Blu-ray Review: To Catch a Thief (Paramount Presents Series)

TCAT - 2D Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Release Date: April 21, 2020

Region: Region A

Length: 01:46:31

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English Dolby TrueHD

Alternate Audio:

2.0 Mono Spanish (Castilian) Dolby Digital

2.0 Mono Spanish (Latin) Dolby Digital

2.0 Mono French: Dolby Digital

2.0 Mono Italian Dolby Digital

2.0 Mono German Dolby Digital

2.0 Mono Japanese Dolby Digital

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

Ratio: 1.78:1

Notes: Paramount originally released “To Catch a Thief” on Blu-ray in 2012, but this new “Paramount Presents” edition offers a different image and sound transfer.

TCAT - Title - Paramount Presents

“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 (Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock, 1966)

The moment described in the above quote is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most memorable screen kisses (and his filmography is filled with them). It is this moment that he spoke of most when discussing To Catch a Thief. The director had originally purchased the rights to David Dodge’s novel as a property for his Transatlantic production company before the book was even published for $15,000, but he was able to make a healthy profit after the company went under by selling it to Paramount for $105,000. In the end, it would turn out to be a very nice investment for both parties.

It is certainly easy to understand why the property appealed to Hitchcock. Even a simple synopsis of the novel’s opening scenes indicate several Hitchcockian themes: an innocent man accused of a crime, the double chase, a protagonist masquerading as someone else, and the list expands as the story progresses:

“The novel centers on the character of John Robie, a former American acrobat-turned-jewel-thief known as ‘Le Chat,’ who in the 1930s preyed upon the Riviera’s wealthy visitors until he was captured and imprisoned. Released by the Germans during the occupation, Robie joined the Resistance, becoming a member of the Maquis, and later retired to a quiet life at his Villa des Bijoux.

When a new series of jewel robberies is committed, Commissaire Orial suspects Robie is up to his old tricks and comes to arrest him. After a daring escape, Robie seeks assistance from his former Maquis leader, Henri Bellini, who persuades him to lead an underworld manhunt to apprehend the thief. Robie disguises himself as Jack Burns, a middle-aged New York insurance salesman vacationing in Cannes. There, Robie seeks out prospective victims while Bellini’s gang watches for the thief…” –Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock, 2001)

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“All that survived in the end were the title, the names of some of the characters, and the copyright—which was mine.” –David Dodge

Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation follows along these same lines, but he made plenty of alterations in an effort to focus the drama and turn it into a fetishistic romance. John Michael Hayes returned to help the director turn the property into a Hitchcock film after their enjoyable (and enormously successful) collaboration on Rear Window. Still, Hitchcock wanted Hayes to learn the lay of the land before they began their writing sessions and sent the writer and his wife on a trip to the Riviera for research:

“So we went over, and they got a French assistant director as our guide, and we went down and did research. But I said to Hitch, ‘I don’t really need to go. I’ve written Westerns and murders and other things, and I don’t have to do it to know it.’ Hitch insisted, ‘It will make it easier for me and for you to get the feel of the place and not just have to look at picture books.’ So we spent two weeks there, had a wonderful time, and I thought of the scene in the flower market because of it. It was my wife’s birthday (December 10), and as I walked through the flower market, I ordered a whole lot of them and filled our hotel room with so many flowers, it looked like a florist’s shop.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

After Hayes had absorbed the hotspots of the French Riviera, he and Hitchcock were able to buckle down and create a detailed treatment (although it was somewhat less detailed and quite a bit shorter than was typical for Hitchcock). This process allowed the director to work out the film’s structure and many of the details of his famous visual sequences so that his writers could focus primarily on characterization and dialogue—and John Michael Hayes excelled in these two particular areas:

“Plotting was not my greatest talent… Dialogue, character, and dialogue were. I was presented with the same problem as Rear Window. You’ve got this basic background and all we had to do is just sit down and ask, ‘What if he did this?’ ‘What if he did that?’ And gradually our plot grew. David Dodge wrote the book, and he was quite surprised that a drama came of it. But Hitch did it.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

