Editor's Week 2017

December 30 - 2017
The episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' called "A Bullet for Baldwin" was first transmitted on New Years Day 1956, so let's talk about it today. Although not directed by Hitchcock, but by Justus Addiss, it is one of the episodes from AHP's First Season, all of whose episodes had a consistent quality. Also, it is an example of what is called gaslighting, after the Patrick Hamilton play called 'Gaslight' (1938) and the film adaptation directed by George Cukor (1944), in which someone tries to persuade another that what they think is true isn't! In the case of "A Bullet for Baldwin", starring character actor John Qualen (best known for his many films for John Ford), Benjamin Stepp is a mild-mannered accountant with an investment firm who has given loyal service for 21 years but is fired by the firm's co-boss Mr Baldwin (Sebastian Cabot) for a minor lapse, and shoots Mr Baldwin with a bullet he clearly had intended for himself (see frame-capture below). However, due to an elaborate cover-up scheme involving an impersonator and look-alike of Mr Baldwin - a scheme hastily devised by the firm's co-boss Mr King (Philip Reed), who is worried that a big deal will be lost if a prospective client hears that Baldwin is dead - Stepp is persuaded that he didn't kill Baldwin after all! (In terms of plot mechanics, there's a certain resemblance here to both Dial for Murder and Vertigo - which may just go to show that although plot is important it is still only a tiny part of a film's atmosphere and effect!) I first heard the term 'gaslighting' when it was told to me by Richard Franklin, the Australian director of Psycho II (1983), but I forget in what context. However, lately I have seen the term used in a non-film context, in a fine new book by Brian Klaas, 'The Despot's Apprentice: Donald Trump's Attack on Democracy' (2017). Klaas devastatingly notes that Trump is a devoted liar. (The 'New York Times' recently calculated that in his first 10 months in office Trump told nearly six times as many falsehoods as President Obama did during his entire presidency!) As Klaas says, 'No president in modern American history has made so many demonstrably false statements with no regard for the truth' (p. 26) Staying with Klaas for a moment, he thinks that Trump's lies are motivated by two main factors: the 'Big Brother lies' which Trump uses to advance a specific part of his political agenda (and which 'are the most insidious, as they will certainly be believed by tens of millions of people' - p. 28). And there are the 'Little Man lies' which Trump uses to protect his ego. 'The problem [in both cases] is that Trump exploits our neurological vulnerabilities - even among the most vigilant citizens - to deliver not one lie, but a relentless barrage of lies. It's hard to keep up.' (p. 29) In turn, Klaas observes how Trump uses other, related tactics that are 'frequently the hallmark of authoritarian governments' (p. 30) : whataboutism and gaslighting. The first is designed to turn an accusation away from one's own failings (Trump: 'What about Hillary Clinton?'), the second is what we've been looking at here, an attempt to make other people doubt their own convictions. In Trump's case, the aim appears to be 'to force citizens to question their own sanity [as the wife is made to do in Patrick Hamilton's 'Gaslight' and Cukor's film version], rather than the government's narrative' (p. 30). Another telling example of systematic gaslighting that Klaas uses is Winston's experience after he is arrested by his brainwashers in George Orwell's '1984' (1949). Coming back now to "A Bullet for Baldwin", it's a good example of how so many Hitchcock plots (of his films and TV shows) are so beautifully streamlined that it's easy to sense that they refer to something more than just themselves - as we've been seeing. Poor Mr Stepp who reacts to his boss's callous indifference in firing him (a fine piece of acting here by Qualen as we watch the expression on his face suddenly change from deep despondency to a crazed decision to shoot Baldwin instead - again see the frame-capture here) is like one of Hitchcock's everyman figures with whom we can identify even when they become out-of-control, like Scottie in Vertigo, another victim of an elaborate deception (also known as a 'big lie', the basis of such clever films as Jack Conway's Crossroads, 1942). Or as my English teacher told us about 'King Lear', making it more accessible to our young minds, 'Anger is [only] short madness', after all.

December 23 - 2017
[Another News & Comment item has been added. Back soon. KM]

December 16 - 2017
[No "Editor's Week this time, given that it's such a busy time of the year, including for yours truly. But, as promised, I have added some News & Commentitems this week. Back soon. KM]

December 9 - 2017
Hello again, fellow Hitchcockians. I'm very pleased that I have a copy of the novelisation of Torn Curtain that was issued at the time of the film's release in 1966. The novelisation is by Richard Wormser, and is supposedly based on the film's screenplay (but maybe just on a brief treatment - I'll explain in a moment why I think so). I'm grateful to Professor Mark P of our discussion group - which has also been in abeyance lately, like this blog - for doing some research on Wormser. It looks like he was a prolific writer, including of Westerns. One reason I am so pleased to have a copy of the Torn Curtain novel is that it includes the scene that was cut from the finished film in which physicist Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman in the film) visits a workers' factory in East Berlin and is shocked to encounter the spitting image of the man he has recently killed, Gromek. In fact, it is the dead man's twin brother whom Armstrong encounters in the factory canteen, and Armstrong's discomfort is not lessened when he learns that Emil Gromek (the dead man) had a wife and kids. Also, Emil's brother is nothing but friendly, and tells Armstrong about how he has been a foreman of the factory's fitting shop for the past five years. Hearing that Armstrong will be seeing (as he supposes) his brother in Leipzig, the twin asks Armstrong whether he would mind passing on to his brother a present of garlic sausage, Emil's favourite delicacy. It's a fine scene, with plenty of atmosphere (and irony); and I gather that the only reason the scene was cut from the finished film, after it was shot, was a matter of running time. But now I've a different observation about the novel, one which seems to throw light on the film itself (which has many qualities). Re-reading the novel recently, I was surprised at how crude, and unflattering, even unpleasant, some of its characterisations of ancillary characters are. For example, Mr Jacobi, the man on the 'Pi' bus (and played in the film by the excellent David Opatoshu - see frame-capture below) is characterised in the novel as having 'the smile of a used-car salesman or of a butcher with a faulty scale' (paperback, p. 147). How different from the genial, patient, wise man that Opatoshu's performance, and the finished film, make him. (Opatoshu had an important role in Otto Preminger's 1960 Exodus, and had appeared in a 1964 episode of the 'Alfred Hitchcock Hour', "The Magic Shop", where he played the shop's slightly sinister proprietor who makes a little boy temporally disappear.) Another example: the Countess Kuchinska (played in the film by Lila Kedrova, fresh from Michael Cacoyannis's international hit Zorba the Greek). In the film you feel quite sorry for the Countess, a displaced Polish refugee in East Berlin, despite her fluttery manner and squeaky voice, and her attempt to blackmail Armstrong and fiancée Sarah (Julie Andrews) into sponsoring her to the United States. By contrast, the novel makes her almost butch, and simply an annoyance. It describes her as 'a huge woman ... [wearing] a man's corduroy jacket with a matching short skirt, a man's hat and several strings of bright glass beads, as though she were embarking on a trading expedition with nineteenth-century Indians. She was about sixty, and looked as though she should have been committed to a mental institution in the 1920's.' (p. 165) Hmm, I can only suppose that novelist Wormser was working from a bare treatment that didn't describe the characters at all, and just went his own way. Of course, when you think about it, Hitchcock's films are notable for regularly giving even minor characters likeable traits or, at the least, not being overly harsh towards them. Mark P of our discussion group calls Hitchcock 'charitable' towards such characters. He also speculates that Wormser was a pulp novelist used to working very quickly and thus was prone to stereotypes. [Note. I'll be updating our News section, below, in coming days - I ran out of time this week. KM]

December 2 - 2017
This column resumes next week, most likely with one or two observations on Torn Curtain. Meanwhile, there's a News & Comment item. Other items will be added later this week.

Note: I was unable to find any posts from September to November in Ken's documents. The Wayback Machine Archive is also empty for this period. It appears that Ken was not active over this time. [AF]

August 5 - 2017
I've slightly changed a couple of things in last week's entry about The Skin Game to better indicate that the altercation in the village near the start is between a lorry driver employed by Hornblower (note the horn on his lorry!) and a shepherd in a floppy hat. That is, between 'progress' and 'tradition'. Another mention of 'progress' comes in the film's auction scene when a villager remarks to Mrs Hillcrist, 'Wonderful improvements we're having in the town, ma'am. I did hear we're having the electric light [connected] soon.' (No doubt industrialist Hornblower has facilitated these.) The latter scene is another that is very cinematic, although it's based on the equally lively scene in Galsworthy's play. Indeed, I'm told that the Hitchcock scene was shown at a meeting of the London Film Society as an example of admirable cinematic construction. Let's look at it now. Early on, we meet the formidable Mrs Hillcrist who is seated on a public bench at the side of the hall, waiting for her husband to join her before the auction begins. She is someone cast in the same mould as other chilly Hitchcock matriarchs, starting with Mrs Whittaker in Easy Virtue (1927). Three or four times we see her 'pull rank' on her social 'inferiors'. One such occasion is when she snubs Chloe Hornblower (having already done so outside the hall), who has tried to join her on the bench to speak to her. Poor Chloe is quickly sent packing. And when the villager makes his remark about the electric light, Mrs Hillcrist doesn't even reply to him - just looks remote. A moment or so later, young Rolf Hornblower who is pursuing Jill Hillcrist turns around from the vacant seat beside her and finds himself gazing into the eyes of Mrs Hillcrist - his prospective mother-in-law (if things work out one day) - and blanches. It's one of the funniest moments in the film - see frame-capture below. Rolf quickly moves away, as Jill watches amused (she is powerless to intervene, and anyway in public she too is snubbing the Hornblowers). Then Mrs Hillcrist's own agent, Mr Dawker, arrives, and has something important to say to her. Accordingly, he sits in the vacant chair alongside her - which is a no-no. 'Get up, Dawker', instructs the haughty woman, before she deigns to listen to what he has to tell her. (None of this business is in the play. Full marks to Hitchcock for making such excellent use for pointed comedy of the vacant seat awaiting the arrival of Hillcrist himself. It could have been just a 'nothing'!) Now back to Chloe for a moment. Already upset by her treatment at the hands of Mrs Hillcrist, Chloe has even more reason to feel insecure. Outside, she has already spotted the man from her past who knows something unpleasant about her. Now she sees him again, talking to Dawker. And this is where she feels faint and Jill brings her smelling salts (see last time). After Jill leaves, and Rolf goes to get Chloe some water, the poor girl looks up, and Hitchcock uses a subjective visual effect. From Chloe's pov, the head of the unwelcome man rushes at the camera, like bullets fired from a gun, over and over (five times in fact). The shook-up girl feels helpless, and is clearly hallucinatory. (Something similar had occurred in Blackmail, two years earlier. There, Alice White had gone without sleep all night after accidentally killing an artist in his studio. Next morning, she comes down to breakfast where a gossipy neighbour is reporting the news of the killing. All Alice can hear is the accusatory word 'knife', over and over.) Chloe, as I say, feels fearful and helpless, and just at this moment the auctioneer bangs his gavel to signal the start of the auction. (A brilliant interpretation of this moment that I have seen suggests that Chloe feels that it is her life that is being auctioned, that is being put 'on the line'.) But like the audience watching Rear Window (1954), who find themselves distracted from Miss Lonelyhearts' possible suicide attempt, so now the audience of The Skin Game are asked to sit back and enjoy the business of the auction itself! And Hitchcock does not disappoint! The auctioneer himself is superbly performed - he's a mix of obsequiousness (towards potential buyers) and vanity, both huckster and MC, and wisely Hitchcock and his screenwriter have retained most of the 'patter' that Galsworthy gives him, which sounds exactly in character. Also, again Hitchcock uses subjective camera, this time from the auctioneer's pov, to register the barrage of bids (and occasional lulls) from both front and side of the hall (this must be one of the earliest instances of whip-pan technique) and eventually from the back of the hall as well. On just how Hornblower outsmarts Hillcrist and obtains the property called the Centry, see July 15, above. And when you watch the film next - which I recommend - do see if Gwenn's performance as Hornblower doesn't remind you of the brashness and tough-dealing of no less an 'immovable object' (or 'irresistible force'?) than Donald Trump himself!

