Ahh, another movie from the Legends of Horror box set and wouldn’t you know it, it is a Hitchcock movie. Today’s movie is yet another movie that I have never seen before, making it one more win for this box set. So the question is, what kind of an early movie do I have; horror, mystery, or one of his rare romance movies. Which ever type I get, I hope I am entertained by today’s movie, Number Seventeen.
The plot: When a gust of wind blows a man’s hat into the front yard of a house for sale, the man retrieves it, then notices a light moving about inside the house. Opening the door, the man, Detective Barton, heads inside and begins looking around the ground floor before heading upstairs, where the light is coming from. Searching around, Barton comes face to face with a man holding a candle on the attic landing but when a sudden burst of lighting illuminates the landing, they see a body lying on the floor and the man holding the candle panics and ends up falling down the stairs. Barton goes down to check on the man and escorts him back upstairs to the body, asking if he had anything to do with the dead body. The man claims innocence of the murder and Barton asks him to empty his pockets. As Ben begins revealing the contents of his pockets, the shadow of a hand is seen reaching for a door knob and a sudden noise is heard. Barton hands the man the candle while he goes to investigate the sound and the man searches the body’s pockets and finds a pair of handcuffs and a gun. The man keeps the gun but leaves the handcuffs next to the body, which Barton notices as he comes back up the stairs. The men hear some noises above them and see the shadow of someone climbing along the roof, just before the person crashes through a weak portion of the roof into the building. The man manages the catch the person, who is revealed to be a woman, and Barton gives her some brandy to revive her. The woman starts screaming about her father and when she asks who they are, Barton introduces himself as Forsythe while the man says his name is Ben. The woman, Rose Ackroyd, tells them that she lives next door and when a telegram arrived for her father, she went to give it to him but found his door locked. She had attempted to climb up the roof and of the house to get into the skylight of her own house but had fallen through. “Forsythe” asks about the telegram, which informs Mr. Ackroyd that someone named Sheldrake has the necklace and is planning to make his getaway that night. Ackroyd is instructed to keep watch on #17, and the telegram is signed by Barton. “Forsythe” asks Rose if she knows Barton but she doesn’t. Realizing that something will be happening soon, “Forsythe” tries to get Rose to leave but she refuses. When the bell’s chime half past midnight, the door bell starts ringing and “Forsythe” goes to see who is there. While he is gone, Ben remembers the gun and decides to put it back in the corpse’s pocket but realizes that the corpse has disappeared. Downstairs, “Forsythe” opens the door to reveal a man and a woman, who claim they are there to look at the house. After they come in, “Forsythe” goes to shut the door when a second man appears, asking his “uncle” if he can come in as well. The men want to take a look upstairs but they refuse to look at any of the rooms, wanting to continue towards the attic but “Forsythe” tries to stall them. Ben calls down that it is ok and they head upstairs as Ben tries to head down. One of the men tells Ben to stop but Ben, fed up after being stuck in the house for over an hour, pulls out the gun. As “Forsythe” questions Ben about the gun, one of the men pulls out a gun of his own while the other one struggles with Ben over his gun. The gun goes off and “Forsythe” ends up being shot in the wrist as he tried to shield the woman. The men manage to get the gun away from Ben and have everyone enter one of the rooms. The woman helps “Forsythe” bandage his wound and one of the men tells him that she is unable to speak or hear. The men search “Forsythe”, Ben, and Rose’s pockets and find the telegram to Mr. Ackroyd. As the woman keeps watch on everyone, the two men step out of the room and begin to discuss what to do. Ben causes a commotion and tries to leave but the men grab him and lock him in a bathroom. As Ben stares at the door, a pair of hands reach out and strangle him but as the man, Sheldrake, goes to retrieve the necklace from the toilet where he hid it, Ben is revealed to have faked being unconscious and pickpockets the necklace while Sheldrake is staring out the keyhole. The two men and the woman have “Forsythe” and Rose out on the landing when the corpse starts walking up the stairs, revealed to be one of the gang of thieves. After confirming each other’s identities by the use of a card, the men proceed to tie up “Forsythe” and Rose, but Rose winks at the “corpse” as he