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ALFRED HITCHCOCK:
 THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION

Often referred to as The Master of Suspense, director Alfred Hitchcock was indeed one of the true geniuses of the cinema. In a career that spanned from the silent era until the 1970’s Hitchcock created more than his fair share of films that are now considered masterpieces. Hitchcock began his career in his native England, which he made a reputation for himself as a director of efficient British thrillers. However, Hitchcock’s career really blossomed when he came to America and began a successful association with producer David O. Selznick (starting with the 1940 Academy Award winning Best Picture REBECCA).

NORTH BY NORTHWEST Eventually, Hitchcock became an independent producer/director, who set up shop at various studios, where he would make many of the greatest (and occasionally lesser) films of his career. This of course, brings us one to the home of a large portion of the director’s output, and specifically to the Warner Home Video release of the ALFRED HITCHCOCK: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION, which features the following nine movies: FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, SUSPICION, MR. & MRS. SMITH, STAGE FRIGHT, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, I CONFESS, DIAL M FOR MURDER, THE WRONG MAN, and NORTH BY NORTHWEST (a full review of the excellent current edition of NORTH BY NORTHWEST can be found HERE).

*****

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTFOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) is high entertainment in the fashion of Hitchcock’s earlier British thrillers, but with a more refined style that offers one a foretaste of the director’s later works like NORTH BY NORTHWEST. In FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, Joel McCrea portrays American crime reporter John Jones, saddled with the moniker Huntley Haverstock, who finds himself assigned to Europe to cover the news of the impending war. Of course with his reporter’s nose for news, Jones finds himself on the trail of a spy network responsible for faking the assassination of an important diplomat. The first rate cast of FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT also includes Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Robert Benchley, Edmund Gwenn, Eduardo Ciannelli, Harry Davenport and Albert Bassermann, who picked up an Oscar nomination for his memorable supporting performance.

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT has been given a very solid black and white full screen transfer that should please fans. Sharpness and detail are generally quite good, with only occasional softness in shots employing process work. Blacks are accurate, as are the white and the grayscale has nice range and produces significant depth. The film elements have some blemishes and a grain structure is noticeable much of the time, but neither detracts from the presentation. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is free from significant hiss or distortions, with the sound reproducing without incident. Dialogue is pretty crisp and maintains complete intelligibility. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included. Extras include the making of documentary Personal History: Foreign Hitchcock (thirty-three minutes) and a theatrical trailer.

*****

SUSPICIONSUSPICION (1941) marks Hitchcock’s first cinematic association with one of his favorite leading men- namely Cary Grant. SUSPICION finds Grant portraying Johnnie Aysgarth, a gentleman of a somewhat dubious past, who woos and weds the wealthy Lina McLaidlaw (Oscar winner Joan Fontaine, who served Hitchcock equally well in REBECCA). Eventually, events from Johnnie’s past come under suspicion, especially when it comes to look as though he may have married Lina for her money and that he is planning to murder her for an inheritance. With SUSPICION, Hitchcock plays up the red herrings and certainly plants more than an air of suspicion about his leading man. The performances in SUSPICION are uniformly excellent, with the supporting cast mining Hollywood’s British colony for authentic portrayals. Supporting players include Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce, Dame May Whitty and Leo G. Carroll.

SUSPICION has received a great looking black and white full screen transfer that produces a generally sharp and well-defined image. Harry Stradling employs typical Hollywood glamour photography, which uses a bit of diffusion that can soften up the image in places. Blacks appear velvety, whites are completely stable and there is a good deal of nuance to the film’s grayscale. The film elements display modest amounts of blemishes and mild scratches, as well as some grain, but none of it is particularly bothersome. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack sounds good for its age, being free of background hiss and other anomalies. Franz Waxman’s Oscar nominated score sounds pleasant enough, despite age related limitations in fidelity. Dialogue is crisply rendered and easy to understand. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included. Extras include Before The Fact: Suspicious Hitchcock, a twenty-minute look at the making of the film, as well as, a theatrical trailer.

