Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Murder! and Mary (1930/1931)

by Brent Reid
  • In 1956, the Master famously remade his own 1934 thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much
  • But 26 years before that, he directed two very different versions of this murder mystery
  • Both films were shot at the same time and place but with English and German casts
  • The English-language version had a second American edit, with a much pacier ending
  • Source novel author also penned controversial Hitchcock costume drama Under Capricorn
  • All have been heavily bootlegged for years but here’s a round-up of every quality official release

Note: this is one of 100-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.

Murder! (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US window card

US window card


Contents


Murder! (1930)

Diana Baring, an actress in a touring company, is discovered near the scene of the crime when a woman is found murdered. She is charged with the murder, placed on trial and convicted on circumstantial evidence. One of the jury, however, Sir John Menier, believes in her innocence and undertakes to prove it. His personal investigations take him to the touring company where he questions members of the cast and others. Through the girl’s landlady he hears that a man’s voice was overheard near the scene of the crime on the night of the murder and, eventually, he tracks down the killer in an exciting climax in a circus tent. – US Republic Pictures VHS (1994, ad) and Australian Polygram VHS (1995)


Writing in 1930, the critic and documentary maker John Grierson CBE (1898–1972) infamously proclaimed:

“Hitchcock is the best director, the slickest craftsman, the sharpest observer and finest master of detail in all England. There is no doubt about this. He has these qualities so abundantly that in their sum they give him a style which is his and no one else’s. A Hitchcock film is a Hitchcock film—and never a bad one—and this, if you will believe me, is an achievement of character where so many hands, grubby and otherwise, contribute to the final result of a film. Yet for all these virtues, Hitchcock is no more than the world’s best director of unimportant pictures. Not one he has made has outlasted a couple of twelvemonths, or will—unless something radical happens to change his standard of satisfaction and give his talents something solid to be bright about.”

Ouch. He was, of course, making the point that in his opinion, Hitch’s prodigious talent should be turned towards making films based on more important subjects than mere escapist entertainment like this. He then went on to review both Murder! and Rich and Strange in great and thoughtful detail. Much later, director John Frankenheimer broadly echoed his sentiments but it still sounds like sour grapes to me—and Grierson was wrong about them not lasting longer than a couple of years…

Edward Chapman (shadow) and Phyllis Konstam in (Murder! (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Edward Chapman (shadow) and Phyllis Konstam in the highly expressionistic opening scenes of Murder!

Even so, as with so many of Hitchcocks, Murder! and its German-language sister, Mary, are best known these days for having been directed by our Alfred. Just as interesting though, is the fact they’re multiple-language version (MLV) films , shot simultaneously on the same sets but with different casts. Filming took place from March–May 1930 at British International Pictures’ London studios, as with all of Hitch’s films made for the company from The Ring to The Skin Game. The Hitch-produced Lord Camber’s Ladies was also shot there and he returned years later to use the facilities for Jamaica Inn and Stage Fright.

Both are Murder! and Mary are densely plotted mystery-thriller whodunits with numerous typically Hitchcockian twists, though Mary is 20 minutes shorter than Murder! so much more streamlined. A third version, presumably French, was initially proposed but didn’t transpire. This was actually Hitch’s second experience with MLVs, as the previous film he worked on, Elstree Calling, was completed in nine different languages.

Enter Sir John (1928) by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson

Cosmopolitan edition, NY/alt

Murder!/Mary’s source text is 1928 British novel Enter Sir John, also serialised the same year in US publication Nash’s Magazine before being published complete a few months later. Both were graced with gorgeous illustrations by Sydney Seymour Lucas, the accomplished artist son of renowned Victorian painter John Seymour Lucas. It was written by Clemence Dane, the pseudonym of Winifred Ashton, who was by all accounts an unwittingly hilarious conversationalist, and Helen Simpson, who later mounted a parallel career as a liberal politician until her untimely early death.

Ashton racked up an impressive tally of film and TV credits and though this was her only official connection with Hitch, she also carried out the initial, uncredited, adaptation of Jamaica Inn and her own annotated script sold in early 2013; if its buyer should read this, please get in touch! Mainly via her novels, Simpson has also garnered a handful of screen credits, including two more with Hitch.

