- First part of an in-depth series with a unique viewpoint on the Master of Suspense
- Reclaiming the roots of Hitchcock: focusing on the iconic director’s British years
- Best known for his Hollywood classics but his early films are also essential viewing
- Contrary to popular belief, NONE of Hitchcock’s films are public domain anywhere
- Despite this, poor quality bootlegs have flooded the market, ripping off fans worldwide
- Secrets of Hitchcock on home video: every American movie examined in forensic detail
- Finally revealed: many important anomalies overlooked by countless books and reviews
- All but six – six! – of Hitchcock’s 50-plus features have severely compromised releases
- Simple guide makes it easy to find the best official DVD, Blu-ray and streaming editions
Note: this is the first part of an ongoing series of 150-odd Hitchcock articles; any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.
Armed with a little foreknowledge, collecting Alfred Hitchcock’s catalogue is comparatively straightforward when it comes to his better known and generally more feted US-made films from 1940 onwards. After all, they’ve been widely available in mostly good quality editions right from the birth of home video. However, there are still many exceptions to be found. But for his British films of the 1920s and 1930s it’s a very different story. The number of authentic looking but poor quality bootlegs far outweigh official releases and up until now, choosing the right ones has been like a game of Russian roulette with all but one chamber loaded.
Well, gamble no more because help is at hand: this series of guides finally takes all the guesswork out of the equation. Firstly we’ll have some background before going on to detail every official release of each film worldwide, itemising exactly what you should acquire, wherever you are. Alongside are supplementary articles discussing lesser known aspects of the man and his work, all presenting much new and unique research. I will, of course, be keeping them all regularly updated.
- Setting the scene
- Slaying the public domain myth
- Films in the Collectors’ Guide
- The Hitchcock Touch
- Related articles
Setting the scene
Like so many émigré filmmakers before and since, the fact that Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock (1899–1980) was wooed away from his native England to the bright lights and big bucks of Hollywood is well known, as are the classics he made there. Much less known, however, is the fine body of work that actually got him the gig. During his early years in the British film industry, from the spring of 1920 to the spring of 1939, Hitch worked on 20-odd shorts and features in various capacities and earned a sole directing credit for 27 more. Most of the former and three of the latter, the uncompleted Number 13 (1922), The Mountain Eagle (1926) and An Elastic Affair (1930), are lost and no known copies exist. While disappointing, this isn’t nearly as bad as it could be. Up to 90% of all silent films are regularly cited to have disappeared forever, along with many early talkies. Certainly, the poor survival rate of the non-directorial silents Hitch worked on is far more typical. The last of of his own silents, Blackmail (1929), was produced in both silent and sound versions. Similarly, Murder! (1930), an early talkie, had a separate but simultaneously shot German-language version titled Mary (1931).
Incidentally, Hitch is commonly cited as having directed 53 completed features in total but I dispute this. Neither version of Blackmail, nor Murder! and Mary share any common footage and even differ narratively and in terms of their casts, so can fairly be called separate films. Further, despite much misinformation to the contrary (a recurring theme in Hitchcock lore and scholarship), Hitch was the sole co-director of Elstree Calling, along with Adrian Brunel. So I make it 56.
Thus, it was largely in the UK that he honed his craft and cranked out an accomplished series of films within two decades, quickly becoming acknowledged as Britain’s top director in the process. And for very good reason. In every other piece of Hitch-related literature you’ll see this or that title being touted as “the first true Hitchcock film.” Absolute cobblers. In fact, the first true Hitchcock film was his actual first, namely The Pleasure Garden. That’s right: everything you love about Hitch was there in variable quantity right from the start, just as it was at the finish. Absolutely contrary to popular opinion, Hitch’s early work consists of far more than crude sketches that were mere prototypes of the American masterpieces that followed. Admittedly, some of his early films could be a little uneven, as were his later ones, but though he may later have equalled them, he simply never bettered the best – and there are a lot of those.
It’s usually abundantly clear anyone claiming otherwise hasn’t seen any earlier works and good old confirmation bias compels them to convince themselves they’re not missing out on anything. Either that or if they have seen any it was via some poor quality, unrestored and incomplete bargain bin DVD that understandably didn’t do a thing for them. Now that I can relate to: many now-favourite classics were first viewed via terrible condition transfers and left me wondering what the fuss was all about. But you need never suffer through their like on any format again; I’ve waded through all the dross so you don’t have to.