July 29 - 2017
I haven't said much so far about the cinematic qualities that Hitchcock attempted to bring to his film The Skin Game, adapted from John Galsworthy's play, early in the sound era. (At least one member of our Hitchcock discussion group thinks that the film is '99% Galsworthy' anyway! But that's an exaggeration, almost certainly!) For example, the first few minutes are all Hitchcock, inasmuch as the symbolic opening shot of a tree being felled, followed by a conversation between Jill Hillcrist on horseback and Rolf Hornblower in his roadster car (a scene itself bookended by a shot of the bucolic countryside, this lifted from Hitchcock's 1928 The Farmer's Wife) and a further couple of 'locale shots' showing respectively Jill and Rolf heading home, and then a flurried montage of an altercation in the local village (by my count, consisting of 19 shots - to be described shortly) are all essentially Hitchcock's doing, and amount to his attempt to tell Galsworthy's story in miniature before the actual play even begins! (As noted last time, B.I.P. and Galsworthy signed a contract that the film would be faithful to the play - but this obviously didn't preclude Hitchcock from adding an 'overture' himself, not to mention other 'flourishes' throughout, including a closing shot that picks up on the shot of the tree being felled at the start, and is a cheeky, but functional, allusion to a film that Hitchcock admired, Jean Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet, 1930. Perhaps it suggested itself to Hitchcock because of the Galsworthy play's reference to 'factory chimneys' that may soon encroach on Hillcrist's view. At any rate, I analysed the function of Hitchcock's opening and closing shots taken together three weeks ago: see July 8, above.) Now, note that the conversation between Jill and Rolf is not in the play - the latter opens with Jill at home talking to her father who has gout and admits that he's a bit of a stick in the mud. 19-year-old Jill, who has a 'pretty, manly face', does her best to rally him. (Oedipus, anyone?) Whereas her conversation with Rolf in the film gives a general picture of the stand-off that has developed between the Hillcrist and Hornblower families, and it includes the following lines. Rolf: 'My father's just as human as yours. You want to be just, Jill.' Jill: 'I am just. And I want also to be on good terms.' As we all know, Hitchcock liked to include key lines (or pieces of action) in his films, and here's an early instance. (Arguably, though, he overdoes it in The Skin Game, as he hadn't yet quite learned how far to trust his audience. Thus, early in the auction scene, we hear Hillcrist commend his wife for giving Chloe Hillcrist smelling salts - though snooty Mrs Hillcrist in fact has Jill pass them to Chloe, rather than do so herself! Hillcrist says, 'Thank God for a human touch' - which sounds false, as if the filmmaker were telling the audience, via the character, what to think - although, on checking, I find that the line originates in the play. Nonetheless, its inclusion here comes dangerously close to what Hitchcock would later abhor: 'pictures of people talking'.) The contrasting shots of Jill riding home beneath an avenue of tall, stately trees and Rolf's car (noisily) arriving home along a short drive flanked by newly-planted trees, with an austere modern house visible behind a stone fence, have been commented on elsewhere (e.g., by Maurice Yacowar). So that may bring us to the 19-shot episode in the local village which follows, and which is also noisy. Significantly, a sign saying 'Hornblower Potteries' is seen three times during this short scene, implying a general attribution of noise to the Hornblowers' go-ahead style. (The same motif is picked up later.) The noise itself comes from dogs' barking (almost certainly performed by someone off-camera going 'Woof, woof'!), sheep bleating, an impatient lorry driver (employed by Hornblower?) tooting his horn, and people shouting back - notably a pedestrian in his floppy hat, presumably the shepherd. One onlooker, a sign-painter, is up a ladder, and looks down amused at the pending altercation. Another arrives on horseback, and dismounts to watch the action. Several of these shots are repeated, adding to the sense of clamour and bustle. Eventually the lorry-driver descends from his cabin, and we hear him shout, 'I'll tell you what I'll do to you.' But the shepherd stands his ground. The scene ends with an approximate reverse-angle, as the lorry-driver returns to his vehicle, and now we see the motley crowd that has formed (including several ladies and a couple of military types) - frame-capture below. (Btw, is that a grinning Hitchcock in front of the military types?!) So, as I say, all of the foregoing, with its sound and fury and inconclusiveness, constitutes Hitchcock's own 'prologue' or 'overture' to the play that follows, and is like a foreshadowing of it. More next time.

July 22 - 2017
Yes, the world can be a 'skin game' and as Jill Hillcrist in the play and film called The Skin Game says to Rolf Hornblower in a cynical moment, 'We're all out for our own' (see July 8, above). (By the end of the film, Jill is holding hands again with Rolf, so all is not lost.) In both play and film, the patrician Hillcrist is treated sympathetically, whereas the play, at least, gives industrialist Hornblower some pretty mean moments, not least when he rounds on his step-daughter Chloe after receiving irrefutable proof that she had been a paid co-respondant in divorce cases before she met Hornblower's elder son Charlie and married him. (You wonder whether Hornblower's rage is not largely at the blow to his own prestige, although it's also clear that he is a moral man in his own way - as a chapel-goer, rather than belonging to the established church like Hillcrist.) In both play and film, Hillcrist is called 'Dodo' or 'beloved Dodo' by Jill, so despite his old-fashioned ways (for example, he finds it hard to hate, calling it 'a confounded nuisance'), you can't dislike him. He also turns a blind eye to the tough-dealing his wife is capable of, as when she employs Dawker to find dirt about Hornblower and his family (see last time). Very possibly, there is a degree of Hitchcock himself and wife Alma in this Hillcrist family picture (with likeable Jill a grown-up version of the Hitchcocks' daughter Patricia, then aged just four). Years later, Jay Presson Allen would describe Hitchcock: 'he was surprisingly naive in some ways, and much more romantic and wistful than the more grounded and perceptive Alma'. (Come to think of it, Hitchcock once said of himself that he didn't hate anybody - 'unprofitable'.) All in all, The Skin Game was probably a learning experience for Hitchcock, and I don't just mean technically, by providing him with experience in adapting a play to the new sound medium (after Juno and the Paycock the previous year). Hitchcock had long admired playwright and author John Galsworthy, and probably had been struck by the essential fairness with which Galsworthy treated both people and social issues. (Alma would later call Hitch 'the most objective person I've ever known'.) It's instructive to note how the same basic theme of The Skin Game - involving a traditionalist versus a brash new competitor - could be played just a few years later for outright comedy when the same two lead actors, C.V. France and Edmund Gwenn, featured in the pre-Ealing Cheer Boys Cheer (Walter Forde, 1939) about the rivalry between two brewing factions. France plays Greenleaf who 'stands for good old-fashioned English ale and traditional pubs', while Gwenn is Ironside who represents 'chromium-plated efficiency and ruthless marketing policies'. (This being 1939, and the film a broad comedy - Graham Moffatt and Moore Marriott have near-slapstick supporting roles - Ironside as the villain is even given a Hitler ambience: see Gwenn as Ironside in the still below.) The main plot has Greenleaf resisting a takeover and then Ironside plotting to send his son John (Peter Coke) to join the old family firm incognito, with the intention to undermine it. Instead the son falls for Greenleaf's daughter (played by Hitchcock actress Nova Pilbeam), and is gradually won round to the old-fashioned way of doing things. (I said this was a pre-Ealing film: the producer was in fact Michael Balcon.) The point I am making, though, is how shallow, if not without entertainment value, the 1939 film is, compared with the depth of all-round characterisation that we see in The Skin Game. There's a faithfulness in Hitchcock's adaptation of the Galsworthy play - to which he was committed by an agreement between B.I.P. and the playwright - which nonetheless served him well later when he made other rigorous 'microcosms' showing how the world goes, and how 'everyone has their reasons' (as Jean Renoir once said). I think of how Hitchcock told Truffaut that Rear Window wouldn't have worked without the 'cross-section' of humanity shown in the several windows across the courtyard. Everyone in Galsworthy's play has their tipping-point: not only Mrs Hillcrist and Dawker (who at one point exchange a look about keeping their bargain with Hornblower, 'which neither of them has quite sanctioned' - that's as the play has it, and the film shows it too) but even both Hillcrist and Jill. (Hillcrist forgets for a time how his dispute with Hornblower began, and condones the resultant 'skin game'; Jill becomes for a while quite cynical, out of resentment at Hornblower's tactics.) And later Hitchcocks have their corresponding full, and fair, measure of humanity. More next time.

P.S. Martin Landau (North by Northwest) has died. One obituary is here: Martin Landau

July 15 - 2017
The last line of The Skin Game (film and play) is Hillcrist's, 'What's gentility worth if it can't stand fire?' So gentility is what Hillcrist thinks he stands for, and in his case it is called in question before the end of the film/play. In fact, before the end, Hillcrist hears himself called both 'Liar!' (by Charlie Hornblower, the married son of nouveau-riche industrialist Hornblower) and 'Hypocrite!' (by Hornblower himself). And all Hillcrist can do is accept the accusations, for seemingly no-one emerges unclean once they start playing the 'skin game' (which means, roughly, to try and get the better of someone else 'by sharp practice or fraud' - 'Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable'). Compare the phrase, to 'fleece' someone. Btw, the actor who plays Hillcrist in Hitchcock's 1931 film, the gentlemanly-looking C.V. France (rear-view above), bears a distinct resemblance to author John Galsworthy in his later years (see photo below), which was probably intentional casting by Hitchcock, who had met the Galsworthys and wanted his actor to convey basic integrity. The actor who plays Hornblower, though, is the superb Edmund Gwenn who leaves the viewer in no doubt how - for all the character's likeable qualities such as an ability to mix in all types of company - he must have used toughness and cunning to have arrived where he has. The film's auction scene, and the moments both before and after it, showcase many of Hornblower's qualities. Beforehand, he is is shown laughing with some colleagues (at how he had known exactly how Hillcrist would receive him); during the auction, his face shows his intense concentration and calculation; afterwards, as he stops Hillcrist's car and explains to the shocked family that he had used a deputy to make the winning bid - thus outwitting the Hillcrists - his manner is triumphant (and looks forward to a similar moment in Rebecca, 1940, where a smug Favell leans into Maxim's car and tells him a thing or two). Now, last time I referred to Hitchcock's characteristic 'microcosms' (such as The Skin Game) and to how his film of Galsworthy's play may invite you to draw an analogy with today's politics (and politicians). Without labouring the point, it certainly helps to see elements of a certain US President and his resources of personality and acumen in Hornblower - and likewise to see the often baffled and even angry responses of that President's opponents in Hillcrist (whom his daughter Jill affectionately calls 'Dodo')! I also referred recently to a 'sports ethic' which recurs in Hitchcock films (from the silent Downhill onwards) and which effectively helps the viewer gauge just how off-beam some of the characters have moved, or fallen. The very notion of a 'skin game' is almost a travesty of such an ethic, for it implies a willingness to resort to unfair ways of gaining victory (although there is always the possibility, of course, that the rules might legitimately have changed, or the goal posts shifted). Several references to sport occur in The Skin Game. Early on, Jill comes on Hornblower explaining to her father why he intends to expel the Jackman family from land that he recently bought from Hillcrist (see last time). Jill impulsively tells him, 'That's not very sporting!', to which he responds spiritedly, 'You should hear both sides before you say that, missie!' (Typical of Hitchcock to remind us of that!) He even tells her, 'I'll answer to God for my actions, young lady!', and Jill shocks him by saying, 'Poor God!' A cut below Hornblower and Hillcrist, you feel (Jill calls him 'common'), is Mrs Hillcrist's agent Dawker (Edward Chapman) who obtains harmful information about Hornblower's daughter-in-law Chloe (she's married to Charlie Hornblower), and is prepared to use it for blackmail, no matter how he hurts her. (She'll attempt suicide before the end of the film.) As they meet in secret one cold night, she tells him, 'You're playing a game with me. You call this cricket?' Dawker: 'No, business.' Chloe: 'Oh, be a sport.' Dawker (unyielding): 'You can't get round me.' The lovely Chloe is scantily dressed for outdoors, almost deshabillé, which emphasises both her vulnerability and the hopelessness of her position. Adding to the sordidness, she is prepared to offer Dawker money, even perhaps (in the play) herself. Dawker wavers and remarks that she's quite pretty when she is angry, but then says he has to proceed with the blackmail. Meanwhile, Chloe has twice called him 'a beast'. All of which reminds us further of the 'skin game'. To be continued.

