In Hitchock’s Young and Innocent, the extraordinary Nova Pilbeam — that name! that proto-Kiera Knightley lovely monkey phiz! — plays Erica, daughter of the police chief constable in an English seaside town. An actress has been murdered, and suspicion falls on a journalist, Robert (Derrick De Marney), who persuades Erica to help him. I’ve said it in three other installments in this series: Nobody is better than Hitchcock at combining suspenseful thrills with light-hearted wit. In this scene, in which Erica and Robert drop by a child’s birthday party at the home of her aunt (Mary Clare) and uncle (Basil Radford), Hitchock does it via blocking. Surrounded on all sides by representatives of the social order whose lack of imagination (Radford was Hitchcock’s go-to guy in the unimaginative Englishman department) may send an innocent man to the gallows, the cunning and resourceful Robert misdirects their attention by handing Erica’s aunt a plaster gnome from her own garden. He and Erica make straight-faced eye contact, like naughty children — and that’s exactly Hitchcock’s theme. It’s not about right vs. wrong, it’s about imagination vs. tedium, wit vs. shit.
An occasional series analyzing some of the author’s favorite moments in the positioning or movement of actors in a movie.
THIRTIES (1934–43): It Happened One Night (1934) | The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) | The Guv’nor (1935) | The 39 Steps (1935) | Young and Innocent (1937) | The Lady Vanishes (1938) | Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) | The Big Sleep (1939) | The Little Princess (1939) | Gone With the Wind (1939) | His Girl Friday (1940)
FORTIES (1944–53): The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) | The Asphalt Jungle (1950) | The African Queen (1951)
FIFTIES (1954–63): A Bucket of Blood (1959) | Beach Party (1963)
SIXTIES (1964–73): For Those Who Think Young (1964) | Thunderball (1965) | Clambake (1967) | Bonnie and Clyde (1967) | Madigan (1968) | Wild in the Streets (1968) | Barbarella (1968) | Harold and Maude (1971) | The Mack (1973) | The Long Goodbye (1973)
SEVENTIES (1974–83): Les Valseuses (1974) | Eraserhead (1976) | The Bad News Bears (1976) | Breaking Away (1979) | Apocalypse Now (1979) | Caddyshack (1980) | Stripes (1981) | Blade Runner (1982) | Tender Mercies (1983) | Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
EIGHTIES (1984–93): Repo Man (1984) | Buckaroo Banzai (1984) | Raising Arizona (1987) | RoboCop (1987) | Goodfellas (1990) | Candyman (1992) | Dazed and Confused (1993)
NINETIES (1994–2003): The Fifth Element (1997)
OUGHTS (2004–13): District 9 (2009)
Joshua Glenn’s most recent books (2012) are UNBORED: THE ESSENTIAL FIELD GUIDE TO SERIOUS FUN (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen); and SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS: 100 EXTRAORDINARY STORIES ABOUT ORDINARY THINGS (with Rob Walker).