Rich and Strange (1931) / Comedy-Romance
aka East of Shanghai
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for some mild rude humor
Running Time: 93 min. (83 min in U.S.)
Cast: Henry Kendall, Joan Barry, Percy Marmont, Betty Amann, Elsie Randolph
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, Val Valentine (based on the novel, "East of Shanghai" by Dale Collins)
Review published November 23, 2001
Rich and Strange is probably a film that will only appeal to Alfred Hitchcock (The Ring, The Man Who Knew Too Much) completists, and as such, it's a hit-and-miss affair which has an entertainment value that will vary greatly depending on the reasons why you are watching it in the first place. If you are looking for some of Hitch's great suspenseful thrillers, you're going to be disappointed, as Rich and Strange is pretty much a quirky comedy entirely. If you are looking to see the progression of how Hitchcock developed his cinematic techniques, or just how he made the transition into talkies from silent films, you might find merit in seeing him experiment with visual effects, some very good and some just awkward. Lastly, those just looking for a good film will likely come away mixed, as there are some choice comedic moments in a rather pleasant film, but the film seems padded and long, even though most video cuts run only about 80 minutes in duration.
Henry Kendall (The Amazing Adventure, The Ghost Camera) and Joan Barry (Rome Express, The Outsider) play Fred and Emily Hill, a married London couple struggling to make ends meet, wishing they could do exciting things that they just can't afford. Others know their predicament, so Fred lands his inheritance early from a rich relative, and soon the couple decide to take a cruise, where they spend their time rubbing elbows with the rich elite. However, their marriage quickly sinks when others on board begin mutual flirtations, and their love becomes tested.
Rich and Strange is a bit of an unusual film, which actually makes the humor somewhat entertaining. The two leads are funny to watch, with droll attitudes about almost everything that makes for a good chuckle here and there. Hitch even tosses in a couple of funny sight gags, and fills the supporting cast with some entertaining, colorful characters. As long as you aren't expecting classic Hitchcock, it's an amusing diversion, mostly because it's so offbeat.
Hitchcock also shows he isn't quite over the technique he learned while making silent films, using the title cards every now and then, showing reaction shots for lingering periods of time, and a bit of amateurishness in staging scenes around dialogue. There are a few neat visual tricks he employs, impressive considering the time period they are used in, and showcases his love for the technique of cinema. This is not the kind of film Hitchcock would be known for, although he did return to this kind of marital-based comedy again in his Hollywood years with Mr. and Mrs. Smith to greater success. Still, Hitch is a funny fellow, and knows how to deliver the comedy to success, even if the script isn't sparkling with witty dialogue.
As I mentioned earlier, unless you are a die-hard Hitch fan, or perhaps just a fan of old British cinema, you're best not bothering investing time watching Rich and Strange when there are so many other films just like this today that are just as funny or funnier. That's not to say it's a bad film, as it is modestly entertaining most of the way. Good acting, ambitious directing, and an overall weirdness is enough to garner a marginal recommendation.
©2001 Vince Leo