Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) is the bit-on-the-side for famous stage actress Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich and her ridiculous eyebrows). He’s hopelessly in love with her, so when she arrives on his doorstep with a blood-stained dress and claims of having murdered her husband, he doesn’t take much convincing to head to the scene of the crime to stage a robbery and pick her up a clean outfit. Alas, Charlotte’s maid (Kay Walsh) sees him, and Johnny suddenly finds himself accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Fortunately, his more steady ladyfriend Eve (Jane Wyman) is on hand to secret him away with her father (Alastair Sim), whilst she sets about clearing his name, first by becoming close to the investigating police detective Smith (Michael Wilding) and second by posing as Charlotte’s replacement maid, Doris. Yes, it’s another story of a man wrongfully accused of a murder it seems impossible for him to have not committed, and whose name must be cleared before the credits roll, but for once I’m not complaining about it, because Hitchcock managed to find a way of telling this story in a completely unique way. For starters, it isn’t the accused man doing the name-clearing – if anything, whenever he shows up he just makes things worse – secondly, the main person who claims he did the killing is one of the most enjoyable screen villains amongst Hitchcock’s career (I’ll soon be writing a post about this for French Toast Sunday, and I now realise my list needs a re-jigging), and thirdly, in place of the usual super-serious tone these kinds of films usually have, we have a rather comedic take. The predominant source of the comedy is in the situations Eve puts herself in. Remember the scene in Mrs Doubtfire, where Robin Williams simultaneously goes to a dinner with his family as the maid, and a job interview with Robert Prosky as himself? That’s essentially half of this film, with Eve having to switch between Doris, the dowdy, common-accented maid and herself, depending on who she is with. Detective Smith and Johnny cannot see her as Doris, Charlotte and her people cannot see her as Eve, and the real maid Nellie can’t talk to anyone about it all, because she thinks Eve is really a reporter trying to get a story. It’s all delightfully intricate.
The supporting cast is great, particularly Alastair Sim and Sybil Thorndike as Eve’s parents. Sim in particular provides a lot of light-hearted moments, the pinnacle of which comes during his efforts to win a toy doll at a carnival shooting stand. However, no-one can quite outshine Marlene Dietrich. This is so far the only Dietrich performance I’ve seen, and I’m now looking forward to some other ones she has on the 1001 Movies list. Her Charlotte has a taste for the theatrical – she is an actress, after all – initially appearing to Johnny with her blood-soaked dress covered up, unveiling it in his doorway in a billowing motion, for maximum impact. She puts on an impressive show when the police interrogate her, clearly relishing the attention she receives, yet when she is being fitted for her mourning clothes she complains about the lack of colour or plunging neckline. Few characters come off quite so bitchy, yet also believable as an entitled starlet.Plot-wise, some elements didn’t quite make sense – Eve attends a party held by Charlotte, but she goes as herself rather than Doris the maid, and is accompanied by Smith, so how exactly does she expect for at least one of Charlotte or Smith to not discover she’s been living with two identities – but for the most part it all holds together. The central struggle for Eve is also a great one, attempting to save the man she loves, despite him being in love with the woman who is incriminating him. I won’t reveal any details about the ending, save to say it wasn’t what I was expecting and, whilst I initially hated it, after a little thought I now kind of love it. I’m surprised I hadn’t heard more about this film before.
Choose Film 8/10