Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hitchcock 9

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) presented the Hitchcock 9 at the Castro Theater from June 14 to 16.  I saw six of the nine films on the program.  The Hitchcock 9 is project by the British Film Institute to digitally restore all of Alfred Hitchcock’s surviving silent films.

Blackmail starring Anny Ondra, John Longden & Cyril Ritchard; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by the Mont Alo Motion Picture Orchestra; (1929)
The Ring starring Carl Brisson, Lilian Hall-Davis & Ian Hunter; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by the Mont Alo Motion Picture Orchestra; (1927)
The Manxman starring Carl Brisson, Malcolm Keen & Amy Ondra; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Stephen Horne & Diana Rowan; (1929)
Easy Virtue starring Isabel Jeans, Robin Irvine & Franklin Dyall; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg; (1927)
The Pleasure Garden starring Virginia Valli, Camelita Geraghty, Miles Mander & John Stuart; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Stephen Horne; (1926)
The Lodger starring Ivor Novello, Malcolm Keen & June Tripp; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by the Mont Alo Motion Picture Orchestra; (1926)

The same nine films are screening at the PFA from August 16 to 31.  Judith Rosenberg is scheduled to accompany all nine films.  I plan on seeing the three films I missed at the PFA screenings.

It was little odd for SFSFF to have a program so close to their annual festival.  The crowds were a little lighter than the festival proper but still quite strong.  It was also the first time I recall Judith Rosenberg performing at a SFSFF event.  She performs regularly at PFA and Niles Essanay.

Most of the films were not "Hitchcockian" - few murders and the humor wasn't quite so cheeky.


The festival opened with Blackmail which was Hitchcock's final silent film and it portended his best talkies.  Frank (John Longden) is police detective. He and his girlfriend Alice (Anny Ondra) have an argument over dinner.  It's unclear if Alice is having an affair or goes off with an artist in response to the argument with Frank.  I think the latter but regardless, she goes to his studio where he eventually tries to rape her.  She defends herself with a pair of scissors which ends in the artist death.

Frank is assigned the case the next day and recognizes Alice's glove at the murder scene as well as the victim who he glimpsed leaving the restaurant with Alice.  He tries to steer the investigation away from Alice but she is being blackmailed by someone who saw her enter the artist's studio.  Frank and Alice conspire to handle the blackmailer but he flees leading to climactic chase on the roof of the British Museum Reading Room.

This film felt just like one of the Master's more well known films - sex, blackmail, murder, etc.  Hitchcock shoots a great visual scene where the camera elevates as Alice and the artist ascend the stairs.

Michael Powell of Powell & Pressburger fame worked on Blackmail as a still photographer.


The Ring wasn't bad although it didn't feel like a Hitchcock film.  "One Round" Jack (Carl Brisson) is a carnival boxer who takes on all comers.  Bob Corby (Ian Hunter) is the boxing champ who steps into the carnival ring against Jack.  Jack doesn't know who his opponent is and suffers a rare defeat at his hands.  Corby was there looking for a sparring partner.

Jack's girlfriend, and eventual wife, (Lilian Hall-Davis credited as "The Girl") is fickle.  She was attracted to Jack because of his boxing prowess but seeing Corby beat him and the following Corby's boxing career, she eventually takes up with the champ.  In fact, Jack must rise up the ranks in order to get a championship fight against Corby in order to win the girl back.  Ironically, it is while Jack is training for the fight that Corby and the girl become an item.  If the old boxing superstition is to be believed, it was because Corby consorted with women that he eventually loses the match to Jack.

The film was a little too pat.  The Ring is Hitchcock's only screenwriting credit and shows a maudlin streak.  I thought it would have worked better if Jack had lost the fight (or the girl) but there is no use in talking about the film that wasn't made.  The final fight scene was nicely done although the two actors did not move like fighters.


The Manxman was also a love triangle but I enjoyed it more than The Ring.  The title refers to people from the Isle of Man.  Shouldn't they be called Manman or Manmen (plural)?  Hitchcock makes great use of the coastal scenery but Cornwall stood in for the Isle of Man, a small island off the northwest coast of England,

Pete (Carl Brisson) , a poor fisherman and Philip (Malcolm Keen), a lawyer from a prominent family are best friends.  Pete is in love Kate (Anny Ondra) but her father refuses to allow her daughter to marry Pete due to his low station in life.  Pete goes to Africa to make his fortune.  Africa?  Anyway, before he leaves he ask Philip to "take care" of Kate until he returns and can marry her.  You know were this is going.

