Number 17

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Number 17

Mystery, Drama | 66 mins | Released: 1932
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Leon M. Lion, Anne Grey, John Stuart, Donald Calthrop, Barry Jones, Ann Casson, Henry Caine
Our Rating: 6
Black & White

Detective Barton is searching for a necklace stolen by a gang of thieves, who are holed up in a house in London, before going on the run.

The film starts off with Detective Barton (John Stuart) arriving at a house marked for sale or rent. The door is unlocked and he wanders in. An unknown person with a candle is wandering about and a dead body is found. When confronted the mysterious person claims innocence of the murdered person. Barton (who introduces himself as Forsythe) asks the stranger what he has in his pockets (handkerchief, string, sausage, picture of a child, half a cigarette), before the shadow of a hand is shown reaching for a doorknob. The stranger (who later introduces himself as Ben) searches the body of the dead person and finds handcuffs and a gun which he takes.

The detective returns from investigating the weird sound, and finds the handcuffs left on the ground by the stranger. A person is seen to be crawling on the roof through shadows that then falls through the roof. This is a woman called Miss Akroyd (Ann Casson) who is revived and cries out for her father. She explains that her father went onto the roof and that they are next door in number 15.

The bell tolls half past midnight and the dead body has disappeared. Three people arrive at the windswept house: Mr. Ackroyd (Henry Caine), Nora (Anne Grey) (who is deaf and dumb) and a third person. Ben draws out the gun. Ben accidentally shoots the governor. Mr. Ackroyd draws out a gun and asks him to search the gentlemen, Ben and Miss Ackroyd. The telegram is revealed to Mr. Ackroyd. Sheldrake (Garry Marsh) gets the diamond necklace, which he has hidden in the upper portion of a toilet. Ben causes a commotion and is locked away with Sheldrake.

The two hands of Sheldrake reach out and appear to strangle Ben who is only pretending to be knocked out. More members of the gang arrive. They suggest tying up Miss Akroyd and ‘Forsythe.’ The three thieves all have to catch a train. However, one of the “thieves” is Miss Akroyd’s father–a police officer–who locks away two of the thieves, and then frees Miss Akroyd and Doyle. He opens the door where Ben is locked away with Sheldrake and they gets into a fist fight.

The other man reveals himself as Sheldrake (the supposed ‘corpse’ from earlier) and frees the others. Miss Akroyd and ‘Forsythe’ are tied up again. Nora reveals that she is able to speak and says: “I’m coming back”. She comes back and frees Miss Akroyd and Doyle. Miss Akroyd faints but recovers. Nora returns to the basement to allay the suspicions of the other thieves and buy time for the rest to get away. They free Ben and Miss Akroyd’s father. The thieves arrive at the train yard, and board a departing freight train. The train says Deutsch-Englischer Fahrverkehr Ferry Service between Germany-Great Britain.

The train departs with Ben aboard and he stumbles onto crates of wine. The thieves, after dispatching the conductor, go to the front of the train shoot the fireman, and catch the Driver as he faints. ‘Forsythe’ failed to get on the train before it departed and commandeers a bus. Ben is revealed to have the necklace. Sheldrake discovers he doesn’t have the diamond and the thieves fight each other. Sheldrake claims that ‘Barton’ a detective posing as a thief. A chase scene occurs on the train as the thieves go after Barton. Barton escapes and handcuffs Nora. The bus that ‘Forsythe’ is on races after the train. The thieves, realising the train is accelerating, try and find the brakes. They turn dials helplessly and notice the bus that ‘Forsythe’ is on.

Pushing levers and turning dials does nothing, indeed, it only makes the train go faster, leaving the thieves unable to escape. At the dock, the ferry pulls up. As ‘Forsythe’ watches, the train hurtles through the dock, crashes into the train currently on the ferry at full speed, and pushes it out to sea, dragging the remaining cars into the ocean. People are rescued from the water. Henry Doyle tells Forsythe that he is posing as Detective Barton. But Forsythe is actually Detective Barton, who says to Doyle, “You can’t be Barton because I am.” All of the thieves are apprehended by the police officers that are on the scene. Nora asks Barton, “What are you going to do about it?” Barton replied “You better come along with me.” Nora says “Where?” “To breakfast.” Barton says, and they laugh. Ben then reveals he has the diamond necklace.

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Movie Notes:

Number Seventeen is a 1932 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, based on a stage play by J. Jefferson Farjeon, and stars John Stuart, Anne Grey and Leon M. Lion.

The film is about a group of criminals who committed a jewelry robbery and put their money in an old house over a railway leading to the English Channel; but an outsider stumbles onto this plot and intervenes with the help of a neighbour, a police officer’s daughter. The tilm’s title is derived from the house’s street number.

After being available only in poor-quality prints for decades, the film was released in high quality by French media company Canal+ in 2005.

Hitchcock returned to England from a trip to the Caribbean with a new idea for a film. He told John Maxwell about it, but Maxwell said that Walter C. Mycroft had a different film for him to do, a filmed version of Joseph Farjeon’s play Number Seventeen. Hitchcock was unhappy with this, as he considered the story to be, too full of clichés and he wanted to do a version of John Van Druten’s London Wall. The director who eventually got to do London Wall at the time, wanted to direct Number Seventeen.

Hitchcock was assigned writer Rodney Ackland, for the film and decided to make it as a comedy-oriented thriller.

The film makes extensive use of miniature sets, including a model train, bus, and ferry.

Though the opening credits confirm the picture’s title is Number Seventeen, much of the promotional material (as per graphic above) and many databases refer to Number 17.

In the book Hitchcock/Truffaut (Simon and Schuster, 1967), Hitchcock called the film “A disaster.”

On its initial release, audiences reacted to Number Seventeen with confusion and disappointment. The film is not often seen nowadays, but continues with generally negative reviews with critics from Rotten Tomatoes noting the film as, “highly entertaining but practically incomprehensible,” and as an “unsatisfactory early tongue-in-cheek comedy/suspense yarn.”

In the Hitchcock/Truffaut book (see above), François Truffaut has a similar verdict, telling Hitchcock he had found the film “quite funny, but the story was rather confusing.”

Alfred Hitchcock did not want to make this film. He had wanted to direct a prestige production of John Van Druten’s play “London Wall,” but to punish Hitchcock for the financial failure of his previous film East of Shanghai (1931), British International Pictures head John Maxwell took him off “London Wall” and put him on “Number Seventeen” instead. Hitchcock himself has referred to the film as “a terrible picture . . . very cheap melodrama.”

This was Alfred Hitchcock’s last film as a director for British International Pictures, though he made one more film for them as producer: Lord Camber’s Ladies (1932), directed by Benn W. Levy.

Close to the end of the film, the train crashes into the ferry, and then into the sea. Parts of this scene are shown in “The ABC Murders” (1992), at approximately 1:10, when Cust is watching the film in the Doncaster cinema. This is Episode 1 of Season 4 from the “Agatha Christie Poirot” TV series.

Hitchcock uses models quite well for the bus and train sequence, given the age of the film. However, as the model train approaches the ferry it is seen to have about 8 carriages. When Doyle is being pursued across the carriages, it can be seen that there are many more than eight carriages – at least five behind the middle carriage (where Ben and Nora are) and at least five in front of this middle carriage.

Barton and Nora’s hands are tied to the railing behind them, but after they fall backwards through it, they’re hanging with their hands in front of them.