On holiday in Marakesh with his wife, Jo (Doris Day), Dr. McKenna (James Stewart) is the only one to hear the dying words of a French spy, dragging him into an assassination plot. Soon, his young son is kidnapped and they travel to London, desperate to get him back.
This was a pleasant surprise as it was far more enjoyable than I remember. I’ve always considered it one of Hitchcock’s lesser films of this period, but it just goes to prove, Hitchcock couldn’t make a bad film if he tried.
He certainly wasn’t trying here, either, despite my misgivings. Ok, it’s a remake of one of his own films which smells of studio meddling to me, but while that film was very good for its time, this improves the story and pace. It loses the originals sometimes wicked humour, but the characters are so much more believable.
I had originally considered Doris Day’s role as lazy; a world-class singer playing an ex-world class singer? That’s a stretch! However, the original 1934 version of the role was also a figure in the public eye and it’s a nice touch that a famous face suddenly has to hide real heartbreak of losing their child. Plus Doris Day is superb at putting across that emotion and I haven’t been fair by dismissing her in the past. Still, the song Whatever Will Be still sounds a bit out of place, but I don’t suppose you can feature one of the finest female singers of all time and just make her cry! But there’s the catch-22. Apparently Hitch didn’t want the song (another sign of studio control), but typically he pulls it off, especially on the second performance with Day singing it within earshot of her locked up son. Written for the film, it went on to be one of her most famous songs. He never did half-measures, did he?
Hitchcock’s best moment though is the incredible Albert Hall sequence, still an influence today (Eagle Eye). Once again, a key part of the film is acted in front of an on-screen audience as well as off. The whole thing is nail-biting and it’s great to have Bernard Herrman conducting the orchestra! My favourite though is how he let the music come to the fore so you can’t hear any dialogue, despite everyone having a lot to say. It makes it visually powerful and a throw-back to the silent days.
My main problem with the film is the plot. It’s a good premise and a nightmarish situation, but there’s no substance. Normally, as we have seen so often before, Hitchcock’s real interest lay in a sub-plot while the chase/murder/conspiracy is a diversion tactic. Here, there is no sub-plot! No romance, no development, it just is what it is.
Still, such empty plotting has been the typical Hollywood method for years (in fact, it’s normally sub-plots that ruin such films! coughEagle Eyecough.) Again. And this is as much fun as any of them, mainly down to Stewart’s expert everyman performance. I do miss the bonkers dentistry or the chair-throwing scenes from the first one. I suppose that does demonstrate how Hitch has developed from macabre farce to colder violence though.