A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, January 27, 2017

Young and Innocent (Alfred Hitchcock, 1937)

If Alfred Hitchcock hadn't made The 39 Steps (1936) before Young and Innocent, the latter film might be taken for a somewhat less tightly plotted and certainly less well-cast sketch for the earlier one. Instead of Robert Donat as the man wrongly accused of murder on the run with Madeleine Carroll as his reluctant accomplice, we get the considerably lower-wattage Derrick De Marney and Nova Pilbeam. Young and Innocent (released in America as The Girl Was Young) feels almost like a retread, in which Hitchcock is trying out a few things that he'll use with more finesse in later films but isn't concerned with much in the way of plausibility and motivation. There is, for example, the focus on the hands when Erica Burgoyne (Pilbeam) is trapped in a car that's sliding into a sinkhole, and Robert Tisdall (De Marney) reaches out to grasp her. We'll see it again with variations in Saboteur (1942) and North by Northwest (1959), but there with more integration into the plot; here the sinking car seems to be only a gimmick introduced to allow Hitchcock to play with suspense-building techniques. There's also a long tracking crane shot that gradually focuses in on the villain (George Curzon) with a give-away tic that anticipates the tracking shot in Notorious (1946) that ends up on the key in Ingrid Bergman's hand. Hitchcock also uses Young and Innocent to exploit his well-known fear of the police, this time by mocking them, as when two cops are forced to hitch a ride with a farmer hauling livestock in his cart: When they complain about how crowded the cart is, the farmer tells them it was only built for ten pigs. Otherwise, Young and Innocent is agreeably nonchalant about plot essentials: Why was Tisdall mentioned in the murdered woman's will? Why did everyone assume that when he ran for help after discovering her body he was actually fleeing the scene of the crime? Why does he flee from the courtroom instead of sticking around to plead his case? Why does Erica so swiftly believe in his innocence? The film is nonsense, but it's enjoyable nonsense if you turn off such questions and go along for the ride. The screenplay, loosely based on a novel by Josephine Tey, is credited to Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, and Anthony Armstrong, but I suspect it was much reworked by Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, who is credited with "continuity," to allow for the director's experiments in suspense.