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A DVD review from Leonard Norwitz

 

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    Modus Operandi     The Scorecard:     

Emotive Connection      Audio     Operations    Extras     The Movie     Equipment

 

Hitchcock - The British Years - BRD

 

http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/direct-chair/hitchcock.htm

(1925 - 1939)

 

 

 

 

Purchase link:

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

HITCHCOCK: The British Years

The Pleasure Garden (1925)

The Lodger * (1929) National Film Archive

The Lodger ‡‡ (1929) BFI restoration

Downhill ‡‡ (1927)

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

The 39 Steps (1935)

Secret Agent (1936)

Sabotage (1936)

Young and Innocent (1937)

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Jamaica Inn (1939)

 

Video:

DVD Studio: Network / UK

Region 2 / PAL / 1.33:1

 

Audio:

Mono (from 1934-1939)

‡ Silent film w/muted organ soundtrack

‡‡ No audio

* modern score in stereo

 

Subtitles: None

 

Review: Leonard Norwitz

 

Comment ~ While there have been a number of DVD renderings of most of these films, very few have received the restoration they deserve on video, let alone in an NTSC format with proper timbres.  Criterion has issued The Lady Vanishes twice, the most recent only a couple months ago.  Their present edition of The 39 Steps is a very early title for them and is overdue for a restorative treatment.  Even though Criterion published very watchable versions of Secret Agent, Sabotage, and Young and Innocent on laserdisc, they have not yet graced us with DVDs of these less popular, though remarkable films by the master.  (I'd pay good money for a serious restoration of Young and Innocent in NTSC.)

 

So it was with some delight that the German DVD studio, Concorde, came out with Hitchcock: The Early Years in 2003.  Now here is the UK's Network, duplicating most of Concorde's titles, and adding the 1925 silent film, The Pleasure Garden (curiously absent from Optimum/Studio Canal's excellent 9-disc Early Hitchcock Collection of silent films.)  The new Network collection also includes not one, but two versions of the 1929 classic, The Lodger and, at the other end of his British years, The 39 Steps and the uncharacteristic Jamaica Inn (with Charles Laughton and the youngest Maureen O'Hara on film) which, up until now, has seen no acceptable DVD realizations. The Concorde is strangely absent The 39 Steps.  So, how does the Network group compare with others, especially the Concorde?  Let's see.

 

For this comparison, I shall limit my comments to the editions just mentioned:

 

Network (U.K.)

HITCHCOCK: The British Years

The Pleasure Garden

The Lodger

Downhill

The Man Who Knew Too Much

The 39 Steps

Secret Agent

Sabotage

Young and Innocent

The Lady Vanishes

Jamaica Inn

 

Concorde (Germany)

Alfred Hitchcock ~ The Early Years

The Lodger

Downhill

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Secret Agent

Sabotage

Young and Innocent

The Lady Vanishes

 

Criterion (U.S.A.)

The 39 Steps

The Lady Vanishes

 

There are also the excellent box sets of Hitchcock silent films from Optimum (highly recommended) and the problematic 3-box set from Studio Canal (France), reviewed HERE:

 

 

The Early Hitchcock Collection - Optimum (UK)

This nine disc collector's set features BLACKMAIL, CHAMPAGNE, MURDER!, THE RING, THE FARMER'S WIFE, RICH AND STRANGE, THE SKIN GAME, THE MANXMAN and NUMBER SEVENTEEN.

Alfred Hitchcock 1929-1931 - 2 DVD Boxset - Studio Canal (France)

Contains: Blackmail (1929),  The Skin Game (1931) and Murder! (1930)

 

 

The Score Card

 

General

I should point out from the outset that the only way to acquire all the Hitchcock British silent and sound films presently on DVD in good transfers is with the purchase of the Network and Optimum sets.  At the time of Gary's review of the Studio Canal 3-box set, the Concorde had been out for 4 years.  I feel that Studio Canal's non-removable subtitles rules it out of the running at this time, since the Concorde & Optimum sets have optional subtitles.