ties her up. The corpse leads the two men and woman into a room to wait for Sheldrake, when he locks them in and frees “Forsythe” and Rose, revealing himself to be Rose’s father. As he works on freeing them, he asks about Ben and is told that he is locked in the bathroom. Mr. Ackroyd goes to free Ben to help him but ends up getting in a fight with Sheldrake. Ben tries to help but accidentally knocks out Mr. Ackroyd, then Sheldrake locks both Ben and Ackroyd in the bathroom. As Sheldrake frees the other thieves, they retie “Forsythe” and Rose, then Sheldrake leads them down to the cellar, but the woman drops her purse and whispers to “Forsythe” and Rose that she is coming back, revealing that she can talk. “Forsythe” and Rose struggle to free themselves but their efforts loosen the banister and the end up falling, and hanging from the stairs. The girl, Nora, returns and frees them but has to return to the crooks or they will start to suspect her. “Forsythe” and Rose go to free Ben, who accidentally strikes Rose, then Rose goes to tend to her father while “Forsythe” and Ben go after the crooks. In the cellar, Nora reveals she can speak by refusing to leave with the crooks but they take her with them, as she knows too much. Leaving through a secret staircase, they make their way to the nearby train tracks, where a train with an empty car is about to leave. “Forsythe” and Ben race after them and try to board the train but while Ben makes it on board, Sheldrake kicks “Forsythe” off of the car. Sheldrake and one of the crooks head towards the engine, where they knock out the engineer in order to take over the train. Meanwhile, “Forsythe” commandeers a bus in order to give chase to the train. Back on the train, the crooks want Sheldrake to show them the necklace and Sheldrake but he realizes that he no longer has it. Accusing one of the crooks of being a cop, Sheldrake and the other crook move to attack him but the man manages to avoid them, then heads to the car where Nora and Ben are being held. As the man starts to search Nora, Ben reveals that he has the necklace, just as Sheldrake and the other crook show up and they begin fighting over the necklace. The fake police officer pretends to grab the necklace and make a run for it but as Sheldrake and the other crook chase after him, the fake cop doubles back and returns to the car with Ben and Nora. Meanwhile, Sheldrake and the other crook continue searching for the fake cop and end up shooting the engineer, causing the train to speed out of control. The train ends up plowing through the docks and crashing into a ferry, causing the train and ferry to start sinking. “Forsythe” arrives and, noticing Nora is handcuffed, dives into the water and rescues her. As everyone is drying off, “Forsythe” is with Nora and the fake police officer says that he is Barton, but “Forsythe” reveals that he knows Barton is actually Henry Doyle and that he is actually Barton. Doyle is escorted outside to some waiting police officers Ben is shocked that Barton was a cop the entire time. Barton approaches Nora and asks her what she plans on doing and when Nora asks what he plans on doing, Barton suggests she come get breakfast with him, causing them both to laugh, while Ben reveals that he managed to swipe the necklace again.
Number Seventeen met with mixed results from the critics, holding a 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, most of the critics were mixed on their feelings regarding the plot, but felt this was a good early work of Hitchcock’s. When Hitchcock returned from a vacation in the Caribbean, he wanted to do a movie based on John Van Druten’s play London Wall, but the studio wanted him to do a film version of Joseph Farjeon’s play Number Seventeen instead. In a twist of fate, the director who wound up working on London Wall had actually wanted to do Number Seventeen instead.
This was an interesting movie but it could have been a lot better. The acting was ok, with Leon M. Lion really stealing the show as Ben, making for some great comedic moments, while John Stuart (Barton), Anne Grey (Nora), and Ann Casson (Rose) doing good jobs in their roles as well. The story was pretty good, but it felt like they spent too long on the build up of the events, so that the conclusion felt rushed. I think if the movie was a little bit longer, they could have paced it out better and it would have been more effective. There wasn’t much in the way of special effects aside from the train crashing into the ferry, but that honestly looked a little weak. The bigger problem for me was that the didn’t really do a good job of explaining who everyone was, which lead to a lot of confusion as to who everyone was and who was a good guy or a bad guy. Not one of his better works but it was still an entertaining movie.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5