Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Downhill | #ProjectHitch

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.

- Lesley

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Ring | #ProjectHitch

It’s week 3 of #ProjectHitch and with it comes a distinction within Hitchcock’s career. The Ring (1927) is the only completely original screenplay Hitch ever produced, with no other writers receiving credit for the conception. I was definitely interested in seeing this film because of that reason but I have to say that it didn’t quite meet my expectations.

I should also mention, I had trouble finding a copy of this movie so ended up watching it on youtube, which I don’t necessarily recommend doing since the only full length uploads I could find didn’t include the soundtrack which made for a bit of a stunted viewing experience. 

The Ring centres around fair ground boxer, “One round” Jack and his girl, Mabel. Jack is in essence a carnival attraction, luring punters into a tent with the promise that he’ll knock out any opponent in one round. The beautiful Mabel, works outside his tent, selling tickets. Early on in the piece, we are introduced to the professional heavyweight champ, Bob Corby, who conveniently enough falls for the lovely Mabel as well.

The majority of the film focuses on this love triangle between Mabel and the two boxers, with the fickle Mabel at times playing with both of their affections. Jack is very much the underdog of the film and therefore clearly the man we’re meant to root for. Mabel does consent to marry Jack, not far into the film but continues her affair with Bob throughout.

Grimy guy promoting Jack's boxing attraction.
The lack of music in the version I watched really impacted how this film worked for me. I found myself not really caring for either party, with most of my annoyance being directed at Mabel and her mostly unnecessary deceptions and lack of compassion for her husband. 

For me, the supporting characters ended up being much more of a draw, the old gypsy lady at the fair ground and the grimy looking guy (who sometimes resembled Roy Disney?) that Jack works with, being my two favourites. They stole every scene they were in as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately I have no idea of these character's names, if they do indeed have names. 

The biggest problem I found was, from the start, it was possible to predict the entire outcome of the film. The plot was relatively obvious and seemingly unimaginative, something I found particularly irritating coming from a Hitchcock film. Even though this wasn’t one of Hitch’s much loved suspense films, I was still hoping for a little bit of a twist. Just something a little out of the ordinary to make me sit up and pay attention but unfortunately I waited in vain. Perhaps the predictability of the film’s love triangle and underdog working their way through the ranks motifs would have been less obvious in 1927 but The Ring doesn’t seem to hold up for a modern audience the way many of his other films do.

I still enjoyed The Ring in general and am glad to have watched it but I can’t help but feel it was a little bit of a letdown compared to his previous efforts.

Be sure to come back next week for my thoughts on the 1927 film, Downhill. Hopefully it will be a more successful excursion that The Ring.

- Lesley 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog | #ProjectHitch

Week two of #ProjectHitch is upon us and with it brings the most well-known of his silent era films, 
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927).

I’m not even sure where to begin with this film, only to say that I adored it. As far as Hitchcock’s signature style is concerned, The Lodger is leaps and bounds ahead of last weeks film, The Pleasure Garden. Hitch did actually direct another feature film between the two but the 1926 movie, The Mountain Eagle is unfortunately lost to audiences, without a known copy of the film in existence. Without having been able to watch the film in between I can’t say what kind of advances his directorial style and vision may have undergone but I can say that to me, The Lodger really ‘feels’ like a Hitchcock film. The atmosphere, the tone, the character types and the inventive camera angles are exactly the kind of genius I have come to expect of ol’ Hitch. Not to say that The Pleasure Garden didn’t have some of that signature Hitchcock magic but it was definitely to a much lesser extent. It’s clear with The Lodger that he is coming into his own and creating a voice for himself and that (let me tell you) is such a fun thing to be able to watch unfold.

One of our "golden haired" victims
For those of you unfamiliar, The Lodger is based on the 1913 novel of the same name by Marie Belloc Lowndes about the famous Jack the Ripper murders. The film opens with a beautiful young blonde girl screaming dramatically as she becomes the seventh and latest victim of The Avenger Murderer, an unknown person who has been attacking “golden haired” women and leaving a note on their bodies with the words ‘The Avenger’. As the film progresses we are introduced to our core cast, Daisy and her rather annoying parents, her less than ideal boyfriend, Joe (who just happens to work for the Police) and, of course, our lodger (Johnathan), played by the incredibly handsome and charming, Ivor Novello.

