Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Skin Game

Title: The Skin Game
Year: 1931
Studio: British International Pictures Ltd.
Screenplay: Alfred Hitchcock & Alma Reville
Source Material: A play by John Glasworthy
Running Time: 79 minutes
A black & white picture

Saturday 28th August, 930am/Sunday 29th August, 3:30pm
Another lazy weekend but despite the lack of things to do, I was unable to settle down to doing one thing at a time - hence the split viewing of this film. I began with great intentions on Saturday morning, but within half an hour (and after a great scene) I just had to postpone the rest of the film until later as I was itching to do something else - I ended up doing laundry.
Sunday afternoon, I threw myself back into the job.
I may be a slob, having not even dressed today, but I'm a content slob. Now that I am not detailing every single minute of each film, I am able to munch down ona jam sandwich whilst watching. Hoorah for afternoon teatime.

The cast
Mr Hillcrist - C.V. France
Mrs Hillcrist - Helen Haye
Jill - Jill Esmond
Mr Hornblower - Edmund Gwenn
Charles - John Longden
Chloe - Phyllis Konstam
Rolf - Frank Lawton
Mr Jackman - Herbert Ross
Mrs Jackman - Dora Gregory
Dawker - Edward Chapman
First Stranger - R.E. Jeffrey
Second Stranger - George Bancroft
Auctioneer - Ronald Frankau

The Hillcrists were once owners of a lot of land and Mr Hillcrist is still considered 'Squire'. However, Mr Hornblower is a forward-thinking industrialist and he has bought a lot of the land to build on. However, it was understood that there were provisos and one of those was that the current tenants would not be evicted. Sadly, Mr Hornblower does not stick to these rules and attempts to evict the poor Jacksons who have lived there for over thirty years.
At an auction for property, there is a fierce battle between Hillcrist and Hornblower, albeit via their agents. Hillcrist does not win, but is pleased that Hornblower did not win - however, he is soon proved wrong when he learns that the winning bid was, indeed, from Hornblower's bidding agent.
Hornblower is a hardworking bully but news comes to the Hillcrists about something with which they can retaliate and gain a winning hand. They discover that Hornblower's daughter-in-law used to act as co-respondent in divorce cases. Chloe is distraught that her secret has come out and she does not want her husband finding out, especially now that she is pregnant with their first child.
Hornblower is aghast at the disgrace this news will bring him. He promises to sell the property back to the Hillcrists for a fraction of the price he paid as long as they swear on a Holy Bible never to breathe a word of it to anyone.
This is done, but Charlie, Chloe's husband is not impressed when he does find out and Chloe throws herself in a pond to save everyone from the shame her past has brought upon them. The two families are shocked and the remorse kicks in a reflective mood wherein the Hillcrists see what their narrow vision has brought and Mr Hornblower is reduced to his base emotions.

Great Lines
Mr Hornblower: "I'll answer to God for my actions, not you, young lady!"
Jill: "Poor God!"

and I genuinely laughed out loud when, at the denouement of the film, the poor Jacksons enter the home of the Hillcrists, all excited that they get their home back and Mr Hillcrist says;

"I'd forgotten their existence!"

Ah, peasants... so forgettable, despite their humdrum ways...

This film suffers as it hasn't had a very decent restoration - it seems a bit rough around the edges and although some scenes are clear, others have not fared well against the barrage of time.
There's a whole heap of class-wars going on with a lot of snubbing and intolerance, which is fascinating for the time and its parallels in today's society.

The auction scene is actually rather fast-paced and exciting as we cut back and forth between the various bids. The atmosphere is most electric.
Some other nice touches include a scene toward the end where Chloe is aware that her husband is due to arrive at the Hillcrist's home and she keeps glancing towards the door and Hitch gives a slight zoom emphasising the fearful anticipation she feels.
Also, the beautifully framed shot of the scene where the small crowd lift Chloe's body from the pond with the ominous house behind shedding its light through the open doorway is rather picturesque, albeit morbid. According to Hitchcock, there were ten takes of this shot - poor Chloe!
Prior to this, Jill's attempt to expose Chloe's hiding place is so dramatic, it reminds us of the story's theatrical origins.
The whole play is performed rather melodramatically and it is apparent that Hitch is not altogether thrilled as he films it.
It seems that with melodrama, the rule of thumb is to never look anyone in the eye, just look off to the distance instead. Matthew Fox did that a lot in Lost.

