Book Review: Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films

Cover

Publisher: The University Press of Kentucky

Release Date: March 6, 2015

“Our aim has been to examine successive stages of Hitchcock’s career in a level-headed way, finding out as much as possible about the material from his early years in the industry that still remains lost and providing solid data about a wider range of lost or neglected or otherwise problematic material…

…Most of our research has come to focus on three periods, the first parts of three successive decades: the apprenticeship of the early 1920s; the unstable period of the early 1930s, involving a response to the new technologies of synchronized sound and of primitive television; and the early 1940s, during which Hitchcock did a wide range of topical war-effort work on both sides of the Atlantic in the margins of his Hollywood features…” –Alain Kerzoncuf and Charles Barr (Introduction)

While recent books and articles discussing Alfred Hitchcock’s work tend to focus on the production and philosophy of his iconic Hollywood-era films like Notorious (1946) and Vertigo (1958), Hitchcock Lost and Found moves beyond these seminal works to explore forgotten, incomplete, lost, and recovered productions from all stages of his career, including his early years in Britain. Authors Alain Kerzoncuf and Charles Barr highlight Hitchcock’s neglected works, including various films and television productions that supplement the critical attention already conferred on his feature films.

“We do not spend time on any of the landmark films like Rear Window or The Birds, or give a full account of Hitchcock’s career. We focus instead on periods and productions that have hitherto been obscure, in the belief that, given his iconic status, any new information on Hitchcock is likely to be of interest, and that it is precisely the obscure elements, and the periods of struggle, that are of crucial importance in helping us to get a fresher and fuller understanding of just how Hitchcock came to achieve his very special status in film history.” –Alain Kerzoncuf and Charles Barr

They also explore the director’s career during World War II, when he continued making high-profile features while also committing himself to a number of short war-effort projects on both sides of the Atlantic. Focusing on a range of forgotten but fascinating projects spanning five decades, Hitchcock Lost and Found offers a new, fuller perspective on the filmmaker’s career and achievements.

This might seem to some fans to be of marginal interest. After all, most of these films haven’t been widely seen by contemporary audiences. However, this book isn’t simply a useful tool for the Hitchcock scholar; it is a fascinating text for anyone the least bit interested in detailed ‘behind the scenes’ information about this director’s fascinating career. The obscurity of most of the films discussed only adds interest to an already enjoyable subject.

The depth of Kerzoncuf and Barr’s research will surprise many Hitchcock enthusiasts. The knowledge that they provide goes much deeper than anyone might expect. There is detailed information from many documented sources to support the analysis of each film discussed in the book. This level of detail is rare even in texts about the director’s more popular work.

This detail is organized into four basic units: “Before The Pleasure Garden: 1920-1925,” “The Early 1930s,” “The War Years,” and “After the War.” The first of these units focuses on Alfred Hitchcock’s apprentice years in the industry as it details each of the films that Hitchcock worked on in some capacity. It analyzes what function Hitchcock served (or likely served) on each of the films, and discusses how the work might have influenced the director (or how Hitchcock might have influenced the work). This is really no small task, and one finds themselves almost immediately intrigued.

“The Early 1930s” might be this reviewer’s personal favorite unit. Here readers are guided through the torrid transitional era when British studios were scrambling to keep up with the new technological advancement of sound. Many of these films are reasonably well known (Blackmail, Juno and the Paycock, Murder), but have elements that have gone missing. New discoveries are revealed that enhance ones understanding of how these films fit into the context of Hitchcock’s career. There is also a reasonably in-depth comparison of Murder to its German sister, Mary that should interest any serious Hitchcock fan. This particular unit corrects quite a lot of previously published misinformation, and adds quite a bit of detail to the general knowledge that has already been revealed about these films. Other films from this period have been neglected by scholars. For example, Elstree Calling is finally discussed in a comprehensive manner. Kerzoncuf and Barr use documented information to discuss Hitchcock’s role in the creation of this film. This segment is especially interesting, because Hitchcock was never particularly interested in commenting on this particular film.

