Number Seventeen

Though Hitchcock took great liberties in adapting Jefferson Farjeon’s book and play to the big screen, Number Seventeen (aka Number 17) is a convoluted feature, marred by a complicated but not particularly involving narrative, despite its short running time (only 63 minutes).

Stylistically, however, there is much to admire in this feature (Hitchcock’s 16th work), largely confined to a single set—an abandoned mansion.

The opening act shows an open door, inviting the viewers to a dark and strange house, before tracking to a staircase. Most of what is shown in the first reel is from the steps of the staircase, a staple in the maestro’s work.

It’s hard not to notice the hand-held camera as it passes through the doorway and then tracks to the bannister.

At the center is a mystery of body, discovered by two men. Hitchcock violates rules by observing closely handcuffs on the corpse.
The romance between the detective (John Stuart) and the young woman (Anne Grey) is underdeveloped, but the image of the couple tied to a railing, which later collapses leaving them suspended in mid-air, is impressive, and announces a recurrent motif in the director’s later work (The 39 Steps, Vertigo North By Northwest)

The last act depicts a chase, which is not one of the director’s best chases, but by standards of 1932, it thrilled critics and viewers. The chase involves a train and a bus, which ironically carries a sign that states: “See the countryside by Green Line!”).

The influence of German Expressionism is unmistakable with ominous play of lights and shadows of hands on doorknobs. The crash aboard a ferry was nicely executed with miniatures.

The tone is also uncertain: Hitchcock had later said that Number 17, was meant to be critique and parody of its genre. Overall, Number Seventeen is a passable feature in plot and characterization, slightly elevated by signs of brilliant technique.