Editor's Week 2019

December 28 - 2019
John Billheimer's book 'Hitchcock and the Censors' (see previous items here, above) contains its incidental insights into Hitchcock's caginess and versatility in matters of censorship. For example, I enjoyed reading about his tactic when sitting with the secretary of the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC), Joseph Wilkinson, who was half-blind, to watch a censorship preview of a new Hitchcock film. According to Hitchcock (cited by Billheimer), whenever a potentially censorable moment was coming up, Hitchcock would say, 'Mr Wilkinson' - who would invariably 'turn his head towards me [so that] the scene went by on the screen without his seeing it'! (p. 39) (For the first part of the 1930s, British studios weren't required to submit a copy in advance of the screenplay of each film - so the censorship screening might be all the censors had to go on!) Of course, there were other factors that could affect scripting and censorship of Hitchcock's British films - like the fact that prints of his Gaumont British films were also screened in America, and had to comply with that country's own censorship rules. Thus Billheimer notes of Jamaica Inn (1939) that although it 'was a British picture, Joe Breen's Hollywood office dictated the occupation of the villain [not a minister of religion, as in the novel, but a local magistrate], the level of violence in the pirate encounters, the incidence of profanity, and even the mind-set of the villain in his final scenes [where he has clearly gone mad]'. (p. 55) One interesting chapter in Billheimer's book is the one on Notorious (1946). Billheimer claims that the film is one of the few Hitchcocks 'that were actually improved by the involvement of the Production Code'. (p. 119) There are some amusing insights on show. David Selznick, who eventually sold the project to RKO as a package (Hitchcock, Ingrid Bergman, the script), was initially sceptical about 'uranium' as the film's MacGuffin. But he was persuaded to accept it when Hitchcock and Ben Hecht told him that they would include some shots of atomic bomb tests. Exploding the bomb 'makes the whole thing real', Selznick told the director, 'and will give the picture size and spectacle'. (p. 120) On every side, though, the developing project ran into censorship problems, and not just the matter of referring to the atomic bomb before it was officially 'unveiled' at Hiroshima. Hitchcock and Hecht stumbled on something else that was too close to the truth for American officialdom - the secret working of FBI anti-Nazi agents in South America. J. Edgar Hoover learned of this aspect of the script and ordered that all references to the FBI be eliminated. Another concern came from the already-mentioned Joseph Breen, of the MPPDA (Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America), whose job was to ensure that films complied with the so-called Hays Code of censorship. The evident 'loose morals' of Alicia Huberman (Bergman), daughter of a traitor, worried him. He appreciated that her outlook had been soured by her father's actions, and he made several suggestions about her character, notably that she not be portrayed as a prostitute but simply as a woman determined 'to get what she can out of life, without paying any personal price for it'. (p. 121) Another script-change involved the dropping of the words 'cyanide' and 'arsenic' (although Hitchcock had got away with a scene in Suspicion where arsenic is mentioned - see December 7, above). Also dropped was a scene with a character named Ernest who would have been shown living with the (unmarried) Alicia at the start of the film. In return, it appears that Hitchcock was allowed to keep most of the drinking footage at Alicia's Miami party, including the shot of the drunken couple on the couch, a sight gag described by Billheimer as 'replicating the pose of Michelangelo's Pietà' (p. 124) - see frame-capture below. Another astute observation by Billheimer concerns the character of Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), whose portrayal was 'greatly improved by the suggestions and strictures of the Production Code: first, by Joe Breen's suggestion that the plot would be well served if Sebastian had at one time been in love with Alicia, and second, by the fact that Alicia's mission of "sleeping with the enemy" could most easily be carried out under the Code if she were to marry Sebastian. These two elements combined to make Alex Sebastian one of the most sympathetic villains in Hitchcock's works.' (p. 126) In sum, Notorious provides splendid evidence for how much creativity springs from hard necessity - such as the 'rules' of censorship!

December 21 - 2019
Friends of this site/page! Because for many of us it's a particularly busy time of year, this blog is placed 'in suspense' for a week or two.

Meanwhile, I've been lucky enough to start reading a very fine book on film, albeit digital only, by Tag Gallagher. It's on the films of John Ford - this new work not to be confused with Dr Gallagher's authoritative earlier book on that topic. He writes with a lifetime's knowledge and love of Ford's full oeuvre. Here's a link to download a PDF of the book's contents. John Ford. End-of-year greetings to all our readers! KM

December 14 -2019
More on 'Hitchcock and the Censors' by John Billheimer. One of the taboo phrases mentioned last time, 'Oh, you go and phone yourselves', turns out to have been in the script for Stage Fright (which we've been discussing here recently). The censors recognised this as 'a paraphrase of [an] offensive vulgarism and, accordingly, is unacceptable' (pp. 163-64). So much for the screenwriter's, i.e., Whitfield Cook's, ingenuity! However, the censors' main objection was to parts of Marlene Dietrich's 'The Laziest Gal in Town' number, including some of the lyrics - which were duly modified. [Frame-capture below.] In addition - and I find this an interesting insight into Hitchcock's typical thinking about detail - 'The Code censors also warned against showing the female stars in "short panties" or "underwear," effectively thwarting Hitchcock's plans to make Stage Fright sexier by "taking advantage of theater traditions of casual backstage undress."' (p. 164) Billheimer doesn't only mention censorship matters. He notes, for example, that there have been other films with 'lying flashbacks', notably Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (also 1950), as has been noted here in "Editor's Week" as well. What he doesn't mention is that there was a third 1950 film, Anthony Asquith's detective-mystery The Woman in Question, that includes such a flashback, thus providing further evidence, I think, of how Hitchcock often chose his latest project to coincide with something that was 'in the air' at the time - but a project that would be sufficiently 'different' to make it distinctive. (For example, in some respects Under Capricorn 'echoes' Laurence Olivier's Hamlet of the previous year, such as a situation that requires simply a single word or action to resolve it: Olivier described Hamlet as 'a tragedy about a man who can't make up his mind'. Certainly Hitchcock took several cast and crew members from Olivier's film.) (For noting The Woman in Question as pertinent to Stage Fright, I thank Martin P.) Billheimer adds this observation: 'The 1959 film The Usual Suspects is built on a series of flashback lies, and Hitchcock himself had inserted one in his silent film Champagne, using it to depict an imaginary assault.' (p. 165) No less informative is Billheimer's chapter on Vertigo. For one thing, he notes that Paramount lawyers raised objections to the script even before the Production Code censors saw it. The lawyers objected to parts of the coroner's oily summing-up at the inquest into Madeleine's death, remarking that it 'overstepped the bounds of judicial fairness and propriety'. (Who better to offer such a judgement?! But maybe, as lawyers, they over-reacted in this case?) They further felt that 'because there was only one coroner in San Benito County, any derogatory depiction of the character in the movie could be taken as a direct slur on a real-life individual and potential grounds for libel'. (pp. 221-22) (Again, this seems excessive to me! Audiences understand the difference between a fictional character and a real-life one.) The Studio's legal department suggested 'putting the offending speech in the mouth of a prosecutor or advocate, rather than a coroner acting in a judicial capacity. Hitchcock ignored this advice' - although screenwriter Sam Taylor did slightly modify the coroner's speech by moving some lines and '"changing rhythms"'. (p. 222) Similarly, Hitchcock made no major changes in response to the censors' suggestions about certain scenes, such as Scottie's momentary embarrassment when telling Madeleine that he had undressed her while she was unconscious after jumping into the Bay. 'At this stage of his career, [Hitchcock's] reputation was secure, and he was confident in his ability to bargain with the Code office, whose power was beginning to decline.' (pp. 222-23)

December 7 - 2019
This week I started to read the new book 'Hitchcock and the Censors' (University Press of Kentucky) by John Billheimer. The book devotes a few pages to every Hitchcock feature film, with a chapter on Hitchcock's television work. Naturally a considerable amount of space is devoted to Hitchcock's battles with Hollywood's Production Code Administration (PCA) headed by one Joseph Ignatius Breen from 1934 until his retirement twenty years later. Breen was a devout Catholic and, notes Billheimer, 'a rabid anti-Semite' (p. 19). Here's a small taste of what filmmakers were now up against. The following partial list of words and phrases excised from Hitchcock films over the years is provided by Billheimer on p.3. "hell", "damn", "damned", "you ass", "harpie", "Oh, my God", "lived in hell", "lovers", "tramp", "for God's sake", "Lord", "proposition", "lovely", "oh, Lord", "assignation", "bastards", "tomcat", "louse", "my dear boy", "connubial", "cripes", "lecherous", "I wish to God", "sissy", "jeeze", "mistress", "impotent", "thingummy", "Fire!", "So help me God", "disorderly house", "punks", "Oh,you go and phone yourself", "frustration", "son of a ---", "bazooms", "fanny", "libido", "slut", "lousy", "stinks", "arsenic", "cynanide". So far, I'm not unduly impressed by what Billheimer's book says or doesn't say. (I'm grateful for quite a few footnotes referencing my own book on Hitchcock, but I find it ironic that he quotes from the 1999 American edition from Taylor Publishing - now gone out of business, I think! - which was itself cut down from the English edition and, to my mind, bowdlerised to save space after the publishers changed the original format! And at least one of those footnotes in Billheimer, footnote 22 in the Under Capricorn chapter, is simply wrong - there is no such passage in my book!) Let's take one or two examples of what I mean, based on the above list of words and phrases. You would think Billheimer would note exceptions to the omission of supposedly taboo words. For example, "arsenic". Billheimer explains that the censors didn't want specific poisons named, lest it aid potential poisoners. Well, Hitch got that word past the PCA on at least one occasion, namely, in the dinner scene in Suspicion (1941). The coroner brother of the crime writer Isobel Sedbusk has been invited to dinner in her cottage hosted by Isobel and attended by the Aysgarths, Johnnie (Cary Grant) and Lina (Joan Fontaine), as well as by a mannishly-dressed woman. Note: mannishly-dressed women were another taboo, according to Billheimer. The particular woman in this scene is either another of Isobel's siblings or else Isobel's lesbian lover! Perhaps by not making that explicit, Hitchcock gave himself what Billheimer calls a bargaining chip, and the director used it, as so often, to get something else through. In this case, the censors allowed the following moment. Johnnie, who seems suddenly interested in poisons, preferably untraceable ones, mentions one he's heard something about. And the coroner brother (who is carving a chicken) exclaims with relish, 'Ah, arsenic!'. See frame-capture below. Perhaps another bargaining chip used by Hitchcock to keep this reference (instead of being forced to use the generic term 'poison') is that the coroner goes on to note that the poisoner in question was caught. Still, Hitch seems to have delighted in breaking two taboos in one scene! Nor, when discussing Psycho (1960), does Billheimer mention what some of us - and surely Hitchcock! - would call a delightful variant on the Suspicion scene. Sam (John Gavin) and Lila (Vera Miles) go searching for Lila's missing sister, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), and call upon the local sheriff (John McIntire) and his wife (Lurene Tuttle). Soon the sheriff is reminiscing about what he calls 'that bad business' that happened at the Bates Motel about ten years ago. What the sheriff thinks happened will turn out to be a little inaccurate, but it's graphic enough! 'Mrs Bates', he says, 'poisoned this guy she was involved with, when she found out he was married, then took a helping of the same stuff herself. Strychnine. Ugle way to die!' More next time.

November 30 - 2019
The above is a frame-capture from Hitchcock's Murder! with German subtitles. No, it's not from Mary, the German-language version of Murder! (!) It shows the transvestite/gay Handell Fane (Esmé Percy) in drag as he comes offstage from the seeming farce onstage, and his hands are on his hips, possibly because he has seen that the police are questioning people backstage about the recent murder of Edna Druce, whom he had indeed killed because she was threatening to 'out' him. (Those were the good ol' days!) He's going to tough it out. Meanwhile, Hitchcock has fun keeping us wondering just what that onstage play is about! As Fane exits, we glimpse a female character shooing him away, sympathetically, and wonder what could the situation possibly be? Maybe Fane's character has had to dress in drag in order to visit her, and now someone has arrived who might see them together? Ted Markham (Edward Chapman), the stage manager, now tells the police that Fane is 'our leading man'. Puzzle that one out - not made easier by the fact that, a little later, Ted tells the police that another actor, Ion Stewart (Donald Calthrop), is 'our heavy lead'. While I'm not sure exactly what that means (anyone?), the character doesn't look like a heavy. In fact, I thought the term meant much the same as 'leading man'. At any rate, it's interesting that this character is dressed as a police constable - a possible clue to the film's viewers who have heard that a policeman was seen near the scene of the crime but had disappeared. But it's not to be that easy! A few moments later, Fane prepares to go back onstage, and this time he, too, is wearing a constable's uniform. Meanwhile, backstage, another male actor is readying himself. We then see a stage-hand help him with a quick change - into the drag that Fane had been wearing. So again I say, work that one out! To keep the farcical element going, this character is bound with ropes by the stage-hand and Ted. Finally, his roped-up figure jump-hops onstage, and we hear the play's audience laugh in delight! The scene then fades out. More broadly now. The film's main character and eventually the principal investigator of the murder is Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall) who had first learned of what had happened when he served on the jury at the trial of actress Diana Baring (Norah Baring), (wrongly) charged with Edna Druce's murder. Sir John is an actor-manager who, typically of such figures in his day (after the First World War), tried to avoid touring companies, like Edna Druce's, preferring to stay in London and depend entirely on West End runs. Although he alone, of the jury members, is convinced of Diana's innocence, he fails to convince the others, and she is found guilty. Shocked out of his considerable narcissism and comfortable lifestyle, Sir John decides that he personally must investigate the case, and try to save Diana from the gallows. He goes back to the provincial town where the murder occurred, enlisting the help of Ted and Doucie Markham - Ted's wife, who, like her husband, belongs to the touring company - to seek out fresh information. 'This is not a play but life', we hear Sir John muse. Which is the theme of the film, simplified! The trouble is, everywhere that Sir John turns, people insist on playing roles! Even his fellow jurors had behaved as a 'chorus' and had smothered the spark of insight that he had concerning Diana's innocence. Accordingly, we now watch as Sir John must exert all of his considerable intellect combined with the lessons of his art (as he himself notices) in order to uncover the far-from-simple truth. For instance, Fane, the alleged villain, had been driven to commit murder by the vindictiveness of Edna Druce. In those days, to be outed as a homosexual (or 'half-caste' as the film euphemistically has it) was no small matter. Full marks to Hitchcock for using his film to suggest that 'gender' is itself a fluid matter, and itself subject to the role-playing that society allocates. Sexual ambiguity had always fascinated Hitchcock. In Murder!, notice that nearly all the members of the touring company have characteristics of both sexes. For instance, there's Tom Truitt (Gus McNaughton), a married man but with a squeaky voice like a woman's! In the courtroom scenes, we see both mannish women and effeminate men. Hitchcock knew what he was doing, all right!

[Separate matter. I'm aware that the frame-captures we publish here appear quite tiny on mobile phones. My technical person, Alex (an amazing guy), has suggested to me a work-around. He suggests that I publish larger pics in future. Starting next week, then, I'll probably try that. KM]

November 23 - 2019
"Editor's Week" definitely will resume next weekend. Technical problems are - largely - overcome, Alex has assured me! Below is a pictorial 'clue' to the main film I want to discuss next time, or anyway a quite intricate - and possibly deliberately confusing! - brief scene from it. KM

November 2 - 2019
For some time, I've been aware that this particular page of our site show at less than optimum width on mobile phones. My helpful technician friend, Alex F, assures me that he's working to fix this - but without great success so far. So I feel disinclined to post here at length until it happens. In short, looks like there'll be no blog this week. Sorry. KM

October 26 - 2019
I said last week that I'd indicate 'one or two script weaknesses' of Hitchcock's Stage Fright. So this week's item may largely take a negative approach, and I apologise for that! First of all, I absolutely concur with Robin Wood that after the film's establishing scenes featuring the character Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd), the character disappears from the story for an inordinate length of time, making his eventual re-appearance (in the wings of the theatre where Charlotte - Marlene Dietrich - is performing "The Laziest Gal in Town") distracting. The character himself is described in the script (by Whitfield Cook) as 'a trifle weak' - but that's no reason for several of his scenes to be weak too! (That would be taking Hitchcock's 'subjective technique' too far!) As Jonathan will turn out to be the film's bad guy, Hitchcock wasn't following his own rule, 'The stronger the villain, the stronger the film!' Nor is it particularly audience-engaging that, during a scene where Eve (Jane Wyman) has taken Jonathan to hide out from the police at her father's house on the lonely Essex Marshes, the character sleeps for much of the time! When he finally wakes, he acts hysterically, destroying Charlotte's blood-stained dress by throwing it on the fire - then soon afterwards asks to be allowed to go back to sleep. Later, towards the end of the film, the police do catch up with Jonathan and take him into custody - but, rather implausibly, bring him to the theatre rather than back to Scotland Yard. (But of course Jonathan has to be present in the theatre for the film's big showdown scene with Eve, whom he is holding captive under the stage!) Round about here, the script seems weak in another way, when, unexpectedly, almost casually, the police announce that they know that Jonathan - not Charlotte - is 'the murderer'. Again the plot-mechanics are showing, especially when the police add, 'And he's killed before' - which is necessary in order to establish the threat to Eve. Suddenly, too, it's now clear that Charlotte is indeed innocent of the actual murder of her husband - but that she had incited Jonathan to kill him so that she could take her manager, Freddie Williams (Hector MacGregor), as her lover. Jonathan, though, had been duped into thinking that Charlotte preferred him. (All of this complex - over-complex? - plotting effectively brings Stage Fright into the territory of a whodunnit - the very form that Hitchcock himself would say lacks the suspense he had always favoured, at least since his earlier theatre-centred film Murder!, made in 1930.) Nor, incidentally, is Freddie Williams particularly well-established as a memorable tough-guy character, although he does speak a threatening line about Jonathan and his family - and the script indicates that his mind should frequently seem on food, perhaps as a sign of his callous disregard for others' welfare. The film does have at least one extended sequence that is memorable, namely, the 'theatrical garden party' in the rain (which occasions toothy Joyce Grenfell's comic cameo as a spruiker, inviting patrons to 'shoot lovely ducks!'). Even here, I felt a certain casualness about the script. Eve has volunteered to sell programmes, but the plot doesn't have much time for such 'extra business'. Accordingly, it shows her quickly dumping two separate piles of programmes she has been given (for the first such occasion, see frame-capture below), and, a-typically for a Hitchcock film, absolutely nothing else is done with them. Ironically, Stage Fright meant a lot to Hitchcock personally, being loosely based on the Thompson-Bywaters murder case from the 1920s. Not only does Edith Thompson seem from most reports a 'wrong woman' figure, sent to the gallows at age 28 with her lover Frederick Bywaters, 20, who was the actual murderer of Thompson's husband: to the end, Bywaters insisted that she had known nothing of his intention to kill. In addition, Hitchcock had met Edith Thompson's family, the Graydons, after having been a pupil at Edith's father's dancing classes, and having become friends with Edith's younger sister, Avis, with whom he kept in touch for many years.

