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One of Alfred Hitchcock's silent-film comedies, "Champagne" is good light,
bubbly entertainment, much as the title might suggest. It is very
interesting to see the future Master of Suspense at work with such
material, and it's a good little film in its own right.
The story-line is very simple: a spoiled rich girl defies her powerful father to meet her boyfriend, and her father, convinced that the boyfriend is only a fortune hunter, resorts to a variety of tactics to try to break off the relationship. Meanwhile, everywhere the girl goes, the same mysterious stranger seems to pop up.
It's not much of a plot, but Hitchcock does some nice things with it. The visuals make the movie fun to watch - attractive sets, good sight gags, interesting detail. As the rich daughter, Betty Balfour is charming and is especially good in a couple of scenes where her character has to perform some unfamiliar tasks. Gordon Harker is, as always, quite funny as the father. His timing works nicely with Hitchcock's pacing.
Hitchcock's dry British wit made most of his silent comedies very pleasurable to watch. If you admire Hitchcock, or if you enjoy silent films, treat yourself to some "Champagne".
For those of you used to Hitchcock mysteries, whodunits and what nots,
VERY early work will come as a big surprise. But it's not surprise that
is quite the feast for the eyes, and quite amazing to watch for it's
The plot is simple, but yet detailed. A rich socialite daughter elopes with the man she wants to marry (with quite an amazing entrance with the female character), they flee to Paris, where she finds out her rich daddy is rich no more, and suddenly, she must face the glamourous 1920's world from a very different perspective..
Hitchcock fills the screen with a lot of details in this one, and one quite marvels at all the amazing camerawork going on. The special effects and finally the COSTUMES (!) are quite incredible as well. A cool movie!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Silent. Black & white. Hitch said it was his worst movie. But still...
I watched "Champagne" three times in four days now, and can't get tired of it. Of course it's almost 80 years old, and far away from the world of 2007. But it made me curious. Betty Balfour is just such a cutie in her very various acts. (Reminds me somehow of German chancelloress Angela Merkel, but never mind.) Although it's mostly a comedic romance, there are indications of Hitch things to come - in the cabaret, staircase scenes, and a 360 degree shot that I before thought was pioneered in Frankenheimer's "Manchurian Candidate" (1962).
Betty was extremely charming and versatile here (I'd love to see some Squibs, her most famous movies...), but after the introduction of talkies she was more Rain than Singing. Anyway, this snapshot conserves special moments (the dress-changing, the rolling of the dough, the chair dance, ...) Highly recommended if you go for museum pieces (and "read lips" instead of waiting for inter-titles). Not everybody's taste, but surely mine :^)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is another mundane Hitchcock silent film, difficult to believe
that he actually directed it. There is not a whole lot to this film
except a lesson learned and, much like champagne itself, the characters
are bubbly and provide a tickle or two. This might be as close as the
fabled director would come to romantic comedy.
Wall street champagne magnet Gordon Harker, a Hitch silent veteran, wants to teach his spoiled rich daughter Betty Balfour the age-old lesson that money does not grow on trees. She's completely out of control spending daddy's money with her lover (Jean Bradin) when Daddy Warbucks lowers the boom by telling her the champagne business is kaput. Some of the usual Hitch camera tricks keeps the plot interesting as the story moves from an ocean liner to Paris and back to the liner. It is fascinating to watch the photography and camera placements because at least one (the view through the bottom of a glass) would be reused by Hitchcock later in his career.
Balfour is fine as the ditsy girl and she does show versatility going through a gamut of emotions. Harker, who would continue his career in talkies, is demonstrative to the nth degree and is this close to overacting. Ironically, this film shows a Wall Street millionaire looking at the stock market tables constantly in 1928, and the great stock market crash does happen for real the next year.
If for nothing else than the twisty ending, this film does bear watching. That is, if you are not expecting a suspenseful Hitchcockian thriller. There are a few laughs, but the earth does not move, and we are left with a glimpse of a slice of life from 80 years ago.
There's not much to this film of Hitch's, a bit like champagne itself
but not so mirth-inducing. Maybe you already know it but he went on
make better films than this many of 'em in fact, but notwithstanding
that I still find this one an enjoyable watch.