“The War Years” is also enlightening in its discussion of Alfred Hitchcock’s participation in the creation of a number of wartime propaganda efforts in the early 1940s. Many fans are already quite aware that the director made two French propaganda shorts for the British Ministry of Information (Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache), and both shorts are actually available on home video. However, these films were unavailable for a great many years, and a comprehensive study of the creation of these shorts has never been adequately achieved. Kerzoncuf and Barr remedy this by offering a wealth of documented knowledge that is supplemented by interviews. The most significant interview for this section was with Janique Joelle, who played a pivotal role in Bon Voyage. Joelle provides an extremely lucid and detailed account of working with the director on this short. It is one of the book’s many highlights, and is certain to delight fans and scholars alike. However, the book has much more ground to cover. The authors give an account of every known wartime project that the director worked on, including the abandoned documentary about the Nazi concentration camps (usually referred to as Memory of the Camps).

“After the War” concentrates on a number of forgotten productions that Alfred Hitchcock appeared in between 1959 and 1969. Two of these efforts were “public service” efforts, and Hitchcock’s participation was mainly to lend his bankable name and image to these productions as a form of charity. The most interesting of these was Tactic (1959). This live television program was essentially a public service announcement concerning cancer diagnosis. To reveal further information here would rob you of the enjoyable experience of reading the more detailed account that appears in this excellent new text.

Just when everyone thought that the subject of Alfred Hitchcock had been picked clean to the bone, we are offered this incredibly enlightening effort. Alain Kerzoncuf and Charles Barr have given fans and scholars an incredible gift. Their original research and lucid writing makes for an enjoyable reading experience. Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films is extremely easy to recommend without any qualifiers.

Review by: Devon Powell

Advertisements

DVD Review: Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache

DVDwraptemp

Distributor: Milestone Films

Release Date: 18/May/2010

Region:1

Length: 57 min

Video: NTSC, SD

Main Audio: French

Subtitles: English (hard coded)

Ratio: 1.33:1

Notes: These shorts are not currently released on Blu-ray in North America. They are currently only available on DVD and this disc is the only release currently in print.

bon1

“I felt the need to make a little contribution to the war effort, and I was both overweight and overage for military service. I knew that if I did nothing, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. It was important for me to do something and also to get right into the atmosphere of war… but it wasn’t too easy to get to England in those days. I flew over in a bomber, sitting on the floor, and when we got halfway across the Atlantic, the plane had to turn back. I took another one two days later. In London, my friend Sidney Bernstein was the head of the film section of the British Ministry of information. It was at his request that I undertook two small films that were tributes to the work of the French Resistance.” -Alfred Hitchcock

In 1940, Hitchcock’s former boss, Michael Balcon, had criticized his former employee in the press. Without naming names, he made his point clear by describing a “plump young junior technician in my studios whom I promoted from department to department. Today, he is one of our most famous directors and he is in Hollywood, while we who are left behind short-handed are trying to harness the films to our great national effort.”

The criticism hurt Hitchcock, who had left the country before the London bombings in order to work for Selznick. He responded in the press, claiming that “Balcon’s view is colored by his own personal experiences with Hollywood… He’s a permanent Donald Duck… The British government has only to call upon me for my services.”

In 1943, the British government took him up on this offer. Selznick was a bit reluctant to allow his meal ticket to leave for England, but the producer eventually allowed the director to leave under the condition that he would work on the scenario for their next collaboration (which was based on Francis Beeding’s novel, “The House of Doctor Edwardes”).

The British Ministry of Information was responsible for releasing information to the public that would benefit the war effort (and suppressing any information from the British public that might damage moral). This department is responsible for several infamous  moral boosting posters, which were distributed around the country.

Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On_Poster

Never_was_so_much_owed_by_so_many_to_so_few

freedom poster

Hitchcock’s shorts were to be the cinematic equivalent of these posters and the director seemed more than pleased to make them.

After his extremely uncomfortable voyage to his home country, Hitchcock was able to begin work on the shorts.

“…the idea was to show them in parts of France where the Germans were losing ground in order to help the French people appreciate the role of the Resistance.” -Alfred Hitchcock

The details of the scenarios were worked out by Hitchcock and his long-time associate, Angus McPhail in Hitchcock’s suite at Claridge’s. Bon Voyage was then scripted by Arthur Calder-Marshall and Aventure Malgache was primarily the work of J.O.C. Orton. Claude Dauphin helped the writers with the french dialogue.

