Blu-ray Review: The Trouble with Harry

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Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: 02/Jul/2013

Region: Region Free

Length: 99 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio (24bit, 48kHz)

Alternate Audio: 2.0 French Mono DTS (24bit, 48 kHz)

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 1.85:1

Notes: This title has had at least two DVD releases and is also available on Blu-ray as part of a boxed set entitled The Masterpiece Collection. The transfer used for the boxed set is the same one that is included here and the disc includes the same special features. The artwork on the actual disc is the only thing different about this release.

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“I didn’t change [the novel] very much. To my taste, the humor is quite rich. One of the best lines is when old Edmund Gwenn is dragging the body along for the first time and a woman comes up to him on the hill and says, “What seems to be the trouble, Captain?” To me that’s terribly funny; that’s the spirit of the whole story. I’ve always been interested in establishing a contrast, in going against the traditional and in breaking away from clichés. With Harry, I took melodrama out of the pitch-black night and brought it into the sunshine. It’s if I set up a murder alongside a rustling brook and spilled a drop of blood in the clear water. These contrasts establish a counterpoint; they elevate the commonplace in life to a higher level.”  – Alfred Hitchcock

The Trouble With Harry was a very troubled production. Hitchcock decided to shoot the film on location, but the weather never cooperated and the acoustics in the gymnasium (where the sets were built) created unusable sound. The problems seemed to elevate when an overhead bracket supporting the enormous VistaVision camera broke and it came crashing down, nearly crushing the director. The camera merely swiped Hitchcock’s shoulder, but one of the crew members was injured in the incident. When the  production fell behind schedule, Hitchcock was forced to move his production back to the more predictable confines of the Hollywood studio.

However, the production wasn’t completely cursed. The film gods were smiling on Hitchcock when it came time to cast the picture. The casting of Shirley MacLaine seems to have been divine providence:

“…I would learn to dance and eventually become a chorus girl and understudy to Carol Haney in the Broadway musical, The Pajama Game…

Unknown to me, there were two men in the audience of that Pajama Game performance that would change my life forever; Hal Wallis (the Hollywood producer who discovered Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis), and Doc Ericson (a representative for the legendary director, Alfred Hitchcock).

Here I was – a nineteen year old chorus girl, with no acting experience, [and] Hitchcock put me in a room with Mildred Natwick, Edmund Gwenn and John Forsythe. These were the premiere actors on Broadway and now were my co-stars. We were together during the first reading and having no previous experience, I just read it instinctively. When we were finished, Hitch, in his quirky sense of humor, said, ‘You have the guts of a bank robber.’ Because of Hitch’s reputation, I knew I had the job!

I was scared, but curious, and yearned for the learning experience as I joined the film crew in Vermont. I have fond memories of all the cast. In the beginning John Forsythe tolerated me as an amateur, but then realized I had an instinct for acting and started to appreciate this gift. I learned so much from all of them.

Hitchcock was a connoisseur of food and had great knowledge in this area. We shot in Vermont because the hotel we stayed in, The Lodge, was famous for the best food in Stowe, Vermont. He liked the leaves of Vermont, but he really appreciated the food. There was always plenty on the set and I ate all of it because it was free. In my days as a chorus girl I hadn’t had much to eat. I existed on graham crackers and peanut butter. When I began the picture I was svelte and lithe, but by the time I buried Harry for the last time, the head of the studio called me… I think the word was blimp.

Hitch had a mind-tease code that kept you alert. One morning he came waddling toward me, eyes twinkling, roly-poly stomach well out in the lead.

‘Pleasant period following death.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Genuine chopper, old girl, genuine chopper.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘And after your first line – dog’s feet.’

Finally, Hitch explained his version of cockney rhyming slang:

Good mourning. (Pleasant period following death)

Real-Axe. (Genuine chopper)

After you start your first line, paws. (Dog’s feet)

What a mind. I have the greatest appreciation for this mystery-meister who gave me the freedom of artistic expression, to seek and learn from some of the best. Hitch, wherever you are, I love you and will see you again…”Shirley MacLaine

A star was born. MacLaine went on to be one of Hollywood’s most beloved leading ladies, but never appeared in another Hitchcock film. However, the production also marked the beginning of the director’s working relationship with Bernard Herrmann and the composer would go on to score all of the director’s films through Marnie. Music scholar, Robert Barnett, called the composer’s score a milestone in his career:

“It was his first Hitchcock outing. The music itself (or elements of it) may be familiar under another title. When Herrmann was in the studio for Phase Four Decca in 1968 he fashioned a concert piece from it and called it ‘A Portrait of Hitch.’ He did this because he felt that this music reflected Hitch’s dry and diabolic sense of humor…

…The orchestral specification is modest: double wind, four horns, harp and strings. As was his usual custom he uses the orchestra in smaller groupings selecting a color from his palette to match mood and image.

