04 November 2008

Hitchcock | Downhill (1927)

Downhill (1927)
written by Eliot Stannard, based on the play by Ivor Novello & Constance Collier

More a vehicle for the very popular Ivor Novello than an example of Hitchcock as auteur, I think. I'm sure the execs at Gainsborough thought that another wrong man story starring and written by heartthrob Novello would make a great follow-up to the successful The Lodger. But, man, the two films could not be more different.

Most of the style and confidence seen in that prior film is absent from Downhill. For the most part, this is a straight story about a down-on-his-luck man. Roddy, I hope, will be the worst protagonist in any of Hitchcock's movies. It's hard to imagine this character being less sympathetic. He's the son of rich parents who gets accused of -- from what I infer is -- some type of sexual impropriety by a waitress. Determined, for some reason, to protect his friend -- who I gather is the true guilty party -- he keeps quiet about his innocence and allows himself to be kicked out of school. His rich dad doesn't take this news well and kicks him out of the house. Luckily, he inherits £30000 from another relative, which is -- according to online calculators -- between $2 million and $8.7 million in 2008 US dollars. He promptly hooks up with the leading lady from the play he's in and blows the entirety of this amount on her. Once his money runs out, the leading lady drops him like a hot potato and goes back to her leading man boyfriend. Ugh. Things get worse from there, but I couldn't possibly get myself to care. The man's an idiot and deserved whatever happens to him.

The only interesting shot that I can remember starts out by showing Roddy in a close-up, dressed in a tuxedo. Things are looking up! The camera pulls back and we see that he's actually a waiter in a restaurant. Maybe not so up. The woman he's waiting on leaves the table and he slyly picks up her wallet. Oh, he's pretty desperate. The camera pulls back again and we see that all of this is actually taking place on stage, in the middle of a play. Ok, not so bad. It's just about the only playful hitchcockian shot that I noticed. I also liked the sequence in which the curtains are opened on the French man-brothel (is that what that was?). The sunlight shines onto the debauched revelers and Roddy takes a good, hard look around the room in disgust.

One improvement over The Lodger was a drastic reduction in the number of intertitles. Downhill had just the bare minimum of intertitles to convey the plot. I liked this. Silent films, ideally, should tell a purely visual story (like Murnau's The Last Laugh). Hitchcock's getting closer to that ideal here.

Other than those few things, this was awful. I hope the rest of the silents aren't quite as bad. (4/10)

Watched the region 2 DVD released by Japan Home Video in 2002. The transfer is fine, though the image is a bit jumpy at times. The score is borderline annoying, with a ton of repeated cues.