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.

10 Responses to “Candlelight and Shadowplay”

  1. Arthur S. Says:

    That middle still with the guy looking up the stairs. The use of light is very Altonish.

    NUMBER 17 is a Hitchcock film I’ve been wanting to see a while. Many call it one of his most special British films.

  2. Funny you should bring up the Beatles. Today’s New York Times has a piece about sonically retooled releases of their catalogue scheduled for September. The above images are all very striking, once again I’m tantalized, going to have to try and see this one soon. Love the anecdote about Chewbacca, AKA “the dog”. Lucas seems a humorless sort, I would have enjoyed seeing his reaction. And shahn’s on a wee vacation, so she should have no problem with you picking up the slack while she’s absent on leave.

  3. David Boxwell Says:

    Visually, the film is a proto-noir gem. Astonishing, really.

    Impossible to endure: Leon Lion, whoever this no-talent was, and the Dinky Toy action sequences.

  4. David Boxwell Says:

    Perhaps “Number Thirteen” is the most enduring Quota Quickie of them all. Or: the greatest parody of a Quota Quickie ever made (not putting anything past Hitchcock, that sly old puss).

  5. David Boxwell Says:

    Erm, Number Seventeen (self-correction).

  6. Arthur S. Says:

    I’d imagine George would get irritated at someone poking holes into his kiddie fantasy world, seeing it for what it is. Chewbacca is essentially a two legged pomeranian exposed to a really big hair dryer.

    The Beatles were a real 60s phenomenon though cinematically speaking, their films don’t compare with the stuff the Stones were part of – PERFORMANCE, GIMME SHELTER, SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, SHINE A LIGHT. The main reason being that The Beatles weren’t very good performing live. In the finale of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, the audience’s ecstacy is more interesting than the band’s performance. Not so with the Stones!!! Great band though.

  7. Chris B Says:

    Just so you know, Lester’s THE BED SITTING ROOM is being released on both DVD and Blu-ray in the UK!!

  8. Yes! Excited about this, especially since TCM cancelled their screening of it. Never seen it in WS.

    I love A Hard Day’s Night and Help! but Lester’s The Knack, made in between, is the masterpiece.

    As good as No 17 is, the Vorhaus films I’ve seen from the period may be even better.

    I don’t mind the toy trains too much, but some people (like Paul Merton) have claimed that for the BEST BIT. Strongly disagree.

  9. Beautiful screen snaps!
    I’m holding off on most of my Hitchcock viewing ’til you’ve completed your series, but I’m quite excited for you to reach Aventure Malgache. It’s one of my favorite of Hitchcock’s films.

  10. Haven’t see that in years, but I have a copy waiting. It’s not one of the 52 features I’ve undertaken to watch, but I’ll be watching it anyway, and writing something.

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