July 8 - 2017
Hitchcock was always an admirer of the socially-conscious plays of John Galsworthy (1867-1933) and had wanted to film his manhunt play 'Escape' which was twice produced on the London stage by Leon M. Lion, the 'endearing Cockney' of Hitchcock's Number Seventeen (1932). The 1930 film version of 'Escape' (d. Basil Dean) starred Hitchcock's friend Sir Gerald du Maurier who had also starred in a 1917 version of 'Justice' (d. Maurice Elvey), scripted by Eliot Stannard. (That's a moving play about a young man who commits a crime to help the wife of a brutal husband, anticipating the donné of Hitchcock's Easy Virtue, 1927, again scripted by Stannard. Also, there are traces of 'Justice' in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man, 1957.) Which brings me to Hitchcock's The Skin Game (1931) which I watched again this week - and consider very fine, engrossing in a way that is contemporary (as well as timeless), and directed mostly with assurance. Ironically, Hitchcock only agreed to film this Galsworthy play because the studio insisted. Essentially, it is about the clash of temperaments - and egos - of the patrician landowner Hillcrist (C.V. France) and the rising industrialist Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn, who had played the role onstage), as well as involving their respective families and nearby villagers and tenants. As always, Galsworthy was effectively appealing for more tolerance and probity by all parties - so that to draw an analogy with today's politics is entirely valid in this case, I suggest. Mind you, not only is the film one of Hitchcock's many 'microcosms' (representative of the larger world - the theme of what constitutes 'neighbourliness' will recur in Rear Window, 1954, for example) but is bookended by the director's long-term pessimism. The symbolism of the opening and closing images should strike right-thinking viewers today: in the opening image, tree-cutters sent by Hornblower approach a venerable tree and begin to saw into it; in the closing image, the tree falls. In other words, despite all the drama and debate we have just witnessed, dubious 'progress' will march on regardless. (I have always seen an analogy, too, with the 'two thousand years old or more' sequoias in Vertigo, 1958, where, though, the trees defy the little human dramas happening around them.) The drama in The Skin Game begins when an elderly tenant family of Hillcrist, the Jackmans, come to him to report that Hornblower is ejecting them from their cottage (on land Hornblower recently bought from Hillcrist). Hillcrist professes rage, saying that Hornblower had promised him that tenants would not be moved. 'Leave this to me', he tells the Jackmans, dismissing them. But his rage is not entirely altruistic. A subjective image as he stands at his window looking over his verdant estate soon tells us that he is worried, too, that factory chimneys may soon encroach on that view which has been unchanged since his family acquired their land centuries ago. When Hornblower visits him, that ever-chipper industrialist tells him reasonably (if untruthfully?) that he hadn't thought he would need to build more cottages for his workers on that particular land. Equally reasonably, he asks, 'Why not build the Jackmans [another] cottage - you've got the land for it?' 'That's beside the point', Hillcrist replies - but it's the first sign of his own bad faith. Unfazed, Hornblower then proposes a deal: if Mrs Hillcrist (Helen Haye) will cease snubbing his family (she has never called on Hornblower's daughter-in-law as social custom would require), and treat the Hornblowers as neighbours in good standing, he will give up the idea of building factories with chimneys in the area. But again Hillcrist blows it. Although Hornblower extends his hand to conclude the deal (see frame-capture below), Hillcrist turns away from him, saying stiffly (and weakly), 'Your ways are not mine.' One of the key lines in the film is spoken by Hillcrist's grown-up, free-thinking daughter Jill (Jill Esmond), who is friendly with one of Hornblower's sons, Rolf (thus sounding a faint note of hope for an eventual reconciliation of the two families, as we'll see next time). When Rolf speaks of 'the big point of view' (which is certainly needed here), Jill in a cynical moment denies that it exists. 'We're all out for our own,' she says.

July 1 - 2017
There was always in Hitchcock's films (and some of his writings and interviews) a 'sports ethic', implying that extremism - except in the pursuit of excellence, and maybe not even then - was less than admirable. It appears in the silent films when Roddy in Downhill (1927) redeems himself playing for the Old Boys and scores a(nother) try; and in The Ring (1928) when the two boxing rivals meet for their championship bout at the Albert Hall, and hero Jack is 'big' enough to show concern for his opponent, Bob, whom he has felled. Even the defeated villain, Hartz (note the German-sounding name), at the end of The Lady Vanishes (1938), is able to wish his English rivals 'Jolly good luck!' (even able to use their own idiom). The quitessence of the idea is seen in Strangers on a Train (1950) during the tennis match at Forest Hills, with a visual allusion to Kipling's famous line, 'And treat those two impostors just the same'. The idea was basically English, or perhaps in Hitchcock's case Buchanesque (but certainly it was never exclusively Buchan's: thus it's very present in Ernest Raymond's 1922 'Tell England', paying tribute to the young men sent to fight the First World War - and filmed by Anthony Asquith in 1931), and late in Hitchcock's career it was used more ironically, as in North by Northwest (1959) where the super-villain Vandamm laments of the Americans, 'Not very sporting ... using real bullets' (but then, they had to, didn't they, given that Vandamm's own man was just about to kill the hero, Thornhill?). No doubt, then, Hitchcock's long-standing outlook influenced his choice for the ending he wanted for Topaz (1969): a pistol duel at dawn in a deserted Charlety sports stadium (in Paris) to which the villain Jacques Granville (Michelle Piccoli) has challenged André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford) who exposed him as a traitor. (It's rich of Jacques to issue such a challenge - it suggests he can't see that espionage is anything more than a game. On the other hand, Hitchcock's irony is that in other circumstances such an outlook might be admirable - just not when it comes to killing people!) Sadly, preview audiences didn't understand the point of the film's duel, and some laughed at it, so that one or another more perfuctory ending was substituted for the ending that Hitchcock (and assistant director Herbert Coleman - see last time) had originally shot with great care. The late Richard Franklin (Psycho II) told me that Hitchcock had in fact devoted more time to preparing and shooting the duel scene than any other scene in the film. And it is Richard (along with AMPAS film archivist Dan Woodruff) to whom we should be grateful for unearthing the footage after Hitchcock's death which the director had taken home and stored in his garage. Bill Krohn (in 'Video Watchdog', August 2001) leaves his readers in no doubt that this was Hitchcock's favourite scene in the film. He quotes what Hitchcock told two French journalists: 'The best scene in the film, the sequence in the Charlety stadium, is not in the release version. I remember seeing a very long time ago, perhaps in "Paris Match", a photo of a duel in an empty stadium. The image of those two [duellists] surrounded by banks of empty seats, all alone in the middle of the playing field, with a Dubonnet ad in the background, fascinated me.' As indeed it deserved to. The sequence itself is beautifully filmed, on a chilly-looking winter's morning, beginning in long-shot as the duellists and their seconds enter the arena (see frame-capture below). A muffled drum is heard (anticipating that used by Stanley Kubrick for the duel in Barry Lyndon, 1975). And there is something almost eerie about the setting, with its deserted grandstands and grey tower blocks overlooking the playing field, as Hitchcock's description suggests. I think of sf movies about lone survivors (e.g., Stanley Kramer's On the Beach, 1959), not to mention precedents in Hitchcock, such as the bus stopping in the middle of nowhere at Prairie Stop in North by Northwest, or the scene of Gromek tailing Armstrong in the deserted East Berlin art gallery in Torn Curtain (1966). (As for the ads displayed on the playing field fence - for motor oils and brands of mineral water, such as 'Perier' and 'Vichy' - their function in the film is 'Hitchcockian poetic' or 'Hitchcockian counterpoint': for example, they stand in for the absent crowds and their noise ...). In turn, the imagery takes up the film's Lost Paradise theme (which I briefly described earlier, on May 27 above), somewhat echoing the frozen Gabriel Valley in Spellbound (1945) and complementing Topaz's presentation of Cuba as a despoiled garden/paradise. Overall, as Krohn notes, the film is styled in icy blues and greys, as if the director had decided to take literally the expression "Cold War"'.

June 24 - 2017
Thanks to those of you who read my report above (June 10) on a couple of - rather arid - theoretical writings I had forced myself to consult on film and emotion. (As the head-piece to "Editor's Week" notes, this column reports on matters 'with which the ... editor has been occupied lately' - not always agreeably to himself, given the nature of research!) Btw, I have slightly re-worked the June 10 report. Now, returning to Topaz, here's something to follow up the observation that 'nobody in Topaz has all the answers'. We saw that Hitchcock's film has a character say out loud, 'This is a fairy tale', when he is told about the Soviet spy ring (called Topaz) which has agents planted in the highest echelons of the French government and of NATO. Interestingly, this isn't exactly how Leon Uris's novel presents the matter. There, it is the hero, André Devereaux, a French agent stationed in America (and Cuba), who makes some such exclamation. Invited to sit in on the Americans' interrogation of Russian defector Boris Kuznetov (at Kuznetov's own request), he first learns of the existence of a French government department to be called Section P, 'composed largely of a group of French scientists now in training who will be placed in American research and industry' and whose function will be to 'conduct industrial and scientific espionage on the United States'. 'André felt the eyes of the others hard on him. "It is a lie," he said softly.' And then, when Kuznetov repeats the accusation, adding that André will shortly be instructed by his government to implement Section P's operation through his office in Washington, his demeanour changes. 'For the first time in two decades, André Devereaux became unravelled before an adversary. He grew livid and cracked his fist on the desk. ... André hushed abruptly, shocked by the sound of his own voice. He had committed a grievous error before men of his own breed. "It's fantasy," he said harshly. "We deal in fantasy, do we not?" Kuznetov answered, taking off his glasses and setting them on the table wearily ...' [Part III Topaz (6)] Nor is that all. Returning to France, André is present when the French President is told an incredible counter-story (the result of Soviet disinformation?) that the entire Cuban missile crisis was 'a gigantic hoax dreamed up between the United States and the Soviet Union' - and that he, Devereaux, had been 'tricked, duped, and used'. [Part V Columbine (6)] Later, the American government send their man Mike Nordstrom to Paris to consult with André and support him. But Mike also brings further bad news. In Cuba, he reports, both (Castro henchman) Rico Parra and (André's mistress) Juanita de Cordoba have been thrown in gaol and tortured, and both are now dead. 'André hovered close to collapse until Mike's words became unreal ... dreamlike.' [Part V Columbine (12)] My comment on all of this is simply that, faced with being tasked (at short notice) to adapt a sprawling Leon Uris novel, screenwriter Samuel Taylor was always to be congratulated for singling out the all-important matter of the spy ring called Topaz and the threat it posed to both André and democratic government in France and beyond - and for incorporating the suggestive motif that I have described, of events being like a fairy tale. True, one result is to somewhat reduce André as a character, so that in the film he becomes almost bland (not necessarily, or at all, a criticism of actor Frederick Stafford - see frame-capture below). I have my own theory about that but here I will only say that it doesn't distort the nature of André's job. As a passage in the novel itself says: 'For the intelligence chief [such as André] there is no relief from the pressure. There are no fistfights, no gunplay, no swinging from balconies, no rescuing of maidens, no acrobatics, no karate chops, no miracle electronic gimmicks.' [Part II The Rico Parra Papers (23)] This week I watched the 2004 film Triple Agent, directed by Eric Rohmer (co-author of the first book-length study of Hitchcock), about espionage in Europe in the 1930s. An astute comment about the film (on Wikipedia) notes that the principal character, living quietly with his wife in Paris, was 'someone who had a triple life between various spy organizations. He is portrayed as bland, but that is the very essence of his character, as he must be bland'. Next time I'll probaly write mainly about the ending Hitchcock particularly wanted for Topaz, the duel. I was told that he devoted more time and energy to preparing that scene than any other in the film (though illness to wife Alma necessitated that he deputised the shooting of the scene to Herbert Coleman).

June 17 - 2017
[No "Editor's Week" this time. But we have added two items to our News section below. Also, my thanks to the publishers of a new book on director Robert Wise for detailed information about it. It's called 'Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures' and the author is Joe Jordan. He studiously analyses each film in the Robert Wise canon, and includes over twenty interviews with Wise colleagues. The book is available now. KM]

June 10 - 2017
This week I continued my reading apropos theories of emotion - which, sadly, wasn't always enlightening! Maria Walsh's review (in 'Senses of Cinema' #28) of 'Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film' (2002) by Giuliana Bruno, for example, quotes this passage: 'There is a mobile dynamics involved in the act of viewing films, even if the spectator is seemingly static' (some art snobs argue that viewing paintings in a gallery is intrinsically superior because the spectator must walk around ...), and it continues: 'The (im)mobile spectator moves across an imaginary path, traversing multiple sites and times. Her fictional navigation connects distant moments and far-apart places.' My reaction to that was, 'You don't say?' - and Maria Walsh's own comment later was also not exactly thrilled: 'However, what makes Bruno's thesis rather annoying is that she never defines what exactly she means by emotion ... In Bruno's trajectory emotion would seem to equal motion which simplifies matters greatly.' Well now, surely Hitchcock's excitement that Topaz 'will be a film with landscapes equal to The Man Who Knew Too Much' (see last time), wasn't simply to do with giving the spectator a bit of vicarious travel? Rather, I think of how the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much opens in sweltering Marrakesh before moving to gritty, labyrinthine London: the contrast is deliberate, and it involves the spectator emotionally in the 'deepening' of the story - much as Dickens began 'Little Dorrit' (1857) in a sweltering Marseilles, then switched locale to 'a Sunday evening in London, gloomy, close, and stale'. One subliminal effect of showing the different capitals in Topaz is to suggest how difficult it is going to be to reconcile their conflicts, amid their special interests, even as it suggests that global understanding is important, no matter how difficult - and that Topaz is raising such a possibility while concluding that it isn't going to happen soon, despite the lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (That's a bit more, or other, than your average tourist's or gallery visitor's itinery, or theorised version of it!) I also looked at a couple of reviews of James Elkins's 'Pictures and Tears' (2002): reportedly he interviewed a few hundred art historians, not one of whom had cried in front of a painting. 'The emotional temperature of our response to art is plummeting towards absolute zero', he concluded. 'How coldly can we look and still claim we are looking?' Reviewer Alfred Hickling in 'The Guardian' commented: 'As a withering attack on the whole structure of art academe, this has a point. But Elkins's endeavour rather falls apart when, halfway through the book, he gets religion. Both he and [Darian] Leader [author of 'Stealing the Mona Lisa', 2002] argue that great art acts as a mysterious portal to the subconscious. Adopting the somewhat gothic-horror term coined by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, Leader refers to it as "the Thing". Elkins has a different name for it: he calls it God.' Hmm. What I took from that is how theoretical explanations of art change, but not greatly! I was reminded of Eric Savoy's recent claim (in a book on Hitchcock and Henry James) that 'Hitchcock's essential cinematic project' is the encounter with (Lacan's) the Real. In turn, I could cite my own conviction that Hitchcock's films point to what (atheist) philosopher Schopenhauer called the cosmic Will, which the same philosopher equated with Kant's Thing-in-itself - and that such a built-in 'encounter' (with the ineffable Thing, or whatever) in Hitchcock's films can move us emotionally because it is true rather than sentimental (the latter a turn-off, once spotted), or at least it can't be denied, only felt. Now to conclude, for this week. On May 27 above, I noted the first of several moments in Topaz when a character is pulled up short by some setback or moment of incomprehension (and with Maurice Jarre's score underlining it with a single plunked note - the first was when one of the Russian heavies is eluded by Tamara Kusenov at the Copenhagen porcelain exhibit). The second such moment is when a French General and the French Ambassador in Washington, D.C. are asked by alert French agent André Devereaux who was it who told Paris about the Russian defector Boris Kusenov, and why? The startled General can only exclaim, 'What?' (See frame-capture below.) And the third such moment is when Devereaux informs colleagues back in Paris (at Pierre's Restaurant) about a Russian spy ring called 'Topaz'. 'This is a fairy tale', one of them exclaims. This entire little motif, with its musical underlining, is an ongoing reminder that nobody in Topaz has all the answers.

