Thursday, June 07, 2007


(Holy crap. I didn't post this, already? Damn. Okay then, I'll just fall further behind. So be it.)

Yes, I can count. The Project has sailed into some choppy seas.

The next film on the list is supposed to be a little thing called Downhill, which reunited Hitchcock with the star of his huge success, The Lodger. That reunion did not turn out great. As much as critics loved The Lodger, that's how much they hated Downhill.

Still, the purpose of this project is not to watch only the good Hitchcock movies. It's to see all of them. So I hunted high and low for a copy of no avail.


Ideally, I intended to watch these movies in chronological order, beginning to end. To skip Downhill would destroy that order. It would also mean that, four films into the Project, I'd be batting .500. Embarrassing. On the other hand, to wait for a copy of Downhill to fall into my hands would mean more delays, and we've reached the point where even I have had it with the big, empty, blog-free gaps.

So I made a choice. Get on with it. Go to the next one on the list. Grab Downhill somewhere down the road. It's not ideal, but there's a project to get through.

Fortunately, I still got to see a bad movie.

Easy Virtue is the tale of Larita (played by another fantastically-named actress, Isabel Jeans), who finds herself in a bit of a pickle. You see, her husband is kind of a drunken jerk who bruises her wrist, and meanwhile there's this painter who is supposed to be painting her portrait but actually tries to seduce her. Well, before you know it, the drunk husband has a gun, the painter ends up dead, and our Larita ends up divorced, with the whole world thinking she's a dirty little slut.

This sounds promising, but you have to look at this through the prism of 1927, when the mere act of being divorced was an unforgivable sin. I suppose at the time, the story's central conceit of making the evil harlot into a sympathetic heroine was quite daring. But today, the whole thing just falls flat. The deck is ridiculously stacked, so instead of Larita's ultimate end being tragic, it just seems silly. Even Hitchcock found the last line of dialogue (in which Larita tells a group of hungry paparazzi, "Shoot! There's nothing left to kill!) to be overly melodramatic.

Speaking of dialogue, want to know what else is wrong with Easy Virtue? How about this credit, which appears on the title screen:
Adapted from the play by Noel Coward

Now, if you're at all familiar with Noel Coward, you know him as a paragon of wicked wit and sophisticated wordplay. So what's the ideal format for his brand of panache? Of course: silent film.

I'm pretty sure we saw more title cards in the first 15 minutes than we saw in The Pleasure Garden and The Lodger combined. The film opens with that perfect action sequence, the courtroom scene. I have to believe Hitchcock was shaking his head in disbelief at his situation.

I'm ripping into this movie, and I have to rise to its defense, mainly because my wife actually kind of liked it, and she has some good points. For one thing, Hitchcock is starting to work symbolism into his story. As Clair noted, Larita spends much of the movie trailing behind some long piece of fabric: a scarf, or a flourish on a hat, or a long train on a dress. This is appropriate, as she is continuing to drag behind her sordid past. This sounds heavy-handed, but it plays in the film as a nicely subconscious effect. Hitchcock will be using more of this kind of character detail as he goes along, so it's nice to see him putting it to use this early in his career.

An even more characteristic shot is the one that opens the film. A bored judge lifts his monocle to his eye, and we see his courtroom become clear. For 1927, the shot is incredibly complex; evidently, Hitchcock had to shoot through a giant magnifying glass to get the effect. What I find remarkable about this is that it's totally a throwaway shot. It's just something he felt like doing, and it leads off the movie. I like to think that Hitchcock knew he didn't have much of a film to work with, so he decided to have a little fun.

In the end, though, Easy Virtue doesn't amount to very much. A woman is unfairly maligned, everybody treats her badly, and she has no hope for the future. The end. It's not much of a movie, and Hitchcock seems to know it. He's probably already looking ahead to the next movie.

I'm just hoping I can find the next movie.