• Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection (Kino Lorber) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: December 10th, 2019.
    Director: Alfred Hitchcock
    Cast: Carl Brisson, Lillian Hall Davis, Jameson Thomas, Betty Balfour, Gordon Harker, Randle Ayrton, Anny Ondra, C.V. France, Edmund Gwenn
    Year: 1927/1928/1928/1929/1931
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    Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection – Movie Review:

    Kino gathers together a nice selection of early works from the director who would go on to be rightly be known as The Master Of Suspense. Those expecting the types of thrills and chills offers in Alfred Hitchcock’s better known works may be taken aback by the content here – it doesn’t fall into the arena - but these are important works worth preserving and each of the five films in the set offers an interesting glimpse into what would become one of the most important directorial careers in the history of cinema.

    Disc One:

    The Ring:

    Jack Saunders (Carl Brisson) is a boxer who is known by his nickname, 'One Round' for his tendency to take down all comers in one round. He works the carnival circuit, challenging anyone who wants to take a shot at him. He's in love with a woman named Mabel (Lillian Hall Davis), who sells tickets at the carnival, but unfortunately, so is another boxer, an Australian fighter named Bob Corby (Ian Hunter). Corby and his manager, James Ware (Forrester Harvey), don't tell Jack or the carnival barker that Corby is actually a champion in his homeland, instead they let him get into the ring with Jack who manages to go four rounds with Corby before he's knocked out.

    When the fight is over, Jack is given the chance to train with Corby, which his own trainer encourages him to do. What Jack doesn't realize is that Corby has been getting closer and closer to Mabel behind his back. Regardless, Jack and Mabel soon go ahead with their wedding plans, but it isn't long before Jack starts to realize something is wrong. After all, his new wife seems far more interested in spending time with Corby than with him, and finally Jack confronts the other man. Jack decides to get in the ring and fight for Mabel, but he'll have to take out a few lower-rung opponents before getting his shot at Corby. He finally gets his chance to go one on one with Corby again and he wins the fight but when he goes home to enjoy his victory, he finds that his wife isn't there waiting for him like he'd hoped...

    While the somewhat predictable nature of the film keeps The Ring from being as suspenseful as it could have been, it's not a bad movie at all. The performances, which are silent obviously and communicated through body language and intertitles, are interesting to watch and you can definitely see Hitchcock sowing the seeds of things to come with the lighting and the use of shadows in the picture. The treatment of blacks in the movie might make some uncomfortable, and this film does reflect the time in which it was made, but there's enough here to make it worth a look for Hitchcock fans. The match at the film's conclusion is quite well edited and considerably more tense than you might expect it to be.

    The Farmer's Wife:

    The second film was adapted for the screen by Eliot Stannard from the play by Eden Phillpotts and directed by Hitchcock in 1928. Its stage roots are evident throughout the picture, which is more of a romantic comedy with dramatic elements than the type of picture Hitchcock is best remembered for. It is, however, an entertaining picture and an enjoyable diversion if you’re in the right frame of mind for it.

    The plot is quite simple. A man named Farmer Sweetland (Jameson Thomas) has recently become a widower having lost his wife a while back. He is, however, at the point since her passing that he feels it is time to find a new bride. He sets about planning to woo and subsequently propose to the various women around town he feels would be a good fit, but while all of this is going on it’s obvious to everyone but he that his housekeeper, Araminta (Lillian Hall-Davis), is the one that he should be with.

    As the story progresses, we wait to find out if Sweetland will realize this before getting engaged to a woman less suitable than Araminta.

    The Farmer’s Wife is a warm and amusing comedy. The characters are funny and the movie is reasonably stylish. Its stagey origins seem obvious, this often times can feel more like a filmed play than a traditional movie, but it works rather well. As you’d expect from a Hitchcock movie, the camera setups are carefully planned and the cinematography quite solid. You can see here in these early films how his attention to detail would pay off so well in his later, better regarded pictures. The acting is quite good as well. Jameson Thomas is quite amusing and does a great job emoting without speaking. Lillian Hall-Davis is also very good, a true beauty with some great screen presence who does just as an even better job than her co-star at allowing the audience to understand her character’s feelings.

