Plot: Roddy (Ivor Novello) is the shining star of his school, a popular young man who also happens to be the captain of the rugby squad. His future seems bright, but he soon finds himself in a social controversy that turns his life upside down. His friend Tim (Robin Irvine) has been seeing a waitress, Mabel (Annette Benson) and she winds up pregnant, which would cause quite a scandal. Tim would lose his chance at a potential scholarship and derail all of his plans, so Roddy steps up and takes the blame, claiming he is the father. This decision might have saved his friend, but it begins a spiral into total chaos for Roddy, as his life collapses around him. He falls in with an actress Julia (Isabel Jeans) and the two are married, but the relationship is rocky, to say the least and Roddy’s luck just won’t turn around. Will this single favor he did to protect a friend lead to his entire life being torn asunder?
Entertainment Value: This was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest motion pictures and while it is quite stylish, it is also uneven and rather bland. The narrative is to blame, as the story never hooks in and the dialogue is mediocre in the best of moments, which aren’t frequent. This was based on a play and even Hitchcock wasn’t singing its praises, voicing his own displeasure with the material in interviews. But as this is a silent film, Hitchcock is able to keep title cards limited and focus on visuals, which is where Downhill shines. The stark black & white visuals are remarkable at times, with expressionist inspirations that lead to some stunning scenes, if only the rest of the movie lived up to the visual design elements. As stylish as the movie is, the story grinds the experience most of the time and the cast is fine, but no one turns in the kind of efforts that could elevate the material. I also think the pace is sluggish and the film tends to feel drawn out, all the more evident since the narrative isn’t strong. I can’t give Downhill much of a recommendation, but for fans of Hitchcock’s work, it is worth a look to soak in the impressive visuals.
Although he would be known as the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock didn’t always make dark, intense thrillers and mysteries. Downhill is more of a straight ahead drama than anything else and aside from the visual design involved, the material gives our director little room to flourish. But the visuals do indeed sparkle here, feeling like a throwback to the silent film German horror days, which helps add some atmosphere here, at least at times. To be honest, if this was made by almost anyone else, I doubt many would have an interest in Downhill, as it doesn’t leave much of an impression, but as a piece of the Hitchcock puzzle, it remains relevant to film buffs. The cast is passable, with Ivor Novello in the lead and he turns in solid work, but again, the material just isn’t that effective. So while Novello and some of the others give it the old college try, there’s only so much that can be done here. The cast also includes Isabel Jeans, Annette Benson, Ian Hunter, and Lilian Braithwaite.