Monday, June 17, 2013

Jason watches The Hitchcock 9--part 2

Four more movies on Saturday, exploring the master's early years.

First up was CHAMPAGNE (1928). One of the most interesting things about this series is seeing Hitchcock working in genres other than suspense, particularly romantic comedy. I think Hitchcock always had an underrated sense of humor, and it's refreshing to see him working in a more bubbly genre (pun definitely intended.) On a luxury cruise ship, the crew sees a plane go down in the water and quickly send out a lifeboat. They bring a pretty young lady (Betty Balfour) on board, and ask her if her plane had mechanical troubles. No, actually she made an intentional water landing to meet up with the ship. See, she's a frivolous heiress to a champagne fortune, and her fiance happens to be on this cruise. Well, her father is none too pleased, especially when Wall Street ruins him while he's off dealing with her flapper shenanigans. A wild, mostly light-hearted ride that I'd be hard-pressed to guess was Hitchcock's work if I hadn't seen the credits. But knowing it was Hitchcock made little details stand out--character points like the sinister edge to the mysterious man who takes an interest in her, or camera tricks like shooting through a glass to give the POV of a champagne drinker.

Good fun, and accompanied by the marvelous Judith Rosenberg making her SF Silent Film Fest debut! Judith is actually one of the regulars down at the Niles Film Museum, and I ran into her on Muni that morning. We chatted from Embarcadero to Castro, and she mentioned how nervous she was for her debut. I told her she would be great--and for the record I was right.

BTW, if you missed any of the Hitchcock 9 over the weekend, and plan to catch them when they come to the PFA, Judith will be accompanying all of them on the piano.

Then things went in a distinctly non-romantic, non-comedy direction with DOWNHILL (aka WHEN BOYS LEAVE HOME, 1927), starring the matinee idol Ivor Novello (he will return in the weekend's finale, THE LODGER). One thing that struck me while watching all these movies back-to-back is how misogynistic they are. In most of them, either awful things happen to women or they are the direct cause of awful things happening to men--and not always to men who deserve it. This film is the most glaring example of the latter, as Novello's character, Roddy Berwick is repeatedly taken advantage of by evil, scheming women. First he takes the rap for a friend who impregnates the local shopkeeper's daughter. He gets kicked out of school (just as he was becoming the captain of the football team.) He goes and becomes an actor (introduced in a very clever way) and marries the beautiful starlet who takes a shine to him...right after his huge inheritance. After she fleeces him and tosses him aside, a madame in a dance hall pimps him out as a "dance partner" for the lonely ladies. Each further abuse and debasement leads to cleverly shot scenes of descent--on an escalator, an elevator, stairs, etc. as he descends to his next level of hell. Bleak, depressing, kinda shallow (oh, poor son of privilege has to get a god-damned job!) and very misogynistic. It's actually based on a stage play co-written (anonymously) by Novello, and no doubt influenced by his own experiences of having women falling over themselves to have him...despite being gay himself. Which makes the end scene (SPOILER ALERT) of him finally having a happy ending where he can go back to the football field and run around while big, tough guys tackle him (END SPOILER) really interesting.

The magnificent one man band Stephen Horne accompanied on the grand piano...and flute...and accordion...and I don't know what else. The man plays a lot of instruments, and he's amazing at them all.

Next up was THE RING (1927), a boxing picture and--surprisingly enough--the only film in with Hitchcock has sole writing credit (although he could turn one hell of a phrase, he wasn't a fan of writing dialogue and left that to his writing partners.) A fairly simple boxing picture and love triangle. "One Round" Jack Sander (Carl Brisson) is engaged to Mabel (Lilian Hall Davis), who sells tickets to his show at the circus. It's one of those shows where Jack takes on all comers, and is used to knocking them out immediately. But one day a stranger comes in, takes Jack into the 4th round, and actually knocks him out. It's a little unfair, because that man, Bob Corby (Ian Hunter) is actually the Australian heavyweight champion. But it's all good, Bob was actually there scouting Jack as a potential sparring partner. And when he gets the job, Jack quickly marries Mabel (in a very funny scene featuring all of the circus freaks in attendance.) But Bob has his eyes on Mabel, too, so as Jack works his way up the rankings, it looks like he won't just be fighting for the championship, he'll be fighting for his wife. The titular ring can refer to the boxing ring, the wedding ring, and the bracelet that Bob gives Mabel as a gift. Coiled around her arm like a snake (sinister, sexual, and Biblical allusions, there) it serves as a symbol of her infidelity--a very Hitchcockian element.

The excellent Mont Alto Orchestra provided accompaniment, along with a Foley artist to provide the ringside bell. They were, of course, magnificent as always.

Carl Brisson again competed with a friend for the affections of a woman in THE MANXMAN (1929). This time he plays Pete Quilliam a humble fisherman on the Isle of Man (Manxman is the term of a resident of the Isle. And I though it was "Mannonite.") His best friend is Philip Christian (Malcolm Keen,) a lawyer who is being groomed to be a Deemster (i.e., Judge.) Pete is in love with Kate (Anny Ondra from BLACKMAIL) but her father refuses because Pete is poor. So Pete sets off to find his fortune, and asks Philip to take care of Kate while he's gone. Well, when word comes back that Pete has been killed, he does more than take care of her--he starts planning to marry her. But before he can get around to it, Pete returns. Not only was the news of his death greatly exaggerated, he's now a very wealthy man and ready to marry Kate. So Kate and Philip just sort of keep their brief romance a secret, Kate marries Pete, they have a baby, and Philip starts his job as the new Deemster. But Kate is still in love with Philip and that all gets pretty awkward and convoluted when she ends up in front of Philips' court for trying to run away and commit suicide with her baby (whom she reveals is not Pete's.) Beautiful and tragic, with great performances, stunning natural cinematography (the  village of Polperro in Cornwall stood in for the Isle of Man,) and of course more than a little Hitchcockian misogyny, as this time the woman is not only the cause of suffering, but has a great deal of it heaped on her as well.

Stephen Horne accompanied, and was excellent as always. And he finally found an instrument he couldn't work into his one-man-band, so Diana Rowan helped him out on the Celtic harp. 

And that was Saturday at the Hitchcock 9. Just over halfway through.

Total Running Time: 415 minutes
My Total Minutes: 331,141

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