For years, fans felt they had to put up with those substandard copies, especially as they were the only way to see many of Hitch’s British films, short of catching a rare authorised public screening. Thankfully that’s no longer the case, as all of his features are now available on licensed DVD, with many also appearing on BD and streaming services. I’ll cover every single Hitch film in this series of guides, detailing every one of his British works, certain aspects of which even most hardcore fans and experts are utterly confused by. In addition, I’ll uncover hitherto hidden information about his US movies, most of which surprisingly exist in many different versions, some heavily compromised, and which among their numerous releases to seek out or avoid.
AH: England’s Biggest and Best Director Goes to Hollywood – Life, 11.20.1939
“He was ‘Hitch’ to everybody, even my mother, and if somebody didn’t know him, you could tell. He’d be called ‘Alfred.'” And plain ‘Al’? She laughs, “Never. I think my father would have ignored it.” – Pat Hitchcock O’Connell (it is “Pat” not Patricia), speaking in 1984. Television Academy interview, 2004.
Alma was 50% of the lifelong directing team known as Alfred Hitchcock; much more about her here. Pat carved out her own very respectable acting career, including appearing for her father in Stage Fright, Strangers on a Train, Psycho, and 10 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Hitch never forgot his British roots: The Westcliff Cine Club Visits Mr. Hitchcock in Hollywood (1963).
Slaying the public domain myth
Let’s get one simple fact straight: nothing with Hitch’s name on it, including his British films and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, is in the public domain; his entire back catalogue is fully copyrighted. The many unlicensed DVD, Blu-ray and streaming home video releases are all bootlegs. Yup: every single one of them. It’s a common misapprehension they’re anything but, which for once isn’t only perpetuated by the bootleggers themselves. Everywhere you look, supposed Hitchcock “experts”, from fans to film professors and historians, parrot this canard over and over again. But a lie, however many times it’s repeated, is still a lie. In fact, Hitch’s films have been protected by copyright almost globally since their original release. It’s true his British films were temporarily public domain in the US only, leading to many shoddy releases. But that sad state of affairs ended on 1st January 1996, when Title 17 of the Copyright Law of the United States was amended (article 104A) to include copyright restorations on foreign or “alien” works. This brought it into line with Directive 93/98/EEC in the EU, part of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, to which the US became a signatory on 8th December 1994, effective as of 1st January 1995. This belatedly brought the arbitrary and often unjust US copyright laws broadly into line with the much more logical and consistent laws long since adopted by the rest of the world.
- All non-US films – not just Hitch’s – are copyrighted everywhere, including the US, for at least 95 years from their original release
- Some US films are in the public domain but far fewer than is commonly thought; each should be checked carefully before assuming it’s up for grabs
The upshot is that from 28 years after each film’s original release, miscellaneous unrestored copies of Hitch’s works being screened and issued on 8, 16 and 35 mm film, and later videocassette and LaserDisc, were fair game – but only in the US and not since the start of 1996. Despite this, budget DVD companies in the US (and elsewhere) continue to release unlicensed discs with the poor quality prints previously used for US public domain video transfers.
Unauthorised releases in the rest of the world, on any format, have always been bootlegs. For instance, the DVD era commenced with the format’s Japanese launch in October 1996, before being rolled out internationally over the next couple of years. Therefore, as they were produced after that date, every unlicensed DVD is illegal. It’s impossible for them to be otherwise. A lot more on this fascinating subject has been brought to light by historian Nick Cooper’s truly groundbreaking research:
For further insight into the sheer scale of the Hitch bootleg phenomenon and a complete list of all his catalogue’s copyright holders, see:
Sceptics are fond of arguing that if Hitch’s films were copyrighted, illicit copies wouldn’t be sold on Amazon or eBay – they are – or hosted on the biggest online repository of (supposedly) public domain material, the Internet Archive. Well, as of the time of writing, at least on the latter they aren’t, as I’ve worked with them to purge the lot. Thousands of them. But they always creep back. Likewise, doubters ask why copyright holders aren’t getting them removed from YouTube. Again, many of them are, but it’s the very definition of a Sisyphean task. The righteous are few but the pirates are many.
Remember: every single film and TV programme Hitch ever made is fully copyrighted, and every free-to-watch upload on YouTube et al. – and even many that aren’t free – is a pirate.
Films in the Collectors’ Guide
Those not yet linked are coming very soon. Subscribe to the email list to be notified.
