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Hitchcock: The British Years - Network (UK, 2008) - Press Releases

The following are Press and Media Meleases for Hitchcock: The British Years - Network (UK, 2008)


Undoubtedly one of the greatest film makers in the history of cinema, Alfred Hitchcock directed over 60 films in his lifetime, in a career spanning 50 years from the 1920s to the 1970s. The undisputed master of suspense, his films were always massive commercial hits and highly popular with the viewing public. None more so than this collection of films made by Hitchcock for British studios between the 1920s and 1930s, before he departed for Hollywood. This set contains ten of the East End director’s finest: The Pleasure Garden, The Lodger, Downhill, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage, Young & Innocent, The Lady Vanishes and Jamaica Inn, together in one set for the first time on DVD, RRP £59.99.

Special features in this package include:

  • Digitally restored versions of The Lodger, Sabotage, Young and Innocent and Jamaica Inn
  • Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock – unseen for forty years, Mike Scott interviews Hitchcock about his life and career
  • Aquarius - Alfred Hitchcock – taken from the 1972 Arts programme, this show includes candid photography of Hitchcock filming Frenzy in London
  • Charles Barr on... a series of featurettes in which film historian Charles Barr introduces and analyses each of the ten films within the set
  • On location reports for Sabotage and The Thirty-Nine Steps introduced by actor Robert Powell
  • Original theatrical trailer for The Lady Vanishes
  • Script PDFs for The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Lady Vanishes and Jamaica Inn
  • Commemorative booklet written by Charles Barr
  • Image Galleries
  • 8 page booklet by film historian and writer of “English Hitchcock”, Charles Barr, presenting an overview of Hitchcock’s career

English Hitchcock by Charles Barr

By the time of his death in California in 1980, Alfred Hitchcock was such a fixture in America - such an instantly-recognisable popular icon for his Hollywood films and his TV show and his mystery magazines and his cameo appearances - that the strength of his British roots had become easy to forget. One can even run into the assumption, for instance among American students, that, like Charlie Chaplin, or the master of horror, James Whale, he was an Englishman who only got started in films when he reached America. Yet it was not until 1939, at the age of 40, that he crossed the Atlantic, and by then he had directed more than 20 films for British companies.

It is fascinating to follow the shifts in critical attitudes to this block of films. For a time, it was common to value them above the American work. On this view, Hitchcock had sold out to commercialism, moving into a world of glossy and rootless fantasies; the British films could be affectionately cherished for their craftsmanlike modesty and their quirky humour. It was not only British critics like Lindsay Anderson who took this line (his powerful article of 1949 was much reprinted); anti-Hollywood intellectuals in America tended to agree. But that soon came to seem untenable: to argue in those terms is to be blind to his great Hollywood achievements, as well as, if you think about it, subtly to patronise the British work.

Inevitably, the pendulum swung the other way. A new generation of critics who rightly celebrated the Hollywood films generally did so at the expense of the British. How could one value modest craft and quirky humour above the profundities of films like Notorious and Vertigo? For writers like the French film-maker François Truffaut and the British critic Robin Wood, Hitchcock had plainly been imprisoned, stifled, limited, by a British cinema that was resolutely impoverished and unimaginative, and could only fulfil himself in Hollywood - the case hardly needed arguing. It was all the easier to disparage the British films as minor works of apprenticeship when, in the pre-video age, most of them were so rarely shown.

Gradually, as they become more accessible - through TV screenings, retrospectives, academic courses, and increasingly video - the balance shifted again, with a stress on continuities more than contrasts. Many of the British films were seen to have the same kind of force and complexity as the best of the Hollywood ones. The extraordinary growth of scholarly attention to Hitchcock, making him by now the most intensely studied and written about of all film-makers, surveys his career as a whole, and gives an honoured place to his British output.

It tends still, however, to privilege four of these films, the four that made the greatest impact in their day: the silent The Lodger (1926), the two sound thrillers The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938), and the transitional film Blackmail, shot in 1929 in two versions. This DVD set contains the first three of these, but aligns them with seven others, some of which have been available hitherto, if at all, mainly in prints of inferior quality.

