existence. But all his life, Hitchcock also retained a more 'innocent' vision - he seems to have done everything he could to keep and cultivate it - which I (for one) value. I suggest that one particular model shot, of a railway shunting yard, in Young and Innocent (see frame-capture below), is truly 'magical', of equal value to the above-described tracking shot. Sound-effects and dialogue contribute powerfully (Robert is heard telling Erica, 'The night is much more alive than the day'). Cognise well! I'll say more next time.

April 18 - 2015
Let's further discuss Hitchcock's resort to 'cognitive dissonance' (as when, in a draft of North by Northwest, Thornhill in Lincoln's nostril has a sneezing fit) and Hitchcock's related use of outflanking and misdirection techniques. I'll explain those last two terms. First, 'outflanking'. On principle, Hitchcock’s audience mustn’t be allowed to feel 'superior' to the film they are watching. They must be 'outflanked'! Sometimes this is achieved by adducing superior knowledge, as when, in The Birds, Mrs Bundy, quite literally (and properly) puts us in our place by noting that 'birds have been on this planet since archaeopteryx'. (Significantly, she herself is soon 'put in her place' - she is last seen cowering in a corner with other frightened Bodega Bay residents after the birds attack the town centre.) Hitchcock often remarked on the increasing sophistication of his audiences, all too willing to challenge him: 'All right, Hitch, surprise us!' It was a reason why he insisted that his TV shows, in particular, have 'twist' endings. Now, 'misdirection'. Like a conjuror, Hitchcock often required that the audience's attention be diverted: hence, for example, the MacGuffin (essentially a red herring). The principle was a bit like T.S. Eliot's bone thrown to the fierce bulldog while the thief - the poem or film - goes about 'breaking into' the deeper recesses of our minds. In Psycho, the stolen $40,000 is one MacGuffin (it ends up in a swamp); another is the whole first section of the film, in which Marion Crane flees Phoenix with the stolen money (and suddenly ends up dead). But that film also contains a brilliant piece of misdirection, by Joseph Stefano's screenplay, that is indeed also 'cognitively dissonant' as far as its audience is concerned. When Sam (John Gavin) and Lila (Vera Miles) call on the local sheriff to report Marion's disappearance, the sheriff intones the following poser: 'Well, if the woman up there [at the Bates Motel] is Mrs Bates, who's that woman buried out in Greenlawn Cemetery?' Deliciously, this throws us right off the scent - which is precisely what the filmmakers intended, of course. (If they had played strictly fair, the line might have been rather different: 'Well, I buried Mrs Bates myself in Greenlawn Cemetery, so who's that person posing as her up there at the Bates Motel?') Hmm. Hitchcock knew just how easy it was to put one over on audiences - he had an acute understanding of audience psychology. To young screenwriter Peter Viertel on Saboteur (1942), he remarked at one point during script preparation (apropos Barry's escape from Mrs Sutton's house), 'They'll never ask [how he managed it].' I don't think this necessarily means (as biographer Peter Ackroyd claims) that Hitchcock 'was willing to belittle his own achievements' - fooling audiences was all part of Hitchcock's job as he saw it. Rather, he had a very perceptive theory of how audiences might collectively succumb to what he called 'moronic logic'. He once explained to an interviewer how it was like when a tired father is approached by his school-age son for help with his maths homework. The father takes one look at the problem and bellows, 'Aw, get outa here and don't bother me!' (In rather different language, I once saw a comparable explanation of mass thinking by psychologist Carl Jung!) But we were discussing Hitchcock's use of 'cognitive dissonance'. Often, his basic principle was, 'If it works, use it!' Hence the resort to 'canine telepathy' in Secret Agent (1936) - something that is also in one of the Somerset Maugham stories that provided the film's basis. (See frame-capture below.) Of course, there was more to it than that. The dog's piteous whining as his master is pushed off an alpine cliff miles away (by a ruthless Peter Lorre) suitably counterpoints the helplessness felt by both the audience and by the hero Ashenden (John Gielgud) who observes the murder through an observatory telescope; also, the film is full of 'sound effects' (such as an organ playing an involuntary dirge), and the telepathic dog's whining contributes to that rich filmic 'texture'. We have already seen (last time) how a film like Notorious or Vertigo or The Birds might itself pivot on 'cognitive dissonance'. In truth, many of Hitchcock's best films work similarly, involving an outlandish or startling situation or premise. Think of The Lady Vanishes (1938) - a harmless-seeming English lady disappears from a European train and everyone except the heroine denies having seen her - or Rope (1948) - two young men 'thrill-kill' a youth and then invite his parents and friends to unwittingly eat food from his 'coffin' - or Strangers on a Train (1951) - a charming psychopath invents a 'perfect murder' scheme involving 'swapped murders'. Contrariwise, some of Hitchcock's lesser (but still meritorious!) films, like Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969), lack the outlandish touch, the initial premise or challenge of 'cognitive dissonance'.

April 11 - 2015
New topic. That is to say, I'd like now to follow up the reference last time to Hitchcock's use of 'cognitive dissonance' to bemuse or otherwise 'play with' his audience. (The phrase about playing with his audience is Hitchcock's.) It represents an aspect of what I call his 'outflanking technique' - on which more in a moment. Also, it goes hand in hand with his comedy style ('Every film I make is a comedy', Hitchcock once said) because he wants his audience to adopt the larger frame of mind that comedy allows, the better to let 'reality' enter in, however briefly. The film that best epitomises these things is certainly The Birds (1963), where cognitive dissonance is itself the film's subject. When Mrs Bundy (Ethel Griffies), the tweedy ornithologist, is told that different species of birds have flocked together to attack schoolchildren, she resolutely denies it: 'The very concept is unimaginable!' (See frame-capture below.) But we have already seen the birds attack, and our own 'logical' objections have been put in their place - shown as small-minded - by lines given to Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor), such as the latter's matter-of-fact observation, 'It's happening!' In similar manner, Vertigo (1958) for a while may almost have us believing in reincarnation, not least because every effort by the 'hard-headed' Scottie (James Stewart) to 'rationalise' what the haunted 'Madeleine' (Kim Novak) tells him, is defeated (e.g., in the stables at San Juan Bautista). (When the 'true' explanation is finally given, the original mood is hardly dispelled, but in retrospect takes on a poetic meaning about 'freedom': we may want to evoke visionary poet/artist William Blake or maybe the last play of Henrik Ibsen, 'When We Dead Awaken'.) But 'cognitive dissonance' in Hitchcock operated at many levels. Saboteur (1942) provides examples. Memorable is the scene in Radio City Music Hall where a movie is playing on an enormous screen: this is one of two sequences in that film that anticipate the Mount Rushmore climax of North by Northwest with its gigantic heads of the Presidents. The cognitive dissonance in the Radio City Music Hall is the result of confusion by the onscreen audience - and even more, by us, looking on - when gunshots (and screams) are heard: they seem at first to emanate from the film inside the auditorium, then are shown to have been fired by Hitchcock's villain Fry (Norman Lloyd) who has been pursued to the cinema by government agents. The other sequence that anticipates Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest is of course the climax where Fry and hero Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) cling from the Statue of Liberty, and Fry eventually falls to his death. Revealingly, Norman Lloyd, in his memoir 'Stages' (1990), notes that audiences of the time wondered how the sequence was shot. Lloyd: 'That was precisely the effect that Hitchcock desired because ... he looked for a style that would not only give the audience the emotional kick that he hoped for but would also leave them puzzled.' If cognitive dissonance could be combined with sexual tension, so much the better. The handcuffs sequences in The 39 Steps (1935) are like that: a deliciously 'outlandish' situation that will have to be surmounted - somehow! Even better is the core situation of Notorious (1946). As I pointed out in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (1999; 2008), and as correspondent CA (see last time) reminded me this week, that situation almost certainly derived from John Buchan's 1919 wartime novel 'Mr Standfast' (via a 'Saturday Evening Post' story by John Taintor Foote, published in 1921) in which Richard Hannay's sweetheart, Mary Lamington, allows herself to be wooed - and wed - by a top German spy. When Hannay protests about her 'infernally degrading scheme' (to obtain valuable intelligence), a colleague reasons with him: 'It isn't pretty, but war isn't pretty, and nothing we do is pretty.' At all of these moments, but especially such ones as I've described in The Birds and Notorious, a way of seeing the world is indeed implied: a view of 'life' that we may usually shy away from, so pessimistic is it, though love offers a measure of hope. Also, the very 'style' that Norman Lloyd referred to - particularly when combined with suspense - helps render 'the flow of life' more palpable, in all of its paradoxical (life/death) nature. A final, small example to end on: the speculation (with slide-show) about what is buried in the flower bed in Rear Window (1954). 'Since when do flowers grow down, instead of up?' Cognise that! More next time.

