Genre: Mystery and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 23 min.
Release Date: November 18th, 1937 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Alfred Hitchcock Actors: Nova Pilbeam, Derrick de Marney, Percy Marmont, Edward Rigby, John Longden, George Curzon, Basil Radford
s Robert Tisdall (Derrick de Marney) strolls along a beachside cliff, he spies the body of famous film star Christine Clay (Pamela Carme), washed ashore after having been strangled with a belt. When he runs off to get help, two women heading to the waters to bathe accuse him of fleeing the crime scene, which quickly lands him in the hot seat. Detained and interrogated relentlessly by manipulative Scotland Yard authorities, led by the stern Detective Inspector Kent (John Longden), Tisdall is soon assigned legal counsel – inept solicitor Henry Briggs (J.H. Roberts) – and prepared for a trial.
“Well it doesn’t look too good, does it?” Although the evidence is circumstantial at best, Christine’s will details a considerable amount of money left to Robert, which certainly appears as a suspicious motive. But just as the the accused and his lawyer head to a courtroom to speak to a judge, Tisdall manages to slip away through another door – and then flee the premises altogether. He also finds an unlikely getaway partner – the Chief Constable’s daughter, Erica Burgoyne (Nova Pilbeam).
Curiously, from the opening scene, it seems obvious that Robert is innocent (the title suggests that as well, changed from the source material “A Shilling for Candles,” a novel by Josephine Tey), which means there’s little doubt as to the standup nature of the protagonist. This allows sympathetic Erica to engage in some amusing, flirtatious dialogue as an accomplice, while Robert similarly maintains levity, joking about his situation despite the potentially severe consequences of being a “wrong man.” Fortunately, Hitchcock’s mistakenly-implicated victims are generally dashing, dapper fellows with wit and charm, who can keep up good spirits and humorous commentary no matter the direness of their situations.
This lends nicely to the romance, which finds Erica and Robert growing more and more fond of one another, aided by clever scene transitions that switch up the expectations of character actions. Erica shouldn’t be in league with a wanted criminal, but she can’t help herself – and it certainly helps that her love interest is perceptive and funny, generating a number of comic relief sequences involving roleplaying, assumed identities, and near-screwball-level interactions. Toward the conclusion, their blithe capers turn darker, as the authorities close in and the search for an evidentiary raincoat becomes increasingly desperate and futile. And although the final revelation is based on a poorly designed quirk (one disappointingly unsubtle, though a concept reused in countless murder/mystery pictures to come), it’s entertainingly supplemented by a notable railway flight, an impressive mine set-piece, a tearful reunion, and a classic Hitchcockian suspense moment – as contrived and tidy as it may be – in which the real culprit nearly eludes justice (regrettably, however, involving blackface; this film did premiere in 1937, often with poster art using the title “The Girl was Young”). Clearly, this early work demonstrates the auteur’s honing of his craft, which would soon produce more polished efforts with similar themes.
– Mike Massie