Phyllis Konstam (hidden), Herbert Marshall, Edward Chapman and Alfred Hitchcock (foreground) on the set of (Murder! (1930)

In the director’s cameo, he’s walking past house number 13, surely a subtle nod to his unfinished first film. But why’s that errant spotlight in the frame? Answer below.

Despite various authors repeating the claim the pair’s novel was adapted for the stage, according to film historian Charles Barr in English Hitchcock (1999), there’s no record of that ever happening. The rumour seems to have come about due to Dane also being a successful playwright and the fact that as the book is set within the world of the theatre, the films naturally come across as if they were play adaptations. Much like the oft-repeated falsities of The Mountain Eagle being renamed in the US, or Nita Naldi’s supposed appearance in The Pleasure Garden, the Murder!-play misapprehension has been perpetuated by numerous lazy authors and non-existent fact checking. For all that, Enter Sir John did at least spawn a rare 1932 sequel titled, somewhat predictably, Re-enter Sir John.

On the subject of associated books, I strongly recommend Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films (2015) also by Barr, with Alain Kerzoncuf. It has a substantial chapter on both MLVs, with an in-depth analysis of their production and many fascinating differences. Another important print resource is the aforementioned English Hitchcock, while there’s an extensive breakdown of Murder’s sound design in:

Norah Baring in Murder! (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK Studiocanal DVD

UK Studiocanal DVD; Norah Baring in Murder! Otherwise best remembered for leading roles in Anthony Asquith’s silent dramas Underground, The Runaway Princess and A Cottage on Dartmoor, she also interviewed Hitch in 1935 for her regular column in Film Pictorial.

Following the, ahem, execution of its titular subject matter, Murder! threatens to devolve into a similar, albeit highly stylised, vein as later classic courtroom dramas such as 12 Angry Men (1957), before moving firmly into whodunit territory. There are some keenly observed performances from the usual array of Hitch regulars, both credited and uncredited. In particular, look out for former Blackmailer Donald Calthrop, who puts in a brief but nimble turn as both a policeman and a damsel in distress! Without wanting to spoil the outcome, it’s previously often been claimed the killer commits their crime to protect the dreadful secret that they’re actually gay. This is incorrectly seen as a subtext instead of the real reason stated in both the book and film, which happens to be something of which I myself am thoroughly, yet unashamedly, guilty. How times have changed.

In the novel, the killer escapes his captors and permanently disappears, while in Mary his motivation is protecting the more conventional secret that he’s an ex-convict.

A question: there are various timepieces seen during the course of the film, and all display 1:30, either am or pm. I’m well aware of Hitch’s general predilection for clocks, watches, etc. but does anyone know the reason for this particular time? [Edit: Hitch fan Matthew Hardesty has suggested a very plausible explanation in the comments.]

Distinguished British actor Herbert Marshall played Sir John himself and during a lengthy transatlantic career went on to star in Hitch’s second American film, Foreign Correspondent, the Hitch co-scripted Forever and a Day and three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. There were also several Hitch-related radio dramas: The Lodger, two of The 39 Steps, Rebecca and, by strange coincidence, the July 20, 1953 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 short story “The Birds” – a full 10 years before the release of Hitch’s screen version! The actor had a very colourful love life and the second of his five wives was fellow Brit Edna Best, star of the original The Man Who Knew Too Much. The pair had a daughter, actress Sarah Marshall, who also starred in five episodes of Presents/Hour and associated series Startime.

Herbert Marshall: A Biography (2018) – Scott O’Brien

Cinema Then, Cinema Now: Murder!


Home video releases

Alfred Hitchcock 3-Disc Collectors' Edition US Lionsgate DVD

This US DVD set is still the best, most authentic release available of Murder! and several others – bar none.

