Number Seventeen (Alfred Hitchcock / U.S., 1932):

Murnau is dead, the elegy is a jocular dash of expressionism in a dilapidated mansion, the door opens by itself and the camera tracks in. (Black cats and chimes at midnight await inside, "no skeletons or coffins, ducky.") The staircase climb is recreated in Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train, a lit match and a trembling candle make the shadows dance on the wall (a gag from Bertolucci's Partner can be spotted); the title is the location itself, and there's the wry detective (John Stuart) and the cockney tramp (Leon M. Lion) with a body slumped on the floor. The creaky setting is soon teeming with crooks and fences, the dapper couple (Donald Calthrop, Anne Grey) arrives followed by a freelance sharpie (Barry Jones). Sleuths and scoundrels casually trade places, the would-be corpse leaves its spot, the mute moll offers some decisive words. "Ya don't have to do nothin' in this here house, ya stand still and things happen!" A most endearing Alfred Hitchcock whirl, with trick upon trick arising from its "quota quickie" murkiness like string and sausages from Lion's hole-filled pockets. Characters are handcuffed to railings and dangled from the second floor, but that's just set-up for the bravura 15-minute chase between a crowded bus and a runaway locomotive (cf. The French Connection), with its collision of models and maquettes capped by a grinning joke (the diamond necklace hidden in the toilet tank finally finds its way to the jaunty hobo's neck). "Just like in the pictures, isn't it?" The overriding sense of deviltry is shared by contemporaries, nudge it in one direction and you have La Nuit du Carrefour, nudge it the other way and there's The Old Dark House. With Ann Casson, Henry Caine, and Garry Marsh. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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