Jan 20, 2015

Review: Number Seventeen (1932)

Alfred Hitchcock had a long, fruitful career in film making and more than enough famous titles to his name that would make any director jealous. I wish I could say that I've seen all his best ones, but that wouldn't be true. I don't even want to admit to what I haven't seen yet. Out of what I've seen so far though, I'd say that North by Northwest with Cary Grant is my personal favourite due to its resemblance to James Bond films before a single James Bond film was even in production.

Number Seventeen is among Hitchcock's earlier efforts if you include his unfinished, uncredited or lost films and you want to call a nineteenth film an early effort. Crazy to think that it was at one time normal to direct multiple films in a year, but that's how it was. Shooting and editing has gotten a lot more complex since 1932, but it's still possible to appreciate the work that's gone into this little mystery film.


Genre: crime, mystery, thriller
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by: Leon M. Lion, John Maxwell
Written by: Alma Reville, Alfred Hitchcock, Rodney Ackland
Music by: Adolph Hallis
Running time: 66 minutes
Production company: British International Pictures
Distributed by: Wardour Films, Lumiere Pictures, Republic Pictures Home Video, etc.
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: John Stuart, Leon M. Lion, Anne Grey, Donald Calthrop, Barry Jones, Ann Casson, Henry Caine, Garry Marsh



Detective Barton (John Stuart) is investigating a case of a stolen necklace which was taken by a gang of thieves. Wandering about late at night, he sees someone creeping around inside a house marked for sale or rent that's also unlocked. Barton goes inside and finds a dead body at the top of the stairs as well as the person he saw in the window. Ben (Leon M. Lion) claims he didn't kill anyone, but Barton forces him to stick around as he tries to figure out what's going on.


The first thing that hit me about Number Seventeen was the very "expressive" camerawork and editing. For example, as Detective Barton first enters the unlocked house in the beginning of NS, the camerawork can't be described as anything else but shaky. As if the cameraman is terrified as he follows Barton into the dark unknown of the house, it's meant to raise tension.

In another scene as the bad guys discuss their plan, the editing quickly cuts between their faces, conveying a sense of urgency. These are definitely not things I'd expect to see in such an old movie, but they're good examples of Hitchcock's talent. I wouldn't go as far as say that these techniques work all that well, but I appreciate the effort all the same. They're clear signs that Hitchcock is for real and just needs a bit more time to develop.

The acting in general however is still quite tied to the silent film era. It had only been five years since The Jazz Singer, so it's not really that surprising. When there isn't any dialogue or it's some kind of reaction shot, actors massively exaggerate their performances to some pretty comical levels compared to the kind of performances we have today.This is how acting was back then so I can't really criticize the acting too much. It just hasn't aged very well.

Unfortunately, that's probably a description you could give Number Seventeen as whole. Take for example a fight scene where the actors throw sped up punches and hug each other as they go crashing to the floor. It's not at all the kind of thing we're treated to now and it's hard to take very seriously.

The humour in general is surprisingly OK. Most of the laughs come from Leon M. Lion as the resident dunderhead, but that's not to say it's a comedy tour de force. Ben himself is worth a few laughs from his dialogue and Lion's performance, but most of the comedy does indeed come from the outdated production values of Number Seventeen.

What I do want to outline as quite impressive for a film from 1932 however is a certain train chase sequence. It utilizes miniatures extraordinarily well and has characters clambering up and down train cars while the train is moving. All together, this is a pretty impressive thriller segment.

Sadly, it's impossible not to become bogged down in the outdatedness that is Number Seventeen. The story is actually quite difficult to follow and I had no choice but to read the Wikipedia entry about the plot afterwards. I'm still not even sure if I got everything. All the same, I couldn't help but appreciate the different techniques that Hitchcock experimented with in NS. Alfred Hitchcock demonstrated quite clearly that he was an upcoming genius even with an underwhelming production such as this.



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