Champagne (1928): Hitchcock’s Ninth (Silent) Feature

Hitchcock revisited the theme of intergenerational strife, centering on the theme of the  displaced and ungrateful rich child in “Champagne,” his ninth silent feature.

Champagne
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The protagonist, Betty (Betty Balfour) is a rich girl, who embarks on a trip around the world, by plane, ship and foot, when her millionaire father (Gordon Harker) shows immense dislike for her r boyfriend (Jean Bardin).

To teach her a lesson, the father tells Betty that the family has lost its fortune, based on the champagne industry.  The father hires a private detective (Theo van Alten) to protect his daughter

The irony is that in the course of the mildly engaging narrative, in order to make a living, Betty has to sell champagne in a cabaret.  In the happy end, Betty proves to be feisty and the father forgives his daughter and even agrees to her marriage.

The beginning and the ending of Champagne is “symmetric,” showing in close-up a glass of champagne.  The first person to drink is the private eye-guard.

“Champagne” belongs to a series of films that Hitchcock made about the moral education of young women, also seen in the later and better films, “Notorious,” with Ingrid Bergman, “The Birds,” and “Marnie,” both starring Tippi Hedren.

The process of education (or resocialization) involves a downward mobility before the way back up.  Thus, Betty goes from being a careless, fun-loving flapper to a woman who works as a cabaret girl and actress.

Some humor in interspersed throughout, as in a scene depicting the way a drunk walks aboard a ship, when he is tipsy or sober.

In the opening scene, Hitchcock pokes fun at the obsession with the tango dance at the time.

 

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Narrative Structure:

Heiress Betty (Betty Balfour) draws the ire of her father after using his plane to fly to her boyfriend (Jean Bradin) who’ s on ocean liner headed to France.

Once reunited, they arrange to meet for dinner, but he is unable to dine with her due to seasickness. When seated, Betty notices a man watching her, who then comes over.

Betty receives a telegram from her disapproving father warning that her boyfriend is not going to be liked by her friends. To prove her father wrong, she asks him to marry her, but her boyfriend resents how controlling she has become. A quarrel ensues between them and they part ways.

The boyfriend, regretting the fight, goes to Betty to apologize. He is surprised to find her playing a game of chess with the mysterious man. Another quarrel occurs when Betty’s father (Gordon Harker) arrives. The family fortune, in the Champagne business, has been wiped out by falling stock market. The boyfriend leaves, and the father sees it as proof that he’s only after money.

In France, Betty decides to sell her jewelry but is robbed. Penniless, Betty and her father move into a small rundown apartment. Unbeknown to Betty, her father sneaks out to eat at expensive restaurant due to her terrible cooking.

Betty’s boyfriend again tries for reconciliation but she rebukes him; she now thinks her father is right about his personality. Betty finds work at an upmarket restaurant.

The mysterious man shows up again and invites Betty, but she becomes uncomfortable and is relieved when her boyfriend arrives. The mystery man leaves after handing a note advising her to call if she ever needs help. The boyfriend openly disapproves of Betty’s job. He leaves after a still-angry Betty dances wildly to provoke him.

The boyfriend, outraged at Betty’s lowly job, confesses he lied about the loss of their fortune to teach her a lesson. Betty is further angered by both her father and boyfriend. She turns to the mysterious man who offers to take her back to America.

Betty is later horrified to find she has been locked in her cabin. She imagines the worst about the mysterious man’s intent, and is both relieved and delighted when her boyfriend arrives and releases her from the cabin.

The boyfriend hides in the bathroom, hearing her father confess that he had hired the man to protect her. The boyfriend, furious, bursts out to attack the man. Betty’s father pacifies the boyfriend’s anger by telling him he no longer disapproves of their wedding.

In the end, the reunited couple start discussing the wedding, but soon start bickering over the arrangements.

The movie, Hitchcock’s second comedy, was poorly received, after the critical and commercial success of his first one, The Farmer’s Wife.

Although his visual technique continued to draw recognition, it was not enough to distract from the film’s lack of an engaging plot. Critics complained that tThe “mysterious man” proved to be misleading.

Hitchcock later voiced unhappiness with the film in François Truffaut’s book-length interview, claiming “The film had no story to tell.”

A restoration of Champagne was completed in 2012 as part of the BFI’s £2 million “Save the Hitchcock 9” project to restore all of the director’s surviving silent films.

Credits:

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by John Maxwell
Screenplay by Hitchcock, Eliot Stannard, story by Walter C. Mycroft
Cinematography Jack E. Cox
Edited by Hitchcock

Production company: British International Pictures

Distributed by Wardour Films (UK)

Release date: August 20, 1928 (UK)

Running time: 105 minutes (2012 restoration)
Language silent film with English intertitles