Bootlegs Galore: The Great Alfred Hitchcock Rip-off

  • Contrary to popular belief, NONE of Hitchcock’s films are in the public domain
  • Bootleggers have been ripping them off for years, especially on DVD
  • He’s the most pirated classic filmmaker ever, with far more counterfeit than official releases
  • Illicit Blu-rays mainly emanate from Italy, Spain and Germany – avoid them all

There’s something strange afoot regarding our Alfred’s films. Particularly those from the first half of his 50-plus-year career, covering his early British years and initial US movies. They’re often thought of as being in the public domain, but they’re not. None of them. Nada. This makes it difficult for collectors wanting good quality releases, because there’s a huge flock of viciously cheap ‘n’ nasty versions out there, blackening not the sky, but the technical excellence of the great man’s reputation. Join me for a terrifying tale of monstrous bootlegs, far more frightening than anything the Master himself could dream up…

Note: this is one of 50-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

Films of Alfred Hitchcock caricature by Chya Chyi, 2011

Films of Alfred Hitchcock caricature by Chya Chyi, 2011. Abel.

Ironically for the all-time Master of the crime thriller, Hitch’s films have been the victims of more crime than any other classic filmmaker. But who have they been stolen from? Let’s have a look at the historical copyright holders of his British films. Since they were first made they’ve passed through the hands of various corporate entities:

Pleasure, Eagle, Lodger, Downhill, Easy, Waltzes, Sabotage, Secret, Man, 39 Steps, Young, Lady:
Gainsborough Pictures → Rank Film Distributors (from 1941) → Carlton International (1997) → Granada International (2003) → ITV Global Entertainment Ltd (2004)

In the UK, home video releases have been issued by the following, which are essentially different iterations of the same company:
Pickwick Video (1982–1995) → renamed Carlton Video (1995–2004) → Granada Ventures (2005–2006) → ITV DVD (2006–2009) → ITV Studios (2009–present)
ITV have licensed exclusively to Network DVD (later Network Distributing) since 2006 in the UK.

Ring, Farmer, Champagne, Manxman, Blackmail, Juno, Murder, Elstree, Skin, Mary, Rich, Number:
British International Pictures → EMI (from 1970) → Thorn-EMI (1979) → Alan Bond (1986) → Cannon Group (1986) → Weintraub Entertainment (1987) → Movie Acquisitions Corporation, became Lumiere Pictures (1990) → UGC (1996) → StudioCanal/Canal+ Image UK (1998)

UK home video editions: Optimum Releasing (1999–2011), then StudioCanal – present.

Jamaica Inn:
Mayflower Productions → Raymond Rohauer (from 1975) → Douris Corporation (1995) → Cohen Film Collection (2011)

 Releases: see Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide entry.

Bon Voyage, Aventure Malgache:
Crown Copyright → BFI (from 1993)

 Releases: see Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide entry.

Full details on each film can be found here. A condition of licensing common to all legitimate home media is that the name and/or logo of the licensor or copyright holder must be prominently displayed on the packaging. Usually their ident is inserted just prior to the start of the main programme too. So if any Hitchcock film, on whatever format, is lacking at least one of these company names, it’s almost certainly a cheap knock-off. Which brings us to…

 Isn't she lovely? Don't be fooled – she'll only rip you off. The Pleasure Garden (1925, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) German bootleg DVD.

Isn’t she lovely? Don’t be fooled – she’ll only rip you off. German bootleg from SJ Entertainment, DA Music and/or Aberle Media. Take your pick: they seem to be suffering an identity crisis.

