Editor's Week 2016

December 17 - 2016
It's a while since we invoked Henry James here, apropos the Hitchcockian mysterioso of 'The Aspern Papers' (1888, 1908) and its film version The Lost Moment (1947), starring Robert Cummings and directed by Martin Gabel (who played Strutt in Hitchcock's Marnie, 1964). Of course, now there's a book, 'The Men Who Knew Too Much: Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock' (Oxford, 2012), edited by Susan Griffin and Alan Nadel; and it's to one of that book's essays, "Bump: Concussive Knowledge in James and Hitchcock", by Mary Ann O'Farrell, that I want to turn this time. The main idea is that in both James and Hitchcock characters have sudden moments of realisation that are intensely visual - the word for that used to be 'epiphany', or even 'gestalt', though O'Farrell uses neither of them - and in Hitchcock, at least, such a moment may be associated with a bump on the head (as befalls Iris Henderson in The Lady Vanishes, 1938, after which she is infinitely more watchful of her fellow travellers on a cross-country train somewhere near the Balkans). In turn, suggests O'Farrell, the character's realisation, at base, is like a little primal scene (a child's consciousness that its parents are having sex, which it mistakes for an act of violence by the father against the mother). (p. 80) Actually, the instance from James that O'Farrell first cites is the one in 'Portrait of a Lady' (1881) in which Isabel Archer comes upon her husband Gilbert Osmond with Madame Merle (Chapter XL) and, some thirty pages later (end of Chapter XLII), twigs to the moment's full significance - which was succinctly described by Paula Marantz Cohen in her 1999 essay "James, Hitchcock and the Fate of Character": 'James represents the moment of Isabel's revelation in visual terms: she enters a room and sees her husband sitting while her best friend is standing, and the visual iconography tells her, in a scenic flash, that the two have had an affair'. O'Farrell suggests that there's a comparable moment in Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) when Tony Wendice describes having followed his unfaithful wife to an assignation with her lover: 'I could see them through the studio window as he cooked spaghetti over a gas range. They didn't say much - they just stood very natural together. You know, it's funny how you can tell when people are in love.' (pp. 77-78) (See frame-capture below.) Hmm. Another head-bump moment in Hitchcock, cited by O'Farrell, is that of Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) who, at age ten, was knocked down by a streetcar and concussed (an incident, btw, based on one that befell real-life serial murderer Earle Nelson: see my 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'). As O'Farrell notes, in this case the 'concussive knowledge' that results is particularly one of feeling excluded from man-woman relations (the recurring image of couples dancing the Merry Widow Waltz represents, for Uncle Charlie, an unattainable ideal). Applying this to other Hitchcock films, O'Farrell suggests that Vertigo works similarly: Scottie learns that he had been set up by the father-figure Gavin Elster, and that when he 'drags Judy upstairs in the bell tower ..., he seems to want and to need to recreate the scene of his exclusion' (p. 80). (As we once noted, another famous author is also pertinent here: Jorge Luis Borges, whose 1940 tale "The Circular Ruins" - translated 1949 - contains the telling observation: 'Not to be a man, to be the projection of another man's dream, what a feeling of humiliation, of vertigo!') The invocation of the primal scene and a feeling of being an excluded onlooker, is cogent, certainly apropos Hitchcock's films, and could have been developed further. Strangely, O'Farrell never mentions Rear Window (1954) - contra Cohen. The latter notes: 'Isabel [Archer]'s drama revolves around a question associated with a domestic plot: who will she marry? Jeff's drama, however, revolves around a question associated with an action plot: how can he prove that the salesman Thorwald murdered his wife?' (I give specific primal scene imagery from Rear Window in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' - and, as noted here recently, again find parallels in another famous author: this time E.T.A. Hoffmann, whom we know Hitchcock had read, and specifically Hoffmann's 1815 tale "The Sandman", which prompted Sigmund Freud to write a famous essay on "The Uncanny".) Nor does O'Farrell directly invoke Marnie apropos the primal scene, although the film's flashback specifically shows the little girl Marnie mistaking the sailor's actions for an attack on Marnie's mother. However, O'Farrell's essay has many fine features. And an interesting footnote cites Kaja Silverman on how James's 'The Golden Bowl' (1904) 'is in many ways an extended primal scene' (p. 223, n.5).

P.S. Readers may like to visit Part Two of my article "Shock, Horror, Spirit" (on Psycho), now up on the 'Senses of Cinema' website: Psycho: Part Two

December 10 - 2016
Under Capricorn is one of those Hitchcock films in which - realistically enough - nobody in the film grasps the whole situation and for a time this allows matters to spiral out of control. Even the perfidy of the housekeeper Milly is only partially to blame for what happens. Nonetheless, she drives much of the plot, as when - fearing that she is losing her dominance in the household - she goes upstairs and orders Winter ('You're a gentleman, aren't you, so can be trusted to keep your mouth shut') to load the bottles in Henrietta's cupboard into a sheet and accompany her back downstairs to humiliate Henrietta in front of the kitchen ladies; following this, Henrietta rushes from the kitchen and up to her bedroom. (This entire scene is filmed in one take, over several levels.) Later, Milly (accompanied by Winter) has the effrontery to complain to Flusky about Henrietta's having visited 'my kitchen', implying that Henrietta got what she deserved (of course, Milly doesn't go into details). Unfortunately for Milly's plans, Adare just then enters, and stands up to her, telling Sam that 'some act of calculated rudeness' had been performed against Henrietta. This spurs Milly to change the subject, to accuse her accuser of a 'rudeness' of his own (he had been in Henrietta's bedroom the night before - out of concern for Henrietta's silence after he had called out to her from the garden, with Sam looking on). This is too much for Winter, who sees what Milly is up to. He begins to say what had really happened in the kitchen (see frame-capture below), but Sam is overwhelmed by all this unseemly scene-making, especially as it feels to him like the 'gentlemen' siding against his own and Milly's kind, the 'commoners'. (And Milly has lied that Winter initiated what happened.) 'Blast all gentlemen', he says, and orders both Winter and Milly to leave. So Sam's insecurity is partly to blame for the inconclusive outcome to this scene. Similarly, matters are further 'sabotaged' by Charles whose feelings against Sam have become ambivalent (despite their having shaken hands). A couple of times, even before the Government House Ball (where Sam makes a 'scene' of his own), Charles blocks efforts by Sam to get closer to his wife: evidently, Charles wants to be the one who rehabilitates her, and unconsciously slights Sam. And again, although Milly leaves 'Minyago Yugilla' for a time, she comes back and uses the excuse of the 'trouble' over the shooting of Charles to stay on and look after Sam. Winter sees this and naturally is concerned. He tries to intervene: 'Is Miss Milly going to stay, after all?' But gruff Sam brushes the servant aside. So the situation is very complex - and human - and the prowling camera seeks to expose all this. I like Robin Wood's enumeration of the technical aspects of the film (and how they involve the audience): 'The play of interest and sympathy is guided partly by technical factors: who is or is not in the frame at a given moment, who is given centrality within the composition, who is in close-up and who in mid- or long-shot, who is observer or listener, what takes place outside the observer/listener's consciousness, to which only we as audience have access.' ('Hitchcock's Films Revisited', Revised Edition, 2002, p. 330) But I want to emphasise again that a great deal of what is in the film, and is felt by us, the audience, comes from the Helen Simpson novel: for example, the above-described scene with its diverse characters (and which eventually becomes too much for even Sam to handle), or the clever idea of Charles to whistle a tune to inspire Henrietta (the novel specifies 'Over the Hills and Far Away' which I think is the very tune we hear in the film, although it may also be known as 'Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May'). Leslie Brill's understanding of the 'projected shadows who suffer on our behalf' (see last time) is right-on. Finally, I want to quote something else I wrote in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', and which recognises the film's imagery: 'The [veranda scene's] fiery colour is one of several reminders that Hell haunts this harsh land "down under", this "infernal place" as the Governor calls it ... But Australia's very harshness has its own beauty. Some things, Flusky will tell his wife, are "all in your mind". [So] the same fiery light that suggests the proximity of Hell is allowed, whenever it strikes Hattie's auburn hair ... to invoke a contrary condition ... (One may think of William Blake's lines about building "a Heaven in Hell's despair".)'

December 3 - 2016
Mark Rappaport (writing on Under Capricorn in the 'Hitchcock Annual', 2003-04) says what I tried to say last time: 'When a movie is structured around its tracking shots, the description of the effect of what's up there on the screen is strictly personal. Those who like it describe it as stately, majestic, dreamlike. For those who hate it, it's funereal, glacial, self-conscious.' (p. 44) But there's also a deeper 'divide' between many of the commentators (reviewers, critics, scholars) of Under Capricorn that I have observed with some anguish. I think Marc Raymond Strauss (in his book 'Hitchcock Nonetheless', 2007) is right to praise Lesley Brill for his humane attitude. Specifying Spellbound, Under Capricorn and Marnie, Brill wrote (in 'The Hitchcock Romance', 1988): 'As we watch these three films, we see our own tarnished and unfortunate histories and discover the possibility of our own forgiveness. In the public privacy of a darkened movie theater, we find ourselves on the screen and shed tears of sympathy for the projected shadows who suffer on our behalf.' Strauss comments: 'No wonder most reviewers panned the film. It may be that the critics were not willing or able to address their own mortality in their critiques (certainly such admittance is rare indeed among any critic towards any subject). Hitchcock was really projecting our shadows onto his screen, I think.' (p. 120 - italics in originals) Strauss even says that Brill here gives us 'Hitchcock's real legacy' (p. 119), and again he is surely right! Now, full marks to Professor Ed Gallefent for spotting that the name of Flusky's mansion, 'Minyago Yugilla', in Under Capricorn translates as 'Why weepest thou?', a phrase twice applied in the Christian Bible (John 20: 13, 15) to Mary Magdalen, 'the patron saint of penitent sinners' (as Gallefent calls her). Gallefent even notes that Mary Magdalen was the subject of several paintings by Georges de La Tour, such as "The Penitent Magdalen" (c. 1640), which featured such symbols as a mirror (vanity?), a skull (mortality?), and a candle (spiritual enlightenment?), commenting that 'every one of [these images] occurs in Under Capricorn in various places and guises'. ("The Dandy and the Magdalen: interpreting the long take in Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949)", in John Gibbs and Douglas Pye (eds), 'Style and Meaning: Studies in the detailed analysis of film', 2005, p. 69). (See illustration below.) That's suggestive, obviously. But even more so is the fact that both times, when Mary Magdalen is asked why she is weeping, she is shown to have no reason for her tears (for Christ has risen, and does not need them). (Btw, my thanks to Sony C who pointed out to me that James Bridie, screenwriter of Under Capricorn, was a Scottish playwright who had written several plays on Biblical themes, and may have been chosen by Hitchcock with that fact in mind.) Surely the big implication for Hitchcock's film, with its palpable therapeutic motif (each of the main characters is rehabilitated by the end) is that all will be well, or may be so. (As noted here before, the lines from Emerson that Lil misquotes in Marnie hint at the same thing.) But nowhere does Gallefent directly respond to the therapeutic, or redemptive, motif in Under Capricorn (which Brill was so responsive to); instead his essay concentrates on Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman) as a penitent figure and her 'failure properly to mourn, the sense of a horror that cannot be worked through to its conclusion' (p. 70) Still, he does eventually ask the question, 'How can this situation be retrieved?' (p. 76), and notes that in Hitchcock there is sometimes a 'second chance' motif (as Chris Marker pointed out of Vertigo), which steers him to the structural matter (noted here last time) that events in Under Capricorn roughly repeat themselves when Sam fires his horse-pistol, wounding Adare (as Sam was alleged to have shot Henrietta's brother with a horse-pistol at Gretna Green), leading to a 'solution'. And at the end of the essay, Gallefent graciously admits: 'I am conscious that these observations only touch the surface of the complexity of Hitchcock's art in this project' (p. 82) (Meanwhile, one's trust in 'detailed analysis of film' may have been dented, a bit!) I would add that the sort of things I noted last time about the film's 'Australian' content, and visual beauty, are almost never mentioned by critics and scholars. Nor has any critic that I have read bothered to look at Helen Simpson's original novel (1937), which is unfair. For example, many of the critics and scholars praise the film's scene where Adare takes off his jacket to make a 'mirror' to show Henrietta her beauty (as part of her rehabilitation), not realising that this comes from the novel. (Hitchcock's craft is in the selection of such a detail, and in integrating it with other motifs, such as that of Adare's new-found creativity, his becoming an 'artist'.) To be continued.

November 26 - 2016
Reader, don't misunderstand my attempt last time to accommodate Donald Spoto's position apropos Under Capricorn's style: note that I wrote, '[it] may appear obsessed with its long-takes' (yes, may)! In fact, that's a stand-offish understanding of them that I don't really hold: I love them, basically. Not only do I think Under Capricorn is the most beautiful film made by Hitchcock (and, yes, I have seen such other Hitchcocks as Notorious and Vertigo!), but I admire and enter into the long-takes every time, and believe I understand their nuances. Just as music-professionals sometimes appreciate certain works that the general public overlook, preferring other works by the same composer (i.e., finding them more accessible), so I have come to think of Under Capricorn as a film for 'insiders'. (In this case, I'm an 'insider' inasmuch that I have often 'taught' Under Capricorn, and written about it, and also because I think it helps that I'm Australian - I'll explain that shortly). Here goes, then. The frame-capture below is from the verandah scene that I have already mentioned (see November 12, above) in which Adare seeks to cure fellow-aristocrat Lady Henrietta (who, like him, comes from Ireland) of the habitual drunkenness and depression that has alienated her from her husband, ex-convict (and commoner) Sam Flusky (who, though, still deeply loves her). Charles is staying with the Fluskys at Sam's invitation. The scene begins with a view of the Flusky mansion bathed in afternoon sunlight. That view is actually a painting. As I explain in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', it sets the mood and is apt: '(The matching passage in the novel [by Australian author Helen Simpson] is also picturesque, describing Hattie's head "seen against red feathers of cloud" as she sits at a French window.) The scene has an audible stillness, and one almost hears sunset approaching. Meanwhile the light is growing fiery. Hitchcock has caught a sub-tropical feel perfectly, doubtless reflecting his researches into light and cloud effects for Rope.' Of course, there's a very pragmatic reason for the sunset effect (in both novel and film): it is needed for the climactic moment when Charles takes off his jacket and holds it behind the glass of the French window to create what the novel calls 'a mirror impromptu' so that Henrietta, irradiated by the sunset, can see that she is still beautiful (she had long ago asked that all mirrors be removed from the house). But the film not only registers the effect sensitively, and beautifully, but it builds on it creatively (which is itself apt, given Charles's remark that rehabilitating Henrietta will be his 'first work of art' - note that another motif of both novel and film is that each of the three principal characters is 'rehabilitated' by events). In the very next scene, Charles will actually unwrap a real mirror that he has bought for Henrietta, and that moment is filmed in such a way as to make the comparison with a painting palpable (the reflection in it appears to be painted!). Meanwhile, the veranda scene has many fine touches. Look again at the frame-capture below. It comes at the moment when Charles first gets Henrietta to smile, at the memory of her dramatic entrance to the dinner held by Sam (described above, November 12). 'Was I dressed?' she asks. 'Yes, more or less!' Charles answers, with a gentle laugh - and she smiles back at him. Just at this moment, the ring on her hand, which she has raised to her face, catches the setting sun, and glints! Again, absolutely apt! Then the scene continues (beautifully underlined by Richard Addinsell's score) and the sunlight continues glowing, in keeping with the increasing light-heartedness of the pair's shared conversation, although Henrietta is still far from convinced that she is up to 'coming back' (as Charles puts it). That is, the light glows throughout their conversation, all filmed in one take - until suddenly there is a pause, and a moment's silence (after Charles's remark about how Henrietta will 'beat back the shadows'), and Henrietta glances up. Now, as the camera pans, there is a cut, and we see Milly passing inside the house: this is the shot that we talked about last time (see November 19 above, with its frame-capture - note the comparative darkness of the interior of the house). As the camera returns to the pair, Charles shivers: 'Brrrr. I felt as though somebody walked over my grave.' To be continued.

November 19 - 2016
Many prisoners sent to the penal colony in New South Wales were, as the opening commentary of Under Capricorn says, 'unjustly convicted', and that is important in the story that Hitchcock tells. But not only the legal system is consistently 'faulty' in Hitchcock, so too is human nature. (That's a reason why the philosopher Schopenhauer is so often relevant to Hitchcock's films: nearly a century before Freud, Schopenhauer wrote perceptively - and compassionately - of how sexuality is at the root of much human behaviour and thought.) In Under Capricorn, both Milly and Adare are 'blackguards' in their own way: Milly, the housekeeper, when she sets designs on the married master of the house (a well-known phenomenon: Freud himself noted it in his famous essay on Ibsen's 'Rosmersholm'); Adare, when he falls in love with Henrietta, the wife of the master of the house. Note that Milly and her master Flusky are both low-born, i.e., commoners; the Hon. Charles Adare and Lady Henrietta are both high-born, i.e., of the nobility. So when Adare and Milly speak their different understandings of 'the waltz', they do so from a particular class perspective: Adare enthuses about it, how it is fully respectable; but the religious Milly describes it to Flusky as pandering to lascivious feelings (she is trying to make him jealous that Adare has taken Henrietta to the Government House Ball). Arguably, when Milly resorts to encouraging Henrietta's drinking, and then to attempted poisoning - telling herself that she can see God's real intentions (presumably, that means Milly's marrying a widowed Sam Flusky) - she is being no more or less 'wilful' than when Charles loses his temper at Sam, calling him 'you blundering fool', and urging Henrietta to 'come away with me' to Ireland. Only the class perspective is different. (Milly was played by a rising star of English cinema, Margaret Leighton, and is both pretty and capable: see frame-capture below. Remember, too, that we don't know why Milly was convicted and sent to New South Wales, and are encouraged to think that she was one of the unjustly-sentenced ones. She may have simply stolen a loaf of bread, for example.) Ironically, the most wronged character in the film may be Sam Flusky, whose 'crime' for which he served seven years, was actually committed by Henrietta, namely, the shooting of her brother, Dermot, with a horse-pistol when he attempted to stop her and Sam from eloping, after he followed them to Gretna Green. So when a 'mirroring' of that shooting seems to occur - Sam's accidental shooting of Charles with another horse-pistol - and it looks like Charles may die, with Sam prosecuted on a capital charge (as a second offender), Henrietta's plea to the Governor, 'It was nobody's fault', carries reverberations for the whole film. Two or three 'confession' scenes follow (there has already been a big one, of Henrietta to Charles), including one by Charles himself that is actually a 'white lie', which is another irony, as it resolves the situation up to a point. For a while, though, it had seemed as if there were no way out: Sam describes the legal process as going 'on and on and on'. Donald Spoto thinks that 'to enjoy Under Capricorn, one has to feel a basic psychological affinity for the heavy theme of onerous fidelity, and for the nineteenth-century conceit of remorse freed by confession.' That's a bit prescriptive- a conceit - in itself (and the seeming suggestion that a spot of infidelity may sometimes relieve a life-situation is perhaps not relevant to appreciating this historical-genre film), especially when many a good movie has got around story drawbacks through the sheer force of its style and narration. On the other hand, having raised the matter of style, I'll accept Spoto's thought that Under Capricorn may appear obsessed with its long-takes: 'Too often motionless, the camera seems indifferent, as if actors had to keep talking until the film ran out.' While that particular aspect didn't bother me (they're good actors), sometimes when the camera did move, rather than make a cut, I had the feeling that an idea was being imposed on me. Cutting in a film, especially a craftily-edited film by someone like Hitchcock, can give the viewer a feeling of participation, of taking logical steps and choices inside one's own head. To be continued.

November 12 - 2016
I have happy memories associated with Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949), including watching a truly exquisite print on a moviola upstairs one evening at the old ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) building at Gore Hill, Sydney, New South Wales. It was my first trip to Sydney, and I had arrived that afternoon by bus from Melbourne. Now, with the lights of Sydney twinkling up at me from all around (the ABC building was a tall tower), I watched this wonderful colour film which re-creates early Sydney at the time of the newly-arrived Governor Bourke in 1831 (he is played in the film by Cecil Parker - also in the cast are Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, and Michael Wilding). It was almost a mystical experience, like being able to move backwards and forwards in time! Later that year, back home, I had the great pleasure to 'teach' the film to my Film/Drama students at the Melbourne College of Advanced Education. These trainee teachers were always great fun - bright and attentive - and I particularly remember taking them through several of Under Capricorn's 'long takes' and seeing how Hitchcock each time held back the 'cut' to have maximum impact (something he hadn't been able to do systematically in Rope, where many of the cuts were just reel-changes). For example, when wealthy ex-convict Sam Flusky (Cotten) one evening invites guests to dinner at his mansion 'Minyago Yugilla' on the outskirts of Sydney, the camera first tracks and tracks, starting with the arrival of the special guest, the Governor's cousin, Charles Adare (Wilding), and taking in the arrival of the other guests, until they all sit down at table. Something peculiar, the audience notices, is that there are only male guests - each of those, on arriving, had explained that his wife was detained at the last moment - signalling that something about the Flusky household has deterred the ladies from attending. Understandably, there is a certain damper on proceedings as the guests enter the dining-room! Nonetheless, conversation starts up as Flusky bids everyone be seated, and then - as the camera tracks down the table towards him (his back is to the room entrance) - it falters again. Flusky senses this, and now, finally, there is a cut to what the guests have seen: see frame-capture below. We see the bare feet of Lady Henrietta Flusky (Bergman) entering the room; she proceeds to stand behind her husband and we hear her say, 'Please be seated, gentlemen. I trust I am not too late to take a glass of wine with you.' Finally, the camera tilts to her face, and we see that she is beautiful, and that there is a rose in her ringleted hair. But she is drunk. Her reputation for being an alcoholic, we now realise, has preceded her and is the reason why the ladies have stayed away from the dinner. So the 'shock cut' to her bare feet, after several minutes of continuous footage, was dramaturgically justified. It represents inspired filmmaking by Hitchcock, and the film is full of inspired passages, even if James Bridie's screenplay (from the novel by Helen Simpson) has structural faults, and there are lethargic moments. (The moment when Sam, a former groom, shoots an injured horse offscreen and then returns to his house, and angrily clashes with Adare, who had been riding the horse, has long puzzled me. It seems unrealistic. We hear the pistol fired just offscreen, but not the whinnying of the horse: contrast Marnie. Only lately have I realised that maybe the filmmakers couldn't obtain the sound they needed, or weren't prepared to use it. Which makes you wonder just how the makers of Marnie obtained such a sound.) I very much like the scene late one afternoon on the 'Minyago Yugilla' verandah between Lady Henrietta and Adare, when he - at Sam's invitation - has decided to stay as a house-guest with the Fluskys and try to rehabilitate Hattie and thereby bridge the 'great gulf fixed' that has come between husband and wife. I describe the scene at length in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (it's one of my favourite passages in the book). But now, from that scene, here's another instance of how Hitchcock builds to a 'shock cut' after several minutes of continuous filming. The scene shows Charles listening attentively as Hattie tells of how she had followed Sam from Ireland to Australia after he was (wrongfully) convicted of shooting her brother. Gradually she opens up about the happy times that had preceded the terrible seven-years wait for Sam to serve his sentence. The light on the veranda positively glows as she speaks. But, after several minutes, there is a sudden cut. The housekeeper Milly (Margaret Leighton) has just paused at the veranda window, and Sam shivers. He is right to do so. (To be continued.)