The music he wrote for the film exposes veins and arteries of winning freshness. Not one of the forty tracks is poor or misjudged. Herrmann gives every sign of having been totally immersed in lyricism and of enjoying every moment of it…” -The Bernard Herrmann Society

Unfortunately, the film wasn’t very successful at the box office. Alfred Hitchcock speculated that the film was improperly marketed to the public.

“I think The Trouble with Harry needed special handling. It wouldn’t have failed commercially if the people in the distribution organization had known what to do with the picture; but it got into the assembly line and that was that.”  – Alfred Hitchcock

This might very well be the case. In an article about Jerry Pickman (a publicist at Paramount), Pickman admits that he didn’t think that the studio would be able to market the film.

“Hitchcock wanted to make a picture called The Trouble with Harry. He had a little girl named Shirley MacLaine– ‘I never heard of her,’ said the studio head–and an old man, Edmund Gwenn, and it was going to cost $800,000. We all shook our heads, the answer was no. Well, every morning I would have the studio send me a capsule of all the announcements they made to the press. They would give me a summary, and the next morning I see they announced The Trouble with Harry. I was a little annoyed but I wasn’t going to go down and challenge the president of the company…

… Balaban walked in, had his lunch, and as he walked around he said, ‘Is something bothering you? You didn’t say hello to me.’ I said, ‘I’m annoyed, Barney. Why did we have the meeting yesterday? We decided not to make the picture and the studio wired this morning saying we’re going ahead with it. If you changed it, why didn’t you tell us?’ He said, ‘I was too embarrassed. After we all said no, the studio head called back and said, ‘Barney, I can’t tell Hitchcock no, because he gave us To Catch a Thief and Rear Window. I haven’t got the courage to say no to him, so I told him we were going to make the picture.’ And that’s how the picture was made. That was how the company was run.” -Jerry Pickman

It has been written that The Trouble with Harry nearly ruined Hitchcock’s career, but this is not the case at all. It is more accurate to say that the film was simply ignored. Critical reception wasn’t particularly complimentary, but it certainly wasn’t hostile. Bosley Crowther’s review was typical of the critical reception towards the film:

“…It is not a particularly witty or clever script that John Michael Hayes has put together from a novel by Jack Trevor Story, nor does Mr. Hitchcock’s direction make it spin. The pace is leisurely, almost sluggish, and the humor frequently is strained. The whimsy inclines to be pretentious, such as Miss Natwick’s cheery reply to Mr. Gwenn’s expressed hope that her father’s death was peaceful: “He was caught in a threshing machine.” Or again, when the two are out exhuming the freshly buried corpse, she says, ‘After we’ve dug him up, we’ll go back to my place and I’ll make you some hot chocolate.’” – The New York Times (October 18, 1955)

Today, this seems like an unfair analysis. A recent review published in The Guardian labeled the film a “masterpiece.” I disagree with this statement, but the film is certainly on par with other comedies of the period and better than most of them. It stands out as a decidedly unusual film in the director’s canon and has earned the admiration that it now receives from cinemaphiles.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

This disc is available as part of The Masterpiece Collection boxed set and as an individual disc.

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The Masterpiece Collection is given a tasteful book-style presentation with a page for each film that includes a folder for each disc. Some might prefer that each disc come in its own standard Blu-ray case. These folder style compartments do not always protect the discs and very often cause scratches.

The individual release presents the disc in a standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork.

The menu on the disc contains footage from the film accompanied by music in the same style as other Universal Blu-rays.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Universal’s 1080P transfer of The Trouble with Harry is really surprisingly beautiful. Robert Burks’ autumn landscapes are vivid and accurate and viewers will see detail and clarity never before observed on any previous home video format. Contrast is perfectly rendered with deep black levels and the source print is nearly immaculate. While grain is certainly apparent, this is inherent in the film’s celluloid source and contributes to a more cinematic experience. It is actually rather difficult to find something to complain about.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

I suppose that some might complain about the lack of a 5.1 mix, but the 2.0 English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio is accurate and a vast improvement over those included on previous home video releases. There is no perceptible hiss present and the track seems to be free from other annoying signs of age as well. Dialogue is consistent and always intelligible and Bernard Herrmann’s music has more room to breath due to the lossless nature of this track. For one to expect anything better than this seems rather unreasonable.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

All of the supplementary materials from the DVD releases have been ported over to this Blu-ray disc.

