Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Young and Innocent (1937)

  • Wrong Man on the run: a race to prove he’s innocent of murder, à la The 39 Steps
  • Just a simple love story at heart: boy meets girl, then it’s two against the world
  • Script ruthlessly rips the guts out of Josephine Tey’s best known detective novel
  • Various cast and crew members make repeat appearances in a Hitchcock film
  • Previous Hitchcock star Nova Pilbeam matures from a girl to a young woman
  • Rife with Hitchcock’s favourite touches and deceptively heavy on symbolism
  • Has most noteworthy example of the Master’s infamous Murderous Gaze
  • Heavily bootlegged for years in many substandard home video editions
  • First time ever: every official worldwide release detailed and compared

Note: this is one of 60-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

Young and Innocent aka Inocencia y Juventud (1937, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Spanish poster

Spanish poster


Contents


Production

Ah, the MacGuffin is strong in this one. Slight spoiler: it’s a missing raincoat belt. This plot device, such as it is, is so flimsy as to be almost transparent – and Hitch and we, the audience, know it. But it doesn’t matter in the least as like so many of Hitch’s best, this is really just a simple tale of a couple with undeclared mutual affection defying the authorities to go on the run. And if you’ve any romance in your soul, you’re happy to be taken along for the ride.

Nova Pilbeam, Alfred Hitchcock, Percy Marmont and Derrick De Marney (standing) on the set of Young and Innocent (1937)

Nova Pilbeam, Hitch, Percy Marmont and Derrick De Marney (standing) on the set of Young and Innocent. This was Marmont’s third Hitchcock; here he plays Erica’s stoic but suffering father.

Hitch’s by-now-regular screenwriter, Charles Bennett, had the main hand in drastically reshaping the source novel, Josephine Tey‘s A Shilling for Candles (1936). He completely restructured a successful but fairly run of the mill whodunit into an altogether more dynamic, entertaining beast. Bennett jettisoned Tey’s recurring central character, Inspector Grant, and elevated a minor player in the book, local chief constable’s daughter Erica Burgoyne, to co-lead status. In the process, the narrative was transformed into a chase thriller revolving around an inadvertent adventurer’s race to prove his innocence, à la The 39 Steps. In that case, a couple of years earlier, Hitch and Bennett had taken huge liberties with John Buchan’s source novel, altering the title and leaving perhaps less than half of his book intact. As a screenplay at least, it was much the better for it. This time they went much further, completely dropping the original title of Tey’s opus and retaining only around a third of its content. The film actually retained the novel’s title until shooting ended, despite having omitted the reason for it (“a shilling for candles” was a sarcastic bequest to a faux-religiously pious, scam artist relative). Then it was initially renamed The Girl Was Young but changed again to Young and Innocent just prior to release. But it retained the former title for US release.

Young and Innocent aka The Girl is Young Indeed (1937, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US lobby card

US lobby card with original, ultimately discarded British title

In all, it begs the question why bother to pay for the film rights to a property in the first place, if you plan to alter it beyond all recognition? They may as well have just saved the money and ensured their screenplay was sufficiently disguised to avoid accusations of plagiarism. Then again, perhaps not: just look what happened with Nosferatu… Anyway, Tey’s novel is less well remembered today than many of the others to spawn Hitch films, meaning there have been fewer new spins on it. Various BBC Radio adaptations and solo readings have emerged since the 1950s but only two of these are currently available. One is an unabridged 1993 audiobook and the other an hour-long adaptation for BBC Radio 4 in 1998.

In 2008, Josephine Tey had an unlikely resurrection when An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson was published. It’s the first in an ongoing series of novels starring Tey herself as a murder mystery-solving detective. Though fictional, the books are closely based on Tey’s life and times, and are a riveting read from first to last. The fourth, the time-hopping Fear in the Sunlight (2012, 11-CD set, French edition), is set in the milieu of the production and release of both Young and Innocent and Rear Window (1954). It really demonstrates Upson’s feel for the era and eye for detail; it’s clear she really did her homework. Fans of the films, Hitchcock, and good novels in general should investigate without delay.

Whoever colorized the original black and white photos for The Girl Was Young lobby card above decided that brunette Nova Pilbeam would look better with golden hair. The artist for the US one-sheet poster below, based on the same publicity photos, similarly opted to turn her into another Hitchcock blonde à la Madeleine Carroll. This was probably a ploy to evince the winning formula that made The 39 Steps such a stateside success two years earlier.