In modern times, it seems a little bizarre to have such a weight of burden upon a family if someone has such a sleight secret in their past, but we have to understand the contemporary nature of the story.
It is rather horrifying that the poor girl attempts to kill herself and her unborn child rather than live with the guilt of her past, but with a simple line, there is a seed of doubt as to her fate when Hillcrist states; "...what may be death..." so anyone who prefers a happy ending can believe poor Chloe just fainted and got her dress wet. Frankly, though - she's popped her clogs.

My Verdict
OK, despite a couple of nice moments and the splendid auction scene, this is all a bit dull.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Title: Murder!
Year: 1930
Studio: British International Pictures Ltd
Screenplay: Alfred Hitchcock, Walter Mycroft & Alma Reville
Source Material: A play called 'Enter Sir John' by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson
Running Time: 98 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 22nd August, 9:00am
Goodness gracious! I had a late one last night. I didn't get to sleep until around 1am (and for me, that is very late - I'm an 'early to bed, early to rise' sort of person).
I had been out at a friend's birthday party - it was a strict dress-coded cocktail party and I went in a fabulous 1940s outfit which set my debt repayment scheme back a month, but it was worth it. I also met some new and interesting people. It's hard attending parties when 'on the wagon' and Red Bull is not a good substitute for alcohol. I was soon crooning along to the music thanks to the caffeine hit.
I left at midnight, but was unable to sleep when I got home, so I watched some TV and eventually drifted off about 1 o'clock. However, I still awoke around 5:30 due to nightmares about Australian Liberal leader Tony Abbott. Bloomin' elections.

So, after a brief sojourn to the supermarket, I settled on the settee with a bacon sandwich, a mug of tea and a small bowl of chocolate covered sultanas to act as provisions and I watched a small favourite of mine... and it's a good old fashioned 'whodunit?' - hooray.

Sir John Menier - Herbert Marshall
Diana Baring - Norah baring
Doucie Markham - Phyllis Konstam
Ted Markham - Edward Chapman
Gordon Druce - Miles Mander
Handel Fane - Esme Percy
Ion Stewart - Donald Calthrop
Prosecuting Counsel - Esme V Chaplin
Defending Counsel - Amy Brendan-Thomas
Judge - Joynson Powell
Bennett - S.J. Warmington
Miss Mitcham - Marie Wright
Mrs. Didsome - Hannah Jones
Mrs Grogram - Una O'Connor

A murder takes place one night. It appears that one actress has murdered another with a blow to the head with a poker. The play in which these two ladies were performing continues on with understudies - it's some terrible farce in which everyone appears to be chronically drunk.
The murder trial is brief. The defending counsel claims the perpetrator was in a fugue state and cannot be held responsible for her actions. After some deliberation, the jury decide she is guilty and she is sentenced to death by hanging.
Before the sentence is carried out, one of the jurors, Sir John Menier - a famous thespian - worries about their quick decision, he decides to investigate further to try and save the girl from the gallows.
With the help of a local married couple, Doucie and Ted Markham, Sir John finds clues leading to the identity of the true killer. He sets a trap, but the killer is merely perturbed rather than truly exposed, however he soon takes his own life in spectacular fashion.

Great Lines
There are a number of gems, particularly in the jury scene. From that, I choose this as my favourite.

Undecided Male Juror: (on his opinion of her innocence)"...she looks a perfectly ripping girl..."
More Discerning Male Juror: "I presume, sir, that an ugly woman would stand very little chance at your hand."

Also, as the rest of the jury gang up on Sir John, to every piece of evidence, they chime in; "Any answer to that, Sir John" in chorus.

