For better or for worse…
1927 was a productive year for Hitchcock. He'd not long been married to Alma, who was also one of the screenwriters on many of his films, he had three movies released this year and had started work on another two. Busy bee! He was also, by now, the highest paid film director of that time… not bad for a man who joined the industry writing inter-titles (the words you see in-between the pictures for larger sections of dialogue or things that aren't as easy to communicate through gesture).
On top of all that, this film was considered the best English film ever made at the time of it's release also. A double honour considering that Hitchcock wrote it too! In fact, it was the ONLY film he ever wrote himself, oddly, given it's well received reception. Perhaps he just decided he preferred to stick to the directing. Perhaps he didn't want to step on Alma's toes. That must always be a concern in a relationship that is both personal and professional, allowing each partner to express themselves in their way without one taking over too much.
I notice that Alma has also screenwritten several films without Alfred so I may try to squeeze a couple of them in if I have time. It will be interesting to see what kind of things survive in a film when he is removed from the process perhaps…
Watching this film, it's easy to see why it was considered the greatest purely English film produced at the time. Not so much because of the storyline, which is fairly basic and formulaic, but because of the filming methods and techniques being used and the subtle visual parodies that were implemented in it.
The biggest example is the bracelet, for several reasons… Whilst Jack is off completing a deal, shaking hands with some kind of manager, Bob is placing a bracelet on Lilian's wrist. The transition between both scenes is flawless for it's time and the kind of visual trick we still se used in many movies to this day. I also like how this bracelet and the way Lilian chooses to wear it seem to represent her feelings for Bob. He places it on her wrist, but she moves it further up her arm often and hides it with the hand of her other arm frequently. Not only does this symbolise the simple act of keeping the affair hidden but also seems to show her keenness to keep his affections distant from Jacks.
This makes a lot more sense when Jack gives Lilian her wedding ring too. This is an unbroken loop that she wears on her finger, whilst the bracelet appears to have an open and flexible design allowing her to use, move and remove it as she wishes, keeping it distant from the more sturdy ring when Jack is around and displaying it with pride when Bob is around.
There is also a scene early on in the movie where Lilian is playing a card game against a Tarot reader (another act at the circus that she and Jack work for). The Tarot reader places down the king of hearts almost accusingly as Jack walks in the room; Lilian is holding the king of diamonds and rubbing the card with her mind clearly elsewhere. Hearts versus diamonds presumably being the contrast between the love that Jack has for her and the lure of the gifts that Bob gives her.
In general, this seems to take a very modern view on affairs. Although it is secret, it seems like everyone knows what is going on and there are a lot of glances and silent suggestive motions of the eyes from many of the cast members throughout the film (well it is a silent movie I suppose!).
The parallels between the script and what we know of how Hitchcock and his wife met is interesting too. Hitchcock knew Alma for long before they started courting but when they met, she was a screenwriter and also worked on the cutting floor, piecing together the movies. He was a simple inter-title writer and felt below her. In many ways he fought his way up the ladder and eventually hired her so he could confess his feelings. It shows so much insecurity on his behalf but, at the same time, a passionate drive in his character.
This is also one of the first silent movies I have seen where inter-titles are laid over the picture and not just in-between frames (so technically they're not even 'inter'-titles andy more!), which shows that, together, the 'Hitchcocks' were really starting to push their art form. Being in their honeymoon year, it's easy to imagine them both sat at home in the evening discussing ways to make their films better those from than everyone else!
But that aside, overall, this film is a fight. Literally and not so literally. I personally felt like Jack was fighting with Bob to be the main character in the film. We are very much drawn in to the love affair of Bob and Lilian and at first we almost will them on to get away from Jack, somehow drawn into the falseness of their world, fooled by the film very much starting with them. But really this is Jack's film. This is Jack's fight to win…