In Hitchcock’s Young and Innocent, the extraordinary Nova Pilbeam — that name! that proto-Kiera Knightley lovely monkey phiz! — plays Erica, daughter of the police chief constable in an English seaside town. An actress has been murdered, and suspicion falls on a journalist, Robert (Derrick De Marney), who persuades Erica to help him.
I’ve said it in three other installments in this series: Nobody is better than Hitchcock at combining suspenseful thrills with light-hearted wit.
In this scene, in which Erica and Robert drop by a child’s birthday party at the home of her aunt (Mary Clare) and uncle (Basil Radford), Hitchcock does it via blocking. Surrounded on all sides by representatives of the social order whose lack of imagination (Radford was Hitchcock’s go-to guy in the unimaginative Englishman department) may send an innocent man to the gallows, the cunning and resourceful Robert misdirects their attention by handing Erica’s aunt a plaster gnome from her own garden. He and Erica make straight-faced eye contact, like naughty children — and that’s exactly Hitchcock’s theme. It’s not about right vs. wrong, it’s about imagination vs. tedium, wit vs. shit.