*****

MR. & MRS. SMITHIt is said that MR. & MRS. SMITH (1941) is a film that Hitchcock directed as a personal favor to leading lady Carole Lombard. However, as a comedy, MR. & MRS. SMITH is a film that Hitchcock fans often brush aside- reasoning that it was an unworthy project for The Master of Suspense. Personally, I think MR. & MRS. SMITH is one of the funniest screwball comedies of the period and film demonstrative of Hitchcock’s affinity for comedy and the sense of humor for which the director was often noted. Carole Lombard stars with Robert Montgomery as the happily married title couple, who are made aware of a clerical error that renders their marriage null and void. What follows is a comic misunderstanding requiring Mr. Smith to woo and win back the affection of his reluctant bride. The cast of MR. & MRS. SMITH also includes Gene Raymond, Jack Carson, Philip Merivale, Lucile Watson, William Tracy and Charles Halton.

MR. & MRS. SMITH features a terrific looking black and white full screen transfer. The image appears very sharp and produces great detail. Blacks are inky, whites are pure and the picture produces excellent grayscale. The film elements appear quite clean for their age, with minimal blemishes to remind one that the movie is more than sixty years old. There is a mild grain structure to remind one they are watching a movie and not a video. Most of the background hiss and surface noise have been cleaned from the Dolby Digital soundtrack, leaving one with a smooth and stable sonic experience. Dialogue is crisp and maintains full intelligibility. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included. Extras include the sixteen-minute making of program Mr. Hitchcock Meets The Smiths, plus a theatrical trailer.

*****

STAGE FRIGHTWhile I look on STAGE FRIGHT (1950) as one of Hitchcock’s most flawed films (for reasons better left unmentioned to those who have never seen it), I cannot dismiss the movie entirely, as it remains a highly entertaining and enjoyable little thriller. The plot of STAGE FRIGHT follows young acting student Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), as she tries to help prove that her friend Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) has been falsely accused of murdering the husband of famous actress Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich). Eve manages to secure a temporary job for Charlotte, hoping that her amateur sleuthing will allow her to point the finger of guilt away Jonathan. However, things become decidedly complicated when she becomes personally involved with Detective Inspector Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding)- the chief investigator on the Inwood murder case. The fine cast of STAGE FRIGHT also features Alastair Sim, Sybil Thorndike, Kay Walsh and Miles Malleson.

STAGE FRIGHT isn’t the cleanest or best-looking presentation in the ALFRED HITCHCOCK: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION, but the full screen black and white transfer holds up well enough. The picture is reasonably sharp and nicely defined, although a lot of the actresses’ close-ups appear diffuse and slightly soft. Some of the process work also introduces some softness, but it is never excessive. Blacks are accurate; as are the whites, plus the image has more than respectable contrast and variation in the grayscale. There are a few more blemishes than I would have liked to see on the film elements, but they are not a distraction. A grain structure is noticeable throughout the presentation, but it lends a film like quality to the DVD. While the Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is reasonably clean, with only very minor hiss creeping in, the track has some synchronization problems that sometimes become distracting. Still, dialogue remains easy to understand. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included. Extras include Hitchcock And Stage Fright, a twenty minute making of program that should only be viewed after the main feature, as well as a theatrical trailer.

*****

STRANGERS ON A TRAINSTRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) is certainly one of Hitchcock’s greatest and most recognizable cinematic works. Based on Patricia Highsmith novel, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN features an ingenious plot device that should allow two perfect strangers to get away with murder. STRANGERS ON A TRAIN stars Farley Granger as tennis player Guy Haines, who has a chance meeting with Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), a persona who has a bit too much personal information about Guy’s life. Aware that Guy has an unfaithful wife he wishes to divorce, Bruno lays out a plan of crisscrossing murders, one in which Bruno would kill Guy’s wife, and in exchange, Guy would kill Bruno’s interfering father. Although Guy wants nothing to do with Bruno plan, Bruno kills Guy’s wife and then threatens to expose the tennis player as his wife’s murderer if he doesn’t carry out his part of the "bargain." The cast of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN also features Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock, Kasey Rogers and Marion Lorne.

