While it’s commonly referred to as being one of Alfred Hitchcock’s overlooked gems, “Young and Innocent” is a thriller that takes a common plot, a young man wrongly accused of murder who tries to discover who the real murderer is, and adds a great script, great acting, and of course great directing by the master of suspense himself.
Derrick de Marney plays Robert Tisdall, a young man who had a relationship with the murder victim several years earlier when he spent time in Hollywood in the United States. The victim, Christine Clay (Pamela Carme), was an actress but winds up being strangled by her husband in the opening scene of the movie. Her husband accuses her of infidelity but in defiance, she hits him back. By the time her body washes up on the shore of the beach, the murder weapon also appears beside the body: a raincoat belt that was used to strangle her to death. Robert is the first to see the body appear on the beach, and shortly after, two young women who were walking along the beach. The authorities arrive and ask who saw the body first. Robert tries to explain what happened, but the words of the two women are taken over his, claiming they saw him run away in fear as if he knew something about the murder victim, which he did. Once Robert is at the police station, he is interrogated by the authorities, but passes out, prompting the colonel’s daughter, Erica Burgoyne (Nova Pilbeam) to come out and bring him to. As soon as Robert awakens, he suddenly becomes enchanted with Erica, as he has in the past with other loves, including Christine Clay.
Once it is discovered that Robert had a possible motive for murdering Christine, the police attempt to hold him and bring him to trial, but he attempts to evade their reach. It seems that Christine left Robert a substantial amount to him in her will, 1,200 pounds, and since the murder weapon resembles one that was found on a similar raincoat worn by Robert, he starts off on a journey to locate his missing raincoat so that he can produce it for the police to prove his innocence. Robert tells Erica he believes his raincoat was lost at a hospice called Tom’s Hat and wants her to drive him there. However, Erica thinks it is better if Robert stays at an old mill for a hideout until they can make it to Tom’s Hat. Robert makes the mistake of tossing a food wrapper out the window of the mill which immediately attracts the attention of some policemen who are looking for him, and track him down, only to be narrowly evaded by the suspected criminal, who takes off in Erica’s car with her.
When Erica and Robert arrive at Tom’s Hat, Erica enters and asks the counter clerk if anyone has found a missing raincoat. A disagreement arises between some of the customers and a fight breaks out, prompting Erica to leave with Robert. Erica manages to learn that the person who has Robert’s raincoat stays at a lodge called Nobby’s which is located near railroad tracks, another popular symbol in Hitchcock’s films. Once they leave Tom’s Hat, they head towards Erica’s uncle’s house where her niece Felicity is having a birthday party. Erica drops off a present but her uncle (Basil Radford) and aunt (Mary Clare) encourage the young couple to stay. Erica’s aunt grows suspicious of Robert’s behavior, and after he gives the aunt a false name, the aunt grows suspicious and calls up Erica’s father on the phone one the young couple leaves, confirming that the suspected murderer of Christine is with Erica.
Once Erica and Robert arrive at Nobby’s Lodge, a sign that barely shines in the dark of the night, Robert has Erica keep her car hidden by the railroad tracks. While she sleeps in the car, Robert enters the lodge and asks for a bed that night from the caretaker (Torin Thatcher). Inside the lodge, Robert looks around, trying to see if he can find the man who has his raincoat and in the process, notices one bed with the number 26 over it on the wall which remains unslept in. In the darkness of the lodge, a pool of light from the moon shines on the bed. By morning, Robert wakes up and starts asking the lodge caretaker and another man if either one of them has seen Old Will (Edward Rigby), the man who has his raincoat.
Robert is finally introduced to Will but by no easy means: he has to break a porcelain cup against a bedpost in order to attract the attention of the caretaker, who believes that Robert is a personal friend of Will’s. The mere breaking of the cup on the floor is reminiscent of an earlier scene in the movie where Erica and Robert leave Tom’s Hat and as they drive down the road, Erica throws a similar cup out of the car which breaks on the pavement behind her car. A few meanings can be tied to the broken cup here: the fact that Robert and Erica are getting closer to cracking the case on their own, and at the same time, growing closer together enough to eventually have an intimate relationship once Robert is proven innocent. The broken cups as a symbol of his temporary flight from injustice ties in nicely with a director who loves to use symbolism connected to suspense in his films.
Old Will, Erica and Robert now join as a singular force in favor of justice for Robert and drive to the Grand Hotel where Christine’s husband, the real murderer, is staying at, and since Old Will knows what he looks like, he can identify him and be a witness in a court of justice. Robert remains outside the hotel while Will and Erica enter the dining room which is next to the stage where a band is playing swing music typical of the 1930′s. Will is trying to search the rest of the diners for the murderer but to no avail. The one clue that gives the murderer away is a peculiar eye twitch, who happens to be playing with the band as a drummer but is in a way disguised: he is in blackface, as the rest of the band members are. A special medication the drummer is taking causes his eventual downfall in the final scene of the movie, which greatly benefits Robert Tisdall, who is finally reunited with Erica.
The very title “Young and Innocent” immediately brings to mind the eighteen year old Nova Pilbeam, who turns in an outstanding performance as Erica, the daughter of the police constable. The film’s title can of course also refer to Robert Tisdale, who is also young at the age of thirty one, played by Derrick de Marney. Derrick is capable as the innocent man accused or murder who tries to escape the authorities successfully several times throughout the movie. Young as a word isn’t confined to the early stages of adulthood in the movie, either, when Erica’s younger brothers appear a few times at the dinner table, and Erica’s aunt and uncle hold a birthday party for Felicity and her friends. Innocent is Towser, Erica’s faithful dog, who remains by her side, as she does with Robert, for the duration of the movie.
Hitchcock interjects some surprise elements in “Young and Innocent.” One totally unexpected climactic scene is when Robert and Erica are escaping from the police and drive into an old mine shaft when the car falls into a ravine. Robert jumps to safety but then has to rescue Erica who remains in the car below as it slowly drops further away from the surface. Both Indiana Jones and Kerwin Mathews immediately come to mind here, even though “Young and Innocent” is not an action adventure film per se but does have that quality in this scene and the mill escape scene, especially while Robert and Erica are avoiding the police. Another unexpected scene is where the couple enters a town centre and are stopped by a policeman who tells Erica that she must call her father right away. Once the policeman notices Robert, Robert pushes away the policeman from the car, and they drive away. Defying authority in a film might be common if the movie was made in 1967 but alas, it wasn’t. “Young and Innocent” was made in 1936, a year when innocent youth would never be seen pushing away a policeman. Erica’s father, a member of the police force, only exacerbates the case, and at one point, he plans on handing in his letter of resignation because of his daughter’s involvement with the suspected murderer.
The outdoor scenery of the English countryside is quite beautiful in this film. Hitchcock preferred using film sets for much of his work but Young and Innocent is a treat in this manner. Both Derrick de Marney and Nova Pilbeam turn in credible performances as two innocents who set out to find who murdered Christine Clay. Basil Radford and Mary Clare are always a delight in any film they appear in, and Percy Marmont is the concerned but distraught father of Erica.
Based on Josephine Tey’s story “A Shilling for Candles”, “Young and Innocent” remains an enjoyable film to watch even though much of the story is largely predictable, with exception of the final scene in the movie. Hitchcock fans seeking some of the director’s lesser known work will appreciate this well made film.