Skip to main content

Well, I can’t ask ‘em all if they twitches, can I?

Young and Innocent
aka The Girl Was Young
(1937)

(SPOILERS) An enjoyable enough Hitchcock innocent-man-on-the-run escapade in the vein of his earlier The 39 Steps, but Young and Innocent isn't nearly as notable or consummately engaging. Part of that is down to the ho-hum leads. Partly, it’s down to a less spirited screenplay from Edwin Greenwood (The Man Who Knew Too Much), Charles Bennett (several Hitchs of the period, including The 39 Steps) and Anthony Armstrong, liberally adapting Josephine Brat Farrar Tey’s novel.

Of the leads, one could actually quite easily imagine innocent Derrick De Marney playing a psychopath. And it doesn’t help that his Robert Tisdall appears positively cheerful about being accused during the first half of the movie (even when this is addressed – told his situation isn’t funny, he replies “No, but I can laugh because I am innocent” – it doesn’t really pass muster).

Nova Pilbeam (great name) is better as Erica Burgoyne, at least during the first half, coming on so uber-confident, you might be mistaken into thinking she will be the protagonist. Erica, daughter of the Chief Constable, brings Tisdall round after he has passed out on being told he is to inherit £1,200 (from a strangled woman about whom he is being questioned – about £82,000 in today’s money, just before it all becomes officially meaningless). “You learn that slapping trick in the guides too?” she is asked by an officer of the law who just wants a confession; “No, I learned that from riding in cars with detectives” she replies smartly. Later, Erica shows zero intimidation went trying to track down the whereabouts of Tisdall’s raincoat in a café. A fight ensues, with Tisdall wading into rescue her, only for Erica to appear outside unscathed and beckon to the beaten fugitive.

When Tisdall escapes custody, she decides to aid him, and from there his can-do insouciance holds sway, such that she is repeatedly reduced to floods of tears when things go wrong. Particularly so when her father – Percy Marmont – feels impelled to resign over her involvement with aiding and abetting a fugitive from justice. De Marney gets quite a few decent lines and moments (‘It always pays to be frank with the police’ his solicitor JH Roberts tells him, after letting him know his prospects look bleak, to which he responds “Are you representing the police, by any chance?”). However, these mostly serve to underline that someone else might have really set the role alight.

Plotwise, it doesn’t help that much of the proceedings focus on Robert’s rather mundane raincoat as a MacGuffin (which has no belt on it, the belt having been used to strangle the victim). If the leads were doing some detective work to track down the perp, that might have been more engaging. Instead, they follow a somewhat slipshod trail, eventually locating Edward Rigby’s tramp Old Will (in possession of the garment). They then hit a brick wall until, helpfully, the coat provides a box of matches from a hotel that Rigby, being a tramp, has never visited. It’s only then, in the closing stages that they think they may have a chance of finding whodunnit.

Whom we saw in the opening scene. George Curzon – best known at that time for the starring role in a series of Sexton Blake films – is very good if entirely bookended as Guy the villain. Per Hitch’s way with suspense, the approach is both methodical and economical. We aren’t required to doubt Tisdall’s innocence, and although we haven’t seen the act, the director has pretty much established Guy did it in the first two scenes. We rejoin the murderer for the finale, having been apprised that he is suffering from a nervous twitch due to the stress of having just offed an unfaithful wife. Hitch shows early on that Guy is at the scene, in blackface as drummer for a dance band, but that our heroes don’t know.

Old Will: I better order, since I’m the man, eh? Two cups of tea.
Waiter: India or China?
Old Will: No, tea.

This is a masterfully executed sequence – that and one other sequence are all he and Truffaut talk about in respect of Young and Innocent – and it’s one revolving around when Guy will be recognised, rather than whether or not he is there. The best part of it, however, is that Tisdall has stepped out by this point and it’s Erica and Old Will, the heroine and the tramp, the latter now dressed up, who are doing the investigating (he knows the man who gave him the coat had a twitch). There’s much gentle class comedy here, and Rigby is very funny, offering Erica a dance so they can have a better look round; she asks if he can (dance), and Will replies “No, course I can’t ducky, but I don’t mind having a go. It’s only half walking anyway”.

Curzon also makes the most of the final confession, a very Hitchcock example of wrapping things up concisely. Not only is Guy strung out, he’s also taking too many pills, getting himself into a state whereby his drumming causes a scene, followed by his collapse. Roused by Nova, neatly repeating the same act as when we first met her, she asks what he did with the belt, to which he replies, laughing, “What did I do with the belt? I twisted it round her neck and choked the life out of her!

Hitchcock also draws attention to the earlier blindman’s bluff game as a suspense highlight, although I don’t think it’s in quite the same class. Instead, it’s mild and amusingly engaging, as Erica’s aunt Margaret (Mary Clare), increasingly suspicious of her relationship with Tisdall (he claims his surname is Beachtree-Manningcroft, and they offer differing versions of his job), is interrupted for a game of blindman’s bluff. Meanwhile, Margaret’s husband Basil (Basil “Charters” Radford) encourages them to escape what he sees as her over-intrusiveness. It’s fun though, and I can understand Hitch’s indignance that the scene was cut in the US, even if he rather overstates his case (“that was the essence of the film!”)

There are other amusing incidents, such as Erica’s family dinners, beset by siblings discussing Tisdall’s likely fate or bringing dead rats to the dinner table. She also has a star dog (Towser) whom she makes Tisdall slow down for so he can get in the car, and whose disappearance in a mine working (the big set piece, and rather clumsily integrated) leads to her being apprehended. In Towser’s considerable favour, he is able to spot that Old Will is wearing the raincoat they are after beneath many other layers.

If there are no real twists and turns to keep this moving, that isn’t why Young and Innocent is ultimately slightly disappointing. It’s that the leads fail to generate the level of energy and rapport needed from a lead couple you really want to spend time with. Hitch’s work is top notch, offering some textbook suspense, but the picture lacks the oomph that comes from picking the best cattle to prod.





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.