**½/**** Image C+ Sound C+ Extras B-
starring Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding, Richard Todd
screenplay by Whitfield Cook; adaptation by Alma Reville; additional dialogue by James Bridie, based on a novel by Selwyn Jepson
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
by Walter Chaw Blame it on the subject matter: Stage Fright, especially for postwar Hitchcock, is all elbows. Its technique is its narrative, plot, character, and motive--something that's a relative rarity in the master's oeuvre despite his notoriously stringent preparation and acumen. And though it works pretty well as an academic inquiry into how the artificiality of the stage can comment with eloquence, "Hamlet"-like, on the bigger picture, the film stumbles along in fits and starts, pulled forward by its mechanism instead of anything like momentum or logic. In truth, I wonder if the "play-within-a-play" trope doesn't work better as either microcosm (as in the final confession of I Confess) or leitmotif (as in the numerous references to performance in North by Northwest, which most likely owes its title to a line about pretending to be crazy from "Hamlet"). Of particular issue is one of Marlene Dietrich's mannered turns, which is potentially excusable (given the staginess of the piece), and a horrible score by Leighton Lucas, which isn't. Still a Hitchcock film in his middle-period, however, Stage Fright, no doubt owing to its nature, is particularly focused in on disguises, perceptions, mirrors, eyeglasses, and cigarettes--finding our hero, Eve (Jane Wyman, fantastic), taking on the guise of a Dorothy Parker-esque reporter at one moment and a maid infiltrating a fatale's lair at another, all for the cause of a suspect flashback from an unreliable narrator.