In the boarding house where Sir John is staying, he is awoken by the landlady, her baby and a horde of children - one of whom has a small black kitten. The kitten makes its way under Sir John's bed-covers and the little girl shrieks at the top of her lungs:



Ooh, it has some lovely Hitchcock touches!
1. The opening scene of a late night murder - a scream echoing down a hamlet, a cat scurrying away, neighbours aroused by noise...
2. The wonderful transition between the curtain raising on the stage and the metal slide door/window opening on the cell of the accused actress and the sound of laughter and applause over her image in the cell.
3. The shadow of the gallows creeping its way up the cell wall as the time passes.
These are all beautifully framed to an inch of perfection thanks to Alfred's talent.

I also love the scene in which Sir John goes to talk to Diana in prison. We have some effective shots directed down the long table separating them, highlighting the isolation despite their close vicinity. We gradually get closer as the barriers are broken down through their dialogue.

The final scene where the true murderer takes his own life is pure Hitch through and through - the macabre set against a backdrop of entertainment and spectacle - foreshadowing touches he would play with again in The 39 Steps, Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train to name just a few.

It's also claimed that the scene in which Sir John is pondering the jury's decision whilst he is shaving is cinema's first use of voice over for an internal monologue!

The one grating moment in this film is the shocking revelation about our true murderer turning out to be... a half-caste *shock, horror*.
It just goes to show how far we have come in the last eighty years. Or have we?

Oh, and it may be nit-picking, but Herbert Marshall's impression of a woman to fool a witness is alarmingly bad and totally unconvincing - shame, really.

One final note, there is an alternative ending available in which we have a couple of extra scenes - they do not add much to the film so are not essential viewing.

My Verdict
I love the pace of this film, most of which is due to the source of the original play, I think. The Murder, the 'Twelve Angry Men (and women)' scene, the belated investigation, the trap and the finale; all play out in perfect timing.
Herbert Marshall carries the film exceedingly well, but praise must also go to the supporting cast.
The 'confession' is played out all-too conveniently, but I can overlook this as the excitement proceeding it is still at the fore-front of our minds.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Juno and the Paycock

Title: Juno and the Paycock
Year: 1930
Studio: British International Pictures Ltd
Screenplay: Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville
Source Material: Play by Sean O'Casey
Running Time: 94 minutes
A black & White picture.

Saturday 14th August, 8:30am
Originally, I had planned to have a screening on Hitch's birthday (yesterday) but I was a little tired after work and decided to stick to my normal plan of continuing my project during daylight hours. Thank goodness I did. I wouldn't have liked to sully Alfred's birthday with a mood created by the tedium of this film.
Over the past few months, it has occurred to me that it is an awful lot of effort transcribing the majority of the plot onto paper - pausing the DVD repeatedly and scribbling down each major point - just to type it up for (I'm guessing) no one to read, so I have decided to be much more brief with my story synopsis - it'll make it easier for me and also easier for any viewers of this blog (if any).

Captain John "Jack" Boyle - Edward Chapman
Mrs "Juno" Boyle - Sara Allgood
Johnny Boyle - John Laurie
Mary Boyle - Kathleen O'Regan
"Joxer Daly" - Sidney Morgan
Charles Bentham - John Longden
Mrs. Madigan - Maire O'Neil
Jerry Devine - Dave Morris

Jack Boyle and his friend Joxer return to the Boyle's home after a round at the pub and are greeted unexpectedly by Juno Boyle who gives them both an earful.
The Boyles have two children, Johnny, a man who lost his arm in the fight for Ireland and Mary, their daughter.
Jack is the sort of man who will avoid work at all costs but has a high and mighty air about him.
Their daughter turns up with a young solicitor, Charles Bentham, who announces that the Boyles are going to come into some money, thanks to a recent will.
This comes as great news to the family, but Johnny is dubious and a little resentful.
Mr and Mrs Doyle spend the money in advance by purchasing various pieces of furniture on credit and have a bit of a soiree around at their home where they all drink and have a jolly good sing-a-long.
Later, it is determined that there is a loop-hole in the legalities of the will and Charles makes a dash for it to England, leaving behind a pregnant and unmarried Mary.
Juno is appalled at these pieces of news. Bailiffs come and take away their furniture, leaving her with an empty home. Her son, Johnny, is taken away and shot for being a traitor to the republicans and everything they had is lost.
Cheery, eh?
(You can see why I couldn't be bothered writing this one up - life is too short!)

