Downhill

Live Musical Accompaniment
Screening on Film
Recently Restored
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
With Ivor Novello, Ben Webster, Robin Irvine.
UK, 1927, 35mm, black & white, silent, 105 min.
Print source: British Film Institute

After being cast against type in The Lodger, Ivor Novello appears rather more suave in Downhill—unsurprising, perhaps, as the film was adapted from a play the matinee idol co-wrote with Constance Collier. Hitchcock enlivens the melodramatic story of a schoolboy’s fall from grace with a whole raft of symbols and stylistic flourishes suggestive of sexual indiscretion. The film’s most cunning twists double back on the audience’s interpretation in such a way as to suggest the fundamental unreliability of appearances: an aggrieved waitress knowingly draws false conclusions from an earlier scene’s visual details, and a dolly shot tracks out to show Novello first as a debonair gentleman, then as a waiter, and finally as an actor playing a waiter on stage—camera movement as sleight of hand. From cuckold to gigolo, Novello’s world of lost illusions leads to utter delirium, a frisson of hallucination and reality that Hitchcock would find endlessly fascinating.

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