One of Alfred Hitchcock’s more indicative British films, Young and Innocent manages to encounter a lot of the director’s more memorable tendencies: the ‘innocent man’ who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, his dry-as-a-bone British humor, his remarkable efficiency in telling a story, his bizarre obsession with having birds surround mayhem, and his always correctly lensed, correctly moved, and correctly framed camerawork.As plot machinations go, here’s a basic rundown… A woman is killed. Man with twitching eyes is probably the killer. Hitchcock Hero is framed at scene of crime, escapes from police and must catch real killer before police catch him. His Girl Friday must do things he can’t do to clear name, and naturally, fall in love with said Hero. Loads of corny jokes, a few thrills, some jumpy editing, and lots of oddball characters later, and you’ve completed the Young and Innocent experience.
"Quirky and British"
Of course, this vague description could allude to many Hitch flicks, and certainly shouldn’t subvert the fact that this is an immensely entertaining movie, and in its own way, quite necessary for the director's evolution.
Okay, there are more than a few ‘only-in-a-movie’, ‘only-in-a-Hitchcock-movie’, ‘only-in-a-Hitchcock-British-movie’ situations involving escaping criminals and flat-footed policemen, but Young and Innocent is all in good fun. The overall impression of the movie is a pretty blasé thriller - though it would be hard to classify it as all that thrilling – and is more light comedy than anything else. Nova Pilbeam is about as far as Hitchcock could stretch his ‘bombshell-blonde’ continuum, and her button-nose virtuousness is, I suppose, the origin of the film’s title.
Dishing out a fine array of mumbled one-liners is one of the director’s more charming British heroes, Derrick De Marney. De Marney has a wonderful, Cary Grant-like delivery, and plays off the usual stiffness of a Hitchcock heroine quite well. An early scene with him and his appointed counsel, one Mr. Briggs, is particularly hilarious, as they talk over bits of weather and misplaced eyeglasses. It’s a superb example of how Hitchcock was as good at dishing out enchanting comedy as anyone.
And, well, what would a screwball British film be without an actor named Basil in it? This time Basil Radford is the source of some hilarity (he’d pop up the next year musing over cricket with deadpan seriousness in Hitchcock’s funniest work, The Lady Vanishes), as he ignorantly tells accused murderer De Marney that “he mustn’t keep standing outside like a criminal,” and cordially shows him indoors where some children are playing - coincidentally - Blind Man’s Bluff. Hitchcock always liked his irony the way he liked his steak sauce: spread on thick.
We assume old twitchy-eyes will turn up sooner or later, but just how it will happen is why we stick around. With a laughably coincidental series of clues and informants (in this case: matchbooks, raincoats, and an old tramp), our leading lady, without much trepidation, ends up doing a lot of the work tracking down a murderer. As in To Catch a Thief, we never feel all that much distress for Young and Innocent’s characters - though there are a few tense moments in a mine shaft – we just want to see them solve the little 80-minute puzzle with a few good jokes. And, by Jove, they end up doing just that.
Thankfully, Hitch never let repartee (or much of anything else) get in the way of an important camera move, and there is one particular shot in Young and Innocent that is worth waiting 70 minutes of the movie to see. A beautifully crisp, smooth, ambitious crane shot (which must have been hell to pull off in little Gaumont British Studios in 1937) starts in a very wide shot of a hotel lobby, and keeps moving, closer and closer, until it finally rests on one of the largest close-ups of a pair of eyes I’ve seen outside of Sergio Leone picture.
If you’re into moviemaking in the slightest regard, it will take your breath away. Just a simple reminder of just what makes Hitchcock… well… Hitchcock.The movie as a whole may be milquetoast Hitchcock, but the “touch” is there. He was the Master of more than just suspense, and Young and Innocent proved that his knack for the economic, fast-paced comedy/thriller was unmatched. In fact, it’s still unsurpassed.
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originally posted: 02/24/05 08:24:03