In the early stages of his directing career, Alfred Hitchcock made a number of modestly budgeted studio films, such as “Ëasy Virtue.”
“Easy Virtue,” one of the nine silent movies Hitchcock directed, is based on a play by Noel Coward, adapted to the screen by Coward and Eliot Stannard.
In this tale, adapted to the screen by Eliot Stannard, the protagonist, like that of many future Hitchcock films, is a young, bored, restless woman whose reputation gets tarnished.
When tale begins, Larita Filton (Isabel Jeans) is posing for her portrait in an artist's studio. The behavior of her boorish, philandering, alcoholic husband, Aubrey Filton, drives her into the artist's arms, but she’s discovered by her husband.
The artist then shoots the husband, wounding but not killing him. Aubrey sues for divorce and Larita falls from grace in the courtroom, while journalists feed the public a salaciously inflated account.
The ruined Larita flees to the South of France Riviera, where she meets John Whittaker (Robert Irvine), a young upstanding aristocratic Brit. They fall in love, get married, and return to England to his mother.
However, mother Whittaker, a Victorian in the modern age, opposes the union, upbraiding John for bringing scandal upon the family name. As neither John nor his father has the strength or power to counter Mother Whittaker's charges, Larita ends as a miserable femme.
In the opening sequence, set in a divorce court, the judge is adjusting his monocle, indicating an unclear, faulty vision (a motif in many Hitchcock films).
Hitchcock relies less on the use of title cards, as was the norm of most silent films, and more on visual imagery.
This early film lacks the technical brilliance of Hitchcock’s later British and American films, but it reveals his consistent interest in the destructive effects of family life, the dominant character of matriarchs, and the significance of love as a potentially redeeming force.
In terms of theme and location, “Easy Virtue” is linked to the polished coor picture “To Catch a Thief” (1954), with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, which is also set in the French Riviera and presents a critique of the idle, morally vacuous lifestyle of the nouveau riche.
As a disreputable heroine, Larita is a predecessor to the character that Ingrid Bergman plays in the 1946, “Notorious,” though the latter is a better and more significant film on any number of levels. However, in both cases, Hitchcock asks for the viewers’ non-judgmental attitude, even empathy, for the heroine.
Hitchcock appears in a cameo.
Running time: 79 Minutes.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Dorothy Boyd as the younger sister
Darcia Deane as Marion Whittaker
Franklin Dyall as Mr. Filton
Frank Elliott as Colonel Whittacker
Violet Farebrother as Mother, Mrs. Whittaker
Benita Hume as telephonist