Curious to see the rest of her immediate kin? Just look at these beauties. Very tastefully designed, with absolutely gorgeous faux-embossed sleeves featuring immaculate tinted images. Don’t they just ooze quality? Unfortunately not: beauty is only skin deep and theirs merely serves to conceal the ugliness lying beneath. Yup: because they’re all bona fide bootlegs. Their actual transfers look bloody awful – like they’ve been VHS-recorded directly off a 1960s TV screen. Also, these DVDs, like other unrestored Hitch silents bootlegs, are untinted B&W, cropped, edited, transferred at the wrong speed and the images bob and weave so much they’ll make you seasick. As if all that wasn’t enough, they’re topped off with ancient generic canned music, as their many annoyed Amazon reviewers will attest. Naturally most of the aforementioned applies to Hitch’s ripped-off talkies too.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that if most bootleggers put half as much effort into the quality of their content as they did their sleeves, they’d have far fewer complaints. But they couldn’t care less: they’ve got a great, low cost business model that works brilliantly. Attractive sleeves are their honeytrap. Once they’ve got your money it’s immaterial whether you’re satisfied or not. You’d think eventually folk would wise up and the bootleggers would go out of business, but no: there are always a million more unsuspecting fans ready to be easily parted from their money. Then there are the repeat offenders: those who buy these awful things over and over. They either don’t know or care the films can easily be had in much better quality, or they keep buying in the hope eventually they’ll turn upthe odd nugget. They won’t. What they will do is keep funding and encouraging bootleggers and pirates to stay in business, thus killing off the market for quality restored releases.

Avoid this beautiful faker: she's a cheap German bootleg and you're better off seeing the back of her. The Pleasure Garden (1925, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) German bootleg DVD rear.

Avoid this beautiful faker: she’s a cheap German bootleg and you’re better off seeing the back of her.

Every country worldwide is absolutely wallowing in homegrown Hitch bootlegs, mirroring the bewildering array of poor quality Charlie Chaplin releases to be had. Owing to the ubiquity of Hitch’s British era rip-offs in particular, he’s easily the most heavily bootlegged classic film personage of all. That’s an accolade both he and his fans could do without, but never fear: if a particular release or label isn’t mentioned in this series of guides, it’s almost certainly a bootleg. I’ve certainly listed every official pre-Hollywood era Hitch BD in existence. Sadly, owing to this rampant piracy, the likes of Germany, Spain and Australia each have just a tiny handful of quality official DVDs of his British films. Meanwhile, Italy has a sorry total of only three official releases. That’s it. In many other countries the situation is exactly the same – if they have any official discs at all. But those domestic markets are all absolutely awash with Hitch bootlegs. You see now how this works? Cause and effect. Especially in the world of niche film releases on home video. Detailing all the Hitch-infringing labels to avoid would be impossible: there are literally hundreds of them churning out thousands of different discs. Though having said that, I previously compiled a substantial line-up of general offenders. There’s also a 2008-compiled list covering the first 10 years of US Hitch boot DVD labels kicking around the internet with over 50 entries on it, but dozens more have appeared stateside in the interim.

Though the British films endure the bulk of the thievery, almost as frequently the same fate befalls a seemingly arbitrary handful of Hitch’s 1940s American movies. Also, while they’re happy to bootleg or pirate actual films, the thieves never touch any of their many extras. Mind you, releasing space-saving, single-layer, plain ‘vanilla’ discs is par for the course for bootlegs in general.

Horror hides in the shadows: Eve Gray is stretched and cropped in The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock). US St. Clair Vision bootleg DVD screenshot.

Horror hides in the shadows: Eve Gray is stretched and cropped in The Lodger (1926). US St. Clair Vision bootleg DVD.

Murky: poor Eve is cropped again in The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock). UK GMVS/Waterfall bootleg DVD.

Murky: poor Eve is cropped again in this UK GMVS/Waterfall bootleg DVD.

The beauty: Eve is finally revealed in The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US MGM licensed DVD screenshot.

The Beauty: Eve is finally revealed in this US MGM licensed DVD.

Never looked lovelier: Eve at her best since she first shimmered in nitrate on the silver screen. The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK Network Blu-ray screenshot.

Never looked lovelier: Eve at her best since she first shimmered in nitrate on the silver screen. UK Network Blu-ray.

For more comparative screenshots, see The Lodger‘s Collectors’ Guide entry

Guilty, m'lud! Young and Innocent (1937, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US Brentwood bootleg DVD screenshot.

Guilty, m’lud! Young and Innocent (1937) US Brentwood bootleg DVD.

