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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Action > Conspiracy > Murder > Spy > British > Nazis > Drama > Romance > Psychology > Biography > Tel > The 39 Steps (1935/HItchcock/Criterion Blu-ray)/Rebecca (1940)/Notorious (1946)/Spellbound (1945/Selznick/MGM Blu-rays)/The Girl (2012/HBO Telefilm/Warner Archive DVD)/Seconds (1966/Paramount/Criterio

The 39 Steps (1935/Criterion Blu-ray)/Rebecca (1940)/Notorious (1946)/Spellbound (1945/Selznick/MGM Blu-rays)/The Girl (2012/HBO Telefilm/Warner Archive DVD)/Seconds (1966/Paramount/Criterion Blu-ray)/The Fury (1978/De Palma/Fox/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)

 

Picture: B (Girl: C+)     Sound: B- (Girl: C+)     Extras: B/B-/B-/B-/C/B/B-     Films: B/B/B/A-/C+/A-/B

 

 

PLEASE NOTE: The Girl DVD is only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below, while The Fury Blu-ray is limited to 3,000 copies and is available exclusively at the Screen Archives website which can be reached at the other link at the end of this review.

 

 

The feature film thriller goes back to the silent era, with the earliest narratives even dealing with crime and German Expressionism becoming particularly dark.  When sound arrived, it gave the genre more possibilities and produced some of the best earliest films, with Alfred Hitchcock quickly establishing himself as the master of the form as early as his silent-era hit The Lodger (1926, recently restored, so expect a Blu-ray soon) as well as the premiere filmmaker in all of British Cinema.

 

Unlike some of his contemporaries, he not only survived into the sound era, he innovated it and thrived in it, so by the time his original The 39 Steps arrived in 1935, his international reputation followed him and the film was a huge hit as well.  It also helped him establish the fledgling Spy genre which eh would revisit and be the architect of even as the Bond films in the 1960s (he turned down directing the first Bond, Dr. No (1962) because he thought it too routine) as that more commercial variant took off.

 

Now on a fine new Blu-ray from Criterion, this landmark thriller has Robert Donat as Richard Hannay, finding that a deadly murder plot is under way and when those putting it together find out he knows, they hunt him down!  Falling for a pretty young woman named Pamela (the fun Madeline Carroll), they land up being chased together as they try to solve the mysteries behind the goings on as they are constantly assaulted and he gets framed in the process to make it easier to get rid of him!

 

Despite the film’s age, it holds up very well, offers ideas Hitchcock would revisit (and many others, including the Bond producers would take from) and continues to have the right combination of romance, suspense, intelligence and atmosphere that kept Hitchcock as one world cinema’s true giants.  Whether you have never seen it before or if it has been a while, you have got to see it on this Blu-ray because it is like never having seen it before, ever.  Great film!

 

Peggy Ashford, Lucie Mannheim and John Laurie also star.

 

Extras include a nicely illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and an essay by David Cairns on the film, while the Blu-ray adds a fine feature length audio commentary track by Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane, Hitchcock: The Early Years (2000) documentary, new Leonard Leff visual essay on the film, original Production Design drawings, audio excerpt from Hitchcock’s legendary 1962 interview with Francois Truffaut on his career covering this film, complete 1937 Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the film with Ida Lupino and Robert Montgomery in the leads, and original footage from Mike Scott’s 1966 TV interview with Hitchcock including covering this film.

 

 

Hitchcock was on a roll in his home country when he got the chance to go to Hollywood, something he wanted to do and when he had the chance, he and his wife took it.  The offer was from mega-producer David O. Selznick and though it would land up being a rocky relationship, it would also be a prolific one and three of the best films form that period have been issued on Blu-ray, first as singles and then as an Alfred Hitchcock Collection set.  Rebecca (1940), Notorious (1946) and Spellbound (1945) were all incredibly huge critical and commercial successes for both men, though Hitchcock made the films for the most part and is the author for all intents and purposes.  Still, Selznick backed them with his clout and are the highlights of a relationship that sadly collapsed quickly.

 

Rebecca adapted the Daphne Du Maurier novel about a widow (Lawrence Olivier) who finds a new woman he wants to marry (Joan Fontaine) and she loves him, until they get to his isolated mansion home Manderley.  There, he finds the late Mrs. Rebecca De Winter is still alive and well in the way the place was kept, built, decorated and tended to by the home’s maid (Judith Anderson in a classic creepy performance) who cannot let go of the first wife and could care less about the new lady of the house.