    Disc Two:


    Up next, another comedy made the same year as The Farmer’s Wife. The story this time around follows a spoiled young woman (Betty Balfour) who has spent her entire life living off the fortune of her father (Gordon Harker), which he’s earned as a tycoon in the champagne industry! When he gets tired of her mooching after she uses his money to fly her boyfriend (Jean Bradin) around planning to elope, he tells her that the money’s all gone and so she heads out on her own to make her own way. As she becomes acquainted with the real world, she finds and holds a job, her boyfriend sticking by her.

    Production values are decent here and the film is about as effective as The Farmer’s Wife in that it’s an amusing light comedy that doesn’t really have any lasting impact. The performances are decent enough and quite effective and, again, there’s obviously attention to detail not just in the camerawork department but in the costuming as well.

    There are some pacing problems here and there and the movie is longer than it needs to be, but there are some decent sight gags tossed in. Hitchcock at one point considered this film the lowest point of his career, and it’s true that it’s far from his best work, but it’s perfectly serviceable light entertainment.

    The Manxman:

    The second silent film on this disc set follows a fisherman named Pete Quilliam (Carl Brisson) who lives on the Isle Of Man (hence the title). He's in love with a gorgeous woman named Kate Creegan (Anny Ondra) but unfortunately her father, Caesar (Randle Ayrton), doesn't consider him marriage material for his daughter as he just doesn't make enough money for his liking. What Pete isn't aware of is that his best friend, Philip Christian (Malcolm Keen), has also got his eyes on the pretty young blonde object of Pete's affections and seeing as Philip is a lawyer with a very strong future ahead of him, he might just stand a shot at appeasing her father's demands.

    Pete decides that he's going to go off and work on a ship in order to earn some money and hopefully earn Caesar's approval and while he's gone, Philip and Kate fill their empty time by spending it with one another. They soon find out that Pete has been killed on the ship, and with this news, they decide to start seeing one another. This gets complicated for the two lovebirds when it turns out that Pete hasn't been killed after all – they learn this the hard way when he shows up back at home, and their fling soon ends. Pete convinces Kate's parents that he is marriage material after all and soon the two are wed and it doesn't take long at all before Kate finds herself pregnant. Unfortunately, Kate just can't get her mind off of Philip and after their child is born, she leaves the infant with Pete so that she can go be with Philip. But whose baby is it that she's left Pete to care for and what will happen to Philip's legal career if news of this scandal gets out?

    Again, The Manxman isn't the type of film that Hitchcock is known for. There are no murders, it's very low on suspense and it plays out as more of a soap opera than anything else. That being said, it's well made even if you can figure out where it's going fairly early on. The photography is excellent and if the ending doesn't come as the shocker that the director probably intended it to be, at least getting there is an enjoyable if unremarkable ride. The courtroom scene climax is handled exceptionally well, however, with some interesting camera work and it brings the film to a satisfactorily dramatic conclusion.

    The Skin Game:

    Another early Hitchcock film that's much more of a drama than a suspense picture, The Skin Game tells the story of John Hillcrist (C.V. France) and his wife Amy (Helen Haye) who own a nice home out in the English countryside. The family living next to them, the Jackmans, sell their farmland to an industrialist named Mr. Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn) who decides that he's going to use the land to build a factory on. Hornblower promptly kicks the Jackmans off of his land, negating the verbal agreement that he'd made, and begins planning his development of the area.