In Pete's absence, Kate & Philip develop attraction towards each other but it isn't until news of Pete's death reaches them that their passion can be fully expressed.  Philip is being groomed for a judgeship on the island (which is called a Deemster).  Additionally, Philip's family objects to his consorting with people like Kate (a tavern keeper's daughter) and Pete.

News of Pete's death was inaccurate as he arrives back on Isle of Man healthy and wealthy.  Although she has stronger feelings from Philip, Kate marries Pete so as not to break his heart and not to mention Philip has kept their relationship on the QT.  There is a great scene where the wedding reception is held at a grain mill, the same spot of many of Philip and Kate's trysts.  Kate's father (the stern looking Randie Ayrton) delivers a wedding toast about something being ground up like the grain under the millstone.

Kate & Pete settle into married life while Philip is appointed Deemster.  If Kate could just let go of Philip, everything would be alright.  Kate gives birth (the father is open question) and the stress of being a new mother and being married to a man she doesn't truly love is too much.  She goes to Philip to rekindle their affair but he has a career and reputation to protect.  Distraught, Kate attempts suicide but is unsuccessful.  Attempted suicide is a crime on the Isle of Man and Kate is prosecuted in Philip's courtroom.

Despite his wife's erratic and hurtful behavior, Pete is still in love with her and pleads with Philip to free her to his custody.  Pete still doesn't know about Philip and Kate's relationship.  Philip agrees to let Kate go in the custody of her husband but she refuses.  While watching the proceedings, Kate's father begins to realize that Kate is in love with another man...and that man is Philip.  He publicly accuses Philip of betraying Pete and impregnating his daughter.  Philip admits to this and leaves the bench.

The final scene is Kate & Philip leaving the Isle of Man to jeers of a mob.  That seemed a little overdone but according the program notes, it would have been consistent with the prevailing attitude of the time.

The Manxman was very good and I liked it quite a bit.  I was going to say that I liked it quite a bit for a love triangle story but decided there was no need to qualify statement.  The three lead actors gave strong performances.


Easy Virtue was adapted from a Noel Coward play which seems like odd source material for both Hitchcock and a silent film.  I thought I saw the stage version of Easy Virtue at ACT a few years back, but I was mistaken.  ACT has never performed Easy Virtue.  I'm wondering where I saw it.  Since seeing the film, I realized it had been remade a few years ago with Jessica Biel, Colin Firth & Kristin Scott Thomas.  I still can't figure out where I saw the stage version.

Anyway, the Hitchcock version is a film I like better today than when I saw it.  I won't say I liked it but I've gone form mild dislike to neutrality.  As the film opens, Larita (Isabel Jeans) is married to a drunken wife beater.  Accused of adultery, she accepts divorce to get away from him.  The divorce brands her an adulterer or woman of "easy virtue" so she leaves for the French Rivera where she meets John Whittaker (Robin Irvine), a rich young man.  Afraid to reveal her divorce or more specifically the grounds for her divorce, she keeps her first marriage a secret.  John falls in love and asks her to marry him and she accepts.

John takes Larita back to England to meet his family where his mother shows an antipathy towards her. News of her first marriage and particulars of its dissolution come to light.  Larita eventually decides to end her second marriage for different reason that her first.  Tired of the hostility and realizing another woman loves John, Larita gets divorced for a second time.

Condensed to 70 minutes, the film didn't leave much room for character development.  Moreover, it looked like a play that had been filmed.  I'm also sure that some of Coward's biting dialogue was lost on the intertitle cards.


The Pleasure Garden was kind of ham-handed in some of its characterizations.  Jill (Carmelita Geraghty) arrives in London with a letter of introduction addressed to the proprietor of the Pleasure Garden Theater - a dance and variety revue.  Jill apparently comes from a small town and is immediately the victim of a pickpocket.  Jill promptly loses her letter and her money.  Patsy (Virginia Valli), a kind-hearted chorus girl at the Pleasure Garden takes pity of Jill and invites her to stay at her place.

