Detective Gilbert is searching for a necklace robbed by a gang of thieves. In the beginning, the gang is in a house in London, then they are running away from police. It will not be easy for the detective to recover the jewel.
Leon M. Lion ... Ben
Anne Grey ... Nora - the Girl
John Stuart ... Barton - the Detective
Donald Calthrop ... Brant - Nora's Escort
Barry Jones ... Henry Doyle
Ann Casson ... Rose Ackroyd
Henry Caine ... Mr. Ackroyd
Garry Marsh ... Sheldrake
One of Alfred Hitchcock's British (earlier) movies, "Number Seventeen" shows his touch in many of its interesting and creative details, and it is an entertaining film, although the plot is rather chaotic and often confusing.
The story concerns a vacant house ("number seventeen") on which several different persons converge for various reasons. Most of them are interested in one way or another with a big jewel theft that has occurred, but it is hard to figure out just what everyone is doing there, and it takes a good while before the audience finds out who everyone is and what each of the characters wants. If you watch it over again, you realize that everything does fit together pretty well, but it is quite hard to catch everything the first time through.
The somewhat confusing plot is redeemed by a lot of Hitchcock touches. The gloomy abandoned house makes possible a lot of surprises and atmospheric details, and there is also a fast-paced and suspenseful closing sequence. It's very short, just over an hour, and a lot of things happen during that time. After a rather slow beginning, it gets your attention and keeps it until the end.
"Number Seventeen" probably could have been a much better movie if the plot and characters had been developed more carefully, but it is still pretty entertaining as it is. While probably only of particular interest to those who are already Hitchcock fans, there should be enough of Hitchcock here to satisfy those who are.
For starters, I think the proper context for evaluating this film would be: 1932 thrillers. And judged against its competition, this film ain't so bad. Hitchcock overdoes the mood, and there were times when I was tired of the frightening shadows cast upon walls by unexplained light sources. Characters holding candles, for instance, would throw full-body shadows upon walls, and the movements of those shadows would be exploited for mood effect.
But the movie isn't as terrible as its cruelest critics suggest. The early thirties in England blurred distinctions between stage and screen, and the stage qualities of the film are quite strong. You have to imagine that you're watching a play, perhaps in the West End, with a cast of aging Victorian and Edwardian actors, in order to get the full context of this film.
If you are only capable of watching modern Hollywood movies, or if you can only evaluate film in the context of E.T. and MTV, then by all means stay away from this film. On the other hand, if you like early films, black and white film, silent movies, and moody thrillers from the 20s and 30s, then this film is quite good. There are unexplained details, yes, but watch the film nonetheless. It won't damage you, as other viewers have suggested. The hour of your life will not be wasted: you will have gained an understanding of the important link between film and theatre, between screen-acting and stage-acting, and you will have a more full understanding of Hitchcock's background.
Besides, I dare you not to be drawn into the plot near the middle of the film. Halfway through, you realize: Not a single one of the characters has been contextualized properly, and any one of them could be lying about their identities and reason for being in the empty house. Some have faulted this as a "problem" in storytelling -- but I would suggest that it's what creates the suspense. You are interested in the story because of the unexplained. Stop complaining, eh?
After seeing "Blackmail" and "Murder" I wasn't expecting very much of "Number Seventeen". I was very pleasantly surprised. It's certainly not up to the standard of Hitchcock's later work, but it's a moderately enjoyable film both in itself and for the insight it offers into Hitchcock's development as a director.
The plot is rather complex and can be a bit difficult to follow at times. But nearly every element - concept, plot, characterization, and so forth - is superior to his earlier work. There are some action scenes toward the end that are strikingly exciting for a movie from 1932. My favorite part of the movie, however, is the first third or so, where Hitchcock achieves a perfect "spooky old house" atmosphere.
If this were a long movie, I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone but Hitchcock fanatics. But it's only 63 minutes - if you can find it, take the hour and watch it. At worst, you'll learn some things about Hitchcock's developing technique. At best, you'll discover a highly enjoyable little movie.