THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Whirlwind Media just loves putting out matinee-style DVDs and their release
of Alfred Hitchcock's early films is no exception. In fact, if it weren't for
the public domain quality of the prints here, this would read like a Criterion
release: Hitchcock's 1930 feature Murder!, followed by a newsreel and
cartoon from that same year, then Hitchcock's 1926 silent classic The Lodger
and then Hitch's 1940 radio broadcast retelling of The Lodger. For the
serious Hitchcock fan this is an outstanding set of pieces.
Murder! is Hitchcock's first sound film and it finds him using some
very sophisticated techniques, both technically and thematically. He drops out
the sound at key moments to great dramatic effect. He also stages an early scene
backstage at a play as a detective tries to interrogate various castmembers
between cues. The interplay between the on- and offstage action adds a new
depth to the then-relatively newfangled cinema. Hitchcock was already looking
at the idea of film replacing the theater with a critical eye.
The Lodger was Hitchcock's first thriller (one of film history's more
significant firsts) even though it was not, as Whirlwind's packaging claims,
his directorial debut. It tells the tale of Jack the Ripper and, even though
it is raw, one can see many of Hitchcock familiar flourishes already taking
form. While Hitchcock criticized some of the techniques used in The Lodger
(notably a through-the-floor shot of a man pacing from the room below) there
is an exciting air of discovery here, a sense that everything is new and worth
exploring. (Note: The Lodger is also available on double feature disc
from Laserlight with Sabotage.)
The video on this disc varies from film to film. Murder! looks pretty
good, although nowhere near as nice as Criterion's releases of The 39 Steps
and The Lady Vanishes, Hitchcock films from the same decade. It is soft
and often overly dark. Still it could look a lot worse. As for The Lodger,
this 74 year old film definitely shows it's age. The image has degraded to a
sad extent. Some scenes are so faded and damaged as to be tough to watch. However,
this is a landmark film and the fact that it is available at all is important.
The Laserlight release of The Lodger looks pretty much the same. It's probably
safe to say that barring a lengthy
restoration this is the way The Lodger will look for the forseeable future.
The audio in Murder! is actually pretty good, all things considered.
The dialog is mostly clear and the the sound production, while understandably
crude, shows some subtle manipulation. The Lodger, of course, is silent,
and the newly digitized score is fine.
The cartoon and the newsreel are fun additions to the Hitchcock features, but
the big extra here is the 1940 radio broadcast of The Lodger. Coming
after Hitchcock's move to Hollywood and his outstanding productions of Rebecca
and Foreign Correspondent the radio broadcast was directed by a more
self-assured, accomplished Hitch. The broadcast features two of Hitchcock's
favorite actors (Edmund Gwenn and Herbert Marshall) and is just a great addition
to this disc.
With the endless proliferation of Hitchcock releases on DVD it is sometimes tough
to discern which deserve to be purchased. Sometimes you have to get one disappointing
film to get a gem, (like with the weak Jamaica Inn
accompanying the underrated
Strange), but Whirlwind's pairing of Murder! with
The Lodger provides two classics at once. Since Criterion is supposedly
going to mine the British era for more Hitchcock releases these films may yet
turn up in more extravagant form, but in the meantime this is a disc that is
well worth a look.
Other Hitchcock reviews:
Jamaica Inn / Rich
The Trouble with
Presents Vol. 2
Presents Vol. 3
Presents Vol. 4
Gil Jawetz is a graphic designer, video director, and t-shirt designer. He lives in Brooklyn.
E-mail Gil at email@example.com