These ten films span the start and end of Hitchcock's British career, which falls neatly into three stages:

(1) Five silent films for Gainsborough Pictures, run by the visionary who gave him his chance as director, Michael Balcon. Of these, the second, The Mountain Eagle, is a lost film, and for the fifth, Easy Virtue, there is no decent print (one day perhaps we will have both: dramatic discoveries are still possible). This leaves The Pleasure Garden, Hitchcock's debut film; The Lodger, his third film and first popular success; and its immediate successor, Downhill.

(2) Eleven films made for Gainsborough's rival, British International Pictures: four silent, the transitional Blackmail, and six all-sound.

(3) Eight films that follow his break with BIP, where he had become increasingly unhappy: the musical Waltzes from Vienna for an independent, and then a return to the Balcon stable for the series of six thrillers which began to get Hitchcock seriously noticed outside Britain. All six are included in this set, along with his final film before he left for Hollywood, Jamaica Inn.

Let's hope that a full, high-quality set of the stage-2 films, unavailable for this set, will before long be issued as an indispensable complement to it. Here, meanwhile, we can look in depth at Hitchcock's start as a director, and at his 'rebranding' in the mid-1930s as a director of suspense thrillers.

This opportunity is wonderful, but it has a downside. To focus so intensively on Hitchcock, collecting his works in a 'completist' spirit, tends to separate him from the context in which he was working. And indeed some of the critics, such as Robin Wood, who have made a U turn and written in praise of a number of the British films, persist in seeing Hitchcock as a genius working, until he got to Hollywood, in a vacuum, gaining nothing from his collaborators or his cultural environment. This is implausible in principle, and it becomes more so all the time, in the light of recent scholarly research both into the strengths of pre-WW2 British cinema, and into the details of Hitchcock's work within it.

Each of the DVDs released by Network has a brief introduction which contextualises the film and highlights one significant factor, generally a key collaborator. The intention is not to downgrade Hitchcock but to do justice to the complexity of his formation within a collaborative industrial art form. Hitchcock himself was always ready to acknowledge influences from outside Britain - Hollywood, German expressionism, Soviet montage - and from British novelists and playwrights, but, with his precocious and successful concern for cultivating a public image, he seldom said anything generous about his contemporaries or collaborators in British cinema. All the other influences are genuine enough, but so, quite clearly, were those from closer to home.

These are the people and topics referred to, and visually illustrated, in the respective introductions; it only needs one click to take you straight into the films.

  • THE LODGER: Alma Reville, assistant director, former editor, soon to be Hitchcock's wife and long-term collaborator.
  • DOWNHILL: Eliot Stannard, screenwriter on all the silent films, already an experienced professional and author of 'how to' manuals on film structure.
  • THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH: Charles Bennett - like Stannard, a skilled 'constructionist'. After a gap of several years, Hitchcock again finds a regular and congenial screenwriter, the same man whose play he had adapted for his first sound film, Blackmail.
  • THE 39 STEPS: John Buchan, the popular novelist to whose work and influence Hitchcock always paid tribute, not just in terms of this one specific adaptation.
  • THE SECRET AGENT: focus on Hitchcock's use of sound, and also on his affectionate use of dogs in this and other films.
  • SABOTAGE: Ivor Montagu, associate producer of this and other films going back to The Lodger: a Russian-speaking Communist who helped familiarise Hitchcock with the work of the Soviet directors and their thories of montage.
  • THE LADY VANISHES: the new screen-writing team of Launder and Gilliat whose screenplay, written independently of Hitchcock, is so crucial to the consummate structure and tone of this film.

Alfred Hitchcock the British Years is out on 25th February 2008. Charles Barr is author of English Hitchcock and Visiting Professor at the Washington University of St Louis.

Suggested reading, in relation to this set of films and the issues discussed here: