Editor's Week 2020

December 26 - 2020
Recently I have written two companion essays called respectively "Psycho considerations" and "Vertigo considerations". The former is already published on the Web at Devon Powell's Hitchcockmaster site Psycho Consideration, and I have mentioned it here previously ("Editor's Week", 12 September and subsequent entries). At the risk of repeating myself, let me recall that I praised Joseph Stefano's lilting dialogue for Psycho, and especially his brilliant use of repetition. A notable example of that is the 'cadences of madness' we can hear in the internal monologue of Norman Bates - whose 'mother-side' has now taken over - when he intones at the end: 'They are probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of person I am. I'm not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching. They will see, they will see, and they will say, "why, she wouldn't even harm a fly."' Yes, brilliant! Another example that I noticed today of a similar use of repetition for effect is Norman's cry from the Bates house: 'Mother! Oh God! Mother, mother! Blood, blood!' (Two mothers and two bloods.) His voice comes floating down the hill on the night air after the recent rain has stopped - the roving camera is now inside Marion's cabin, having just moved away from her still-running shower and into the bedroom where it has lighted on the unattended money wrapped in a newspaper, then moved to the open window. (Beautifully thought out! The camera needs to have left the sound of the running water, and the stillness of the air perfectly conducts Norman's voice.) But now to Vertigo. At one point in my essay I quote a comment of Robert J. Yanal in his book 'Hitchcock as Philosopher' (2005): Scottie's vertigo (and presumably the film's title) 'is a bit of a MacGuffin'. I find that comment inadequate. I would argue that Hitchcock's film is about nothing less than what used to be called (by Friedrich Nietzsche and others) 'the world-riddle' - defined roughly as the mystery of all time and space, knowledge of which Scottie (James Stewart) seems to attribute to the mysterious Madeleine (Kim Novak). Scottie's own vertigo - his acrophobia - is a splendid metaphor for his feelings of inadequacy and even impotence as he endeavours to 'save' Madeleine, unsuccessfully. For him, she is an elusive Eternal Feminine figure, i.e., an archetype created by men, no doubt wishfully. (Not incidentally, my essay quotes the film's principal screenwriter, Samuel Taylor, on how 'the metaphysical implications of the story ... were more in Hitchcock's mind than in [Alec] Coppel's [earlier] treatment', so that Taylor decided to rewrite the screenplay completely.) To attempt to solve the world-riddle is indeed a head-spinner! Aptly, the film opens with a figurative close-up of a hand reaching out to grasp, as if for dear life, a horizontal steel bar - something to hold onto - which proves to be the rung of a metal ladder leading to a rooftop high above San Francisco. My essay also spends some time on how such things as gait, vocal inflections, facial flicker, are all marvellously modulated in Vertigo: congratulations must go to the actors, especially Kim Novak. And to Hitchcock, of course. A production still in Yanal's book shows Hitchcock directing the actors who play the group of shopgirls seen by Scottie in the street when he first spots Judy and her resemblance to his lost Madeleine. (See frame-capture below.) The caption specifies that this is Hitchcock on location, demonstrating to Novak 'and several bit players the walk he wants'. Likewise, Gavin at his club tells Scottie that when Madeleine has one of her trances 'she even walks in a different way' - and it's true! As for the sheer vocal versatility of both main actors, think for starters of how Novak gives Madeleine a calm, measured and infinitely 'feminine' vocal tone; whereas, as Judy, her voice takes on a high, often clipped and even whiny note befitting a 'common' shopgirl who tells Scottie that she has been 'knowing' since she was 17. Similarly, in early scenes Stewart as Scottie is understandably subdued after losing his police colleague (though Midge - Barbara Bel Geddes - tries to perk him up), then is rapidly taken out of himself by the enigma of Madeleine, then becomes near-catatonic after Madeleine's death; next, on meeting Judy, he briefly regains his accustomed self ('the first happy moments I've known in years'), then suddenly - when he realises that he was set-up (as a 'made-to-order witness') - his voice and manner become steely and/or peremptory and stay that way until he forces Judy to ascend the belltower for the last time.

December 19 - 2020
Sorry, no entry last week - nor yet today. But I have just put up on this website a lovely "Tribute to Anthony Perkins" by author Denise Noe. Perkins (1932-1992) played Norman Bates not only in Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) but also in its three sequels (or prequels), the second of which, i.e., Psycho III, was directed by Perkins himself. (My personal favourite of those latter three films, though, is Psycho II (1983), made by Australian director Richard Franklin. Richard knew and loved his Hitchcock. His tongue-in-cheek film is always fun to watch!) KM

P.S. To visit Denise's article click here Tribute to Anthony Perkins

December 5 - 2020
Hitchcock didn't want to make Number Seventeen (1932); he would have preferred the much more sophisticated London Wall, from the play by John van Druten. J. Jefferson Farjeon's 'joyous melodrama' (as it was called when first produced by, and starring, Leon M. Lion on the London stage in 1925) is actually closer to farce. It features a vacant house-to-let which attracts both a homeless Cockney merchant sailor named Ben (Lion again, reprising his stage role) and a gang of jewel thieves who rendezvous there to divide their loot; however, the climax of the film takes place on an out-of-control goods-train (Hitchcock's idea) which finally crashes onto the Dover-Calais ferry. The film uses the sounds of clacking wheels and clanking trucks to almost musical effect. The train is trying to outpace a speeding passenger bus (the whine of whose motor adds its own distinctive sound), with Hitchcock cross-cutting between the two. (See frame-capture below.) The bus's terrified passengers take no comfort from a roadside sign inviting them to 'Stop here for dainty teas!' In short, Hitchcock took the opportunity to have some fun. His inventiveness is apparent from the opening shot onwards: a man named Gilbert (John Stuart) chases his wind-blown hat in the street and notices a light moving inside the supposedly empty house. Curious, he finds the door unlocked. (Hitchcock's camera follows him inside, all in one shot.) In the house, Gilbert first encounters a nonchalant black cat descending a curved staircase (a bit like the black cat crossing a terrace in Rear Window), then in quick succession both Ben, holding aloft a lighted candlestick, and a dead body on the upstairs landing which Ben vehemently denies knowing anything about - he was just sheltering in the house for the night. In his scarf and cropped hair, Ben is supposed to be in the 'endearing Cockney' mould, and the film even gives him a photo in his wallet (which Gilbert finds on challenging and searching him) of a pretty baby girl - possibly of Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia - which Ben says is his child whom he hasn't seen for ages. Note: Gilbert will turn out to be a detective investigating stolen diamonds. Meanwhile, another surprise awaits: one of the jewel thieves has been hiding in the bathroom. Yet another surprise in this highly episodic - and padded - plot occurs when, for little apparent reason, a pair of neighbours literally 'drop in'. They're a father, Mr Ackroyd, and his teenage daughter Rose, and both come plunging through a hole in the ceiling. (They will disappear from the plot later, and are never referred to again.) For a while, the house becomes quite crowded after other members of the jewel gang turn up. They distrust each other and several fights break out. When Ben gets in the way at one point, he finds himself ignominiously thrust into a bathroom and into the empty bath. Much of this 'action' occurs almost in slow-motion: Hitchcock must have instructed the actors to move like this, perhaps as a deliberate contrast to the much faster-paced scenes on board the train when some of the gang commandeer it to try and escape abroad. Somehow Ben gets to accompany them, along with the unwilling companion, Nora, of one of the gang members. Did I mention that this film is confusing and not always easy to follow? Still, it has many light touches. Early on, Ben is established as partial to alcohol. On the train, he finds himself amidst crates of 'Emu Tonic Wine'. After imbibing generously, he proceeds across the swaying trucks to where he'd seen Nora and the crooks jump aboard. The train's movement doesn't seem in the least to upset the tipsy Ben - a variant, this, on the gags involving shipboard drunks in Champagne and Rich and Strange. (On rolling vessels, which force most of the passengers to retreat to their cabins, these drunks feel at-home and walk in straight lines!) Ben, though, is of course the main comic character. When first interrogating Ben in the vacant house, a dissatisfied Gilbert asks him to 'have another think!' Replies Ben: 'Don't mind if I do!' And when Gilbert's hand goes to his pocket, and Ben's eyes greedily follow, it comes out not with the expected brandy flask but with just ... a handkerchief!

November 28 - 2020
For 23 hours earlier this week, the website of the Metropolitan Opera in New York streamed for all-comers their recent production of the opera 'Marnie'. I am very glad that I took the opportunity to view it. Below is a frame-capture of the opera's final moment in which Marnie (mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard) accepts that she must go to gaol for the several robberies she has committed but now aware that her presumed guilt for a traumatic childhood incident was false. Loving husband Mark Rutland (Christopher Maltman) will wait for her and understands - in the wisdom of the story - that fallible human beings are often blind and that suffering is the lot of most of us. Winston Graham's novel (1961) gives Marnie this final observation: 'I thought, the way to love is through suffering. Who had said that? Did it mean anything or was it just the usual talk?' (Chapter 22) Earlier, in a symbolic passage in Chapter 15, Marnie had befriended two blind men, Mr Riley and Mr Davis, and was impressed by their support for each other: 'They were closer than twins.' But back to the opera, composed by Nicholas Muhly, whose previous opera, 'Two Boys', was written specifically for production by the Met. (Its complicated story concerns sexual shenanigans and even murder by two teens who have been communicating via the Web. Perhaps there's a foretaste of 'Marnie' there, inasmuch as dark doings and seeming 'abnormal psychology' have a sexual basis that is arguably almost innocent, at least to begin with.) 'Marnie', the opera, takes a lot of its material from the novel, although I sensed that Hitchcock's film version was also a strong influence, precisely because of the human wisdom of both, expressed via powerful emotion. A standout feature of the opera is its villain, Mark's brother Terry Holbrook (in the novel he's Mark's cousin) who isn't in the film at all. The latter has some tension because of the resentment shown by Mark's sister-in-law Lil Mainwaring (an invention of the film) towards Marnie, but Terry is an especially complex and rounded figure. His face is disfigured by a large red splodge of a birthmark, which the novel (or rather, Marnie herself, narrating) refers to as his 'mark'. (Chapter 3). We are free to surmise that Terry carries a grudge against his own lot, which helps explain his vindictive behaviour, especially after Marnie turns down the initial advance, he makes towards her. He has a reputation as a womaniser and doesn't give up easily if he is rebuffed. He and Mark do not get on well, although both of them are co-directors of the printing firm where serial-thief Marnie comes to work. Altogether, the plot of both the novel and the opera is an intricate one: the film keeps some of that while at the same time doing wonders in boiling the plot down into manageable cinematic elements. (Note. All three works keep the hunt scene and the death of Marnie's beloved horse Forio that follows.) I was gripped by the opera, and emotionally stirred, although reviewers tended to have only mixed praise for it. For example, the reviewer in 'Vulture' (October 21, 2018) writes: 'It's too bad that this deluxe production of a lavish opera rests on such a wispy score.' At the same time, the same reviewer notes the strong performances, as here: 'Iestyn Davies is fabulously sweet-voiced and bitter as Rutland's brother Terry, and Denyce Graves sings Marnie's mother with lunatic hauteur.' That's right-on! Apropos Terry, I did wonder why he was given a lot of falsetto (high-pitched) passages. I trust that wasn't to suggest that he has an effeminate side, for which his womanising is a blind! I also wondered why, whereas in the opera and the novel Mark is given a widowed mother, in Hitchcock's film Mark has a bereaved father, Mr Rutland Snr. I can only suggest that it lends a certain graciousness to the Rutland household, as Mr Rutland Snr is most welcoming to Marnie and exultant that Mark has another woman in his life after the death of his first wife some time ago. 'A girl, is it?' we hear the senior Rutland say delightedly on first meeting Marnie, and he immediately starts addressing her as 'my dear', letting her know that she is most welcome! To repeat: I am very glad to have seen the 'Marnie' opera, confirming of what a rich and subtly class-aware story it is. The opera, like the novel, is set in England, note.

November 21 - 2020
My dictionary defines audacious as 'daring' or 'bold' or 'impudent'. I don't doubt that Hitchcock recognised the audacity of Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941), probably in all three senses of that word. But Mr Hitchcock could show a lot of audacity himself. Think of his casting of Joseph Cotten - hitherto noted for his portrayal of earnest, well-intentioned, even noble, characters - in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) where he plays the murderous psychopathic serial killer Uncle Charlie. (Cotten had played Kane's sidekick Jedediah Leland in Citizen Kane and principal character Eugene Morgan, a pioneer of motor-car manufacture, in Welles's 1942 The Magnificent Ambersons.) I make this observation to try and get a fuller appreciation of Hitchcock's masterpiece Vertigo - whose Boileau/Narcejac plot is one of the most audacious, as well as outlandish, in movies! In it, the oh-so-plausible villain, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), cons Scottie (James Stewart) into falling for the most audaciously conceived - and implausible - murder plan in history! (Btw, did you know that Tom Helmore had appeared in small roles in two of Hitchcock's English films - The Ring, 1927, and Secret Agent, 1936?) Hitchcock of course delights in filming it all in the most beguiling way he possibly can. For example, critic/author Charles Higham is absolutely right to call the cinematography of Vertigo one of the high-water marks of film art. But I want to come back to Gavin Elster's audacious plan, and its sheer implausibility. While viewing the film the audience has no time to question what is happening, including when Judy reveals to us, three-quarters of the way through, what Gavin's plan had involved (and her part in it). Actually, the first time I ever saw Vertigo, I remember feeling somewhat estranged from the film at this point. (However, I think that modern audiences aren't so sensitive as I was back then!) Now, ask yourself this. How long had Gavin been conceiving and planning his audacious and ingenious design to fool Scottie? Only since Scottie had arguably been indirectly responsible for a police colleague falling to his death - and the story had received publicity (so that Gavin heard it)? Well, even if Gavin's plan did just strike him in a 'eureka!' moment, there were details to be worked out. Like, getting the complicity of not only Judy (Kim Novak), Gavin's mistress at the time, but of others like the lady-owner of the McKittrick Hotel where the ancestor of Madeleine Elster, Carlotta Valdes, had once lived before she committed suicide. How on earth would Gavin have got such complicity from her? (Presumably with a hefty bribe - Gavin became filthy rich after he had 'married into the ship-building business'.) But part of Gavin's plan is that 'Madeleine' (i.e., Judy, playing at being Elster's wife) actually has a room in the McKittrick Hotel where she regularly goes, in some sort of trance, to 'sit'. Is Gavin paying the landlady such a huge sum that she makes one of her rooms - which just happened to be vacant - available to 'Madeleine' indefinitely? But Scottie is a trained detective. He would surely have smelt a rat once he started to investigate the Carlotta/Madeleine story. The lady-owner doesn't look strong enough to withstand skilled questioning by a detective! Note. If she really is what she appears to be - the innocent owner of the hotel which is also the house where Carlotta had lived - that raises the question of how long 'Madeleine', i.e., Judy, had been living there? (Btw, how had Gavin happened to know that there was a vacancy?) If it were just a matter of weeks, then again Scottie would have found that out if he had simply asked - and it's quite a natural question to ask in any investigation of the mysterious 'Madeleine'. Gavin couldn't possibly have known that Scottie would not have asked about Madeleine's background. But I began by talking about the audacity of Hitchcock, and of Vertigo in particular. The film has to be appreciated for its unique audacity as much as for its many cinematic and story-telling virtues! Something else I like about it is the very rightness of San Francisco as the locale for such a story. (The original story takes place in wartime France.) Probably Hitchcock remembered a novel he had read (I think several times) in his youth, Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'. At one point in the novel, someone says of San Francisco (in its 'gay old bohemian days' before the 1906 earthquake), 'It must be a wonderful city - you're always hearing of people who go there and disappear'. (On Madeleine's own 'disappearing act', see November 14, above.) Frame-still below: a moment from Gavin Elster's audacious plan of murdering his wife and duping Scottie into thinking he has seen her commit suicide.

November 14 - 2020
Scottie will take Judy to dinner in the very same restaurant - Ernie's - seen above, where he had first watched her, when he now attempts to make Judy over into his lost Madeleine, even to the identical ambiences he associates with Madeleine. (Something disturbingly obsessed about Scottie!) Compare frame-capture below. In the same frame-capture below, note the table decoration: a lamp, containing a burning flame, on a slender vertical stand hung with glass pendants. Such visuals are everywhere and recurrent in Vertigo. For example, think of the chandelier in the McKittrick Hotel, likewise hung with glass pendants. Last week I mentioned the film's ubiquitous vertical columns, but those are far from being the only 'verticals' we see. A suggestion of several such shots is that we are seeing the need for 'support', implying, if not frailty, then uncertainty as we wend our way through the world. 'What on earth does it all mean?', we may ask ourselves at such times - and often the honest answer is, 'I think I'm lost!' We do so need some sort of 'support'. The opening shot of Vertigo, after the credits, is simple and masterly. It shows a horizontal bar and darkness, and for a moment we are puzzled. Then a hand grips it very firmly and a figure of a man pulls himself onto a San Francisco rooftop; as the view widens, we see that he is some kind of fugitive who is being chased by two policemen, one in plain-clothes. That firm grip is emblematic of everyone's need to get some sort of 'hold' on reality - whatever we think reality to be. (In point of fact, Hitchcock once said, very truly, 'Reality is something that none of can stand, at any time.') Hence the multivalent title 'Vertigo' is especially apt. We're likely all 'lost in a fog', an idea which in Vertigo provides another instance of Hitchcock's use of Vague Symbolism. Hitchcock, not entirely glibly, told Truffaut that he had insisted that Madeleine wear grey in order to suggest that she had just materialised out of San Francisco's mist and fog. On the other hand, another motif of the film is of repeatedly moving from light to dark (getting lost?) and then back to the light. And on the clifftop in a memorable scene, Madeleine tells Scottie, almost as if she were in a trance, that she knows that one day she will walk into the darkness and not return. Madeleine repeatedly intrigues Scottie with her seeming 'vanishing act' (for example, when she disappears behind an immense tree trunk in Muir Woods), which of course is just what the scheming Gavin Elster had intended Scottie to be - intrigued and increasingly obsessed with the mystery of Madeleine. Now, a word about the filmmaker Hitchcock's masterly story-telling sense of when to reveal the truth about Gavin Elster's scheme. In Boileau & Narcejac's novel, the 'reveal' comes at the end. No surprise there. (Likewise, in their novel of 'Les Diaboliques', afterwards filmed by H.G. Clouzot, there's a shocking surprise 'reveal' right at the end: that is, its plot, too, involves an ingenious duplicity which is only made clear in the final pages.) In Vertigo, we are let into the film's secret with maybe half an hour still to go. Judy sits down at a table and pens a confession to Scottie. ('Dearest Scottie. And so you found me ...') Accordingly, the audience watches ensuing events as much through Judy's eyes as through Scottie's, and of course we're very much aware of Judy's fear of being rumbled. The complication is that she has fallen in love with Scottie (dating back to when she had deceived the vulnerable ex-detective as part of Gavin's fiendish scheme). Now we, too, are in two minds - literally. Call it 'suspense'. Our interest and sympathy are divided between both characters, and we feel ourselves torn as we wonder what Scottie will do to the vulnerable Judy when, on finding the truth, he seeks to avenge himself for being duped. When you think about it, it's not surprising that a wizened old nun becomes the deux ex machina to resolve all of this. There seems no earthly way out, and so it falls to the (no doubt) worldly-wise but spiritual figure of the nun to provide the means of resolution. That resolution, of course, is, on a worldly plane, no real comfort to anyone - neither the dead Judy nor the (yet again) bereft Scottie. But that's how it so often goes! More next time.