Great Lines
Juno gets some good lines, but my favourites were directed toward her husband as he feigns pains to escape further work:

"You can't climb a ladder, no, but you can skip like a goat into a bar..."
"...don't be acting like you couldn't pull the wing off a dead bee."

Oh, this film could have been so much shorter were it not for the curse of that bloomin' blarney stone.
There are some people whose hearts are warmed by the shenanigans of the grubby (often in an appallingly patronising way), but I am not one of those. I always want to fast-forward the scenes in My Fair Lady featuring Alfred Doolittle as I come over all 'Margo Leadbetter' and feel like putting down newspaper to protect the carpets. The same feeling came when I was watching Captain Jack Doyle parade about his home in a slovenly manner. Poor Juno, she should kick him out - the dirty bludger.
The party segment where they all sing songs is dreadfully tedious and does not progress the plot in any form at all.
The final performance from Sara Allgood is the most powerful thing in the film as she bemoans her lot and the juxtaposition of the sound of gunfire as Johnny gets shot over the image of a candle going out before a statue of Mary and Jesus is rather splendid.
I expect it is just the poor DVD edition I own, but the majority of the film is hard to watch as the tops of everyone's heads are cut off for long periods whenever they are stood up. *harrumph*

My Verdict
All the way through, I found myself thinking "I'd much rather I was watching the play!" I think the story and the dialogue have a place rooted firmly on 'the boards' and it just felt so incongruous and almost trivial on-screen.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Hitch!

Today is Alfred Hitchcock's 111th Birthday.

Just thought I'd mention it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Elstree Calling

Title: Elstree Calling
Year: 1930
Studio: British International Pictures Ltd
Screenplay: A variety of different writers
Lyricists: Ivor Novello & Jack Strachey Parsons
Running Time: 82 minutes
A black & white film with occasional colour segments.

Sunday 8th August, 8:45am
I have had one of those very lacklustre weekends. Partly because I was still recuperating from my nasty virus but also because I had damaged my back on Friday by simply twisting the wrong way.
Over the past week, I have spent most of my time on the settee watching copious amounts of Star Trek - in this case, Star Trek: Enterprise. I find the Star Trek franchise to be wonderfully comforting when I am feeling even slightly unwell and it helps while away the hours.
I had never sat through an episode of Enterprise before because when it first aired, I was so appalled by the abhorrent theme tune, I could not bring myself to watch it - silly, judgmental fool that I am.
When I received JB Hi-Fi vouchers for my birthday and the store was having a "3 for 2" offer on a variety of TV DVD boxsets, I decided I was going to treat myself and complete my Star Trek collection. (I say 'complete' but I reserve the right to not buy the animated series - that really was poop!)
Within a matter of weeks, I watched all four seasons and was gutted by the end of it, throwing my hands up in despair at the studio's decision to axe it. Had they not bothered to watch the show? It's wonderful (maybe they too couldn't get past the theme tune - but the marvellous advent of DVD means you can skip it every time!)

Anyway, why am I blithering on about Star Trek? Well, because there's nothing much to say about Elstree Calling other than I thought I ought to watch it seeing as I had returned from the 22nd century...

Teddy Brown
Helen Burnell
Donald Calthrop
Bobbie Comber
Cicely Courtneidge
Will Fyffe
Tommy Handley
Gordon Harker
Jack Hulbert
Hannah Jones
John Longden
Ivor McLaren
Lily Morris
Nathan Shacknovsky
John Stuart
Jameson Thomas
Anna May Wong

Tommy Handley hosts "A vaudeville and revue entertainment", introducing a variety of comical sketches, songs and dance numbers, interspersed with a couple of running gags including a man trying to get his own TV working in order to watch the show (when he finally fixes it, the show is over) and Donald Calthrop trying to enthuse the audience about his forthcoming Shakespearean piece.