November 5 - 2016
[A couple of deadlines are pressing here, so there's no "Editor's Week" this time. But I have added a News item immediately below. Back next week. KM]

October 29 - 2016
The chapter on The Farmer's Wife in Mark Padilla's 'Classical Myth in Four Films of Alfred Hitchcock' (2016) supports the idea (see above) that Minta was linked in Hitchcock's mind to his wife Alma. Today's entry will focus on aspects of that beautifully-written, and -argued, chapter. For a start, Professor Padilla suggests that as Hitchcock in 1928 was newly married, 'the shy and sexually naive director might [have identified] with the bumbling [Farmer Sweetland]. Alma, in turn, may be found in the figure of Minta.' (p. 55) Further, having suggested that the ever-capable Minta is a Hestia-figure, meaning that she embodies qualities of the Greek Goddess of the Hearth, Padilla notes that 'the Hestian work ethic of Minta helps secure this character's move up in social position [she eventually marries the farmer], just as the industry of the Hitchcock-Reville marriage served as an economic catapult for their family'. (Ibid) Padilla quotes Charles Barr on the character of Minta: she is 'efficient, considerate, and entirely unpriggish'. And Padilla comments: 'Alma might have seemed similarly industrious to Alfred, as reflected in the production stills for this and other films of the director's silent era.' (Ibid) The Hestia theme is like a 'tonic chord' to which the film keeps reverting, notes Padilla. He points out that there are actually three fireplaces we see at Applegarth Farm, all of them (when we see them) in use. Padilla: 'The source play's directions ... specify the inclusion of a "deep fireplace and range," but Hitchcock compounds this prop direction by featuring three burning hearths. The first is located in the upstairs bedroom; the second is in the main room behind the two marital chairs, a setting where guests are entertained; and the third is the large cooking range in the kitchen.' (p. 56) Crucially, 'Minta moves busily and freely in the three spaces. By contrast, the women whom [Sweetland] targets for his second wife are never visually connected to a burning hearth, even in their own homes. Only Minta of the older females in the film exhibit the goddess' sensibilities, which she embodies decorously, while the others are comically associated with other Olympian goddesses ...' (Ibid) (Padilla sees Widow Windeatt as 'an independent Hera figure' with a bit of Artemis for extra measure; Thirza Tapper 'projects an unconfident and confused Aphrodite'; Mary Hearn is like a 'clumsy Athena'; while the middle-aged barmaid Mercy Bassett 'suggests a Dionysian bacchante' - ibid.) Reader, if you have already seen The Farmer's Wife, you will recall that it begins with the death in the upstairs bedroom of Sweetland's first wife, Tibby, while Sweetland sits alongside, watching sadly, and Minta looks on, ready to do whatever is asked of her. Tibby's expiring words are actually to Minta: 'Don't forget to air your master's pants.' There is an intimacy here to which Padilla is responsive. He is also perceptive when he notes: 'The fact that the two women share body types and dark hair reinforces their sisterhood; neither woman shares appearances with the other females [Sweetland] pursues.' (p. 59) (I was reminded, to a degree, of how in Rear Window the ill-fated Mrs Thorwald, when we see her sitting up in bed, is like an older Lisa Fremont: in a way, the film is about Jeff's changing attitude to Lisa, from suspicion - he thinks she might become a nagging wife, like Mrs Thorwald - to admiration and unstinted love.) Padilla can also be ingenious. A good example is when he invokes the wedding of Sweetland's daughter, Sibley, followed by the couple's arrival home afterwards for the wedding breakfast, when Minta comes out to welcome them. (See frame-capture below.) Like 'a kind of Hestia priestess', she greets them, then ushers them into the main room where 'she places them directly in front of the burning fireplace'. (p. 61) Then: 'The organization of this scene evokes the ancient social practice as depicted on an ancient Greek pyxis [a round clay jar], housed in the British Museum in London.' (Ibid) And Padilla describes how such a jar - almost like cinema - 'presents, in a continuous scene, the groom's introduction of a bride into his new home ... It is itself a kind of reel showing a small film when one turns it - a kind of ancient Greek home movie celebrating a couple's wedding ...' (p. 61, p. 64) Beautifully put!

October 22 - 2016
The Farmer's Wife is one of those Hitchcock films where the very life-force features palpably. It anticipates that other splendid comedy The Trouble With Harry (1955) whose range of characters, from the youngest (the boy Arnie) to the oldest (Captain Wiles), its seasons-imagery, and, above all, the general 'zest' (the Captain's word) combine to invigorate any viewer who 'enters in' to the film's spirit. There is a touch of the mystical about it. Actually, I have taken the phrase 'enters in' from The Farmer's Wife where it is used by Minta (the housekeeper Araminta) when she refers to her willingness to marry Farmer Sweetland: marriage is itself an exalted state that is valorised by both these films, very appropriately, as it is the consummation of the working of the life-force. Maurice Yacowar ('Hitchcock's British Films', 1977) puts the matter well when noting that The Farmer's Wife omits the play's political references (mainly spoken by Churdles Ash) so as to emphasise, instead, a potential disorder that 'is not of so simple a kind as could be solved by politics. Rather it is rooted in man himself, in his wilfulness, in his deluding perception, in the tricks of fate to which he is prey, in the shallow footing on which man bases his claim to be a rational, civilized creature.' (p. 77) Note especially 'deluding perception'. It reminded me of an astute observation by Charles Barr ('English Hitchcock', 1999) about Sweetland, as played by Jameson Thomas, whom Barr likens to later Hitchcock protagonists played by James Stewart and Cary Grant: '[Sweetland] can be seen, in fact, as a prototype for these [more] familiar Hitchcock protagonists in the way he combines the adult with the childish, a forceful male arrogance with a disarming vulnerability'. (p. 57) (Jeff in Rear Window, anyone? Or Devlin in Notorious?) In turn, I was reminded of an (only slightly simplistic) observation by Raymond Durgnat that I quoted here recently: '[Hitchcock] catches us in that semi-serious, semi-infantile area where we accept innocent and wicked as real moral states, and then insists that we grow up, a little.' ('The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock', 1974, p. 36) Hitchcock was always very aware that many people waver between adult and childish, though they may be caught for a time in a condition or mindstate that they know is inadequate or harmful, but can't readily get out of - until, if they are lucky, something 'saves' them. (Perhaps marriage?) In other words, it may take just a sudden - but long delayed - shift of circumstances or new realisation to effect a major change. As it happens, the very form of The Farmer's Wife provides one of the earliest instances in Hitchcock of a character making such a life-change, when, after four 'refusals' by the respective women he has asked to be his new bride, Sweetland realises - in an 'epiphany' - that the ideal woman for him has, all along, been his housekeeper, Minta. And what a fine figure of a woman she is! (See frame-capture below.) Was it my imagination when, towards the end of the film, I suddenly detected in Minta (Lilian Hall-Davis) some of the look and mannerisms of Shirley MacLaine in The Trouble With Harry? For, let's be honest, Hitchcock's 'interest' in blondes was more a generic thing - blondes have traditionally been heroines of myth and melodrama and movies - whereas the spirited redhead or brunette, who has more than just outward qualities, was what Hitchcock really appreciated (including his wife Alma). Here's how Barr describes the film's happy ending: 'one of Hitchcock's sunniest ... Doubts about its sexual politics are allayed, even if not altogether dismissed, by the chastened humility with which [Sweetland] approaches [Minta], by the indication of her own recently discovered feelings for him, and by the sheer comic energy that has permeated the film, consistently placing and undercutting his complacency as local patriarch.' (p. 61) Hmm. To be concluded.

October 15 - 2016
Reader, if you haven't watched Hitchcock's The Farmer's Wife (1928), you have missed a treat. Go and obtain a DVD or Blu-Ray copy soon, making sure that it runs closer to (just over) 90 minutes than to two hours. (The latter is too slow.) I recently re-read both the original Eden Phillpotts play (1916, revised 1924) and watched again Hitchcock's film, knowing that a new book, 'Classical Myth in Four Films of Alfred Hitchcock', by Mark Padilla, devotes a chapter to it. (My thanks to Professor Padilla for recent correspondence. His chapter, we noted, evokes both Hestia, the goddess of the hearth and family, and the famous 'Judgement of Paris', in which the Prince of Troy must judge between three beautiful goddesses as to which is 'the fairest' - allowing an ironic reading by Professor Padilla, given that the original three, or four, candidates to become Farmer Sweetland's new bride are all middle-aged, and showing it! The farmer is himself middle-aged but, as played by Jameson Thomas, well-presented, not least because his dutiful young housekeeper, Araminta, played by Lilian Hall-Davis, keeps a watchful eye on his doings and appearance.) Now, the play and film are set in Devon, and there is much rural imagery in the scenes and dialogue. Some of it is quite voluptuous, as when Sweetland's elderly neighbour Coaker speaks of pulling turnips 'as round and white as a woman's bosom'. In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', I noted that the Phillpotts play for a time 'held the record for the longest run in London, a record now held by Agatha Christie's thriller The Mousetrap. That seems apt, not just because Christie herself was a Devonian [and, I find, an admirer of Phillpotts's work, who regular visited his home], but because The Farmer's Wife has the loose-seeming shape of a typical Christie detective story, with its alarums and excursions and final disclosures. Indeed, the two centrepieces of The Farmer's Wife are a wedding breakfast [when Sweetland's daughter, Sibley, marries early in the film] and a tea party whose main plot function is to let us get to know the women on Sweetland's list of candidates, or "suspects".' Nonetheless, the film is a comedy as much as a drama full of local colour; indeed, at times I felt the comedy and incident seemed to overwhelm the original play rather than follow it. On the other hand, I was impressed by how much detail from the play the filmmakers included. Here's an example. In Act I, a passing reference is made by Thirza Tapper to her forthcoming tea party: 'I have everything planned. The famous glee-singers are coming from Plymouth. They will perform under the araucaria after tea is over.' (An araucaria is a kind of conifer, sometimes known as a monkey-puzzle tree.) Sure enough, in the film, the glee-singers do perform at the party (which corresponds to Act II of the play), and very prominently a monkey-puzzle tree hangs over them. (See frame-capture below.) The filmmakers have fun with the glee-singers, both when Churdles Ash (Gordon Harker), the rather surly bachelor manservant of Sweetland, whom Thirza has 'borrowed' for the occasion, doesn't recognise these non-locals when they arrive, and he treats them as gate-crashers; and when they are singing in the garden, and the hanging 'tentacles' of the monkey-puzzle tree threaten to obscure them, so that they must stand awkwardly in order to be seen. But in a film full of sight-gags, perhaps the funniest is when Thirza's slow-witted maid, Susan, melts the ices intended for the party guests, and comes to tell her mistress what has happened: as she enters the room she bursts into tears and, at the same time, inadvertently tilts the tray of ices so that a stream of liquid runs on the floor, almost as if it were 'tears' shed in sympathy with the distressed maid. (Half-a-dozen other things are happening at the same time, and the scene is one of near-pandemonium.) More next time.

• To read a description of Mark Padilla's book, go here: Myth in Four Films

• And, reader, if you haven't yet visited my essay (Part One) on Hitchcock & Catholicism, and on Psycho in particular, please take Professor Padilla's recommendation ('a profound essay ... I learned much from it') and click here: Psycho: Part One

October 8 - 2016
The Hitchcock film Murder! (1930) has some puzzling aspects, or rather prints of it do, and I'm not referring to the fact there are two different 'official' versions of the film, one English-language, the other German-language, the latter called Mary. (Both of those were shot at the same time, with actors swapping places on the same sets.) Nor do I mean that English-language versions have different endings (that seems to be because there were both English- and USA-release prints). Rather, I mean that shots differ in different prints, and sometimes, too, the soundtrack changes. But I'm not going to go into detail about this. I merely wanted to observe that D.A. Miller, in his book 'Hidden Hitchcock' (2016), has now added a further puzzle or two. Notably, he points out that when the jury foreman calls for a ballot of 'guilty' and 'not guilty' votes, on pieces of paper, a single close-up shows the votes being counted and we can readily see that there are 8 'guilty' votes and 3 'not guilty' ones. Yet, surprisingly, when the foreman in a fresh shot announces the result, he says that there are 7 'guilty' votes and 3 'not guilty' - and proceeds to ask who are the two people who haven't voted? Miller doesn't really know what to make of this, referring to 'my inability to say much about it' (and noting that even William Rothman's detailed account of the film had not mentioned the seeming botch-up). Hmm. I can think of at least two reasons why it might have happened! First, the original intention may have been to simply have one person abstain from voting, with that person being the film's lead character, Sir John (Herbert Marshall), to whom the camera would promptly travel for an explanation. (The film as we have it holds back on showing Sir John in the juryroom for as long as possible, although we had earlier seen him with the other jurors in the courtroom.) In the existing film, we hear from the two non-voters (neither of whom is Sir John) and then from two of the 'not guilty' voters, before we finally reach Sir John, who has also voted 'not guilty'. In other words, Hitchcock may have decided to expand the detail in the scene, while not bothering to re-film the ballot ('Not many people will notice!). Alternatively, maybe he deliberately wanted to confuse viewers, perhaps as a distraction from the fact that so far Sir John has not been seen in the juryroom at all. Note that there is another confusing point (not picked up by Miller): the film's opening credits list twelve actors playing the jury, none of whom is Herbert Marshall (Sir John). Someone was larking around! But enough of that. Let's pass to Miller's last chapter, on The Wrong Man. (Btw, it is followed by a long Notes section at the back of the book which, frankly, may be the most interesting part of the book - as sometimes happens! - containing a lot of useful information, succinctly given.) Here, Miller makes rather too much (it seems to me) of such things as the publicity still for The Wrong Man that shows Hitchcock in the Bickford's restaurant early in the film (I have always believed that this represented what was going to be Hitchcock's cameo before he decided to appear in a special prologue instead - nothing that Miller says rules this out, I think). And then there's what Miller claims is another Hitchcock 'cameo' in the same film: see frame-capture below. It occurs in the trial scene near the end of the film when - as the witness called Mrs James is appearing - we twice spot (for a fraction of a second each time) someone in the very back row of the courtroom, at the level of Manny's chin, who may, or may not, be Hitchcock. But Miller is beside himself with excitement and self-congratulation - 'by a kind of miracle, I was granted a vision of it' (p. 143) - and is convinced that this is indeed Hitchcock! My reaction was less intense than Miller's. For one thing, I wanted to ask: 'Aren't you getting over-excited?' People are often spotting 'new' Hitchcock cameos. (Didn't Philip Kemp recently think he saw Hitchcock in the street in The Lady Vanishes?) For another thing, contrary to Miller, I'm convinced that even if this person in the back row is Hitchcock, he never intended the shot (and its recurrence, about 19 seconds later) to constitute a cameo like the ones we usually call Hitchcock cameos. It would not have been in the spirit and mood of The Wrong Man. However Miller does raise an interesting possibility. Perhaps the identical-seeming recurrence of the 'cameo' indicates that the whole background behind Manny, above the level of the back of his seat, was rear-projected, and the footage was looped. (But would even rear-projection have been in the spirit of The Wrong Man? Some of us doubt it!) Back to more substantial things next time.

October 1 - 2016
Thank you, reader, for being patient after I missed last week's entry which would have concluded a brief series on To Catch a Thief. I'll do that now. The passing reference last time to Cornelia Parker's 'PsychoBarn' prompted me to say to friend Sarah N (who sent me the photo of it, above) that artists who pay homage to Psycho (like Douglas Gordon, with his installation '24 Hour Psycho') have almost certainly felt that film's hypnotic, almost visceral hold on audiences, and especially the effect on audiences of the creepy Bates Motel set. I used an illustration or two from To Catch a Thief to show how I thought Hitchcock does this sort of thing (coming back to Psycho at the end). I said that I had just watched the moment after Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly) has given a memorable goodnight kiss to John Robie (Cary Grant) in a corridor of the Carlton Hotel, and the camera tracks Robie back down the corridor, past Francie's mother's room, to a side-turning which leads to a balcony. Here, cued by an inflection in Lyn Murray's score, the mood suddenly changes. Robie proceeds to the balcony and goes out onto it, then looks sideways to the lit-up window of Mrs Stevens's room. By having the camera follow so close to Robie (there are some cuts for emphasis, including to an 'impossible' shot from outside the building, as Robie comes onto the balcony - but no matter), the viewer takes in with Robie the exact position and size of the room, almost as if we had 'cased the joint' ourselves. (A robbery will occur that very night, but not from Mrs Stevens's room - that comes later.) Similarly, I suggested, in Psycho we see the Bates Motel courtyard from so many different angles, that it enters into us, like a familiar habitat, so to speak. We have seen that there is a gap between two 'wings' of the courtyard (into which Norman disappears as Lila and Sam arrive), and eventually we will follow Lila into that gap so that we emerge behind the motel (where a broken-down jalopy is stored, alongside old mops and pails and crates). From here, when Lila looks up, we see a view of the Bates house that we have not had before, but the (subliminal) point is that we feel a visceral sensation of having got to know the whole premises, almost as if we had stayed at the motel ourselves - which makes us more sensitive to the shocking events still to come, as Lila continues her exploration. (To get this angle at all probably meant extra expense at set-building time, but Hitchcock knew that it was worth it.) But let's come back to To Catch a Thief. One item worth mentioning is that there is an 'echo' later in the film of Robie's investigation of the view from the Carlton Hotel balcony, when police chief Lepic, in fancy-dress at the Sanford villa, likewise goes onto a balcony and gazes sideways at the lit-up rooms as guests prepare to retire for the night. We can read his mind, and the scene needs to be only brief. (He suspects that 'Le Chat' will shortly be on the prowl again.) And now come back to near the start of the film. We first meet Robie's capable housekeeper, Germaine, when she comes onto a patio of Robie's villa and shakes a mop in front of a view across a splendid hillside of houses and gardens. As she returns inside, moving from left to right, the camera takes a low angle and tracks in the opposite direction, from right to left. That is to say, we first have an almost three-dimensional view through the patio arches, then as the camera keeps tracking left (see frame-capture below) we glimpse something of the elegance (including a well-furnished side room) that the interior of the house will further reveal. And the sense of a lived reality facilitated by the tracking camera anticipates some of the effects I have described above. But also - and here is perhaps the main reason for the low angle - we quickly sense something of the formidable quality of Germaine, as exemplified by her thick legs! (She will shortly act as Robie's accomplice when he makes a quick getaway from the police.) She was based on a real person. The author of the original novel, David Dodge, revealed that when the film of To Catch a Thief was released in France, 'she went to see it twenty-seven times. She didn't always sit through it until the final clinch, but she knew the early scenes, in which her namesake appeared and her cooking and loyalties were praised, frame by frame and word by word.'

September 24 - 2016
[Humble apologies. An elderly friend asked me to keep her company today. I'll post final thoughts on To Catch a Thief next time. Meanwhile, Part One of my long essay on Hitchcock and Catholicism, incorporating an unorthodox analysis of Psycho, has been published on the 'Senses of Cinema' website: Psycho: Part One You might like to visit it.
And, speaking of Psycho, another friend, Sarah N, in New York, has sent me a photo of a temporary installation located at the roof garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Entitled 'PsychoBarn', it was made by artist Cornelia Parker out of pieces of an old barn, and echoing both Edward Hopper's painting 'House by the Railroad' (1925) and the Bates house from Psycho. I'll share the photo with you: see below. And you can read more here: Psycho Barn KM]

September 17 - 2016
A knee-jerk reaction by some people to To Catch a Thief might be to dismiss it as a homage to money and privilege, and thus an irresponsible, even obscene, indulgence by Hitchcock! That's a reason why I have in the two preceding posts referred to 'undercurrents' in the film, and especially to Danielle's line about her underprivileged friends who must 'work like idiots for a loaf of bread'. The day after the recent terrorist incident in Nice (locale of To Catch a Thief's flower-market scene, played as slapstick comedy), the BBC published a sobering background piece, "Why jihadists stalk the French Riviera". (You can read it here: jihadists stalk the French Riviera.) Its essence is that while the French Riviera continues to be a 'playground for the cosmopolitan elite', move a mile or two from Nice itself 'and you find bleak housing estates where disaffected youths of migrant origin are vulnerable to radical Islam'. A social worker is quoted: 'The kids are told that they are in a land of unbelievers, so that when they steal and attack people it is justifiable.' Implicit is how many of them already have a sense of grievance, no doubt much like poor kids in East London in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, who may have glimpsed or heard about the privileged lifestyles on display just a mile or so away; or like kids in the favelas - shanty towns - of Rio de Janeiro today, where street gangs of disaffected, even homeless, youths periodically flourish. This sort of contrast of the very rich and very poor is, then, not new: the young Hitchcock, raised in the East End, was almost certainly familiar with it, both from his travels up and down every bus route in London when he was a boy, and from his trips at that time to London's Covent Garden market with his fruiterer father. (The Nice flower market in To Catch a Thief almost certainly had associations in Hitchcock's mind with Covent Garden - which of course he would revisit in 1972, in Frenzy. Shades, in fact, of George Bernard Shaw's Cockney waif Elisa Doolittle selling posies to rich Covent Garden opera-goers in 'Pygmalion', 1913.) So here's my main point: that Hitchcock knew what he was doing, and was hardly showing a callous indifference to the underprivileged classes. Quite the contrary. While making a 'comedy' - or what Peter Bogdanovich calls a 'holiday' film - he was implicitly commenting on the irony of how the world is constituted, and probably always has been. (In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I quote a theme that recurs in several Hitchcock films: what the philosopher Schopenhauer called 'temporal justice versus eternal justice', meaning the lack of perfect justice in just about any society that has ever been, as opposed to some fairy-tale kingdoms or philosophers' utopias, say.) The panning-shot of the ruined castle at Èze (see last time) carries both a simple reminder of mortality (the passage of years) and a supernumerary reminder that humans have always contended with each other, and been forced to defend whatever privileges they (temporarily) hold. A friend, Mike C, visiting Canada this week sent me an email from Quebec City, where I Confess (1953) was filmed, reminding me again that it's a fortress city, dating back to the time when the French and the British fought each other in the 17th and 18th centuries. Indeed the so-called Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec) has its own intact fortress, La Citadelle, that forms the centre-piece of the ancient ramparts, and is visible in I Confess. (But I'll share with you a different view sent by my friend: the house where Mr Vilette is killed by the sacristan Otto Keller, shown here being visited by tourists last week on a guided tour of the city. See below.) Similarly, Old Fort Point in Vertigo (1958) is just one of that film's reminders of ancient military preparedness and/or bloodshed, going back as far as the Spanish conquest and its genocide of the Indians. But I'll end on a lighter note this week. I mentioned the 'slapstick' of the Nice flower-market scene in To Catch a Thief. There are other slapstick moments, again involving the French police or 'flics'. Take a look at the moment near the start when the police stop their car, baffled, and get out to look around for where the car they have been following may have got to. Suddenly it speeds past them, so they have to pile back into their vehicle and resume the pursuit. Hitchcock emphasises the slapstick note by speeding up the film here. But he hasn't finished. The pursued car (supposedly containing Robie) has hardly gone past them than it is forced to come to a halt up the road - which is blocked by sheep. (Echoes of The 39 Steps, 1935.) The police car again gives chase and again, at a critical moment, Hitchcock speeds up the film, this time creating the comic impression of the car swerving to a sharp halt. Cut to a close-view of the other car. It doesn't contain Robie at all, but only his capable housekeeper, Germaine (later established as having been a Resistance member who once strangled a German general). Hitchcock probably wanted to shorten the scene for effect, so the speeded-up film has a pragmatic side. But the comedy is also clearly intended. (By contrast, a speeded-up moment in Topaz, 1969, is merely awkward.) To be concluded.

