Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Alfred Hitchcock followed his success with the The Lodger with Downhill, an aptly titled retrograde effort. Much of the credit—or blame, perhaps—belongs to Ivor Novello, who wrote the script and stars as a somewhat bewildered, prudish playboy. An all-star rugby player at a boarding school, the jaunty young Novello proves irresistibly attractive to women, including the sinister sexpot who lures him to “Ye Olde Bunne Shoppe” in the hopes of seducing him (ye olde bunne in the ovenne). She fails and settles for his chum, but puts the blame on Novello anyway in the hopes of tapping his family wealth. From there, his life—apparently as sturdy as the hideous cardboard sets where most of the action takes place—collapses in mild chaos, light depravity, and slight madness.
Hitchcock has never really been what you might call a feminist director, but he could still muster some strong, intelligent female characters throughout his career. Unfortunately, the sex-panicked script lays the blame for Novello’s fall at the feet of a series of shrill, callous gold-diggers and floozies, with rock bottom being a hairy-lipped lady in a dingy Parisian dance hall. If there is any reason to watch this film—and really, there probably isn’t—it would be for Hitchcock’s technique, which betrays an intelligence far livelier than the surroundings. Some elegant lighting, a few judicious tracking shots, and even some point-of-view perspective shooting add to the visual interest of the film, but do little to enrich the material. Mostly, these touches serve as an occasionally pleasant distraction from the finger-wagging, tongue-clucking moralizing of the dreary script.