21 November 2008

Hitchcock | Elstree Calling: "Sketches and Other Interpolated Items" (1930)

Elstree Calling: "Sketches and Other Interpolated Items" (1930)
written by Adrian Brunel, Walter C. Mycroft and Val Valentine

This revue was made to show off both British International's talent and their new ability to produce talkies. According to the credits, Hitchcock was responsible for "sketches and other interpolated items." From what I've read, people think he directed:

  1. The recurring sketches of Gordon Harker trying to fix his TV.
  2. The sketch where Jameson Thomas shoots his wife and her lover, then realizes he's in the wrong house.
  3. Donald Calthrop's interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew.
Of these, the Jameson Thomas sketch is certainly the most hitchcockian, with its murder and dark humor. The recurring sketch of the broken TV is awful. It's essentially the same scene repeated four times: the man fails to fix TV and his neighbor pops in to tell him how good the show is upstairs on his working TV. This is often accompanied by a sassy slide whistle on the soundtrack. The whole TV angle was a bit confusing to me; I had to look of the history of the TV set, as I tend to think of it as a post-WWII thing.

The Taming of the Shrew bit was the least hitchockian of the three. Throughout the entire movie, Donald Calthrop had been interrupting the show and promising his forthcoming, non-boring Shakespeare performance. I liked these bits. It's amusing to see the slimy blackmailer from Blackmail doing comedy. When the long-promised performance finally arrives, it's all about Calthrop acting like a goofball and people throwing pies in other people's faces (including Bill Shakespeare himself). I think this'll be the silliest thing Hitchcock ever directed.

The rest of the film consists of a series of musical performances hosted by an unfunny Tommy Handley. There are Russian singers, dancing girls and an old woman with a horrible voice singing about always being a bridesmaid. The Three Eddies perform some excellent tap dancing. They're three black men dressed in black face, which I don't even know how to interpret. A morbidly obese xylophone player plays some nice music, then tells a Jew joke. I suppose, this being the 1930s, the producers had a racism quota that needed filling.

Overall, it's an OK show. It's seventy-eight years later and I live in a different country; I'm not really the intended audience of this. However, a few of the musical numbers are quite nice, with my favorites being the Russians and the Three Eddies. (5/10)

Watched a bootleg, as there are no official releases of this movie anywhere in the world. The bootleg was given to me by a generous webmaster of a Hitchcock website. It was a DVD-R of a tape of a BBC 4 broadcast. At the time I got it I couldn't watch PAL DVDs, so I converted it to NTSC. While doing so, I also pitch-corrected the soundtrack. It is a musical, after all: I might as well hear the thing in the correct key. I can't stand PAL speed-up chipmunk voices, either. It didn't turn out too bad, if I do say so.