 

Creepy, suspenseful and haunting (from the visuals to Franz Waxman’s score), the film won the Best Picture Academy Award (which Selznick accepted without thanking Hitchcock, who never got an Oscar for his directing) and it was an instant success for all and a classic.  Some aspects of the film have aged very well, a few have not and it is often referenced for the Anderson’s character being only implicitly/possibly lesbian and obsessed with Rebecca in all kinds of ways (Diana Rigg would win an Emmy for playing the same role more explicitly in a recent TV version) but that just makes it all the more wild and other-worldly.  On Blu-ray, that experience comes easy to enjoy and become involved in, so this is the best version on home video ever easily.

 

Notorious was another spy thriller involving a plot that once again would include the Nazis as Cary Grant plays a spy who gets an innocent woman (Ingrid Bergman) to seduce a Nazi spy (Claude Rains) to find out what they are up to in Rio de Janeiro and the plot was so cutting edge, U.S, Intelligence in real life investigated the filmmakers to find out what was going on.  With a winning screenplay by Ben Hecht, it is a sometimes disturbing thriller about how far people will go to get what they want, it gets ugly at times and along with the plot, keeps the film surprisingly relevant.

 

Of course, Bergman was one of the best actresses Hitchcock ever worked with and she is amazing here, while Grant is at his early suave best, so their chemistry is stunning and as the plot is slowly revealed, it makes the stakes of what is going on more and more intense.  Another great must-see thriller, it too has never looked better than it does on this Blu-ray.

 

If all those films were impressive classics, Hitchcock found himself with even more cutting edge material in the way of psychology in Spellbound, a film that I feel is the biggest of Hitchcock’s early breakthrough films and more than any other early film, establishes his full reign as a filmmaking giant above and beyond his previous work.  Bergman is back playing a female psychiatrist and expert in human behavior at a renowned mental hospital when they are expecting the arrival of a new doctor to help their patients and continue their groundbreaking work and reputation.

 

But something is wrong when Dr. Edwardes (a young Gregory Peck in a terrific, early, star-making appearance) arrives and she figures out he is not who he says he is.  He dopes not even know who he is!  So what is going on?  Then someone has been murdered, the police get involved, she falls in love with him and the chase is on.

 

With a stunning score by Miklos Rozsa, classic Ben Hecht screenplay, great supporting cast, landmark dream sequences with art backgrounds by controversial surrealist painter Salvador Dali and plenty of twists and turns, Hitchcock was at the top of his game here and it was a long time before other films of any kind caught up with the material all were dealing with here.  A masterwork of unspeakable magnitude, it remains a brilliant triumph by Hitchcock and is a gem that everyone should consider a must-see.  Michael Chekhov, Rhonda Fleming, John Emery and Leo G. Carroll also star.

 

Extras include Original Theatrical Trailers on each for their respective films, feature length audio commentary tracks (Richard Schickel on Rebecca, two separate tracks by Rick Jewell and Drew Casper on Notorious, Thomas Schatz and Charles Ramirez Bergh sharing a single track on Spellbound), with Rebecca adding Screen Tests, Hitchcock Audio Interview, Radio Plays, a Making Of featurette, Isolated Music & Effects Track and featurette The Gothic World Of Daphne Du Marier, Notorious adding an Isolated Music & Effects Track, Hitchcock Audio Interview, 1948 radio remake with Ingrid Bergman & Joseph Cotton, Restoration Comparison, and three featurettes: The American Film Institute Awards: The Key To Hitchcock, The Ultimate Romance: The Making Of Notorious and Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Spymaster.  Spellbound does not fall short either and adds an Isolated Music & Effects Track, Hitchcock Audio Interview, its own 1948 radio remake and three other featurettes: A Cinderella Story: Rhonda Fleming, Dreaming With Scissors: Hitchcock, Surrealism and Salvador Dali and Guilt By Association: Analyzing Spellbound.  All are very well made and presented.