Kino Murder! trailer

All official releases of Murder! feature the original British theatrical version (102min, 98min PAL), as opposed to the American, which is shorter by around 10 minutes. Several of them also include an extra “alternative ending”, which is actually the abbreviated last 10 minutes of the American version. It’s of interest as it includes two brief specially-shot scenes not present (or necessary) in the British version. They were added to cover gaps in continuity caused by the editing. Confused? Of course not, but this simple concept is clearly beyond the grasp of any number of previous Hitch commentators. The English-language version’s numerous bootlegs mostly contain a poor quality copy of the American print. Murder! has seen these official releases so far:

All DVDs have the same solid transfer, though the US has a slight edge in detail over all the others, as evidenced by numerous comparative screenshots of both licensed and bootleg releases at the invaluable Hitchcock Zone. However, note there are two differing soundtracks available. One was left unmolested while at several points on the other, owners Studiocanal took the strange decision to replace music cues and foley effects or even add new ones altogether.

All American releases have original audio and are by far the preferred choice, while Euro DVDs have the altered version. Both points also apply to Rich and Strange, part of the same US DVD set. At least both remain in their original mono; Suspicion, RopeLifeboatTo Catch a ThiefVertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho have all had music and sound effects added or replaced. But most have also been remixed in gimmicky 2.0 stereo and surround sound, often completely replacing the original audio. Grrr.

As for Kino’s region A/1 BD and DVD, they have both MLVs along with a handful of relevant extras, the meatiest of which is a decent but desert-dry audio commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton. Kino’s press release promised the inclusion of a documentary, Hitchcock: The Early Years (2004, 52:22), but it’s disappointingly absent. A French production only covering the Studiocanal-owned films, it was originally titled Alfred Hitchcock: Films de Jeunesse (1925-1934) and can be found on the French and UK DVDs, the latter with optional English subs. The US streaming copy and the only other BD, from France, have the same HD transfer of Murder! though unfortunately the latter has no extras whatsoever, and optional French subtitles.

Hitchcock Screams: Murder! – Tony Williams

Another disappointment is that like all of its previous DVDs, Murder! has again been transferred in the wrong aspect ratio of 1.33:1, exposing the whole frame instead of cropping the left edge to leave the correct 1.19:1. This results in frequently exposed equipment and set edges; also here. The left of the image would have originally been masked by the optical soundtrack; this was planned for by Hitch and his cinematographer Jack E. Cox. The latter worked on almost 100 British films from 1922–1952, including many universally regarded classics and a whopping 12 Hitchcocks. No slouch then, so it’s annoying to see their expertly composed framing thrown off centre to the right throughout.

Historically, countless films have been compromised on home video in similar fashion by people ignorant of the basics of their job. But this is still happening even with more recent formats and various other Hitchcocks are similarly afflicted, such as Dial M for Murder, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz. Mind you, in those cases it’s even worse. Oh well, at least Murder! isn’t as egregious an aspect ratio blunder as those on Kino’s botched simultaneous release of Blackmail

Herbert Marshall (centre, with cane) and Edward Chapman (with binoculars) in Murder! (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

“Ooh, I can hardly bear to look – but I shall anyway!” Herbert Marshall (centre, with cane) and Edward Chapman (with binoculars) reel at the film’s shocking conclusion.


Mary (1931)

Mary (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) German Illustrierter Film-Kurier magazine No. 1554

Illustrierter Film-Kurier German magazine

Murder II: Hitchcock’s German double – Richard Combs, Sight and Sound (1990)

One interesting wrinkle in Mary’s history is that some Austrian trade papers initially posted notice of a full colour production. According to film history sleuth and Nosferatu expert Martin H. Larsen, “it sounds like an intriguing mystery, with the first mention in the weekly Österreichische Film-Zeitung (Austrian Film Newspaper), 14 June 1930:

The sensation of the coming season!
The great German colour sound film
MARY
Based on one of the most successful English stage plays
100 percent sound – 100 per cent German dialogue
100 percent colour

Two pages later in the same issue there is an article on upcoming Sascha Film releases which again mentions it specifically as a color film:

The great German colour sound film Mary, based on one of the most successful English stage plays, can also be described as a sensation of extraordinary rank, with which our sound film theatres will do unparalleled business. This film, directed by the famous English director Alfred Hitchcock, is entirely in natural colours and has 100 percent German dialogue. One can indeed expect a quite fabulous attraction here, all the more so as artists such as Olga Tschechowa, Alfred Abel, as well as Paul Grätz, Fritz Alberti, Herta V. Walter and Louis Ralph play the leading roles.

