View Full Version : San Francisco 2013 Silent Film Festival - The Hitchcock 9

Chris Knipp
06-26-2013, 11:15 AM
The BFI-initiated restorations of the extant nine Hitchcock silent films were shown June 14-16, 2013 at the venerable Castro Theater as the highlight of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival -- the US premiere of this ambitious project. I will comment on them here.

Hitchcock 9 Forums thread. (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3538-Hitchcock-9-in-US-tour)


1925 The Pleasure Garden (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3539-San-Francisco-2013-Silent-Film-Festival-The-Hitchcock-9&p=30555#post30555)
1927 The Lodger (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3539-San-Francisco-2013-Silent-Film-Festival-The-Hitchcock-9&p=30556#post30556)
1927 Downhill (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3539-San-Francisco-2013-Silent-Film-Festival-The-Hitchcock-9&p=30557#post30557)
1927 Easy Virtue (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3539-San-Francisco-2013-Silent-Film-Festival-The-Hitchcock-9&p=30561#post30561)
1927 The Ring (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3539-San-Francisco-2013-Silent-Film-Festival-The-Hitchcock-9&p=30564#post30564)
1928 The Farmer's Wife (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3539-San-Francisco-2013-Silent-Film-Festival-The-Hitchcock-9&p=30566#post30566)
1928 Champagne (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3539-San-Francisco-2013-Silent-Film-Festival-The-Hitchcock-9&p=30568#post30568)
1929 The Manxman (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3539-San-Francisco-2013-Silent-Film-Festival-The-Hitchcock-9&p=30570#post30570)
1929 Blackmail (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3539-San-Francisco-2013-Silent-Film-Festival-The-Hitchcock-9&p=30580#post30580)

http://www.chrisknipp.com/links/apyb.jpg (http://faculty.cua.edu/johnsong/hitchcock/pages/filmlist.html)

Two are lost from this period: 1922 Number 13 and the 1926 The Mountain Eagle, putatively released in the US as Fear o' God. Downhill's US release title is When Boys Leave Home. Blackmail was made in a sound version which is available on DVD. From the silent Blackmail on, Hitchcock worked on talkies. Other than the silent Blackmail, all these are available on DVD. However I am watching the BFI-initiated restorations, which are not yet available. In addition, The Pleasure Garden is reportedly a major restoration, being a collation of many different copies leading to restored segments. "Major narrative strands and twists have been re-integrated" -BFI note[?] from press kit. The new restorations also preserve the alternating color tints of the films' segments, said to be particularly complex in the case of The Pleasure Garden.

Hitchcock 9 in US tour

The following introduction to this release is from the Indiewire blog Thompson on Hollywood: (http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/hitchcock-9)

BFI's 'Hitchcock 9,' the Master of Suspense's Earliest Surviving Works, Kicks Off Its Stateside Tour UPDATED

JUNE 14, 2013 12:10 PM

Alma Reville, Patricia and Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock fans rejoice. The BFI has kicked off its stateside national tour of "The Hitchcock 9," a program of Alfred Hitchcock's nine earliest surviving works, all in newly restored 35mm prints. It launches at the Castro Theatre (June 14-16 [2013]) for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and will make its way to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (June 18), then to LACMA (June 27 - July 13) and BAMcinématek in Brooklyn (June 29- July 5).
According to the Institute, this is the largest restoration project they have ever undertaken.

Cinephiles across the country will eventually have access to screenings in Washington D.C., Berkeley, Chicago, Seattle, Houston, Boston and other American cities. Live musical accompaniment will be featured at several screenings, including, of course, the SF Silent Film Festival.

Made between 1925 and 1929, these little-seen early entries in Hitchcock’s British oeuvre represent early incubations of the auteur’s motifs and obsessions. Films include: “The Pleasure Garden” (1925); “Downhill” (1927); “The Lodger” (1927); “The Ring” (1927); “Easy Virtue” (1928”); “Champagne” (1928); “The Farmer’s Wife” (1928); “The Manxman” (1929); “Blackmail” (1929).

Unfortunately,1926's “The Mountain Eagle” remains lost, but a collection of stills went up for auction last fall confirming the existence of the film.

Individual performances of the films have so far been seen in France, New Zealand, Brazil, Ukraine, USA, India, China, Armenia, Sweden and Spain. Further screenings are planned for 2013/14 in the Czech Republic, Mexico, Germany and Australia with more to be announced.

Hitchcock has been enjoying a renaissance over the past 18 months, from the director's Universal titles in a stunning Blu-ray collection to Fox's "Alfred Hitchcock: The Classic Collection," which includes "Rebecca," "Spellbound" and "Notorious." Our TOH! "Now and Then" column looks at the relationship between Hitch's 40s bad-ass brunettes and those icy 50s blondes.

NEW RUN-TIMES, FORMATS, FPS SPEEDS. The new run-times, formats, and frames-per-second speeds of the BFI-restored versions are as follows:

BLACKMAIL 75 mins. DCP 24 fps BAM says 78 mins.
CHAMPAGNE 105 mins. DCP 20 fps
DOWNHILL 105 mins. 35 mm. 20 fps
EASY VIRTUE 69 mins. 35 mm. (BAM says 70, and 21 fps) The "most challenging" to restore: 25 mins. still missing.
THE FARMER'S WIFE 107 mins. DCP 20 fps
THE LODGER 90 mins. 35mm. 20 fps
THE MANXMAN 100 mins. DCP 20 fps
THE PLEASURE GARDEN 90 mins. 35 mm. 20 fps
THE RING 108 mins. DCP 20 fps

Chris Knipp
06-26-2013, 11:15 AM
The Hitchcock 9 njnjn


The Pleasure Garden (Mar. 1926)

The Pleasure Garden, the earliest extant Hitchcock silent film, is a conventional love melodrama of the period that focuses on two chorus girls, one frivolous and one serious. As has been pointed out Hitchcock shows visual flair from the start in the way he uses closeups of the chorus girls' legs, and a striking image of a thin stairway. However, the unrolling of the story is often obvious, starting with the combination of a show business beginning and an exotic end. The most memorable actor is the rail-thin Miles Mander as Levett, the duplicitous philanderer who marries a girl and goes off to the tropics where he lives with a native woman (Nita Valdi). To excuse his long silence he sends his wife Patsy a note saying he has a fever. Deeply concerned, she borrows money for boat fare and as a "pleasant surprise," arrives unannounced. She resultingly discovers him with his local mistress, and in a state. He's apparently a raging alcoholic now and in every scene shivers and shakes. Watching Mander in these latter moments is certainly creepy, and quite strange. Meanwhile the "nice" man who went to "the East" with Levett really is ill. Things sort out so the bad guy gets his and the girl can be united with the nice guy instead of her duplicitous husband.

