Rich and Strange (Alfred Hitchcock / United Kingdom, 1931):

The pricked cocoon of English normalcy, a pivotal Hitchcock joke, out of the frying pan and right into the fire. Kafka and Clair suffuse the opening tour de force, the camera swivels 180° on highly choreographed bustle as row after row of clerks scramble out of the office. One such pencil-pusher is the dull husband (Henry Kendall) heading home for the usual kidney pudding dinner, even newspaper ads mock him: "Are you satisfied with your present circumstances?" (McCarey fine-tunes the subway ride in Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!, itself a keen Yankee variation.) His grousing is answered by a surprise inheritance and a quotation from Shakespeare, soon he and the wife (Joan Barry) are gawking at the wonders of Paris in jump-cuts that peculiarly anticipate Tippi Hedren's suspended terror in The Birds. Embarrassment at the Folies Bergères segues into seasickness aboard the ocean liner headed to the Far East, the handsome commander (Percy Marmont) and the sultry princess (Betty Amann) wait for the right time to pounce. "A gorgeous night, perfect for lovers!" The sterility of convention or the manifold risks of life, which is scarier to the would-be adventurers? A marriage tested all the way to the edge of the world, where the constant sway of the ship's deck (strewn with ropes and chains) posits a screen forever on the verge of slipping out of control. Keaton's great relationship metaphor (The Navigator) is mined by Hitchcock on a half-sunken steamer with clear consequences for Jamaica Inn and Lifeboat, the seaman drowned upside-down is answered by a new life born on the Chinese junk (cf. Buñuel's Subida al Cielo). The return home is finally a sigh and a shudder, "don't you dare say 'I told you so'!" An oneiric, swift, absolutely bleak comedy, with a punchline treated rather differently by Cassavetes in Faces. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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