Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Rich and Strange

(East of Shanghai, 1931)

Rich? I guess. Strange, definitely. Here we have Hitchcock’s second talkie, and it’s a Frankenstein’s monster hybrid, with pieces of sound and hunks of silent all sewn together with liberal helpings of stock footage from around the world. Then there are black-screen titles, both to announce a change of location and to comment on the action. There are no dialogue titles, and that’s all that’s missing from old-time silents. If it only had more of a plot it might have worked better, but audiences were as befuddled as I was, and it was a major flop. This and the one or two films before and after mark Hitchcocks’ lowest ebb as a filmmaker.

It starts out as an okay comedy. A middle-class worker is fed up with the rat race and wishes he had the money to travel, to have adventures. Shazam! A rich uncle gives him a lot of money and he and his wife embark on a trip to the mysterious East. He soon discovers he suffers from acute seasickness. When he finally gets over it, his finds his wife is having a torrid affair with an older, much more sophisticated man. He falls in love with a princess, and things don’t look good for the marriage. But she can’t go through with leaving him, and he finds out his princess was a con woman, and she has taken most of his money. They can afford passage on a tramp steamer to go home, but it collides with another ship and they are trapped in their cabin, abandoned by the crew. A Chinese junk comes along to loot the wreck before it sinks. They hop aboard … and that’s about it. Last scene, they are back at home, still bickering. Apparent moral of the story: the poor and middle class aren’t equipped to deal with a lot of money, so it’s best to stay in your place. Quite appropriate for a British film with their class system, I guess, but it’s all really a mess, and I’m not surprised the audience stayed away in droves, as they say.