An innovation for the time was that American actresses were brought in to play the two chorus girls, Virginia Valli as the virtuous one, Patsy, and Carmelita Geraghty as the self-serving one, Jill, who links up with a bearded Russian prince (Karl Falkenberg) after Patsy has gotten her work at as a chorus girl at The Pleasure Garden when she was down on her luck. As Patsy starts getting involved with Levett, her pet dog always growls at him, as he didn't at her previous boyfriend. The dog knows Levett is no good. Patsy does, too late, when their relationship sours during their honeymoon on Lake Como. Nonetheless once Levett is off to the East, Patsy desperately longs to hear from him and almost goes mad with worry until the fake letter comes declaring that he's not been able to write because he's unwell. Levett is continually mean to the native girl too. After Levett has left, Jill becomes less important and there is a focus on the humble couple whose house Patsy lives in, rather like the humble couple, Mr. and Mrs. Bunting, who rent the room out to the suspicious man in The Lodger whom the police wrongly suspect in the serial killer.

Michael Walker, in his piece on "Hitchcock's Motifs," points out the startling moment in the film when it rapidly cuts from a closeup of Levet's hands drowning his native mistress to Patsy's hands offering comfort to Hugh (John Stuart), the "nice" cohort of Levett's out in the tropics who really is sick, and who will become the good man Patsy will switch to caring about when she discovers Levett is evil, duplicitous, and disloyal. Everything turns out very neatly -- for Patsy and Hugh, though Jill seemed like a parallel character, but has been dropped.

There are some good moments in the film, some arresting if outlandish ones, and a few that are awkward. This is even true of The Lodger, which, though it is a true Hitchcock story, has a few closeup shots that are poorly integrated with the sequence of which they are a part. One has to admit that in The Pleasure Garden, Hitchcock shows flair and fluency, but he is not quite working on his own kind of film. It's also arguable that he was never quite a truly great silent filmmaker, and that he did not come fully into his own at all till he made talkies. But as we go through the nine extant Hitchcock silents, there are increasingly impressive displays of his extraordinary cinematic talent, and at times he is making very much his own kind of film and dealing with what were to become favorite themes using techniques that were to be refined and repeated. In the last Hitchcock silent film, Blackmail, he is clearly himself, and in top form, throughout.

Though The Pleasure Garden was shown early to the press and received enthusiastically by some critics, it was regarded by the Gainsborough Pictures studio, for whom he was working up until The Ring, with suspicion as a bit too arty, and consequently was held it back, not released in England until after The Lodger had been released and proved a big hit. As the BFI notes about the new restored version point out, The Pleasure Garden is in a series of different tints, sepia, reddish, bluish, never simply black and white. These avoid monotony and also outline different sequences, though they do not seem to relate to different moods as contemporary use of tints might today. They also might be seen as somewhat distracting; but if this is how the film was originally made, that's how we ought to see it.

Note: on the screener DVD of the restored version, there was no added music. However, a 3-minute YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kSxX3t9lys)of the stylish opening sequence is accompanied by the equally stylish new music composed for the restoration by Daniel Patrick Cohen.

Reviewed as part of the US premiere of The Hitchcock 9 BFI-restored silent films by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, shown at the Castro Theater June 14-16, 2013. Screener DVDs provided by Larsen Associates.

Chris Knipp
06-26-2013, 11:23 AM
The Hitchcock 9


The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Sept. 1926)

Lots of exciting street crowd scenes begin this thirller, which as is always pointed out, not only takes up for the first time Hitchcock's favorite subject of murder, but also includes the other favorite theme of a wronged innocent man, the lodger of the title, who is falsely accused of being the serial killer, The Avenger, an assassin, never seen, who repeatedly murders pretty blonde young women (another favorite theme) and leaves a note with this moniker with a triangle or delta sign. Unlike future Hitchcock thrillers, however, this film quickly stops focusing on the murders and zeros in on a handsome, apparently well-off young man who mysteriously comes to rent a room where most of the action takes place. He falls for the young woman there, and she for him, losing interest in the other young man in the house, who is a policeman who is put on the murder case. At the same time the Avenger's killings, which take place on Tuesdays and follow the patter of a narrowing circle around London, are coming closer and closer to the location of the house.

The actor who plays the lodger is like Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen, young, handsome, sensitive, attractive, but also a bit on the pale and ghoulish side, though he will kiss the resident blonde with a delicate passion Hitchcock is already skillful at staging. He is Ivor Novello, who turns out to have been gay in real life, was destined to have a long career beyond the silent era. What makes the story work for viewers is the way the initial suspicion of the strange but genteel stranger is shared by the elderly couple, Mr and Mrs Bunting (Marie Ault and Arthur Chesney) and by the young policeman in bow tie and rumpled suit Joe Chandler (Malcolm Keen) -- the lodger is much beter dressed, while their daughter Daisy (played by an actress known only as "June"), a fashion model, takes to the lodger immediately and gradually responds to his desire to kiss her and falls for him. But Daisy is blonde, and so we fear for her and wonder if perhaps the lodger is The Avenger and is going to kill her.

But it's only a mater of time when we begin strongly to suspect, especially if we are familiar with Hitchcock's "wrong man" themes, that the lodger is a good guy in disguise. And the (for us) predictable trajectory develops: the lodger is ganged up on, his room contains material that while it is explicable if he is trying to hunt down the killer, also makes him look suspicious, and he winds up being first searched, charged, and handcuffed by the police, then, when he runs out into the street, hunted down by an angry mob and barely saved at the last minute from being torn to pieces. A happy final scene shows him, after a period in hospital recovering from nervous strain, fully restored to form and descending the staircase of his family mansion to receive a fancily dressed up Mr and Mrs Bunting, their suspicions now replaced by admiring acceptance, who stand by approvingly while he lengthily kisses Daisy. Thus The Lodger begins as a murder thriller, morphs into a Wronged Man story, and winds up as a romance. What more could anyone want? Well, one could want more suspense and more Hitchcockisn twists and turns.

