Eye For Film >> Movies >> Rich And Strange (1931) Film Review
Rich And Strange
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
This 1931 oddity from Hitchcock is a bridge between the eras of silent film and talkies, which suffers from problems of tone that may well have contributed to its lack of commercial success at the time of its release.
Many of the metaphors in the movie are concerned with crossing over things - from the channel to moral boundaries - so it is perhaps only fitting that it should also crossover from silence to sound.
Fred and Emily are a married - but, perhaps significantly, have no children. Fred hates work and after suddenly coming into a large sum of money, the pair of them decide to embark what they anticipate will be a great adventure. But as their unsophisticated background crashes into the world of the bourgeousie, it's clear that trouble with result.
They board a cruise for "the Orient" and, after Fred becomes chronically sea sick, Emily begins a dalliance with an older man. Fred - after finally finding his sea legs - reciprocates by falling head over heels for a German princess. Events begin to spiral which could see the pair of them heading for divorce until a series of events conspires to make them reconsider.
Henry Kendall was first and foremost a stage actor and comes across much more in the 'silent mode' as Fred than Joan Barry, who plays Emily. Where he is stagey, has minimal dialogue and conducts a lot of silent 'business' in the mode of actors such as Chapin or Keaton, Barry's role is much more wordy and she acts in a much more naturalistic manner. Equally, Fred's 'other woman' is in the silent screen vamp mode, while Emily's prospective new beau is much more talkative.
This partially explains the problems of tone with the film, which seems uncomfortable in either the silent or sound camp. The other problem, however, is the general atmosphere. Clearly at a stage in his career when he was keen to experiment, Hitchcock presents everything from slapstick comedy to morality tale, through to a sinister twist two-thirds of the way through. There are also one or two curiously erotic scenes, courtesy of the film being made prior to Hays Code interference. One, includes a lingering shot of Emily's crotch, particularly odd given the tone elsewhere.
It's easy to see why audiences at the time might have been left non-plussed by a story which is as wandering as the couple's travels but, it could be argued that this is a more interesting film from today's viewpoint. There are flashes of stylistic flare, such as interestingly composed scenes - including one seen through the lens of a camera, one involving mirrors and one in which the words on Fred's dinner menu swim before his eyes. Equally, the one scene clearly intended to shock packs a decent punch, even now.
While it is mannered and definitely puts the emphasis on the strange, it still holds the attention more than 50 years after it was first committed to celluloid.Reviewed on: 26 Feb 2007