There were a few elements that were originally in the book: John Robie’s impromptu escape from his own villa, Francie’s suspicion that Robie is guilty of the robberies, the accidental murder of the wrong thief by the police, and the rooftop climax. Quite a few characters and story threads were omitted in favor of a more focused and streamlined narrative. A few of the characterizations also changed. This is particularly true of Bellini as he was a loyal friend in Dodge’s novel and not the criminal mastermind and restaurateur of Hitchcock’s film:

“I learned that a lot of people in the underground were restaurant workers—cooks, chefs, and waiters. Hitch and I thought we could get them all together as a group in Bellini’s restaurant, and this would also give the gang access to the wealthy. They could overhear their conversations, could judge the jewelry they wore, and use the restaurant as a source of great information.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

Minor adjustments to other characters were made: the brunette Francie Stevens of Dodge’s novel became a glacial blond (to the surprise of no one), an insurance man named Mr. Paige becomes Mr. Hughson and is introduced into the story much earlier, and the character of Danielle’s father was added to the film as a replacement for the book’s accomplice in the crimes… The list goes on and on.

Developing the script wasn’t a particularly smooth process as the writer and director had occasional differences of opinion:

“Hitchcock and Hayes held almost daily script conferences through the late winter and early spring of 1954. Frequently, these meetings were at Hitchcock’s house… Their lunch was prepared and served by the director’s German cook. One scene in To Catch a Thief takes place at Robie’s villa, where Robie (Cary Grant) and Huston (John William) share lunch and a humorous disquisition on quiche Lorraine, served by Robie’s cook. That scene was inspired by a quiche Lorraine lunch served at Bellagio Road.

The quiche scene, though, also spurred friction between the director and writer. Hitchcock was ‘preoccupied with strangulation,’ according to Hayes, and he wanted the scene to end with the insurance man praising the delicate crust of the quiche, and the ‘exceedingly light touch’ of Robie’s cook, who quietly serves it around. Robie concurs, adding ‘She strangled a German General once, without a sound.’

Hayes objected to such morbid comedy, but Hitchcock said too bad; he was the boss, and the line stayed in. The scene was pure Hitchcock—and also served as one of several that expanded the role of the insurance agent…” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

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“He supposedly hated eggs, and yet he was absolutely crazy about soufflés and quiche Lorraine, which he insisted we put in the screenplay after we had it one afternoon for lunch.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

However, this particular disagreement was minor. They had a number of “slam-bang script fights,” but the most passionate of these creative battles was over the film’s ending:

“I must have written a dozen endings for that picture. I had a scene that I liked… But Hitch got angry because I showed the scene to Grace and Cary, to get their opinion of the one I liked, and that was his function—not mine—and he was right. Although, I did it innocently [and] not with any sinister intent… The ending that I liked was with the little sunbeam—Francie’s car—with which she took him for a ride over the Corniche and scared the hell out of him. I wanted the last love scene to be played in that car—on the edge of the road—overlooking Monte Carlo. There’s a cliff and this town way down there, I wanted them to be hugging and kissing, and the car starts to roll forward, and they don’t notice. They’re so absorbed in each other. It keeps rolling towards the edge of the cliff, and finally Francie says, ‘John?’ He says, ‘Yes?’ She says, ‘Will you do me a favor?’ ‘What?’ he asks. ‘Would you put your foot on the brake, please?’ He puts his foot on the brake and the bumper is just hanging over the edge, and I wanted to end there. But I couldn’t convince Hitch to do it.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

In Hitchcock’s defense, it is difficult to imagine the film having any other ending than the one that was eventually used.

“Since To Catch a Thief is in a rather nostalgic mood, I didn’t want to wind up with a completely happy ending. That’s why I put in that scene by the tree, when Cary Grant agrees to marry Grace Kelly. It turns out that the mother-in-law will come and live with them, so the final note is pretty grim.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock, 1966)

The creative clashes between Hitchcock and Hayes were inevitable. Such disagreements are common and are often good for the final film. However, one particular incident was especially difficult for the director to accept:

“Hayes always insisted that Mrs. Hitchcock never sat in on a single one of their conferences, or ventured any suggestions in his presence; that the director never said anything that expressly reflected his wife’s opinion, except once: ‘Alma liked your script.’ It was his highest compliment—though people didn’t always take it well…