June 3 - 2017
This week I had occasion to think about Hitchcock's way with emotion - whether of his audiences, of his characters, or of the very 'alchemy' with which he achieves emotional complexity (and unexpected outcomes when ingredients are combined). A simple instance is what he remarked to François Truffaut: in The Trouble With Harry (1955) he used contrasts to 'elevate the commonplace to a higher level'. This correlates with Dennis Perry's wise observation that Hitchcock and Poe both excelled at crafting 'emotional responses in audiences. The key to that legacy is the concept of the sublime, the simultaneous experience of delight and terror ...' ('Hitchcock and Poe', 2003, p. 1). I dare say that Hitchcock's and Samuel Taylor's film adaptation of Leon Uris's not particularly 'sublime' novel 'Topaz' - though to be fair, the novel shows Uris's undoubted flare for research and more research, often aimed at shock, and is a real page-turner - touches emotional sublimity at several points. Behind the various events is the Cuban Missile Crisis, while in the foreground are successive personal stories, including those of two families, the Kusenovs and the Devereaux. It is the tensions within and without those families, and the sense of what threatens them - and the rest of the world - that allows Hitchcock and Taylor several poetic moments. For example, the breaking of a china statuette at a Danish porcelain factory (see last time) relates to what is 'fragile' throughout the film (for starters, the Danish people themselves are most sympathetically depicted - happy, courteous, industrious). But my research on emotion extended to other texts, including a famous essay by T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1922), which took up the general idea, and noted acutely how raw emotion is, at best, a starting point for a poet: 'If you compare several representative passages of the greatest poetry you see how great is the variety of types of combination, and also how completely any semi-ethical criterion of "sublimity" misses the mark. For it is not the "greatness," the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process ... under which the fusion takes place, that counts.' In Hitchcock's case, he sensed that 'pure film' - call it 'form' - might be more important than 'content', and indeed a major factor in the overall effect of Topaz is its structural emphasis on the global, the fact that it moves from one capital city to another: Moscow, Copenhagen, Washington D.C., Havana, Paris. Each location is utilised to particular effect, in keeping with Hitchcock's famous dictum about such matters (it's surely no accident that a key scene in Paris takes place at an exclusive restaurant: see frame-capture below). One reason for Hitchcock's early optimism about Topaz (he had his misgivings, too) was that 'It will be a film with landscapes equal to The Man Who Knew Too Much'. And again, to keep myself 'grounded', this week I re-visited John Carey's no-nonsense discussion of what constitutes art in an art-era where seemingly 'anything goes' and the wackier the better (although Carey's influence may have reversed that a bit), namely, his 2005 book 'What Good Are the Arts?' I admire Carey's suspicion of many of the claims made for 'high art', and its supposed 'superiority'. But on this occasion I paid particular attention to what he says about an apparent lack of connection between sensitivity to art in general and sensitivity to human suffering. And I noted again that he thinks that literature is superior amongst the arts because it is the one best suited to display extended reasoning and self-critique. And I see what he means, all right - even as I regret that one of his few blind spots may be his comparative ignorance of the cinema. (In the entire book Professor Carey, formerly Merton Professor of English at Oxford University, only mentions three filmmakers: Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Alfred Hitchcock - whose qualities he suggests in passing are self-evident, and requiring no further elucidation by him.) Whereas I immediately thought of Topaz, and its final montage of the suffering wrought by the world of espionage and all it supports. Could literature make a more gut-wrenching statement than that brief set of images coming, as it does, after two hours of what is - often sublimely - shown by Hitchcock's film? [Note. The CFP in our News & Comment section has been revised and updated.]

May 27 - 2017
Back again. That's enough on The Short Night (project) except to note that like Topaz (1969) - to which I want to come this time - it opens with an exciting escape. The escape in Topaz is of the defecting Russian family, the Kusenovs, from Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1962 (as a title tells us), and is beautifully crafted. For one thing, the casting for 'typage' (especially of the Russians, including the 'heavies' whom Kusenov and his family must elude with help from the CIA) is perfect. The frame-capture below shows what Kusenov's daughter, Tamara, sees when she glances up from a demonstration of porcelain-painting in a Copehagen factory: the family had hoped they had shaken off their pursuers. Instead, Tamara sees all three of the heavies staring coldly at her (while all of the other onlookers are watching a woman at work offscreen in the foreground painting flowers on a plate - two of her finished plates are visible in the shot, notice). The effect is chilling, but not without a note of grim comedy by that very fact: it's very in-your-face Hitchcock! (A broader example of the same thing is the famous shot in Strangers on a Train, 1951, of Bruno watching fixedly and impassively as Guy plays a rally of tennis while all of the other spectators around Bruno keep swivelling their heads to follow the passage of the ball.) Imagine if you were Tamara and saw that view of her pursuers! In fact, she keeps her head and is able to draw one of them away and then elude him long enough to make a telephone call to the CIA for instructions. A shot of the baffled Russian pursuer after he looks into the room where Tamara had gone - and finds it empty - is followed by a small reaction-shot of his annoyance in which he does a double-take, and the soundtrack (score by Maurice Jarre) mocks him with a single plunked note - the first of several such moments in the film. (This particular 'leitmotiv' seems to make fun of how, in the 'game' of espionage, no-one is his own man, but always playing 'follow-my-leader' or 'catch-up'. The ultimate message of the film is a respect for anyone with enough personal integrity to stand against, or outside, such a sad and foolish game: 1959's North by Northwest, too, seems to me to support those who are not 'other-directed', ditto The Short Night - see May 6, above.) Now notice again those plates in the frame-capture: they are painted in gentle colours and the room is lit by sunlight from a window on the right (all of the early Copenhagen scenes take place on a sunny afternoon with birdsong in the air). I mention this because it marks a contrast (1) with the opening credits-sequence of a May Day military parade in Moscow, and (2) with the late afternoon sequence that now follows, set in and outside the Den Permanente department store with its 'permanent' arts and crafts exhibit (it has since closed down!): the interiors at Den Permanente feature quite different and brighter colours than before - purple irises and orange lamp shades and blue hangings - a sharpening effect suddenly interrupted and/or heightened by the ringing of a bell at the store's closing time. And now the entire Copenhagen sequence moves from slow pursuit into tense action as the Kusenovs, as instructed by the CIA, swiftly leave the store and head for the CIA's getaway car outside, but are followed by their Russian pursuers. While plain-clothes CIA men do their best to block the pursuers, one of the latter nearly gets off a pistol shot, and Tamara adds to the drama by falling while attempting to avoid home-going crowds on bicycles (elements of Foreign Correspondent, 1941, and North by Northwest). But eventually the escape is effected, and only the tetchy Boris Kusenov can't help himself but exclaim to his rescuers, 'A very clumsy operation - not the way we [Russians] would have done it!' Plenty of nice irony there, as befits a film about people caught up, despite themselves, in harmful fixed attitudes. Meanwhile, the entire Copenhagen sequence has featured, besides sunshine and birdsong, multiple references to flowers, establishing another of the film's leitmotivs, probably its principal one: that of the Lost Paradise, which the modern world and espionage in particular would seem to make un-recoverable.

May 13 - 2017
[No "Editor's Week" this time, because KM finds himself busy, busy. But friend Tag Gallagher, expert on John Ford and Roberto Rossellini, has written to say that his new book on Ford is now available on Kindle from Amazon. Worth rushing to see! It's called 'John Ford: Himself and his Movies' Google it!]

May 6 - 2017
For the past few entries, I have been looking at The Short Night - Hitchcock's last project, never filmed - in the context of espionage. Of course, espionage is about cognition, as has long been known. As far back as the 4th century BC, Chinese military expert Sun Tzu emphasised: 'Those who know the enemy as well as they know themselves will never suffer defeat.' In the 16th century AD, Queen Elizabeth I's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, declared, 'Knowledge [of the enemy] is never too dear.' But Hitchcock's spy films (such as Secret Agent, 1936) invariably question such a cold, cerebral outlook: think of how Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959) rounds on the Professor and tells him feelingly, 'Maybe it's about time you guys [from the CIA] started to learn to lose a few Cold Wars for a change.' Films/screenplays like Topaz (1969) and The Short Night say essentially the same thing. In the latter, there's even a key line, spoken by Joe (whose brother had been killed by the Russians): 'Spying and espionage. Everybody suffers from it.' I want to quote screenwriter David Freeman on this. 'Throughout the script [of The Short Night]', he writes, 'the only people who care about communism and capitalism and their differences are chowderheads. Sensible people care about themselves and one another. Hitch was quite fond of the idea of making [Carla's two slightly butch Russian minders] Olga and Hilda ... the only ones interested in politics. Joe wants to avenge his brother and, later, to be with Carla. Carla only wants a life for her children. Politics are of no use to her. Even Gavin Brand, the communist spy, cares about his own problems, not the problems of nations. Hitch, in the late winter of his life, didn't care about politics, only passion.' ('The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock', p. 250) (As noted, Hitchcock's attitude had in fact always been there, perhaps inherited from Somerset Maugham. Thus a key scene in Secret Agent, based on Maugham's 'Ashenden' stories, was the death of an innocent man, killed by the over-zealous professional assassin, the General, played by Peter Lorre. And the film ends with the disillusioned Ashenden vowing, 'Never again', as he returns home with Elsa. The film has been a learning experience for both of them. (For a lighter moment from the film, see frame-capture below.) Now, I tried last time (and earlier) to indicate some of the feeling-content, at times decidedly poetic, in The Short Night. But the fact is, the screenplay as published shows that there was still much work needed: the first half, in particular, feels thin, following the tense opening scene of Brand's prison break. On the other hand, Hitchcock's techniques and expertise were working for him in several places throughout the screenplay. For instance, our introduction to Joe, playing a form of indoor tennis (court tennis), shows how capable he is (and thus worthy of hero status for when he comes up against Brand): Hitchcock had apparently been wanting to get court tennis into a film for years. Freeman explains: 'We got to it from the belief that Joe should be introduced doing something active ... [Court tennis] is so toney and upper class that it makes squash look like bowling ... It makes a fine, strange introduction to the character. It says he lives a life different from yours.' (p. 234) Thus it's another instance of Hitchcock's 'outflanking technique' whereby he keeps the audience compliant to his narrative demands, including the building of suspense. Likewise, there's another key line, spoken by Carla to Joe, relatively early in their relationship: 'There's so much feeling in you. You always make me laugh, or you try to hurt me. It's always so extreme.' (Joe defends himself by noting that they're both in a hurry.) That leads, eventually, to the main love scene, which clearly excited Hitch, and which pivots on the idea of Joe and Carla facing each other and slowly coming together, while aware that Brand is approaching - the sound of his motor launch can be heard (Hitch thought of it as being inside Carla's head). Here Freeman notes Hitchcock's belief that pleasure deferred is pleasure intensified. (I can't help thinking of the famous moment in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, 1962, when a rider on a camel approaches the camera from a distance, and seems to take forever. Lean, of course, was reportedly a Quaker, people who traditionally appreciate forms of self-denial ...) Lastly, just before the final chase to the Russian border begins, Freeman astutely sums up what is at stake: 'Carla is alive - barely - and her children are gone, on their way to Moscow and Joe and Carla must recapture them. Nobody ever said Alfred Hitchcock didn't know how to get at an audience's collective heartstrings.' (p. 248) So much for mere cognition!