September 10 - 2016
Castles and military ruins figure prominently at moments in several Hitchcock films, reminders of a troubled past (and contentious human nature). In the frame-capture below from To Catch a Thief, the camera has just panned from the viaduct at Èze to show the medieval hill town of that name and the ruined castle above it. A slightly different type of reminder is conveyed early in the film by the spectacular helicopter (and VistaVision) shots of homes clinging intrepidly to the cliffs above the Côte d'Azur near Cannes. In an imperfect and often unjust world (see last time), there may be no real winners, except the intrepid 'life force' itself. Nonetheless, the film suggests that a day of personal reckoning may come for each of us. Robie tells Hughson that 'one day' he'll be sorry he took an ashtray from a hotel. At the film's climax, the police chief Lepic sees Robie on the roof and remarks solemnly, 'He's where I always knew he'd be some day.' Of course, To Catch a Thief is a comedy, and Hitchcock said that '[i]t wasn't meant to be taken seriously'. Reader, you may believe that, or not! Something I noticed this time around was the moment when Robie slaps Danielle (Brigitte Auber) at her father's funeral, after she calls him a murderer. She is almost certainly putting on an act, for in fact she had accidentally killed her father herself with a blow from a wrench intended for Robie; and Robie's slap carries moral significance, marking a stage in his efforts to redeem himself in other people's eyes, and his own. (I think Melanie in The Birds follows a similar trajectory, and I disagree with a commentator who says the slap Melanie delivers to the hysterical mother who calls her 'evil' in the Tides Restaurant is an over-reaction.) Young Danielle comes off badly in the film, being finally exposed by Robie as his imitator in the recent series of jewel thefts, although her father's boss, restaurateur Bertani (Charles Vanel), is named as the mastermind behind the robberies. Danielle's sense of injustice (see last time) won't save her from a long stretch in gaol. The filmmakers had to change the ending of the novel, for obvious reasons. There, the police are left empty-handed after Robie takes pity on the very person he has done his best to expose: he (and two friends) help Danielle to escape. 'Afterwards he could not remember any conscious change of attitude in himself, from pursuer of a thief to the thief's ally ... It was not because she was someone he knew and liked, nor because of her sex. She was a thief, he was a thief. [Police commissaire] Oriol threatened them both.' Now, my thanks to several recent correspondents, all fans of To Catch a Thief. The film's climax, with its traditional costume-ball, is set in the fictional San[d]ford villa near Cannes, but as Alain K has reminded me, some filming was done at the real Castle of la Croix des Gardes, also near Cannes. Earlier this year it was put up for sale, and you can read more detail here: Cannes Hitchcock house (However, that's not where the real-life robbery that inspired David Dodge's novel took place: that happened next door to the house he rented for a while, near Golfe-Juan, a port along the coast.) Thanks, too, to Douglas F, who appreciated my comments last time on the film's cast. I liked his own comparison of Jessie Stevens to the Unsinkable Molly Brown! As Douglas writes: 'Jessie Royce Landis plays [the] part with panache - it really comes over well!' Lastly, thanks to Barry Wiley (he gives me permission to name him), who is currently writing a novel on Jack the Ripper and his era, 'Jack and the Thought Reader'. It should be out next year. Barry was (and may still be) an Associate of the Inner Magic Circle in London and once came close to meeting Cary Grant at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. Barry writes: 'I sat behind [Cary] one evening. He was there with his daughter (he was a member of the Board of Directors). There is a rule at the Castle that no autographs will be requested, so I just enjoyed his reactions to a moderately decent magic act. That was about a year before he died; he looked great and was very cordial.' (Barry's book, here: Thought Reader) More on To Catch a Thief next time.

September 3 - 2016
To Catch a Thief (1955) is a hugely sophisticated entertainment that acknowledges its privileged position. It wins most audiences over. In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I argued for why the insouciant-seeming John Robie (Cary Grant), a former cat burglar, who never served his full gaol sentence, is nonetheless a hero: the film 'implies that in a world subject to chance, where Mrs Stevens can become a millionairess overnight while Robie's former comrades still 'work like idiots for a loaf of bread' (as Danielle says), his attitude may even be commendable and life-enhancing. Three films later [I added], The Wrong Man will put a more sombre slant on these matters.' However, there is a place for both films, surely. I don't understand why 'Variety' called To Catch a Thief 'pretentious'. I find it to be, in essence, an honest picture of a set of people who have 'made it' thus far and are capable of enjoying themselves while they continue to face what life throws at them. In a sense, this is Hitchcock's own world - as well as that of the characters played by Grant, Jessie Royce Landis, Grace Kelly. Robie's current problem, of course, is that someone is imitating the distinctive style and methods that he had used as 'Le Chat', thus jeopardising his current freedom, which may in any case not be the total freedom he pretends. (In turn, one easily sees here an allegory of a rival director imitating Hitchcock's style and methods and threatening to supplant him.) Mrs Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) is a wealthy widow, yes, but feeling pressures of her own, not least that she misses her (working-class) husband; the novel by David Dodge gives other details, such as how nowadays she is '"always picking up imitation dukes who borrow money from her and forget to pay it back; or try to steal her jewels"'. That's Francie speaking; she's played in the film by Grace Kelly. And Francie, too, has her own problems: most obviously, she must look after her mother as much as the reverse, and in the novel admits to sometimes feeling '"more like the mother than the daughter"'. (Both women are exceptional creatures, it almost goes without saying - and there you have further links to both Robie and, again, Hitchcock. All of Hitchcock's pictures, it is often argued, are like self-portraits, so much of himself did he put into those films.) Now, I want to begin to show why To Catch a Thief is 'hugely sophisticated' and works for most audiences. Remember that Jessie Stevens is nouveau-riche, and is currently trying - with an obvious measure of success - to inhabit the Riviera lifestyle that she feels right for her daughter. Here's a scene, and dialogue, that perhaps only Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, and the four actors, could have got away with. At a table are Mrs Stevens , Francie, Robie (posing as 'Jack Burns', a 'lumberman' from Portland, Oregon), and insurance agent Hughson (John Williams). Despite a protest from Francie ('Oh mother, please ...'), Jessie launches into an account of how wealth came suddenly to her and Francie after Mr Stevens died. Apparently the family had owned a ranch, but it didn't even have indoor plumbing. As Mrs Stevens puts it, there was only a 'little thing out back' (see frame-capture below). Which prompts her next line: 'Poor Jeremiah. He'll never know how close he came to 20 million barrels of oil.' Cut to Robie's reaction - call it half-stifled mirth, but Grant does it just right, naturally - observed by Francie, who smiles placidly (befitting her quietness all evening so far). And that description will have to do. Yes, basically it's a lavatory joke, in a Hitchcock film! (Remember, Psycho was still five years away!) So where's the sophistication, exactly? Obviously not in the joke itself but rather in the general cordiality, where everyone at the table knows what has been conveyed but carries on unruffled, and enjoying themselves. Jessie immediately proceeds, in her own special way, to extol the merits of bourbon over champagne, and it's filmed beautifully (I mean that literally), her image reflected in a door-pane behind her. So this, I would say, is an instance of Hitchcock's direction at its purest: basically, direction of the actors who show us how to feel good! But it needs an undercurrent. Stephen Ronan (whom I've quoted here before) has mentioned a comparable instance, a speech by the director. Hitchcock: 'With the help of television, murder should be brought into the home where it rightly belongs. [Think about that, reader.] After all, I'm sure you will agree that murder can be so much more charming and enjoyable, even for the victim, if the surroundings are pleasant and the people involved are ladies and gentlemen like yourselves.' Ronan's comment: 'With that statement, Hitchcock shocked many in his Film Society audiences at Lincoln Center.' To be continued.

August 27 - 2016
[Sorry everyone. Work calls. Back next time. I'll just share with you for now two recommendations from Bill K in Los Angeles: 'two riffs on AH's single-set films'. The first is 10 Cloverfield Lane, produced by J.J. Abrams. Bill writes: '[it] was a surprise hit here and received wide distribution'. The other is the French Taj Mahal, directed by Bill's friend Nicholas Saada. Bill: '[Saada] had visited Mumbai and was horrified by the terrorist attacks [on the famous hotel] when they happened later. His heroine locks herself in the bathroom of her hotel suite to escape marauding terrorists, who we hear but never see. It's intercut with real footage shot in Mumbai and her vertiginous escape to an adjoining room, which was filmed on a soundstage. Hitchcock references abound.' There are trailers for both these films on YouTube. KM]

August 20 - 2016
We have been talking about Rear Window and, in particular, its 'flashbulbs' climax. Now, I noted (see August 6, above) the ingenious way in which Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes took partial inspiration from Cornell Woolrich's novella, which doesn't have that exact scene but does refer to the 'flash' of a gun-shot and the nick-of-time arrival of Jeff's detective friend, which the novella calls a 'camera-finish'. What I didn't adequately comment on is the part played in the novella's scene by the bust of an Enlightenment philosopher. Woolrich gives the reader two names to choose from - the bust is that of either Rousseau or Montesquieu - to make his point without actually using the word 'Enlightenment'. And you sense his sardonic attitude to the usefulness of abstract philosophy, enlightened or otherwise, when a life-and-death situation arrives: might as well put that bust to practical use! In turn, I suggested last time (in comparing the film's climax to the one of H.G. Wells's "Through a Window") that the filmmakers themselves further sensed that we are all relatively powerless when it comes to pitting our limited, subjective selves against a world that may (strictly speaking, will) eventually turn on us: after all, death comes as the end, doesn't it? So there is an allegory about complacency at work here, and the film's 'flashbulbs' climax is its inspired expression. Here now are some related thoughts. Robin Wood, in an excellent documentary included on the Rear Window DVD (excellent not least because he figures in it) makes the point that people build 'facades' around themselves to protect them from 'the unpredicatability and chaos of life', i.e., 'all the things we don't understand and don't know, not simply in the world but within ourselves'. For what it's worth, the notion of civilisation as inherently fragile and how 'chaos and anarchy constitute [the world's] true moral reality' (Alan Sandison) was widespread in several authors at the turn of the 19th century and beyond: for example, in Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, John Buchan. (It also resembles Schopenhauer's notion of the blind cosmic Will, which was particularly influential at that time.) So very conceivably Hitchcock absorbed it from his reading of the authors mentioned, or from his deep acquaintance with movements like Symbolism. But I also mentioned last time another of Hitchcock's favourite authors, E.T.A. Hoffmann (1766-1822), and how his story "The Sandman" has striking generic similarities to Rear Window. In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I give a partial synopsis: 'The student Nathanael becomes fixated on a house opposite his own occupied by Professor Spallanzani and his beautiful "daughter" called Olympia. Watching the house through binoculars, the student quite loses interest in his regular girlfriend, Klara. One day he goes to the house and at last encounters Olympia - who turns out to be just a life-sized doll ...' And I note that Sigmund Freud was fascinated with Hoffmann's tale, which he analysed in terms of 'castration anxiety', which certainly applies to Rear Window, so that Jeff's eventual confrontation with Thorwald may be further seen as that of the Oedipal 'son' with his 'father'. Also: 'the film's symbolism is [fitting], for the assault on a person's eyes constitutes a further reference to "castration" (cf Spellbound)'. Hmm. Jeff survives the encounter, and Thorwald is taken into custody, but each spectator must individually decide the significance of, for example, Jeff's new broken leg! (See frame-capture below.) (I have said elsewhere that Jeff is arguably 'defeated' in another sense, for he's like a David Lean figure who would, if he could, continue to travel the world professionally, with a woman waiting for him at each foreign destination! A 2009 article in 'Quarterly Review of Film and Video', by Andrew A. Erish, "Reclaiming Alfred Hitchcock Presents", makes a similar point: Jeff at the end of Rear Window has been 'robbed of his primary passion as a globetrotting photojournalist in search of truth and adventure'.) Finally, recall that when Thorwald enters Jeff's room, he asks, 'What do you want from me?' - to which Jeff has no answer. As Hitchcock put it to Peter Bogdanovich, 'What could [Jeff] say?' Jeff's impulses in pursuing Thorwald are complex and, finally, less rational than absolutely basic, like the Oedipal impulse or a native curiosity that most of us share. This week I was (re-)reading John Buchan's 'The Power-House' (1913) whose hero, Leithen, becomes excited as soon as he sniffs a mystery: 'I began to get really keen, for every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.' (Chapter 2) QED?!

August 13 - 2016
One of Hitchcock's favourite authors was H.G. Wells (1866-1946) - for a start, he owned a complete set of Wells's works - and he would have quickly spotted the indebtedness of Cornell Woolrich's 1942 novella "It Must Have Been Murder" (later renamed "Rear Window") to Wells's 1894 short story "At a Window" (renamed the following year "Through a Window" - which is the name it goes by to this day). Even considered in generic terms, the several parallels or overlaps of Wells's story and Hitchcock's film are striking - with obviously some mediation by Woolrich's story! (Note: other interesting similarities, generic or otherwise, to Hitchcock's Rear Window are found in E.T.A. Hoffmann's 1815 tale "The Sandman" - recall that Hitchcock also owned a complete set of the German author's works - and its ballet version, Léo Delibes's 1870 'Coppelia'. Sigmund Freud was fascinated by the Hoffmann story and analysed it in his famous essay on "The Uncanny", especially in terms of 'castration anxiety'.) But we'll concentrate for now on the Wells story and how it builds to a climax that is in some ways close to that of Hitchcock's film. Let's start at the beginning. The story is set near London and opens: 'After his legs were set, they carried Bailey into the study and put him on a couch before the open window. There he lay, a live - even a feverish man down to the loins, and below that a double-barrelled mummy swathed in white wrappings. He tried to read, even tried to write a little, but most of the time he looked out of the window.' What Bailey can see - and incidentally we are told little about him or how he came to break his legs - is a view of the Thames. 'Up and down the river, all day long, things were passing ... Perhaps the river was quietest of a morning or late at night. One moonlight night some people drifted down singing, and with a zither playing - it sounded very pleasantly across the river.' In short, the expanse of the river anticipates the film's courtyard, and both Wells and Hitchcock are responsive to the varying moods and sounds. Wells continues: 'Then one afternoon, the captain of a slow-moving barge began a quarrel with his wife as they came into sight from the left, and had carried it to personal violence before he vanished behind the window-frame to the right.' (Note reminders that the reader is looking with Bailey through a window.) Is this the germ of Woolrich's novella? It seems likely - although the Wells story has a different 'villain', an aggrieved Malay worker from up-river who has run amok and who, armed with a kris (curved dagger), will cross the river and invade Bailey's room through the window. But at first Bailey, like Jeff, is unaware of the threat that is coming for him. He first has two visitors, a Mrs Green, who brings him his meals, and a friend, Wilderspin, to whom he converses. '"Funny," he said, "how these people [passing on the river] come from all points of the compass - from Oxford and Windsor, from Asia and Africa - and gather and pass opposite the window just to entertain me."' One thinks of what Hitchcock told Truffaut, that Rear Window would not have worked without its 'cross-section' of people in the apartments around the courtyard. In both cases (Bailey's and Jeff's), the invalid resorts to thinking that the people are there for him, to provide a show - which serves as a reminder of how self-deceiving we can all be, including readers and film viewers. (Compare the observation last time about an audience being almost hypnotised into 'agreeable passivity'.) In both cases, too, the final climax works to expose such a deception! In the film, Jeff tries to fight off Thorwald with camera flashes - providing mere tokens of reality (see frame-capture below) - but only succeeds in slowing things down, which is perhaps all that any of us can do from our subjective positions! In Wells's story, that is precisely the sort of effect aimed for. Bailey hurls medicine bottles at his attacker. A writer on Wells describes the scene thus: 'When the intruder advances into the room the effect is of a film seen in slow motion. "It was Bailey's impression that the Malay took about an hour to get his second leg over the rail. The period that elapsed before the sitting position was changed to a standing one seemed enormous ..." The illusion of time standing still reinforces the dream-like texture of the narrative and recalls the endless pursuits of nightmare ... indeed, the story as a whole possesses a cinematic quality heightened by its central motif of a window looking out on reality.' (J. Hammond, 'H.G. Wells and the Short Story', 1992) (I am grateful to the late Leslie Sheperd, who was an associate of film historian Liam O'Leary, for first drawing my attention to Wells's "Through a Window".) To be concluded.

August 6 - 2016
The audience of a Hitchcock film, such as Rear Window (which we began discussing last time), is conditioned, even hypnotised, to adopt a certain state of mind, roughly one of agreeable passivity. It may be worth repeating something that screenwriter John Michael Hayes said when I once had the pleasure of interviewing him. (You'll find the same story in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'.) He had felt that some of Hitchcock's American films had been relatively cold and humourless, and thus not as engaging of the audience as they might have been, mentioning The Paradine Case (1947) as an example. So for his first film for Hitchcock, whom he admired, he sought to break down audience resistance - even a certain hostility - from almost the first scene. That is why he had the no-nonsense nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), come upon Jeff with the words, 'The New York sentence for a peeping tom is six months in the workhouse!' And soon follow this up with her anecdote about how she had nursed an auto industry magnate and had predicted the stock market crash of '29: 'When General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day, the whole country's ready to let go.' Hayes explained: that's the sort of line that makes an audience laugh out loud and prepare to enjoy themselves. (Somewhere I have heard it said that a stand-up comedian in a nightclub or cabaret knows that he must get the audience on-side in the first few minutes or he'll be having an uphill battle with them for the rest of the evening! Same idea!) Audiences traditionally enjoy settling into their seats and being happily passive - that is, not bored (they can be that at home) - while the comedian or film proceeds to regale or entertain them. In this sense, they relinquish the metaphorical limelight for a time, and appreciatively watch the show from the darkened room or auditorium. Well, something of that metaphor informs Rear Window (see last time), and may also account for why, in Strangers on a Train (1950), there's a moment when the amusing, normally extroverted villain Bruno (Robert Walker) at a carnival momentarily forgets himself and has to suddenly retreat from the light back into shadow - on this occasion he doesn't want to be recognised. (But he'll end up making a spectacle of himself anyway, as Hitchcock's, and Fritz Lang's, villains often did.) A variant on the idea is Hitchcock's rather tongue-in-cheek scene in Family Plot, 1976, where a whole congregation watch their Archbishop kidnapped in front of them and seem momentarily paralysed: Hitchcock drew an analogy with people in a real church or cathedral - or mosque or synagogue? - by saying, 'They're just so religiously solemn!' Reader, do you see the connection to Rear Window? As I suggested to my correspondent, RH, last week, Hitchcock's audience is agreeably hypnotised by the film's blend of comedy and suspense, and by its appeal to subliminal factors, such as the analogy with the audience's own collective mindstate, resembling that of a dreamer, who may tell herself, 'This is my dream, yet I can't intervene!' So at one point the very actors seem to act out our powerlessness - or what Siegfried Kracauer would call the viewer's state of 'lowered consciousness' - and we feel only its rightness rather than question it, although if it had continued for more than a few seconds (if the police had been delayed) then the spell might have been broken, as it must have been for RH (on a re-viewing?) who wondered why Jeff doesn't immediately call out to distract the villain, who has grabbed hold of the terrified Lisa in his apartment, 'Hey Thorwald, the police are coming!' Timing is (nearly) all, and Hayes and Hitchcock understood this very well. Now, next time I want to talk about the same film's remarkable 'flashbulbs' climax (see frame-capture below). In the space remaining here this week, I'll just mention how ingeniously the filmmakers were inspired by, and adapted, the corresponding climax of Cornell Woolrich's 1942 novella, which is rather different. Chiefly, knowing that Thorwald is coming to get him, the immobilised Jeff in his wheelchair resorts to a stalling tactic (he has phoned his detective friend to come and rescue him) by turning out the lights in his apartment, then setting up a dummy of himself in the wheelchair whose head is just visible above a blanket - and is really a sculpted clay head of an Enlightenment philosopher (Rousseau or Montesquieu - Jeff isn't sure), while meanwhile leaning to one side as far as he can. Sure enough, Thorwald, armed with a gun, is fooled. In the darkness, he fires blindly: 'The flash of the shot lit up the room for a second' and the bust is shattered. But now the detective arrives just in time - what Jeff calls a 'camera-finish' (my italics).