Hitchcock only had a hand in a couple of sketches within this parade, so he himself - and many Hitchcock scholars - did not really consider this part of his canon saying it was "...of no interest whatsoever."
However, it is interesting in a contemporary context as we see efforts made to colourise segments using the Pathecolor Stencil technique although ultimately it is unnecessary.
Hitchcock apparently directed a couple of items - the linking segments with the TV set and the Calthrop 'Shakespearean' scene. Although I am sure 'The Taming of the Shrew' did not involve a motorbike & sidecar and some custard pies - maybe it should have done... let's debate that at a later date.

My Verdict
As I say, not essentially canon and definitely not essential viewing. Bright, sparky and with a couple of highlights:
1) Lily Morris singing about being the bridesmaid and never the bride
2) a sketch in which a husband shoots his apparent wife and her lover before realising he is actually in the wrong flat and murdered two strangers.
Not a dreadful piece of entertainment, but you wouldn't be sad if you missed it. 4/10

Monday, August 2, 2010


Title: Blackmail
Year: 1929
Studio: British International Picture Ltd
Screenplay: Adapted by Alfred Hitchcock, dialogue by Benn Levy
Source Material: A play by Charles Bennett
Running Time: 82 minutes
Britain's first "talkie", shot in black & white.

Monday 2nd August, 9:30am
Another long-weekend booked in for me. I just felt the need to get some quality 'me' time in as I have been a little busy of late. Naturally, Sod's (or Murphy's) Law came into play and toward the end of last week, I developed a sort of bug. Nothing drastic, just one that provided me with symptoms including lethargy, sore throat, dizziness and a bit of a fever. So, although I had the time off, I couldn't do much with it other than lay around on the settee watching DVDs hour after hour (*sigh* - what torture!)
So, this Monday was a day of laundry and drinking plenty of fluids. I knew a good way to keep my mind positive would be to continue with the project. Thankfully, Blackmail is a film I am familiar with and rather fond of, so it didn't necessitate any extreme concentration on my part. However, this DVD edition (from Studio Canal's 'The Early Hitchcock Collection') has been wonderfully reproduced and the clarity is a wonder to behold.

Alice White - Anny Ondra (voiced by Joan Barry)
Mrs White - Sara Allgood
Mr White - Charles Paton
Detective Frank Webber - John Longden
Mr Tracy - Donald Calthrop
The Artist - Cyril Ritchard
The Landlady - Hannah Jones
The Chief Inspector - Harvey Braban
The Detective Sergeant - Ex Detective Sergeant Bishop (late C.I.D. Scotland Yard)

We enter the scene following a police squad van on a mission. The policemen arrive at their destination and find their suspect in his bed, smoking a cigarette and reading a paper. The man spies the officers in a small mirror and goes to reach for his gun - they are quick enough to wrestle it off him and take him away to the station where they interrogate him, prosecute him and lock him up.
Frank is one of the detectives and as he leaves for the day, his girlfriend, Alice, is waiting for him. She has been waiting for half an hour and is visibly peeved.
The two make their way to a local restaurant and battle with other customers for a spare table. The first table they find is claimed by another couple and they instantly find another, however Alice has left her glove behind. Frank goes to retrieve it and notes how he was able to recognise it because of the two holes in the fingers, made by her sharp nails. Frank is growing impatient for some service and goes to order from a waitress. Alice looks into her bag and retrieves a note she has had for a while. It reads;

I'll be here on Tuesday at 6:30 - will you?

Alice returns it to her bag when Frank returns, having ordered.
The two discuss their plans - Frank wants to go to the movies, but Alice is being frustrating. One moment she wants to go, the next, she does not. We know why after she spies her lover in the room. Frank has had enough of Alice's fickle nature and leaves some money for her and storms out. He stops in the foyer and tries to cool down, but as he regains his composure, he sees Alice has met up with this other man. Frank is not happy.

