Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Laziest Gal in Town (Stage Fright, 1950)

I recently viewed Stage Fright, a 1950 motion picture directed by Alfred Hitchcock in which Marlene Dietrich has a major role. Much that happens in this movie is in keeping with one of Mr. Hitchcock's major themes:   the complexity of the human soul.

In Hitchcock's pictures, seemingly "good" people often reveal themselves to be anything but, and seemingly "bad" people sometimes do good things. Occasionally, they even rise to the level of sacrificing themselves for the common good.

Hitchcock was Catholic and the view he presents of human beings wounded by original and personal sin but still bearing the image of God is of course thoroughly Catholic.

In Stage Fright, Marlene Dietrich is a very bad woman indeed (although somewhat less thoroughly evil than she initially seems).

During the film, Dietrich (an actress and singer in the movie) performs before a theatre audience a piece called "The Laziest Gal in Town". Cole Porter wrote the number specifically for this movie.

The idea of the song is that while Dietrich would like the reward of selling her sexual favors (like the "gals" who get "money to burn"), and while she is attractive enough  ("it's not 'cause I couldn't"), and she is not morally opposed ("it's not 'cause I shouldn't")  -- she doesn't sell herself because it's just too much trouble ("it's simply because I'm the laziest gal in town").

I couldn't help but think that this song provides a great negative example of purity of intention.  That is, we Catholics strive not only to avoid evil and do good but to do these things solely for the love of God -- we strive to purify our intention.  The Dietrich character, however, refrains from sin not out of love for God or even to avoid damnation, but simply because of sloth.

I don't know whether Cole Porter had any of this in mind when he wrote the song but I rather like to think that Mr. Hitchcock very skillfully slipped a sermon on spiritual theology into this film.

Postscript:   Incidentally, the female lead in Stage Fright, Jane Wyman, converted to Catholicism in 1953 and became a Dominican tertiary.  It is said she was buried in a Dominican habit.

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