Young and Innocent (1937, aka The Girl Was Young)


A screenwriter, Robert Tisdall (Derrick de Marney, Things to Come), becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a temperamental actress. After realizing that evidence is stacking up against him, Robert flees from the police. A young woman, Erica Burgoyne (Nova Pilbeam, The Man Who Knew Too Much), who happens to be the police chief’s daughter, believes Robert is innocent and helps him clear his name.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Haven’t you seen anyone with a twitch yet?”

We all need to take a break sometimes. Yes, even Alfred Hitchcock occasionally needed a vacation from mayhem. Young and Innocent (aka The Girl Was Young) is more like a working vacation. Although The Master of Suspense couldn’t bring himself to leave the corpse at home, Young and Innocent is still a holiday of sorts; a laid-back, quirky comedy-mystery that will amuse you rather than just thrill you.

Oh yes, there is a murder, but the crime is pushed into the background. The crime is more like a pretext to explore all the things that kept Hitchcock awake at night. The man wrongly accused of a crime, the ominous police presence, nothing is as it seems, etc., all Hitchcock phobias are on full display here albeit in a funny kind of way. But make no mistake, Young and Innocent does explore some serious issues.

The film is an adaptation of A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey. The screenplay was written by Charles Bennett (The 39 Steps and Sabotage) and novelist Anthony Armstrong (The Strange Case of Mr. Pelham). The characters are all well-developed and interesting. Young and Innocent is presented as a series of vignettes; some vignettes are very suspenseful, most of them are done in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

Okay, one of the things that drives crazy about today’s movies is how ineptly humor is inserted into narratives. It never feels organic to me. There is usually a very tense moment and everything stops just to allow a character to utter a zinger — very very very annoying! Young and Innocent demonstrates that humor can be part of the film’s fiber. In fact, in this film, humor is cleverly used to expand motifs and ideas.

The title hints at the film’s main theme: The inability to see that the world is a mostly unfair and very cruel place. Characters — in some cases, literally (e.g. a barrister who can’t find his glasses) — struggle to see how things really are (Young and Innocent could have been called “Open Your Eyes”). Observation, perception, perspective, role-playing: these are things viewers need to keep in mind as the narrative unfolds.

The film is also surprisingly optimistic. Hitchcock’s movies tend to have a pessimistic view of human nature, yet Young and Innocent is stubbornly idealistic. The director pushes the idea that the “young and innocent” will inherit the earth, and they will bring order out of chaos. This idea is beautifully conveyed by the first and last scenes: Young and Innocent begins with a middle-aged brunette in distress, and the film ends with a shot of a smiley young blonde — I loved the contrast!

Some moments seem like dry runs for things to come. There is a children’s party that foreshadows a similar scene in The Birds (1963). There is also a scene almost identical to the famous Mount Rushmore scene in North By Northwest (1959). But the best moment comes near the end, when an unbroken tracking shot reveals the murderer — Hitchcock repeated the same visual trick for a “key” moment in Notorious (1946).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

I certainly wouldn’t call Young and Innocent the greatest comedy-mystery, but it’s really a fun movie. The plot is simple, but Hitchcock managed somehow to insert into this admittedly piece of fluffy entertainment all sorts of interesting ideas. Young and Innocent is an underrated little film that I heartily recommend to fans of humorous mysteries. B&W, 80 minutes, Not Rated.

Hitch’s cameo9 Steps)


3 responses to “Young and Innocent (1937, aka The Girl Was Young)

  1. Strangely enough the film is on my mind this week because I’m reading a novel called Fear in the Sunlight about a weekend in Portmeirion with the Hitchcocks when author Josephine Tey was supposedly negotiating with them to sell the book but gets caught up in a murder mystery! The novelist Nicola Upson offers some insights into Hitch’s mindset as he ponders leaving the UK …

    Liked by 1 person

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