July 30 - 2016
Surely the most terrifying moment in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) - even more than the film's 'flashbulbs' ending - occurs when Jeff (James Stewart) and nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) watch helplessly as Lisa (Grace Kelly) is caught by suspected wife-killer Thorwald (Raymond Burr) searching his apartment, across the courtyard from Jeff's, for incriminating evidence (namely, Mrs Thorwald's wedding ring). Hitchcock proudly told the story about Joseph Cotten's wife at the Rear Window premiere: as Thorwald advances on Lisa and she screams out, 'Jeff, Jeff!', Mrs Cotten here turned to her husband and said, 'Oh do something, do something!' But how plausible is this moment - and/or does such a consideration matter? A correspondent this week, RH, to whom I am most grateful for his thoughts, told me that he has always been 'puzzled' by why Jeff (or Stella) doesn't respond by calling out loudly to distract Thorwald (who has now grabbed Lisa), 'Thorwald, the police are coming!' Instead we hear Jeff murmur impotently, 'Stella, what'll we do?' (See frame-capture below.) And for the space of several seconds, Thorwald continues to threaten Lisa as Stella and Jeff watch powerlessly (as it seems). Then the police arrive, having been already summoned by Jeff because Stella had spotted Miss Lonelyhearts, on the floor below Thorwald's apartment, preparing to overdose on sleeping pills - only the prescient Jeff, concerned for Lisa, had seized the opportunity to tell the police, 'A man is assaulting a woman at 125 West Ninth Street, second floor.' (For some earlier thoughts on screenwriter John Michael Hayes's ingenuity in getting characters out of tight corners, see entries on The Trouble With Harry above, especially July 2.) The fact remains, my correspondent is right: those several seconds are, strictly speaking, implausible. Nonetheless, I believe that the canny Hitchcock, with Hayes, knew exactly what he was doing, and could get away with. That is, he knew that most viewers (like Mrs Cotten) wouldn't notice the implausibility - for several reasons. For a start, hadn't Hitchcock once boasted, 'A film should be stronger than reason'? Also, hadn't he said, 'It [the film] should look real but never be real'? The fact is, there is something deliberately 'irrational', even dream-like, about Rear Window, right from its opening credits, when three bamboo blinds appear to raise themselves. Further, Hitchcock was a firm believer in the importance of a film's 'unity of emotion' (see entry on Dial M for Murder in the famous Hitchcock/Truffaut interview book). A certain hypnotic quality is thus activated, reinforced by other subliminal factors not the least of which is the film's use of glamorous stars (themselves contributing an 'impressive', if 'unreal', element to the story). Note that Jeff's broken leg keeps him relatively passive throughout the film (Lisa is decidedly its most proactive character) in a metaphor for the film's audience that many commentators (e.g., Jean Douchet) have pointed out. In turn, note that the audience of Rear Window is certainly unable to intervene in the action - even less than a theatre or opera or ballet audience can influence the performers onstage. Accordingly, the moment described above effectively sees Jeff and Stella being surrogates for the film's audience, and the film is so scripted. And I would say that Jeff 'keeps quiet' here (rather than calling out to Thorwald, which would be more 'rational') for several reasons: (1) it is consistent with his situation and general demeanour to this point (he is still whispering, surely needlessly, when he phones private detective Doyle minutes later, after the police have taken Lisa from Thorwald's apartment); (2) it keeps the 'unity of emotion' going (a different 'unity of emotion' prevails in The Birds - literally a more strident film - where characters in the Tides Bar do indeed call out from a window to warn the salesman against lighting a match near a petrol-spill!); (3) it generates excitement and suspense, which is what Hitchcock wanted; and (4) as I say, it is a subliminal metaphor for the audience's own powerlessness at this point (which has been further conditioned by the film as a whole, in keeping with Hitchcock's sense of the audience's general condition and unspoken challenge, 'Okay Hitch, you're in charge, entertain us!'). Besides, as I remarked to RH, don't we attend a movie in roughly the same spirit as Samuel Coleridge's famous remark about 'that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith'?! (For more on that topic, click here: Suspension of Disbelief)

July 23 - 2016
Something different this time, occasioned by regular correspondent Martin P telling me that he watched Henry Hathaway's realist House on 92nd Street (1945), loosely based on the Duquesne spy ring case, and in which a memory artist is employed by the spies to smuggle information past security guards - a likely borrowing from Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935). But had such a thing happened in real life? Neither Martin nor I knew of any. What I was able to note included the following. That 'Mr Memory' in Hitchcock's film is based on a stage and music hall performer named 'Datas' (Englishman William Bottle) whose memoirs were published in the early 1930s (as far as I can tell) by Wright & Brown, London - and may thus have helped inspire the inclusion of the character in the film. (The Cromwell Road brains trust who worked with screenwriter Charles Bennett on the early stages of several of the 1930s thrillers were alert to just such stimuli they found in books, newspaper articles, other movies, and anecdotes.) But also, that the Hitchcock film's climax in which Mr Memory is shot while performing onstage may have been inspired by the climax of Fritz Lang's Spione (1928) whose villain, Haghi - dressed as a clown - dies onstage. In turn, Haghi's clown act was taken by Lang from real life, being modelled on the famous Grock in Berlin. Now, it will be useful to note some of what we know about Datas/ William Bottle from his memoirs ('Memory by DATAS') and other sources. He was born in 1875 in Newnham, Kent, where his father was a shoe repairer. Growing up, he had a succession of jobs, eventually being employed at the Crystal Palace Gas Works. But his prodigious memory must have been apparent from his teenage years, at least. In Chapter VI of his memoirs, he recalls that when the famous showman Phineas Barnum came to England in 1890, Bottle approached him for work: 'I thought he might take me on as a sort of freak, for even at this early age I had mastered most of the dates of all the important events in the world.' But Barnum told the youth that he was too young and should come back when Barnum returned to England in a year or two, '[when] I'll give you the engagement of your life'. However, Barnum died in Connecticut in 1891, and for a time Bottle kept working at the gas works. It was ten years before another entrepreneur 'discovered' him, and his stage career took off. As Datas, he appeared across England and went around the world - he visited Australia twice. Always, he insisted that questions from the audience should be brief and factual, although he was happy to elaborate on his answers. For example, if he were asked, 'When was Big Ben opened at Westminster?', he would, in addition to the actual date (1859), include other items of interest concerning Westminster and Big Ben. And invariably he would conclude, 'Am I right, sir?' (Sound familiar?) Of especial interest (also in Chapter VI) is the fact that for a while Bottle was friendly with both the infamous Harley Crippen and his ill-fated wife, known as 'Belle Elmore', who performed in the chorus-line at music halls where Datas was one of the principal acts. Indeed, Datas's memoirs seem to contain information that never emerged at Crippen's trial for murder where, although eventually convicted, he impressed many observers. (Filson Young, reporting on the Crippen trial, wrote: 'everyone who came in contact with him from his trial to his death - and some of them were fairly hardened prison officials - looked upon him not only with respect, but with something like affection'. Which may explain the tone of the extraordinarily moving 1935 manhunt novel by Ernest Raymond, based on the Crippen case, 'We, the Accused', which Hitchcock hoped to film.) According to Datas's memoirs, Belle Elmore towards the end often wanted to leave her philandering husband but not only did he threaten to beat her but he forced her to play a badger game whereby she would encourage the attentions of wealthy men knowing that Crippen would then blackmail them for being in a compromising situation with his wife. Finally, let's return to House on 92nd Street. The frame-capture below shows FBI man Briggs (Lloyd Nolan) about to arrest Manhattan Project employee Charles Roper for complicity in espionage. As played by veteran Canadian actor Gene Lockhardt, Roper looks inoffensive enough; the film 'explains' his prodigious memory ability by noting that he was a chess player who could carry 14 games in his head simultaneously. The film's producer Louis de Rochemont (of the famous 'March of Time' newsreels) insisted that real locations and actual newsreel footage be included wherever possible. Accordingly, the film ends with shots of the actual Duquesne spy ring (including Duquesne himself) being brought into police headquarters to be charged. Worth a look, especially as some of the film's shots almost certainly influenced Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957).

July 16 - 2016
One of the sight-gags in The Trouble With Harry, we noted last time, involves a contrast of scales: a small tugboat dwarfed by a gigantic ocean liner. In fact, the film is full of such contrasts, which Hitchcock intended and saw as exemplary. In Marnie, he invoked a passage from Emerson: 'So nigh is grandeur to our dust/ So near is God to man.' Of Harry, he said that its contrasts might 'raise the commonplace in life to a higher level'. The characters are frequently seen amidst autumnal New England landscapes (with some impressive cloud formations), perhaps passing a row of tall trees stretching the length of the hillside. As early as the film's credits-sequence, visual contrasts are evident: see the frame-capture below. As the continuous left-to-right tracking shot ends, the artist's impression of Harry's corpse looms within the frame, dwarfing both birds and trees. The director's credit overlays this reference to the salutary presence of death. It almost seems to imply that Harry and Hitchcock are stand-ins for each other, with a message to impart. What could that be? Well, as noted earlier, the tone of Harry was transferred to the ten years of television shows (AHP/AHH) that Hitchcock hosted, and in whose wraparounds he invariably appeared. There, very often, he seemed to make light of murder and death. But surely the ultimate effect on the viewer was like reverse psychology: to emphasise the intrinsic value of human life, or all life, for that matter. Which is what both the novel (by Jack Trevor Story) and Hitchcock's film of Harry are decidedly about: what Ed Sikov (paraphrasing the film's artist, Sam Marlowe) calls facilitating 'the ongoing life-force'. ('Laughing Hysterically: American Screen Comedy of the 1950s', 1994, p. 167) In a way, Harry is a companion film to Rope (1948), which also centred on a dead body, but whose central characters - Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger), if not their naive mentor Rupert (James Stewart) - are more evil-minded than Harry's, by far. The central characters of Rope are seriously perverted; those of Harry are merely unthinking opportunists. (For example, watch Sam after he discovers Harry's corpse: he starts to run down the hillside - presumably to report his find to the authorities - then turns and comes back to begin calmly sketching the dead man's face.) So the tone of Harry is quite different from Rope's, even if the ultimate message is similar. Rupert, basically a good man, finally denounces the two murderers: 'Did you think you were God, Brandon?', and fires shots out the window to attract the police to the apartment. (Harry's body will finally be laid out afresh on the hillside, in the knowledge that young Arnie will find it and the authorities duly summoned.) Also, a lesson about the relativity of values is common to both films. Rupert had served in the recent World War and been wounded, gaining a limp that may imply he is now impotent. He thus has good reason for grievance, and his teaching of Nietzsche may be a consequence. Indeed he may seriously question why nations may kill millions with impunity, but individuals be held to account for a single murder. It takes him the length of the film to see a possible answer to that question. (But Bruno, in Strangers on a Train, just three years later, is not convinced. 'What's a life or two, Guy?' he asks his naive 'double', played by Farley Granger - who appears flummoxed for an answer.) If the truth be told, the 'values' on display in The Trouble With Harry, and then, arguably, in the wraparounds of the Hitchcock television shows, could almost be labelled 'nihilistic' - except that I happen to disagree with Rohmer and Chabrol, quoted by Sikov, who allege that Harry (along with the wartime Lifeboat) contains Hitchcock's 'most misanthropic point of view'. (p. 164) That is surely to miss the high degree of compassion, and humanity, that Harry manifests, for those who can see them. I'll end, then, by quoting from another English novel, one of Hitchcock's favourites, 'Love and Mr Lewisham' (1900) by H.G. Wells. The speaker is the hypocrite Chaffery, but Wells sees fit to allow him his astute reasoning: 'salvation is not in the nature of things, but whatever salvation there may be is in the nature of man.' (Chapter 28)

July 9 - 2016
Continuing our thoughts about The Trouble With Harry (1955). Re its 'Englishness', we have already invoked 'nonsense' authors like Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. We also noted that the novel's author, Jack Trevor Story, was a Londoner. Interestingly, Peter Ackroyd observes that many 'Cockney Visionaries' (he includes artist/caricaturist William Hogarth in that category) often compared their city to a prison. And even William Wordsworth is cited because he described London's citizens as 'Dreaming of nought beyond the prison wall'. Accordingly, let's think of Harry as a 'visionary' work. But, yes, it is full of sleight-of-hand and trompe-l'œil in which the the swiftness of the camera and situations stops us from looking too closely at the 'nonsense'. The important thing is to catch the right spirit! (Even the business with a yawning cupboard door is as much an induced distraction for the audience as it is suggestive of the Captain's over-active conscience or symbolic of a metaphysical 'emptiness' behind appearances à la the mysterious green door in August Strindberg's 1901 'A Dream Play'.) This time I want to start by looking at the splendid scene in which Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick) accompanies Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) to his lakeside cottage, which he describes (pretentiously, as we'll learn) as 'just an old salt's snug anchorage' - and is initially embarrassed by noting that he has forgotten to remove from view his undergarments that he had hung out to air. (Here, Herrmann's jaunty music pauses, as if shocked! It will pause again later to allow Miss Gravely to reveal that she has her own reason for embarrassment, the fact that she believes she killed Harry Worp.) The getting-to-know-you early part of the scene is punctuated by sight-gags, not all of them obvious. Now, in the frame-capture below, Miss Gravely has finally got around to declaring that she hit Harry with the heel of her hiking-shoe after he - acting strangely - attacked her; and she declares that she wants the matter all cleared up. More on that in a moment. But note a couple of visual details. On the left is the full-bosomed ship's figurehead on which the Captain had leaned nonchalantly as he stated, 'I'm a man who can recognise the human qualities in a woman.' And on the right is another 'nautical' object, a framed picture of an ocean liner. Only, the real reason for the picture's being on the Captain's wall is certainly the fact that - if you look closely - it shows the (dwarfed) tugboat that the Captain once skippered, and on which (he'll confess) 'we never went more than a mile offshore'. So much for his much-boasted maritime adventures - with the just-mentioned gag (like certain lines in Psycho) only becoming resonant on later viewings of the film. Actually, as I wrote in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', just about everyone in Harry, from the youngest upwards, is an opportunist, and the more human for it! Let's look at Miss Gravely for a moment. Here I'm grateful to correspondent DF who during the week told me that both Miss Gravely and the Captain reminded him of real people of a certain generation, and which Hitchcock (and Hayes) had got so right, as those people definitely 'existed in the 1950s still'. DF isn't at all offended by the sight-gag of Miss Gravely seemingly doing all the digging of Harry's grave, as there were hints earlier in the film that the Captain isn't perfect - commensurate with his capacity to tell white lies about himself. (And of course he has already dug and un-dug Harry's grave at least once.) Miss Gravely was once a nurse, one gathers. But for all her likely high degree of altruism, one sees that she can be a manipulator - an opportunist - when necessary. In keeping with the film's swift-moving aspect, notice that the audience once again, at the Captain's cottage, hardly has time to spot just how Miss Gravely suddenly directs matters once she sees that she has an exonerating reason for having struck Harry (that he must already have been half-crazed). With little consideration of others - notably Jennifer, who had earlier hit Harry on the head with a milk bottle - she tricks the Captain into agreeing to exhume Harry for the authorities to find. (Miss Gravely: 'Don't you agree?' Brief pause, as the Captain hesitates. 'I thought you would.') In other words, the filmmakers needed Harry to be dug up again at this point - to keep the film's running gag going - so they just hastened things along (an old 39 Steps principle, if we're honest). Concluded next time (probably).

July 2 - 2016
The Trouble With Harry is like one, extended, good-natured chuckle. Even the artist Sam's dismissal of 'city people' as 'little people - people with hats on' is primarily meant to put Mrs Wiggs ('Wiggy') at her ease, rather than criticise the 'Wiggs Emporium' for not returning super dividends to its shareholders this year. Sam is himself indebted to the Emporium for its relaxed, laissez-faire way of doing business (buy literally half a pack of cigarettes at a time and pay when you can, or when one of your paintings gets sold). Sam's line always reminds me of Proust - 'Allow me to furnish the interior of my head as I please and I will wear a hat like everybody else's' - only Sam is happy to forgo the city, and hats, almost totally. He is otherwise sprucely-dressed (this being a Hitchcock film!), and, besides, the film has its unspoken joke that balances Sam's statement: the Captain is almost never without his cap for the length of the film, whether indoors or out. Now, last time, I attempted to liken Harry to a story by Lewis Carroll for its sustained 'nonsense' element and avoidance of moralising and its valorising of 'the child'; an even better comparison might be with Carroll's contemporary, Edward Lear (1812-88), who popularised the limerick and other 'nonsense' verse: his first such verse was notably "The Owl and the Pussy Cat" which he wrote in 1867 to cheer up a little girl, just two years after Carroll's 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' appeared. As Jackie Wullschläger points out, the two authors had much in common, yet Lear - hitherto primarily an artist/painter - now immersed himself almost wholly in the part he had inadvertently chosen for himself: 'He called nonsense the breath of his nostrils; it expressed his view of the grown-up world as nonsensical, and affirmed his connection with youth.' ('Inventing Wonderland', 1995, p. 71) Many later writers, such as Jack Trevor Story, were happy to draw on this very 'English' tradition of nonsense, and of 'wonderlands', even if their ultimate purpose was less directly critical of the absurdities of society and more celebratory of 'Englishness' - and 'life' - in its fullness. (In the 'Harry' novel, Sam is first heard singing William Blake's lines from 'Jerusalem', 'And did those feet in ancient time/Walk upon England's mountains green ...'. Young Abie, the boy, is thus set to inherit this tradition. In the film, Sam is given instead a song, no less universal in its implications, about turning homewards, 'Gotta Get Back to Tuscaloosa'.) Accordingly, to appreciate Harry, one must catch the spirit of its generosity which includes a strong element of nonsense - and enjoy it! (It will inform all of the wraparounds of Hitchcock's TV shows for the next ten years.) Admittedly, during the climax in Jennifer's house, a lot of the 'nonsense' is verbal, as our (surely?) highly likeable conspirators endeavour to fool Calvin Wiggs (Royal Dano) with double-talk and then invent rapid-fire answers to save awkward situations, as when young Arnie suddenly pipes up (in front of Calvin), 'Hey, what's he [Harry] doing in our bathtub?' - to which Sam's quick-witted response is, 'That's where frogs belong', and Jennifer (Shirley MacLaine) hastens to conceal from Calvin the corpse in the bathtub! Next instant, Dr Greenbow arrives, with his awkward question (again in front of Calvin), 'Well, where is he?' (meaning Harry's corpse), which mercifully prompts Jennifer's ad lib, 'He's in the bathroom playing with his frog', as she ushers a speechless Dr Greenbow past Calvin (blocking his view), leaving Sam to explain to Calvin, 'It's Arnie - he's not very well.' (More verbal confusion, of a different order, will follow when it comes time to explain to Dr Greenbow just why Harry was in the bathtub; of course, the short-sighted doctor had never even noticed that Harry, when he first came upon him on a hillside, was lying beside a yawning grave, so just telling him the truth of the day's events will be sufficient to convince him that he's having a nightmare!) I repeat, you have to get into the spirit of all this inventiveness (by screenwriter and director), as well as appreciate the sheer smoothness of Hitchcock's every move and cut. Take the rapid end of the scene in Jennifer's house: Sam and the Captain hurry into the bathroom to get Harry for the last time, and the camera tracks behind them (see frame-capture below), so that in the space of about three seconds what was a quiet four-shot becomes a fade to black! More next time.

June 25 - 2016
Jack Trevor Story's first novel 'The Trouble With Harry' (1949) came as a gift to Hitchcock, a fellow Londoner. (Story was born in Highgate, North London.) I don't mean a literal gift, of course, although it's well known that Hitchcock paid a very low fee for the adaptation rights. Rather, I mean that Story's black-comedy about a corpse perfectly reflects Hitchcock's cockney mindset and sense of fun. So Hitchcock seized on the novel (and his faithful film version) as the exemplar for the mocking tone he wanted James Allardice to give the wraparounds for his TV shows; and Bernard Herrmann later adapted his superb score for The Trouble With Harry (1955) as a suite, "Portrait of Hitch". Not a coincidence, gentle reader! In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I suggest that there's a Lewis Carroll quality about novel and film. Carroll/C.L. Dodgson wrote his 'nonsense' stories for both children and adults, and that's part of what I mean; but it's worth noting, too, that Victorian children loved the 'Alice' stories as the first books for children that didn't preach at them. I also think, in this connection, of the revelations about how cockney children, circa 1916 (when Hitchcock was a teenager), thought and joked among themselves, in complex ways, as noted in Norman Douglas's 'London Street Games'. Those London kids - no less than Carroll's young readers - were smart, and wide awake. Now, it's my belief that The Trouble With Harry, if viewed in a knowledge of its 'Englishness', and with a suitable frame of mind, impresses as yet another Hitchcock masterpiece. There's so much more to it than its surface charm, and VistaVision views of New England in the Fall, and a one-joke play with the image of a well-dressed corpse that is constantly being buried and dug up again! Think of it as music, if that helps. I have discussed elsewhere how much of it consists of repetitions and counterpoints (e.g., hard sweaty work, invigorating social engagement), combined harmoniously, so that the tone eventually becomes one of heightened 'zest' and goodwill to all - at least all who aren't on the side of small-minded 'outsiders' like deputy sheriff Calvin Wiggs. (And even he becomes a functionary who is to be tolerated, someone to report the death of Harry to, after young Arnie (re-)discovers the body.) At one point, Sam the artist (John Forsythe) remarks to Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), 'We're all nice [people]. I don't see how anyone could help but like us today.' (See frame-capture below.) The aesthetics of watching Harry is 'Schopenhauerian', in which we are elevated by art or music to a position where our common humanity (or 'Will') shines forth. Equally, a brilliant analysis of Harry by Adrian Schober, focussing on young Arnie (Jerry Mathers), has demonstrated how 'open' the film is, incorporating attitudes and understandings of childhood from both Puritan and Romantic traditions, and notions of the child (including by pundits like Dr Spock) from both sides of the Atlantic (and no doubt further afield). It's heartening to know that Story's novel became widely published, in many languages. Now, here are a couple of further things I know about Story. His father was a decorator who once painted music hall artist Florrie Ford's house, and she sang him a song, but he was killed in France in 1918. (Young Jack would have been scarcely a year old at the time.) And his mother's family, the Dyballs, were descended from a French countess and a gardner. Therefore nothing too 'grand' for Jack to uphold - which surely accords with the non-pompous tone of the novel which Hitchcock would have noted when he was first shown it (or a synopsis). And which he and screenwriter John Michael Hayes successfully put on the screen, I believe. Only a couple of moments in the film jar with me after many viewings. One is Dr Greenbow's final, undignified exit, which would have worked better on radio (where Hayes got his early training). And the gag-shot of a decidely un-gallant Captain Wiles letting Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick) apparently do all the digging of Harry's grave is a bit hard to take! Small blemishes in a major film! To be continued.

