Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins, Disc 3

Easy Virtue, 1928, b&w, silent (with possibly-related music). Isabel Jeans, Franklin Dyall, Eric Bransby Williams, Robin Irvine, Violet Farebrother, Frank Elliott. 1:29.

Another silent, another non-thriller. This time, the focus is on a woman who becomes a symbol of “easy virtue.” First, she’s divorced by her apparently-abusive husband because she might have spent some time without chaperone with a painter as he was preparing her formal portrait. This is scandalous—particularly because the painter died and left her his estate. Did she actually commit adultery? No indication, and it seems not to matter.

She goes off to the South of France to hide. She meets and falls in love with another Englishman, and it’s mutual. He doesn’t want to know her background. They marry. He brings her back to his family’s country estate. And his mother, a wildly overdrawn harridan, just despises her, with a passion. (His mother also keeps pushing his former girlfriend in his way…) The husband is, unfortunately, a mama’s boy; the mother manages to turn him against his wife even before The Truth Emerges.

As you’d expect, the mother eventually figures out that Larita, the wife, is Larita, The Scandal. The father thinks that’s all irrelevant. The old girlfriend, remarkably, wants to make things right between the couple. And there’s a climax with a houseparty at which Larita’s first husband shows up. It all ends with an uncontested second divorce ending with paparazzi (they weren’t called that then) facing her down and her telling them to go ahead and shoot, because there’s nothing left to kill.

It’s melodrama. The mother overacts so badly as to be ludicrous—she’s the Wicked Witch of the Manor, but in this case triumphant. Larita mostly smokes and doesn’t seem to have a wide range of expression. There are nice touches, however. The price that follows is generous—for true Hitchcock completists only, but it is a good print. $1.00.

Jamaica Inn, 1939, b&w. Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara, Leslie Banks, Marie Ney, Robert Newton. 1:48/1:38

Hitchcock’s fan letter to Cornwall—or not so much. A young woman (O’Hara) newly orphaned travels to live with her aunt at the Jamaica Inn on the Cornish coast—but the coach won’t even stop there, instead leaving her off at the local squire’s mansion down the road. He takes her to the inn, and the real plot begins.

The innkeeper (who has no guests) has a pirate gang that deliberately causes shipwrecks (by hiding the nearby light), loots the ships and kills any survivors. But, as it turns out, the innkeeper reports to…well, if you’ve seen many older Westerns, you can guess: The most respectable local citizen, which is to say, the squire. There’s also suspicion among the cutthroats because they don’t seem to be getting as much loot as they should, and the innkeeper manages to turn that suspicion on to the newest member—who, as it turns out, is from The Authorities, trying to crack the case. We find that out after they hang him, the young woman rescues him (don’t ask), they make their way to the squire’s house…

Lots more plot, a fair amount of suspense, loads of bad-weather scenery and a mixed ending. Charles Laughton overplays the self-satisfied squire to the extreme, but that might be right for the occasion. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s worth $1.50.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, 1926, b&w, silent (unrelated musical score). Marie Ault, Arthur Chesney, June, Malcolm Keen, Ivor Novello. 1:23.

The box says this is Hitchcock’s first thriller. It certainly has some Hitchcock trademarks—in-camera special effects, for example. Otherwise, “early Hitchcock” may be the most important thing to say. That, and that this is a mediocre-to-poor print. Frankly, I almost gave up part way through: Between repetition and other effects probably meant to create a mood but done in a way I found maddening, and the visual quality, it barely seemed worthwhile. Some of the plot devices were obvious devices, the kind of thing a spoof movie would highlight.

The basic plot: “The Avenger” is shooting fair-haired women every Tuesday (or every other Tuesday) evening in London, following a geographic pattern. A lodger shows up at the home of one fair-haired “mannequin” (model? entertainer?) (acted by “June,” no other name given) with one apparent aspect of the killer…and the girl is sort of involved with a high-handed police detective who’s assigned to the case. As things progress, we get stupidity on all sides, a lynch mob and a happy ending. Thrilling? Well, maybe I’m not the right audience. I found it mostly annoying and wildly overacted (but, of course, it’s a silent). I’d only recommend this for completists, and given the print quality I’ll say $0.75.

The Ring, 1927, b&w, silent (with apparently-unrelated orchestral music). Carl Brisson, Lillian Hall-Davis, Ian Hunter, Forrester Harvey, Harry Terry, Gordon Harker. 1:56.

The plot’s simple enough. We start in a carnival (lots of carnival fun scenes), part of which is a challenge for anyone who can stay in the ring more than a round with a boxer billed as “One Round” Jack Sander. Handsome man charms the ticket-taker (who, as it turns out, is the boxer’s fiancée) and cold-cocks Sander—and later reveals that he’s the champ, and if Sander’s good enough, the champ will hire him as a sparring partner.

That happens, and the couple marries—and it’s also obvious from the start that the wife has eyes as much or more for the champ as for her husband. Husband fights his way up the card. Along the way, we get typical early Hitchcock special effects, a wedding-party scene with Sander’s trainer (Gordon Harker, one of Hitchcock’s early regulars) chugging beer until he passes out, a much later party scene in Sander’s flat with crazed flapper dancing (would they really be playing a phonograph record, piano, and ukulele simultaneously while gesticulating as though they’d gone mad?) and more.

I don’t know quite what to make of this one. Extended boxing scenes. Over-acting from the hero (and others, but he’s got the wild eyes also typical of silent Hitchcock). Another movie for lip-readers. A fairly good print most of the time. Some gratuitous racism (including the n-word in one of the few titles, there for no reason at all). Not a thriller as such, and really not much of a plot. Hitchcock wrote as well as directing. (I’m fascinated by the extent to which IMDB reviewers who love Hitchcock can turn any of his pictures into a flat-out masterpiece.) This version appears to be missing quite a few minutes. Call it $1.00.

Young and Innocent, 1937, b&w. Nova Pilbeam, Derrick de Marney, Percy Marmont, Edward Rigby. 1:23.

Sort of a thriller, sort of a romantic comedy. Guy sees drowned woman from cliff, runs down to see what’s what, runs off to find help—just as two women stroll along and see her (strangled with a raincoat belt), and assume he was fleeing the scene. Police make the same assumption, find that the woman had purchased a story from him (he’s a writer), turn this into “victim was paying off suspect,” and assert they have a fool-proof case, enough so no further investigation is required.

He escapes, going out to try to find the raincoat (he knows where he lost it) and prove he’s innocent by returning with raincoat and belt (what? you can’t buy another raincoat and substitute belts? they’re uniquely identifiable?). The daughter of the chief constable gets involved, driving him hither and yon after first finding him annoying. Long scene in a posh hotel with a Gentleman of Low-Cost Leisure putting on the ritz. In the end, only a wildly implausible situation saves the day. There’s never any sort of resolution as to why the murder happened or why the suspect was framed: As a murder mystery, it’s a washout. (Also, I find it hard to accept that having a band perform in blackface for no reason at all was so normal in 1937 that it doesn’t even deserve comment in most reviews.)

Good mostly for the humor, although I suppose it’s suspenseful enough. Enjoyable on the whole. I’ll call it $1.00.

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