Spoilt little rich girl Betty Balfour is taught a salutary if convoluted lesson by her Wall Street father ably played by Gordon Harker on how to behave as befits the daughter of a millionaire. In this exercise he sorts out the problem of the genuineness of Betty's suitor too. Some of the sets were as flimsy as the plot (almost diaphanous!) but would have made do for the audience that would only see it the once, and some of the photography and ideas were excellent with some, like the view through the bottom of the glass re-used by Hitch years later. Gurning through a wide range of emotions Betty Balfour kept on Bouncing Back in the same manner as Squibs, her famous role, whilst Gordon Harker excelled at playing this type of role before he started parodying himself in the '30's and playing up his down to Earth voice and mannerisms. And even Claude Hulbert made a 3 second appearance on the club stairs in one of his first film roles. If nothing else, it's worth a watch for the sinister Hitchcockian twist at the very end.
All told, not a great but an interesting film with a pleasant atmosphere, but because there's so few extant it's definitely a satisfying British silent film.
Hitchcock was one of cinema's most aggressively experimental film
makers, a fact largely unnoticed because, first, he worked largely in
known genres rather than straight drama, and also because many of his
experiments worked so well, they were adopted everywhere as conventions
of film making. But when his experiments fail, they scream out for
Champagne is one of the latter, pretty much a failure in terms of everything but the camera work. The main story is the the main problem. There's nothing about the characters' little problem here - and it's a very little problem when you think about it - that would lead us to grow concerned about their resolution to it. That gives us an unfortunate opportunity to ask whether we actually find the characters appealing - and we don't. The father is vile, his friend is vile, the lover is an airhead, the daughter is an airhead. So we're left with more than an hour of vile airheads trying to determine what virtue among the wealthy might be. As if they could possibly know.
Strong, intelligent women do not make much of an appearance in Hitchcock's silent films; the young Hitchcock had an ambiguous attitude towards women, whom he frequently presented as both victims of male cruelty and simpering imbeciles. That's very much in evidence here.
And Hitchcock struggled artistically with what may have been a real personality problem his whole life - the one word that can link all of his films is 'paranoia.' No one can be fully trusted in a Hitchcock film, making his world a treacherous place, even in his 'comedies' - the real "Trouble with Harry" (in that film) is not that he's dead, but that nobody gives a dam' that he is.
This paranoia informs this supposed comedy throughout, as well, and in fact defines its experimental nature - Hitchcock repeatedly paints his characters with ominous shadings, setting up scenes of potential violence, potential madness, potential rape; fortunately none of which ever happens - but we're supposed to laugh at this?! My sense is that this was the question Hitchcock wanted to raise, that's the experiment going on here. But nobody really wants that question raised, answering it doesn't give us a very good time.
Lesser Hitchcock, to be sure.
Hitchcock liked to isolate people on trains and ships and force them to interact with whomever was in that setting. In this one, the spoiled brat daughter of tycoon lives the life of a princess on her father's money. She is wasteful and shallow and draws attention in that Paris Hilton kind of way. We know that she must have a good heart but now, anything that happens to her is deserved. Enter her father, who wants to teach her a lesson. After all, she has embarrassed him time and time again. She is going to elope with her nice young man, who finds her a bit insufferable at times. He hangs in there while she tests the limits of her entitlement. She is eventually reduced to fending for herself. Hitchcock does a decent job with this but I think there could have been a bit more to it. He got just a bit lazy here. Still, it is billed as a comedy, not "The Scarlet Letter," so there is a lighter touch. It's certainly worth a peek.
Champagne was among the last of Hitchcock's silents, and made at a
period when Hollywood was already turning fast towards the talkies.
Perhaps because of this, the young and naive Hitchcock appears to be
cramming in as much visual technique as possible.
Right from his first picture, Hitchcock had loved the point-of-view shot. Champagne makes heavy use of what I call "extreme" point-of-view shots that is, ones which really draw your attention to the fact that we are seeing a character's-eye-view, for example where we see the actor's hands in front of us, or the camera moves as the character walks. To this end Hitchcock even had giant props built to wave in front of the lens. There are also copious other techniques which aim to literalise the experience of the characters for example shaking the camera around when the ship is rocking. Although the later Hitchcock would sometimes use such tricks (far more subtly) to draw the audience into the character's world, here and now it's just a bit of overt stylisation that in no way enhances the film.