Young and Innocent aka The Girl Was Young (1937, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US poster

US poster

Derrick De Marney is Robert Tisdall, our lead and Wrong Man, while his co-star is Nova Pilbeam as Erica Burgoyne, a mere 17 years old at the time of filming, which took place from the end of May to mid-August 1937. She displays remarkable acting prowess in pulling off an adult female lead, especially considering only three years earlier she played a child in peril, in The Man Who Knew Too Much. It should be noted that Erica has an unusually strong characterisation for any female of the era: not only is she the equal of the men around her, she’s actually cleverer and far more capable than all of them, bar her partner in crime (solving). In fact, you could say The Girl Power Was Young.

Also returning is John Longden as a detective in his fourth Hitchcock, following Blackmail (also a detective), Juno and the Paycock and The Skin Game. Somewhat typecast, he’s a male chauvinist pig in all of them. Percy Marmont is back for his third and final film for the Master, after two ill-starred turns in Rich and Strange, and Secret Agent. Lastly, Basil Radford also notched up three Hitchcocks; here he makes an appearance as Erica’s sympathetic uncle before going on to a pivotal and scene-stealing joint supporting role in the next Hitchcock, prior to also winding up in the director’s final British film Jamaica Inn.

Derrick De Marney, Anna Konstam and Peggy Simpson in Young and Innocent (1937, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Derrick De Marney stands as a man accused. The young lady to the left is Anna Konstam in an uncredited role. She’s the younger sister of Phyllis Konstam, who had small parts in three Hitchcocks before starring in The Skin Game. Her friend is Peggy Simpson, who also played the Jordans’ maid in The 39 Steps.

Film historian Jon Burrows, author of Legitimate Cinema: Theatre Stars in Silent British Films, 1908-1918 (2003) and The British Cinema Boom, 1909-1914: A Commercial History (2017), astutely observed that at no point do any of the lead actors escape the confines of Pinewood Studios, where the film was principally shot. They certainly feature in many mocked-up outdoor scenes, whether they’re elaborate studio sets or merely acting in front of Hitch’s much-favoured painted backdrops or rear projection screens. All actual exteriors apparently depicting the leads al fresco only actually show second unit-photographed body doubles, whether in part or long shot, or filmed from behind. This happens far more often than you’d think but is usually done so seamlessly it’s hardly noticeable. That is, unless you’re looking out for it, in which case you’ll spot it all the while – prepare to have your fave films spoiled! Just one example is the obliquely Hitch-related and indeed Hitchockian mystery-drama So Long at the Fair (1950). Though also shot at Pinewood, by deft application of all the techniques above, we are led to believe our damsel is distressed in not-so gay Paree during the 1889 Exposition universelle.

Of course, the film contains a brilliant example of The Murderous Gaze of Hitch’s camera; the most renowned and elaborate single shot of his British career:

“Starting on a high-angle framing of the hotel interior, it moves ‘through’ a wall and sweeps on high above the tables, turns to frame the band in long shot, and continues moving down and in on the drummer, who is in blackface, until his eyes fill the screen; he begins to twitch convulsively. This bravura movement, which measures out the full space of the hotel set in a shot lasting one minute and twenty seconds, has an effect rather like the moment in Vertigo when Kim Novak turns towards the camera and a flashback reveals to us what really happened at the Mission San Juan Bautista, when she ran up the tower and the body fell. The story-tellers, via the wordless mechanism of the camera, have chosen to give us information which the other puzzled protagonists still do not have access to, thus opening up a new dimension of suspense: will they find out what we now know, and with what consequences?” – English Hitchcock (1999) by Charles Barr

Speaking of gazes, there’s a novel running theme throughout, concerning clear vision: hardly any of the players have it. Certainly in the metaphorical sense, with regard to the many bumbling policemen (a favourite Hitch theme) throughout, who unwittingly do all they can to obstruct the course of true justice. There’s Tisdall’s avaricious, short-sighted solicitor who automatically presumes his client’s guilt; nonetheless, his glasses come in very handy. Then Hitch in his cameo, who misses a golden opportunity because he’s too busy looking in the wrong direction. He’s followed by Erica’s interfering aunt, whose literal blindfolding symbolises her wilful ignorance. Ultimately, there’s the convulsive eye-twitching culprit himself, whose uncontrollable blinking seals his guilt.

Derrick De Marney and Nova Pilbeam in Young and Innocent (1937, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

It can’t be denied that despite its many charms, ultimately Young and Innocent comes off as a marginally weaker, juvenile retread of The 39 Steps, despite De Marney and Donat both being the same age, 30, at the time of filming. In fact, it has the feel of a film leading up to its illustrious predecessor, rather than one following it. Not least because the basic framework of the two is so similar as to inevitably invite comparison. Nonetheless, even very slightly sub-optimal Hitch knocks most other directors into a cocked hat, so miss it at your peril.

