Wow. Rich and Strange is definitely strange, and I loved it! It also goes by the name of East of Shanghai and is one of Hitchcock’s earlier ventures while still in England. It’s kind of hard for me to organize my thoughts about it. I’d never heard of it before. I had no idea what it was about, and it really took me by surprise. Unlike Hitchcock’s usual grind, Rich and Strange is more of a dramedy focused on a middle class couple, Fred (Henry Kendall) and Emily (Joan Barry), who inherit a large sum of money and blow it on an extravagant trip around the world.
While on the trip, both meet and fall in love with other people. They begin harboring resentments toward one another, and it isn’t until both their lovers leave them (one with the remainder of their money) and the ship they’re on sinks that they rediscover their appreciation for one another. The final patch on their relationship comes in the form of a new inside joke between the two after being rescued by a Chinese junk and getting sick when they realize they just ate a stir fry full of cat. Racist, but delightful.
I was basically thinking “whhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaa????” the entire movie, but it was great! The characters were amazing, the basic situation (while at first quite fantastical) is probably relatable for many people, and it was funny! A lot of the classic physical humor from the silent films crossed over into this one, and it was truly adorable. I audibly laughed multiple times.
Apparently, that element, as well as the use of screen captions and bold make-up, made the film a bit of a critical and box office failure. It had one foot in the talkie pool and one foot in the past, and no one wanted to deal with that. Today, it makes it endearing.
Nothing about this film reminds me of Hitchcock. Nothing. The visuals and style of story are very atypical for him, in my opinion. That doesn’t make it bad, however. I noticed a lot of interesting camera work and elaborate art direction and production design — something Hitchcock is known for — but it just wasn’t familiar. It would make sense that Hitchcock was using Rich and Strange as an experiment during an era where the landscape was changing.
The plot of Rich and Strange fascinated me, mostly because I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Knowing Hitchcock, I was expecting a murder on the cruise ship, or a robbery or conspiracy. But nothing like that happened. It actually felt more like a Woody Allen film. We simply watch as money and lavish experiences spoiled the couple to the point where they become selfish and cruel to one another (him more than her). Then we see the relationship come back around after the money is gone and their lives are threatened. It’s such a rambling plot that it teeters on the edge of boring everyone, but right when you think, “Ok, where the hell is this going,” it shows you where. And that somewhere is outrageous. Then the plot levels out and strings you along for another extended period of nothing until the next big event.
The film has a strong message about the effects of materialism and discontent. It basically screams, BE HAPPY WHERE YOU ARE WITH YOUR LIFE, AND STOP BITCHING! Does Rich and Strange serve as a viable warning? Not really. I highly doubt any of us are going to inherit a ton of money, immediately dress up as offensive caricatures of Arabs, and then dance around on the deck of a cruise ship. (I told you this film was a little racist!)
I’d say Rich and Strange is definitely an interesting and entertaining watch, but not something you can passively view (due to the many visual cues and physical humor). I’d recommend this if you’ve just started dating someone super cute and slightly artsy (who might be into film or Jackson Pollock or listens to vinyl or just walked out of a Wes Anderson film… someone like that), and you’ve moved on to the “let me cook you dinner at my place” stage of things. Make some risotto, pop a bottle (or three if your date is like me), and watch this movie together. Best date ever, I promise.
I give it an A-!