Easy Virtue (1927)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Based on the play Easy Virtue by Noël Coward
Cinematography by Claude L. McDonnell (4)
Distributed by Woolf & Freedman Film Service (UK), Sono-Art-World Wide Pictures (US)
(1:20) Alfred Hitchcock: A Legacy of Suspense box set DVD, Mill Creek
I think Hitchcock loved courtrooms almost as much as he loved trains. (Trains make a brief appearance here as well.) I can’t remember if he begins his 1948 film The Paradine Case inside a courtroom, but if not, he does so with Easy Virtue, as Larita Filton (Isabel Jeans) gives testimony in her divorce case.
Hitchcock delivers some good moments of tension as Larita gives her testimony, which results in a flashback showing us this isn’t a run-of-the-mill divorce case. Oh no, this one’s a corker. While Larita poses for a painter named Claude (Eric Bransby Williams), her husband Aubrey (Franklin Dyall) gets loaded from Claude’s liquor tray, all the while giving disapproving looks to both his wife and the artist. Aubrey knows they’re having an affair and during an altercation, Claude shoots but misses Aubrey completely. (Guess he was more accurate with the paintbrush…) The struggle continues and when all the smoke clears, Claude is dead, an apparent suicide.
Still alive, Aubrey files for divorce, producing damning letters between Claude and Larita, confirming his suspicions of adultery. The jury decides in Aubrey’s favor, although Claude’s will stipulates that his entire fortune goes to Larita.
I know that this seems very spoiler-heavy, but we’re talking about the first 10 minutes of the film here… Unfortunately, it’s the best part of the film. Larita takes a trip to the French Rivera, hoping to forget what's gone before and to avoid reporters and photographers. Instead, she meets a charming (and rich) young man named John Whittaker (Robin Irvine), who falls for Larita like a drunk falling off a barstool.
The film’s best scene occurs after John has left a note with Larita, informing her that he’s going to call later. We know it’s going to be a proposal. (Over the phone? What a clod…) But rather than show back-and-forth conversations, Hitchcock focuses on a bored switchboard operator as she connects the call and listens in. As we watch her expression change in reaction to the conversation, we know everything that’s being said. It's a fun scene, but we know that this marriage is a
After this quickie marriage, John brings his new bride to meet the family, which goes over like a Five Guys burger delivery at a vegetarian buffet.
John’s stuffy mom (Violet Farebrother, right) immediately takes a dislike to Larita, wishing John had married his former girl Sarah (Enid Stamp Taylor) instead. Yet Mrs. Whittaker can’t quite place where she’s seen Larita before…
Although there’s more than a hint of a Mrs. Danvers/the new Mrs. de Winter (from Rebecca) vibe going on here, nothing especially interesting happens for the rest of the film, other than Larita’s unexpected appearance at a party hosted by the Whittakers, which creates some excitement.
Other than calling Easy Virtue his worst title (in the book Hitchcock/Truffaut), Hitchcock seems to have had little to say about the film, and honestly, there’s not much to say, except:
1 - Hitchcock uncharacteristically lingers on several scenes for no apparent reason. These scenes include, but are not limited to: emptying the courtroom, a bartending scene that looks like it’s an instructional video, and a “come-on” scene between Larita and John that makes you wonder if the language of love needed a translator. The version I saw was 80 minutes long, but a 2012 BFI restoration resulted in a 70-minute edition available on a French (region B) Blu-ray from Elephant Films. According to what I’ve read, it’s no great shakes.
2 - We see large tapestries adorning the Whittaker’s dining room, but the figures on these tapestries appear to be the type of saints with halos you might see in early Christian art. Okay, but for your dining room???
3 - More trains, more staircases. Hitchcock just can’t stay away from either…
4 - Hitchcock is seen walking past a tennis court.
Hitchcock was working with many of the same people he’d worked with before, so I’m not quite sure why Easy Virtue was such a dud. With the subject matter, you'd think it would sizzle a bit more. Perhaps I’ll run across more information as I read further interviews and criticism, but I can safely say that Easy Virtue has been my biggest disappointment in this Hitchcock filmography project so far. Next up: The Ring (1927).
Photos: IMDb, Folding Seats, Film Talk Society, Silent London, Weekly Hitch, These2