I mean, just look at that attraction!
It’s clear from the start that we are meant to suspect, this mysterious Lodger as the killer and that sense of distrust permeates the entirety of the film. Ivor Novello was, to me, perfect casting. It didn’t matter how suspicious he was acting or what he got up to, there was always a part of me that wanted to like him. The chemistry between the lodger and Daisy was palpable as they began their flirtation, made all the more sweet by the annoyance it caused, the ever irritating, Joe. Unfortunately the remastered version of the film I watched, somewhat marred that initial connection between our leading man and lady with the inclusion of some terrible contemporary love song, that was not only offensive to my musical tastes but also just completely jarring. It pulled me out of the world of the film and made me feel like I was instead, watching a terrible music video. Similar jarring music appeared towards the end of the film but apart from those couple of upsets I found the soundtrack relatively inoffensive and mostly complementary. 

Anyway, back to the actual story – Daisy and Johnathon continue to get closer despite the disapproval of the other people in her life as well as Johnathon’s continued suspicious behaviour (such as, late night outings and locked cupboards) and yet another golden haired victim is found. Daisy’s parents and Joe are both highly suspicious of the lodger and worried about his involvement with Daisy, so much so that Joe acquires a warrant to search his rooms, finding both a gun and a photograph of the first murder victim, who when pressed, the lodger claims was his sister, although; Daisy seems to be the only one to believe him. The others remain distrustful, a distrust that honestly seems a little unfounded. I understand why the audience should suspect Johnathon but as for the other characters, they seem to leap across reasonable deductions, making crazy accusations on highly circumstantial occurrences (obviously before the gun and photograph come to light) and having now done some research on the film, I understand why. 

The film was originally meant to end on an ambiguous note, with the audience and the characters never quite sure if Johnathon was in fact The Avenger murderer or not but due to the casting of the much beloved, Ivor Novello, the ending had to be rewritten to make sure he came across as unarguably innocent (a similar occurrence would take place in Hitchcock’s 1941 film, Suspicion but we’ll get to that later in the year). The film instead, ends with a mob very nearly tearing the lodger limb from limb in true vigilante style before Joe saves him, having realised he’s made a mistake when he learns that the true murderer has already been arrested. I didn’t completely dislike the ending since I did enjoy the romance between the lodger and Daisy but I actually think I would have preferred the more abstruse ending that the film was originally meant to possess.

Overall, I ended up highly enjoying The Lodger. It has made me even more excited to see what other silent gems Hitchcock has to offer (as well as now wanting to check out more films with the beautiful, Ivor Novello).

The handsome and mysterious lodger.

Be sure to check back next week to see how I got along with Hitch’s next offering, the 1927 film, The Ring.

- Lesley

Monday, 5 January 2015

The Pleasure Garden | #ProjectHitch

Project Hitch has officially begun. Last night Morgan and I sat down and watched the 1925 film, The Pleasure Garden. The Pleasure Garden has the distinction of being the first film that Alfred Hitchcock worked on with a legitimate director’s credit. It was his directorial debut, if you will. He had, of course, worked on various other films but this was the film that would start his legacy.

The Pleasure Garden, being from 1925, is of course a silent film and one that (if you’re not familiar with silent films) may be a decent place to start. The film follows the story of two chorus girls, Patsy and Jill. Jill arrives in London with the idea of becoming a chorus girl for a place known as The Pleasure Garden (hence the title of our film) but finds herself in a bit of a bind when the first thing to happen to her is an unceremonious pickpocketing, leaving her penniless. Luckily for Jill, established chorus girl, Patsy has a heart of gold (seriously, this girl is properly lovely) and instantly takes her under her wing, allowing her to stay at her apartment and taking her to work with her so she has the chance to convince (the insufferable) Mr Hamilton that she is chorus girl material. 

I have to admit that the first half of the film (at least for me) took a little bit of deciphering. In the opening scene we see Patsy performing with the other dancers for a rather excited audience of men, one of whom asks to be introduced to Patsy after the performance. Patsy wears a blonde wig onstage but when at home has short dark hair, very similar to Jill’s (making the two lead girls easily confusable in my mind).

As the film progresses the vast differences between Patsy and Jill become apparent. Early on we are introduced to Jill’s lovely finance, Hugh and his lecherous colleague, Levet (honestly I hate everything about this man!). The two are only in London briefly as their current work is in Africa. Hugh is forced to return to work first leaving Jill plenty of time to forget about him and focus on her own selfish gains in regards to what she calls becoming a “star” and spending time with rich and powerful men, including a prince. 

