Easy Virtue (Alfred Hitchcock / United Kingdom, 1928):

The Noel Coward play is translated visually, bracketed by looming close-ups of a squinting judge with a powdered wig like a slowly avalanching mountain. The high-society scandal is already underway at the onset, Alfred Hitchcock breezes through it -- the camera dollies out from a close-up of a cognac bottle to find the heroine (Isabel Jeans) posing for a portrait in an atelier, the brawl between her husband (John Dyall) and the painter (Eric Bransby Williams) lands everybody in divorce court. Newly "dishonorable" following the verdict, the socialite moves to Mediterranean shores to escape British scorn but scrutiny follows her anyway (the magistrate’s magnifying monocle at the tribunal is rhymed with a suitor’s tennis racket, both project grids onto her). Jeans marries the callow scion (Robin Irvine) and moves back to England to suffer under the watch of her imperious new mother-in-law (Violet Farebrother). The mansion is a den of cultured cruelty, it might be Dracula’s castle if not for the elongated, orthodox Byzantine icons surrounding the dinner table. "In our world, we do not understand this code of easy virtue." "In your world, you understand very little of anything." An overlooked film (not even Truffaut had seen it when he interviewed Hitch), despite the abundance of invention: Dissolving profiles state the back-and-forth of defense and prosecution, a marriage proposal is reflected in the shifting face of an eavesdropping switchboard operator. The heroine scores a Phyrric victory at her mother-in-law’s ball but ends up thrown to paparazzi-piranha, Hitchcock revisits her masochism in Notorious (and the courtroom in Murder! and The Paradine Case). With Ian Hunter, Frank Elliott, and Dacia Deane. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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