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My Year with Hitch
#31
Week 5: 'The Ring' [1927] - silent
Source: DVD

Hitchcock writes and directs this tale of love and boxing. Jack, known as 'One Round' due to how long it takes him to dispatch his rivals, hawks his boxing prowess at a funfair. His 'Girl' (she is unnamed) takes the ticket stubs, but perhaps dreams of bigger things. One of those bigger things arrives in the form of Bob, who bests Jack and claims his prize. But is the prize the money or the girl?

This is a simple love triangle tale, but it is so charmingly done. Can Jack fight his way up to claim the heavyweight title and win back the love of his wife? With Hitchcock holding the reins, the ending is never clear.

The boxing scenes, especially the final bout, are thrilling, with POV shots, close-ups and clever use of mattes and backgrounds to give the illusion of a much larger setting. But there are also subtleties here. Bob gives the Girl a bracelet (in the shape of a serpent, no doubt referencing her temptation and betrayal). Her clumsy attempts to both wear it constantly yet also hide it from her husband are wonderful, as we are complicit in her guilt. Do we want her to get caught out? Or do we want Jack to know the truth? Ultimately, do we really want to hurt Jack? The bracelet, therefore, becomes the ring of the title, just as much as the more obvious reference. Unknowingly Jack even uses it symbolically at one point as a wedding band.  When the Girl has her fortune told, the gypsy tells her the King of Diamonds represents a tall, handsome man. Jack of course believes it is him, but as the Girl strokes the card and we see her bracelet, we understand her true thoughts.

This is also Hitchcock's most humorous film so far. The wedding is genuinely funny, although there are issues with the film that date it. The casual racism of the time is shocking, including the 'n' word in one of the inter-titles. Hitchcock is developing more tricks here too - filming reflections in water, distorting the film to show drunkenness and confusion (the elongated piano keys are especially effective) as well as clever dissolves and double exposures. His way of showing the passage of time is well done too: posters showing Jack's name ascending as he wins more fights, or champagne going flat. Overall, it's well worth your time too.

I watched the version from the 'Alfred Hitchcock 3 disc Collector's Edition' by Studio Canal & Lionsgate, supposed to be one of the better restorations. It shows its age, and is not up to Criterion's standard, but is clear and probably the best it will look for some time. The soundtrack is a solo piano, also clear and fitting.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
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#32
Week 6: 'The Farmer's Wife' [1928] - silent
Source: DVD

Of all the Hitchcock films I've seen so far, this was the one I was least looking forward to - a 2 hour-plus silent romantic comedy with slapstick humour. And... my dread was somewhat realised. This may be a short review. I did not like this film.

First thing out the way - is there any Hitchcock magic here at all? For me, a very simple answer - no. If someone were to discover that, yes, this was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but not that Alfred Hitchcock, I would not be surprised. I don't doubt that he had fun making this - especially writing the intertitles (which can be amusing, to be fair) - as it does look like everyone is having a good time. But he doesn't do anything particularly special here with his direction. The only interesting aspect that stood out for me was the use of the empty chair by the fireplace, signifying the farmer's deceased wife. He would visualize other women sitting there, wondering whether they could be the next Mrs. Sweetland. (The woman who does become his new bride - and you will guess who that is very quickly as you watch it - is foreshadowed by her stroking the chair, sitting in the chair, etc.) It's nicely done.

The film is played for laughs, with the character Ash getting the best scenes, though the farmer's inept attempts at courting are amusing too. But the film is too long by far. When the ending is telegraphed so obviously, we don't need to see the farmer try to win over 4 different women. I think we got the idea after the first two, personally.

Being so far removed from the kind of film I would imagine Hitchcock to direct, I suppose it makes the film interesting on that level. Other than that, though, I didn't find much here to recommend it. For me, it's just a film I can check off the list.

This was another from Mill Creek's 'Legacy of Suspense' Collection, and it was pretty poor. The soundtrack may have been redone in places - certain sections were very scratchy, whereas others were completely clear - and the picture, while watchable, was faded, speck-ridden and far from pristine. This is also available on Amazon Prime Video at the moment, but I didn't see any difference when comparing the two.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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#33
I picked up Lifeboat on blu-ray today. I'm assuming I have the same edition as you, Garp, since my copy also includes the 2 French shorts as a bonus. I'm not sure when I'll get round to watching it, but I'll try to time it with your schedule if I can.
"I live in the Tower of Flints. I am the death-owl."

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#34
No, I have the Kino Lorber version which doesn't have the French shorts. I'll have to buy them on DVD separately (on my to-do list).
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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#35
Week 7: 'Champagne' [1928] - silent
Source: DVD

Oh dear. 1928 may not have been Hitchcock's finest year. After trudging through 'The Farmer's Wife', I was hoping for something better in the more sparkly 'Champagne'. Alas, it was not to be.

The story, such as it is, concerns a poor little rich girl who is cut off from her funds by her disapproving father, and her subsequent 'adventures' as she tries to make it on her own. Good luck and more power to you if you can muster up any sympathy for her, as I could not. Supposedly, this is a comedy, and even though humor is subjective, I couldn't figure out where the funny bits were. The actor Gordon Harker, who was genuinely amusing in 'The Farmer's Wife', plays the father as a twitching ball of fury - possibly uproarious in the 1920s, but just plain hammy to me.

In its favor, Hitchcock's direction is more interesting than its predecessor. An early POV is shot through the eponymous champagne glass, and the shipbound scenes in the first act are very well done. The camera tilts and yaws and the actors stumble to and fro to mimic the motion of the sea - old hat nowadays but possibly not then. Indeed, his direction is much more fluid in general here, with the camera following the actors as they move. It's not much to go on, but to me the only thing that allowed me to battle through this one.

Not all of his innovations work. A POV sequence of the girl kissing her father is clumsy and awkward, but there are more occasions where he hit the target than missed. Unfortunately, it made little difference to me in the end as the film itself is a big miss. I think I nodded off at one point too.

This was another film from Mill Creek's 'Legacy of Suspense' Collection, and it was probably the worst visual & audio quality yet. The film looked bad but worse was the generic classical music slapped on as a soundtrack. None of the pieces chosen (pretty famous ones too - Elgar, Ravel, Strauss) fit the scenes at all, If you have to watch this film, find another source or turn the music off altogether. I can't say for certain that the music ruined my enjoyment of the film - I don't think I would have liked it anyway - but it didn't help.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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#36
Week 8: 'The Manxman' [1929] - silent
Source: DVD
 
Hitchcock's last fully silent film ('Blackmail' was shot as both a silent and a talkie - I'll review both next week) is another melodrama. Pete, played by the same actor who portrayed Jack in 'The Ring' (and a very similar character), loves Kate, the pub landlord's daughter. It's not hard to see why - she's extraordinarily pretty, lively and probably doesn't smell like fish. Pete, you see, is a fisherman - popular and respected by his peers, but not worthy in the eyes of the landlord for his daughter. She deserves someone more like... Philip. Philip grew up with Pete and remains his best friend. But while Pete chose a life on the waves, Philip hit the books and became a lawyer. Although their lives are vastly different, they have one thing in common - they both love Kate.
 
Thus the traditional love triangle story is born. Kate promises to wait for Pete as he travels to "Foreign parts" (South Africa) to make his fortune (gold mining) to impress her father and win her hand. He entrusts Philip to look after her while he's gone. Poor naive Pete. He's strong and has a winning smile, but he just isn't very bright. In time, Philip & Kate fall in love and everything seems to be fated for them when news arrives of Pete's demise. But, as Shakespeare reminded us, the course of true love never did run smooth.
 
Despite its heavily soap-opera-like story, I found myself drawn to this film. Pete is so charmingly innocent, and Kate is so beguiling that even when it drags (and it does) it doesn’t feel like a chore watching it. There are few Hitchcock flourishes here, but they are good ones. The weeks Kate & Philip spent together getting to know each other are shown by flicking through Kate’s diary entries, instead of a typical rom-com montage we would see today. There are some wonderful small details here too – the entry ‘Mr. Christian’ is crossed out at one point, to be rewritten as ‘Philip’. A lighthouse (it looked like a model) is shown early on in the film, and Hitchcock makes sure that its sweeping light is still seen flashing on backgrounds and the actors’ faces during the night scenes. No one would have complained if it wasn’t there, but it’s wonderful that he went to the trouble to include it. Lastly, when one of the characters jumps into the harbor, the dark water dissolves into a lawyer’s inkwell. Although the film is quite stagey, the few location shots are excellent, especially those of the fishing boats that bookend the film.
 
The film does have some nice surprises, including a revelation that must have been shocking for its time, and ends on quite a down note. Although it’s not a film I would choose to revisit for some time, it had enough going for it for me that I would recommend it still.
 
I watched the Lionsgate/StudioCanal restored version from the ‘Alfred Hitchcock: Boxed Set’. It looked good – clear and bright, despite typical wear and tear – and the soundtrack was a solo piano with music that matched the visuals perfectly.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
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#37
Been lent copies of The 39 Steps, Dial M for Murder and The Secret Agent, so I'll aim to join you on those. 