The greatest excitement in The Lodger, in visual, cinematic terms anyway, comes in the early and late exterior shots in the London streets. The fog stirs up an atmosphere of fear: the story banks on everyone's having some remnant of fear of the dark and of streets where one can't see more than a few feet in front of one's face. Hitchcock expressed admiration for Fritz Langs 1929 Destiny; The Lodger's beginning and ending both partake of the serial killer and mob vengeance atmosphere of Lang's M; however M is actually from a later date. The Lodger was a great success with the English public and started Hitchcock on his way to fame. But surely Lang's M is a far greater and more haunting film. Anyway, The Lodger has the influence of German expressionism in its use of closeups. But "expressionism" is a technique for Hitchcock to add emotional power to a basically naturalistic approach. Though later he was to rely on Salvador Dalí for a dream sequence (in Spellbound) and to be influenced by Freud, he does not resort to the kind of full-fledged fantastical expressionism and hauntingly distorted, angular sets that we find in, for instance, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Nosferatu. Hitchcock always makes effective use of the homely and everyday, represented in The Lodger by the old couple, Mr and Mrs Bunting, whose counterparts also exist in his previous film, The Pleasure Garden. He also uses closeups of everyday objects to imbue them with menace as potential weapons. Photographic tricks include filming footsteps from underneath through a transparent floor. Note: there is a musical accompaniment of solo piano on the DVD of the BFI-restored version. The BFI's trailer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=dfyhFWoNARk&feature=endscreen)for the restored Lodger indicates that there was a new orchestral accompaniment.

Reviewed as part of the US premiere of The Hitchcock 9 BFI-restored silent films by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, shown at the Castro Theater June 14-16, 2013. Screener DVDs provided by Larsen Associates.

Chris Knipp
06-26-2013, 12:09 PM
The Hitchcock 9


Downhill (May 1927)

The Gainsborough production company wanted Ivor Novello back with Hitchcdock after the success of The Lodger, so Hitchcock adapted Novello's stage play, which he'd written with Constance Collier under the joint nom de plume of David L'Estrange. Though 34, Novello plays the lead role of Roddy Berwick, an outstanding public schoolboy who takes the rap when his best pal, Tim Wakely (Robin Irvine), who's on a scholarship, is accused by a local tuck shop girl of making her pregnant. Roddy is expelled, and when called a liar at home by his wealthy father Sir Thomas Berwick (Norman McKinnel) for denying any real guilt, is so angry and insulted he leaves home. A downward path follows, symbolized by a shot Hitchcock later thought too obvious of Roddy descending on a long escalator into the depths of the London Underground.
Each time he seems abused by a woman, first the accusing tuck shop girl, then a greedy actress he falls for who uses up his inheritance from his godmother and tosses him out, then a nightclub Madam who makes him dance with lonely old women for pennies. A BFI note suggests this may reflect "the experience of Novello himself, a gay matinee idol oppressed by unwanted female attention." It also suggests Roddy is one of Hitch's "vulnerable blond" protagonists subject to his "fetishistic gaze." This also qualifies as a "wrong man" plot, the BFI notes, but without "the element of pursuit" found in The 39 Steps and other films.

Novello, who looks young enough as well as appropriately naive and foolish despite his 34 years, is engaging to watch as he goes through his travails. The school passage is not the best, lacking verisimilitude. In a playing field scene Novello seems to be posing with the ball rather than even really participating in the game; the scene of the girl's accusation before the headmaster is plagued by longueurs. But once Roddy leaves home and takes up with the showgirl, Julia (Isabel Jeans), there is conventional fun, with the usual display of fancy clothing and vast interiors. At first he has only an old suit to wear and pretends he doesn't want to wear an overcoat. Then the £30,000 comes from his godmother and he appears looking dashing in evening clothes with top hat -- and nice overcoat, thus arousing Julia's interest. He is foolish enough to marry her, even though there is an older beau in her life, her leading man, Archie (Ian Hunter), who never really goes away. The £30,000 (which becomes tiny in a later intertitle) vanishes to pay off Julia's clothing bills soon enough and since he has signed over the flat to her, when he discovers Archie hiding in a closet it's she who kicks Roddy out, not the reverse. It is only here, well past half way, that Roddy's path really turns decisively "downhill," the £30,000 having been a decisive if temporary reprieve from consequences of family rejection and proud refusal to humble himself before Sir Thomas.

A much commented upon reveal shot pulls gradually away from Roddy, making it first appear that he's now working as a waiter, then showing that he's playing one on stage.

Roddy's rock bottom, after he leaves a Marseiles dance hall fed up with being paid a pittance to dance with older women, is down by the docks, where he's delirious, and some of the people at a lowly bar where he's staying take him back to England. There are excellent uses of tint changes here for Roddy's delirium, and woozy shakey-cam shots as he sees troubling images of his degenerating existence -- some of the most interesting editing and cinematography Hitchcock has done up to this point. Roddy arrives back at the family home still in a state of delirium, sitting in an armchair in terror of what his father will do or say. But all is well: word has come through that Roddy did nothing wrong at school after all, all is forgiven, and (as at the end of The Lodger) hope is restored. He is embraced by father and mother. The last sequence is the "old boys match" at school, where again Roddy is a winning rugby player. Amusingly, in the final shot he again is only shown, not playing, but lying on the ground with a ball, smiling. But despite these falsifications and much conventionality, there have been some interesting sequences in the latter part.

This film was released in the United States under the title When Boys Leave Home. On the DVD of the BFI restoration there is musical accompaniment added of solo piano. Here, as in The Pleasure Garden and The Lodger, the original various color tints that shift from scene to scene have been preserved. However, the contrast level is not as good as in some of the later films in the series.

Reviewed as part of the US premiere of The Hitchcock 9 BFI-restored silent films by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, shown at the Castro Theater June 14-16, 2013. Screener DVDs provided by Larsen Associates.

