At least the title’s accurate. Rich and Strange is a weird, weird movie. A failure upon release, both critically and commercially, Rich and Strange can’t be called a “good” film, but it has a bizarre allure to it.
Meet the perpetually disgruntled Fred (Henry Kendall) and his mundane, suburban life. He and wife Emily (Joan Barry) unexpectedly inherit a large legacy and use it to escape their frustrations with a luxury cruise around the world.
The first half of the film plays out like a Noël Coward comedy as both of them begin to simultaneously form adulterous romances aboard the ship. Emily is swept up by a seemingly gentlemanly Englishman (Percy Marmont), while Fred falls for an exotic “Princess” (Betty Amann) who he struggles to kiss through an inconveniently positioned veil.
The second half of the movie is more serious as Fred and Emily have the nasty realisation that their romantic entanglements aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. They end up penniless and trapped on a rickety old cargo-boat. Their difficult journey home becomes the focus of the film’s second half and results in an extremely disjointed tone.
There are a few highlights in the first half such as the opening slapstick sequence in the London rush hour, an amusing portrayal of sick-sickness and a disorientating montage of Paris where Fred and Emily’s heads flick wildly from left to right in a sight-seeing mania. Other than that, there’s not much fun to be had.
As for the more serious bits in second half, they’re often just WTF moments. There’s one scene where Fred and Emily watch in passive silence as a poor Chinese sailor drowns to death. After it’s over, it’s never mentioned again. Um…What? Where did this come from? What was the point of it?
But the main problem is Fred and Emily aren’t interesting enough to hold up the movie in either half. This can’t be blamed on the actors (Joan Barry proved her acting capabilities with her vocals performance in Blackmail), it’s the script that gives them nothing to worth with. They’re bitter, unpleasant buffoons.
In many respects Rich and Strange is a mess. But it’s an atypical kind of mess that it kept my interest along the way.