by Jenny Fabrizio
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 film Stage Fright invites its viewers into a scandalous web of lies, mystery, and subtle romance. It takes a very unique direction in incorporating its creative choices while telling the story. The film follows a young, aspiring actress named Eve (Jane Wyman) who tries to prove her friend Jonathan (Richard Todd) innocent of committing murder. Throughout the story, we are shown to believe that Johnathan was (at worst) just an accomplice in the killing of actress Charlotte Inwood’s (Marlene Dietrich) husband and that Charlotte was the alleged murderer. This sequence is established through a flashback scene at the very beginning of the movie. Although, this can potentially lead to slight confusion for the viewers. Unlike a typical flashback scene, this sequence is portrayed as a largely silent chain of events which doesn’t make everything appear as clearly to the viewer. Some say that this specific scene lacks the right amount of suspense needed for an effective outcome. Although some aspects of the movie may appear as “lacking,” there are many elements throughout Stage Fright that make up what we could consider a true Hitchcock Film.
The movie Stage Fright displays its cunning plot through a strong use of hidden identities through several of its characters. After hearing about Johnathan’s role in Charlotte’s husband’s murder, Eve decides to go incognito and spy on Charlotte under an alias as her helper. She does this in hopes to uncover evidence that Charlotte indeed killed her husband and not Johnathan. Another example is through Johnathan and Charlotte’s characters. Throughout the entire film, both characters continuously hide their true identities and play a sense of deceit when Eve uncovers the truth. Charlotte’s “femme fatale” nature helps develop her role as the sneaky and snobby actress. She never shows any kind of emotion throughout the duration of the movie all the way up until the very end where we find out that Charlotte wasn’t the murder, but Johnathan was. Now that Eve knows her friend, Johnathan, is a murderer, she’s faced with the cold truth and albeit hurt, she eventually outwits him in the end with the help of her acting skills. Just like a performance, every character had a role to play in their deceitful act.
An Innovative Technique
The flashback scene, although different than what one would expect a flashback to be, is composed in a way that intentionally gives the viewer a false truth. There is no voice over and no buildup leading into it. In the flashback, Johnathan is greeted by Charlotte at the door only to find that her dress is soaked in blood. She then tells Johnathan that she killed her husband and asks him to retrieve a blue dress from her closet so she could change. This may be a flashback scene, but in the context of the movie, it is established in a way that is meant to make the viewer not think of it as a flashback, but an actual event that took place.
The Structure of Stage Fright involves a lot of key elements that tie into the overall outcome of the story. Since the beginning, a rising suspicion is fallen over Johnathan’s character. For example, Eve’s father (Alastair Sim) is nervous about Eve getting involved in such a risky case, but he eventually decides to help her hide Johnathan, being that he really cares about her. Eve on the other hand, blinded by her romantic feelings for him, is desperate to prove his innocence despite his uncovered murderous tendencies. Although, during her investigation, Eve develops romantic feelings for Detective Wilfred O. Smith (Michael Wilding) and he eventually helps her catch the true murderer in the end. These strong elements of murder, mystery, and romance all help to make up what we can truly consider a classic Hitchcock film.
Orr, John. “Hitchcock and Hume Revisited: Fear, Confusion and Stage Fright”, Film-Philosophy, 11.1, June 2007