Jill's boyfriend Hugh (John Stuart) shows up in London with Levet (Miles Mander) Levet, slight acquaintance.  Whatever her background, Jill is self-confident to the point of arrogance.  She gets a lead role on the basis of her talent and quickly gets high-handed with Jill and to a lesser extent Hugh.  In the meantime, Patsy & Levet being a romance despite signs of Levet's misogyny and other character flaws.

Hugh is sent overseas for work and Levet is soon to join him although he first marries Patsy.  Jill begins to carry on an affair with a prince which Hugh is unaware of.  After their honeymoon, Levet goes Africa although it looked more like a South Seas/Pacific island where he meets Hugh, keeps secret Jill's affair and takes up with local girl.  Patsy becomes concerned after not hearing from her husband for a long period.  Shacked up and not thinking much of his wife, Levet makes up an excuse by saying he has been ill.

Concerned for his health, Patsy immediately sets out to join him so she can nurse him back to health.  When she arrives unannounced, she discovers Levet has been carrying on with the native girl.  This sends Levet into a tizzy.  He forces the girl from his hut she refuses.  He settles the matter by drowning the girl.  Determined to get his wife back, he looks for her and find her tending to Hugh (who really is ill).  Levet forces Patsy to return to the hut where his guilt over killing the woman drives him crazy.  Actually, I wondered if his behavior was the result of untreated syphilis.  I don't know why that popped into my mind.

Hugh has warned his boss that Levet is acting erratically.  The boss arrives at Levet's house to find him trying to kill Patsy.  He shoots & kills Levet.  In the meantime, Hugh has read in a newspaper that Patsy brought that Jill is marrying the prince.  As Patsy arrives, the two find consolation with each other - one  a fevered man who has just learned he has been jilted and the other woman just barely survived attempted murder.  I'm sure that's a happily-ever-after relationship.

Miles Mander seems to be enjoying himself playing the dastardly Levet.   Carmelita Geraghty also seems to embrace the "success has gone to her head" Jill.  Virginia Valli & John Stuart seem a little flat in their roles.  A little melodrama goes a long way and this film had too much for my taste.


The full title of The Lodger was The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog.  A serial killer called "The Avernger" is terrorizing London.  His MO is to kill young blonde women.  He even kills them on Tuesday night every week.  Joe (Malcolm Keen), a policeman is assigned to case.  His blonde girlfriend Daisy (June Tripp) lives & works at her parents boarding house.  Joe has determined that the Avenger's murders are working their way across London and if the pattern holds, next week his hunting ground will be in the vicinity of Daisy's boarding house.

Mr. Drew (Ivor Novello) arrives at the boarding house and rents a room.  A peculiar man, Drew is secretive and has the paintings of beautiful blonde nudes removed from his room.  Drew & Daisy become friendly during his stay which leaves Joe resentful.  In addition, Daisy's mother hears Drew entering the house late one night...only to discover the Avenger has struck again and right around the corner from her house.

Daisy's parents and Joe come to believe Drew is the Avenger but Daisy is unconvinced.  She even goes out with him the Tuesday night.  Joe arrests the lodger and finds a gun, a map with the Avenger's murders marked on it, newspaper clippings and a photo of an attractive blonde woman.  Joe thinks he has caught the Avenger despite Daisy's protest.  Drew escapes custody and hides out with Daisy's help.  Drew explains that the woman in the photo is his sister and one of the Avenger's victims.  Drew had promised his dying mother that he would catch the Avenger and he has been hunting him ever since which explains his suspicious behavior.

With a manhunt on for the Avenger/Drew, a crowd becomes suspicious of Drew and Daisy.   It appears as though a lynching is inevitable but at the crucial moment, a paperboy, hawking his newspapers, loudly announces that the Avenger has been caught and the mob disperses.

Not quite a MacGuffin but definitely a red herring, Hitchcock keeps the deception up for the entire film.  I don't think the Avenger's face was shown in the film.  The lodger's true intentions remained hidden throughout the film which allowed for a "surprise" ending.  The Lodger felt like a Hitchcock film and a good one at that.  Ivor Novello is particularly creepy as the eponymous character.

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