Friday, November 5, 2010

Tension In Every Frame!

"Any sign of the police?" the girl driving the convertible asks the guy in the passenger seat.
This is the first line in the first scene of my favorite film directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
A British suspense/thriller, Stage Fright pairs the unlikely duo of Jane Wyman and Marlene Dietrich.
I would never have thought they belonged in a film together.
My experience of Jane Wyman is limited to Johnny Belinda, her Oscar-winning performance, Falcon Crest, the TV drama of the 80's; and her song-and-dance supporting role in Dancing Lady starromg Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, 1935. HOWEVER, she is the main character in this 1950 film and shows what a commanding presence she was even then. Surprisingly so for me, in the scenes she shares with La Dietrich, Wyman's intensity commands as much attention as Dietrich's mystery and luminosity.
At the age of eleven, I fell under Marlene Dietrich's spell at the Fairfax Theater in 1958 while watching her stunning, shocking performance as Christine Vole in Billy Wilder's magnificent courtroom thriller Witness for the Prosecution! And in Stage Fright, Marlene delivers everything that has made her a legend from day one on the silver screen: that lissome body, gorgeous face, elegant style, and total immersion in the character she is playing, convincing us that she (the character...and, maybe, Marlene, too) has experienced more of life--both agony and ecstasy--than we will ever know.
Compelling in each scene these actresses share is the contrast in physical appearance and character:
Wyman, dark-haired with trademark bangs, young, clear, innocent, and loyal; dressed in sensible suits, simple dresses and hats.
Dietrich, blonde, hair pulled away from the face showing off those remarkable cheekbones and eyebrows, older here than Wyman by at least a decade, complex, manipulative, and betrayed; dressed in clinging gowns, fur stoles, and light-colored netting that drifts from the brim of her hat down her decolletage, netting which Marlene sensually tucks inside the lapels of her expensive, fitted, suit-jacket.
Michael Wilding, Richard Todd, and Alistair Sim play their roles well, but the focus here is on the two women. No matter what anyone else is saying or doing, we are riveted to Wyman and Dietrich: reacting, not reacting, thinking, strategizing, fearing, moving, being!
It is a great film with twists and turns and an ending I don't expect--no matter how many times I watch it!
Do yourself a favor: turn off the phones, close the shades, and give it a go, eh!!