05 November 2008

Hitchcock | Easy Virtue (1927)

Easy Virtue (1927)
written by Eliot Stannard, based on the play by Noel Coward

That there are no good DVD releases of this film anywhere in the world (check out the excellent Alfred Hitchcock Wiki for DVD recommendations for each film) seemed like it would be a very bad sign. And it was a bit; this is not a great film. It's kind of a gender-reversed Downhill, again with a protagonist fleeing societal shame and not having the best of luck doing so.

Easy Virtue makes its point in a slightly better manner than Downhill. This time, it's fairly clear that Hitchcock doesn't think highly of the upper-class Whittaker family's values. Visually, he reinforces this during Larita's first dinner with the family. They dine in a dark, austere room with enormous paintings of saints towering over the table. Mrs. Whittaker, who instantly hates Larita, seats the newlywed next to her husband's ex-girlfriend instead of her husband. The family dinner table couldn't look less inviting to the newcomer.

One plot point I was horribly confused about for the entire movie was the death of Claude the painter. In the film we only find out he's dead through context (he left his money to Larita in his will). Sure, he was beaten by Larita's husband when they were discovered together, but he seemed fine afterward. Only after reading the entry in The Alfred Hitchcock Story did I find out that Claude killed himself out of shame over the whole event. Apparently, this scene is missing from all existing prints of the film. I'm guessing the suicide had the censors a tad upset.

Again, Hitchcock does sneak in some nice stuff here and there. He starts out by showing us the main character as she looks through the frowning judge's monocle: the woman magnified against a blurry courtroom background. We get some cross-cutting between the courtroom scene and a flashback of the events they're talking about, which I think is a first for Hitchcock. There are some nice dissolves between evidence or people in the courtroom and their prior existence during the affair.

Ultimately, though, this yet another melodrama. I'm growing a bit weary of people falling in love and getting married within seconds of meeting each other. I think it's the silent format that's holding Hitchcock back. With only facial expressions and a handful of intertitles, it's really hard to establish anything resembling deep characterization. I'm looking forward to the characters in his future film who actually have some dimension to them. (5/10)

Watched the region 1 DVD released by Laserlight in 1999. The print they used is well-worn with scratches and dust and hair everywhere. One section appeared to have a series of holes worn in it, dancing along the right side of the frame. The soundtrack occasionally lapses into pops. Acceptably watchable, though.