October 19 – 2019
If you haven't watched Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950) lately, it may be high time you did! This comedy-thriller has its charms, not least all its wonderful English character-actors (Alistair Sim, Sybil Thorndike, Kay Walsh, Miles Malleson, Joyce Grenfell). It also has its script weaknesses - I'll mention one or two later. Granted, there's not the urgency and level of involvement here that we experience in watching top-shelf Hitchcocks like Rear Window and Psycho. Those latter films are like the 'deep music' described by T.S. Eliot: '... music heard so deeply/That it is not heard at all, but you are the music/While the music lasts'. A lot of the time, Stage Fright seems to invite us to sit back and enjoy its gentle comedy and its ingenuity, typically in the scenes involving aspiring actress Eve Gill (Jane Wyman). It turns out that Eve has a mistaken view of how things are (for example, she thinks that Charlotte Inwood/Marlene Dietrich is a murderess), and that's a source of comedy as she is constantly trying to extricate herself from her difficulties, even (at the end) finding her life imperilled from an unexpected quarter. Each time, though, she rises to the occasion and 'improvises' her way out of trouble. For much of the time, her father (Sim) acts as her 'producer', notably when he 'casts' her opposite Charlotte in a dressing-room bluff, 'performed' before a hidden microphone. Actually, it's a bluff-within-a-bluff (almost a 'play-within-a-play'), as Eve is already posing as a maid to Charlotte by passing herself off as 'Doris Tinsdale'. At one point, we see her consult a list of her duties, rather like an actress who has forgotten her lines and must refer to her script! But she bravely carries on in the true 'show business' tradition, an echo of what Detective-Inspector Smith (Michael Wilding) had told her in a taxi: 'the show must go on'! (The taxi scene is a small gem, although I seem to remember that critic Robin Wood criticised Wyman's 'over-acting' here, which is perhaps to have missed the point - what I've called the films ingenuity in showing how life and theatre overlap.) During the taxi scene, as Eve struggles to keep up her pretense as 'Doris' - while finding herself starting to fall in love with the kindly Smith! - he even tells her that she has 'a strong sense of the dramatic'. Later, when he has found out that she is really Eve, not 'Doris', he compliments her on her 'extremely clever' acting in the taxi. (His 'finding out' is like a 'peripeteia' - moment of revelation - in a play.) Ironically, love-stricken Eve now confesses that her attraction to Smith is real: 'I wasn't acting!' And so on. I've talked about the film's ingenious overlapping of staginess and real-life in a previous "Editor's Week", so shan't say much more about that. But I would like to turn now to Stage Fright's opening credits-scene. As everyone notices, a theatre's safety-curtain is seen to slowly rise, revealing not the stage but a 'real' view of London (including bombed-out ruins and the distinctive dome of St Paul's Cathedral). With a cut to ground-level, we are in the midst of action: Eve and her friend Jonathan (Richard Todd) are in the latter's sports-car, speeding away from the City. Hitchcock liked such contrasts of slow/fast/slow: think of Waltzes From Vienna which, after a static credits-sequence, begins with the camera aboard a fire-cart speeding to put out a blaze at Ebenezer's Pastry Shop. Perhaps more significantly, that rising safety-curtain feels slightly mysterious, like the three bamboo blinds that rise by themselves, one after the other, behind the opening credits of Rear Window. In both cases, the presence of an invisible 'force' is hinted at; interestingly, quite a few other Hitchcock films are like that (Psycho and The Birds, for instance). And Hitchcock does his best to keep such a dynamism operative throughout each film - it is surely the foundation of a rising suspense. More than once, he subtly reminds us of the film's opening. For example, minutes into Stage Fright, after Jonathan's 'lying flashback' (which somehow seems appropriate in this film) has begun, we see him in his apartment with a distressed Charlotte. 'The curtains, Johnnie, draw the curtains!' she exclaims. And a few minutes later, as Jonathan makes a bolt for his car to elude the pursuing police, he scrambles into the driver's seat and hastily locks the car doors. The police arrive and pound on its windows, but they don't break. With an almost smug look, Jonathan glances at the words 'safety glass' imprinted on each window. (See frame-capture below.) Then he speeds away. When the police try to follow him in their own car, they are suddenly blocked by a large horse-drawn cart which slowly crosses in front of them. And so on, again! (The words 'safety glass' are surely a subliminal reminder of the safety-curtain seen earlier. What un-safety, i.e., danger, lies ahead, we may wonder?!) To be continued.

August 31 - 2019
'Reality, and people, will always exceed philosophy!' That's what we said here last time about Hitchcock's 'black comedy', Rope. Well, the same message applies in the equally 'black' The Trouble With Harry (1955), although the latter film's 'tone' is quite different. In the sense we are talking about, 'grim' (Rope) and 'charming' (Harry) are both adjectives that can apply to black comedy. In the above films, their subject is death - but treated by Harry for laughs, and (it may seem) slightingly. Philosophy might even support such an approach. After all, from a philosophical standpoint, Bruno in Strangers on a Train (1951) has a point when he asks: 'What's a life or two, Guy?' Thousands of people die every day, both from natural causes and from human intervention (e.g., in wars or on the roads). (Such a paradox is indeed raised in Rope, with its references to the recent World War.) One of the true excellences about Hitchcock's 'masterful' films is the assurance with which they tackle such subject-matter, seldom or never applying a false emphasis. (Only people who know little about Hitchcock may initially mistake his films for 'bad taste'.) So to Harry, now. That it is concerned with 'reality' is quickly made apparent within its opening minutes by the contrast between 4-year-old Arnie's plastic toy gun and the sudden sound of real gunfire, that sees him instinctively diving for cover. Even now, Hitchcock quickly throws in an added 'red herring' by introducing Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) with his hunting-rifle. Seemingly there are 'degrees' of killing, or culpability for killing, we're reminded. To the 'Captain' (he is scarcely that, we learn later), taking 'a pot-shot at a rabbit' is 'harmless'. Hmm, tell that to the rabbit! And the self-deceiving Captain represents the same trait in all of us, surely. More of Hitchcock's human content, notice. But I don't want to miss the central points of Harry. Obviously, one of those is the contrast between the dead Harry Worp and the marvellous sense of 'life' the film - set in a gloriously autumnal Vermont - shows at every turn. On this one day (or two) in Vermont, several new relationships spring into being, all of them charming. But there seems to be a deeper point here. I'm always disappointed, as Hitchcock must have been, when I find that some people don't 'get' the film's charm. These people seem to grow impatient, their typical complaint being, 'But this isn't a Hitchcock film!' They have been 'conditioned' to know what a Hitchcock film is - supposedly - and can't appreciate Harry on its own terms (photography, score, performances, wit, and more). Which is a great pity. Especially as the film's tone is telling us something, I believe. These people's thinking is like what the philosopher Schopenhauer characterised as the principium individuationis, the fact of our 'entrapment' in everyday modes of thinking because of the way we each exist in space and time, and can seldom break away from - although Schopenhauer suggested that art and philosophy do offer us ways out, if fleeting or imperfect. Whereas, the marvellous bonding of the film's couples (e.g., Sam with Arnie's widowed mother, Jennifer; the Captain with Miss Gravely) might be, or actually is, representative of the state of 'liberated' detachment from everyday powerlessness that Schopenhauer (and Hitchcock?) offer us. Detachment? Just look at the film's artist, Sam (John Forsythe), whom the millionaire calls a 'genius' - which perfectly accords with Schopenhauer's advocacy of 'genius' to show us the liberated way out. Sam is clearly indifferent to matters like money (!) that preoccupy most people. Determined to cut Miss Gravely's hair to transform her into 'the true Miss Gravely ... timeless with love and understanding' (see frame-capture below), Sam hastens to the street-stall outside to get the scissors he needs. The millionaire is waiting there, interested in buying all of Sam's paintings. But Sam merely waves the scissors at him ('Here we are!') and returns inside - whereupon the millionaire drives away. Later, Sam comes across Harry Worp's body, lying on the hillside, and - indifferent to death itself (it may seem) - he falls to sketching the dead man's face. (All the principals in Harry seem indifferent to death!) Fortunately, the millionaire returns that night, after the close of business. This time, he corners Sam and asks him to name a price for his paintings. But, even now, Sam is true to form. He waives the offer of money and settles for gifts for his friends. For himself, he whispers something in the millionaire's ear. (It's a double-bed for himself and Jennifer!) But we were speaking of Harry as a black comedy. Significantly, the film is repeatedly fading to black - not a device that Hitchcock often used.

Happy to say ... after a working-holiday, I'm back. See the newly-added News item, below. Enjoy! Please note: "Editor's Week" resumes next week. KM

August 24 - 2019
Alfred Hitchcock was always given to 'black humour'. Well, not always. It isn't really apparent in his English films, which are typically 'kaleidoscopic' in their depiction of English and foreign scenes and manners - most notably in his celebrated series of cross-country chase-thrillers of the 1930s (e.g., Young and Innocent). Once Hitchcock arrived in America, however, the films typically grew more concentrated and 'thematic' in emphasis. Two films in particular are essentially black-humoured - Rope (1948) and The Trouble With Harry (1955) - while several others show definite signs of it, films such as Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), and Family Plot (1975). Also, of course, black humour informed many of Hitchcock's TV shows. Representative is "Arthur" (AHP, 1959), in which a confirmed bachelor and chicken farmer (Laurence Harvey) decides to rid himself of his pesky girlfriend (Hazel Court) by killing her and using her body to make super-rich chicken food! Many of those TV shows were adapted from short stories - which may be where Hitchcock first became regularly exposed to literary black humour. (His first anthology of suspense stories, '14 Suspense Stories to Play Russian Roulette By', came out in 1945.) So what is black humour? Let's say it typically involves what may seem an off-hand, if not flippant, attitude to death: a serious subject treated in a humorous or oblique way - which may actually be very effective in bringing out the subject's gravity. I think I mentioned recently how Hitchcock and the philosopher Schopenhauer are alike in employing a persona that is mock-lugubrious or seemingly given to an over-pessimistic outlook. (Commentator and essayist Susan Neiman has indeed spoken of Schopenhauer's 'black humour'.) Much of Hitchcock's TV persona is certainly like that. Marriage (not death, notice!) is often Hitchcock's target - although it may be linked with death! The very first story, "Never Kill For Love", by C.B. Gilford, in that 1945 anthology, begins: 'It is perhaps a truism that marriage is often the first step towards murder.' Black humour, undoubtedly! But a film like Rope is more complicated. Its humour involves a serious absurdity, or grotesquerie, personified by the character of Brandon (John Dall) who persuades his partner Phillip (Farley Granger) to join him in murdering a young Harvard undergraduate in order to 'prove' their superiority. The film begins with the young man's murder, by strangulation, in Brandon's luxurious penthouse apartment which has expensive paintings on its walls. Brandon considers that murder is itself an art, and accordingly the supposed 'perfect murder' of the young man shows that Brandon is as good as any artist. We can readily imagine what filmmaker Hitchcock thought of such logic. The film now proceeds with several further grotequeries, each a source of dark humour. The two murderers celebrate their 'cleverness' by drinking champagne. They hide the body in a large wooden chest, then prepare to receive party-guests including the youth's father and aunt and Brandon's prep-school professor, Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), who had given Brandon and Phillip their 'Nietzschean' ideas. As a 'master-stroke', Brandon suddenly decides to serve food for the guests from off the wooden chest. The height of hubris! As for black humour, we need to see the film's broad concept. It's actually more than life versus death, Hitchcock's regular theme. There's plenty of incidental humour, yes, but the absurdity I mentioned surely proceeds from the hubristic use of Nietzsche by Brandon to rationalise 'something deep inside' him (as Rupert says) - what Schopenhauer called the intelligible character (as opposed to the empirical character) - which makes Brandon think and act the way he does. Against the dictates of the intelligible character, philosophy is relatively impotent, and I take that to be the film's 'lesson'. Both Phillip and Rupert cut their hands, as if to remind us that they, too, have 'blood on their hands' - despite their relative 'passivity' compared with Brandon's executive role in the murder. Each man has limited vision (Phillip as artist/pianist, Rupert as teacher/philosopher), but eventually Rupert is able to rise above himself in order to speak key lines. 'Did you think you were God, Brandon?' he asks. And then notes: 'Until now, the world was dark to me. But now I know that we're each a separate human being ...' That's surely true! And philosophy, with its generalisations, is like the fall-guy of Rope's black humour. Reality, and people, will always exceed philosophy! Next time I'll probably look at The Trouble With Harry, still in the context of black humour. Frame-capture below shows Brandon and Phillip trying to allay Rupert's mounting suspicions.

August 17 - 2019
More on the close-up of the suspicious man in the Secret Agent chocolate factory (see last time, and the frame-capture immediately above). Not only do his streaks of hair appear to have been skilfully drawn with crayon or grease-paint on his forehead, but the make-up artist has employed additional touches - notably the heavy bars of shadow under the man's eyes. (And the downward angle of the shot of the man looking towards the camera emphasises the effect!) Even his moustache appears to have been 'touched up' with added shadow! Another frequent visual component in Hitchcock shots is some subtle - or striking - incongruity that makes them the more memorable. During the chase in the chocolate factory, for instance, Hitchcock delights in a couple of shots of pursued and pursuers stepping delicately (so as not to fall) down a steep flight of steps. For a moment, the headlong rush slows down, emphasising its general earnestness. (A variant, for comic effect, comes when the pursuers first try to enter the factory and are met by a mass of rushing employees anxious to get out the door after Brodie has surreptitiously set off the fire alarm.) Or there's the shot of Brodie (John Gielgud) and Elsa (Madeleine Carroll), now reconciled, wanting to 'nuzzle' each other from opposite sides of a railway-station barrier gate - but being kept apart by the ugly-looking point of a soldier's bayonet as he guards the barrier! Or, a favourite of mine, there's the shot of espionage boss 'R' (Charles Carson) luxuriating in a sauna with a rapidly-peeling cigar as he consults a map brought to him by an officer (Tom Helmore) in full uniform, including cap. Very soon, the officer is removing the cap, not from protocol but in order to mop his brow! (Helmore, of course, would later play Gavin Elster in Vertigo.) Btw, the map scene is required by the need to inform the audience of the ensuing action, which will take place on a train heading for enemy territory in Turkey. At the same time, it makes very clear that the sybaritic 'R' is the one whose orders will send both spies and innocent civilians to their deaths on the train which 'R' has ordered to be shot up. Maurice Yacowar's summation is so true: Secret Agent still challenges 'our complacent assumptions about the possibility of purity or heroism in war'. Which may bring us to the film's climactic scene, after the train has crashed. Even now, Hitchcock keeps an ambiguity going about just what separates good and evil (in) people. As enemy spy Marvin (Robert Young) lies mortally wounded in the tangled wreckage, Brodie reaches out to do his duty by 'R' and strangle his rival (his rival in war and also love - for Elsa). We see Brodie straining, then thinking better - or unable - to go through with it. And the look on Marvin's face is decidedly ambiguous, especially in the light of what soon follows. It looks like a smile, which we instinctively interpret as one of gratitude. But, on second thoughts, is it more a sneer at Brodie's perceived weakness?! Answer: probably! Now consider what follows. The General (Peter Lorre) has survived the crash, along with Brodie and Elsa. Hearing the dying Marvin ask for water, the General starts to empty his pockets in order to reach for a flask. (See frame-capture below.) In doing this, he has put his pistol in front of Marvin along with what I used to think was a single bullet - as if he were offering his opposite number the traditional opportunity of taking his own life. And surely such a thought is supposed to go through our minds as we watch? However, I now think that the 'bullet' is in fact a cigarette, something we have seen in the General's mouth from our first glimpse of him (pursuing a frightened servant-girl upstairs!). Ambiguously, has the General over-estimated or under-estimated Marvin? At any rate, Marvin reaches for the loaded pistol all right - then promptly shoots the General, who almost immediately collapses with a final few short dramatic words in Spanish/Mexican, his native language. And, within moments, both of these professional spies are dead. The film ends with what I always think of as a 'toothpaste' shot of Brodie and Madeleine back in London, happy to have quit the espionage racket. As Donald Spoto has said, Hitchcock's endings are typically ones of 'open-ended pessimism'.

