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Alfred Hitchcock's Murder! / The Lodger
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 Rich and 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.
Gil Jawetz is a graphic designer, video director, and t-shirt designer. He lives in Brooklyn.E-mail Gil at [email protected]