This 1937 movie is another second tier Hitchcock. It’s an innocent-guy-on-the-run-helped-by-gal-who-ends-up-with-him-by-the-end movie. In contrast to ‘The 39 Steps’ the female lead here isn’t quite as tough a nut to crack as her predecessor – she has a crush on our hero fairly early on and fights for him against the odds, including her dominant Colonel/Police Chief of a father.
An estranged husband (the Christian named-only Guy, played by George Curzon) comes to see his wife (Christine Clay portrayed by Pamela Carme) after eight years and finds that she has had various dalliances in the meantime. They fight, slapping takes place and the husband’s twitchy eyes go all twitchy. She ends up washed up on a beach, dead, and is found by one of her beaus, Robert Tisdall (Derrick De Marney) – who, when going to get help, is spotted and gets busted for the murder.
He manages to escape and is then assisted by Erica Burgoyne (Nova Pilbeam, the kidnappee from ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’) who is the Colonel/Chief Cop’s daughter (he played by Percy Marmont – who was the unfortunate recipient of Peter Lorre’s shove into a crevasse in ‘Secret Agent’).
Interesting that when the two passers-by approach the dead body of Christine on the beach, Hitchcock cuts to a brief shot of some squalling seagulls rather a shot of the corpse – a hint of the sinister that presages ‘The Birds’ by 26 years.
I very much like the well spoken clipped delivery of Tisdall’s lawyer (I think his name is Mr. Briggs, although he’s credited just as ‘Solicitor’ – played by J.H. Roberts) as he goes through the, rather damning, evidence. He’s pedantic, precise and makes a point of fussing with his spectacles throughout – the very spectacles Tisdall will alleviate him of as a method of disguise in his escape. The solicitor also manages to get a two pound payment on account – good thinking seeing as his ward proceeds to leg it shortly afterwards. Tisdall’s escape is deftly handled – he manages to sneak into the courtroom of his own trial, slip on the pilfered glasses and halteringly get himself out of there, unable to see at all clearly. It’s nicely handled and, although a bit unbelievable, doesn’t seem too awkward. Hitchcock manages to resist having a blurry p.o.v. shot as Tisdall makes his getaway.
Two constables and Erica zoom off in her car which proceeds to break down and the two guys have to hitch a ride with a passing pig farmer: ‘Now then, where do we sit?’, the policemen ask – ‘with pigs’ comes the reply. Given the director’s documented problems with authority how could he resist a little porky scratch at the boys in blue? The coppers leave and it’s a leap to then think that Tisdall pops up to assist in the push start of her car – she temporarily confused why she can seemingly move it with one finger. It gets the two of them together but how on earth has he located her in all that rolling countryside?
We set off on an odyssey of cat and mouse through the English countryside. What sets this apart, and a little inferior, to the similarly plotted ’39 Steps’ is in the performances. Whereas Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll had a very genuine chemistry, you don’t really feel that between De Marney and Pilbeam. It also doesn’t help that you get the impression she wants him pretty much from the start – it’s more interesting to watch the female party resisting the inevitable rather than being into the chap from the start, but I suppose that’s life. I have to say though that I quite liked the level of flirtatiousness Tisdall gets up to with the innocent Erica – he’s very sure of himself and cocky from the outset.
There’s some beautiful photography in the picture, courtesy of cinematographer Bernard Knowles (this is the fourth out of five times he will work with the director) – for instance the scene where Erica visits the hidden Tisdall in the mill about a half hour in.
There’s a lush quality to the image, almost soft focus as a contrast to other scenes that appear more harshly lit – a rare moment of relaxation for him in his hay bail hideout*. Jack Beaver’s (uncredited) music here is quite sweet also – a delicate little music accent as she stumbles on the ladder going up to the hayloft.
