Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Rich and Strange (1931)

by Brent Reid
  • Every port tells a different story: money doesn’t lead to happiness
  • At first glance, a marvellously inventive, lighthearted little comedy
  • But in Hitch’s hands it’s complex, multi-layered and surprisingly dark
  • The moral is be careful what you wish for; money does not buy happiness
  • Little-seen but essential addition to the Master’s peerless run of 1930s talkies
  • Cheap bootlegs abound, but every official, good quality release is finally listed
  • Close but no cigar: legit releases are the way to go but none are completely correct

Note: this is one of 100-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

Rich and Strange (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) L-R: Percy Marmont, Joan Barry, Elsie Randolph, Betty Amann and Henry Kendal

Mixed doubles: L-R: Percy Marmont, Joan Barry, Elsie Randolph, Betty Amann and Henry Kendall. Elsie likes playing cards; there’s a clue to her favourite game in her character’s name.


Contents


Production

Rich and Strange (1931) L-R: Henry Kendall, Percy Marmont, Joan Barry and Betty Amann

Indiscretion: the eyes have it. L-R: Henry Kendall, Percy Marmont, Joan Barry and Betty Amann.

Fred and Emily Hill, a happy young married couple, inherit some money and decide to take a world cruise. Once onboard ship, their new found fortune goes to their heads and they tend to go their separate ways. Fred loses most of their money on a fake princess, while Emily also gets involved with someone but luckily avoids the commitments of her escapade. Their shipboard romance drives apart but a shipwreck brings them back together again. Rescued by a Chinese junk, they return to the security of England and home, having had their fill of romance and adventure. – Australian Polygram VHS/alt (1995)

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

– “Ariel’s Song”, Scene II, Act I, Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Rich and Strange is a satisfying and quirky romantic comedy about a young couple who get the chance to spend their future inheritance early, and embark on around the world shenanigans. But rather like the Shakespeare play that inspired its source, all is not plain sailing: shipwrecks, new love and betrayal loom large on the horizon. Renamed rather less obliquely East of Shanghai in the US, it co-stars Joan Barry, who a couple of years earlier had lent her cut-glass English inflections to strongly-accented Czech actress Anny Ondra in Blackmail.

Henry Kendall and Joan Barry in Rich and Strange (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Joan Barry tends to Henry Kendall’s bumped bonce, in the vain hope it’s knocked some sense into him.

This is a very funny little film in more ways than one – all intentional, of course. There’s such a lot of sound and visual business squeezed into its economical 83 minutes that there’s never a dull moment. Cinematography frequently veers over into the Expressionistic, while some quickfire editing often calls to mind montages from Eisenstein. All this is allied to so much interesting location and stock footage that it’s often reminiscent of the best of the then fashionable city symphonies. Additionally, there are regular insert shots, sometimes lasting only a second or two, but always informing and driving the narrative along. In another nod to the silent era, it even makes occasional use of dryly humorous intertitles.

In the past, various authors have mistakenly ascribed sole authorship of the script to Hitch, Alma Reville and co-writer Val Valentine, citing it as an original screenplay. In fact, it was based on an eponymous novel by Australian author and journalist Dale Collins, who had previously penned several ship-bound romances. The book was published only a year prior to the film, which adapts it extremely closely, aside from Hitch’s brief additional prologue which he found almost customary when adapting existing works. However, Charles Barr, in his excellent English Hitchcock (1999), makes a strong case for the possibility of Hitch and Alma having suggested the initial idea to Collins, based on their own honeymoon. For starters, they were good friends with the author and his wife, and the names of the novel’s main protagonists, Fred and Emily, are tantalisingly close to Alfred and Alma.

Cinema Then, Cinema Now: Rich and Strange

Betty Amman in Niebezpieczny romans aka Dangerous Romance (1930)

Betty Amann: femme fatale at your disservice

The film features a scarlet temptress in the shapely form of German-Jewish actress Betty Amann, star of the wonderful Asphalt (1929), in which she essayed a similar role. An accomplished player in her homeland then later in the UK and US, she was also reputedly one of the many conquests of Charlie Chaplin. Asphalt is one of my fave late-period German silents and there are many poor bootlegs around, but these are the only official releases to date:

  • US: Kino DVD (2006) – new English intertitles
  • UK: Eureka/Masters of Cinema DVD (2005)
  • Germany: UFA Video VHS (2003)
    • Studio Hamburg Enterprises 5-BD or 5-DVD Jubiläumsedition: 50 Jahre Murnau-Stiftung (2016) – no subs
  • Spain: Divisa DVD (2009, alt)

It’s a pity the only HD release thus far is in the completely non-subtitled German BD set – though the film has very few intertitles anyway – but perhaps Eureka at least will upgrade their DVD one day.

