5/18/11

Hitch on the Hump: Freddie Young (and Innocent?) of Full Moon Reviews Guests!

For as long as I've been doing this site, there's been a blogger who has been a great pal. He's always had kind words to say about the ever lovin' blue eye'd Bugg, and if you ask me, he's one hell of a writer. Plus if there's a full moon out, then he's always up for an all-nighter. I'm talking about Freddie Young a.k.a Fred the Wolf of the fantabulous site Full Moon Reviews. I'm thrilled that Freddie would take part in Hitch on the Hump so let me stop yammering and let the man do it to it.

I would first like to thank TL Bugg for requesting my services for this month's Hitch On The Hump. It's truly an honor to have the opportunity to discuss the work of one of the Masters of Cinema - Alfred Hitchcock. From the moment I was asked to contribute, I wanted to discuss a Hitchcock work that probably not many people have talked about or even used as a basis for Hitch On The Hump. I mean, how many times can one read about Psycho? Or Rear Window? Or Vertigo? Or The Birds? I think you get my point.

So I looked into Alfred Hitchock's filmography to find this month's subject. And to my surprise [and thanks to Netflix Instant Watch], I found a Hitchcock film that I have never heard of or read anyone discuss. And that film is 1938's Young and Innocent - or The Girl Was Young in the United States.

Young and Innocent is one of Hitchcock's British films, showcasing the director's trademarks long before his American films. The film begins with a couple arguing - Christine (Pamela Carme), who happens to be a famous actress, and her lover Guy (George Curzon), who accuses Christine of cheating on him with random "boys". The next morning on a nearby beach, a young man named Robert Tisdall (Derrick De Marney) strolls along and finds Christine's corpse washed up on the shore. The only evidence is a belt from a stolen raincoat that belonged to Robert. Running off to find help, two female witnesses arrive finding not only the body, but assuming that Robert is the guilty party. When the police arrive, the girls accuse Robert of murder. He's arrested and quickly put on trial.

After some commotion in the courtroom, Robert is allowed to escape in order to hunt down the real killer. He meets up with the police constable's daughter, Erica Burgoyne (Nova Pilbeam), who he charms into helping him. Even though she doubts Robert's innocence at first, as well as not wanting to risk her life and her father's job and reputation, Erica falls for Robert and decides to help him prove his innocence. Their only lead is one Old Will (Edward Rigby), who claims the murderer has really twitchy eyes.

Young and Innocent is based on a Josephine Tey novel titled "A Shilling For Candles". Tey's novel, published in 1936, was her first mystery novel with Inspector Alan Grant, who would be her main character over a 25 year span. Like the film adaptation, the story of "A Shilling For Candles" involves a murdered actress, whose young friend named Robert Tisdall is considered the prime suspect for her murder. The rest of the story involves Alan Grant trying to solve the case as Robert escapes with Erica, who believes in his innocence.

However, Hitchcock and screenwriters Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, and Anthony Armstrong, decided to go against Tey's novel, changing things around to lessen the mystery aspect while focusing on the relationship between Robert and Erica to craft a more cinematic thriller. The killer in the novel is completely changed in the film [it's pretty obvious who the real killer is here from the start] and there's no Alan Grant character anywhere to be seen here. Instead, we have the traditional Hitchcock male-female duo protagonists that can be seen in The 39 Steps, North By Northwest, and Vertigo. Both Robert and Erica happen to meet at chance, which links them together for the rest of the film in order the solve the case. Also in the film, the killer is given a specific trait [eyes that twitch] to make him easy to spot. This is similar to The 39 Steps again, where the villain is missing one of his fingers. This trait is not in the novel at all. Also Robert's backstory is different. In the novel, Robert is a young unemployed man. In the film, he has a higher social status and is wittier and more charming than his book counterpart.

There are also moments where Young and Innocent gives hints to other Hitchcock trademarks. In one scene, Robert, Erica, and Old Will are caught in a crumbling mine shaft after being chased by police. While Robert and Will are safe, Erica needs help and reaches for Robert's hand, teasing the audience with slight fingertip touching, before he pulls her out of the pit. This was used again in North By Northwest in the Mount Rushmore scene.

Another moment is a great crane shot in the final act of the film inside the Grand Hotel. There seems to be some sort of gathering or event at the Grand Hotel, involving a group of musicians dressed in blackface as Old Will and Erica search for the killer [who happens to be at this event]. It takes its time really setting up the location of where the mystery would be revealed, ending on a close up on the killer and his twitching eyes. The same technique was used similarly in Notorious during that film's party scene. It's just done so well and it's easy to see why Hitchcock would use it more than once.

Hitchcock also focuses on the idea of eyes and vision in general. The killer can be identified by his eyes. The Robert's lawyer can't do his job without his glasses [the idea that justice is blind]. The hotel clerk needs a pair of magnifying glasses to read her notes. The opening shot is a close up on Christine's eyes. At a birthday party, Erica has to escape her aunt's suspicions about her relationship with Robert by sneaking out after her aunt is blindfolded in a game of "blind man's bluff". And you got to love the title of the film, as the young [Erica] and the innocent [Robert] are the only ones who see the truth, while everyone else is blinded by what they hear from others. It's a motif that Hitchcock comes back to in many of his other films, from Psycho, to Rear Window, The Birds, Frenzy, etc. Young and Innocent is a showcase on things Hitchcock would continue to add to his movies years later.

As for Young and Innocent itself, it seems to have been overshadowed by other British works, such as The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes - two films that are considered to be the highlights of Hitchcock's British era. And it's easy to see why that's the case. While Young and Innocent isn't a terrible film, it's flawed in a lot of ways. Pilbeam and De Marney don't have much chemistry with each other, which makes the characters they play feel forced in their union. The mystery isn't there, as we know who the killer is. In fact, the police characters are probably the worst policemen you could ever have in your town. Not only do they not go after Christine's main lover, but they don't even check her background, with involved her playing a cougar to multiple younger men. Also for a thriller, it's not really all that exciting to watch. It's more humorous than anything. It's more light-hearted than Hitchcock's other works, making it sort of a black sheep in his filmography.

That being said, even an above-average Hitchcock film is better than most other films. The direction is solid, with some editing issues at times but you can only tell if you really look. The picture, while faded out a bit, still looks beautiful. The acting is solid all around. And the story still happens to be entertaining for 83 straight minutes, even if you want more depth out of it.

I think to ignore Young and Innocent is a shame if you're any kind of an Alfred Hitchcock fan. It's not a classic like his other films, but considering the low-budget he had to deal with many of his British films, the film is put together quite nicely. I believe this lesser-seen film was a blueprint for the great stuff he would put out in later years, which makes Young and Innocent more than worthy of a watch.

I can't thank Freddie Young a.k.a Fred the Wolf for stopping by and dropping the knowledge on The Young and Innocent. Makes sure you stop over at Full Moon Reviews and check out more of Fred's great work!  If you'd like to take part in Hitch on the Hump, then drop me a line at thelightningbug (AT) charter.net and we'll set you up!

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