A Year with Hitchcock: Number Seventeen, by Reed Lackey

15 Jun

Hitchcock tackles another play, but this time, it’s a full-blown noir mystery thriller. Behind the scenes, the financial failure of Rich and Strange (aka East of Shanghai) had caused the production company to remove him from the project he really wanted to do and forced him to take on this one. As a result, his heart wasn’t in its creation and he later heavily derided it as one of his least favorable films (he called it a “disaster”).

This one isn’t without its style, though. The premise is intriguing, as a group of strangers collide for various reasons at an abandoned flat and try to piece together the loyalties and connections they share to events of earlier that same evening. It would appear, at times, like this would be an ideal story for Hitchcock to embellish with his unique cinematic flavor, but whether he was too despising of the material (or the circumstances surrounding his involvement in the project) or was simply trying to get through the job as quickly as possible, the film feels rushed, choppy, overly exaggerated and more than a little confusing.

Characters, despite an abundance of variety in specific qualities, are dreadfully flat and dull. There are also bizarre shifts in tone between absurd comedy, gothic suspense, and bloated melodrama. And none of these tones work terribly well when they appear. They feel as if Hitchcock tossed all of his potential ingredients into a pot, stirred them twice and then tried to serve them up without ever turning on the oven.

Several moments made me feel like, “Ooh, here we go. Now things will get interesting.” But sadly, they never do. The precious few twists are telegraphed a mile away and the moments intended for drama or suspense mostly come off hackneyed.

The only redeeming qualities rest in its final fifteen minutes. There is a chase sequence involving a moving train and a speeding bus which provides some genuine opportunities for style and suspense. This particular sequence has frequently been praised by studiers of Hitchcock’s work and by modern filmmakers fascinated by the development of model use in cinema. Unfortunately, by the time the sequence arrives, we’re too lost concerning the plot and too apathetic concerning the characters. But that sequence is noteworthy and impressive nonetheless and keeps this entry from entirely being a waste of time.

It’s hard not to imagine that if Hitchcock had actually been more fond of the material, this might have ranked among his greats. Instead, a premise tailor-made for Hitchcock’s style is squandered and (excusing that final chase sequence) the only truly favorable thing you can say about it is that it’s very, very short.

Accessibility – Available on several low-budget DVD collections
Themes – Secrets and Lies; Criminal Espionage
Category – For Completists Only

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