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Champagne (1928)

Champagne (1928)

The bubbly, golden fluid that is champagne is a standard analogy for all things tied to wealth. It is symbolic of all the glittery things afforded by those people who can in turn afford to order the high-ticket beverage. That is all you need know of the meaning of the title for Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1928 silent flick Champagne.

But to further draw the connection to the title, Hitchcock opens and closes the picture using an innovative technique by which he photographs the scenes through a champagne glass. Taking the view point of a person drinking the champagne, a bubble of glass at the base of the coupe captures dancers aboard a trans-Atlantic ship and the kissing couple at the film’s close. The master of suspense would later use a similar technique to capture the strangling scene in Strangers on a Train, which is depicted as reflected by the victim’s glasses.glass

Unlike his later films, Hitchcock made many non-thrillers in his early years, and Champagne is one of them. A comedy, the story tells of a frivolous millionairess who regularly angers her father by squandering their wealth and running around with a man whom the patriarch believes is only interested in the family fortune. To start the film, a ship headed from America to England makes a swift rescue of two passengers of a small aircraft that has crashed into the ocean. The pilot and the woman aboard are safely escorted to the vessel but not before The Girl (Betty Balfour) powders her nose and sheds the flight jacket, goggles and headgear she wears.

The Girl’s fashionable entrance on the boat was arranged just so she could catch up with her beau, The Boy (Jean Bradin). But when the young woman informs her love that she will arrange for the captain to marry them, The Boy is offended by her take-charge approach and the two part ways. Still on board the watercraft, The Girl finds a companion in a shady looking man that had been making eyes at her since her grand entrance. The two share a rocky meal upon the rough high seas, with The Boy unable to intervene because of sea sickness.

Once in Europe, The Girl carries on her absurdly wasteful lifestyle while her father frowns at the headlines she has made. He interrupts his daughter during a party involving the purchase of several new gowns and informs her he is now broke. The Girl weeps but offers to sell her jewelry.

Jumping forward, the father-daughter couple are living together in a small flat where The Girl tends to the home and endeavors to cook. In the next scene The Father (Gordon Harker), having left the home without breakfast, dines at a fancy bistro. It seems he has not actually been separated from his money but is instead attempting to teach his daughter a lesson.

The Boy eventually finds The Girl again and is still interested in being with her, but she repeatedly spurns him while yet again crossing paths with The Man (Theodore Van Alten) who took a shine to her on the boat. She garners a job distributing flowers to gentlemen at a night club, where she is only mildly successful. The Boy brings The Father to see what lifestyle his daughter has taken up, and he is disappointed to see his trick has resulted in a blow to her dignity. He reveals to her his ruse, and she reacts by being infuriated with both The Father and The Boy for the humiliation she has suffered.

She runs to The Man and convinces him to take her along on a ship-ride back to America, her home country. It just so happens The Boy is aboard as well, bringing us full circle to the film’s start. There the couple reunites and with The Father’s blessing. The Father also reveals The Man was his friend, who was sent on the original cruise to prevent by any means the marriage of our leading lady and man.

One of the most innovative scenes in Champagne is towards the film’s start when The Girl and The Man dine aboard the boat. The rollicking seas are conveyed by a swinging camera motion and the staggering and leaning of the people aboard the boat. The effect is so convincing it started to make me seasick.

Champagne is full of comical moments and has a decent story to tell. It is superficial and full of back and forth moments for the couple, and it is predictable. Still, any chance to see an early Hitchcock movie should not be passed up, and this one has some visual effects worth enjoying.

View the full film on YouTube:


The Farmer’s Wife

Ring a Ding Ding 

     Alfred Hitchcock entered the movie business essentially as soon as it started. He rose quickly in the British ranks to the director status and so it goes without saying he has a few silent movies under his belt. The Farmer’s Wife is among those early Hitchcock films that are essentially forgotten because it does not fall under the typical style we have come to associate with the master. This movie, one of many Hitchcock pieces that would be drawn from a stage play, is a comedy, nothing more. No suspense here, but that is not to say Hitchcock did not illustrate early on his adroit approach to this lighter genre.

     Farmer Sam Sweetland’s (Jameson Thomas) wife dies at the start of our picture and her final words are to the housemaid Minta (Lillian Hall-Davis) to remember to air out her master’s pants. Our next scene is of Minta helping Sam and his daughter prepare for the young girl’s wedding. We are introduced to a host of characters at the ensuing party and we hear the handyman Churdles (Gordon Harker) remark that with the daughter out of the house, Mr. Sweetland will be looking to remarry. From the film’s inception we see Minta as the perfect new wife for the man as she runs the household and takes care of his every whim already. It will, however, take the rest of the film for Sweetland to come to that conclusion.

     Sitting down with Minta, Sam crafts a list of four women he can picture sitting in his wife’s chair opposite him by the fireplace. First up is a widow, but she says she is too independent for the man, which leads Sweetland to curse her and forbid her visit his home again. The next is a virginal spinster to whom he proposes just before she is to host a party –at which Minta and Churldes are helping out– and the woman shivers and quakes from the shock. Again fuming, Sweetland lulls outside while the rest of the party guests arrive and Churdles struggles with some trousers that have no button to keep them on.

     While still at the party, Sweetland makes his move on a young, fat gal who insists he is to old for her. This leads him to spew a number of insults resulting in the woman screaming and flailing her limbs while the rest of the partygoers try to figure out her hysterics. Finally, Sweetland makes one last effort with a barmaid, but we do not see how that results before the man returns home. He has given up, but when Minta sits down in his wife’s chair, the chemistry finally clicks and the two happily agree to wed. Adding to the hilarity, however, are the middle two women to whom Sweetland had proposed –the virgin and the hysterical one– who upon arguing with each other about the proposals change their minds just to spite the other. They show up at the Sweetland home and the young one says she is willing to accept the proposal, to which Sweetland says he will announce his bride shortly, fooling her into thinking she has won. When Minta re-enters the scene in fine dress, that crazy one again screams and flails about.

     The Farmer’s Wife is really full of fine performances. The middle two potential mates Sweetland approaches are the source of much laughter, but Churdles as a baboon-like man is really essential to this movie’s comedic success. The only struggle I faced was in thinking that I would actually like the hotheaded Sweetland to end up with sweet Minta. He proves himself a royal ass in his reactions to rejection, but his manner of treating Minta at the close is endearing enough to make it work.

     Hitchcock was reluctant to take credit for early films like The Farmer’s Wife because he essentially just filmed a play. The script for this one was nearly word-for-word the successful stage production of the same name, and so Hitch even once said, “It was a routine job. A stage play with lots of titles instead of dialogue.” Those intertitles were in fact how Hitchcock got his start in films. He was an “captioneer” in 1920 and 1921 and would design the intertitles and embellish them with drawings. From there he moved up to “art director” in mid-1921. He would meet future wife Alma Reville during this early studio work, although she was more advanced than he at the time. She entered the profession in 1915 as an “assistant continuity girl” working on cutting the pieces of film together. She can often be found on the credits of Hitchcock’s earlier films as the person responsible for “continuity” and she was always listed by her maiden name. Alma was “floor secretary” or a first assistant director by the time Alfred entered the trade. It would be several years of seeing each other around the studios before they would begin to date.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

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