 

The packaging between the two collections is quite different.  While both the Concorde & Network sets have slipcovers, the one for Network is so flimsy as to be useless.  The Concorde's single, study box opens to the full width of its seven discs.  The Network has five standard DVD cases, each with two discs facing each other, rather than the idiotic habit of placing one atop the other that many studios have adopted of late.

 

 

 

Bonus Features aside – and there are good ones here – what recommends the Network set are a restored, though somewhat muted transfer of The Lodger – alas, with no music track whatever! (neither is there one for Downhill) - and a gorgeous and more complete transfer of Jamaica Inn, easily the best looking film in the set, which is complete surprise considering what has been available until now.  As for Jamaica Inn, note that the time for the LaserLight edition is 90 minutes as against Network's 95.  When we factor in the difference between PAL & NTSC, we find that the Network actually has some 11 minutes additional footage! 

 

Bonus Materials

Like the Studio Canal collection, each of the films in the Concorde set is introduced by NoŽl Simsolo (with English subtitles - unlike the Studio Canal, which has none).  The Network films are introduced by Charles Barr, who also wrote the six-page booklet included with the set (both in English).  As you might expect, considering the richness of these films, there is virtually no overlap in these valuable and interesting introductions, brief as they are.  There is a 10-page booklet about Hitch and the individual films included with the Concorde set, in very small font and entirely in German, plus a 25-minute documentary in English, duplicated in the Network. 

 

 

 

The details for the Network set are:

Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock. Mike Scott interviews the director about his life and career.

Alfred the Great - taken from the 1972 arts programme and includes some footage of Hitch making Frenzy.

• Introductions to the films by Charles Barr.

• 6-page booklet by Charles Barr.

Hitchcock: The Early Years – a 25 minute documentary covering the director's pre-WWII career.

On Location  featurettes for Sabotage and The 39 Steps, introduced by Robert Powell.

• Original theatrical trailer for The Lady Vanishes.

• Scri Script PDFs for The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes and Jamaica Inn.

• Ima Image Galleries

 

 

 

Image & Audio

Now for the less good news: While we hoped for something definitive, except for the timing and cleanup restoration for The Lodger, the excellent transfer for Jamaica Inn, and the mere existence of The Pleasure Garden (dreadful though the unrestored source material is) most of the other films in the Network set get somewhat better transfers in the Concorde set and from Criterion, in one instance anyhow. The Concordes are a mite sharper and I generally prefer their handling of contrast.  The better sharpness and contrast is especially noticeable on Sabotage and The Man Who Knew Too Much.  I also prefer Network's new restoration to Criterion's old 39 Steps, which is simply too dark.  Compared to the Concorde titles and Criterion 39 Steps, there is a certain absence of grain and other aspects of film structure on the Network set that is in some ways easier on the eyes but, I wasn't certain if this was the right way to go at all times since it came at the expense of sharpness.  That said, it is not all that difficult to adjust for contrast and brightness on one's display and the Network transfers start to look quite good by comparison.

 

Using the same 10-point scale for SD DVDs I apply for my Korean TV drama reviews, I have assigned comparative ratings for image and sound, plus bit rate ranges for the scenes represented.  The screen captures probably don't convey the dynamic differences apparent when the film is in motion, but most will give you an idea.

 

The Pleasure Garden

Network:   Image: 1            Audio: 4            Bit Rate: 4.5~6

 

 

 

 

The Lodger (70 min. National Film Archive)

Network:   Image: 2.5         Audio: 6            Bit Rate: 6.2~6.8

Concorde: Image: 2.5         Audio: 6            Bit Rate: 5.4~5.8

 

The Lodger (90 min. retimed, restored BFI)

Network:   Image: 3            Audio: 0            Bit Rate: 5.5~7

 

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Network - restored BFI - BOTTOM)

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Concorde - DE - 6-disc The Early Years MIDDLE vs. Network - restored BFI - BOTTOM)

 

 

 

Downhill

Network:   Image: 3            Audio: 0            Bit Rate: 5.0~5.5

Concorde: Image: 3+          Audio: 0            Bit Rate: 5.0~6.2

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Concorde - DE - 6-disc The Early Years BOTTOM)

