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The MacGuffin: News and Comment (10/May/2008)

(c) Ken Mogg (2008)

May 10

Back on February 23, I reported on how I was working on my 'files'. That work continues! Accordingly, here are some random items I came across this week, and some comments. First, according to the Paramount 'Showmanship Manual' for The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), it might seem that James Stewart and Doris Day took a risk in filming on location in North Africa. However, they were adequately protected: '[I]n Marrakech, French Morocco, ... the sinister alleys and teeming bazaars are actually too dangerous for foreigners to wander in without escort. ... With permission from the Pasha [governor], who provided armed police for protection, Hitchcock spent two weeks filming in the incredible labyrinth of streets. ... [T]he movie-goer is treated to fascinating views of the exotic bazaar called the Souks, [to] the street of sewers [sic] where veiled Arabian women ply their ancient needle craft at the most modern of Singer sewing machines, [to] the area of the dye shops where one of the local villains falls into a vat of blue dye, and [to] the luxurious Mamounia Hotel with its strange eating house.' (Elsewhere in my files this week I came across Roald Dahl's 1987 story "The Bookseller" which mentions how Winston Churchill loved the Hotel La Mamounia and often painted the Atlas Mountains from his balcony there.) Next, here's a shameful item from a Selznick publicity manual for The Paradine Case (1947): 'The skins of 250 Iceland Sheep were used on a luxurious bedroom suite in The Paradine Case. The wool of the Iceland Sheep is much like Angora, and the skins made a luxurious floor covering of light beige.' (This of course is Mrs Paradine's bedroom suite that reminded Peter Conrad of a scene from a Cecil B. DeMille film.) Finally, some thoughts on Saboteur (1942). During my filing this week, I came across a 2003 email from Michael Walker in which he provided background for why, during the cross-country car drive from the Hoover Dam to New York, a couple of the saboteurs sing "Tonight We Love" set to music from Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. (See frame-capture below.) Michael quotes musicologist Sigmund Spaeth: '[In 1941] America discovered the opening melody of Tschaikowsky's Piano Concerto in B-flat minor. The band-leader, Freddy Martin, first turned it into "Tonight We Love", with words by Bobby Worth and some helpful arranging by Ray Austin. Then came "Concerto for Two", with Jack Lawrence supplying a text for Robert C. Haring's adaptation. Eventually there were no fewer than sixteen different versions of the same tune ...'. Interesting! Bill Krohn has told me he feels that Hitchcock is subtly sending up the relative effeteness of the saboteurs, remarking that the bespectacled saboteur in the back seat has just waxed nostalgic about how, 'When I was a child, I had long golden curls ...' (Tchaikovsky of course was gay.) This makes a lot of sense. For one thing, it contrasts with how Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) had earlier in the film whistled a different, more robust tune, the so-called 'Fate' passage from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. (If the saboteurs can sing a tune composed by a Russian composer, then presumably 'our' Barry may whistle a tune composed by a German composer!) In turn, I think of further evidence for this idea. At the film's climax, Barry will come up against another of the saboteurs, Fry (Norman Lloyd), whom Theodore Price, in his book 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality' (1992), has no doubt is gay. (The Saboteur climax prefigures that of North by Northwest between Thornhill (Cary Grant) and the sinister Leonard (Martin Landau).) And tonight I was struck by the very first remark we hear spoken by socialite Mrs Sutton (Alma Kruger) when Barry is taken to the saboteurs' New York lair. As Barry enters the upstairs room where Mrs Sutton is addressing a couple of her male colleagues, she reprimands them thus: 'I have to hover over you like an old hen.' This is precisely the line Hitchcock uses in Rebecca to characterise the somewhat de-natured estate-manager Frank Crawley (Reginald Denny) - nearly all the men in the film are so afflicted - and will use again in The Paradine Case to characterise the gay Latour (Louis Jourdan). Frank Crawley is 'as fussy as an old mother hen'; Latour, we're told, had been 'like an old mother hen' to his beloved master, the blind Colonel Paradine. As John Houseman once remarked, Hitchcock approached his filmmaking with an almost scientific exactitude ...

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This material is copyright of Ken Mogg and the Hitchcock Scholars/'MacGuffin' website (home page) and is archived with the permission of the copyright holder.