 

 

Hitchcock eventually left Selznick and landed up at several studios, including Warner Bros. where he found himself making a few classics and odd misses, then to Paramount, where he eventually made several big screen VistaVision thrillers that were successful classic in the mid to late 1950s, but he was criticized for losing his edge, especially as films like Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955, see the Criterion Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) became worldwide thriller phenomenons.  As Michael Powell went solo to make the shocking, stunning, brilliant Peeping Tom (1960), Hitchcock made Psycho (1960, reviewed elsewhere on this site, but beware the problematic Blu-ray print) proving he was still the Master Of Suspense, but it would be downhill from there for years.  Why?

 

 

Julian Jarrold’s The Girl (2012) gives us an idea.  Trying to find a follow-up to Psycho, Hitchcock landed Du Maurier’s book The Birds and made it into a film released in 1963 and it was a hit.  Looking for a new lead actress and wanting blonde women badly, he hired a model named Tippi Hendren and signed her to an exclusive contract.  At first, it seemed all would go well, but this version of the story has harsher Hitchcock (played by the underrated Toby Jones) interested in having sex with her holding the threat of destroying her above her head.  With is wife (Imelda Stanton) not doing much to stop this, Tippi (Sienna Miller in a great performance) has to tolerate all of it and the trouble continues on Marnie (released in 1964) with Sean Connery as her co-star.

 

Like Vertigo, Marnie becomes a critical and commercial failure, but in recent years has not had the rediscovery of the earlier film as an important work.  Scorsese rightly calls it Hitchcock’s most complex use of color and we see this by default in this telefilm, but Hitchcock was unhappy, Hendren getting worn out by it all and enough of what we see here is convincing even if it may not be all accurate and at least some of it arguable.  It is a sad chapter in filmmaking as Hitchcock is unhappy with changes in filmmaking that includes leaving the studio, in the old studio system collapsing and his power as a filmmaker and to make stars of new actors also fades.

 

Hendren at least gets some of this put on her in the way of misdirected anger and the teleplay never makes apologies for him.  We’ll never know his side (or his wife’s for that matter) of the story, but it was an ugly time behind the scenes and though I love Hitchcock and really like Hendren, The Girl rings with enough truth that it is hard not to watch and be sad as everything slowly crumbles for all.

 

Release online only as a Warner Archive DVD, this was shown on HBO and not enough people saw it.  I would recommend it, but see The Birds and Marnie first, and if you have seen the Anthony Hopkins Hitchcock film about how he made Psycho, expect something darker here.

 

The only extra is a brief interview with the real Tippi Hendren.

 

 

As Hitchcock made Torn Curtain and Topaz, retreating somewhat into more leisurely spy narratives that were meant to be more realistic than the James Bond model, he also lost composer Bernard Herrmann after rejecting his score for Marnie and replacing him (Herrmann moved on to creating classic scores for other new cutting edge filmmakers) and other directors were making effective thrillers that picked up where Hitchcock left off.

 

 

One such film was John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (1966), a disturbing psychological thriller that took the transfer of identity to a new level by having an unhappy older whiter collar businessman (John Randolph) finding unhappiness and not the lifetime of joy he expected or was even implicitly promised by begin successful as a working man in the suburbs, wife, children and all.  However, he has heard of a strange opportunity to get a new life.  After making some mysterious contacts, he meets some various people at a mysterious company that make him a promise that is hard to believe.

 

For a decent sum of money, they will give him a new life, identity and craziest of all (especially for the time), use advanced plastic surgery to rebuild his face into a younger face from decades ago, make sure a corpse that looks like him turns up ‘dead’ in an ‘accident’ and put him up in a paradise where he can have a fun, free, new life of love, happiness, warmth, joy, progress and a better future that will extend his life overall.

 

Sounds too good to be true, but they keep their word and he looks great (now played by Rock Hudson in one of his best-ever films and performances) following his long-abandoned dream of being a successful painter, meeting sexy women, falling for a particular woman (Salome Jens) and living in a beach house most could never afford to have.

 

But something starts to go wrong.  He starts to realize maybe something is not totally realistic, naturalistic, honest, true or joyful about this after all.  After all of this trouble, he is who he is and though he though he worked this all out in advance, something is not right, not well, so he starts to have critical thinking and reconsideration about it all, but the film itself (and its remarkable screenplay by Lewis John Carlino, based on the David Ely novel) has much more to say about this, much more to show, much more thinking is going on here and the result is one of the greatest thrillers ever made, more than worthy of Hitchcock or any other filmmaker.  Frankenheimer might be the greatest American journeyman filmmaker ever and if not, he is very close to it.  With innovative, groundbreaking, complex camera work and haunting themes, Seconds is ingenious throughout, never lets up and was one of the first films in what we now consider the American New Wave of filmmaking that began in this year of 1966 and lasted until the early 1980s when politics ended it.  Consider it a must-0see film if you love movies, but expect a dark journey.