    The Hillcrists are obviously not at all impressed with the idea of a massive smoke-belching factory going up right beside their quaint little home and so they bring their lawyer, Dawker (Edward Chapman), in to help. The Hillcrists dig up some dirt on Chloe (Phyliss Constam), Hornblower's daughter in law, and Amy is intent on using this information to sway Mr. Hornblower's decision. John, on the other hand, is more considerate and takes into account the fact that his own daughter, Jill (Jill Esmund), is rather sweet on Hornblower's youngest son Rolf (Frank Lawton). Regardless, Amy Hillcrist sets about trying to force Hornblower into selling back the land with some underhanded help from the family attorney, caring not for the consequences their actions might have.

    A decent melodrama, The Skin Game ends on a rather down note which makes the interplay between the two sides involved in the conflict all the more interesting. Again, the picture is really well shot with plenty of loving care lavished upon the very striking Phyliss Constam who looks absolutely perfect, almost obsessively so, in every shot she appears in. Gwenn is quite good as the overtly capitalist Hornblower and the kinder Hillcrist character played by C. V. France makes an interesting contrast to his less considerate portrayal. The highlight of the film is the auction scene, which is very tightly edited and which makes use of some really interesting camera work to heighten tension and build the conflict between the two opposing sides. The film also plays up the moral questions that the story presents to the audience, and rather than casting obvious fingers at who is right and who is wrong, instead opts to let us make up our own minds.

    Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection – Blu-ray Review:

    Kino brings Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection to Blu-ray on two 50GB discs with the pictures all framed at 1.33.1 fullframe and presented at 24fps, taken from restorations provided by Studio Canal. The first disc holds The Ring and The Farmer’s Wife while the second disc holds Champagne, The Manxman and The Skin Game. The silent films look pretty nice here. There’s solid detail given their age and origins and the discs are free of obvious noise reduction, edge enhancement or other digital trickery. There’s some mild print damage here and there but overall these look surprisingly clean.

    Unfortunately, The Skin Game is the roughest looking of the bunch, the elements being in noticeably worse shape than the other four films in the set. It’s watchable enough to be sure, but expect some frame jitter and more noticeable print damage than is evident in the other pictures. It’s still a pretty nice upgrade over the past DVD editions we’ve seen in the past, however.

    Audio is handled by a series of 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks. For the four silent pictures in the set - The Ring, The Farmer’s Wife, Champagne, The Manxman - Xavier Berthelot contributes some really nice and effective piano scores. No subtitles here but as the films all use intertitles it doesn’t matter. The music used throughout the films sounds nice and clean, with good depth and range.

    For The Skin Game, the only ‘talkie’ in the set, the audio quality is decent enough given the age of the picture and the elements available, but less than ideal. There is some hiss here and there and sometimes things sound a little on the muffled side. Optional subtitles are provided in English for this picture.

    As far as the extra features go, film critic Nick Pinkerton provides an audio commentary for The Ring. It’s an interesting track delivered in a laid back and informal style, with humor, but never at the expense of information. He offers insight into the stage version that inspired the picture, the cast assembled for the picture, little ‘Hitchcock touches’ evident during the film. Lots of good information in here. Additionally, film historian Farran Smith Nehme offers audio commentaries on Champagne and The Manxman. She occasionally lapses into narrating the on-screen action but still manages to offer up a lot of information and trivia about the pictures, Hitchcock’s career up to this point, the scripts, the cast, the technical merits of the productions and more.

    Kino also provides two of the Hitchcock/Truffaut: Icon interviews Icon archival audio featurettes. The one included on the first disc discusses the making of The Ring and The Farmer’s Wife and the one on the second disc covers the making of Champagne, The Manxman and The Skin Game. Combined, these run about twenty-minutes and they’re very interesting.

    Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection – The Final Word:

    Kino’s Blu-ray release of Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection is a nice one, offering five of the director’s earlier pictures in presentations much nicer than we’ve seen before on home video. These don’t rank up there with the director’s best output, but they’re frequently very interesting in their own ways and the commentary tracks and interviews do a nice job of documenting their value and historical significance.

    Click on the images below for full-sized Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection Blu-ray screen caps!