The Trouble with Harry Isn’t Over – (SD) – (32 minutes)

Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary on the making of The Trouble With Harry is a delightful look into the making of this often overlooked film. John Forsythe, John Michael Hayes, Herbert Coleman, Patricia Hitchcock, and Steven Smith (Bernard Herrmann’s Biographer) discuss the production.

Production Photographs – (SD)

This photo gallery plays by itself as a sort of slide show, but there is the option of skipping to the next photo.

Theatrical Trailer – (SD) – (2 min)

The trouble with the “Theatrical Trailer” on this disc is that it is not an actual Trailer. It is merely a promo for the VHS release of the film. This is a shame. It would have been interesting to see how Paramount chose to market this unique film.

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Final Words:

The Trouble with Harry has been given an amazing Blu-ray release. I would recommend adding it to your collection.

 Review by: Devon Powell

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Blu-Ray Review: To Catch a Thief

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Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Release Date: March 06, 2012

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:46:32

Video: 1080P (AVC High@L4.1, 23.976fps, 23.8GB)

Main Audio:

2.0 Stereo English – TrueHD (AC3 2.0, 16bit, 48kHz, 224kbps)

The Original Mono English Soundtrack – TrueHD (AC3 2.0, 16bit, 48kHz, 224kbps)

Alternate Audio:

French Stereo (AC3 2.0, 16bit, 48kHz, 224kbps)

Portuguese Stereo (AC3 2.0, 16bit, 48kHz, 224kbps)

Spanish Stereo (AC3 2.0, 16bit, 48kHz, 224kbps)

Subtitles: English, English (hard of hearing), French, Portuguese & Spanish

Ratio: 1.78:1 (16:9)

Bitrate: 38Mbps

Notes: This title has had several DVD releases. The best of these is the 2-Disc Centennial Collection release.  

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“Sex on the screen should be suspenseful, I feel. If sex is too blatant or obvious, there’s no suspense…I deliberately photographed Grace Kelly ice-cold and I kept cutting to her profile, looking classical, beautiful, and distant. And then, when Cary Grant accompanies her to the door of her hotel room, what does she do? She thrusts her lips right up to his mouth.” –Alfred Hitchcock

Frances Stevens’ pursuit of John Robie is perhaps given more attention in the film than Robie’s pursuit of the real cat burglar, but few will complain. To Catch a Thief is gorgeous beyond description and notably risqué in its elegant wit and humor. Scholars often write the film off as “lesser” Hitchcock, but the film enjoyed a good deal of success upon its release. It is true that this film does not have the depth that films like Vertigo enjoy, but it is solid entertainment and required viewing.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

To Catch a Thief is housed in the standard blue case with attractive cover art that improves upon its various DVD releases. This case is protected by a slipcover with the same artwork.

 The menu itself is static, but lovely with accompaniment from Lyn Murray’s score.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Robert Burks’ Oscar winning cinematography has never looked more beautiful on home video. To Catch a Thief was Alfred Hitchcock’s first film to employ the VistaVision process, and the added resolution seems to have helped in Paramount’s high definition transfer of the film. The colors seem accurately presented and never look awkward (even Cary Grant’s tan looks natural). Blacks are solid without crushing detail. Grain never seems to overwhelm the amazing detail that this high definition transfer reveals. There is a single shot during the costume gala that looks both soft and grainy, but this seems to be inherent in the source material. The troublesome moiré effect on Grant’s striped shirt that overwhelms the picture in previous home video releases of the film is all but nonexistent in this transfer. Aliasing can be an occasional issue, but is never terribly distracting. There is nothing about the transfer that should discourage fans from purchasing the disc.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Paramount should be applauded for offering not only a True HD 2.0 Stereo soundtrack, but also the film’s original Mono soundtrack in TrueHD. Although the audio seems rather unimpressive by today’s standards, any issue one finds with the film’s audio presentation will likely be due to the age of the film. The audio is clean without much (if any) noise or distortion and dialogue is always clear and intelligible. Lynn Murray’s score also sounds better than I have ever heard it on home video. My issues with the sound are all source related and stem from the dubbing of Charles Vanel’s dialogue. Even this is a minor complaint.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The large collection of special features included with the 2-Disc Centennial Collection DVD release of the film have been ported over to the Blu-ray. There is over ninety minutes of wonderful features included on the disc in addition to the commentary track. Paramount offers audiences quite a bit of bang for their buck with this release. There are no Blu-ray exclusives, but the supplements included pretty much exhaust the subject and leave little else to be said about the film.