Also on 14 June 1930 another Austrian film newspaper, Das Kino-Journal, has a similar ad for a color Mary. However, it appears that after this color is no longer mentioned. In another example from Österreichische Film-Zeitung , 9 August 1930, is an article where Mary is described several times as a sound film, but color is not mentioned:

Under the direction of the most capable English director, R. Hitchcock, another super film has just been produced: Mary, (Murder!), the screening of which was a resounding success. It is reasonable to expect that under Hitchcock’s master direction, German actors such as: Alfred Abel, Olga Tschechowa, Fritz Alberti, Lotte Stein, Hertha von Walther, Paul Grätz, Eckehardt Arendt will also give first-class performances. The production, which is based on one of the most successful plays (Enter Sir John) – edited by Juttke and Klaren – is of ravishing suspense and shows great scenery. The backdrop for the events is the theatre milieu, which has been given a whole new dimension by the sound film.

From the same newspaper, an ad from 4 October 1930 again mentions sound film but no color. All in all it’s possible that there had been some kind of confusion on Sascha Film’s behalf, and the fact that all mentions are from a specific date only (June 14 1930) points in this direction.”

It’s almost certainly due to a simple mix-up; note too the erroneous mentions of the film being based on a stage play. Advertised alongside Mary in the foregoing papers is Hitch’s last outing, Elstree Calling (“German title undecided”), with various other MLVs. That had some colour sequences added to its B&W negative but he wouldn’t make a full colour film until 1948’s Rope. What’s more, both extant negatives of Murder! are also B&W – remember: both films were shot at the same time with the same equipment and crew. Further, factor in it’s virtually inconceivable that if Hitch had shot a single frame anywhere in colour before 1948, he wouldn’t have mentioned it in any of his copious articles and interviews. Nonetheless, please leave a comment below if you can throw any further light on this curiosity.

Paul Grätz, Alfred Abel and Lotte Stein in Mary (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Paul Grätz, Alfred Abel and Lotte Stein

Lastly, in the early sound era full colour features were almost exclusively American, with the only British example being sadly lost The School for Scandal (1930) starring Madeleine Carroll and uniquely shot in the Raycol process. Three-strip Technicolor, the first really successful and widely adopted process, wasn’t introduced until 1932 and initially appeared solely on American cartoons, shorts and isolated sequences. 1935 period drama Becky Sharp was the first to use it wholesale, while the first British production to do so was 1937’s Wings of the Morning. The former film is in the public domain and had any number of crappy quality releases but only a few boasting UCLA’s magnificent 4k restoration.

Unrestored PD DVDs: France (Bach), Italy (A&R Productions), Spain (Vértice), US (Alpha, St. Clair Vision, FilmRise, Reel Vault, Starry Night, Synergy, Triad).

Wings of the Morning – trailer

Alfred Abel in Mary (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Alfred Abel and young friend

It’s easiest to get both Murder! and Mary on the aforementioned US Murder! BD, though note it’s only an SD upscale, so not true HD but it is the only English-friendly option available at present. She hasn’t been looked after as well as Murder! either; there are no film materials stored in the BFI Archive, so I don’t know exactly what survives. The same transfer is also on the R2/PAL German DVD mentioned above, which goes under the film’s German title: Mord – Sir John greift ein! (Murder – Sir John Intervenes!). Unfortunately, in this case Mary only has original German audio, while Murder!/Mord has the option of German subtitles and its original 1930 dub.

Mary can also be found on an R2/PAL French DVD of Hitch’s Jamaica Inn but do beware though: both its films have forced French subtitles, so they’re not burned into the image but still can’t be turned off. There’s another French disc which came with a Hitchcock DVD-magazine series but is a real rarity. Obviously, it too only has French subs.

Though Hitch’s first eight talkies prior to The Man Who Knew Too Much are mostly available in good condition, they would all benefit hugely from a full restoration. This is very unlikely to happen for any of them anytime soon, but even a decent remastering would go a long way. At least the potential addition of subtitles to all of them would help with discerning their many instances of unintelligible dialogue. Alongside various other early copies, the BFI archive holds the original nitrate negative to Murder! I sincerely hope both films will one day receive the loving care they so richly deserve.

