Thursday, September 10, 2009


This rather mild comic thriller is available in several DVD editions because it's in the public domain and is an early Alfred Hitchcock sound film, but I suspect that only die-hard classic-movie fans will really have any interest in it. In a long, tense, and spooky opening sequence, a man (John Stuart) chasing his hat down a London street on a windy night discovers a light in an empty "for sale" house—the Number Seventeen address of the title—and decides to investigate; he finds a dead body on the second floor and a hobo (Leon M. Lion) skittering around the place claiming he had nothing to do with it. Then a young woman (Anne Casson) comes crashing through a skylight; she says she lives next door and was looking for her father, who disappeared from an upstairs locked room. A telegram had just been delivered for him about something that was going to happen that night at #17. Suddenly, there are two men and a deaf woman at the door claiming they were to meet the landlord to look over the house. They all head upstairs and the dead body is gone. Things become clear soon enough: the three visitors are jewel thieves who are to meet a man with a stolen necklace at the house, then get out of the country via an underground train which stops just under the house. It turns out, of course, that no one is quite what he or she seems, and events lead to a bus/train chase involving all the characters.

This feels the most like Hitchcock in the occasionally interesting use of camera movement and the rather awkward use of special effects; the miniature models used in the final chase sequence are painfully obvious, and yet somehow they don't really detract from the fun. Most of the fisticuffs scenes are in sped-up motion and the editing is awfully choppy (above and beyond any damage that's due to the age of the print). The film is based on a play and feels like it, with the first two-thirds all set inside the house, and the acting is generally adequate. I didn't mind Lion's constant comic relief, but he won't be to all tastes. No one else really shines except Anne Grey who manages to make a good impression as the deaf woman. My favorite line: when they find a pair of handcuffs near the dead body, Lion claims not to know what they are; Stuart asks him, "Ever seen handcuffs?" to which Lion replies, "No sir, I avoid 'em—I was brought up Baptist." [TCM]

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

I love the use of miniatures in this film. I agree it adds to the fun.