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Downhill (1927)

 
0001.jpg
director Alfred Hitchcock
producers Michael Balcon
C.M. Woolf
writer Eliot Stannard
story by Constance Collier
Ivor Novello
starring Ivor Novello
Robin Irvine
Isabel Jeans
Ian Hunter
Violet Farebrother
cinematographer Claude L. McDonnell
editors Ivor Montagu
Lionel Rich
 
running time 85 minutes (7,600 feet)
colour black & white
sound mix silent with English intertitles
aspect ratio 1.33:1
studio Gainsborough Pictures
distributor Wardour Films (UK)
availability DVD
 

Synopsis

Public schoolboy Roddy Berwick is expelled from school when he takes the blame for a friend's theft and his life falls apart in a series of misadventures. (© IMDB)

Production

Although Hitchcock had announced that he was leaving Gainsborough Pictures and had signed a three-year contract with British National (which would shortly become British International Pictures), he still had a few months left on his Gainsborough contract and so he directed Ivor Novello once again.[1]

"Down Hill" was a play written by Novello and Constance Collier — under the combined alias "David L'Estrange" — that had enjoyed moderate success in the UK during 1926, partly due to Novello's sizeable female fanbase. Novello and Collier had previously collaborated on the successful stage play "The Rat" — a film version of which was directed by Graham Cutts for Gainsborough.[2]

Pre-Production

Screenplay

The scenario for the film was prepared by Eliot Stannard, with input from Angus MacPhail.

Casting

Apart from Novello, the only member of the original stage cast who also appears in the film is actress Hannah Jones.[3]

Principal Photography

Filming on Downhill began on 17th January 1927 and was completed in early April.[4]

For the sequence where Novello descends into the London Underground, permission was granted to use Maida Vale Underground Station, but only if filming took place after midnight. Hitchcock later recalled:

We went to the theatre first and in those days we used to go to a first night in white tie and tails and opera hats. So, after the theatre, I directed this scene in a white tie and top hat. The most elegant moment of direction I've ever had.[5]
[[Ivor Novello]]

Whilst busy filming at the Islington Studios, Hitchcock was visited by Noel Coward and they discussed the upcoming adaptation of Coward's Easy Virtue. In late March, Hitchcock combined the shooting of exteriors and backgrounds for Easy Virtue in France with filming some final footage of Novello.[6]

Talking to Truffaut about the dream sequences in the film, Hitchcock recalled:

I had a chance to experiment in those scenes. At one point I wanted to show that the young man was having hallucinations. He boarded a tiny schooner, and there I had him go down to the fo'c'sle, where the crew slept. At the beginning of his nightmare he was in a dance hall. No dissolve, just straight cutting. He walked over to the side wall and climbed into a bunk. In those days dreams were always dissolves and they were always blurred. Though it was difficult, I tried to embody the dream in the reality, in solid, unblurred images.[7]

For the delirium sequence on the boat, Hitchcock had the film tinted a sickly shade of green to express both the nausea and mental anguish affecting Rodney.[8]

Release & Reception

[[Annette Benson]], [[Robin Irvine]] & [[Ivor Novello]]

During the initial theatrical run in London, the film was sometimes presented with a short break during which Ivor Novello and Robin Irvine acted out a scene in person:

At one part of the film the screen projection fades out, a curtain rolls up, and without breaking the continuity, a scene from the play, as it was done on the stage, is actually acted by Mr Novello and his schoolboy friend. At the close they are summoned to the Head's study, and as the curtain goes down the camera shows them walking down the cloisters dejectedly. This is an effective screen device and gives Mr Novello an opportunity of appearing in the flesh before his admirers.

