Director’s Spotlight: Alfred Hitchcock’s Champagne (1928)

Alfred Hitchcock's Champagne (1928)Synopsis:

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 father hopes that she learns a much-needed lesson on humility, but the girl instead becomes bitterly disillusioned with her new blue-collar lifestyle.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Champagne was born out of Alfred Hitchcock’s newly discovered obsession: champagne! I’m not kidding you. Hitchcock became enamored with the beverage and in a moment of silliness agreed to make a movie about his favorite beverage.

The director, who wrote the screenplay, originally intended the story to be a bit more complex; a bittersweet tale about a working class woman who works at a champagne company. Hitchcock, for reasons unclear to me, changed the structure of the story and he lived to regret it. 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 touches that deserve some analysis.

Even in an inconsequential little film like Champagne, Hitchcock’s interesting anxieties show up strongly. Grown adults living under the thumb of a controlling parent is something that reappears again and again throughout the director’s filmography. Notorious, Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, and more notably Psycho and The Birds, all deal with the idea of parents enacting unhealthily control over their adult children.

There is also the very Hitchcockian idea of “wisdom through suffering.” The heroine faces constant humiliations and endless obstacles, even sexual harassment, before she realizes what’s important in her life.

Champagne is really 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. It’s funny because of the juxtaposition of feelings within a single frame. And Hitchcock, as usual, has fun with the art of preparing/eating food.

The acting is pretty good too. Balfour, who looks like Mary Pickford, is delightful as the girl. Harker is hilarious as the girl’s cantankerous father. With Ferdinand von Alten, Jean Bradin, and Clifford Heatherley.

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 Hitch 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 director Michael Powell (Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes) worked on the film as a set designer. B&W, 85 minutes, Not Rated.

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2 responses to “Director’s Spotlight: Alfred Hitchcock’s Champagne (1928)

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