Henry K. Miller
Saturday 4 February
C. A. Lejeune, recently appointed film critic of the Manchester Guardian, devotes most of her column to the long-running public row between the trade press and newspaper film critics.
‘Lay critics’, as they were called by the trade, were a relatively new phenomenon: most British papers had only begun to publish regular film columns in 1919. Lejeune’s, titled ‘The Week on the Screen’, had begun at the start of 1922, and it seems likely that it was inspired by the Covent Garden season, of which Lejeune wrote in her autobiography: ‘The cinema had come out of the shadows of the flea-pit and was beginning to be accepted as a social institution.’
One of the sources of the lay vs trade controversy was the lay critics’ practice of reviewing films at the time of their trade shows, along with the trade papers – often, as in the case of The Great Day, more than a year before any reader had the possibility of seeing them. In its first edition of the year, the Daily Mail had announced in its editorial column that ‘until further notice, Mr. Weigall will only criticise films which are actually being shown to the public’. G. A. Atkinson, film critic of the Mail’s rival the Daily Express, however, justified the practice by arguing that ‘They afford an opportunity of constructive or ethical criticism at a time when the film is fresh in the producer’s mind.’
Lejeune took both sides, defending the trade against unnamed lay critics who simply despised the cinema and turned out knocking copy, while defending ‘the half-dozen film critics who are specialists in their work’ (also unnamed) against the trade. She herself continued to review trade shows. Four years later, Atkinson would publish the first review of any Hitchcock film, The Pleasure Garden, in the Sunday Express, not after a trade show but after a private screening.
Meanwhile Lejeune became Hitchcock’s friend, probably in the course of 1922. ‘When I first met Hitchcock he was writing and ornamenting sub-titles for silent pictures’, she wrote in 1935 in the Observer, where she had moved. ‘He used to announce “Came the dawn” in black letters on a white ground, or tell us that “Heart spoke to heart in the hush of the evening” in white letters on a black ground.’ According to Lejeune, ‘It was obvious to everyone except the commercial nabobs of the industry that some day he would direct pictures, and direct them supremely well.’ Their friendship survived Hitchcock’s move to Hollywood, but she was so appalled by Psycho that she walked out before the end, and handed in her notice shortly afterwards.