Lacking a big Atlantic crossover star, Alfred Hitchcock’s Young and Innocent (1937) never attained the reputation of The 39 Steps (1935) with Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll or The Lady Vanishes (1938) with Michael Redgrave. That’s really too bad, because Young and Innocent is very much in the same mold as those transatlantic crowd-pleasers. It’s light, clever, funny and eccentric in much the same way, but only Hitchcock fans have ever heard of Nova Pilbeam (she was the kidnapped adolescent in his 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much), while it takes a pretty hearty cinematic Anglophile to even recognize most of the rest of the cast. (Proving how insular we all are, French filmmakers Claude Chabrol and Erich Rohmer once complained that leading man Derrick De Marney looked too much like a famous French pop star of 20-30 years later—an assessment that seems very unfair, since it’s obviously the pop star who looks like De Marney. The comparison is also useless if you aren’t French or up on your French pop culture.)
Young and Innocent is mostly known today for one thrilling technical achievement: a mind-boggling traveling shot through a breakaway wall, across a ballroom, through the dancers with a zoom in for a big close-up of the killer (George Curzon) playing drums in the band. (That, by the way, is not a spoiler, since we know Curzon is the killer from the first delightfully melodramatic scene.) It’s a great shot, but the film’s story is hardly a variant of Hitch’s favorite “wrong man on the run to prove his innocence” plot. Here it’s Robert Tilson (De Marney) who is stupidly arrested and being arraigned on the charge of murdering a woman (Pamela Carme). His at-first-unwilling accomplice in proving his innocence is no less than the magistrate’s daughter (Nova Pilbeam). The film is structured as a series of generally comic encounters with ever more eccentric Brit types, leading to the traveling shot in question and the climax. Breezy thriller fun from start to finish with all the Hitchcockian flourishes you want (and the cameo, yes). It’s not a film to miss.