Rich and Strange (1931)

Synopsis:

A suburban couple (Henry Kendall, The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss, and Joan Barry, Sally Bishop) are fed up with their mundane life styles. After unexpectedly inheriting a small fortune, the husband and wife decide to leave everything behind and travel the world, but the couple’s trip quickly becomes a daylight nightmare.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“There’s nothing left of him, he’s undergone a complete sea change, and become something rich and strange,” Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Alfred Hitchcock is famous for projecting his anxieties into his films — you really can’t separate the artist from his art. It will come as a surprise to many viewers — I know I was surprised! — that his most personal film is not one of his most famous thrillers, but this black comedy of manners. Rich and Strange is as close as Hitchcock ever came to making a manifesto about marriage, love, lust and life itself.

“I want some life. Life I tell you!,” the husband whines to his wife. As the old saying goes, “be careful what you wish for.” Episodic and extremely cynical, Rich and Strange doesn’t spare any punches — it’s pretty obvious that Hitchcock can hardly contain his glee over the couple’s endless calamities.

Hitchcock clearly feels contempt for his characters — I had a hard time accepting the mean-spirited tone of the movie. It was really difficult to enjoy the constant abuse. The director has always had a wicked sense of humor, but I thought he crossed the line here. Making fun of people’s naiveté is one thing, beating people to a pulp because they don’t know any better is an entirely different thing.

The script, written by Alma “Mrs. Hitch” Reville, Val Valentine and Hitchcock, is supposedly based on Dale Collins’s 1930 novel of the same name. The truth is that Hitchcock decided to ignore the book — most of what you see on the screen was the product of Hitchcock’s imagination. The director spent a lot of time on pre-production work. He even went as far as traveling a similar route as the film’s main characters. Some of Hitchcock’s personal experiences were recreated for the movie.

Hitchcock’s bosses tried to contain the filmmaker to not avail. The studio didn’t want to pay for the location shooting so the director was forced to shoot most of the movie inside soundstages. They also objected to some “naughty” scenes. But Hitchcock got away with plenty. There are some interesting interludes (a topless revue, a weird masquerade cruise ball, etc.), but this is a case of “the whole is less than the sum of its parts.”

Henry Kendall and Joan Barry are very good as the unfortunate couple. Because they were based on the Hitchcocks, you wonder how close they are to the real thing.

The director uses these two characters to make a point about human nature: Homo sapiens are easily corruptible. Is it a personal belief or a confession? If you’re a jaded person, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Hitchcock’s misanthropic point of view. The fine supporting cast also includes Percy Marmont (Young and Innocent) as a slick Don Juan and Betty Amann (Nancy Drew) as a thrill-seeking princess.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Rich and Strange wasn’t a box office success. Hitchcock blamed the failure of the film on the lack of chemistry between the main actors, but I think he was wrong. The director broke an unspoken contract between filmmaker and viewer: Hitchcock tells the viewer to stop dreaming and stay home. We all want, we all need to believe that the world is full of beautiful places and exciting adventures. We viewers don’t take kindly to naysayers who tell us to stop aspiring to greater things. B&W, 92 minutes, Not Rated.

2 responses to “Rich and Strange (1931)

  1. Good point re: telling audiences not to aspire to greater things. I can’t imagine a film like that being welcomed by audiences in the early 1930s.

    This is a film I’ve yet to see, and I’m glad to have read your review first. Turns out I have this film on an early Hitchcock DVD collection, and I’ll be keeping your review in mind when I see it. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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