Olga Chekhova in Mary (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Olga Chekhova playing the accused in Mary; more

The Multiple-Language Version Film: A Curious Moment in Cinema History

Multiple-Language Version Film Collectors’ Guide


More Helen Simpson on home video

Australian-born Helen Simpson packed a lot of pursuits into her years: actor, poet, novelist and politician to name just a few, before dying tragically young at the age of 42. Though most of her novels and copious other writings are long out of print, the screen adaptations arising from some of them are thankfully all easily available. Following Saraband for Dead Lovers (1935), she provided additional dialogue for Sabotage, her only actual screenwriting credit, and wrote Under Capricorn (1937), which became a successful play. That, of course, in turn became a less-than successful film directed by Hitch in 1949 starring Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten. Finally, a 1982 TV miniseries was made in Australia, the country of its setting.

Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948)

Saraband for Dead Lovers aka La prisionera del castillo (1948) Argentinian poster by Osvaldo Venturi

Argentinian poster by Osvaldo Venturi

Based on a true story, Saraband for Dead Lovers was the first colour feature from the famous Ealing Studios. It tells the tragic story of Sophie Dorothea, a young girl forced into a loveless marriage with King George I of England, a cruel and ruthless monarch. Sophie Dorothea’s bleak existence is transformed when the manipulative Countess von Platen, an influential figure in the royal court, adopts a handsome young protegee, Count Philip Konigsmark. However, in a world where the monarch wields the power, Sophie Dorothea and Konigsmark’s forbidden passion places them in danger, for if their betrayal is discovered, they must face the wrath of the king. – UK DVD

Simpson’s 1935 novel Saraband for Dead Lovers was adapted for the eponymous 1948 Ealing Studios film, their first in colour, starring Stewart Granger and Joan Greenwood. A handsome tie-in book was also produced the same year, subtitled The Film and Its Production. All the cast are utterly magnificent in their portrayal of events based on a real-life German royal scandal and if you’re in the mood for a fast-moving costume drama with more oomph and action than Capricorn, this should tick your boxes nicely. It’s only seen official release on a pair of handsome looking discs in the UK and Germany so far, the latter with an optional original dub:

Bootlegs: US (Nostalgia Family), Italy (Sinister Film), Spain (Suevia, Regia).

Several re-recordings of Alan Rawsthorne’s fine score are also available:

Clip


Under Capricorn (1949)

Cold husband. Broken wife. Gallant lover. A triangle set to explode… and reveal a strange crime.

Dim the house lights and dig in for a dark tale of love, frustration, violence and vengeance as only the great Alfred Hitchcock could tell it. The setting is Australia in the 1830s. Sam Flusky (Joseph Cotten) has served out his sentence for killing his wife’s brother and has now become a very successful businessman. But his wife, Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman), is strangely dispirited and degenerating deeper into alcoholism — until an old friend (Michael Wilding) arrives Down Under and begins to pay her the most ardent attention. The tension builds between the two men until it erupts into attempted murder, and the story twists sharply to expose a painful secret.

Bergman, Cotten, Wilding, Hitchcock… four brilliant stars that make this film a superb piece of entertainment. — US Sterling VHS (1993)

My favourite Hitchcock: Under CapricornJoe Walsh, The Guardian

Under Capricorn aka Les amants du Capricorne and Slavin van haar hart (1949, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Belgian poster

Belgian poster

Production

Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten star in Under Capricorn, a lush Technicolor melodrama directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense. Cotten plays Sam Flusky, a native Briton banished to Australia for murder. Bergman is his wife, Henrietta, the disturbed sister of the man Flusky was convicted of killing. When a new governor arrives, he brings with him his cousin, Adare (Michael Wilding), an old friend of Henrietta’s, who sets out to help her conquer her demons and return her life to normal. But there are complications: Is Henrietta going insane, or is someone trying to drive her mad? Is she merely an alcoholic, or is someone trying to poison her? No one but Hitchcock could handle these questions with such surefire tension, and the performances by Bergman, Cotten and the entire cast are excellent. Described by film critic David Thomson as “a rich account of emotional self-sacrifice,” Under Capricorn is that rare film which captures the humanity of its characters while keeping the audience on the edge of their seats; in other words, it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Sweden’s greatest export since Garbo: Ingrid Bergman (1915–1982)

