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Columbia Daily Spectator (01/Mar/1937) - Screenings: The Woman Alone




Screenings: The Woman Alone

THE WOMAN ALONE — Directed by Alfred Hitchcock ; adapted from Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Agent; a G-B picture. At the Roxy.

A brilliant melodrama is Alfred Hitchcock's latest contribution to the cinema. Brilliant melodramas are the rule when Mr. Hitchcock sits in the director's chair, but "The Woman Alone" is one of the most compelling films he has ever made. Its effectiveness is predicated on suspense and horror, yet the picture has been done with such consummate skill as to obliterate all structural defects, which disappear completely under Mr. Hitchcock's expert creation of an atmosphere charged with anxiety and uncertainty. Against a commonplace background he has piled thrilling situation upon thrilling situation, and his breath-taking pace makes one forget the lack of exposition, failure to explain many dubious points and lack of unity.

"The Woman Alone" is concerned with the activities of one Verloc, owner of a cheap movie theater in London who becomes involved in sabotage activities, unknown to his pretty wife and her kid brother. Following a disruption of the electric power system, which only makes the city laugh, Verloc is told that the city must not chide the next attempt. A bomb explosion is settled on Saturday at 1:45. Unable to place the bomb himself, Verloc entrusts this mission to the youngster, who of course has no knowledge of the missile he is carrying.

Thereupon follows one of the most exciting sequences I have ever sat through. At first it appears that Stevie will have plenty of time to deposit the explosives. But he wastes precious minutes gazing at shop windows, is trapped in a traffic jam, and finally mounts a bus with the danger package under his arm. He sits in the bus. fondling a tiny dog next to him. No one knows what the package contains save for the audience. Mr. Hitchcock develops the episode in masterful style, accentuating the suspense until it mounts to a terrific pitch all of this accomplished by gradually accelerating the tempo. Music emphasizes the dramatic power of the scene. The contrast between the serenity of the bus, typified by the dog, and the actual unknown danger of the infernal machine, serves to heighten the tension of the audience. In this material Mr. Hitchcock displays his unusual ability to create a feeling of suspense that cannot be described simply in terms of camera work, cutting or lighting. He seems to have an indescribable knack of getting inside his subject. For example, to depict the passage of time he shows quick shots of outdoor clocks seen passing by from the windows of the bus, just as one would see them from that point of view. The important thing is that no one in the bus looks at the clocks, for they have no knowledge of what is coming; only the audience realizes what 1:45 means, and it is the sinister meaning for them carried by the gradual passage of time that makes this technique so effective.

The film is replete with technical accomplishments. There is the scene where Mrs. Verloc's sorrow is turned to laughter when she sees the Walt Disney "Who Killed Cock Robin?", only to be again transformed, this time to icy hate, when Cock Robin is killed and the chorus sings "Who Killed Cock Robin?". Equally striking is the scene in the aquarium, where Verloc and another plotter stand silhouetted against the lighted fish tanks in the semi-darkness. The entire dialogue takes place with the two men's backs to the camera.

Oscar Homolka gives a magnificent performance as the deliberate Verloc. a veritable monster who goes unconcernedly about his devilish business and objects to fresh vegetables that lose their greenness in cooking. Sylvia Sidney is properly worried and then hateful as his wife, John Loder is the handsome Scotland Yard detective, Desmond Tester the cheerful Stevie and William Dewhurst a fiendish Professor whose bird store business is supplemented by the manufacture of bombs.