…If Mrs. Hitchcock was no longer working openly on scripts, she was still quietly reading them and offering advice on key scenes… It was Alma, the driver in their marriage, who took the lead on mapping out the Grand Corniche sequence, where Francie and Robie are pursued in her car by Sûreté nationale agents. Alma had the curves of the road memorized, according to Coleman, and told him where the unit should perch on the perpendicular cliffs overlooking the small town of Eze. The car-chase sequence excited Mrs. Hitchcock so much, according to Coleman, that she joined one of their Sunday afternoon meetings, outlining the action shot by shot… Hitchcock said less than usual, [and] just sat there beaming at his wife…

…Later, when To Catch a Thief was released, an interviewer asked Hayes explicitly about the scene, and he commented innocently, ‘I got carsick writing it.’ Recalled Doc Ericksen: ‘That pissed off Hitchcock pretty good.’ The director walked around the office, shaking his head. ‘Alma and I did that,’ he protested. ‘We worked on it all Sunday afternoon.’” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

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“…I rely on [Alma’s] opinion. She helped work out on paper the chase scene in To Catch a Thief.” –Alfred Hitchcock (The Woman Who Knows Too Much, McCall’s, March, 1956)

Unlike most Hitchcock projects, the director was forced to start production before the script was even complete. In fact, John Michael Hayes would travel with the production to the south of France so that he and the director could work on the still incomplete script. It wasn’t at all how Hitchcock preferred to work, and it created a fair amount of logistical complications. A production letter from Doc Erickson (production manager) to Hugh Brown gives a paints a fairly clear picture of where the script was when production was set to begin:

“The condition of the script is not good. Hitch went to work with John Hayes immediately upon his arrival yesterday noon and will be working with him all day today, but he feels there is considerable polishing to be done yet. Physically there are no changes in the story and therefore we are planning our work here based on the green script, but you know how difficult it is to plan efficiently when you know there is a re-write coming. I doubt very seriously that we will have any sort of new script before the end of the week. Naturally, with Hitch working on the script every day, we will have very little opportunity to show him any of the location sites for pre-production shooting.” –Doc Erickson (letter to Hugh Brown as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

Of course, Hitchcock still meticulously planned his sequences before the cameras rolled. The only difference here was that he had an enormous amount of location footage to capture, and his lack of control over certain practical issues forced a number of compromises upon him. Even so, André Bazin couldn’t tell that such concerns bothered the director when he visited his set:

“We met the first time at the flower market in Nice. They were shooting a scuffle. Cary Grant was fighting with two or three ruffians and rolling on the ground under some pink flowers. I had been watching for a good hour, during which time Hitchcock did not have to intervene more than twice; settled in his armchair, he gave the impression of being prodigiously bored and of musing about something completely different… The sequence was repeated three or four times in my presence before being judged satisfactory, after which they were to prepare to shoot the following sequence — an insert in close-up of Cary Grant’s head under an avalanche of pink flowers… When I saw him finally get up and go over for an earnest talk with the star and the assistants, I assumed that here at last was a matter of some delicate adjustment of the mise-en-scène; a minute later he came towards me shaking his head, pointing to his wristwatch, and I thought he was trying to tell me that there was no longer enough light for color — the sun being quite low. But he quickly disabused me of that idea with a very British smile: ‘Oh! No, the light is excellent, but Mister Cary Grant’s contract calls for stopping at six o’clock; it is six o’clock exactly, so we will retake this sequence tomorrow.’” –André Bazin (Hitchcock contre Hitchcock, Cahiers du Cinéma, October 01, 1954)

Such demands were expected from Cary Grant. Convincing the semi-retired actor to portray the film’s protagonist took an enormous amount of effort, but Hitchcock knew that the film was suffer without him in the role of John Robie. The director even took a pay cut by transferring the rights of the film to Paramount and changed his contract so that his ten percent of the profits would be paid only after Grant had been paid his ten percent. This sacrifice was necessary to appease Grant’s star-sized ego, but Hitchcock knew that the final result would be well worth it in the end. (This is why To Catch a Thief isn’t currently owned by Universal.)