While Jill is busy climbing social ranks, Patsy spends more time with the horrible, Levet. Blind to his true nature, Patsy agrees to marry him but remain in London while he works. A perfect arrangement as far as Levet, is concerned since he gets his honeymoon pleasure without being tied down in any tangible way afterwards. 

This film is a constant back and forth of utterly repulsive characters coupled with hugely likeable and sweet characters. Patsy is miserable at not having heard from her husband since his return to Africa, only to receive a letter from him weeks later complaining of an illness. Patsy ends up having to borrow money from her very sweet, but poor, married landlords (after being refused help from the selfish, Jill) so as she can go be by her (rubbish) husbands side during his illness. 

Patsy and Hugh staring at the the crazy, Levet
This is where everything gets very interesting. Patsy arrives in Africa to find Levet shacked up with a native girl. This is the scene that really made me love Patsy. She yells and screams at him and refuses to stay by his side, calling him a “filthy animal!” I loved it. The spineless, Levet attempts to backtrack and cast off his mistress but Patsy won’t take his shit any longer. Her eyes have been opened and she refuses to close them again. Before Patsy leaves for London, she learns that the lovely Hugh is dangerously ill and decides to tend to him. The two become closer and Hugh even kisses her in his feverish state, believing her to be Jill. But wait. Bloody Levet is back. Since Patsy last saw him, he has oh so charmingly drowned his lover and is now furiously jealous that Patsy is tending to Hugh and drags her back to his place.

 At this point, this man is pissing me off to no end. Honestly. What now?

Cue ghostly image
Well…in his guilty and agitated state he sees a spectral image of the woman he recently drowned (which, by the way was a seriously impressive effect!) and is convinced that she won’t rest until he runs Patsy through with a sword. Right. Of course. Seriously, this guy! Luckily, Hugh is worried about Patsy and sends someone to make sure she’s okay, resulting in Levet getting what’s coming to him and Hugh and Patsy admitting their mad love and attraction for one another. 

Now, a part of this film that I haven’t mentioned, and possibly my favourite touch to the whole thing, is Patsy’s adorable dog, Cuddles who throughout the film has shown an affinity for Hugh and an utter hatred for the douche, known as Levet. Now, at the end when Patsy and Hugh return to London, happy, healthy and in love we get an adorable rom com moment of “Cuddles knew all the time!” which utterly cracked me up and was actually a much needed relief after the drama of the Africa scenes.

In all I really enjoyed The Pleasure Garden and enjoyed seeing snippets of the things that Hitchcock would become known for in the future. 

#ProjectHitch is off to a great start. We may only be one movie down, but so far I am loving it. Be sure to check back next week when we watch the most loved of Hitch’s silent films, The Lodger from 1927.

- Lesley

Friday, 2 January 2015


Happy New Year, my beautiful readers! I have been wanting to make this here neglected blog a little more active for some time now but without much luck, however; a project I’m about to get started on may assist in changing all that. It’s called Project Hitch and essentially it’s going to be me and my boyfriend, Morgan, watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie every week (most probably on Sundays) for the entire year or until his movies run out (which if I can find all the movies on my list should actually end up being the same thing).

We’re going to be watching every movie that has a directorial credit from Alfred Hitchcock, including his silent films from the 1920s, in chronological order. 

Every week a new blog post will go up, chatting about that week’s film, what it was about and what I thought of it and then at the end of each month a video recap of that months films will go up on the WordsofaReader Youtube channel, hopefully including Morgan when we can manage it so you’ll get to hear two perspectives on the films.

I for one am super excited for this project. I’ve been wanting to talk more about films to you guys and I’ve also been wanting to dive deeper into Hitchcock’s prolific and impressive career, so I think this will work out perfectly. If at any point anyone else would like to join in, in anyway, each post will include the title of the next weeks film so feel free to watch along with us where possible and share your thoughts. I’m going to be using the hashtag #ProjectHitch all year so be sure to use the hashtag on social media if there’s anything you want to chat to me about in regards to this project.

The first film that we’ll be watching this Sunday the 4th of January will be The Pleasure Garden from 1925. Be sure to check back to hear more about it next week.

- Lesley