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Champagne (1928)

Courtesy of STUDIOCANAL Ltd

Main image of Champagne (1928)
35mm, black and white, silent, 8038 feet
DirectorAlfred Hitchcock
Production CompanyBritish International Pictures
ScenarioEliot Stannard
Original storyWalter C. Mycroft
AdaptationAlfred Hitchcock
PhotographyJack Cox

Cast: Betty Balfour (the girl Betty); Gordon Harker (Betty's father Mark); Jean Bradin (the boy); Ferdinand Von Alten (the man)

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Disapproving of her love affair, a millionaire sets out to teach his irresponsible daughter a lesson by pretending to lose all his money.

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Champagne is a romantic comedy (a more common genre in this stage of Alfred Hitchcock's career than it would become) about a millionaire's decision to teach his frivolous 'flapper' daughter - played by the effervescent comedy actress Betty Balfour - a lesson by feigning bankruptcy.

Originally Hitchcock saw it as a rags-to-riches story about a poor girl working in a Reims champagne factory and seeing the bottles go off to Paris for rich bons-viveurs. Finding her way to the big city, she would mix with the champagne drinkers as a paid nightclub hostess, but her virtue would be put at risk. Eventually, she would return home, older and wiser, and renounce the champagne lifestyle forever.

In the end, though, Walter Mycroft’s script reversed the direction of travel, making Balfour's character an irresponsible young 'modern' who infuriates her rich Daddy with her frivolous, 'champagne' lifestyle (she arrives flying her own aeroplane in true 'roaring twenties' style) and her relationship with a young man who her father believes is a gold-digger. In fact the young man has a very sound moral compass, but can't help preaching to her - which only pushes her into ever more reckless behaviour - while underneath it all she is a nice old-fashioned girl at heart.

Whatever Hitchcock thought about the story, he did introduce the usual pleasing experimental touches, including a glorious opening shot filmed through a raised champagne glass and some entertaining effects to convey sea sickness on the part of the girl’s fiancé (played by French matinée idol Jean Bradin). Most recognisably Hitchcockian are the scenes between Betty and 'the man', a sinister 'cosmopolitan' man of the world who crops up with disturbing regularity and whose motives she suspects. She even 'imagines' herself sexually assault by him in the cabaret where, in the search for employment, she is fast discovering the sordid flipside of her former clubbing lifestyle. The scene made it past the censor, perhaps precisely because it was revealed as fantasy, but throughout his long filmmaking career Hitchcock would continue to pursue his interest in male sexual violence and to push at the boundaries of what was acceptable to show on screen.

Bryony Dixon

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. The watching man (2:00)
2. Imagined assult (5:57)
Production stills
Balfour, Betty (1903-1978)
Cox, Jack (1890-1960)
Harker, Gordon (1885-1967)
Hitchcock, Alfred (1899-1980)
Silent Hitchcock
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