Hitch With a Twitch
Only-A-Child | 07/23/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Many of Hitchcock's early films share story elements because he used the same writer (Charles Bennett) for the screenplays. So you find "Young and Innocent" sharing the beginning of "Sabotage" by immediately revealing the identity of the villain/murderer, turning both films from mystery/thriller into simple thriller. And it shares with "The 39 Steps" a hero on the run with a reluctant heroine, as they work to clear his name they fall in love.
A woman is found dead on a beach, the police determine that she did not drown but was strangled with the belt of a raincoat. Robert Tisdall (Derrick De Marney) is the prime suspect, in part because he was observed running from the scene and in part because he is known to have owned a similar type of raincoat. Robert's claim that his raincoat was stolen at a lorry station a few days before is not believed and his court appointed barrister does not inspire confidence. So he escapes and with the help of Erica Burgoyne (Nova Pilbeam) dashes about the countryside seeking the elusive raincoat in order to clear his name. As a further complication Erica's father is the chief constable.
Like "The 39 Steps", the story has a lighter tone than most of Hitchcock's thrillers; nicely blending comedy with suspense. It lacks that films interesting technical elements but does feature a nice climatic sequence where a continuous crane shot moves slowly over a crowded dance floor to end inches away from the twitching eyes of the murderer who has not been shown since the opening scene of the film.
The film seems to be hacked up a bit, jumping in and out of scenes at inappropriate times as if a poor job of trimming was done and incompletely restored sometime in the almost 70 years since the original edit. This is disconcerting but not fatal, as the themes of disguise and visual impairment are still quite clear. Robert escapes from the courthouse by donning his defense lawyer's glasses-which impair his vision; Old Will dresses up in a new suit in order to infiltrate the hotel but is too concerned with the police to spot the murderer, the murderer appears in blackface but has trouble seeing because of a nervous tick in his eyelids. Ironically it is the medication he takes for this condition that causes Erika to finally notice him.
Hitchcock's skills in casting and directing actors is rarely mentioned but he had a amazing ability to select an actress at the perfect moment of her career for the performance he needed. Nova Pilbeam was only 18 during the filming but she had considerable experience as a child actress. This allowed her to play a confident and capable heroine, and yet project a charming naïveté. Her resemblance to Kiera Knightley is almost spooky, going beyond simple appearance into speech and mannerisms.
This time the "MacGuffin" is the raincoat and it enables Hitchcock to have a double chase for most of the film, as Robert pursues his raincoat he is being pursued by the police. For those who have never heard this, a "MacGuffin" is Hitchcock's term for a plot device (often used in thrillers) that motivates the characters and advances the story-but has little other relevance to the story itself. Unlike other types of plot devices it is not important what specifically the object is, anything that could serve as a motivator could be used. And from an audience perspective the MacGuffin is not the point of the story. Thus in "Young and Innocent" the hero and heroine pursue the raincoat only to discover than it will not be useful for the purpose they intended. It then goes from central focus to insignificance.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child."