June 18 - 2016
I can only begin to suggest how much happens in a short space of time at the main climax of "Incident at a Corner" (before the final scenes, which follow in rapid succession). One effect of the high-angle shot discussed last time (see frame-capture above) is that it roughly positions us 'upstairs' where we know that Jane has retreated to 'freshen up'. And it is to Jane that Hitchcock cuts at the end of the scene with Pat, when we see that she is indeed fresh-looking - and possibly never looked lovelier! But just then she hears a noise from outside: young Ron Tawley has been trying to spy on her. (We can't help but think, at some level, about what he intended.) She hurries downstairs and into the garden, where she confronts the boy. But in trying to flee he pushes her over, so that after he is taken inside by Pat and Uncle Geoffrey, his parents are summoned. Uncle Geoffrey is initially almost gleeful: he thinks that he may - for once in his circumscribed life - have the banker Tawley where he wants him, and that a bit of blackmail (using Tawley's son) may be possible. Aunt Pauline and old Elsa Medwick likewise take the opportunity to be vindictive. They repeat the accusation that Mrs Tawley wrote the anonymous note, something she has repeatedly - and truthfully - denied. (The novella is to the point here: Pat, listening, thinks that Pauline and Elsa sound no different from the smug and self-righteous Mrs Parker, the President of the PTA, whom we encountered earlier!) Mr Tawley will have no such shenanigans, though, which fractionally cools things down but doesn't resolve anything - and Uncle Geoffrey then starts up again, insisting (stupidly) on handing the boy over to the police. Jane knows what she must do. (There's an episode of AHP, significantly called "You Can't Be a Little Girl All Your Life", which hinges on someone having a comparable realisation.) It is Jane's big moment. 'Now wait a minute', she insists (ending a flurry of agitated cutting as Uncle Geoffrey continues to gesture and accuse), and Hitchcock cuts to her in close-up on the couch, then pulls back to show the others (Pat's hand is on her shoulder) as she continues, reasonably: 'I won't testify against your son, Mr Tawley [that Ron intended to harm her], before any judge or in any court.' Uncle Geoffrey is flabbergasted, but Pat, too, is firm, as he lowers his cheek to Jane's: 'If that's the truth, she has to tell it.' (See frame-capture below.) This is the principle the two of them have insisted on all along (interestingly, Ron's intentions are never clarified, and probably couldn't be, though we know that he felt frustration for the false accusation against his mother, which was itself the result of a misunderstanding). In an instant, the mood in the room changes (and quickly leads to a breakthrough about the anonymous note). Mrs Tawley is gracious, telling Jane that she is 'very fair' and that she - Mrs Tawley - would never have written such a note. And again the novella is helpful: it notes Pat and Jane's interaction, so that Pat is able to summon extra strength to say without stridence: '"Let's try to believe one another."' For a second Pat feels awkward but in the next instant the words were 'coming out of him without his will somehow'. In the episode's final scene, the truth is revealed. Harry wrote the note because his partner, Georgia, was terrified that Mr Medwick would recognise her from long ago. At age 16 or 17 - about the same age as young Ron Tawley now - she had been an orphan, a crazy kid, and had got mixed up in a risqué burlesque act, even having her picture in the papers (to her embarrassment thereafter). Naturally, the local kids - including Medwick - had been 'interested' in the situation. They, too, were just kids. No blame, just - for Georgia - an undying shame. Finally, let's note that Charlotte Armstrong's novella follows through on its premise of separate male and female principles (see June 4, above). In the novella, Mrs Tawley asks Jane warmly to take Ron back as a pupil. Jane smiles but observes: '"I was only thinking that he can learn a great deal more from a man."' (Will Mr Tawley find more time for Ron?!) In keeping, too, Pat is last heard observing: 'They'd struggled, he and Jane, but each with a different kind of strength. Once these strengths had pulled together, they had won.' Hitchcock would have had no difficulty in accepting any of this, and his direction of "Incident at a Corner" never falters.

June 11 - 2016
In correspondence this week I used the above scene from "Incident at a Corner" between young Ron Tawley and his mother as an instance of why I consider Hitchcock an exponent of the 'poetic character'. Note that banker Mr Tawley has just left the room. Effectively, then, the scene is a direct variant on one in Strangers on a Train emphasising the close relation of Mrs Anthony and her son Bruno at the expense of an ineffectual Mr Anthony. (In turn, there was an earlier prototype of such a situation in Hitchcock's silent film Easy Virtue.) But of course on this occasion Hitchcock would use the mother-son relationship to quite different expressive ends, as we'll see. His protean adaptability with such situations - and many others - was part of his mastery at telling stories on film. Indeed, I'm thinking of how John Carey applied the term 'poetic character' to the novelist Dickens, referring to his tendency to sometimes be inconsistent in his sympathies (e.g., towards mobs) from novel to novel, if it suited his creative purpose. Carey thought that Dickens could be quite amoral that way - and surely there's a parallel in how Hitchcock told Truffaut that 'no considerations of morality' could have stopped him making Rear Window, so excited was he by its story's potential for 'pure cinema'. Speaking of which ... Many people aren't aware that Vera Miles originally appeared at the beginning and end of "Incident at a Corner", thereby subtly changing how the episode was viewed. According to Thomas Leitch, we initially see 'an overhead shot of George Peppard [as Pat] haranguing a group of other characters excerpted from the middle of the story'. But then, 'abruptly', Vera Miles [as Jane] enters in front of the filmed image, and speaks 'over Peppard's harangue to introduce his character: "That's the man I'm going to marry."' (At the end of the episode, Miles briefly reappears as herself, standing next to a new 1960 Ford and announcing how proud she is to have been in this episode of 'Ford Startime'.) If anything, I think this information only confirms my feeling that Brad Stevens was wrong to say that Hitchcock found Peppard's character 'intolerable' (see last week). Sure, Pat does launch into a 'harangue' to the assembled Medwick family - while Jane, upset, is upstairs briefly - but it's on behalf of a principle that he and Jane are convinced must be fought for. (See also my analysis last time of how Pat and Jane work as a team. The fact that on this occasion Jane isn't there to temper Pat's manner, is itself a telling touch by Hitchcock and the story's author/screenwriter, Charlotte Armstrong.) The frame-capture below shows the beginning of the 'harangue'. From the extreme high-angle shown here (typical of Hitchcock when announcing that some important information is about to be conveyed - compare, say, Dial M for Murder) the camera gradually comes closer to Pat and the others, driving home the pertinence of his message. The fact that we have already seen this shot (i.e., if we have seen the full episode as originally screened) takes the edge off its potential jarring note, and allows us to focus on the essence of what Pat is saying. For once, too, the Medwick family listen in silence. Now, I intend to focus on how this masterly episode is very aware of children (quite as much as it is aware of adults behaving like children), so before returning to young Ron Tawley, I want to mention 10-year-old Mary Jane Ryder. She is the girl who was handed the anonymous note addressed to the President of the school PTA by Mrs Tawley, who told her that she had found it in her car and that Mary Jane should deliver it to the school office. (The fact that Mrs Tawley herself is President of the Parents' Safety Council might have immediately suggested a case of mistaken identity, and been a clue to who had dropped the note in her car. But at this stage, nobody seems to be thinking clearly!) Later, Pat and Jane visit maths teacher Mr Batie in his classroom and, despite his objections (including to being involved at all in the matter), briefly question Mary Jane about the note. When the girl mentions that she had seen Mrs Tawley writing something, Pat thinks he has important evidence. (Mr Batie, overhearing what Mary Jane had said, is suddenly all ears!) Pat and Jane leave. Later, Mrs Tawley explains how that afternoon she had just come from the Parents' Safety Council meeting and was making notes about it on cards. (The anonymous note was written on a piece of paper.) Charlotte Armstrong's story makes an interesting observation: 'Meantime, Mary Jane Ryder opened her book ... Mrs Tawley had been writing - on some white cards. But they hadn't asked her ... Nor was she civic-minded. She was just intelligent. She put the whole thing aside into the adult world that alternately mystified and amused her.' Concluded next time.

June 4 - 2016
The young engaged couple - Jane Medwick (Vera Miles) and Patrick Lawrence (George Peppard) - in "Incident at a Corner", directed by Hitchcock for 'Ford Startime' in 1960, are the single most heartening element in this small masterpiece of social critique, faithfully adapted by Charlotte Armstrong from her novella. (Armstrong would later be employed to adapt three works by other authors for 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'.) Here let me thank reader MP (from our Hitchcock discussion group) for his acute suggestion to me this week that there may well be a parallel with how in The Trouble With Harry (1955) an older generation is effectively 'validated' by a younger (where the young couple are played by Shirley MacLaine and John Forsythe). When cautious Uncle Geoffrey (Bob Sweeney) thinks that his father, James Medwick, should simply accept being fired as a school crossing guard (see last time), he argues that the old man doesn't need the job anyway - leaving it to Pat to point out (a) that money is not the issue here, and (b) there's a broad principle at stake (concerning the sending of an anonymous note accusing Medwick of being a child molester). Quickly, Jane sees the rightness of what Pat says, and gives him (and her grandfather) her full support and empathy (about which I'll have more to say). Note that Uncle Geoffrey is played by Bob Sweeney who would play the myopic 'banking cousin', Cousin Bob, in Hitchcock's Marnie (1964). Now follows a round of visits by Pat and Jane to various people who may be able to cast light on the malicious note that has got Medwick fired. In the course of all this, Pat can't altogether control his anger at the vested interests they encounter, and repeatedly Jane must intervene - in her sensible, feminine way - to break a tension. In other words, the couple work as a team. Armstrong's novella illuminates how she sees the process at work here, which I am sure Hitchcock would have appreciated, having shown a similar process in several of his films (even when it's under threat, as between husband and wife in the early stages of The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1956). Pat speaks of a boy growing up needing to learn 'a masculine principle, a certain iron in the soul', which a woman, with all her 'intuition of a need for love, [and] her gentleness and her kindness', can't instil. As I say, I think Hitchcock believed in some such complementarity of 'male' and 'female' principles, working in harmony together, which is why I disagree with Brad Stevens's view (in the 'Hitchcock Annual' #19) that the director 'clearly finds his [hyped-up] protagonist intolerable'. (When filming The Birds, Hitchcock's darkest mutterings were reserved for those locals at Bodega Bay who stayed indoors all day, drinking - I trust you see my point, gentle reader?!) In turn, Pat's mention of a boy growing up refers specifically to young Ron Tawley, whom Jane tutors in geometry until his mother suddenly summons him home (as described last time). The fact is, not only does "Incident at a Corner" show an investigative process at work, uncovering what Pat calls 'meanness, stubbornness, blindness' entrenched in the community, but it records the effect on several of the local children, Ron Tawley in particular. The boy's 'observing consciousness' and teenage 'identity crisis' (to employ Erik Erikson's term) are very much part of Armstrong's screenplay, which Hitchcock follows. Thus a key scene takes place in the Tawley home. Pat and Jane visit Mrs Tawley to inquire about how she came by the anonymous note addressed to the President of the local PTA. (For a while they suspect her of writing the note herself.) Eventually Mr Tawley, prominent banker, enters, and after listening carefully to Pat and Jane's remarks and insinuations, speaks in defence of his wife - that she had indeed had a 'run-in' with old Mr Medwick but that she denies writing the malicious note. Pat and Jane leave, and Tawley (clearly a busy man) repeats to his wife that none of this would have happened if she hadn't violated a parking law, incurring the 'run-in' with Medwick. That's cold comfort for Mrs Tawley, who readily admits that she had behaved badly. Tawley leaves, and their son comes in. There is clearly a closeness of mother and son, and she pats Ron's cheek, telling him that he, at least, 'knows' that she hasn't lied about how she came by the note. The camera tracks away from the mother and into Ron's troubled face (see frame-capture below), and there is a tear under the boy's eye. Fade-out. To be continued.

May 28 - 2016
Alma Hitchcock knew her husband to have 'the most completely balanced mind I have ever known ... a talent for total objectivity', which is superbly demonstrated in Hitchcock's direction of "Incident at a Corner" for 'Ford Startime' in 1960, which he made straight after Psycho. It stars Vera Miles and George Peppard, and is a television masterpiece - as I'll try and show. (Reader, the 48' episode is currently available for viewing on YouTube.) But you must take it at its own pace. Charlotte Armstrong's adaptation of her novella about small-town gossip and vested interests, and how an initial act of malice sparks endless suspicion and community tension, is subtle and multi-levelled; and Hitchcock has grasped and respected every nuance. We need to do the same. The episode opens schematically: close-ups of the act of whispering (see frame-capture below) followed by three different views of the 'incident' - a minor traffic infringement - with their successive captions, "Here is the incident", "Here is the incident again", and "Another view of the incident". At a street corner outside a school, we see a woman, Mrs Tawley, hurrying to park her car because she is late for a meeting of the Parents' Safety Council, of which she is President. Ironically, she has failed to see - or has ignored - the 'Stop' sign held up by elderly crossing guard, James Medwick, and he tells her that he must report her to the police. 'Officious old man' she calls behind her as she hurries inside the school. One witness to the incident is the pedestrian who was about to cross the road when Mrs Tawley drove in front of him - Mr Batie, a maths teacher. And two other onlookers - as we see in the third view of what happened - are a couple who get out of a car on the opposite corner, then go inside a 'house for sale' that it appears they have just bought. The woman, Georgia, a red-head, seems agitated; the man, Harry, lingers to watch events across the road before he turns and follows her. (It will be Harry who anonymously sends the malicious note that accuses James Medwick of being a child molester - for reasons I'll explain later.) Now we see Medwick arriving home where he lives with his wife Elsa and their granddaughter Jane (Vera Miles), who had been a schoolteacher in Michigan but has lately moved to California to be near her fiancé, Patrick Lawrence (George Peppard), who has a printing business there. Regular visitors to the house are 'Uncle Geoffrey' and 'Aunt Pauline', as well as Pat - but tonight this essentially 'happy family' will receive a shock (with echoes, for those who care to notice them, of Hitchcock's 1956 The Wrong Man). The ironies soon mount. Jane earns some income from tutoring, and tonight her pupil is none other than Mrs Tawley's teenage son, Ron. Yet within minutes - on Medwick's 68th birthday, as it proves - two people get 'fired', as Pat says. First, the phone rings, and Ron is summoned to it. He returns almost taciturn: 'My mum says I must pay you off and come home. That's all she said.' Shortly afterwards, an out-of-uniform policeman, Chief Taylor, a friend of the family, calls by, and asks to speak to Medwick outside. Firmly, the visitor tells Medwick that he must quit his crossing guard's job immediately. An anonymous note has been received that must be acted on. To the sound of barking dogs - a premonition of what is to come - Medwick sadly re-enters the house at the moment his waiting family strike up a song, 'Happy birthday to you ...' In the events of coming days, the very family will show signs of division, while the community itself will show definite weaknesses as well as some strengths: for example, the banker Malcolm Tawley (Philip Ober, who was Lester Townsend in North by Northwest) will prove to be a man of integrity who guides his family - and helps the Medwicks - through the crisis that erupts. Tawley is a pivotal figure in this story of a younger and an older generation: on the whole, though, it takes the fired-up young couple - Pat and Jane - to put things right, to overcome slander and restore common decency. To be continued.

May 21 - 2016
Taking a break this week for 'catching up'. My thanks to reader DF for an observation on what we noted at the end of last week's entry, that in Spellbound Constance (Ingrid Bergman) gives her father-figure Dr Brulov (Michael Chekhov) a coffee with an egg in it. DF wonders whether it was simply brewed coffee plus an egg white - not a whole egg - added at the last minute to facilitate the grounds settling (with an analogy to fining in wine-making). KM

May 14 - 2016
In analysing literature, wrote Frederick Crews (in an article "Literature on the Couch"), 'Freudians ... have never been able to agree on whether their findings refer to the author's mind, the hero's character, or the reader's response'. There should be no such difficulty in analysing films by Hitchcock where invariably the ultimate emphasis is on the spectator (both as an individual and as part of an audience whose mass emotions may be very powerful). A simple illustration of this is Spellbound. Within a minute or two, the first of the film's many images of parallel lines on a light-coloured background occurs: it's the moment when the patient Miss Carmichael viciously scratches the back of attendant Harry's hand. Note that we have not yet met any of the film's principal characters, including 'Dr Edwardes'/'J.B.' (Gregory Peck), so there is no question that the image belongs with the specific aetiology that it will be given in his case (going back to an incident in his childhood). At a subconscious level, the spectator at the end of the film will be justifiably able to say, 'There's more here than meets the eye!' And that's only one instance of why art scholar Elliott H. King is wrong to claim, 'The aspects of JB's dream are allowed only one signification'. ('Dali, Surrealism and Cinema', 2007, p. 76) In fact, as so often, Hitchcock's images are multi-valent, including the dream images. The film itself makes this point by having J.B. say that the 'kissing bug' in his dream 'looked a little like Constance' but later having Dr Murchison (Leo. G. Carroll) analyse the dream with the observation that the people in the gambling house might almost be 'inmates [i.e., patients] of Green Manors' (and Constance responding, 'That's what I had in mind Dr Murchison'. This makes the 'kissing bug' Miss Carmichael.) Also, note the description of the location as a 'gambling house' (which fits the emphasis on card-playing at Green Manors, as well as evoking the famous 21 Club in New York), but which might just as well be a brothel (a favourite image of Salvador Dali's, as witness his inclusion of one, posing as a tavern, in Fritz Lang's/Archie Mayo's Moontide, 1941, where it is called a 'brothel-slaughterhouse': perhaps regrettably, the entire Dali sequence got thrown out). Now, for as probing an analysis of the dream in Spellbound as I know - not excluding the material that's on the Criterion DVD, nor James Bigwood's fascinating article in 'American Cinematographer', June 1991 - I have to recommend the section on Spellbound in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' by yours truly! (Worth the purchase price by itself?!) Can't do more than give some excerpts here, of course. Let's start with the pair of pliers that figures briefly in the 'downhill' section of the dream (see frame-capture below). This image was effectively sneaked back into the dream after Selznick ordered the pliers cut out - he thought them 'phallic'. Good try, David. And, yes, Dali was totally capable of such imagery, for his famous burning giraffe is precisely phallic, no matter that he might verbally disguise the fact by calling it, on one occasion, a 'cosmic masculine apocalyptic monster'. (Understandably, some less sophisticated people than Selznick reach for the throat lozenges on seeing it.) Nonetheless, the pliers are something else. Here's an excerpt from my book: 'The gambling-hall ... is full of suggestive Dali symbolism: drapes that hang in folds, alluring eyes nestling between them: tables that have women's legs (against which the legs of the male card-players rub); swaying metronomes also painted with eyes (suggesting copulation). In the background, a male figure wields what this time is very definitely a huge phallic pair of scissors, which he uses to cut the eyes on the drapes ... Finally, if there were any doubt that this gambling-hall is a male province, a pedestal holds aloft another suggestive object (which the pliers in the final segment are clearly designed to grasp and crush).' In other words, here is the likely departure-point of the '50s Hitchcock films in which the James Stewart character fears 'castration' (as J.B. does here). And Hitchcock and Ben Hecht, if not Selznick, knew what was going on, all right. At one point, Constance mentions that one of her patients had thought of her as an egg-beater. J.B.: 'Why? What would that mean?' Constance: 'Never mind.' (There's another reference to an egg when Constance promises Dr Brulov that she'll make him coffee with an egg in it, which may indeed have Freudian meaning but is also, no doubt, a homely image of a rare wartime treat!)

May 7 - 2016
Spellbound, then, is a film of youth versus age, in which to 'grow up gracefully' (as represented by Dr Brulov) is a rare achievement. Aptly, in a film about the new 'science' of psychoanalysis, and about war, there are 'good' and 'bad' father-figures in Spellbound: Dr Brulov is its good father-figure, Dr Murchison is its evil father-figure. (The police at one point actually mistake Dr Brulov for Dr Murchison, as the man who had quarrelled in New York with the late Dr Edwardes. But then they - the police - would, wouldn't they?! This is just one near-invisible joke of Hitchcock and screenwriter Ben Hecht in a film that is rich with 'subliminal' jokes and references. Another may be the resemblance of the character of Dr Murchison to the archetypal 'bad' father-figure, Dr Caligari, in the German 1919 film of that name. As I've been noting, much of Spellbound seems indebted to the post-World War I Hitchcock film, The Lodger, in which the persona of its star Ivor Novello carried obvious - once pointed out - reminders of the recent war. For example, the extremes of Novello's performance, playing someone constantly forced to relive some secret agony, anticipated the extremes of Gregory Peck's performance as 'J.B.' before he is cured: after each of J.B.'s 'episodes' he is likely to subside into misogynistic utterances directed at Constance, such as, 'There's nothing I hate more than a smug woman!' And in both films there's a strong hint that the woman is lucky not to have been killed! In The Lodger, a typical scene has the Novello character picking up a poker, ostensibly to stir the fire, and saying to Daisy, 'Watch out! I'll get you yet!' Compare the scene mentioned last time where J.B. clutches an open razor.) Now, what drives Dr Murchison into madness - so that he kills his perceived rival, Dr Edwardes - is precisely the fact that he is growing old, and fearful of losing face when supplanted by his successor. No growing old gracefully here! Constance's post-hoc diagnosis isn't wrong, but it only 'explains' a small part of the situation: 'You took on the role of Dr Edwardes to prove to yourself that he wasn't dead.' It doesn't explain the deeper motivation of the murder itself, which seems to have universal applicability. James Frazer's 'The Golden Bough', anyone? (There are likely parallels here with how the psychiatrist's 'explanation' at the end of Psycho leaves one dissatisfied that what drove Norman Bates to murder was something unique - when all of the film's bent has been to stress the opposite, how Norman was goaded beyond endurance but that he was still human in succumbing to the Oedipal pressure that 'tipped him over the line'.) Again the recent war is being implicitly cited. Well, more than 'implicitly'. As we saw last time, Dr Brulov tells J.B.: 'That's why we have wars - because old people [have] got nothing else they can get excited about.' Presumably, younger people have career, marriage, and family matters to occupy them, and a good thing too! Spellbound does indeed valorise youth over age! And yet Hitchcock knew well that people of any age are likely to take wrong paths, or no path at all! Many Hitchcock characters are 'other-directed', whether the mother in Shadow of a Doubt ('You forget you're you!'), Roger Thornhill at the start of North by Northwest (who has 'two ex-wives and several bartenders' dependent on him, not to mention his over-burdened secretary and his cynical mother!), or Stella Ballister in "The Crystal Trench" (episode of AHP, analysed here recently). Call it 'arrested development'! And hence Hitchcock's related motif of 'suspended animation' that I have been suggesting had begun to fascinate him from as early as The Lodger. The very title Spellbound implies it, and extends the idea to the audience itself ('spellbound' as long as the film lasts, but will they learn any lessons from what they see?!). Constance, John Ballyntine, and Dr Brulov are offered us as role-models, but in the case of Constance and John they must certainly learn to 'grow up' and face some salutary lessons. Falling in love for seemingly the first time (hitherto she has been 'Miss Frozen-puss'!), Constance resorts to sheer feminine intuition, saying, 'I couldn't feel this way towards a man who was bad' (see frame-capture below), but her mentor, Brulov, only rubbishes her: 'You are twenty times crazier than [Ballyntine]! This is baby-talk!'. However, he relents to the extent of giving her a few days to try and find evidence to clear her lover. And on the way to Gabriel Valley, the signs of 'growing up' are propitious. She tells John: 'I've always loved very feminine clothes - but never quite dared to wear them. But I'm going to after this. I'm going to wear exactly the things that please me - and you.' Next time: Spellbound as dream.

