…A Bomb Plot …A Killing …Justice
London cinema manager Carl Verloc (Oscar Homolka) harbours a deadly secret – he’s covertly working with a gang of European saboteurs. After throwing London into darkness following an attack on Battersea Power Station, his next mission is to blow up Piccadilly Circus. His wife (Sylvia Sidney) and her young brother Stevie (Desmond Tester) have no idea about his anarchic activities, but Scotland Yard have assigned an undercover detective (John Loder) to watch him from a shop nearby. Can he bring Carl and his gang to justice before they perpetrate their outrage on London?
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1936 adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel, The Secret Agent, is one of his key early British works, and was again written by Charles Bennett, who also scripted The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps and Young and Innocent, as well as Blackmail, based on his own play. Bennett would go onto do screenplays for six Irwin Allen movies in Hollywood (including 1960’s The Lost World), as well as Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (1957) and City Under the Sea (1965) back in the UK.
While the film suffers from the miscasting of John Loder as the detective on the case (Hitchcock’s first choice, Robert Donat, was unavailable), it’s got some brilliant sequences that highlight Hitchcock’s inventive use of montage (drawn from the silent Soviet directors he admired at the time), most significantly a suspenseful set piece at the Verloc’s kitchen table.
Hitchcock later confessed that another crucial sequence, featuring a boy and a bomb, was a ‘grave error’ which alienated his audience. In the US, the film was titled, The Woman Alone and also I Married a Murderer, and it shouldn’t be confused with Hitchcock’s Secret Agent, which came out the same year. Watch out for Carry On‘s Charles Hawtrey (looking very young) during the London Aquarium sequence.
THE NETWORK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Sabotage is presented by Network Distributing in a High Definition transfer from original film elements (and it’s never looked better). The special features includes a fascinating, if cheaply made, On Location featurette, introduced by Robert Powell, and an image gallery.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) | Alfred Hitchcock’s riveting thriller starring Peter Lorre at his villainous best
A family vacation in St Moritz turns terribly awful for Jill Lawrence (Edna Best) and her husband Bob (Leslie Banks) when their teenage daughter Betty (Nova Philbeam) is kidnapped by a group of criminals, led by the slimy Abbott (Peter Lorre), after they unwittingly uncover a plot to murder a European head of state. Forced not to reveal anything to the authorities, lest their daughter is killed, Bob and Jill turn amateur sleuth to hunt the kidnappers down. But when Bob discovers their hideout back in London, he puts his own life on the line to rescue Betty.
Lord High Minister of Everything Sinister!
This is the original classic version of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, which he remade in 1956, starring Peter Lorre in his first English language film. It may lack the polish of the James Stewart/Doris Day version, but Lorre’s splendidly malevolent turn as the beaming chain-smoking bad guy steals the show, while Hitchcock’s ability to create suspense from the most mundane of settings is best illustrated by the film’s memorable dental sequence. The film’s climax, meanwhile, practically re-stages the real-life Siege of Sidney Street that took place in Stepney on 3 January 1911.
Playing the Nick and Nora Charles-styled London couple are Leslie Banks and Edna Best. Cult film fans will recognise Leslie Banks for his role as the villainous Count Zaroff in the classic Joel McCrae/Fay Wray 1932 horror The Most Dangerous Game, while Edna Best also appeared in 1947’s supernatural romance The Ghost and Mrs Muir. Juvenile actress Nova Pilbeam would next appear (all grown up) as the lead in Hitchcock’s 1937 romantic thriller Young and Innocent. The film’s writer Charles Bennett, who wrote all of Hitchcock’s pre-war films, later adapted MR James’ Casting of the Runes into the celebrated 1957 British horror Night of the Demon.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
The Man Who Knew Too Much is available on Blu-ray in the UK as part Network’s The British Film collection, and is featured in a brand-new High Definition transfer from the original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. The special features include an introduction from film historian Charles Barr; Aquarius: Alfred the Great, a BBC TV 1972 interview with the director on location while making Frenzy (this is great btw); and an image gallery. These were also included on Network’s 2008 DVD release. A US Blu-ray version was brought out by the Criterion Collection in 2013.
• Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1930s features Young and Innocent (1937) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) are also available on Blu-ray from Network Distributing from 19 January. Click on the links for more information.
Young and Innocent (1937) | Alfred Hitchcock’s charming romantic thriller showed the genius glimpsing through
After the body of a popular stage actress is found washed up on a beach on the English coast, Robert Tisdall (Derrick De Marney) finds himself the prime suspect in her murder. Escaping from the local court house in a clapped-out Morris driven by the police chief’s daughter Erica (Nova Pilbeam), Robert convinces the pretty blonde of his innocence and together the couple set out to find a vital piece of evidence that will clear his name…
A ROMANTIC MURDER-MYSTERY DRAMA!
Adpated from Josephine Tey’s 1936 novel A Shilling for Candles, this small-scale British thriller, made at the then newly-opened Pinewood Studios, was said to be one of Alfred Hitchcock’s favourites among his British films that he made before his big move to Hollywood.
Although dated in its attitudes (its very white English home counties), and possessing a creaky script (the dialogue is courtesy of playwright Gerald Savory, while the story was written by Charles Bennett) and low budget production design (there’s lots of back screen projection and models and miniatures used), Hitchcock’s inventiveness peeks through. In particular, a scene involving the old Morris (a character in itself) being swallowed up by a sink hole in a mine shaft and a crane shot across a packed dance floor which ends in a close up of the killer (something Hitchcock would go onto perfect in 1946’s Notorious).
Interestingly, Wimbledon-born actress Nova Pilbeam was just 17 when she was signed on to star in this thriller, having already appeared in the director’s The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1934. Although considered for both Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1937) and Rebecca (1940), Pilbeam lost out on both counts, but continued to make films until 1948’s The Three Weird Sisters, when she left acting altogether at the ripe old age of 30.
Derrick de Marney, meanwhile, is best known to film fans for his memorable portrayal of Uncle Silas in the 1947 British drama based on J Sheridan Le Fanu’s supernatural tale. His last film role was in the rarely-seen 1967 sci-fi The Projected Man.
Hitchcock also makes one of his legendary cameos 14-minutes into the film as a photographer outside a courthouse.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Young and Innocent is available in the UK on Blu-ray as part of Network Distributing’s The British Film collection, and is presented in a High Definition transfer from original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. There are no notes about the restoration included with this release. The special features include an introduction from film historian Charles Barr and the 25-minute documentary Hitchcock: The Early Years, which also appeared on Network’s 2008 DVD release.
• Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1930s features The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) are also available on Blu-ray from Network Distributing from 19 January. Click on the links for more information.
Comedy! Chills! Chuckles! in a Mystery Express!
Intrigue and espionage abound when soon-to-be-married English tourist Iris (Margaret Lockwood) aboards a transcontinental express train back to England and strikes up an acquaintance with elderly English governess, Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), who then disappears without a trace. With the help of a besotted musicologist (Michael Redgrave), Iris turns amateur sleuth to get to the bottom of the mystery?
The Film That Made ALFRED HITCHCOCK Master of Suspense!
Alfred Hitchcock once said that a train was his favourite setting for a movie because they offer such a perfect venue for generating suspense. This well-oiled 1938 comedy thriller, made at the legendary Gainsborough Studios in Islington, north London, is his most famous mystery film, and one of the pre-war features that helped pave his way to Hollywood.
Packed with twisty plots, a great sense of very British humour, and eccentric characters – courtesy of a great ensemble cast, The Lady Vanishes contains all the hallmarks of what would become Hitchcock’s stock-in-trade (including his eye for the ladies – just check out his cheeky champagne and chicken dinner scene).
Indeed, it’s so accomplished that it still holds up today (and still preferable in my books to the 1979 Hammer remake with Cybill Shepherd or the 2013 BBC TV movie with Tuppence Middleton), even the model train, studio sets and miniatures have a charm about them that’s hard not to like. This is vintage cinema magic – Hitchcock style. And, as for the cricket-loving Charters and Caldicott characters, they’re so very old school, they are hysterical! And not gay, at all!
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
The Lady Vanishes is available on Blu-ray in the UK from 19 January, as part Network Distristributing’s The British Film collection, and is featured in a brand-new High Definition transfer from the original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. There are no notes about the restoration accompanying the release. The special features include an introduction by film historian Charles Barr, original theatrical trailer, image gallery and pdf promotional material. These are also included on Network’s DVD 1008 release. A US Blu-ray version was brought out by the Criterion Collection in 2011.
• Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1930s features The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Young and Innocent (1937) are also available on Blu-ray from Network Distributing from 19 January. Click on the links for more information. My reviews coming later this week.
