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Saturday, July 26, 2014

RICH AND STRANGE (EAST OF SHANGHAI) (1931)

After a striking Talkie debut on BLACKMAIL/’29, Alfred Hitchcock took some odd turns before finding his voice with THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH/’34. (Credit producer Michael Balcom with the assist.) But from that brief wilderness period, this rather intriguing mess of a film seems to have caught Hitch’s imagination. RICH shows up via an early inheritance that lets a bored married couple take off on a world cruise where they soon become STRANGE to each other. HE falling under the spell of a venal adventuress who says she’s a Princess. SHE turning a confirmed, old bachelor into a lovesick pup. You keep expecting to hear someone singing Cole Porter’s ‘At Long Last Love,’ the one that asks if it’s ‘the good turtle soup, or merely the mock?’ Then, in something of a structural coup, the story draws down to a fourth act that dumps shipboard romance with a return focus on the warily reunited couple. Technically, the film is unexpectedly shabby, yet full of imaginative touches, especially when Hitch ignores early sound technology and simply shoots silent. The opening half-reel might be a UFA Expressionist piece. Largely written by Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville, the film easily rewards looking past a lot of awkwardly staged moments, especially for Joan Barry as the wife. A near ringer for Madeline Carroll of THE 39 STEPS/’35, she dubbed the vocals for Anny Ondra in BLACKMAIL and might be considered the first classic Hitchcock blonde, if this weren’t such atypical Hitchcock. (For a change, most Public Domain DVDs are pretty watchable.)

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