April 30 - 2016
Our discussion of Spellbound (1945) that follows has grown out of our earlier discussion of Hitchcock's fascination with the rich motif of 'growing up' (or not), and his use of the 'ageless' actor Ivor Novello in two silent-era films, but most notably The Lodger (1926), whose performance was said by Michael Williams to evoke 'many of the symptoms popularly associated with shell-shock ... [and] war neurosis'. Sometimes growth may actually be absent - more a case of suspended animation. All of this is palpably part of the masterly Spellbound. There, suspended animation is initially a mark of both Dr Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) whom her patient Miss Carmichael calls 'Miss Frozen-puss', and of the amnesiac 'J.B.' (Gregory Peck) who comes to 'Green Manors' as its new head, Dr Edwardes, but is soon unmasked as an impostor (but with whom Constance has fallen in love: it is their mutual love that will redeem both of them and enable them to 'grow up'). As a haven from the world, 'Green Manors' is itself a place of suspended animation (symbolised by card-playing) for its patients. In a broader sense, though, that phrase also applies to the outside world shown onscreen - notably New York City and nearby Rochester - and thus of the film's contemporary audience, whose individuals were all about to resume their lives following the War. ('J.B', or Dr John Ballyntine, it emerges, had himself seen war service, although he was invalided out of the Army after being injured jumping from a shot-down plane.) Finally, and typical of Hitchcock, a still-broader sense of 'suspended animation' applies, inasmuch that we all inhabit an imperfect, fallen world, in which (to quote Psycho) it sometimes seems that 'we never budge an inch': Spellbound's snowbound Gabriel Valley (see frame-capture last time) is thus a 'lost Paradise' symbol, as I have argued elsewhere. Nonetheless, Constance and John end up married, and they are given a suitable blessing by father-figure Dr Brulov (Michael Chekhov): 'I wish you babies and not phobias.' On an equally upbeat note, the image of the bewildered railway official at the end stands for all that the film cannot say in so many words, all that is not dreamt of in such people's timetable-bound philosophies, all the hopes and, yes, dreams, that may be granted the lucky ones. (Compare Leonard's evocative line in North by Northwest: 'ceiling and possibilities unlimited'.) There is something of a fairy tale, as well as a dream, about Spellbound: the love story of Constance and John is like a variant on 'Sleeping Beauty', where a kiss can open doors on infinite space. But equally - and here again Hitchcock was being masterly - any awakening that is vouchsafed us at the film's end is fleeting, and actually no more than a hopeful wake-up call: I finally saw the Criterion DVD of Spellbound where the red flash of a gunshot fired directly at the camera has been restored to the film, and it is shocking in its effectiveness. Momentarily, all sense of 'suspended animation' is dispelled. This is 'reality' with a vengeance. In the context of the War, the bravura effect was shocking for another reason, too, which audiences of The Lodger (which followed the bloodbath of young men in the Great War) would have experienced in a different way, in the 'horror-haunted man' aspect of Novello's performance. (Michael Williams is sagacious when he notes that audiences during and after the Great War 'did not want to be made to entirely forget the realities of the war', did not want just escapism. One example he cites is a comment in 1915 from 'The Times' about concert-goers: concerts designed merely for 'raising the spirits' are doomed to failure; while the more melancholy works, such as Tchaikovsky's 'Pathetic Symphony', proved to be the popular highlights of any 'war season' 'not because [the music] cheers them up, but because it absorbs their interest'. Williams, p. 77 and p. 75) But back to Spellbound. The War is constantly a context. At one point Dr Brulov seems to be talking just to distract 'J.B.' (who is clutching a cut-throat razor - see frame-capture below), and refers to old age: 'That's why we have wars - because old people [have] got nothing else they can get excited about.' I'll discuss the implications of that remark more fully next time, merely mentioning now that the film's villain, Dr Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), proves to be victim of his own fear of age, and of being supplanted.

April 23 - 2016
We were talking of Ivor Novello's 'eternal youthfulness', one half of his screen persona, balancing what Michael Williams labels the 'horror-haunted' other side of that persona: both sides are integral to Hitchcock's The Lodger (1926). Williams notes that there was an appeal here to dispositions/feelings of the post-World War I audience (while for Novello himself that same persona might also be reflecting aspects of his own psyche, that of a gay man). Also, precisely because the two sides complemented each other so exactly, Williams could add that they were like the two sides of Nietzsche's theocracy in 'The Birth of Tragedy', the Apolline and Dionysal (see last time). Novello's persona, says Williams, embodies and reveals 'the "terrible" and the "agonised" ... through "calm, classic features"' (p. 57). Further, the latter aspect of Novello's persona - the Apolline - might be associated onscreen with radiance and light (allowing Christian interpretations), while the opposing, Dionysal aspect might be associated with darkness and dissonance. I would suggest that two 'descendants' of The Lodger are thus Spellbound (1945), made at the end of World War II, and Psycho (1960), and that the performances of Gregory Peck and Tony Perkins respectively are both indebted to what Hitchcock got from Novello. However, while Spellbound is concerned more with the 'societal' aspects of the Novello persona, Psycho draws on its 'psychological' aspects (significantly, Tony Perkins was himself gay). A related matter I raised last time was that Novello's 'eternal youthfulness' may have associated him in Hitchcock's eyes (or in Hitchcock's unconscious, even) with another 'fey' figure of the entertainment world at that time, James Barrie (author of 'Peter Pan' and 'Mary Rose'). Both Novello and Barrie were effectively opponents of 'growing up', which they 'justified' by valorising, precisely, youthfulness. Clearly, a part of Hitchcock was sympathetic to the imaginative implications of this valorised position: like many Romantics and/or Christians, he looked on 'eternity' as a shining entity (Shelley's 'white radiance of eternity' arguably figures in the mise en scène of Spellbound, Vertigo, and Psycho), and it was easy enough to read such a value into what Barrie and Novello 'stood for'. Equally, Hitchcock was fascinated with something that also interested Barrie and, it seems likely, Novello: suspended animation. (For a while, Hitchcock even believed that this might actually be achievable, going beyond cryonics, to the extent that in 1969, discussing his Mary Rose project, he told Charles Higham, 'I think there will come a time in the future when either we will be disembodied, taken apart by someone or be able to do it ourselves, and transfer ourselves that way to another place and come together there again.' Indeed, there's a hint of such a position - though one needs to listen carefully - during the burial sermon in 1975's Family Plot.) No doubt Hitchcock sensed the cinematic implications of the concept: apropos suspense itself and, by extension, the state of mind of an audience while watching a movie. All of this could be associated with the appeal of the 'eternally youthful' Novello persona, though of course the 'hard-headed' side of Hitchcock could see the treacherous possibilities of becoming too fanciful over it. As we saw, Barrie was taken with the cautionary, but poignant, story, "The Crystal Trench", by A.E.W. Mason (author of 'The Four Feathers' and a member of Barrie's cricket team!), which was later filmed by Hitchcock for AHP. Stella Ballister spends much of her life waiting to be 're-united' with her dead husband who died young in a mountaineering accident and whose body fell into a slow-moving glacier (to be preserved in a state of suspended animation): the shock that accompanies the day when his body finally emerges into view is, of course, only a metaphor: it stands for the realisation (by those capable) that Stella's life, and of others close to her, has been largely wasted, for 'life' is something other than she has imagined all along. (This was not necessarily how Barrie read the story. For example, he used it when evoking the memory of his friend, the polar explorer Captain Scott, by referring to its 'eternal' aspect, which he associated with the white wastes where Scott perished.) I would argue that there is much of Vertigo here, and also of Spellbound. Here now is a frame-capture of the snow-field in that latter film, whose visual metaphor of 'suspended animation' (and of living dangerously!) I'll discuss next time.

April 16 - 2016
Something different this time, partly inspired by my re-visiting Michael Williams's superb book 'Ivor Novello: Screen Idol' (British Film Institute, 2003) which, in fact, is one of the best books about Alfred Hitchcock - and especially about Hitchcock's version of The Lodger (1926) which starred Novello in the title role. (In the frame-capture below, Jeremy Northam plays Novello in Robert Altman's 2001 film Gosford Park. Northam is singing Novello's song "The Land of Might-Have-Been", a typically whimsical Novello title, not too far removed from James Barrie's concept of 'Never Land' in his 1903 pantomime 'Peter Pan'. The resemblance, I'll maintain, was more than coincidental.) Now, I'll try to sum up Williams's thesis (his book came from a PhD submission) as follows: Novello's public persona was designed to conceal in plain sight his homosexuality, yet at the same time it spoke to audiences of other things, most notably the Great War which had recently concluded with enormous loss of young men's lives. Novello's 'eternal youthfulness' - like that of the Greek god Apollo (to whom reviewers often referred when mentioning Novello) - was one side of his appeal. However, it had an inverse, or darker, side, no less prominent in his persona, and ultimately no less appealing to audiences, which Williams characterises as one of abandonment and suffering, often seeming to suggest a 'horror-haunted man' or 'Dionysian' dissonance and indulgence. Such a complex persona, which Novello knowingly cultivated, without ever analysing it in public (but see below), served him well in both stage and film roles. Among the latter were The Man Without Desire (Adrian Brunel, 1923), The Rat (Graham Cutts, 1925), and The Lodger (both a silent and a sound version, the latter directed by Maurice Elvey in 1932). The Man Without Desire is interesting for more than its title (which Williams interprets to mean lack of desire 'at least in terms of the opposite sex' - p. 11), and a brief description will be in order. Novello plays an 18th-century Italian Count, Vittorio, who evades his enemies by being placed by a magician friend in suspended animation for 200 years; but he must still pay a price, because when he awakes, and falls in love with a beautiful woman, Generva, he finds that he is impotent. He ends by taking poison - in a succession of shots described by Williams as juxtaposing 'Dionysal tragedy with Apolline beauty' - p. 99) Sound a bit Nietzschean? Williams thinks so: he proceeds to quote 'The Birth of Tragedy': 'at the moment of supreme joy we hear the scream of horror or the yearning lamentation for something irrevocably lost'. And Novello himself later told an interviewer (in 1926): 'Much of what I personally consider my best screen acting has been achieved under the influence of the "Fire Music" from [Wagner's] "Die Valkyrie" and "Liebestod" from "Tristan und Isolde". In fact, I have "suffered" in the studio so often and so intensely to the accompaniment of these immortal melodies that now I cannot even hear them in a restaurant without feeling immeasurably stirred" (quoted by Williams, p. 82). The 'Germanic' influence on Novello, then, can't easily be denied. It made him a most suitable actor to play the neurasthenic title-character in The Lodger - who recoils when he first tries to kiss Daisy - and to be directed by Hitchcock whose initial English film (after two German ones) it was. But before we leave The Man Without Desire, note that it was a huge critical and box-office success (Williams, p. 97). Also, note that a real-life 'man without desire' (of any kind, from all reports) was James Barrie, who not only created such fictional characters himself (notably the boy who never grew up, and lived in Never Land, Peter Pan) but was immensely admiring of another story about 'suspended animation', A.E.W. Mason's "The Crystal Trench" (about a body preserved in a glacier), later filmed by Hitchcock for television (and which we have discussed here recently). None of this, I suggest, is unconnected to Hitchcock, who was a 'fan' of Barrie. But now here's something else Williams says of Novello in The Lodger: that his performance evokes 'many of the symptoms popularly associated with shell-shock ... [and] war neurosis' (Williams, p. 22). Which is very interesting because, apart from anything else, it anticipates elements of another Hitchcock film, released at the end of World War II, Spellbound (1945), in which a vast snowfield called Gabriel Valley features and which nearly claims the life of an amnesiac Gregory Peck, i.e., someone who exists in a state of suspended animation. To be continued.

April 9 - 2016
In the frame-capture above, note the empty chair in the foreground. Erica's father has absented himself from table, effectively reminding us of the 'false contentment' that had prevailed previously (roughly the same as had prevailed when, in Psycho, young Norman and his mother had lived alone together: 'We were more than happy.') Implied is how new seating arrangements must await the film's conclusion, in which an exonerated Robert is invited home by Erica for a meal, and Colonel Burgoyne smilingly consents. (Footage of this additional meal scene was shot, but not included in the finished film.) These are examples of how 'false consciousness' (Erica and her father's, Norman's and his mother's) may disguise for a time how reality has not been properly accommodated: other examples might be Marnie's close relationship with her horse Forio (in Marnie) and Stella Ballister's trust that she will be 're-united' with her husband after his frozen body re-emerges from a glacier (in "The Crystal Trench", AHP Fifth Season). Hitchcock was clearly intrigued by such situations and the dramatic poignancy they offered, not to speak of lessons in human psychology concerning - once again - 'growing up' (or not). But as already noted, Erica is exceptional because, like the trained Girl Guide she is, she is resilient and open to the world around her. She is 'human'. Not by coincidence, it is that quality that 'saves' her relationship with Robert. Just when all seems darkest, it comes to their rescue. The murderer, for whom Robert has been mistaken and taken into custody, betrays his guilt feelings when he collapses during the thé dansant at the Grand Hotel. By chance (?), Erica is nearby and offers to give first aid. Although a detective tries to discourage her, she scorns him with the words, 'Can't you be human for once?' And it is in helping the collapsed man - the band's drummer, in blackface - that she notices his twitching eyes, which is the clue she and Robert and Old Will have been pursuing all along. Confronted, the drummer confesses. (The irony of his twitching eyes betraying him - the one sign of life in his otherwise disguised face - would not have been lost on Hitchcock, whose principal theme, in movie after movie, is the ambivalence of the life-force. It is that ambivalence - for which resilience, and sheer gutsiness, are the best antidotes - that Hitchcock's heroes typically oppose. Their success isn't guaranteed. But the films themselves are invigorating, as we viewers appreciate.) Now, naturally, not everyone is as resilient as our 'young and innocent' couple. The murderer himself, and his late wife, are instances of that: Lesley Brill, as noted last time, says they show 'vanity and possessiveness', i.e., egotism. Likewise, Erica's Aunt Mary (Mary Clare) is someone who unbends only with difficulty, which is apparent as she supervises the children at her young daughter's birthday party (frame-capture below); fortunately, her husband (Basil Radford) understands her, and works lovingly and good-humouredly to smooth the situations she creates. That, of course, is the point: they make a good couple, if not an 'ideal' one! And a related point is this. Arguably, Raymond Durgnat is overly severe, or condescending, when he appears to criticise Hitchcock for encouraging his audience simply 'to grow up, a little'. In fact, Hitchcock effectively tells us that sometimes just a slight shift in circumstances, or perspective, can make a major difference: a life-lesson that is profound in its insight and permutations! That's why I quoted previously the Emerson passage invoked in Marnie: 'So nigh is grandeur to our dust ...' Not all of Hitchcock's characters glimpse such a possibility, whether from 'bad luck' or personality disorder or the inability of others to reach them, or for other reasons. But equally, sometimes just growing up 'a little' is all it takes! As Bill Krohn and Stephen Rebello note on one of the DVD releases of Young and Innocent, there is something beautiful in the scene where Erica reports how tired she is feeling. If we appreciate what she is saying there, we grasp that she is indeed on the verge of adulthood, and what that means in terms of love and responsibility and inward growth. And another nice point made soon afterwards by Rebello: when her father sends her upstairs to her bedroom, it is the last gasp of her being treated as a child. Upstairs, she throws herself on the bed and assumes the foetal position. She will be wakened by Robert tapping on the window, soon to be followed by the inspiration that leads them to the Grand Hotel - and 'release'.

April 2 - 2016
I've tidied up last week's entry: it was written with the distraction of a new format and of the technical adjustments required! (Big thanks go to Alex Freiberg for the extensive labour and care he has put into the new design.) Now, we were discussing Young and Innocent in a context of the motif of 'growing up' (or not) which is also found in many of the Hitchcock TV shows, part of the Hitchcock 'brand' in fact. Somewhat cynically, Raymond Durgnat, in 'The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock' (1974), thought it was largely a matter of narrative convenience: '[Hitchcock] catches us in that semi-serious, semi-infantile area where we accept innocent and wicked as real moral states, and then insists that we [and maybe some characters] grow up, a little.' What are essentially comedies, like Young and Innocent and The Trouble With Harry, certainly work that way, although it's not so obvious in a downbeat film like Psycho: Norman Bates is beyond redemption by the end. Nor is Psycho primarily about 'moral states', I think, but more about psychology and the human condition (which, arguably, doesn't vary over time, and where 'growing up' is therefore secondary). Complicating Durgnat's observation, too, is another of Lesley Brill's points: that when Hitchcock's movies deal with 'the dangers of being an overaged child ... these dangers have two axes: incest and egotism'. (Brill, p. 65) To illustrate the former, Brill cites Erica in Young and Innocent who finds herself occupying her (late? divorced?) mother's place at the head of the family table, opposite her father (a case of 'children [and adults] who do not properly let go of each other' - p. 66.) As for egotism, the other axis of error in Hitchcock's child-adults, this 'also results from a failure to leave childhood ties' as, for example, the 'vanity and possessiveness' of one or both of the feuding husband and wife at the start of Young and Innocent (see p. 66.) And there's an additional matter to be noted before returning specifically to that film: as I say, the potential of many of Hitchcock's characters to suffer a breakdown and revert to an earlier phase of their development is almost part of the Hitchcock 'brand' to be found even in AHP episodes he didn't direct (see March 12, above, for example): adolescents and adults may both break down - with occasionally the 'reverse', so that arguably Joseph Cotton in the Hitchcock-directed AHP episode called "Breakdown" (First Season) actually breaks 'up', i.e., for the better, becoming the compassion-capable adult he has steadfastly refused to be hitherto. Further, Adrian Schober has noted how Frenzy envisions the 'primitive instincts associated with childhood in psychopathological terms. As the good doctor explains to his solicitor friend: "On the surface, in casual conversation, they [criminal sexual psychopaths] appear as ordinary, likeable adult fellows. But, emotionally, they remain as dangerous children ..."' (in Debbie Olson, ed., 'Children in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock', 2014, p. 155) In sum, Erica in Young and Innocent is only one of Hitchcock's many 'liminal' characters, poised between two developmental (or reversional) possibilities, and in her case she doesn't break down, although she comes close to it in the scene where she lies on her bed in the foetal position. Note that this scene comes just after she has lost her beloved old jalopy down the old mine: she had clung to the pseudo-adult identity it had given her, and now she must try to find new resources within herself (just as Marnie must do after she has lost her beloved horse Forio in a hunting accident). The fact that she is surrounded by a compassionate family, and has the loving support of Robert (who, though, seems about to be wrongfully arrested and thrown in gaol) will be of help, undoubtedly - but still no guarantee against a negative outcome. Note that the film takes pains to stress the compassion I mentioned: at one point, we hear Erica's father, the Chief Constable (Percy Marmont) on the phone, talking about the man-on-the-run whom he calls 'poor devil'; and after Erica has more or less openly announced her allegiance to that same fugitive, the second dinner table scene is subdued, as Erica's young brothers attempt to show their concern. (Frame-capture of the meal as Erica says grace, below.) To be continued.

March 26 - 2016
Alfred Hitchcock's films and TV shows, I have suggested, invite (sometimes almost require) us to be big-minded - that's part of the Hitchcock 'brand'. Young and Innocent was the director's personal favourite of his English films, just as The Trouble With Harry was one of his favourite US films, along with Shadow of a Doubt. All of them are about people - young or old - 'growing up'. (For example, Captain Wiles in Harry, who had been supposedly the confirmed bachelor, is touched by the film's 'magic' and finds in himself the courage to propose marriage to the 'well-preserved' spinster, Miss Gravely, and is accepted.) The magic I'm referring to is basically a clear-eyed way of seeing the world in all its imperfections, i.e., unselfishly, and perhaps needing loving support. I can't forget that Hitchcock's Marnie goes out of its way, in the dialogue, to invoke a celebrated passage from Emerson: 'So nigh is grandeur to our dust,/So near is God to man.' The tragic side of such an understanding is that it reveals some people who seem destined to never experience 'grandeur': for example, Stella Ballister for most of "The Crystal Trench" (AHP, Fifth Season) - more on that particular program shortly - or schoolteacher Annie Hayworth who is killed in The Birds, not to mention some of Hitchcock's star-crossed 'villains', whether Christine Clay's murderous husband with the twitching eye in Young and Innocent or Norman Bates in Psycho, whose childhood with his mother was initially 'more than happy'. Actually Young and Innocent is one of Hitchcock's sunniest films (together with The Trouble With Harry), and I mean that literally. Its view of the Kentish countryside, with its balmy skies, picturesque crossroads, mouldering ancient mill, its long straight (Roman?) roads and (at one point, most magically of all) moonlit railway siding, gives the lie to Robin Wood's accusation that Hitchcock had no sense of wonder or awe (or 'grandeur'). Hitchcock always had an appreciative traveller's eye, though ruled by a canny sense of what was appropriate to his purpose. For example, the look and feel of Young and Innocent is initially stormy, then grey (the beach at dawn); only after Robert's overnight interrogation by two Scotland Yard men down from London does the sun come out! Inside the police station one of the detectives raises the blinds and the sun streams in - and remains shining for much of the rest of the film. (Even the afternoon thé dansant at the Grand Hotel - the film's climactic sequence - fits the pattern, one that suggests fate will remain on the side of our 'innocent' hero and heroine, whatever happens.) Yet there's a sense of how matters could tip against the couple, and it thereby makes an implicit appeal to the audience. Lesley Brill draws an astute parallel with pantomime: 'The audience of Peter Pan [by J.M. Barrie] is called upon to save Tinkerbell's life by declaring its belief in fairies. The audience's relation to innocence in Hitchcock's films is not far different. We are called upon to lend our belief to a threatened innocence as simultaneously fragile and eternal as Tinkerbell and fairyland, and as conspicuously unrealistic.' (Brill, p. 62) Note the reference to how 'fragile' is innocence, which may finally only exist in the mind of the beholder - yet is no less precious for that, Hitchcock implies. Thus he agrees with Barrie, author of both 'Peter Pan' and 'Mary Rose' (the latter a treasured memory of Hitchcock's after he saw the play performed in London when he was just 21). In turn, Barrie was himself an admirer of A.E.W. Mason's 1915 short story 'The Crystal Trench' (filmed by Hitchcock for AHP) whose poignant subject is a woman's wilful attempt to keep alive the youthful memory of her dead husband - only to finally receive a terrible shock. Hitchcock clearly did appreciate the poignancy of the motif I am referring to (human frailty, basically), even as he kept a hard-nosed attitude to how it may affect people and play out in real life. Erica in Young and Innocent is someone poised between childhood and adulthood: as noted last time, various episodes of AHP show equivalent, but clearly fragile, teenage girls (who finally turn murderous). So part of what is meant by saying that Hitchcock regularly invites us to be 'big-minded' is that the condition of 'growing up' involves being non-innocently in the world. Or, at any rate, involves a keen appreciation of how difficult it is for human beings to face reality without wilfulness, without flinching. An exemplary figure is Old Will, the resilient tramp (see frame-capture below). To be continued.

