Well whoever it was who led me to believe that these “later” early Hitchcock movies weren’t so good (I believe it may only have been the man himself in the Truffaut interview, now I think about it) was simply wrong. This is a bizarre rollercoaster of a comedy and I loved every minute. Rich it may not be in emotion or plot, but it makes up for it with plenty of strange.
The story is as simple as it gets: a simple, down-to-earth couple, both longing for a life less ordinary (the husband being far more vocal about it, but when an out presents itself the wife’s just as antsy) get a telegram from their uncle saying they might as well have their inheritance now instead of waiting for him to die. They take the money and travel the world. That’s… literally it, lol.
One of the strangest things about this movie is the title cards. Writers Hitchcock and his wife Alma provide the kind of commentary on the action that you’d find in silent movies. It begins with oddball comments like, “To get to Paris you have to cross the Channel. To get to the Folies Bergeres you have to cross Paris. And to get to you room, you have to cross the hotel lounge…” … but later gets a little more intrusive with the likes of, “Colombo – but to Emily it was people, not places, that mattered now.”
Strange too is how avidly the movie seems to endorse the extra-marital flings that both husband and wife embark on in the middle act. The way the couple separate and discover their new onboard partners on the ship to India, practically forgetting one another for the duration of the cruise, is presented almost as a matter of course. I guess it’s all okay because in the end they reunite having learned a lesson; but up to that point it is all quite startlingly immoral (I don’t know if it’s the fact that the leading man is such a drip but the couple here to me struck me more like brother and sister than man and wife which made a lot of the proceedings perhaps much stranger than the title intends too, lol).
The joy of Rich and Strange lies I think in the minor characters that accompany the couple on their travels, particularly a clumsy bespectacled lady who is just a riot to watch. Plotwise, the movie is essentially what Hitchcock had wanted to do with Champagne: he gives his hero and heroine everything their heart desires but ultimately they find it doesn’t make them happy at all. Despite the humour flowing throughout the movie, it really gets quite serious in the end, almost as far as The Manxman or The Skin Game. The couple reunite over their (particularly gendered, it must be said, though no less heartrending) reactions to seeing a baby born. I think it’s one of my favourites of his British talkies.