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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Mr. Blanchard’s Secret (Review)

As part of the “For the Love of Film” blogathon, I’ll be taking a look at Alfred Hitchcock’s contributions to his celebrated anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I’ll be looking at some of the episodes of the classic show that he directed. The “For the Love of Film” blogathon this year is raising money to keep one of Hitchcock’s earlier works, The White Shadow (which he wrote, edited, designed and assistant-directed), available on-line and streaming for free. It’s a very worthwhile cause and you can donate here.

Mr. Blanchard’s Secret is a fun watch, if only for the joy of watching Hitchcock gleefully spoofing Hitchcock. Pitched by the director as “a tale of mystery and intrigue, played in middle-class suburbia” during his introduction, Mr. Blanchard’s Secret reads an affectionate parody of Rear Window, perhaps the Hitchcock film that lends itself so easily to comedic skewering. Mr. Blanchard’s Secret is hardly a groundbreaking or astonishing piece of television, but it is highly enjoyable and quite clever, proving that Hitchcock has a wonderful sense of humour about himself. (As if we needed proof.)

Mary Scott is Babs Fenton, a housewife who earns a living as a mystery writer. Writing trashy and pulpy genre fiction, she seems to channel her exceptionally “vivid imagination” into her work. As she notes herself, she tends to fixate on sinister mysteries, constructing elaborate conspiracies and foul misdeeds where nothing is amiss. As such, she does well to focus all that into her novel-writing. “It’s so much healthier,” she muses. “And it pays better.”

It’s interesting how clearly Fenton herself seems like a stand-in for Hitchcock. One can even detect similar motifs in their work. The opening sequence sees Babs correcting a paragraph ending with a strangulation, and her imaginary reenactment of a fictional murder sees the eponymous Mr. Blanchard murdering his wife in the same way. Given Hitchcock’s own recurring motif of strangulation, I find it hard to believe that it’s an innocent coincidence. I interpret it as a self-aware reference to the director’s style.

Naturally, Babs Fenton grows a little bit suspicious about the couple that have moved in next door. From an idle comment about the lighting in their house, her imagination fires up and charges full speed ahead. Before she can stop herself, she’s constructed an elaborate murder fantasy involving all manner of cheesy clichés and somewhat scattershot logic. “You know,” she tells her husband, “I’m absolutely positive there’s something wrong in that house.” Her evidence? “Mr. Blanchard never once looked me in the eye.” She’s a regular Angela Lansbury. Although her books do sound like delightfully trashy fun, from what little we see of them.

There’s a healthy dose of suburban paranoia to be found here, with the notion that everybody in suburbia is always watching everybody else, that they are gossiping and that the person living right next door could be a murderer cloaked in the anonymity of the suburban sprawl. Of course, Mr. Blanchard’s Secret is constructed as a spoof first and foremost, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t draw on familiar themes – just reversing them from their more conventional patterns. Instead of Fenton worrying about the potential killer next door, surely the Blanchards should be concerned about the woman spinning conspiracy theories about their marriage?

There’s some interesting stuff happening under the hood as well. While Babs’ marriage is portrayed as affectionate and wholesome, with her husband generally politely indulging her, if not engaging her, it is curiously asexual and seems to lack a certain intimacy. Babs and her husband sleep in separate beds at night. The most romantic promise she makes to him is to allow him to get some sleep after work that evening. There’s a decidedly conservative side to their relationship, as Mr. Fenton seems a little embarrassed that his wife went next door in her pajamas. “You weren’t exactly dressed to go visiting,” her husband states.

Of course, the story is set in fifties suburbia, so the sexual conservatism isn’t unexpected. But it’s interesting how Hitchcock contrasts the mundane absence of a sexual dimension to the Fenton marriage with the decidedly mysterious and enigmatic Blanchard marriage. After her husband politely rebukes her for straying next door in her pajamas, Babs counters, “You should see Mrs. Blanchard’s negligees.” She seems to think the presence of such lingerie to be almost sordid. As she prowls around the house, we discover that the Blanchards share a bed, rather than sleeping in two distinct beds.

I can’t help but wonder if that was the point – that Babs seems to venting some repressed sexual frustration into her work, making up for a rather boring married existence. One could certainly read her fixation with strangulation as the expression of an unconscious sexual urge – indeed, even Hitchcock himself linked strangulation and sex in movies like Frenzy. The life of the Blanchard family must seem especial exotic, and her fantasies – no matter how grim – might represent an escape into that life. In this way, Mr. Blanchard’s Secret seems at least a little bit deeper than it may originally have appeared.

Still, regardless of the subtext, Mr. Blanchard’s Secret is a fun little episode, as it allows Hitchcock to have just a little fun at his own expense. And there are many worse things, indeed.

Read the rest of our contributions to the “For the Love of Film” Alfred Hitchcock blogothon, all episodes from Alfred Hitchcock Presents:

Hey, hope you enjoyed the article. It’s just one of a series of articles we’re running this week to celebrate Alfred Hitchcock and raise money to make The White Shadow available streaming on-line for free. It’s a very worthy cause and you can donate here. Or you can click the link below.

Read the rest of today’s thoroughly awesome Hitchcock articles over at This Island Rod.

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2 Responses

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  2. Reblogged this on This beautiful life.

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