Grade: B-Young and Innocent (1937)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Stars: Nova Pilbeam, Derrick De Marney

Release Company: Laserlight

MPAA Rating: NR

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Hitchcock: Young and Innocent


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Few are destined to watch Alfred Hitchcock's 1937 Young and Innocent (released as The Girl Was Young in the U.S.). Viewers are either Hitchcock aficionados or are inadvertently absorbing late night movie classics on television, but this lightly regarded film works in either case. Hitchcock buffs will note trademark signs of the Master's work while casual viewers should find its swift pace and dry humor far more entertaining than most late night offerings.

Once again an innocent man is accused and chased. His only hope relies on the help of a woman, fated to become a love interest, to locate a local transient, who holds vital evidence (the McGuffin of the screenplay). If you can find the original British version, this would be best since American distributors butchered the job, absurdly cutting out a crucial birthday party sequence that Hitchcock insists was the "essence" of the film. Unfortunately, the Laserlight DVD I rented only contained the hacked rendition and the only extra feature of note was a generic introduction by Tony Curtis. Even before finding out about the cut, the film seems to jump inexplicably at one point--very uncharacteristic of Hitch's usual seamless narrative.

Despite the obvious flaws, much remains vintage Hitchcock. The unusual opening close up shot plops us right into a vicious argument, and a suspicious looking man wanders onto a balcony overlooking threatening waves (visually communicating his state of mind) to provide a clever transition to the expected murder.

Tightly structuring the visual sequences, Hitchcock introduces Robert Tisdall (Derrick De Marney) walking along the shoreline until alarmed by a beautiful actress who has washed ashore. He goes to her, recognizes her, and runs for help; however, two other women witness his flight and automatically assume that Tisdall is fleeing the crime scene. Since the woman likely was strangled with Tisdall's missing raincoat belt, his case becomes as difficult to prove as Henry Fonda's in The Wrong Man or a number of other Hitchcock innocents that eventually culminate with Cary Grant's tour de force of circumstantial coincidences in North by Northwest.

This time the conflicted heroine is the chief constable's daughter Erica (Nova Pilbeam), who effectively paints guilt all through her body as she helps the innocent victim. Set up as a knowledgeable first aid practitioner, she is a true Florence Nightingale type who continually practices compassion and attempts to help innocent victims--whether caused by injury, health, or unjust circumstances.

The most famous camera shot is extremely similar to the classic boom shot in Notorious that closes in on Ingrid Bergman's hand. Near the end of Young and Innocent the audience is poised for suspense since we know that the actual murderer has a nervous eye twitch and sits in the hotel orchestra as its black faced drummer. The camera begins from the hotel ceiling and dollies down through the lobby, through the ballroom, past the dancing crowd, to the drummer, and then close up to his twitching face--all in one sweeping shot!

This film would be worth watching just for that shot, but it has additional charms that include one of Hitchcock's longest cameos (as a court reporter) and some wonderful comic moments (like Tisdall's initial meeting with his court appointed money grubbing lazy lawyer and how Tisdall swipes the lawyer's thick glasses to effect a getaway). The acting remains mundane, but some virtuoso camera work and Hitch's delightful method of combining suspense, humor, and romance in his crime thriller narrative make even the 80 minute American version worth checking out.

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