August 10 - 2019
Back to Secret Agent. After the murder of the innocent Caypor by the General (see July 27, above), an upset Elsa persuades Brodie/Ashenden to join her in quitting their espionage job. Brodie will go so far as to draft a resignation letter to 'R' with a postscript: 'If you need someone to take my place, I can recommend you a good butcher!' The couple appear to make love, and we see them kissing passionately. Brodie exclaims: 'There are times, Mrs Ashenden, when it's almost a pleasure to be alive!' Note that 'almost' - so typical of the 'realist' Hitchcock, it seems to me! But Elsa has reckoned without the wiles of the unscrupulous General. In a brilliantly scripted scene, the General speaks of 'new developments' and persuades a curious Brodie to leave with him on their next mission - to a chocolate factory. As he departs the room with Brodie, the General gives the merest of triumphant smiles to Elsa, who is disconsolate. (Women in Hitchcock's films tend to be more conscientious and focussed on domestic happiness than their partners/husbands. But, as in Rear Window, a rebuff may only motivate them to greater efforts ...). Now, speaking of brilliant scenes, as in several of Hitchcock's fast-paced '30s thrillers, the danger for Hitchcock and his audiences is that the films may become too much like a speeded-up switchback railway that threatens to carry its passengers off the rails! I have sometimes felt that about Secret Agent. Fortunately, watching it again lately, I have spotted rather more of the wit and economy (e.g., the elliptical editing) than of the possibly jarring cumulative effect on the viewer. Let's move on. I've noted here lately several occasions when Hitchcock has used some small tour-de-force effect very effectively. Here, possibly, is another. In the Secret Agent chocolate factory scene, which is largely filmed in mime due to the continuous noise from the mechanised production line, Brodie and the General finally learn the identity of the man they have been sent to kill. (It's not Caypor, but the seemingly amiable American, Marvin, who has been making advances to Elsa.) But they have been spotted by a suspicious employee shown us in a slightly high-angle close-up (frame-capture below). Notice his combed overhang of hair. Close examination of the shot (but of course it's only onscreen for a few seconds) seems to reveal that the strands of hair have been cleverly painted on the man's forehead in crayon, shadows and all! Why would Hitchcock go to this trouble? My answer is that he wanted to avoid a cliché shot of simply a man looking suspicious, that the man had to be given visible 'character' in his own right. (So he's also given a walrus moustache.) The extra 'subliminal' information conveyed by the choice of raised angle and the use of a close-up is quite sufficient to underline that Brodie and the general have been rumbled! Lastly this time, here's a thought or two of mine about how typical Brodie's character is, seen in the light of Hitchcock pictures to come. A character divided against himself (for a time) makes for good visual story-telling. A Hitchcock hero has to have a mission - although if that mission is the best way to also 'get the girl' or otherwise meet the hero's personal needs, so much the better! Cary Grant films like To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest fit this formula. But I think also of, say, Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much where she has actually three competing (even conflicting) interests: to her career, to her family (including her kidnapped young son), to other people's lives (notably that of the foreign dignitary, not known to Day's character personally, who is the target of a would-be assassin). All of these conflicts come together, and are resolved, by the Royal Albert Hall scene and the scene in the foreign embassy that immediately follows. Also, I would mention the James Stewart character in Rope, Rupert Cadell. Having served his country in the War, and sustained a wound that has rendered him impotent, Rupert seems to secretly hug a grievance that has caused him to turn to the philosophy of Nietzsche. But when his words are taken all-too-literally by two of his pupils, the murderous Brandon and Phillip, Rupert admits out loud that the world has always been dark to him. So much for Nietzsche's wishful 'superman' philosophy?! At any rate, Rupert now sees that 'society' must come first ... To be continued.

August 4 - 2019
Nothing on Secret Agent this time. Instead, see the interesting News item on Dial M for Murder immediately below. Thoughts on Secret Agent will return next week. Thanks. KM.

July 27 - 2019
Let's stay with Secret Agent (1936) for a bit. Hitchcock occasionally complained at how 'subtleties' in his films were overlooked. For example, in Saboteur (1942) there was the 'gag' when somebody looks into the caravan of the circus freaks and fails to spot the 'midget' (known as 'The Major') who is below their eyeline! Audiences didn't get this! Likewise, in Secret Agent, I wonder how many people have noticed the full audio-subtlety of the scene where a choir in a Swiss hotel's casino sing a sweet, wordless song while accompanying themselves by swirling coins in metal plates. This scene comes straight after the murder of the innocent Caypor (Percy Marmont), illustrated last time. Elsa (Madeleine Carroll) had not witnessed the killing, but had been with the dead man's wife and his dog, who had - telepathically - sensed what had occurred, and had let out a prolonged howl. Downcast, Elsa had gone to the casino to rendezvous with Ashenden (John Gilegud) and the murderous 'General' (Peter Lorre): see frame-capture below. As the singing continues, sounding so incongruous now to the film's audience, Hitchcock includes a passage in which the dog's yelps and howl are briefly reprised, seeming to form part of the song's melody! This underlines the implicit sadness that the scene is effectively emphasising. (But, as I say, how many people get it?!) Now, something else that's related. I've often referred to Hitchcock's sensitivity to the literary texts he adapted - he himself never missed subtleties - and his ingenuity in finding equivalents that fitted his film/s. Sometimes he would happily 'bi-ssociate' (Arthur Koestler's term) two separate elements or effects. The howling dog in Secret Agent may serve as an example. The general idea comes from the last paragraph of W. Somerset Maugham's short story "The Traitor", one of two or three Maugham stories that Hitchcock adapted for the plotline of his film. There, in the story, the bereaved Mrs Caypor finally grasps what has happened (not exactly the same as in the film, btw) when the dead man's dog howls as he senses that his master won't be returning. But the actual idea of a 'telepathic' dog comes from a quite different source: a Father Brown story by G.K. Chesterton, "The Oracle of the Dog", in which a dog lets out a great howl of woe at what is later found to be the exact time of his master's murder. (Note: both Maugham and Chesterton were favourite authors of Hitchcock, along with Buchan, Wells, and Dickens.) Another aside: Secret Agent isn't one of Hitchcock's very best films, I think, and one reason I used to cite was indeed the 'telepathic' dog - which I found slightly absurd. Hitchcock's strength, I argued, was his ability to make any situation plausible, or at least believable, even if far-fetched. I admired the fact that Vertigo (1958) raises the possibility of reincarnation only to reveal by the end that Gavin Elster has been playing on Scottie's disturbed, 'vertiginous' mental state. Hmm. Nowadays I can 'tolerate' the howling dog in Secret Agent, and have come to resent the attempt by someone like Grahame Greene (of all people) to denigrate that film's 'absurdities' - especially because the example he gives is plain wrong (but often cited by lazy, follow-my-leader critics!). He claims that Ashenden and 'The General' openly discuss their orders from 'R' in front of a hotel desk-clerk (just before the casino scene). But it isn't so! We hear a wisecrack or two about the orders, but in no way is anything said to suggest an espionage (or assassination) mission being carried out. Of course, in Greene's day there were no video-recorders or DVD-players, but that's hardly an excuse ... And one of several positive things that I admire about Secret Agent is - as usual in Hitchcock - its hefty plot that lends weight and conviction to a serious theme: here, the callousness of authorities that threatens to corrupt the decency of their employees (if not the public). To be continued.

July 20 - 2019
Tonight's thoughts - whatever they may prove to be, exactly - come from my reading of an article about Jacques Tati's eldest daughter, Helga, whom he had left behind in wartime Paris and who, in 1955, found herself in Marrakech, Morocco, unable to leave - the turbulence had erupted that would lead to the French finally quitting Morocco. One of my immediate thoughts on reading this was: well, you would never know from watching Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), whose opening scenes are set in Marrakech (see "Editor's Week", 4 May ff, above), that such a significant event had occurred there recently, perhaps at the very time the film is set, its having been filmed in 1955. And I asked myself: was it 'irresponsible' of Hitchcock not to have indicated this major political event in his film? My tentative answer is: well, hardly - given that one of his major concerns in his films is that they are, in a sense, focussed on what is ageless, in at least two ways. First, in the sense that any issues they raise are as universal as possible (like Schopenhauer's philosophy, incidentally, as often mentioned here). Second, in the sense that in a film like The Man Who Knew Too Much the age-range of the audience should not be unduly restricted, so that even children might enjoy its melodrama. (I first saw this particular film at my local scout-hall when I was just a cub-scout; I think that all of my fellow cubs and scouts, plus their parents and friends, found the film exciting!) With rare exceptions, topical politics isn't allowed to intrude and distract from the melodrama in Hitchcock. So much of what we see in those films is implicit, rather than stated outright. For example, why are the opening scenes of The Man Who Knew Too Much set in Marrakech (rather than elsewhere)? At least a couple of reasons occurred to me. Re things left implicit, ask yourself why is Marrakech surrounded by a high wall? The answer has to do with the internecine fighting that for centuries had been a feature of both Marrakesh and other areas of Morocco. That may tell us something about human nature that is several times implied in Hitchcock's film. More to the point, did you know that the country of Morocco is itself named after Marrakech? Accordingly, the city has a representativeness that would have appealed to Hitchcock and his Expressionist sensibilities! I was reminded of how, in Vertigo (1958), we watch an important scene set in the Mission Dolores (whose name implies sadness) - which happens to be the site from which the city of San Francisco grew. And again, Marrakech had long been a tourist mecca, which is something else that would have appealed to Hitchcock for reasons I've previously discussed (e.g., May 11, above). Thus, its a commonplace today to hear it said that while Rabat may be Morocco's political capital, Casablanca its economic capital, and Fez its intellectual capital, Marrakech remains the country's cultural and tourist capital. Also, the contrast of hot and sunny Marrakech with gritty, drab London was clearly intended as a narrative and structural consideration of Hitchcock's film. Further, tourists could be a 'target' for Hitchcock. While spying and tourist 'gawking' are roughly analogous in his films - both of those things involve 'looking', which is what audiences are doing anyway, which helps them 'identify' and to get them further involved - tourists tend to be naive and, well, irresponsible, which brings me back to the note on which I began. I'm sure that Hitchcock was well aware of how he (and wife Alma) risked being like 'a tourist on an endless vacation' (as Lisa accuses Jeff of being in Rear Window). Hitch and Alma were inveterate travellers (I once knew a lady who had unexpectedly come across the Hitchcocks in, I think, Tahiti, and had chatted with them). So his films are self-critiques as well as reminders to his audience not to take anything on face-value - contra 'just looking'. I've been thinking this past week of how excellently Hitchcock balanced doing his 'job' with a responsible attitude to his audience - albeit with minimal politics - which in turn allowed him and Alma to reward themselves by indulging their penchant for travel, sometimes on a publicity-trip for Hitch's latest film. Of course, each film was itself, to a degree, like a travelogue (e.g., showing off the sights of both Morocco and England, through the eyes of an American couple), but invariably with an unobtrusive emphasis on the importance of being 'responsible'. Think of Jo's dilemma in the Albert Hall scene of The Man Who Knew Too Much - responsibility for both the welfare of kidnapped son Hank and for a foreign statesman whose death may be imminent. Some of the spy films worked similarly. For example, in Secret Agent (1936), the Brodie/'Ashenden' character (John Gielgud) initially takes a lax, too-blasé attitude towards the actions of his offsider, the almost psychopathic 'General' (Peter Lorre) - resulting in the death of an innocent man. (Frame-capture below.) In sum, there's more than enough 'content' in a Hitchcock film without requiring politics to be explicit.

July 13 - 2019
One more entry (for now) on Hitchcock's genius, apparent in so many ways. I mentioned last time a definition of genius as 'the capacity to take infinite pains'. A more colloquial, and often-heard, variant says that 'genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration'! And I referred to Hitchcock's readiness to collaborate with the gifted team of specialists he sought to surround himself with - someone like matte-artist Albert Whitlock at Universal Studios (who had known Hitchcock in England back when the young Whitlock was simply a 'general factotum' - his term - starting out at one of the English studios). When I spoke to Whitlock he showed me around Universal and gestured towards where a Cuban street with a colonnade had figured in Topaz (1969). It was then I learned about 'forced perspective' and Whitlock's opinion that Hitchcock often liked to use such 'special effects' as a stimulus to his creativity. Hitch had, after all, first made films in 1920s Germany where techniques like the Shüfftan process were being pioneered. His training in Germany was surely a big factor in his filmmaking genius later. In the frame-capture below, you can see the shot that Whitlock was referring to. You wouldn't guess, but the view seen onscreen looks deeper than it really was. The colonnade was built with exaggerated perspective, and then the filmmakers put very small people in the background to maintain the illusion of depth behind Mrs Mendoza, seen in the middle-distance walking towards the camera. A small thing (the shot is only on the screen for a couple of seconds), but a good instance of something that Hitchcock enjoyed doing: his filmmaking certainly wasn't all perspiration! Apropos Topaz, let me enlarge on what I've mentioned here before. Everyone remembers the scene of Juanita Cordoba's death, her purple robe spreading out like a bloodstain as she sinks to the floor, shot by her (other) lover, Rico Parra, to save her from Castro's torturers. No spectacular effect in Hitchcock was ever without a meaning, or put there for the spectacle alone. I see that particular shot, moreover, as part of a visual motif associated with Juanita to suggest her aristocratic grace and dignity. Another shot, a few minutes earlier, had also featured her robe as the house-invading Cuban soldiers had rushed past her as she stood on the balcony above her entrance-hall. Angrily, she had tried to stop them, sweeping back the cords of the robe in graceful and spectacular fashion. What I have suggested previously is that Hitchcock got the idea for this motif from a brief, almost mundane passage in the 'Topaz' novel. It describes Juanita arriving home. In Leon Uris's description: 'Juanita de Cördoba pulled her car to a halt before the carved wooden door of the villa. In a quick, graceful movement she spun out of the driver's seat, gathered up her packages, and shut the door with a push of her heel.' Hitchcock was nothing if not a close reader of the texts he filmed - especially of their 'visual' content - even if he often took great licence with those texts finally. That, too, was a sign of his genius ('the capacity to take infinite pains'). Another of Hitchcock's colleagues I met with was costumer Edith Head. I met with her twice actually, the first time in Melbourne, Australia, when she invited me to visit her at Universal Studios if I was ever there. The second time was indeed at Universal. She, too, kindly showed me some of her work, and told me things about Hitchcock - whom she adored (as she also adored Cary Grant!). For instance, she spoke of Hitch's thoughts about colour in his films, and how he often used it for contrast. In To Catch a Thief (1955) there was a brief scene set on the end of a breakwater at Cannes, for which she had to 'dress' Cary Grant (as John Robie) as inconspicuously as possible: his character was lying low before the anticipated showdown at the gala ball. The shot was generally grey and blue - Grant was wearing a black vest and dark glasses, as I recall. The ante would be spectacularly upped by the costumes at the ball, which of course was the idea. Edith Head enlarged on Hitch's thoughts about colour, which - not incidentally - were invariably couched in terms that conveyed everything necessary to a colleague like Head. For example, he often favoured nature colours - blues, greens, beiges - for the latitude they gave him to introduce a contrast - say a bloodstain. I thought of The Birds. Which further reminds me of the 'infinite pains' Hitchcock and writer Evan Hunter went to plot that film's dramatic path, even to putting up a graph on the walls of Hitchcock's office. Shades of Sergei Eisenstein and composer Serge Prokofiev plotting the 'Battle on the Ice' for Alexander Nevsky!