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Concorde - DE - 6-disc The Early Years BOTTOM)

 

 

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Network:   Image: 3.5         Audio: 2            Bit Rate: 4.5~6.5

Concorde: Image: 4.5         Audio: 2            Bit Rate: 6.2~8.8

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Concorde - DE - 6-disc The Early Years BOTTOM)

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Concorde - DE - 6-disc The Early Years BOTTOM)

 

 

The 39 Steps

Network:   Image: 4.5         Audio: 4            Bit Rate: 4.4~6.1

Criterion:   Image: 3.5         Audio: 3            Bit Rate: 5.4~8.2

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Criterion (restored) - Region 1 - NTSC - BOTTOM)

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Criterion (restored) - Region 1 - NTSC - BOTTOM)

 

 

Secret Agent

Network:   Image: 4            Audio: 3            Bit Rate: 4.7~7.5

Concorde: Image: 4.5         Audio: 3            Bit Rate: 3.5~9.0

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Concorde - DE - 6-disc The Early Years BOTTOM)

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Concorde - DE - 6-disc The Early Years BOTTOM)

 

 

Sabotage

Network:   Image: 4.5         Audio: 3            Bit Rate: 4.6~6.2

Concorde: Image: 5.5         Audio: 3            Bit Rate: 6.0~10

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Concorde - DE - 6-disc The Early Years BOTTOM)

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Concorde - DE - 6-disc The Early Years BOTTOM)

 

 

Young and Innocent

Network:   Image: 4.5         Audio: 3            Bit Rate: 4.7~5.4

Concorde: Image: 5            Audio: 3            Bit Rate: 5.1~7.1

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Concorde - DE - 6-disc The Early Years BOTTOM)

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Concorde - DE - 6-disc The Early Years BOTTOM)

 

 

The Lady Vanishes

Network:   Image: 4            Audio: 3            Bit Rate: 4.5~6.7

Concorde: Image: 4.5         Audio: 3            Bit Rate: 5.2~6.6

Criterion:   Image: 5.5         Audio: 4            Bit Rate: 9.3~9.8

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. Concorde - DE - 6-disc The Early Years MIDDLE vs. Criterion (newer) - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM)

 

 

Jamaica Inn  (90 minute 95 minute PAL vs. NTSC)

Network:   Image: 6            Audio: 5            Bit Rate: 5.0~6.0

LaserLight:        Image: 2            Audio: 2            Bit Rate: 3.4~7.1 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. LaserLight - US Public Domain - BOTTOM)

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. LaserLight - US Public Domain - BOTTOM)

 

 

(Network - UK - British Years Boxset - TOP vs. LaserLight - US Public Domain - BOTTOM)

 

Conclusions

At £60, the new Network set is not cheap (about US$120, at present value), but the Bonus features, a dynamite transfer of the albeit lesser Jamaica Inn and an extraordinary retimed and restored Lodger makes it enticing.  The lowish bit rates don't tell the whole story, but are suggestive of single-layer products and are in part responsible for the slight drop in coherence compared to the Concorde. The Concorde at €40 (US$ 60) offers generally slightly better transfers for the remaining titles, save Criterion's recent reissue of Lady Vanishes.  Let's press Criterion to get cracking on more Hitchcock restorations.  Meantime, you ought to pick up the Concorde and Optimum sets while they are still around.

 

Ref:

The Early Years - Concorde (DE)

DVD 1: The Man Who Knew Too Much
DVD 2: Secret Agent
DVD 3: Sabotage
DVD 4: Young and Innocent
DVD 5: The Lady Vanishes
DVD 6: The Lodger2, Downhill

The Early Hitchcock Collection - Optimum (UK)

This nine disc collector's set features BLACKMAIL, CHAMPAGNE, MURDER!, THE RING, THE FARMER'S WIFE, RICH AND STRANGE, THE SKIN GAME, THE MANXMAN and NUMBER SEVENTEEN.

 

Leonard Norwitz
LensViews
March 2nd, 2008

 

 

 

 

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