Jump to: navigation, search

The French Review (1999) - Phones as Instruments of Betrayal in Alfred Hitchcock's Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache




These French-language films, made in 1944 with French cast and crew to encourage Resistance efforts, emphasize telephones as means of entrapment. This article examines cinematic treatment of phones in Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache and explores connections with Hitchcock's other films from The Lady Vanishes to Dial M for Murder. Telephonic images serve to reinforce the central theme of the problematic nature of human contact. They highlight situations that should facilitate communication but instead render it threatening. As surrogates for the microphones and other machinery used in filmmaking, they underscore the limitation of the director's own attempts at control. Taken together these images of transmitting devices reveal a patently Hitchcockian conception of technology as a medium of connection and conflict.


1943, during a break in filming for David O. Selznick, Alfred Hitchcock returned to England to work with his friend Sidney Bernstein on "two small films that were tributes to the work of the French Resistance."1 Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache were completed in early 1944. Made in French with French actors living in London, these short propaganda pieces dramatized courageous Resistance efforts in France and in the French colonies while emphasizing the dangers of collaboration with the Vichy government.2 In both, Hitchcock featured phones as instruments of manipulation and of betrayal in scenes calculated to sustain suspense, to stir imagination as well as conscience, and to stick indelibly in memory.

Bon Voyage tells the story of John "Sandy" Dougall, a Scottish RAF pilot who is being interrogated by a Free French officer in London about his escape from Germany through occupied France with the aid of the French Resistance network. As his narrative unfolds it becomes increasingly apparent that Dougall's experience has indeed been "tout a fait trop bien pour etre vrai[e]," as he puts it,3 and that he has been duped by the man who orchestrated his escape, a Resistance contact known as Stefan Godowski, who is actually a Gestapo agent. In a series of flashbacks we are shown first Dougall's version of events as he remembers them, then a revisionist version supplied by the French officer as the more convincing account.4 It is within this corrective retelling that the telephone murder sequence occurs. The victim is an attractive Resistance contact named Jeanne who aids Dougall in his escape from a train near Reims and later from her father's farm. Discovering her placing a call to report him, Godowski shoots her.

The phone murder tends to occupy a central place in commentators' reflections on Bon Voyage. Even those for whom the film had long been unavailable for viewing emphasize the telephone sequence in their recollections of it. For Raymond Durgnat as for Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol the abject callousness of this murder persists in memory long after details of context, nationality, and even gender have faded.5 Hitch cock himself highlighted this scene in his extended interview with Franqois Truffaut, whose memory also needed a jog. In the published version of their colloquy Hitchcock's synopsis of Bon Voyage gives more attention to this sequence than to any other: "The RAF man learned that the young French girl who'd helped them, and had spotted the Pole as a spy, had been killed by him" (Truffaut 160-61). Upon hearing this, Truffaut, trying to remember whether he had seen this film in Paris toward the end of 1944, remarks: "Yes, that's the one I saw" (161). However cloudy recollections of Bon Voyage may be, however filtered by subjective experience or by time, the phone sequence proves haunting.

The British Film Institute's release of these films in 1993 confirmed...

[ to view the rest of the article, please try one of the links above ]