Under Capricorn marked Hitchcock’s final collaboration with Ingrid Bergman, the remarkable Swedish actress who was one of the great movie stars of the forties. Born in Stockholm in 1915, Bergman studied as a teenager at the Royal Dramatic Theatre and made her film debut at nineteen in Munkbrogreven (The Count of the Old Monk’s Bridge). Over the next few years, she became Sweden’s biggest star, and after her brilliant performance in Intermezzo (1936), producer David Selznick decided to bring her to America for an English language remake entitled Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939). Billed as “Sweden’s greatest export since Garbo,” she was an instant hit, starring in such classics as Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1941), opposite Spencer Tracy, and Casablanca, opposite Humphrey Bogart. This latter film, perhaps the most beloved of all time, established her as the world’s foremost female movie star and led to starring roles in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight and her first film with Hitchcock, Spellbound.

A spine tingling thriller in the classic Hitchcock mold, Spellbound features Bergman as a psychiatrist whose new colleague (played by Gregory Peck) turns out to be an amnesiac who may have murdered the man he’s pretending to be. Aside from Bergman’s exquisite performance, the element that most distinguished the Tim was a stunning dream sequence designed by artist Salvador Deli. The following year, Hitchcock, Bergman and Cary Grant collaborated on what is arguably one of the greatest films of all time: Notorious. A brilliant psychological drama about a U.S. agent (Grant) who convinces the woman he loves (Bergman) to marry a Nazi spy (Claude Rains), the film offered Bergman her finest rale since Casablanca, a tragic figure torn between love and duty, and her performance is remarkable.

Under Capricorn (1949, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US 1963 re-release poster

This lurid US 1963 re-release poster came in the wake of Hitch’s huge success with Psycho and is clearly designed to draw comparison with ad campaigns for the new wave of low budget but highly profitable horrors ushered in by the likes of Roger Corman and William Castle. I’m sure it must have lured in a few sorely disappointed punters!

She made only three more films in the forties: Arch of Triumph, Joan of Arc (both 1948) and Under Capricorn. Shortly after that final collaboration with Hitchcock, she left her dentist husband and her young daughter and ran off with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, shattering the wholesome image that studio publicity had worked so hard to build. (They married the following year, and among their offspring is Isabella Rossellini, the star of Blue Velvet [1986].) She spent the next several years in Italy with her husband, starring in his films, and was roundly criticized in America; on the floor of the U.S. Senate she was referred to as ‘Hollywood’s apostle of degradation” and “a free-love cultist.”

But in 1956 she made a remarkable comeback, winning a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in her first English language film in seven years, Anastasia. Forgiven by the American public, her career boomed again, and she continued to work through the early eighties. Among her best films from the final three decades of her career were Murder on the Orient Express (which earned her another Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1974 [for 14 minutes of screen time!]) and her countryman Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata far which the Academy nominated her as Best Actress in 1978.

By the time of her death from cancer in 1982, her scandal was all but forgotten, and she was recognized for what she was, one of the cinema’s greatest actresses. In her best films we see a rare force, a combination of strength and vulnerability that Hitchcock in particular brought out. Such enduring qualities mark her as the rarest of rarities in Hollywood’s galaxy, a true star. — US Image LD/VHS/DVD: Jeff Schwager, co-author of The Writer’s Library (2020)


Joseph Cotten and Ingrid Bergman in Under Capricorn (1949, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Joseph Cotten and Ingrid Bergman. The film was shot in three-strip Technicolor but its customary B&W production stills were colorized for contemporary publicity purposes. So, Technicolorized, anyone? This one in particular was redone for the original US lobby card set and twice more since to adorn the US and French releases below.