April 29 - 2017
As the screenplay of The Short Night shows, the film was to have begun one drizzly evening in London (see last time), and to have contained sombre elements, including the ruthless Gavin Brand himself (based on double agent George Blake). Violence, as in Topaz (1969), would break out more than once. Only the love-element, between Joe and Carla, and a certain pictorial beauty, would offset the sombreness - along with flashes of humour (albeit sometimes grim humour) and something else, harder to define (although poetry might not be altogether the wrong word for it). When the camera first approaches Squirrel Island, where Carla is hiding out with her two boys and waiting for husband Gavin to show up, Joe is in a boat, and sees activity on the shore - a view that reminded Hitchcock of a Brueghel painting (just as certain moments in Topaz reminded him of Vermeer interiors). Or certain elements of colour might have a rich effect, perhaps not unlike the use of colour by Hitchcock's favourite artist, Paul Klee. An early scene takes place in NYC, when Joe has a lunch appointment with the bespectacled CIA man, Paul Zelfand, at The 21 Club. The screenplay reads: '38 EXT. ENTRANCE TO 21 - DAY Joe goes down the steps, under the painted statues of the jockeys and through the main entrance.' (For the famous array of painted statues, see the photograph below.) A seemingly routine shot thus adds an ironic - but also poetic - touch of colour, a subliminal reminder that simple delights are not necessarily all behind us, forgotten. The irony, though, is twofold. First, Joe is on a path of vengeance, contemplating the killing of Gavin whose duplicity had caused the death of Joe's brother. Second, after the lunch, and back on the sidewalk outside 21, violence suddenly erupts around Joe and Paul when a marksman across the street fires at Paul but only succeeds in killing a chauffeur. (The shot-description reads in part: 'his body whirls around to face CAMERA for a moment and we get a brief glimpse of a destroyed bloody face before the body slumps down to the pavement out of picture, and CAMERA zooms in close on the shocked faces of Joe and Zelfand'.) Nor of course is the colourful 'jockeys' shot disconnected from others that contribute to the film's overall tone and visual texture. I think of two in particular. Passing through London, Joe comes upon a game of soccer about to begin in Hyde Park between a couple of schoolboy sides (note sporting connotations again, and of childhood) supervised by a slightly disconcerted coach: two of his boys have failed to turn up, so he wants one of them in yellow jerseys to join the other side, in red jerseys. Joe takes the opportunity to ask directions from the coach, and as he leaves calls back over his shoulder, to the red jerseys, 'Stick to your guns lads, don't be turncoats!' (The immediate pay-off to this brief scene is the one in which Joe spots two junior-size red jerseys on a clothesline and guesses that he is on the track of Carla Brand and her two boys - who have left for Finland in a hurry.) But I also think of an episode much later on, when Joe has begun to romance Carla, and takes her on an outing to Savonlinna. In the garden of a restaurant, they stand and kiss, oblivious to everything but each other. The shot-description continues: 'We hear the sound of a great many small bells, behind them, approaching, off screen. They turn to see a swarm of happy, laughing bicyclists, dozens of them, almost upon them and approaching swiftly. The cyclists laugh at the lovers as they go by, bells clanging wildly.' But Carla's Russian minders soon turn up, and the momentary near-idyll is at an end. Screenwriter David Freeman has an excellent comment: 'In Scene 186, as Joe and Carla kiss, first we hears bells, and then a swarm of bicyclists rides by, laughing and happy. A similar image occurs in scenes 190 and 191, when the cyclists reappear. One might make some tortured case for the bells ringing in romance or danger, but it is both more and less than a particular symbol. It's dreamlike, almost abstract, and its power is undeniable. Logical objections fall away in the face of the thing itself, which if I may say so, is not a bad overall summation of Hitchcock's films.' ('The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock', pp. 245-46) And on that Klee-like note, I'll end for this week. Concluded next time.

April 22 - 2017
The screenplay of The Short Night begins: '1 EXT. LONDON - ARTILLERY ROAD - 6:45 P.M. A drizzly London evening in the fall. Wormwood Scrubs Prison and Hammersmith Hospital sit side by side. Artillery Road, hardly more than a service lane runs between them. A Humber Hawk sits on the prison side ...' The detail here (and more detail, too, not quoted) corresponds in every way with the actual circumstances of the escape of double agent (or possibly triple agent) George Blake from prison in London on 22 October, 1966. Hitchcock was so struck by the vividness of the account of Blake's escape contained in Sean Bourke's 'The Springing of George Blake' (1970) that he decided to open his film with it - much of it to be filmed in an elaborate crane shot. But why the Humber Hawk? Screenwriter David Freeman (in 'The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock', 1984) professes to be puzzled: 'Hitch was quite certain what he wanted. I had to ask Universal's research library to get me a picture of one. Humber Hawks turn out to be cute enough, but I still didn't see why he wanted that specific car.' I think Freeman is being disingenuous here. For one thing, a Humber Hawk was indeed the getaway car Blake and Bourke used. Bourke's book reveals: 'I knew of a shopkeeper in North London who had a 1955 Humber Hawk for sale for sixty pounds. I bought this ... and drove it back to Perryn Road. It had a good engine and good brakes. I could now rehearse the getaway under realistic conditions.' (Part One, Chapter Seven) And it is of course a British car. But Hitchcock was even more specific as to why he wanted one for his film. Freeman quotes him: 'It's a timeless-looking sedan, don't you see? A little out of date, but still roughly contemporary. Bear in mind it's the first thing we see. Americans won't recognize it at all. Mustn't let them (the audience) get too comfortable right at the start.' (p. 231) (For a photo of a Humber Hawk of the time, see illustration below.) Now, I mentioned that Blake may have been a triple agent, although it's not likely - Bourke's book mocks the elaborate theory concerning this by a Canadian journalist interviewed on the BBC soon after the escape. ('It was all, he claimed, part of a huge plot by the Secret Service to fool the KGB.' Part Two, Chapter Four) Nonetheless, Bourke's own account has been called in question by espionage authority Phillip Knightley, who asks: why should Blake have entrusted his escape to such a person? 'The idea of Bourke, a drunkard and a petty criminal, agreeing to spring Blake just for the thrill of a blow against authority is ludicrous, as is the involvement of Bourke's friends ... The only story which fits the facts is that the escape was organized by the Russians who contracted out some of the work to the IRA. Bourke was a minion, hired because he knew Blake and was about to be released under the hostel system, which allowed him free access between the outside world where he spent his days, and the prison where he slept at night.' ('The Second Oldest Profession: The Spy as Patriot, Bureaucrat, Fantasist and Whore', Pan paperback, 1987, pp. 294-5) Still, this hardly matters in any consideration of The Short Night as film/screenplay. For, of course, Hitchcock as usual was only concerned in telling a good story with interesting characters who had human problems and which furthered the needs of the story. In this respect, although Ronald Kirkbride's 1968 novel certainly gave Hitchcock the prototype for Brand (i.e., Blake) as villain, additional darkening was licensed by Bourke's purportedly true account of the man. The overall picture of Blake that emerges there is that he was an agreeable-enough individual when it suited him (and he had, after all, been a professional spy who knew how to dissemble), but that once he got to Russia he became the monster he may always have been, overbearing and ruthless. Bourke says that there had been a hint of what was to come. While lying low in a Hampstead apartment after the escape, Blake offered to help Bourke who was doing some stretching exercises from a rowing position on the floor. Suddenly Blake 'seemed to lose control of himself. "Get down, get down, get down!" he hissed though clenched teeth' as he pushed Bourke's head towards his knees. Only after several seconds, did he stop. 'He was flushed and excited. Then he started to laugh. But it was a forced, nervous laugh and I felt sure that he must realize that he had gone too far and given something away.' (Part Two, Chapter Five) From this, Hitchcock and Freeman may have extrapolated the scene early in the screenplay in which Brand strangles a young woman, from whom he wanted sex. (The real Blake may have been someone else again. The picture of him in Wikipedia is largely favourable. Even his betrayal of his English employers, MI6, and their colleagues, the Americans, to the Russians was motivated, it seems, by what he had seen of the brutal bombing of North Koreans - many of them civilians - by American Fortress bombers during the Korean war.) Next time: the Short Night screenplay.

April 15 - 2017
Apropos my intention to discuss Hitchcock's final, never-filmed project The Short Night here in coming weeks (see last time), I have now re-read both the 1968 novel by Ronald Kirkbride and the non-fiction 'The Springing of George Blake' (1970) by Sean Bourke, which Hitchcock had acquired the rights to, and which provides additional material for the screenplay of The Short Night published as part of 'The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock' (1984) by author/screenwriter David Freeman (which I've also re-read). A point of interest is that whereas the novel is set mainly in and around the Finnish town of Hämeenlinna (between Helsinki and Tampere), the screenplay is set mainly in and around Savonlinna, further east and nearer the Russian border: see map of southern Finland below. Perhaps Hitchcock felt that the final road-and-rail chase towards Russia (in both novel and screenplay) might appear more plausible if set closer to the border. At any rate, the all-important scenery of lakes and islands remains unaltered (see image last time). The basic idea is that Svea/Carla, wife of escaped double agent Garvin/Gavin Brand (based on George Blake) hides out on an island in neutral Finland with her two boys while waiting for Brand to join them; meanwhile, the man called Joe, who has good reason to want to find and kill Brand, succeeds in tracking down Svea/Carla and becomes torn: he finds himself falling in love with her but the more he learns of Brand (and then on encountering him) the more he loathes him. So should he quietly leave - for the woman's sake - or should he carry out his mission of vengeance? (Effectively the matter is decided by events.) I'll concentrate on the novel for now. It isn't particularly good. Despite the sort of insightful passage I quoted last time - referring to Svea's awakening after Joe has made love to her and shown her what Garvin has denied her - there are times when the novel feels too reliant on picturesque local colour, routine characters (even a comic Finnish policeman who resembles Inspector Clouzot in a Pink Panther farce), and an element of soft porn. Also, some implausibility or sloppiness. We're told that when Joe 'had set out on his mission to avenge his brother's death, suspecting that Brand might well attempt a jail break, he had not anticipated the events [that followed].' (Chapter Sixteen) A moment's thought suggests this is absurd: a man sent to prison for thirty years who escapes after five years does not signal (the imminence of) his escape! I was reminded of an interesting 2014 article, "The Rise of the Literary Espionage Novel", by Lisa Levy, which suggests that quality writers (like the American Denis Johnson and the Australian Peter Carey) have recently decided to enter the espionage field and in the process raise it from its generic limitations - though not always successfully, if another commentator, Julieanne Lamond, is right. While agreeing that some 'capital-L Literary Writers ... have [lately] appropriated the conventions of popular genres', Lamond singles out another Australian writer, Richard Flanagan, for a sharp comment: 'Where Flanagan fails to master the most important aspect of the airport thriller - the thrill - he does pretty well with the misogyny that also marks the genre.' ("Nothing Too Serious", in 'Sydney Review of Books', 20 February, 2015) Hmm. I don't exactly feel that Ronald Kirkbride in 'The Short Night' is misogynistic towards Svea; and the way in which she comes to see and articulate how the cold Garvin has oppressed her is one of the most moving aspects of the novel. At the end of Chapter Twenty, she is able to face him and haltingly reveal what she has always suppressed - her suspicion of his homosexuality. ('The Springing of George Blake' manages to suggest that Blake may have been a potential paedophile: see Part Three, Chapter Two.) In its own way, this is like how 'I' in Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) comes alive and throws off the shackles of oppression, by the likes of Mrs Van Hopper and Mrs Danvers, after Maxim tells her the truth about Rebecca. And it is surely the sort of thing that attracted Hitchcock towards Kirkbride's novel. The Short Night would have been a quality film in its own right. To be continued.

