Sunday, July 11, 2010


Title: Champagne
Year: 1928
Studio: British International Pictures Ltd
Screenplay: Eliot Stannard
Source Material: An original story by Walter C Mycroft
Running Time: 85 minutes
A Silent Picture in Black & White

Sunday July 11th, 9:30am
Ah, a lazy Sunday! Well, not particularly lazy. I did go shopping at 6:00am to avoid the crowds, spent time scribbling down all my notes whilst watching the film, prepared the soundtrack for next week's Murder Party (for my birthday - bless!), did the laundry and tidied up around the house. In fact, I'm lazier at work than I was today. Heavens to Betsy.
I settled down at 9:30 to watch Champagne and was interested to learn that Hitchcock himself was rather fond of the famous bubbly and was rumoured to down half a bottle or more each lunch time. If I did that, I'd spend the rest of the afternoon fast asleep. Maybe he did too...

I am trying not to pressure myself too much about this blog (see last entry) and I want to have a rather carefree attitude towards the timing of it all. Heaven knows I am barely a fraction of my way into the journey and I have a long way to go yet - however, I can see myself marking off various milestones.I will soon be coming to the end of the first furlong, which we can call 'The Silent Years'. Then we will have a stretch of the 'British Talkies', beginning with Blackmail and taking us right up to Jamaica Inn, just before he headed off to America to make the superb Rebecca. At that point, I may just see each stretch as 'decades' - golly, Hitch, you did work hard and long, didn't you, my old friend!

I will try my best to keep the blogs coming without too large a gap in between, but I fear next weekend may be an issue as I will be preoccupied with the Murder Party and my own birthday shenanigans, so do not judge me too harshly.
With that said, let's proceed...

Rather strangely, the cast are referred to without proper nouns in the title card.
However, some names are referred to during the film.

The Girl (Betty) - Betty Balfour
The Boy (John? - I lip-read Betty saying his name, but it's a guess) - Jean Bradin
The Man (no idea) - Theo Van Alten
The Father (Mark - as seen on telegram) - Gordon Harker

We begin by witnessing a rather angry man reading newspapers and, in one case, ripping it up. This is Betty's father. He seems a very stressed man.
A headline in the New York Daily News reads:

Wall Street Magnate Again Defied By Headstrong Heiress Daughter
Gives Him The Air and Makes Freak Flight to Join Lover in Atlantic Liner
Romantic Reunion on Mid-Ocean

A champagne bottle pops open, the spray filling the screen. We are on board the liner and there's a grand old time being had by all in the dining area.
Suddenly everyone rushes out on deck as they have heard something is happening.
A plane has had to land in the sea and a lifeboat goes out to save the pilot.
It turns out to be the American heiress, Betty. She needs to get aboard the lifeboat before the plane sinks, but she makes sure she has all her luggage saved first.
She is brought back to the liner and she is received warmly by the crew - she has managed to remove her flying gear whilst on the lifeboat to reveal a rather swanky outfit.
The captain asks if she was trying to fly over the Atlantic and she confesses that she was merely trying to catch this particular boat.
She is assigned room B46 and she spies the young boy (John) in the crowd, but she also spies a mustachioed man who seems to have his eye on her.

John meets Betty in her room and she is so happy to see him.

"Wouldn't I love to see dear Daddy's face when he hears I've run away with you after all - and lost his aeroplane besides!"

It appears that back home, her father is in fits and making a lot of trouble for his many staff members. They are baring the brunt of his anger.

Introductions aboard ship are easily arranged.
Betty is meeting a variety of people but eventually she manages to get away with John on her own. They go out on deck and they discuss getting engaged. He takes off his own ring, but it is too large for her wedding finger, so for the mean time, she places it on her thumb.

Cupid at the prow - but Neptune at the helm.
It's lunch time and the boat is rocking. There are not many people in the dining room, probably all in their cabins lying down! The man with a mustache is there and seems quite at home. Betty joins him at his table and they chat. John comes down the stairs but he does not fare so well. Already feeling queasy, he is turned greener when he spies a pig's head on a platter - despite wanting to prise the man from his fiancee, he turns around and heads back to his cabin.
Betty receives a telegram from her father:


Betty takes it to John's room, he is not well and sees three versions of Betty swirling around his head. She shows him the telegram and he is angry.

Betty: "I've arranged for the captain to marry us."
John: "You've arranged! Don't I arrange anything? You think your money entitles you to do all the arranging"
Betty: "My Money allowed me to fly half across the Atlantic to join you."
John: "And your father thinks his money enables him to insult me by wireless!"

She removes the ring in a huff and hands it back to him. The boat lurches and he drops it as he tries to take it back. She then storms out, saying;

"You'll not spoil my trip - I'll have a good time in Paris in spite of your silly ideas."

PARIS - revelry - and at last the longed for arrival.
Betty is having a whale of a time in her rented accommodation with lots of new friends and a great number of cocktails.
John arrives and does not seem impressed with her extravagances. She invites him into the soiree and he sees that the same man from the boat is in attendance.
Betty makes cocktails and then goes to put on one of her new designer gowns.
Everyone is wowed - except John.

John: "I've always understood that simplicity was the keynote of good taste."
Betty: "If I've offended your good taste I must try to make amends."

