Rich and Strange (1931): Hitchcock’s First Sound Film

Rich and Strange, released in the U.S. as East of Shanghai, was directed by Hitchcock while working in the British industry.

The scenario was adapted by Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville and Val Valentine from the novel by Dale Collins.

The title is an allusion to words of Ariel’s song “Full fathom five” in Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest.”

Fred (Henry Kendall) and Emily Hill (Joan Barry) are living a mundane middle-class life in London. Things change when they receive a letter from an an uncle, promising money (as part of their inheritance) to improve their life quality.

Fred quits his job as a clerk and they leave on a cruise for “the Orient.” Fred shows his susceptibility to sea-sickness while crossing the English Channel. Then having fun in Paris, both are scandalized by the Folies Bergère.

As they cruise the Mediterranean, Fred’s sea-sickness worsens, and Emily begins a relationship with Commander Gordon (Percy Marmont), a dapper bachelor.

For his part, as soon as he feels better, Fred is smitten with a German “princess” (Betty Amann), who hits him in the eye with the rope ring used to play deck tennis.

Both spends time on board with their new paramours, and each plans to dissolve the marriage.

In Colombo, the couple accidentally and awkwardly end up next to each other in a rickshaw.

When the passengers disembark at the final destination of Singapore, Emily leaves with Gordon. When he reveals that the princess is a schemer, she returns to warn her husband. Fred does not believe her at first, but soon discovers his lover has absconded his money to Rangoon. He learns that she was the daughter of a Berlin laundry owner and common street walker. The couple clear their hotel bill and return to England on a tramp steamer.

However, Fred and Emily’s troubles continue, when the ship is abandoned after collision in the fog. Trapped in their cabin, they prepare themselves for the end.

In the morning, however, the ship is still afloat, and the couple escape through  a porthole. A Chinese junk arrives, and the crew proceed to loot the ship. When Fred and Emily board the junk, they are left unmolested and even fed.

They finally return home, with their love for each other stronger based on their experiences. In the last scene, back in London, the couple are seen arguing, just like they did before receiving the aforementioned fateful letter.

The film exhibits elements that Hitchcock would develop in his later films, like the shipboard sets (a recreation of full-size ship in a water tank).

The director also experimented with camera techniques and compositions, evident in the film’s innovative opening, which shows city office workers leaving work at the end of the day. This silent scene was filmed in a single continuous pan shot, and is followed by an extended comedic sequence depicting Fred’s workaday travails as he goes home by train.

The film contains dialogue for only about a quarter of the tale, with many features of silent films included, such as scene captions, imbalanced acting styles, and heavy makeup. Hitchcock later claimed that he was experimenting in emotive performances.

Released between The Lodger (1927) and his breakthrough hits The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The 39 Steps (1935), Rich and Strange was a commercial failure.

Henry Kendall as Fred Hill
Joan Barry as Emily Hill
Percy Marmont as Commander Gordon
Betty Amann as The Princess
Elsie Randolph as The Old Maid