Essential collection of early Hitchcock films
calvinnme | 08/13/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This box set, along with the box set entitled "Alfred Hitchcock - Master of Suspense" contain the entire body of the master director's work from its beginning until his departure from England to Hollywood to work on "Rebecca" in 1940. The only exceptions are three early silent films we may never see on DVD - "The Pleasure Garden", "The Mountain Eagle", and "Downhill", in addition to a later film "Waltzes from Vienna", which I have hopes will be on DVD someday. In the following paragraphs I give a brief synopsis of each film included.
EASY VIRTUE (1928) - Laurita Finton is accused by her brutish alcoholic husband of being in love with an artist. As a result there is a bitter divorce trial, but the artist, who has been rejected by Laurita, kills himself. Laurita's world is destroyed as a result of the scandal, so she decides to leave England. She changes her identity and starts a new life on the Riviera. She then falls in love with a rich young man, John Whittaker, but his family doesn't like Laurita, a girl with an "easy virtue". John's mother finds out about the shadows in Laurita's past and tells everything to her son. This story takes on a range of divorce issues highly relevant to its time. The film skillfully lampoons the absurdity of trying questions of adultery to a jury.
CHAMPAGNE (1928) - This is a light comedy with a few twists, much as the title might suggest. It's not what you would expect from Hitchcock, but early in his career he had to work with what he was handed. A spoiled rich girl defies her rich and powerful father to meet her boyfriend. Her father, convinced that the boyfriend is only a fortune hunter, resorts to pretending that he is broke to break off the relationship. Meanwhile, everywhere the girl goes, the same mysterious stranger seems to be lurking.
The visuals make the movie fun to watch - attractive sets, good sight gags, interesting detail. As the rich daughter, Betty Balfour is charming and is especially good in a couple of scenes where her character has to perform some tasks unfamiliar to a young lady accustomed to having everything done for her. Gordon Harker is quite funny as the father.
THE FARMER'S WIFE (1928) - Farmer Sweetland is a lonely old widower. He is determined to marry again and he enlists the help of his housekeeper Minta to pick a wife from the local single women. However, unknown to him, this same housekeeper is very much in love with him. It's a good rustic comedy, but again, not typical of Hitchcock's later work.
THE MANXMAN (1929) - Despite their differing backgrounds, fisherman Pete and lawyer Philip have been life long friends on the Isle of Man. Pete wants to marry Kate, the landlord's daughter at the local inn, however Kate's father doesn't think he is good enough. Pete leaves the island to seek his fortune abroad and entrusts Kate to Philip, but they start to be attracted to each other. Then comes the tragic news that Pete's ship is wrecked. Philip and Kate, no longer needing to hide their feelings, plan to marry. However, Pete is actually not dead.
The rest of the films on the DVD are "talkies", as opposed to these first four silent films.
MURDER (1930) - The police find the actress in a traveling theatre troupe, Diana Baring, near the body of her friend. All the circumstantial evidence seems to point to her, and since she is suffering from amnesia, she has no explanation of what happened. At the conclusion of the trial, she is condemned to death. Sir John Menier, a jury member and famous actor, suspects Diana's boyfriend, who works as an acrobat. Sir John sets out to find the real murderer before Diana's death sentence is carried out.
The film is extremely slow-moving, which makes it boring at times. However, it is worth watching just for the extraordinary ending. One interesting piece of trivia is that the scene where actor Herbert Marshall thinks out loud in front of a mirror had to be filmed with a recording of Marshall's lines and an orchestra hidden behind the set as it was not possible to dub the soundtrack later due to the limitations of sound technology at that time.
THE SKIN GAME (1931) - A rich family, the Hillcrests, is fighting against the speculator, Hornblower, who evicts poor farmers so that he can build factories on their lands. When Mrs. Hillcrest finds out that Chloe Hornblower was a prostitute, she uses this secret to blackmail the speculator and force him to stop his business.
Edmund Gwenn as Mr. Hornblower adds the only spark of life to this dull adaptation of the Galsworthy play. Hitchcock claims he didn't make it by choice, and one can believe it considering the many long, static dialogue scenes which are very atypical of the usually perfectionist master of suspense.
NUMBER SEVENTEEN (1932) - Detective Gilbert is searching for a necklace robbed by a gang of thieves. In the beginning, the gang has gathered in a safe house in London, then they are running away from police. It will not be easy for the detective to recover the jewel.
This film is only an hour long, the plot is a mess, and too many questions remained unanswered in the end. At times you have no idea what the different characters are actually doing. The acting is below average and has too much influence of stage acting, which was typical of early talkies, but by this time Hitchcock had enough experience with sound to have avoided this pitfall. One of the highpoints of the film is its cinematography in which Hitchcock uses abundant action sequences and even a few outdoor shots.