July 6 – 2019
Susan Neiman talks of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's 'black humour', which fits nicely with my sense of the similar outlooks and mock-lugubriousness of both Hitchcock (especially in some of his TV shows) and Schopenhauer (notably in some of his most gloomy formulations)! But we were talking of Hitchcock's genius. A point I wanted to make was how closely Hitchcock's penchant for 'pure cinema' accords with a position, re music, held by Schopenhauer. The latter praised the operas of Rossini, his favourite composer, for their minimal use of libretto. In fact, Schopenhauer considered much opera over-burdened - whereas, by contrast, '[Rossini's] music speaks its own language so distinctly and purely that it requires no words at all'. Now, for what it's worth, Hitchcock's favourite composer was Wagner - who was a huge admirer of Schopenhauer and eventually came round to his position. So much so, that Wagner, who had already written the librettos for several of the Ring operas, saw fit to cut them back in favour of letting the music be paramount. Further, by Schopenhauerian logic, whereby music gives us direct access to the Thing-in-itself, the highest form of music is purely instrumental music. Wagner had a term for the latter - 'absolute music'. (Influence on Hitchcock, anyone?) Julian Young ('Schopenhauer', 2005) has several further and interesting comments on all of this. He back-pedals on Schopenhauer's seeming hostility to opera (with its similarities, as an art-form, to the cinema), by noting that although Schopenhauer seems to be saying that a truly musical mind wishes only 'the pure language of tones', in fact the philosopher loved good operas such as Bellini's 'Norma' and Mozart's 'Don Giovanni' (a 'perfect masterpiece'). Schopenhauer recognised that the music gives 'secret information on the feelings expressed in the words' - which fits well, surely, with how Hitchcock used the music of Bernard Herrmann in a film like Psycho (about which he attributed a third of its power to the composer). Young adds that such a more-than-cognitive, commentative, role for music provides 'actually the best way to read Schopenhauer's philosophy of music since, as we already know, his mature view is that the [W]ill is not, in fact, the Kantian thing in itself ... [W]hat Schopenhauer provides is a compelling account of what makes opera [and film?] good rather than an account of why it can never be any good at all'. Hmm. Another definition of genius is that it's 'a capacity for taking infinite pains'. The best of Hitchcock surely supports this idea, and one thinks of how he surrounded himself - especially in Hollywood - with a team of experts, whose diverse talents he co-ordinated, rather as a conductor (who of course has carefully studied the musical score, if not actually written it) co-ordinates the various players in his orchestra. I don't often see sufficient credit given to Hitchcock for his sheer managerial skills as well as his imaginative and creative abilities. Here, another definition comes to mind: a genius is one who stands (like Isaac Newton) on the shoulders of giants. I remember meeting the great effects-artist and matte-painter Albert Whitlock in Hollywood, who clearly admired Hitch and who generously showed me some of the paintings he had done for backgrounds depicting Bodega Bay in The Birds. The frame-capture below shows one of them. (Notice not just the atmospheric clouds and the rolling hills but the schoolhouse presiding over the town - in fact, the real schoolhouse was located a mile or two inland. That is to say, the background-view seen here is one of Whitlock's incredibly detailed paintings matted onto the foreground action of Melanie crossing the bay on her way to the Brenners' house.) Another instance that comes to my mind of Hitchcock's readiness to take pains is how he trialled several people, of both female and male genders, to play the voice of 'Mother' in Psycho. (I forget the exact number, but there were several voices used, sometimes spliced together in the one scene. For more information on this, see Steven Rebello's fine book on the making of Psycho.) A particularly eerie effect using one of those voicings occurs when Marion, in her motel cabin, hears Norman arguing with 'Mother' in the house on the hill. ('No, I won't have you bringing strange young girls in here for supper.' 'Mother ... please!') The rain has stopped and Marion's window has been opened to get rid of the cabin's 'stuffiness'. But also, the voices sound amplified in the post-rain silence, an effect that does sometimes happen. I find this another brilliantly thought-out and scripted scene ...

June 29 - 2019
Last week I began a note on Hitchcock as genius, recalling Schopenhauer's definition of genius as 'the most complete objectivity' whose province is imaginative perception. (Hmm. I've just been reading a review, in the 'Spectator', of Felipe Fernández-Armesto's new book on the role of ideas and imagination in history, in which he says that imagination gives you 'the power of seeing what is not there'. That fits nicely with Schopenhauer's claim that good art allows you to intuit the Platonic Forms underlying things, e.g., the ideal chair (like a composite of what all chairs tend to have in common), which in turn allows you to intuit the Will-at-work, which normally passes ungrasped and unremarked, being essentially ineffable. To me, Hitchcock's most schematic film that way is The Birds, although all of his films tend to expose us to such intuitions.) Now, just a word of explanation, before proceeding, about something said here last week. I mentioned how screenwriter John Michael Hayes (Rear Window) told me he thought that several of Hitchcock's films of the 1940s tended to be too unremittingly 'cold' or, yes, over-schematic. I did not mean to include Shadow of a Doubt (1943) in that category, as Hayes specifically singled it out as a film he had enjoyed many times, partly because he had been a film projectionist at his Army base which had received a print of Shadow - and he had shown it repeatedly! My thanks to MP for reminding me that there is no lack of warm humour in Shadow: 'the amusing character of Ann [see frame-capture below] appears within eight minutes, her comic telephone conversation occurring about one minute earlier in that film than the Wall Street Crash gag appears in Rear Window [see last time].' More now on Hitchcock's genius, and again I'll be referring to Schopenhauer. I see Psycho and The Trouble With Harry - both mentioned last time - as complements as well as opposites of each other, in quite Schopenhauerian ways. The credits-sequences of those films both feature a force at work, as do many other Hitchcocks. But their respective moods are diametrically opposite. Why is that? Briefly, it's because Psycho is about madness in society and The Trouble With Harry is about sanity in society or, rather, away from it (in a small New England community). For the record, Schopenhauer had a brilliant, pre-Freudian idea of the origin of madness in attempted repression (see, for example, Christopher Janaway, 'Schopenhauer', 1994, p. 49), very much as Hitchcock, at the time of Psycho, expressed thoughts like, 'Reality is something none of us can stand at any time' and, 'We all go a little mad sometimes' (the latter, of course, actually a line spoken by Norman Bates). Pyscho does indeed show a continuity of 'madness' in society - from Caroline (accepting tranquilisers from her mother on her wedding-day) to Marion (impulsively stealing $40,000 to run away to marry Sam) to Norman (jealous of his mother and her lover and deciding to kill them both, then taking his mother's identity!). Note the sexual basis of all these actions - Schopenhauer nominated the sexual drive (not necessarily manifested in a pro-active way) as the principal instance of Will in humans. And he applied his insights about Will/the will-to-life ethically. He observed: 'The bad man everywhere feels a thick partition between himself and everything outside him. The world to him is an absolute non-I and his relationship to it is primarily hostile ... The good character, on the other hand, lives in an external world that is homogenous with his own true being. The others are not non-I for him, but an I once more. His fundamental relation to everyone is, therefore, friendly ...' (Emphases mine.) Which, surely, is what is depicted in The Trouble With Harry. There, in the very credits-sequence, we see death - the body of Harry - mocked. Hitchcock's original idea for that sequence was to show the life/death cycle, speeded up, of a single maple leaf. Well, Schopenhauer said (slightly paraphrased, by Julian Young): 'Fear of death is like the foolish leaf about to fall in autumn refusing to recognise its inner being in the tree.' Julian Young comments: 'We live on, that is to say, in our children and the species.' Significantly, everyone in Harry is agreeable (even, in a way, Mrs Wiggs's unimaginative son, Calvin, the deputy sheriff, who finds himself in the unfortunate position, as mere law-enforcer, of pursuing the 'interest' of the 'bad man', Harry!). We note that the characters of Harry range from the young boy, Arnie (equipped with his super-charged disintegrator ray-gun!), to the potential couple, artist Sam and the perky mother of Arnie, Jennifer, to the elderly spinster Miss Gravely (one foot in the grave, indeed, but 'saved' for now by the no-less elderly Captain Wiles). These people's only major worry concerns their possible responsibility for the death of Harry - and even that worry proves groundless! All very Schopenhauerian - as well as Hitchcockian.

June 22 - 2019
Nothing much today - except Alfred Hitchcock! While I was gone, I heard the story of a real-life 'One-Note Man' like the one in the 'Punch' cartoon (December 14, 1921) that inspired Hitchcock to conceive the suspenseful 'Storm Cloud Cantata' scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, 1956). For those who don't recall, the cartoon is actually a sequence of drawings depicting a day-in-the-life of a musician, a flautist, from his getting up in the morning, dressing and having breakfast, to his commuting to a symphony concert where he takes his place with the orchestra, plays his single note, tiptoes out, and returns home, whereupon it's time for him to go to bed once more! Actually, that's nothing compared to the story Melbourne broadcaster and tuba-player, Russell Torrance, tells of how he once travelled from Nottingham, England, to Budapest, Hungary, with his tuba. On arrival, he met up with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra for a concert performance in which he played a tuba-passage of just four notes, then returned to Nottingham. Hmm. While I was gone, I had to give a little talk that touched on Hitchcock's genius (cf the title of Donald Spoto's Hitchcock biography: 'The Dark Side of Genius') and with some reference to the thoughts on genius of the philosopher Schopenhauer. According to Schopenhauer, 'the gift of genius is nothing but the most complete objectivity'. (Interestingly, Alma Hitchcock said of her husband, 'He's the most objective person I know'.) Most of us, said Schopenhauer, haven't time for objectivity, we're too pre-occupied with workaday life and its demands and pressures. He put it like this: the genius is 2/3 intellect and 1/3 will (implying a subordination of self) whereas the ordinary person is 2/3 will and 1/3 intellect. And Schopenhauer added that the true province of genius is imaginative perception. Applying that to Hitchcock now, I like to think that the way he conceived of the above-mentioned 'Storm Cloud Cantata' scene set in the Royal Albert Hall shows his genius in action. And I would extend that thought to include a general theory of how his films work. Hitchcock is the 'presiding genius' of his films - and both he and his audience know it and accept that fact as a 'contract' the audience enters into when we watch a Hitchcock film. Hitchcock's cameo appearances in each of his (later) films are a reminder of that contract, and we are invariably happy to sign on for the ride. (For a frame-capture from the 1955 The Trouble With Harry showing one of Hitchcock's typical cameos, or walk-ons, see below.) This is despite how our willing acceptance of the contract puts us in a seemingly docile or passive position while the film lasts! Actually, we are placed in a position analogous to that of the ordinary person to the genius - a fact of life, you could call it. Screenwriter John Michael Hayes (who had already written Rear Window and To Catch a Thief for Hitchcock before following up with The Trouble With Harry and The Man Who Knew Too Much) once spoke to me about how there is indeed a certain unconscious hostility, or anyway tension, in audiences when they first enter the cinema to watch a film. That hostility is to the filmmaker and even to each other. Hayes had seen Hitchcock's earlier films of the 1940s - he'd watched Shadow of a Doubt (1943) many times - and he felt that some of them didn't do enough to lose a 'coldness' or austerity that could alienate the audience. Accordingly, he determined to help Hitchcock out! Quite deliberately, early in Rear Window, he inserted the gag-line, spoken by Stella, about the onset of the Great Depression and how 'General Motors' reportedly had to go to the bathroom ten times a day. Knowing that, says Stella, she had surmised that 'the whole country was ready to let go'! And the audience always responds to this gag with laughter, thereby dispersing whatever hostility they had been feeling. Apropos Hitchcock's genius-relation to his audience, then, I see Rear Window as a great leap forward in its application, towards involving us totally in the film experience. Which is quite in keeping with how, according to Schopenhauer-expert Christopher Janaway, a great work of art may convey a heightened picture of reality, surpassing that conveyed by ordinary experience (or 'social realist' cinema?!). Note: Schopenhauer's conception of art was primarily cognitive but he was very capable of seeing the more expressive side of art too. Moreover, Schopenhauer (following Kant) posited that 'reality' is at essence what he called Will, but that none of us can know it directly. He felt that, in general, good art is our best means of intuiting that Will, with music being especially privileged because it is a direct copy of Will. So?! Well, two things to finish up this time. I think that the amazing credits sequence of Psycho (1960) gives a foretaste of how the whole film proves to be a heightened picture of the dark side of reality, with its degrees of madness (about which Schopenhauer had several significant things to say). Second, Schopenhauer said that the respite from the depredations of Will that good art provides may de-alienate us so that we have our fellow-feeling restored. For me, that is the relation of the benign The Trouble With Harry to the dark Psycho. More next time.

June 1 - 2019
Some work to do. There will a gap of 2-3 weeks before "Editor's Week" resumes. Thanks. KM

May 25 - 2019
Let's look further at the Marrakech scenes of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and some of the 'logistical' things that pass a lot of Hitchcock scholars - and general audiences - by. ('Logistics' = 'the detailed organization and implementation of a complex operation' - Wikipedia.) Some of these struck me as I read Doris Day's account of making the film in A.E. Hotchner's book 'Doris Day: Her Own Story' (see last time). For example, I was surprised to learn that when the cast went on location to Marrakech, they stayed not at '[t]he good hotel', La Mamounia - it was 'closed for the summer' - but at La Menara which was 'perfectly all right'. (Hitchcock plants a line in the opening bus scene where Louis Bernard in fact says that there are two good hotels in Marrakech - La Mamounia and La Menara - for 'visitors of good taste'.) This almost certainly means that when the McKenna family stay at La Mamounia, only the exteriors of the real hotel would have been used (with extras hired for the occasion), and its interiors (meaning, the McKennas' rooms) must have been studio sets. (One more 'cheat' by Hitchcock. I remember when I visited Bodega Bay - location of The Birds - and was shown around by a local taxi driver, the schoolhouse seen in the film turned out to be several miles inland, and not on a hill just above the town.) Here's something else that is more subtle, and a matter of careful scripting. I've already noted that when the McKennas arrive at La Mamounia - and pass the Drayton couple without knowing who they are (see May 11, above) - Marrakech's most celebrated mosque, the Koutoubia, can be seen behind them. In its way, this adds a further touch of 'class', and authenticity, like several of the 'tourist sites' visited in Vertigo. But there are two nocturnal scenes from the McKennas' hotel room window that also feature mosques - four mosques in all - and both scenes are different. The earlier one, on the first evening of Ben and Jo's arrival, shows the minarets of the four mosques and a rising moon; distant street sounds can be heard, and the effect is peaceful. The second such scene, though, occurs later, on the night that Ben has just told (a sedated) Jo that their young son has been kidnapped. Outside the window, without a moon now, muezzins are calling the faithful to the last prayer of the day, and we can see and hear two of them on the respective balconies of the minarets, including, I think, the minaret of the Koutoubia. Above each of the minarets a tiny light shines like a star. (Frame-capture below.) Again the effect is peaceful but perhaps with the added touch that prayer seems very apposite at this moment when young Hank's life is under threat and his parents appear to have only a remote chance of finding him. Also, the film moves between various degrees and types of religious observance, climaxing - pointedly enough, in a film of multiple countries and beliefs - with the 'pantheistic' content of The Storm Cloud Cantata performed at the Royal Albert Hall. (Perhaps Day's earlier singing of 'What Will Be, Will Be' also fits here.) Now, as may be clear already, I don't think that Hitchcock's depiction of Marrakech and Morocco is either irreligious or a-religious, exactly. I debated for a moment whether Edward Said's famous criticism of the West's 'Orientalism' (subtly patronising Middle Eastern and Eastern beliefs and cultures) wasn't shared by Hitchcock's film. Does Hitchcock break free of the preconceptions that Said detected in Orientalism? Interestingly, we hear Ben scoff at his wife's apparent imaginings about Louis Bernard on the way to La Mamounia. 'I know this is mysterious Morocco,' he tells her, 'but we're not going to lose our heads, are we?' You could argue that Hitchcock, too, is being subtly patronising (and opportunistic) about the 'mysterious' East here. But, as so often, his films cannot easily be pinned down to simple statements. Such statements are invariably those of particular characters, rather than of Hitchcock. They are subjective views, and shown (and critiqued) as such. At the same time, you may well feel that Hitchcock's 'pure cinema' is expressing something - an impersonal truth - that can scarcely be put into words, and from which he himself is detached. (For some reason, I think of the philosopher Schopenhauer!) But let's end on an upbeat note. Re-reading Doris Day's account of making The Man Who Knew Too Much, I remembered how shocked she had been on first seeing Marrakech with its emaciated animals and people on the streets. She would not film her scenes until Paramount 'set up a feeding station where all the [various animals] were brought to be fed. I couldn't provide for the feeding of the entire undernourished population of Marrakesh, but by the time our photography was finished I had succeeded in fattening up the animals used in the picture.' (A recent obituary noted that after Day effectively retired, in 1973, she put her efforts into animal welfare activism. She started the Doris Day Animal Foundation aimed at helping animals across the US.)