Following Young and Innocent, Hitch spoke tantalisingly of another project with echoes of its penultimate scene. In June 1938, he sailed with his family to New York for negotiations with Samuel Goldwyn and David O. Selznick. Of course, he eventually accepted the latter’s offer but while there described a possibility:

Whether he works in Hollywood or England, he will go on making his own kind of picture. His mind is full of plans; nothing else can get in. When he was last in New York he wasn’t half so concerned about his financial negotiations as about a story idea he had. “The picture would open near the London docks, at dawn,” Hitchcock liked to explain. “The police are chasing a lascar [Indian] sailor down a grain elevator. He gets away from them, runs through the gates into the road, and finally hides in a sailors’ boarding house. The police catch up with him, and he escapes from them again. The chase goes through the Sunday-morning market in Middlesex Street. At last the lascar comes to St. Paul’s Cathedral and runs in, with the police after him. There’s a service going on, so he runs upstairs to the balcony that goes around the dome. Just as he reaches the top step he falls over the railing down into the nave, dead, with a knife in his back. Some of the congregation rush up and turn him over. One of them touches his face and a smudge of blacking comes off [in an echo of Young and Innocent’s finale]. The man isn’t a lascar at all—he’s just made up as one.” At this point in his recitation Hitchcock would become subdued. Then he’d say, “It’s good so far. But what happens after that? I wish I knew.”

Well, we never did get to find out. Around the same time, along with Alma Reville and his assistant Joan Harrison, he was reported to be working on another script based on the short story “False Witness” by French author Marcel Achard. An alternate title of “Perjury” was also announced and it was to star Nova Pilbeam again, but in the event none of these transpired. Instead, Hitch agreed to pick up a stalled studio project, tentatively titled The Lost Lady


Home video releases

Young and Innocent (1937, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US MGM DVD

US MGM DVD: the best a man (or girl) can get

Click on the pic above to open the gallery, then scroll through these worst-best screenshot comparisons:

More screenshots here: Bootlegs Galore: The Great Alfred Hitchcock Rip-off.

As you’d expect, being one of Hitch’s later successful British films with an unbroken chain of title, Young and Innocent has been well looked after and the original negative, along with various other nitrate copies, is safely tucked away in the BFI National Archive. Therefore, all licensed VHS, LaserDisc and early DVD editions feature a transfer of an excellent condition pre-print element. But a new digitally cleaned-up version surfaced in 2008 and has appeared on various releases since. It’s leaps and bounds ahead of the old print, though as is often the case the first reel or so is still a little rough, having an abundance of minor surface scratches and fine vertical lines. But once it settles down, it looks absolutely lovely. Either transfer will more than suffice but if you have a larger screen or even projector, the latter is definitely the one to get.

Archival version

Of the older transfer DVDs, perhaps most notable is the UK Network with the same extras as their restored BD, described below. Most of the rest, apart from the French TF1 with forced subs, are pretty much vanilla.

Restored version

First choice is the superb US disc which is packed with extras: an audio commentary, isolated music and effects track, Hitchcock/Truffaut interview excerpts, restoration comparison, image gallery and a 6-page booklet. This is still easily the best DVD available. The Oz disc has a 1990 audio interview with Ms Pilbeam and an essay booklet, but good luck finding a copy: it’s long deleted and as rare as hen’s teeth. The French disc is even lighter on extras with just a very short, indirectly related French-language featurette.

HD options obviously feature the digital restoration but are mainly limited to streaming services. Happily though, region B buyers get Network’s UK BD with similar extras to their previous Hitch films; namely a Charles Barr intro (3½min), the omnipresent “Early Years” doc (24min) and an extensive image gallery. [Sept 2020: new French BD; more tech spec coming asap!] As is sadly usual for British Hitches, crappy looking bootlegs of this title are legion and there’s at least one poor pirate BD-R floating around, courtesy of our old Spanish friends Resen.


Soundtrack releases

Young and Innocent (1937, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) bootleg artwork

Original bootleg artwork, used on several international releases

Staying on the subject of bootlegs… there are many official re-recordings of part and full scores from Hitch’s American films, but sadly not so for his British works. So far, there are only four re-recorded excerpts from The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes. Nonetheless, there are various Hitchcock film music compilations featuring selections from those and several other British talkies. But they’re almost all bootlegs too, mostly lifted directly from the film soundtracks themselves. The sole fully-licensed exceptions are:

They include two cues from Young and Innocent composed by the film’s musical director Louis Levy: “Erica at the Mill” and “No One Can Like the Drummer Man”, along with passages from Blackmail and Sabotage. But the isolated music and effects track on the great US MGM DVD detailed above remains easily the most significant soundtrack release for Young and Innocent. It’s the only one of Hitch’s British films so accorded, alongside half a dozen American films with isolated scores on particular releases.


For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

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