April 8 - 2017
I want to share some thoughts on Hitchcock's espionage films, and in particular - for the next few weeks - his project to film novelist Ronald Kirkbride's atmospheric 1968 thriller 'The Short Night', loosely based on the exploits of real-life Russian spy George Blake who staged a daring escape from London's Wormwood Scrubs Prison before fleeing back to Russia via East Berlin - or Finland in the novel. The novel specifically mentions Hämeenlinna, the birthplace of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, in the (lake) Vanajavesi valley, and much of the story is set there. Hitchcock visited the area, intending to send cast and crew on location. (For the type of scenery he reconnoitred, see the photo of Vanajavesi below.) An appreciative view of Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969) and the never-filmed The Short Night is that of Dr Pierre Lethier, former senior intelligence officer with France's exterior intelligence and counter-espionage agency, the SDECE (which in 1982 was replaced by the DGSE). He writes: 'In Hitchcock's final, unfinished "Cold War" trilogy, the exorbitant human cost of espionage is chillingly and constantly present. In both Torn Curtain and Topaz - and as would have been the case in his planned [The Short Night] - Hitchcock does not flinch from exposing the harsh truth about espionage. It is portrayed as an absolute necessity, but one which entails extreme cruelty.' ('39 Steps to the Genius of Hitchcock', 2012, p. 45) Kirkbride's novel goes into detail about such cruelty and indeed the George Blake character - Garvin (Brand) in the novel, Gavin (Brand) in the published screenplay by David Freeman - is given some particularly nasty traits, including cold indifference to the fates of those endangered by his passing on of British agents' names to Russia. In turn, the person, Joe, who comes after him and tracks him to Finland proves to be the embittered brother of one of Garvin's luckless victims, shot by a prussic-acid dart in Beirut. (We recognise, with a start, that the Russians, and others, still use such methods, and more refined variants, today.) Meanwhile - and this may well be a main source of the novel's appeal to Hitchcock - Joe has met and fallen in love with Garvin's wife, Svea (changed to Carla in the screenplay), while waiting for Garvin to arrive after his slow, devious journey from England. It is these charged scenes that give the novel much of its intensity, and even a certain poetry (the book's title is a reference to both a poem by Theodore Dreiser and to the short Finnish summer's night). And I note that Kirkbride's fellow novelist, Alistair MacLean, praised him in high terms: 'For Ian Fleming's snobbery and sadism he substitutes a compassion for people and an understanding of the human spirit which the late creator of James Bond could never have achieved.' Towards the end of the novel, Svea - and the reader - realises just how cold a person Garvin has always been. But Joe has brought her alive. I'm going to quote in full a most moving passage because it's what Hitchcock (who had also wanted to film 'We, the Accused' by Ernest Raymond, another masterly tale of brief happiness) would have spotted. 'She understood now. Everything became suddenly clear to her - why, from the beginning, her marriage to Garvin had been a failure; why there had been a wall separating them; why she had felt like a small child swimming in a clear, sparkling stream, only to be sucked down into a mysterious mire she had not known existed. She had married a shell of a man, a ghost that stalked the world with withered heart. Because she had loved a man who did not love her she had prostituted herself in a world of make-believe, convinced that it was decent, sane and safe; that promises were kept, ideals upheld, everyday issues conducted with polite sincerity. She had gone to parties and talked about the latest horror or stupidity of international affairs as if they did not concern her, as if they had taken place on another planet. But the world was all about her, and in her; she could not escape.' (Chapter Twenty-Two) So Garvin probably influenced the character of Rusk in Frenzy (1972). And The Short Night, if it had been filmed, might have been a triumph. More next time.

April 1 - 2017
[No "Editor's Week" item this time, but please note two important News items that have been added immediately below. Thanks. KM]

March 25 - 2017
There are, of course, subtle differences between the two Albert Hall scenes in the two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much. For example, why does Jill or Jo find herself there? All Jill knows is that husband Bob, via Uncle Clive, has told her to go there (Bob spotted a ticket for the Albert Hall in marksman Ramon's pocket during a struggle and yelled out to Clive to phone Jill because 'that's where it's happening'). Jo, on the other hand, suddenly guesses that 'A. Hall' 'isn't a person, it's a place', and hurries there because husband Ben has disappeared and she remembers that Chief Inspector Buchanan, who had promised to help them, is attending a concert at the Albert Hall. Not the most convincing, or plausible, motivation in either case, but it suffices! Now let's stay with Jill for a moment. On arriving at the Hall, she immediately spots the police inspector (I think his name there is 'Gibson') and visibly elects to go up to him - but just then Ramon suddenly materialises and presses into her hand a brooch belonging to the kidnapped Betty, sufficient reminder that Jill should keep quiet for Betty's sake. So what does Jill do then? All she can do is go inside the auditorium and join the audience. Offscreen, she buys a ticket and obtains a program: we next see her being ushered towards her seat in the stalls (see frame-capture below). There, rather improbably (and to the annoyance of a rather prim lady sitting next to her), she'll keep glancing around and eventually spot Ramon's gun protruding from shadow in one of the boxes ... In the 1956 film, by contrast, Jo, after being verbally warned off approaching Buchanan by the marksman ('You have a very nice little boy, madame - his safety will depend on you tonight'), doesn't buy a ticket: Hitchcock needs her to stay at one of the upstairs entrances (fobbing off the ticket-inspector by saying, 'I'm just waiting for somebody'), so that eventually she can be spotted there by Ben and she can fill him in with what she knows - whereupon he'll start rushing from box to box and he'll arrive at the marksman's box just in time to forestall his escape ... (So what looks onscreen to be a natural order of events, which Hitchcock obviously hoped would pass muster with audiences as entirely plausible, is actually - surprise! - artfully worked out.) I'll leave it there, readers. The many details of the two 'Storm Cloud Cantata' scenes could be enumerated in greater detail, but the above few entries cover some of them. More another time.

March 18 - 2017
[Late. With apologies. A combination of pressing work and a power outage stopped a post this week. Hope to return next week. Meanwhile, thanks to Minas A for letting me know of the forthcoming book, 'The Philosophical Hitchcock: Vertigo and the Anxieties of Unknowingness' by Robert B. Pippin for University of Chicago Press in October. KM]

March 11 - 2017
Back to the 'Storm Cloud Cantata' scenes in both versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 and 1956), but mainly the latter. Using a word he often favoured, Hitchcock called the 1956 film the work of a professional, whereas the earlier film was merely that of 'a talented amateur'! Interestingly, screenwriter John Michael Hayes, on a DVD of the 1956 film, also used 'professional' when he described the character of Jo (Doris Day) as someone who 'missed the professional circuit' she had known (as a popular singer) but in the course of the film 'got it back, at least for a short time'. What did Hayes mean? Well, obviously, Jo gets to sing in public again, at the film's climax set in a foreign embassy (unnamed) in London. But, more broadly, Hayes may be referring to how she must go through the film, after son Hank is kidnapped, with all senses straining as she and husband Ben, separately and together, seek clues to where Hank is being held and what they can do to rescue him: what began as a 'holiday' in Marrakesh becomes a 'test' of resources and ability. And that climactic scene is very satisfying, not only because Hank is rescued but because husband and wife have acted in concert to find and fetch him. The film has a musical structure and texture, which is fitting, because music is featured in the film - all types, from Jo's shared song with Hank ('Que sera, sera') and the 'Storm Cloud Cantata' at the Albert Hall, to the call to prayer of a muezzin in Marrakesh, to the nonconformist hymn ('Why hides the sun in shame?') sung haltingly by the congregation in a backstreet chapel in Bayswater. In turn, note the natural imagery, both as referenced in the lyrics of the hymn and the cantata (the former speaks of earthquakes and a darkness that hides the sun, the latter refers to a storm that shakes the forest trees and causes the 'flying creatures' to flee - see February 25, above) and in the pointed contrast between sunny Marrakesh and a mostly grey and gritty London. In turn again, the film features different social classes from the poorest to the most privileged and the machinations of political assassins to the (initial) attempt of a middle-class American family to spend a quiet time together on holiday in North Africa. (Jean-Luc Godard, in his review of the film for 'Cahiers du Cinéma', noted that it had an almost 'documentary' aspect.) Circular Albert Hall and the massed choir and orchestra and soloist (mezzo-soprano Barbara Howitt) assembled there for the cantata are further reminders that both the scene and the film are like a microcosm of 'how things are'. It could have been overwhelming (in 1960 Hitchcock chose to observe, 'reality is something none of us can stand, at any time'), which may be the real meaning of the film's title (taken originally from G.K. Chesterton), as our director certainly had no special interest in gangster slang (where to 'know too much' is to invite being 'rubbed out'!). But of course, art is there to let us see what might otherwise elude us, and Hitchcock with his microcosms (in film after film, I would argue) knowingly obliged! Enough of that, though! I simply think the Albert Hall scene (1956 version, especially) is one of his very best. And I like Mark Padilla's observation (in 'Classical Myth in Four Films of Alfred Hitchcock', 2016) about the earlier version, that Jill (Jo in the 1956 version) 'aids democracy and the safety of all its [children]. She is a model for audience identification.' (p. 119) Technically, the 1956 film, in colour and Vistavision, is much more accomplished than the earlier one. I noticed, for example, that Hitchcock used a matte process to give 1956 viewers an especially high-and-wide view of the Albert Hall interior: see frame-capture below. In this shot, timed to the moment when the concert audience settles into silence just before the cantata begins (so a wide general view is appropriate), only the lit-up area is live-action: the rest is a painting. Notice that even a chandelier is included (a detail that obviously impressed one of the artists who designed the French publicity poster for the film, as s/he included it there). The film's 'special photographic effects' are credited to John P. Fulton (who also worked on Vertigo), so I am guessing that the painting is his. It anticipates the splendid work at Universal that matte artist Albert Whitlock would do for Hitchcock (e.g., high shots of Bodega Bay in The Birds). Lastly, this week, let me note what some people might consider a 'blooper'. The orchestra's cymbalist was described by Hitchcock as 'the one-note man' (in the whole cantata, he only has a single clash of cymbals to perform). By analogy, the assassin could be called 'the one-shot man' (he only has one chance to kill his target - the foreign prime minister - at the precise moment when the cymbals are clashed). Conveniently for the film, though, while Jo's scream causes the assassin's aim to waver, it has no effect on the cymbalist, who strikes the cymbals together in perfect symmetry (and loudness). (Arguably, his proximity to the orchestra 'deafened' him to her scream!) To be concluded.

March 4 - 2017
[Late, and with apologies - more on the 'Storm Cloud Cantata' scene/s next week. This week attended a screening of The Birds followed by a short two-woman discussion of Hitchcock's friendship with Sister Corita (Kent), the nun and screenprint artist who headed the art department at the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles between 1964 and 1968. Sister Corita appears to have invited Hitch to talk to her students, which he would have done gladly, as he basically enjoyed such occasions. (I remember the late Richard Franklin telling me how he had invited Hitch to talk to film students at USC, to 'answer a few questions'. Hitch had answered, 'Couldn't I do it over the telephone?' - but Richard had insisted he come on down. So Hitch accepted, with the proviso that 'no flippant questions [be asked], like, "When calling her mate, does Julie Andrews rub her hind legs together?"') KM]

February 25 - 2017
This week I had occasion to compare the Royal Albert Hall scenes in the two versions (1934, 1956) of The Man Who Knew Too Much, both featuring the 'Storm Cloud Cantata' composed for the original film by Australian composer Arthur Benjamin (at that time an instructor at the Royal College of Music) with lyrics by D.B. Wyndham Lewis, a London journalist and author of literary biographies. In terms of suspense, the cantata functions in both films a little like the nonsense verse 'Risselty-Rosselty' sung by the students at the Bodega Bay school in The Birds (1963): both pieces are relatively shapeless and drawn-out so that you don't know when they may end or reach their climax - which is particularly crucial in the cantata scene of TMWKTM (both versions) where a political assassination is set to happen at the climactic clash of cymbals (signifying a storm with its thunder and lightning, i.e., the forces of nature). Indeed, like The Birds itself, the 'Storm Cloud Cantata' scene in the two earlier films serves to remind us that humankind is part of nature and that the films are allegories of that fact. (The philosopher Schopenhauer referred to the blind, cruel cosmic 'Will', and that's arguably what is invoked here. Schopenhauer himself wrote that music 'parallels the world'.) The cantata can also be said to invoke an individual life in its various aspects, with the ever-present threat of death. This is especially appropriate to the 1956 TMWKTM, given that an early scene had shown Jo (Doris Day) singing a 'lullaby' to her son Hank (who will shortly be kidnapped) called "Whatever Will Be, Will Be". Murray Pomerance, in the section of his BFI monograph (2016) on the 1956 TMWKTM devoted to the Albert Hall scene, a section called "In Arcady", observes that the film 'emerges from a profoundly philosophical, even religious sensibility concerned with man's experience and place in the universe' (p. 69). He begins the section with the cautionary quotation, 'Et in Arcadia ego' ('And in Arcadia I am'), often understood to refer to the possibility of death even in Arcadia - which, by the way, could serve as the perfect epigraph for Hitchcock's previous film The Trouble with Harry (1955). But let's look more closely at the two 'Storm Cloud Cantata' scenes, for what their local detail tells us and how the two scenes subtly differ. The first thing to note is that the earlier scene, at about six minutes, is almost exactly half the length of the later one (about twelve minutes to the moment when Ben - James Stewart - rejoins Jo in the Albert Hall foyer after the assassination has been foiled). Note that the earlier performance was conducted by noted conductor Wynn Reeves (you can also see him in action here: Wynn Reeves, a realistic detail that Hitchcock was doubtless happy to include, just as he had shown the real-life boxing referee, Eugene Corri, officiating at the title-fight climax of The Ring (1927) - also set in the Albert Hall. (The conductor in the 1956 TMWKTM is of course film composer Bernard Herrmann, effectively standing in for Hitchcock as a person presiding over life and death. Interestingly, Hitchcock's cameo appearance in Rear Window, two years earlier, had been as a clock-winder (!) visiting the studio apartment of The Composer, who is seen to compose that film's theme tune "Lisa" in the course of the film.) Up to a point, the lyrics of the cantata are the same in both films, although the 1956 film appears to have added material - I can't be sure, though, as the English titles for the Criterion DVD of the 1934 film (beautifully restored, btw) aren't complete and it's difficult to make out the words by ear alone (I may set myself to check further this week). The first five lines are essentially the same: 'There came a whispered terror on the breeze, / And the dark forest shook,/ And on the trembling trees came nameless fear,/ And panic overtook each flying creature of the wild./ And when they all had fled ...' But at this point the 1934 version continues: 'God save the child' (soon repeated), a line which is not in the 1956 version. It's easy to see why that line was included in the 1934 film: firstly, because it's pertinent to the kidnapped Betty, a child in peril, and secondly, because it no doubt resonated with public sentiment of the times (after all, the English National Anthem, 'God Save the King', was regularly sung or played at public events or in cinemas in those days). The 1956 film, though, was made for an international audience and, indeed, that's one of the factors that seems to have inspired the film's Symbolist qualities. I'll talk more about that aspect next time (but note for now how the 1956 film includes an American couple and their son who are first seen visiting Marrakesh in Morocco - a Muslim country - and then chasing the boy's kidnappers to London, a chase that lands them at the Albert Hall, a building with multiple associations, secular if also elevated (I shan't call them religious). Here now is a frame-capture from the 1934 film: it shows Jill (Edna Best) clutching Betty's brooch which the kidnapper, Ramon, has just handed her to maintain her silence and inaction ...