The actor would often arrive on the set hoping to re-write is lines or alter some piece of action required for a scene. Hitchcock would tell the star to address Hayes with his issues, and Grant would comply without knowing that the writer had been prompted by Hitchcock to stall the actor when such instances occurred. Hayes stalled his decision until the crew was ready with the set-up in question so that it would be too late to make pointless changes. Unfortunately, Grant would soon catch on and later demanded to run through a scene two ways (his own and as scripted). The trouble with this is that his performance was intentionally awkward when doing the scene as written and spot-on while doing his own version of the scene. This fooled no one, so Hitchcock then prompted everyone on the set to enthusiastically applause after he ran the scene correctly and to remain apathetic when the actor performed his own version of the scene. Grant wouldn’t give the director any more trouble. It was important that the actor do a scene Hitchcock’s way, because he had already meticulously planned all of his shots. Any variance on the part of an actor could destroy the pre-planned effect of a scene.

TCAT - Grace Kelly in Shadow - Original 2012

Grace Kelly was more than happy to turn down the role of Edie Doyle in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront to work with Hitchcock again, and both directors would benefit from her choice. (Kazan would eventually cast Eva Marie Saint in the role.)

The film’s expensive location shooting resulted in a fairly pleasant shoot for all involved, but it also forced a number of compromises on Hitchcock. For one thing, the budget itself was inadequate for some of the sequences that Hitchcock had planned:

“[The] script called for a wild chase through Nice, with Robie dodging police amid a carnival procession of floats, ultimately climbing inside the head of King Neptune. As he had done with the Lord Mayor’s Show for Sabotage, the director expected to film the actual annual carnival parade, and later re-create key incidents as inserts inside the studio, But after Paramount placed a $3 million ceiling on the budget, the carnival chase seemed too expensive; so in mid-April, on the eve of departure for France, Hitchcock simply deleted the sequence. The film’s flower-market chase was cheaper (and tamer) [without this portion of the sequence].” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

It was also nearly impossible to capture usable dialogue, and a large portion of the film had to be dubbed during post production:

“Gusty winds and constant background racket also forced heavy dialogue rerecording. Music was sometimes the solution. ‘For example, in a scene on the beach at Cannes with Grant the wind is whipping the umbrellas and the canvas on the cabanas,’ remembered [Lyn] Murray. ‘He said there would be absolutely no sound track in this scene—just music.’

‘…In the interest of the schedule and budget [on location],’ recalled George Tomasini’s assistant, John M. Woodcock, ‘Hitch okayed many imperfect takes…’ Ultimately, the sound editors had to insert 250 ‘loops’ of corrected sound—something of a record for the time…” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

Of course, some of these problems had little to do with location. Alfred Hitchcock greatly admired the excellent performances that Charles Vanel had given Henri-Georges Clouzot in The Wages of Fear (1953) and Les Diaboliques (1955), and he wanted to cast him as Bertani. On the surface, this seemed like excellent casting. However, the actor’s limited understanding of English created problems that few anticipated.

“They tried to teach him phonetically, and that inhibited all the scenes we wanted to do with him, because he hardly moved and spoke in simple sentences. We couldn’t get the subtlety in his part that we wanted—that he could very well have been masterminding this thing… They had his lines on a blackboard, and he tried to look offstage and read the lines. It was too bad, because he was an accomplished actor—with all the subtitles of gesture and intonation—and of course we get none of that.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

In the end, they were forced to reduce his dialogue down to almost nothing and shoot him with his back to the camera or with his mouth covered so that they could re-dub his voice with another actor.

Charles Vanel in WAGES OF FEAR

Charles Vanel in The Wages of Fear (1953).

Charles Vanel in TO CATCH A THIEF

Charles Vanel in To Catch a Thief (1955).

Luckily, he didn’t have these same issues with Brigitte Auber.

“I had seen a Julien Duvivier picture called Sous Ie Ciel de Paris in which [Brigitte Auber] played a country girl who’d come to live in the city. I chose her because the personage had to be sturdy enough to climb all over the villa roofs. At the time, I wasn’t aware that between films Brigitte Auber worked as an acrobat. That turned out to be a happy coincidence.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock, 1966)

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Brigitte Auber in a publicity photo used in the marketing campaign for To Catch a Thief (1955).

One imagines that Hitchcock was happy when the first unit location footage wrapped on June 25 since this meant that he could enter the controlled atmosphere of a Hollywood soundstage. While Herbert Coleman stayed on in Cannes to supervise the second unit work, Hitchcock ensured that Coleman’s unit was properly capturing the footage as he had envisioned it. A cable to Colman sent on July 8th clearly illustrates this point:

“Dear Herbie,

Saw shot where car avoids [the] oncoming bus, [and I’m] afraid it does not come off for the following reasons. Because we, the camera, are rounding a bend, the bus comes upon us so suddenly [that] it has gone past before we realize the danger.

