Patsy Brand is a chorus girl at the Pleasure Garden music hall. She meets Jill Cheyne who is down on her luck and gets her a job as a dancer. Jill meets adventurer Hugh Fielding and they ... See full summary »
I watched Alfred Hitchcock's DOWNHILL (1927) starring Ivor Novello. I thought this was a fascinating film although it's not very well regarded.
Novello plays a wealthy Oxford student who stupidly takes the blame after a vindictive waitress points him out (his father is rich) as her seducer. The real seducer is his friend, but he takes the blame, assuming it will all blow over. But he gets expelled and sent home where his father pitches a fit and calls him a liar. Novello storms out of the house.
Cast into the cruel world, Novello must find his own way. In a brilliant sequence, following an intertitle that announces "make believe" we see a well dressed Novello holding a cup of coffee, but as the camera pulls back we see that he is holding a tray and serving coffee to a flashy couple (Isabel Jeans, Ian Hunter). Well at least he has a job! But then as the couple heads to the dance floor the camera pulls back again and we suddenly realize that, as the couple starts dancing, they are on a stage. The audience comes into view and a line of high-kicking dancers races out onto the stage.
Jeans turns out to be a selfish woman involved with Hunter. There is never enough money. Novello becomes a hanger-on until he receives a telegram with news about an inheritance. Jeans quickly marries Novello and starts spending freely. Time passes. Jeans and Hunter are sitting in a lavish bedroom. She's endlessly sitting at dressing tables, admiring herself and her jewels. Novello comes home and find a pile of bills, an overdrawn notice from the bank, and Hunter in the closet. The apartment is in her name and he's thrown out into the cruel world.
Next we find Novello as a taxi dancer in Paris. He seems to have a "manager" who sells his dances and possibly more. While he dances we see a middle-aged age woman (Violet Farebrother) sitting at a table. She can't take her eyes off him. She arranges for an introduction. He babbles away, telling her his sad story while her eyes frankly devour him. Amazing sequence. But as morning dawns and the blinds are raised, Novello finally see this tawdry world of drunks and dissolutes and once again goes out into the cruel world to Marseilles.
Sick and broke, Novello is saved by a pair of sailors and put on a ship back to England after they find a returned letter. Do they think there will be a reward? During the voyage, Novello hallucinates and relives his past accounts with all the horrid women in his life. This is a beautifully done scene. Finally he arrives home.
I cannot think of another film from this era where the male is the societal victim and who, through nobility, suffers as he descends to the depths at the hands of women. Novello is actually playing a twist on the many Ruth Chatterton roles where she follows this sort of journey to find redemption and/or death. Along with The Lodger, this may be Ivor Novello's best film performance.
As for Hitchcock, there are many great scenes here and lots of symbolism as Novellos is seen on escalators and elevators going down, down, DOWN.
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