And just like that I finish up my old Alfred Hitchcock box set not with a bang, but with a complete downer!
Scenario By: Rodney Ackland, Alfred Hitchcock, & Alma Reville
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
One of the worst experiences in film is watching a bad Alfred Hitchcock film. I know that I place Sir Hitchcock upon too high of a pedestal. But, his body of work is so impressive that it’s hard to imagine him making an out and out bad film. I know he’s capable of it, I’ve seen a few of his bad films already, but every time I watch a bad film from Sir Hitchcock I come away slightly depressed. This is Alfred “freaking” Hitchcock I’m talking about, no matter what my analytical mind will always be surprised by a bad film from him.
If that opening paragraph didn’t give it away already, I was not impressed at all with Number Seventeen. It doesn’t feel like an Alfred Hitchcock film, and the times when it most tries to be an Alfred Hitchcock film is when it fails the hardest. Number Seventeen is a hard watch, but not because the subject matter is troubling. I had a hard time watching Number Seventeen because it’s a nearly incomprehensible film. The viewer is dropped right into the story, and important facts are never revealed. I didn’t need character backgrounds, or an exact map of where the story was taking place or what was going on. However, I needed something to allow me to be in the general ballpark. I needed something in the story to let me know why these people were in this house, why they were after jewels, and what their ultimate goals were. I don’t know if the original stage play was as incomprehensible as the movie, but what I do know is that the movie did not make sense for the majority of its run time.
Moving away from the story for a second, I think it’s important to mention the model/miniature work of Number Seventeen. If I were to use the word atrocious to describe how the miniatures and the models looked that would sound hyperbolic. Unfortunately it would also be the complete one hundred percent truth. I just read a capsule review from Leonard Maltin, in his 2011 movie guide, where he defended the model work. I honestly do not know how such abysmal looking model work can be defended. Even for its time period the model and miniatures in Number Seventeen are terrible looking. When they cut to the scenes of the supposed train crash or the trolley in motion it’s clear as day that we’re not in the real world and that immediately removed me from the already incomprehensible story of the film. There’s no defensing the terrible visual aesthetic or the story stopping nature of the models and miniatures used in Number Seventeen.
When it comes to the films of Alfred Hitchcock there’s no reason for anyone to seek out Number Seventeen. I wouldn’t recommend Number Seventeen to Sir Hitchcock completests, there’s no reason for them to see this mess of a film. The effects will make you laugh, and not in a good way, and the story won’t bother to make sense (or at the very least be interesting). Number Seventeen is a depressing experience, there’s no reason a filmmaker as talented as Alfred Hitchcock should ever have produced such dreck.