Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide, Part 2

British film restorations and collections

  • Think you’re a fan? If you don’t know his British films, you don’t know Hitchcock
  • The greatest Hitchcock-related crime involves grand theft, hacking and slashing
  • Most of his directorial output is largely known from poor quality, edited bootlegs
  • Barely surviving: the Master of Suspense’s superb silent films suffered worst of all
  • But after a years-long multi-million pound effort, all have been beautifully restored
  • Collecting quality releases was an impossible mission but here’s the secret to success
  • This simple guide makes it easy to find the best official Blu-ray, DVD and digital releases

Note: this one of 70-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.

Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide, Part 1

The Hitchcock 9 BFI poster, 2012

UK poster, 2012


Contents


Restorations

BFI Rescue the Hitchcock 9 poster, 2010

UK poster, 2010

Sadly, like most silent films, Hitch’s have been subjected to much abuse and loss of footage since their original release, with some even lost completely. However, the rest were recently restored: In 2012, the British Film Institute concluded a three-year drive to produce comprehensive new restorations of Hitch’s nine extant silent features, which they dubbed ‘The Hitchcock 9’. It was the largest and most costly such project the archive had ever undertaken and allowed the films to shine more brightly and completely than ever. Additionally, most of them received a new, specially commissioned score. The composers and musicians were a mixture of old hands at scoring silents and those new to the game, with the resultant accompaniments ranging from period to modern and many points in between.

The Restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s Silent Films

Thankfully, apart from his one missing short, there are no major issues with any of Hitch’s British talkies. They’re all in complete, as-originally-released condition via their licensed releases. Some, like The Man Who Knew Too Much and Jamaica Inn, have also had very recent digital restorations and now look and sound incredible.

Despite the BFI spearheading his silents’ high profile restoration, the rate of labels willing to take a punt on releasing them has been disappointingly slow. Of course, the worldwide abundance of bootlegs, especially of Hitch’s British films has played the biggest part in killing demand for licensed editions, especially in this age of declining physical media sales. Only a few of the silents have appeared so far and though there are ongoing efforts behind the scenes to make them publicly available, unfortunately nothing concrete has been arranged yet. Do keep checking back though, as I’ll be posting updates as and when appropriate. What I can say is if and when there is an announcement about a restored release, do spread the word and support it all you can. The release of any subsequent silents very much depends on the success of the next one. And stop buying those bootlegs. We all need to spread awareness of these points, otherwise it’s quite possible the restored Hitchcock 9 will never be available on any form of home video in their entirety.

3.3.2019 update: The Pleasure Garden is definitely coming, but its release will require some additional financial investment to make it happen – see how you can help here.

Regardless, overall there’s never been a better time to sample Hitch’s British career and despite the seemingly confusing number of releases, there are fewer viable options than at first apparent, which makes things even easier. Do note: with relatively few notable exceptions, the majority of quality Hitch DVDs are European (region 2) PAL releases and there are only a handful of non-Euro (region B) BDs. If you don’t yet have multi-region playback capability, why on earth not? It’s easier and cheaper than you might think and crucial for acquiring the best versions possible.

All authorised releases use the best prints available at the time of their production and most include a moderate to copious amount of extras. Transfers on more recent DVDs are often improved even further and post-2012 releases of the silents obviously feature the Hitchcock 9 versions. Of course, even – especially – for films as old as this, the BDs look absolutely stunning and blow their DVD counterparts out of the water. Naturally, the uptick in terms of fine detail and grain resolution becomes more apparent the larger your screen. Having said that, despite not all of the latest restorations being released in HD, with one exception, the current editions all range from very good to magnificent.


British film collections

The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) poster by Greg White aka TightywhiteArt, 2014

Poster by Greg White aka TightywhiteArt, 2014

If you’re as yet unfamiliar with Hitch’s British period and initially just want to dip your toes in the water, allow me: of his silents, The Lodger is easily the best-known and most widely available. However, instead I strongly recommend the more punchy, thrilling Blackmail as your first port of call. Quite honestly, The Lodger, as great as it is, wouldn’t even get my vote as second-best Hitch silent; that honour would likely go to the restored version of his first film, The Pleasure Garden. Ahead of its eventual – hopeful – home video release, I urge you to catch a live screening anytime you get the chance. As for Hitch’s talkies, you can’t go wrong with The Man Who Knew Too Much original, The Lady Vanishes or especially my fave, The 39 Steps. If you plan to pick up a goodly chunk or even all of Hitch’s silents and early talkies, you should start by getting at least one of the box sets covering the period:

