Sunday, September 5, 2010

Number Seventeen

Title: Number Seventeen
Year: 1932
Studio: British International Pictures Ltd
Screenplay: Alma Reville, Alfred Hitchock & Rodney Ackland
Source Material: A novel and play by J. Jefferson Farjeon
Running Time: 61 minutes
A black & white picture.

Sunday 5th September, 1:50pm
Call me a lazy-arsed git if you so please, but I decided to have another long weekend this weekend. I was having a rough day on Friday and I went and asked my boss if I could take Monday off and, happily, she agreed.
Yes, sure, i could be doing something more productive with my days off, but I have thoroughly enjoyed stretching out on the couch under a quilt and watching a number of DVDs - mainly old episodes of Roseanne and The Avengers.
However, I did not want to put my Hitchcock Project to one side and I put on this short little film. I have had a soft spot for it for some years now, but due to the nature of this time-consuming task, I also sought out some other reviews. Well, it appears that I must be a brick-chewing moron as I seem to be alone in the appreciation of this movie. Most reviewers are almost spitting fire over it. What am I missing, I wonder?

The Cast
Leon M. Lion - Ben
Anne Grey - Nora
John Stuart - Detective
Donald Calthrop - Brant
Barry Jones - Henry Doyle
Ann Casson - Rose Ackroyd
Henry Caine - Mr Ackroyd
Garry Marsh - Sheldrake

Number Seventeen is up for sale. As it stands uninhabited, it has become a place for crooks to make their getaway as there is a trapdoor leading to the underground railway. A body lies within the house and a tramp named Ben stumbles upon it.
Slowly, more and more people enter the house, a young gentlemen, a girl looking for her father and a suspicious group of people (including a mute woman) who claim to be prospective buyers. Nobody trusts anyone else and soon chaos begins to break out with a few scenes of fisticuffs. It is apparent that somebody has left a valuable necklace on the premises and the crooks are attempting to take it and leave for the continent. Rose and the detective make an improbable team helped/hindered occasionally by Ben, the clueless tramp. Luckily for them all, Nora is not a deaf mute as the criminals surmise, and its her betrayal to her employees that assists our heroes to escape their bondage and get free.
Toward the end, the criminals are making their getaway on the train heading for the coast and the ferry. During a fight and a showdown, the train loses its drivers and the vehicle is charging out of control. The train smashes into the ferry and tumbles into the water. The Detective dives in to save Nora and Ben had the foresight and audacity to preserve the stolen necklace by wearing it around his neck.

Great Lines
Admittedly, there aren't that many great lines, but Ben the tramp has a few funny moments, usually surrounding the sausage in his pocket (no, this is not a Carry on film).
His curiosity upon finding the gun for the first time highlights the characters utter stupidity when he points it at his own face and says "I wonder if it's loaded!" which puts me in mind of Douglas Reynholm in The IT Crowd.

I also love the moment when Rose is hanging from the banister. She awakes from her unconscious state, gleefully stating "Ooh, I fainted!" before looking down at the drop below her and immediately fainting again. Cute.

OK, so it is not the greatest Hitchcock film of all time, but I certainly do not think it is the worst.
The original novel and play were much more in the vein of a standard thriller but Hitch did attempt to lighten it and give it a comical edge. Frankly, I can see why, for it needs comedy to elevate it from the convoluted mire that the plot envelops. The whole thing makes very little sense, but Hitch plays with it like a cat with a semi-conscious vole, purely for our entertainment.
I have often said in the past that great thrillers need staircases, shadows and railways. This film has all three in abundance, but sadly, having all the correct ingredients does not necessarily mean you get the perfect dish. Hitch's love of shadows is taken to a new level. I recall seeing this the first time on a crappy VHS copy and it was so dark, I might as well have been listening to a Radio version. However, the DVD quality has alleviated all unnecessary squinty faces in the audience.
The final chase at the climax is a frantic yet exciting race against time as the train heads towards its doom and the bus, commandeered by the detective, speeds alongside through a 'model' countryside. I loved the incongruous nature of the bus passenger screaming as it belts down the road and they pass a sign saying "STOP HERE FOR DAINTY TEAS!". The actual crash at the end is wonderfully dramatic and should be applauded.

My Verdict
I shan't be as cruel as those academic critics who slate this movie as a turkey. At most it's a peahen. No, I can't explain that metaphor.
It's a short, fun and slightly barmy film and I like its crazy energy. Not a masterpiece but a lark all the same. 4/10 (Others give it 2 or less.)

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