May 18 - 2019
Doris Day, aged 97, died last week. Our tribute to the 'girl next door' (who wasn't) will take the form of comment on her superb performance as Jo McKenna - alongside James Stewart as her husband, Dr Ben McKenna - in the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much. Specifically, I'll be looking at the scene in the Mamounia Hotel where Ben breaks the news that their son, Hank, has been kidnapped. (There have been several excellent online obituaries for Doris. However, on the matter of why she was far from being what her public image made her out to be, you could go here: Image 'girl next door'. Or you could read a book like 'Doris Day: Her Own Story' by A.E. Hotchner. There, Doris says: '[That public image], I can assure you, [was] more make-believe than any film part I ever played. At ten years of age I discovered that my father was having an affair with the mother of my best friend. At 13, I was in an auto hit by a train, and that threatened to make me a cripple for life. At 17, I was married to a psychopathic sadist.' And that's only for starters.) Now, the Mamounia Hotel's architecture is noted for its blend of Art Deco and Orientalist (or Moorish) décor. Clearly, Hitchcock wanted to give a sense of this but without making it distracting. In the frame-capture below, the hotel room looks much like quality hotel rooms anywhere, but notice the arabesqued design of the room partition and its silhouette on the wall behind Jo. The main emphasis of this scene is its drama: Ben has just learned that Hank has been kidnapped and must consider how to break the news to the weary Jo - note her half-shut eyes - whose edgy behaviour has been conspicuous since they arrived in Marrakech. (She had been suspicious of both Louis Bernard and the Draytons - not without reason, as it now turns out. Besides which, as Ben tells her, she has just witnessed a man knifed to death in front of her.) Ben, the doctor, has good reason to fear for what an extra shock may do to her, and wants to protect her. Accordingly, he thinks of the ruse of asking Jo to take sedative pills - which, incidentally, is one more instance of Hitchcock's attempt to always have characters behave in keeping with their lifestyles and vocations. (In North by Northwest the vacuous Roger Thornhill will be mistaken for someone who doesn't exist - that sort of thing! I'll come back to Thornhill in a moment.) I actually find this scene quite touching - it says something about the couple's slightly strained relationship that has led them to take a holiday in Marrakech (where Ben had served during the War) in the first place. True, Ben has tended to dominate Jo but - as screenwriter John Michael Hayes observes on my DVD of the film - this is largely by force of circumstances. For instance, Ben found himself appointed a resident doctor at a hospital in Indiana, and accordingly moved his family there, which put paid for the time being to Jo's own career as a stage singer. I mention all this in order to oppose a reading of the scene (e.g., by Robin Wood, as I recall) that makes Ben out to be a sadist. Yes, there are uncomfortable elements to the scene, but Ben is neither oblivious of them nor at ease with them. At the end of the scene, after he has told the drugged Jo that Hank has been 'taken away' - the word 'kidnap' is never used either here nor later in the film (I think) - he murmurs, 'Forgive me, Jo.' The scene's drama, which is so apt to the fact of Hank McKenna's kidnapping by the evil Draytons, requires unsettling elements. Both actors in this scene are of course superb. Associate Producer Herb Coleman says on the DVD that he initially doubted the wisdom of casting singer Doris Day - but she proved him wrong. Her anguish at Hank's kidnapping is absolutely convincing, and moving. Moreover, this scene is a dramatic turning point. For instance, Jo will henceforth pull herself together and the London scenes in which the couple combine their resources to find and rescue Hank, will show her at her full strength, all edginess mastered, as cool as you like. (Somewhat similar is the trajectory of Thornhill in North by Northwest: from near-buffoon to fearless rescuer of his future wife, Eve Kendall.) More next time.

May 11 - 2019
Even more than marketplaces, Hitchcock's films are full of hotel scenes. Last week we looked at his use of the Marrakech Souks for a key scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956); this time I'd like to consider the same film's depiction of the Hotel de la Mamounia in Marrakech, where both the McKenna family and the villainous Drayton couple (Brenda de Banzie, Bernard Miles) stay. (In the frame-capture below, note Mrs Drayton staring at Jo - and Jo noticing - when the McKennas first arrive at the famous hotel. In the background is the almost equally famous Katoubia Mosque whose minaret dominates the Marrakech skyline.) Hitchcock was as fond of depicting the workings of hotels, especially behind the scenes, as was author John Buchan in his novels or 'shockers', starting with 'The Power-House' in 1913. (There's an excellent short account of 'The Power-House' in Wikipedia.) If the hotels (or embassies) were high-class, so much the better. We get both in The Man Who Knew Too Much. No doubt Hitchcock was familiar with the Surrealist remark that, 'Fear, the incongruous, and the fascinations of luxury are emotional factors to which we never appeal in vain'; and in the 1956 film all three of those 'factors' play a part, may indeed constitute the 'formula' for the film's storyline. Just to take the frame-capture seen here, the seemingly innocuous Draytons will turn out to be the kidnappers of young Hank McKenna (Christopher Olsen), employed by an unidentified foreign power that is also responsible for the killing of Louis Bernard (see last time) and the attempted assassination of a diplomat in London. The fact that the Katoubia Mosque 'oversees' these early scenes - as the bucolic church seen early in The Trouble with Harry (1955) comments on the 'amoral' goings-on that follow - is like a silent reproof (as indeed is the film's 'Storm Cloud Cantata' scene in London - see later). The Mamounia Hotel was recently named Best Hotel in the World (at the Condé Nast Readers Choice Awards) and is set in eight acres of garden originally bestowed as a wedding present, along with a house, on his son Mamoun by the King of Morocco in the 18th century. Comparatively recently, a regular visitor, Winston Churchill, called it 'the most lovely spot in the whole world'. The hotel as we now know it was opened in 1923 when urban planner Henri Prost designed a 'Hivernage' ('winter haven') for the use of French diplomats. (Incidentally, the hotel was in the news again this week when it emerged that fraudster Anna Sorokin, posing as a wealthy heiress, stayed there free of charge in 2017.) But that's enough for now of my 'general knowledge', gentle reader - although I think it all bears on Hitchcock's appeal to 'the fascinations of luxury' as indicated above. For the same reason that movie stars appeal to us over actors who resemble your 'average Joe', so luxurious buildings and the doings of high society particularly fascinate us. And there's surely a related factor at work. Have you ever wondered why so many Hitchcock films seem to favour tourist spots (especially high-class ones) for their settings? As if to have the best of both worlds, Hitchcock preferred to film in high-class or otherwise 'distinguished' locales that were well-known rather than obscure. The many tourist venues on show in Hitchcock (the city of San Francisco in Vertigo, let's say, or the Riviera in To Catch a Thief) function like a dog whistle directed at those who have been there, or who know about those places, while for the rest of us we watch fascinated anyway! Simultaneously, Hitchcock's desire to make his films as 'all-inclusive' as possible allows him the freedom to use counterpoint - as we started to see last time. In Marrakech, we visit not just the Hotel de la Mamounia but also the noisy, crowded Souks; in London, we attend not just a symphony concert at the Royal Albert Hall but also find ourselves traversing a dingy alleyway in Camden Town leading to a backyard taxidermist's workshop. And so on. (Note that the sensed working of these very principles 'impresses' us subconsciously about the 'classiness' and comprehensiveness of Hitchcock's rhetoric. Something similar informs a Dickens novel like 'Our Mutual Friend': Hitchcock studied multiple Dickens novels at school, and owned several valuable 'first editions' of his works.) Next time I want to concentrate on just a particular scene in the Mamounia Hotel, the one where Ben, a doctor, instructs Jo to take sedative pills before he informs her that Hank has been kidnapped.

May 4 - 2019
Of the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much Hitchcock told an interviewer: 'So we chose Marrakech, a place I had never seen although I had long pondered the possibility of developing a chase through the Souks [the maze-like main market, with its innumerable lanes and alleyways] ... It would have been much easier to reproduce the Souks on a Hollywood or London stage, and twenty years ago one could have. Today['s] audiences ... demand authenticity and realism.' In fact, 25 years earlier Hitchcock had done almost exactly as he describes, although the souk in question was in Port Said, Egypt, as visited by the main characters in Rich and Strange, and we see only a tiny section of it, where a carpet-seller is plying his wares. (The main set was studio-built - not obviously, though - and there were one of two cut-ins of location footage.) Have you ever noticed how fond Hitchcock was of Mediterranean locales in his films, from Marrakech at one end, to Port Said at the other, with Cannes and Nice and Monte Carlo in between - starting with Easy Virtue in 1927?! (In the 1920s and 1930s the French Riviera and the adjacent Corniche was a popular resort for well-off English people, in particular.) Another antecedent for the Souks scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much was a chase through the Nice flower-market in To Catch a Thief (1955). But that was relatively brief, consisting mainly of some clever sight-gags and plenty of shots of the colourful flowers. Speaking of colour ... let's now come straight to the Souks in the 1956 film. Although its lanes and alleyways are narrow and often overhung by bamboo, notice in the frame-capture below the brightly-dyed cloths and garments hanging in the sun to dry (and no doubt to entice potential buyers, who will haggle for the best deal the seller is prepared to accept). Hitchcock clearly wanted the element of colour for counterpoint: the French spy Louis Bernard (Daniel Gélin), garbed in white, is running for his life, and will shortly be stabbed to death by a mysterious pursuer, also garbed in white. The chase is accompanied by suitably brooding, sombre notes from Bernard Herrmann's score. And notice: even when the dying Louis is staggering back to the city square (Marrakech's Djemaa el Fnaa) where he will collapse into the arms of Dr Ben McKenna (James Stewart), Hitchcock works in a colourful bunch of balloons - anticipating the childrens' party scene in The Birds (1963). Again done for counterpoint, no doubt! No detail, of course, was too small to receive Hitchcock's consideration, and his 'touches' were often thoughtful, sometimes brilliant. You don't have to give them metaphysical significance, or read into them postmodern 'statements' as a certain Tom Cohen and his occasional admirers, like Niklas Salmose in a chapter on The Man Who Knew Too Much in 'Hitchcock and the Cold War' - see last time - like to do. Of the greasepaint from the dying Louis Bernard's painted face that is smeared on Dr McKenna's hands, Cohen thinks this is a citation from The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927), starring Al Jolson (cited by Salmose, p. 254). Maybe that's the only film portraying blackface that Cohen knows of? More sensible to cite, surely, would be Hitchcock's own Young and Innocent (1937) whose villain with the twitching eye (again see last time) disguises himself in blackface. And then there's the typical drawn-out Bernard Herrmann chord that is used to shock effect as Louis Bernard is collapsing into the doctor's arms. According to Cohen, this is an allusion to Wagner's 'Die Götterdämmerung' (cited by Salmose, p. 254). Hmm. If it's that, it's also virtually the same chord that Herrmann uses elsewhere. Therefore to call it an allusion to Wagner's final installment of 'Der Ring des Niebelungen' is imprecise - and pretentious. But our attention has wandered! To conclude for this week, I'd like to consider the 'mysterious pursuer', garbed in white Arab robes, I mentioned above. He appears to emerge from nowhere halfway through the chase - initially it had seemed as if just the police were chasing Louis, who is also wearing white. (However, it had been established earlier that Louis was scared for his life.) You could say that there are 'technical' reasons why both men are dressed like that. The main one seems to be that Hitchcock is going to pull a switcheroo on us. For a while near the end of the chase the two men have outdistanced the police; then Louis is knifed in the back and staggers away offscreen while his pursuer keeps on running and the police again appear - and mistake the other man for their original quarry. So the chase continues, which leaves the dying Louis free to stagger towards Dr McKenna and die in his arms. (The plot requires him to whisper enigmatic words to him.) Hmm. We never do learn why the police were chasing Louis, nor what happens to his killer. Nor do we learn how and why the killer could suddenly appear halfway through the chase! So Hitchcock did get his spectacular chase through the Souks but it took some manipulation of the audience to work it in!

April 27 - 2019
The climax of Young and Innocent, at the Grand Hotel, is an elaborate scene consisting of far more than just the celebrated crane shot that gradually descends to reveal the twitching eye of 'the Drummer Man' at the far end of the dance hall - that is, the man whom Erica and Will want to question in order to exonerate Erica's friend Robert, wanted for murder. The whole scene is beautifully blocked out, over several minutes, for utmost narrative-economy and expressiveness. (For example: when the drummer goes outside the hotel at an intermission during the dancing, and is startled to see the police approaching, so ducks back inside - whereupon the film cuts to inside the hotel with the police now already at the reception desk.) When Erica and Will first enter the hotel, an extended, floor-level tracking shot follows them, thus preparing us for the aerial crane shot, even more extended, that will soon ensue (on Erica's words, 'He [i.e, the man they want] must be here somewhere'). In the frame-capture below, the crane shot begins. Note the three people entering behind the hotel porter setting down some suitcases. The shot will pan-right to follow them inside the dance hall before moving on to finally show the drummer at the far end of the hall. (Also note the hotel pageboy in the lobby, who has already featured in the scene - he's one more young member of the cast which has included many young people.) Here, now, is a thought I have. Even though the drummer is eventually apprehended as the murderer of his wife, the actress Christine Clay, I like to think that Hitchcock, a good Catholic after all, had a feeling that ultimately almost all people remain 'young and innocent' in a sense. That is, we all stay fallible and weak, and never entirely 'grow up'! (Famously, Hitchcock once said, 'Everything's perverted in a different way', and I think he meant to include 'everybody' in that formulation.) So, the drummer in a rage killed Christine - but, as already noted, there's a strong indication that she was fooling around with 'boys'. I'm reminded of Hitchcock's pet project that he wanted to make around this time, an adaptation of Ernest Raymond's novel, 'We the Accused' (1935), whose main implication is that we all have a vindictive side. (Hence the novel's title.) About the accused wife-killer in that story, whose wife had endlessly nagged him (cf Rear Window!), as late as 1972 Hitchcock in an interview was telling Charles Thomas Samuels: 'the murderer did nothing worse than rid himself of a bitch of a wife'! ('Encountering Directors', pp. 239-40) (For more of my thoughts on this, see the chapter "'Even Our Friends Spy On Us'" in Walter Raubicheck, ed., 'Hitchcock and the Cold War', 2018, p. 197.) Now back to Young and Innocent. Early on, there's a brief scene in a courtroom where Robert's arraignment is scheduled. Another case is just concluding, involving a wife and her husband, both of them present. We hear the judge say to her: 'So you don't want a separation order. Very well then, I bind your husband over to keep the peace for six months'. Whereupon, the opportunistic wife exclaims, 'Oh sir, couldn't you make it eight months to see me through to Christmas?' The judge responds with a peremptory 'No!' The husband agrees to abide by this. But as the couple leave the court, they've already begun quarrelling! Here we get the strong feeling that it's very difficult to tell whose side right is on! (Again cf Rear Window and the nagging wife there. Very possibly, Hitchcock was remembering the celebrated case of Herbert Armstrong who poisoned his nagging wife in Mayfield, near Hay-on-Wye, in the west of England, in 1921 - and, found guilty, was executed the following year at Gloucester.) Hmm. There are many other thoughts about Young and Innocent that I'd love to share with you, but space has practically run out! Let me just mention that in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I say how there's another scene that I consider worthy of equal acclaim to the Grand Hotel scene. That's the scene at night in a railway yards between Erica and Robert, who has gone on the run. Their love is burgeoning and their shared loneliness is at its height. Behind them, a slumbering town - one vast miniature - is laid out. There's a tangible and quite lovely mood. To see one of Alfred Junge's marvellous designs for this scene, you could look up Païni & Cogeval, 'Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences', 2000, p. 390. Much of the scene itself can be viewed on YouTube, 'Stunning Miniatures in Hitchcock's "Young and Innocent" (1937)', here: Hitchcock Miniatures

April 20 - 2019
Sorry. Nothing this week. Easter and all that! One more entry, at least, on Young on Innocent, will follow. KM.

April 13 - 2019
In Young and Innocent, Robert and Erica's 'constant danger' (see last time) is a complex matter, and instructive about not just this particular Hitchcock film but most of his 'chase' thrillers. That danger has at least three aspects or contributory factors. Overall, there's the fact that almost from the beginning Robert is on the run from the police (and is soon joined by Erica, initially very much against her will - she's the chief constable's daughter, after all!). Soon, too, a second element is introduced, namely, the pair's hunt for the belt from a stolen raincoat that will exonerate Robert of Christine Clay's murder. (It's something of a MacGuffin in the film, but never mind.) And thirdly, nearly every individual sequence has its own threatening character or event which may thwart or hold up the pair's quest, or get them turned in. Think of: Robert's inept lawyer; Erica's family whose conversation at the dinner table initially seems as if it might dissuade her from helping Robert (but fortunately has the opposite effect!); 'fate' - the crossroads scene - where Erica's reluctance to help Robert is again 'defeated' when the road workers shut off the route back to town; the formidable and suspicious Aunt Mary at the children's party (see last time); the pugilists at Tom's Hat who might either knock out Robert (if not Erica) or get everyone arrested; the wary night manager at Nobby's flophouse who calls the police when Robert is overheard telling old Will (the china-mender) that he's wanted on a murder charge; 'fate' again when Erica's jalopy falls into a collapsed mine shaft, and the police catch her (although Robert and Will escape); even ennui, when Erica is confined to her house and she loses hope; and finally, the policeman outside the Grand Hotel who becomes suspicious of Will who is wearing an unlikely set of new clothes (so that he can gain entrance to the hotel with Erica to search for the man with twitching eyes). You get the idea! Hmm, speaking of the crossroads scene with its 'Road Up' sign ... I'm practically certain that the sign is actually three signs! Cleverly, Hitchcock draws us into the scene using our curiosity. The first time we see the sign as Erica's jalopy approaches the gang of workmen, we can't actually read it because we're still too far away - and because Hitchcock seems to have deliberately had it painted not to be legible! Then, as the jalopy draws closer, the words on the sign are just readable - again the sign seems to have been painted to be not terribly sharp. Finally, we draw near the sign and now the words 'Road Up' are sharp and, for good measure, we can clearly see a studded design within each letter. (Frame-captures below of the last two of the three views. Note, too, that the sign in the final view seems to have moved slightly to the right!) Now, while we're about it, in the same view/s of the crossroads, note those glorious Kent skies. One of the charms of Young and Innocent is how Hitchcock seems to have gone out of his way to use its on-location photography to maximum picturesque effect - but not just picturesque effect. Kent, with its flat sunlit uplands and long straight Roman roads, serves as both counterpoint to the tensions of the story and a reminder of (especially) Erica's 'innocence' - that is, until, after she has got up from her bed (where she has thrown herself in a 'foetal' position) after being confined to her house, whereupon she accompanies Robert and Will to the Grand Hotel. Significantly, the film's climax takes place inside the hotel, located in a large town instead of the generally small villages or isolated 'pullovers' we have seen hitherto. (Returning for a moment to the matter of the straight roads of Kent, one scene makes particularly effective use of them - when Robert gallantly decides he must continue without Erica's help because he has endangered her, and sets out to continue his journey on foot, the road stretching for miles in front of him. But Erica, seeing this, takes pity on him once again ...) I'll say more about the Grand Hotel scene next time. It's elaborately constructed and a tour-de-force culminating, of course, with the famous tracking shot into a man's twitching eyes. The snooty glances and amused looks of the wealthy patrons directed at Erica and Will - especially when the pair see fit to 'dance' together (Will hasn't a clue!) in order to move around the dance hall in search of their quarry - are suddenly, suitably, put in their place! More next time.

