Ivor Montagu, who helped shape THE LODGER into Hitchcock’s first triumph, was reunited with the portly auteur when Hitch joined Michael Balcon at British Gaumont, and immediately became his collaborator on the scenario of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, which is a good enough excuse to link to Montagu’s stylish, Hitchcockian silent comedy, BLUEBOTTLES, which stars Elsa Lanchester and is an utter delight. Lanchester is a superb visual comedian, it turns out. There’s also Montagu’s intriguing and titillating decision to introduce her in ECU kissing her girlfriend goodbye in front of a cinema showing an Ivor Novello movie.
Couldn’t embed this one, but I urge you to follow the link and watch it — maybe it’s a little overlong, but it has style, innocence and the electrifying Elsa, a truly unique talent — as great as she was as a character actor, I deeply regret that she didn’t play more leading roles, particularly in comedy.
With her stick figure body, twitching from place to place as if operated by a puppeteer bothered by wasps, her beautiful but oddly-assembled face (not easy to take being cast as the monster’s bride as a compliment, but she was entitled to) and her eccentric, childlike approach to any situation, Elsa was an unnatural natural, a machine for generating surprises, an instinctive oddball with a keen analytical mind, sneaking up on a script crab-fashion then pouncing like a thin baby from a wardrobe. Her way with line readings is equally doo-lally: remember BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN again, where she imbues the line, “It will be published — I (!) think (!)!” with an excess of invisible punctuation I can only hint at here. When she turns up as a mad medium in THE GHOST GOES WEST, I want to hurl the entire movie, charming though it is, over my shoulder and simply follow her character into a kind of alternative GHOSTBUSTERS world of supernatural intrigue, possibly featuring Alistair Sim as Alastair Crowley.
The other underrated genius here is Montagu, who shows serious chops, both as a Hitchcockian/Langian expressionist and as a comic filmmaker. Either of those courses would have seemed suitable for him, but he seems to have been content to settle as the studios’ resident intellectual, helping out on a range of films and then becoming a contributor to books on cinema in the ’50s. He was good at it, but there was more to him than that. He put in a lot of time to helping Eisenstein get a foothold in the west, which came to very little.
It’s also possible that Montagu’s arduous duties as a Russian spy kept him from advancing his filmmaking career as much as he should, but this has never been proved. If true, it puts an interesting new perspective on his contribution to Hitchcock’s espionage thrillers…