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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Detective > Drama > Heist > British > Large Frame Format > Alfred Hitchcock 3-Disc Collector’s Edition (Lionsgate/The Ring/The Manxman/Murder!/The Skin Game/Rich & Strange) + To Catch A Thief – Special Collector’s Edition (DVD-Video/Paramount)

Alfred Hitchcock 3-Disc Collector’s Edition (Lionsgate/The Ring/The Manxman/Murder!/The Skin Game/Rich & Strange) + To Catch A Thief – Special Collector’s Edition (DVD-Video/Paramount)

 

Picture: C+ (box set)/B-     Sound: C+     Extras: C/B     Film: B

 

 

When people discuss Alfred Hitchcock’s best-known films, they talk about how rich the themes in each are, almost to a fault.  That includes getting so hung up on the themes that they miss other things going on in the films.  These themes, including illicit transfer of guilty, suspense, the MacGuffin, the politics of male/female relationships, food, animals and death (among other things) have been in his films with some distinction since he began in the silent era.

 

One way to see this is to see certain early films and five of them have been issued by Lionsgate in a solid new DVD set that are all must-see films for anyone interested in The Master of Suspense or film history.  The Alfred Hitchcock 3-Disc Collector’s Edition offers five of his earliest and least seen films, yet ones that deserve a much larger audience.  You can see the growth and progress of one of the most important filmmakers of all time in the films The Ring, The Manxman, Murder!, The Skin Game and Rich & Strange.  At the same time, Paramount has reissued his influential hit thriller To Catch A Thief in a new Special Collector’s Edition that is long overdue and was the beginning of a new stage in Hitchcock’s career.  Like the older films, he was constantly experimenting and being original.

 

The Ring (1928) takes the B-movie material of a boxing story and makes it into a murder story, with clever little details throughout showing Hitchcock’s axiom that if you lose the audience visually, you lose them altogether.  Here, he does not and for a film this old, it is savvier than you could imagine.

 

The Manxman (1929/30) is Hitch’s last silent film involving a love triangle with best friends (one of whom is a sailor) and eventually needs for revenge over love.  Sometimes Hitchcock liked dealing with people and their connection to bodies of water, with all the instability implied.  Here is an early example.

 

Murder! (1930) is about an actress accused of homicide, but a male juror (who is also an actor) thinks otherwise and races against time to find the real killer(s) before it is too late.  Some innovative use of sound design here made this an early winner for Hitch.

 

The Skin Game (1931) is the controversial hit film Hitch was not happy with in the long run, but offers a strange scenario of families feuding over land, one rich, the other poor.  The pacing is not as tight as Hitchcock’s films usually, are, but the themes become bizarre enough to make it worth seeing.

 

Rich & Strange (1931) has a married couple with personal problems, which become worse and more twisted when they strike it rich, then get stranded at sea!  As you can see, Hitchcock was working through themes throughout his career and at the time, he was taking them on before anyone else.  Even when he was being influenced by other filmmakers, he was also absorbing them and often surging ahead of them.

 

To Catch A Thief (1955) is interesting because here is Hitchcock starting all over again.  This time, it was in entering the world of very big screen filmmaking by shooting in the large frame format VistaVision, a chief competitor to CinemaScope (which it was better than) and formats like 65mm.  The story involves an infamous jewel thief named The Cat who may be back stalking more rich women for their prized jewels.  Cary Grant is the man suspected of being that robber in the French Riviera, now interested in poor little rich girl Grace Kelly as robberies arte taking place he is not committing.

 

Playing with aspects of characters like Leslie Charteris’ The Saint, John Michael Hayes screenplay (based on David Dodge’s novel) is rich, witty, classy and clever throughout with all kinds of touches the writer was capable of.  As he did with his lone 3-D film Dial “M” For Murder (also staring Kelly), Hitch decides to kick the tires of the new big screen/widescreen VistaVision format by fooling around with it superior detail, depth, color fidelity and goes back and forth between using it to its highest potential, by subverting that potential with purposely odd, strange images and events that are made sicker or odder the larger the screen you view it on.

 

So the secret to Hitchcock’s success is that of any great filmmakers in always trying new things and being as innovative as possible.  That is why we strongly recommend both releases and can guarantee you’ll get pleasant surprises from both.

 

 

The Lionsgate films are all 1.33 X 1 black and white releases that have been as restored rather thoroughly, though some spots look like they could use further work and feature Jack Cox’s cinematography, an early collaborator who helped Hitch establish the distinct look of his films.  To Catch A Thief had its transfer upgraded for this new DVD and though the anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image is an overall improvement for the most part in clarity, depth and detail, I question the color fidelity and accuracy in some shots that looked a bit better in the older DVD.  The film was not only shot in VistaVision, whose larger frame has a larger color vocabulary, but 35mm prints were in three-strip dye-transfer Technicolor.  It won the Oscar for Best Cinematography by Robert Burks, A.S.C., a master cameraman and Director of Photography who was one of Hitchcock’s best collaborators.  The look influenced many later films, including the 1981 James Bond film (reviewed elsewhere on this site) For Your Eyes Only.

 

Even though the early films are silent, they have instrumental accompaniment and all six films are in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, though Thief is also in Dolby 2.0 Stereo Surrounds, but the surrounds are weak.  The film may have been played back in Perspecta Sound, but that was an artificial way to bounce around to sound stereo-like, but was not true stereo.  Lyn Murray’s score on Thief is not bad.

 

The only extra on the Lionsgate box is a solid documentary called Pure Cinema: The Birth Of The Hitchcock Style and it includes interviews with Patricia Hitchcock and Peter Bogdanovich, who does an excellent feature length audio commentary on Thief with Laurent Bouzereau.  Bouzereau has written books on Brian De Palma and made dozens of documentaries and featurettes for DVD, including many on Hitchcock’s films.  You also get the original theatrical trailer, a stills section and four featurettes on Thief including Edith Head – The Paramount Years, Writing & Casting To Catch A Thief, The Making Of To Catch A Thief and Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch A Thief: An Appreciation.  You can never have enough extras, but the older films in particular always arrived in basic editions, so anything new with them is a plus.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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