April 6 - 2019
'Throughout [Young and Innocent, Hitchcock] implies two rather different uses of the word 'innocence', while being clear that the most important matter is who murdered Christine [Clay].' I noted that here last time. It constitutes one of several pertinent 'dichotomies' Hitchcock plays with in the course of this constantly playful film. Another such dichotomy involves the question, 'Which is the adult, which is the child?', as we'll see shortly when we come to the brilliant children's birthday party scene. Recognition of Robert's 'innocence' by Erica is what their developing friendship is based on, as she gradually comes to trust him - and to assist him to elude the searching police and find the evidence he needs to clear himself of a murder charge. Importantly, in the old mill (see last time), his explanation to her of his relationship with Christine rings true, despite the shadow of a doubt that Hitchcock had earlier planted. A promising young screenwriter, Robert had first met the actress in Hollywood where she had persuaded him to write a screenplay for her. Back in England, he says, he went to Christine's secluded cottage 'three or four times to talk things over. Beyond that ...' The implication is that he never, at any time, forced himself on the married actress - although her husband's remark in the film's opening scene about how he was tired of 'boys' hanging around the cottage leaves up in the air Christine's own intentions. Possibly Hitchcock was implying here a contrast between the norms of Hollywood and the more 'respectable' English, to whom Erica, daughter of a chief constable, belongs. But within this particular dichotomy, numerous shadings of grey are allowed to intrude, implying that we should take a reasonably 'adult' - or tolerant - view of what's right. As I've sometimes said here (e.g., February 2, above), a perennial Hitchcock theme is that of the difficult, even precarious, nature of 'growing up'. In Young and Innocent, Erica's progressive decisions in the first half of the film to assist the fugitive Robert - with food, some money, lifts in her jalopy - show such a development, and her increasing willingness to commit to a mutual relationship. (Her eventual abandonment of her attachment to her jalopy, when it plummets down a mine shaft, signals her new maturity.) Now, I'm sorry to be so schematic so far! Young and Innocent actually rattles along, as Hitchcock moves deftly from one development to the next, many of them amusing despite the tension of the pair's constant danger. (In this respect, at least, it's The 39 Steps over again.) I particularly love the children's birthday party episode, found at the very centre of the film, and neither more nor less defining of the film's general tone than the crop-dusting scene is for North by Northwest! Yet, shockingly, the American distributors of Young and Innocent originally cut the birthday scene out! They wanted to fit Hitchcock's film on the bottom-half of a double bill! Partly, no doubt, they were unresponsive to the English setting and characters, including all those nannies looking after the young children! The upper-middle-class milieu - the scene takes place at the home of Erica's wealthy Aunt Mary (Mary Clare) and Uncle Basil (Basil Radford) - probably didn't particularly appeal to them either! The Josephine Tey novel locates the setting as near Tunbridge Wells in West Kent, a locale traditionally known as 'a by-word for traditional, conservative England'. Hitchcock has a lot of fun with it! At the same time, typically of him, there is nothing offensive about the scene, and all the characters - young and old - are interesting. And there's an abundance of gags and Hitchcock touches! Of course, he does manage to lend the scene a sinister note, both literally - the music that's playing on the radio - and figuratively, as Aunt Mary becomes suspicious about why Erica and Robert seem so anxious to get away. Uncle Basil to the rescue! (So often in Hitchcock an act of assistance or kindness, coming out of the blue - and there are several such moments in this film - is a delightful humanising touch.) Knowing well that his dear wife can be over-severe, Uncle Basil contrives to help Erica and Robert out. In the frame-capure below, he enlists the help of a small boy (who impresses us as 'adult' beyond his years!) to ask Aunt Mary to play Blind Man's Buff - specifying that she must be the first person blindfolded! Even then, as Erica and Robert edge towards the door, she nearly catches them, but the quick-thinking Uncle Basil interposes himself at the critical moment! And in Aunt Mary's defence, it must be said that she hasn't missed any of several indications that Erica and Robert have indeed been behaving strangely. Aunt Mary is no dunce! More next time.

March 30 - 2019
At dawn on 8 June 1931, the body of an attractive woman - possibly murdered - was found washed up on a lonely beach about twenty miles out of New York. (The incident made headlines in both America and Britain.) Sounds like a good way to start a mystery novel - or film - does it not? At least two authors thought so. One was Agatha Christie, in the opening chapter of 'Why Didn't They Ask Evans?' (1934) - though the body was now a man's. Another was Josephine Tey (Elizabeth MacKintosh), whose new Inspector Grant mystery 'A Shilling for Candles' (1936) was promptly filmed by Alfred Hitchcock as the often charming Young and Innocent (1937). In the frame-capture below, young Robert Tisdall (Derreck de Marney) spots the body from a clifftop. Shortly, he'll become suspected of the murder himself. The body proves to be that of actress Christine Clay with whom Tisdall may or may not have been having an affair in her lonely Kent hideaway cottage. (In other words, he may or may not be 'innocent' in that sense, at least.) In both novel and film he denies the affair. When a sergeant in the novel asks Robert, 'How long [had] you been living with her?', he corrects the sergeant: 'Staying with her.' Nonetheless, the sergeant remains sceptical (Pan edition, 1958, p. 13). In the film, Robert tells a policeman that suspicions of impropriety with Christine are 'absurd'. But a shadow of doubt remains because we had heard Christine's husband complain that he was sick of 'boys' hanging around the cottage. This touch of ambiguity was surely deliberate on Hitchcock's part. Throughout the film, he implies two rather different uses of the word 'innocence', while being clear that the most important matter is who murdered Christine. The police quickly realise that she had been strangled. In the film we see a close-up of a belt from a raincoat washed up near the body. Scant evidence, you might think, that this was the murder weapon. But this time Hitchcock didn't want any uncertainty (the belt and the raincoat are important to the plot!). A dramatic burst of music makes clear that we are to regard the belt as a major clue! Now, while I'm writing about the opening chapters of the novel - a more detailed analysis of Young and Innocent can begin next time - let me pick out a use of a very English idiom, the term 'wrong 'un'. (As we all know, a cop in Psycho wonders if Marion Crane is one of those. William Rothman, though, seems not to understand the origins of the term, so let's look at it for a moment.) A neighbour of Christine's had spotted Robert staying at the cottage, and reportedly 'hasn't much of an opinion of him'. But, we're told, this doesn't mean she thinks he's a wrong 'un - just someone of no account. (pp. 37-38) (In 'Why Didn't They Ask Evans?', a character admits to having 'always been what they call a "wrong 'un." Even at Oxford I had a little lapse. Stupid, because it was bound to be found out. The Pater ... sent me to the Colonies' - Chapter XXXIV.) 'Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable' notes that the term means: 'A swindler, cheat or palpably dishonest person.' Once again, then, we sense that although Robert has been down on his luck, he is not a killer or anything like it. His meeting with Erica Burgoyne (played in the film by 17 y.o. Nova Pilbeam) will prove redemptive for both of them. Erica is a remarkable young person, although she seems to be stagnating a bit. The daughter of a Chief Constable, and poised on the edge of adulthood, she is smart and, in her own way, experienced. When Robert faints at the police station, she is on hand to bring him round with some vigorous face-slapping and (in the film) some ear-twisting! Asked where she learnt that, she answers, 'In a boxer's dressing-room' (cf the novel: 'Bradford Pete's dressing-room' - p. 34). Hitchcock has some fun by contrasting Erica and Robert with the relatively slow locals, including some of the police and associates. For example, Robert finds himself saddled with the incompetent local lawyer, Briggs - and sees that he has to escape and find the exculpatory evidence he needs for himself. Helped by Erica - initially against her will - Robert spends all but his last three shillings on petrol for her jalopy. She hides him in an abandoned mill, then heads home, meeting a passing police car on the road outside - but doesn't turn Robert in. He sees this and blows her a grateful kiss. Back home, Erica joins her father and her four schoolboy brothers at table for dinner. From their discussion she learns that Robert must be practically broke. With unconscious callousness, one of the brothers speculates that soon Robert will be starving and the police will catch him 'like a rat in a trap'. But an incoming phone call to Chief Constable Burgoyne is negative: the escaped Robert is still at large. Another of Erica's brothers comments that the inept local police need 'young blood'. The film is full of such references to youth - as we'll see. As soon as she can, Erica returns to the mill ...

March 23 - 2019
One more notation on an essay in Baggett & Drumin, 'Hitchcock and Philosophy' (2007), this time an essay called "Ethics or Film Theory? The Real McGuffin in North by Northwest" by Thomas E. Wartenberg. I have no quarrel with the author's contention - if I may paraphrase it - that neither blind patriotism nor blind love emerges uncriticised by Hitchcock's 1959 film. (Wartenberg uses the terms 'zealous patriotism' and 'ethical particularism', which I'll come back to.) Ultimately, it seems that 'only film has the power to create the optimistic world in which the commitments of patriotism and of romance will not conflict' (p. 155) That sounds Hitchcockian enough to me, although I'm not sure that the author actually proves his case. His main argument against the love of Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) for Eve Kendall (Eva Marie-Saint) being sufficient-unto-itself seems to be that Roger's 'rash but heroic' actions (p. 154) finally need the 'timely intervention' (p. 151) of the Professor (Leo G. Carroll) and his marksman on Mount Rushmore. That's factually true, but can one infer a critique of romance, and its limitations, from it? Isn't it just a reminder that none of us is self-sufficient? I think of the end of To Catch a Thief (1955) in which John Robie (Cary Grant again, playing another 'headstrong' character) must finally admit to Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) that he 'needed the help of a woman'! Nonetheless, Wartenberg explicates North by Northwest in ways that are helpful and clarifying. For example, I appreciated his observation about just how inventive - like a film director - the Professor is. He is responsible for creating the fictitious 'George Kaplan' to divert the attention of the villainous Vandamm (James Mason) from the real American agent, Eve. Too, he is the one who provides Eve with a gun and blank bullets in order to 'shoot' Roger (frame-capture below), so as to again trick Vandamm about Eve's real loyalties. 'Another elaborate staging', Wartenberg calls this (p. 147). At the same time, Wartenberg is rightly critical of the Professor for being what his colleague calls 'callous'. That is, if the Professor and the nature of espionage - associated with 'zealous patriotism' - are callous, then they are a mirror-equivalent of the 'rash' and 'headstrong' Roger and his 'ethical particularism', something which eventually threatens to put Eve in danger anyway (despite the Professor's 'blessings on you both'). 'Ethical particularism' is defined by Wartenberg as that which 'takes our fundamental ethical commitments to reside' not in love of country but 'in our specific personal relationships with particular human beings' (p. 142) Of course, anyone who has seen North by Northwest knows that there are many complicating aspects to the schematic picture just given. (On the other hand, I have no doubt that E.M. Forster would have been right behind Roger's moral redemption when he heroically acts to save Eve, whom he loves. Forster famously wrote, in one of his essays: 'If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.') Wartenberg's picture of the film is simplistic. And he shows little or no appreciation of the brilliant screenplay and its inventiveness. (I recall that Ernest Lehman amazed himself at times, as when the idea of the blanks just came into his head and he heard a voice telling him, 'Eve takes out a gun and shoots him.') Philosophy can be so reductive! However, the picture given by Wartenberg does recognise that we inhabit an imperfect world. And he is right to emphasise that it's the nature of film to be able to resolve conflicts that seem unresolvable in that real world! As he puts it: '[A]though North by Northwest appears to be about a conflict between different ethical perspectives, it turns out to be really about the power of film itself.' (p. 154) The latter is something that often figures in Hitchcock. Waternberg highlights the editing in North by Northwest, as when at the end of the film the scene shifts in an instant from Mount Rushmore to an upper birth of the Twentieth Century Limited, and all dangers seem suddenly past (p. 151). A variant is an intriguing episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Hour' made a few years after North by Northwest - in 1964 - called "The Magic Shop" (d. Robert Stevens), adapted from a story by H.G. Wells. The conflict between a malignly possessed boy and his parents is unresolved at the end, but early scenes in the eponymous magic shop are memorable for the magic of film itself. For example, the boy's father handles what are supposedly imitation snakes, but which a later shot shows to be real and alive! The episode's final line refers to 'parents without power'. But the power of film, or in this case TV, is triumphant in "The Magic Shop". (Note: the series' producers repeatedly said that they sought to hew closely to Hitchcock's own techniques and approach.)

March 16 - 2019
[This entry is for Dan Shaw.] Another essay in Baggett & Drumin's 2007 book 'Hitchcock and Philosophy' (see last time) is "Rope: Nietzsche and the Art of Murder" by Shai Biderman and Eliana Jacobowitz, which is definitely one of the book's most helpful essays - no mere exercise in abstract thinking where the Hitchcock film feels of secondary concern! Indeed, the two authors begin by criticising the film's philosophy teacher Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) for being over-fond 'of using [Nietzschean] concepts and theories to provoke and shock conventional people [...] all the while treating such concepts merely as abstractions on the intellectual plane'! (p. 35) The film (see frame-capture below) is as much about Rupert's comeuppance as it is about the comeuppance of his two misguided students, Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger), who kill to 'prove' their superiority, in the mistaken belief that they belong to Nietzsch's élite group of 'supermen'. (They thereby overlook the subtitle of Nietzsche's 'Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None' - his great poetic exercise in 'positive thinking' - where the superman concept features.) If you've ever asked yourself just what is the premise of Rope (1948), read this essay! Mind, I find some of its formulations troubling. For example, it suggests that it's 'perfectly alright' if you're a genius - Mozart, Napoleon, Shakespeare - and you somewhat 'neglect conventional obligations to family or friends [or defy] traditional systems or personal dangers' because 'individual excellence and achievement take priority [within] the true nature of ethics'. (p. 38) That phrase 'the true nature of ethics' sounds vague to me! Similarly, and pertaining to the essay's title, there's this: 'Though life itself can and should be made a work of art, according to Nietzsche, it seems that murder cannot be.' (p. 44) Seems? That's a bit non-committal, isn't it? Of course, Brandon himself claims that murder is an art, and that after the killing of David Kentley (in the opening moment of the film), he feels 'truly and wonderfully alive'! Moreover, to put the finishing touch to their 'masterpiece', Brandon and Phillip hide the body in a large trunk, then invite - amongst others - the dead boy's father Mr Kentley (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), and his fiancée Janet (Joan Chandler) to visit Brandon's apartment and partake of a meal served off the selfsame trunk. Audacious, at any rate! (Hmm. That's the same epithet that you sometimes hear applied to Hitchcock! Keep that in mind for a moment.) The two killers, but especially Brandon, seem totally indifferent to the feelings of their guests. And again, while I appreciate the following observation, which quotes a bit of 'Zarathustra', I'm also troubled by it: 'The process of becoming a superman is an internal process where one "delights the spirit so that it turns creator and esteemer and lover and benefactor of all things." Had Brandon gone through such a process and emerged a superman, he would have sought to bestow goodness on others, not destruction. He would have become a giver of life, not a taker of it.' (pp. 41-42) That troubles me because it sounds like the essay's authors are simply moralising, preaching a sermon - which is not Hitchcock's way, of course! And it too easily leaves the door open to the riposte, 'Oh dear, poor Brandon! He made a mistake and externalised - rather than internalised - his "well-meaning" attempt to do what Rupert had seemed to exhort him, i.e., be a superman!' (Clearly Rupert, too, appears to have neglected the subtitle of 'Zarathustra'.) And yet, isn't the simple slippage from concept to - wilful - practice the very thing the film is drawing attention to? By 'wilful' I mean the ignoring of society's laws and requirements. No-one - not even a genius - is above such laws. However, there is such a fine line between being open to that knowledge and being a free agent on one's own behalf - it's scary! To be fair, the essay's authors quote Rupert's long speech after he sees the light, in which he rounds on the killers: 'Till this very moment this world and the people in it have always been dark and incomprehensible to me [...] Did you think you were God, Brandon? Is that what you thought when you choked the life out of [...] a fellow human being who could live and love as you never could? And never will again.' (pp. 43-44) Note here how the measure of things is 'life'. Nietzsche owed much to Schopenhauer and his concept of 'the will to life' (which Schopenhauer made the basis of his own ethical system). Nietsche, though, eventually modified that notion - I would say 'perverted' it - to 'the will to power'. (In turn, Hitler 'perverted' Nietzsche's concept for his own ends.) The 'audacity' of Rope is that it goes right to the heart of our situation and to how precarious all our thinking is, especially when we allow mere will-power to determine it. Not quoted by the essay, unfortunately, is Rupert's final emphasis on 'society' - not the individual - as arbiter.

