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HTF DVD REVIEW: TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Hitchcock Thrillers



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#1 of 7 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted October 29 2009 - 02:10 PM


TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Hitchcock Thrillers
Suspicion, Strangers on a Train, I Confess, The Wrong Man
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 1941/1951/1952/1957
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1/1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 99/101/94/105 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English, various others
Subtitles: CC, various
MSRP: $ 27.98

Release Date: November 3, 2009
Review Date: October 29, 2009
 
 
The Films
 
During his more than half a century film career, director Alfred Hitchcock worked on both sides of the Atlantic and for many different film studios. The four films in this value-packed set represent one film made on loanout to RKO during his period under contract to producer David O. Selznick and three films that were a part of a production deal he signed with Warner Brothers during the 1940s. Although only one of these can truly be numbered among the Hitchcock masterpieces, all four are solid representations of Hitchcock’s craft, and the suspense levels even in the weakest of them still manage to grip the viewer and make the films well worth watching.
 
The four films in this set are contained on two flipper discs with each film and its accompanying extras occupying one side of the disc.
 
Suspicion – 3.5/5
 
Shy, willowy Lina MacKinlaw (Joan Fontaine) is swept off her feet by the dashing ne’er-do-well Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant). Though charming and devilishly handsome, Johnnie is a bounder, too above getting a real job and rather fonder of borrowing money and engaging in games of chance and even some embezzlement. Though she loves him utterly, Lina is not a willing dupe, and as she becomes more and more aware of her husband’s shortcomings, she begins to get the feeling that his desperation might lead him to do something rash to either her or his best friend “Beaky” (Nigel Bruce) in the hopes of inheriting money or property. When the friend does indeed die under suspicious circumstances in France, Lina is more certain than ever that her own life is in danger.
 
Hitchcock’s customary suspense techniques are put to an ultimate test in this story which, in retrospect, is not up to close scrutiny. There are plot holes galore, but Hitchcock blunders past them to concentrate on Lina’s discoveries and growing paranoia about her life being in danger. Joan Fontaine won the Oscar as Best Actress for this role, likely a consolation prize for not winning the year before for Rebecca in clearly a better formulated and achieved performance. She and Cary Grant play very well together (his role fits him like a glove, the first of four marvelous tours de force he made for Hitchcock), but Nigel Bruce steals every scene he’s in as the perfect example of the blundering British twit he loved to play. Hitchcock does do some trademark camera moves around the couple during one of their early kisses (a motion he’d milk even more with Cary Grant five years later in Notorious) and keeps the tension consistently maintained during the film’s last half hour.
 
Strangers on a Train – 5/5
 
Engaging psychotic Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) and tennis playing celebrity Guy Haines (Farley Granger) meet accidentally on a train and over dinner get into a friendly albeit hypothetical conversation about swapping murders being an excellent way to hide motive behind the crime. Though Guy laughs off the preposterousness of the proposition, deranged Bruno stalks Guy’s shrewish wife Miriam (Laura Elliott/Kasey Rogers) and kills her leaving the way clear for Guy to marry his real love, Ann Morton (Ruth Roman). Of course, he expects Guy to uphold his end of the deal and kill Bruno’s despised father (Jonathan Hale), and when the horrified Guy refuses to comply, Bruno begins a series of encounters to pressure Guy into upholding his end of their supposed bargain.
 
