Young and Innocent Review

Michael Brooke has reviewed the Region 0 release of Young and Innocent.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Young and Innocent (aka The Girl Was Young in the US) has tended to be somewhat underrated, largely because it was made in between the rather more substantial likes of The 39 Steps, Sabotage and The Lady Vanishes. But if it never reaches the heights of those three masterpieces, on its own terms it’s an excellent, suspenseful thriller with some great set pieces and a nice streak of authentic Hitchcockian black humour.

It’s one of the earliest examples of a favourite Hitchcock theme – that of an man framed for murder and forced to go on the run to prove his innocence. At the start of the film, famous actress Christine Clay is murdered, and the chief suspect is Robert Tisdall (Derrick de Marney), the main beneficiary of her will (which of course supplies a perfect motive). Hitchcock shows us right from the start that someone else committed the murder, but Tisdall’s challenge is to prove this to the satisfaction of the other characters, especially the police.

In this he’s helped by Erica Burgoyne (Nova Pilbeam), the daughter of the local police chief. Not especially well disposed towards Tisdall at first, she gradually comes to believe his innocence, and effectively goes on the run with him in an attempt to track down an old tramp who might have the only really conclusive piece of evidence.

The (British) title Young and Innocent refers not only to Erica’s bewilderment at what’s going on around, but also to Hitchcock’s use of children and innocent witnesses at key dramatic moments – most notably the scene where Tisdall and Erica are forced to attend her cousin’s birthday party and be grilled by a suspicious aunt, eventually sneaking out during a sinister game of blind man’s buff. Apparently – and bizarrely – this scene was originally cut on its American release, though it’s been restored for the DVD.

The film has a lovely archaic quality to it – everyone either speaks in impeccable cut-glass British accents that make the Queen sound like a prole (the standout example being the birthday girl at the party), or as authentic gor-blimey salt-of-the-earth working class types (“Gwan, bash ‘is mug in!”) who hang out in places with names like Nobby’s Lodging House. And there’s some wonderfully blatant model work, especially the shot where a car is nearly hit by a train – as with many of his British films, Hitchcock’s imagination outstripped what a British studio could deliver either in terms of budget and technical facilities (it’s no wonder he went to Hollywood a couple of films later – it was really the only place for him)

And it ends with one of the classic Hitchcock set-pieces – a single camera track across a crowded dance floor that ends up revealing the true identity of the murderer, a shot that’s a triumph both technically and dramatically (he would essentially repeat it in Notorious, one of his greatest films). This scene is such a standout that it’s tended to overshadow the rest of the film, which isn’t that surprising – neither Pilbeam nor de Marney are especially charismatic leads (a perennial problem in Hitchcock’s British work), and the film is more notable for its numerous Hitchcock touches than the main story.

The DVD sleeve claims that it’s been “digitally mastered from the best available sources for the highest quality possible”, but I really can’t believe this extremely soft transfer is the best we’re ever going to get. Also, the print isn’t exactly in pristine condition – it’s passable for the most part, but gets worse towards the end, with a fair amount of damage and even jump cuts (though, to be fair, there’s nothing that seriously affects enjoyment). Although there’s a pleasngly wide dynamic range, the softness works against it, and the shadows seriously lack detail. It’s a pale shadow of Criterion’s The 39 Steps, which shows what can be done with pensionable film material when no expense or effort is spared. The framing is the original 4:3, hence the lack of an anamorphic transfer.

The sound, of course, is the original mono, and it betrays its age in that it’s more than a little compressed – though dialogue comes across with perfect clarity (helped enormously by the hilariously over-enunciated diction of many of the characters).

There’s an extremely generous selection of 30 chapter stops, and Laserlight haven’t done too badly on the extras either. Presumably unable to track down an original trailer for Young and Innocent, they’ve thrown in one for Hitchcock’s later masterpiece Strangers on a Train instead, and it’s a more than adequate substitute, especially as the transfer is superb – if only Young and Innocent had had the same kind of treatment!

There’s also a three-minute introduction by Tony Curtis, who has supplied introductions for many of Laserlight’s Hitchcock titles. It’s a rather bizarre choice since he never actually worked with Hitchcock (his closest connection is his marriage to Janet Leigh, of Psycho fame). Quibbles aside, Curtis’ intro has some solid background information, covering the material that would normally be featured in production notes.

The major extra, though, is a complete 25-minute episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series – though it’s curious that ‘The Cheney Vase’ (1955) was chosen in preference to the episodes that were actually directed by Hitchcock himself. Still, he does at least appear in person to bookend the film (“I abhor violence. That is why on this programme we use stabbing, shooting and garrotting only when they are absolutely essential to the plot… or when the whim strikes me.”)

Patricia Collinge and Darren McGavin star in this tale of a former museum curator who ruthlessly exploits a rich and crippled widow in an attempt to gain her fortune – only to find the tables turned on him when she realises what’s going on.

The print is even worse than that of Young and Innocent. Riddled with spots, scratches and near-continuous tramlines, it’s also exceptionally grainy. It’s a pretty sharp transfer, but that only serves to accentuate the grain. Needless to say, as a made-for-TV film, it’s framed at the original 4:3, and the sound is nothing to write home about. Generously, it’s been given thirteen chapter stops of its own.

At the time of writing, there’s a huge amount of British Hitchcock available on some very cheap DVDs – Laserlight and Madacy each offer several titles (and even overlap on several occasions: I presume they’re in the public domain, at least in the US). The Madacy discs are pretty awful, and the Laserlight ones not much better – but they’re far from unwatchable, and the price is a major incentive to explore films that are often very rarely shown.

That said, it should be noted that the two best-known British features, The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes, are also available as Criterion discs, with all that that implies: you pay a lot more, but the quality of both presentation and extras is far superior. But it’s unlikely that Criterion would tackle something like Young and Innocent – so it’s good that this DVD at least passes muster for the moment.

Michael Brooke

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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