Rich and Strange: Hitchcock's Bizarre Film

Though not one of Hitchcock’s strong films (even of the British era), this early sound film, made in 1932, is worth seeing for those interested in the evolution of the master’s as an artist, both thematically and stylistically.

Technically, the film is shapeless—especially by Hitchcock’s standards–consisting of set-pieces that are sharply uneven in interest and only loosely connected.

The movie lives up to its title, for it’s both about rich couple and strange in terms of the adventures that they go through, only to realize that “there is no place like home.” Or is there?

The best way to describe “Rich and Strange” is as a cautionary tale about a couple that’s bored with their middle class life and decided to do something about it.

The first, and most technically dazzling reel, depicts Fred Hill (Henry Kendall) leaving his office, surrounded by masses of people, all wearing similar bowler hats, rushing out. It’s pouring rain, but Fred is the only one whose umbrella will not open. There are nice, fast tracking shots people waiting for the underground and then pushing to get in.

Fred and Emily Hill (Joan Barry) are a young married couple who suddenly come into an inheritance. “Äre you satisfied with your present circumstances?” asks an ad in Fred’s newspaper during his subway ride home (Henry Fonda’s Manny Balestrero) will read a similar ad in Hitchcock’s 1957 drama, “The Wrong Man.”

Bored with their working-class existence, opportunity knocks when Fred inherits money from his uncle, who leaves a prophetic note: “Money to experience all the life you want by traveling.”

They embark on a world cruise, during which each falls for another partner. Emily gets romantically involved with a dashing gentleman, Commander Gordon (Percy Marmont), while Fred is swept away by a mysterious princess (Betty Amann), who turns out to be phony and greedy, when she tricks him out of all his money.

Broke and miserable, Barry and Kendall head home on a shabby cargo boat, only to find themselves in the middle of a shipwreck. The couple is rescued by a Chinese junk, where the crew members dine on their pet cat.

By the time Barry and Kendall have returned to their humble suburban lodgings, they’ve both learned the joy of remaining in their own back yard.

For its short running time, the movie covers a lot of turf, ranging from a romantic comedy to an anatomy of a marriage seemingly on the rock to a grim and serious melodrama.

The central couple is not particularly interesting as screen characters, though the actors work hard and do what they can to give them more shading and complexity.

The film was one of the few commercial flops in Hitchcock’s career, perhaps because of its shifty tone that bewildered viewers’ expectations. Hitchcock told Truffaut: “I liked the picture–it should have been more successful.”

The film aims to exploration personal disappointment in routine life and the longing for a better life, even if it’s a fantasy. This is a recurrent issue n Hitchcock’s work: Men and women who are spoiled, bored, complacent and indulgent, yearning for excitement, who get up a shake, a wake-up call through an unexpected chaos that disrupts their lives.

As an early talkie, the film seems to combine the conventions of both silent and sound features. The first half is defined by title cards, some of which ironic and comic, which indicate the various stops in the couple’s journey.

Ultimately, “Rich and Strange” is a minor if likable movie due to the performances of the two leads.
The film was originally released in the U.S. as “East of Shanghai.”

Credits

Running time: 92 Minutes.
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: Dale Collins, Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, Val Valentine

Cast

Henry Kendall as Fredy Hill
Joan Barry as Emily Hill
Percy Marmont as Cmdr. Gordon
Betty Amann as The Princess
Elsie Randolph as The Old Lady
Aubrey Dexter as Colonel
Hannah Jones as Mrs. Porter