Archive for November 6, 2021

Cinephrenia

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2021 by dcairns

Somehow, all the other times I’ve watched DEAD OF NIGHT, I haven’t thought about PSYCHO. This time, I did.

It’s Cavalcanti’s ventriloquist dummy episode. There’s a case of split personality. In the end, the dominant personality, the one that doesn’t really belong to a living entity but to a dead squatting puppet of a thing, takes over. And an authoritative psychoanalyst explains it all to us.

Hitchcock was a voracious cinephage and would probably have checked out DEAD OF NIGHT out of curiosity, but the film’s inclusion of four actors from his own THE LADY VANISHES — Michael Redgrave, GoogieWithers, Basil Radford & Naunton Wayne — would have made it even likelier. If he didn’t see it when it was new, he might have been drawn to it later while getting into short story adaptation for his TV show.

But what made me think it certain that Hitchcock had seen the Ealing compendium was the dissolve/wipe at the end of the dummy story, where Michael Redgrave’s rictus grin remains onscreen, Cheshire Cat fashion, for some time after the rest of him has faded away. Well, actually, in the end it’s his haunted eyes that linger longer.

Hitchcock, of course, has refined things by having Simon Oakland, with his baby’s-knuckles face, summarise the backstory with added dollar-book Freud, BEFORE showing Norman/Norma in his blanket, and before the lap dissolve from smiling face staring right at us to Marion Crane’s car being exhumed from the swamp, with the semi-subliminal embalmed grin bleeding through the celluloid as the shots merge.

And I think it’s likely Jack Clayton was influenced by that when he made THE INNOCENTS a year later, a film with a couple instances of the unusual three-layer dissolve, none of them quite as memorable as Hitchcock’s, but very fine nevertheless. It’s a technique that could stand being used more, and the fact that it turns up in two scare films made within a year is surely uncoincidental.