November 7 - 2020
We all know that Hitchcock loved contrasts in his films: often a subliminal reminder that there is no simple truth. Somebody once pointed out to me that the illustration on the wall next to 'Madeleine' when Scottie first observes her at a restaurant (where she has dined with Gavin) is one of those trompe l'oeil affairs that change their content as you move past them. See frame-capture below. But back to the matter of contrasts. The above insert-shot from the first Empire Hotel scene where Scottie locates Judy, shows Judy's parents. (She has just said to him, 'You have got it bad, haven't you?' - meaning she can see how he is still obsessed with the dead Madeleine.) It's a touching moment, as Judy recalls her upbringing in Salina, Kansas, and shows Scottie two black-and-white photographs. Both photos are happy-family shots, in which small-town America is momentarily idealised, as in Shadow of a Doubt. (Btw, does Judy have a sister?! The young girl standing beside her mother isn't a young Kim Novak, surely?!) The sheer contrast with the big city of San Francisco has a certain pathos, because it reminds us of the sheer unlikelihood that shopgirl Judy will 'rise to great heights' - something whose general meaning is almost a leitmotiv of the film. She works at Magnin's department store (which closed in 1994, I understand). The fact that both father and mother pose beside wooden uprights - doorway, veranda post - offers a homely parallel to the scene in Muir Woods with its towering sequoias (see last time). Vertical columns are prevalent in Vertigo, as in the Palace of the Legion of Honour, say. Which just shows the care with which Hitchcock conceived his films visually: in this case, to keep reminding us subliminally that his film is about heights, and their opposite. (Scottie nowadays finds himself limited to visiting street-level bars!) But I haven't yet talked much about the performances in Vertigo. I mean, the actual performances of James Stewart and Kim Novak in particular, not the performances by Gavin and Judy/Madeleine to hoodwink Scottie. Something that is worthy of the highest praise is the sheer vocal versatility of both those actors. I'm thinking of how Novak gives Madeleine a calm, measured, and infinitely feminine vocal-tone, worthy of the 'Eternal Feminine' figure that Madeleine assumes for Scottie! Whereas, playing Judy, her voice takes on a higher, more clipped and at-times almost whiny tone befitting a 'common' shopgirl who tells Scottie that she has been 'knowing' since she was 17! (It's worth fast-forwarding the film between an early scene and a later one to appreciate the difference.) Similarly, Scottie in early scenes is understandably subdued (though Midge tries to perk him up), then entranced but puzzled (by the enigma of Madeleine), then shows a regained equanimity after meeting Judy, then finally, as the second belltower climax approaches, has an almost steely voice as he drives them back to the tower before forcing Judy up its stairs. Here, note the contrast between the resolute Scottie and the increasingly fearful and resisting Judy. In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I singled out from the film's generally uncomprehending original reviews an exceptional one by Jack Moffit in 'The Hollywood Reporter'. After praising Novak, Stewart and Bel Geddes for their performances, and suggesting 'that an audience will buy any startling change in human behaviour if you give it time (with montages and subtle buildups) to believe the transitions,' Moffit called Vertigo 'one of the most fascinating love stories ever filmed'. So true! Still, I might note a subtle discrepancy between the male characters and the female ones. Neither of the males really seems to me to be 'in love' - at least, not with a woman. The murderous Gavin Elster strangles his wife (for her money) before nearly succeeding in making Scottie his fall-guy; and even Scottie himself seems more 'in love' with an idea (about what Madeleine 'represents', especially for him and his insecurity) than he loves either Madeleine or Judy (the latter, after making her over, essentially a 'second chance' for him to regain Madeleine). More next time.

October 31 - 2020
(slightly revised) This time I want to move to Vertigo (1958). There are essentially only four characters in Vertigo, but each is a fascinating entity. Midge Wood (Barabara Bel Geddes) is a sweet-natured loser, significant to the story not least for that reason. Although she is a commercial artist who was once an aspiring (ambitious, even?) fine-artist, she has settled into her present way of life. In a choice line, her friend Scottie Ferguson tells her that she is 'wasting [her] time in the underwear department'. A likely reason is that she is still 'carrying the torch' for Scottie to whom - in their college days - she was briefly engaged. (The character Judy Barton uses that phrase in a different context - significantly about Scottie himself.) Scottie (James Stewart) started out decidedly ambitious, being described by Midge as 'the bright young lawyer' who entered the police force so that one day he might become chief-of-police. (Lately, that ambition has been shattered, and Scottie has had to quit the force.) Judy Barton/Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak, in a dual role) was ambitious to the extent that she made the move from small-town Salina, Kansas (population in 2010 was 47,707), where she grew up, to the big city of San Francisco, clearly hoping for a break, perhaps marriage to a wealthy husband. As for Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), the film's villain, his ambition received every break, it may seem. By marrying his wife (whom Judy impersonates as part of a murder-plan engineered by Gavin) he 'married into the shipbuilding business'. But not satisfied with that, and clearly not in love with his wife, he kills her for her money, then proceeds to frame Scottie as the (accidental) killer. So Gavin is ambitious, ruthless, pitiless, and ingenious in furthering his own interests (e.g., his murder plan) - perfectly prepared to sacrifice his old college acquaintance, Scottie, for those interests. (Note: it seems that Scottie, Midge, and Gavin were all at the same college.) Gavin is your arch-villain, with forerunners in, for example, German Expressionist movies. So what does all this amount to? At the least, and/or the most, it reminds us that Hitchcock's films are about the 'life-force' (which I prefer to call Will - see following), and thereby a portrait of Hitchcock's global audience in roughly the same way that Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophy of 'Will' is about life, human potential, human powerlessness - in the face of something bigger than ourselves, i.e., the world's Will. I have spoken here quite recently about what I call Hitchcock's Vague Symbolism. In Vertigo, it is potently employed to draw us into the film and its mysteries. For example, every individual soon learns that a lifetime will not be nearly enough to significantly change one's direction (if required), or to expose oneself to more than a tiny sampling of what life offers, indeed to what it really 'means'. Scottie is such a character, somehow managing - despite his intention more than once to start over - to keep coming up against defeat and loss: at least three times during Vertigo, by my count. To Hitchcock's credit, this is shown to be more than a simple illustration that 'character is destiny' - it is situated in a wider context than that. As in German Expressionism, we may feel that in this film all things are distilled. Scottie sees in the almost other-worldly 'Madeleine' not only a chance of reparation but of knowing 'the key' to life's mysteries. 'Infinity' and 'eternity' seem to be on offer here, whether in Saul Bass's design for the film's opening credits-sequence (the spirals out of a woman's eye) or in the 'secret' of Madeleine (her other-worldly air, and her associations with art, beauty, reincarnation), or just in scenes like the 'timeless' one set in Muir Woods (but filmed in Big Basin State Park) with its 2,000-year-old sequoias and further spirals - the rings of the felled tree (Madeleine points and says, 'Here I was born and here I died' - referring to her previous incarnation in 'Carlotta Valdes'). The very contrast between Gavin Elster's seeming 'good fortune' and Midge's scantily rewarded labours is a further indication that all of 'life' is somehow distilled in Hitchcock's film. Likewise, there is a typical Hitchcock attraction-versus-repulsion motif on show, and its focal-object is again 'life'. I'm reminded of Schopenhauer's dedication to understanding the nature of Will and yet his pessimistic conviction that it is all without point: 'Better that I was never born'. There's potential for Hitchcockian humour right there! In a different way, the following frame-capture (showing Judy's parents) strikes me as profoundly 'right'. More about that next time.

October 24 - 2020
Again, apologies. My concentration must be slipping! Once more, I've allowed myself to get distracted today, first by all of the footage that's up there for the new Borat movie - what a comic marvel Sacha Baron Cohen is! And then by the fine Laurent Bouzereau 'making of ...' documentary that's on the DVD of Hitchcock's Family Plot, and which, for some strange reason, I had never watched before. That documentary is very informative and enjoyable. (One small instance ... art designer Henry Bumstead talks at one point about Hitch's aversion to the cold - something I knew about, but not the specific instance Bumstead gives. He refers to the street-corner house in San Francisco that was used for the exteriors of the villains' house - see frame-capture above, from last week. 'Henry,' Hitch asked him one day, 'why did you select the coldest-possible house for these scenes?' Bumstead replied to the effect that he had done the best he could!) Well, I have run out of time today and - come to think of it - this computer-room of mine is damn cold itself! Proper "Editor's Week" next time ... KM

October 17 - 2020
Missed an entry last week. Apologies for that. To keep faith with regular readers, I'll proceed now to talk about Family Plot (1975) - Hitchcock's most genial, laid-back film, which I love. (However, next week or the week afterwards I may turn to Vertigo because I've promised someone to write an essay on that film soon, despite the well-trodden path for Hitchcock commentary it represents!) Family Plot shows Hitchcock in total control of sheer story-telling and narrative structure, aided of course by his gifted screenwriter Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest, The Sound of Music). And speaking of narrative matters ... I was discussing here recently Hitchcock's 'outflanking technique'. It has many aspects. In Family Plot, after its masterly opening (Madame Blanche has been summoned to the elderly Julia Rainbird's mansion to conduct a seance in which Blanche's 'control' - named Henry - may hopefully point Ms Rainbird towards her late sister Harriet's long-lost, illegitimate brother), we cut smoothly to Blanche's ride home in a taxi driven by her actor boyfriend, George, and then straight into the parallel narrative involving kidnappers Arthur Adamson and his girlfriend Fran. Hitchcock keeps us guessing about just where the story is heading, using almost a bait-and-switch plotline where no sooner have we thought we could see the story's direction than we find ourselves facing elsewhere and then elsewhere again! But there is some sort of master-narrative informing all of this, even if only Hitchcock knows what it is - for now! We happily surrender to his guidance! (Outflanking technique? I was struck by a parallel to the modus operandi of a certain politician. According to a writer in the 'New York Review of Books' - the daily online edition - 'Donald has the ability to flood the zones so effectively that it keeps people from focusing on any one thing he does. So we're constantly losing our focus and [while we are] distracted, he continues to just keep the narrative, his preferred narrative, out there.') Put in Hitchcock's own terms, which are neither convoluted nor disagreeable, he simply sought 'to tell a good story and develop a hefty plot' (Hitchcock to Donald Spoto). Family Plot is the perfect exemplar. Now, how do I account for its charm? I think it's because of the underlying humour with which everything is gradually revealed, and the contrast of the Blanche-and-George story with that of the infinitely smoother operators, Fran and 'Adamson' - the latter will turn out to be Ms Rainbird's undeserving missing heir, Eddie Shoebridge. (But what if he hadn't been disowned at birth, and had grown up knowing that he would probably inherit the family fortune? That's the story's 'unknown', and it may trouble us, deep down, if we are conscionable about such matters.) George and Blanche - Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris - may seem bumbling or second-rate compared with Fran and Arthur - Karen Black and William Devane - but they are no fools, just out of their depth (seemingly). On the other hand, Fran and Adamson are super-cool and super-efficient. As the disguised policemen or FBI representatives say after Fran has collected the ransome diamond from them and flown away with a commandeered helicopter and its pilot, 'Not one damn mistake!' That getaway has been thought out to the last detail, and it tells us heaps about Fran and Arthur's intelligence and planning. And yet, they hadn't reckoned on people like Blanche and George. How could they?! Blanche and George are like life itself, a bit messy sometimes, and certainly unpredictable! By the way, I love John Williams's score. As I recall, it wasn't written until the film had reached the rough-cut stage, but it can match every wayward change of direction the plot takes and underline it with a fitting musical motif. All the while, Hitchcock is giving us essential information that will figure later. For example, we see Fran and Arthur return home at night, from collecting the ransomed diamond, to their greystone San Francisco house, and we watch as their car glides smoothly inside their on-street garage with its door raised and lowered by remote-control. (In 1975, I suspect, such garage-doors were still pretty swish. But Arthur, a jewel-merchant, would certainly feel himself entitled to have one!) (See screen-capture below.) That same garage door will later trap Blanche, and she will find herself facing danger and held prisoner in a cunningly-concealed secret room. More next time.

October 3 - 2020
I'll come to Family Plot (frame-still below) in a moment. But what I specifically want to talk about this time is what I've often called Hitchcock's outflanking technique. And I would like to mention, with gratitude, Dr Martin Paterson's recent email/s to me about Marnie. If Martin and I don't always see eye-to-eye about what we find in a given Hitchcock film, or what one of them amounts to (Martin argues cogently that Marnie is a 'magnificent mess'), his views are invariably challenging. On this occasion, I'll begin by trying to answer one of his implicit challenges. He writes: 'In [Marnie] we are supposed to believe that a young child could batter a man to death with a poker.' Perhaps, Martin speculates, this is one of Hitchcock's 'parallel universe' films. But he adds: 'That would be fine with me if I could [just] fathom [...] the importance, the meaning, the significance of a young child killing a bloke with a poker and then completely forgetting about [it].' Hmm. To me, Marnie is the film that Hitchcock had always wanted to make but felt that the thriller format usually precluded: a film about a character. Shadow of a Doubt (1943) had come close, Hitchcock granted, with its portrait of the psychopath Uncle Charlie visiting his sister's family in small-town Santa Rosa, California. And I would say that the thriller (or shocker) Psycho (1960) had also worked like that: another 'portrait of a psychopath'. However, Marnie arguably represents the combining of two riveting elements from both those predecessors. As I see it, young Marnie Edgar up and kills the sailor because she has reached, or is approaching, the age of the Oedipal crisis, and wants a parent - in this case, Mrs Edgar - to herself. Tired of being taken from her prostitute mother's warm bed on cold nights so that a 'customer' can have it instead, something in the young girl cracks. (The trigger is that this particular sailor seems to want to 'hurt' her mother: a typical misunderstanding by a young child on first seeing adult lovemaking, albeit the two adults are typically the child's respective parents.) I would say that (at the very least) the first half of Marnie is designed to show the character's existential inadequacy, and thus set the scene for a tragedy avoided (in the second half). As some commentators on Marnie have noted, the adult Marnie is both 'frigid' (ironically maintaining the coldness - which is very much a theme of the film) and potentially a lesbian. There is a near-parallel here with the situation of the boyish Norman Bates in Psycho, inasmuch as he tells Marion that his childhood with his mother had been 'more than happy' - and which the psychiatrist at the end further interprets as the reason, when Norman's mother took a lover, that he up and poisoned them both. Now, the 'outflanking' going on here might be described as concerning how Hitchcock has loaded the situation with something rather more than simple psychology - he has achieved a 'universal' situation, something bigger than just you or me. He loved to do that! I remember that my psychologist friend, the late Ron Conway, assured me that - whatever the prevailing scepticism about some of Freud's theories - he had seen too many real-life Oedipus complexes to doubt that such a phenomenon was commonplace. Next, returning to Marnie, consider her 'speech' to husband Mark, effectively defending herself against his own complexes: 'You've got a pathological fix on a woman who is not only an admitted criminal but who screams if you come near her. So what about your [own] dreams, Daddy-dear?' (Mark can only respond, 'Well, I never said I was perfect' - although such an image of perfect proficiency is very much the one he likes to project!) Notice that the director has had Marnie verbalise the exact situation that the film depicts: he doesn't want any vague, woolly understanding of it by either audiences or reviewers. Or again, in The Birds, the script carefully gives a line to amateur ornithologist Mrs Bundy in which she challenges Melanie about the bird attacks: 'What do you think [the birds] were after, Miss Daniels?' Melanie answers in no uncertain terms: 'To kill [the schoolchildren].' There's no evading that answer - and it verbalises exactly what the audience has been thinking. Now the matter is out in the open, and there's no denying it. In Rope, the too easy-going and complacent - but hyper-smart - Rupert is finally the one to voice the fact of the film's 'cold-blooded murder’ and denounces the killers in equally definite terms: 'You're going to die!' Lastly, I'll mention that wonderful film, Hitchcock's last, Family Plot. Its theme is that of fakery (see the frame-still), and Blanche's final wink (in the trailer, it's Hitchcock's!) is like an admission that that's all there is - or at least all we can know. As my essay on Psycho for Devon Powell (as mentioned above, September 12) puts it in Schopenhauerian terms: 'Is your set of Representations ultimately any more real than mine?' Really? How do you know?!

