This week’s movie, Downhill (1927) was one I had been looking forward to since having watched The Lodger, two weeks earlier as it too starred, the wonderful Ivor Novello as well as being based on a play that Novello co-wrote. Can you tell I’ve developed kind of a thing for Ivor Novello? Yeah. It’s gotten serious. I’m already trying to find a decent bio on him but most everything seems to be currently out of print so we’ll have to wait and see how that goes.
On to the actual film – I LOVED Downhill. It, while not critically as successful as some of Hitchcock’s other silent pieces, just managed to tick a whole bunch of boxes for me.
The story starts with two public school boys, Roddy and Tim (played by Ivor Novello and Robin Irvine) and their “friendship” with a local shop girl. It doesn’t take long for flirtation to become something more and before you know it Miss Sultry Shopgirl is knocked up and blaming Roddy for something that Tim did. The school doesn’t take too kindly to such reckless behaviour and Roddy is expelled, taking the blame and promising to keep Tim’s secret as Tim needs his reputation intact in order to gain a scholarship to Oxford. Unfortunately Roddy’s father doesn’t believe he’s innocent and so begins the downward spiral that becomes poor Roddy’s life.
Now as we already know, I am becoming a little biased when it comes to Ivor Novello but I really did adore the character of Roddy and really felt for him throughout the film. Not only does the poor boy get expelled from a school he loves and fall out with his father but he also gives his heart to an actress who only marries him for his money (after he inherits a lump sum from some relation or other), while continuing an affair with her acting partner, before ditching Roddy as soon as she’s finished spending his money. To top it all off Roddy ends up becoming a gigolo in Paris for older women until his self-loathing takes over and he ends up delirious, broke and alone.
|Roddy in somewhat happier times. Poor chap didn't know what was coming to him.|
This film is not exactly what I would describe as uplifting but to be honest I quite like a bit of misery in my stories and the many dramatically charged trials Roddy was forced to go through just made me love him more. But as we learned from The Lodger, Ivor Novello must come out on top. So after quite a period of desperation and melancholy, Roddy is shipped back to his family by some helpful sailors and returns to find that his father now knows he was wrong and is ready to beg for his son’s forgiveness, culminating in Roddy seamlessly slipping back into his former life. Kind of a cop out but a relatively pleasant one, I suppose.
I just want to take a moment to say that the scene where Roddy is returning home by boat is positively nauseating, a clearly intentional decision on Hitchcock’s part but one that worked maybe a little too affectively for me. Still kudos to Hitch for his wonderful innovations, still as impacting today as they would have been in the 20s.
Overall, Downhill was a winner for me. I completely understand why it wouldn’t work for everyone but I enjoyed every minute of it an am sure it will be a movie that I seek out time and again over the years.
Be sure to check back next week for thoughts on the next film, The Farmers Wife.