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Downhill (1927)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

At a prestigious public school, Roddy Berwick, a star rugby player, and Tim Wakeley are best friends. When Mabel, a maid, makes a date with Tim, Roddy accompanies him to meet her at the school shop, where they play gramophone records and dance. When Roddy is out of the room, however, Tim sets about seducing Mabel. Later, Roddy is made captain of the school, but before long he and Tim are summoned by the head to learn that Mabel is pregnant. Asked by the head to name the guilty boy, she names Roddy, whose father is wealthy, instead of Tim, whose chance of a scholarship would be lost if he were found out. Roddy protests, but to save his friend he takes the blame, and is expelled.

When Roddy returns home, he attempts to explain his expulsion to his father, but is accused of lying. The two argue, and Roddy leaves home, to work in a theatre. There, he becomes attracted to Julia, the star, but he is forced to compete for her affections with the male lead, Archie. When he learns that he has come into an inheritance of £30,000, he proposes to Julia, who accepts. However, Julia's lavish spending soon exhausts his money, and when he discovers that she has been continuing her affair with Archie, he asks her to leave, only to be reminded that he has signed over the house to her.

Humiliated and penniless, he goes to Paris, where he ends up hiring himself out to single women in a dance hall, spurred on by an exploitative madam. Talking to an apparently sympathetic older woman, he recounts his tragic past, but when she is revealed, in the cold light of day, to be an ugly crone, he recoils in disgust.

His degradation complete, he drifts to Marseilles, where his health deserts him. However, his landlady takes pity on him and persuades two sailors to take him back to England. On the boat he becomes delirious, imagining all of his past tormentors. When the boat arrives in England, Roddy manages, in a daze, to find his way home. Facing his father, he begs for forgiveness, but his father tells him that he has long since learned his innocence. Roddy is welcomed back into his family, and plays rugby for his school's old boys team.