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Sundays with Hitch
Remind Me

Number Seventeen

Ben Tramp (Leon M. Lion) is a Cockney hobo who keeps his pockets stuffed with food, but is unprepared for the circumstance he finds at an abandoned old house, the number 17 of the film's title. There, Ben discovers a man's corpse, the first in a string of mounting mysteries.

As the plot of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Number Seventeen (1932) unspools, more people appear and more complications ensue. A Detective Fordyce (John Stuart) arrives at the house, and the two men discover a beautiful girl, Rose Ackroyd (Ann Casson), inside the house. Rose has a telegram alluding to a stolen necklace, jewel thieves and an anticipated rendezvous at the house. Later that night a trio of thieves arrive at the house looking for the necklace. Among the gang is a deaf and dumb girl, Nora Brant (Anne Grey), who ends up helping Ben and Detective Fordyce in their efforts to snare the thieves.

Though its initial setting in a spooky old house suggests a straightforward thriller, Number Seventeen soon metamorphoses into a heist story about the various characters searching for the necklace. The film is not among director Alfred Hitchcock's best work and is perhaps better known for its incredibly complicated, hard to follow plot line which some have attributed to Hitchcock's lack of interest in the project. Others have attributed to his desire to parody the thriller genre.

Hitchcock was given a meager budget by British International Pictures to make Number Seventeen, his last film for the studio. The story, based on a play by J. Jefferson Farjeon, had previously been adapted into a 1928 silent film.

Number Seventeen introduced some perennial Hitchcock motifs including his love of comedy. Another was his use of a favorite plot gimmick, "the MacGuffin," which was a largely irrelevant narrative detail that nevertheless drives the story and is soon forgotten once its usefulness is served. In the case of Number Seventeen, the MacGuffin is the stolen necklace that lures the criminal mob to descend on the mansion, though we never learn the origin of the necklace.

Number Seventeen featured other signature Hitchcock elements, including the director's love of trains, on display in a climactic chase sequence involving a runaway train chased by detectives in a hijacked bus. The impressive sequence was done with models, an effect that looks antiquated today, but was quite innovative for the time.

Hitchcock's lack of interest in doing the project may have come through in the ludicrous construction of the film. In the absence of a coherent plot within this stagebound, dialogue-heavy film, Hitchcock tends to favor a shadowy, stylish design that adds a fair amount of tension.

According to Donald Spoto's Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures, Number Nineteen co-writer Rodney Ackland believed Hitchcock deliberately meant to do "a burlesque of all the thrillers of which it was a pretty good sample." Years later Hitchcock said the film was a "quota quickie."

"Number Seventeen's climax must be a chase-to-end-all-chases-its details so preposterous that excitement would give way to gales of laughter," recalled Ackland of the hilarity that accompanied the scriptwriting process which also included Hitch's wife Alma Reville. Late night writing sessions were fueled by Hitch's favorite cocktail, a White Lady, composed of gin, egg whites, light cream and superfine sugar.

Hitchcock began his film career as a title-card illustrator and worked in a number of facets of the industry before becoming a director. At various times Hitchcock was an art director, an editor, writer and assistant director. His first film as director was the thriller The Lodger (1927). His Hollywood debut was the romantic thriller RebeccaSpellbound (1945), his first color movie Rope (1948), the 3-D film Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954) and the highly influential horror films Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963).

Despite his legendary status as a master of sophisticated suspense films, Hitchcock never won a Best Director Oscar® in competition, though he was awarded the Irving Thalberg Award at the 1967 Oscars®. His acceptance speech for that award was the shortest in Oscar® history.

"Thank you," he said.

In 1979 he received the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. He died the following year.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: John Maxwell, Leon M. Lion
Screenplay: Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, Rodney Ackland, based on the play and novel by J. Jefferson Farjeon
Cinematography: Jack E. Cox, Bryan Langley
Production Design: Wilfred Arnold
Music: A. Hallis
Cast: Leon M. Lion (Ben Tramp), Anne Grey (Nora Brant), John Stuart (Gilbert Fordyce, Detective), Donald Calthrop (Brant), Barry Jones (Henry Doyle), Ann Casson (Rose Ackroyd), Garry Marsh (Sheldrake), Henry Caine (Mr. Ackroyd), Herbert Langley (Guard).

by Felicia Feaster



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