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The Guardian (01/Nov/2008) - If only Hitchcock had adapted more Noël Coward plays

(c) The Guardian (01/Nov/2008)

If only Hitchcock had adapted more Noël Coward plays

Who knew that Alfred Hitchcock once filmed a terribly British Noël Coward stage play? John Patterson wishes he'd made a few more...

Directorial miscasting isn't a problem one associates with Alfred Hitchcock. One might look at Dune and never guess it's a David Lynch film, and if you consider David Cronenberg "The King of Venereal Horror", it's shocking to think that he made the gore-free Fast Company in 1979, a car-racing movie surpassed in ordinariness only by Le Mans, with Steve McQueen. Similarly it would be hard to assess the zombie-heavy oeuvre of George Romero if you'd only seen his biker movie Knightriders, about a jousting motorcycle gang - no, you read that right.

No such problem with The Master Of Suspense. The first film-maker to establish himself as a household-name brand, Hitchcock comes at you in instantly recognisable images: the crop-duster, the shower sequence, Mr Memory, crows crowding on a climbing frame ... But even Hitchcock, before he established himself, made odd little films that don't fit, like his silent 1928 adaptation of Noël Coward's play Easy Virtue. A drama about an uptight British society family, it has just been remade by Stephan Elliott, writer-director of The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, as a postmodern romantic comedy starring Britain's Ben Barnes and an imported Jessica Biel.

This set me wondering what certain other Coward adaptations might have looked like had they been directed by Hitchcock. Had he been at the helm of Brief Encounter, it might well have offered us Celia Johnson on a motel bed in a black bra and panties, and certainly Sir Alf would have taken advantage of the railway station setting to toss at least one of his leads - or perhaps the annoying Stanley Holloway - under the 8.20 to Chipping Sodbury.

Blithe Spirit might have been enlivened by an axe buried in the chest of its leading man, and who knows what might have become of In Which We Serve? A German spy below decks, finally apprehended in the midst of dark misdeeds on the poop deck? All this being achieved, Hitchcock could have turned his hand to sanguinary adaptations of the plays of Terence Rattigan: a bloodbath in Separate Tables, a brutal sex-killing in The Deep Blue Sea, and so on.

Even more fun, though, might be the upshot of taking other Hitchcock movies - as Stephan Elliott has done with Easy Virtue - and adding camp songs to them. Psycho's infamous shower sequence would look very different if Norman Bates were to be singing, "Slash, slash, slash went the tranny! Drip, drip, drip, went the blonde!" as he merrily hacks away at Janet Leigh. Room in there for a few verses of Mack The Knife, too, methinks.

Bye Bye Blackbird and Bye Bye Birdie seem almost too perfect for The Birds - and maybe also Come Fly With Me or Shake A Tail Feather. And cockney tie-pin killer Barry Foster in Frenzy is about a half-inch away from Sweeney Todd already, so adding a few Sondheim ditties about gleeful bloodletting might not go amiss.

At the very least, it'd be more entertaining than Doris Day singing Que Sera Sera.