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
Fury (1978/De Palma/Fox/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)
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.
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.
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!
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
Ashford, Lucie Mannheim and John Laurie also star.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
extra is a brief interview with the real Tippi Hendren.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
…and The Fury can be ordered while supplies
- Nicholas Sheffo