Chris Knipp
06-26-2013, 06:52 PM
The Hitchcock 9


Easy Virtue (Aug. 1927)

In Easy Virtue Hitchcock undertakes the tricky task of making a silent film out of a talky play by Noel Coward. But as the BFI blurb proclaims, "The camera's gaze gave the story a dimension unattainable on stage." Of course different angles -- and location shoots -- are possible to enhance the tale of a woman who, somewhat like Roddy in Hitchcock's previous film Downfall, is an innocent who runs into one trouble after another. But as a matter of fact the images of the film aren't as good as the others, because nothing but scratched prints could be found for the restoration. But that's not all bad, because the early sequences (after the opening courtroom scene) are of a woman getting her portrait painted, and the images of that are so blurry they look like paintings -- not an altogether bad effect. This becomes the story of an innocent's "downfall," much like Hitchcock's previous film, but with settings in a courtroom, in he South of France, and at a posh English country house very far from the humble London surroundings of the greengrocer's son, and deftly handled nonetheless.

In this version of the story, we begin with a courtroom trial with flashbacks showing that Larita Filton (Isabel Jeans, the Gainsborough Productions star who had played the greedy actress the naive Roddy marries in Downhill) has been involved in a scene between her husband (Franklin Dyall) and a painter doing her portrait (Eric Bransby Williams), who is in love with her. Her husband comes into the artist's studio and finds him kissing Larita. He attacks the artist with his cane and the artist shoots. Filton later divorces Larita, after the artist has committed suicide and left Larita all his money. The trial, granting divorce to Mr. Filton, determines that Larita was guilty of "misconduct." To forget all this unpleasantness she goes to a posh hotel on the French Riviera, where she meets a John Whittaker (Robin Irvine, who played the public school friend Tim for whom Roddy takes the paternity rap and gets expelled in Downfall), who falls in love with her. John proposes, they marry, and John takes Larita to his family in England. John hasn't asked any questions about Larita's past; of course his family is going to be curious. And there's not only a whole klatch of family members, but Sarah (Enid Stamp-Taylor), whom John was always expected to marry.

"Simple country living" at the Whittakers' huge house includes full-dress dinners and polo. The grim-faced Mrs. Whittaker, John's mother (Violet Farebrother), dislikes and is suspicious of Larita from the first, and as they remain there, John turns against Larita, whose unhappiness makes him further convinced "it was a mistake from the first." Of course it's only a matter of time before the malicious Mrs. Whittaker remembers where she saw Larita's face -- in newspaper stories about "the Filton divorce case." She rebukes Larita for not telling her and says "we do not understand this code of easy virtue." Mr. Whittaker is on Larita's side, but John wavers, while Sarah nobly supports them both. All the news comes out just as the Whittakers are having a big party. Mrs. Whittaker wants Larita to stay out of sight. Larita instead brazens it out, appearing in a bold dress with a spectacular ostrich fan. But she resolves to leave, and let John divorce her. As she leaves the divorce court, the press approach "the notorious Larita Filton" with their cameras and her last line is "Shoot! There's nothing left to kill."

Though it certainly has plenty of plot, and strong emotional atmosphere in the scenes at the Whittaker estate, the film is only 60 minutes long. It's presumed that a substantial part, perhaps as much as a third, is lost. However it makes perfect sense, though the story by modern standards seems cold and moralistic. While writers describe Downfall as extremely "dark," it actually has a happy ending; poor Larita doesn't get one. This was an era in which, even in the plays of a sophisticate like Noel Coward, women were much more harshly judged than men. Perhaps that has changed, a bit, anyway.

Besides the tricky early courtroom mirror shot in which the judge appears to be looking through his monocle and it reflects him and the defense counsel, people tend to comment on the charming and Hitchcockian scene in which Whittaker's proposing to Larita is depicted indirectly by showing the telephone operator eavesdropping and reacting to each line of -- unheard -- dialogue. The scenes in the south of France and at "The Moat," the Whittaker's unappetizingly named estate, both new milieux to Hitchcock, are deftly handled, the Riviera glamor a foreshadowing of equally glamorous spots, like the Riviera itself in To Catch a Thief, that Hitchcock would frequently visit in future films.

There is no added musical accompaniment on this one of the BFI Hitchcock 9 DVD's.

It was also tricky doing a restored print of Easy Virtue, the hardest, according to the BFI notes: it existed only "in a number of more or less identical 16mm projection prints, all in very poor quality and considerably abridged." The original running time was approximately 94 minutes; a mere 69 survive. This may mean either a major section is missing or "more likely" there are dozens, even hundreds, of small cuts.

Reviewed as part of the US premiere of The Hitchcock 9 BFI-restored silent films by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, shown at the Castro Theater June 14-16, 2013. Screener DVDs provided by Larsen Associates.

Chris Knipp
06-27-2013, 11:26 AM
The Hitchcock 9


The Ring (Sept. 1927)

The Ring features the only Hitchcock screenplay he fully originated. It's a down-and-dirty carnival boxer's tale that's one of his most cinematic and visually rich silents, full of intense chiaroscuro and atmospheric, teeming crowd scenes with dramatic highlighted figures and faces further heightened by being ringed by darkness. (The BFI restoration DVD also has an unusually vivid sound accompaniment, a small jazz group score that fits the whole mood and enhances the scenes.) He may have been more at home here than with the la-de-dah world of the French Riviera and posh English country home life of Noel Coward's play he'd just dealt with in Easy Virtue. But the point is the way he demonstrates his quick adeptness at switching to another genre and milieu for each new film. The Ring is various and satisfying visually, and in contrast simple to the point of monotony in its theme. The better to be wordlessly cinematic, communicating with closeups and crosscutting so it often needs no dialogue boxes (which have been simplified, too, divested of their old fashioned frames). Further, as in his earlier films, Hitchcock makes use of "real" texts when he can to communicate -- posters, legal documents, personal notes.

The Ring is about two men fighting for the love of the same woman. The title itself is dual in meaning and symbolic. The two rivals circle around each other in the ring, but there are also two "rings," the wedding ring Jack gives his bride and the arm ring his rival gives her. Many colorful characters swirl around and a whole fairground was constructed on set with hundreds of extras to populate it. But the action is always focused on three people, played by Carl Brisson, Ian Hunter, and Lillian Hall-Davis as Jack 'One Round' Sander, the carnival boxer; big Bill Corby, the pro fighter; and "The Girl" they both want. Bill is after Jack's Girl from the first frames. She's perched up high outside the tent selling tickets for Jack's matches inside, and big tall Bill's standing by chatting her up. He's a spoiler, looking like an ordinary mild, even soft, fellow in coat and tie when he goes in; but when he challenges Jack he goes more than one round with him -- a thing that's never supposed to happen. This could get Jack fired, but Bill has Jack come and try out the next day to be his sparring partner, and since that goes well and he instantly has a new, better job, to celebrate it Jack immediately weds The Girl. Meanwhile the crowd scenes are wonderful and the boxing cronies are colorful and funny. Jack soon works his way up the boxing ranks, but with him and The Girl constantly in the same gym or room with Bill and Bill constantly making nice with her, Jack realizes if he goes away to train, he might as well plan on a divorce more than a championship. Where can this go? Obviously Jack and Bill are going to have to wind up fighting each other in the big ring and The Girl will play a pivotal role.

The film is as good with the betters, promoters, and boxing groupies as it was with the carnival crowds, and Carl Brisson is convincing and memorable as a tough, grinning "Rocky" character who becomes embittered as his wife's disloyalty gradually becomes clear to him after he wins a decisive fight and, returning home to celebrate with cronies, finds her not there, out partying with Bob. This memorably sad sequence is all visual: the sour expression of Jack's usually deadpan trainer (Gordon Harker), a big framed photo of Bill on the piano; and later, after Jack goes to a club and knocks Bob down, a scribbled note on the mantlepiece. And so of course we get the final big boxing sequence, the match against the two rivals in the Albert Hall. Though it's a bit corny, hinging almost entirely on the motivation provided by The Girl, whose behavior has been fickle (she never quite emerges as a character), the images here at the end as throughout in the film are superb, worthy of the boxing paintings of George Bellows but with a noirish even Rembrandtesque drama all their own.

In the end, it may not feel like there's been much to The Ring, but it shows Hitchcock's extraordinary command of the visual, as well as his penchant for playful visual tricks, like the roiling circular cameos of Jack's fight crew floating in the air. This sort of thing is what caused Jonathan Rosenbaum (http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.com/?p=16499) in a 1976 piece to describe The Ring as "probably the most Germanic" of Hitchcock's silents. (It should be noted that The Lodger is very "Germanic" too, however.) Rosenbaum delights in enumerating some of the various visual parallelisms and doublings in The Ring. But while these are fun to hunt out, and the cinematic elements in general are a delight, the story remains trite and negligible, poor material to hang a film on. Hence it's easy to see why this was originally a critical but not a commercial success. We may ponder it now as a study in the limits of what a silent film can and can't do.

As the BFI said (http://www.bfi.org.uk/ring)in connection to their first screening of this restoration in November 2012, "Hitchcock claimed that, after The Lodger, this is the next 'Hitchcock' picture. It’s difficult to disagree. "

This print was monochromatic, which I assume is true to the original from all that is known, since the BFI used an "original negative' for the restoration. The results were very successful.

Reviewed as part of the US premiere of The Hitchcock 9 BFI-restored silent films by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, shown at the Castro Theater June 14-16, 2013. Screener DVDs provided by Larsen Associates.

Chris Knipp
06-27-2013, 10:09 PM
The Hitchcock 9


The Farmer's Wife (Mar. 1928)

"He'll be the next to wed now his daughter's marryin', says the handyman (Gordon Harker) after Farmer Sweetland's wife dies. "Why not? There's something magical in the married state. . . it have a beautiful side, Churdles Ash," answers Minta, the housekeeper (Lillian Hall-Davis). From a popular play, by Eden Phillpotts, Hitchcock's The Farmer's Wife is a broad comedy, with elements of the grotesque, about just this: a middle aged English country farmer whose wife has recently died decides upon the marriage of his daughter to seek another wife for himself. This may not seem at all a Hitchcockian theme, and the new direction may owe something to the director's having recently (with The Ring) joined the new production studio British International Pictures, moving from Gainsborough. But if we look at "Hitchcock's basic plot formations" as listed by Robin Wood (http://faculty.cua.edu/johnsong/hitchcock/pages/plots.html), 1. the falsely accused man, 2. the guilty woman, 3. the psychopath, 4. espionage & political intrigue, 5. marriage, there marriage is, number five.

When Samuel Sweetland (Jameson Thomas) has his housekeeper draw up a list of eligible women in the neighborhood for him and observe the wistful expression on her face we already know what's gong to happen. The handsome, noble Lillian Hall-Davis who plays Minta -- and was a big star (she died, tragically, at only 35) - is clearly the right choice living unnoticed right under the farmer's nose. The four women he proposes to, which he does with very little manners, are all in one way or another obviously unsuitable, even grotesques. The first is Widow Windeatt (Louie Pounds), a fox hunting woman, who says a flat no and tells Sweetland she's far too independent for him. The second is Thirza Tapper (Maud Gill), a pinched and rather strange old maid who almost goes into shock when Farmer Sweetland presents his blunt proposal, and says she will never marry any man. The third is the chubby, giggly postmistress Mary Hearn (Olga Slade), who goes into a kind of fit at the old maid's party, wildly waggling her arms, after her saying she's too young for him causes the farmer to insult her. Indeed she's clearly deluded: she's too chubby and too old to call herself a "girl" as she does. Later she and Thirza have a change of heart, or at least she does.

Thirza's bustling party provides a central sequence with much comic stage business from various guests, especially the very broad slapstick from Gordon Harker, as Chrudle Ash, the handyman, the grumpy, lazy, eccentric old man recruited against his will by Thirza to serve as a kind of butler at her party. (Harker played the dour trainer in The Ring.) When this is over Farmer Sweetland has nearly given up and has had his self esteem sorely tried. Each time, by the way, it has been Minta who has dressed the farmer in his dressy coat to go out proposing. And as the farmer, Jameson Thomas strikes a fascinating balance. When the women he proposes to turn him down and he flies into a rage, he is comical and grotesque; but at other times he looks quite distinguished, quite the sort of successful farmer a young woman of a certain status like Minta might indeed be very proud to marry.