September 26 - 2020
Let's go one more entry on Psycho! I'd like to refer now to the book called 'Hitchcock and the Censors' (2019) by John Billheimer, which I have given a mention here before, if not particularly with enthusiasm! (Books on film censorship can be like that. The book 'Film Censorship in Australia' - by Dr Ina Bertrand, highly knowledgeable about the Australian film industry - got only a wink from my boss at the time, and the remark, 'Not going to be a best-seller!' Too many false expectations?!) Billheimer's chapter on Psycho, though, gives some useful information. The people from the Motion Picture Code office warned Hitchcock that Joseph Stefano's script seemed to imply an incestuous relationship of mother and son (Mrs Bates and Norman). For example, Mrs Bates had referred to her son as 'ever the sweetheart'; moreover, in the script, the psychiatrist at the end of the film characterises the mother-son relationship as 'more that of two adolescent lovers'. Hmm. In the film as we have it, Norman does say, with great force, that his boyhood relationship with his mother 'was more than happy!' Another example of Code pre-censorship was their objection to the oilman Cassidy's line, 'Bed. The only playground that beats Las Vegas'. Were Hitchcock and Stefano fazed? Not at all! They simply changed Cassidy's line to, 'What you [Marion] need is a weekend in Las Vegas - the playground of the world' followed immediately by Marion's response (to her boss), 'I'm going to spend this weekend in bed'. (Cassidy's eyebrows rise!) Nothing lost there! (Billheimer misleads his readers about this, though, simply saying that Hitchcock 'willingly excised [the line]' (p. 239) Also informative to some readers may be the information that - in some prints of Psycho - there was originally an extra shot (or pair of shots) showing Norman peeping at Marion as she disrobes before taking her shower. In addition to the shot below of Marion starting to undress, there was a shot of her removing her bra. Billheimer prints the latter shot with the caption 'CENSORED SHOT', noting that Hitchcock had replaced it with a shot of Marion already in her robe before entering the bathroom and stepping into the shower. (I believe that Hitchcock actually retained the shot for some foreign-release prints.) Even so, notes Billheimer, Hitchcock had a victory. Back then, any suggestion of voyeurism in movies was forbidden. (Can you believe that? Given, I mean, that the essential nature of watching movies makes them the most voyeuristic of the arts? The shots of Norman spying on Marion/Janet Leigh is like an allegory of the cinema spectator having access to sights that would normally be denied him.) And again, when Marion flushes her cabin's toilet to dispose of some torn pieces of paper, Hitchcock was defying an unwritten convention - and subliminally preparing us to witness something much more shocking, Marion's violent murder in (gasp!) her shower. As Billheimer puts it: 'In Psycho, Marion Crane not only uses the toilet to dispose of her handwritten calculations of the disposition of the stolen money, but actually flushes it, a sight and sound unheard of in Code-era films.' Hmm. Does anybody know of instances of toilets being flushed in pre-Code-era films? I can't think of any - nor even, later, in Hitchcock's Mr and Mrs Smith (1941) with its jangling bathroom pipes, undoubtedly a euphemism by Hitchcock. Against the censors' admonitions, Billheimer shows, 'Hitchcock and Stefano managed to salvage the [toilet-flushing] sequence by arguing that it was necessary to the plot. Not only did Marion's use of the flush lever symbolize her remorse, but the surviving scrap of paper became an important clue documenting her presence at the motel.' (p. 239) I bet Hitchcock was deadpan when (if?) he put it like that to the censors - especially as the script itself has Sam's line later, 'It was never denied that Marion was here!' Lastly, how about this? 'Three of five initial reviewers [from the Code office, shown a Psycho rough-cut] insisted they saw nudity [in the shower scene]; two did not. The Code office sent the film back to Hitchcock, instructing him to remove the nudity. The director apologized profusely, promised to do his best to comply, and sent the sequence back to the reviewers without changing a single frame. This time the three censors who had seen nudity before no longer spotted it, but the two who hadn't seen it now did.' (p. 241)

September 19 - 2020
As in Vertigo, eyes - or the lack of them (Mrs Bates's skull) - figure expressively in Psycho. In my recent essay on that latter film (see above, September 12), I noticed particularly how during her long drive towards Fairvale with the stolen $40,000, Marion's wide, supposedly guileless, eyes are highlighted. But eventually - in the glare from oncoming headlights during a rainstorm - they narrow, and feeling herself growing tired Marion pulls up at the Bates Motel. Earlier, we had watched her apply makeup to those eyes in the scene with Caroline in the Lowery office (again see above). In the end, of course, Marion's dead eye is featured centre-screen. As part of the same motif, who can forget the inscrutable face of the patrolman hidden behind his dark glasses when he orders Marion to show him her driver's licence? That powerful image does indeed anticipate our shock when Lila confronts Mrs Bates and finds her face to be a lifeless, hollow skull. Equally shocking is the front-on image of Arbogast's wide-open eyes, himself shocked by the ferocity of Mrs Bates's attack as, screeching, she stabs him to death on the staircase of the Bates house. I love Raymond Durganat's description of this moment in his classic essay "Inside Norman Bates": 'Mrs Bates comes tearing out of her room with the superspeed of the superstrong insane and with repeated jabs of the knife sends him tumbling backwards down the stairs, dead, just like that. Is Mom invincible?' (See frame-capture, below. Aptly enough, Arbogast appears to have been stabbed with a knife that passed downwards directly across his left eye. Such imagery will be amplified in The Birds with Mitch's shouted warning at the children's party, 'Cover your eyes!', and with the death of farmer Al Fawcett, whose eyes are pecked out.) But at the centre of Psycho, of course, is Norman Bates, a complicated young man. He is a 'looker' in the sense of a voyeur, as when he spies on Marion undressing. So much for his impassioned protestation a few minutes earlier against 'cruel eyes studying you' in mental institutions. Marion had raised her eyebrows when he uttered those words as she listened to him in his parlour. On the wall behind Norman a stuffed owl looks down, another image of cruelty. And Norman hasn't finished. He leans forward, with his eyes glinting, and uses bird imagery of his own. 'People always mean well', he says. 'They cluck their thick tongues and shake their heads and suggest - oh, so very delicately ...' And again, I don't think it's fanciful to feel that the image of the circular shower-head that Hitchcock gives us a few moments later, with water pouring from it seemingly directly into the lens - the eye - of the camera, is intentionally designed to reinforce the film's eye-imagery. Hitchcock knew that he needed this almost perversely-angled shot to rhyme with the close up of Marion's lifeless eye that would shortly follow. (As her body lies slumped on the floor of the bathroom, the shower continues to run.) Also, when Arbogast first enters the story, we see him in a startling close-up watching sternly through the door of Sam's harware store, before going inside. The image is repeated a moment later. It seems almost like an echo of the shot of the patrolman earlier. We sense that Arbogast is another formidable figure, in contrast with the moment to follow when he comes up against Mother, and more than meets his match. Finally, let's not forget that the film ends with a medium-close-up of the now imprisoned Norman, his shoulders draped in a blanket that may remind us of his Mother's shawl. Gazing directly into the camera, he smiles - and an almost subliminal flash of Mother's skull is superimposed. Durgnat offers an evocative description of that lady: '[a] coconut-faced corpse [who] was once a sunny, apple-cheeked mother.' He comments: 'The boy [Norman] has literally turned her into his fantasy of her.'

September 12 - 2020
I've been writing lately on Psycho for Devon Powell's fine website, and in particular drew several times on Raymond Durgnat's classic essay, "Inside Norman Bates". Durgnat can be hard on people, such as poor Caroline (Patricia Hitchcock) in Mr Lowery's real estate office. Durgnat notes that Marion (Janet Leigh) is surrounded by 'sane, shallow, superficial people'. Caroline is 'a plain and silly creature'. (See frame-capture, below.) As for the millionnaire Cassidy, Durgnat calls him 'coarse and vulgar', just one among several 'smug, imperceptive' people Marion is soon fleeing from with the stolen $40,000 that is the film's MacGuffin. (Altogether, these people 'reinforce our feeling that Marion has as much right to this excess money as its actual owner'.) But not even her boyfriend Sam (John Gavin) is exactly the brightest spark in the fire. After Marion's death, the scene in Sam's provincial hardware store includes a moment of comedy when a dull shop assistant listens open-mouthed as a woman, holding up a box of pesticide, opines that, 'insect or man, death should always be painless'. If Sam's town of Fairvale is on display here, then pity Marion if she has to live there - one gathers, though, that she foresees how the stolen money might allow the two of them to go elsewhere, perhaps to find the 'private island' she dreams of. Durgnat's encyclopaedic knowledge of film allows him to draw several apt parallels, as between the film's road scenes - specifically, when Marion drives through the rain, blinded by oncoming headlights - and Jean Cocteau's 'no-man's land between reality and nightmare', which he called 'la Zone', in Orphée (1950). Norman Bates (Tony Perkins), proprietor of the isolated Bates Hotel, lives alone with Mother. Talking to him, Marion 'gradually realizes that she is his superior, that, if unhappy, she is self-possessed, whereas his "contented" acquiescence in looking after his domineering mother has something weak and helpless. ... Norman is almost a sacrificial victim whose tragic example [momentarily] frees her.' Nonetheless, Norman and Marion may be the two 'brightest sparks' in the film, and both meet sad ends. Hitchcock could be ruthless. It's one way in which he outflanks us, drawing us onward, not sure of where we're being impelled to go. Durgnat gives several examples. '[I]n covering up for Mom,' he writes, 'Norman is turning the other cheek, manifesting the equanimity and charity of a saint. The spectator's moral purity is being outflanked at both ends - by morbid, pornographic interest [in the naked body of Marion, killed by Mrs Bates], and by a sympathetic pity for charming Norman.' Or again, at the climax, as 'Sam keeps Norman talking while Lila [Vera Miles] sneaks into the house to explore ... we can't make up our mind whether the danger is coming from in front of her (Mom) or from behind her (Norman), ... and [further,] as we can't make up our mind what we want to happen to Norman, we yield to a helpless hysteria.' This is brilliant writing about film, by a master, isn't it?! (Durgnat does sometimes make little slips, but I think we should remember that his essay dates from 1967, before DVDs and even videotape.) Standing back finally, Durgnat notes that 'Marion who hoped to avoid choice and sacrifice (the hubris of American optimism), is reduced to a nude body, a car, bankroll. ... The minor quirks and sins (adultery, a "thing" about insecticides) of the normal world are the tips of the horns of the real reality, concealed beyond, or below, the "zone".' Durgnat's ruthlessness, like Hitchcock's, lets him see things as they really are.

August 29 - 2020
An entry or two now on the Psycho credits sequence - how it is structured, what it portends, and more. Actually, it is hard to give an exact description of this seemingly simple sequence (all streaming horizontal and vertical lines, accompanied by a music of dread), because the exact logic of it is elusive. Of course we may be sure that designer Saul Bass intended such an effect. From the time Hitchcock began working with Bass - they made essentially three films together, all masterpieces (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho) - the films featured what I'll call for convenience 'Vague Symbolism', meaning they contained hard-to-pin-down, multivalent 'meanings'. (By contrast, the last shot of North by Northwest - a train entering a tunnel - is a simple phallic symbol, right?!) I take this to be one more sign of Hitchcock's mastery of the language of cinema. Now note. In speaking of the Psycho credits sequence I intend to include both the film's opening, with its stylised Paramount logo, and the immediate aftermath of the credits sequence, in which successive printed titles give the place, date, and time. (They too stream into the frame and out again.) Let's start with the logo - see frame-capture below. It has no musical accompaniment, just silence. The effect is already chilling. Never was the snow-covered Paramount mountain top more aptly pictured! The image is itself composed of lines, prefiguring those that will almost immediately follow, after a momentary fade to black. Suddenly, from out of the blackness, Bernard Herrmann's foreboding, pounding score announces itself. After a beat or two, a grey screen appears, and almost immediately the black lines follow, streaming right across and filling the screen - first just one but rapidly spaced right across, alternating with the greyness in a kind of horizontal 'zebra' effect. Then, between the interstices, a white word or phrase is detectable, and obligingly the lines move offscreen for a moment, allowing us to read 'ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S' - just those two words by themselves. Now the obliging lines return and appear to both cause the phrase to disintegrate and to magically conjure up the next word, 'PSYCHO'. There is something of a push-pull effect happening here. For the moment, I shan't enumerate or describe further the successive 'moves'. Here are a few related thoughts. First, let's note that graphic designer Saul Bass got his start in designing movie titles sequences with a couple of films for Otto Preminger: Carmen Jones (1954) and The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) - both of those sequences are viewable online. The latter film was about drug addiction. In the context of Psycho, it's interesting to read what Bass said about Preminger's film: the 'jagged' form of the stylised arm seen at the end of the credits sequence 'expressed the jarring, disjointed existence of the drug addict'. Hmm. Mutatis mutandis, I think we can interpret that explanation as apt for Psycho as well. Hitchcock's film focusses finally on the 'psychosis' of Norman Bates (Tony Perkins) that drove him to do what he did while literally, or in effect, being out of his mind. (The film's psychiatrist speaks of Norman's mind housing 'two personalities'.) But meanwhile, the film from the outset, I would argue, has managed to imply via its Vague Symbolism that society itself has something, well, 'schizoid' about it. I'm using 'schizoid' here in the sense of 'having mutually contradictory or antagonistic parts'. Norman himself puts it rather well when he tells Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), that 'We all go a little mad sometimes!' Marion's own aberration is of course her mad impulse to steal $40,000, which she comes to regret - too late - after her touching conversation with Norman in his 'parlour'. The loathsome oil millionaire, Cassidy, seems unhinged, or over-the-top, even as he shows a glimmer of wisdom when he admits that his money can't buy happiness, only 'buy off unhappiness'. Poor repressed Caroline, in the real estate office, has her own problems, even taking sleeping pills on her wedding night (pressed on her by her mother, note!). And so on. The implication may be that mental health is a bit like walking a tightwire, with few of us managing it without falling off from time to time! (Schopenhauer's non-sentimental description of the human 'will', part of the all-determining cosmic Will, comes to mind.) But back to Psycho. I'd like to finish for this week by noting that the black lines return at the very end of the film - after the shot of Marion's car being recovered from the foul swamp - to obliterate everything. Blackness rules. Even the black swamp is 'blacked out'! Nihilism anyone? Or mortality? Better avail yourself of 'life' while it's on offer! (Schopenhauer thought that being born wasn't worth the trouble. But he allowed that, once you're here, suicide would be a wilful act, against the greater Will. Hmm. How logical is that?!) To be continued.

August 22 - 2020
First, Dr Matthew Moore's fascinating essay on clocks and time in Shadow of a Doubt was posted on this site during the week. It's listed on our Index Page (see link at top of this page). Two clicks and you'll be there! Now, briefly, another thought or two on The Birds and its lineage and legacy. As we all know, it's taken from a Daphne Du Maurier short story set in Cornwall. Hitchcock and Evan Hunter, though, changed or added practically every detail except the general idea of birds turning on humans. Plus the setting of an isolated community by the sea (Bodega Bay, Land's End). The fact that Stanley Kramer's 1959 film On the Beach had recently appeared is probably also significant. Hitchcock had turned down Kramer's offer to direct that film based on Australian author Nevil Shute's novel, depicting the slow demise of the world after nuclear Armageddon, with a radioactive cloud slowly drifting southwards from the Northern Hemisphere and killing all in its path. The film is set in Melbourne and nearby seaside areas, allegedly occasioning Ava Gardner, one of the stars, to remark, 'This is the perfect place to make an end-of-the-world film!' (Thanks, Ms Gardner!) The final scene was shot at Phillip Island, west of Melbourne, and shows the last remaining characters waiting to die. (One of them, Fred Astaire, refrains from committing suicide by crashing his racing car on the Phillip Island racing circuit, but later locks himself in his garage with the car's engine running ...) It's a film, albeit tinged with melodrama, of Significance, the sort of thing that Stanley Kramer liked to make. I rate it one of his best films, actually. Well, Hitchcock's The Birds isn't quite so in-your-face about its possible Significance, but the hint is definitely there. See August 1, above, which mentions Hitchcock's penchant for intentionally adding vague symbolism to his storylines. The fact that the sea is a palpable presence in the Bodega Bay scenes (cf, say, Lifeboat) functions like a reminder, or symbol, of the ubiquitous cosmic Will (Schopenhauer's term) that is always with us, invisibly determining our every thought and action except in rare individuals who have freed themselves from it, if only fleetingly or imperfectly. (Read your Schopenhauer!) Now, another thought I have is that The Birds has left, and continues to leave, a legacy in many filmmakers' work. The Birds helped make 'disaster films' respectable. Previously, a film like The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951) had tried to do that, but still with the presence of almost-inevitable 'aliens' to 'sell' the film to matinee audiences as well as speak the film's warning message about how conflicted and potentially destructive we earthlings are. Australian director Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock, Dead Poets Society), a big admirer of Hitchcock, tried to imitate the subtle verisimilitude of a film like The Birds. Often he succeeded admirably. Here's an instructive example. Remember the amusing scene in The Birds in which Mitch spots Melanie rowing back across Bodega Bay after she has played her 'practical joke' of delivering a pair of lovebirds for Mitch's young sister Cathy? While Melanie heads straight back across the bay, i.e., rowing in a straight line for the town, Mitch hops in his sports car to pursue her by driving around the bay's perimeter. Because the road does not always follow the shoreline but sometimes curves inland, and even doubles back on itself (as Melanie had found when she first drove into Bodega Bay), it seems during most of the 'race' that the pair are well-matched, and that either of them could 'win', i.e., reach town first. (But in the end, Mitch arrives at Bodega Bay first and is on hand to clamber down to help Melanie ashore when, at the last minute, she is mysteriously attacked by a diving gull - the first sign of things to come.) (See frame-capture below.) It's an ingenious scene and Peter Weir clearly sought to imitate it in his moving film Gallipoli (1981). The opening scenes take place in outback Western Australia in 1915. An early highlight is a race between two youths who will end up going to war together and dying at the bloody Gallipoli evacuation from the shores of Turkey. Their very rivalry to out-perform each other, whatever the contest, leads to their becoming friends in a key early scene. A young farmhand, Les McCann, something of a bully, challenges another youth, Archie Hamilton, who aspires to become a champion sprinter, to a 'handicap race'. Les will ride a horse bareback around the perimeter of a paddock while Archie may run in a direct line, barefoot. The outcome is that Archie narrowly wins. The two Aussie youths shake hands. [Thanks to DF for corrections to this entry.]

August 15 - 2020
Hitchcock had many friends, some of them surprising. (Here, I'm going against what Hitch told an interviewer, 'We have no close friends.') For example, there was the pop artist Corita Kent, better known as Sister Corita, a Roman Catholic nun who, from 1936 to 1968, lived, studied, and taught at the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles. Both these people, and their work, showed them to be small-'c' Catholics as well as sharing the same religious faith. (Hitch told Truffaut that he wasn't particularly religious, but that is belied by the fact that he was also friends with a priest who celebrated private Mass with Hitch and Alma on Sundays. I reported this in 'Editor's Week' a few years ago.) Sister Corita was obviously a remarkable lady. Her work, pastiche-like, often borrowed from advertising in its various forms to convey messages of joy, faith, love, and to critique political events of the times. More often than not, her work was humorous. A programme-note for an exhibit a few years ago concluded: 'Like the best of preachers and political orators, [Sister Corita's] artworks and their message can communicate to everybody.' Hitchcock's work, too, typically employed humour as a communicative tool. Broadly speaking, in The Birds there are two forms of humour: verbal and situational. Most of the verbal humour is about Melanie, of course. Think of Mitch's banter with her in the pet shop and his reference to her 'little prank' - Melanie, he says, deserves to be shut in a 'gilded cage'! At Bodega Bay, we soon learn that a neighbour's 'fussy chooks' have gone off their feed. The name of the fisherman, Mr Scholes (or it 'Shoals'?), is itself a joke of Evan Hunter's script. Melanie in her fur coat and green suit, and carrying a cage of lovebirds, receives several quizzical looks, even before she arrives in Bodega Bay. (See frame-capture below.) Audiences invariably laugh at the visual 'gag' of the two lovebirds in Melanie's car leaning sideways on the curving road. Later, in the long scene in the Tides Bar, a child wails, 'Are the birds going to eat us, Mummy?' The self-important Mrs Bundy announces that 'ornithology happens to be my avocation'. Then there are the more complex, but hardly borderline, cases of the film's humour. Audiences both gasp and then laugh when Mitch, finding Annie pecked to death, picks up a stone and makes to throw it at a crow. (Melanie intervenes in the nick of time: 'Mitch, don't!') Or consider the fact that - unbelievably, at one level - countless seagulls are shown pecking through a thick wooden door. The sheer preposterous-ness of this is the point. The bird attacks have taken on a supernatural ambience, which continues to the end of the film. Hitchcock clearly sees that this is like a cosmic joke, of which he is an agent. Ultimately, the whole film may be regarded as a pointed joke about humanity's complacency and its often thoughtless treatment of its fellow-creatures, not to speak of ourselves and our own mutual well-being. Melanie is both an instigator and a recipient of such treatment - and a part of ourselves may tell us that she deserves everything she gets! I want to note how much I admire the already-mentioned lift-scene early in the film. Hitchcock was a master of what I call 'subjective treatment'. The lift scene begins with both Melanie and the camera sweeping into the building where Mitch lives during the week (see frame-capture for August 1, above), and it continues without a cut to effectively sweep both Melanie and us right into the lift which just happens to be waiting with its door open. But of course! Melanie is used to getting her own unimpeded way - the setback with Mitch in the petshop clearly riled her, and prompted her pointed gift of the lovebirds for Mitch's young sister, Cathy. (It will 'equal the score'!). Only after his camera has swept Melanie right inside the lift, does Hitchcock cut to the droopy-eyed gentleman alongside her. The camera pans up to his face and then sweeps sideways as if, this time, to follow his suspicious gaze across to the fur-coated Melanie looking smug. (See frame-capture, below.) The lift door opens, and the man follows Melanie out, then begins to insert his latchkey in his own door. But noticing that Melanie has left the lovebirds in front of Mitch's door, the man tells her that Mitch won't be back until Monday. Melanie's plans are already beginning to go wrong! This whole brief scene (like the pet shop scene) prefigures what will come. More next week.

