Rich and Strange, 1931 – ★★★½

#42 in the Reverse Hitchcock project.

“Someone just pinched me.” “Where?” “You know where.”

We open in a busy office where termite-like workers beetle and wait for the clock, then out in the rain they go with umbrellas and bowlers, down into the underground.

It’s a busy and inventive opening as the hero of the hour, Fred (Henry Kendall), people-watches and tries to read his newspaper in the busy carriage. Such is the dull and routine existence of our daydreaming worker bee.

Home to rain-soaked streets and a loving wife, Emily (Joan Barry, who had provided voice dubbing for Anny Ondra in ‘Blackmail’). She has a cut-glass voice and a blonde coiffure, and is completely annoying.

Within the first ten minutes Fred and Emily are given a large sum of money from a relative to allow them to experience ‘life’, and their fortunes look set to change. What happens when they decide to up sticks and cruise the Orient sets the scene for the rest of the film, with scandalous nightlife, broad farce and covert infidelities the order of the day.

The trouble is, fun though this material is, it is rather thin – and although a persistent myth states that Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville concocted the story in memory of their own honeymoon adventures, it is in fact based on a novel of the same name by Dale Collins, an Australian writer who specialised in sea-based romances, one of which was filmed as ‘His Woman’ in the same year as ‘Rich and Strange’.

Kendall is a dull leading man and one wishes for a Robert Donat, a Ronald Colman or a Gary Cooper to liven the material. A prolific actor in quota quickies, Kendall is perhaps most memorable in ‘Death at Broadcasting House’ (1934) or ‘The Mysterious Mr Davis’ (1939).

He was a highly accomplished stage revue artist, who deserves some kudos for appearing successfully in a show with those two scene-stealing Hermoines, Baddeley and Gingold, in 1941. Some of this comic gift is evident here and there during the lighter passages of this film, and I wish more had been made of it,.

Barry had a fairly break screen career before retiring on her marriage in 1934. She appears here without distinction, and is not particularly attractive, failing to convince in her on-ship flirtation. Hitch would be on surer ground with someone like Madeleine Carroll or Carole Lombard later in his career.

The tone of ‘Rich and Strange’ is a playful one and this is reflected here and there in the camera work and in the score, while the couple embark on their adventure. As the gentleman who makes a play for Emily, Percy Marmont appears sympathetic rather than predatory, in a role which seems a perfect fit for an actor like Ian Hunter, but Betty Amann’s fake princess (‘Fred had met a Princess!’) seems just that, exotic but rather annoying.

I must mention the marvellous Elsie Randolph as a twittery ship passenger, a spinster forerunner of characters played by the likes of Esma Cannon in later fare. She’s plain as mutton but effortlessly snatches what crumbs she can from the whisper of plot. You may recall her as the receptionist many years later in ‘Frenzy’.

‘Rich and Strange’ is a rewarding comic romance which, while not in top echelon of Hitchcock films, is certainly not without interest. It’s a solid effort a cut above similar British fare, and although it tanked at the box office, and caused the termination of Hitch’s relationship with BIP, it would seem ripe for re-evaluation.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews