Downhill (Alfred Hitchcock / United Kingdom, 1927):
(When Boys Leave Home)

"One manís drama is another manís melodrama," Alfred Hitchcock would declare in a 1936 article. The bracketing rugby sequences seem to have left their mark on Lindsay Anderson, as have the arched hallways and ecclesiastical windows of the all-boys boarding school, "the World of Youth." The fatuous student prince (Ivor Novello) is first seen heroically on the field and then promptly given a literal dressing-down, wrapped in a towel and glimpsed by a female visitor as the door to the locker room swings open. (He frantically covers himself, she wanders off mildly bothered.) A visit to a shop girl (Annette Benson) leads to scandal, cunningly visualized as a dalliance taking place behind beaded curtains juxtaposed with money exchanging hands for a piece of candy. Novello takes the fall for his chum (Robin Irvine) and gets expelled, a dissolve from the college to a cityscape inflamed by neon introduces London at night. "The World of Make-Believe," of sudden fortunes and lingering miseries, of the layers upon layers of pretense that go into the filmís cleverest moment: The camera dollies back to reveal the protagonistís snazzy tuxedo to be a waiterís uniform, then pans sideways to expose the restaurant heís "working" at as a set before a theatrical audience. The descending motif (a rejected sonís escalator ride, a betrayed husband in a plunging elevator, a Dantean banner reading "underground to anywhere") lays the groundwork for Vertigoís procession of implacable spirals, at the bottom is "the World of Lost Illusions" where Novello the shame-faced gigolo recounts his tale to a hapless dowager. Astutely keyed to Murnau, Hitchcock finds visual invention everywhere, from the flirtatious actress (Isabel Jeans) who leans back on her vanity table for an upside-down POV shot, to the kaleidoscopic micro-city symphony that receives the fever-racked pariah back from Marseilles. Sternberg has his own version just around the corner, Losey in Accident provides a middle-aged rebuke. With Ian Hunter, Norman McKinnel, and Sybil Rhoda. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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