when the screen is too small for Dietrich and Hitchcock

Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich) and Inspector Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding) in


In the brief passage that Cinema according to Hitchcock, by François Truffaut, dedicated to Grand Alibi, Alfred Hitchcock refrains from commenting on Marlene Dietrich's performance, preferring to demolish that of the film's other star, Jane Wyman. Yet it is from the impossibility of the encounter between the “Blue Angel” and the master of suspense that the lame charm of this film as failed as it is fascinating is born.

In 1949, Hitchcock shot for the first time in London since leaving for Hollywood in 1939. Starting from a British detective story by Selwyn Jepson, he built a convoluted plot in which Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), a young woman who would like to being an actress must help her suitor, who is already an actor (Richard Todd) to prove that he did not kill the husband of Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich), a star of London's West End.

The character of Eve Gill, a credulous white goose who learns to hide, by getting hired as a dresser with Charlotte Inwood, allows Hitchcock to deviate from the rules of narration in force at the time. The account given to her by her boyfriend, which takes the form of a flashback, is in fact a lie. The narrator is uncertain and the suspense wavers on its foundations.

Anthology sequences

Especially since Marlene Dietrich imposed her conditions on Hitchcock, who complied with them. On the morning of each of his shooting days, tells Donald Spoto in his biography of the filmmaker, the actress gave her instructions to the chief operator, Wilkie Cooper, without the director finding fault with it, an unprecedented event or future in his career. So much so that the sequences featuring Charlotte Inwood singing The Laziest Gal in Town Where Life in pink, in dresses by Christian Dior, look more like Josef von Sternberg than Hitchcock, breaking the generally impeccable rhythm of the Hitchcockian narrative.

The author of 39 Steps regains control during anthology sequences, sowing chaos in a garden party, organizing a manhunt in a theatre, taking all possible advantage of the deadly illusions offered by the sets, the pulley games in the hangers.

Despite the shifts in tone and the artifices of the plot, The Grand Alibi maintains a semblance of coherence by constantly returning to the painting of the caste system that governs the entertainment world. Eve Gill shares her first name with Eve Harrington, the upstart actress in Mankiewicz's film (Evereleased the same year as The Grand Alibi, in 1950) and the nunucherie attributed to her by director and actress are not enough to hide her thirst for glory. This interest in performing arts, rarely shown in Hitchcock's filmography, adds to the singularity of the film.

The Grand Alibi, American and British film by Alfred Hitchcock (1950), with Marlene Dietrich, Jane Wyman, Richard Todd, Michael Wilding (1:50 a.m.), TCM, September 22, 8:50 p.m. and replay.

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