April 4 - 2015
According to Donald Spoto in his perceptive 'The Dark Side of Genius' (p. 333 of the 1983 British edition), Hitchcock's original inspiration to make North by Northwest was his idea to have someone on Mount Rushmore cling from one of Lincoln's eyebrows - not hide in his nostril and have a sneezing fit, as the mischievous director later gave out. This "Editor's Week" entry, though, will be about what Hitchcock saw in that latter idea, and how it would have fitted the thematics of the film, notably its basic 'coming alive' theme. (After arriving at Mount Rushmore, Thornhill says, 'I never felt more alive.' See also entry for February 21, above.) Now, where to begin? Well, a journalist once asked Hitchcock, 'How would you murder a blonde?' And the director answered, 'It seems to me ... you should poison her.' Pause. Then: '... with peroxide.' Another pause. 'That would give you the requisite counterpoint.' (By now, Hitchcock was grinning!) Instantly, we can see how the sneezing-fit-in-Lincoln's nostril follows the pattern. But of course there's more to it than that. Someone on our Hitchcock discussion group this week became annoyed with me because he thought that, by emphasising the essential wit of the scene, I was ignoring possible 'political' (in both narrow and broad senses) implications. (Cf frame-capture below.) I wasn't, though! It's just that a film is more able to create an all-at-onceness for the viewer than lines of print can quickly do: a writer or critic may have to spell out laboriously what the film director can achieve in an instant. For example, to put the Lincoln's-nostril moment in context, along with the Mount Rushmore sequence generally, I felt required to note (not for the first time) the following. Namely, how there's an archetype for North by Northwest in Rider Haggard's 'King Solomon's Mines' (1885) and other 19C adventure tales (going back to Walter Scott). 'Typically they described a journey northwards or westwards to a mountainous climax. Haggard's [novel contains] this passage: "All that afternoon we travelled on along the magnificent roadway which headed steadily in a north-westerly direction". At the end of the roadway lie the three "Silent Ones," colossi carved into the steep mountainside, which narrator Alan Quatermain soon intuits represent "false divinities" ...' Without a doubt, these are the forerunners of the Mount Rushmore Presidents! But as I hastened to assure my questioner, the next step is to inquire what Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernie Lehman did with them. One reading is that the Presidents are (as I've said elsewhere) 'basilisk faces', meaning that their stony gaze isn't going to help Thornhill and Eve in their 'existential quest' for life. I reminded my questioner that in the film's hectic opening scenes, the New Yorkers, including Thornhill himself, are depicted as either 'other-directed' or near-moribund (the Oak Bar scene)! By the same token, the film's sense of adventure already holds out - like a promise - what To Catch a Thief calls 'excitement, danger ... affluence' (and Vertigo echoes in its phrase, 'colour, excitement, power, freedom'!) (Returning for a moment to 'King Solomon's Mines', it's worth remembering that the threatening mountain is also the site of vast treasure ...) More counterpoint, notice! Now think of the proposed gag involving Lincoln's nostril. Clearly, besides the wit and the teasing 'cognitive dissonance' (nostril, sneeze, but apparently no logical connection!), this is indeed about life/death: the animated sneeze ironically juxtaposed with the immense stoniness all around, and Vandamm's heavies even now closing in! To me, the above, whether it yet counts as 'political' or not (there's more to describe), is basic: not all themes are equal! In true Hitchcock fashion, the above implies an analogue of the audience itself 'coming alive' as it undergoes peril and adventure, and works out mentally and emotionally. ('Yet, note,' I told our group, 'none of this is really "real"'!) Okay. Next note how, briefly, at the climax, Lincoln's noble visage presides. The nobility can represent our basic inspiration, that which brings us to Hitchcock's film in quest of adventure and wakefulness. But the stoniness of the visage/s should at the same time remind us that individual lives remain to be saved - or not. Yes, the film isn't really 'real' - it is 'a little artificial' in the words of Yves Lavandier quoted last time. Nonetheless, the basic pattern is further analogous to Thornhill's (unstated) quest, like Scottie's in Vertigo, to escape his initial condition. (Why, too, do I think of the parable of the flatid bugs in Marnie?!) I'm grateful to correspondent CA in New Zealand who wrote to me this week to say that he detects in North by Northwest the theme of Plato's Cave. The many bystanders in the film (in New York, on the train, at the auction, at Mount Rushmore) are essentially passive: they're 'imprisoned' without knowing it! CA is using such a theme in the novel he's writing. He tells me: 'Behind my use of the second person, I'm trying to simulate the gap between perceptions and reality'. In replying to him, I summed up: 'So both you and Hitchcock act as Plato to your respective audiences, offering them the truth - but will they seize it (in the sense of carpe diem, another of your images - Thornhill venturing into the harsh light of day)?!'

