Downhill (1927)

Until tonight The Lodger was the only Hitchcock silent I’d seen; now I’ve finally seen another (in fact, this is the first “new” Hitchcock I’ve seen in some years)… it’s part of the same Directors Suite package as The Lodger with which it makes a logical enough pairing given that Ivor Novello stars in both. Plus he wrote this one, Hitchcock adapted it from a play by his star; it’s notable, though, how comparatively little dialogue makes it into the intertitles. Apparently when Ivor Montagu was brought in to work over The Lodger before release, one of his moves was to massively cut back the intertitles, and Hitchcock evidently learned the lesson of telling the story visually rather than verbally as far as possible. Downhill requires the audience to do a bit more than just follow the story without too many verbal cues, though, it frankly requires you to swallow a number of things. The idea of 35 year old Novello as a high school student is actually the least of these, funnily enough; he’s the shining light at school, just been nominated school captain, and he’s enough of a dickhead to take the fall for one of his chums who does something bad. He leaves home after the old man automatically believes for no good reason that his son is in fact a bad bugger, becomes a minor stage actor, inherits a large sum of money and with that marries one of his fellow actresses. And from there things do in fact get worse, and the plot contrivances don’t get much better either. Having said all of that, my reception of the film may have suffered (in fact, probably did) from the fact that Madman’s print was mute so there was no score, and a full-length silent film without accompanying music is usually difficult going for me (I tend to make exceptions for films the director wanted to be shown that way). I might’ve got into this better if it had a score; as it was, I found myself appreciating the technique (Hitchcock emphasising his rather crap hero’s slide through images of him descending down stairs, a lift, etc) rather than becoming involved in the story. Though considering the story, maybe not.

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