Svatopluk Matyáš and Jana Nováková in Nebeští jezdci aka Riders in the Sky (1968)

Svatopluk Matyáš and Jana Nováková in Nebeští jezdci aka Riders in the Sky (1968)

Special mention must also go to Elsie Randolph, who later in her career teamed up so memorably on stage and screen with top star of the day Jack Buchanan. Rich and Strange is her film début, playing “The Old Maid” at the real-life ripe old age of 26! Here, she supplies most of the film’s overt comic relief, playing a sexually frustrated and socially awkward but blissfully oblivious spinster. Her repeated amorous overtures are not aided by the fact she looks somewhat akin to Charles Hawtrey in drag. Both the first and last of her 11-film tally were directed by Hitch, as four decades later she had a minor but memorable part in Frenzy. Aside from her appearances for the Master, only three of her films are currently available: Brother Alfred (1932), Smash and Grab (1937) with Buchanan, and Nebeští jezdci aka Riders in the Sky (1968). The first two are excellent British comedies of the time, expectedly lighthearted and come highly recommended. The last, however, is a complete departure: based on Filip Jánský’s autobiographical 1964 novel, it’s about the fate of military pilots in Britain during WWII. Grittily realistic, it has an international cast speaking five different languages and is simply one of the best Czech films I’ve ever seen. It’s only available on DVD but fortunately all of them, bar the latest from Magic Box, has optional Czech or English subtitles. Seek. It. Out.


Home video releases

Alfred Hitchcock 3-Disc Collectors' Edition US Lionsgate DVD

This US DVD set is still the best, most authentic release available of Rich and Strange, and several others – bar none.

Rich and Strange’s transfer on most official releases is from an excellent copy preserved by the British Film Institute which though unrestored is in great condition, conveying the visuals and audio well, though note it’s strongest on the first US DVD. 2021 saw a new 4K restoration along with Number Seventeen, both of which have so far have only been released on Kino Lorber’s US discs. After originally being announced in 2018, they were delayed for three years when Kino realised both films only had unrestored SD transfers unsuitable for BD. Exactly the same problem is blocking a HD release of Secret Agent, which had a similar unwittingly faux BD announcement made by a French label. This 4K restoration brings the expected improvements in all areas with the film’s grainy, sfumato textures really brought to the fore and its audio sounding clearer than ever – but there are several caveats which make it less than essential…

Screenshots: US St. Clair Vision bootleg, US Brentwood bootleg, UK Optimum, French Studiocanal, German Arthaus, US Lionsgate, US Kino BD.

A major problem on all PAL releases and the restoration is that the soundtracks for Rich and Strange, and Murder!, have been remixed by owners Studiocanal and had new sound effects added throughout. Latter-day audio revisionism is a real bugbear of mine but especially so in Hitch’s case, as he was famously meticulous about the sound design of all his films. Others to have received this unwanted and unasked-for attention are Suspicion, LifeboatTo Catch a Thief, Vertigo and Psycho, which have also been remixed in gimmicky 2.0 stereo and surround sound. As if that wasn’t bad enough, at the 20-minute mark (19min PAL) of Rich and Strange, audio from earlier in the film is repeated and overlaid, at a louder volume, on top of the correct audio for exactly one minute. It appears on the commentary track as well. This mistake was doubtless introduced at the remixing stage by the same incompetent, disrespectful hacks who are prone to making such gaffes in their pursuit of ‘modernising’ classic films. The only official release to escape all of this is Lionsgate’s US DVD set which, thanks to a happy accident, contains the original, untampered audio on all of its three talkies.

The altered soundtrack and its overlay glitch has been around since at least the early 2000s and it seems no further work has been done on it since. But it really ought to have finally been picked up on and fixed when it was synced to the restoration or even by Kino themselves. Kino release rarities at an incredible rate, for which we should all be very grateful, as otherwise many would never see the light of day. But this comes at cost, as they have a poor track record for quality control with faulty transfers appearing on a regular basis. Even when the problem is a major one, as happened with Blackmail, they will often deny it even exists and only very rarely issue corrected replacements; they’ve already stated one will not be forthcoming in this case.

In this day and age, there’s really very little excuse for this to happen so frequently. There are extremely knowledgeable fans of almost every film imaginable right around the world. Indeed, they’re often much more conversant with them than the so-called experts; studios, labels, historians, archivists and restorers included. So how difficult would it be to have a bunch of quality control advisors on hand, most of whom would be happy to do the job for free in order to see it done right? As per long established practise for film reviewers in general, they could be sent check discs or easier still, temporary links to streaming copies. A continually wasted opportunity. Grr.