March 9 - 2019
'Many viewers have observed', write Baggett & Drumin in their collection of essays, 'Hitchcock and Philosophy' (see last time), 'that Alfred Hitchcock focuses on ideas in the construction of his films.' (p. xi - emphasis in original) While that's surely not the whole truth - Hitchcock focusses on every aspect of his films (e.g., giving each component sufficient screen-time to make its necessary contribution, from a flash-frame to a whole sequence, or many sequences) - I do value several essays in this book for demonstrating just how rigorous was Hitchcock's attention to 'formal postulates' (as Rohmer & Chabrol called them). Take one of the book's two essays on Vertigo (1958), the one called "Vertigo: Scientific Method, Obsession, and Human Minds". Its author, Dan Flory, sets out to demonstrate that Scottie (James Stewart) is over-reliant on rational explanation, as when he asserts to 'Madeleine' (Kim Novak) that 'there's an answer [rational answer] to everything'. And that the film aims to expose his hubris - and punish him - before the end. (Gavin Elster's fiendish scheme to play on Scottie's perceived weakness is not the point here, but merely a metaphor, a trope, for what the film is saying poetically.) More exactly, Flory points out that Scottie, a detective, thinks he understands human behaviour but that he is sadly mistaken - and that his ex-sweetheart Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) is far wiser than he in this respect. Flory suggests that there's a parallel with how the philosophers of the Vienna Circle in the 1920s and 1930s 'advocated science as the only proper model for philosophy and [wanted to completely exclude] the non-experiential, metaphysical claims that they felt had plagued philosophy - as well as human beings more generally - for centuries'. (p. 119) Flory makes much of the kitchen-stool episode in Midge's apartment (see frame-capture below) as illustrating just how inadequate is Scottie's over-rational approach to problems. 'Scottie's attempt to apply his theory about curing acrophobia through gradual acclimation fails [...] Here, as elsewhere in the film, Scottie grossly underestimates the power of human emotions, even as he approaches them by means of a deeply rationalistic procedure.' (p. 121) (Midge's doctor had shown more understanding, telling her that only another emotional shock might cure Scottie. To which Midge responds by telling Scottie: 'You're not going to go diving off another rooftop to find out.') Similarly, Scottie believes that Madeleine's emotional disturbance can be explained by just finding 'the key, the beginning, [and then putting] it together'. This time it is Madeleine who corrects him: 'And explain it away'. (Note the affinity of Scottie and Madeleine in at least one respect: they both have - or appear to have - emotional problems.) Flory at this point (pp. 122-23) reminds us that the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle put too much emphasis on 'the facts' - whereas nowadays we generally accept that all so-callled facts are 'theory-laden'. ('The classical statement of this argument is Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the influence of which has spread throughout philosophy.' - p. 123) And he reminds us that Scottie is rightly called (by Gavin Elster) 'the hardheaded Scot', noting that the exemplary figure here is 'the archetypal British empiricist David Hume and other like-minded members of the eighteenth-century "Scottish Enlightenment"'. (p. 118) However, I find that this over-simplifies the complexity of Scottie. (Which may be ironic, for perhaps Flory himself is being too rational about Scottie's character!) Rather than David Hume, I prefer to cite Sir Kenneth Clark who once wrote: 'The Scottish character (and I am myself a Scot) shows an extraordinary combination of realism and reckless sentiment.' ('Civilisation', 1969, p. 258) Hitchcock and his screenwriter Samuel Taylor well understood how easy it is for humans - when pushed by pressure of circumstances - to tip over from their usual selves into an opposite or 'compensatory' disposition. Which may be why Scottie finally reprimands Judy (Kim Novak again) for being 'sentimental'. He recognises his own susceptibility that way. Nonetheless, essays like Flory's greatly help us to see the empirical rigour of the characterisation and structure in the best Hitchcock movies.

March 2 - 2019
The 2007 book 'Hitchcock and Philosophy', edited by David Baggett and William A. Drumin, contains two essays on Rear Window (1954), and I want to discuss the one called "Rear Window: Hitchcock's Allegory of the Cave" this time. It's by Michael Silberstein, who has qualifications in both Philosophy and Physics, and the essay's starting-point is not so much Plato's Allegory of the Cave (in 'The Republic') as the opposing views of Plato and Aristotle about reality, and their attitudes to art. (I'll tip Silberstein's position on Rear Window now. In a word, it's that the film has it both ways by implying that 'both Plato and Aristotle are right in a sense' - p. 189. This sounds so characteristically 'Hitchcockian' that I accepted the observation instantly, and read on to find how Silberstein builds his case.) Plato's Cave is relevant to this extent. It reminds us that, for Plato, we are all trapped in an underground cave until the light of reason frees us to understand the true reality of the world (the world of absolute 'forms' and not mere shadows). And a comment of my own: this formulation had a big influence on the philosophy of Schopenhauer. His view of art, though, going beyond Plato's, was that the best art can give us a glimpse of 'objectivity', the world's Will, trumping mere subjective knowledge, Representation. Here art is superior to reason! Whereas, Aristotle simply 'rejected a transcendent world of forms and was more open to sensory experience as an aid to knowledge' (p. 188), and therefore did not dismiss art. (My conclusion: if Hitchcock indeed has it both ways, then this is very Schopenhauerian of him, as I've often said! But there's more!) Silberstein sums up the next stage of his argument like this: 'After viewing Rear Window, we are wiser about the dangers and thrills of voyeurism, the wastefulness of ennui, and the risks of preferring fantasy to reality. Rear Window liberates us from the blinding habitual boredom of our own lives.' (p. 194) As well it might. That's a reason we go to the movies - to avoid incipient boredom, which is the very state Schopenhauer considered basic to the human condition (and classified as a form of the world's suffering). What Hitchcock shows us onscreen is never arbitrary. As I said here recently (February 16, above): 'In seeking to make his characters "representative", Hitchcock was always astutely aware of universal human feelings, and knew how to "generalise" such feelings in a way that the audience could identify with.' In the case of Rear Window, we hear Jeff (James Stewart) complain about being trapped in 'a swamp of boredom'. All his actions and attitudes seemingly stem from that, including his relative indifference lately to his beautiful fiancée, Lisa (Grace Kelly). Hitchcock determines to shake him - and us - up a bit! As Silberstein puts it: 'Rear Window is Hitchcock's attempt to free [Jeff and] his fellow prisoners from the illusion-engendering cave; a function Plato thought only a philosopher wielding reason could perform.' (p. 194) By appealing to sense-experience (Rear Window is superbly sensuous at all times, e.g., its sudden rainstorm in the early hours of a sweltering morning), and swift turns of events, and even down-playing reason for long stretches, Hitchcock aims to give us a complete experience, well beyond what Plato had envisaged. Silberstein notes how Jeff's nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) seeks to bring Jeff and Lisa back close: 'Don't analyze each other to death, just come together ... Modern love is over intellectualized ... just spread a little commonsense on the bread.' (p. 196) Also the film contains its own critique of the wrong attitude, by some audiences, towards cinema, and significantly this attitude, too, is over-intellectual. Silberstein: 'Cinema and other such entertainment can make us increasingly alienated, apolitical, antisocial, self-centred, and can further erode self-reflection, introspection, and self-awareness. None of the people in the courtyard (including Jefferies) are "neighbors." Instead, they are more like moviegoers sitting next to one another alone in the dark.' (p. 197) Nonetheless, Jeff and Lisa and Stella - and to some extent Jeff's old buddy Doyle (Wendell Corey) - are able to combine their resources in an exercise aimed at catching a killer that is both thought-requiring and sense-arousing. Jeff comes to realise that 'what really saved him from [the killer] (and himself) were not his flashbulbs [the light of reason?], but his community and friendships with Lisa, Stella, and Doyle - these three behaved as good "neighbors" and good Samaritans.' (p. 201) In effect, Plato plus Aristotle! (Frame-capture below: Jeff the investigator, with his trusty telephoto lens!)

February 23 - 2019
What I called last time a 'transcendent' element in Hitchcock movies might include Leonard's (Martin Landau's) line in North by Northwest (1959) about 'ceilings and possibilities unlimited' or the 'inexplicable' nature of the avian attacks in The Birds (1963) or the 'outrageous' nature of psychopath Bruno's intentions in Strangers on a Train (1951) or ... In Rich and Strange it is the very conception of 'the East' and the way 'they' do things there. It is made to seem very different from the clock-ruled office routine of Fred's office in London, or the drab predictability that his home life with Emily seems to have settled into. Lesson: the world is a bigger, stranger place than they (and we, the audience) may have thought it. (The global tourist industry was nowhere near as large as it is today, of course.) Note how this involves more than mere contrasting of elements - although there is plenty of that, too, in Hitchcock. For example, the 'romantic' image of the sea in 'Off Valpairoso' (see last time) contrasts with both the drama and the tedium that occurs when Fred and Em find themselves shipwrecked and then taken aboard a Chinese junk of unknown destination whose crew seem remote and indifferent. (John Grierson thought that Hitchcock was showing a very clichéd and ill-informed outlook on what the world was like - although it's more likely that Hitchcock himself was criticising Fred and Em for those things.) Speaking of criticism ... The principal butt of Hitchcock's criticism is Fred, so bossy of Em and so gullible - especially to the shipboard wiles of the 'Princess'. She's obviously a practised seductress. ('The Princess Olga did not blunder or fumble. Her deft hands found his face, rested on his cheeks and drew him to her. Then she discovered to Fred the science of the kiss.' - p. 113) Earlier, in Port Said, she had teased him unmercifully - including an episode that Hitchcock wanted to film. Fred and Olga go swimming together. Fred dives into the murky water, boasting that he's 'like a fish - can't be drowned!' Some distance away, Olga's legs are 'straddled apart', and she answers him; 'Then dive under me from there!' '[I]f she had been twice as far Fred swore he would have done it ... Far ahead, dim and pale, her legs took shape ... The legs - the glimmering, shapely legs - of a princess! An objective, if you liked! ... Just when it seemed his straining lungs must force him to surrender, he reached that alabaster arch - that arch of triumph. But the way was narrow. He jammed in the alabaster arch ... The arch became a trap in which he might perish. He would drown in the grip of those infernal legs.' (p. 104) But at last a gasping Fred frees himself, and he tells Olga, 'Gosh, you nearly did for me!' 'The Princess slipped her arm about his waist and gave him an affectionate hug. "But think how nice," she teased. "You would not mind to die like that, mon cher?"' (p. 105) And Fred is happy! The novel comments pertinently: 'There were people - clerks and the like - who thought they knew what it meant to be alive.' Hitchcock surely loved that telling, cautionary note (may even have suggested it), and the scene - so suggestive, another appealing element for him! - was actually scripted. But on the day of shooting, on a beach in England, the weather was chilly. Shooting was called off, and the film's tight schedule apparently stopped a return. Pity! Another ingredient of the scene would have been that it shows both sides of Fred - his gullible side, yes, but also his masculine readiness. (I'm not sure why Hitchcock chose gay actor Henry Kendall, who is no more than adequate, in the part.) Perhaps I'm forgetting something: 'There was more snobbery than sex in Fred's passion for the Princess.' (p. 189) And I recall another scene later in the novel. In Singapore, after Fred learns that the Princess was a fraud - her father kept a cleaning shop in Berlin (Balham in the film, i.e. London) - and has decamped with much of Fred and Em's money, he drowns his sorrows by drinking with three commercial travellers, ending up in a bar/brothel. A Japanese girl comes to their table, obviously seeking a customer for the evening. Fred beams. 'He was a man amongst men, and women were his toys.' (p. 205) Unfortunately, he's had too much to drink. Later, the madam offers him another girl - but Fred 'was sick on the floor'! (p. 207) (Frame-capture: Em confronts Fred and the Princess in Singapore.)

February 16 - 2019
By the time he made Rich and Strange (1932) Hitchcock already had a reputation - primarily in the UK - as a versatile, clever, and speedy director of films with a human touch (a reputation certainly consolidated by Blackmail, 1929, which one reviewer called 'the best British film' to that date). When he suggested to Dale Collins that he write a novel about a couple who travel the world by ship, Hitchcock would have been confident that his studio would let him film it - which proved the case. And already conscious of his reputation for 'the Hitchcock touch' - whatever exactly that is (let's think about it) - he probably gave Collins additional suggestions of what might be appropriate to his needs. Not least, the couple should be 'representative'. They should be ordinary, but interesting, working-class Londoners, leading ordinary lives, whose barely expressed fantasy of being free to travel and see the world would be suddenly realised - to humorous and even gently satirical effect. And Hitchcock knew that he would be able to bring his penchant for significant visual gags to bear on whatever material Collins gave him. For example, I like the moment when Fred and Emily have reached Paris and - because it is the thing to do - attend a performance at the Folies Bergère. (Emily: 'Ooh, the curtain's gone up too soon. They're not wearing any clothes!') Returning to their hotel, more than slightly tipsy, they soon retire to their (separate) beds! But Fred stumbles and Emily mistakes what she sees as Fred saying his good-night prayers! As the dutiful little wife she is (!), Emily follows his lead. It's a sweet moment but it also tells us something about their relationship. (As I said last time, the couple at this stage aren't exactly equals.) It's a Hitchcock gag. Sometimes Hitchcock followed Collins's novel to the letter, but still managed to add inflections of his own. For example, Collins refers to the painting on Fred and Emily's wall in London - Thomas Somerscales' 'Off Valparaiso' (showing a clipper ship at sea) - in the context of Fred's complaint that he hasn't any 'life'. 'It's not right, I tell you. I want more out of life - excitement - adventure - change. That kind of thing!' (p. 6) And he gestures at the painting above the mantelpiece. But Hitchcock keeps coming back to the painting. After learning about their inheritance, which will give them money to travel the world, Fred gazes one last time at the painting almost disdainfully (as if to say, 'I'll show you what world travel is!'). (See frame-capture below.) Whereas in the novel, Collins has Emily grieve to herself, 'That picture has always been such a friend to him, such a solace.') And Hitchcock follows up with the shot I referred to last time, of items on the stove boiling over. I'd like to slightly re-interpret that latter shot. I no longer see it as just Fred boiling over with his sense of grievance but as a metaphor of what their overseas trip will signify to the couple, a chance to let off steam together. (Of course, it doesn't exactly work out as simplistically as that!) Also, there's another aspect of that painting by Thomas Somerscales on the wall. It serves almost exactly a function of the pictures on the wall in the real estate office where Marion Crane works at the start of Psycho (1960). The pictures are of exotic, non-urban landscapes. The one directly above Marion's desk is of patterned sand dunes. They seem to tell us that everyone has some vague yearning to 'get away' (thereby anticipating Marion's flight with the stolen money to Sam in California, a journey she never completes.) In seeking to make his characters 'representative', Hitchcock was always astutely aware of universal human feelings, and knew how to 'generalise' such feelings in a way that the audience could identify with. Even if those feelings were not strictly 'rational'! In other words, the view in the Somerscales painting is proleptic of ensuing events in the film's plot. The director Hitchcock always liked to work that way, to impose an organic unity on what he showed us. For example, the early scenes in Rebecca, 1940, with Mrs van Hopper (Florence Bates) belittling the Joan Fontaine character, tell us exactly why that character falls for the charming, but ageing, Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) so readily! Also, there's almost invariably in Hitchcock, some 'transcendent' element whereby he 'outflanks' our conscious expectations. In Rich and Strange, it occurs when the shipwrecked couple find themselves on board a Chinese junk whose sailors, although they've saved Emily and Fred's lives, seem indifferent to them. Here's the novel: 'Time passed, but not as it had on the ship. No bell counted the hours, no routine divided the day. The junk sailed outside the minutes, hours, and days of white men in the eternity of the Orient. Her people ... ate the opium of space.' (pp. 248-49) To be continued.