I think there are two corrections that could be made. First, that we should be proceeding along a straight bit of road with a bend at [the] end so we are aware of the bend long before we come to it. When we reach [the] bend, we should then be shocked to find [a] bus appearing around [the] bend and coming straight at us because sharpness of bend should almost send bus over to [the] wrong side of [the] road, but we ourselves should never actually make [a] turn at [the] bend.

Other point is that in [the] present shot, only half [of] the bus appears on the screen. This, I realize, arises out of [the] fact that you are veering out of its way. This latter fault could be corrected by keeping the camera panned well over to the left so that as [the] camera car swerves, the camera pans over at [the] same time from left to right.

I also feel that scene three seventy five slate 732X now looks as though it is a viewpoint from [the] Sunbeam, although I know [that] it is intended as an establishing shot. Could this not be redone so that [the] camera is shooting back on a three quarter angle slightly ahead of the police car[?]” –Alfred Hitchcock (Cable to Herbert Coleman as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

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Grace Kelly and Edith Head go over a series of costume sketches for Kelly’s gorgeous wardrobe in To Catch a Thief (1955).

The final masquerade ball was primarily shot in the studio. Of course, the most popular aspect of this sequence—even more famous than the unmasking of the film’s primary villain—is Grace Kelly’s lavish golden dress. This is largely due to the brilliance of Edith Head’s design. It is no wonder that she was so incredibly fond of the film:

“When people ask me who my favorite actress is, who my favorite actor is, and what my favorite film is, I tell them to watch To Catch a Thief and they’ll get all the answers. The film was a costume designer’s dream. It had all the ingredients for being fun, a challenge, and a great product. The director was Hitchcock. The stars, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. The location, the Côte d’Azur in the south of France. Grace played the part of possibly the richest woman in America, with the most fabulous clothes and the most fabulous jewels. Her mother, played by Jessie Royce Landis, was equally elegant.

The story revolved around a world of people with great taste and plenty of money. Even the extras were meticulously dressed. At the end of the picture we had a fancy masquerade ball… That was the most expensive setup I’ve ever done. Grace wore a dress of delicate gold mesh, a golden wig, and a golden mask. Hitchcock told me that he wanted her to look like a princess. She did.” –Edith Head (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

TCAT - Edith Head's costume design sketch for To Catch a Thief.

Edith Head’s color costume design sketch for Kelly’s infamous golden dress seen in To Catch a Thief (1955).

The film would earn Head an Oscar nomination for her designs, but she would lose out to Charles LeMaire for Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. The wrong person won. There is no overstating the importance of Head’s work on this particular film, but it is worth mentioning that she was mostly responsible for the women’s wardrobes. In fact, Cary Grant was responsible for his own wardrobe:

“Edith dressed the women, but she didn’t design my costumes… I planned and provided everything myself. In fact, I bought everything in Cannes, just before we began shooting. She didn’t go with me when I purchased my clothes, nor did she approve anything. I was the only one who approved my clothes. Hitch trusted me implicitly to select my own wardrobe. If he wanted me to wear something very specific he would tell me, but generally I wore very simple, tasteful clothes—the same clothes I wear off screen.” –Cary Grant (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

The greatest challenge faced by Alfred Hitchcock—the one that always plagued him—concerned censorship, and this particular obstacle was one that followed him throughout the entire process (beginning with the script’s first draft and ending with the final edit):

“Following the Code review of the first draft of the script, Joe Breen logged a number of objections, including: excessive bottom pinching, bikini beachwear and ‘undue breast exposure,’ sexual innuendo in the dialogue, attempts to justify Robie’s past career as a thief, the casino scene in which Robie drops a chip down the cleavage of a woman gambler, a repeated gag in which the French police are shown ogling salacious French postcards, [and] just about everything connected with the fireworks scene… Hayes’s rewrites failed to dispel many of these objections…

Throughout the shooting, Hitchcock continued to reassure the Production Code office that all its objections would be resolved in the final print. Time proved on his side, because Joe Breen retired before the final print was ready for review, leaving the friendlier and more accommodating Geoffrey Shurlock in charge of negotiations. With shooting completed, the director coolly ‘stacked up the violations’ and began horse trading with Shurlock. First to go after a suitable show of resistance, was the scene of the French police ogling salacious postcards. When the film’s composer, Lynn Murray, asked, ‘Why would you take that out? It’s charming,’ Hitchcock explained, ‘The picture doesn’t stand or fall on one little shot. Besides, if I take it out, they won’t complain so much about the fireworks scene.’

