A Year with Hitchcock: Rich and Strange, by Reed Lackey

12 Jun

Hitchcock lightens things up this time with an entry that drifts away from the smaller, domestic dramas and from his adaptations of plays to present a far more comical story about the allure of wealth and opulence. The result is a rather pleasant farcical adventure that Hitchcock himself liked quite a bit, and which you are likely to enjoy as well.

Rich and Strange is a rather straight-forward comedy. There’s rarely a scene that isn’t crafted for laughs either through dialogue or physical absurdity. It also, oddly enough, feels very akin to most of Hitchcock’s silent work. It is as if, after feeling stifled by his play adaptations, Hitch was attempting to return to more familiar territory with the methods of silent films, with a handful of talking scenes peppered throughout for good measure.

Also known as East of Shanghai, this film follows a young couple, the Hills, who when we first meet them loathe their routine existence and long for increased financial prosperity to live out the adventures they dream about. Fortuitously, a wealthy relative affords them that exact opportunity, and they set sail at once for luxury and adventure, but also for mishaps and calamities.

The adventure causes them at first to drift apart from each other, as other potential lovers catch each of their eyes and as the appeal of luxury make them forget the mundane existence they once shared. But, as you would expect, there are twists afoot, and their travels will ultimately make them wiser and more appreciative people… possibly.

I was surprised to learn that the film was a financial and critical failure for Hitchcock, particularly because I quite enjoyed it. It had been developed from a script by Hitch’s wife, Alma Reville, following some similar “innocents abroad” adventures that they themselves had taken. It is certainly a rather simplistic story with relatively pedestrian themes and uneven performances. But it does have a few exaggerated laughs in its pockets and an underlying sense of charm. But the critics considered it a step backwards from some of his more – as they put it – socially conscious and culturally relevant dramas.

The final moment makes a rather obvious statement about wishing for the “greener pastures” as well as the fickle and repetitive tendencies of human nature. It should bring a smile to nearly any viewer’s lips. And that’s likely to be the way you’ll spend most of the time viewing this film: moderately amused. If you’re looking for more, you may be disappointed but if that sounds just about right, you should seek out and watch Rich and Strange.

Accessibility – Available on several low-budget DVD collections
Themes – Marital Infidelity, Youthful Folly, Financial Ambition
Category – Good, for the curious

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