Number Seventeen (1932)

Synopsis:

A group of strangers — a homeless man (Leon M. Lion, The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss), a detective (John Stuart, Sink the Bismarck!), a mysterious young woman (Ann Casson, George and Margaret) and a few other shady characters — bump into each other at an abandoned house that seems to be a hot spot for criminal activities.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“You don’t have to do nothing in this house… you stand still and things happen!”

Based upon a stage play by mystery-writer J. Jefferson Farjeon, Number Seventeen is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s lesser-known works for a lot of good reasons. While this is a comedy of sorts, there’s little here that will make you smile. In addition, the movie becomes increasingly convoluted as time goes on.

I’ve read that Farjeon’s play is more serious in tone. Director Hitchcock apparently disliked the then popular play, finding it dull and obvious. Hitchcock’s solution to what he perceived as a hopeless assignment was to turn the play into a spoof (of thrillers). Author Farjeon wasn’t amused by the changes and neither was leading man John Stuart, who was allowed to reprise his stage triumph.

I totally get the idea. Faced with the real possibility that audiences would laugh at the story’s predictable twists, Hitchcock goes for exaggeration whenever possible, hoping that viewers would accept the movie as “deliberately silly” instead of “unintentionally funny.” It’s actually a clever solution — there is a certain logic to Hitchcock’s unorthodox approach. Number Seventeen doesn’t work, though. The director’s cleverness does produce some interesting “Hitchcockian” moments.

Hitchcock’s obsession with staircases is on full display here. There are many cool shots of people coming up/down the stairs. Fans of the filmmaker will also note that Hitchcock managed to squeeze in a scene where the two leading characters are tied up together, one of Hitch’s preferred images (the man loved ropes and handcuffs!).

Number Seventeen ends with a goofy chase. Since Hitchcock is trying to make fun of mystery clichés, this sequence relies on obvious miniatures and frantic editing that verge on the absurd — it’s another desperate attempt to engage viewers. Cameraman Jack Cox (The Manxman and Blackmail) does a terrific good job hiding the fact that most of the story takes place in one large set. The editing is fast and furious, which also helps you forget that this is all very silly and uninteresting.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Number Seventeen is so pointless and unexciting! It’s also very talky. The movie was meant to be a parody of mystery tropes and clichés, mostly related to the then popular “old dark house” thing. I honestly didn’t care for it. Hitchcock pretended that the movie didn’t exist and I can’t blame him. Number Seventeen is just a minor stain on an otherwise great career. B&W, 66 minutes, Not Rated.

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