Under Capricorn isn’t one of the Master’s most acclaimed efforts, mainly due to it seldom meeting most fan’s expectations of what a Hitchcock film should be. In truth, it’s an exceptionally well-made but somewhat overlong period costume drama that if approached in the right frame of mind more than satisfies. In September 2019, Charles Barr and Stéphane Duckett organised Under Capricorn: 70 Years On, a two day symposium and 35mm archival Technicolor print screening, with a host of international experts discussing just about every conceivable aspect of the film. The 15 papers presented have been archived online and are very highly recommended. It may have no actual dedicated books but if Under Capricorn was generally better known and regarded, this resource would certainly have been published as one. As it stands, it really is a gift. Also free are these excellent essays:


Home video releases

Under Capricorn may not universally enjoy the highest reputation among the the Master’s canon but it’s still a Hitchcock, albeit one that’s also a bit of an orphan. It has, along with Lifeboat but to a greater degree, suffered most from being one of only a few American Hitchcocks whose rights are split between different territories or owned by companies who have no other of the Master’s movies. This means they are the least often anthologised, whether in home video box sets or TV and cinema packages. Also Capricorn, unlike Lifeboat, has not escaped the vicissitudes of regional censorship and very poor quality releases, so its critical standing is even lower than it should be. Adding to its woes are that official releases are surprisingly few; nonetheless, here are all of them:

Preserved transfers

Under Capricorn (1949, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US Image DVD

US Image DVD

First off, at least one of the German Kinowelt DVDs can be disregarded: though the label’s usually noted for consistently high quality, this occasion’s a rare anomaly. The initial standalone release has a blurry, severely zoomed-in transfer of an edited German theatrical print that’s missing four whole minutes. Its optional German dub (alt) was only recorded for the shortened version, so the original English soundtrack was also edited to fit. This is wholly inexcusable and was indeed corrected for the box set disc which, using the same base transfer, interpolates the missing footage from an even lower quality source.

As occurred on the German DVD’s second pass, the norm in such cases is to use a full length transfer and revert to original audio with subtitles for the missing dub portions. This happened on more recent German TV screenings of Capricorn and with the superlative French Waltzes from Vienna DVDs. But in Capricorn’s case, the much-reissued French Universal DVD is also compromised: still slightly cropped all around, the image is better than Kinowelt’s but leaves much room for improvement. Worst of all, and a deal breaker for most, like many French discs it has optional subtitles on its default 1950 dub (alt) but they’re forced on the English audio track.

Also be wary of the thankfully rare Spanish DVD which, according to its sleeve, has ersatz “pseudo stereo” remixes of its originally mono audio tracks; likewise with the Brazilian. If true, they join a veritable rogues’ gallery of Hitchcocks with altered sound, most notably including VertigoNorth by Northwest and Psycho.

All’s not lost though: the US image DVD has very strong A/V and is region 0, so will play anywhere.

Apart from the French and US DVDs, all official releases of this film have optional subs in their respective domestic languages. Regarding extras, the US, Spanish and Swedish DVDs are barebones while the German and French share a half-hour “Chabrol on Hitchcock” featurette; the German standalone also has an attractive 8-page booklet. The Brazilian includes the theatrical trailer, a gallery and text notes. The difference between the original unrestored trailer and the new one below is striking:

AH/IB 48 | clip | Finale | francais, revoir | TCM intros | Peter Bogdanovich (use subs)


Restored transfer

Under Capricorn (1949, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US Kino Lorber Blu-ray

US Kino Lorber Blu-ray with reversible sleeve

Saving the best for last, the latest discs from the US, France and elsewhere feature a 2018 4k digital restoration (poster) from preserved materials in the BFI Archive that, while not perfect, is quite beautiful and likely as good as we’re ever going to get for this Technicolor feast. The US Kinos repeat the aforementioned “Hitchcock par Chabrol” featurette alongside an audio commentary, a 12-minute Hitchcock/Truffaut interview excerpt and the original trailer above. The latter two items are also on the restored French discs which add two French-language featurettes of five and nine minutes. Rounding up, the Swedish DVD is barebones while the Brazilian set has 145 minutes’ worth of documentaries and featurettes relating to its films.

