When a man chases his windblown hat into the courtyard of a creepy looking house, he goes inside to investigate. There he finds all manner of odd occurrences, beginning with a corpse on the landing, a strange man attending to the deceased, and a woman falling through the roof. When even more unusual people begin showing up, it’s clear something out of the ordinary is going on.
As with most of Hitchcock’s early films, I’d heard nothing about this film prior to watching it, so had very little to expect upon the viewing. As such I was pleasantly surprised to discover this relatively unknown gem, full of surprises, quirky characters and unusual occurrences. Unfortunately, the twisty nature of the plot, which sees you never further than a couple of minutes from the next revelation, character introduction or the revealing of someone turning out to not be whom they originally appeared, makes it relatively difficult to discuss without giving away any spoilers, seeing as there are so many to be given away! Considering the film clocks in at just a few minutes over an hour, that’s some impressive script work. It does render the plot a trifle confusing at times, but I got through it having largely understood everything that was going on, and without thinking a second viewing was required.
In total there are eight characters in the film, which although not sounding like a lot there are times when the story doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. The finale – the only section of the film to take place outside of the main house, which is an almost jarring leap considering how close-quarters everything had been prior to those scenes – actually abandons at least two of the formerly main three characters in favour of the lead rounding out the plot, which no longer has a use for those other two. This is unusual, but not necessarily bad, and in fact it was refreshing to see story being given precedent for a change.
Acting-wise, the only real stand-out comes in the form of Leon M. Lion, who plays Ben, the first person our main hero (John Stuart) encounters within the house. Ben stands out from all the rest because he’s the more comical, wildly different character, in that he seems to be the only person who genuinely doesn’t want to be in the house, and is just caught up in everything. The fact that he’s more of a commoner (he actually says the phrase “Gawd luv a duck!”) and keeps a sausage in his pocket for snacking purposes adds to this. He reminded me a lot of Tim Blake Nelson in O Brother, Where Art Thou? – a well meaning simpleton who is just trying to help, but remains looked down upon by his more intellectual companions. Plus, they look similar too.
In the end, I lost count of the number of plot twists, and I didn’t see the final important turn coming, which is unusual for me. The film has a lot of issues, mainly stemming from the potential for confusion, some silly plotholes – a body disappears whilst two people are sat watching it – and elements that seemed they would become set pieces but are resolved far too quickly to become anything noteworthy, but I would still recommend it as a stepping stone in Hitchcock’s career, and a fun little movie that will keep you guessing until the end.
Choose Film 7/10