Cinema Note:
These Gay Surroundings
20 August 2018

When we spoke, a few days after the physical exam, about the results of all the blood tests (no changes), I asked the doctor about a pill that I’d been unwilling to take, because, uh, I already spend enough time in the bathroom. He told me that, after an initial adjustment period, I probably wouldn’t notice any unpleasantness. Then he told me something about a benefit that I hadn’t known about, or hadn’t really listened to. I resolved to overcome my reluctance.

I took the first pill on Saturday. I did not get to sleep until a bit after three, because that’s when the day’s initial adjustment period finally wore off. Wanting to be armed with a good book for Sunday night — the worst thing about the previous evening’s ordeal was not having anything really engaging to read — I combed the shelves and found a book that I’ve never read, although why I don’t know. It’s Peter Conrad’s The Hitchcock Murders, and I’ve had it forever, or at least since it came out nearly twenty years ago. I love Peter Conrad! 

Last night’s side effects were mercifully muted, but I suppose I ought to be grateful for the worry, because it spurred me to read an engrossing book. Conrad is like a magician, pulling insight after insight out of a snappy black hat. He seems to have read all the novels and other material that Hitchcock adapted for his screenplays, so that he can open our eyes to many fascinating tidbits, such as that the observer in the Cornell Woolrich story on which Hitchcock based Rear Window has no profession! That Jeff Jeffries must be a photographer — a professional window-peeper — seems divinely ordained. 

Conrad is at his best when he tells me something that I almost knew, but didn’t quite. I’ve always been aware that, in North By Northwest, Cary Grant is brazenly playing himself when he reproves the woman through whose hospital room Roger Thornhill is escaping, after she begs him, the second time and in a fainting voice, to Stop. But I’d never quite noticed that James Mason, too, plays himself. Mason’s characters are often impatient, but at the Mount Rushmore cafeteria, Mason’s impatience is exactly that of a jaded actor. His little speech at the beginning is really nothing but what a somewhat self-important leading man might say when appearing on the set, ready to go. “Now what little drama are we here for today?”

It seems that the little boy who plugs his ears before Eva Marie Saint fires the pistol was beneath Conrad’s notice. To be sure, it is difficult to tease out the meaning of Hitchcock’s having left that blooper in the final cut.

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