THE 39 STEPS (1935) - Richard Hannay is a Canadian visitor to London. At the end of enjoying "Mr Memory"'s show in a music hall, he meets Annabella Smith who is running away from secret agents. He takes her back to his flat where she gives him some important information about a gang of spies who are trying to kill her. During the night she is murdered and Hannay is of course the chief suspect. On the run from the police he heads for Scotland, which is where Annabella has told him the spies are located. During the train journey he meets Pamela who turns him in to the police. Upon arrival in Scotland Hannay manages to find the ringleader of the spies, Professor Jordan, which places him in even more danger. He escapes only to fall into the hands of the police. He gets away from them and is reunited with Pamela who reluctantly teams up with him (she doesn't have much choice as she has been handcuffed to him). However, she eventually begins to believe his story and realizes that he is innocent, so she helps to clear his name. Pamela and Hannay return to London where they see "Mr Memory" who is once again performing in a theatre. Professor Jordan is also there, but Hannay spots him and the film is brought to a dramatic but satisfying conclusion.
This film was one of Hitchcock's very early film successes before he left for Hollywood and gives you glimpses of what he was truly capable of. It contained all the elements of Hitchcock's favorite theme of the innocent man on the run which he returned to in "Saboteur" and in "North by Northwest".
JAMAICA INN (1939) - In the early 19th century, the young orphan, Mary, is sent to live with Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss in Cornwall who are the landlords of the Jamaica Inn. Mary soon realizes that her uncle's inn is the base of a gang of pirates who lure ships to their doom on the rocky coast. The girl starts fearing for her life. Robert Newton, who portrays government agent James Trehearne, teams up with the girl to solve the crime.
Hitchcock would always say that he always found Charles Laughton, who portrays the local magistrate and baronet Sir Humphrey, a very difficult actor to direct. He claimed that Laughton insisted on trying to base the character of Sir Humphrey on the walk he had. Personally, I found that Laughton's performance actually makes this film. However, the best dramatic moment in the film is by Stephen Haggard, the youngest of the pirates/smugglers. When told he will be hanged, he gets hysterical, screaming that he's too young to die. A scene like that should have been the start of a long career for Haggard in film. However, his on-screen lines were prophetic, since he died a casualty of the second World War in 1943.
As you can see by my descriptions of each film, this collection is probably not for those who can't count themselves among true Hitchcock fans, since individually many of these films are not particularly cinema milestones. However, together, they form part of the film history of probably the greatest director who ever lived."
The DVD Debut of Champagne
Christopher Pesqueira | Medford, NY USA | 10/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I never really look too in-depth at these cheapo releases of Mr. Hitchcock's work. However, I was in a store yesterday and spotted this and was quite surprised. Its main selling point is the DVD debut of Champagne. Now I can discard my VHS. With the DVD release of Lifeboat in 13 days, that makes 49 of Hitchcock's 53 films on DVD. The four exceptions are The Pleasure Garden, The Mountain Eagle, Waltzes From Vienna, and Downhill. I never thought Champagne would see the light of day, so we could be surprised and see Downhill on DVD eventually (I believe a British company already has done so). So, sometimes we can be shocked and find something new, which happened to me yesterday when I saw this. I think it's worth the small amount of money to get a film of his not already released."
Very poor quality
S. Rogers | Worldwide | 03/09/2007
(1 out of 5 stars)
"The transfers on this set are very poor. I only bought it because this is the only set that includes Champagne (one of Hitch's minor works). If you are looking for a early Hitch set, consider the much better Laserlight set."
There's just one Hitch...
Annie Van Auken | Planet Earth | 06/03/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's always enlightening to see how a superb director's career began, and with THE ESSENTIAL ALFRED HITCHCOCK COLLECTION we get just that opportunity. Included here is one of Hitchcock's most famous pre-Hollywood films, and some much earlier work, as well. This DVD set is really a 10 pack-- besides nine theatrical releases it includes a one-hour TV documentary/interview with the master of suspense himself. THE ESSENTIAL ALFRED HITCHCOCK COLLECTION is potentially for completists only, also for silent movie fans.
Of similar interest is ALFRED HITCHCOCK: THE EARLY YEARS.
It's a deluxe 12 CD set that offers a half-dozen of these movies plus nine others.
The following alphabetized program list includes viewer poll ratings for each film (based on a 1 to 10 scale), plus years of release and principal actors.
(6.1) Champagne (UK-silent-1928) - Betty Balfour/Gordon Harker/Jean Bradin
(5.8) Easy Virtue (UK-silent-1928) - Isabel Jeans/Franklin Dyall/Ian Hunter
(6.3) The Farmer's Wife (UK-silent-1928) - Jameson Thomas/Lillian Hall-Davis/Gordon Harker
(6.2) Jamaica Inn (UK-1939) - Charles Laughton/Maureen O'Hara/Robert Newton
(6.2) The Manxman (UK-silent-1929) - Carl Brisson/Malcolm Keen/Anny Ondra
(6.4) Murder! (UK-1930) - Herbert Marshall/Norah Baring/Edward Chapman
(5.9) Number Seventeen (UK-1932) - Leon M. Lion/Anne Grey/John Stuart
(5.7) The Skin Game (UK-1931) - C.V. France/Helen Haye/Edmund Gwenn
(8.0) The 39 Steps (UK-1935) - Robert Donat/Madeleine Carroll/Godfrey Tearle
(???) Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense (TV doc.-1973) (a career retrospective with comments from Hitchcock)