Rearview: ‘Young and Innocent’ (Hitchcock – 1937)

In a similar vein to The Man Who Knew Too Much – in which an ‘ordinary’ couple is drawn into dealing with extraordinary life-and-death circumstances – characters that are falsely accused or implicated in crimes committed by another would become a recurring motif of Alfred Hitchcock’s illustrious oeuvre.

The 39 Steps, made in 1935 and since re-adapted as a play, multiple films and TV dramas, is a prime early example. A man, inadvertently embroiled in a plot of espionage, must save himself whilst preventing an international disaster. How the ill-equipped normal chap handles the perils of a spy ring will appeal to Mr. and Mrs. Joe Bloggs at the cinema because, well, it could happen to them, couldn’t it?

In Young and Innocent (also known as The Girl Was Young) the unfortunate Robert Tisdall finds the body of a woman washed up on a beach – an actress he may or may not have been rolling around in the hay with. Witnesses see him fleeing the scene of the crime (never a good idea, Robert) and he duly becomes the prime suspect.

sus1Key to his innocence is the belt of his stolen raincoat, thought to have been used to strangle the victim; as is so often the case in Hitchcock’s work, the crux of this film hinges on one prop. Its recovery will make or break Tisdall.

With a devilish grin, glint in his eye and boyish charm, Derrick De Marney constructs a hero who is a loveable rogue. His culpability is never in doubt from an audience’s point of view, the director placing us in the privileged, and agonising, position of knowing more than those onscreen.

Robert has only one trusting confidant in the film, Erica Burgoyne (Nova Pilbeam – who starred three years earlier as the kidnapped youth in The Man Who Knew Too Much and is principled go-getter here), who just so happens to be the Chief Constable’s daughter; a complication when on the run from the law. 

Unlike its predecessor, Y & I is a far more lighthearted romp through the English countryside; a rather genteel road movie (Erica has been in the girl guides; she does all the driving and by all accounts is a frightfully practical sort) it does pick up pace towards the end as the net closes around the young lovers.   

Erica Burgoyne (Nova Pillbeam) and Edward Rigby in a marvellous turn as Old Will, a tramp whose path crosses with our heroic couple.

Moments of typically tongue in cheek Hitchcock humour punctuate the growing tension – two policemen fumbling around in a pig farmer’s cart, the bumblings of Robert’s hopelessly simple lawyer, a younger brother slurping his soup. Make sure to keep an eye open around the fifteen mark for the first example of what would become a Hitchcock trademark for the majority of his films – a cameo appearance by the director. 

“No one can like the drummer man can.”

The extended tracking/crane shot at the film’s finale is the major technical talking point and rightly so. From the upper level of the interior of the Grand Hotel we swoop down over the dance floor in a continuous edit that zooms into an extreme close-up of the drummer, whose twitches we have seen before. It really is tremendous. 

It is a sign of the majesty of Hitchcock’s films that a piece as strong as Young and Innocent is so little known. A romantic thriller with a charming lead pair and superb support from all involved, with the humour and technical brilliance for which the director is so revered. It has it all and should be on anyone’s list of oldies to watch – immediately!