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The Cool Channel DVD Review: Young and Innocent

September 14, 2006 | Posted by J.D. Dunn

Young and Innocent (1937)

D: Alfred Hitchcock
W: Charles Bennett, from a novel by Josephine Tey
Starring: Derrick De Marney, Nova Pilbeam, Percy Marmont, and Edward Rigby
Runtime: 83m.

The Film:

Hitchcock’s favorite film from his British period revisits the familiar territory of “The 39 Steps” although without that film’s pacing and energy. It’s not hard to see why Hitchcock loved this film. It has all the elements: an innocent man on the run from the police, a girl who is forced to be his accomplice, and a series of inspired filmmaking techniques. It is difficult to see why anyone would put it over “The 39 Steps” and “The Lady Vanishes,” though.

The film opens in the middle of a lover’s quarrel. Guy (George Curzon) accuses his lover of running around with “boys.” When she laughs him off, he becomes enraged and violent. Enter Robert Tisdall (De Marney). During one of his walks on the beach, perhaps pondering Existentialism, he finds the woman’s body washed up on shore. A pair of girls comes upon the body moments later and sees Robert running off. He’s just going for help, of course, but they assume he’s fleeing the scene of the crime.

Young and Innocent is a film that relies heavily on its motif of eyes and vision.”

The circumstantial evidence begins to pile up. Not only was Robert seen near the body, but he knew the woman as well. To make matters worse, the woman was strangled with a belt from his coat. The case seems open and shut. As with so many Hitchcockian heroes before and since, Robert decides that he must prove his own innocence by providing the police with the identity of the real killer.

Robert escapes the police station and commandeers a ride from the constable’s daughter Erica (“The Man Who Knew Too Much’s” tot Pilbeam, all grown up now). What follows is the usual Hitchcock tale of romantic give and take. She believes Robert’s story, but she also has a responsibility to her father. After all, how would it look for the constable’s daughter to be seen helping a fugitive wanted for murder?

Eyes & Vision

“Young and Innocent” is a film that relies heavily on its motif of eyes and vision. The killer is finally apprehended in a large crowd because he has a Tourette’s like tic in his eyes. This is a stunning and brilliant scene from Hitchcock. It opens with Erica and her accomplice scanning a large ballroom full of dancers hoping to find the man with the facial tick. Unfortunately, they’re focusing on the dancers. Hitchcock takes us over the floor with one broad, sweeping camera shot before dollying in to the band (all dressed in blackface). When we find Guy, the camera zooms into a close-up so extreme it’s almost uncomfortable, and then the tics come in. It’s one of Hitchcock’s most amazing shots and arguably better than his more famous camera movement from ballroom wide shot to a close-up on a key in “Notorious.”

The second instance (in terms of importance to the film, not chronological order) is a scene in which Robert and Erica are conscripted to join a birthday party by Erica’s suspicious aunt Margaret (Mary Clare). We know that Robert has received a key piece of information, but he’s unable to follow up while they’re stuck at the party. Plus, Margaret keeps peppering them with questions about their relationship. Finally, Uncle Basil (the always-fun Basil Radford) decides to help them out by calling for Margaret to be the blind man in a game of “blind man’s bluff.” This is compounded by the fact that one of Richard’s interrogators at the beginning of the film admits that he’s blind as a bat without his glasses. Hitchcock’s intentional symbolism (coupled with the film’s title) should be obvious — the young and innocent retain perfect vision while the authority figures are blinded by their prejudices.

The 411: "Young and Innocent" gets lost in the talk about "The 39 Steps" and "The Lady Vanishes," but it's quite a good little chase movie in its own right. It doesn't have the darkness that most British Hitchcock films do, and that makes it somewhat more fun. It's light and frothy, without the heavy political implications Hitchcock's previous films "Secret Agent" and "Sabotage" had. While that makes it a more pleasant diversion, it also makes it less memorable. Still, I'd call it Hitchcock's third-best film from his British days. Just don't expect it to stay with you. B
Final Score:  7.0   [ Good ]  legend

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J.D. Dunn
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