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Number Seventeen (1932)


Main image of Number Seventeen (1932)
DirectorAlfred Hitchcock
Production CompanyBritish International Pictures
ProducerLeon M. Lion
From the play byJ. Jefferson Farjeon
ScenarioAlfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, Rodney Ackland
CinematographyJack Cox, Bryan Langley

Cast: Leon M. Lion (Ben); Anne Grey (Nora Brant, 'deaf and dumb' woman); John Stuart ('Fordyce'/Detective Barton); Garry Marsh (Sheldrake); Ann Casson (Rose Ackroyd)

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A detective tracks a group of criminals to a deserted house above a rail depot which they are using to escape to the continent.

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Hitchcock filmed Number Seventeen before Rich and Strange (1931), but the film was released by BIP the following year. It was yet another adaptation from a stage play, by J. Jefferson Farjeon, which, according to biographer Donald Spoto, Hitchcock considered "a bundle of clich├ęs". Writer Rodney Ackland, who adapted the play with Hitchcock and Alma Reville, later recalled that Hitchcock, who had wanted to make a different film, London Wall, decided to send up the genre:

As the climax of a thriller was invariably a chase... Number Seventeen's climax must be a chase to end all chases - its details so preposterous that excitement would give way to gales of laughter. It was on these lines and in this spirit that we conceived and wrote the script.

The chase - in this case between a bus and a train - appeared still more absurd in view of its use of what were very obviously scale models. Hitchcock's fondness for models was a feature of his career, notably in the introduction to The Lady Vanishes (1939).

The satirical effect of Hitchcock and Ackland's script was lost on audiences, but the film does make interesting and entertaining use of concealed identities, with the true identity of the detective only revealed at the close. And there is a certain humour in the decision to make the heroine a mute, in recognition of the fact, says Ackland, that "the heroines of thrillers were invariably dumb". Whatever else Hitchcock's heroines were, they were rarely stupid. Number Seventeen is also notable for the first appearance of what was to become a characteristic of Hitchcock's work: a MacGuffin - in this case a stolen necklace.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
Extract (5:15)
Production stills
Last Journey, The (1935)
Calthrop, Donald (1888-1940)
Cox, Jack (1890-1960)
Hitchcock, Alfred (1899-1980)
Langley, Bryan (1909-2008)
Reville, Alma (1899-1982)
Taylor, Gilbert (1914-)
English Hitchcock