February 18 - 2017
In saying last time that Hitchcock films can seem 'almost infinitely regressive', I was thinking of Vertigo (1958), of course. There, the audience initially (at any rate) identifies with James Stewart as Scottie, watching and falling in love with Judy - played by Kim Novak - who plays the false Madeleine playing the real Madeleine (never seen by us) who in turn appears possessed by 'Carlotta Valdes'. All very cinematic, and teasing. (And of course role-playing has a role (!) in real life, where in fact we all play roles, and often different roles for different people we know.) Also, it seems to me that once you admit 'real life' into the picture, what Nick Pinkerton in a recent issue of 'Sight and Sound' (February 2017, p. 105) called 'film critical discourse' can begin to flounder, because so often, being preoccupied with theory, it slights 'the actual practical and physical considerations of making a film'. From Vertigo, then, let's turn to a clear progenitor of it, Rebecca (1940). (I may come back to North by Northwest later.) Even Tania Modleski, in an excellent chapter appropriately called "Woman and the Labyrinth" (in the Second Edition of 'The Women Who Knew Too Much', 2005) simplifies how 'vertiginous' Rebecca is. In noting that the Joan Fontaine character appears unable to 'offer the male [anything] more than a vacuous self', she claims: 'In the film's fantasy, a woman's fantasy par excellence, the hero highly prizes the woman's insignificance' (p. 47, italics in original). Yes, the traumatised Maxim (prefiguring the traumatised Scottie) can no longer cope with reality in its fullness (which, I suggest, Rebecca - a kind of female Ubermensch - represents). He sentimentally tells the Joan Fontaine character never to be like her predecessor, never to be thirty-six and wear pearls and satin! (Scottie, too, is sentimental, which helps explain why he is attracted to 'Madeleine' - not because she is 'insignificant' but because she is effectively all-women-in-one, a kind of 'eternal feminine'. It's a different fantasy to Maxim's, yet it, too, involves a 'simplified' reality! I'll come back to this.) But why is the 'vacuous' Joan Fontaine character in Rebecca living a woman's fantasy necessarily? We can see what Modleski means: 'unreconstructed' women (non-feminists) may settle (or may once have settled) for being simply other-directed, out of false 'deference' to their husbands or boyfriends, say. (I suggested last time that North by Northwest is critical of persons who settle for being other-directed. It's a big issue, of course.) By Modleski's own words, it would seem that the fantasy is both a woman's and a man's. Not only does she say 'the hero highly prizes the woman's insignificance', but she has previously given a reason for that preference by Maxim (besides the fact that he had been tormented by Rebecca and was responsible for her death). Just one page earlier, Modleski had invoked psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan: 'The Imaginary stage is the same for both boys and girls. For males, however, it eventually becomes possible to deny the mother's physical superiority by asserting their anatomical difference from her, a denial which is enacted in many Hollywood films ... [including] films noir, the project of which ... is to bring the woman under the hero's visual and narrative control.' (pp. 45-46) That sounds like a male's fantasy to me, Maxim's included! True, Modleski has added: 'By contrast, the female, who is anatomically similar to the mother, has difficulty assuming such control: thus, rather than appropriating the power of the look, as the male does, the female allows herself to be determined by it' (in simplified terms, she learns submissiveness while believing 'she is herself' - p. 46). So maybe the term 'fantasy' is being used in a special sense by Modleski. Two things, though. First, she immediately adds that in Rebecca the situation is complicated by the difficulty of knowing what Maxim really desires: 'From the woman's point of view, then, the man becomes an enigma, his desire difficult to know.' (p. 48) Exactly. The Joan Fontaine character tries to please Maxim, but that's only his sentimental side! (My point is that until the boathouse scene - frame-capture below - both characters are lost in a vertiginous, fantastical situation.) And second, note again the observation that the girl, in Lacan's (and Eugénie Lemoine-Luccioni's) formulation, 'believes she is herself' - which is certainly true of the Joan Fontaine character, who is repeatedly finding out that she isn't in control at all, and literally isn't who she thought she was. My point would be: it's not only girls who can find that out! As noted here previously, Scottie in Vertigo is humiliated - and enraged - when he finds out that he has been manipulated right down the line by another male, Gavin Elster. He feels 'infantilised', or 'feminised', more than ever. (The same theme permeates Borges's "The Circular Ruins".) In turn, I would infer that Hitchcock in his films revelled in such vertiginous complications and left 'theory' to catch up with him as best it might.

February 11 - 2017
In the frame-capture below from North by Northwest, the craggy face of Roger Thornhill at Chicago Airport will shortly merge with the literally craggy faces of four American Presidents carved into the rock-face at Mount Rushmore. The slow dissolve from Roger's lit-up face (in the light of a taxi-ing plane) to the faces of the Presidents, seen in bright sunlight, allows him and us time to ponder the significance of what he has just been told by The Professor: that Roger's own actions helped endanger agent Eve Kendall, and now, even more than her (and doubtless Roger's) life, 'much more is at stake'. Indeed, the slow dissolve represents Roger's thought process concerning those words: an example of Hitchcock's subjective technique. But equally, at a more objective level, the dissolve can represent how Roger (and his face) are being asked, by the narrative (and The Professor), to merge with, and uphold, American values - or, rather, to submerge themselves to American values. That sounds good, but it verges on nonsense! At least, I believe that Hitchcock felt as much, and that's a reason why, a little later, in the pine forest, Roger tells The Professor that maybe it's time that America learned to start losing a few Cold Wars, rather than endanger people like Eve (and implicitly Roger). Also, Hitchcock would have known of E.M. Forster's famous (if controversial) words, 'If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.' On the other hand - given that all Hitchcock films are rhetorical - doubtless best of all would be if the act of saving Eve could also defeat Vandamm, which is what happens, of course. Now, in my chapter on "Hitchcock's Literary Sources" for 'A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock' (2011), I show how the Mount Rushmore sequence in North by Northwest, with its 'basilisk faces' of the Presidents, derives from the climax of the novel 'King Solomon's Mines' (1885) - filmed by MGM in 1950 - where the faces of the three 'Silent Ones' (colossi carved into the steep mountainside) are described as representing 'false divinities'. Let's come back, then, to Hitchcock's film. At Mount Rushmore, we hear Thornhill say, as he peers through a telescope, 'I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.' This, too, invites a charge of nonsense - it's George Washington, not Roosevelt, who peers superciliously (it may seem) downwards: the other three Presidents are either not looking towards the telescope's position at all (Jefferson, Roosevelt) or seem relatively benign (Lincoln). (To see a photo of the Monument, click here: Mount Rushmore.) So why this line in the film? Well, obviously it sounds more colloquial and in keeping. ('I don't like the way George Washington is looking at me', is relatively cold.) I don't think we're supposed to think that Thornhill, out of ignorance, has simply blundered - not at this stage in the film! And the line does allow The Professor to quote Roosevelt: 'Speak softly and carry a big stick [- you will go far].' That suggests both good sense and is suitably upbeat, which are pertinent factors at this concluding stage of the film, and where such good sense could usefully be shared in common by the Government and by Roger (at least, once he returns with Eve to normal life in NYC, suitably humbled, and content, where once he was thoughtless and obviously discontent). I don't know enough about Roosevelt to comment much further: I know that he was proud of his efforts at natural conservation (more than the current President, probably); on the other hand, someone like Mark Twain saw mainly Roosevelt's immaturity and showing off (see last time). This suggests to me that Hitchcock and Ernie Lehman considered Roosevelt and Roger somewhat alike! More broadly now, what does the Monument signify in the film? Based on what I have noted above, I would say that the carved heads of the Presidents are iconic, like those of film stars - larger than life but hardly real. For Roger, that means that they can be inspirational but not otherwise helpful. (That could be the point of the scene I cited last time, where Roger would have hidden in Lincoln's nostril, to no avail.) These are basilisk faces - potentially death-dealing. Roger has to learn to act on his own behalf, be his own man. (In the pine forest he does indeed say, 'I never felt more alive.') In short, he must be more than simply other-directed, which I take to be one of the 'lessons' of the British adventure-fiction tradition to which 'King Solomon's Mines' belongs. Of course, in the film Roger is played - performed - by Cary Grant, another film star. We, the audience, have to draw a lesson for ourselves from that. (Hitchcock films can sometimes seem almost infinitely regressive, if you see what I mean.)

February 4 - 2017
Reading Alan Nadel's essay on North by Northwest in 'The Cambridge Companion to Alfred Hitchcock' (2015) - see last time - I sensed some similarities to contemporary politics. (The Cary Grant character, Roger Thornhill, is initially a self-important buffoon who dwells mostly in a New York tower but - being nice-guy Grant, after all - learns in the course of the film to 'grow up' - a perennial Hitchcock theme. Crucial is his close-up encounter with the Presidency represented by the Mount Rushmore Monument. We hear him say, 'I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me', and I'll come back to that line.) Another essay in the same book, Sara Blair's "Hitchcock on Location: America, Icons, and the Place of Illusion", confirmed my feeling, especially when it appeared to liken Thornhill to the megalomaniac architect Gutzon Borglum (1871-1941) who conceived and supervised the carving of the Mount Rushmore Monument. (I'll come back to that, too.) Blair's underlying thesis is that Hitchcock's use of national monuments in his US films - such as the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur (1942), or the Golden Gate Bridge in Vertigo (1958) - involved suturing 'the reality effect of cinema to bedrock fantasies of a virgin land, infinitely available for American ingenuity' (p. 60). These films 'explore the synergies of site and cinematic setting in various registers' (p. 66). Naturally Blair spends some time on both Saboteur and Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the latter Hitchcock's 'first' American film in the sense that it was the first to make extensive use of location photography, spanning both East (New Jersey) and West (the 'typical' US town of Santa Rosa, in California). After all, 'westering' was a theme of American history, like 'Manifest Destiny' - the latter clearly inspiring Borglum. Blair, though, doesn't explain why Saboteur had moved in precisely the opposite direction, from west to east! Perhaps Hitchcock simply wanted a sense of comprehensiveness. As I once pointed out, he had done the same thing in some of his English films. (The 39 Steps not only circles from London to Scotland and back again, but begins in a tawdry East London music hall before climaxing in the much more up-market Palladium, the celebrated variety hall in West London.) Nor does Blair push some of her analyses to the limit. Still, I appreciated her use of a frame-still from the Statue of Liberty climax of Saboteur (see frame-capture below) and her comparing it to both an early photo of the 'Liberty' torch on separate display in Philadelphia in 1876 and to photographs (by Charles D'Emery) of the intrepid rock workers on the Mount Rushmore Monument that might almost have been scenes from North by Northwest itself! (I thought of Alan Nadel's point, quoted last time, about Hitchcock's exploitation for dramatic effect of differences in scale.) But look further at that climactic scene from Saboteur. Clearly it was shot in the studio, which reinforces Blair's point about 'the synergies of site and cinematic setting'. What she doesn't comment on is the teasing, subliminal contrast of that rust-proof metal hand and its steel rivets with the irony of the tearing threads in Fry's coat sleeve that will shortly send him plunging to his death. (Commented Ben Hecht, as quoted by Blair: 'He should have had a better tailor.') There's an anticipation here of the scene Hitchcock wanted for North by Northwest: Thornhill on Mount Rushmore hiding in Lincoln's nostril and having a sneezing fit. (Think about it. Also, note that Lincoln comes across as 'indifferent'.) And speaking of that film, nor does Blair more than mention in passing Borglum ('a sculptor known for his belligerent nativism and his ties to the Ku Klux Klan' - p. 72), although she has earlier referred to 'the interpenetration of land, landscape, and fantasies of a manifestly destined modern nation' (p. 68). It will be worth recalling a long article on North by Northwest this site ran for many years, including this observation: 'Frankly, I think it would have been Hitchcock's more snobbish side that most warmed to ... Borglum ... especially after he learned from his research that Borglum had been something of a "Nietzschean" and a fascist, quite contemptuous of the common man, i.e., what Roger Thornhill may be said to represent!' (Readers may like to compare my recent online analysis of Psycho for 'Senses of Cinema', which suggested a similar elitist vs populist split in Hitchcock! Marion Crane, in Hitchcock's words, is only 'an ordinary bourgeois'.) The article quoted Simon Schama's book 'Landscape and Memory' (1995), on how Borglum 'clung to a vision of redeeming heroes and roughriders: Nietzsches in Stetsons. He campaigned for Teddy Roosevelt ... and extolled Benito Mussolini as the sort of man who could really shake up the presidency ... When ... Borglum saw the cliff at Mount Rushmore, he experienced an immediate rush of exhilaration, as though he had identified a celestial platform from which America's Manifest Destiny could be surveyed.' Hmm. I have space to do no more this week than quote Mark Twain on Teddy Roosevelt (while I think of current politics): 'Mr Roosevelt is the Tom Sawyer of the political world of the twentieth century, always showing off; always hunting for a chance to show off; in his frenzied imagination the Great Republic is a vast Barnum circus with him for a clown and the whole world for audience.' So what is North by Northwest telling us? To be continued.