She goes back into her private room and borrows the drab gown off one of her maids. Returning into the room, playing up melodramatically with a headscarf and mocking the poor, John is even less amused.
The other man knows how to charm:

Betty: "Which do you think the most charming creation?"
The Man: "The wearer, undoubtedly."

The doorbell rings. Betty's father has come to see her. He brings her bad news. He sees her drab dress and tells her that it suits her now moire than she knows. He then tells her that he is flat broke - they are ruined. Her head spins. First she laughs as if he is joking, then she panics.

She returns to her crowd and tells them politely that the party is over. They all leave saying their farewells. John leaves sullenly. Betty's father thinks he has lost interest now that she is poor.
Betty tells her father that she'll sell her jewellery. When she goes to do this, she is robbed and loses it all.
Not to be discouraged, she and her father take meagre lodgings. Whilst she tries to make their new small rooms homely and attempts to make bread - her father is out having a splendid meal in a posh restaurant - it seems he is lying to his daughter!
John arrives and Betty is pleased initially, but they row again and he leaves her alone once more. She decides she is going to get a job.

Betty spies an advert in the newspaper:

WANTED Young girls with beautiful teeth to demonstrate the advantages of using MINTO tooth paste.

Betty turns up at the audition, but does not wait with other girls, simply barges in. The agent asks her what she wants and she bares her teeth. Another gentleman in the office lifts her skirt with his foot and mentions her great legs to the agent. He writes her a reference for a local cabaret joint and send her on her way.
At the venue, she presents herself to the maître d'hôtel and he seems to be a rather brusque man, however, he likes her sass and gives her a trial.
Her first night, she is a flower girl - she has to give flowers to the gentlemen in the club wearing evening dress only. She gets confused and he is appalled to find her giving them to the orchestra players too.

Becoming a little bored with her job, she wanders to the bar and notices a rather flamboyant woman who is both entertaining and annoying her fellow patrons. She sees a cocktail newly made up and she watches it as it is delivered to its recipient. It is the charming man who has been following her. Their eyes meet and she tries to hide, but he locates her and invites her to sit, much to the maître d'hôtel's annoyance. She has a brief fantasy of the man taking her away to a private booth and making a pass at her, but when she returns to reality, she seems to be enjoying herself. John arrives on the scene and is not happy with what he sees. The man takes his leave, but passes a note to her first, written on the back of a business card - it reads:

always a good friend if you are in need.

John and Betty sit uncomfortably together. She explains that she works there and at one moment, the annoying woman from the bar approaches and congratulations on how she has picked up a bloke so quickly. (Implying a little more than 'flower girl', perhaps?)
Whilst still seated, Betty throws her arms around in a jazzy dance. John is even less impressed by now.

It's bad enough to find you here, but worse to find you enjoying it.

He storms off and returns later with Betty's father. By now, she is becoming debauched, laughing and smoking - certainly not doing her job.
Her father approaches her and chastises her bawdy behaviour. She defends herself saying she took the job to help him. He then reveals all - he hands her a newspaper clipping.

Daring Daughter to Be Taught Lesson She'll Never Forget, Millionaire Declares.

It has been a ruse to make the girl see sense. She is appalled and screams at both John and her father.
With the thought of the man's note in her head, she goes to his lodgings. She begs him to take her back to America with him and he complies. They board a boat together but he locks her in their cabin. Arming herself with the towel rail from the bathroom, she waits for him to return - the door opens and she hits him over the head - only it's not the man - it is John! Both confused, they try to figure it out. Betty tells John to wait in the bathroom for the man's return. Not only does the man return, but her father also turns up - it turns out they are dear friends and he had sent a telegram to the man to keep an eye on Betty and stop her from eloping with John. He shows it to her.


Eventually, when everyone realises what's been going on and that John isn't a gold-digger after all, they all seem happy and raise a toast.
The two lovers begin to plan their marriage - bicker - but then kiss.

The End.

Great lines
One sequence in particular is a lovely set-up and a great pay-off. When John visits Betty at her lowly rooms, she is so pleased to see him, she interrupts her baking session and throws her arms around him.

John: "Now I've found you I'm going to take you out of this wretched place."
Betty: "Do you think that I'd leave Daddy now?"
John: "I'd even look after your father."
Betty: "Very kind of you - but you needn't bother. You seem to forget there's such a thing as pride."
John: "You can't live on pride."
Betty: "I shall get a job."
John: "You'll make a mess of it, as you do everything you lay your hands on."

...he turns and leaves - and we notice two of her floury hand-prints on his back.

It's a bit of a mess. Apparently, the original story is quite different and Hitch more-or-less improvised the story as they went along (with Eliot Stannard, one presumes) and it pretty much shows. There is little structure and it flails around quite a bit. However, Betty is great fun, even if a little bonkers. I imagine Paris Hilton has taken her as a role model.
The crazy notion of the headline towards the end reporting Betty's father's plan of humiliating his daughter is a terrible cheat and reeks of desperation.
There are some wonderful moments including the use of the various receptacles for drinks which act as tools in telling the story, either as catalysts for dialogue and plot, or as a new lens for us to view our characters.

My Verdict
Fun until the end, which is mad and ill-conceived. It doesn't make any sense.
Not a great nor original story, but has a few highs. 5/10

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