 

Extras include a nicely illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and Born Again essay by David Sterritt, while the Blu-ray adds a vintage feature length audio commentary track by Frankenheimer that is another one of his winning commentaries that you must hear after seeing the film, 1971 Frankenheimer interview clip, R. Robert Palmer & Murray Pomerance with a visual essay on the film, new Making Of piece that includes interviews with Evans Frankenheimer and co-star Salome Jens, new intro/interview on the film by Alec Baldwin and a fine 1965 full color clip of Rock Hudson making the film and talking about it from an episode of Hollywood On The Hudson.

 

 

Finally we get to the one filmmaker more closely associated with Hitchcock than any other, Brian De Palma.  Though may have considered him a rip-off artist when it comes to Hitchcock’s works, that is as overstated as it is misunderstood.  Writer Robin Wood (seethe book Hollywood, From Vietnam To Reagan… And Beyond, reviewed elsewhere on this site) understood this and you can see this in De Palma’s work as well if you pay attention.

 

After many moderate and small successes, his 1976 adaptation of then little-known Stephen King’s Carrie (reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) was a big hit.  Like several of Hitchcock’s films, the visuals and themes suggested the supernatural, but nothing supernatural ever shows up in a Hitchcock film and the same tends to be true (so far?) or De Palma.  Carrie was a hit about the title character finding out she has telekinetic powers (mind power concentration that can move objects) and uses it to eventually protect her from society and classmates trying to hurt her.  United Artists did well with it, but De Palma wanted them to push it like Universal pushed Jaws, but UA disagreed and it did not reach the audience he believed it could have.

 

This is why The Fury (1978) became his next film, an all out thriller about terrorism, espionage and a secret government project to study the mind and control anyone with exceptional telekinetic powers for military use.  Kirk Douglas is the older CIA spy who is enjoying some fun on the beach with his son (Andrew Stevens) and old government buddy (John Cassavetes) when there is a massive un attack on the beach and all hell breaks loose.

 

Douglas seems to have been killed, but he escapes, though his son thinks he is dead and old friend is actually working against him.  The older men know Robin (Stevens) has telekinetic powers as does his sister Gillian (Amy Irving) who is being manipulated as Robin will soon be seduced to control him.  With the father on the run (in the Hitchcock mode of being wanted for something he did not do) he starts to find out things are getting worse and worse, plus that he has been more betrayed than he thought.

 

Cassavetes is up to more than we even realize in a mad scheme and the film gets very gruesome and bloody in its final scenes, but the mix of styles did not gain the film much critical acclaim at the time and with audiences more interested in escapism like Star Wars (both from the same studio, 20th Century-Fox), the film did not find the audience De Palma though Carrie missed and the film (possibly intended as a series, as the book it was based on was the beginning of a series) resulting in a disappointment all around.

 

That’s a shame because this has some great moments throughout, is as relevant as ever politically, has its blood and guts in context to a smart, complex-enough plot and still has plenty of creepy moments now.  Carrie Snodgress and Charles Durning are among the supporting cast that help make this work and very little has dated much, with Chicago well used as a fine setting for a nice chunk of the film.  However, some might find some scenes over-the-top, others unintentionally funny (for reasons from the analog effects to subtle moves that might to ring darkly enough) but it is now one of De Palma’s most underrated films and he would abandon being this experimental for his next few films, which were dark, outright thrillers (you can include his Gangster genre work in Scarface and The Untouchables if you think about it) and the fact that this is a limited edition Blu-ray in the U.S. just verifies my claim.

 

That does not take away from its successes and validity as a thriller.  Since then, Carrie has been remade twice (including a new, if delayed 2013 second remake and stage musical (!)) and a remake of this film has surfaced several times in recent years, possibly as a franchise series.  But the fact remains that Carrie and The Fury made telekinesis a permanent part and possibility in thriller filmmaking and very soon after this film, a young Canadian filmmaker named David Cronenberg put himself on the map with a film more than similar to The Fury entitled Scanners (1981, reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) which spawned a few bad sequels, talks recently of a remake and had a gore scene that topped all the ones in this film.  Telekinesis has been cinematically with us since and is now a permanent fixture in genre narratives, which is why you should see The Fury, especially on this special edition Blu-ray while supplies last.

