Number Seventeen (1932)


(director/writer: Alfred Hitchcock; screenwriters: Alma Reville/Rodney Ackland/based on the play and novel by J. Jefferson Farjeon; cinematographers: Jack E. Cox/Bryan Langley; editor: A.C. Hammond; 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); Runtime: 61; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: John Maxwell/Leon M. Lion; British Film Institute (BFI); 1932-UK)

“Unsatisfactory early tongue-in-cheek comedy/suspense yarn directed and cowritten by Alfred Hitchcock.


Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Unsatisfactory early tongue-in-cheek comedy/suspense yarn directed and cowritten by Alfred Hitchcock (“Psycho”/ “Murder!”/ “The Lodger”), in one of his least rewarding films that plays out as a silly parody of the thriller genre. It’s based on the play and novel by J. Jefferson Farjeon, that had previously been adapted into a 1928 silent film by Geza Bolvary. The writers besides Hitchcock include Alma Reville (Hitchcock’s wife) and Rodney Ackland. It was the last film Hitchcock directed for BIP, who has said that the film was only a “quota quickie.” The setting is a spooky old house in London, the one from the title, where a jewel heist is going down. The climax takes us on a laughable exciting train ride and cross-country hijacked tour bus chase, for which miniatures were used (the special effects were crude and hardly convincing).

Cockney hobo Ben Tramp (Leon M. Lion) stumbles into an empty London house looking for a place to hang out and eat his sausage, only to find a corpse. Detective Fordyce (John Stuart) arrives at the house, and the two men discover Rose Ackroyd (Ann Casson) lying unconscious inside the house. Reviving Rose, the men discover she has a telegram from Detective Barton alluding to a stolen necklace, jewel thieves and a rendezvous at the house at around midnight. At that hour a trio of thieves, posing as house hunters, Nora (Anne Grey), a well-dressed deaf and dumb lady, her husband Brant (Donald Calthrop) and the foppish gent posing as their nephew, Henry Doyle (Barry Jones), arrive looking for the necklace. Nora ends up not being deaf and dumb and reforms on the spot to help the comic relief character Ben and the earnest Detective Fordyce in their efforts to catch the thieves.

Things are kept unnecessarily confusing (we learn no background info about how the thieves picked this spot or learn much about the diamond necklace). The story line is hard to follow and Hitchcock seems disinterested in clearing things up, allowing it to be nothing more than a half-baked crime drama and a practice run for some of his stylish innovations with light and shadows. It would be forgotten today if Hitchcock were not the director.