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN comes with a superb full screen black and white presentation that produces a wonderfully sharp and highly defined image that brings out so many subtle details. Blacks appear perfectly velvety, whites are pure and stable, plus the picture produces excellent grayscale and a marvelous sense of depth. The film elements seem virtually pristine, with nary a blemish to remind one that the movie is more than half a century old. One can notice some mild grain during the presentation, but it gives the impression of film, instead of video. Almost all traces of hiss and noise have been scrubbed away on this very fine sounding Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack. Fidelity does have some of the technical limitations of the period, but Dimitri Tiomkin’s terrific score comes across without sounding harsh or brittle. Dialogue is just about perfectly rendered; coming across crisply and without any intelligibility problems. A French language track has also been provided, along with English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Supplements on this two-disc set include a preview version of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, which contains subtle differences from Hitchcock’s theatrical cut. The theatrical version of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN features an audio commentary with Peter Bogdanovich, Joseph Stefano, Andrew Wilson, and Robert Osborne amongst others. Other supplements include the making of documentary program Strangers on a Train: A Hitchcock Classic (thirty-six minutes), Strangers On A Train: An Appreciation By M.Night Shyamalan (twelve minutes) Strangers On A Train: The Victim's P.O.V. (seven minutes with actress Kasey Rogers), The Hitchcocks On Hitch (eleven minutes of home movies narrated by family members), Alfred Hitchcock's Historical Meeting (vintage newsreel footage) and a theatrical trailer.

*****

I CONFESSWhile not one of the big commercial successes of his long career, I CONFESS (1953) is certainly one of Hitchcock’s most personal and interesting films. I CONFESS allows Hitchcock to examine aspects of his own religious upbringing, while utilizing the theme of the innocent man falsely accused, which ran through so many of the director’s films. Montgomery Clift stars as Michael Logan, a catholic priest who hears the confession of a murderer, but is bound by his vows to remain silent. When a past relationship with the murder victim is dredged up, Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) becomes suspicious of Michael. However, after a blackmail plot involving the romance that Michael had with Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter), prior to taking his vows, is exposed, the priest becomes the primary suspect in the murder investigation. The cast of I CONFESS also includes Brian Aherne, Roger Dann, Dolly Haas, Charles Andre, O.E. Hasse, Judson Pratt and Ovila Légaré.

I CONFESS has been given a wonderful black and white, full screen transfer, which produces a crisp and nicely defined image. Sure, there is some diffusion in the cinematography that introduces a bit of softness, but it all looks great. Black are deep and true, whites are clean and the picture produces a nicely varied grayscale, plus a nice dimensional quality. I really have to say; this fine transfer really brings out the beauty of Robert Burks’ Quebec location photography. Minor blemishes are the only signs of age on the film elements. Some grain is noticeable throughout the feature, but is never excessive. Background hiss and other audible anomalies have been cleaned up in the mastering process, which leaves I CONFESS with a smooth, clear sounding Dolby Digital monaural track. Fidelity is fine for the period and the music comes across pleasantly. Dialogue sounds just fine and easy to understand. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included. Extras include the twenty-minute making of program- Hitchcock's Confession: A Look At I Confess, plus newsreel footage of the film’s premiere and a theatrical trailer.

*****

DIAL M FOR MURDERHitchcock is said to have joked that he could have phoned in his directorial job on DIAL M FOR MURDER (1955). However, by utilizing some great camera work, I’ve always thought Hitchcock did a great job with some obviously stage bound material, and yet again, proved his ability to work effectively on a confined set. Based upon Frederick Knott’s play, DIAL M FOR MURDER is one of those drawing room thrillers that worked so marvelously on the stage- thusly the playwright and director saw little need to open up this work for the cameras. The plot of DIAL M FOR MURDER finds former tennis pro Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) plotting to do away with his lovely wife Margot (Grace Kelly), whom he believes has been unfaithful with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Not wishing to get blood on his own hands, Tony blackmails an old acquaintance, Charles Swan (Anthony Dawson), into committing the deed. Unfortunately, Tony’s fine tuned plan goes terribly awry, leaving Margot looking like a murderer and Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) trying to tie everything up into one neat little package.

DIAL M FOR MURDER has been given a highly attractive 2D full screen transfer that proves to be sharp and pretty nicely defined. There is some softness here and there, but it could be a result of the original 3D production techniques. Colors are quite vibrant and the deepest hues are rendered without noise or smearing, while the flesh tones always come across in an appealing manner. Blacks appear accurate, as do the whites. Contrast is generally quite good, although shadow detail can be a bit truncated. The film elements used for the transfer display occasional mild blemishes, but not bad for a movie passed the half-century mark. A noticeable grain structure factors into the presentation, but it is never heavy or distracting. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is undistinguished, but free from hiss and distortion. Fidelity is a bit thin, but the dialogue is understandable. A French language track has also been provided, along with English, French and Spanish subtitles. Extras include the twenty-minute making of program Hitchcock And Dial M, plus 3D: A Brief History, a seven minute look at the process employed for this film, and finally, a theatrical trailer.

*****

THE WRONG MANTHE WRONG MAN could be his ultimate statement on his favorite theme of the innocent man falsely accused. Tinged with his own personal phobia about police and incarceration, THE WRONG MAN is one of the more personal films that Hitchcock directed. Based upon real life events, Hitchcock brings an almost documentary feeling to this story of Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda), a musician who finds himself arrested and accused of committing a series of robberies. Although innocent, the overwhelming evidence of eyewitnesses, who identify Manny as the culprit, leads to an evermore hopeless situation for the musician, as well as his wife Rose, who finds it increasingly difficult to deal with the mental strain. With THE WRONG MAN, Hitchcock paints a bleak portrait of a life spinning out of control and the man at the center, who is powerless to stop it. The cast of THE WRONG MAN also includes Anthony Quayle, Harold Stone, John Heldabrand, Esther Minciotti and Nehemiah Persoff.

THE WRONG MAN is offered on DVD in a 1.78:1 widescreen black and white presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The image generally appears very crisp and nicely defined, although an occasional bit of diffusion will soften individual shots. Blacks are deep, whites appear clean and the picture produces contrast with a nice stark quality that adds to the realism of the story. The film elements are in great shape for their age, with few blemishes being present. A grain structure is noticeable throughout, but it adds to the grittiness of the subject matter. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is clean, clear and free from background hiss and other distortions. Dialogue is always completely understandable, and while there are certain limitations to the fidelity, the music never seems thin or reedy. A French language track has also been provided, along with English, French and Spanish subtitles. Extras include a twenty-minute making of program Guilt Trip: Hitchcock And The Wrong Man, plus a theatrical trailer.

*****

Warner has to be commended for the terrific job they have done with the ALFRED HITCHCOCK: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION, not only do the offer great looking (and sometimes outstanding) presentations for all the films, the DVD also offer some excellent supplemental materials. If you are a Hitchcock fan this collection is a must own. Absolutely recommended.

Note: The nine film ALFRED HITCHCOCK: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION is available on DVD for $99.98, while the individual films are available for $19.98 each, with the exception of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, which is $26.98.

 

ALFRED HITCHCOCK: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION 


The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection (Strangers on a Train Two-Disc Edition / North by Northwest / Dial M for Murder / Foreign Correspondent / Suspicion / The Wrong Man / Stage Fright / I Confess / Mr. and Mrs. Smith)

ENHANCED FOR 16:9 TELEVISIONS 


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 

 

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