All the above are derived from the same superb masters and pretty much interchangeable in terms of quality. The US, UK, German and French sets are usually cheapest and easiest to obtain, unless you really need the other countries’ subtitles. Note that the first two French sets have non-removable subs, so choose another unless you’re prepared to put up with them. Alternatively, you may rip and reburn the discs, omitting the sub stream. A few players, like those from Oppo, have a useful “subtitle shift” feature to move them completely offscreen. Once again, these are all of the official DVD box sets of Hitch’s early years. Any others are almost certainly bootlegs.

Blackmail (1929, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) pop art print by Odysseas Constantine for Art & Hue, 2018

Pop art print by Odysseas Constantine for Art & Hue, 2018

Despite what the odd erroneous listing may say, almost all licensed releases worldwide are fully English-friendly with original English audio or intertitles by default and where present, optional subs. The sole exceptions to the latter are the first two French sets above and their German-language/French-subtitled Mary. After you’ve acquired a suitable box set or two, you can fill in the gaps with individual releases, especially those from Network or Criterion. If you intend building a career-spanning Hitch DVD collection from the ground up, by all means start with one of the massive, English-friendly French or Benelux box sets. Just one of those will enable you to pick up half of his films in one go. Most links throughout the series of guides lead to places you can buy the item in question; if not it’s because they’re rare or deleted and I could only find temporary listings, eg eBay. In those cases I’ve at least linked to relevant info on the release that may help you source it elsewhere.

Things get a little simpler with Hitch’s much higher profile American films, as most of them are owned or distributed by just three companies: Universal, Warner Bros. and Disney. Foreign Correspondent and Under Capricorn are the sole exceptions, being currently owned by Shout! Factory via Westchester Films and CBS Television Distribution respectively. All the American films have been regularly restored, remastered and repackaged but more than half of them have some releases with issues severely compromising Hitch’s artistry. These include problematic visuals, re-edited cuts, altered soundtracks, and even transfers in completely the wrong aspect ratio. How can you begin to appreciate Hitch’s craft if his films themselves don’t even look or sound the way he originally created them? For in-depth details on the very best – and worst! – home video editions, see each film’s individual guide.

Versátil: O Cinema de H discussion (Portuguese)

We’re incredibly privileged to be able to collect almost all of Hitch’s British films in excellent condition on home video, but there are a few casualties. Aside from those missing in action, the only print of The Pleasure Garden currently available is heavily butchered and one to skip unless you’re desperate, in which case set your expectations low. At least we’ve the fully restored Hitchcock 9 version to look forward to, unlike with poor old Easy Virtue, which only survives in battered, incomplete condition. Not to worry: that still leaves us with a whopping 22 of the Master’s motherland masterpieces to enjoy unfettered, along with a couple of other films he also worked on and the prospect of more to come. Happy uneasy viewing!

Films in the Collectors’ Guide

Secret Agent aka El agente secreto (1936, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Argentinian poster

Secret Agent Argentinian poster


  • 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
  • Alfred Hitchcock: Dial © for Copyright: British Law
  • Hitchcock/Truffaut: The Men Who Knew So Much
  • Alma Reville: The Power Behind Hitchcock’s Throne
  • Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The British Years in Print
  • 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
  • Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide, Part 2: The Bad, the Ugly and the Good
  • 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

    2 Comments

    1. Pablo Glatz
      July 01, 06:05 Reply
      Hello! First of all I love your content and I thank you for that. I’m beginning to get into Hitchcock’s work and I wanted to know if you know of a box set of his early british, silent films that are for Region 4 (South America, Australia and New Zealand) because I live in Mexico and I would love to have one of these sets of movies. Greetings!
      • Brent Reid
        July 01, 09:43 Reply
        Hi and thank you, Pablo. The best R4 options confirmed so far are three box sets from Versátil in Brazil. Between them, they contain eight British films and nine American; there are various links scattered throughout the individual film listings. But as I say often, anyone serious about collecting physical media should acquire a multi-region set-up. See here: https://www.brentonfilm.com/reference/blu-ray-and-dvd-region-codes-and-video-standards

    Leave a Reply

    You might also like