In hopes of protecting the fireworks scene, Hitchcock also agreed to cut a few lines of dialogue. Even so, much of the dialogue cited as objectionable in Breen’s script reviews survived… Thus the director shortened Francie’s question during the fireworks scene, ‘Ever had a better offer in your life? One with everything—diamonds, excitement—me?’ by cutting the last three words, but left Robies observation that what Francie needs is ‘two weeks, with a good man, at Niagra Falls’ over the censor’s objections.” –John Billheimer (Hitchcock and the Censors, 2019)

A great many suggestive exchanges were passed by the censors at the end of the day, and this is a testament to Hitchcock’s subtle direction and the charming delivery of the film’s two leads. Innuendo has rarely been as classy as it is in To Catch a Thief. Even so, censorship sometimes forced the director and Hayes to improve upon the dialogue as originally written:

“When her mother’s jewels disappear after the fireworks scene, Francie blames Robie and reveals his identity to her mother, characterizing him as a ‘low worthless thief.’ In the original script, her mother observes, ‘At least I didn’t offer him my treasures in a semi-darkened room.’ The censors objected to this line on the grounds that it implied an ‘intimate relationship’ between Francie and Robie. In response to their objection, Hitchcock and Hayes scrapped the line, replacing it with the more succinct observation, ‘Just what did he steal from you?’ which better reflects the acerbic character of Francie’s mother.” –John Billheimer (Hitchcock and the Censors, 2019)

Initially, none of the alterations initially placated the censors enough to keep the infamous fireworks sequence intact. They were still demanding that Hitchcock fade to black before Francie and Robie lean back on the sofa that they have placed themselves upon. Hitchcock decided not to oblige them and had Lynn Murray alter his sexy score (which had a tenor saxophone highlighting their activities) with string music that was much less steamy. He was happy to allow his visuals to get the point across, and this alteration saved the scene.

The resulting film isn’t one of the director’s best, but there is no denying that it is an incredibly entertaining movie. Critics were certainly taken with the film as most agreed with the assertion printed in The Times that To Catch a Thief contains “more wit than thrills [and] more humor than crime.” They championed the script, the action, and the gorgeous cinematography. Most hinted that it was merely a light entertainment, but those who did seem to agree that it was most certainly top notch in this respect. Most scholars and historians agree with this verdict. If it isn’t essential Hitchcock, it is definitely an extremely enjoyable diversion. Isn’t that more than enough?

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The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

This release is a part of a new series entitled “Paramount Presents,” and one of the primary selling points is the packaging. One must admit that the presentation here is marginally more impressive than what was used for the 2012 edition of this title. The disc is protected by a clear Amaray Blu-ray case that features a dual sided sleeve so that one can see film related cover artwork as well as interior art when one opens the case.

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The case is then protected by a slipcase with the same cover design that opens to showcase the original theatrical one sheet artwork. It’s all very nice, but it is debatable as to whether the cover art is an improvement over what was used for the 2012 edition.

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Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Those looking for a significant transfer upgrade will be disappointed. Frankly, the transfer from Paramount’s original Blu-ray release is more attractive to this reviewer’s eyes. The first and perhaps most disappointing change is the heavy cropping that this release exhibits. Their original Blu-ray included more information on all four sides, and some of the cropping choices are fairly sloppy. We have included three comparison samples below in order to illustrate this point:

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This new transfer also exhibits a softer image (at least for the most part) and questionable color grading (although some will disagree on this particular point). The color is occasionally improved upon (the opening title sequence is an example), but most scenes suffer from the new grading. Unfortunately, the cropped image makes it so that even the improved scenes suffer. Paramount has also chosen to apply an outrageous amount of DNR (which accounts for the aforementioned softness and the waxy look of this new master. This is bad news since this same master will probably be used for the eventual UHD release as well.

One expects new masters to improve upon prior transfers, but this simply isn’t the case here. The 2012 Blu-ray’s image transfer was just as good as (if not superior to) this updated release.

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Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The new 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix isn’t terrible, but it does seem to prioritize Lyn Murray’s music a bit more than is appropriate. Purists will probably prefer the Mono TrueHD and the 2.0 TrueHD mixes that were included on the 2012 Blu-ray. Unfortunately, the more faithful tracks have not been carried over to this release.

The new 5.1 mix works well enough for the most part. The center channels do the heavy lifting here, and it does sound very nice for an older film. However, this can also be said of the other tracks. One simply wishes that they could have been included here as well.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Paramount’s marketing material promises new supplemental features, but all we get is one new seven minute featurette. Worse, this is included at the expense of several much better supplements that haven’t been carried over to this release!

The following supplements are included on this new disc:

Feature Length Commentary with Dr. Drew Casper

Luckily, Drew Casper’s commentary track was carried over from the previous Blu-ray release. It is fairly 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.

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

This featurette was also included on the previous Blu-ray. It is essentially a brief discussion on the film’s two stars, but it focuses on Grant more than Kelly. It relays some interesting information about the stars, but is not very comprehensive.

Filmmaker Focus – (07:19)

The one and only new addition to the disc is an appreciation by Leonard Maltin. It’s a nice little featurette but not particularly enlightening. It certainly isn’t an adequate replacement for the handful of supplements that haven’t been included with this release.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (02:16)

The film’s original trailer was also on the previous Blu-ray edition, but it is great to see that it has been carried over to this disc as well. It’s always nice to have a film’s original trailer, although this particular piece of marketing isn’t as creative as some of the trailers used to promote certain other Hitchcock films.

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What Isn’t Included?

There were several excellent programs on the previous Blu-ray that aren’t included on this one, and it is difficult to understand why they weren’t carried over to this disc. The following titles are available on the previous Blu-ray release, but are not included on this new disc:

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

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

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

This featurette focused on the writing and casting of the film and was thoroughly interesting and informative.

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

This was 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.

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

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

A Night with the Hitchcocks – (23:22)

A Night with the Hitchcocks might be the most tragic omission. Dr. Drew Casper hosts a Q&A session with Patricia Hitchcock and Mary Stone at the University of Southern California. Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter and granddaughter discuss the more personal aspects of the director’s life.

Edith Head: The Paramount Years – (13:44)

This featurette has been a staple of Paramount’s home video releases (and for good reason). It discussed the fabulous costume designer, Edith Head. It had special relevance since To Catch a Thief was Head’s favorite of the films that she worked on.

If You Love To Catch Thief, You’ll Love this Interactive Travelogue

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

Photo Galleries

There were quite a few production photos and promotional materials included as a kind of slide show.

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Final Words:

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 (which is certainly the case), 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.

Frankly, it deserves better treatment on Blu-ray than this release. It is our recommendation that those who do not already own the previous Blu-ray should purchase that edition of the film, and those who already own it should rest easy in the knowledge that this new edition isn’t much of an upgrade. In fact, it isn’t an upgrade at all. It is a significant downgrade.

Review by: Devon Powell

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Source Material:

André Bazin (Hitchcock contre Hitchcock, Cahiers du Cinéma, October 01, 1954)

Staff Writer (To Catch a Thief, Harrison’s Reports, July 16, 1955)

Bosley Crowther (To Catch a Thief, New York Times, August 05, 1955)

Staff Writer (Royal Film Show: Mr. Hitchcock’s ‘To Catch a Thief, The Times, November 01, 1955)

Alfred Hitchcock (The Woman Who Knows Too Much, McCall’s, March 1956)

Peter Bogdanovich (The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)

François Truffaut (Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock, 1966)

John Russell Taylor (Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock, 1978)

Sidney Gottlieb (Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews, 1995)

Patrick McGilligan (Backstory 3: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 60s, 1997)

Bill Krohn (Hitchcock at Work, 2000)

Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock, 2001)

Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

Hilary Radner (To Catch a Thief: Light Reading on a Dark Topic, Hitchcock at the Source, 2011)

Barton Palmer and David Boyd (Hitchcock at the Source, 2011)

John Billheimer (Hitchcock and the Censors, 2019)

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Blu-ray Review: Rear Window

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Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: May 06, 2014

Region: Region Free

Length: 1:52:32

Video: 1080P (VC-1)

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

Alternate Audio: DTS French Mono, DTS Spanish Mono

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Ratio: 1.66:1

Bitrate: 31.99 Mbps

Notes: This title has had a number of 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. This same Blu-ray disc has also been released in a 5-disc set entitled The Essentials Collection.

