Candlelight and Shadowplay
Feel like I’m treading on Shahn’s territory here:
But all this is just to prove the point that Hitchcock’s NUMBER 17 is a very lovely film. Regular cinematographer John Cox outdoes himself with expressionist jangles of blackness and whiteness, exploiting the surprising shapes of Wilfred Arnold’s impressive set.
I’d also like to gently scold Paul Merton, whose TV show Paul Merton Looks at Hitchcocksuggested that the film was stagey and uninteresting, apart from the use of model shots for the climax. A preponderance of interiors does not make a film stagey, and certainly not when it crackles with kinetic energy like this one. Maybe he’s referring to some of the acting (Leon M. Lion, stand up. What’s that? You ARE standing up? Oh, excuse me) but if so he’s muddled the message. Paul Merton Fails to Look at Hitchcock.
But I’m grateful to that show for bringing on nine-million-year-old British cameraman Gilbert Taylor to talk about working on the film as a clapper loader: how he was almost decapitated by a low bridge when filming atop a moving train, which would have deprived us of the future cinematographer of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT*, REPULSION and STAR WARS (where he displeased George Lucas by routinely referring to Chewbacca as “the dog”); and how members of the camera crew would torment each other by purposefully breaking wind within the sweltering confines of the soundproof camera booth. Whenever you see the camera wobble in an early ’30s film, just think of that, have sympathy, and provide a descriptive sound effect.
*Taylor was greatly disturbed by the frenzy of Beatlemania and declined to work on the follow-ip film, HELP! Such was the high-pitched screaming of fans that one member of the camera department reportedly lost a tooth. I know, that makes no sense, but there it is.