  1. Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut, "I felt the need to make a little contribution to the war effort," and these "tributes to the work of the French Resistance" were intended to support Allied efforts in Britain and in France (Truffaut 159, 160). With running times of 26 and 31 minutes, respectively, Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache were made at Associated British Studios at Welwyn Garden City, north of London. Bernstein (1899-1993), then film advisor to the British Ministry of Information and later chief of the film section of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, owned the Granada group of movie theaters and founded Granada television.
  2. The "Moliere Players" consisted mainly of French actors refugeeing in England; the only non-French cast member mentioned in the credits is John Blythe as John Dougall. Jean Mercure, who became director of the Theatre de la Ville in Paris, was technical advisor; for Mercure's reminiscences on the filming, see Villien 179.
  3. I am indebted to Clement Massé, Laurence de Barrolet, and Henry Marchal for their assistance in preparing the transcript of the French in these two films cited in this study; the question of who created the dialogues is a thorny one I am researching as part of an extended study of Hitchcock's French connections.
  4. On "lying flashbacks" in Stage Fright and I Confess, see Robin Wood 83-84; on the use of flashbacks in Bon Voyage, see Bret Wood 55-56. Villien points out ways in which Hitchcock visually stacks the deck in favor of the French officer, who wears a Lorraine Cross and sits in front of a portrait of De Gaulle and a framed copy of De Gaulle's "Appel du 18 juin" (177-78).
  5. "L'Anglais d&couvre que son compagnon est en realite un agent de la Gestapo et le supprime" (Rohmer and Chabrol 83); "A German spy [talks] over the telephone while turning out the pockets of a man he's shot" (Durgnat 192).
  6. An anonymous reviewer in Sight and Sound speaks of a the murder sequence as "vintage" Hitchcock (June 1995, 62); Durgnat singles it out as a notable "Hitchcock moment" (192). Spoto insists that neither Bon Voyage nor Aventure Malgache was released during the war (285); for conflicting views on this issue see Sloan 198, Bret Wood 55, and Taylor 193.
  7. A Lacanian blot? For applications of Lacan's theories to Hitchcock's feature films, see the articles in Zizek. For Hitchcock's own ideas about cinematic effects of light and shadow, see Higham and Greenberg 92, 98.
  8. "Ce meurtre amoureusement execute" (Villien 178). The notion reported in Gottlieb, "Hitchcock's Wartime Work" (161) that the Polish officer "assures her that he will let her go" (apparently based on a misunderstanding of British idiom in the subtitles supplied with the 1993 version: "I won't keep you") is erroneous. Phillips mentions the "puff of gun smoke [that] rises between them" (150) but does not pursue its implications.
  9. In Jamaica Inn a woman is shot while attempting to inform members of a resistance group that a person they had trusted was in fact a ringleader of a gang of cutthroats. The woman's face appears in close-up and when the shot is fired we witness the victim's surprise as she crumples. As in Bon Voyage the murderer remains callously unruffled. "A good clean shot," he mutters as he proceeds with his plans. Gottlieb comments, "Although Frenzy lies many years away, Hitchcock already knows the shock value of despoiling a dead body" ("Hitchcock's Wartime Work" 161).
  10. Bret Wood identifies in the concluding scenes of Bon Voyage a distinctive "dramatic twist": replete with "strains of 'La Marseillaise' on the soundtrack... [these scenes signal] the imminent capture of the murderous spy and the ultimate victory of the French people" (55-56). "The message of poetic justice could hardly be more succinctly conveyed," notes Philip Kemp (57).
  11. See Sussex 92-97; cf. Gottlieb, "Hitchcock's Wartime Work" 165-67 and "The Unknown Hitchcock" 117; the British Film Institute lists the following alternate working titles for this project: Memories of the Camps, Concentration, Atrocity Film, In Memory of the Camps, Concentration Camp Film.
  12. Selznick declined to release Bon Voyage in the U.S. On Selznick's concern for the appropriateness of filmed material, particularly in regard to the Hays-Johnson Office, the agency responsible for assuring "decency" in films, see Spoto 297-335 and Bazin 169-70; cf. Leff and Moley.
  13. For details of their plans, see Spoto 260, 284-85, 291, 294; and Leff 120-23.
  14. On Hitchcock's calculated photographing of objects in "menacing," "subjective" ways see Carol Reed in Samuels 167 and Hitchcock himself in Higham and Greenberg 88-89, 97.
