It has a typical Hitchcockian story, a man on the run after having been falsely accused of murder and himself searching for the real criminal. It is also a sort of road movie in the British countryside, interspersed with typical Hitchcockian set pieces. There is for example a children's party which is a feast of looks, mistaken identities and sly wit. There is also an accident in an abandoned mine and the celebrated long take in the end of the film, starting high up in a hotel lobby, moving down across a restaurant, over a band playing, and into the eyes of the drummer.
Children in Hitchcock's films are usually eccentric.
While anybody watching it would instantly recognise the man behind it, the tone is different. There is no darkness or neuroses, or paranoia; instead it is a lovely tale of the growing romance and love between the two young leads: Derrick de Marney as the fugitive and Nova Pilbeam as the chief constable's daughter who helps him. Their banter and flirting are what keeps the film together, and gives it its charm. That most of the people they encounter are distinct characters also adds to the overall sense of bonhomie. Despite the seriousness of the situation, nobody seems to take things too seriously, and the real murderer is not a threat or a menace but only appears briefly in the beginning and for a few minutes in the end (where he is only a threat to himself).
According to Patrick McGilligan's book Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, Hitchcock was under a lot of stress and in a bad mood when he made the film because of his economic situation and contractual reasons (it was about to expire): he had gained a lot of weight, he was tired, and used humour and sarcasm as a defence mechanism. Maybe he wanted to make something light and playful to counter his inner turmoil.
The film is based on a book, but they have little in common other than that there is a murder in the countryside. Instead Hitchcock completely re-imagined it, working with a lot of people on the script, including his recurring partners Joan Harrison, Charles Bennett and Angus MacPhail. Another key collaborator was, as always, his wife Alma Reville.
The set designer was Alfred Junge, otherwise known for his work on the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and it is particularly the mine that stands out. It is a good, effective scene. Perhaps the only scene in the film of real danger, shot almost like it was a silent film.
Doing the complicated long take.
It is often said that Hitchcock was discovered by the French in the 1950s, but this claim is undermined by the fact that he was celebrated as an important filmmaker on both sides of the Atlantic early on, and in the mid-30s some leading critics, including Otis Ferguson, suggested that he was one of the greatest directors currently working. Young and Innocent is not a work of greatness but it has great charm, and it shows how even under stress and difficult working conditions, and without the financial resources he would later have, he could, seemingly effortless, pull off a fully accomplished and recognisable film of pure Hitch.
A good analysis of the film is by Charles Barr in his book English Hitchcock (1999), drawing out the connections with later films like Vertigo (1958) and The Birds (1963), and emphasising the importance of Charles Bennett in Hitchcock's development.