• Coming. A new page. An essay on Shadow of a Doubt by Dr Matthew Moore.

August 8 - 2020
A key to Hitchcock's genius - not too strong a word - is his ability to literally envisage how a scene might play on the screen. His screenwriters were often amazed by how he could conceive a scene in images from the merest suggestion in the initial script-discussion of how a scene might play out. Being a word-person myself, I have largely had to take 'on trust' reports of Hitch's visual imagination! Still, perhaps due to the enforced shutdown here lately (i.e., in Melbourne, Australia - how is it with you?), I have received an inkling of that sort of phenomenon. Lying on my sofa, gazing at the ceiling or with my eyes shut, actions and scenes have inexplicably presented themselves to my 'inward eye'. (For example, this morning I 'saw' a group of people standing around, including a man in a maroon suit singing, another man in the foreground playing bongo-drums, and - just visible behind the group - another man who may have been strumming a guitar, although that particular detail wasn't quite clear, at least as I try to recall it now. All of this was not really a dream as I definitely wasn't asleep!) But the above observation shouldn't detract from another of Hitch's exceptional talents, his capacity to think logically about the structure and content of his films. In more than one of his best films - such as The Birds (surely?) - Hitchcock sensed that the hero should be in shirtsleeves at the climax. This makes him look more truly the hero, ready to do whatever it takes to keep both himself and those near and dear to him alive. Mitch Brenner in The Birds is definitely a hero-figure; so too, in his own way, is Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest. In the Mount Rushmore climax of the latter film, it would have been wrong, in Hitchcock's terms, to have had Roger (Cary Grant) and Eve (Eva Marie Saint) 'over-dressed' as they clamber over the rock-face and then cling for their very lives to a rocky ledge as the evil Leonard (Martin Landau) tries to send them plunging off the mountain. In The Birds, Mitch is similarly seen in his shirtsleeves as the film's final scenes unfold. But, concerned with his films' visual logic, Hitchcock and his respective screenwriters cleverly included 'explanatory' material. Thus, in North by Northwest, Roger arrives at Mount Rushmore already divested of a jacket. (In the first half of that film, an adventure-comedy, he had of course always looked slightly absurd in his grey suit after being forced to leave his Madison Avenue locale behind and go on the run.) Hitchcock provided an explanatory scene for why Roger becomes jacket-less before heading for the spies' lair on Mount Rushmore. He had been confined to hospital after one of the Professor's men had punched him on the jaw! Hitchcock even gives us a scene of further explanation. In Roger's hospital room, the Professor (Leo G. Carroll) apologises that Roger's clothes have been taken away for cleaning, and provides him with a shirt and a pair of slacks and new shoes, saying that's all Roger will need for the time being. But Roger escapes from his locked hospital room, and takes a taxi to Mount Rushmore ... (When Eve Kendall - Eva Marie Saint - joins Roger on the mountain-side, she has now lost her cashmere wrap - caught on a bush, as Hitchcock is careful to show us.) Back to The Birds and its careful structural logic. Mitch, too, must be given a reason for losing his jacket. The pertinent scene is of course the one where Mich and Melanie come upon Annie Hayworth's bloodied body outside her house after crows have swooped on her and pecked her to death. As a mark of respect, Mitch takes off his jacket and covers Annie with it, then carries her body inside. (See frame-capture below.) Mitch will not wear a jacket for the rest of the film. Rod Taylor as the rugged Mitch gives what may be his best-ever performance. (In The Time Machine, 1960, he appears relatively lightweight. Note: that's another film based on one of Hitchcock's favourite authors, H.G. Wells. Hitch probably saw it. It came from the same studio - M.G.M. - as the recently-released North by Northwest.) To be continued.

August 1 - 2020
Fortuitously and unsolicited (so far as I could tell), another friend of mine, a filmmaker, this week told me how much he likes and admires The Birds! Hitchcock's film seems to be standing up to the test of time! Something I remarked on here last week may well have contributed to that quality of the film. I wrote that the bird attacks seem almost like a punishment inflicted by the birds on humans (cf the sarcastic point of Hitchcock's little talk - he calls it a 'lecture' - in the film's trailer), and how Hitch loved the sort of vague symbolism his films invariably hint at. Hitchcock's symbolism is never in-your-face stuff (not even the famous 'phallic symbol' that ends North by Northwest) but instead subtly insinuative. Perhaps he saw such a trait in the works of one of his favourite authors, H.G. Wells. A commentator on Wells's 1904 novel 'The Food of the Gods' (which Hitchcock thought of filming and which seems to have contributed some ideas for The Birds) notes that Wells appears to be asking: '[W]hat would happen if you could rise above all [the] petty business of life and see the vaster horizons? While common people grub about on their daily chores ... the really great mind can soar into the sky and see what lies ahead ...'. Be that as it may, let's note how Hitch teases us with certain insinuations in The Birds. For a start, what do we make of Mitch Brenner's remark about the bird attacks, 'It seems like a pattern, doesn't it?'? The attacks are not constant, without interruption, but, rather, ebb and flow - and one thinks of the ebb and flow of tides. Vaguely, that does seem apt: Bodgea Bay is a coastal town, a small fishing port. By extension, if equally vaguely, the avians are associated with Nature which humankind has somehow sought to go beyond. So the birds, we may feel, are punishing humans for their hubris. And again, Hitchcock has some fun with the ambiguity of young Cathy's present from Melanie, a pair of lovebirds in a cage (itself a ruse to let Melanie visit Mitch at his home). The unthinking way in which humans cage birds for their own pleasure is itself ambiguous in a vague kind of way. Innocent Cathy accepts her present with delight but that present, as noted, isn't an innocent one at all. Moreover, are the pair of birds innocent themselves?! (Hitchcock told an interviewer that 'even the word "love" can be made to sound sinister'!) The pair of birds seem cute, and at the end of the film Cathy asks Mitch to let her bring the lovebirds along with them as the Brenners and Melanie flee the house to try and make it back to San Francisco. 'They haven't harmed anyone', Cathy claims. Well, maybe not, but did the lovebirds somehow summon their feathered colleagues to come and punish the unthinking humans responsible for caging birds in the first place?! Mrs Brenner certainly seems to think something like that, exclaiming 'No!' when Cathy asks to bring the lovebirds along - but rational Mitch overrides her. So, finally, we are left to wonder whether bringing the lovebirds may be a fatal move - or a redemptive one. In short, that's another example of what I mean by Hitchcock's love of vague symbolism. Note: by no means do I consider Hitchcock a 'woolly' thinker, a mere amateur philosopher! On the contrary, let me invoke again, apropos Hitchcock, my favourite philosopher, the great Arthur Schopenhauer. Sure, in one way, the latter's philosophy is highly abstract, mere words-on-a-page. But equally, it is unswervingly about the nature of Reality itself, both as known subjectively (what Schopenhauer called 'Representation') and also as contemplated in its objective, if finally unknowable, form (which Schopenhauer called the cosmic 'Will'). Likewise, in the case of Hitchcock, his films are, at one level, mere melodramas projected on a screen as a kind of 'light show' (if of a rivetting kind, usually!). But equally, as we watch, we may feel that Hitch has a handle on Reality that is, well, remarkable!

July 25 - 2020
Not only was friend Gordon Dunlop 'blown away' by how good The Birds (1963) is overall, but he was excited by how 'richly detailed' it is, 'both on a technical and a very human level - i.e., the relationships - and [by] how astutely directed, scripted and acted all the roles are'. Gordon remembered that I had once detected in The Birds an influence from F.W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927). Hitchcock, of course, like so many other filmmakers of his generation, hugely admired the German filmmaker's moody masterpiece. In the case of The Birds, there's a simple structural parallel: the arrival of a girl from the City, bent on mischief, in a secluded waterfront town. Of course, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) in The Birds intends no harm, only to play a practical joke on Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), whom she recently encountered in a San Francisco pet shop, by delivering a cage of lovebirds to his pre-pubescent sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) as a birthday present. Nonetheless, from that simple act comes trouble: the attacks by birds on Bodega Bay seem almost like a punishment - literally from above - for Melanie's presumption in disturbing the status quo. (Hitchcock loved that sort of vague symbolism, suggestive of human complacency and unpreparedness for when disaster strikes. Incidentally, if you're like me, you may feel that at least two Hitchcock films bear on the current global pandemic: Rear Window and The Birds. But as those films show, there are invariably heroes and heroines who rise to the occasion.) However, I'm also reminded of Murnau's film in another way, rather more specific. Let's look at the scene in which Mitch's mother, Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy), visits the farm of Dan Fawcett. As Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut, he carefully framed the scene with long-shots of Lydia driving to and from the farm. Entering the silent farmhouse, she is unaware of what she will find there: the body of Mr Fawcett, pecked to death in the night by seagulls. Running back outside, speechless and wretching, she drives her van at speed back home - and this time the van leaves a visible trail of dust behind it. (See frame-capture below.) Hitchcock, as director, was proud of that touch. And rightly so. What he never explicitly acknowledged, though (as far as I know), was a precedent in Sunrise. There, the Man (George O'Brien) slowly rows his pretty young wife (Janet Gaynor) to the middle of a lake, intending to drown her, although he is downcast by his intention; then suddenly he thinks better of it, and hastily rows the two of them back to shore. The change in his demeanour is signalled by the contrast between the two stages of their journey. Now let's return to the Dan Fawcett sequence of The Birds. A bit like the murder of Marion (and later Arbogast) in Psycho, it plays a vital part in the film's structure. The horrendous close-up images (three of them, using a jump-cut) of the dead Mr Fawcett with his eyes pecked out and a pronounced bruising of the eye-sockets tells us in no uncertain terms of what the bird attacks are capable. So, too, does the imagery of the room's broken widows, with a dead seagull impaled in one of them. ('All of the windows were broken', recalls Lydia afterwards - a line that we remember when we later learn that Cathy Brenner's school has many windows.) Fascinatingly, that same image may be the most beautiful in the film. The effect is somehow surreal. I think a young New Zealand author of a book on surrealism in film has actually talked about that shot - I regret that I haven't been able to locate my copy. I'm practically certain that he compares the shot to some of the work of American artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), who often depicted birds in his work, including many three-dimensional studies of them as 'still-lifes'. (Many of those were framed in 'shadow boxes'.) More next time.

July 18 - 2020
Next week. Thoughts on The Birds. Thanks to Gordon D who was 'blown away' by how meticulous that film is in all its departments. He has sent me back to it! KM

July 11 - 2020
This week, apropos Mr and Mrs Smith (see last time), I want to do something different: I want to refer in some detail to the appreciation of that film on its DVD. The short 15-minute 'filler' (note: the disc also contains a 'teaser trailer' for the film) features four Hitchcock experts: director Peter Bogdanovich, film historian Robert Osborne, director Richard Franklin (Psycho II), and Hitchock's daughter Patricia Hitchcock. (The short itself was directed by Laurent Bouzereau.) Each has informative things to say. Bogdanovich reminds us that Mr and Mrs Smith was atypical of Hitchcock, being a 'screwball comedy', although Franklin (my late friend, incidentally) notes that Hitchcock had often used 'relief comedy' in individual scenes of his films. (See May 30 above, for my view that Marnie is one of Hitchcock's funniest films.) Bogdanovich notes that the term 'screwball' had stuck to that particular brand of comedy after Carole Lombard had used the word in Nothing Sacred (William Wellman, 1937); the term thereafter also became used for a 'screwball dame'/'screwy dame'! Note that the principal stars of Mr and Mrs Smith are Lombard as Ann Smith, Robert Montgomery as David Smith, Gene Raymond as Jeff, and Jack Carson as wise guy Chuck Benson (see last time). Richard Franklin suggests that Lombard was 'as much or more than anybody [else] the quintessential Hitchcock blonde'. Would she, if she had lived, have been cast in a Hitchcock thriller, asks Franklin, and implies that it was probable. Sadly, the highly likeable Lombard died in an aircraft crash in 1942, which devastated everybody, including the Hitchcocks, as Patricia Hitchcock tells us. Robert Osborne's tribute to Lombard on the DVD notes that Lucille Ball modelled her TV persona on Lombard, whom she had always idolised. And Osborne adds that Lombard, wife of Clark Gable, had always moved freely amongst 'Hollywood royalty'. The film historian gives information about the other players. Gene Raymond was a handsome actor with great charm (thus a fitting rival for Mrs Smith's husband after the couple quarrel), whose marriage to Jeanette MacDonald proved a success. Jack Carson, though at first cast in light or comic parts, such as that of Chuck Benson, would later graduate into serious dramatic roles in such films as Mildred Pierce (1945) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). Peter Bogdanovich thinks that Hitchcock himself was always a bit of an actor. Despite Hitchcock's alleged 'Actors are cattle!' remark, he essentially liked actors! Hitchcock explained: 'I should have said that actors are like children' - which Bogdanovich interprets to mean that actors have to be coddled 'and sometimes spanked'! One of the highlights in Mr and Mrs Smith is the scene where the Smiths return to the restaurant which they had visited before they married - but which has now sadly run down. (A white cat sleeps on one of the tables!) I think I once pointed out here that Hitchcock's scene in fact seems to be modelled on one in the King Vidor film The Citadel (1938) starring Robert Donat and Rosalind Russell. Robert Osborne finds interesting that the restaurant in Mr and Mrs Smith has a sign on its window indicating that it's a pizza joint - interesting because Osborne had thought that pizza didn't catch on in the US until GIs returning from Italy brought back the idea after the War! Richard Franklin's favourite scene, though, is the one in the night club where David, despite his best efforts, makes a spectacle of himself in front of Ann and Jeff who watch grimly from an adjoining table. (David ends up making 'the most conspicuous exit imaginable!', notes Franklin.) One reason that the scene is amusing, suggests Osborne, is that everyone is jammed in. Indeed, watch the close-up scene of Jeff repeatedly getting bumped by passers-by as he tries to talk nonchantly to Ann. (See frame-capture below.) Bogdanovich sums up Mr and Mrs Smith: 'The tempo's right. It's a very charming little picture!' I only regret that no-one on the disc mentions the film's perky musical theme played on what sounds like a tin whistle!

July 4 - 2020
Hitchcock's Mr and Mrs Smith (1941), scripted by Norman Krasna, an expert in the screwball comedy genre, seems to me another Hitchcock delight. Its subtext - if you want to call it that - is a paradigm of male-female conjugal relations, and offers especially knowing insights into 'how a woman's mind works'! (No explanations, you understand, just the paradigm itself - and frequent laughs!) After one of their quarrels (note: Ann and David Smith have been married for three years - but see below), David (Robert Montgomery) finds himself locked out of their New York apartment and must spend three ignominious nights staying at his club. In a sauna, he runs into a know-all guy named Chuck Benson, who does indeed know a thing or two - but not everything! Chuck's simple advice to David is: 'Just ignore her, say nothing. Soon she'll be begging you to come back!' Well, it doesn't happen that way, partly because Ann (Carole Lombard) has taken in a work-colleague of David's, Jefferson Custer (Gene Raymond), who had told David he could reconcile the couple with a few well-placed words! (David and Jeff work for a law firm.) The additional complication, I should explain, is that David had suddenly found out one day that his 'marriage' to Ann was not strictly legal, due to a technicality, and she had also found out - but became irate when David didn't immediately tell her what he knew, having decided instead to enjoy the thrill of romancing Ann all over again! (Some male psychology here too, note!) The idea that people want everything to be 'legal', and above board - although that may amount to only a show of virtue, and that there are deeper-running reasons for relationships - was one that Hitchcock would return to in other films, notably Marnie. (There, Mark Rutland knows full well that his marriage to Marnie is at first only a legal one.) In Mr and Mrs Smith Hitchcock has fun with how upset Ann's mother (her hair in curlers) becomes when David doesn't immediately offer to tie the knot again with his wife of three years! (The prospect that her daughter, i.e., Ann, may be required to have sex outside legal marriage appals the straight-laced old lady!) For me, though, the highlight of the film may be its final scenes at Lake Placid. (How many screwball comedies end up away from the city, in a ski lodge or similar?!) David has finally realised that he may need to resort to something more to get the fixated Ann to take him back than a simple appeal to reason! So he turns to subterfuge. At Lake Placid, all of the film's major characters turn up. Ann and Jeff are staying in one cabin, David in another - and Ann's parents also arrive. (Who cares about a contrived ending in a screwball comedy?!) David feigns that he is suffering from a hangover, or is ill. So Jeff and Ann are virtually forced to pick him up from the snow - where he has fallen as if in a stupor - and carry him to his cabin, where they put him to bed. Here, David pretends that he is talking in his sleep, and murmurs out loud 'fond memories' of when he and Ann once stayed here. Trusting that he'll evoke equally pleasant or nostalgic memories in Ann - who definitely has a romantic side - he murmurs as if delirious about 'the first two weeks in December' and adds, 'I'll always remember you in that little blue dress!' Well, his ruse works! Ann is touched, if still half inclined to keep up her indignation. She even dons her skis, saying that she intends to return to the main cabin and then go home. But she is now in a most vulnerable position! We realise that she has become half-hearted about leaving David, and he takes full advantage. Tipping her over with one firmly-directed finger, he moves towards her. (For Hitchcock's somewhat suggestive shot of Ann in her vulnerability, see frame-capture below!) The film ends on a close-up of crossed-skis, which at least one critic has suggested symbolises the resumption of conjugal relations. More next time.