Not so Young and not so Innocent: Young and Innocent (1937, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US Madacy bootleg DVD screenshot.

Not so Young and not so Innocent: US Madacy bootleg DVD.

Get the picture? Young and Innocent (1937, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US MGM licensed DVD screenshot.

Get the picture? US MGM licensed DVD.

Pure as the driven snow: Young and Innocent (1937, dir. Alfred Hitchcock). UK Network Blu-ray screenshot.

Pure as the driven snow: UK Network Blu-ray.

Regarding those bootlegged talkies, if you should pick up any from countries where English isn’t the primary language, you take pot luck as to what audio you get. You may be lucky enough to get the original audio, albeit in rotten quality, or you may be stuck with an amateurish dub done for some ancient edited TV broadcast, a VHS-sourced copy of which you’re now blessed with enduring. Right now I have here by me a very smart-looking Polish box set of British talkies which, aside from the lack of copyright info giving it away as a boot, is every bit as beautifully  designed as any Hitch release I’ve seen, legit or otherwise. However, even if I was willing to overlook the awful, muddy, scratched and jumpy transfers housed on its immaculate picture discs, there’s the question of the audio. It’s in the original English alright – but drowned out by some gruff, bored-sounding Polish geezer literally narrating his translations a few seconds after each person begins speaking. It sounds like he’s doing it on the fly and at a distorted volume twice as loud as the original soundtrack, to boot (pun intended). It’s so poorly done, you can almost hear the tape recorder clicking on and off as he waits for someone to speak. Of course, he’s doing all the voices himself: male and female, young and old alike, in the same grinding monotone. Can you imagine what that does to the original overlapping, whipcrack-sharp dialogue? Kills every film stone dead, that’s what. Yes, I can follow what’s actually happening this way, but there’s no fun in it whatsoever. Quite the opposite in fact. I can’t dismiss his efforts 100% though, as I have no idea as to the accuracy of his translation. I’m afraid my Polish just isn’t up to it.

As is so often the case, thieves in Italy and Spain were the first to produce boot Hitch BDs; now they’ve been joined by Germany. At present, official BDs have only been released in the US, UK, France and just two from Spain, for Downhill and Jamaica Inn. Italian Hitch BD bootleg labels include Enjoy Movies and Studio 4K, while Spanish ones are Feel Films, IDA Films, Layons Multimedia, New Line Films, Producciones JRB, Resen, Vértice Cine and others.

Suspicion aka Sospecha (1941, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Spanish Resen bootleg Blu-ray

It’s more than Suspicion: this is definitely a bootleg and prolific thieves Resen are the culprits. There is a legit Spanish BD but it’s courtesy of Warner Bros., not these shysters.

Let’s spotlight a prolific German outfit who are pretty typical of the larger operations churning out bootlegs. They’re one of many in that country with a special affinity for preying on Hitch’s catalogue and are the first to produce domestic Hitch boot BDs. Just their Hitch discs alone are published under many different label names, most likely as a smokescreen. Those confirmed include: Best EntertainmentCrest Movies; daredo; Delta Music & Entert.; div; Edel GermanyGreat MoviesIndigo; Soulfood; White Pearl Movies, WME Home-Entertainment and others. Coincidentally, they’re also affiliated with the German boots described above. They’ve also littered streaming services like Amazon Video with their ripped-off versions. Their DVDs cram on up to four films per per disc, making for an appallingly low bitrate. Some include other, completely unrelated films, like the genuinely PD Carnival of Souls (1962). Even their single-film BDs are in much lower quality than the official versions, with several containing standard definition material passed off as HD. Even on one of their ‘better’ discs, Spellbound (1945), its stars are horizontally squashed and waxy on the German pirate compared to the far superior official US Criterion disc: Ingrid: De | US; Gregory: De | US.

