Sunday, September 3, 2017

The wine sparkles, but does the movie

Not having much idea of what to do a post about today, I decided to watch the 1928 silent movie Champagne off my cheap Mill Creek boxed set of early Hitchcock titles.

The movie has a simple plot. The Girl (Betty Balfour; I think her name is mentioned once as Betty but the characters here are otherwise not named), daughter of a wealthy Father (Gordon Harker), is in love with The Boy (Jean Bradin). Apparently, Father doesn't approve, because The Girl takes Daddy's plane out into the Atlantic to meet up with the boat on which The Boy is going across to Europe. And we can see that Daddy is none too pleased about it.

The two young lovers plan to elope, but also on the transatlantic liner is The Man (Theo van Alten) who seems to keep stalking The Girl. Disagreements delay the marriage -- the Boy doesn't want the Girl taking all the initiative -- and eventually they wind up meeting again in Paris at a party. By this time, Dad has also made it Paris, and he's got some bad news for his daughter: he's lost all his money. Will her beloved still want a poor girl? Of course, we know that the young man has his own means, but the daughter has pride and doesn't want him suporting her and Dad just because.

So the Girl decides she's going to get a job, eventually finding work as a flower girl at a posh Parisian club, handing out flowers to the male patrons to use as boutonnieres. It's at that club that she runs into both The Man and The Boy, and this eventually leads to the film's climax.

I found it a bit tough to rate this movie, in part because the plot is so hoary: Rich girl is willful, but may have to change once she suddenly becomes poor. The plot isn't Hitchcock's fault; he was early enough in his career that he didn't have much choice in the projects he did. Still, Hitchcock does a quite good job as director, with some imaginative shots that clearly show the command of the medium he already had. Still, give this material to any other director, and the result would be a serviceable programmer. Good, but nothing memorable.

A bigger problem I had was with the score. I don't know whether this was Mill Creek's fault or original to Hitchcock, but the score on this print is stock public domain classical music: even my father recognized Sibelius' "Finlandia". There was also Massenet's "Meditation" from Thaïs, Strauss (either "The Artist's Life" or "Tales from the Vienna Woods") and Liszt's Hugarian Rhapsody that I recognized. The problem is that none of the music fits with the action on the screen. I've read that Hitchcock's original intention for The Lodger was to use already existing classical music for the score, so perhaps that was intended here too. In any case, the music doesn't work at all.

There are pricier DVDs available, and a restoration was done although it's apparently not a restoration of the original theatrical print but a backup print.

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