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  Number Seventeen Follow That Train
Year: 1932
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Leon M. Lion, Anne Grey, John Stuart, Donald Calthrop, Bary Casson, Ann Jones, Henry Caine, Garry Marsh
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: A man (John Stuart) passing by an old dark house is following his hat which has blown off in the stiff breeze, but then notices the lights moving around inside what a sign outside claims to be an empty, up for sale property. He ventures inside, watching the light on the upstairs landing and catching sight of a figure in silhouette he creeps up the stairs with a lit match to guide his way. As he reaches the top, he almost falls over something on the floor, which he is shocked to see is a body - but not half a shocked as the man a few feet away from him is...

If Number Seventeen is recalled at all today it is because of its director, the soon to be renowned across the world Alfred Hitchcock. This was an opening out of a stage play and it would appear that nobody was taking it very seriously, least of all Hitch, as there's a jokey feel to its thrills and spills. The filmmakers keep their cards close to their chests for most of the running time so for the greater part of the film you're not sure who everyone is and what precisely their relationship to each other might be.

It begins with a lot of pleasing atmospherics, with expressionistic lighting rendering the supposedly abandoned house quite spooky and exactly the kind of place to skulk about in, which is what happens. The man, who introduces himself as Fordyce but might know more about what is transpiring than he lets on, is playing detective and the fellow at the top of the stairs is Ben (Leon M. Lion), an itinerant looking for somewhere to sleep who has stumbled upon a genuine mystery.

When Fordyce searches him, he finds a handkerchief, a length of string and a sausage, the latter an example of the film's sense of humour. The body, on the other hand, has a gun on it when Ben looks through his pockets, which comes in handy when the duo realise they're not alone. There's a young woman present who is looking for her father and has a telegram on her person which makes reference to a priceless necklace, a train and Number Seventeen - which turns out to be the number of the house they're in at the moment.

It begins to get busy when the doorbell rings and a trio of suspicious characters arrive, but who are the villains and who are the heroes? Even by the final scene there are still loose threads being tied up, but eventually it becomes clear that they're all on the trail of that stolen necklace. As if to acknowledge that staying in the house, as spooky as it is, would grow monotonous even in an hour-long film such as this, the action moves for the last act to a speeding locomotive which Fordyce ends up chasing in a hijacked bus. The pursuit is depicted with a mixture of actual train shots and model work, which is much criticised for its lack of realism, but is actually quite quaint and no more artificial than the rest of the film. A cut above most quota quickies at least, Number Seventeen is a minor work but the Hitchcock touches are there, especially in its love of chaos. Music by Adolph Hallis.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Alfred Hitchcock  (1899 - 1980)

Hugely influential British director, renowned as "The Master of Suspense" for his way with thrillers. His first recognisably Hitchcockian film was The Lodger, but it was only until Blackmail (the first British sound film) that he found his calling. His other 1930s films included a few classics: Number Seventeen, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Young and Innocent and Jamaica Inn.

Producer David O. Selznick gave Hitchcock his break in Hollywood directing Rebecca, and he never looked back. In the forties were Suspicion, thinly veiled propaganda Foreign Correspondent, the single set Lifeboat, Saboteur, Notorious, Spellbound (with the Salvador Dali dream sequence), Shadow of a Doubt (his personal favourite) and technician's nightmare Rope.

In the fifties were darkly amusing Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Dial M for Murder (in 3-D), rare comedy The Trouble with Harry, Rear Window, a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief, the uncharacteristic in style The Wrong Man, the sickly Vertigo, and his quintessential chase movie, North By Northwest. He also had a successful television series around this time, which he introduced, making his distinctive face and voice as recognisable as his name.

The sixties started strongly with groundbreaking horror Psycho, and The Birds was just as successful, but then Hitchcock went into decline with uninspired thrillers like Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz. The seventies saw a return to form with Frenzy, but his last film Family Plot was disappointing. Still, a great career, and his mixture of romance, black comedy, thrills and elaborate set pieces will always entertain. Watch out for his cameo appearances in most of his films.

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