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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Downhill (1927)



Reviews and Comments

Downhill is a silent drama directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It tells the story of a young man who suffers a great deal of hardship by keeping a promise to a friend not to rat him out for committing a crime. Some plot summaries will tell you that the crime in question was the theft of some money, but watch the movie and tell me if that makes any sense at all. It's clear to me that the crime was of a rather more delicate nature.

It's not just the crime itself that the movie is skittish about pinning down. This is a very visual movie; for all the dialogue, there are very few title cards interrupting the action. Hitchcock wants us to infer the story by watching the behavior of the characters. He also provides some nice directorial flourishes to help: match dissolves, to create associations we might otherwise miss, and POV shots, to put us in the minds of the characters.

Despite the occasional creative visuals, however, this film is a significant step down from his previous work, The Lodger, which hinted at the great run of thrillers to come. Downhill is simply too facile. The story is no more complex than it seems. It doesn't give Hitchcock room to plumb the depths of human psychology. It wrestles with matters of guilt and honor, and yet holds no insights into how these things weigh on the human conscience, except to observe that they do.

I can't recommend Downhill, therefore, except to Hitchcock completists, who will be interested in the cinematographic touches he experiments with as he develops his craft.