Almost despairing after striking out three times, Sweetland nonetheless heads down on his horse to visit the last on his list, Marcy Bassett (Ruth Maitland), who runs the village public house. This enables Hitchcock to present a rich scene of the upper class side of country life: a fox hunt is being organized, with all the local gentry in hunting dress mounted on fine horses and a great mob of excited hounds in front; Widow Windeat is indeed glimpsed among the mounted fox hunters. It's a beautiful, classic scene, a snapshot of the dreamiest human and natural aspects of the English countryside, and it "places" the rest of the action socially. Around and in the pub a small crowd is gathered, observing or drawn by the fox hunt but not of it. Inside, Sweetland is at once in a close friendly chat with Marcy Bassett, who seems on very familiar terms with him. No doubt she's on very friendly terms with nearly everybody. But obviously she pushes away the farmer's efforts to flatter and pay court to her. And indeed, how could this woman who is the center of village activity give it up to go and run Farmer Sweetland's farm? No need for dialogue here: it's just not going to happen. Of course the farmer is back at home shortly.

Hitchcock uses several photographic devices. To show a deranged person he uses swirling, overlapping images of faces (as did in The Ring.) In the scene where Sweetland finally proposes to Minta, the camera focuses as it has earlier on the empty chair before the hearth that was once occupied by the farmer's wife. We see each of the list of proposed brides palely appear in the chair -- and then Minta. After all the bustle, comedy, and grotesquerie, Hitchcock handles the proposal scene between Thomas and Hall-Davis in a completely different style, unmistakable yet somehow also delicate, showing the gradual understanding, acceptance, and joy of both parties in a satisfying way. The Farmer's Wife may be a conventional and not particularly Hitchcockian film, but it's lively, entertaining storytelling, and again the director shows his remarkable talents and some of his interests. Several of the proposal scenes are full of psychological oddity, even surreal elements. Thirza's party, the fox hunting scene, and the pub again, as in The Ring, show an extremely rich and assured handling of crowded action.

The Farmer's Wife BFI restoration was reassembled from the best sections of two preservation intermediates. The result looks fine, richer in visual detail, particularly in blacks (a little too strong to the point of blocking out detail in some early reels), than the earliest Hitchcock silents. The BFI restoration is supplied with a conventional piano background.

Reviewed as part of the US premiere of The Hitchcock 9 BFI-restored silent films by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, shown at the Castro Theater June 14-16, 2013. Screener DVDs provided by Larsen Associates.

Chris Knipp
06-28-2013, 04:56 PM
The Hitchcock 9


Champagne (Aug. 1928)

Champagne is a film slim in emotional content, but vibrant with the frivolity of the Jazz Age and tinged with a hint of the coming Great Depression. It's about a rich playgirl whose father decides to teach her a lesson while she's playing around abroad by pretending to have gone bankrupt. The story line is slight, but provides much opportunity for scenes of partying, dancing, drinking; of the interiors of a luxury liner and a big night club packed with people dancing; of a lively girl posing in a succession of gay frocks; and of dashing men in evening clothes. Gordon Harker, who played the glum-faced trainer in The Ring and the eccentric, slapstick handyman in The Farmer's Wife, shows his versatility by playing the millionaire father in Champagne, where he looks somewhat like the car magnate, Henry Ford. The frizzy-haired Betty Balfour plays the spoiled heiress, and there are two other principals, the French actor Jean Bradin as "The Boy," her tall, impeccable boyfriend, and Ferdinand von Alten as "The Man," a mysterious mustachioed Hercule Poirot type who seems to haunt the girl wherever she goes.

The Girl makes headlines and starts the movie out with a bang by flying her father's private plane, Amelia Earhart-style, into the Atlantic to join up with the Cunard Line ship on which her boyfriend is traveling to France. She then announces she will "arrange" for her and The Boy to marry on board; but he balks at her tendency to take charge and steal all the attention, and they have a falling out. She winds up in Paris partying with a group of "interesting" new friends who no doubt enjoy the free-flowing liquor and champagne. Later her father comes to Paris and takes The Girl aside to tell her he has lost all his money. In response she goes to work as a flower girl in a vast restaurant-club-dance hall packed with diners and dancers and dominated by a big, mustachioed and cartoonish maitre-d'hotel, where sure enough The Man and later The Boy turn up.

The theme of Champagne relates to those of Downfall and Easy Virtue, though the story is without their emotional depth and the consequences are less serious. The Girl isn't really a Bad Girl, though when we see her in the prolonged sequence giving a party for her "interesting new friends" in Paris, mixing a new cocktail she has invented, laughing, drinking, and trying on a succession of gaudy new frocks she has just bought, she seems pretty silly and superficial. When The Boy arrives and makes a disapproving comment about having always been taught that the best taste was the simplest, she goes back and puts on her dresser's severe black frock with round white collar. The Man is standing by as usual. Much of the time Champagne seems like a movie in search of a plot. It's a series of situations and scenes, without much solid narrative content beyond the few basic premises. It tends to feel as empty as its giddy, frivolous protagonist.

The bubbly indeed is frequently pouring in Champagne, but if it has some point to make it doesn't make it very forcefully and The Girl is not severely tested as are the protagonists of Downfall and Easy Virtue. This is more a chance for Betty Balfour to giggle and wiggle and pout and play It Girl, and for Jean Bradin to look aristocratic and impeccable in a succession of double-breasted suits.

Champagne posed the trickiest restoration troubles for the BFI Hitchcock 9 team. It was realized that what they were working from, though a negative, was a "second negative." So it turned out that while there was very good image quality, "there were some clumsily juxtaposed shots and framing errors, as well as the occasional shot exhibiting substandard acting or shots that were held uncomfortably long." "Second negative" meant that it was made up of "second-best shots, kept as a backup in case of damage to the original or for making additional prints for export," a practice they discovered with The Ring. There were also no written records, production notes, scripts, or censors' intertitle lists to act as a guide as to how the original first negative was different. They were stuck with simply restoring the images they had. So the edit is "slightly compromised" due to the negative, but nonetheless "the result is a truly beautiful looking print that does full justice to Betty Balfour’s sparkling 1920s frocks," the BFI notes (http://www.bfi.org.uk/news/restoring-hitchcock-4-trouble-champagne)say. Again the DVD of the BFI restoration has a conventional dedicated piano accompaniment.

