I had seen "Champagne" (1928)
about 10-15 years back in a rather murky, battered old print and this condition probably influenced my opinion of the picture. I re-visited it yesterday and even though I had a vague recollection here and there of some scenes, there was a sufficient time interval intervening for me to be able to look at it again without total recall. I must say that I witnessed a beautifully restored and pristine print and I quite enjoyed the re-acquaintance.
There's nothing much to the story; it is the embellishment by way of photography and treatment that broadens out what little there is. Alfred Hitchcock was the director and he made use of some interesting camera angles and was also already showing signs of menace in the way he photographed the "Boulevardier", evidenced by those looks of nefarious intention.
The cast is interesting in that only the four main players were given any credits in the titles. Two of them were English - Betty Balfour and Gordon Hawker. The other two were foreign - Jean Bradin, French, and Ferdinand, Baron von Lamezan auf Altenhofen, German, born in Russia.
Betty Balfour was certainly no glamour puss, but she had a grounding in the Music Halls and was more of a comedienne, thus she was able to bring a certain vitality to the film in her portrayal of a rich feminine flapper, a Queen of the Jazz Age, shimmering in a shimmy and able to show off a frock. Jean Bradin was apparently a French matinee idol and Ferdinand von Alten (as he was billed) made a presence in German cinema before pneumonia whisked him off at an early age in 1933. Gordon Hawker seemed to me to pop up in nearly every British picture of the 1930's, so much so, that one became sick of seeing him.
In brief, the story revolves around a spoiled little rich girl, whose father plays a trick on her to bring her to her senses.
We open with one of her extravagances - taking a seaplane out to land on the ocean next to an ocean liner which she is to board as a passenger. With such a flawless copy, one was able to notice some things that perhaps one was not supposed to notice – such as the painted backdrop representing the ocean on scenes at sea. The fact too that the aeroplane landed on the water and the boat meeting it - were obviously a scenes photographed in the studio. One could sense that there was a man just out of frame throwing water out of a bucket now and then for added authenticity. That is not to spoil the enjoyment though.
My friend in America said that when he looked at this picture he could sense that some of the scenes were running too fast and that the movement appeared unnatural and at times blurred. Maybe it's me and my shoddy eyesight, but I didn’t notice anything wrong with the speed. It all looked natural to me – except perhaps for just a few brief scenes when the camera was under-cranked for effect. (I suppose directors did this on some scenes such as people walking across railway concourses or on busy streets in order to emphasis the hurly-burly)?
There is a wonder art-deco night club scene in the picture, lorded over by a Maitre d'Hotel beautifully played by Marcel Vibert (but un-credited). I liked all the scenes depicted here – particularly those showing couples on the dance floor jigging about. There wasn’t much room to maneuver and I found it all quite hilarious.
What one can say in summing up this picture is that in the hands of someone other than a director of the calibre of Hitchcock, the film would have ended up as a forgettable bit of tripe on a par with a lot of those drawing room romance type things that flounder about. Hitchcock has managed to get good performances out of everybody, present us with some novel photographic effects and to also sweep the camera through some interesting panoramas.
If I only have one complaint it would be that the titles were not afforded the same restoration as the rest of the film, which I must say is in absolute pristine condition and a pleasure to look at.
The accompaniment was by way of a solo piano - and I don;t know who the pianist was - but he /she has done a sterling job.