Hitchcock’s best film during his Warner Bros. years is this loose adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. As in all of his best works, there are so many iconic set pieces (the stalking of Miriam at a carnival culminating in Miriam’s murder reflected in her glasses, Bruno’s near-strangling of an innocent woman at a cocktail party he’s crashed, the tension-filled tennis match played in counterpoint to Bruno’s race to leave incriminating evidence to frame Guy for murder, the climactic fight on board a runaway carousel) that the mere mention of any of them brings the film vividly back to life in one’s imagination. Robert Walker’s entrancing portrait of softly smiling evil incarnate has few equals in all of cinema, much less in Hitchcock’s canon, and Farley Granger makes a wonderfully naïve pawn for Walker’s cunning cat to bat around. Terrifically effective character portraits are provided by the delightfully ditzy Marion Lorne, the reliable Leo G. Carroll, and Hitchcock’s daughter Pat. If Ruth Roman is rather colorless and too much a pill as the leading lady, her screen time is mercifully rather brief. It’s the strangely homoerotic combination of Walker and Granger that works very effectively in making this one of Hitchcock’s most perversely successful suspense pictures. By the way, the version of Strangers on a Train offered in this set is the American version, not the alternate British version which has also been made available in previous releases of the movie.
 
I Confess – 3/5
 
Parish custodian Otto Keller (O. E. Hasse) attempts to rob a wealthy man and ends up killing him, later confessing his crime to one of the priests Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift). Bound by the seal of the confessional, Father Logan can’t go to the police, and when Logan visits the dead man’s home the next morning, Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) begins to suspect the priest knows more than he’s telling. The priest’s rendezvous with former girl friend Ruth Grandfort (Anne Baxter) also seems suspicious, and further circumstantial evidence piles up against Father Logan who’s eventually charged with the murder and put on trial.
 
The premise for this lightly regarded Hitchcock effort offers tremendous opportunities for suspense especially since it deals with one of Hitchcock’s favorite themes: an innocent man accused while a guilty man looks on from the sidelines. Try as he might, however, Hitchcock can’t breathe life into the stilted, talky screenplay; it stubbornly refuses to become dramatically alive. The actors aren’t at fault: Montgomery Clift gives an involved, anguished accounting of his struggles over saving himself versus his vows of confidentiality. Anne Baxter’s Ruth seems desperately in love with Father Logan despite knowing that knowledge of her feelings will shame both her and her husband. Karl Malden and Brian Aherne (as the prosecuting attorney) give fine, straightforward performances, and O. E. Hasse’s chameleon caretaker goes from contrite to contrary with convincing conviction. But Baxter’s long flashback recounting her relationship with Father Logan before he was a priest and the tiresome trial sequences are flatly handled and rather dull, a shame given such rich possibilities.
 
The Wrong Man – 4/5
 
Family man and Stork Club musician Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is arrested by police for armed robbery after being mistakenly identified by several clerks and secretaries in businesses that had been robbed. Through a series of coincidental mistakes and bad luck, Manny is indicted for the crimes and goes to trial. Meanwhile, his fragile wife Rose (Vera Miles) sinks into a clinical depression over the continual slate of bad luck that keeps dogging the family while Manny tries his best not to lose heart, difficult in the face of burgeoning bills and a lack of concrete evidence to prove his innocence.
 
Hitchcock’s exercise in docudrama gains in unblinking horror through multiple viewings. Based on a real case, the story is nightmarish but told by the master director in such a cold, matter-of-fact way that any hope of salvation seems meager. (The film’s best directed moment is an exploration of the tiny jail cell Fonda is housed in; despite its minute size, it’s hell on earth for the naïve prisoner.) Henry Fonda gives a marvelous, low-key performance resisting the urge to protest loudly his innocence, and his deer-in-the-headlights expressions of disbelief as the possibility of his arrest becomes more and more a reality are unforgettable. Vera Miles’ decline into madness is perhaps a bit too abruptly handled (though not the actress’ fault; she’s not helped by the insertion of her tragic predicament into the midst of Manny’s overwhelming problems), but she’s otherwise quite excellent. Harold J. Stone as Lieutenant Bowers and Charles Cooper as a detective both deliver solid portrayals in one of Hitchcock’s most underappreciated pictures.
 