March 19 - 2016
By the 1930s, notes Jackie Wullschläger, the Victorian and Edwardian 'romance with childhood' (e.g., in the plays of J.M. Barrie) was well and truly 'on the way out, and a new infatuation with adolescence was emerging' ('Inventing Wonderland', 1995, p. 206). Wullschläger cites the 1932 print by Gerald Brockhurst, 'Adolescence' (exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1933), depicting his 16-year-old model, Dorette (whom he later married), sitting naked before a dressing-table mirror and looking 'both self-consciously knowing and confused, sexually aware yet unsure'. Such a mood, adds Wullschläger, was also reflected in a number of 1930s novels (e.g., Evelyn Waugh's 'Vile Bodies'). No doubt Alfred Hitchcock was aware of such a shift in artistic and literary subject-matter, and almost in reaction against its particular depiction of young people, decided to film instead Josephine Tey's new Inspector Grant mystery, 'A Shilling for Candles' (1936), as Young and Innocent (1937). (He could afford to go in such a direction after the recent success of his sophisticated thrillers like The 39 Steps and Secret Agent.) Making it, he particularly enjoyed guiding the performance of 17-year-old Nova Pilbeam, his child-star of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). And in deference to her youth, the press was explicitly told that Hitchcock 'will put the soft pedal on the sex stuff, and will concentrate on the thrills'. The fact that Pilbeam's co-lead, stage actor Derrick de Marney, was more than a dozen years her senior, does suggest a certain paternal slant to the film. Yet, as so often, Hitchcock both kept his cake and ate it. The romance between the local Chief Constable's daughter Erica Burgoyne (Pilbeam) and budding screenwriter Robert Tisdale (de Marney) who finds himself fleeing from the police after being wrongly accused of murder, grows before our eyes. But, significantly, the film ends only after all seems lost - with Robert arrested because he can't prove his innocence - when Erica's 'human' impulse to aid someone in trouble - the actual murderer, as it proves - suddenly leads to matters being cleared up. This is exactly in keeping with Lesley Brill's observation that in Hitchcock's 'romances' the 'altruism of good love and the violent egotism of wicked passion' may be seen to compete ('The Hitchcock Romance', 1988, p. 45). Brill notes that during a birthday party sequence the little boy Harold finds a 'motto' in his cracker that goes, 'Love calls but once though passion oft' (whereupon 'Erica's officiously prudish aunt' stops reading it aloud and diverts the boy's attention elsewhere). Brill: 'Harold's motto, broadly understood, expresses the central thematic conflict not only of Young and Innocent but of most of Hitchcock's work ... the conflict between true, ego-annihilating love (which contains a great deal of healthy erotism) and the mistrustful sexual greed of "passion" ...' (p. 46). Brill has other highly sensible things to say on this, to which I'll come back. But I indicated last week that I would try and specify some of the things implied by the Hitchcock 'brand' that are often on show in the television work issued under his name (AHP, AHH), as well as in the films. For example, I have often mentioned Hitchcock's theme of 'growing up'/'not growing up' (which he took in part from Barrie), a theme which fascinated him and which he obviously found very cinematic. (It certainly informs both Rebecca and Vertigo.) Two of the AHP episodes I mentioned last time ("The Young One" and "Backward, Turn Backward") are alike in depicting teenage girls who prove to be fragile, torn between their wish to be adults and the dictates of their 'inner child' which are still strong. So fragile are both girls that when the pressure builds to a certain point, they commit murder. Well, I would argue that this view of adolescence can be found in the films going back at least to Young and Innocent, though (clearly) without the eminently sensible Erica ever being likely to resort to murder. What we do see at one point, almost at the darkest hour of her romance with Robert (he will shortly come to tell her that he is going to stop running and intends to give himself up to the police), is a view of her lying on her bed in the foetal position: see frame-capture below. (Notice the late afternoon sunlight striking through the window - more on that next time.) The image is symbolic of how far Erica has been disallowed her view of herself as quite the young adult, worthy daughter of the Chief Constable. Interestingly, she isn't the only 'child' whom we see so 'stranded'. The little boy who tries to pump petrol from a bowser but ends up suspended in the air until Robert helps him down again, is another. Young and Innocent works like that, poetically and visually. To be continued.

March 12 - 2016
Last time we looked briefly at the idea that the best episodes of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' challenge us - or almost force us - to be big-minded. That quality is another part of the Hitchcock 'brand', I think, and therefore not dependent on Hitchcock's personal direction of a particular episode. In this connection, I want to mention two excellent episodes, both of which show a teenage girl on the brink of adulthood but still - it proves - a child at core. The two episodes are "The Young One" (1 December 1957; directed by Robert Altman) and "Backward, Turn Backward" (31 January 1960; directed by Stuart Rosenberg). (Possible spoilers ahead.) Perhaps it's not coincidence that both directors went on to successful movie careers, having shown a sophisticated outlook in their early television work (including two episodes and five episodes respectively of AHP). All I'll say for now about "The Young One" is that it depicts 17-year-old Janice as a strikingly pretty, attention-seeking girl who feels herself trapped in her small town and - despite having a steady boyfriend - is prepared to flirt with an older man to get some action into her life. Implicit is that she is sexually frustrated but also unsure of herself (she finally taunts the boyfriend, 'Aren't you going to kiss me?', and he seems surprised by the offer). A key moment is when she throws a tantrum in front of her guardian, her aunt, and rolls on the floor like a young child - a prolepsis of what will follow (and also of "Backward, Turn Backward"). Daringly, the episode cast 15-year-old Carol Lynley as the girl, and photographed her in a quite sensual manner in the 'Greasy Bear' bar where she picks up a drifter named Tex, played by 29-year-old Vince Edwards (a few years before 'Ben Casey'). However, the fact that the episode ends in murder serves as a salutary reminder that young people may still be fragile (and no doubt allowed the episode to get away with what I've called its 'daringness' in the first place). To come now to "Backward, Turn Backward", the content here is even more challenging, inasmuch that it concerns the affair between 59-year-old widower Phil Canby (Tom Tully, actual age 52) and the teenage girl from next door, 19-year-old Sue Thompson (convincingly played by Phyllis Love, actual age 35), to whom he proposes marriage - despite opposition from her father, who one evening is found brutally murdered with all the signs pointing to Canby as the guilty party. What is remarkable is the maturity of the episode's treatment, both in its degree of sympathy towards the affair - including the flashback in Canby's garden showing him kissing Sue on the mouth (see frame-capture below) - and its critique of the small-minded local populace whom the sheriff calls 'vultures' when they clamour in the street for Canby's arrest. There is a definite anticipation here of the same year's 'Ford Startime' episode directed by Hitchcock himself, "Incident at a Corner" (airdate 5 April 1960), which uses a malicious accusation of paedophilia against an elderly crossing guard to investigate how an unfounded rumour can spread and spread because of community petty-mindedness (the very opposite of the big-mindedness that Alfred Hitchcock brought to his film and television work). Indeed, such is the sympathy of "Backward, Turn Backward" towards the Canby character - he is prepared to go to gaol and be hanged for a crime he did not commit despite knowing who the actual culprit is - that one must think of the Christ-figure and priest, Father Logan, played by Montgomery Clift in I Confess (1953). Finally, the episode contains an anticipation of both Psycho (1960) and Marnie (1964), making it very rich fare indeed - Hitchcock's 'bigness' is more than just a matter of 'generosity' or an entertainer's 'rhetoric' aimed at a diverse audience. Much more. I'll conclude by quoting Andrew A. Erish whose 2009 article "Reclaiming Alfred Hitchcock Presents" is valuable for showing, inter alia, that Hitchcock himself - not producer Joan Harrison - typically chose which television material he would personally direct (Erish interviewed Harrison's co-producer Norman Lloyd about this, on 19 August 2007): 'No other director working in the medium during the 1950s and '60s was allowed the degree of freedom that Hitchcock enjoyed, a revealing indication of his popular and critical status.' Next time: on whether some of the lessons about the Hitchcock 'brand' we've been learning here lately weren't already discernible in a film like Young and Innocent (1937).

March 5 - 2016
Hitchcock, as we know, used the introductions and epilogues of his shows to reinforce - or subvert - the (ostensible) spirit of each story. By the end of "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid" he has caught the Christmas spirit himself and so decides not to brick up his chimney against the traditional visitor. A lesson for us all! One with which we happily go along whilst knowing full well that it's all been a pretence - the Santa business anyway. (The show makes no reference to, say, theology, but only to what is universal - in other words, mainly matters of human interest and audience psychology. Nonetheless, as noted previously, the supposedly 'unattainable object' - the toy plane - that figures importantly in the story, is like the star that beckons at the top of a Christmas tree. Make of that what you will!) Hitchcock is detached. Gloriously detached! And never more so than when, at the end of some episode or other, he must exonerate it of appearing to let criminals go unpunished. Take the episode "Jonathan" from the Second Season (AHP, 2 December 1956). The story-proper fades out after two people - Gil and his stepmother, Rosine - have unwittingly collaborated, each from their own guilty motive, to poison Gil's father. Fade in on Hitchcock, who tidies up with these words: 'Those of you who like to see nasty people receive their comeuppance will be delighted with the result of tonight's tale. Gil took his story to the police, and he and Rosine were promptly punished.' (See frame-capture below.) Simple! Of course, viewers don't take this seriously, and Hitchcock's phrasing only encourages such a liberated attitude: 'Those of you who like to see nasty people [punished] ...', which suggests that the host himself would not be so petty-minded, so why should we? (A few episodes later, in "A Man Greatly Beloved" - 12 May 1957 - Sir Cedric Hardwicke voices to a little girl perhaps the closest the show ever came to theology, the near-incontrovertible view that only God can truly judge guilt. Such a view is readily detectable in Hitchcock's feature films: not least, I think, in 1947's The Paradine Case.) It's as if Hitchcock had arrived (unwittingly?) at the knowledge that 'reality' (the world's Will, as one philosopher called it) is itself amoral, and only people are moral, often in variant ways or understandings - so why, when given the opportunity (e.g., watching AHP) not avail ourselves of the chance to be big-minded? Stephen Ronan has caught that spirit, certainly. He writes: 'Often murderers [on AHP] went altogether unpunished. Perhaps impelled by some rule of broadcasting, Hitchcock sometimes explained in an implausible epilogue how they got their just desserts later, but he frequently overturned even these tongue-in-cheek disclaimers. At the end of one show ["Human Interest Story", 24 May 1959], posing as a conquering alien, he announced, "Although I usually mention that the murderer was caught and punished, the society that loves to catch and punish has been abolished."' Joy! As Ronan adds, '[Hitchcock's] lessons were negation, revolt, and liberty.' So true! My point would be that what I call Hitchcock's 'outflanking techniques' have an ultimate 'reality' of their own, shared by some major philosophers who think outside the usual systems. And effectively it was an outlook that the director was able to impart to his colleagues at AHP: producers Joan Harrison and Norman Lloyd, and of course James Allardice (who wrote the show's bookends). Jan Olsson ('Hitchcock à la Carte', 2015) sees this when he writes that Hitchcock was like a master architect - or master chef or a star designer of haute couture - who lends his distinctive approach and name to a firm who produce work under his 'brand'. In other words, 'Hitchcock managed to make the television show fully his own, even when not directing or storyboarding, owing to his supervising capacity ... just like a Frank Gehry, Wolfgang Puck, or Giorgio Armani.' (p. 144) [Footnote. Big thanks to Martin P of our Hitchcock Discussion Group who remembered that François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 (1966) is another film that includes a pair of identical twins in its cross-section of people, those memorising books in a society where books are forbidden. The parallel with the intrepid members of 'Pi' in Torn Curtain, made the same year, is strong. See previous entry.] Next time: some distinctive things about AHP, before (possibly) we move to Young and Innocent and/or Vertigo.

February 27 - 2016
As already touched on, I once wrote, somewhat contentiously (in 'Companion to Alfred Hitchcock'): 'The enduring quality of Hitchcock's work owes much to its general allusiveness.' Perhaps Hitchcock himself had such an idea in mind when he told Truffaut that Rear Window (1954) would not have worked if it hadn't included a 'cross-section of humanity' across the courtyard. At one point in the AHP episode "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid" (see preceding three entries), the program gives us a (nearly) 60-second montage, with dissolves, of successive children telling Sears/Santa (Barry Fitzgerald) what they would like for Christmas. Those children include a little girl who wants a stove, two twin boys - dressed identically - competing with each other for Santa's attention (see frame-capture below), a little girl in tears, and another boy who seems to be feeling Santa's beard and not being very impressed (echoing the Kid earlier, who had told Sears/Santa that he was a fake). Doubtless, the montage is principally intended to convey how trying a department store Santa's job can be: this is its subjective function, giving the character's point of view (hence several shots of Sears/Santa doing his best to cope!). But also, it serves to give an impression - by showing a cross-section - of the multiplicity of kids who visit the New York store where Santa works: this is the objective function of the sequence, reinforcing the sense we already have of those kids' diversity (earlier, one little girl had said that she came from Park Avenue, in contrast to the Tenth Avenue Kid himself). Another aspect of this sequence - but a related one - is how it strives to emphasise the diversity it shows us: for example, by including the identical twins whose statistical unusualness is the point; also, there is something satisfying about the seeming comprehensiveness of what we are shown. We may think of the circus 'freaks' in Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942), including the female Siamese (conjoined) twins who start quarrelling with each other. (First twin: 'She's jealous because I stole her beau in the last town'. Second twin: 'I wouldn't have him as a gift. Nothing but a common novelty seeker!' There are echoes here, of course, of Hannay and Pamela handcuffed to each other in The 39 Steps, including a whiff of the prurient!) Later, in Torn Curtain (1966), among the motley members of the 'Pi' escape organisation on the cross-country bus are two identical twins - adult males - who join in the welcome when the fleeing Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) and Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews) come aboard. The point is, we feel the humanity (human interest) of what we see, and may even exclaim, 'Now I've seen everything!' - which is what the filmmakers intended, undoubtedly! But Hitchcock's allusiveness, already mentioned - and a similar allusiveness in some of the best of his TV shows - can be richer still. I wrote in the 'Hitchcock Companion' piece: 'Hitchcock often [spoke] of his wish to film twenty-four hours in the life of a city, beginning with the arrival at market of produce fresh from the country. 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.' (Notice the time-frame of 24 hours, itself implying a deliberate representativeness.) Now let's return to "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid". The episode aired almost on Christmas Eve, and the 'Christmas spirit' was implicit in it. So, too, was a theme of youth-and-age. For the occasion, crime was marginalised in this particular AHP episode, with the ageing Sears, an ex-con, effectively being given one last chance to reform and go straight - not before time! The Kid proves to be the catalyst of that reform. Previously I mentioned the Kid's ambition to be a pilot, an ambition symbolised for him and us by the model plane suspended from the store ceiling. Sears himself seems to have run out of ambition. On clocking off from work one day, he tells the store security man checking the staff as they leave, 'I'm clean. Didn't want anything I could reach.' Prima facie, the line seems innocuous enough, but it has its reverberations for us. And it is surely no coincidence that when he finally sees how he may help the Kid - and thereby atone in some paradoxical way for his own past misdeeds - Sears must use his criminal ability to pull off a last 'hoist'. (For example, to break into the Kid's apartment with the gift of the plane, Sears must slip the lock. I'm reminded of the African man, Joe, a reformed pickpocket, in Lifeboat, who steals the U-boat commander's compass, 'for the greater good', you could say.) To follow up, next time: on the 'amorality' of Hitchcock's introductions and epilogues to the TV shows.

February 20 - 2016
The beautiful moment in "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid" (AHP, First Season), referred to last time, is both the moment when Sears/Santa rises above his usual self to do something generous and caring - he now begins his 'rehabilitation' - and the moment when the cynical young Kid is given a glimpse of a far-off possibility, that the world might one day grant him his dream of being a pilot. The repeated shots of the toy plane hanging from the ceiling (see frame-capture above, February 6) have served to symbolise something out of reach - like the star at the top of a Christmas tree! But Sears/Santa now sees a way to help the Kid start to 'grow up' - that perennial Hitchcock motif - by granting the boy his immediate wish to own the toy plane, even if that means Sears must steal it for him (the social worker, Miss Webster, controls Sears's pay packet). It's as if playing the role of Santa lets Sears transform himself - almost a foretaste of how Judy (Kim Novak) in Vertigo is transformed by playing the role of 'Madeleine'. Both Sears and the Kid had become overly independent, to the extent of stealing from others to support their narrow, ungenerous 'lifestyle': Sears's stealing of the toy plane is thus a delicious irony. But it's one in which the show's audience is encouraged to be complicit. For example, as Sears/Santa, at closing-time, quickly decides what he must do, we watch him stuff the toy plane in his sack, then exit through a nearby window - and an urgent, but merry, snatch of 'Jingle Bells' accompanies him on the soundtrack. (Earlier, Miss Webster had warned him against his repeated petty thieving, saying that he was really too old now to be climbing through windows 'and smashing safes and such things'!) Incidentally, this week I watched an episode from the final season of AHP, "The Door Without a Key" (Seventh Season), set in a police station and starring Claude Rains as an old man with amnesia and Billy Mumy as a young boy whose father has abandoned him, an episode that is something of a companion-piece to "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid". But I found it not as satisfying as the earlier episode, being less dramatic (the relationship between the old man and the young boy never has much vigour or bite to it) and without anything like the same degree of subtext that I have been invoking about "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid"; so I guess it's true that towards the end of the series all the best stories had already been used up! Now to return to the earlier episode, and a word about two of its principals. One of the pleasant things about watching AHP is how often it uses actors who had already appeared - or would soon appear - in Hitchcock's features. In the case of Barry Fitzgerald, who plays Sears/Santa, he had worked with Hitchcock a quarter of a century earlier, as The Orator who appears at the start of Juno and the Paycock (1930). (If you want to see him there, the film is on YouTube.) As for Virginia Gregg, who plays Miss Webster, the matter is slightly more complicated. She, too, had worked with Hitchcock, on Notorious (1946), only her part had been cut out! She had been one of the secretaries back in Washington, D.C., who gossip about Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) and her loose life before she is sent to Brazil with Devlin (Cary Grant) to spy for the US Government. (Later, Gregg would provide the voice of 'Mother' in Psycho and its two cinema sequels.) As Miss Webster, she has a crucial role, one that finally serves to relate much of the episode's subtext to the audience. The frame-capture below comes from the end of the episode, when Miss Webster has arrived just in time to prevent Sears/Santa from being booked by the police for stealing the toy plane. Appealing to Sears's parole officer, Mr Chambers (Arthur Space), to be lenient, and not press charges, she asks him: 'Can't you scare up just a little goodwill?' (She backs up her plea by saying that she has Sears's earnings with her, and that he always meant to pay for the plane, adding: 'Didn't you, Mr Sears?' Sears nods, 'Oh, yes!') Thus the Christmas message is underlined, leading to the happy conclusion in which Chambers departs, suitably defeated, and Sears and Miss Webster smile at each other. He tells her what he thinks of her - 'You're com-plete-ly rehabilitated!' (in Barry Fitzgerald's inimitable accent) - and the spinster laughingly invites him to come home and share her plum pudding. Another beautiful moment! More on AHP next time.

