Thursday, May 3, 2012
Alfred Hitchcock once described Champagne as the lowest ebb in his career, and that may well be the chief distinction of this thoroughly lackluster 1928 effort from the director. There’s certainly little else to distinguish this shapeless, rambling romantic comedy. Following a spoiled heiress from riches to rags to riches again, the film is at once spry and exhausted, a madcap farce on barbiturates. The girl—a veritable font of teeming womanhood—finds herself caught in a love triangle with two men, who apparently do little other than smoke and drink fiercely while glaring at each other. (They would have made a lovely couple were it not for the dame.) This jet-set romance is interrupted when mega-rich daddy tells her he’s broke, and suddenly her world of cocktails and snappy gowns goes up in a puff of smoke. In a plot twist that recalls the earlier Downhill, she winds up working in young Alfred’s favored den of iniquity, a Parisian dance hall.
Surely this is the most superficial rendition of the eternal Hitchcock plot: a woman reduced to living doll for the edification of a neurotic, controlling man. You see, daddy was faking bankruptcy all along just to help his daughter learn a bit of responsibility and scare away any gold-digging gigolos scoping her inheritance. Rather delightfully, this is revealed when the girl’s father hands her a newspaper where the front-page headline reads, “Daring daughter to be taught lesson she’ll never forget, millionaire declares”—the film is a lovely paean to the diligence of the daily press, if nothing else. Yet there’s something creepy about the whole screwy setup, with father fabricating her entire world just to teach a few life lessons about love and money. Down and out, she learns her only option is to pursue her own objectification—no more of this unseemly independence that so bothered father. She settles for the wholesome career of toothpaste model, but the agency prefers her legs to her smile. Soon she’s in the dance hall, handing out flowers and looking for a new sugar daddy to rescue her from the awful place. The only lesson she learns is her own market value.