Silent pictures are the purest form of cinema. —Alfred Hitchcock
For many, he was the Master of Suspense. The eyes and hands behind Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds. The droll voice and the rotund figure behind the popular TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The crème de la crème of filmmakers. A true auteur. A master of the form. A titan of cinema.
Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) was all of those and more. But those movies and the TV show are all products of the filmmaker in his peak. He had been in the business 30 years by that time, straddled both the silent and sound periods; the British film industry and Hollywood.
A few of Hitch’s early films have stood out and garnered attention. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) is commonly asserted as the first “Hitchcock picture,” while Blackmail (1929) is both Britain’s and Hitch’s first synchronized sound movie.
In all, Hitch made nine silent pictures, some masterful, some disposable. Watching them today, you can see how he developed his style, utilized visual shorthand to convey information, and had fun with a liberated camera. But these films are not mere stepping-stones from the silent era to sound, but fascinating works in their own right, ripe for discovery and study.
Thankfully, Kino Lorber has a new set out, Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection. Bringing together The Ring (1927), The Farmer’s Wife (1928), Champagne (1928), The Manxman (1929), and The Skin Game (1931) on a handsome two-disc Blu-ray set, British International Pictures Collection is a must for film aficionados, students, and historians.
The Skin Game is the lone sound picture — the rest all are silent and sport new scores from Meg Morley (The Ring), Jon Mirsalis (The Farmer’s Wife), Ben Model (Champagne), and Andrew Earle Simpson (The Manxman). Film critic Nick Pinkerton supplies a commentary track for The Ring while film historian Farran Smith Nehme adds commentary for both Champagne and The Manxman.
Of the five, The Ring, a drama about a simple-minded boxer and his cuckolding wife, is the best of the bunch. Hitch’s visual style is dense, almost Baroque — which he admitted to filmmaker François Truffaut years later probably went over the audience’s heads. He learned to scale it back; pare it down to the essentials.
Also visually playful is Champagne, a bubbly romantic comedy about money and passion opening with a champagne bottle popping into the camera, and then dissolving into a glass, which we look through. It’s a hell of a visual, though there isn’t much story to hang on after that. And what does Hitchcock use in place of story? More enchanting visuals.
Hitchcock didn’t care for Champagne, or the previous comedy, The Farmer’s Wife, but Truffaut found aspects of each worth discussing — audio snippets of their discussion for the book-length study Hitchcock/Truffaut are included on both discs. Truffaut is also a fan of The Manxman, which Hitchcock shot on the Isle of Man.
No home collection of Hitchcock is complete without Truffaut’s book and a few of Hitch’s silent films. Both are available at your better retail outlets. Have a movie lover in your life and looking for a Christmas present? Start here.
Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection
The Ring, The Farmer’s Wife, Champagne, The Manxman, The Skin Game
Available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Classics.
Special features: Scores from Meg Morley, Jon Mirsalis, Ben Model, and Andrew Earle Simpson; commentary tracks from Nick Pinkerton and Farran Smith Nehme; audio from the Truffaut/Hitchcock interview.