Jump to: navigation, search

The Times (12/May/1984) - Some early Hitchcock dusted off

(c) The Times (12/May/1984)

Some early Hitchcock dusted off

Recent months may have seen Vertigo, Rear Window, and other Hitchcock classics restored to circulation after years in limbo, but the master's career still contains cobweb bed corners. No one knows the whereabouts of The Pleasure Garden, the first of his 53 features, shot in Munich in 1925. Prints of subsequent British films, all reasonably well preserved, fly around the world from one film museum to another, but rarely reach the general public.

Hitchcock himself possibly deflected interest by his own low opinion of his early career, expressed in an interview with François Truffaut: "I did what I could... probably the lowest ebb in my output... a very banal picture". Hitch's words, as usual, are to be taken with a large pinch of salt; visitors to London's Everyman Cinema -- the forthcoming venue for 10 early Hitchcocks -- should find the films of constant vitality, and great historical interest.

The core of the Everyman season consists of films made for British International Pictures (BIP) between 1927 and 1932, enterprisingly re-released in new prints by EMI Classics. Blackmail. Britain's first talkie, is the best-known title (May 19 and 24). Others include the lively triangular drama The Ring (May 20 and 23); Hitchcock's last, eloquent silent film The Manxman, full of stark scenery and hidden passions (Fri and May 23); and the quirky Rich and Strange, in which a suburban marriage becomes sorely tested during a world cruise (Fri and May 24);. Three later British films, The Lady Vanishes (May 19), The 39 Steps (May 20), and Sabotage (May 22), are also featured.

Hitchcock enjoyed a curious position at BIP, the largest British studio of the period, run on Hollywood factory lines by John Maxwell, a former Glasgow solicitor with a keen appreciation of money. Hitch was poached from the rival Gainsborough studio after the success of The Lodger in 1927, but the BIP chiefs gave him little room to manoeuvre and handed down uncongenial properties.

Lesser directors would have trudged through the assignments; Hitch treated - them to mischievous ornamentation, using strong visual symbolism and montage effects showing a clear German influence. With Charles Bennett's stage thriller Blackmail. Hitch at last found a property allowing ample scope for his distinctive sensibility.

Another Hitchcock curio appears at the Everyman tomorrow: Lord Camber's Ladies, produced by Hitch in 1932, directed by the playwright Benn Levy, and replete with the style, clothes and furnishings of British drawing-room drama. The inimitable stars are Gertrude Lawrence and Gerald du Maurier, both subject in their time to the director's bizarre practical jokes. A dinner party with every item of food coloured blue was once held in Lawrence's honour; du Maurier, in turn, received a horse as a first night present, crammed into his theatre dressing room.

Geoff Brown

"Hitchcock - The Early Years" is at the Everyman Cinema, Holly Bush Vale, London NW3 (435 1525) from Fri to May 24. "Lord Camber's Ladies" forms part of two Gerald du Maurier double-bills tomorrow and on May 20.