June 20 – 2020
I own that I had never watched the hour-long documentary Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann (d. Joshua Waletzky, 1992) until this week. (See film poster below.) I'm very glad that I've now done so, having discovered the film on the Web. It spans Hermann's entire musical career, principally his film scores from Citizen Kane (1941) to Taxi Driver (1976). As far as I can tell, this brilliantly intuitive composer never put a creative foot wrong. As film-music authority Christopher Palmer tells us, '[Herrmann] didn't have that wide a [musical] vocabulary - he didn't need one.' And as another Hermann expert, Royal Brown, comments: 'Bernie was a genius with the "repeat" signs - but it works.' Brown is referring to Herrmann's distinctive use of insistent chords as one of his signatures - repeated atonal chords, seldom or never resolved. (It is of course a truism and a cliché that Hermann never composed a melody.) In other words, Herrmann often first makes us feel that we're stuck with some insistent, obsessive sound (such as accompanies the opening credits of Psycho), making use of musical sevenths, then doesn't resolve them. (To rather different mood-effects, he employed this technique in both Vertigo and Psycho respectively.) Later in the film, when Marion is driving to the Bates Motel, night descends, and rain starts to fall. The brilliant scene with Marion's windscreen-wipers is accompanied by the forceful and sometimes plunging strings-motif from the credits, implying that 'something terrible' is going to happen. Claude Chabrol tells us that this is 'pure metaphysics', creating 'an anguish that has absolutely no reason to be' - like the seemingly unmotivated shower murder itself. (The rain and the windscreen wipers prefigure the shower scene, of course.) Regrettably, the documentary has no time to include reference to Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (1955) and The Wrong Man (1957). So the full range of Herrmann's and Hitchcock's versatility, in their films together, is implicit rather than demonstrated. I'll come back to this point in a moment. Something else the film notices, however, is how often Hermann composes a musical accompaniment that is 'general' rather then 'particular'. No Mickey-Mousing (simple parallel of the action onscreen) by Herrmann! In the Mount Rushmore climax of North by Northwest (1959), for much of the time the exciting music constitutes virtually a composition unto itself, although picking up motifs from the credits sequence. But once again 'it works'! The audience senses how appropriate the Herrman musical parallels are, broadly speaking. They help to 'generalise' and give 'dignity of significance' to what we're seeing! Now, in The Trouble With Harry, something similar occurs. This almost gentle comedy is what Hitchcock called 'a nice little pastorale', rather than a story about, say, a little boy who witnesses a murder, namely, that of Harry (whose corpse wafts through the film). Aptly, Hermann's score uses mainly woodwinds - demonstrating once again his economy of means. (Cf the all-strings score of Psycho.) And again, something similar is the case apropos The Wrong Man. Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is a professional musician who plays the double-bass at the Stork Club in New York. To help convey the oppression that Manny is subject to during the film - having been mistakenly identified as a hold-up man, and arrested, then released on bail - Herrmann's score very effectively accompanies Manny (in two senses) with the sound of the double-bass. It even 'follows' him all the way home and inside his house and down his darkened passageway as he peeps into his two young boys' bedroom, where they are asleep. Next day, we see him giving them their regular music lesson - not on the double-bass but on a piano. The double-bass is more an adult instrument, the piano more a family one.

June 13 – 2020
What is it about a Hitchcock movie that compels so many people to keep watching it and remember it afterwards? By asking that question, I guess I'm referring to this age of TV and DVDs and streaming. When a film like Spellbound (1945) first came out, there were none of those things. You paid admission to a cinema or 'picture palace' (even the Radio City Music Hall) and hoped and trusted that the film would live up to its publicity or whatever else had impelled you to buy tickets to see it! As far as I can remember, the first Hitchcock film I ever saw was The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), at a local scout hall. I was just a boy, and several of us kids were there with our parents to watch Hitchcock's film shown on a 16mm projector, which necessitated reel-breaks every 40 minutes or so. I can still hear the impatient groans of the younger members of the audience (and even the more patient noises made by some of the adults, who nonetheless were clearly as keen for the film to resume as we were) at each of those enforced stoppages. (More on that particular film in a moment.) Some of us also had TV at home. Soon after seeing TMWKTM, I was able to watch, courtesy of a neighbouring family, several of the Selznick Hitchcocks on TV. At any rate, I remember Spellbound and The Paradine Case (1947), but not Rebecca (1940) or Notorious (1946). Maybe us kids weren't allowed to watch those last two, only the former. But here's my point. Very quickly, I had already become a Hitchcock fan! The element of 'suspense' in those movies I saw was unmistakeable! It equated with 'excitement', of course, but it was possible to sense that there was more to it than that - although a mere boy like me couldn't have told you how Hitchcock did it! Nowadays, if pressed, I might start by mentioning that he never left you without bearings. (The very title of the next Hitchcock film I saw, North by Northwest, 1959, may offer a clue to what I mean.) You always felt inside the action, in a place that was often distinctive, like Spellbound's Gabriel Valley (see frame-capture below), but to which you yourself had journeyed to get there. That is surely one of Hitchcock's little secrets, even if - or because - it's all there on the screen. To reach Gabriel Valley, Constance (Ingrid Bergman) and 'J.B.' (Gregory Peck), are shown travelling there by train. In The Paradine Case, in order to reach the Paradine mansion, Hindley Hall, in Cumbria, Tony Keane (Peck) makes the journey from London, again by train. In TMWKTM, set in Marrakesh, Morocco (i.e., North Africa), the McKenna family are shown travelling there by bus. Do I need to cite more examples?! There are many! And there's a corollary to this observation. Hitchcock loved railway stations, because, I suggest, they were so atmospheric and tangible, and of course an essential part of the journey. Actual railway stations are shown and named in such films as The 39 Steps (1935), Spellbound, The Paradine Case, Strangers on a Train (1951), and NxNW; other railway stations are seen in The Lady Vanishes (1938) and Marnie (1964). But to come back for a moment to how Hitchcock gives us our bearings. Rope (1948) may be set entirely in one apartment in a genteel quarter of New York (?), but the physical layout of the rooms is thoroughly established early on, by the constantly moving camera - while the changing moods of the city skyline and the sky itself, from morning to after-nightfall, are a constant backdrop. Lastly, for now, I want to mention the well-known fact of the 'iconic' use to which Hitchcock typically put his settings. We all naturally think of the British Museum climax of Blackmail (1929) or the Forth Bridge episode in The 39 Steps, or the cliff-hanger ending of Saboteur (1942), set on the Statue of Liberty. (The term 'cliff-hanger' may remind us of what Hitchcock owed to some of the early serials, which in turn were obligated to 19th-century stage melodrama - see Sergei Eisenstein's famous essay on "Dickens, Griffith, and the Film Today"). For one thing, such settings often provided the focus or pivot for where Hitchcock's 'chase' structure was leading us (e.g., to Mount Rushmore at the climax of NxNW). Perhaps more importantly, there was often something symbolic or 'surreal' about these settings, not least the ski slope in Spellbound which triggers J.B.s buried memory - represented earlier by the puzzling imagery of his dream at Dr Bruloff's house in Rochester. Compulsive viewing, indeed!

June 6 – 2020
As the hunt scene in Marnie fades in over a close-up of Marnie looking pensive, the strong implication is that it is like a dream. (For a rough analogy, but a suggestive one, check out the hunt episode in Geoffrey Chaucer's poem 'The Book of the Duchess', c. 1368 - not much new under the sun!) It seems important to note the centrality of Lil on her white horse (Marnie's Forio is black) in this scene. A nemesis-figure can also be a saviour-figure, which Hitchcock profoundly understood, I think. After 'the kill' (of the fox), the other hunters in their expensive riding-gear gather around laughingly. Marnie, seeing this, is greatly shocked (palpably, she identifies with the fox), and she suddenly spurs Forio away. The next few moments, as rider and horse plunge dangerously through trees in a wood, before emerging into open countryside, is unnerving. An amazing few moments. But there's much more. (The hunt scene in Marnie make the critically-praised one in Tom Jones, the year before, i.e., 1963, look tame comic-book stuff in comparison - although it seems likely that Hitchcock relished the chance to do a hunt scene his way, and that this helped motivate his choice of Marnie as his next project after The Birds. So we should be grateful!) Hitchcock's hunt scene, as I say, has dream-like qualities of 'inwardness', and to that extent is typical of Hitchcock. Now, as Marnie and Forio finally emerge from the wood, with Lil in puzzled pursuit, the camera suddenly rises high-up to show the open countryside ahead, and to that extent momentarily 'frees' Marnie. Such 'freedom', though exhilarating, will of course prove to be illusory and is thus like a metaphor of Marnie's life spent constantly running away from real growthful experiences. Moreover, Forio, given his head, is virtually bolting, which will prove to be - terribly - destructive. May I just note that the many modulations of Bernard Herrmann's score throughout this scene are masterly - and of course expressive. (Hitchcock once gave Herrmann 33% credit for their films' successes, but you can easily wonder if that figure shouldn't be higher. Even so, Hitchcock did acknowledge his huge debt, as at other times he acknowledged - most often in professional journals - other colleagues' contributions. This is something that scholars like Charles Barr and Brian MacFarlane seem somewhat blind to, it seems to me.) The Marnie hunt scene climaxes when Forio, out of control, fails to quite clear a high stone wall, throwing Marnie and bringing down the horse itself, who then threshes about on the ground, and, as Marnie says, is heard 'screaming'. (Reader, I do tear-up at this moment - every time I see the film, as I found again today - although the subliminal reasons are many, I'm sure, and not just because I'm an animal-lover like Marnie - and reportedly Hitchcock. Those subliminal reasons are what I'm trying to bring out by describing the scene here now.) Marnie runs to the door of a nearby cottage on the Rutland estate (is it?) and begs 'Mrs Turpin', who answers Marnie's fierce knocking, to 'give me a gun - he's suffering', referring to Forio. At this moment Lil arrives and acts as intermediary, and Mrs Turpin admits, 'I could give her Jack's pistol'. Lil nobly offers to shoot Forio herself, to spare Marnie, but predictably Marnie insists that she'll do it. Her glare at Lil and her question, 'Are you still in the mood for killing?', is unfair but that's the way things often go, and constitutes a major statement by Hitchcock, using the encompassing power of 'pure cinema' to say it. As Marnie fires a single shot and Forio kicks out one last time, then is still, this surely constitutes one of the great cathartic moments in cinema. Marnie's tone as she lowers the pistol and says, 'There, there now', is extraordinarily tender - and will be reprised at the film's end where Marnie is this time speaking of herself and the buried memory that had shaped her into what she is - and may now be genuinely freed from. Meanwhile, straight after the hunt scene, the ever-vindictive and glowering Strutt is heard telling Mark: 'Just wait until you've been victimised.' Hitchcock is suggesting that some people will always remain intractable, seemingly beyond 'redemption' - just as Marnie had long seemed. (Arguably, Hitchcock leaves room for 'grace'.) And Marnie's own redemption will soon follow - if after more pain. The interaction or running together of past and present is marvellously demonstrated in Marnie, one of the great Hitchcocks.

May 30 – 2020
I'm going to spend a couple more weeks on Marnie, one of Hitchcock's masterpieces, after all. In some ways I find it his funniest film, as well as perhaps his most poignant. Those two qualities are linked. Take what I think of as the Strutt/Ward/Cousin Bob thread. Those three characters are single-minded, i.e., myopic, businessmen, through and through, and are caricatured as such several times. The least-offensive is balding Mr Ward, in the Rutland office. His particular foible is his inability to remember the combination of the office safe, which is kept locked in Susan Claborn's desk drawer - a foible that is also a sign of Ward's approaching senescence. (Everyone in Marnie seems mortal, even the embittered Lil Mainwaring, Mark's young sister-in-law, who had hoped to supplant her late sister as Mark's wife - and who now finds herself 'ousted' by Marnie. Hard luck, Lil!) Actually the film 'cheats' in its mockery of Mr Ward's poor memory. Susan says that the combination is 'only five numbers, for Pete's sake', but in fact it's more complicated than that. Check it out some time. It consists of five different turns - to left or to right - and each action involves two different figures (as I recall). Also, Mr Ward, a mere wage-earner, although he's set in his ways, doesn't appear particularly vindictive. He has no reason to be that. By contrast, businessman Strutt, whose safe Marnie robs at the beginning of the film, broods on his loss and how he can recover the money after he suddenly learns that Marnie is married to his client, Mark Rutland. (I'll come back to Strutt.) To me, one of the comic highlights of Marnie is the scene on the doorstep of the Rutland mansion after Mark and Marnie drive off for their shipboard honeymoon. The man whom Mark calls 'our banking Cousin Bob' complains at length to Lil about the huge sum Mark had paid for his wedding-ring. And about Mark's sense of humour - which is clearly something Cousin Bob will never have! As I say, Hitchcock caricatures him and his narrow-mindedness, photographing him with a glint in his spectacles that perfectly expresses the small, calculating and forever reckoning mindset of the man. Hitch did something similar with the spectacles of unpleasant Miriam Haines in Strangers on a Train. Somehow, I was also reminded of the work of English comedian Michael Spicer who in his own way deftly exposes the weak-spots and gaffs of political figures. (Google his work, if you don't already know it. It's often hilarious!) Of course, this scene also functions in the film to fill a few expository gaps. Nothing in Hitchcock is mono-functional! Finally, now, let's return to Mr Strutt, whom Mark characterises as 'an angry bull of a businessman' and whom Marnie was fortunate to escape because he might have 'taken what he thought was coming to him' (i.e., sex with Marnie) before pressing charges for robbery. As it is, he suddenly finds himself faced with the fact that Marnie is the wife of one of his most valued clients, Mark. The latter, who is a quick thinker, tells Marnie that she must go through with the unpleasant task of being accompanied by Strutt into dinner! Mark lies to Strutt: 'Oh, Mr Strutt, my wife seems to have taken a fancy to you. Will you see her into dinner?' Cut to a shot of the glowering Strutt proceeding just ahead of a deadpan Marnie - her own gaze steadily fixed, concealing the undoubted turmoil she is feeling. Now here's my point. In all of this caricaturing of petty-mindedness, Hitchcock is implying the greater humaneness that his film is about. As Mark knows, Marnie is probably the most intelligent person of all the people attending the dinner-party, and effectively Hitchcock is saying (with Jean Renoir) something like, 'To understand all is to forgive all.' (But does anybody know and understand all?!) I relish another of the film's comic moments when Mark tells his new wife, 'I want you to read some [books]. Start with "The Undiscovered Self" [by Carl Jung, if I'm not mistaken].' And Marnie retorts, 'Oh for God's sake, Mark, leave me alone! ... You're really dying to play doctor, aren't you?' Acutely, she tells him: 'I'm sick?! Well take a look at yourself, Mark dear! You've a pathological fix on a woman who's not only an admitted criminal but who screams if you come near her!' Like I said, the comedy and the poignancy of Marnie are closely linked.

May 23 – 2020
Sorry, have been laid up for a couple of weeks! This blog re-commences next week. KM

May 9 – 2020
Sadly, for many people Marnie seems to be about 'nothing much' - yet it is really about a 'case-history' (as I've explained above) that palpably demonstrates the invisible 'force' that drives us all. Once again, then, a Hitchcock film - Marnie - reminds me of Schopenhauer's notion of the cosmic Will, a 'force' that is ubiquitous. That 'force' is capable of being 'perverted' an infinite number of times, forever and a day! (As we know, Hitchcock said: 'Everything's perverted in a different way.') Unsurprisingly, a great poet like Shakespeare gave expression to almost exactly the same idea when he had Hamlet say, 'There's a divinity that shapes our ends,/Rough-hew them how we will.' Now, after that portentous opening remark of mine, let me add that Marnie is one of Hitchcock's most expressive films, in the fullest sense, employing 'cinema' at every turn to express not just emotion but the world's Will. It may look to be about 'nothing much' - but is brilliantly inventive. I mentioned last time Marnie's outside/inside motif, one of its several key motifs, and now I come back to that. Marnie herself is conceived as an 'outsider' who becomes an 'insider'. In her own - unique - way she rises from a slum kid to a 'society hostess' worth millions. All the while, she shows herself conscious of her lowly beginning and her determination to break out of the mould and into security and privilege. (Yes, there are elements of fairy-tale in Marnie.) Often, a seemingly innocuous line reiterates the motif, as when Mark prepares Marnie to meet his father by saying, 'If you smell anything like a horse, you're in'. (Both Marnie and Mr Rutland Snr are horse-fanciers.) Sure enough, in no time at all, Marnie finds herself welcomed into the family 'homestead' (named 'Whykwyn') and Rutland Snr is amiably telling her, 'The best thing for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse!' Animals, whether horses or jaguarundis, figure prominently in the narrative of Marnie, and this too is fitting, given that Will is everywhere, including the animal kingdom, which humans belong to, after all. Mark himself is an amateur zoologist, providing the film with several metaphors, such as his accound of fattid bugs in Africa (strictly, the offshore Madagascar, I think, but the film repeatedly takes 'poetic licence') which 'live and die in the shape of a flower' to evade hungry birds. Here, Mark seems to be inducing Marnie to drop her protective camouflage and become a self-realised person, truly an individual. Note; this idea provides a further motif of Marnie, one designed to speak directly to the audience, although of course Hitchcock, in his wisdom, knew that self-realisation will always remain incomplete. Effectively, in the film, the idea functions as a rhetorical device. To function at all, people must be wilful beings (thus not totally open to the world's Will), and another observation of Hitchcock's comes to mind: 'Reality is something that none of us can stand, at any time.' Or think of the quotation from the novel 'Marnie' that I referred to above (April 25) to suggest the story's overall theme: 'the loneliness of all the world'. Half way through the film, Marnie attempts suicide - shockingly, but surely with more than a ring of psychological truth about it - by attempting to drown herself in the ship's swimming pool, on her honeymoon with Mark. Even here, Marnie is being wilful (as Schopenhauer said of the act of suicide in general), and her explanation for not simply throwing herself over the ship's side is that she 'didn't want to feed the damn fish'! But perhaps, too, she didn't want to surrender, even in death, to the 'outside world', in all its perceived hostility (cf. Schopenhauer on the fundamentally inimical Will). By throwing herself, instead, into the ship's pool, she seeks to exhibit a token inwardness - if a Pyrric victory, to be sure! Lastly, this time, I want to mention the film's final shot (see frame capture below). In its way, isn't it beautiful?! The 'privileged' high-shot itself (repeating a much earlier one showing Mrs Edgar's street in the slums of Baltimore), the late-afternoon sunlight, the rain-washed street with children playing, the ship and docks beyond. (I mentioned here years ago how this scene reminds me of Strindberg's expressionistic 'A Dream Play' with its slum called 'Foul Gut' in the foreground and 'Fair Vale' in the distance!) Note Mark and Marnie's car just about to turn right, out of the street, where until now we never knew there was an exit - the street had appeared to be a cul-de-sac. (An article in the English journal 'Movie' first mentioned this phenomenon, I recall.) Interestingly, though, there had been a foretaste. After Mark first brings Marnie to Whykwyn, he takes her to inspect the family stables. A high-long-shot shows them strolling away from us down the length of the stables - then turning right and out of sight where we hadn't suspected there was an exit! The next shot proves to be a close-up of the pair kissing. Perhaps that helps, subliminally, to imply a 'happy ending' when the end of the film arrives an hour later. I wouldn't put it past Hitchcock to have intended just that!