March 28 - 2015
This entry on North by Northwest is adapted from "Editor's Week", August 16, 2008, where I commented on the analysis of Hitchcock's film in Yves Lavandier's 'Writing Drama: A Comprehensive Guide for Playwrights and Scriptwriters' (English translation 2005). I had earlier quoted Lavandier's surely misguided assertion that there is a lack of urgency in North by Northwest: 'There is no scene of suspense in which the protagonist has to race against the clock. The suspense is less strong than it would have been if Hitchcock had introduced a time element.' (p. 427) (Lavandier follows this up with a surely even more misguided - because irrelevant - claim that, 'There is, let's face it, something a little artificial about North by Northwest ...', and adduces a list of his preferred, no doubt more realistic, thrillers such as The Abyss (James Cameron, 1989), Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979), and The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1952). So much for what Hitchcock calls 'the free abstract in movie making ... the free use of fantasy'! His film operates in a different way from those others, more akin to the viewer being trapped in a serio-comic nightmare, along with the absurdly quotidian figure of Roger Thornhill. ('Not that I mind a slight case of abduction now and then, but I have tickets for the theatre this evening ...') As for the other matter raised by Lavandier, several readers spotted that he almost certainly got it wrong. DF emailed: '(1) Thornhill hasn't got unlimited time to escape his pursuers and prove his innocence - that makes up roughly the first two-thirds of the film and creates a most suspenseful and thrilling atmosphere; and (2) at the end, the clock really is ticking - Thornhill has to rescue his lady love before that plane takes off!' Quite so. It often took (or takes) commentators a lapse of time, even years, to see each successive Hitchcock film for what it is. Coincidentally, after reading Lavandier, I happened to notice what an Australian reviewer wrote in 1976 after she saw Family Plot: that it can't be much good because you don't scream during it! Which is surely to miss the main point of that charming, relaxed valedictory offering, again scripted for Hitch by the thoroughly professional Ernest Lehmann. Sometimes it takes an astute viewer to really appreciate what Hitchcock achieves in a particular film. In support of a suggestion of mine that Hitchcock is very much about 'tone', SR posted to our Hitchcock discussion group: 'When Hitchcock cast Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, he did so because, superficially, he wanted to take her out of the "kitchen sink" realism of Kazan and the Method. But far more interestingly, he cast her because - according to Lehman - he thought that her unusual bone structure suggested an objet d'art, an almost Kabuki-like alabaster mask, hence a perfect trophy for James Mason's urbane, wealthy, duplicitous character who frequents art auctions and has as a backdrop a Frank Lloyd Wright-like house.' Yes! To be fair now, here's how Lavandier himself sums up: '[O]ne thing is certain: the script ... is a model of its kind. The whole of the preparation, the way surprise and dramatic irony are exploited, the quality of the construction and the generally simple way the story is told (no flashbacks, no subplot) should be a source of inspiration for any writer of drama.' (p. 442) Now let's conclude for this week with a little frame-analysis. The frame below shows Thornhill momentarily stunned, for where he had expected to find liquor in Townsend's/Vandamm's liquor cabinet, he has discovered only books! This is basically an old situation, with a precedent in Hitchcock's own The Lady Vanishes (1938). But notice the style with which the filmmakers have gone about their business. For one thing, Thornhill has just stepped back athletically from the liquor cabinet, crossing the frame in an instant and making it look perfectly natural, thanks to Cary Grant. (A moment later, the door will open and - cut - 'Mrs Townsend' will enter, as if on cue.) So now we have a row of five complementary 'types' (unobtrusively dominated by a background which signals 'art, money, taste'). Jessie Royce Landis, playing Mrs Thornhill, dominates the composition, as well she might. Her thoughtful attire - notice the gold trinket that complements her brown leather gloves which in turn match the rest of her outfit - is subtly opposed to the burly, dumb-looking policeman in the background, swaying out of his ill-fitting suit! Edward Binns as Captain Junket on the right of frame stands tall, but he has been given a grey shirt and a patterned tie that is no match for Thornhill's immaculate white shirt and plain grey silk tie. (Junket's burly colleague has a standard-issue pink shirt and striped tie, notice.) As for the family lawyer, played by Edward Platt, in black tie, he is respectable but ageing (setting off Roger's new-found athleticism). More next time.

March 21 - 2015
Some errors last time! First, the interview with Hitchcock I attributed to 'Movie' (the UK journal) was in fact the one Hitchcock gave Peter Bogdanovich, first published in 'the Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock' (MoMA, 1963) and later re-printed (minus some TV stuff) in Bogdanovich's 'Who the Devil Made It?' (1997). Thanks to Michael Walker ('Hitchcock's Motifs', 2005) for telling me that. Further, it seems Hitchcock wasn't referring to Vandamm's three henchmen but rather to Vandamm himself plus two of the henchmen (Leonard and Valerian but not Licht). Here's the actual text. 'I didn't make [James Mason] do a dastardly thing in [North by Northwest]. I split him into three in an effort to keep him from behaving like a heavy: there's Mason himself, who only had to nod. I gave him a rather saturnine-looking secretary [Martin Landau] - there was the face of Mason. And the third man - Adam Williams - he was the brutality.' Interesting. I must have 'invented' the attribution of brains, brawn and brutality to respectively Leonard, Licht (Robert Ellenstein), and Valerian! Only the last is specifically assigned an attribute ('brutality') by Hitchcock in the Bogdanovich interview. But stay attentive now! I emailed Bill Krohn ('Hitchcock at Work', 2000) and Christopher Daly (see February 28, above) on this matter, and suggested that Hitchcock himself had - in a sense - got it wrong! Surely, I said, Valerian (Williams) is more 'brawn' than 'brutality'! (In Without Warning, Williams doffs his shirt and you see just how burly he is.) The appellation of 'brutality' really should go to Licht, a nasty piece of work with his sneer and his Gestapo-style way way of holding a cigarette between thumb and forefinger (see frame-capture last time). Christopher agreed, helpfully noting the joking element in the henchmen's names: 'Leonard' can mean 'lion-hearted' or 'learned', 'Valerian' = 'a health-giving herb' (!), and 'Licht' = 'light' (when in fact the character so-named is one of the heavies!). Then Bill explained why Hitchcock may not have mentioned Licht in the Bogdanovich interview. Besides helping to kidnap Thornhill (Cary Grant), Licht in early drafts of the script was going to pilot the plane that strafes Thornhill at Prairie Stop. But Hitchcock eventually dropped all aerial shots from that scene, so Licht was never identified as the dead pilot, and his disappearance from the rest of the film (notably the auction gallery scene, where Vandamm, Leonard, and Valerian all appear - cf frame-capture below) is never explained. Turning now to another aspect of North by Northwest, already touched on ... I mentioned (February 21 and 28, above) how our discussion group raised the likely relevance of Norman O. Brown's 'Life Against Death' (a text much admired by film critic Robin Wood) to that film in particular. I went so far as to suggest that North by Northwest is a more 'liberating' film than the other masterpiece, Vertigo, that preceded it, because it actually incorporates (as part of its 'subjective' technique) the sort of impersonal playfulness that Brown advocated if we are ever to recover the full 'polymorphous-perverse' freedom associated with our 'lost' childhood. Brown was very insistent: even 'mature genital sexuality' (signalled at the end of North by Northwest) is not the acme, being still under the aegis of (patriarchal) social organisation and not fully liberating of the senses and the instincts. (I have suggested, here and elsewhere, that such a message is implied by Rebecca, which Hitchcock filmed in 1940 from the visionary novel by Daphne du Maurier.) I would also note this. Brown was not alone in his observation. Four years before Brown's 1959 book (published the same year as North by Northwest), Herbert Marcuse's 'Eros and Civilization' appeared. As an example of 'surplus repression' (repression imposed by social organisation), Marcuse pointed to not only society's total concentration on genital coupling but to such phenomena as the repression of smell/taste in sexual life. Further, just three years after 'Life Against Death', the groundbreaking Ken Kesey novel 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' (whose memorable villain is of course the repressive Nurse Ratched - no Rebecca, she!) was published, and soon the whole liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s was under way. For example, Australian gay liberationist Dennis Altman wrote his book 'Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation' (1971), prophesying such notions as 'the polymorphous whole' and 'the end of the homosexual'. I suggest that North by Northwest, alert to what was happening, made its own broad contribution to the new awareness - though with a built-in caution about over-optimism! (Hadn't T.S. Eliot spotted an earlier 'dissociation of sensibility' - the separation of intellection and feeling - occurring in the 17C?!) To be continued.