Credits | clip


Screenshots

Ingrid Bergman in Under Capricorn (1949, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) French L'atelier Blu-ray

French L’atelier BD; Cotten

More at DVDClassik and Digital Ciné.


Bootlegs

Under Capricorn (1949, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Spanish Vértice Cine bootleg Blu-ray

This Spanish pirate BD-R appropriates the same original US poster artwork as the official US BD

Be aware that there are numerous bootlegs of everything on this page, especially from the US, Europe and East Asia. Those for Hitch’s Capricorn, as with his British films, outnumber the official releases. They include the following:

These ropy releases all have varying degrees of blurry, zoomed-in, edited and muffled transfers. The Italian DNA DVD is even helpfully cropped to “widescreen” for those who dislike seeing the top and bottom edges of Hitch’s carefully composed films. Most atypically, kosher Australian label Madman Entertainment released a DVD in 2013 but as they unwittingly managed to ‘license’ the transfer from notorious French pirates Films sans Frontières it’s technically a bootleg, albeit it unintentionally. In fact, it actually has default but optional Korean subtitles, so it looks as though FSF simply sent Madman a copy ripped directly from a Korean bootleg! However it came about, it was quickly deleted and there’s little evidence of it online. I strongly suspect this was due to licensing issues; perhaps Madman found themselves the undeserving recipients of a cease and desist letter from actual owners CBS?


Soundtrack releases

British composer Richard Addinsell’s rousing score is one of the film’s highlights but unfortunately there have been no full re-recordings nor any releases with isolated music tracks, as with Young and Innocent, the Hitch-SelznicksNorth by Northwest and Psycho. The only original music to see release is that of the opening credits, lifted directly from the film for a UK bootleg CD from Enlightenment Records. However, there are two specially adapted suites from 1993 and 1997, the first of which has been issued on several compilations but a pair of CD and LP double albums are the most comprehensive.

More contemporaneously, to help promote the film a rearranged version of Addinsell’s main theme was released as sheet music with lyrics by Kay Twomey and retitled “One Magic Wish (On an Evening Star)”. A 1949 instrumental recording by the Mantovani Orchestra was also released on several 78rpm records and a single compilation.


Under Capricorn (1982)

Under Capricorn (1982) TV miniseries

Choices are understandably even fewer for this 3½ hour antipodean epic, but at least both NTSC and PAL-locked viewers are catered for between both sets of region 0 DVDS.

Helen de Guerry Simpson and her daughter Clemence, named after her sometime writing partner Clemence Dane, c.1925

Helen de Guerry Simpson and her daughter Clemence, named after her sometime writing partner Clemence Dane, c.1925


For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

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John Fowler
John Fowler
6th August 2019 21:35

This site claims that the new Blu-ray of Murder! will be the 2012 BFI restoration and Mary will be “Up-res” whatever that is.

Aaron
Aaron
9th January 2020 15:32

“Kino’s press release promised the inclusion of a “Hitchcock: The Early Years documentary (52:22)” but it’s disappointingly absent.” I was wondering if this might have been an odd renaming of the “Pure Cinema: The Birth Of Hitchcock Style” extra from the 2007 Lionsgate US box set, but after digging out my copy I found that it was a 15 minute featurette. That got me curious, and after some digging it appears that the 2007 Optimum UK box set had this documentary. From the 2008 Gary Couzens review on The Digital Fix: “This is a French-made film, directed by Noël Simsolo.… Read more »

Fr. Matthew Hardesty
Fr. Matthew Hardesty
1st May 2023 02:40

Up toward the beginning, your link to the annotated script no longer works.

Fr. Matthew Hardesty
Fr. Matthew Hardesty
1st May 2023 03:48

You asked about the significance of 1:30 seen on all the clocks in Murder! This could be the root of a clock motif that is more forward in Rear Window. There, Hitch is winding a clock in his cameo. Jimmy Stewart’s character hears an object smash in relation to the murder, which could be a clock. He sees the couple caught in the rain accidentally smash their alarm clock. The clock is a symbol of death. For the time 1:30, in numerology (which I don’t ascribe to) 130 = 10 × 13, both the unlucky 13 and the perfect 10.… Read more »

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