Alfred Hitchcock: 7 Feature Films [3 Discs] [DVD]

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Synopsis

The Lady Vanishes
The Lady Vanishes, Alfred Hitchcock's comedy-thriller, came at the end of his British period; this film's success brought Hitchcock to the attention of Hollywood. He would complete only one other British production, Jamaica Inn, before crossing the Atlantic to working for David O. Selznick on Rebecca. The film concerns the young Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), heading home on a train after spending the holidays in the Balkans. Iris becomes friends with a kindly old lady, Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) after Iris gets hit in the head with a flowerpot meant for Miss Froy. On the train, recovering from the blow, Iris falls asleep. When she awakens, Miss Froy has vanished, replaced by someone else in Miss Froy's clothing. Iris talks to the other passengers, a bizarre collection of eccentrics who think that Iris is crazy for insisting on there even being a Miss Froy -- everyone denies having ever seen the old woman. Finally, Iris finds a young musician, Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), who believes her and the two proceed to search the train for clues to Miss Froy's disappearance. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

Sabotage
Oskar Homolka plays a London movie-theatre owner who maintains a secret life as a paid terrorist. Homolka's wife Sylvia Sidney doesn't suspect Homolka of any wrongdoing, but she's picked up enough second-hand information about her husband's activities to arouse the interest of government agent (John Loder). Posing as a grocer, Loder moves next door to the Homolkas, befriending Sidney and her precocious young brother Desmond Tester. Sensing that he's being watched, Homolka sends Tester out to deliver a reel of film. The reel contains a time bomb, but Homolka is certain that the boy will deliver his package on time and will be safely away by the time the bomb explodes. Thus begins one of Hitchcock's most electrifying suspense sequences, as the unsuspecting boy is delayed en route to his destination. Sabotage was based on Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent; the film was retitled A Woman Alone in the US. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The 39 Steps
This classic British thriller was one of Alfred Hitchcock's first major international successes, and it introduced a number of the stylistic and thematic elements that became hallmarks of his later work. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian rancher on vacation in England, attends a music hall performance by "Mr. Memory" (Wylie Watson); in the midst of the show, shots ring out and Richard flees the theater. Moments later, a terrified woman (Lucie Mannheim) begs Richard to help her; back at his room, she tells him that she's a British spy whose life has been threatened by international agents waiting outside. Richard is certain that she's mad until she reappears at his door in the morning, near death with a knife in her back, a map in her hand, and muttering something about "39 Steps." Discovering that a group of thugs are indeed waiting outside, Richard slips away and takes the first train to the Scottish town on the dead woman's map. Richard learns that he's now wanted by the police for murder, and he must find a way to clear his name. He begins trying to do so with the help of a woman he meets en route, Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), who serves as his unwitting assistant, even after she tries to turn him in. The 39 Steps was later remade in 1959 and 1978 -- both without Hitchcock's participation. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

The Man Who Knew Too Much
The first film version of The Man Who Knew too Much proved to be the international "breakthrough" film for British director Alfred Hitchcock, transforming him from merely a talented domestic filmmaker to a worldwide household name. While vacationing in Switzerland, Britons Leslie Banks and Edna Best befriend jovial Frenchman Pierre Fresnay. Not long afterward, Fresnay is murdered. He whispers a secret in Banks' ear before expiring. This is witnessed by several sinister foreign agents, who kidnap Banks' daughter Nova Pilbeam to keep him from revealing what he knows: That a diplomat will be assassinated during a concert at London's Albert Hall. Unable to turn to the police, Banks desperately attempts to rescue his child himself, still hoping to prevent the assassination. The film's now-famous setpieces include the "Siege of Sidney Street" re-creation and the climactic clash of cymbals at Albert Hall, followed by the crucial scream of Edna Best. German film star Peter Lorre made his English-speaking debut in The Man Who Knew Too Much, though he was still monolingual in 1934 and had to learn his lines phonetically. Written by A. R. Rawlinson, Charles Bennett, D.B. Wyndham Lewis, Emlyn Williams and Edwin Greenwood (an impressive lineup for a 75-minute film!), Man Who Knew Too Much was remade by Hitchcock himself in 1956. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Jamaica Inn
Alfred Hitchcock directed this disappointing misfire, memorable solely for the fact is that it is the final film from Hitchcock's early British period before he left for the Hollywood studio system and David O. Selznick. In the England of the 1800s, a group of ruthless smugglers, led by Sir Humphrey Pengallon (Charles Laughton), prey on ships by blacking out warning signals. When the ships crash on the rocks, the nefarious group loots the remains and kills the sailors. The plot kicks in when the beautiful orphan Mary Yelland (Maureen O'Hara) goes to visit her uncle Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks) at a creepy hotel called the Jamaica Inn, the home of the gang of smugglers. Mary doesn't realize that Uncle Joss is one of them. Meanwhile, Lloyd's of London sends one of their ablest men, Jem Trahearne (Robert Newton), to investigate the recurring shipwrecks. Jem checks in to the Jamaica Inn, and when the coven of smugglers finds out who he is, they capture him and attempt to kill him. But Mary comes to his rescue and saves him. Through the inn, the smugglers try to recapture Jem -- along with Mary. Thrown together by dire circumstances, the two fall in love. Meanwhile, all the shenanigans occurring at the Jamaica Inn appear to be driving Pengallon insane. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

Number 17
This early Hitchcock effort is a parody of the thriller genre about a transient (Leon M. Lion) who accidentally discovers the hideout of a gang of jewel thieves. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi

Blackmail
Alfred Hitchcock's first sound film utilized the new sound technology in a rather creative way off-camera. Hitchcock's lead actress, Anny Ondra, had a strong Eastern European accent that was difficult for English audiences to understand, so Hitchcock's solution was to have British actress Joan Barry speak Ondra's lines of dialogue off-camera. The film concerns a woman who kills a man who tries to assault her. Ondra plays Alice White who, while having dinner in a fancy English nightspot with her husband-to-be Scotland Yard Detective Frank Webber (John Longden), begins to flirt with an artist (Cyril Richard) seated at the next table. The artist invites her up to see his studio, and she goes but balks when the artist asks her to pose in the nude. When the request becomes a demand, Alice stabs him to death. She rejoins her fiance and tries to forget the murder, but her conscience keeps bothering her. To make matters worse, sniveling rat Tracy (Donald Calthrop) materializes to blackmail Alice for the crime. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

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