March 14 - 2015
Reader, you have probably seen Hitchcock's interview (for the UK journal 'Movie') in which he describes how, for reasons of screenplay efficiency, he allowed us to infer the darker side of Vandamm (James Mason) by simply showing us his three henchmen: Leonard (Martin Landau), Licht (Robert Ellenstein), and Valerian (Adam Williams). (Cf frame-capture below, in which the deathly trio prepare to forcibly offer Roger - Cary Grant - a 'libation'.) Such principles of good screenplay construction were learned early by Hitchcock when he worked with the prolific and versatile Eliot Stannard in the silent era - Stannard being the Ben Hecht of his day. As I recall, Hitchcock said that the three henchmen represented, respectively, 'brains', 'brawn', and 'brutality'. Today, of course, Landau is known for many accomplishments, such as his work with Woody Allen and Tim Burton (in 1994 he played Bela Lugosi in Burton's Ed Wood, and thereby won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), but it was the role of Leonard in North by Northwest that effectively first brought him to the attention of a wide movie audience. As the book 'The Heavies' (1967) noted, 'James Mason's "rather saturnine-looking secretary" in North by Northwest was only Martin Landau's second screen part.' (His first was in Lewis Milestone's 1959 war movie, Pork Chop Hill, where he had a memorable scene with Gregory Peck.) This week I had occasion to mention Landau to our Hitchcock discussion group, arguing that North by Northwest could not have come about without another masterpiece, Vertigo, 'having preceded it - and to which it is both reaction and fulfilment (there's no sinister, forbidding nun at the end of North by Northwest, her nearest equivalent, [Landau's] Leonard, having himself taken the plunge from a high place this time)'. (I'm simplifying the nun's role at the end of Vertigo, of course: as I've said elsewhere, she's actually an ambiguous figure.) Right, let's come next to Robert Ellenstein (1923-2010). Born in Newark, New Jersey, he's a fascinating gentleman, having taught theatre professionally and academically for over 50 years, co-founding the Los Angeles Repertory Company and was a founding member of Theatre West in Hollywood. But back in the 1950s, what brought him to Hitchcock's attention was almost certainly his television work - in that medium's 'Golden Age' when dramas were telecast live to air. Ellenstein played Quasimodo in a 'Robert Montgomery Presents' (1950) version of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' and starred again in the same show four years later (January, 1954) when he played Manny Balestrero in 'A Case of Identity' adapted from a 'Life' magazine article about a real-life event involving mistaken identity - and which Hitchcock proceeded to film as The Wrong Man (1957), starring Henry Fonda. How ironic that Ellenstein should be one of Roger's tormentors in North by Northwest! (For the 'Life' report on the television production of 'A Case of Identity', including production stills and even a photograph of the real Manny Balestrero watching himself on television, google 'a case of identity' + 'balestrero's nightmare'.) Which may bring us to Adam Williams (1922-2006). As 'The Heavies' reports: 'The third man in James Mason's team of heavies in North by Northwest was a young-looking rather burly individual, decently suited like his colleagues, but with very skinny eyes.' ('He was the brutality', as Hitchcock said.) Hitchcock probably saw Williams in such 1950s films as Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953) and Robert Mulligan's Fear Strikes Out (1957), starring Tony Perkins. But there is another even earlier film that is actually referenced in North by Northwest, and which I'm grateful to Gary Giblin ('Hitchcock's London', 2006) for first drawing my attention to. That film is the excellent B-feature, Arnold Laven's Without Warning (1952), filmed on location in Los Angeles and starring Williams as a serial killer of blondes, who is hunted down by a policeman played by Edward Binns (also in North by Northwest), and whose preferred killing instrument is a small pair of garden shears! The fact that Williams in North by Northwest is shown to be a gardener, as in Laven's film, and is last seen wielding a massive pair of garden shears (whose clacking sound is ominously heard just before the camera reaches him), is an in-joke on the part of Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernie Lehman. A very good in-joke! More next time.

March 7 - 2015
[No entry this week, sorry. An updated News & Comment item appears.]

February 28 - 2015
During the week our discussion group detailed just why North by Northwest is particularly well illuminated by Freudian revisionist Norman O. Brown's celebrated study 'Life Against Death' (1959). The film's ambiguous life/death moments (see above) may be said to reflect a conflicted society whose organisation, as Brown shows, represses 'the kingdom of enjoyment' that we half-remember from infancy - and to a form of which Brown would return us. If The Trouble With Harry (1955) is an allegory of that timeless ideal condition, Vertigo (1958) represents 'Everyman' Scottie's (increasingly wilful) attempts to transcend his repressive society (note: he thinks he sees in 'Madeleine' the embodiment of the 'timelessness' he seeks). But Vertigo, arguably, is not liberating - whereas the more 'playful' North by Northwest is. (As previously noted, impersonal 'play' is something Brown sees as a distinguishing mark of both 'polymorphous perverse' infancy and of God - here he cites the 17C mystic Jacob Boehme. It is also a mark of what Hitchcock himself called 'the free abstract in movie making ... the free use of fantasy'.) Now, also during the week I had further correspondence with Christopher Daly who is working on a Hitchcock topic of his own - details at a later date - and has long been following this site's work on Hitchcock's 'sources', revealing the director's enormous capacity to integrate into his films material from other filmmakers, artists and writers. Christopher writes: 'I'm convinced Hitchcock watched all the films of people [actors, crew, et al.] he previously worked with.' Here is a striking example of what Christopher means. Top cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff, after finishing Notorious (1946) for Hitchcock, went on to capably direct several films of his own, including The Window (1949), from a story by Cornell Woolrich. (No need to point out the possible Hitchcock-connection there.) Earlier the same year he had made the drama Johnny Allegro, starring George Brent, Nina Foch, and George Macready. Here's Christopher's rather startling claim (from an email he sent me last year): 'Johnny Allegro has elements of Notorious, but the character played by [the blonde] Nina Foch would seem to be an inspiration for Eve Kendall [Eva Marie Saint] in North by Northwest.' It has taken me a little while to obtain a DVD of Johnny Allegro and then to check Christopher's claim - but I want to report that there's definitely some substance to it. At the very least, there are interesting 'generic' links between the two films. For example, where did the 'fake shooting' in North by Northwest come from, if not from Johnny Allegro (see frame-capture below)? I'll return to this matter in a moment. Meanwhile, here's some information about Tetzlaff's film. Foch and Macready had previously played together in Joseph H. Lewis's entertaining B-film My Name is Julia Ross (1945), which has overlaps with Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) not to mention Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938), including the presence of Dame May Whitty. (As Christopher notes, you can imagine Hitchcock seeing Lewis's film and then mentioning it to Tetzlaff when they met on the set of Notorious.) As for Brent, he plays Allegro, a New York florist who was once in Sing Sing but who was released to see war-service and did so heroically, then never completed his sentence (which has remained hanging over him). When he gets caught up (not altogether unwillingly) in the Foch character's plight - it appears she is being tailed by the Feds, who connect her with arch-counterfeiter Macready - Allegro is himself approached by the Feds who arrange a fake shooting so that Foch can't refuse to take him with her when she flees to Florida where Macready hides out. We soon learn that the Macready character is an egotist and a culture snob, who practises lethal archery and listens to classical music. Right, let's make some observations, most of them obvious. Not only does Johnny Allegro borrow detectably from the Hitchcock films The 39 Steps (1935), Foreign Correspondent (1940), and Notorious (actor Ivan Triesault plays one of Macready's offsiders in Tetzlaff's film), but it anticipates important plot and character points in Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955) and, notably, North by Northwest. True, I'm fairly sure that the latter's screenwriter, Ernie Lehman, denied that he 'borrowed' the fake shooting idea from anyone, instead saying that the idea just came to him one day when he was 'stuck' during scripting of the Mount Rushmore sequence. But neither Christopher nor I can think of another instance of a fake shooting (apart from the film's own explanation: 'It's an old Gestapo trick ... freshened up a little'). Who's to say that Hitchcock didn't tip off Ernie to the idea, but so gently that Ernie remembered it later as his own?! More next time.

February 21 - 2015
Specifically, Professor Carey (see last time) noted how the metaphysical poet John Donne in poems and sermons would use a 'collusion of life and deadness' such as hair (with its sheen) or bone (with covering membrane) for poetic effects, 'where life and sensation have only a dubious and qualified existence'. A similar ambiguity informs Hitchcock films like Vertigo and North by Northwest. On our 'advanced' Hitchcock discussion group this week, I recalled how 'death-in-life is implicit in [North by Northwest's] opening skyscraper-as-mirror image (itself derived from Murnau's Sunrise) followed by drab, washed-out shots of crowds flowing like a collective tidal wave into subways (recalling T.S. Eliot's "unreal city" and the line, "I had not thought death had undone so many") (frame-capture below). The apotheosis comes with the Mount Rushmore presidents carved in stone, who appear almost animated ("I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me") but are dead, dead, dead - and of no use to the existential quests of Roger Thornhill, Eve Kendall, et al. [...] Nonetheless, Hitchcock was prepared to enjoy himself, the better to heighten the effect and enhance the message: e.g., the planned scene of Thornhill having a sneezing fit in Lincoln's nostril.' So what exactly was the 'effect' and the 'message'? I'm grateful to one of our group's members, Professor TW, for suggesting that (Freudian revisionist) Norman O. Brown's 'Life Against Death' (published 1959 - the very year of North by Northwest) could be pertinent. I posted back such points as the following. 'The ambiguous life/death motif in Hitchcock reflects what Brown notes: growing up means repressing our original polymorphous perversity [the capacity to get erotic pleasure from every part of the body] ... yet we still want to play with our full bodies, and with the world, as we did in infancy ... [the mystic] Jacob Boehme said that God plays in this way but impersonally, the play having no aim beyond itself.' And I suggested: 'Some of Hitchcock's "playfulness" seems like that, employing what he called "the free abstract in movie making".' Note the wide range of sensuous pleasures and gratifications in North by Northwest, some of them archly (but delightfully) 'infantile' and 'irresponsible' (e.g., walking out a door marked 'Entrance Only' accompanied by a benign authority-figure). This is in keeping with what Brown notes in his Chapter V ("Art and Eros") that art, to avoid the internal censor, must, like dreams, employ some sort of cover-story; also, it resembles foreplay: the film seduces us into returning to childhood, with its range of pleasures, while still being an adult. I wrote: 'Teasingly, though, at the end of North by Northwest, Hitchcock - as if knowing that Thornhill isn't up to attaining Hitchcock's superior (God-like) perspective - glorifies "genital organisation" when Brown has been emphatic that our ultimate desire is to escape that restricted pleasure into God's (or the infant's) fuller realm of delight.' Now here's the point I wanted to make last time. A master of the 'free abstract ... the free use of fantasy' in English fiction - and surely Hitchcock's mentor in this respect - was G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), who wrote the Father Brown stories and eventually converted to Roman Catholicism. Specifically, Chesterton's volume 'The Club of Queer Trades' (1905) is, I suggest, a spiritual forebear of North by Northwest. It consists of six detective stories, all of them centred on the 'club' of the title, which rewards its privileged members (who all have to have a job they invented themselves) by enrolling them in The Adventure and Romance Agency Limited - which in turn undertakes to provide its clients with stimulating adventures. Take the first tale, "The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown", and what turns out to be a case of mistaken identity: the dull and orderly Major finds himself mistaken for a Mr Gurney-Brown who previously occupied his house and had subscribed to the Agency. As the apologetic president of the Agency, a Mr P.G. Northover, explains at the end of the tale, the reason why the Major was set upon one day in his coal cellar was that he had 'suddenly [been] hurled into the middle of another man's story'. Mr Northover adds: 'We believe we are doing noble work ... It has continually struck us that there is no element in modern life that is more lamentable than the fact that the modern man has to seek all artistic existence in a sedentary state.' And as if anticipating Norman O. Brown's Freudian view of art, the poet Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909) paid tribute to 'The Club of Queer Trades': it 'made a man feel what a man should feel, that he was still in the childhood of the world'. More next time.

February 14 - 2015
As often remarked here, a motif of 'growing up' (or occasionally 'not growing up') runs through Hitchcock's films from the 1920s onwards, and North by Northwest is no exception. Roger Thornhill starts to 'grow up' and 'come alive' (a related Hitchcock motif) from the moment he meets Eve Kendall on the Twentieth Century Limited, bound for Chicago. Actually the pair 'grow up' together, although Eve may have a head start. She is already 'a big girl', as she candidly tells him (prompting an equally candid reply). We have to wait another half-hour of screen time before we hear, in turn, that Roger is 'a big boy now'. But back to the train sequence. It is 'phallic' nearly all the way, containing some of the most sexy lines ever written for a Hollywood film to that time. (A shot at dusk of the train rounding a gentle bend beside a lake provides suitable accompaniment, a metaphor for mutual arousal.) Early in the dining-car scene, Roger admits that, 'the moment I meet an attractive woman I [usually] have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her'. To which Eve soon replies, 'I never make love on an empty stomach'. (To placate censorship 'make love' was replaced in the release-prints by 'discuss love' - which is arguably, in context, even more provocative!) Now look at the title of the book that Eve is reading after she has invited Roger to her compartment: it is 'The Agreeable Age' (frame-capture below). The title is fictitious, that is, there was no actual book of that title. But it is a barely-concealed 'come-on'. Not only does the colour-scheme of the shot subtly echo the dusk colours we have just seen outside the train (and will shortly be shown again), but the book-title readily translates to 'The Age of Consent' - right in line with the 'growing up' motif! (There was a real book of that title, Australian author Norman Lindsay's semi-autobiographical novel from 1938, that would be filmed by Michael Powell ten years after North by Northwest, starring James Mason. Given the book's underground reputation, I'm wondering if Hitchcock knew of it and perhaps had read it - as Michael Powell must have done - especially as Lindsay represents a traditional, vitalist strain in Australian literature: Lindsay's own favourite authors included Nietzsche and Rabelais!) By the way, in the frame-capture below, Roger of course is out of sight, hiding in the closed upper berth, waiting for the police to come and go away again. When he emerges, he will have broken his dark glasses - symbolically the last barrier between him and Eve for the night! Now here's something that we began to discuss on our 'advanced' Hitchcock discussion group this week. After climbing down, Roger will shortly allow his hands to encircle Eve's blonde hair that provides a further motif (as in a different way hair does in Vertigo and Marnie, for example). I mean, shots of hair in particular, but also other 'half-way' objects whose ambiguously inanimate (non-living) status is juxtaposed with animate (living) entities, such as skin. Roughly, a contrast of inert and living matter, but with, as I say, a teasing ambiguity. Eve's hair, for example, is radiant, with practically a life of its own. So Hitchcock can play with subtle contrasts, as when, Roger's hands encircling Eve's blonde head, the conversation turns to the possibility that Roger will murder her tonight! Her hair stands for her life that may soon be forfeit: a metaphor in itself for sex! This scene on the train is later echoed with the shot that begins the art-gallery scene: Eve's distinctive blonde hair seen from behind and Vandamm's hand caressing the skin of her neck. Coming upon Eve and Vandamm and Leonard like this ('The three of you together - that's a picture only Charles Addams could draw!'), Thornhill is understandably jealous. But there are other examples of what I mean, employing different orders of scale. In the train dining car, when Eve and Roger's hands first touch and linger, it is over his 'R.O.T.' matchbook: an inanimate object that somehow both enhances and defuses the moment (what Hitchcock would have called 'taking the curse off' it, saving it from banality) - and in turn lending that object associations to be picked up later. On quite a different scale, I think of the juxtaposition of the stone carved faces of the Mount Rushmore presidents (inanimate stone that appears flesh) with the human figures clambering over it. I find it interesting that Professor John Carey detected a similar attention to contrasted textures - in particular, 'the poetic effects that could be gained when the living and the non-living merged' - in the work of English metaphysical poet John Donne (1572-1631). ('John Donne: Life, Mind and Art', 1981) Next time: maybe finally Hitchcock's remarks about 'the free abstract in movie making ... the free use of fantasy'. English writers (one in particular) often took that route.

February 7 - 2015
As North by Northwest is the topic here for the next few weeks, I'm going to take the opportunity to revise and focus something I have noted before. It concerns the famous auction gallery scene. Just as a famous sequence in The 39 Steps (1935) - the handcuffed couple forced to flee - was not entirely original but was taken in several essentials from an adventure novel, 'Mr Priestley's Problem' (1927), by Anthony Cox, so the core idea (at least) of the North by Northwest auction scene comes from a Humphrey Bogart film, Vincent Sherman's All Through the Night (1942). There, Bogart plays an innocent man on the run, a sports promoter called 'Gloves' Donahue, who is suspected of murdering a nightclub owner and in order to clear himself has to track down the real killers - who turn out to be a gang of Nazi spies. Sound familiar?! Hitchcock would have spotted instantly the plot's similarity to his own The 39 Steps and the film he was currently making, Saboteur (1942). Now, there's a syndrome that I have noted here many times. When Hitchcock spotted another filmmaker 'borrowing' from him, he often cancelled the debt (so to speak) by in turn 'borrowing' right back - or at least making notes for future use. We can be practically certain that Hitchcock saw All Through the Night. For one thing, it was Bogart's next film after the hugely-admired The Maltese Falcon (1941). For another thing, not only did the plot overlap with Hitchcock's current project, Saboteur, right down to its exposé of fifth columnists active in New York, but several of the film's stars were familiar to Hitchcock, two of them from recent films of his own. Crucially, the gang of Nazis, posing as art-dealers, operate from an auction house run by none other than Conrad Veidt (ex-German star of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and the 1935 British film The Passing of the Third Floor Back, scripted by Mrs Hitchcock, Alma Reville), Peter Lorre (also ex-German, who soon after making Fritz Lang's M in 1931 moved to Britain and starred in Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much and Secret Agent), and Judith Anderson (who of course had played the sinister Mrs Danvers in Hitchcock's Rebecca). But that's just for starters! Look at the frame-capture below, showing Donahue (Bogart) and his taxi-driver helper Barney (Frank McHugh) at an art-auction where 'Madame' (Anderson), who suspects they're snoopers, has come up to them. (Just offscreen is the auctioneer - Veidt - and in the nearby storeroom is Lorre.) Suddenly, the scene's indebtedness to the Tabernacle of the Sun scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much is clear! In fact, Barney has just whispered to Donahue, 'This place looks like an old-fashioned revival meeting', and 'Madame' is like Lorre's creepy female companion, Nurse Agnes (Cicely Oates), in the Hitchcock film. But Donahue, despite sensing danger, is determined to investigate behind the scenes, the storeroom in particular. So he starts bidding for an antique desk, making a spectacle of himself in the process ('One grand', 'Two gees', etc. - to the refined auctioneer's consternation), and succeeds in placing the winning bid. 'Madame' tries to bar his way, but Donahue insists on entering the storeroom ... And there's something else, too. In an article I wrote recently on "Hitchcock and Ingenious Adaptation", I noted a term coined by Arthur Koestler, 'bisociation'. It refers to the creative principle of bringing together two previously unconnected contexts. Let's return to 1942. In that year, a second Hollywood film made homage to Hitchcock. The film was the Bob Hope vehicle, Sidney Lanfield's My Favourite Blonde, and it knowingly spoofed The 39 Steps, even casting Madeleine Carroll as Hope's co-star (as she had been Robert Donat's co-star in the Hitchcock film). The film has a cross-country plot (New York to Chicago to Los Angeles), and once again the 'good guys' (Hope and Carroll) run up against German agents. For the same reasons that Hitchcock probably watched All Through the Night, he probably also saw My Favourite Blonde. Now here's the thing to note. In a memorable scene, Hope and Carroll find themselves holed-up in a Chicago hotel room by the German agents who have staked out the building. Desperate, the pair pretend to be a feuding husband and wife (as in Hitchcock's Mr and Mrs Smith of the previous year), and start to wreck everything in sight. When the hotel management summons the police, the pair are arrested - and transported safely out of the building past the baffled Germans. (Again I ask, 'Sound familiar?!') Very arguably, the auction gallery scene in North by Northwest 'bisociates' details from those two non-Hitchcock films of 1942, something which can remind us again of that phrase of Hitchcock's I quoted last time: 'the free abstract in movie making ... the free use of fantasy'. To be continued.