May 2 – 2020
Last time I described how the 'turning pages' of the Marnie credit titles intimate that we're about to watch a 'case-history'. Indeed, I have always told my students to think of the film that way, for it is neither a comedy nor an outright thriller but rather something more 'complicated'. At times, in its middle sections, the film seems to be 'all over the place' (why do we need to accompany Mark and Marnie on their honeymoon, say?), but this is only in keeping with the idea of a case-history. Any psychiatrist knows that everything a patient says may be important, and should be considered. (By the way, Hitchcock had used the idea of a case-history before. Ballyntine in Spellbound and Norman Bates in Psycho - Norman's character is based on the real-life Ed Gein - come to mind. But the actual form of those films has a different rationale determining them. For example, Spellbound's overblown form would seem to be determined by a playful mocking of the new prominence of psychiatry in the public mind: 'wartime neurosis' and things like 'shell-shock' had especially brought it into recent headlines.) As I've already indicated (see last time) I love Marnie for the palpable rightness - once you've twigged - of all its complicated elements boldly assembled in a surprisingly short space. The initial scenes in the Rutland Company's office might seem to be 'routine' or somewhat 'vacuous' - but that's just what the film intends. In Hitchcock's use of 'subjective style', a particular character's attitude or feeling may be the determining factor. Marnie's cynical attitude to the business world - and the necessity of joining it for a time in order to 'make money' (Marnie's way of doing this proves to be unorthodox, of course) - is at work here. I particularly love the Rutland office scenes. A certain vacuity is indeed invoked by them, and it represents much of what the intelligent Marnie is in rebellion against: the hollowness of everyday life, with its repetition, its routine, and its lack of meaningful content! How does the film invoke this? Partly by means of Bernard Herrmann's score. Listen to its harp trills (no full-bodied score here!) when the balding and forgetful Mr Ward has to repeatedly go to Susan Clabon's locked office drawer to remind himself of the combination of the office safe. The film photographs Mr Ward from a high angle to emphasise his baldness and incipient senility. And the script has Susan tell Marnie afterwards, 'It's only five numbers, for Pete's sake!' These office scenes really do invoke a sense of 'suspended animation', and they can't help but make the thief Marnie somehow the film's heroine with whom we identify, and for whom we silently barrack. (My use of the word 'barrack' has its Australian sense of 'shout support, as for a favourite team'!) This is screenwriting of the highest order. Another scene I greatly admire shows the 'getting acquainted' of Mark and Marnie when he requests her to work overtime with him in his office on a Saturday afternoon. A storm is soon raging outside - it wasn't yet occurring when Marnie parked her car in the Rutlands' parking lot moments earlier - almost as if the situation itself in which these two people now find themselves has brought it on. (More of Hitchcock's 'subjective style', notice.) And when a window suddenly shatters and a glass case falls over, breaking nearly all of the pre-Columbian artefacts displayed there, Marnie becomes terrified. Flashes of lightning emphasise her plight, as she runs almost crazily against a wall, and she cries out, 'Stop the colours! Stop the colours!' (We are shown the lightning flashes tinged with red, the colour that Marnie dreads. But a puzzled Mark doesn't see the colours at all, asking, 'What colours?') Becoming concerned about Marnie, Mark has advanced towards her, leading her to a settee (see frame-capture below) and wanting to comfort her in her distress. He ends up kissing her in a giant close-up, and the moment seems almost requisite, given the characters and situation. Shortly afterwards, we are shown the glass case again, along with its valuable contents (mementos of Mark's first wife), nearly all shattered. Mark picks up a remaining unbroken vase and shatters it too. 'We've all got to go sometime', is his only remark. Perhaps his thoughts are already running to the idea that Marnie might one day become his next wife. The scene has another element I'd like to remark. It's beautifully modulated, as perhaps only Hitchcock could regularly do. A couple of times we're shown shots of misty rain drifting in through the window. This lends an almost undefinable gentleness to the scene, perhaps anticipating the tenderness and protectiveness that Mark will largely show to Marnie after they get married. Lastly, the scene fits within the film's outside/inside motif ... More next time.

April 25 – 2020
You need 'soul' to appreciate Marnie (1964) for the masterpiece it is, and not everyone has it! (I've just been checking on the Internet!) As the 1961 novel by Winston Graham makes clear, it is a story about 'loneliness' - more specifically, 'the loneliness of all the world' (Hodder and Stoughton paperback edition, 1961, p. 241). We recognise this loneliness in Marnie (Tippi Hedren) at the outset, although she isn't prepared to acknowledge it. In the novel she says: 'People might think it lonely living on my own nearly all the time, but I never found it lonely.' (p. 5) Time and again, the film's imagery shows this wilful attitude in her. For example, in the frame-capture below, near the start, she has fled to the countryside where her best and only friend is her horse Forio. Here she is in her element - her 'little girl' element. Marnie as a girl had grown up without a father, and had shielded herself from any feeling of deprivation by seemingly living contently with her mother in their slum in Baltimore. (Cf Psycho, where Norman Bates claims that he and his mother, in their little-visited motel, 'were more than happy'.) Thus Marnie had developed an independence and 'resourcefulness' (Mark Rutland's term) while still keeping her 'little girl' side. We sometimes hear it in her voice when she is stressed or frightened. However, in that frame-capture, it is perfectly obvious that Tippi is riding a studio horse, and that Hitchcock wanted it that way: the shot itself is deliberately rather static, conveying a sense of Marnie's 'going nowhere fast' and fooling herself that she has constructed for herself the best of all possible worlds. (However, a perennial theme of Hitchcock's films is that of characters having to 'grow up' - Marnie proves no exception.) The only 'fault' I find in this recurrent shot is how, on this occasion, there's a continuity error! A moment earlier, while mounting Forio, Marnie had been wearing a rollneck sweater: suddenly the sweater has become V-necked and is complemented by an elegant bow! Mind, this too may have been deliberate! The shot of Marnie on horseback seems intended to be a metaphor for the 'freedom' she feels riding Forio. 'To hell with continuity!' Hitchcock may have reasoned, 'the effect is everything! Leave strict continuity to the plausibilists!' (He often complained about such people, including certain critics.) Now, this particular shot - and the sequence at Garrod's Riding Stables, of which it's a part - in turn is only a small part of the admirably detailed expositionary opening of Marnie. (Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen.) That's what I want most to praise here! In short time (the railway station the hotel room, Strutt's robbed safe, Garrod's), we learn of Marnie's strange lifestyle, and we meet Marnie's elderly mother in Baltimore, Bernice Edgar (and the objectionable little girl Jessie, whom Bernice encourages to visit her - again out of loneliness, probably of both parties, for Jessie too has no father). And we learn of some strange 'symptoms' of Marnie's troubled past in the 'red hyacinths' scene and in Marnie's recurrent nightmare which always starts with 'three taps'. After that comes the next long sequence in which Marnie takes a new job as an office secretary at Rutland's ... By now, then, as Marnie starts work for her new employer, where she'll meet Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) who'll be both her nemesis and saviour, the real story is beginning. But nothing to this point has been superfluous. All that initial exposition we take in without straining, led by our curiosity and by a very real sense that the masterly Hitchcock knows what he's doing and that everything will be suitably unpacked in due course. And there's one more enormously important factor working on us: the effect of the powerful credits sequence, which promises so much, not least because of Bernard Herrmann's score. Hitchcock always believed in what has been called 'the dignity of significance'. Such 'significance' is fully conveyed in the very design of the credits sequence. Within a simple rectangle, bordered by a decorous chain of oak leaves, the credits appear in succession, as if on successively turning pages of some 'case-history' - an impression backed by the various flights of the score beginning with a musical 'cry-in-the-night' which leads into an equally dramatic, but sweetly-sad, main theme. I'll be returning to Hitchcock's Marnie next time. Meanwhile, the opera version of 'Marnie', composed by Nico Muhly and performed/recorded by the Metropolitan Opera in 2018, is available. I understand that for 23 hours on Thursday April 30th there'll be a free streaming. For more details, go here first: Met Opera

April 18 – 2020
While watching The Paradine Case lately, I have learnt much from consulting Thomas Grant's 'Court Number One: The Old Bailey' (see previous three entries), including about the building and the courtroom itself. In the frame-still below, the famous copper and gilt statue of Justice, with her sword and scales, stands defiantly atop the building known as the Central Criminal Court which houses 18 courtrooms altogether, spread over three floors. Contrary to popular belief, the statue is not blindfolded. She stands about 200 feet above the street below, and is 12 feet high. The building itself has a dome whose design intentionally matches that of St Paul's Cathedral seen here in the near-distance. Beneath the building, unseen by the public, is an 'elaborate warren of cells' (Grant, p. 261) which, as noted, can be accessed from a narrow stairway that leads down from the dock, and is where a prisoner is held while not in the courtroom. Apparently, counsel may also use these stairs (to visit clients) provided they are wearing their court robes (p. 222). (The fact that we don't see such a moment in The Paradine Case may well be because Hitchcock thought is might mystify the audience, or might seem faintly risible. He was always alert to such tiny nuances as this, and would consider whether to 'use' them or 'reject' them.) Grant is particularly informative about how cross-examination fits into the English system of courtroom procedure - its famous 'adversarial system'. For example, he writes: 'A defendant can do more harm than good to their defence in the witness box. Cross-examination can destroy a defendant's credibility and carry home a verdict of guilty even when at the close of the prosecution case the evidence looks thin. So the decision to advise a client to give evidence or not is often one of the most delicate and finely balanced any criminal barrister has to take ...' (p. 280) Daringly, Tony Keane (Gregory Peck) in The Paradine Case, defending Mrs Paradine (Alida Valli), and likely blinded by her cool beauty, chooses not only to put his client in the witness box but to call no other witnesses. (When he announces this in court, a murmur goes up and the Judge - Charles Laughton - looks bemused.) It may be his big mistake (see last time). Now here again is Grant: 'To the English criminal lawyer cross-examination is an art form which, if done well, can entirely change the course of a case. A witness who gives his testimony guided by the gentle prodding of examination-in-chief may seem to build up an impregnable wall of evidence. But a carefully constructed cross-examination can succeed in entirely dismantling that edifice.' (p. 285). In The Paradine Case, after the prosecution calls the late Colonel Paradine's manservant André Latour (Louis Jourdan), Keane is entitled to cross-examine him. But Keane is like a dog barking up the wrong tree. Blinded, as I say, to his own client's guilt, he seeks to break Latour down - and succeeds only too well. Latour himself holds the guilty secret that Mrs Paradine had deliberately seduced him, thereby making him betray his duty of loyalty to his master, the Colonel - to whom he was devoted. Towards the end of the trial, word comes that Latour has 'done away with himself'. Grant continues: '[The] right of sustained challenge - the hallmark of the adversarial system - constitutes one of the most valuable bulwarks of the fairness of the criminal trial. It has been described by a prominent jurist "as the greatest ... engine ever invented for the discovery of truth". Yet it can also serve to occlude that truth. A sustained attack on a witness's credibility can overwhelm and exhaust them, leading to confused answers and a willingness to reply in the affirmative, simply to try to please the questioner.' (p. 285) While he is in the witness box, Latour carries himself well. But his public shaming - seemingly as his master's murderer - is the tipping-point, and he can no longer bear to live. Hearing the news of his death, Mrs Paradine herself confesses all. The film ends with Tony later being consoled by his wife, Gay (Ann Todd), who reaches out a hand to his face and tells him, 'Incidentally, dear, you do need a shave' - which is a succinct way the film reminds us that life (and death) must go on.

April 11 – 2020
[After a week's hiatus.] I almost wish that The Paradine Case consisted entirely of its courtroom scenes, set in the Old Bailey. As it is, of course, those scenes still occupy much of its second half, almost an hour. The more you know about the Old Bailey, and about English coutroom procedure and protocol, the more you appreciate that Hitchcock knew every nuance of what he shows in those scenes. A tiny instance ... When Mrs Paradine (Alida Valli) leaves the dock (as shown above) and goes into the witness box, she is accompanied all of the way by a (female) warder/attendant - who even follows her into the witness box and takes a seat behind her. (I'd never consciously noticed this detail before. But reading Thomas Grant's book 'Court Number One' - see last two entries above - seems to have sharpened my perception of Hitchcock's masterly work in the film's Old Bailey scenes. Many years ago, author and critic Charles Higham, writing in 'Film Quarterly', praised The Paradine Case; I am now practically persuaded that he got it right! The film is full of subtlety, and makes a statement about nothing less than humanity, in its many forms. But essentially it is a film about a crime passionnel - and a passion or drive (Schopenhauer's 'Will') that operates universally. Sophie Horfield (Ethel Barrymore), the wife of Judge Horfield, loves her husband whatever his limitations as a human being. A key scene between them comes near the end, when she asks him, 'Doesn't life punish [all of] us enough, Tommy?' To which he responds coldly (this comes straight after he has commented on how closely 'the convolutions of a walnut resemble those of the human brain'!), 'You silly woman!' - and adds that 'crime and punishment are both part of the scheme'. (Whose scheme it is, or what else it consists of, isn't stated. But I would guess that Schopenhauer would have understood. There's a reference in the novel of 'The Paradine Case' to 'the great Schopenhauer'.) Perhaps it's what I have already called humanity, which Hitchcock's film is surely about - humanity and its need to overcome itself, inevitably falling short! Also, note the paradox of the Sophie-Tommy exchange. Both statements are true. We do need to exercise 'pity', which is Sophie's comment apropos 'that poor woman, Mrs Paradine' and which sounds so like Schopenhauer's call for compassion for humanity. But equally, crime and punishment clearly go together in this world - one without the other would simply be wrong! In short, life resembles the paradox (a verbal nonsensity) about an irresistible force contending with an immovable object! My point is that it's typical of Hitchcock to be aware of this life-paradox, which is everywhere. In making her passionate call for pity, while seated at the dinner table with 'Tommy', Sophie knocks over a glass - which he is quick to point out. Now, arguably, the adversarial form of prosecution-versus-defence in the English court system is itself a reflection, or acknowledgement, of the same life-paradox. When Sophie, without noticing, knocks over her glass, she, too, is being passionate in her own way. And culpable of an infraction, however tiny. Another indication of Will-at-work in Hitchcock's films is how often, in fact, those films are indeed about passion. A humane moment I hugely admire in The Paradine Case is when Mrs Paradine, on being asked a question by Keane immediately after the court has learned of Latour's suicide, responds, 'What does it matter now? André is dead.' Hitchcock employs a high-angle close-up, and we see a tear well in a corner of Mrs Paradine's eye. Now she reaffirms, 'The man I love is dead.' Without cutting away from her face - which would have been insensitive at this critical moment - Hitchcock moves his camera still closer, and it slowly descends to normal eye-level (like a metaphor for someone regaining composure after extreme consternation). Still in close-up, Mrs Paradine states her great love for André and how she had wanted to go away with him. It is her confession of murdering her husband. She clearly feels that her own barrister, Keane, by his attack on Latour, has goaded her beyond endurance. Sure enough, she accuses Keane of being the real murderer. The sustained close-up of Mrs Paradine is thus hugely effective and telling. Shortly afterwards, knowing that he has lost the case for his client, Keane himself 'confesses' his 'incompetence' (his word), and with head bowed, leaves the court. (Frame-capture below.) And, in a sense, he has been incompetent on this occasion. Tony, too, is only a flawed human being - yes, even the distinguished Anthony Keane! More next time.

