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.





Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.