January 28 - 2017
On North by Northwest this time, and I'll refer to an essay by Alan Nadel, "Expedient Exaggeration and the Scale of Cold War Farce in North by Northwest" that's included in 'The Cambridge Companion to Alfred Hitchcock' (2015). (There's a continuity with the book on Henry James and Hitchcock that I have been citing here in recent weeks: Nadel is that book's co-editor.) After pointing out that North by Northwest constitutes farce (I would have used Hitchcock's own word 'absurdity', but never mind) - and in support referencing a book I admire, Eric Bentley's 1964 'The Life of the Drama' (so all is forgiven!) - Nadel proceeds to suggest that Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) becomes a mature American citizen by agreeing to impersonate the non-existent 'George Kaplan' (p. 164). Nadel's reasoning? In part, it has to do with Thornhill's being adaptable enough to see how the world was constituted during the Cold War: it was a virtual 'courtship narrative', centred on the United Nations, in which 'every state was always already potential partner and potential rival for other couplings' (meaning, new allies and new alliances). (Meanwhile the UN itself was an inequitable institution. As Nadel puts it: 'if all sovereign states are equal, a la the UN Charter, some states, a la Animal Farm, are more equal than others' - p. 165). And there was constant 'multilayered competitions with one another' by the UN member states, including armed conflicts, hence constant tension (pp. 166-67). (Elsewhere, I have recently argued that Hitchcock's films often take their effect from their broad suggestiveness, and Nadel seems to be indicating the same thing here: the film's own 'courtship narrative', with its alliances and rivalries, echoes that of the wider world.) Nadel points out that ad-man Thornhill's term 'expedient exaggeration' had contemporary parallels in 'quotations from Chairman Mao, Stalin's revisionist history, [and] the proliferation of adult Westerns on American television' (p. 168) And he suggests that Vandamm (James Mason) is 'in many ways Thornhill's kindred spirit' since both sell ideas and are a-moral (p. 169). (How does Vandamm 'sell ideas'? By force, I guess Nadel means.) 'But the most obvious doubling is that Vandamm and Thornhill are' lovers of Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) - who both seduce her by means of their 'ersatz accent[s] that converted a signifier of British nationality into a geographically unspecifiable cosmopolitanism - exactly the work that the UN Charter performed of masking nationalism through vague, contradictory allusions to globalism' (p. 169) (Hmm. I do find Nadel's claims a little forced, sometimes. Read on.) We are told that '[t]he commonality of the principals consolidates at the auction scene, the only time when all four [including The Professor, played by Leo G. Carroll] share the same space. Hitchcock shoots the scene as a relentless array of courtship triangles emulating the Cold War competition for partners among the member nations, ostensibly united by their common goals and interests. Grant and Mason, both in grey suits, white shirts, and grey ties square off against each other in perfect profile, with Eve directly between them.' (p. 171) (See frame-capture below.) Nadel also refers to contrasts in scale in the film: the difference, say, between the high-shot of Thornhill running like an ant away from the UN Building and the close-up through a telescope of the Presidential figures carved into Mount Rushmore. Equally, '[o]ur attention is twice called to Eve's tiny razor, and Thornhill locked into the upper birth of Eve's train compartment compares himself to a sardine' (p. 171). In sum, '[t]hese issues of scale, intimacy, romance, and nationalism are powerfully represented in the scene at the auction which pits the auras of the two stars against one another. Importantly, in that scene, the figurine [for which Vandamm bids] is larger, in terms of national security, than anything except the even smaller microfilm it contains. The brilliant and very peculiar framing in that scene makes vivid the interpersonal and international conflicts at stake in these issues of scale, while underscoring that both issues are characterized by courtship narratives.' (pp. 174-75) I'll conclude on a separate note. I'm grateful to Nadel for spotting where the Intelligence Agency person's line, 'Good bye, Mr Thornhill, wherever you are', may have come from: it seems that comedian Jimmy Durante's trademark signoff was 'Good Night, Mrs Calabash, wherever you are' - and the film's echo of it 'serves as a piece of meta-commentary signalling the film's farcical mode' (p. 179, n 20).

January 21 - 2017
Possibly the best of the essays in the 2012 book 'The Men Who Knew Too Much: Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock' (see last two items above) is Eric Savoy's "The Touch of the Real: Circumscribing Vertigo". I'll try and give its essence. First, the essay's title refers to Jacques Lacan's term 'the Real' (roughly, the ineffable and unknowable, that which lies 'beyond'), According to Savoy in a footnote: 'In Hitchcock's terminology, the Real is that which holds us "spellbound." Staging the encounter with the Real is Hitchcock's essential cinematic project.' (p. 228 n1) (I don't disagree with that, in fact I recently made a similar claim in analysing Hitchcock's TV shows and how they engage the viewer beyond their story content ...) Savoy suggests that Scottie (James Stewart) in Vertigo is initially traumatised by his near-escape from death by falling (see frame-capture below): this marks 'the return of the traumatic primal scene'. (p. 153) (Re the 'primal scene', see items for January 7 and 14.) Henceforth suspense can grip the viewer as Scottie's subjection to the 'death drive' becomes apparent, and he engages in a series of repetitions that characterise that drive (as Freud said). In Savoy's formulation: 'If James's and Hitchcock's protagonists are suspended between the desire to know all and the fear of that knowledge, it is also true that the deferral of the subject's traumatic undoing generates our pleasurable suspense in proportion ... again and again, we observe the protagonist [think: Scottie] circling the object [think: 'Madeleine'/Judy, as played by Kim Novak] that will be in time the locus of his traumatic undoing.' (pp. 143-44) Another Lacanian term that Savoy uses is 'captation', referring to Scottie's 'excessive fascination with the object' that will be shattered by what Lacan called 'a touch of the Real' (p. 145). Savoy sums up the argument to this point: 'If ... trauma is characterized by the unconscious repetition of an event that remains unfathomable, then Vertigo is an exemplary trauma narrative. Essentially, it grafts onto the traumatic residue of Scottie's vertigo - the chronic fear of falling - the plot of falling in love with a ghostly illusion.' And he adds: 'Madeleine is, from the get-go, an illusion, a pure allegory of cinematic desire itself; her function in the plot is to braid together the fearful fascination of Scottie's vertiginous drama of the primal scene with its unconscious repetition in the captation of that thing we call love. That "unspecifiable thing" that inheres in Madeleine we might hazard to specify as the death drive: the fatal attraction of the Real ...' (p. 153) Such a view of Vertigo can be elaborated by noting the role of Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) as a down-to-earth embodiment of the reality principle: 'as a foil not only to "Madeleine" as pure figment, but also to the entire assembly of Hitchcock's blondes [in film after film] ...' (p. 154) Savoy notes both 'Scottie's repeated circulation around the void of the Real that is Madeleine' and several upwards or downwards spiralling trajectories (as when Scottie ascends and descends steps or stairs, invoking what Donald Spoto calls 'the fear of falling and the desire to fall'), allowing this formulation by Savoy: 'The vertical spiral may be said to literalize the circuits of the death drive that are allegorized in Scottie's horizontal circlings around the illusory object'. (p 154) (Hmm. Why do I think of Scottie's line, 'You see, there's an answer for everything'?!) Two further observations now. First, Savoy splendidly finds parallels for much of the above in James's 'The Ambassadors' (1903), not least the depiction of Lambert Strether's fascination with the duplicitous Madame de Vionnet, and in particular the scene (Chapter 7) in a Notre Dame chapel where Strether circles behind her seated figure, evoking what James calls 'the museum mood' - which Savoy understandably matches with a similar scene in Vertigo in the Palace of the Legion of Honour art gallery. Second, Savoy is sensible enough to know that there is much more that could be said, along other lines, about Vertigo in particular. So he modestly concludes: 'Is to circumscribe Vertigo by way of James merely to perform, through a repetition of circling about, my own captation by a cultural object? The only certain conclusion is that relations really don't stop anywhere.' (p. 157)

January 14 - 2017
Last time, we visited one of the essays in the book 'The Men Who Knew Too Much: Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock' (Oxford, 2012), edited by Susan Griffin and Alan Nadel; and noted that situations reminiscent of the 'primal scene' (see last time) re-occur in the works of both James (e.g., 'The Golden Bowl') and Hitchcock (e.g., the Marnie flashback). The situation of Maggie Verver in 'The Golden Bowl' is 'is in many ways an extended primal scene' (again see last time) inasmuch that she comes to feel excluded from her own marriage to Prince Amerigo (who has resumed the affair he had been having with Maggie's friend, Charlotte). Another essay in the Griffin & Nadel book, "Hands, Objects, and Love in James and Hitchcock", by Jonathan Freeman, is specifically about 'The Golden Bowl' and Notorious (1946), but it mainly focusses on how both artists were not only masters of 'ocularcentrism' (matters of the visual, the eye) but of the haptic (matters of touch, of hands), with plenty of opportunity for showing intimate and erotic moments. True, but not new (information)! More exciting, actually, is "Specters of Respectability: Victorian Horrors in The Turn of the Screw and Psycho", by Aviva Briefel. James's classic ghost story (1898) is narrated by a man named Douglas, and somebody asks him at the very beginning, 'What did the first governess die of - respectability?' That word does indeed keep recurring, and the replacement governess, Miss Giddens - around whom the story revolves - is the daughter of a clergyman; her job as governess to two children, Flora and Miles, is her first position. Famously, her likely sexual repression, and hysteria, is the cause of her seeing the ghosts of Miss Jessel (the first governess) and Peter Quint (a former employee, who had had an affair with Miss Jessel); in a way, Miss Giddens is another person who feels sexually excluded, a victim of the 'primal scene'. Aviva Briefel argues that James is here utilising several Victorian literary tropes (e.g., red-haired, bold-looking Quint resembles a traditional stage villain), whereas Hitchcock, in Psycho, is more concerned to expose such tropes, while using them for what emotions they can still stir in viewers. Naturally, Briefel highlights the early scene between Marion (Janet Leigh) and Sam (John Gavin), in which Marion tells her lover, 'You make respectability sound disrespectful!' The subtly mocking tone has been set! Briefel then cites the term Victorianarum, meaning 'that horror which even nowadays is felt, at least to a slight degree, by almost anyone who visits a display of stuffed birds under glass, for example, or of Victorian dolls and doll's clothes' (p. 168). Briefel puts particular emphasis on the scene in which Lila (Vera Miles) searches the Bates house and comes upon the mother's bedroom filled with Victorian bric-à-brac: so uneasy is Lila feeling (and the audience with her) that she is visibly frightened at glimpsing her own image in a mirror, thinking that someone is watching her. (See frame-capture below.) This scene, we have previously suggested, is borrowed from James Whale's horror classic The Old Dark House (1932) - indicating, once again, how diligently the eclectic Hitchcock did research for ideas and effects - but Briefel cites another prototype of such a moment, one mentioned by Sigmund Freud in a footnote to his essay "The Uncanny" (1919) - so perhaps the makers of The Old Dark House had read their Freud! (See last time for how "The Uncanny" concerns itself with the 'primal scene'.) Here now is Briefel's cautious conclusion: 'the final resurrection of the voice of Norman's mother over her [mad] son's smiling face proves that Hitchcock does not let go of Victorian repression as an effective gothic trope. In the end, the film experiences a return of the repressed that brings back the idea of repression itself. Rather than trace a progress narrative from The Turn of the Screw to Psycho, then, we might view them as works in progress. They attest to the fact that it is not easy - nor perhaps is it completely desirable - to abandon the Victorian myth altogether. We are too reliant on it, both as an artistic trope and as an iconic image against which we define ourselves.' (p. 173)