Patsy Brand is a chorus girl at the Pleasure Garden music hall. She meets Jill Cheyne who is down on her luck and gets her a job as a dancer. Jill is engaged to adventurer Hugh Fielding and... See full summary »
A Different Hitchcock Experience in a brilliant drama
In "Downhill", Ivor Novello's character life goes all downhill after a false accusation made by a girl who ruins his life as a rich schoolboy. He lost his only friend (Robin Irvine), abandoned his family after being thrown out of school, and all that happened because a pretty girl falsely accused him of getting her pregnant (there's a whole debate over what was the accusation because the film doesn't explain it so clear), which was a shocking thing at the time considering the societies conventions of the period.
In a stunning dramatic exercise, way before his suspense films Alfred Hitchcock presents in "Downhill" the story of a man who lost everything trying to protect others but not himself, rejected his father because the last didn't believe in him, calling of him a liar, but this man realizes that he made a big mistake but not telling the truth to anyone, living a low-life with people of inferior classes, marrying with another troubled girl and more. And everything (methaporically and literally) spins around and around over this poor guy, so it's all downhill.
This was my first experience on watching a Hitchcock silent film and it was a great pleasure to see how everything about it was brilliant, important, the way he moves with his camera, edition, direction of actors, the whole package. Novello's performance as the main character living in a constant delirant state, showing a sorrow that doesn't need to be overacted or appear to be so emotional, no, he has an expressive face that says more than we can see, you can feel his desperation and sadness in simple gestures. There's some bit humored parts (the fight between Novello and his wife lover at the apartment) that calm down the almost depressive story.
One of my favorite parts (and to you might sound pointless) is a transition scene that fools the viewer in a magic way. Right after Novello left home we see him working as waiter in a restaurant, attending a couple that walks away from the table and start to strangely dance followed by other people. The image opens up without cutting and we see a stage, musicians and a whole crowd watching the dancers scene, Novello and other waiters start to dance too and we are fooled because he's not a waiter, he is an actor in a musical play. It's a very humorous transition scene and way ahead of its time, very brilliant and well made.
I watched the film in the Public Archive (the link is present here on IMDb) so there's a few things to complain about their version, and another one that helped me watching the film. First: the final minutes of the film are missing, very significant five minutes (gladly, I found the missing part on YouTube). Second: their version doesn't feature the musical score presented in it which leads to the thing that helped me watching it; I selected classical musics to go with the film and that was very clever of my part, because the absence of sound (in this case) made me think on other things than the film, the problems of life and things like that. But after watching "Downhill" hearing instrumental music made the experience even better, and it wasn't distractive as I thought it would be. So my suggestion is that if you watch the film in the Public Archive do that, listen to Tchaikovsky, Strauss or film composers scores, that will help you a lot.
From the very first scene at the school with the boys playing in the park until the last similar scene at the ending, "Downhill" justifies only the story as being a downhill thing, because looking at its magnificence it's a memorable and upper film. One of Hitchcock's best works even though it's not a work of suspense. 10/10
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