March 28 – 2020
As noted last time, to approach the witness box at the Old Bailey a person must walk through the well of the court and past the jury box. In the frame-capture from The Paradine Case below, Maddelena Paradine (Alida Valli) has just left the dock on her way to the witness box. Note: the jury box can be seen on the extreme right of the frame. One of several actual Old Bailey court-cases that influenced Robert Hichens's 1933 novel 'The Paradine Case' (and Hitchcock's 1947 film) was the 1922 trial of Edith Thompson and her lover Frederick Bywaters for killing Mrs Thompson's husband. (The same trial also influenced Hitchcock's 1950 Stage Fright.) Thomas Grant's superb book 'Court Number One' (see last time) notes that 'Edith ... was viewed in the dock and witness box in almost entirely erotic terms'. Grant quotes the 'Daily Express': 'A thrill passed through the court as Mrs Thompson walked slowly down the steps of the dock.' (Grant, p. 119) He also notes: 'Her walk to the witness box fascinated the public just as much as Marguerite [Fahmy's] would a few months later.' (p. 118) (Both of those beautiful woman were tried for the murder of their respective husbands, although only one - Fahmy - would be acquitted and escape the gallows; both cases influenced Hitchens and Hitchcock.) Filmmaker Hitchcock was especially alert to the visual possibilities of the layout of the Old Bailey and how, in particular, his characters negotiated its various sets of steps. The Old Bailey sequence begins with Mrs Paradine being fetched by two female warders from a cell beneath the courtroom and mounting a narrow staircase leading directly into the dock. She maintains her composure throughout all of this, as during most of the trial that follows. It's understandable that Hichens based his novel on the Thompson & Bywaters trial, as the famous defence barrister in that trial, Sir Edward Marshall Hall, was heard referring to its parallels with an earlier Hichens novel, 'Bella Donna' (1909), in which a wife poisons her husband. Indeed, the reputation of Marshall Hall to sway juries with his rhetoric was a trait that both Hichens and Hitchcock gave barrister Anthony Keane in 'The Paradine Case' and its film version - he is played onscreen by Gregory Peck, of course (although Hitchcock understandably would have preferred Englishman Laurence Olivier). Grant's book can further illuminate films like The Paradine Case. For example, he writes: 'A criminal trial now is a lot fairer and more humane than [it once was] ... The testy and acidic judges [like Judge Horfield (Charles Laughton)] ... are now largely things of the past.' (pp. 10-11) And advances like DNA profiling, ubiquitous CCTV, and taped police interviews have 'to some extent removed the potential for uncertainty and curtailed the rhetorical deployment of doubt, the defending barrister's stock-in-trade'. (p. 10) Moreover, divorce laws have been liberalised, thereby removing 'much of the motivation to middle-class murder'. (p. 10) Lastly, 'the abolition of the death penalty in 1965 removed, at a stroke, much of the tension in murder trials.' (pp. 10-11) Grant quotes an historian of the Old Bailey: 'Once the black cap became a museum piece and the prospect of a hanging had finally gone, ... newspaper readers [and some filmgoers] had a distinct sense of coitus interruptus, like a bull fight without the kill.' (p. 11) Shuddersome, but probably true. Now, on a more pleasant note, but apropos the English tradition of a judge donning the black cap to pronounce a death sentence, I invite readers to look at the film clip below from a remarkable silent film The Balance (c. 1922), showing its Old Bailey scene, which runs for about four minutes: The Balance

March 21 – 2020
What you see below is a frame-capture from Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947), whose second half is set largely in the famous Old Bailey courtroom in London. There had been earlier attempts on film to re-create the Old Bailey in a film studio - going right back to the silent-films era - but Hitchcock's was the first feature film made in Hollywood, or directed by a Hollywood director, to do so. Strangely, it isn't mentioned in the new book 'Court Number One: The Old Bailey Trials That Defined Modern Britain' by Thomas Grant. The only feature film Grant mentions in that respect is Billy Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution (1957, i.e., made a decade after Hitchcock's film) - which it praises for its 'exact replica of Court Number One constructed, at huge cost, in Hollywood' (p. 9). Take that, Hitchcock! Nonetheless, Hitch, too, had spared no expense ($15,000) for his re-creation, even having ceilings added to his Old Bailey set without telling producer David Selznick what he was doing - and despite the fact that the ceilings are barely glimpsed in the film! And although Hitchcock's set was built to the exact size of the actual Old Bailey - which often surprises its first-time visitors by how small it is - somehow he was able to fit into the confines of the courtroom several cameras, each pointed at different parts of the unfolding drama, and which he would often allow to run simultaneously. The idea was to capture the actual feel of the thrust and parry of a real court. (Note: by using this multi-camera technique, Hitchcock was effectively anticipating the TV technique he would employ in AHP and AHH in the 1950s and 1960s - and a technique only just starting to be used by live television itself, from roughly the late 1940s onwards.) Btw, another later feature film to include scenes in the Old Bailey was Hollywood director Richard Fleischer's 10 Rillington Place (1971), shot in colour. (It, too, must have replicated its Old Bailey in the studio, as I don't suppose that the filmmakers would have been granted permission for extended filming in the actual court. That film is notable for telling the sad story of Timothy Evans and John Christie, the latter finally apprehended in 1953 for multiple murders but not before the innocent Evans had been hanged, including for the murder of Evan's wife and infant daughter. One can imagine the case had a sizeable effect on Hitchcock.) And then there was the long-running television series 'Rumpole of the Bailey', whose first episode was aired in 1978. But back now to the Old Bailey itself. Built along London's medieval western wall (or bailey), the building had been the central criminal court of London for centuries; however, the 'new' Old Bailey opened in 1907. It sustained some damage - shown in The Paradine Case - from bombing during the Second World War, damage not repaired until after 1950. Grant describes the courtroom, and I'd like to quote him. First, though, note in the frame-capture below André Latour (Louis Jourdan, top left) in the witness box leaning towards Judge Horfield (Charles Laughton, top centre); visible in the jury box (middle left) are some of the jurors, while a standing Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck, centre right) addresses the court; just visible in the dock, which occupies the actual middle of the court, is the prisoner Maddelena Paradine (Alida Valli, bottom right). Now here's Grant (and remember, as you read, just how powerful a hold the Old Bailey exercised on the imaginations of many Britishers, including Hitchcock!). '[Between the jury box and the judges'] bench, is the witness box. To approach it a witness has to walk into the well of the court, the jury to the left, the large "Treasury Table" which divides jurors from counsel to the right (where in the past the exhibits were kept), and then up a short flight of steps. The witness stands - they may even be invited to sit - at conversational distance from the judge and facing counsel. It is one of the peculiarities of the configuration of Court Number One that the jury cannot see the witness distinctly. From the jury box the witness is visible only in profile.' (p. 6) To be continued.

March 14 - 2020
In Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935), it's Annabella Smith who is murdered early in the film (frame-capture below), forcing Hannay as the only suspect to go on the run; in John Buchan's novel (1915), the murdered person is Scudder, a 'freelance spy from Kentucky' who is investigating a dark conspiracy 'to get Russia and Germany at loggerheads'. But the result is the same: when Scudder is killed in Hannay's apartment, Hannay must flee London and go looking for the culprits while staying alive himself - thereby setting in motion the 'double-chase' that several Hitchcock films would later appropriate. Hannay describes his situation like this: 'I reckoned that two sets of people would be looking for me - Scudder's enemies to put me out of existence, and the police, who would want me for Scudder's murder.' (Chapter II) A recent article in the 'London Review of Books' by Christopher Tayler - reviewing Ursula Buchan's 'Beyond The Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan' (2019) - brought the novel and film back to me. Buchan is always interesting to read about. Have you seen his advice on how to write a mystery novel? Tayler puts it like this: 'You take three images at random - "say, an old blind woman spinning in the [Scottish] Western Highlands, a barn in a Norwegian saeter [meadow], and a little curiosity shop in North London kept by a Jew with a dyed beard" - and make up a story to connect them. The reader won't know that you "fixed upon the solution first, and then invented a problem [or rationale] to suit it".' From many accounts, that's pretty much how Hitchcock worked as well - often to the consternation of his scriptwriters! Buchan was a fair-minded man: for every reference to some contemporary prejudice or other (e.g., against 'the Jew'), he would usually incorporate a more-moderate viewpoint - as when Sir Walter Bulivant of the Secret Service (in several Hannay novels) says of Scudder: 'he had a lot of odd biases, too. Jews, for example, made him see red. Jews and the high finance.' If Buchan was the middle-brow Hitchcock's favourite author, I suspect that he - Hitchcock - picked up a lot of his own noticeable fair-mindedness from that source. Ursula Buchan is a granddaughter of 'JB'. She is not the first Buchan biographer, though. Another biographer was Janet Adam Smith whose 'John Buchan' (1965) reports an interesting item: that (politician) Clement Atlee once pointed out to her a borrowing from the celebrated novel 'Kidnapped' (1886) by another Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, which Buchan had certainly read. Tayler doesn't say what that borrowing was, but it was most likely the same 'double-chase' already mentioned, and involving the 'wrong man' motif that Hitchcock would make his own. In 'Kidnapped', young David Balfour must indeed clear his name after he is kidnapped as a cabin boy for the ship on which he finds himself. With an older friend - Alan Breck - he becomes a major suspect in a murder. Escaping from the ship, they flee into a wood - and the chase continues. Of course, the biggest single literary influence on Buchan was probably John Bunyan's moral allegory 'Pilgrim's Progress' (1678). Tayler reports that 'Buchan became a life-long devotee of "its plain narrative, its picture of life as a pilgrimage over hill and dale, where surprising adventures lurked by the wayside, a hard road with now and then long views to cheer the traveller".' So, reader, remember that - i.e., whenever you ask yourself what is the underlying significance of Hitchcock's chase-plot in films like The 39 Steps and North by Northwest (1959). (Roger Thornhill's surname may just possibly invoke a crown-of-thorns and a crucified figure on a hill, i.e., a Christ-figure!) Another parallel with Hitchcock now. Many of Buchan's novels begin with the hero bored in London. Tayler notes that in such instances Buchan was drawing on his own life when, in 1903, he returned to London from South Africa, and 'experienced the world-weariness that afflicts his heroes when there isn't an adventure on the horizon'. In Hitchcock's films, it doesn't have to be London. Think, say, of Jeff in Rear Window (1954) who almost seems to conjure a murder-mystery out of his boredom when he finds himself laid up with a broken leg in his Greewich Village apartment! Hitchcock of course knew that there was an allegory right there: of the incipient boredom that drives filmgoers into cinemas, seeking escape. Tayler ends by reminding his readers of how, for all Buchan's modest strengths as a writer, his 'terseness ... means that his novels are still readable, and the thrillers' preposterous, throw-away plots are mostly a pretext for vivid set pieces based on [his] strenuous walks through the glens' of his native Scotland. Good stuff, worthy of a movie!

March 7 - 2020
It was an inspired idea of emeritus professor Rafael Gomas Filipe to centre his Hitchcock essays (available on Kindle) around the theories of Julian Jaynes, whose celebrated 1976 book, 'The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind', might have been written with Psycho's Norman Bates in mind! Norman Bates, with his 'voices', is like a throwback to how Jaynes thinks humans in general may once have been - directed by voices in their heads. (Silent thought is relatively sophisticated.) Of course, Prof. Filipe notices that Marion Crane also imagines voices, while Caroline in the real estate office probably likewise hears her dominating mother's voice telling her what to do - if not in Caroline's head, then on the phone. (Her mother even rings her at work to see if Teddy - Caroline's boyfriend or husband? - called in!) Prof. Filipe's essays are on Psycho, Vertigo, and Shadow of a Doubt - I've only read the first of them so far, and I want to say a few more things about it here. Something I like about Filipe's approach is that, when - which is often - he quotes another commentator, he both appreciates the idea being expressed while showing himself aware of its possible shortcomings. Take his citation of Slavoj Zizek's memorable comparison of Norman Bates's house to the three levels of the mind suggested by Sigmund Freud: superego, ego, and id. Upstairs = the superego, determined by Mother; the ground floor = the ego, the everyday; downstairs (the basement) = the realm of the id, what Zizek calls 'the reservoir of ... illicit drives'. Zizek's slightly awkward phrasing puts the idea like this: Norman's carrying Mother from the first floor to the basement may seem 'as if he is transposing her in his own mind as the psychic agency from superego to id'. (In actuality, he is hiding her corpse down there away from prying eyes that would expect to find the live Mrs Bates in her bedroom.) And Filipe comments: 'we must object that Zizek himself is not too sure of [the idea's] cogency, knowing, as he surely does, that analogy ... is far from being the best ... way to build a sound, forceful argument'. (Zizek, a bit like Rupert in Rope, sometimes likes to express ideas for the sake of showing them off!) Filipe next broadens his criticism: 'Zizek's structure is [itself] somehow defective, leaving out of it the motel and the swamp, and their dialectical interplay [that] makes a functional whole [of what is] unfolding in the Bates estate.' To do this, 'Zizek would have eventually to abandon the psychoanalytical subjectivism, and enlarge the concept of mind from its "interior" ... to its "exterior", and finally admit the existence of mental phenomena beyond the individual and human ones'. (Filipe cites as a model Gregory Bateson's 'Mind and Nature', 1985.) As so often, common sense beats excessive (or excessively narrow) abstraction! Further, I liked how Filipe demonstrates his point, apropos the wider 'dialectical interplay' of motel and swamp. To do this, he cites a 2013 essay by Gregor Weber (very possibly influenced by Raymond Durgnat's Psycho monograph) on how '[t]he motifs of digestion and drain constitute the audiovisual link of the entire [shower scene] sequence. The sexually desired heroine is metaphorically dismembered, devoured and digested by Norman.' From this observation, it's easy to see how the cloacal swamp fits into the picture. (Frame-capture below.) Moreover, Weber, cited by Filipe, invokes Hitchcock's expressed desire to show 24 hours in the life of a city, ending on shots of flowing sewers and garbage being dumped into the ocean. 'Thematically', explained Hitchcock, 'the cycle would show what people do to good things.' And Filipe suggests that if we think of 'good things' as referring to Janet Leigh/Marion Crane, we can readily take away from this description 'a perfect synopsis of Psycho's plot'. (For my part, I think of Schopenhauer's description of the inimical Will and its doings - Hitchcockian as always!)

February 29 – 2020
No entry this time. Instead, read the long News item, immediately below. Thanks. KM

February 22 - 2020
Have my readers seen the 1955 AHP episode, directed by Hitchcock, called "The Case of Mr Pelham"? It's analysed by John Bruns in Chapter 3 of his book 'Hitchcock's People, Places, and Things' (see last week's entry). I was happy to visit the episode again, not least for Tom Ewell's hand-wringing performance as a despairing Mr Pelham (and, in some climactic trick shots, his smug double) who comes to realise that he has an impersonator who looks exactly like him, such that even Pelham's live-in manservant, Peterson, finally accepts the impostor as genuine, and considers 'our' Mr Pelham a fake - driving our Mr Pelham mad! (In a way, there's a foretaste of Psycho here. I thought of 'Mrs Bates' saying in a scoffing voice, 'You think I'm crazy, huh?') The episode is another of Hitchcock's 'Pirandellian' ventures: Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) wrote such plays as 'Six Characters in Search of a Author' and 'Right You Are - If You Think So' that explore the borderline between reality and acting - and madness. Come to think of it, Vertigo has been called Pirandellian (although I forget by whom - possibly Andrew Sarris). That's interesting in itself. Remember Scottie crying out to Judy, when he discovers that he has been duped, 'Why did you pick on me? Why me?' A very similar line is uttered by Pelham near the end: 'Why did this have to happen to me?' The question, of course, is unanswerable, reminding us that our own 'reality' (what the philosopher Schopenhauer - a big influence on Pirandello - called the principle of individuation) is always subjective. Mere 'Representation', not the unknowable 'Will' (reality) itself. Each of us may feel at the centre of his/her world, therefore important, but it's an illusion. Each of us is merely a speck of humanity! (Nonetheless, our sanity may depend on our maintaining the illusion or, at least, coming to terms with it.) Such an 'existential' issue often seems to me to be explored in Hitchcock, including in both Vertigo and Psycho, and 'The Case of Mr Pelham'. Now to come to Bruns's analysis of the latter. His argument, summarised, is that the episode plays as a parable of someone worried by his possible homosexuality. Our Mr Pelham is visibly unsettled by the possibility of an impersonator - his double or 'other side' - but once one half of this double is disposed of (faced up to?), the 'other' half can live more comfortably and seem like a 'new man'. Which is pretty much how the episode plays out - only the new man is not our Mr Pelham but the upstart Pelham! Only, nobody knows, or notices! They only congratulate Pelham on his new business acumen. His clubmate, Mason, is heard asking him whether Pelham is in the millionaire bracket yet! Here's how Bruns sums up: 'Mason's assessment of this "new" Pelham, punctuated by the latter's bold body language [no more hand-wringing!], suggests an image of decidedly confident and successful non-homosexual masculinity. This is a man with a firm grip, a man who knows how to get ahead. It is as if the "old" Pelham finally has an alibi, someone who can vouch for him. No longer under the strain of homosexual panic, the "old" [and mad] Pelham can smile dreamily in his padded cell, knowing the "new" Pelham will proudly strut about, sure of his visible, public non homosexual identity, confident that others will notice and approve, and even admire. No wonder, then, that Hitchcock places a portrait of a male lion perched atop his rival on the wall behind the "new" Pelham [...] This aggressor, this athlete [we're shown Pelham playing billiards - see frame-capture below], this champion, is the king of the jungle, cock of the walk. He is the bold non homosexual; he is the grand alibi.' (p. 86) As Bruns has pointed out, when Hitchcock appears at the start of the episode we hear him say, 'Sometimes death is not the worst that can befall a man [but rather there are] the quiet little insidious devices that can drive a man out of his mind. Like putting bubblegum in someone's coat pocket.' And so Bruns proposes 'that the fate worse than death which Alfred Hitchcock presents [in "The Case of Mr Pelham"] is having no alibi'. (p. 70) Hmm. Could be. The 'existentional' Hitchcock did think a bit like that about the content of his films and TV shows!

February 15 - 2020
A new book, 'Hitchcock's People, Places, and Things' (Northwestern University Press), by John Bruns, includes an analysis of the six-and-a-half-minute trailer for Psycho in which Hitch, with exemplary politeness, winningly guides us around the Bates Motel set - it's probably one of the most famous of all trailers. Bruns says astutely that it 'enacts a desire to inhabit a Hitchcock film, to chart its territory ...' (p. 10) I've always considered the Pycho trailer a little masterpiece in its own right (haven't you?!), albeit shot with the economy of means of Hitchcock's television shows - note: the trailer was scripted by James Allardice, author of Hitchcock's witty intros and outros for 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'. Now, apropos Hitch's 'exemplary politeness' ... his initial greeting to the audience is an exaggerated 'How do you do?' This seems to be required because a printed passage has already told us, 'The fabulous Mr. Alfred Hitchcock is about to escort you ...' (one exaggeration - 'fabulous' - balances the other!). In turn, such a greeting allows Hitch to maintain a tone of under-statement even when he is, in a sense, describing to us exactly what took place ('dire and horrible events'). That description, and tone, allows him a certain impersonality, especially when he is conveying to us, in words and hand-gestures, the staircase murder of the private detective, Milton Arbogast. At no time is Arbogast or his occupation or his role in the film mentioned: he is simply 'the victim' whose 'back broke immediately' after being knifed and pushed downstairs by 'a weird and maniacal woman'. In the trailer's methodology and tone, Bruns finds a key to Hitchcock's films: the 'tracing in a slow deliberate way [of] the complex relations between people, places, and things in the Hitchcock landscape [which] means being open to the incoherent, being able to confront the strange without feeling estranged'. (p. 12) Round about here, Bruns quotes Murray Pomerance's complaint that too much film analysis is concerned with plot elements, not images. (In this, Pomerance sounds a bit like E.M. Forster who famously wrote, in 'Aspects of the Novel': 'Yes, oh dear yes, a novel must tell a story!') Bruns, though, sticks to his guns, and says he believes that plot is exactly what an audience is most concerned with, and that 'Hitchcock scholars loyal to the mass-experience of cinema [are] barking up the right trees'! That's well said! Likewise, when Bruns notes that an audience 'desire[s] to inhabit a Hitchcock film', he is surely right - and much of the rest of his book amplifies and evidences that claim. The Psycho trailer, taking us outside and inside the Bates Motel and the Bates house, plays up to such a desire by an audience. There are many Hitchcock films, including Psycho, where the director spends a long time making us 'at home' in a location; clearly, he wants us to feel comfortable there before springing his shocks! A related technique is his introducing an important ingredient of set or plot before it figures in a major scene. Of the Psycho trailer, Bruns notes that the phrase 'The bathroom!' figures twice, both times being uttered by Hitch with a note of apology in his voice, as if for introducing such an indelicate matter at all! (The first time, upstairs in the Bates house, there's an added humorous note, as Hitch pretends that he is himself a newcomer and that 'he has come upon this door only now' - p. 11.) In the frame-capture below, Hitch is seen at the moment he is uttering the phrase, 'The bathroom!', after having quickly closed the bathroom door. Note the interesting framing. Once again, our knowledge of the space is being facilitated by a wide-shot, with its no-less interesting emphasis on the two matching stair knobs. Another way of looking at this is that the two knobs are like 'markers' that give us our bearings while being the sort of unobtrusive detail that adds a visual component just sufficient for the time the shot lasts. Yes, there are more than 'plot elements' to a Hitchcock film - or trailer!