If you can get past the unoriginal, ballsed-up audio, Kino add some Hitchcock/Truffaut audio interview excerpts and trailers for their other Hitchcocks, alongside the first ever film-specific on-disc extra in the form of an audio commentary by critic Nick Pinkerton, who also did the duties on Kino’s releases of The Ring and Murder! Speaking of which, they also botched their transfers of the latter film and Blackmail by releasing them in the wrong aspect ratio. Like all previous releases, none are in the correct 1.20:1 ratio common to very early talkies and Blackmail is particularly messed up. Rich and Strange has here finally been transferred in 1.20:1 but I’m not convinced the framing is correct, as compositions often seem slightly off-centre to the right. Certainly, there is frequently more information on the left, as compared to older releases, when there ought to be less as that side would have originally been composed for cropping to accommodate an optical soundtrack.

Though they’ve otherwise made an effort with this film, it’s still a bit cheeky of Kino to give it a standalone disc. Remember it’s only 83 minutes long, and their package for both it and the hour-long Number Seventeen would have easily fitted on a dual-layered twofer. As things currently stand, the various restorations of Hitch’s Studiocanal-owned films are not in the frame for release elsewhere, and Kino’s slipshod efforts may yet stand at their sole representation on disc. Overall, colour me extremely unimpressed.

Joan Barry and Henry Kendall in Rich and Strange (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock), ship

All at sea: Joan Barry and Henry Kendall anchors a-weigh up their options

All pre-restoration releases feature the same clean transfer, but have two slightly differing soundtracks. On one, the unfortunate decision was taken to replace foley effects at several points, or even add new ones altogether. A shame, as Hitch was always notoriously scrupulous about the sound design of his films and it’s especially important in what is perhaps his most experimental endeavour. It has to be said though, unless you’re intimately familiar with the film or are listening out for the changes, you likely won’t even notice. The American releases have original unaltered audio, while all others have the tampered version. Unfortunately, the same affliction befell Murder!, SuspicionTo Catch a ThiefVertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho, with the latter five also being remixed in gimmicky 5.1 surround sound.

There is some ambiguity over the film’s original running time, as the copy initially submitted to the BBFC was 92:14 before mandated cuts to secure an A rating. The BFI National Archive’s longest extant copy is a 1931 nitrate dupe negative of 7478 feet, which equates to 83:05. There are numerous copies of similar length in the archive, matching all extant circulating versions, so this then must be the actual theatrical release length. However, as described in English Hitchcock, the film has several missing scenes which are all documented in the novel including what, according to Hitch, was his most significant cameo appearance of all. Sadly, barring a miraculous discovery, it looks like what we currently have is all we’re ever likely to get. But this fine film still has plenty of delights to offer, for which we can be very grateful.

Rich and Strange (1931, dir, Alfred Hitchcock) bootleg DVD artwork

This artwork has appeared on various bootlegs, including UK and Scandinavian DVDs (Waterfall Home Entertainment/WHE); and Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube streams (The Orchard).


For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

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Anton
Anton
20th July 2021 16:14

Great piece. Thanks for sharing your great work. I really love this film. Interesting RE interference to the audio on non-us legitimate releases. I have two versions; the one in my UK Optimum Early Hitchcock set, and the one I bought cheap in Australia, probably a bootleg. Disappointingly, while the Early Hitch set’s copy has the much sharper image, the audio sounds distorted – maybe filtered/EQed badly? – which is distracting and feels inferior to my Australian copy – and it’s also slightly out of sync, if I recall correctly. And, if I’m remembering right, the image is slightly cropped/zoomed… Read more »

Anton
Anton
20th July 2021 16:16

… not sure I’ve actually watched all the films in the set – I’ll have to dig it out!

Anton
Anton
20th July 2021 17:11

… I’ve dug out not two but THREE copies of the film I have. And after a scan through can offer the following corrections to the above erroneous ramblings: Of the two Australian copies of the film I have, Flashback Entertainment, single film/disc; and Force Entertainment, The Hitchcock Collection Volume Two, which has eight British films; only the former is looking distinctly bootleggish. The Force set looks to be, under Australian copyright law, a legitimate release and this is the one I feel has more natural, enjoyable audio. It is in fact this one that is zoomed in/cropped slightly, not… Read more »

Anton
Anton
21st July 2021 20:15

Cheers, Brent. I read your stuff on copyright and stand corrected. If I recall correctly, I bought the Force Entertainment set from Australia’s biggest DVD/Blu Ray retail chain, JB Hi Fi, which is the reason I felt confident it was a legit release, especially as it looks totally legit (unlike the Flashback); rather than any understanding of any copyright laws. Disappointed JB Hi Fi would do business with criminals… hopefully unknowingly. I really, really appreciate what you are doing with this site. I imagine a lot of people reading your stuff replace pirated films they’ve unknowingly bought with legitimate editions… Read more »

Saul
Saul
4th November 2021 12:13

Thank you for the wonderful article! Just a little question to which I didn’t find an answer in this article. On the IMDB-page there is a mention of a 110 minutes version and also a 92 minutes (UK) version. Do you know if such versions ever existed? According to Kino Lorber’s website, their upcoming release of the film comes with the familiar 83 minutes version. Thank you!

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