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    The Secret Agent and Rich and Strange

    Presented by at Harvard Film Archive

    August 4, 2013

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    The Secret Agent and Rich and Strange

    The Secret Agent

    Musing over the disappointing box office of Secret Agent, a film he otherwise liked, Hitchcock told Truffaut,“There was too much irony, too many twists of fate.” Those same qualities make it one of the most enduringly complex features of his Gaumont-British years, a...

    The Secret Agent

    Musing over the disappointing box office of Secret Agent, a film he otherwise liked, Hitchcock told Truffaut,“There was too much irony, too many twists of fate.” Those same qualities make it one of the most enduringly complex features of his Gaumont-British years, a film that Raymond Durgnant saw as anticipating the “eerie and unwelcome alloy of freedom and guilt” found in the auteur’s best films. Based on Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden stories, the film serves as a veritable compendium of Hitchcockian motifs: from a fake funeral to a falsified marriage, a spy ring operating out of a chocolate factory to a murder observed through a telescope, a seemingly telepathic dog to an expired organist. Two English agents played by John Gielgud and a curly-haired Peter Lorre track their target by a telltale missing button, but in this case the irresistible Hitchcockian premise proves gravely misleading. Madeleine Carroll is the phony wife whose eagerness to play detective curdles just as quickly as the plot’s farcical tone.

    Rich and Strange

    Fed up with the evening commute and steak-and-kidney pie, Henry Kendall complains to his wife that he wants more from life. Rich and Strange may be relatively free of conventional suspense, but Hitchcock gives the characters plenty of reason to watch what they wish for: an exotic cruise instigates a prolonged crisis of faith. Initially a box office disappointment, the film’s steely-eyed study of a relationship under pressure now seems to directly anticipate later triumphs like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Marnie. Hitchcock deftly interweaves his protagonists’ blinkered emotions and cultural values in crafting the cautionary tale about the moral danger of pursuing life in fantasy—a peculiar message to find delivered in a film entertainment, to be sure, but one close to the heart of Hitchcock’s knotted art.


    Harvard Film Archive

    Harvard Film Archive Cinematheque
    24 Quincy Street
    Cambridge, MA 02138

    Full map and directions

    Admission Info:

    $9 - Regular Admission
    $7 - Non-Harvard Students, Harvard Faculty and Staff, and Senior Citizens
    Regular HFA screenings are free for all Harvard students with a valid photo ID.
    $12 - Special Event Ticket Price for all patrons
    Discounts apply for Harvard Film Archive Members



    Phone: 617-496-3211


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