January 31 - 2015
In coming weeks I want to re-visit here Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959). I'll begin by referring again to Lesley Coffin's book, 'Hitchcock's Stars' (2014), which I quoted above apropos Suspicion (1941) on December 6 and 20. Coffin concludes her chapter on North by Northwest with this perceptive summing-up: '[Eva Marie] Saint's Eve Kendall is very similar to [Ingrid] Bergman's Alicia [in Notorious], daring the audience to see the virginal angel in a different light. And yet, [Cary] Grant is a combination of Suspicion's carefree Johnnie (at the beginning) and responsible, complex man (at the end). From selfish to selfless is his journey. And it was a journey Grant had gone on many times in film in both comedies (Philadelphia Story) and dramas (Penny Serenade, None But the Lonely Heart).' (p. 146) (Note that, as Coffin had earlier pointed out, Eva Marie Saint was cast against type in North by Northwest: she had become known for her 'homely, virginal characters', often 'victimized by realities, most notably in Kazan's On the Waterfront and the family drama [Fred Zinnemann's] A Hatful of Rain ...' (p. 141) But back to Grant. Coffin quotes him: 'In the films I made with Hitchcock, the humor relieved the suspense. People laugh in the [movie] theater because what's on the screen is not happening to them. I played my role as though it wasn't happening to me. And I think that's how I got the audience on my side.' (p. 141) In other words, Grant maintained an almost literal 'winking' (occasionally 'wincing' - read on) relationship with the audience - inspired no doubt both by the superbly facetious Ernest Lehman script and by Hitchcock's overall guidance. The tone of the script is set right at the start, when we see Thornhill (Grant) dictating to his secretary in a lift (elevator) and then in a crowded New York street. Grant is his own man, the script is telling us (in a variant on a famous elevator story about Hitchcock himself). And even when a remark in Thornhill's dictation leaves something to be desired - his secretary gives him a look and he responds, 'I know, I know' - the character's wince here evokes audience laughter. (See frame-capture below.) According to Coffin, Grant's character in North by Northwest 'came out of a conversation regarding the film Hitchcock had with Grant, who remembered that "Hitch and I sat down one day and worked out a certain character which became the basis of all the comedies I played in after that."' (p. 141) Hmm. Can that be strictly true? If so, it was rather late in the day for Grant who had already emerged from announced retirement four years earlier to play John Robie in Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955), and after North by Northwest made just six more films (including two for Stanley Donen, The Grass is Greener and Charade). No matter. There are several good observations in Coffin's chapter. I like her citation (from a 2001 book, 'British Stars and Stardom', by Bruce Babington) about why the casting of James Mason was so important. 'Mason had to, like Notorious's Claude Rains, have an attractiveness that was considerably different from Grant. As written by ... Lehman, the character of Vandamm had to walk with [the] distinction of [a man] "about forty, professional in manner but definitely sexually attractive [to women] and only slightly sinister," not to mention a wit that more than matched Cary Grant's sense of humor.' (I surmise that refers to lines like Vandamm's when he wishes Thornhill 'a pleasant journey'. You sense an affinity, in this respect, with Peter Lorre's nonchalant villain in the 1934 Man Who Knew Too Much who could quote 'Hamlet': 'A journey from which no traveller returns.') As Coffin explains: 'What Mason provided, significantly different from Grant, was the element of surprising the audience, used to seeing him as ["a loser"] (such as his role in [George Cukor's] A Star Is Born) and having just recently seen him in Larger than Life. While as confident as he would be in North by Northwest, [his] confidence manifests [in Nicholas Ray's film] in an out-of-control rage brought on by illness [sic: actually it was brought on by cortisone, a controversial new drug at the time].' And Coffin adds helpfully: 'The difference between Mason in the two films is similar to the range Ray Milland showed in his signature role [as an alcoholic] in The Lost Weekend and as the cool, skilful villain in [Hitchcock's] Dial M for Murder [1954].' (pp. 144-45) Next time I'll take up what Hitchcock meant, citing North by Northwest, when he spoke of dealing with 'the free abstract in movie making ... the free use of fantasy'.

January 24 - 2015
The concentration camps film, Night Will Fall, mentioned last time, and in the News & Comment item, has just screened on Britain's Channel 4 and will be screened in coming days on the French-German ARTE channel and on HBO in the US. The News item as first written was misleading, and needed to be revised. (Done, 26/1/15.) Why? Because what wasn't made clear was that Night Will Fall is separate from the newly-restored version (2014) of the film that Alfred Hitchcock supervised in 1945 but which wasn't released at the time, only stored away for forty years in the vaults of the Imperial War Museum in London in a rough-cut labelled Project F3080. When the rusting cans were eventually taken out and a decision made to complete the film, it was found that the intended sixth (final) reel was missing. Nonetheless, a written narration for the entire film existed and so this was given to actor Trevor Howard to read out - modified to fit the remaining five reels. The resulting version of the film was called Memory of the Camps (1985), and was shown on TV in America and elsewhere. Now, in the newly-restored version, called German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (2014), the sixth reel has been assembled from separate source-reels found in the IWM vaults, and the full-length narration is read by actor Jasper Britton. Note, though, that this film is not what is showing on TV this week. Rather, Night Will Fall is a documentary about the 1945 film and its restoration, directed by André Singer and narrated by Helena Bonham Carter. What isn't yet clear is whether GCCFS will itself be released to TV (as Memory of the Camps was back in 1985) - or, for that matter, on DVD/Blu-Ray. One hears variant reports. Writing a year ago, Geoffrey Macnab told readers of 'The Independent' (Wednesday 08 January 2014): 'Both the original film about the camps and the new documentary will be shown on British TV in early 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the "liberation" of Europe.' However, I have recently been told (by a member of the Night Will Fall production company) that he believes 'that the [IWM] will not be releasing GCCFS for general DVD release' - which leaves unclear whether it will be aired on TV. (My correspondent has a 'general understanding' that the film 'will only be available for special screenings or official researchers'. Hmm. We'll make further inquiries to try and clarify this matter, and shall report back.) Now here are some fairly random observations. I haven't yet seen either Night Will Fall (I missed it at the Melbourne International Film Festival last August, where it was shown as a 'work in progress') nor of course GCCFS. But naturally I have seen Memory of the Camps. Let's not de-value it. I like Geoffrey Macnab's observation: 'The Trevor Howard voiceover narration in Memory of the Camps is strangely reminiscent of the one that director Carol Reed himself read over the opening of The Third Man (in which Howard co-starred). It has the same sardonic understatement as it describes the devastation wreaked by the war.' What I'm wondering is whether the conscious use of 'understatement' in the treatment and narration was something Hitchcock (as 'treatment advisor') may have suggested. He always did believe in understatement as a narrative device, not to mention his considering it characteristic of much English humour, especially black humour. (Vide: its use that way in his comedy, The Trouble With Harry, 1955.) The use of contrasts in Memory of the Camps (and GCCFS) may also show Hitchcock's influence. Very early in the film, the narration refers to 'neat and tidy orchards [and] well-stocked farms' in the German countryside, and we see both those things, the epitome of prettiness. (The shots, although in black and white, would otherwise fit quite well into the 'pastorale' of The Trouble With Harry.) But next minute, we are suddenly within Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where bodies lie unattended beside a path where newly-liberated prisoners and Allied personnel pass by, seemingly not noticing. (The narration switches equally suddenly, and refers to a smell you can almost feel.) Some of the footage that follows has become extremely familiar, from other films and TV documentaries. (For no particular reason, except that it isn't the most confronting of images, I show one frame-capture below: it may remind you of Pompeii. But what it depicts is recently-living flesh, not stone.) So I'll conclude by quoting a tribute paid to Hitchcock's (and team's) film by Dr Toby Haggith, the 'Restoration Director' on GCCFS: he notes that it is 'much more candid' than any of the other documentaries about the camps. Indeed, says Haggith, it is 'brilliant' and 'sophisticated'. Let's hope we can see it soon.

January 17 - 2015
[Apologies that deadlines are again pressing here, so no "Editor's Week" this time. But see the newly-added News & Comment items, including information about imminent TV screenings of the concentration camps film Night Will Fall, with a Hitchcock connection.]

