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World Film News (1938) - Who Cares Anyway?



Who Cares Anyway?

  • NOTHING SACRED,a United Artists Film,directed by William Wellman, with Carole Lombard, Fredric March, Charles Winninger, Walter Connolly, Sig Ruman, Frank Fay, and Maxie Rosenblum.
  • YOUNG AND INNOCENT, a Gaumont British film, directed by Alfred Hitchcock,

Reviewed by Basil Wright

It certainly needed the viperish pen of Ben Hecht to show all the crazy comedies which way they ought to have been going. Nothing Sacred lives up to its title with savagery worthy of Volpone. It smacks the public's face with an ironical wet-fish which I am rather afraid the public may object to, especially as there is not a single character in the story (with the possible exception of the hero) who isn't a slug, or, as the drunken and dishonest doctor in the film puts it, "Even if the hand of God reached down into the mire it couldn't raise them to the lowest depths of degradation — No Sir! not by a million miles". Take first the brilliant and simple dirtiness of the story. A New York paper gets wind of a dear little girl at Warsaw, Vermont, who is dying of radium poisoning. The reporter they send persuades her to come and spend her last days being feted by New York as the World's Heroine, and although she has just been told that the whole thing was a false alarm, she accepts, and departs for the big city with her doctor. Then the ballyhoo, the slush, the personal appearance at the night-clubs (together with "Tootsies of all Nations" as advertised), the reporter's half-realisation of the unpleasantness of the whole affair (especially as he has fallen in love with her), the near discovery, the attempt at the fake suicide, the real exposure, and the final disappearance before the fake funeral organised by the paper.

It would be unfair to reveal any more of the gorgeous ramifications of the plot or the glitteringly successful gags which adorn every single scene in the film. It should be enough to say that the big moment is not the much advertised socking-match between March and Lombard ; the big moment occurs every few seconds when another Hecht gag explodes rudely in your defenceless face. Savage, ironical, comic, witty, the film rushes along at full speed and never trips up at any point. If it is a triumph for Hecht it is also a triumph for William Wellman and for the entire cast, including March, Lombard, Winninger, Connolly, and the beautiful man who plays the tough newsboy with a brudder called Mo.

And finally, how gratifying it is to see Technicolour coming into its own. The garish hues emphasise very cunningly the poisonous unreality of the lower life of a great city; and it looks as though someone, having seen the point, arranged for certain emphasis in this direction. There are at any rate plenty of the sourest colour clashes which contrast with the fine shots of the stately skyscrapers of New York from the air: they, it seems are pure and dignified; it is only the men who built them who are little and vain and silly — but also funny. Take a notebook with you, for you will want to remember a lot of the gags.

Many of the critical boys (and girls) have been going on at Hitchcock for some years now with demands that he should take things more seriously, should use his undoubted talent in films which attack the more vital problems of British life, should concentrate less on the isolated incident and more on the complete and coherent scenario. Meantime Hitchcock has gaily produced The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Secret Agent, and Sabotage, the last-named being easily the best so far. So, putting aside the influential intervention of the 'Observer's' film critic, who (sez she) succeeded in preventing any repetition of scenes like those in Sabotage where the small boy is blown to bits in an omnibus, it would appear that Hitchcock intends to stay put. Why not? Why all this solicitude from the Higher Critics? Do they fuss themselves about the soul of a de Mille or a Lubitsch? Are there anguished bleatings over the Weltanschauung of Tay Garnett or Leo McCarey?

No, Sir ; not a word is heard until perchance a darling director produces a really bad film, and that is something Hitchcock has not done for at least four years. I suggest therefore that we should accept the Hitchcock genre for what it is, and criticise accordingly. True, his rating on the general roster of big names will probably suffer in the long run through his self-decided limitations of thought and script, and even to-day he should perhaps be rated a little below the angels (or dub him Lucifer if you will); but the fact remains that Young and Innocent offers more good clean fun and really refreshing entertainment than any film since Christmas.

The story is a useful string for the Hitchcock beads. A nice young man (Derrick de Marney — going to be a good screen actor) is accused falsely but on particularly nasty circumstantial evidence, of murder. He gives the local police the slip, is befriended by the Chief Constable's adolescent daughter (Nova Pilbeam — good-looking, gauche and effective) and together they chase the countryside in search of a raincoat-belt — the only proof of innocence — with the police force in hot pursuit and the Chief Constable (Percy Marmont — bless him) worrying his head off at home. The chase leads through rustic England, onto railway sidings, to a tramp's doss-house, a lorry-driver's pull-in, an upperclass children's birthday party, the liverish horrors of a seaside hotel complete with teadance, and a deserted mine, where an aged Morris Cowley makes an impressive exit through an earth subsidence. There is also a dog.

There it is ... rows and rows of neat little incidents, well-scripted, intelligently shot, smartly edited, and all rounded off in the best Hitchcock style. The female screams on the beach, and the seagulls whirl at us on her gesture. The discarded teacup punctures the Rolls. There is also a satisfactory attention to details of sound — intimate background noises which most directors never bother about, but which are worth their weight in gold. Plenty of humour, a certain amount of wit, and endless thrills. Exteriors present a sunny country or the menace of a rustic railway station at night. Interiors are convincing, ingenious and economically designed.

As a mystery story the thing is not very effective; in fact it seems doubtful whether the murder could have been committed at all under the circumstances established, and the appearance of the murderer as a drummer in a jazz-band seems a little arbitrary; so for that matter is the exceedingly trying truckshot right across the room onto a close-up of his eyes, which discovers him for the audience, but not for the actors, and ruins the suspense values of the long scene which follows; after all, it's the last quarter of an hour of the film and we know he's got to be caught; and it's action we want, not the cat-and-mouse act. Still, one feels inclined to see the film a second time just for the fun of it, and to take a second look at some of the ingenuities, to say nothing of Hitchcock himself, who has given himself a much larger part than usual ; he must be on the screen for fully thirty seconds.