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This set of five titles from the British phase of Alfred Hitchcock's early career serves as an outstanding reflection on the great director's evolving preoccupations and pet themes in the 1930s. The earliest inclusion is the 1930 Murder, starring Herbert Marshall as a famous stage actor who takes it upon himself to investigate a murder for which a young actress has been wrongly convicted. Clever and witty, the film finds Hitch exploring the blurry dualisms of reality and illusion, guilt and innocence, and watching and doing. The 1932 Number 17 is Hitchcock in a particularly playful vein. A bit bored by the "old dark house" Gothic tone of the story, he uses the film as an opportunity to push the limits of camera mobility, the emotional underpinnings of shots, and the sheer fun of using model trains and other vehicles to create climactic chases. In the 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, the director matches a sophisticated tone with a gut-wrenching tale of a child kidnapped by spies. A fascinating study in contrast with Hitch's 1956 edition of the story (the one starring James Stewart and Doris Day), this film highlights both his interest in the burden of secrecy as well as his youthful efforts at visual experimentation. The 1936 Sabotage is a stunning story of a naive woman's revenge-killing of her husband, a German spy, and the subsequent cover-up of her deed both by fate and by a police detective who chooses to keep quiet about her guilt. Finally, the 1936 Secret Agent, starring John Gielgud, Robert Young, Madeleine Carroll, and Peter Lorre in an espionage story of concealed identities and assassination, is dense with ideas about lies and the brutality of the hidden. A few features later, Alfred Hitchcock belonged to Hollywood, and the American cinema took a giant leap forward. But in this boxed set can be seen the blueprint of his genius. The prints of the films used in this set are serviceable and probably comparable to average 16mm classroom or museum presentations. The DVDs also include Hitchcock filmographies, trivia questions, a director biography, and scene access. --Tom Keogh --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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BLACKMAIL-- Silent feature retooled for sound. Both versions circulated simultaneously in 1929. Some of the newer film clearly came from its predecessor: scenes are overdubbed with music, extraneous voices and sound effects.
EASY VIRTUE-- Silent coutroom drama adapted from Noel Coward's stageplay.
FARMER'S WIFE-- Atypical Hitch work is a silent comic romance story.
JAMAICA INN-- Hitchcock's last British-made picture was also Maureen O'Hara's screen debut.
LADY VANISHES-- Early masterpiece that takes place in the fictitious country of Bandrika. A favorite of Orson Welles.
MAN WHO KNEW... -- Hungarian-born Peter Lorre's first English language role. He barely spoke English so Lorre learned his lines phonetically.
MURDER!-- Contains the first use of a person's thoughts as voiceover. A German language version called "Mary" was filmed simultaneously on the same sets.
NUMBER 17-- Remake of German silent was a movie Hitchcock didn't want to direct.
SABOTAGE-- Based on Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Agent." Hitch was forced to retitle this as "Sabotage" because his previous release was called "Secret Agent."
SECRET AGENT-- Gielgud filmed this while also on stage in "Romeo & Juliet."
SKIN GAME-- Remake of 1921 picture. Both feature Edmond Gwenn as Mr. Hornblower.
39 STEPS-- Hitch cameo: He tosses litter as Annabella and Richard flee the music hall.
YOUNG AND INNOCENT-- Cameo: Hitchcock is outside holding a camera as Tisdall escapes from courthouse.
Parenthetical numbers preceding titles are 1 to 10 viewer poll ratings found at a film resource website.
(7.0) Blackmail (UK-1929) - Anny Ondra/Charles Paton/Cyril Ritchard
(5.9) Easy Virtue (silent-UK-1928) - Isabel Jeans/Franklin Dyall/Ian Hunter
(6.3) The Farmer's Wife (silent-UK-1928) - Jameson Thomas/Lillian Hall-Davis/Gordon Harker
(6.2) Jamaica Inn (UK-1939) - Charles Laughton/Maureen O'Hara/Robert Newton
(8.2) The Lady Vanishes (UK-1938) - Margaret Lockwood/Michael Redgrave/Paul Lukas/Dame May Whitty
(6.9) The Man Who Knew Too Much (UK-1934) - Leslie Banks/Edna Best/Peter Lorre
(6.4) Murder! (UK-1930) - Herbert Marshall/Norah Baring/Edward Chapman
(6.0) Number Seventeen (UK-1932) - Leon M. Lion/Anne Grey/John Stuart
(7.2) Sabotage (UK-1936) - Sylvia Sidney/Oskar Homolka/Desmond Tester
(6.7) Secret Agent (UK-1936) - John Gielgud/Peter Lorre/Madeleine Carroll/Robert Young/Lilli Palmer
(5.9) The Skin Game (UK-1931) - C.V. France/Helen Haye/Edmund Gwenn
(8.0) The 39 Steps (UK-1935) - Robert Donat/Madeleine Carroll/Peggy Ashcroft
(7.1) Young and Innocent (UK-1937) - Nova Pilbeam/Derrick De Marney/Percy Marmot