Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Downhill (When Boys Leave Home)

(When Boys Leave Home, 1927)

What a load of crap this movie is. I can’t imagine why it was made. Aside from a few camera experiments that show the Hitchcock touch, there is really nothing of interest here, except maybe a lesson in how not to write film. Roddy (Ivor Novello) is from a rich family and is the star rugby player at Oxford, playing for the “Old Boys,” whoever they are. His best pal and roomie is Tim, who is from a poor family. They get involved with a rapacious young slut, who goes to the dean, or whatever Oxonians have in place of deans, and tells him … well, it’s not completely clear. Either she’s pregnant, or one of the boys took her virginity. Something unspeakable for young students, anyway. Tim and Roddy stand there, Tim’s shoulders slumping almost to his knees, Roddy at ease, knowing he’s innocent. Dean asks who did this thing. Slut, with her eye on the prize, names Roddy. Stunned, Roddy says he’s innocent. But the dean expels him. Later, Tim admits it was him, but for some reason I really can’t understand, Roddy decides to take the weight for him. Tim would lose his scholarship, but so what? Roddy has lost his whole future, and even worse, his place on the rugby team! His first question after learning he’s being expelled: “Can I still play for the Old Boys?” Idiot. Total idiot.

Back at the cavernous family rockpile, Dad disinherits him and throws him out of the house. No hearing, no appeal. Well, fuck you, Daddy-o. What follows is the one really good scene in the movie. Roddy is dressed in a waiter’s uniform, serving a gay and handsome couple … and the couple stand up and begin to dance. Not cheek-to-cheek, but side-by-side, and we pull back and see they’re all on stage, and the whole cast, including Roddy, start dancing. Funny!

So what’s next? A favorite aunt leaves him 30,000 pounds! A huge fortune! So he promptly marries the lead actress, puts their flat in her name, gives her an open checkbook, and is crushed when she and her boyfriend spend or steal every penny.

All he’s got left is his looks, and he ends up in a very strange dance parlor where old ladies pay 50 francs to dance with him. He can’t handle the shame. In fact, he can’t handle anything. The real world outside of Oxford, rugby, and vast wealth, is too damn much for him. He ends up on skid row, and has a nervous breakdown. He staggers through the streets and ends up on a ship, delirious, and somehow, randomly, ends up back home … where Dad welcomes him back with open arms. He knows the truth now! And the last scene is Roddy scoring a touchdown for the Old Boys.

What a morally bankrupt cesspool this movie is. The boy does nothing right, nothing smart, he is completely unable to function in the world most of us inhabit. But all will turn out well for the upper classes! No wonder so many Brits hate their class system.