A spoiled champagne heiress (Betty Balfour, Croquette) is tricked by her own father (Gordon Harker, The Ring and The Farmer’s Wife) into believing that she’s no longer rich. The socialite’s dad hopes that she learns a much-needed lesson in humility, but the girl instead becomes bitterly disillusioned with her new blue-collar lifestyle.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“We’re only interested in legs here.”
Champagne was born out of Alfred Hitchcock’s newly discovered obsession: champagne! I’m not kidding you. Apparently, Hitchcock became enamored with the beverage, and in a moment of silliness agreed to make a movie about his favorite drink.
Hitchcock was initially enthusiastic about the project — he intended the story to examine class differences in England — but lost interest halfway through pre-production. For decades, Hitchcock shrugged at the mere mention of the movie, calling it “the lowest ebb in my output,” but I truly think that this admittedly superfluous morality tale is filled with many interesting ideas that deserve some analysis.
Even in a silly movie like Champagne, Hitchcock’s well-documented anxieties show up strongly. Adults living under the thumb of a controlling parent is something that reappears again and again throughout the director’s filmography. Notorious (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951), and more notably Psycho (1960), all deal with the idea of parents enacting unhealthy control over their adult children.
There is also the very Hitchcockian idea of “wisdom-through-suffering.” The movie’s heroine, played by Betty Balfour, faces constant humiliations and endless obstacles, even sexual harassment, before she realizes what’s important in her life.
Champagne is a comedy with a few dramatic moments, not the other way around. The gags are pretty inventive. There is a scene with a drunken man stumbling through the corridors of a ship when the sea is calm, and walks straight when the ship encounters bad weather. There is also a hilarious sequence with the heiress and her boyfriend fighting in a restaurant to the astonishment of a group of happy couples.
The acting is pretty good too. Balfour, who looks a lot like legendary silent star Mary Pickford, is delightful as the girl. Gordon Harker is hilarious as the girl’s cantankerous father. The cast also includes Ferdinand von Alten (The Student of Prague), Jean Bradin (A Modern Dubarry) and Clifford Heatherley (The Rise of Catherine the Great). Film debut of Claude Hulbert (Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland)
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Champagne is like the title implies: a bubbly, thinly written story that’s both silly and amusing. But as a training camp for director Alfred Hitchcock to flex his cinematic muscles and experiment with certain ideas that preoccupied him, this is an important movie in the development of a brand. Future filmmaker Michael Powell (Peeping Tom) worked on the film as a set designer. B&W, 85 minutes, Not Rated.