 
Video Quality
 
Suspicion – 3.5/5
 
The film’s 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is maintained in this relatively clear transfer. There are some age-related specks and a few black scratches, but the grayscale is mostly quite impressive with nicely delineated contrast and good detail. The grain structure of this film is much more noticeable than in the other black and white movies in this collection. The film has been divided into 31 chapters. French and Spanish subtitles are offered.
 
Strangers on a Train – 4/5
 
The film’s 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in this transfer. Grayscale is beautifully delivered in this transfer even though there are a few scratches and bits of dirt and debris still present. Accurate contrast levels deliver very good black levels with excellent shadow detail. The film has been divided into 33 chapters. There are French and Spanish subtitles available.
 
I Confess – 3.5/5
 
The 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in this transfer. The image is usually quite sharp and detailed (except in Baxter’s flashback which has been filmed softly to suggest an earlier period), though there are some noticeable specks and some spotting which mar the image on occasion. Blacks are very deep, however, and shadow detail can be very impressive. Subtitles offered include French and Spanish.
 
The Wrong Man – 3/5
 
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Visual quality is erratic throughout the movie with scenes of astounding sharpness paired with shots which look as if they have come from several generations away from the others. Grain levels are very inconsistent throughout the movie, and later on there are scratches, dust specks, debris, and even some print damage. The film has been divided into 30 chapters. There are French and Spanish subtitles also available.
 
 
Audio Quality
 
Suspicion – 3/5
 
The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track begins very low in volume, but momentarily rights itself and sounds fine. The dialogue-heavy film is well represented in this mono track, and Franz Waxman’s engaging (and sometimes overly exuberant) score sounds just fine if occasionally just the tiniest bit distorted on the high end. There are no age-related examples of hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter to be heard.
 
Strangers on a Train – 3.5/5
 
The Dolby Digital 1.0 sound mix keeps the dialogue clear and precise and Dimitri Tiomkin’s driving score sounding full but never overpowering. There was the slightest hiss in a couple of quiet moments but nothing that was the least distracting. There is also a French mono track available.
 
I Confess – 4/5
 
The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track is the strongest of the mono sound mixes offered in this set. There are no age-related artifacts to intrude on the listening experience, and the Dimitri Tiomkin music, the dialogue, and the sound effects all blend seamlessly into the audio track offered here.
 
The Wrong Man – 3/5
 
The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track is quite functional for most of the movie, but later on there is some light to moderate hiss and the sound becomes more muffled during some later trial moments. A French mono track is also available for selection.
 
 
Special Features
 
Suspicion – 2/5
 
“Before the Fact: Suspicious Hitchcock” is a 21 ½-minute making-of featurette featuring Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia and other Hitchcock fans like Peter Bogdanovich (who does lousy Hitchcock and Cary Grant impressions) and Robert Osborne commenting on the film’s place in the Hitchcock oeuvre. It’s in 4:3.
 
The film’s clever original theatrical trailer (narrated by Joan Fontaine as a plea to the audience not to forget her in the event of her death) is in really dilapidated shape but runs for 1 ½ minutes in 4:3.
 
Strangers on a Train – 2/5
 
A compliation audio commentary has been assembled by Laurent Bouzereau, and it features Andrew Wilson who talks mostly about original author Patricia Highsmith’s career and the original story of the book before the adaptation along with such Hitchcock experts as daughter Pat O’Connell and her three daughters, Robert Osborne, Joseph Stefano, Richard Schickel, and Peter Bogdanovich interviewing Hitchcock himself.
 
The film’s original theatrical trailer is presented in 4:3 and runs for 2 ½ minutes.
 
I Confess – 2.5/5
 
“Hitchcock’s Confession: A Look at I Confess is a 20 ½-minute making of documentary which features actor Jack Larson recounting his memories of Montgomery Clift along with the usual suspects (Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Schickel) discussing the film. It’s in 4:3.
 
A newsreel excerpt covering the world premiere of the movie in Quebec featuring Hitchcock and Anne Baxter runs for 1 minute in 4:3.
 
