Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins, Disc 4

Disc 4

Juno and the Paycock, 1930, b&w. Barry Fitzgerald, Maire O’Neill, Edward Chapman, Sidney Morgan, Sara Allgood. 1:25.

I honestly don’t know what to make of this one—a family drama set in Ireland during The Troubles, occasionally punctuated by gunfire, but with seemingly little going on except steady drinking and broad Irish accents. The print’s decent, the soundtrack’s very noisy, and the picture—well, I found it hard to watch all the way through without nodding off and, indeed, may have missed part of the second quarter. (It doesn’t help that people’s heads were frequently cut off—which could be a remastering problem, but otherwise reflects really poor cinematography.) I clearly wasn’t the target audience—I read “taut” in an IMDB review and, well, just didn’t see it. Of course, I haven’t read the drama it’s based on. Charitably, $0.75.

Sabotage, 1936, b&w. Oskar Homolka, Sylvia Sidney, Desmond Tester, John Loder. 1:16.

I’d already seen this—but that was on a movie set that came with a failed DVD magazine, not one of the 50-classics sets. So I watched it again. Probably just as well: This print was better quality, although the sound’s damaged. A movie theater owner—”Verloc,” played by Homolka—is also a saboteur in London; his American wife doesn’t suspect anything, but the greengrocer’s assistant next door to the theater is actually a Scotland Yard agent. At the climax, he manages to get her much younger brother blown up in act of supposedly delivering a film canister and package (on a slow-moving London bus)—and shows the banality of evil in his attempts to justify or ignore his actions to her. (One IMDB review sees

Not great Hitchcock, but it is a thriller. I was not at all enthralled last time around (particularly because the movie was supposed to be DOA, which sounded like a much better movie). This time? It’s taut and well-directed; I’ll give it $1.50.

The Skin Game, 1931, b&w. C.V. France, Helen Haye, Jill Esmond, Edmund Gwenn, John Longdon, Phyllis Konstam, Edward Chapman. 1:17.

An odd one, dealing with property conflicts and morality. One family’s been established in a rural area for generations and has tenant farmers as well. A brash upstart businessman buys out a neighbor and moves to oust their tenants—and then moves to buy another property that would effectively surround the family, vowing to build factories to make their lives miserable. In the process of an auction that the upstart wins (paying too much for the property), the businessman’s daughter-in-law faints after one of those special effects that Hitchcock liked so much he’d repeat it until you were sick of it (the face of someone else at the auction keeps swooping towards her as though it was a ghost). Turns out the daughter-in-law Has A Past.

All turns out badly for almost everybody involved. The noble family head has abandoned his principles to save his view (and, although he’d forgotten entirely about them, his tenants); one life’s been lost; a whole family’s been driven out of the area.

This one moves right along, with a fair amount of suspense. It has some of the awful cinematography of some other early Hitchcock sound pictures, with heads cut off and the like, and there are problems with the soundtrack—at times making dialogue nearly unintelligible. Still, I’ll give it $1.25.

Number Seventeen, 1932, b&w. Leon M. Lion, Anne Grey, John Stuart, Donald Calthrop, Barry Jones, Ann Casson, Henry Caine, Garry Marsh. 1:03.

This is a strange one, slow in parts, heavy on comic turns and problematic identities, with some thrilling aspects—and in the end seeming, well, odd. There’s a vacant house that may be a safe house, a corpse who isn’t a corpse, a squatter who’s a pickpocket but also honest as the day is long, a bystander who’s not all that innocent, a neighbor girl who—well, I never did figure that one out. A remarkable, if long, climax set on both a speeding train and a speeding bus, hammering home the lesson that it may be a bad idea to kill the entire crew of a locomotive if you don’t know how they work.

In the end, this seemed more heavy-handed comedy than deft thriller—and there are a few more of the “heads? Who needs to see heads?” shots. The sound’s not great. Odd though it is, it’s always interesting, so I’ll give it $1.25.

The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934, b&w. Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Frank Vosper, Hugh Wakefield, Nova Pilbeam. 1:15.

The last movie in the set is also one of the best, ending on a high note. A thoroughly satisfying thriller with a consistent plot, reasonable complexity, a seemingly-incidental bit near the beginning that turns out to be crucial to the finale, and Peter Lorre as a villain. (What? You expected maybe a romantic lead?)

The plot involves a possible political assassination and a child held for a form of ransom. Other than that, there’s little reason to discuss the plot—and good reason not to, if you haven’t seen this one. Occasional problems with sound in a generally-solid print are all that reduce this to $1.75.

Bonus: Hitchcock Trailers,

But the last movie wasn’t the last thing on the set. Instead, although not listed on the disc label, there’s this remarkable bonus—19 trailers for Hitchcock movies, nearly an hour in all, with 19 chapter marks in case you want to find a specific one. (Given Mill Creek’s usual practice of having four chapters per film, this is special treatment.)

Quite a range of trailers (including one for the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much), including a few narrated or introduced by Hitchcock—including a six minute item for Psycho that includes maybe three seconds of footage at the end. None of the trailers are for the films on this set. Excluding uncredited war movies and Hitchcock’s TV stuff, IMDB shows 32 Hitchcock movies later than the ones in this set, so it’s a broadly representative collection, including most of his most famous movies. Good sound, good picture, good fun. Even though it’s not a movie at all, it’s easily worth $1.00.

So, there it is: The last disc of a four-disc set. But it’s not the end of the story. That involves three more pieces:

  1. The total “value” of the set–that is, adding up all the dollar amounts. I’ll include that in the whole-set essay in a forthcoming Cites & Insights–not the August issue (that includes the first half of the Comedy Classics set), but probably September (unless there’s too much other stuff).
  2. What you’d need to spend to get these pictures on other DVDs–or whether that’s even possible. (In the case of the trailers, I doubt it, unless you purchased all 19 flicks…) I’ll also include that in the whole-set essay.
  3. Something that might be posted on my serious blog: Whether this set is “legitimate”–that is, whether these movies are in the public domain. That turns out to be, potentially at least, a complicated question, although the fact that an established business with a street address, with goods readily available through major distributors, hasn’t been served with a C&D notice is some indication…

Meanwhile, I realize that I’ve never seen all that many Hitchcock movies. We’ll add a couple of more recent ones to our Netflix queue. I’m guessing I’ll never be a Hitchcock fanboy–he was clearly a superior director some of the time, but there’s flaws a-plenty in much of his earlier work. No big surprise: Few directors have anything close to a spotless record.

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