January 10 - 2015
I have described Suspicion as 'elegant', which is not exactly what I would say of the novel by 'Francis Iles'. About half-way through the novel, Johnnie speaks his mind to poor Lina: '"I'm afraid, my dear, I never really cared two straws about you. After all, I do like my women to be pretty. But I took you in all right, didn't I? Good Lord, your people knew well enough what I was after. But you were so conceited, you never guessed."' (Chapter VIII) If there is a 'surreal' truth being conveyed by the novel, it is a cynical view of modern marriage. As early as Chapter I, we are told: 'Having lived all her life in the country, where people do not talk about these things, [Lina] had never realized that the percentage of happy marriages among the population of Great Britain is probably something under .0001.' (Speaking of surrealism ... the great Luis Bunuel in 1953 made his own version of a story somewhat resembling Suspicion: set in Mexico, it was called El - and is a small masterpiece.) In the novel's second half, both partners have extra-marital affairs - Lina's with an artist who waits impatiently to consummate it, for Lina (supposedly liberated) has indicated that she now considers morality fluid: 'Lina did not think it would be in the least wrong for her to live with Ronald for a year to see if they would suit each other for marriage, simply because she would not consider it wrong; but for a Roman Catholic, who really believes in the sacred permanency of marriage, it would be wrong.' (Chapter XI) But finally, Lina (who is forever vacillating between wanting to assert her independence and shrinking from doing so) and Ronald go their separate ways, and eventually she and Johnnie come back together. And very soon, Lina's guessing-game about Johnnie's intentions resumes. (The origin of the film's memorable scrabble scene is a passage where Lina observes Johnnie picking out a tune on the piano, a popular fox-trot called 'Guilty': Chapter XIV.) The novel is careful to give Johnnie motivation for his actions. At one point, we are reminded that it is 1932, and jobs are few, while Johnnie's gambling debts are spiralling, making him 'desperate'. (Chapter XIII) His plan to murder his dim-but-rich pal Beaky now shapes itself, and before much longer Lina 'realize[s] that she was married to a murderer' (as foreshadowed at the novel's outset). Soon again, she knows that she is intended to be Johnnie's next victim. Unable to free herself of her dependence on Johnnie, whom she somehow still loves, she submits to the inevitable: 'Lina wondered whether anyone else had ever been an accessory before the fact of her own murder.' (Chapter XIX) Well, the film keeps the general spirit of the novel, especially Lina's vacillating vantage, while of necessity avoiding several of the novel's more extreme (and sordid) insights. It favours ambiguity, and its own version of Lina's psychology. Lina is prey to Freud's death-drive linked to a repetition-compulsion. The frame-capture below might appear to be from the hillock scene early in the film (referred to last time) but in fact comes from the scene on the cliff-top at the end, after Lina has leaped in terror from Johnnie's car in which they had been driving to her mother's house. The resemblance to the hillock scene is deliberate of course - including the presence of a wind-blown tree as a reminder of the earlier scene. It isn't the only such time during the film in which the hillock scene is re-invoked, but each time there's a sense that Lina may be effectively willing fatality on herself, out of both love and fear. Note that in the film as we have it we do not have to accept that Johnnie is a murderer, which may be just as well since Cary Grant does appear a cut above the rather more unpleasant Johnnie of the novel! Hitchcock here takes advantage of the very ambiguity of film (what Roy Armes once called 'the ambiguous image'), and was probably remembering how well that ambiguity had served him when directing Ivor Novello in The Lodger (1926). Unfortunately audiences have found the ending of Suspicion abrupt and not entirely satisfactory. (Bunuel's El was also not the crowd-pleaser his producers had hoped for!) But we have seen how much attention to detail went into it, including the use of the tree as 'marker'. Interestingly, there's an anticipation here of Vertigo. Recall the scene where 'Madeleine' (Kim Novak) rushes to the edge of a cliff, seemingly bent on suicide. Alongside her is a small Monterey pine. This constitutes an allusion to the memorable attempted suicide in the classic ghost film The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, 1944). Every little detail ...

January 3 - 2015
As noted last time, Suspicion is a 'surreal' depiction of a world seemingly governed by capricious Will. It's in that same spirit that the scene with the two detectives and a small Picasso-like painting in the entrance hall of Lina's and Johnnie's house fits. (See frame-capture below.) I don't of course mean that the painting itself is 'surreal'. Rather, I mean that Lina's own mounting 'paranoia' is extended here to the detectives themselves (especially the boyish, squeaky-voiced younger one, Benson) - and ultimately to the film's audience. Something 'puzzling' is being presented here, and we are made to feel the limits of our subjectivity, just like the two detectives. The fact that the painting's heavy dark lines echo the web-like shadows on Lina's wall is apt (Robin Wood suggests that Lina 'spins' that web herself, out of her fearful imaginings), part of the continuity of visual design that Hitchcock always strove for. Of course, too, the business with the painting has its immediate pragmatic function: it gives the detectives 'something to do' while they wait for Lina to enter - rather like how an ornate chandelier in the McKittrick Hotel in Vertigo gives Scottie 'something to look at' while the landlady goes upstairs (though the chandelier also has its symbolic function, as one of many hanging objects in the film, echoing the latter's concern with 'verticality' and would-be 'transcendence'). This motif of 'subjectivity', and a bigger 'mystery', is recurrent in Hitchcock's American films (e.g., Spellbound, where Brulov consoles Constance near the end that 'the case was a little deeper than you figured ... this often happens', and Strangers on a Train, where poor Babs, an admirably self-confident teenager, is reduced to sobbing as she suddenly realises the immensity of evil personified by the many-facetted psychopath Bruno). Now, I have spoken of Suspicion's 'elegance'. To a degree, this is a case of virtue springing from necessity. Let's note how economical the screenplay is, in comparison with its (rich and engaging) source-novel 'Before the Fact' (1932) by 'Francis Iles'. For example, the startling hillock scene (Johnnie: 'What did you think I was trying to do? Kill you?'), works beautifully as, first, an emblem of Lina's initial stirrings of love for Johnnie and - thereafter - her submission to a repetition-compulsion and Freudian death-wish. (The scene repeats itself at least twice more, both times when Lina feels threatened by Johnnie, the only man she loves. The nearest comparison I can think of is to Bresson's Mouchette [1967] and Mouchette's 'loyalty' to the poacher Arsène who had raped her but of whom she insists, 'He is my lover.') There is no actual hillock scene in the novel, just an early moment (in Chapter I) when Johnnie tells Lina he is attracted to her. 'She thought: he looks as if he knows me down to the most secret detail. And I believe he does. She felt stripped.' In turn, this moment must have inspired screenwriter Samson Raphaelson to invent a memorable exchange as Lina buttons her blouse. Johnnie: 'Don't do that.' Lina: 'Why not?' Johnnie: 'Because your ucipital mapilary is quite beautiful.' Reader, did you know that there is no such term as 'ucipital mapilary' - Raphaelson invented it! But I was talking of the screenplay's basic economy as compared with the novel's prodigality of detail. In the novel, during the honeymoon, Johnnie soon shows his true form when, for example, he accepts change from a French waiter for a 100-franc note although he had only tendered a 50-franc one. Lina upbraids him. 'But - you aren't going to keep [the money]?' To which Johnnie replies, 'in genuine surprise', '"Of course I'm going to keep it."' (Chapter II) Next day, Johnnie takes down another waiter, this time by dawdling over his meal with Lina until nearly all of the lunch staff have left - then quickly getting up with Lina and hopping into a taxi. 'Lina had happened to look back just as the taxi was starting, and had seen the [remaining] waiter looking through the glass door at them with a very odd expression, certainly of doubt, almost one might have said of suspicion ...' (Chapter II) (The film transposes some of Johnnie's elusiveness over paying bills to the scene with the house agent on the couple's return home.) The novel also goes into detail about just how licentious Johnnie is, even after marrying Lina - for example, he has an affair with a maid, getting her pregnant. And there is a very strong hint that the death of General McLaidlaw, Lina's father, was hastened by Johnnie when the couple were visiting the McLaidlaws at Christmas. (Chapter VI) To be continued.