— Sydney Tremayne, review in Eve (19/Oct/1927)[9]

The Bioscope review, although critical of the source material, praised Hitchcock:

It is more by the brilliant treatment of the director and the excellent acting that this film is likely to appeal to the public than by the strength of its story. But if the plot is hardly plausible, Hitchcock 's treatment is of great interest. The photography is admirable.[10]
[[Isabel Jeans]] as Julia

However, the review in The Times was less enthusiastic:

Mr. Ivor Novello is excellent as himself, but he is never so much like a schoolboy as when he appears in person in an interpolated scene. This scene, on Monday night, seemed to interest the audience, but the advisability of mingling the two forms of entertainment seems very doubtful.[11]

Writing in The Guardian, C.A. Lejeune was also unimpressed:

"Downhill" carries out every promise of its predecessor ["The Lodger"] without being at all a good film ... I have never seen such an interesting, production of rubbish nor a clever film which deserved quite so little praise.[12]

The film was released under the title "When Boys Leave Home" in the US in 1928.

Influence

[[Cary Grant]] in ''[[Notorious]]''
[[Isabel Jeans|Julia]] watches [[Ivor Novello|Roddy]]

One memorable shot in the film was from Julia's point-of-view as she leans backwards in her chair and sees Roddy enter the dressing room. Hitchcock would re-use the shot in Notorious (1946), with Ingrid Bergman watching Cary Grant entering her room.

In "The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock", Thomas Leitch notes that Downhill is "by far the director's most misogynistic work, overflowing with images of women as harpies and betrayers who prey on helpless young males like Rodney".[13] However, writing for the BFI, Mark Duguid states that "some of the blame for this parade of monstrous women ... should be laid at Novello's door, and it's not hard to imagine that the play reflects the experiences of a homosexual matinee idol oppressed by unwanted female attention."[14]

See Also...

For further relevant information about this film, see also...

Blu-ray Releases

released in 2013

0506.gif Declive (1927) - Divisa Home Video (Blu-ray, Spain, 2013)

DVD Releases

released in 2008

0505.gif Downhill (1927) - Network (UK, 2008) - part of a box set
PAL 1.33:1

released in 2007

2103.gif Le Chant du Danube (1934) - Universal (France, 2007)
PAL 1.33:1

released in 2005

0504.gif Downhill (1927) - Video/Film Express (Netherlands, 2005)
PAL 1.33:1 [01:22:09]

...view older DVD releases

Image Gallery

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Film Frames

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Themes

Cast and Crew

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Produced by:

Written by:

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Art Direction by:

References

  1. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 90
  2. "The Alfred Hitchcock Story" - by Ken Mogg, page 16
  3. "English Hitchcock" - by Charles Barr, page 220
  4. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 91
  5. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 91
  6. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 92
  7. "Hitchcock" - by François Truffaut, page 51
  8. BFI Screenonline
  9. "English Hitchcock" - by Charles Barr, page 220
  10. The Bioscope (26/May/1927) quoted from "Hitchcock's British Films" - by Maurice Yacowar, page 29
  11. The Times (12/Oct/1927) - New British Film
  12. The Guardian (11/Jun/1927) - THE WEEK ON SCREEN: Britain's Baby
  13. "The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock" - by Thomas M. Leitch, page 85
  14. BFI Screenonline
Hitchcock's Major Films
1920s The Pleasure Garden · The Mountain Eagle · The Lodger · Downhill · Easy Virtue · The Ring · The Farmer's Wife · Champagne · The Manxman · Blackmail
1930s Juno and the Paycock · Murder! · The Skin Game · Rich and Strange · Number Seventeen · Waltzes from Vienna · The Man Who Knew Too Much · The 39 Steps · Secret Agent · Sabotage · Young and Innocent · The Lady Vanishes · Jamaica Inn
1940s Rebecca · Foreign Correspondent · Mr and Mrs Smith · Suspicion · Saboteur · Shadow of a Doubt · Lifeboat · Spellbound · Notorious · The Paradine Case · Rope · Under Capricorn
1950s Stage Fright · Strangers on a Train · I Confess · Dial M for Murder · Rear Window · To Catch a Thief · The Trouble with Harry · The Man Who Knew Too Much · The Wrong Man · Vertigo · North by Northwest
1960s Psycho · The Birds · Marnie · Torn Curtain · Topaz
1970s Frenzy · Family Plot
( view full filmography )

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