The theatrical trailer runs for 2 ¾ minutes in 4:3.
 
The Wrong Man – 2/5
 
“Guilt Trip: Hitchcock and The Wrong Man is a 20 ¼-minute making of documentary featuring Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Osborne, Richard Schickel as well as a couple of new faces, Richard Franklin who directed Psycho II and Paul Sylbert who was the art director on the movie. It’s in 4:3.
 
The film’s original theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes in anamorphic widescreen.
 
 
 
In Conclusion
3.5/5 (not an average)
 
Hitchcock fans are likely to already own these films in sometimes more complete editions, and those who don’t already own any Hitchcock films would likely choose some of his more famous works (Rear Window, Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, Notorious) released by other studios. Still, the TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Hitchcock Thrillers set contains four movies which range from pretty good to great, and they represent a nice sampling of the master’s work from one of the least well regarded periods of his career. These are the same transfers already seen in previous releases, so upgrading is not an option. This set would be for first-time buyers looking for a bargain.
 
 
 
Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC
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#2 of 7 ONLINE   ManW_TheUncool

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Posted January 27 2012 - 04:11 AM

Hmmm...  The wife just picked this set up from Costco for $9.99 (after not being able to find the new BD releases of Notorious, Rebecca and Spellbound from MGM/Fox).  Guess that's a pretty good deal for the set (although that might be the expected going rate these days).  Wonder if any of these will make it to Blu-ray in the not-too-distant future now that we're starting to get some more Hitchcock in that format...


Didn't realize these would be on flippers though until I read this review.  Are they DVD-18's?  Or just single-layer, double-sided flippers?  Hope I don't run into problems w/ these discs... Posted Image


Thanks for this review, Matt!


_Man_


PS: We really need better search functionality here as it took some work to locate this review (or anything all that relevant for this set).



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#3 of 7 OFFLINE   Mike*HTF

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Posted February 09 2012 - 01:33 PM

Matt you mention that "Hitchcock fans are likely to already own these films in sometimes more complete editions." I assumed that these are just repressings from the Signature Collection. Is that not the case here?

#4 of 7 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted February 09 2012 - 02:25 PM



Originally Posted by Mike*HTF 

Matt you mention that "Hitchcock fans are likely to already own these films in sometimes more complete editions."
I assumed that these are just repressings from the Signature Collection. Is that not the case here?


I was using the DVD of Strangers on a Train for my reference here. The version I had featured both the American and British cuts of the film on the disc. This release offered only one cut.




#5 of 7 OFFLINE   Randal Gist

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Posted February 10 2012 - 07:47 AM

This is a good deal--but you are right about Hitchcock aficionados already owing these. (In my case two of the four.) But for two great films, one 3/4 great film and an under appreciated Hitchcock, it's one I might have to go for--if it weren't for those flipper discs. Grrr. Oh well, thanks for posting this.

#6 of 7 OFFLINE   Stan

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Posted February 10 2012 - 07:15 PM

Would love to get this set. Truly enjoy Hitchcock, but have really only seen the more famous films like North by Northwest, Vertigo, The Birds and a few others. Have never seen Strangers on a Train. but the plot has been used in other shows so would be nice to see the original. Didn't even realize they were still making flippers. I recall The Pelican Brief and something else i got years ago as my only flippers, thought manufacturers had gotten beyond that point. Still worth it even if you do have to take a brief break to change sides. Thanks for the info on the set, wouldn't have even realized it was available if not for you.
Stan

#7 of 7 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted February 11 2012 - 12:18 AM

The flippers in this case house one movie per side, so you won't be flipping discs in the middle of the movie as in the early days of DVD and (for us old timers, laserdiscs). All four of the films in this set are well worth seeing. Strangers on a Train, as I said in the review, is the pick of the litter, but all of Hitchcock's films from Rebecca onward (which comprise all four of the films here) are worthy efforts worth seeing more than once.