Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock's Silent Features: "Downhill"

Continuing my irregularly scheduled capsule reviews of Alfred Hitchcock's eight extant silent features, I present Downhill. Downhill has never been released on DVD or video in the U.S. but can be purchased online (see recommendation below), but is recommended only to the Hitchcock completest.

Hitchcock's silents were his training ground; and his later films are that much more visual as a result of his having started in the silent era. His silents are unfortunately either unreleased on VHS/DVD or in unrestored state on poorly presented DVDs. For the best quality/most reliable seller out there, if you are looking for Hitchcock's unreleased DVD titles (such as Downhill, among others) I recommend this seller.

Downhill (1927)
A college undergraduate, protecting a friend, is expelled for getting a girl pregnant and is shunned by his wealthy family, suffering a number of ups-and-downs as he attempts to make it on his own.

Very few title cards are used to tell this simple story, but the freedom for interesting visuals is only somewhat taken up. There are some great uses of the wide-angle lens in the earlier part of the movie (football game, dining hall). One interesting (if static) shot shows star Ivor Novello going down an escalator, growing smaller and smaller as he heads into the abyss; the idea is repeated twice later, when after his break-up with his wife, he descends in an elevator and, after he becomes a vagrant, he is brought into the bowels of a boat. Another bold shot shows Novello upside down, seen by the point-of-view of an actress as she cranes her neck and sees him with her head tilted back. The final minutes, showing Novello’s point-of-view as he staggers through the city in a delirium is the best sequence in the entire movie (which plays like a sequence from Man With a Movie Camera). Little distinguishes the rest of the film— and it amounts to no more than a sleep-inducing simple melodrama of the period.

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