Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dial C For Cameo: Our Favorite Hitchcock Appearances

It goes without saying that Hitchcock was a brilliant filmmaker. He was the Master of Suspense. But Hitch was also known for his wicked sense of humor, which infected all of his masterworks in some way or another. Of course, Hitch was legendary for various inside jokes subtly inserted into his films, not the least of which were his famed cameo appearances. The funniest cameos are our favorites:

Blackmail (1929): Hitchcock is hilarious as a subway rider who tries to read a book but is constantly interrupted by a petulant little boy in this, Hitchcock’s first sound picture. Blackmail is a melodrama starring Anny Ondra (and Joan Barry as her voice) as Alice White, a young woman engaged to Scotland Yard detective Frank Webber (John Longden). At a dinner party, Alice flirts with The Artist (Cyril Richard), who invites her to pose for him. When his requests become lascivious and demanding, she kills him and finds herself at the heart of a blackmail scheme.

Shadow Of A Doubt (1943): When Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton), a charming if eccentric fellow, visits his niece Charlie (Theresa Wright), and is soon joined by two detectives posing as magazine writers investigating the Merry Widow Murders, young Charlie’s suspicions are more than aroused. Shadow Of A Doubt was Hitch’s favorite film, dark and funny. Hitchcock makes a notable cameo as a cardplayer on the train to Santa Rosa who has a gin rummy hand full of nothing but spades, from the deuce to ace.

Lifeboat (1944): A varied cross-section of humanity drifts aimlessly on the ocean. They are shipwrecked castaways who grow dangerously more suspicious and ultimately murderous with each passing day. Hitchcock’s appears in one of his most subtle bits as the "before" and "after" pictures for Reduco Obesity Slayer in a newspaper ad.

Rope (1948): In yet another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo, a neon sign of Hitch’s trademarked profile can be seen from the two murderers’ apartment window in this creepy little thriller, best remembered not for its story, but for the fact that it was shot in one take. (It wasn’t, but the shots are seemless.)

Dial M For Murder (1954): Tennis pro, Tom Wendice (Ray Milland) suspects his wife (Grace Kelly) of carrying on a dalliance with handsome, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings) and blackmails his former army buddy, Swan Lesgate (Anthony Dawson) into killing her. Wendice’s plan backfires and Lesgate winds up dead. The carefully constructed house of cards that starts to tumble is pure Hitchock. He makes an appearance in a class-reunion photo.

Topaz (1969): This Cold War spy thriller lacks any of Hitchcock’s characteristic wit and is mostly forgettable save Hitch’s cameo. Inextricably, he is being wheeled through an airport in a wheelchair, a seeming cripple. But soon, he stands, shakes hands with an unknown man and saunters off. It’s downright spooky.

And finally, the stringed instrument trilogy:

Spellbound (1945): Gregory Peck plays John Ballantine, the new director at a mental institution, who seems too young and too uninformed for the job. Fellow doctor, Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) puts two-and-two together and realizes Ballantine may be a dangerous amnesiac who may have killed the actual director. Hitchcock exits an elevator at the Empire Hotel, carrying a violin case.

The Paradine Case (1947): A courtroom drama at the center of which is Anna Paradine (Alida Valli) on trial for murdering her husband. Barrister, Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck) defends and simultaneously becomes infatuated with Anna, allowing his judgment to be clouded by her beauty. She did it, of course. Hitch shows up at Cumberland Station, carrying a cello.

Strangers On A Train (1951): On a train, unhappily married tennis pro, Guy Haines (Farley Granger), meets good-for-nothing rounder, Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), who hates his father. Seemingly jokingly, Bruno plots a “murder exchange”: the cops would never suspect Guy of killing Bruno’s father, nor Bruno of killing Guy’s wife. Of course, thinking nothing of it, Guy bids his fellow traveler and, of course, his wife ends up dead. Hitch boards the train at one point, wheeling a double-bass.

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