26 November 2010 | boblipton
Alfred Hitchcock and Two Brunettes
Looking at Hitchcock's early pictures, one struggles to see signs of his future greatness, like looking through every manger for the baby with the halo. But this, the first complete Hitchcock movie, shows no signs of his future greatness. He is clearly a journeyman director, some one who shows promise, but sent to Berlin for his final exam.
On the plus side, this movie starts off surprisingly well, with a snappy, American-paced chorines-on-the-town plot. If they had cast Marion Davies and Marie Prevost in this, it would be typical, if rather underwritten. The start moves fast, plot points pop up, and suddenly we take a turn and the story descends into melodrama.
Fairly typical of Hitchcock, you might say and you would be right, but he hasn't got any sense of what his chosen symbols are -- both leads are brunettes, which will come as a surprise to anyone who knows Hitchcock's taste for icy blondes. The symbolic items are standard and not particularly shocking -- Virginia Valli's wedding-bed deflowering is indicated by an apple with a large chunk bitten out of it -- and the actors are not really up to their jobs.
Hitchcock was never a great director of actors but a great director of scenes. By 1927 his visual flair got his bosses to invest in great actors for his pictures, starting with Ivor Novello for THE LODGER. But here, everyone is.... at best, adequate, with Miles Mander very stagy and whoever plays his native lover -- still miscredited in the IMDb as Nita Naldi -- seemingly brain-damaged.
There are a couple of interestingly composed visual glosses: the door that Mander must go through looks like a Turkish harem door and the decoration on either side differs dramatically; on one side is life, on another death. But this is UFA, with great cameramen and all the technicians who made great expressionist fare like CALIGARI and modernist masterpieces like Lang's work ready and eager to work.... and there's none of that here.
I find it hard to give this an exact rating: the great start is sunk by the foolishness of the ending, and Hitchcock at the the start of his career is not the great film maker he would be in another thirty years -- or even four. But it is Hitchcock, and therefore demands our attention, so I'll give it a good mark for that.
But if it weren't Hitchcock's first film, no one would care. It probably wouldn't even still be in existence.