Sidney Bernstein had arranged that the Molière players (a theatrical company built with exiled French actors) perform in the film. He also used actual members of the French underground. None of these actors were individually credited in the film, as it would have been extremely unsafe for them. Hitchcock elaborated on this in one of his interviews of the period:

“I had to round up every available French actor in London, but there were not enough of them. Most of the players were members of the underground and fighting French who had never had any stage or screen experience. It was incredible to find myself working with men who, only a day before, had been in Paris.” -Alfred Hitchcock

Stages for the shorts were built at the Associated British Studios at Welwyn Garden City with very little money. Hitchcock and his cinematographer, Günther Krampf, began shooting the the two shorts in extremely quick succession on January20, 1944.

bon10

“The first short was Bon Voyage. It was a little story about an RAF man who is escorted out of France through the Resistance channels. His escort was a Polish officer. When he arrives in London, the RAF man is interrogated by an officer of the Free French Forces, who informs him that his Polish escort was really a Gestapo man. Upon that startling revelation, we go through the journey across France all over again, but this time we show all sorts of details that the young RAF man hadn’t noticed at first, various indications of the Pole’s complicity with the Gestapo detail. At the end of the story there was a twist showing how the Polish officer had been trapped. At the same time, the RAF man learned that the young French girl who’d helped them, and had spotted the Pole as a spy, had been killed by him.” -Alfred Hitchcock

What modern audiences might fail to notice, is the meticulous war-time detail given to the film. Several French Resistance members were brought in as consultants in order to make sure there were no errors in the production.

“The slightest error, they feared, might hold the picture up to ridicule… I couldn’t show a scene where cigarette butts are lying around. French audiences would simply laugh off such a preposterous sight.You must remember that where people are limited to four cigarettes a day, as they are in France now, there is no such thing as an unclaimed butt. People take a few puffs on a cigarette and stuff the but into a match box, taking it out later for another puff.” -Alfred Hitchcock

There were other such examples given as well.

“I showed a restaurant. Ordinarily, you would never think about the look of the table where a meal has been finished. But in representing a French restaurant of today, you do. There are no crusts of bread left on the table. If I permitted anything like that, it would simply mean to future French audiences that the people who made the picture didn’t know what they were doing.” -Alfred Hitchcock

bon11

Bon Voyage has a structure somewhat like Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (and predates the film by several years). This is merely an observation and should not be interpreted as a suggestion that Kurosawa was influenced by the film in any way. As a matter of fact, there is almost no chance that he was even able to see the film. However, the story also brings to mind some of the more interesting Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes and one wonders if the short provided a blueprint for the series. 

The only certainty is that working on the short directly influenced Aventure Malgache.

“We used to work on the screenplay in my room at Claridge’s, and there was a whole group of French officers, including a certain Commander or Colonel Forestier, who never agreed with anything the others suggested. We realized that the Free French were very divided against one another, and these inner conflicts became the subject of the next film, Aventure Malgache. One of the men there was an actor and a lawyer whose Resistance name was Clarousse. He was in his late sixties, but he had lots of energy and he was always at odds with his Free French companions who finally threw him in jail, in Tananarive. It was a true story and Clarousse told it himself. But when it finished, there was some disagreement about it and I believe they decided not to release it.” -Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock’s recollection was quite accurate. The powers that be decided not to release the film. It was decided that a film showing the ineffectiveness of political squabbling didn’t make for effective propaganda during wartime. They simply weren’t interested in honesty or important sociopolitical messages. Hitchcock’s film illuminated issues that the MOI usually tried to suppress.

aven0

The film was locked away and was actually censored by those who financed the film, calling it “inflammatory.” Bon Voyage received an extremely limited release. It was distributed in France and Belgium for a very short time. The films were eventually locked away, and they remained unseen until 1993. Today, they are seen as an important part of Alfred Hitchcock’s canon.

aven1

The Presentation:

The disc is contained in the standard DVD case with reasonably attractive cover art. On the back there is a brief history and a summary of both shorts.

The disc includes only chapter menus.

Picture Quality:

The film is only available on DVD in North America. The image is serviceable and probably a slight improvement on Image Entertainment’s disc, which is now out of print. It is slightly disappointing that the subtitles are hard coded, but this is forgivable under the circumstances. The quality is slightly better than what one might expect from some of the public domain houses, but might not live up to some of the more impressive DVD releases that modern audiences are accustomed to.

aven2

Sound Quality:

The disc features an adequate mono soundtrack. There is some very slight hiss, but the track is consistently clear and dialogue is always intelligible.

Special Features:

There are no special features available on this disc.

aven3

Final Words:

In short, Milestone Films deserves praise for making otherwise unattainable films available to the public. I recommend this disc to Hitchcock fans, but hope that these films eventually receive a quality Blu-ray release.

http://www.milestonefilms.com

Review by: Devon Powell