02 October 2008

Easy Virtue (1928)

d. Alfred Hitchcock / UK / 89 mins.


Found by a court to be of "easy virtue" for marauding with a passionate artist instead of her drunken husband, Larita Filton (Isabel Jones) runs away from her past to the more open-minded coast of the Mediterranean in Alfred Hitchcock's Easy Virtue, an occasionally plodding silent drama that doesn't have much of a reason to stand out in his canon. When Larita marries a new beau, her groom's family is determined to figure out where they've seen her before. (Hint: Apparently petty marital disputes are reported in newspapers all across Europe, and Larita's socializing with the artist made front-page news in multiple languages.)

Noel Coward's script pokes holes in the stuffy standards of English society – a fact which must have made Hitchcock giggle with delight – but I wouldn't necessarily call the script, or the film, compellingly sharp. (Sample dialogue: "I'm certain she wants to conceal something from us!" the groom's mother says of his new bride. Another: "Now that you have quite exhausted your venom, I shall go to my room," the bride snaps.)

On a technical level, the film has noteworthy elements. The staging in the courtroom during the first twenty minutes is smooth and original (you can tell it was probably Hitchcock's favorite part of making the movie), and throughout the film there are evident signs of the director expanding on his already impressive knowledge of working a camera. (In one scene, the master shot begins with a tennis racket positioned in front of the lens, which pulls out to reveal an entire tennis court.) Hitchcock's sense of pacing has matured as well, and the swift and lively editing occasionally counteracts the sluggishness of the plot.

With the exception of The Lodger, Hitchcock never made a silent film that was able to fuse a good story with his experimentation behind the camera. What's worse is that he had a horrible cinematic poker face; the filmmaking seems to soar when he's interested but becomes bogged down when he's not. Easy Virtue is fairly indicative of a typical Hitchcock silent picture: never particularly compelling, but stylistically difficult to ignore.

3 comments:

MovieMan0283 02 October, 2008  

I'm really enjoying these posts - keep it up! Just so you know, I put up my write-up for Saboteur (and gave you a shout-out).

Looking forward to the next entry...

darkcitydame4e 02 October, 2008  

T.S. said, "DarkCity - As I do it? Wow, what an undertaking! That'll be a great month of movie watching."
T.S.,
Now, I get it!...I just left a comment about the film "The Ring" and "lo and behold," I look up and you have posted AH's 1927 film "Easy Virtue" Who knows? you may post another film before
midnight!

Sam Juliano,  10 October, 2008  

Yes the pacing was interesting and yes that courtroom scene was imaginitely shot, and yes, this is better than most of the others of this period. Excellent review.

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