Alfred Hitchcock has long been regarded as the Master of Suspense, but he was also pretty good at propaganda judging from 1944’s Lifeboat, which was his direct response to the ongoing war in Europe.
Six men and three women – against the sea and each other
After their ship is torpedoed in the North Atlantic, a handful of survivors await rescue aboard a lifeboat. But when the captain of a downed German U-boat is pulled from the sea, the survivors fall out with each over his fate and the direction their boat should be heading.
Not many directors would dare to make an entire suspense film set on board a lifeboat, but Hitchcock, of course, does it masterfully. Thanks to his superb storyboarding skills, you quickly forget it’s all been shot in a Hollywood studio, while the performances of the terrific cast soon draw you into the unfolding drama. Tallulah Bankhead is just marvellous as a mink-coated journalist falling for the dubious charms of John Hodiak’s tough sailor, while Walter Slezak shines as the cagey German officer. But it’s William Bendix as the patriotic German-American suffering from gangrene who really brings a tear to the eye.
While Lifeboat is unashamedly wartime propaganda and its views are very much of the period (especially the racial stereotyping), it does ask profound questions about war that continue to resonate. Its Oscar-nominated cinematography, meanwhile, is superb – especially considering the staged conditions in which they were created.
In 2012, Lifeboat got a dual format release as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema Series, featuring a new HD master of the film along with Hitchcock’s French language shorts, Bon voyage and Aventure malgache, which the director also made in 1944 to promote the cause of the French Resistance.
In the UK, Sky customers can watch Lifeboat via Sky On Demand and on Sky Movies (Sky 312/340, Virgin 412/442), with the next screening on Thursday 15 May at 4.25am. The film is also available to view on YouTube from Fox International.
Sisters (1973) | Enter the sordid sexual world of Brian De Palma’s suspenseful Hitchcock homage in HD
What the Devil Hath Joined Together Let No Man Cut Asunder!
When French Canadian divorcée Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder) meets a young man after appearing on a TV show, she invites him home to her Staten Island apartment, only to attract the ire of her twin sister Dominique Blanchion. In a neighbouring block, journalist Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) witnesses the man being murdered – but the police find no body or any physical evidence.
Exasperated by the police’s lack of interest, Grace follows up the case herself with the help of a private eye (Charles Durning), and when she discovers that Danielle was one of a pair of Canadian Siamese twins who were separated by Danielle’s ex-husband Dr Emil Breton (William Finley), Grace then sets out to uncover the truth about the supposedly dead Blanchion twin…
‘If you are going to steal, then steal from the best’
This is the first great shocker from director Brian De Palma and almost every scene features some kind of reference to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, which was De Palma intent. Its even topped off with a brilliant, nerve-wracking score from Psycho composer Bernard Herrmann.
Before 1973, De Palma made comedies and experimental satires, but with Sisters (originally released as Blood Sisters in the UK) he found his mojo, and his perfect audience, in the suspense thriller. It was a genre he would go onto master with Carrie, Dressed to Kill and Blow Out. While De Palma borrows the personality-transference theme from Psycho and the early killing-off of a sympathetic character and the witness of a murder through binoculars from Rear Window, he also brings his own cinematic touches to the proceedings with the introduction of one of his trademarks, the use of split screen, which is employed here with imaginative and inventive effect. De Palma also gives us one of the most powerful scenes he has ever done, a disturbing hallucination sequence that will haunt you forever.
THE ARROW FILMS UK RELEASE
Arrow Films, who have been championing De Palma’s oeuvre with restored releases of Phantom of the Paradise, The Fury and Obsession, are now releasing the UK Blu-ray debut of the director’s 1973 suspense thriller Sisters, which has been given an all-new restoration and features a host of entertaining extras (see below).
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation in its 1.78:1 aspect ration. Region 2 encoded.
• Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
• What the Devil Hath Joined Together: Brian De Palma’s Sisters – A visual essay by author Justin Humphreys (47min)
• Interviews with co-writer Louisa Rose, actress Jennifer Salt, editor Paul Hirsch and unit manager Jeffrey Hayes
• The De Palma Digest – A fguide to the director’s career by critic Mike Sutton
• Archive audio interview with the late William Finley
• Promotional material gallery
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Collector’s booklet featuring an essay by Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women), Brian De Palma’s 1973 Village Voice essay on Bernard Herrmann, an interview with De Palma on making Sisters, and the 1966 Life magazine article that inspired the film.