05 October 2008

Rich and Strange (1931)

d. Alfred Hitchcock / UK / 86 mins.


Alfred Hitchcock's Rich and Strange is exactly that: a rich production that is unrelentingly strange. It is not one of his better films from his British era, and there is little in its content to warrant a recommendation; but it is one of the most striking assemblages of silent film techniques and sound film techniques that I've ever seen. For that alone you might consider checking it out.

The plot is silly, and one of the unfortunate few that seems to lack the Hitchcock touch: fed up with their mediocre and repetitive lives in London, Fred and Emily (Henry Kendall and Joan Barry) are given an advance on their inheritance from a rich uncle and they take off to travel the world. While on board a cruise ship, Emily falls for a handsome bachelor and Fred falls for a woman who claims to be a princess. But their marriage is not the only thing in trouble as their funds suddenly whittle away.

The truly interesting part of the film is bizarre composition. Large swaths mirror the same filming techniques Hitchcock would have used in silent films. When Rich and Strange opens, at the end of a day at the office, the workers stream out into the streets and head for the London Underground; the sequence is humorous, but much closer to an outlandish and overacted slapstick than anything subtle. The makeup is a tad overdone and the acting is far too expressive in parts. There are times when there is little dialogue, and the story relies on title cards to state the setting or interpret the thoughts of a character. Hitchcock experiments with other elements, too, including zooms and craning cameras, montages, and frame rate.

The film flopped, both commercially and critically. And yet, as uneven and droll as the narrative of Rich and Strange is, I find myself unable to reject it flatly. It's not worth much in terms of sheer entertainment, but man, it's worth its weight in strangeness.

3 comments:

Farzan 05 October, 2008  

strangeness huh? hmmm. Might have to give this a rent

darkcitydame4e 10 October, 2008  

Hi! T.S.,
I must say you really have "piqued" my curiosity!...
When it comes to watching this film just to view the "bizarre composition and silent film technique(s) that Hitchcock used in his 1931 film called "Rich and Strange."

I do own this film, but I haven't watched it yet!...I plan to "rectify" that "slight" oversight later this evening.

Tks,
dcd ;)

Sam Juliano,  10 October, 2008  

I understand you argument here, but I still like it a little more than you do. It's not among his best British films, but neither is it one of his worst. The technique is indeed the thing here, and for me that makes it modestly fascinating despite the slight narrative.

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