February 8 – 2020
Apologies. Nothing this week. New topic next time. KM

February 1 - 2020
Taking another look at The Ring (1927) this week confirmed for me the rightness of something I wrote in my book: 'In the final analysis, the greatness of The Ring is a cumulative matter. Individual details are striking enough - the fight referee who looks like the conductor Toscanini, for example - but in addition there's a broader sense of life.' (I've added the italics here.) When, finally, Mabel (Lilian Hall-Davis) comes to her senses about her allegiance to her husband 'One Round' Jack (Carl Brisson), and goes to him in his corner, she whispers to him, 'Jack ... I'm with you ... in your corner.' (Italics on title-card in film.) More than reminding us that life is like a boxing match with winners and losers (!), the line adds to a sense of, yes, life, that runs through the film - and, indeed, through many of Hitchcock's films (e.g., Lifeboat). In fact, the film has many clever lines. When Jack's manager (or promoter) urges him to concentrate on his training for an upcoming fight, and take time out from Mabel - presumably she can stay with the fairground folk for a while - Jack knows that doing so would leave Mabel vulnerable to further approaches from the champion (Ian Hunter). Jack says: 'I'd be training for a divorce if I left her here.' (In fact, she does go out with the champion on at least one occasion. Btw, the champion is heavyweight champion of Australia, as a poster informs us.) The promoter, whom we sense several times is very money-conscious, has a clever line of his own at this point: 'I thought you said you'd fight for her!' He means that Jack should put his training first! So the promoter, too, is a fighter! Now, not unrelated to what I'm saying here, are some clever visual touches. Returning home after a successful fight, and expecting to find Mabel waiting for him to share his triumph, he instead finds the apartment deserted. His friends sense that something is wrong and soon excuse themselves, leaving their champagne to go flat. (Jack has said: 'She won't be long. We won't drink until she returns!'). Alone in the apartment, Jack feels despondent. Out the window are the lights of London. But it has grown late. Earlier, the lights had been blinking on and off and carrying banner-messages for commercial products. Now they are unblinking, for most people have gone home. This fits Jack's despondent mood. I was reminded of a shot in Vertigo (1958), after Madeleine's apparent suicide, when Scottie returns to the old livery stables where he and Madeleine in happier times had patted a grey wooden horse in its stall. Now as he looks around forlornly, a view down a road outside, from Scottie's point of view, shows a lone car receding down it, like a sense of hope departing. Another clever touch in The Ring involves what is almost a leitmotif, apropos the framed photo of the champion, Bob Corby (Ian Hunter), which Mabel had insisted on placing on the apartment's mantelpiece. Before he had gone to his latest bout, and been victorious, Jack had spotted the photo and turned it face down! Now he returns to find the photo upright again and alongside it a small statue of a jester, which appears to be mocking him. (A foretaste here, of a more elaborate 'jester' motif in the 1929 Blackmail.) Nothing about The Ring is tame. It feels, as I say, to be about life and destiny - nothing less - as intimated in the credits sequence with its still-shot of the Albert Hall auditorium, where the distant lit-up boxing ring surrounded by unseen watchers indeed carries intimations of destiny. Nor is Hitchcock prudish about showing certain details - like Mabel's bare shoulder and a glimpse of her brassiere - after an angry Jack has ripped open her blouse and been again taunted by a snake-bangle - given Mabel by the champion - on her upper arm. Jack rips the bangle off too! (See frame-capture below.) Hitchcock didn't exactly tell Truffaut that he wasn't prudish, but he did say (during their famous interview, portions of which are included on the new Kino Classics DVDs - see above , January 18), apropos the film's adultery content, 'I'm not intolerant!' In other words, Hitchcock was typically broad-minded in showing so much of 'life'.

January 25 - 2020
The Ring (see also last time) is of course a silent film. To present-day eyes, many shots - even entire sequences - can look like 'mugging'. I recall one long passage of excited faces, consisting of Jack's friends showing their pleasure after he has won another fight, thereby continuing his ascension towards a match-up with the champion. But note: this is quality mugging! Hitchcock constructs these passages from carefully differentiated faces, and shots, having the common theme of pleasure. There is no missing the underlying idea of the passage, a bit like a musical passage within a particular 'movement', itself part of a more broadly-conceived composition (e.g., a symphony). (Also, the passage prefaces the contrasting mood, one of let-down, when Jack invites his friends back to his apartment and Mabel isn't waiting for him. She has been out with the champion.) Equally, the film has some bravura montage passages, strikingly and imaginatively conceived and assembled, as in one such passage where the shots (e.g., of distorted, elongated piano keys) again convey a single idea, although it's not one that could be easily paraphrased in words. On this occasion, the 'single idea' might be labelled the mood of expectation mixed with 'bewilderment' when Jack and his entourage arrive in London and have to orient themselves to their new surroundings. (Very successfully - because the passage is so clearly a virtuoso one - the viewer is never left with an impression that the passage is itself confused!) One scene that is 'Hitchcockian' in its utter economy while making every shot advance a general description of the occasion is the church wedding of Jack and Mabel about half-way through the film. In other words, every moment of the scene is cumulative: the 'single idea' design again! Delightfully, because it's not exactly conventional, the scene is often comic. Yet this fits with how the congregation is composed of a motley collection of fairground/circus folk. Just about every member of the fairground personnel attends: an earlier shot has shown the fairground closed down and deserted. So we're very aware of Jack and Mabel's popularity. Joining the congregation at the last minute is the champion, Jack Corby, and his manager, who unobtrusively take seats in the middle of the church. Their presence helps sustain what I call - following novelist Sol Stein - the 'crucible situation' of the main story, defined as 'an emotional or physical environment that bonds [despite themselves] two people who won't declare a truce'. Remember that the main story concerns the rivalry of Jack and Bob, especially for the attention of Mabel who is inclined to be fickle, even after she has wed Jack. (Only at the film's climax will she finally see where her deepest feelings lie.) Among the wedding scene's visual gags is the one showing the two Siamese twins - conjoined at the waist - disputing on which side of the aisle to sit. For a moment or two, they are inclined to go opposite ways, but somehow they finally work it out! (See frame-capture below.) Another visual gag consists of the reactions of the snooty verger (who looks a bit like Vladimir Putin in a smock) who is clearly dismayed, even shocked, at the ragtag, indecorous congregation he is charged with directing to their places before the wedding service begins. Eventually, he goes to tell the waiting minister, in his white clerical garb, that the service can begin, but (in mime, of course) the verger can't help voicing his misgivings. Whereupon, as only a clergyman can, the minister magnanimously waves the matter aside as beneath the higher importance of the occasion. Quite daring of Hitchcock to include this moment, I fancy. Finally, a word for the laconic, almost surly comic performance of Gordon Harker as Jack's trainer. At the wedding, he is charged with being the best man, responsible for handing over the nuptial ring at the right moment. Of course, he gets it wrong, first losing the ring which has (apparently) dropped on the floor, then inadvertently handing the minister a button instead, and then finally producing the ring - at which moment he almost glows in triumph and basks in his brief moment of importance! (I'm rather surprised that the commentary on the DVD doesn't mention Gordon Harker until the 41-minute mark. Harker, whose first film this was, is actually the next most important character after the three principals.)

January 18 - 2020
Kino Classics have released their five-DVD set of early Hitchcocks called 'British International Pictures Collection' (four are silent, and one - The Skin Game - is sound). The first item is my possible favourite among silent Hitchcocks, The Ring (1927), and the DVD includes a spoken commentary by Nick Pinkerton. Why do I like The Ring so much? Well, for a start, the screenplay credit says that the film was written by Hitchcock and Alma Reville, his new bride (they were married straight after production finished, I gather). And the subject matter - boxing, with settings ranging from a fairground tent to a prizefight at the Albert Hall - was familiar to Hitch: he regularly attended wrestling and boxing matches, as well as classical music concerts, at the latter venue, which would figure in three of his features over the years. (Fairground scenes will also figure in Mr and Mrs Smith and Strangers on a Train.) In turn, the film is economically told while being full of observant detail and lovely performances, especially from Danish actor (and trained boxer) Carl Brisson as 'One Round' Jack, and Lilian Hall-Davis as Mabel, Jack's fianceé, who sells tickets outside the fairground tent in which he takes on all comers and has never lost a fight - until one day he finds himself matched against champion Bob Corbey (Ian Hunter) from Australia, and is stretched to a second round. (Corbey's character seems loosely based on real Australian boxer Les Darcy who had died in England in 1917 at the age of 22, from blood poisoning possibly caused by his recent tonsillectomy and/or dental work to replace teeth knocked out during a bout. After Darcy died, his body was returned to Australia where half a million people paid their respects.) The situation continues interesting after Mabel can't help admiring Corbey, and starts to fall for him - creating a classic 'triangle' plot to be resolved by the Albert Hall showdown between the champion and challenger Jack. Something else I like is how Hitchcock was already showing his ingenuity in imposing a 'unity' on what might have been a sprawling plot. For example, the boxing world seems to be all these characters really know, whether the fairground or the London 'scene' which Corby frequents (his visit to the fairground had been a brief side-trip), and where Jack, now his sparring-partner, joins him with Mabel. At a party in Jack's rented flat, after the champagne has flowed freely, two girls do a wild dance then retire to their respective 'corners' and are revived by their 'seconds'. At a London night-club, Jack and Bob come to blows and Bob appears to be 'counted out' by the slide of a trombone being played nearby. Finally, at the Albert Hall, champagne is poured over the boxers' heads to spur them on. Hitchcock's crowning touch! Pinkerton's commentary makes some good points. I liked how he spotted the clever scripting/direction in a scene in the fortuneteller's caravan at the fair. See the frame-capture below. Note the boiling kettle and also the caravan's two windows. Through the window on the right the fortuneteller (Clare Greet) first spies on an assignation between Mabel and Corby in which he slips a symbolic snake-bangle on her arm. You can almost hear him say, 'Got you now, my dear!' The fortuneteller's viewpoint enables Hitchcock to place his camera to record the whole scene through the caravan window. But there's more. Just around the corner of the caravan, Corby's manager is talking Jack into signing up to be Corby's sparring-partner. Nice irony there. And again Hitchcock is able to position his camera in the needed spot. The kettle boils and the fortuneteller has to move from the window on the right to attend to it. From there she moves to the other window and the camera takes up her point of view ... More on The Ring next time.

January 11 - 2020
Alfred Hitchcock had been involved with the radio series 'Suspense' since its inception in 1940, shortly after he arrived in the USA. In fact, he adapted his own film The Lodger (1926) for a pioneering episode, no more than an audition show (including for himself), in the CBS summer series 'Forecast'. The 'Suspense' series proper began in 1942, and I don't believe that Hitch directed any episodes. However, he immediately became a regular listener! If you would like to know why, you might start by listening to the episode called "The Furnished Floor" which aired on 13 September, 1945, available on YouTube. It stars Mildred Natwick (who would feature in Hitch's 1955 film The Trouble With Harry), and it's clearly a forerunner of Psycho (1960)! (I thank Denise Noe for drawing my attention to it this week. Her new book is here: Teletubbies) I imagine there's a likelihood that novelist Robert Bloch had heard Lucille Fletcher's radio 'study' (as it was described), i.e., "The Furnished Floor", before he adapted the true story of Ed Gein as 'Psycho'. Now, be warned: the rest of this blog may be a spoiler! I'm always fascinated by how often there are antecedents for something that seems wholly original! The very title "The Furnished Floor" (which refers to a central plot-point in Fletcher's story, namely, how a newly-returned tenant, Mr Jennings, at Mrs Hawkins's lodging house, wishes to restore every piece of furniture in the room that had belonged to him and his late wife) made me think of the O. Henry story "The Furnished Room" (1904). If "The Furnished Floor" very definitely proves to be a study in insanity, O. Henry's story about another lodging-house is more poignant, but nonetheless ends with a tenant's suicide. (In turn, Roald Dahl's 1959 short story "The Landlady" offers another study in insanity - and the death of at least one tenant. Like "The Furnished Floor" it is highly suspenseful, and was adapted by Dahl himself to television, including an episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'.) Right, let's now concentrate on "The Furnished Floor". I admire how it gradually builds suspense as an excited Mrs Hawkins starts to tell a neighbour Mrs McIntyre about her returned tenant, Mr Jennings, whose mind seems set on moving back every possession of his wife who had died in that very apartment. He intends to bring back even his wife's canary in its cage. This already sounds slightly strange, if touching. Mrs Hawkins remembers that Mr Jennings was always a devoted husband, constantly 'billing and cooing' (!) in his wife's presence. (Norman, of course, had always been a devoted son ...) Then comes another surprise. Mr Jennings announces that he has re-married and wants to bring the second Mrs Jennings to live with him. In fact, she has already moved in - apparently late one night after Mrs Hawkins had gone to bed! Mrs Hawkins wonders at this - she has never heard any sound to suggest a second person upstairs. Even curiouser (!), Mr Jennings says that his wife is happy for now to stay in her room and not meet anyone. But the reader can't help wondering! If he/she is really alert - or has seen Psycho - Mr Jennings's remark that his wife is 'not quite herself' should be the tip-off. In any case, the same reader will be gripped when Mrs Hawkins's curiosity (like Lila Crane's in Psycho) is finally sated. Mr Jennings eventually seems compelled to invite her up to meet 'Mrs Jennings', who of course will turn out to be the stolen corpse of his first wife, and he himself is clearly mad. Further prefiguring the Hitchcock film, we hear Mrs Hawkins's feet on the staircase, slowly ascending (whereas Lila went down a flight of stairs). With a measure of dread at what she will find, as well as curiosity, she enters the upstairs room, whose door creaks open! I will not reveal the final outcome. I'm sure you get the general idea, reader! As I say, there are several recordings of the episode on YouTube. (Illustration below.) There is also the complete script. To read it, go here: Suspense

January 4 - 2020
Moving right along ... in my reading of John Billheimer's 'Hitchcock and the Censors'. A negative note, though, just at the start. It's always interesting (to me, at any rate!) how once an error creeps into Hitchcock studies, how difficult it is to expunge it from future publications! In other words, a copycat mindset may get the upper hand, especially in matters that appear to be small, not worth checking. On p. 47, Billheimer says that Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936) is adapted from two short stories by W. Somerset Maugham, "The Hairless Mexican" and "Triton". Not so! For "Triton" substitute "The Traitor" - the latter being another of the Ashenden stories (like "The Hairless Mexican") which provides the film with its poignant dog-howling-for-its-dead-master and the elderly widow's grief when she realises the significance of the dog's (telepathic!) show of sadness. (A quick check on the Internet suggests that the error is at least as old as James Monaco's 'The Movie Guide', published in 1992, and perpetuated in several publications since.) I contacted the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton whose President, Dale Ahlquist, kindly confirmed that there is no Chesterton story called "Triton", adding that the nearest thing in Chesterton is probably another story "The Doom of the Darnaways" from 'The Incredulity of Father Brown', where a statue of a triton figures. (In case you're wondering, a triton in Greek mythology is a sea-dwelling merman, a demigod - the original Triton being the son of Poseidon and his wife Amphitrite.) Now back to Billheimer's book. Although Shadow of a Doubt (1943) had few censorship troubles, the budgetary restrictions imposed by the war effort made Hitchcock decide to film on location at Santa Rosa, California, rather than construct elaborate studio sets. As Billheimer says, this actually 'added greatly to the small-town realism of the finished picture' (p. 99). Here's information that I found interesting. There was in fact one main set built. A replica of Young Charlie's Santa Rosa home was built on the Universal lot for $1,987. According to the 'New York Times', quoted by Billheimer, it was quite a phenomenon: 'As the camera moves into, out of, and through the house to record the action, windows come apart, the porch stands aside, the roof bends over, the kitchen walks away.' (Quoted on p. 100.) In other words, here was the forerunner of the films Rope (1948) and, even more, Under Capricorn (1949), in which similar methods were employed to allow the trundling camera to move through the set freely. (In Under Capricorn, I recall once reading, Flusky's long dinner table was a breakaway, and the actors, once the camera had rolled past them, silently fell backwards out of frame. In addition, the camera on a crane could also move upstairs and back downstairs, permitting minimal cutting of separate shots.) What Billheimer says about Lifeboat (1944) is again informative. It was one of Hitchcock's 'microcosm' films - world conflict encapsulated down to a single lifeboat and its passengers. After his success working with Thornton Wilder on Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock this time asked Twentieth Century Fox producer Darryl Zanuck for permission to hire another big-name author. They nearly got Ernest Hemingway, but the latter was too busy to accept. (p. 103) Instead, they got John Steinbeck who had seen Fox turn his novel 'The Grapes of Wrath' into a successful film three years earlier. However, on this occasion Hitchcock eventually replaced him with veteran screewriter Jo Swerling who wrote a script much closer to Hitchcock's original concept for the film. Then the newly-formed Office of War Information (OWI) raised objections to it! They saw the film as little short of Nazi propaganda, and pointed to the various representatives of democracy on board. 'The journalist Connie Porter was seen as a selfish, predatory, amoral, international adventuress"; the millionaire Rittenhouse was "an unfairly unsympathetic businessman"; the ship's engineer Kovac had Communist leanings and apparently cheated at poker; and Joe, the African American steward, was a former pickpocket who, because he didn't participate in discussing the fate of the German, was evidently "unaccustomed to the franchise of voting". Worst of all, [they objected to the characterisation of the strong Nazi,] and they found it disgusting that [he] would be beaten and drowned by an unruly mob of distasteful Americans.' (p. 104) [See frame-capture below. Joe looks on. Truffaut called the others 'like a pack of dogs'!] Which is to say, the realist and pessimist in Hitchcock, on show in many of his films (Donald Spoto once observed that they typically end on a note of 'open-ended pessimism' about people in general), didn't go down well with the OWI! In the end, Hitchcock simply told Zanuck that he would 'take the criticisms into account, and then ignored them all'. (p. 104) Note: unlike the Production Code office, the OWI's function was strictly advisory, and it could not actually block films it found objectionable.

• Correction (if needed) to post on December 14. Martin P. now feels that it's not quite accurate to say that Asquith's The Woman in Question was another 1950 film with a 'lying flashback'. The film was also called Five Angles on Murder, and arguably is just about five different versions of a murder - very much like Kurosawa's Rashomon, if not quite Hitchcock's Stage Fright (both 1950). Note: Martin P. further reminds me that Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) may also contain a lying flashback of sorts, depending on your reading of Maxim's account of what happened in the boathouse the night Rebecca died. (In the novel, Maxim unambiguously killed her!)