February 13 - 2016
In every Hitchcock film, and every episode (no doubt) of the 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' television series, runs a subtext, a broad truth or situation to which most of us can respond (unless thoroughly hardened or otherwise incorrigible - believe it or not, there are some people who don't particularly like Hitchcock's films, including persons whose proud sophistication blinds them to those films' true content, as critic Robin Wood once noted). I touched on this matter in an essay, "Hitchcock's Literary Sources" (in 'Companion to Alfred Hitchcock', 2011), where I related it to the films' often Symbolist or Surrealist modes. Which reminds me to now cite one of the best observations on Hitchcock as television host. 'Imperturbable, glacial, a man who takes things inversely, ceaselessly indignant, [who] makes you laugh without sharing your laughter.' Actually, that's a description of famous writer Jonathan Swift by André Breton (and cited in turn, apropos Hitchcock, by Stephen Ronan in the book 'Free Spirits', 1982). Swift, of course, wrote not only 'Gulliver's Travels' but the savagely satirical essay "A Modest Proposal" (1729) suggesting that the starving Irish might sell their children as food to rich English aristocrats. (Excerpt: 'A young healthy child well nursed is, at a year old, a most delicious and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled ...') (In a similar tongue-in-cheek vein, Thomas De Quincey wrote his essay, "Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts", 1827, which is often these days compared to Hitchcock.) But last week I specifically invoked, re Hitchcock's television shows, another writer, the hugely popular Charles Dickens, noting 'how readily the Hitchcock format could accommodate "Dickensian" content' - whether macabre or comic or sentimental (or two or three of those) - but invariably, in Hitchcock's case, with 'a little lesson or ... a little moral' attached. A telling observation about Dickens is that he was very aware of his mass readership yet fearful that precisely 'the values of the momentarily triumphant middle classes' would see 'the generous impulses of human life ... submerged'. (Peter Coveney, 'The Image of Childhood', Peregrine Edition, 1967, p. 121). So both Dickens and Hitchcock, I suggest, saw fit to appeal to the tastes and prejudices and even hypocrisies of their audiences while using humour and 'entertainment' to (directly and indirectly, visibly and invisibly) satirise those same audiences, and ultimately appeal to their better natures. In the AHP episode "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid" (which we began to discuss last time), 'hypocrisy' - of which we' re all guilty to a degree - figures from the opening minutes onwards. We smile when the store boss, Mr Shaw (Justice Watson), after a glance around, lowers his voice and tells Sears/Santa Claus (Barry Fitzgerald) that the store would like him to particularly 'push' the musical teddy bears that haven't been selling well. Ex-con Sears readily understands, noting 'I've shilled before.' For our (the audience's) part, we feel both complicit and superior, knowing that such things go on while remembering, at some level, Hitchcock's regular mocking of his sponsor/s at the start and end of each episode. Also, as the program constantly reminds us, childhood is itself a 'game' that adults 'play' with their children: hence the 'vertiginous' matter of the store's Santa Claus who is only a phoney version of the 'real' Santa Claus who nonetheless doesn't exist - does he?! But what's the harm in that, the program implies. After all, it is itself 'made up', the better to both entertain and 'edify' us. (The parents looking on are like Santa Claus's audience, and again we feel the parallel with Hitchcock himself, our showman host, who may also be - if we think about it - something of a poet, encouraging our better feelings.) Which brings me to the episode's outstanding moment, one which is both ambiguous and beautiful (because it has something complex, indeed almost ineffable, to say). In the frame-capture below, the Kid (Bobby Clark), a budding cynic from a poor area, i.e., Tenth Avenue, has just called in question not only this particular Santa's bona fides but his ability to deliver the one Christmas present the boy wants, the $50 model plane that he has been eyeing. Stung, Sears/Santa, from deep inside himself, summons the words, 'Don't you know that Santa Claus always gives it to you straight?' A beat passes. Then, without the slightest trace of calculation, the Kid, wide-eyed, asks, 'You mean, you're going to give me that?' (He glances again at the plane.) And Sears/Santa can only answer, 'Why yes, why not?' A Christmas carol is heard. (Reader, there is more than a germ of Vertigo here!) To be continued.

February 6 - 2016
No doubt Alfred Hitchcock's Shamley Productions thought of Edmund Gwenn to play the department store Santa in "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid" ('Alfred Hitchcock Presents', 18 December 1955) - given Gwenn's memorable Academy Award performance as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton, 1947) - but earlier in 1955 Gwenn's arthritis had more than once proved troublesome during the shooting of The Trouble With Harry. So Barry Fitzgerald got the role in the AHP episode, and played it splendidly - that of a petty ex-con whose local Rehabilitation Centre offers him the Santa job to tide him over the holiday period and, hopefully, set him on the path to reform. It's one of the best episodes in the First Season of AHP not directed by Hitchcock himself; the director was Don Weis. Appearing with Fitzgerald was Virginia Gregg as the lady at the Rehabilitation Centre who wants to help her client, Harold 'Stretch" Sears (Fitzgerald), if she can; and as the Tenth Avenue Kid a child actor named Bobby Clark was chosen. In the frame-capture below, the Kid - wearing a coat too large for him that makes him look like the Artful Dodger in Charles Dickens's 'Oliver Twist' - is introduced eyeing the expensive model plane that he covets, and around which the episode's storyline will revolve. Basically, that storyline concerns how one person may help another, and one good deed lead to another; at the start and end of the episode Alfred Hitchcock himself appears, to further establish the Christmas spirit by deciding not to brick up his chimney against the traditional visitor. ('You know, he ain't such a bad chap after all. Perhaps his taste in ties has improved. I think I'll give him one more chance.') All told, not only does this episode show how readily the Hitchcock format could accommodate 'Dickensian' content (of one kind or another, but here I'm thinking of something like 'A Christmas Carol'), but also the truth in another of Hitchcock's lead-ins to his shows (scripted as always by James Allardice): 'In each of our stories, we try to teach a little lesson or point a little moral - things like Mother taught: Walk softly and carry a big stick; strike first, ask questions after - that sort of thing.' The addition of humour to help the medicine go down is itself very Dickensian, of course; but don't think the plain-spoken side of Hitchcock isn't also on show in this Christmas episode. Right at the start we hear Sears muse to himself about Miss Webster, the lady at the Rehabilitation Centre, 'Looks to me like she could do with a bit of rehabilitating herself.' (Interior monologue is used frequently in this episode, to economical and expressive effect.) That's one of a couple of references, or motifs, that have their turn-around at the end of the episode, which is artfully scripted by Marian Cockrell, wife of the established Hollywood screenwriter Francis Cockrell, who collaborated with her on a number of AHP teleplays. In the next couple of weeks or so, I want to demonstrate just what is so good about this particular episode of AHP, while extrapolating to the series in general, and to the Hitchcock imprint that is frequently detectable, even when the Master of Suspense didn't direct some episode or other. Such an inquiry should be instructive. Basically, we can start with the idea that something fundamental - in human psychology and in human interaction, and appealing to a sense of human decency or its infringement - figures in each AHP episode, as in Hitchcock's films themselves. We know that the director liked to refer his scriptwriters to The Trouble With Harry to suggest the tone he sought: an openness to people's diversity, a sense of optimism to offset the darker side of life, and above all a note of playful comedy that was a typically 'English' response to the macabre elements in a story. (Dickens once referred to his plots as being like 'streaky bacon' - alternating dark and light elements.) Marian Cockrell took the parallels with Harry almost literally once or twice in "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid". For example, after Sears has told the Kid that he'll be getting his Christmas wish (I'll analyse this affecting moment next time - it tells us as much about Sears as about the Kid), he hides his momentary confusion with the phrase, 'Now beat it' - much as Sam (John Forsythe) in Harry at one point forgets himself so far as to tell his prospective son-in-law Arnie (young Jerry Mathers), 'Beat it, you little creep - I mean, hurry home, son!' In the AHP episode, Sears recovers himself, calls the Kid back, discloses that he knows the Kid has been shoplifting, and shares with him some heart-felt advice about his cherished ambition: 'If you've been in pokey, they won't let you be a pilot.' To be continued.

January 30 - 2016
As I said, French author J.K. Huysmans's 'Against the Grain' was probably read by Hitchcock at some stage and very possibly gave him ideas for depicting Sir Humphrey in Jamaica Inn. It is a key book of fin-de-siècle Pessimism and Decadence, informing the Schopenhauerian side of Hitchcock (while his anti-pessimistic side was almost certainly derived in large measure from G.K. Chesterton, that gifted and often rollicking English author who took a stand against such foreign extremism - and wrote the Father Brown stories to exalt a more humane set of answers, as he believed). Huysmans himself, twenty years after writing 'Against the Grain', regretted his earlier admiration for Schopenhauer, and wrote (in 1903): 'like the mass of Catholics ... I was entirely ignorant of my religion; I failed to realize that everything is mysterious, that we live only in mystery ... I could not admit the fact of pain inflicted by a God ...' Well, Jamaica Inn hardly mentions God (except for the hypocritical 'old Cornish prayer' at the start - see last time), but it does end with the long-suffering Chadwick shaking his head, which I take to refer to more than just Sir Humphrey's madness and suicide - the admission of mystery (whether God-sanctioned or not) is thereby indicated. (Btw, Huysmans continues to provide comfort to some, if the narrator of Michel Houellebecq's latest novel, 'Submission', is an indication.) Although Jamaica Inn is not a successful film, it has much to recommend it. Sir Humphrey is a fascinating character, and towers over everyone else, dramatically. I would even say that he is related to the rest of the film - as its secret 'hero' - in the same way that the dead Rebecca in the film of that name (Hitchcock, 1940) is its secret 'heroine' - as we can see from Daphne du Maurier's notes and statements. In du Maurier's 'Jamaica Inn', there is no Sir Humphrey character but instead an albino clergyman who proves to be clandestinely a worshipper of the pagan gods who were once everywhere worshipped in ancient Cornwall - and for whom, once again, du Maurier admitted to having a secret sympathy (though she had to depict him as the novel's 'villain'). Hitchcock, similarly, is on Sir Humphrey's side, I feel certain. (Some commentators have indeed noted affinities of these two portly aesthetes!) 'I am large. I contain multitudes', a poet wrote - and that is part of what Sir Humphrey represents vis-à-vis his position to the film's other characters. He is unbridled - which is also the source of his undoing, his madness, as well as his fascination to us, the audience. (Compare how Des Esseintes, another aesthete, in 'Against the Grain', courts madness in his splendid isolation until ordered by his doctor back to society.) Nearly all of the film's sexuality is centred in Sir Humphrey - you never feel it in the relationship of Mary and Jem, and only fleetingly in that of Patience and Joss, at the moment when both are dying - a sexuality, though, which earlier was sublimated in Sir Humphrey's love of precious objects and his fondness for his steed, Nancy. It is Mary's sudden arrival on the scene that re-invigorates him, and which culminates in one of Hitchcock's heartfelt (you suspect) depictions of sadism, when the Squire finally has Mary at his mercy - literally bound and gagged. See the frame-capture below, which shows Sir Humphrey from a low angle advancing on her, threateningly. The next shot is an ambiguous extreme-close-up of his hand, clutching at her body - ambiguous because you cannot tell which part of her body it is, so that you may be excused for thinking that he is 'feeling her up', and which I have no doubt is about the effect intended. (He is actually guiding her by the shoulder, as a further cut shows, with the words we now hear, 'We must hurry.') But I can't end without also praising the film's sympathetic treatment of Patience and her relation to her husband Joss - which I find enormously touching. The relationship has long ago deteriorated to one in which all tenderness has departed, except in memory. The first time we arrive at Jamaica Inn, the soundtrack carries the sound of a woman weeping - clearly it's Patience. (This foreshadows Under Capricorn and another frozen relationship, in a house whose very name asks, 'Why weepest thou?') At one point, Mary begs her to leave Joss, but Patience replies feelingly, 'I [still] love him ... There's nothing to be done.' I am reminded of Robert Bresson's masterly L'Argent (1983) in which a hapless widow in the Paris suburbs, whose life has become drudgery, explains why she cannot leave an unfeeling household: 'I can't reach him,' she says of her father, 'he started drinking when my husband died ... He used to be a kind family man.' If I add that Bresson's film, by also asking us to have sympathy for its murderous young protagonist, Yvon, is like Jamaica Inn with its attitude to Sir Humphrey, well, I'll have to leave you with that thought, dear reader!

January 23 - 2016
In the frame-capture from Jamaica Inn above, Sir Humphrey descends the stairs - fittingly enough - to apologise to his footman, Chadwick, after striking from his hands the various tradesmen's bills that have arrived. Specifically, Sir Humphrey apologises for his 'outbursts' and says he 'can't think what comes over me' at such times. Perhaps involuntarily, he glances up at a framed portrait and notes that his ancestor had gone mad. It's the first hint of Sir Humphrey's own impending insanity, although the principal factors that weigh on him - including his physical isolation in Cornwall, and his mounting debts - have already been established. He misses his days at court when he apparently hob-knobbed with George IV, whose own father had been subject to madness; for his part, the son is known to have grown increasingly burly and retiring (like Sir Humphrey himself), which may explain why the acquaintance ended. (As noted last time, the mandala-like circle shown here is effectively a symbol of the 'centredness' that sanity requires, something which isn't always an easy matter for anyone to keep to: a foreshadowing of what Norman Bates will say in Psycho, 'We all go a little mad sometimes.') Moreover, Sir Humphrey has high-flown ideas of his own importance and significance, which doesn't help matters, culminating in his 'Byronic' moment at the film's end when he leaps to his death calling out to the long-suffering Chadwick, 'Tell them how the Great Age ended!' Also looking on is Mary whose youthful beauty, unexpectedly intruding into Sir Humphrey's lonely Cornish home, had visibly (and audibly) affected him and may finally have unhinged him. (He eventually kidnaps Mary after shooting her Aunt Patience, and talks gloatingly about making a fresh start - which goes dead against the film's recurring emphasis on determinism, as also noted last time. Again there's a foretaste of Psycho, where Marion Crane says that 'sometimes we deliberately step into [our private traps] ... sometimes just one time can be enough'.) Of course, no-one is fooled by all of this, perhaps not even Sir Humphrey himself. An element of 'bad faith' (or double-mindedness) is initially established by the hypocritical 'old Cornish prayer' that opens the film, and Sir Humphrey himself attempts to deny his decline by scapegoating others, principally Chadwick. Leaving home for the last time, he beckons from his coach to his groom, Sam, and tells him to keep an eye on Chadwick because 'his mind is going'. Once the coach has driven off, though, Sam taps his own head in a confiding gesture to Chadwick and we know who he means. (See frame-capture below.) But already it's typical of Hitchcock that the frame of reference is actually extensive, potentially incorporating even members of the audience! As noted last time, the gang of wreckers, who, like everyone else at Jamaica Inn and its surrounds, have lived in Sir Humphrey's shadow, finally acknowledge that they're 'lost souls together' - from the youngest to the oldest (even the one named 'Salvation' who broods on 'eternity'). In effect, they're both 'Greek chorus' and surrogates for the film spectator. This is all part of the Expressionist design of Jamaica Inn. We're all opportunists at heart (like whoever formulated that Cornish prayer!), if not, one hopes, wreckers. Yet we each, by implication, have our potential breaking-point: Sir Humphrey's may have been when he had to listen to an unsuspecting Jem describe what he supposes the wreckers' mastermind is like - an 'aloof' rogue who treats everyone as 'scum' and uses them for his own gain. (At the limit of his endurance, Sir Humphrey has raised his pistol when Jem suddenly hears a noise downstairs and hurries out.) As always, Hitchcock no doubt drew on research to fill out his depiction of character, probably including in the case of Sir Humphrey's madness information about historical figures like George III. But his own knowledge was extensive. For what it's worth, a novel that he had almost certainly read was 'À rebours'/'Against the Grain' (1884) by J.K. Huysmans. That classic Decadent work, by an author raised by Jesuits, and clearly part-autobiographical, describes one man's attempt to live in privileged isolation, 'against the grain' of ordinary life. As previously noted here, not only did it influence one of the young Hitchcock's favourite books, Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' (1890), but it's the probable source of Hitchcock's celebrated practical joke involving all-blue food. (Only, in 'À rebours' the multi-course meal is all-black!) Ultimately, the experiment fails and the increasingly neurasthenic protagonist, Des Esseintes, is ordered by his doctor back to society. I'll conclude these thoughts on Jamaica Inn next time.

January 16 - 2016
Last time I mainly wanted to sketch the plot of Jamaica Inn and to suggest that the film is over-stylised, that Hitchcock had mis-calculated. In effect the film is stylised like a German Expressionist work - its producer, after all, was Erich Pommer, of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari fame - but often feels more like pantomime! Sir Humphrey is the evil mastermind figure, like Caligari; and all of the people on his estate, including the residents and hangers-on at nearby Jamaica Inn, are 'lost souls together' (as one of the wrecking gang says). (Siegfried Kracauer famously wrote his 1947 book 'From Caligari to Hitler' to suggest that the coming to power of Hitler was forecast by the German films of the 1920s - and there is definitely a 'determinist' theme in Jamaica Inn, even if it can't be said that Charles Laughton's Sir Humphrey is Hitler-like. See following.) One way in which Jamaica Inn is about determinism concerns its emphasis on upbringing and opportunity. Strikingly, one of the gang of wreckers is merely a boy; when the gang is finally arrested, a pair of handcuffs proves too large for his wrists, and he is at first mortified. He calls out that he wants to be handcuffed like the other wreckers: 'I've done what they've done, haven't I?' Then suddenly he realises his likely fate - death by hanging - and blubbers in self-pity, while the rest of the gang look on without showing emotion, knowing that they are all in this together, that they're all 'lost souls'. Sir Humphrey had earlier reminded the boy that when he was brought before him a year ago for poaching, he had warned him: 'You'll come to a bad end, if you're not careful.' Someone else who comes before Sir Humphrey is a rebellious tenant, whom the film calls a 'rank radical', a socialist ahead of his time, who thinks he is as good as Sir Humphrey. The latter tells him to put that nonsense out of his head. 'Nature was against it from the start, and everything else has been against it since.' The very star-pattern, almost like a mandala, that is inlaid into the floor of Sir Humphrey's entrance-hall (see frame-capture below), is a figurative reminder of the film's determinism, or fatalism, in which all of its characters are implicated; though there is also a sense in which it stands for the lucid mind that gradually slips away from Sir Humphrey himself. At least twice in the film, a negative psychological determinism is articulated. When Mary urges her Aunt Patience (Marie Ney) to leave her husband Joss (Leslie Banks) to his fate, she is told: 'I love him. People can't help being what they are. Joss can't, I can't. There's nothing to be done.' And Mary understands. So much so, that twice at the end, after being kidnapped by Sir Humphrey, Mary still urges the law officers, 'Don't shoot him. He can't help himself.' Next moment Sir Humphrey commits suicide, by leaping from one of the ship's yardarms. (His gradual descent into madness is beautifully charted by the film, something to maybe trace here next time.) Earlier, death had also come to both Patience and Joss. The former was shot by Sir Humphrey. Her slow realisation of what has happened, and her expression, sums up her attitude: ingrained stoic acceptance (much like that of the wreckers mentioned earlier). Joss had been wounded earlier, and now - crying out defiantly for a drink - he, too, follows his wife. Much of this is fine dramatically and as film. But I have said that the film's attempt at a form of Expressionism is finally laboured, to the point of sometimes looking more like pantomime. Here are one or two examples. The film is full of entrances and exits, and doorway shots. Some of these are played for near-comedy, as when Joss, holding a pistol, throws open the inn door to be met with a pistol in his own face, held by Jem (Robert Newton) and accompanied by Sir Humphrey (who secretly signs to Joss not to betray him, the wreckers' mastermind). A few moments later, as Jem trains his pistol on Joss, because Sir Humphrey has left the room, ostensibly to unlock the outer door for when the wreckers' leader arrives (Jem doesn't yet know that that person is Sir Humphrey himself), he (Jem) sees the door handle turning furtively - so strides to the door and throws it open. At the door is Sir Humphrey, who feigns nonchalance, and pretends to straighten up from brushing dust off his clothes. This is all very elaborate, and played to get an easy laugh after the suspense preceding it. But we must suppose that Sir Humphrey had been about to sneak back into the room and take Jem by surprise. The only trouble with that - besides the cheap comedy it occasions - is that Sir Humphrey (who is armed) could have bailed up and/or shot Jem at any time. So much of the film is the same: full of empty business or posturings-for-effect! To be continued.

January 9, 2016 - 2016
As I've noted previously, one thing this weekly blog promises to do each time is to set down something about Hitchcock and his films that has not been said before. I trust I've kept that promise, and now here we go again! For a week or two, I'm going to talk about Jamaica Inn. Yes, it's only a few months since we last discussed it, but only recently did I view the splendid new 4K DVD/Blu-Ray release from the British Film Institute. (See "Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939) restored" in the News section below.) Okay. The film was staged and filmed in a stylised way that doesn't wholly conceal - indeed contributes to - a certain ponderousness: a year earlier, Hitchcock had written, 'Usually I do not like historical subjects (for it is very difficult to make characters in costumes behave credibly)', and that's part of the problem with Jamaica Inn, undoubtedly. The slightest misjudgement, in dialogue or mannerism or setting, and the audience may feel alienated, outside the action. However, Hitchcock does succeed at least once in using costume for comedy effect, as when Jem Trehearne - the Robert Newton character playing an undercover naval officer investigating murderous events at and around Jamaica Inn - has to don the clothes of one of the posh guests staying with the local squire, Sir Humphrey Pengallan, played by Charles Laughton. Jem looks suitably dashing to be the protector of the orphaned Mary Yellan, played by Maureen O'Hara, and eventually leads local law officers to Sir Humphrey's front door, only to find that the Squire has fled (with the captive Mary). Next moment, the clothes' owner appears and recognises them. He's played by fine comic actor Basil Radford in his third film for Hitchcock. 'Good heavens!', he exclaims, 'My suit!' The pursuit of Sir Humphrey then resumes, and the sense of a showdown takes over, especially as the climactic seaport set, with its tall-masted ships, is superbly detailed in successive long-shots. Also, Sir Humphrey himself is given many striking costumes - everything about the Squire is larger-than-life - not least his final attire, consisting of top hat, tall boots, and coat with enormous winged collar. Actually, I'm inclined to suspect that it was Hitchcock's trepidation at doing this costume-picture that led him to over-stylise it so that in places he tripped himself up: it's the stylisation, not the costumes themselves, that sometimes appears heavy-handed. It's worth asking what this means. Well, I designedly used the phrase 'staged and filmed' above: there is much staginess, including theatrical pauses and (patently non-naturalistic) use of adjoining areas for contrasting moods, that sometimes draws attention to itself; by the same token, the film too often asks characters to dash around, either on horseback or on foot - Jem is given several such rushing actions that eventually seem almost risible (perhaps deliberately) - that is patently not stage-like, but defiantly the opposite. But the mix doesn't add up to a sense of conviction for the audience. Not even, that is, when Hitchcock seems to satirise what he's been doing, as in the scene where everything slows down as the wrecker gang send several of their number down a well to try and capture Jem and Mary hiding out at the bottom. It just seems what it is: a strained attempt at comedy that is a longueur! But I'll qualify what I've been saying to this extent. In the new 4K print, Jamaica Inn generally looks very handsome and with more pictorial detail than could be easily seen before. The actors accordingly come across more intimately: for example, Emlyn Williams as gang member Harry gives a riveting performance, and generally the 'theatrical pauses' seem less strained. Also, the admirable Hitchcock formula that would serve him well for many films to come - plenty of plot points, and varied moods and pacing and effects - is patently working away here, even if it doesn't fully jell. To end this first entry, here's a related point. The frame-capture below shows one of those Hitchcockian moments when the film gives the audience a thrill but just barely stays within the bounds of plausibility. Jem and Mary elude their pursuers by swimming out to sea and hiding behind a rock while the two gang members in a rowing-boat pass nearby without spotting them. It's all very 'conceptual', but that's good enough for Hitchcock - and for us, while we watch (and the 4K print helps by keeping our eyes fixed on the screen) - even if you can't help thinking the rowers are pretty dumb! (A similar moment occurs on the moors in The 39 Steps as Hannay eludes the police.) Trouble is, Jamaica Inn has other such moments. It's all a bit much! To be continued.