Alfred Hitchcock might have had a fair-to-good thriller here with Stage Fright had he not blown it with cheap plotting that has made the film one of his most reviled among Hitchcock enthusiasts and historians.
The problem relates to the flashback, a device Hitchcock frequently used to good effect. But here, Hitch deceives us from the get-go with a big (and bold) lie. To explain further would ruin the film more than it already is.
Richard Todd plays Jonathan Cooper, the boyfriend of a married Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich, here in her sole Hitchcock credit). When Inwood’s husband ends up dead and Marlene shows up covered with blood, Cooper goes to lengths to make the husband’s death look like an accident. But he’s caught in the act – and now it’s Cooper that’s on the run while Inwood goes about her business as usual. Enter Eve Todd (Jane Wyman), playing private eye to prove that her friend Cooper is innocent. Only then she starts to fall in love with the detective on the case.
Wyman’s dual-identity shenanigans give Stage Fright more thrill than its core mystery, as the central ridiculousness comes off as hokey at best, insulting at worst. Wyman is the star of the show, upstaging Dietrich handily as well as a collection of unremarkable men acting opposite her. Fair at best.
The DVD includes a new making-of documentary.
On the set.
Review by Christopher Null © 2004 filmcritic.com