Downhill (1927 film)

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Downhill on cover of Kinematograph Weekly, no. 1046, vol. 123
Directed byAlfred Hitchcock
Produced byMichael Balcon
C. M. Woolf
Written byPlay:
Constance Collier
Ivor Novello
under combined pseudonym:
Julian L'Estrange
Eliot Stannard
StarringIvor Novello
Robin Irvine
Isabel Jeans
Ian Hunter
Violet Farebrother
CinematographyClaude L. McDonnell
Edited byIvor Montagu
Lionel Rich
Distributed byWoolf & Freedman Film Service (UK)
Sono Art-World Wide Pictures (US)
Release date
  • 24 October 1927 (1927-10-24)
Running time
105 minutes (2012 restoration)
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageSilent film
English intertitles

Downhill is a 1927 British silent drama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Ivor Novello, Robin Irvine, and Isabel Jeans, and based on the play Down Hill by Novello and Constance Collier. The film was made by Gainsborough Pictures at their Islington studios. Downhill was Hitchcock's fourth film as director, but the fifth to be released. Its American alternative title for was When Boys Leave Home.


At an expensive English boarding school for boys, Roddy Berwick (Ivor Novello) is School Captain and star rugby player. He and his best friend Tim Wakeley (Robin Irvine) start seeing a waitress Mabel (Annette Benson). Out of pique, she tells the headmaster that she is pregnant and that Roddy is the father. In fact it was Tim, who cannot afford to be expelled because he needs to win a scholarship to attend Oxford University. Promising Tim that he will never reveal the truth, Roddy accepts expulsion.

Returning to his parents’ home, he finds that his father Sir Thomas Berwick (Norman McKinnel) believes him guilty of the false accusation.[1]

Leaving home, Roddy finds work as an actor in a theatre. He marries the leading actress Julia Fotheringale (Isabel Jeans) after inheriting £30,000 from a relation. The unfaithful Julia secretly continues an affair with her leading man Archie (Ian Hunter) and discards Roddy after his inheritance is exhausted. He becomes a male taxi dancer (implying that he is also a gigolo) in a Paris dance hall but soon quits over self-loathing at romancing older women for money.

Roddy ends up alone and delirious in a shabby room in Marseilles. Some sailors take pity on him and ship him back home, possibly hoping for reward. Roddy's father has learned the truth about the waitress's false accusation during his son's absence and joyfully welcomes him back. Roddy resumes his previous life.



The film is based on the play, Down Hill, written by its star Ivor Novello and Constance Collier under the combined alias David L'Estrange.

The stage performance had a short run in the West End and longer in the provinces. In the play Novello thrilled his female fans by washing his bare legs after the rugby match. An appreciative James Agate, drama critic for the London Sunday Times, wrote "The scent of good honest soap crosses the footlights". Hitchcock included a similar scene of Novello for the film in which he is shown naked from the waist up.

Hitchcock's emerging style is well demonstrated in this film. He used a variety of screen techniques to tell the story with a minimum of title cards, preferring instead to allow the film's visual narrative tell the story. The scene after Roddy leaves home opens with the title card "The world of make-believe" but everything else in the scene is conveyed visually. A closeup of Roddy in a tuxedo pulls back to show that he is waiting on a table at a restaurant, where he pockets a woman's wallet. The camera then follows him to reveal that he's actually playing playing a waiter on stage in a theatre. Hitchcock also incorporated shots of a descending escalator at Maida Vale tube station as a visual metaphor for Roddy's downhill descent. Although in a later interview with Francois Truffaut he called that scene "a naive touch that I wouldn't do today,"[2] Hitchcock also incorporated a later scene of Roddy going down in an elevator for a similar effect. Hitchcock played with shadow and light in much the same way as directors of German expressionist films of the time, especially F.W. Murnau, for whom he had worked as an assistant director. In the Parisian dance hall scene, Roddy winds up telling his life story to an apparently sympathetic older woman, but as the morning light comes through the windows, he is repelled by the tawdry, decadent scene and the woman's masculine-looking face. Hitchcock experimented with dream sequences by shooting them sometimes in superimpositions, but broke with the common use of blurred images to indicate a hallucinatory scene by "[embodying] the dream in the reality, in solid, unblurred images."[2] While delirious on the ship, Roddy envisions his father approaching him in a manner reminiscent of Murnau's vampire in Nosferatu, and when he returns to London, Roddy envisions a Bobby's face as his father's.

Preservation and home video status[edit]

A fully tinted restoration of Downhill 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.[3]

Like Hitchcock's other British films, all of which are copyrighted worldwide,[3][4] Downhill has been heavily bootlegged on home video.[5] Despite this, various licensed, restored releases have appeared on DVD, Blu-ray and video on demand from the Network imprint in the UK as well as Criterion in the U.S.[6]


  1. ^ "Homme fatal: Ivor Novello". The Guardian. 10 January 2004. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  2. ^ a b Truffaut, Francois (1984). Hitchcock, revised edition. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 51.
  3. ^ a b "Alfred Hitchcock Collectors' Guide". Brenton Film. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  4. ^ "Alfred Hitchcock: Dial © for Copyright". Brenton Film. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  5. ^ "Bootlegs Galore: The Great Alfred Hitchcock Rip-off". Brenton Film. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  6. ^ "Alfred Hitchcock Collectors' Guide: Downhill (1927)". Brenton Film. Retrieved 8 October 2018.

External links[edit]