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

Blu-ray Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much – The Criterion Collection

Spine # 643

2224_front

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date:  January 15, 2013

Region: Region A

Length: 01:16:04

Video: 1080P (AVC, M-PEG 4)

Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio (1,152kbps, 48kHz, 24bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.33:1

Bitrate: 34.98 Mbps

Note: This title is also available on DVD.

miniTMWKTM screenshot (1)

“To all appearances, I seemed to have gone into a creative decline in 1933 when I made Waltzes from Vienna, which was very bad – and yet the talent must have been there all along since I had already conceived the project for ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’, the picture that re-established my creative prestige.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

This quote sums up the film’s importance rather nicely. Hitchcock was considered a genius early in his career with such films as The Lodger, The Ring, and Blackmail. However, he had long been in decline. After a string of poorly received films, the director was still finding his voice (one notices that his more successful early efforts were thrillers). With The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock discovered this voice and began a series of thrillers that cemented his reputation as “the master of suspense” while also attracting attention from Hollywood. It is also noteworthy to mention that this is Peter Lorre’s first English speaking role. It would probably not be an exaggeration to say that this film gave him a foothold on his prestigious Hollywood career.

There is the inevitable argument between Hitchcock enthusiasts as to whether this or his 1956 remake is the better film. Hitchcock himself told Francois Truffaut in his excellent book length interview that, “the first version was the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.” However, he was speaking to a man who obviously had a preference to the 1956 version. He might have been swayed to give Truffaut a comment that would mesh with his obvious opinions on the subject. One must remember that Hitchcock loathed conflict. In the end, these are different films. Each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Whatever one’s opinion might be, it is hard to argue against the importance of this first version to Hitchcock’s career.

miniTMWKTM screenshot (3)

The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Criterion usually manages an extremely classy presentation for its releases and I am happy to say that The Man Who Knew Too Much is not an exception. The disk is contained in a clear shell with amazing cover artwork by Bill Nelson (designed by F. Ron Miller).

When one opens the case, there is a photo from the film’s climatic gun battle. The disc’s 15 chapters are also listed clearly here. There is a wonderful booklet inside the case that includes an interesting essay on the film entitled, Wish You Were Here. It was written by Farran Smith Nehme. The book is also gorgeously illustrated with photography from the film. The final pages of the booklet include interesting information about the transfer, production credits, and thank various people who made the release possible.

Image

Image

The menus are nice and in the Criterion style. They employ footage from the film along with Arthur Benjamin’s The Storm Clouds Cantata. They are really quite attractive.

Image

It is a very nice presentation and I can find no complaints whatsoever.

miniTMWKTM screenshot (6)

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

I cannot tell you how many public domain releases of this film I have bought on DVD throughout the years (with the hope that I would find a version that was actually watchable). These releases were so washed out and beaten up that it was difficult to actually appreciate the work that Hitchcock put into the film.

There were no negatives of the film to work from and in order to get a decent 2K transfer, Criterion had to work from a 35mm nitrate fine-grain master positive from the BFI National Archive vaults. It was a difficult process, but the results are truly amazing. Watching this Blu-ray was like seeing the film for the first time. Criterion managed a consistently sharp and clear picture with almost perfect contrast. Edge flicker does not seem to be an issue here either. I did see a few hairs and lines here and there, but this is a truly remarkable presentation. I cannot see anyone beating this release in terms of picture quality.

This film is 79 years old and Criterion seems to have resurrected it from the grave. The quality could be considered a minor miracle.

miniTMWKTM screenshot (8)

Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The English LPCM 1.0 soundtrack (with optional English SDH subtitles) is also an improvement over the public domain releases. These tracks had very loud pops and a constant hiss that continued to annoy through the many dropouts evident in these sub-standard discs.

This Criterion soundtrack is better in every way. There is little to no perceivable hiss and dropouts seem to be non existent. I do not recall hearing any pops or any other major issues with the track. The music is sometimes flat and the dialogue is sometimes muffled, but I feel that these issues are evident in the source and one cannot blame Criterion.

miniTMWKTM screenshot (9)

Special Features:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Audio Commentary with film historian, Philip Kemp

I prefer documentaries to commentaries because of the tendency that many commentaries have of telling you what you are seeing on screen. It can be a lot like listening to commentators during a sports broadcast. On occasion, a good commentary will come along that actually provides you with information. This is one of those commentaries.

Kemp gives listeners a wealth of information that audiences should find interesting. The issue here may be that there is so much information that it is difficult for some of it to actually soak in. A few people might be irritated by Kemp’s dry delivery, but I found the track to be an enjoyable addition to the disc.

The Illustrated Hitchcock: 1972 Interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, Pia Lindstrom, and William K. Everson – (49:48)

This documentary is my personal favorite of the disc’s special features. We are given two interesting interviews with the master himself. These interviews are complete with footage from the mentioned films. I found it thoroughly enjoyable. The picture quality is not as crisp, but the content itself is fantastic.

Excerpts from François Truffaut’s 1962 Interview with Hitchcock (22:56)

People who have read Truffaut’s book length interview will find this audio interview familiar. A photo of the two great filmmakers (taken at the time of the interview) fills the screen as we hear them discussing The Man Who Knew Too Much. Helen G. Scott’s interpretation of both the questions and the answers can become tiresome, but the conversation itself is extremely interesting.

Interview with Guillermo del Toro – (17:40)

This is an illustrated interview with the contemporary filmmaker, Guillermo del Toro. In this piece, he discusses both Alfred Hitchcock and The Man Who Knew Too Much. It is less essential than the interviews with Hitchcock, but it remains interesting to fans of either director.

Restoration Demonstration (05:12)

This is more than a simple before and after comparison of the film’s restoration to the source print. It is an interesting discussion on how Criterion was able to manage such an excellent transfer. I enjoyed this short piece quite a bit.

miniTMWKTM screenshot (11)

Final Words:

Criterion has done some amazing work on this film and it certainly belongs in every Hitchcock fan’s collection. There is absolutely no reason not to purchase this amazing disc.

 —–

The Criterion Collection’s The Man Who Knew Too Much page:

http://www.criterion.com/films/27999-the-man-who-knew-too-much

Reviewed by: Devon Powell