  15. Taylor notes that Aventure Malgache has "brilliantly expressive uses of composition, as in the long-held shot in which the boy's fiancee is told (against orders) of the new mission and the telephone peeping significantly into frame already hints to us that she is ... going to use it to inform on him" (193). For Bret Wood this scene involves "some inspired mise-en-scene [as] Hitchcock allows a telephone, cloaked in shadow, to edge into the frame, beckoning her to take the receiver" (56-58). Kemp notes in the visual effect a distinctive "Hitchcockian touch": "As the Resistance fighter departs, leaving his fiancee quivering with disappointment and fury, the camera pulls slowly back, bringing a telephone in the foreground into sharp focus. As if drawn by the camera movement the woman's eyes, and then her hand, move towards the instrument" (57).
  16. Cf. the 50-second scene in Easy Virtue devoted to the switchboard operator who gradually conveys key information to the audience; cf. also the suspense-enhancing switchboard scene in Saboteur. On the vanishing "fourth wall" and "spectator trap" in Hitchcock's major films see Robin Wood 78-103.
  17. In addition to the outside phone line, house phones-internal lines of communication that effect the inner workings of the inn-serve a special function in the closed world of this film where, as in Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache, we see forming overnight relationships that can change lifetimes. Another point of contact between The Lady Vanishes and Bon Voyage is a scene in a railway compartment where it is unclear whom to trust and where at a crucial moment there is a disappearance.
  18. Thematic parallels occur in Rebecca where phones exert a menacing presence at Manderly, in the big house and isolated fishing cabin, and even in the director's cameo appearance near a phone booth occupied by a cunning collaborator. Foreign Correspondent's fifteen phone scenes range from lines cut in time of crisis to calls leading to terrible revelations, as well as microphones in the broadcast sequence. In Mr. and Mrs. Smith (where phones pop up in the bedroom, kitchen, and even steam room) as in Suspicion central thematic elements of doubt are heightened through failed attempts at telephonic communication or through misinformation conveyed by phone.
  19. Rothman emphasizes the camera angles in this sequence as analogous to others in the film representing the murderous Uncle Charles's point of view (230).
  20. At the end of Shadow of a Doubt young Charlie's detective boyfriend summarizes the wartime ethos: "The world ... seems to go crazy every now and then." The spectacle of the world gone crazy is central to Lifeboat, which was in post-production when Hitchcock left for England to work on the French films. That same theme is crucial not only to Memory of the Camps, on which Hitchcock worked in 1945, but also to another propaganda film on which Hitchcock consulted for the U.S. government that same year, Watchtower over Tomorrow, a short docu-drama extolling the United Nations scripted by Ben Hecht and made for the Dept. of State and Office of War Information, but never released. The theme of a world gone crazy is anticipated in the photo essay Hitchcock prepared for Life magazine in 1942, "Have You Heard?"; cf. Gottlieb, "Hitchcock's Wartime Work" 165 and "The Unknown Hitchcock" 118-25.
  21. precedent for this scene occurs in Spellbound where the central couple's protracted kiss ends abruptly with a phone call. For Robin Wood the phone call in Notorious reinforces the "underlying instability" of this kiss (77); Bonitzer's concept of the "perverse object" that serves "both to unite and to divide the couple" ("Hitchcockian Suspense" 25) could be applied to these scenes.
  22. Less than 10% of the soundtrack was recorded before this project was shelved. From the recovered script, a 55-minute sound version with Trevor Howard as narrator was produced and aired in Britain in 1984 and in the U.S. by the Public Broadcasting System in May 1985 as Frontline: Memory of the Camps (see Gottlieb "The Unknown Hitchcock" 117 and Sussex passim); a Library of Congress copy of that broadcast is the source of these quotes.
  23. This strategy includes a large circular microphone resembling a telephone mouthpiece that occupies an exaggerated amount of screen space in the tennis match sequence, making the announcer seem a mere extension of the device over which disconcerting news about Guy is communicated
  24. Dolar (45), describing the function of the ring in Shadow of a Doubt and the lighter in Strangers on a Train; on the overshadowing of people by things in Hitchcock see Leff and Phillips passim; on the impossibility of embodiment in the physical see Chion 195-207; on the "psychologizing" of concrete space in Hitchcock see Belton 86-88.
  25. Truffaut 160. Research on this project was facilitated by a Rhodes College Faculty Development Grant. I am indebted to Profs. Jennifer Brady, Dee Garceau, Michael Drompp, Eric Henager, Andy Schopp, Patrick Shade, Marisa Smalley, and Mark Winokur for their insights and to Rhodes College Reference Librarian Bill Short and British Film Institute Chief Cataloguer Olwen Terris as well as Christopher Caldwell and Nancy and Cecelia Vest for their assistance.

Works Cited