Rich and Strange (1931)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Henry Kendall, Joan Barry, Percy Marmont
Synopsis: Believing that an unexpected inheritance will bring them happiness, a married couple instead finds their relationship strained to the breaking point.
Rich and Strange is an early Hitchcock which shows both glimpses of the genius to come and a man still learning the range of his craft. Although he was becoming comfortable with the technical requirements of sound, Hitchcock here still displayed a reluctance to discard the technique of silents completely, choosing to film some sequences without dialogue (to especially good effect in the superlative opening sequence in which Fred’s drab and regimented existence is so adroitly described) and using largely redundant intertitles throughout. Contrasted with this attachment to the art of the silent film are several imaginative uses of sound: the choice of music for the opening sequence, for example, and the way in which Emily and the Commander’s kiss is broken by the abrupt, discordant cessation of a tune being played on an accordion by a sailor on the deck below as an argument breaks out. Hitchcock also makes good use of visuals, both subtle and otherwise: lines from a menu jump off the page at a sea-sick Fred; a POV shot of a letter blurs in and out of focus as it is read by the tearful heroine; the cheating couple’s movements mirror one another when they run into each other after their respective dalliances, and paradise is viewed through bars at the moment the marriage appears to be doomed.
The film is bizarre in many ways: the structure seems completely haphazard at times and the pace is a quick-quick-slow combination of odd plot twists and sombre ruminations on the nature of a marriage in which the partners appear to have momentarily forgotten that they love each other. The genre, too, swings from comedy to melodrama to drama to suspense. More than any of Hitch’s early flicks, this one seems to be an experiment on the part of the director, one in which he is beginning to flex his directorial muscle and play with cinematic conventions.
The acting is pretty good for an early British talkie. Joan Barry as Emily is something of a hottie with appealingly contemporary looks, although her cut-glass accent is veddy-veddy British and tends to grate at times. Leading man Henry Kendall bears more than a passing resemblance to Robert Donat, but his acting isn’t on a par with Donat’s; the pair work well together, however, and are believable as a married couple. Elsie Randolph also stands out playing, at the grand old age of 28, the part of old maid.
Rich and Strange isn’t classic Hitchcock — but it’s still superior to most other British product of the era and, while it lacks the style and sophistication of the master at his peak, it is still worth a look by anyone interested in both the development of Hitchcock and the development of British movies.
(Reviewed 6th August 2005)