Firstly I would like to say that Downhill the second Hitchcock film I watched may not technically be his second film. After looking at several different sources I found that each lists his early films in a different order (namely because he released 3 films in 1927). I therefore chose to watch Downhill because it is the next film I had available; however I will endeavour to watch them in as close to the order they where made as possible.

Downhill is a very different film to last weeks The Pleasure Garden, still silent this film does not rely on Title-Cards as much as Hitchcock’s previous film; minimising their usage extensively and relying on visual storytelling techniques. This leads to several experimental shots some of which are effective and others, which are not. It is obvious from the outset that this is a film to be enjoyed for its technical and creative camerawork over story and performance.

 

“WHAT HAPPENED?”

The film is divided into three acts each centred around an event that effects the protagonists (Roddy played by Ivor Novello) life in drastic ways. The first Act is called ‘World of Youth’ and in it we are introduced to Roddy who is essence a perfect student at a private school – with a rich father, he is a top rugby player and captain of the school. Roddy’s best friend and dorm-mate it Tim who is at the school in opposite circumstances to Roddy earning a scholarship and barely being able to afford his tuition fee. When the two young chaps meet a lady friend and go round her house it is obvious something is going to go wrong for one or both. As it turns out it is for Roddy; the girl becomes pregnant from Tim but decides to tell the school the baby is Roddy’s! Leading to his expulsion; Roddy covers for his friend and is expelled causing his father to reject him and banish him from his home leading onto Act 2. 

Act 2 titled ‘World of Make-Believe’ meets up with Roddy at some point in the future. He has found work as actor and manages to seduce the leading lady of his show after he inherits some money from a passing family member. Before long they are married and all seems good for Roddy, however it soon becomes clear the woman is a gold-digger and is having an affair with the leading man. Once Roddy runs out of money his wife leaves him and kicks him from his home once more penniless, thus ending the second Act.

‘World of Lost Illusions’ is the title of Act 3 and it shows Roddy working as gigolo in Paris. After lots of dancing he has a conversation with a woman who convinces him the work is demeaning leading him to quit and become a drunk. Drunk in a bar in Marseilles two men discover him and decide to ship him home to London in hope of a reward. On the boat Roddy goes insane and has crazy nightmares before somehow ending up at his home where his father apologises and all is forgiven.

 

THE GOOD

The best parts of this film is the experimental aspects of the way it is created, although some parts are confusing much of what Hitchcock tried to achieve comes off in a rather effective manner using techniques I doubt had been seen in cinema before (I may be wrong on this point).

Firstly there is a part where the woman is telling the story of how she became pregnant from Roddy. We see a close-up of her face as she begins to talk (however you cannot hear what she is saying), this is jarring at first but as she speaks we see fade in in front her face images of what happened earlier and it is clear instantly what she is saying, this is fantastic visual storytelling and much more dramatic than cutting away to a title-card as most silent films would.

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Probably the most experimental (and in my opinion the greatest section of the film) comes towards the end when Roddy is on the boat and goes insane. This sequence does insanity in a way which is truly inspirational (I would be surprised if David Lynch hasn’t seen this as a few things he would later do are used here); in essence it is loads of unconnected shots linked together because they are from Roddy’s point of view; we see an old man suddenly become Roddy’s father; all of the women from the story playing cards before turning and jeering at Roddy, a beautifully crafted shot with three layers of film showing Roddy trapped within the boat’s machninery and a record player; before extended point-of-view shots of Roddy wandering London; a focus pull on a Policeman and a noddy shot of Roddy; all of this with lots of spinning and shaking camerawork leads to a very haunting experience and is quite frankly an incredible 5 minutes of cinema.

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In terms of other good points there is a moment of pure Hitchcockianess which also appears when the pregnant girl is asked whether the baby is Roddy or Tims. There is shots of all three characters looking questionably and waiting for a response and the audience knows that the girl has the power to ruin one of their lives. The way in which this sequence is shot with the mix of close-up reaction shot, two-shots and over-the-shoulder shots creates an enormous amount of tension and is something Hitchcock will use inevitably throughout his career.

The final point that has to be mentioned is the narrative of the film which is completed unexpected in Acts 2 and 3. After act 1 in which Roddy falls from grace I was expecting the standard narrative of the film following his rise back to the top again; however this doesn’t happen. In Act 2 he reaches the top but is almost instantly knocked down again; this lead to an intriguing film experience where I truly did not know what would happen next.

 

THE BAD

In terms of the bad parts of this film there are a few which whilst they did not ruin my enjoyment would probably ruin others. As discussed there are minimal uses of title cards which does lead to come confusion over what is happening. For example in the scene where he girl becomes pregnant Roddy has some sort of argument with some young boys which I truly didn’t understand and didn’t seem to impact the rest of the film.

I think perhaps a few more title-cards could have been used particularly in scenes such as the above or when characters where arguing just to clear up some confusion.

Also in an attempt to get around cutting to title-cards another thing that was done was to cut to writing placed within the scene i.e. notes, signs etc. However I found this to be tiresome and too coincidental at points particularly when Roddy goes to the Underground and the sign reads what must obviously be his thoughts; this seemed a bit jarring, as I was not yet invested enough in Roddy’s character to enter his mind. 

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CAMEO O’CLOCK

As discussed last week whenever Hitchcock makes one of his famous cameo’s I will screenshot it and place it in this section. However no such cameo exists in Downhill so maybe next week.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

To sum up I think that Downhill was much better than The Pleasure Garden however it was a tad overly experimental and didn’t quite flow even though it was thoroughly entertaining. I therefore award it a Hitch-Factor of 3.

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