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Hitchcock Annual (1994) - Alfred Hitchcock's Number Seventeen (1932): A descriptive shot list




Under contract to British International Pictures from 1927 to 1932, Hitchcock directed ten pictures, most of which, with the exception of Blackmail (1929) and Murder! (1930), were atypical of the films the director was to be associated with later on. Number 17, one of Hitchcock's little known early sound films, was produced in 1931 and released in 1932 by B. I. P. It is a transitional work containing some of the themes such as role-playing, false identities, and the comparison between life and art that the director incorporated into Blackmail and Murder! and was to integrate more fully in his Gaumont-British and American films. Based on the Joseph Jefferson Farjeon play written in 1926, Number 17 was brought to the screen by Leon M. Lion, its producer, who played the Cockney, Ben, on the stage and in the film version. At the time of Number 17's production Hitchcock was anxious to direct a film version of John Van Druten's play, London Wall, but the project was given over to another director who, oddly enough, was interested in Number 17.1 Hitchcock's disinterest in the film was offset by the enjoyment he found in his extensive work with miniatures in the film's chase sequence.

Hitchcock, his wife, Alma Reville, and Rodney Ackland greatly altered the Farjeon stage play's plot, dialogue, characters, and setting to create an odd mixture of the "old dark house" convention for the first half, playing on all the tropes used in such a genre followed in the second half by one of the longest and most thrilling chase sequences on film.

B.I.P. and the public in general were not enthusiastic about Hitchcock's subtle parodying of genres and the director would just as soon have forgotten it. In most Hitchcock scholarship little room is given to the film. Donald Spoto, in his second edition of The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, speaks disparagingly of it, and the book's inaccuracies and dubious conjectures about the film's mise-en-scene do nothing to enhance Number 17's reputation.2 Added to this, the motion picture was unavailable in the United States until the film historian, William K. Everson, had a private screening of the film at the Theodore Huff Film Society in January 1969. He presented the first public screening at The New School in July of 1974, introducing Americans to a minor but greatly atmospheric and swiftly paced movie (a little over 60 minutes) within the Hitchcock canon.3

The shot listing of Number 17 presented here is taken directly from the print distributed by Video Yesteryear and is almost exclusively limited to a transcription of the dialogue from the video cassette print, which is in public domain,4 although the Farjeon play from which the film is derived was also consulted. All shot description, focal distance, and camera movement has been based on the viewing of the video print. A copy of the Hitchcock script for the film seems to exist solely at UCLA and neither the Library of Congress nor the New York State Archives in Albany nor the British Film Institute has a copy of the script·. This shot listing has not made use of the original script at UCLA owned by 20th Century Fox since it was not within the scope of this project to make a comparison between the original script and its theatrical release version.

The abbreviations used in the descriptive shot list are relatively simple:

S: Shot. It appears at the end of most designated focal distances (for example, MS, indicates Medium Shot).

CU: Close Up.

M: Medium.

L: Long.

E: Extreme. It appears in combination with the above abbreviations, as, for example, ELS, indicating Extreme Long Shot.

VO: Voiceover.

The characters in the film are often not what they seem, so describing them can be tricky. I introduce several of the character names-the Uncle, Nephew, and Mute-with quotation marks to indicate that these are figurative and not altogether reliable designations, confirmed most dramatically when the Mute speaks. After the first usage, I drop the quotations marks. Further complications arise at the very end of the film, beginning in shot 645, when it is revealed that Barton's real name is Doyle, and Thorndyke's real name is Barton. The final descriptions of and speech headings for these characters adopt their newly revealed "real" names.


International Pictures

J. Jefferson Farjeon

From the play
"Number Seventeen"

Produced by Leon M. Lion


Alfred Hitchcock


Scenario: Alma Reville
Alfred Hitchcock
Rodney Ackland

Photography: John J. Cox
Byran Langley

Assistant Director: Frank Mills

Art Director: Wilfred Arnold

Sound Recording: A.D. Valentine

Film & Sound Editing: A.C. Hammond

Musical Score: A. Hollis



made and recorded at
Elstree, London

Wardour Films Ltd.


Leon M. Lion
Anne Grey
John Stuart
Donald Calthrop


Barry Jones
Ann Casson
Henry Caine
Garry Marsh


1. FADE IN to a CU of a tree blowing in the wind. Mysterioso music is heard to shot #23. The wind is howling. The camera tilts down and tracks across the pavement strewn with leaves from right to left. A hat blows across the pavement from right to left of the frame and is swept behind a gate to a house. The camera tilts up and in LS a man rushes into the frame from the right to retrieve his hat, which he cleans off and puts on. The camera dollies into him to a tighter LS with his back toward the camera. He looks intently at a lighted window on the ground floor of the house but the light swiftly disappears as the camera tilts up to another lighted window on the floor above. Within the frame toward the right is a sign posted over the entrance to the house. The light from the window disappears once again. [1.00]

2. CU of the sign over the entrance to the door of the house. It is partially hidden by foliage but the words "SALE or would LET" are clearly visible.

