Number Seventeen (Number 17) Reviews
Number Seventeen is criminally under-rated! Point out the pothole sized plot-holes, the toy-town special effects, ropey acting and wobbly camera and you are just missing the point (and I even wonder if cinema is for you?). Anyway, this IS 1932, so surely a moving camera, as opposed to the usual rigid static shots, is commendable and who wouldn't wobble carrying the equivalent of a small bungalow?? Either way, the 'clumsiness' only adds to the gleeful mayhem at play.
However, 17 is meant as a comic parody of the spy story (but with a large dose of surreal craziness and the gleeful cackle of 'The Old Dark House' and 'The Cat and the Canary' thrown in for good measure). So it's not really meant to be taken as seriously as may be expected.
It's also a formula that Hitch would make his own (the spy story as a send up of itself) and is now so familiar as a genre that it feels 'straight' yet is often screamingly camp (Bond anyone?).
It is quite a surreal and odd little film for much of it's (short) length - for the first half of the film people seem to keep appearing and then disappearing again at such an alarming rate it's hard to keep up with who's who, but that's part of it's charm (even in the last few minutes, a lovely twist means still more identities are being revealed!). And, at just over an hour, it still manages to cram in many of the elements we have come to recognise as Hitchcockian: staircases (lots of them!), the mysterious 'bad' girl (who has to redeem herself), handcuffs and bondage, trains and chases on trains, bathrooms, moral ambiguity, people not being what they seem (villains? Heroes? erm... your guess is as good as mine) and probably the first very discernible macguffin (the necklace).
When all is said and done, why the Hell should we care about the plot flaws and ropey acting when everyone is having such a lark - including the portly prodigy himself - quite literally like a big kid playing with his train set! I really do enjoy 17 more than the generally more revered Murder and Blackmail (so the acting in those films isn't ropey??). It's certainly no masterpiece but it's a lot of fun and nowhere near the dud it's always been dismissed as.
A forgotten gem.
This was obviously just a fun little bauble for Hitchcock to kick around. He plays around a lot with light, shadow and sound in the movie; clearly honing his grasp of the atmospheric. I think I read somewhere that he made this movie just to fund Rich and Strange, and I believe it. Valuable only as a curio for die-hard Hitchcock fans.
There may be a reason for this. Hitchcock made this in a hurry to get to a project he was eager to work on, RICH AND STRANGE, one of his most offbeat and personal films (actually released before this one). As a result, this very short and very stagy little comedy/thriller feels like the work of someone who didn't really care. While this is something that rarely happens in his catalog as director, you can sense the same thing to a lesser extent in STAGE FRIGHT and THE SKIN GAME, yet the technical competence of the former and the fine source material and performances of the latter make those more fun and interesting to see than this.
The real crime here is witnessing the failure of one of Hitch's only stabs at an old-dark-house mystery; it's a severe disappointment that he didn't explore the potential of the story to a greater degree. NUMBER SEVENTEEN is locked into its time and doesn't have anything close to the resonance of BLACKMAIL. To a fan of the director, it's essential but a bit off-putting.
One good point is the closing chase sequence, which takes up a major chunk of the movie's second half (the total running time is only an hour). Despite the obvious use of miniatures, it's amusing to see the director play with buildup and action in an otherwise dismal effort
There are so many things wrong with this film. First off the acting was horrendous, leaving me cringing in the process. Second, the story was dull, lacking in the twists and suspense that are present in Hitchcock's great films. It was also so difficult to follow the plot as Hitchcock fails to establish both the characters and the story early in the film. Finally, the score in this film was so forced that I actually laughed a couple of times, along with a few sighs of loathing, instead of feeling immersed in the film's suspenseful atmosphere. The only aspect of the film I could compliment is its photography. The cinematographers wonderfully crafted this sense of darkness and eeriness on the film's background, but once the plot kicks into gear its atmosphere starts to change, coming off as generic and lacking in texture. Though I am aware that Hitchcock was forced into making this film by British International Pictures due to the poor commercial performance of his previous film East of Shanghai, but that doesn't mean he had to make a picture this awful. Long story short, Number Seventeen is an appalling film by Hitchcock.