Extras include a nicely illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and another fine Julie Kirgo essay, Original Theatrical Trailer and Kohn Williams’ music score as an Isolated Music Track.

 

 

The 1080p image on all the Blu-ray releases are impressive throughout, even when they have minor issues.  The 1.33 X 1 black and white image on Steps easily the best the film has ever looked from the endless parade of public domain copies we have suffered through over the decades (extending to TV broadcast prints) to even the old 12” LaserDisc and DVD Criterion issued a long time ago.  The new edition is mastered from a fine grain master positive that bring out warmth, range, depth and detail that will be a revelation for many.  We can finally see how clever Director of Photography Bernard Knowles really was in his approach to expanding visually upon the suspense and action.

 

As many Hitchcock fans know, Rebecca, Spellbound and Notorious actually were issued in extensive Criterion DVD editions before MGM pulled all of their titles from the company a few years ago.  Of course, MGM is licensing titles to Criterion and many hoped these three would be included, but MGM had done special edition DVDs of their own and they issued the titles on their own in this case.  The great news is that in all three cases, their 1.33 X 1 AVC @ 38 MBPS (each) black and white image presentations surpass the MGM and Criterion DVDs previously issued with much richer Video Black, better depth, better detail and warmer images that have better gray scale range.  I have seen fine 35mm prints of all three and through there is some minor detail and subtle aspects still missing (guess they are going to need Ultra HD releasing), I was very happy with the results and they will impress fans nonetheless.

 

The 1.75 X 1 black and white image  digital High Definition image transfer on Seconds is also often stunning, coming from the best 35mm sources available, but some footage is a generation down, showing the age of the materials used and the restoration needed to fix the film.  Nevertheless, most shots are fine, some of amazing demo quality and not only does it surpass all previous DVD editions, but you can really see the subtle intent of Director of Photography James Wong Howe, A.S.C. (Hud among so many others) using the monochrome film stocks to create a pointed realism and surrealism that makes the film deeply involving from the start.  You can also appreciate the advanced strategy of form Howe and Frankenheimer brought to the film better than anywhere outside of a quality 35mm or 16mm print.  Terrific!

 

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Fury is the only HD color presentation here, but despite minor issues, this film too has never looked better on home video, you can see the atmosphere De Palma and Director of Photography Richard H. Kline (the first ever Star Trek feature film in 1979, the 1976 King Kong) mixes the modern thriller look of the time with Horror genre imagery and surreal Thriller approaches out of Hitchcock to create a wild hybrid that is still effective, stunning and has not lost its ability to be odd or bizarre, which helps keep the film a one-of-a-kind visual experience that only this script and material could make possible.  Some shots look more dated than others, but that is not a bad thing in this case.  The print could sue some work, but the intent is clearer than ever.

 

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on The Girl DVD is the weakest presentation here by default being the only standard definition format release on the list, but it has form as good as the Hopkins Hitchcock film and can offer fine color range despite the detail, depth and definition limits.  Too bad this was not on Blu-ray.

 

 

The PCM 1.0 Mono presentations by Criterion on Steps and Seconds are both form fine audio masters and sound as good as they ever have with Steps using an optical master source and Seconds using a magnetic sound source.  The result in both cases is audio detail never heard before hardly anywhere in either case, down to the music scores by Louis Levy (for the music we do get) and the legendary Jerry Goldsmith in one of the best scores of so many in his vast career.

 

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 1.0 Mono on Rebecca, Spellbound and Notorious also benefit remarkably from their lossless presentations (and make me wish for stereo in all cases) and the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 4.0 lossless mix on Fury can be towards the front speakers, but this was a film originally designed for 4-track magnetic sound presentations on the best 35mm screenings and that makes this mix very faithful to the original presentation down to John Williams’ highly underrated score.

 

That leaves the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on The Girl well recorded and professionally mixed, but lacking in warmth and soundfield.  Maybe a lossless presentation would fare better.

 



To order The Girl, go to this link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at:

 

http://www.warnerarchive.com/

 

 

…and The Fury can be ordered while supplies last at:

 

www.screenarchives.com

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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