Sunday, June 15, 2008

Number Seventeen

TCM is airing one of Alfred Hitchcock's lesser-known movies at 10:30 AM ET on June 16: Number Seventeen.

Made in 1932, Number Seventeen refers to a street address. The house there is empty, and when Hitchcock first takes us in the house, we are greeted by a dead body. This, of course, leads to the police being invited in, and eventually we learn that the empty house is being used by a gang of thieves who are apparently involved in a jewel heist. The only thing is, nobody using the house is quite who he or she seems to be -- including the dead body, which turns out not to be a dead body. The plot eventually revolves around the criminals trying to get away by taking the train to Dover, where they'll catch the ferry across the English Channel; the police have to chase them in a bus.

Number Seventeen is a fairly uneven movie. Part of this is because Alfred Hitchcock had not yet hit his stride, and had not fully fleshed out what was to become the Hitchcock style. He had done some suspense movies, such as the recently-recommended Blackmail, and Murder! (which will immediately precede Number Seventeen at 8:45 AM ET), but had also done some straight up drama that is generally good only for those who are real fans of Hitchcock (see Juno and the Paycock). What we now know as the "Hitchcock style" didn't really come into its own until 1935's The 39 Steps. However, there is some suspense, some twists and turns, and some dark humor in Number Seventeen.

The dialogue is also difficult to follow. The film, being set in 1932 London, stars a bunch of British actors who use what are probably authentic accents -- not only to Britain, but to what would be the various social classes of the characaters. British audiences of the day probably wouldn't have had a provlem, but accents have changed quite a bit in 75 years. Not only do the speeches of Franklin Roosevelt sound old-fashioned, but British English has also changed quite a bit.

Another problem is with the special effects. The chase scene between the train and bus is relatively exciting, but back in 1932, the technology didn't really allow for as much as Hitchcock would have wanted to do. There's one scene in which the bus goes over a bump in the road, and the reaction of the passengers reminded me on first viewing of the scene in Leslie Nielsen's Airplane in which the passengers are told to brace for impact -- and the scene cuts to the passengers contorted in every way but the standard bracing for impact.

On the whole, however, Number Seventeen is worth a look, and not just for Hitchcock fans.. It only runs a brief 65 minutes, so the action is nonstop. (The drawback to the 65-minute running time is that there isn't really enough time to flesh out all the characters. The movie really needs to be remade as about a 90-minute movie.) It also holds up as well as any of the shorter Hollywood movies of the period. If you miss it on TCM tomorrow, it's also available on DVD.

No comments: