IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR WITH ALFRED HITCHCOCK REVIEW: “Champagne” stars Betty Balfour (Squibs, Bright Eyes), Jean Bradin (The Cradle of God, Moulin Rouge ), Ferdinand von Alten (Othello, The Loves of the Mighty), and Gordon Harker (The Farmer’s Wife, Derby Day). It is directed by Alfred Hitchcock (Rope, Notorious), who also wrote it with Walter C. Mycroft (Three Wise Brides, Money for Nothing) and Eliot Stannard (A Safe Affair, Motoring).
A spoiled rich girl (Balfour) goes against her father’s wishes and runs off with the man she loves. However, her actions have consequences.
Hitchcock continues to develop his craft with the rather modern tale of “Champagne,” which tells about a spoiled heiress whose naive actions send her down a rabbit hole of treachery and sadness.
I find myself watching these silent flicks late into the night, where my mind is numb and my biggest focus is on not falling asleep. It’s an awful approach to viewing anything, and in the case of “Champagne,” I am not only reviewing it after a late night watch, but a late night watch that occured several weeks prior to posting. Should I rewatch it? Not a chance. I am going through a burn out phase with watching movies (my resolution to see/review 188 films this year is taking a toll), and the thought of dipping back into this one makes me want to jump out a window. But don’t let that fool you about it’s quality… because “Champagne” is not too shabby.
There are elements to these stories that have become outdated (in terms of culture or target audience of the time), but for the most part, Hitchcock’s silent movies resonate with the modern mind. At least mine, that is. Ultimately, “Champagne” is a film about someone who decides to rebel, only for life to kick them in the face. Balfour’s role of “The Girl” (they were original back in the day when it came to character names) is a priss, though she’s exuberant with life and eager to pursue what she wants and not what her father demands. Audiences of today would understand her, as we live in a culture where to be ruled over by someone is horrible (especially parents, which is why methods of punishment are being questioned). Hitchcock turns this ideology on its head, by giving us a lead who seeks her own freedom, only to realize that her choices cause her downfall. Will people gravitate toward this? Probably not. But I found it somewhat interesting.
The scope of this narrative is quite large (for this marathon, that is), taking place on a cruise ship and then a ritzy club. There’s even a moment where our lead arrives in a plane, having landed on the ocean to come aboard the ship. All of which was filmed. And yes, it’s clearly done in a soundstage with someone splashing water on the people and the wind being blown from a large fan off camera. But you have to respect the craft, as it is definitely impressive for 1928. The cinematography continues to be strengthened as well, with some more solid shots that will stick with you (particularly the ones where we see through a champagne glass to the scene before us).
I think the biggest compliment I can give “Champagne,” in comparison to the other works in this marathon, is that I wasn’t that lost in what was going on. The scenes were concise, with big energy from the cast to keep me engaged and attentive. Balfour is a treat to watch on screen. She’s grandiose and fun, causing all kinds of trouble for the rest of her peers. Even though the story itself could wane (specifically toward the third act), I never found myself completely lost within the sequences themselves.
“Champagne” isn’t the best set-up or story to come out of this marathon, but it certainly improves on some of the things the others were lacking (primarily limiting the amount of scenes that are full of visual dialogue between characters, but no written words on the screen). I wouldn’t say it blows everything out of the water; it more so capitalizes. The performances are fun, the cinematography is neat to look at in parts, and there were moments that definitely clicked with me. Hitchcock is finding his way. FINAL SCORE: 70%= Burnt Popcorn
Here is the opening of the film: