Champagne (Alfred Hitchcock / United Kingdom, 1928):

A cork is popped straight at the camera and the bottom of a champagne glass becomes a fisheye lens, because Alfred Hitchcock is funny like that. The heroine (Betty Balfour) is a New York heiress first seen behind smudged aviator goggles, making a splashy mid-Atlantic landing on her private airplane, a proto-screwball sequence. (Remember, gazing ahead, that the manacled fugitives in The 39 Steps come from It Happened One Night.) The undulating ocean liner is as good an excuse as any for a seesawing frame à la Keaton, the girl’s beau (Jean Bradin) and a wolfish interloper (Ferdinand von Alten) scowl at each other in a little parody of Stroheim’s Blind Husbands. Back on dry land the eloping couple live the high life until her twitchy magnate daddy (Gordon Haker) drops by, bearing news of ruination. And so begins the brat’s education, a cruel trap disguised as a charming ruse, a female version of Downhill. Downgraded to a shabby flat, the heroine looks for work and falls to pieces, or at least to body parts: A sign seeks "young girls with beautiful teeth," but at the office "we’re only looking for legs." She finally finds a spot at a bustling restaurant, where Hitchcock keeps an eye out for the flapper gyrating wildly on the ballroom and the brioche dropped on the dirty kitchen floor. "Simplicity to me is the key to good taste," Balfour at one point declares while parading in a feathery gown, just one in a profusion of kinetic visual jests which turn up in the damndest places. (Suddenly freeze-framed, a whirling New Year’s Eve soiree is revealed by a reverse tracking shot to be a snapshot on a display window, a gag that finds its way into The Shining.) The baleful comedy of betrayal is a crux continued in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, effervescence on the edge of the abyss. With Alexander D’Arcy, Clifford Heatherley, and Vivian Gibson. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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