Feature Length Commentary Track from Dr. Drew Casper

This Drew Casper track is more analytical and does not go into any depth about the actual production itself. The dry delivery might turn a few people off, but his analysis of the film remains interesting.

Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief(SD) – (00:09:04)

This featurette focuses on the writing and casting of the film and is thoroughly interesting and informative.

The Making of To Catch a Thief (2002) – (SD) – (00:16:54)

The Making of ‘To Catch a Thief’ focuses on the actual production through the release of the film.

Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation – (SD) – (00:07:33)

This is a more personal look at Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief that contains interesting home movies of Hitchcock. It is revealed that the director liked vacationing in the south of France along with other relevant details. This piece is slightly less informative, but remains of interest to fans. Most of the information covered in this piece is covered in other supplements as well.

Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in America – (SD) – (00:11:49)

This is an interesting short about the history of the production code and how it affected To Catch a Thief.

A Night with the Hitchcocks – (SD) – (00:23:22)

Dr. Drew Casper hosts a Q&A session with Patricia Hitchcock and Mary Stone at the University of Southern California. It is interesting to hear Hitchcock’s daughter and granddaughter discuss the more personal aspects of the director’s life.

Edith Head: The Paramount Years (2002) – (SD) – (00:13:44)

This featurette is a staple of Paramount home video releases (and for good reason). It discusses the fabulous costume designer, Edith Head. It has special relevance here, because To Catch a Thief was her favorite of the films that she worked on.

Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly – (SD) – (00:06:13)

A brief discussion on the film’s two stars focuses more on Grant than on Kelly. It relays some interesting information about the stars, but is not very comprehensive.

If You Love to Catch Thief, You’ll Love this Interactive Travelogue – (SD)

This is essentially a set of short clips discussing the various locations used in the film. Footage from To Catch a Thief is used to illustrate the information.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (HD) – (00:02:13)

This is very similar in style to other theatrical trailers of the period.

Photo Galleries – (HD)

There are quite a few production photos and promotional materials to look through in a sort of slide style presentation.

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Final Words:

To Catch a Thief is even more delightful in high definition.

Reviewed by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Review: North by Northwest

 

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Distributor: Warner Brothers

Release Date: November 03, 2009

Region: Region Free

Length: 02:16:26

Video: 1080P (VC-1)

Main Audio: English Surround (TrueHD 5.1, 48kHz, 640kbps)

Alternate Audio Options:

French Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

German Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Italian Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Spanish Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Portuguese Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Japanese Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Subtitles: English , French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 27Mbps

Note: This title is also available on a 2-disc 50th Anniversary DVD set.

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“It’s the American Thirty-Nine Steps — I’d thought about it for a long time. It’s a fantasy. The whole film is epitomized in the title — there is no such thing as north-by-northwest on the compass. The area in which we get near to the free abstract in movie making is the free use of fantasy, which is what I deal in. I don’t deal in that slice-of-life stuff.” –Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 ‘fantasy’ is a thrill from beginning to end. It is the director’s longest film (136 minutes), but one doesn’t feel the time pass. North by Northwest is every bit as enjoyable today as it was 54 years ago. It continues to attract admiration from audiences and many people consider it to be Hitchcock’s best film. This is debatable, but it must be said that North by Northwest is certainly one of his most enjoyable efforts. AFI continues to include it in many of their “best” lists and its legacy does not seem to be fading.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Warner Brothers offers two different releases for this particular disc and the difference in these releases lie solely in their packaging. The normal Blu-ray release packages the disc in the standard blue plastic case. The 50th Anniversary Edition packages the disk in an attractive Blu-ray book format. This special edition has an extremely classy presentation and is priced at an estimated ten dollars higher than the regular release. It is slightly skimpy in actual content, but one must admit that its 44 pages are beautifully rendered.

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The film begins playing when the disc is put into the player, but Warner Brothers does offer a menu that can be accessed at any time.

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The menu itself is rather soft and grainy and does not hint at the quality of the actual film’s visual presentation on the disc.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 MacGuffins

It might not be possible to adequately put into words just how amazing this 8K restoration transfer looks in high definition. Warner Brothers should be proud of this release and Hitchcock fans and anyone else who has a love for classic cinema should feel lucky to own it. The level of detail in this high definition transfer is truly astonishing. This film looks better than a few of the transfers of more recent films I have seen. The studio spared no expense on bringing us a fantastic picture.