Trickery for trickery's sake is often worse than useless. When Betty Balfour is told her father has lost his fortune, there is a superimposition of a room spinning. If Balfour is good enough, she could convey what is going on inside her character's head. I think I speak for most audience members when I say I would rather look at a good acting performance than a post-production special effect.
It's a pity Hitch felt he needed to dress up his shots so much, because even at this early stage he had good timing for basic point-of-view and reaction shots, allowing him to smoothly reveal intentions and opinions. His basic film grammar is good enough to keep down the number of intertitles. By the way, the difference between a picture like this and those made around the same time in the US (which tend to be very wordy) is not that the Hollywood directors were bad at visual storytelling, it's that their pictures were often full of unnecessary title cards, whereas in Europe the goal was generally to keep them to a minimum.
It's a mercy too that the acting in Champagne tends to be fairly naturalistic, the only touches of theatricality being for the sake of comedy. None of them is exceptional, but none of them is really bad either. I'm not quite convinced though by Gordon Harker as a millionaire, but perhaps this is because I'm so used to seeing him playing earthy working class types.
All else I have to say about Champagne is that it is just a bit dull a comedy drama that is not enough of one thing or the other. A reasonable plot, a handful of good gags, but ultimately lifeless. At this point Hitchcock was really just saying, through his camera, "Look at me! I'm the director! Look what I can do!" when he should have been turning all those audience-involving techniques into gripping entertainment - as he later would.
Although the film shows plenty of evidence of being made by the Master, most viewers will probably find it light compared to the 'more substantial' 'serious' films. But Hitchcock's metier is cinema, not suspense, and Champagne contains some choice examples of how Hitch thought cinematically in a way that no other director has done. A case in point is the magnificent visual joke towards the end of the film, when our heroes are aboard an ocean liner. From time to time they are bothered by a drunk who staggers into them and other passengers. However, before long, the ship hits a storm and sways around like a cork, causing everyone to stagger from wall to wall... except the drunk... On a more profound thematic level, this is one of the earliest Hitchcockian essays on the necessity of lying in one's bed if one has made it (cf The Birds). Incidentally, it's just occurred to me how much the Betty Balfour character in this prefaces those of Grace Kelly in Rear Window and Melanie Daniels in The Birds.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
....in a very typical role. There were a few fresh talents to emerge in
Britain after the War and one of these was Betty Balfour. She made her
name in a series of popular comedies centred around "Squibs", a
Piccadilly flower seller. Soon she was the most popular screen star in
Britain, popular enough to be given the lead in "Champagne" directed by
up and coming director Alfred Hitchcock. He attempted this as a change
of pace from his more recent, somber films ("The Lodger" (1927) and
"The Ring" (1927)) but Hitchcock didn't like it. Obviously with Miss
Balfour as the star, the film was tailored to her light hearted talent
and Hitchcock was out of his element and refused to mold a film around
a particular personality ever again. He wasn't the only one who wasn't
impressed, the movie wasn't well received by "Variety" who called the
story "of the weakest".
I did like Betty Balfour. I had only seen her in "Evergreen" where she was distinctly matronly - it was so nice to see her at her best as a fun loving flapper even if the movie dragged. Millionaire Wall Street businessman (Gordon Harker) is so exasperated at his daughter's frivolous ways he is determined to teach her a lesson. He tells her he has lost all his money and forces her to face up to life's realities. Her fiancé, who has long wished that she would ditch some of her fair weather friends, is the only person who stands by her. There is also a certain man about town waiting in the wings.
Music is so important to me while watching silent movies and this was of the deadliest. It is like someone saw the name of Alfred Hitchcock in the credits and inserted the most dramatic symphonies they could find. It was for the most part a light hearted comedy and really needed some popular songs of the day. I also think more could have been done with Betty's job hunting - she answered an advertisement to demonstrate toothpaste but found herself in a cabaret selling boutonneires (she couldn't escape from "Squibs"!!). Suddenly "man about town" turns up when she is at her lowest and falls in with her suggestion to whisk her off to New York but even in this early stage of his career Hitchcock had a surprise or two up his sleeve and the "man about town" is revealed as a good friend of her father's who has promised to keep an eye on her. But do those "bedroom eyes" that look at her over the glass of sparkling champagne mean business or pleasure. All will be revealed - but not in this movie!!!
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