Foreign bootlegs do commonly include local subtitles and occasionally an additional local dub. However, sub translations are usually very poor, while dubs are lo-fi and frequently incomplete, being lifted from VHS tapes and recordings of edited old TV broadcasts. However, not even these minimal efforts apply to the German releases in question. Their BD, DVD and digital versions alike are all completely vanilla, extras and subtitle-free efforts. Even among cost-cutting bootleggers this level of cheapness is almost unprecedented for foreign releases of English-language films (and French, in the case of Hitch’s two wartime shorts).  In at least one case, despite being listed on the sleeve, the original English-language track has been omitted altogether! Both films on The Lodger/Downhill BD are B&W, losing their original tinting, and run at PAL speed, making their sources especially questionable. Many films are inexplicably renamed, for instance Secret Agent, originally released there as Geheimagent (1936) becomes Der Spion, while The Paradine Case/Der Fall Paradin (1947) is now Schuldig oder nicht schuldig? Still others claim to include The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), but instead have the 1934 version. The latter film’s single DVD has a shot of its star, Peter Lorre, in M (1931) on the rear: right actor, wrong film. I could go on – and on – but I think you get the idea. In short, they’re not only put together by thieves, but stupid ones, who have no idea what they’re doing. Don’t fall for their woefully substandard rubbish.

Alfred Hitchcock bootleg German Indigo/Great Movies/WME Home-Entertainment Blu-ray box set

Here’s not looking at you, kid. Alfred Hitchcock bootleg German Indigo/Great Movies/WME Home-Entertainment (they can’t make their minds up either) Blu-ray box set

Surprisingly, many of the German bootleggers’ wares have been reviewed on numerous otherwise-credible home video sites, not one of which has picked up on the fact they’re plugging illicit copies. Such ignorance only aids bootleggers in general: the internet is a truly wondrous democratic arena where everyone has a voice. Unfortunately, all to often that also applies to the uninformed. Such endorsements, along with being sold by trusted, established outlets like Amazon and eBay, only lend the rip-offs both credibility and respectability.

Of course, rather than buy licensed releases you could always go online and stream or download copies of many of these films for free. But again, as with Chaplin, you’re more likely than not to end up watching ones that are, to put it mildly, of sub-optimal A/V quality and completeness. Added to their other shortcomings is the quality of the discs themselves. Of course, the cheapest low quality blanks are always used and a recurring issue with all boots, especially Hitch’s, is that they frequently skip or freeze, or won’t even play at all. Granted, not all boots are terrible quality: sometimes they’re copied (at lower bitrates) directly from regular releases and visually at least, are often virtually indistinguishable in quality – albeit minus any extras, original language subtitles, etc. Technically, those are classified as pirates or counterfeits, as well as bootlegs.

If you happen to already own any Hitch boots, bin them or give them to someone you dislike and treat yourself to the pleasure of seeing the films transferred properly. I can’t stress it enough: everywhere you look, the number of good quality, official releases is relatively small, as opposed to the countless shoddy knock-offs outnumbering them many, many times over. Granted, the bootlegs are usually ridiculously cheap to buy. But crap, no matter how cheaply it’s sold for, is still crap. Ultimately, bootleg buyers are really cheating themselves. Not only that, but very often the quality versions can often be had for little or no more money anyway. The choice, unlike the bootlegs themselves, is always clear.

For spotting bootlegs of Hitch’s British films and others, it’s easy. Avoid if they’re not listed here:

Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide

For more tips on spotting counterfeits in general, see:

Beware of Pirates! How to Avoid Bootleg Blu-rays and DVDs

The last word goes to our old friends Resen, who have unwittingly given us a pirate of pirates:

Jamaica Inn aka Posada Jamaica (1939, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Spanish Resen bootleg Blu-ray

Jamaica Inn aka Posada Jamaica (1939) Spanish bootleg Blu-ray

Yet more irony. If you need a Spanish-friendly version, here’s the real thing.

Those not yet linked are coming very soon. Subscribe to the email list to be notified.

For more detailed specifications of the releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This guide will be kept updated, so if you have any questions or suggestions please leave a comment below.

I started Brenton Film because I love film – quelle surprise! The silent era, 1930s and 1940s especially get my literary juices flowing though. So you’ll see a lot about those. For more, see this site’s About page.

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