Reviewed as part of the US premiere of The Hitchcock 9 BFI-restored silent films by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, shown at the Castro Theater June 14-16, 2013. Screener DVDs provided by Larsen Associates.

Chris Knipp
06-28-2013, 06:57 PM
The Hitchcock 9


The Manxman (Jan. 1929)

"Adapted from the famous story by Sir Hall Caine," the opening title proclaims. Another topic designed to be easily grasped by the popular audience that devoured several new movies every week, The Manxman is about a fisherman and a rising young lawyer, who grew up "as brothers," and as adults, as the story begins, fall in love with the same girl, which leads to tragedy. The origins of their friendship are never explained as they are in the book, and the credibility of their remaining friends while being so different as adults is only somewhat artificially established by having them cooperate in the opening minutes in a legal campaign to maintain free trawling rights for the local herring fishermen. The theme seems heavily sentimental and manipulative, a doomed situation with much room for torment and confusion but no surprises, and few of the flourishes Hitchcock was capable of. Not surprisingly, he said he was not happy with this picture, though it was nonetheless a critical success, if undercut at the box office by the rapid rise of talkies.

Philip Christian, who has become a lawyer, is played as a tense and repressed man by Malcolm Keen, who had already had small roles in the lost The Mountain Eagle and in The Lodger. Carl Brisson, whose given name was Carl Frederik Ejnar Pedersen, and who was Danish, had also effectively played Jack "One-Round" Sander, also rival with another man for the love of a woman in The Ring. He is the reverse of Keen, a simple, vibrant actor, with plenty of life but little complexity. Anny Ondra, who plays Kate Cragen, the girl, here, was to play the girl protagonist Alice White in Blackmail later in the year. When it came time to do the sound version of Blackmail, Anny Ondra's heavy Polish accent led to her voice being dubbed. But she handles the most emotionally complex role well here as the volatile, tormented Kate.

While in The Ring Jack knows perfectly well that Bob Corby is his rival for The Girl all along and knows the risk he takes in leaving her alone with Bob, in The Manxman, we are asked to believe Pete, the fisherman, is so naive he doesn't see Phil also is in love with Kate, and is so simple he asks Phil to plead his case with Caesar, Kate's father. We don't know what kind of case the obviously conflicted Phil would make for Pete, but as soon as Caesar hears it he brusquely rejects the sailor as too poor to be worthy of his daughter. Pete goes sailing to foreign parts to make his fortune and thus gain Caesar's approval, leaving Phil to "take care of" Kate. Naturally once Pete has been away for a while, Phil and Kate begin going on romantic sun-dappled walks. Phil has the opposite trouble. He comes from a distinguished Isle of Man family of judges and Kate's father runs a pub. Phil's aunt tells Phil "that publican's daughter" isn't somebody he should be seen with.

Then a mistaken report comes that Pete has died "up country" in South Africa, and to Phil's pleasant surprise Kate is glad because it leaves them "free." Only Pete isn't dead, but rich, and on his way home. As in The Pleasure Garden, a pleasant "surprise" -- he doesn't want Kate to be told he's coming -- is not going to be one. Phil, continually set up to be conflicted, is the one Pete informs that he's coming home. Some dramatic shots of the rocky coast alternate with closeups of Phil's tormented expressions. Kate goes through many expressions too, because Phil tells her she must go with Pete because she "promised herself to him." Details of why Phil renounces Kate are buried in Isle of Mann custom explored in the lengthy Hall Caine source novel but elided in the adaptation by Eliot Stannard which must make the main strands clear while skipping background detail. So Pete and Kate marry, with Phil best man. Pete is always grinning, while Phil looks as if he has perpetual indigestion, wearing a smile, if at all, that has a decidedly sickly cast. Kate's wedding veil looks like a white shroud. When she cuts the cake, it partially collapses. Phil and Kate make the wedding seem like a funeral, and so does the ultra-Protestant Caesar's threatening preachiness. But Pete remains blithely enthusiastic. He grins too much. Nonetheless when Kate leaves him with their little baby and hides at Phil's, Pete is a sympathetic figure, and the strong one of the three.

We have to understand, the BFI note explains, that in this milieu, perhaps even with the story updated from the 1890's to the 1920's, "attempted suicide was punishable by a prison sentence and a woman who left her husband was treated as an outcast." These "structures of Manx society" were doubtless "better understood by the contemporary audience," the note says. Maybe. But the problem with the screenplay is the way it loses the details about the culture of the Isle of Man that the writer Hall Caine specialized in. While The Manxman has the kind of pure emotional impact silent films are capable of at their most melodramatic, logic seems to be missing, and there are also fewer Hitchcockian details to revel in. Hitchcock surely must have felt much more in his element when he got to making Blackmail later in the year; and then was ready to move from the world of "pure cinema" of silent film to the more complex, mixed world of talking pictures.

According to the BFI online notes (http://explore.bfi.org.uk/4ce2b6afeaec0) on the restoration, this penultimate Hitchcock silent "is one of the best and most mature works of Hitchcock’s early career." That still is true because The Manxman tells a strong emotional story and has narrative drive -- and it has a bang-up dramatic climactic courtroom scene.

Caine specialized in stories set on the Isle of Man, but the film was shot in Cornwall (like the popular current UK TV series, "Doc Martin"). It's set in a small fishing community. The SF Silent Film Festival DVD of the BFI restored The Manxman has a special piano accompaniment.

Reviewed as part of the US premiere of The Hitchcock 9 BFI-restored silent films by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, shown at the Castro Theater June 14-16, 2013. Screener DVDs provided by Larsen Associates.

Chris Knipp
06-30-2013, 08:09 PM
The Hitchcock 9


Blackmail (Aug. 1929)

With Blackmail we have a full-fledged twisty Hitchcock crime thriller. He must have had fun with this one; no wonder he did both a silent and a sound version. There are many ingenious visual moments, including not just one but two cameos by Hitch himself. There's a whole string of notable set pieces, including an opening "police procedural," an entrapment-murder, and a grand scene of small figures chasing around on a dome over the city of London.

