Skip to main content

You’ve got to take me back father! You’ve got to take me back!

Downhill
(1927)

(SPOILERS) Hitchcock had no problem throwing Ivor Novello under a bus for this one (of the source material, Down Hill, by Novello and Constance Collier, under the nom de plume Julian L’Estrange, he said “It was done as a series of sketches. It was a rather poor play” and “the dialogue was pretty dreadful in spots”). Downhill makes for an overlong, plodding melodrama concerning unjustly expelled school boy Roddy (Novello), who embarks on a bleak but instructive rite of passage before finally having his world righted, Job-like.

At least, that’s how I, and I’m sure most people, read it. Time Out’s Bob Baker suggested that “Finally he is (or hallucinates that he is) transported back to London and into the apologetic arms of his family”. To see the voyage home as a hallucination would be to argue for a hallucination within a hallucination (there are several such during his journey), which I feel fairly certain wasn’t the intention.

Baker also argued Downhill was much more Novello than it was Hitchcock, suggesting a litany of his “gay motifs: brutish father, voluptuous victimhood, bloody women”. Although, untrustworthy women is hardly an element uncommon to Hitch’s later oeuvre. Nor is being falsely accused of a crime.

Downhill is ignited by waitress Mabel (Annette Benson) accusing Roddy of knocking her up (this isn’t stated explicitly); in fact, it was Roddy’s chum Tim (Robert Irvine) who did it, since both of them were carrying on with her (although, one gets the impression only Tim was intimate). Being a dashed noble sort, Roddy takes the rap for the act. Pops Sir Thomas (Norman McKinnel, a particularly unwelcoming dad) is having none of it when he protests his innocence, so the understandably aggrieved Roddy takes off.

He proceeds to get a job as a chorus boy. Then he comes into a legacy of £30k (about £1.8m, adjusted for inflation), but being a prat, he duly fritters it away, marrying gold-digger actress Julia Fotheringale (Isabelle Jeans). Who, being another deceitful woman, continues seeing her leading man Archer (Ian Hunter). Roddy isn’t at rock bottom yet, however, since his next wrung down is working as a gigolo in Paris, servicing older women. He ends up in Marseilles, where a couple of (possibly) sympathetic sailors ship him home, to his welcoming father (Sir Thomas has discovered Roddy was innocent in the meantime).

All very torrid, but during the first half at least, reasonably engaging. Hitch indulges a few humorous conceits that function as a portend of things to come; Mabel, who works in Ye Olde Bunne Shoppe (!) puts on a record called I Want Your Money when the boys arrive. Later, when Fotheringale sprays perfume on the photo of Archie on her dressing table, Hitch cuts to the actual Archie in the same pose. There’s also a deep focus of Archie using a soda syphon, with Roddy in the background, as if to say “he’s a little squirt” (or something more suggestive). Also notable on the Hitchcock pets count is a cat, scared off by a thrown hat. The director criticised his “naïve touch” visually, that “To show the beginning of his downhill journey, I put him on an escalator going down”.

Naïve touches aren’t really the issue with Downhill, though. Roddy’s descent is laborious and tonally repetitive, without enough of the director’s leavening influence at play. Notably, Novello was 34 playing 17, an age gap even greater than Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club, while Irvine was, by comparison, a relatively age-appropriate 26. 


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see America coming out in droves to see you puke.

The Hard Way (1991) (SPOILERS) It would probably be fair to suggest that Michael J Fox’s comic talents never quite earned the respect they deserved. Sure, he was the lead in two incredibly popular TV shows, but aside from one phenomenally successful movie franchise, he never quite made himself a home on the big screen. Part of that might have been down to attempts in the late ’80s to carve himself out a niche in more serious roles – Light of Day , Bright Lights, Big City , Casualties of War – roles none of his fanbase had any interest in seeing him essaying. Which makes the part of Nick Lang, in which Fox is at his comic best, rather perfect. After all, as his character, movie star Nick Lang, opines, after smashing in his TV with his People’s Choice Award – the kind of award reserved for those who fail to garner serious critical adoration – “ I’m the only one who wants me to grow up! ”