3. Camera tilts down in LS to the front of the house. Unidentified man still with his back toward the camera at the extreme right of the frame. The camera pans to the right to get him in the frame in a LS, his back still to the camera as he looks at the entrance and proceeds slowly up to the door, the camera tracking behind him. He looks to the left of the frame where the lit window on the ground floor was and then proceeds right up to the door step. The door opens at a touch and in the interior of the background can be seen a curved staircase. The man is in the foreground of the frame. He looks closely at the door for a name and continues inside, looking left and right in the deserted house. The camera continues to track behind him as he walks inside peering about as if searching for something. As he looks up from the foot of the stairs to the landing above, the camera tilts up following the bannister of the staircase to the landing two floors above the ground floor where in low angle is seen a moving light source. [2.00]

4. LS of the man in profile at the foot of the stairway looking up. He takes a match out of his pocket and lights it and again looks up.

5. Low-angle LS of the bannister on the upper floor. A light is moving about and a figure of a man appears in silhouette grasping a candle stick holder with a lighted candle raised above his head. [3.00]

6. Low-angle LS of the first man walking up stairs in a profile shot with a lighted match. The camera tracks laterally along.

7. Low-angle LS of the silhouetted man on the upper landing with a candle. As he withdraws from the bannister the landing becomes dark.

8. LS of the first man in profile as the camera tracks with him up the stairs.

9. LS of Man 2 walking through a doorway with candle in hand and going down a flight of stairs. His shadow is on the wall.

10. High-angle LS taken from staircase whose bannister is in the foreground of the frame looking toward the front door of house in the background which closes.

11. Low-angle LS of Man 1 looking over the bannister presumably at the front door.

12. MS of Man 2 with candle turning his head from right to left of frame looking up in fear and raising his candle holder.

13. CU of a shadow of a huge hand projected against the wall. Camera tilts down to the railing around the landing and proceeds to track along the bottom of the floor next to the railing and stops at a hand protruding from the landing which has caused the shadow on the wall.

14. MS (as in #12) of Man 2 with the candle.

15. Low-angle LS of Man 1 (rear view) as he holds the bannister on his way to the head of the stairs on one of the landings.

16. CU of Man 2 with candle coming from the left of the frame and moving across the frame in a 3/4 profile shot. A light source coming from the right of the frame.[4.00]

17. High-angle LS of landing well-lit in background as Man 2 on the right side of the landing moves from foreground to the background. He extends the candle in his left hand over the bannister on the landing. As he gets to the background Man 1 comes out from a door which faces the landing and meets Man 2. Man 2 drops the candle. The match in Man 1's hand goes out and the landing is in semi-darkness. Suddenly the sounds of a train are heard outside and the landing is momentarily lit by the train's lights. Man 1 looks down.

18. High-angle MS of a man's dead body on the floor. His hand stretches out from the bannister's railings. His back is to the camera.

19. Extreme low-angle LS of a train speeding by.

20. Low-angle CU of Man 1's astonished face.

21. Low-angle anamorphically distorted CU of Man 2's face, eyes wide open.

22. MS (as in #18) of man's body.

23. LS of stairway. Camera tilts down as Man 2 runs down and stumbles on stairway, sliding the rest of the way and lying on the staircase.

MAN 2: Oh Gawd, Oh Gawd, Oh Gawd!

Man 1 rushes into frame from down the stairs to assist him.

MAN 1: (placing his arm underneath the fallen man's head) That's a help, (then looking around) Now where's the candle? ...

Man 2 takes the candle and lights it. Takes a flask of liquor out of his pocket and gives it to Man 2.

MAN 1: (cont.) Here, have some of this.

MAN 2: (startled) Eh? ... Oh, sure. [5.00]

MAN 1: That's enough.

MAN 2: Love it. Sort of kisses you as...

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Michael Sevastakis teaches at the College of Mt. St. Vincent. He is the author of Songs of Love & Death: The Classical Amencan Horror Film of the 1930s, published by Greenwood Press.


  1. Donald Spoto, The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock (New York: Ballantine Books, 1984), 144.
  2. Donald Spoto, The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, 2nd edition (New York: Anchor Books, 1992), 34. Spoto talks about "a dead body [in the film] that seems never explained." For one thing the "dead body" is very much alive and is the Young Woman's [Ruth Ackroyd] father, who is investigating the jewel thieves. He has been beaten and left for dead by the chief ring leader, Sheldrake. This is made quite clear later on when Sheldrake, fighting with him, says, "I thought I settled with you on the landing?" Spoto also speaks about a young detective and a girl who are handcuffed to a railing which collapses. This remark about handcuffs is made to tie the film to Young and Innocent (1936) and their midair suspension to North by Northwest (1959), but the young detective and the girl are not handcuffed. They are tied with rope and so this image is not relevant to the other film. For Spoto to say that their suspension in midair in "an image which seems to have neither context nor clarity" is at best misleading, since it is he who makes constant comparisons of images among the director's films and suspension in midair is characteristic of a number of Hitchcock thrillers. What other "context" or "clarity" should this concept have in Number 17 than to place the couple in a more precarious situation and to make integral use of the mise-en-scene's expressionistic decor of which the staircase plays an indispensable part.
  3. Phone conversation with William K. Everson, August 21, 1994.
  4. See Irwin Karp, "The Copyright Renewal Trap," Film Comment (January-February, 1990), 12-15.