Downhill (1927)

Ivor Novello plays a schoolboy who is falsely accused of getting a girl pregnant and descends into disgrace, in Alfred Hitchcock’s dark melodrama.

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Alternative titles

  • When Boys Leave Home Alternative
  • When the Boys Leave Home Alternative

Introduction

“The film slips subliminally between reality and fantasy as Novello’s fate worsens... with one astounding scene in a nightclub where the arrival of daylight reveals the true decadence on the faces of its clientele.”
David Thompson, Sight & Sound, October 2007

In his second film for Alfred Hitchcock after The Lodger (1926), Ivor Novello – who wrote the source play for Dowhill – plays (somewhat implausibly at 34) model school student Roddy, falsely accused of getting a young woman pregnant. Expelled and disgraced, Roddy goes into self-imposed exile, reduced to renting himself out as a companion to lonely, wealthy women before winding up destitute and ill in Marseilles.

Unusually dark for the time it was made, Downhill is another example of Hitchcock’s much-revisited ‘wrong man’ plot. Fascinating for the way it fetishises Novello’s suffering, and with some exceptional compositions (a sickly green tint when a delirious Roddy voyages home prefigures the much later Vertigo), Downhill is one of Hitchcock’s most unfairly neglected works.

Rebellious teenagers appear throughout British cinema, from girls in reformatories in Good-Time Girl (1948) and borstal boys in Boys in Brown (1949) to juvenile delinquents in Bronco Bullfrog (1969).

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