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The picture is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is actually closer to the original 1.66:1 VistaVision ratio than the film’s original DVD release. The color on this transfer seems richer and more cinematic. I would imagine that this is very similar to how the image looked in the cinemas. There seems to be absolutely no print damage. This might not be quite as sharp as a more recent film, but I can assure you that North by Northwest has never looked sharper than it does in this release. Even more amazingly, this seems to have been achieved without the use of any artificial edge enhancement. There is an appropriate amount of grain for a film of this era, but it is an extremely clean image.  It is simply gorgeous.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Purists might find fault with the sound options on this release. A TrueHD 5.1 audio mix has been created for this release and the disc does not seem to contain its original soundtrack. It is unfortunate that this track is not included in addition to this new 5.1 high definition mix, but I have no complaints about this new mix. It is a modest remix that retains the essence of the original soundtrack. It is mixed at a low volume and it might become necessary to raise the volume on your television set, but it is a very nice experience. Dialogue is consistently clear and well prioritized. It is delivered mainly through the center channels but has presence in the left and right speakers as well. Bernard Herrmann’s fabulous score has never sounded better than it is presented here and there are some wonderful panning effects during the crop dusting sequence that enhance the viewing experience without going overboard. This is a subtle mix that suits the film nicely.

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Special Features: 

5 of 5 MacGuffins

Warner Brothers offers a rather fabulous selection of special features. Even contemporary films rarely receive so many excellent features on home video. Many of these selections might have been preferable in high definition and included on a second disc (although a few of these features are likely from standard definition sources). However, this is only a small complaint.

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Commentary Track with Scriptwriter Ernest Lehman

This is an extremely interesting commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman. It is slightly slow getting started, but it contains a wealth of information that fans of the film will consider priceless. Some of the most fascinating moments of the commentary have less to do with factual information and a bit more to do with ego and conceit. There are moments in the film where the writer seems almost bitter that he has not received more credit for the film’s success. This was recorded for original DVD release years ago and anyone who owns any of the DVD versions of the film will have heard it already.

Isolated Bernard Herrmann Music Track

This feature is essential for anyone who would like to experience Herrmann’s score for North by Northwest without the distraction of other elements of the soundtrack. It illuminates Herrmann’s profound contribution to the film perfectly. This track is a carry over from the original DVD release of the film.

“Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest” – (00:39:27) – (480P NTSC)

This is a wonderful “Making of” documentary hosted by Eva Marie Saint. It is fairly comprehensive and always interesting. This feature is another carry over from the film’s original DVD release.

“North by Northwest: One for the Ages” – (00:25:29) – (480P NTSC)

Contemporary directors and scholars discuss North by Northwest giving their impressions of the film along with a few details about production and where the film fits into the Hitchcock canon as a whole. This is the weakest of the documentaries on the disc, but it is consistently enjoyable and interesting.

“The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style” – (00:57:52) – (480P NTSC)

This documentary utilizes interesting footage from a documentary made in the 1970s of Hitchcock himself discussing his methods. Even better, we see a few behind the scenes moments of the director shooting “Blackmail.” Contemporary directors also appear to discuss Hitchcock’s style and technique as film clips illustrate what the participants are saying. It is an interesting addition to the disc.

“Cary Grant: A Class Apart” – (01:27:12) – (480P NTSC)

This feature length documentary on Cary Grant is surprisingly wonderful and fairly comprehensive. It does not ignore some of the more controversial aspects of Grant’s life (although it has a tendency to play them down) and it discusses his career in more detail than some of the other documentaries available about the actor. It is consistently interesting and a welcome addition to this release. Many are likely to prefer this feature over all of the others on the disc.

A Guided Tour with Alfred Hitchcock: Trailer Featuring Alfred Hitchcock – (480P NTSC)

This is an interesting promotional trailer featuring Alfred Hitchcock himself.

Theatrical Trailer

Vintage trailers are usually interesting and this one is no exception. However, the trailer featuring Hitchcock is superior.

TV Spot – (480P NTSC)

This is a black and white television spot for the film. It is quite like the theatrical trailer for the film.

Stills Gallery

A collection of stills and behind the scenes photos from the film. It also includes additional photos from the shooting of Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest.

44 Page Book (Only Available with the 50th Anniversary Edition)

This book is beautifully presented and I admire the presentation. The photos are wonderful, even if the information and short biographies included in the book tend to not offer a lot of new information.

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Final Words:

Warner Brothers has provided Hitchcock fans with an amazing Blu-ray release of profound quality and substance. The 8K restoration and transfer is truly beautiful. This disk is essential.

Reviewed by: Devon Powell