February 2 - 2019
Mentioning Rich and Strange (1931) above - see November 17 - I suggested what is almost a master-plot of Hitchcock's films and many of the TV shows: the progression (or otherwise) of certain characters towards 'growing up'. Most Hitchcockians have noticed that both Scottie in Vertigo (1958) and Roger in North by Northwest (1959) are told, 'you're a big boy now' - but the theme is in fact endemic in much of Hitchcock. For example, it leapt out when I was recently asked to write and talk about the TV shows, such as the AHP episode "You Can't Be a Little Girl All Your Life". (Indeed you can't!) Even more recently, I have been reading the novel 'Rich and Strange' (1930) by the Australian journalist and writer Dale Collins, which Hitchcock had suggested to Collins that he compose, on the understanding that Hitchcock would film it. Hitch was true to his word. The film sticks closely to Collins's main story, with added touches and emphases throughout - such as the film's opening scene showing Fred, husband of Emily, at his office where he's a harassed clerk (shades of the 1923 expressionist play 'The Adding Machine') and is even more harassed on his way home via the crowded London Underground (this sequence anticipates some shots at the start of North by Northwest). Repeatedly in the novel a major effect of Fred and Emily's round-the-world sea voyage is described in terms of their growth. (No doubt Hitchcock appreciated that such a growing-up process is dynamic and therefore makes excellent cinema.) And near the end, on board a Chinese junk (after they've been shipwrecked), Emily reflects that they may have 'prided themselves [too soon] that they had come through childish distractions, through silly temptations, to the fundamentals of life, to the status of adults'. (Harrap, 1930, p. 266) Which raises a corollary of the 'growing up' theme already present in early Hitchcock films (e.g., Blackmail, 1929): that often, if not invariably, it's the woman who best sees that the attainment of such a state is nothing to be complacent about, and may be precarious. (In fact, 'growing up' in Hitchcock may sometimes be reversed, as in the AHP episode "Backward, Turn Backward" - not to mention Norman Bates's reversion to being a little boy in Psycho, 1960.) In turn, very often the man has been oppressor of the woman, who may not consciously have noticed what was happening. Rich and Strange - novel and film - may be the prototype here, whose influence is detectable in subsequent films such as Rebecca (1940), Dial M for Murder (1954), and the final Hitchcock project, never shot, The Short Night. In Fred's case, even after being humiliated by a fake 'Princess' on the outward voyage, and subsequently being shipwrecked and nearly drowned, he retains a certain haughtiness towards his wife, who has returned to him - after a shipboard affair of her own - in a forgiving and still loving frame of mind. Old (patriarchal) habits die hard! Hitchcock keeps Fred's arrogance going until the final moments, for the guy seems determined to keep finding a scapegoat for his humiliations, if not in his wife then in the 'inscrutable' Chinese on the junk. (The effect that Hitchcock was aiming for here - a turn-around from the taken-for-granted 'suburban' milieu in which the couple had been living in London - is complex, and doesn't altogether come off. This will be worth discussing later.) 'These Chinese breed like rabbits!' we hear Fred say, in both novel and film. And, on seeing the new-born baby, he adds: 'Gosh, isn't it ugly?' But finally the couple make it back to London, only to be soon quarrelling again about whether their apartment is large enough for when they finally have a baby of their own! Emily is now the discontented one (it was Fred at the start!), and she wants more room. Has anything much changed since Fred's initial boil-over (see Hitchcock's symbolic image for that moment, in the frame-capture below)? Perhaps one thing: they are now arguing as equals! To be continued.

January 26 - 2019
Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957) is brought to mind by a new true-crime documentary streaming on Netflix, 'The Innocent Man'. Back in 2006 author John Grisham, in a 'legal fiction' novel, also called 'The Innocent Man', had set out the details of two murders of young women that occurred three years apart (1982, 1985) in Ada, rural Oklahoma. Altogether four suspects were eventually arrested on circumstantial evidence and - amazingly - all were found guilty. The close-knit citizens of Ada had closure. But when the director of the new film, Clay Tweel, was sent the Grisham novel by a producer, he quickly saw how it drew attention to flaws in the criminal justice system - perhaps rather less tactfully than Hitchcock had done in the case of New York musician Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero, wrongfully arrested for robbery, in The Wrong Man. Tweel has said: 'It's important for audiences world-wide to understand that the criminal justice system is made by humans and followed by humans, and so we need to figure out the ways in which individuals in power and their bias are manipulating and perverting the system ...' Hitchcock, too, knew that such things happened, of course. When he was growing up, in early 20C London, there had been two celebrated cases of wrongful imprisonment (the Adolf Beck and Oscar Slater cases), in which witnesses positively identified 'the wrong man'. Although I'm not aware that it's suggested that the police or their associates were corrupt in those two cases, with The Wrong Man Hitchcock certainly cast doubt on the objectivity of the police investigation of Balestrero. That's powerfully conveyed in the frame-capture below showing 'Manny' (Henry Fonda) being interrogated by two detectives in his local precinct station. (Apropos Hitchcockian verismilitude, which we discussed last time, note things like the pock-marked cement wall and the trailing electrical flex.) One detective is standing over 'Manny', the other is staring steadily at him and pointing his fingers accusingly! The Balestrero case is discussed by Jay Robert Nash in his mammoth - and frightening - book, '"I Am Innocent!"' (2008) whose secondary title is 'A Comprehensive Encyclopaedic History of the World's Wrongly Convicted Persons'. It's 800 pages long, and ranges from ancient times to the present day. Don't read it is you want to keep your faith in the supposedly unflawed justice system of the modern era! For example, listen to the words of a US criminal judge who told Nash: 'Don't try my patience with your lofty ideas about justice. My only concern is to put as many of these people as possible in prison ... The public wants convictions and the harsher the sentences the better ... We give the lady [i.e., the public] what she wants.' As Nash comments (p. xv), that judge, at least, is 'thankfully deceased'. After describing the Balestrero case, Nash next mentions '[a] similar celebrated case [of armed robbery, from 1979], which did not result in conviction thanks to the conscience of the real look-alike perpetrator, [involving] a distinguished Maryland clergyman'. (p. 146) Shades of the real-life case in France that formed the basis of the play 'Our Two Consciences' (1902), and Hitchcock's film version, I Confess (1953) discussed here in recent weeks. (The clergyman in question, assistant pastor Bernard T. Pagano, did not make things any easier for himself when he lied to the police about having a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and having attended post-graduate courses at two other universities!) And next, Nash describes a case a year or two later, in which a young freelance photographer named 'Bob' Dillen was arrested thirteen times in Pennsylvania and Indiana, eventually standing trial on five charges of robbery, rape, and kidnapping. Each time, at least one eyewitness 'positively' identified Dillen as the criminal. The fact that the police, following a tip-off, eventually tracked down the real bandit, who had committed all the crimes, was cited by Police Superintendent Robert Kroner as proof that 'our legal system works'! (p. 147) But back to Hitchcock. Nash says that he knew him well. When he asked Hitchcock why he made 'wrong man' films, 'he told me that his success was based on "showing the character victimized not only once, but over and over, until everyone in that theatre is rooting for him or her, and that is one of mankind's greatest passions - saving the other person from an awful fate that could engulf anyone and everyone in that theatre".' (p. 581) Once again, Hitch shows that he's perhaps the very best analyst of his own work, at a pragmatic level, i.e., of what he was actually doing!

January 19 - 2019
Not always appreciated in its fine detail is how every moment of a Hitchcock film not only matters - any good Hitchcockian will tell you that! - but is given maximum authenticity, verisimilitude. A well known instance is Scottie's apartment in Vertigo (1958). For its design, Hitchcock asked that, as far as feasible, the living quarters of every San Francisco policeman of Scottie's age and rank and background be photographed! The film had four set designers, led by Hal Pereira and Henry Bumstead (not a record - North by Northwest had five set designers), who went ahead and based the interior of Scottie's apartment on the photographs obtained. But there are other details in the films that are equally well researched but may elude detection, if only because they're fleeting or offbeat. For instance, when 'Van Meer' (Albert Basserman) in Foreign Correspondent (1940) is shot, we're given a brief image of his shattered face, and it's fairly horrendous although not dwelt on. Enough is enough. No doubt Hitchcock remembered the famous close-up in Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925) that had shown the bloodied face and shattered pince-nez glasses (itself a clever touch) of a woman shot by advancing Czarist soldiers on the Odessa Steps. But the image in both films is real enough. One day, I was browsing in the Law Library of Monash University, Melbourne, and I happened to open a forensics textbook that included crime photographs. One such photograph showed the face of a man who'd been shot, and the image was close to that in the two films I've just mentioned. These days, there are similar photos - and others even more ghastly - on the Web; I have chosen a less horrendous example to reproduce below - the face has already been stitched up, so the victim presumably survived. (Incidentally, it wasn't really Van Meer who was shot in Foreign Correspondent but someone who'd been tricked into impersonating him - a piquant detail that Hitchcock may have got from one of the Bulldog Drummond novels of 'Sapper'/H.C. McNeile.) And another deathly detail, or two, in a Hitchcock film that struck me recently are the two instances of Catholic 'last rites' in I Confess (1953). (Compare the Requiem Mass in Foreign Correspondent.) The first is performed over the dying body of Alma Keller, shot by her husband when the pressure of seeing Father Logan (Montgomery Clift) being hounded by an angry mob makes her run and call out the truth, that Logan is innocent and that her husband had shot the lawyer named Villette. (This scene is inspired by, but surely improves on, the perfunctory-seeming final moment in the original play, 'Our Two Consciences' - see January 5, above.) Although Logan is quick to come to the aid of the dying woman, he is immediately joined by his superior, the head of Logan's rectory, and it is the latter priest who speaks the prayers-for-the-dying over Alma. Everything here is authentic but Hitchcock - who of course was responsible for 'getting it right' - does not unduly dwell on the last rites themselves. We hardly hear the actual words the priest speaks. But we do hear Alma say, 'Forgive me.' And nothing of the due solemnity of the moment is lost. The image is sufficient unto itself, and I was reminded of a wartime photograph of a Roman Catholic chaplain administering last rites to an injured American crewman on a ship, the USS Franklin, that had been fired upon by a Japanese plane - as a caption that's on the Web informs us. The caption doesn't detract from the poignancy of the moment, but nor does it add much that's essential. The photo speaks for itself. (I've reproduced it below without the caption.) Moreover, there is of course a second last-rites moment in the film, which comes at the end when Keller is shot by the police - and Logan himself speaks the last rites over the dying man who had effectively set him up for a possible death sentence (as described in preceding "Editor's Week" entries). And now we hear Keller's own, 'Forgive me', and it speaks for us all, much like the nun's 'God have mercy' at the end of Vertigo (1958).

January 12 - 2019
We have been looking at Paul Bourde's 1902 melodrama 'Nos deux consciences'/'Our Two Consciences' (now translated into English by Morry C. Matson) and what it can tell us about Alfred Hitchcock's film adaptation, I Confess (1953). We saw that the play's title refers to religious and political outlooks, or the sacred and the profane. That motif runs through the play, although not intrusively. (I object more to its several long blocks of declamatory 'dialogue', some of them a few hundred words. Ibsen it isn't!) For example, the investigator on the case, Judge Dubois (yes, Judge Dubois - no separation of powers!), believing that he is on the right track, relishes how the case promises to be 'a huge affair' and rubs his hands joyously - and you sense that he hopes to turn it to personal and political advantage! Mid-way through the play, Father Pioux's friend, Dr Bordier, is said to be worried: 'He [Bordier] is manifesting overt sympathies for the accused which may compromise the process of his candidacy.' He is, though, an admirable person, like his friend. When visiting Father Pioux in the condemned cell, while he professes not to understand the priest's absolute need to remain true to the tenets of his faith (see last time), he senses an affinity to his own, socialist beliefs: 'No, we are created to accomplish what we see as our duty. This is the nobility of our destiny.' The play's outlook is fairly bleak, only compromised by its too-easy ending (again see last time). Like many melodramas - and Hitchcock films - the play gives a sense of shared human suffering, barely overcome - and only for now. The philosopher of such a situation is Schopenhauer. I must say I liked what a prominent member of our Hitchcock discussion group, Martin P, wrote this week, drawing attention to the poet Emerson's thought, 'there is one mind common to all individual men'. (As we've noted here before, Emerson was deeply influenced by Schopenhauer.) The irreconcilability of our individual subjective outlooks, i.e., our customary inability to actually realise (in every sense) our 'one mind', was Schopenhauer's great insight. He suggested that great art can offer glimpses of the truth. Dr Bordier in 'Our Two Consciences' has his own position: 'Our revolution, with its ardor for reform and progress, will not end [so long as] this world of iniquity remains and all its pain is not spared [us] ...' This week, too, Martin P reminded our group of how Otto Preminger's 1951 film, The 13th Letter (a remake of Georges Clouzot's Le Corbeau, 1943), and set in Quebec, may have helped persuade Hitchcock to set his own film there. Both films were made for Warner Brothers, and both make considerable use of exterior locations (I think they have in common an assignation on the Quebec-Lévis ferry, for example). However, Martin's citation of Emerson was made in the context of how Hitchcock's film, by focussing on the individual torment of its priest, Father Logan, may finally be more emotionally moving than the Preminger: '[because] we can identify with that individual torment, the individual thus [becomes] the universal'. Whereas it's typical of Preminger's films that they 'objectify' whole communities or institutions - in the case of The 13th Letter, a small Catholic community in Quebec. Something else we've noted here before is how a play like 'Our Two Consciences' takes much of its drama from the enforced silence of its principal character- Father Pioux in the Paul Bourde play (written under the pseudonym of 'Paul Anthelme'), the eponymous character in another French play 'Madame X', written by Alexandre Bisson in 1908, and much filmed. (Earlier, there had been an 1886 novel, 'The Silence of Dean Maitland', by Maxwell Gray, again about a clergyman or priest, although not the sacrament of confession; it too was filmed at least twice, in Australia.) By the way, there are several dramatic touches in 'Our Two Consciences' that Hitchcock incorporated in his film: I've space only to mention the audible murmur in the courtroom when Logan expresses himself rather too forcibly for the liking of the onlookers. Similarly, in the play, after Father Pioux makes a declaration of his innocence, the script refers to a 'lively murmuring from the gallery'. But now, finally, here's a small question. Martin P has noted the moment in Hitchcock's film that aptly refers to the 1951 Humphrey Bogart movie, The Enforcer. Logan, his mind in turmoil, knowing that he is about to be arrested, sees a cinema poster showing a man in handcuffs. Passing further along the street, he pauses in front of a shop window displaying a tailor's dummy that appears to be headless (frame-capture below). Given the context, I have always interpreted this as suggesting to Logan that he may be executed. But recently a friend suggested to me a different (or complementary) reading: that Logan, whom we have repeatedly seen wearing his cassock, is here reminded of how, if found guilty, he'll be de-frocked, and relegated to wearing (at best) 'civvies', or else prison garb. For Logan, a fate worse than death? Reader, what do you think?

January 5 - 2019
Speaking of I Confess ... here (below) is a present-day photo given me by a friend who was in Quebec City a year or so ago. It shows the house in the film where the lawyer Mr Villette is murdered in the opening scene. The sloping road appears to have been re-paved since then: it was cobbled in the film. The house itself has had a plaster and paint job, transforming the rough stone facade it once had. And of course the film showed the house at night as the killer, Otto Keller, hurried away wearing a priest's cassock for disguise. But we were talking last time about Paul Bourde's 1902 play, newly translated into English as 'Our Two Consciences', and what it might tell us about Hitchcock's film. I'll start at the end (!) by remarking that the play concludes rather weakly: just as it looks like the innocent Father Pioux will be hanged (or guillotined - the play is French), and waits in the condemned cell with the Attorney General, the murderer's wife appears at the cell door and proclaims, 'Leave this man in peace. He is a saint. The real culprit here is justice ... My husband, Bressaud, is the real killer.' (The play ends six lines later.) By contrast, Hitchcock had wanted the priest to go to his death! But when ecclesiastical authorities objected to such an ending, Hitchcock substituted the present, literally dramatic ending: after Keller's wife has revealed her husband's guilt - and he shoots her - he confronts Father Logan while standing beside a stage in a theatre/auditorium of the Chateau Frontenac (which had appeared behind the film's opening credits). (Implication: 'All the world's a stage,/And all the men and women merely players'?) And when Keller is dying in Logan's arms, the priest administers last rites. So the film comes full circle from its credits and opening scenes in which, after the murder, Keller had confessed to Logan in the darkened church. The contrast between saint and sinner is very plain. And Quebec City, though it may be a city of churches, equally plainly is not the City of God. Interestingly, the play gives Father Pioux a moment of doubt, thereby implying that he is a Christ-figure. We hear Pioux say, 'Ah, God has abandoned me', effectively recalling Christ asking, 'Oh my Father, why have you abandoned me?' (In the play, we next hear the Bishop remonstrate with Pioux by saying, 'You are one of [God's] ministers, yet you do not understand that you are being put to the test that is part of his design for you.') Although Hitchcock did not, in so many words, show Logan doubting, the implication is there in the beautiful sequence in which Logan wanders the Quebec streets before handing himself over to the police. On the way, he passes a massive carved figure of Christ bearing the Cross, high up on a church rooftop - a shot that Robin Wood suggests is 'pretentious'. I, for one, don't agree with Wood there. Not at all. But, speaking of Wood, somewhere in his book 'Hitchcock's Films' (1965 and subsequent editions), he writes of 'the impossibility of knowing another person in the deepest essentials'. I thought of that observation when I read a line at the end of the play, in which Pioux's friend, the socialist Dr Bordier, visits the priest in the condemned cell. He is filled with sadness and concern, saying: 'I do not understand the need of your sacrifice, which is why our friendship wants me to tear you away from this death. I am not in the least convinced that your devotion is based upon your beliefs ... you are no fool.' The play hinges on this failure, perhaps impossibility, of politics and religion to reconcile with each other - while showing them to be somehow complementary (compare Christ's 'the things that are God's and the things that are Caesar's'). Hence the play's very title. Again the film does not spell this out (there is one brief scene of Pierre Grandfort in the parliamentary chamber, that establishes his thematic affinity with Dr Bordier), although the theme is perhaps also there in the film's use of architecture, in which relics of Quebec's military past co-exist alongside its many churches. (Compare the name 'Grandfort'.) To be concluded.