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents/Hour (1955–1965)
- The White Shadow (1923)
- The Pleasure Garden (1925)
- The Mountain Eagle (1926)
- The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926): Production and remakes
- Part 2: Restorations and home video releases
- Downhill (1927)
- Easy Virtue (1927)
- The Ring (1927)
- The Farmer’s Wife (1928)
- Champagne (1928)
- The Manxman (1929)
- Blackmail (1929): Production
- Part 2: Restoration and home video releases
- Juno and the Paycock (1930)
- Elstree Calling (1930)
- Murder! and Mary (1930/1931)
- The Skin Game (1931)
- Rich and Strange (1931)
- Number Seventeen (1932)
- Waltzes from Vienna (1934)
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
- The 39 Steps (1935): Novel and production
- Secret Agent (1936)
- Sabotage (1936)
- Young and Innocent (1937)
- The Lady Vanishes (1938): Production and Ethel Lina White on home video
- Jamaica Inn (1939): Overview
- Rebecca (1940)
- Foreign Correspondent (1940)
- Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)
- Suspicion (1941)
- Saboteur (1942)
- Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
- Lifeboat (1944)
- Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache (1944) – British
- Spellbound (1945)
- Notorious (1946)
- The Paradine Case (1947)
- Rope (1948)
- Under Capricorn (1949)
- Stage Fright (1950)
- Strangers on a Train (1951)
- I Confess (1953)
- Dial M for Murder (1954)
- Rear Window (1954)
- To Catch a Thief (1955)
- The Trouble with Harry (1955)
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
- The Wrong Man (1956)
- Vertigo (1958)
- North by Northwest (1959)
- Psycho (1960)
- The Birds (1963)
- Marnie (1964)
- Torn Curtain (1966)
- Topaz (1969)
- Frenzy (1972)
- Family Plot (1976)
The Hitchcock Touch
The Master’s timeless appeal is largely founded on his many recurring themes and motifs which have, contrary to popular opinion, been strongly in evidence since his first film. Collectively, they’re commonly referred to as the “Hitchcock Touch” and here are some of the most thorough explanations and analyses of his methods:
- Hitchcock Considerations – Ken Mogg, 2021
- Hitchcock Zone: Themes in Hitchcock Films
- Hitchcock’s Motifs (2005) – Michael Walker; free PDF
- Reassessing the Hitchcock Touch: Industry, Collaboration, and Filmmaking (2017) – ed. Wieland Schwanebeck
What’s a MacGuffin? – Ken Mogg
According to this great infographic, The 39 Steps is the only Hitchcock with all of the Master’s themes, which figures, as it’s also my absolute fave!
Just for fun, test your Hitchcock knowledge with this selection of quizzes rounded up from the interwebs.
Cameo quiz: Which Hitch?
If you live in the UK or have a decent VPN, see how you’d fare on the BBC’s Mastermind with “Alfred Hitchcock films of the 1950s” as your chosen specialist subject. Available until the end of 2022.
- AH’s Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries (1963, Zone) – illus. Fred Banbery/Zone
- The AH Movie Quiz Book (1986) – Bryan Brown
- The AH Triviography and Quiz Book (1999/2011) – Kathleen Kaska
- Psycho Puzzles Inspired by the World of AH (2019) – Jason Ward
There’s a surprisingly small amount of non-book or record official Hitch merchandise available. In terms of games, the first to be issued was 1958’s Why (rules, vids), originating from Milton Bradley in America but issued in various international language editions and reissued twice more in the 1960s. In 1973, with a change in artwork and references, it was recycled as the Columbo Detective Game (rules, vids). Next up, the first special edition of Clue, the long running board game, was released in 1999 to mark the Master’s 100th birthday, with the six staple suspects dressed up as their favourite Hitch characters. Elsewhere, I’ve detailed the respective board and computer games dedicated to Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho. The foregoing games are all long deleted but easily found on the likes of eBay. One more recent item, still available new, is the Alfred Hitchcock Classic Mystery Jigsaw Puzzle from 2019.
Lastly, this seems as good a place as any to mention Hitchcock: The Final Cut, a 2001 video game based on the Master’s films. Designed for use on Windows PCs, it was issued in the US and Europe, and used copies abound on various eBay sites.
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Setting the Scene
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Miscellaneous British Films
- Free the Hitchcock 9! Releasing the BFI-Restored Silents on Home Video
- Bootlegs Galore: The Great Alfred Hitchcock Rip-off
- Part 2: Europeans Make the Best Villains
- Alfred Hitchcock: Dial © for Copyright: British Law
- Hitchcock/Truffaut: The Men Who Knew So Much
- Alma Reville: The Power Behind Hitchcock’s Throne
- Joan Harrison: Hitchcock’s Most Frequent Collaborator
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The British Years in Print
- Part 2: Best of the Rest
- Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side or the Wrong Man?
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Miscellaneous Releases
- Beware of Pirates! How to Avoid Bootleg Blu-rays and DVDs
For more detailed specifications of official releases, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. | Facebook groups: Alfred Hitchcock and Alfred Hitchcock Appreciation Society. | This article is regularly updated, so please comment below if you have any questions or suggestions.