Blackmail was adapted from a play by Charles Bennett. And it provides good material. Alice White (Anny Ondra), a London girl who lives with her newsdealer father and mother in Chelsea, is romantically involved with a Scotland Yard detective. The rapid-fire "police procedural" (as we might call it now) that opens the film shows the boyfriend, Frank Webbor (John Longden) in action with a partner, following a lead radioed to them in their police truck (it looks like a gypsy caravan-lorry) to arrest a suspect in a crowded East End complex. A still often reproduced for this film is from the shot of Frank and his partner's hard faces split by the Venetian-blind shadow of the suspect's bedroom window.


Echoing this, but the image divided up vertically this time instead of horizontally, the suspect spies the two detectives's faces split-mirrored in the dangling crystals of a lamp on the wall as he lies in bed hiding behind a newspaper. There's a piece of suspenseful physical business of the suspect slowly trying to creep his hand toward a pistol on his bedside table, with the detectives leaping just in time to stop him. They arrest him and drag him through the crowded courtyard below to the police lorry, and he's elaborately booked at Scotland Yard and put into a cell. When Frank gets off work after all this, he has a date with Alice at a huge restaurant so crowded they have to literally fight to get seats at a private table. (This is another example of Hitchcock's penchant for and skill at wrangling scenes teeming with people.) Frank plans on a movie, but it doesn't go well. It turns out Alice is meeting another man she's just met -- a pretentious artist (Cyril Ritchard) -- he wears gloves and carries a cane. When Alice, who's being moody and annoying, wavers about the movie and Frank gets fed up and leaves, the artist, who's been waiting at another table, immediately moves in and takes Frank's seat. Later, he insists that Alice climb up the multiple storeys to his high-ceilinged studio, which has turned out to be just around the corner from the news dealers' shop where Alice lives. They do go up to the studio, though not before the artist has learned from the manageress (her hair in atmospheric curlers) that a strange man has come looking for him. (This man turns out to be lurking outside; he will become the blackmailer.) Alice and the artist play at painting a figure on a blank canvas: Alice crudely brushes in a face, and the artist more deftly outlines a girl's body below; Alice writes "Alice," signing it. Nearby there is an elaborate painting by the artist of a jester which later Alice will rip a piece from.

There's also a ballet costume. The artist prevails on Alice to try it on behind a screen. She becomes giddy -- they've had some drinks; dances around; flirts with the idea of modeling for the artist. But when he forces himself upon her, it turns into a struggle, she grabs a long knife, and. . . It all happens behind the screen (a foreshadowing of Janet Leigh's demise in Psycho). Terrified, Alice creeps out. She has been forced to stab the pretentious, creepy rapist-artist but all she feels is guilt and fear. The next morning, it turns out that not only Frank, who's been put on the case (the murder has been discovered with blistering speed), but Tracy (Donald Calthrup), the suspicious man, an ex-con, it turns out, who was lurking around trying to meet the artist, are both aware that Alice is responsible for the stabbing. Tracy comes calling when Frank is already there at the news shop and home of Mr and Mrs White, Alice's thick-spectacled dad (Charles Paton) and plump blank mum (Sara Allgood), examples of the kind of homey, cozy Hitchcockisn couple we also saw in The Lodger and The Pleasure Garden. Frank has found Alice's glove at the scene of the stabbing and vowed to conceal it. Tracy now takes over and plays god, preening himself on having control because he can blackmail Frank and Alice -- a power symbolized by the stage business of his demanding that Mr White give him the best cigar he has in the shop and making Frank pay for it, then going into the house and demanding he be served breakfast, which he lingers over with tiresome self-satisfaction. Tracy's reign is short-lived, however, when a call from Scotland Yard reveals that, having been ID-ed by the manageress from a photo file (elaborately shown on screen) he's a prime suspect in the stabbing and, moreover, known to be an ex-con. As the police lorrie comes, Tracy flees through a window, and the elaborate chase follows, through the British Museum and up onto its high dome. This sequence is all the more dramatic for being depicted in long shots that dramatize the grandeur of the Egyptian Wing, the BM Library's Victorian circular shelves and stairways, and the dome.

All this is cross-cut, in a foreshadowing of many suspenseful Hitchcock thriller sequences to come, with Alice's change of heart: she is still guilt-ridden, and while Frank is tied up in the chase after Tracy that he knows will free Alice of suspicion, Alice herself has decided to turn herself in. Naturally, events are neatly timed to dovetail the downfall of Tracy with Frank's reconnection with Alice at Scotland Yard, where her effort to talk to the commissioner is forestalled because more important things are going on: the big chase. The outcome is to provide a twist on a favorite Hitchcock theme. An "innocent" person is trapped in a crime. Alice is a "wrong man" (or in this case "wrong woman") who isn't entirely "wrong": she did kill the artist. But after all, she did so in self-defense. We aren't supposed to mind that Tracy is sacrificed to save her. This ordeal is sure to have increased Alice's appreciation of Frank considerably, since he has protected her from any suspicion, and she probably won't pick many rows with him from here on.

There may be some loose ends and questionable moments in Blackmail, but they tend to be swept away by the sheer fluency and verve of Hitchcock's dramatic and entertaining cinematic storytelling. For Hitchcock fans and students, this is another of the nine silents that, along with The Lodger and The Ring, is clearly essential viewing, and it's a highly accomplished, full-fledged thriller, Hitchcock being Hitchcock to the hilt.

The first cameo of the director shows him on a Tube train right next to Alice and Frank, squirming at the too-close presence of an annoying and (we would say) "hyperactive" child.


In the second he "takes the film out" by appearing seen from behind in the final shot, carrying down a corridor of Scotland Yard the painting of the jester Alice tore after the stabbing -- as if, perhaps, to remove the most visible remaining sign, apart from the body, of her presence at the artist's studio.

The Hitchcock 9 restorations by the British Film Institute were scheduled to coincide with the London Olympics, and this film was shown al fresco outside the British Museum, especially appropriate since the movie's climactic set piece takes place both inside and outside the historic building. The inaugural outdoor screening of the Blackmai restoration was accompanied by a new score by composer Neil Brand and performed by the Thames Sinfonia. (Unfortunately the BFI DVD from the SF Silent Film Festival has no musical accompaniment.) Hitchcock simultaneously made a silent and sound version of this film, the sound version released later.


Reviewed as part of the US premiere of The Hitchcock 9 BFI-restored silent films by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, shown at the Castro Theater June 14-16, 2013. Screener DVDs provided by Larsen Associates.