Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Phil attends THE HITCHCOCK 9: Day Two-June 15, 2013

Hello again folks and welcome back to my trip to the HITCHCOCK 9 at the historic Castro Theatre is beautiful San Francisco! On Saturday, I had the privileged to see four classic Hitchcock silent films, so let the fun begin!

Betty Balfour in CHAMPAGNE.
First film of the day was the comedy CHAMPAGNE (1928), which was Hitchcock's eighth movie he made. The film's about a young woman named Betty (Betty Balfour), an heiress whose very frivolous with her daddy's money. You see, she flies out to the middle of the ocean to meet up with a cruise ship which her fiance (Jean Bradin) is on! Yup, she's spoiled. But when her father's champagne fortune is lost because thanks in large part to Wall Street, she must learn responsibility and is forced to get a job. The results are hilarious and touch!

Believe it or not, before Hitchcock became the Master of Suspense, who made light hearted comedies. A lot of you out there may not have known this. I sure as heck didn't know this fascinating fact. And you know what, he was very good at this. Comedies are hard to do, but Hitchcock was able to make a film that made me laugh. Again, very interesting camera set ups and angles, plus a really neat shot of seeing Betty and Jean as seen through the bottom of a champagne glass!!

On the piano for the screening was the incredible Judith Rosenberg, who was making her SF Silent Film Fest debut! In case you forgot, Judith is one of the pianist that plays at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum and I was so excited to see her performance! She just nailed it! She was fantastic!!

Isabel Jeans (L) & Ivor Novello (R) in DOWNHILL.
Up next was Hitchcock's fifth film he made DOWNHILL (1927), a very powerful and controversial drama in my humble opinion. The film first takes place at English boarding school for boys and features actor Ivor Novello as Roddy Berwick, who's life goes completely south, or should I say downhill. First he takes the blame for his best friend Tim Wakely (Robin Irvine) who gets the local waitress Mabel (Annette Benson) pregnant, because if Tim gets expelled, he won't win a scholarship to attend Oxford University. So Roddy takes the blame for Tim. Then his parents kick him out of their house. So what's a strapping, young, ex-rugby player dropout to do next? He becomes an actor, and then marries the leading actress Julia (Isabel Jeans) after inheriting a large sum of money from a relative. After she's done spending all of his money, Roddy becomes a becomes a gigolo in a Paris music hall and dances with old women for money. After he quits his job at the dance hall, well, it just gets worse.

However, the film does have a happy ending, but only after we learn some very valuable lessons: never help your best friend out and never trust women because they will wreck you life! Sounds misogynistic, doesn't it? Well this is what I got out of this film as well as the previous one. Women had a rough time back then. Women having premarital sex and partying and having fun? Blasphemous!! FYI: the film's American alternative title was When Boys Leave Home.

Providing musical accompaniment was the amazing Stephen Horne, who played the grand piano, accordion, flute, and....to be honest I lost track on how many instruments he played! The man is literally a one man band!!

Lilian Hall Davis (L) & Carl Brisson (R) in THE RING.
The third film I saw was THE RING (1927), which was Hitchcock's fourth silent film he made. It centers on two friends and boxers: 'One-Round' Jack Sander (Carl Brisson) and Bob Corby (Ian Hunter). They both are in love with the same woman: Mabel (Lilian Hall Davis). She becomes engaged to Jack and the soon marry. But while Jack trains and begins to slowly move up in the rankings, she finds comfort in spending time with Bob. This sends Jack into fits of anger and jealousy. Soon, Jack has his shot at the championship against the reigning title holder: Jack Sander!

Here we see Alfred Hitchcock making a film that is not the norm: a boxing film! So far I have seen a crime thriller, a comedy, a drama, and now a boxing film! This proves that he was more than capable of making specific genre pictures. Now what's really interesting is that each film showcased his use of experimentation with the camera and using his unique techniques towards storytelling. We will see the love triangle scenario come up again, but this is the only time we will see a boxing film! Another fun film fact: THE RING is Hitchcock's only original screenplay although he worked extensively alongside other writers throughout his career.

Once again the Mont Alto Orchestra provided the musical accompaniment, along with a Foley artist to provide the ringside bell sound. Everybody was amazing, as always!

L-R: Carl Brisson, Anny Ondra, & Malcom Keen in THE MANXMAN.
The fourth and final film of the day was THE MANXMAN (1929), the ninth silent film that Hitchcock made. Appearing in the movie once again is Carl Brisson, who plays a fisherman Pete Quilliam who lives and works on the Isle of Man (Manxman is the term of a resident of the Isle). He's childhood best friend is Philip Christian (Malcolm Keen,) a lawyer who is destined to become a Deemster (a fancy name for judge) on the Isle. Both are in love with the same girl: Kate (Anny Ondra from BLACKMAIL), the landlord's daughter at the local inn. Pete wants to marry Kate, but her father Old Caesar (Randie Ayrton), refuses to consent to their marriage. So Pete sets off to Africa to seek his fortune, and asks Kate to wait for him until he returns. He also asks his old friend Philip to watch over her while he's gone. Feelings grow on Philip's part, but he keeps them in check. But when the receive word that Pete has been killed, Kat reveals to Philip of her feelings for him! Surprised, right! Oh wait, it gets better. No sooner than Philip and Kate plan for their wedding, Pete comes back!! Didn't see that coming, did you?  Now Old Caesar agrees to let Kate marry him, and neither she nor Philip have it in them to break Pete's heart. The rest of the film is one big twist and surprise after another. They don't make films like this anymore.

This was my favorite film of the day! It had it all: a great love triangle, forbidden love, lies, secrets, and betrayal! It contains all the hallmarks of a great Hitchcock film! Most of these themes would reappear in many other of Hitchcock's movies. But I think this is one of best and is largely overlooked. I hope all of his fans will rediscover this overlooked cinematic classic!

Stephen Horne once again provided the accompanied, and was just fantastic! Joining him was Diana Rowan on the Celtic harp. These two make beautiful music together!!

Day Two was just amazing!! Remember tickets for this event are still on sale now so buy them before they sells out! To purchase tickets, and to learn more about the SF Silent Film Festival, and how to become a member, visit their website at http://silentfilm.org.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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