There are other little moments of humour throughout – she trying to swab his head after a fight in a café and being thwarted by a misbehaving water fountain, later as they drive off she dropping a broken mug onto the road and causing an instant flat tyre to an incoming car. Small moments, but useful in keeping the pace and humour going. At one point, they get wrangled into a kid’s birthday party also – to further ratch up the tension. Basil Radford makes a small but impressive appearance here (he plays Erica’s uncle called, to my ear, Major Cunningham/Basil and will go on to appear in both ‘The Lady Vanishes’ and ‘Jamaica Inn’. The way his wife barks at him – ‘Basil!’ – reminded me of his great onscreen namesake). There’s some great looks here between Erica’s uncle and aunt – little glances of suspicions-of-romance rather than on-the-run-ness. With lightning thinking, Tisdale magics up the disguise name ‘Beechtree Manningcroft’ – a great handle to go by.
At this stage Erica is in two minds about Tisdale: ‘you’ll never see me again’ he says, ‘won’t I?’ she asks with regret – simultaneously attracted to him and scared of the consequences as an accessory and the fallout from dear ol’ dad. They are hunting for Tisdale’s raincoat that had been stolen from him – the belt used as the murder weapon (if they’d used this method in 1948, Hitchcock’s movie-done-in-long-take-fest with James Stewart would have been called ‘Belt’. Not nearly as good a title). Their hunt leads them to the character of Old Will (Edward Rigby) who may be able to shed some light on the whereabouts of said belt.
It’s interesting that when Tisdall looks at Old Will’s bed in the doss house he sees the elderly chap’s indentation on the sheets – this notion will be revisited with a much more sinister feel in ‘Psycho’ with Mother’s (as it transpires, dead) body shape spotted by Marion Crane’s sister Lila (played by Vera Miles) as she snoops around in the Bates’ house. There follows a good old car chase with trains flying around also as they make their escape with Old Will (marred by some creaky back projection and the occasional model shot thrown in).
Hitchcock then follows this with a spectacular action scene as they hide out in a disused mine – the ground giving way and her car being swallowed as she scrabbles to be pulled free – it’s really very good and seems to be done for real (must have been a very expensive set). A real highlight in the movie.
But by far the standout sequence in the feature is the final very well handled discovery of Guy as the real guilty party. They trace him via a matchbook (who would have thought it?) to the nearby Grand Hotel and search for him. The jazz band plays, and the drummer becomes more and more erratic. Given it’s 1937, no-one seems to blink an eye (aside from the drummer of course) at the whole orchestra being done up in blackface – a handy disguise for the killer. Hitchcock pulls out one of his great camera crane moves across the ballroom (he’ll revisit this even more classically in ‘Notorious’) and slowly moves in to a biiiiig close-up on the drummer’s eyes – and their telltale twitch.
It’s a marvellous moment and head and shoulders above the rest of the film. Yes, it’s one of those Hitchcockian gimmicky things, but it’s just this kind of inventitude that I think makes them both great and memorable. Why is he twitching? Is he simply nervous that he is to be rumbled or is he on drugs of some description (he downs some relaxant pills in these closing sequences)? I think of it just as nerves and the fact that he knows he’s about to be rumbled. His increasingly more shambolic drumming is excellent, eventually just thrashing around the cymbals and collapsing on his bass drum – drawing so much attention to himself a crowd gathers and his eye problem is spotted…
Overall, ‘Young and Innocent’ would shine more as a film if Hitchcock didn’t come up with quite so many superior versions of the same basic premise (innocent fellow on the run). On its own, it’s perfectly satisfactory but put up against full pelt chase classics such as ‘The 39 Steps’ and ‘North By Northwest’ it doesn’t get a look in. Enjoyable and diverting, it’s definitely worth a look though.
On the version I watched the famed ‘gong’ man is featured at the opening – in this case the representative of General Film Distributors Ltd. rather than the more common Rank Film Distributors that he became synonymous with.
Hitchcock pops up as a photographer outside the courthouse just prior to Tisdall’s escape, about 15’45” in:
Alfred Junge is the art director here as he was on ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ and ‘Waltzes From Vienna’.
There’s also a creaky old model shot as they have escaped the cops and take refuge in a train yard – even to the point that we actually see small model figures of the two of them before it cuts to live action. As in previous movies, it’s ok and admirable but very clearly unreal.