Christine Clay (Pamela Carme) is a divorcee and actress. Her ex-husband has come for a visit, and they have a terrible fight. He’s angry over the “silly Reno divorce” and the fact that she’s spending time with younger men. (He refers to them as “boys.”) Faces are slapped, voices become hoarse from yelling. This can’t end well… and it doesn’t.
Christine Clay’s body washes up on the beach, dead as a doornail, and is discovered by her innocent lover Robert. When it is revealed that Christine was strangled and didn’t just drown, the case becomes very complicated. Robert (Derrick De Marney) is detained by police because two other witnesses saw him running from the scene and assumed he was the killer, though he was actually running off to get help.
Robert escapes and goes on the run with Erica (Nova Pilbeam), the daughter of chief constable Colonel Burgoyne (Percy Marmont). He remains determined to prove his own innocence and uncover the real killer, even though the only clues are a missing coat (to match the belt with which Christine was strangled) and the fact that the killer has twitching eyes.
Young and Innocent (1937, released as The Girl Was Young in the United States) is based on the novel A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey.
The incomparable Alfred Hitchcock directs. Of course, some of his trademarks appear here: the belt and its missing, matching coat serve as the MacGuffin; seagulls pop up when the body is discovered (and I half expected them to attack it The Birds-style, but they don’t); Hitchcock makes a cameo; Robert is falsely accused, much like characters in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Murder! and The 39 Steps.
The film starts off with very high drama in the tense fight scene between Christine and her ex-husband, which draws the viewer in immediately. And when the body soon shows up on the beach, the audience is hooked for good, immediately suspecting Christine’s husband and feeling dismay over the unjust arrest of Robert.
The story is not only dramatic but highly engaging, and the viewer’s interest is kept throughout the film’s entire run. The mood and pace are quite calm throughout most of the film, but there are many moments where the pace and tension pick up in leaps and bounds (such as the big fight in the beginning), so the pace works well.
Most of the less tense scenes occur in the middle of the film and are mixed with a bit of humor and a whole lot of cutesy chemistry from Robert and Erica. This is capped off by periods of high drama in the first and last quarters, starting the film strong and ending it strongly as well to leave a big impression on the viewer.
The ending is not completely unpredictable, but is full of suspense. The outcome as a whole is a bit expected, but the viewer is still left guessing up until the last few minutes how the action will play out exactly, so the film as a whole is successful.
Nova Pilbeam gives the film’s standout performance, though most of the cast does a very good job. Pilbeam has a great amount of screen presence and delivers every line and emotion near-perfectly, outshining the rest of the cast by a mile (with the exception of De Marney, who succeeds in bringing a lot of sympathy to his character.
Young and Innocent is a forgotten gem of Hitchcock’s filmography. It’s beautifully executed by the director and his leads. It falters a bit in the slightly-too-calm middle portion and a few weak supporting actors, but overall it’s a great watch.
The score: 4/5