Alice is walking home with her lover. they arrive at his home and he asks he up to his studio. Before they enter, a shadowy figure pesters the artist for something, apparently this man is a sponger and always trying to get money from people.
Once inside the lobby, the artist checks the mail left for him, there is a note from his landlady - he goes to speak to her - the strange man has apparently been asking for him. He dismisses it and heads up the stairs to the top floor with Alice.

In the artist's studio, he makes some drinks while Alice looks around. She is amused by his recent 'Laughing Jester' painting and she attempts to hold a palette at the easel. The artists shows her how to do it properly and helps her paint the figure of a woman. Joyed by the result, Alice signs her name at the bottom. She then spies a tutu hanging from a dressing screen, she suggests she could model for him - he urges her to do so - initially, she plays it coy, but he persuades her through a bit of reverse psychology.
Once she is wearing the tutu, he tries to pose her - he lowers the straps off her shoulders, places her arms behind her back, adjusts her hair... and then forces a deep kiss on her. She struggles and pulls away. She suggests that she ought to leave. As she returns behind the screen to change, the artists steals away her normal clothes and flings them across them room, telling her to come out and get them - she is now only in her under garments.
He pulls her out by her arms and she struggles some more, the two of them fall onto the bed behind the curtain - she pleads with him to stop, but he is insistent.
During the struggle, she reaches out to the bedside table where a plate of bread and cheese stands alongside a large kitchen knife. She grabs for it and withdraws it behind the curtain. The struggle continues but for not much longer. The curtain stops moving and a lifeless arm falls into our view. It is his.
Alice steps nervously out from behind the curtain and looks at the knife in her hand - she places it back on the plate and stares around the room. The laughing jester is no longer amusing, more macabre. She slashes at it with her sharp fingernails.
She returns to the screen where she feels the need to dress in order to retain some dignity. She switches off the lights and leaves, but not before painting over her signature on the painting.

Alice creeps down the stairs and out of the building. As she leaves, the shadowy figure watches.
She spends the whole night walking through the city of London, haunted by images brought on through her paranoia. An electric sign advertising Gordon's Gin White for Purity! animates a cocktail shaker, but her vision imagines a hand holding a dagger in a stabbing motion. In this deluded state, Alice continues her walk through the city.

By Dawn, she returns home and the landlady has found the body and has called the police. Alice creeps up to her bedroom just in time for her mother to come in and find her under the covers. Mrs White tells Alice about the murder. Alice gets up once her mother has left the room, gets out of her dirty clothes and puts something cleaner on.
Meanwhile, Frank is at the crime scene, he is disturbed to find one of Alice's gloves amongst the victim's property. He palms it, realising what must have happened.

Back at Alice's home, she is with her parents at their newsagent shop, which leads onto their own parlour. It's breakfast time.
Various customers come into the shop and everyone has the murder on their lips, particularly a local gossip who can't seem to shut up about it. During the gossip's rambling monologue about the nature of murders, all Alice can hear is the word 'knife' piercing the cloud engulfing her head. Again and again it stabs its way through until she becomes so jumpy, she flings the bread knife onto the floor.

Soon, Frank arrives, he takes Alice into the sound-proof phone booth and shows her the glove of hers that he found.
Then, that same shadowy figure from the night before enters the shop. He has spied the glove and saunters into the scene with an air of pompousness. He hints at his knowledge with a boastful manner and even shows that he found Alice's other glove at the scene. He indicates a suggestion of blackmail and invites himself into the parlour for breakfast, much to the bemusement of Mr and Mrs White. However, Alice and Frank play along. The man introduces himself as Mr Tracy and he makes himself very comfortable.

Meanwhile, the landlady of the artist's apartment block is speaking to the police and she describes the man whom she has seen hanging around the building and the same man from whom she took the note the previous night. After some time of looking through pages of images, she identifies the man who has a criminal record already...

