Young And Innocent Review
Young and Innocent marks a significant stage in Alfred Hitchcock’s career, one which would eventually lead to his move to America. At the end of production of Sabotage, the Ostrer Brothers, who owned Gaumont-British Pictures, announced their intention to cease operations as a production company. One of the many members of staff who lost their jobs was Michael Balcon, Hitchcock’s mentor since the start of his career. Around the same time, the writer Charles Bennett, Hitchcock’s regular collaborator since Blackmail, accepted an offer to work for Universal Pictures in America. Now a free agent, and without the reassuring company of Bennett and Balcon, Hitchcock’s ties to the British film industry were becoming increasingly tenuous and the offers from Hollywood seemed almost irresistible. Young and Innocent, the first of a two-picture deal with Gainsborough, can thus perhaps be seen as the beginning of an ending but, paradoxically, it’s one of the lightest and happiest of all Hitchcock’s thrillers.
We begin with a murder as the strangled corpse of an actress is discovered on a beach. Robert Tisdall (De Marney) is arrested on suspicion of her murder after he is seen running away from the body. He protests his innocence – he is the ‘young and innocent’ of the title – but cannot prove it and he is put further into the frame when it is discovered that he is the chief beneficiary of the actress’s will. A conviction seems certain but he manages to escape and, with the initially reluctant assistance of Erica Burgoyne (Pilbeam), he sets out to solve the murder and prove his innocence.
Immediately, it’s obvious that Hitchcock is using one of his favourite motifs – the innocent man running from false accusations. We see elements of this – with a distaff twist – in Murder and Blackmail - but the theme first fully blooms in The 39 Steps and recurs in films ranging from Saboteur through North By Northwest to his penultimate movie Frenzy. This early use of the motif is particularly successful because Robert is so likeably played by Derrick De Marney and his relationship with Erica is delightfully touching. Viewers familiar with Hitchcock’s work will also notice the references to sight – the game of blindman’s buff, the twitching eye, the glasses worn by Robert as a disguise – and the use of birds, notably in the sequence where the body is found. There is also much emphasis on playing games and taking different parts – you can also see this coming out in Hitchcock’s later work, particularly a British film which is very similar in some respects to this one, 1950’s Stage Fright, where the whole plot turns out to be a piece of play-acting.
Young and Innocent is a sunny, disposable pleasure and, while not particularly important in itself, it contains one of Hitchcock’s most brilliant suspense set-pieces; a crane shot which takes us from a wide view of a ballroom to an extreme close-up of a drummer whose eye is twitching. The camera moves 145 feet in a single shot which took two days to rehearse and the result is the first time in Hitchcock’s work that the camera itself makes a judgement on the characters. In addition to this, there’s a nail-biting sequence during which the floor of a mine collapses under the protagonists and Robert must rescue Erica in a scene which anticipates North By Northwest and, in a more sinister manner, Saboteur. The overall impression left by these brilliant scenes and the general entertainment value of the whole is of a director in complete control of his material and more than ready for the challenges which were about to come his way.
As with all of Hitchcock’s early work, Young and Innocent has been available on a dizzying array of cut-price discs since the advent of DVD. Indeed, I own a cheap version of it which looks like its being shown through a haze of fog. In this context, Network’s release is something of a triumph although that’s perhaps not saying a great deal. It is only available as part of the Network box Alfred Hitchcock: The British Years.
The film is given a progressive fullscreen transfer which does the job quite nicely. The level of contrast is generally very good and the detail is quite generous. There is an overall softness to the image and frequent flickering in the brighter scenes. Digital noise is a problem as are some compression artefacts and print damage is also evident. However, it’s still a vast improvement over the discs I’ve seen which are available from the PD specialists. The soundtrack is acceptable but nothing special. The dialogue is rendered very clearly but there is a lot of background hiss and crackle which sometimes proves distracting.
The extras are slightly more generous on this disc than on Sabotage. We get an introduction from Charles Barr who is as lugubrious as he is elsewhere but does impart some interesting information and a small image gallery. More interesting is the documentary Hitchcock: The Early Years. This will be familiar to anyone who bought the Carlton release of The 39 Steps but it’s a good introduction to Hitchcock’s British films and contains lots of enjoyable clips and interviews. Also welcome is the inclusion of the dialogue continuity script in Adobe Acrobat format. This is not the full screenplay but just the dialogue with directions of who is speaking to whom but it’s fascinating to look at.