Alfred Hitchcock has nine surviving silent films and the clock is ticking. The British Film Institute (BFI) is asking for our help. It's hope is to bring these films back to life, and a long one at that, via public and private donations. It's not a bad idea either.
The Pleasure Garden (1925) is on the list, which is the first known completed film by Hitchcock. The story surrounds two chorus girls at The Pleasure Garden Theater and was based on a novel. Hitchcock's future wife, Alma Reville, is credited here as Assistant Director as well as a Continuity Editor (behind every great man...). Virginia Valli was one of the leads and also one of the early American stars to be brought over for a British film. Hitchcock's Notebooks (author, Dan Auiler, 1999), states that a tinted print of this film was found in Waco, Texas in 1992 and restored by G. William Jones Film and Video Collection based at Southern Methodist University and their site boasts of having indeed restored a print.
The premise of The Lodger: A Story of London Fog (1926) surrounds a landlady who suspects a guest to be a madman, lady-killer. Hitchcock claimed this his first real "Hitchcock film" and many others agree that The Lodger was the his first film with what would become Hitchcock's signature "Master of Suspense" style and it was considered a hit. Alma Reville is credited as a Second Unit Director or Assistant Director.
Hitchcock's one original screenplay is for The Ring (1927). A film which is said to only further define his talent and style as we know it today. According to the BFI site, "... its neatness and economy reveal a director already confident in his control of the medium." I haven't seen The Ring, but I did just add it to my netflix queue.
The fourth film under Hitchcock's directorial credit is Downhill (1927). A story written by and starred Ivor Novella (who also starred in The Lodger), a tremendously popular composer, singer and actor in his day (And today awards & theaters in London bare his name). Downhill, however, isn't a strong Hitchcock film according to many. Much of this opinion, I understand, has to do with the Hollywood style ending that comes across as contrived. The story consists of a man's downward spiral after being accused of impregnating a woman. The story ends with the lead able to return to his former stable life. This film is best known for a scene that is tinted green to evoke the main character's pain and nausea from his past experiences. This is often thought of as a prelude to what Hitchcock would create in Vertigo.
Easy Virtue (1927) is a Alfred Hitchock film based on the famous stage play by Noël Coward. Although Hitchcock favors the wrong man scenario, in this case it's the wrong woman. Easy Virtue stars Isabel Jeans, Franklin Dyall, Eric Bransby Williams and Ian Hunter. Ivor Montagu is credited as the editor for this film as well as The Lodger and Downhill. Mr. Montagu was a man who wore many hats within the film industry. Wikipedia states that he was also an apparent Soviet spy and a table tennis champion. Who knew?
Hitchcock's other 1927 film, titled The Farmer's Wife, is a comedy with thriller elements. This movie is also based on a popular play at the time, written by Eden Philpotts. Interestingly enough you can easily see for yourself by downloading it at archives.org. Jameson Thomas plays Samuel Sweetland, a recently widowed farmer who's wife made him promise to remarry after her passing. The bulk of the story takes Mr. Sweetland through his brief courtship of several different ladies who don't work out and reject him. He eventually realizes he loves his housekeeper and all is right in the world. Gordon Harker, in a comic role as a servant called Churdles Ash is a highlight.
1928's Champagne revolves around a wealthy man who fakes going broke from the champagne business in order to discourage his daughter's fiancé from marrying her. This film was unusual for Hitchcock since it was a comedy without suspense. Apparently it wasn't well received by both audiences and Hitchcock. In the book, Hitchcock/Truffaut. Hitchcock told Truffaut "The film had no story to tell". Champagne is still historically significant. It's a part of Hitchcock’s body of work and although all his films have comedic elements, this one is a straight-up comedy. What Champagne does have in common with other Hitchcock fare is voyeurism. You’ll have to be voyeuristic and watch it to find out more.
The last all silent film made by Hitchcock is The Manxman (1929) and he began working on the picture just a couple weeks after his daughter Patricia Hitchcock was born (MoMA's To Save and Project screened some awesome Hitchcock home movies with Hitch, Alma and baby Patricia. I imagine it was around this time). The story is of two boyhood friends, Pete and Philip. Pete falls for Kate but is forced to make his fortune before he's able to marry her. He unwisely leaves her under the care of Philip. Kate and Philip fall in love. Pete returns. It only gets more complicated from there. You can find Manxman on archives.org. Just download it for free to learn who Kate chooses.
Blackmail (1929) was made as both a silent and talkie. Here Hitchcock uses a knife as the weapon but this time the female is the killer. The story is based on a play of the same title by Charles Bennett . In Hitchcock's Notebooks, Mr. Auiler states that a piece of film exists of Hitchcock at work on the set of Blackmail, where he is directing Anny Ondra and Cyril Ritchard in a kiss. There is also a test film of Hitchcock and Ondra, in which the director teases the actress. Check it out on youtube.com. Ms. Ondra’s thick Czech accent was apparently undesirable but she wasn't dubbed in post, but rather Joan Barry spoke the dialogue off-camera while Ms. Ondra lip-synced. Her accent is rather charming in the youtube clip, but I'm sure you've all seen Singin' in the Rain. Thems the breaks… Blackmail is a good suspense-thriller and as BFI points out, it's great for the well-shot combination of studio and location filming. You can find it on netflix.com (a double feature with Easy Virtue) or download it on archives.org
However you decide to screen these moving pictures, remember how important it really is to get the prints restored. I don't have to tell anyone that Alfred Hitchcock was a major player and contributor to film and culture in general, but I think it’s also important to recognize Alma Reville, who was a huge talent in her own right and never given her due. To assist with the restoration of a Hitchcock film is to restore the legacy of many other key players on his team and in cinema history.
To help save the remaining Hitchcock silents go to Rescue the Hitchcock 9. BFI is also a tremendous source for free downloads of all types of pictures as well as vast resource facilities both on site and online.