Tuesday, April 24, 2012
RICH AND STRANGE (1931)
RICH AND STRANGE (1931) is only Alfred Hitchcock's third talkie and is certainly not what you would expect from the future "master of suspense". Also known by the ridiculous alternate title "EAST OF SHANGHAI" (which means practically nothing as far as this picture goes), RICH AND STRANGE is something of a cross between a romantic comedy and a social satire. Fred and Emily Hill are a working-class married couple who are fed up with the boring routine of life. A rich relative suddenly gifts them an early inheritance so they could travel the world and live it up whoopdeedoo! The Hills think they've got it made and head off to Paris and a world cruise. Things start off delightfully as Fred and Emily have a splendid time but slowly the life of the rich begins to put a strain on their marriage. Fred encounters an exotic Princess aboard ship while Emily finds the all-too-willing shoulder of Commander Gordon. Soon both spouses are carrying on separate lives with their lovers and on the verge of breaking up. Then things REALLY start to go haywire!
RICH AND STRANGE derives it's title from a line from Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST: "Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea change/into something rich and strange". Odd as it is to find Hitchcock directing a comedy, this film shows the director's definite flair; the film is joyfully silly when required and also bitingly witty when needed. And it's a damn sight funnier than that dog "MR. & MRS. SMITH"! I found myself thoroughly enjoying RICH AND STRANGE to my somewhat surprise. This is indeed a very early British talkie and this can be seen in many scenes which seem to be shot silently with sound and dialogue dubbed in later. Also, Hitchcock uses title cards and many other typically "silent film" shots in a deliberate way almost as if to imply this is something of a fable. The stylistic choices really work here, though. The film sometimes has an off-kilter feel which mirrors the on-screen characters feeling "somewhat at sea" in more ways than one. In fact, this is a very stylised picture and shows the creativity Hitchcock would bring to his later, more famous film work. RICH AND STRANGE also has an unusual and rare co-writing credit by Hitchcock (who co-scripted with his wife Alma) and the film is very likely the director's most autobiographical film. Hitchcock has said as much in that the film was based on their own honeymoon. The leading male character name of Fred could very well be short for "Alfred". The film stars practically unknown Henry Kendall (who would appear in the 1933 "THE SHADOW") and Joan Barry (whose sparse film work includes the uncredited voice for Anny Ondra in Hitchcock's first talkie "BLACKMAIL") and both actors have a wonderful chemistry together. The viewer is genuinely interested in them after a very short amount of screen time has gone by; they are likeable and relatable. The Princess is slinkily played by Betty Amman (whom I've only seen in the 1939 "NANCY DREW, REPORTER") and Commander Gordon is played earnestly and imperiously by Percy Marmont (whom Hitch would use again in 1936 for "SECRET AGENT"). One might be tempted to let a non-suspense early Hitchcock pass by without a peek but I would insist this film deserves a viewing. Hitchcock himself was extremely (and justly) fond of this film. In his famous series of interviews with Francois Truffaut, the director mused: "I liked the picture, it should have been more successful".