Rich and Strange (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jan 24, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Rich and Strange (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Alfred Hitchcock

Release Date(s)

1931 (January 4, 2022)

Studio(s)

British International Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: C
  • Extras Grade: B-

Rich and Strange (Blu-ray Disc)

Buy it Here!

Review

[Editor's Note: We've been made aware of an issue with the audio for this release and have noted it below. There's no word yet of Kino Lorber issuing a replacement disc, but we will update again if they do.]

Rich and Strange (aka East of Shanghai) is an early sound production from Alfred Hitchcock, the final film that he directed for British International Pictures. (Number Seventeen was released after this film, but was shot first.) It’s a rare full comedy from the Master of Suspense, without the morbid elements of a film like The Trouble with Harry, and yet it still some darkly serious themes regarding marital dissatisfaction. The title is taken from the second stanza of Ariel’s Song from Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

“Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.”

In the case of Hitchcock’s film, that’s taken literally, as the story revolves around an ocean voyage taken after a sudden influx of wealth, and it indeed causes a strange sea-change in both of its newly rich protagonists. Fred (Henry Kendall) and Emily (Joan Barry) are a middle-class couple who are given an advance on an inheritance from a rich uncle, and so they take an ocean cruise to the Far East. Their lack of contentment is manifested as Fred is tempted by a supposed princess (Betty Amann) and Emily is wooed by Commander Gordon (Percy Marmont). Inevitably, the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side, wealth proves ephemeral, and the couple are forced into an adventure that pushes them reluctantly back together.

While Hitchcock had a hand in many of the screenplays for his films, Rich and Strange is one of the few for which he took an actual screenwriting credit, along with his wife Alma Reville, adapting the novel of the same name by Dale Collins. And even though Hitchcock directed few straightforward comedies, humor was a major element in most of his films, and there are a few choice moments in Rich and Strange (although the ethnic jokes haven’t worn particularly well). There’s also a surprisingly cruel edge to some of the proceedings, with Fred being a genuinely unpleasant and unsympathetic individual. The vagaries of fate may reunite this wayward couple, but it hasn’t changed them for the better, and so the film’s ending feels unavoidably inconclusive.

Cinematographers Jack E. Cox and Charles Martin shot Rich and Strange on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, framed at the 1.19:1 aspect ratio of early sound productions (the result of losing space on the frame to the optical soundtrack). Like Kino Lorber's release of Hitchcock's Number Seventeen, the 4K restoration work here was performed by the BFI, and they do amazing work once again. The image is clean, sharp, and detailed. Optical transitions look a bit softer, and stock footage shows signs of damage, but the majority of the footage looks fantastic for a film of this vintage. There are a few fleeting scratches, but nothing that distracts from the high quality on display. Grayscale is perfect, with good contrast and black levels, and the grain structure remains smooth and even throughout. It’s a lovely transfer.

Audio is offered in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. As an early talkie, the soundtrack for Rich and Strange has limited fidelity, and dialogue sounds thin, with harsh sibilants. The background noise in some sequences can make it nearly incomprehensible, especially with Elsie Randolph’s scenes on the deck of the ship. There’s also distortion in the melodramatic score by Adolph Hallis, which can make it sound a bit shrill. All of those limitations are inherent to the source, so short of drastically altering the original soundtrack, there’s not much that could be done about them. On the other hand, there is one issue that should have been fixed. At 19:55, during a series of establishing shots on the ship after the title “Mediterranean,” a section of audio from an earlier scene at the train station is mixed in with the audio for this one. It’s obvious when you listen for it, but at first, the dialogue sounds like background chatter, with the train noises sounding like like steamship noises. Given the already distorted nature of the soundtrack, the error almost blends in. It still should have been caught and fixed, so hopefully Kino will issue corrected discs.

The following extras are included:

  • Audio Commentary by Troy Howarth
  • Hitchcock/Truffaut: Icon Interviews Icon (HD – 5:39)
  • Introduction by Noel Simsolo (SD – 3:45)
  • Trailer (HD – :54)
  • Blackmail Trailer (HD – 1:16)
  • Murder! Trailer (HD – 1:12)
  • Number Seventeen Trailer (HD – :45)
  • The Paradine Case Trailer (SD – 1:44)
  • Under Capricorn Trailer (HD – 2:05)
  • Lifeboat Trailer (HD – 1:28)

Film Historian Troy Howarth mentions that this is his first audio commentary for an Alfred Hitchcock film, and admits that Rich and Strange wouldn’t have been his first choice, but that he’s glad that he did it since it forced him to look at the film in more depth and detail. He identifies some of the motifs in the film that Hitchcock would reuse for the rest of his career, discusses Hitchcock’s handling of actors and preference for avoiding location shooting, and even addresses accusations of misogyny in the master’s work. He also analyzes the autobiographical details in the story, and the complicated relationship that Hitchcock had with his wife Alma Reville. Rich and Strange was a commercial failure on both sides of the Atlantic, but Howarth notes that it was one of only two films that Hitchcock defended despite the box office disappointment (the other being The Trouble with Harry). All that, and Howarth manages to squeeze in one Dario Argento reference as well.

Hitchcock/Truffaut is a brief audio-only selection from the interviews conducted by Francois Truffaut that formed the basis of his seminal book about the director. It starts out identically to the passage in Chapter 3 of that book, but then veers off into a digression unrelated to the film. It also includes Hitchcock expressing his disappointment with the casting for Rich and Strange, which Truffaut elected not to include in the book. The Introduction by Noel Simsolo was originally recorded for a 2005 DVD boxed set from StudioCanal. Simsolo puts Rich and Strange into context with the rest of Hitchcock’s filmography, and notes the film’s serious undertones that lie beneath its superficial comic elements. The rest of the extras consist of the film’s trailer and trailers for other Hitchcock related Blu-ray releases by Kino Lorber.

Like many of Hitchcock’s early works, Rich and Strange might not appeal to those who aren’t already familiar with his filmography. When placed into context with the rest of his films, however, it’s an interesting look at his development as an artist, and it’s never looked better than it does on this stellar Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)

 

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