Back in the White's parlour, Frank has given Tracy some money and he is enjoying the food and beverages provided. Frank receives a call from the police saying they may have found their man - this gives Frank the upper hand.
Frank stands up to Tracy and states categorically that it will be their word against his - and an officer of the law has more weight than a man with a criminal record.
This unnerves Tracy and he tries to wheedle his way out of it, but to no avail. Eventually, more coppers turn up and Tracy makes a break for it - he leaps out of the window and takes a taxi which is thusly chased by the squad car. When the taxi is held up by a traffic cop, he makes a break for it and heads into the British Museum. The police are hot on his heels and they race through the exhibits and through the library. He attempts to escape by climbing onto the roof, the team of policemen are hot in pursuit. Atop the dome of the museum, he is silhouetted against the morning sky.

Tracy: "I say - it's not me you want. It's him! Ask him! Why, his own - "

With this final statement, he slips and falls, crashing through the glass in the dome and plummeting to his death.

Meanwhile, back at the Whites', Alice has written a note to Frank saying she is going to confess. She walks calmly to New Scotland Yard and is taken to the Inspector where she is about to tell the truth - Frank is there and tries to stop her. Before she manages to confess, the Inspector's phone rings and has to take the call - Frank ushers Alice out and away. She tries to confide in him everything that has happened, but he doesn't need her to talk - they walk hand in hand out of the office and down to the reception area. As a colleague jokes with Frank about the premise of women in the police force (!) Alice spies the evidence of the Laughing Jester and it mocks her as it is taken away.


Great Lines
Firstly, let us note the very first piece of dialogue heard in a full-length British motion picture:

Frank: "Well, we finished earlier tonight than I expected!"

Sure, not the most astounding piece of dialogue ever and it does take 8 minutes into the film until it is heard, but still, it is a piece of history.

In the restaurant scene where Frank and Alice are debating going to the cinema, Frank says he'd like to go and see 'Fingerprints' as it is about Scotland Yard but he is wary of the poetic license that may be taken:

Frank: "...they're bound to get all the details wrong."
Alice: "I don't see why, I did hear they got a real criminal to direct it so as to be on the safe side."

Could this be a private joke Hitchcock is making about himself?

Other great moments of dialogue are uttered by the gossip in the shop whilst Alice's family are trying to have their breakfast in the parlour:

Gossip: "...a good clean honest whack over the head with a brick is one thing - there's something British about that. But knives..?"

She continues...

Gossip: "...I can't stand here gossiping like some people. 'chatter, chatter, chatter' - give 'em a chance to talk about other people's business and they'll take it!"

One other sweet line which may or may not be a deliberate joke is when Tracy and Frank are debating their positions - Alice tries to offer her opinion, but Frank won't have it. The next line could be a private joke:

Tracy: "Why can't you let her speak?"

Anny Ondra, although capable of speaking English to a degree, had a very strong Czech accent and could not sound cockney (frankly, I know which accent I prefer!) Joan Barry stood off camera with a microphone and said all of Alice's lines whilst Anny mouthed them. One can only think of Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain...

And so, the next era begins! Talking pictures have arrived and this was Britain's very first talkie.
Hitchcock was very aware of the arrival of the new technology and was wise enough to film this movie twice, back to back, in order to have a copy available as a silent for those cinemas who could not play talkies.
He uses the new toy of sound to great advantage, particularly showing how distracting it can be; the artist's piano playing which becomes more aggressive as his libido increases, the frustrating birdsong which epitomises the confusion in Alice's head as she dresses the morning after having not slept a wink, the stabbing nature of the word 'knife' as it punctuates Alice's dreamlike state...

Other touches throughout the film are standard Hitchcock motifs, the shot of the spiralling staircase as Alice exits the crime scene, the shadows on walls which symbolise foreboding or prisons and the repetition of signs and symbols that act as reminders of the horror - the sight of an arm only triggers fear in Alice's eyes as it recalls the lifeless limb of her victim.

Although Hitch has made a number of cameos already in his films, this is his first most blatant cameo. He is sat on the train with our heroes and he is being pestered by a young boy. He admonishes the boy's mother, but she does not punish him. Hitch's look of wariness and displeasure towards the boy is absolutely classic.

My Verdict
One of my favourites, despite our anti-hero literally getting away with murder.
It's dark, moody and with sprinkling doses of black comedy. Perfect ingredients for classic Hitchcock.