Saturday, October 4, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock's Silent Features: "Easy Virtue"

Continuing my irregularly scheduled capsule reviews of Alfred Hitchcock's eight extant silent features, I present Easy Virtue. Easy Virtue can be found on those cheapy DVD sets of Hitchcock's early films; it's one of his more interesting early efforts (second only to The Lodger).

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, Waltzes From Vienna, among others) I recommend this seller.

Easy Virtue (1927)
A woman, fleeing the tabloid gossip surrounding an artist’s suicide and her subsequent divorce, falls in love with a young suitor at a French Riviera resort and silently suffers as she keeps her real identity a secret from him and his family.

Dated melodrama (based on a Noel Coward play) is given momentum by Hitchcock’s deft direction. Some interesting visuals include: in the opening courtroom scene, the judge looks through his monocle and we see a closer shot of the lawyer through it, a stationary tennis racket starts in motion as its owner runs toward the ball and away from the camera, the expressions of a nosy switchboard operator reveal the various subjects of a conversation she’s listening in to. The use of a still camera as a motif is, however, heavy handed. The opening courtroom scene presents a well-constructed series of flashbacks; however, the bulk of the film from then on, is straight soap opera (consisting of such title cards as: “If only I could remember where I’ve seen her face before… I’m certain she wants to conceal something from us!”). Beautiful on-location scenery (interior as well as exterior) abounds during the second half of the movie. SPOILER!: Memorable final title card, as Larita is greeted by photographers: “Shoot! There’s nothing left to kill.” Worthy of a screening to see the hand of the (young) master at work.

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