Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stage Fright (1950)

WHO: Alfred Hitchcock directed, and Jane Wyman stars. Both are pictured in the screen capture above. (The moment of Hitchcock's customary cameo, naturally- though they're rarely two-shots with the star, like this one is).

WHAT: Few would place Stage Fright on a list of Hitchcock's greatest films. But that doesn't mean it isn't a grand entertainment that probably deserves a place on a list of his most underrated ones. The fine cast includes Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Todd, Alastair Sim, and (in her first on-screen role) Hitchcock's daughter Patricia. And the theatrical backstage setting seems to free the director to create an anything-goes universe for his characters and make some sly meta-commentary on his feelings about two subjects he thought quite a lot about: acting and illusionism. To see it in a theatre, where the permeability of the worlds before and behind the proscenium is accentuated, is to enjoy the kind of heightened experience Hitchcock was trying to create for his audience.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens at 5:30 and 9:40 PM tonight only at the Stanford Theatre.

WHY: Though the Stanford's latest Hitchcock series ended last week, the venue is squeezing one last film in this Spring, a perfect segue into its new calendar devoted to the 1950s. This is one of two films the Master of Suspense made during that decade (the other being The Trouble With Harrywhich appeared neither in the Stanford's recent selection, nor in the Pacific Film Archive's closer-to-complete series, which still has a few more titles to run. Stage Fright was not announced to play the Stanford until after my latest Hitchcock round-up two weeks ago, and there are a few other updates worth mentioning. 

It turns out tonight's Castro screening of The Birds is not just a 50th anniversary for the film, but a celebration of the new issue of Zoetrope All-Story, which will include in its pages the original story by Daphne du Maurier which inspired that film. Finally the page for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's June 16th presentation of Hitchcock's silent version of Noel Coward's play Easy Virtue no longer indicates an organ accompaniment, but simply says "Musical Accompaniment To Be Announced!" This, to me, underlines the urgency of aiding the SF Castro Organ Devotees Association's current drive to raise funds to purchase the theatre's Wurlizter from its current owner, who is planning an imminent move away from the Bay Area and just might take his instrument with him. It's hard to imagine attending a full weekend of silent films at that venue without hearing the wind pushed through those pipes at least once or twice.

I must admit the announcement of the new Stanford calendar has me wondering whether I'll make it to  all nine Hitchcock silents during that June weekend. I'd love to see them all in that theatre with some of the best live musical accompanists around performing, but the Stanford has picked June 15 and 16 for four marathon screenings of Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 The Ten Commandments, a television staple that nobody else seems likely to play in 35mm anymore. It's just the sort of epic I've never had interest in seeing on a small screen, which over time has created an increasingly strong pent-up desire to see it projected the way it was created: on film. If the rumors that the SFSFF's Hitchcock silents will all be shown via DCP prove to be true, you may see me skipping a couple films (most likely The Pleasure Garden and The Lodger) in order to be in Palo Alto with Moses and Pharaoh and all the rest.

Between now and then there are quite a few Stanford programs tempting me: films made by Vincente Minnelli and Frank Tashlin are especially mouth-watering. I'm also lured by a pair of Hitchcock-esque  films screening together on May 9th & 10th: Henry Hathaway's 1953 Niagara and A Kiss Before Dying, directed in 1956 by Gerd Oswald, a figure rather unknown to me other than for his direction of the terrific noir Crime of Passion a year later.

HOW: Stage Fright plays on a Marlene Dietrich-themed double-bill with Witness For the Prosection, both films screening in 35mm as always at this venue. 

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