Written by: Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, Val Valentine
Starring: Henry Kendall, Joan Barry, Percy Marmont, Betty Amann, Elsie Randolph
When stuck in the thralls of life, losing sight and not appreciating what you have in front of you threatens its very existence. At times you just need a rude awakening to reset it all, which we receive in Rich and Strange. A feature signifying the grass may not always be greener on the other side.
Wholly unhappy with their current living circumstances, married couple Emily (Joan Berry) and Fred (Henry Kendall) receive the opportunity to live the life they want when Fred’s uncle offers to advance his inheritance. This allows them to travel the world but on this voyage, they have the chance to explore what life could look like if they dissolved their marriage.
Opening with a stellar montage of the busy streets of London displaying the hustle and bustle of those who have to venture to the workplace, it makes immediate sense why Fred would dislike his circumstances. He receives no satisfaction from his job and realizes he has found himself in a rat wheel for the rest of his days as a working-class citizen. The same cannot be said about Emily, who somewhat enjoys the current state as shown as she does not have a need for new dresses when she can make them herself. The opportunity of a lifetime to receive all of these funds to spend as they wish to allow them to do what they want, but this feature allows them to show themselves for who they are.
It is often said when it comes to money and the negative connotation surrounding the rich that money does not make someone a bad person but rather further highlights their nature. If one existed as a mean person when poor then being rich signifies they would be the same but with the means to act with more financial impunity. Being working-class citizens creates restrictions on how these two can fully express their true selves because they need to worry about taking care of the essentials prior to anything else. With this windfall, they get to express themselves and act upon all of their whims, which gets quite scandalous once they make it out to sea.
This scandal comes in the form of meeting other passengers and having affairs with Emily having romantic relations with Commander Gordon (Percy Marmont) and Fred with a self-proclaimed German princess (Betty Amann). They drop all pretense and involve themselves in these pleasures because they have the opportunity to indulge in something they could not before and the lengths to which this film captures these interactions definitely surprises for something released in 1931. The insinuations alone demonstrate some non-Kosher things that occurred on that boat and it begins to question whether these two will ever get back with each other.
Navigating from comedy to melodrama, this feature finds itself in a strange place where each aspect does not quite land in attempting to achieve its stated goal. The bickering act of this couple along with the nervy situations they find themselves in never quite strike a strong balance leaving this film to move like malaise with its short runtime. As a result, it does not have the coherence one would want from this narrative. On several occasions, the film simply dragged because what it displayed, no matter how scandalous, never really carried any intrigue because these characters never truly displayed elements worth following. Instead, they get involved with fairly boring love interests all colliding to the inevitable conclusion the film would make by the end.
Serving as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s earlier features, Rich and Strange certainly displays a story of a director still trying to find his style and how to tell stories in a way where he would become legendary in the future. The scandalous nature of the story certainly deserves respect for the places it goes and what the narrative displays but it does not change the lack of intrigue for these characters. It moves at a snail’s pace at times for what gets put on screen and ultimately remains a film not really worth checking out unless you want to be an Alfred Hitchcock completionist and claim you have seen all of his features. Not much else to see here, which is certainly unfortunate.