Out of curiosity, Garp, have you seen many of these before?
"I live in the Tower of Flints. I am the death-owl."

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#38
Excellent! The more, the merrier.

Of the 52 released films of his, I can only say with certainty that I have seen 5 before, but there could be 2 more that I'm not sure about.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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#39
Week 9: 'Blackmail' [1929] - silent
Source DVD

Part-way through filming the silent movie 'Blackmail', Hitch switched gears and added sound, eventually leading to two versions. I'll review the sound version later, but first my thoughts on the rarer silent edition.

This stage adaptation must have been right up Hitchcock's alley. A story concerning another spurned man, an attempted rape, a murder, blackmail (naturally) and a chase. Gripping stuff. Unfortunately, despite some excellent visuals, it felt to me as if he bungled the story somewhat.

The luminous Anny Ondra, his female lead in 'The Manxman' returns to play Alice, a shopkeeper's daughter. As in 'The Lodger', her beau is a detective, with whom it seems she has ambivalent feelings. She ditches him at a restaurant in order to go swanning off with an artist. He takes her back to his garret and after some playful flirting he tries to force himself on her. Alice kills him in self-defence and flees the scene. Unbeknownst to her at the time, her flight was witnessed by an unscrupulous character named Tracey. Meanwhile, DC Boyfriend is on the case and begins to have suspicions about the lovely Alice, which are confirmed when seedy Tracey turns up to blackmail the pair.

Hitchcock certainly threw his all into the filming of 'Blackmail' - not least the later addition of sound requiring the re-shooting of scenes. His camera is on the move a lot here - following speeding police vans, spinning tyres, and the actors. An especially effective shot involved the slow, steady vertical movement of characters going upstairs - no doubt difficult to get right at the time. The attempted rape and murder are masterful in the way that he skirted the censors and yet show us everything that we need to know. All action is conveyed through the movement of a curtain, with Alice's hand slowly groping for a knife. The victim's dead hand is revealed - a visual reminder that Alice sees numerous times as she wanders around London that night, including a neon stabbing hand in the Piccadilly Circus advertising lights.

Hitchcock uses shadows frequently here - Alice stands alone as the shadows of two characters talk, the shadow of Tracey on the door as she flees - and there is a hint of the suspense master that he would become. Unfortunately, for me, there wasn't enough to keep me completely invested. (Special mention, though, should go to Donald Calthrop, who played Tracey, easily stealing his scenes from the leads.) I'm curious to see how it fares with sound.

I watched the German DVD from Kinowelt and it was excellent overall. The picture was clear with the occasional age-related issues, and the soundtrack was a new solo piano composition, also excellent.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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#40
BONUS: 'Blackmail' [1929] - talkie
Source: DVD

This version looks largely the same as the silent edition with only a couple of scenes noticeably different, and arguably better. Hitchcock does a great job of adding sound effects (mostly street noises and a liberal smattering of car horns throughout) but also dialogue without needing to reshoot scenes (from shots of backs of heads or off-screen voices). The scene that most benefits the addition of sound is breakfast with the family after the murder - the garrulous busybody who keeps repeating the word 'knife' - in fact, as she goes on, it's the only word discernible - and Alice's reaction to it bests the silent version. The scene in the garret is a toss-up - here we get a song added (the artist is also a pianist, apparently, and the song sounds like one Noel Coward may have written), but it's there because we can, rather than adding much to either character. In at least one place, Hitchcock could have reined in the effects, notably Alice dressing in the morning with the annoying incessant birdsong.

Unfortunately, I still wasn't drawn into this film. Once the blackmailer appears (now with a voice I was not expecting - I thought more Cockney ruffian, but no) the film drags, despite his fine acting. Still, there are things here to like, which I neglected to point out before - the cigarettes that pile up in the ashtray to denote passage of time (similar to the champagne going flat in 'The Ring'); the early back-projection inside the police van; and the great use of London locations, especially a deserted early morning Trafalgar Square.

This was also from the Kinowelt edition, and still looked good. The soundtrack was also clear. Instead of the solo piano on the silent version, here we have a small orchestra. Like the films themselves, I'm undecided which I prefer, as both had their pros in certain areas and cons in others. If you have access to a region-free player, I'd recommend getting this German DVD and checking out both yourself for comparison.
It's not the years, it's the mileage.
I'm writing a book! Check out my progress at Good Morning, Page
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