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“…all I can say about it is; it’s one of the most cinematic films I’ve ever made. You see, people – especially technicians – are mistaken as to what is cinematic. First of all, the photography of people in dialogue is definitely nothing to do with the cinema whatsoever – it’s purely an extension of the theatre. I’ve done it myself, I know, it doesn’t relate. Photographing of westerns, galloping horses, it what it is – it’s photography, but not necessarily cinematic.

 Whereas, in a picture like Rear Window, you have a man sitting at a window looking: the first piece of film a close-up, the second piece of film is what he sees, the third piece of film is his reaction. Now here, in rapid succession, are three piece of film put together, which is really what “pure cinema” is – the relative position of the pieces of film which creates an idea, like words in a sentence. Out of these three pieces of film an idea is born and an audience [will] react to that idea, from the pieces of film that they’ve seen…You are putting the audience in the place of Stewart. They are verifying what he sees.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Speculation, Channel 28, 1969)

Rear Window is indeed a work of cinematic art. Alfred Hitchcock had first come across Cornell Woolrich’s ‘It Had to Be Murder’ (which was later given the better title, ‘Rear Window’) in 1951 and decided to make it his first film for Paramount in 1953.

The opening paragraphs of “It Had To Be Murder” would not lead anyone to believe that the film has diverged in any significant way from the source text.

“I didn’t know their names. I’d never heard their voices. I didn’t even know them by sight, strictly speaking, for their faces were too small to fill in with identifiable features at that distance. Yet I could have constructed a timetable of their comings and goings, their daily habits and activities. They were the rear-window dwellers around me.

 Sure, I suppose it was a little bit like prying, could even have been mistaken for the fevered concentration of a Peeping Tom. That wasn’t my fault, that wasn’t the idea. The idea was, my movements were strictly limited just around this time. I could get from the window to the bed and from the bed to the window, and that was all. The bay window was about the best feature my rear bedroom had in the warm weather. It was unscreened, so I had to sit with the light out or I would have had every insect in the vicinity in on me. I couldn’t sleep, because I was used to getting plenty of exercise. I’d never acquired the habit of reading books to ward off boredom, so I hadn’t that to turn to. Well, what should I do, sit there with my eyes tightly shuttered?” –Cornell Woolrich (It Had to Be Murder)

However, as one continues to read, it becomes clear that there were numerous changes made during the adaptation process. The most immediately obvious of these changes concern the characters. There was no love interest in the original story, there was no insurance company nurse, and the occupants of the various windows across the courtyard were not in Woolrich’s short story.

“Well, we added a woman to the innumerable characters in the various rooms. All created. None of which was in the book. We engaged a woman masseur who was played by Thelma Ritter. She was an additional character. I made the leading man a photographer…” –Alfred Hitchcock (Court Transcript, May 1974)

Woolrich’s story does allude to other occupants across the way early in the story, but these occupants are only mentioned twice early on, and are different from those in the film.

“…Just to pick a few at random: Straight over, and the windows square, there was a young jitter-couple, kids in their teens, only just married. It would have killed them to stay home one night. They were always in such a hurry to go, wherever it was they went, they never remembered to turn out the lights. I don’t think it missed once in all the time I was watching. But they never forgot altogether, either. I was to learn to call this delayed action, as you will see. He’d always come skittering madly back in about five minutes, probably from all the way down in the street, and rush around killing the switches. Then fall over something in the dark on his way out. They gave me an inward chuckle, those two.

 The next house down, the windows already narrowed a little with perspective. There was a certain light in that one that always went out each night too. Something about it, it used to make me a little sad. There was a woman living there with her child, a young widow I suppose. I’d see her put the child to bed, and then bend over and kiss her in a wistful sort of way. She’d shade the light off her and sit there painting her eyes and mouth. Then she’d go out. She’d never come back till the night was nearly spent. – Once I was still up, and I looked and she was sitting there motionless with her head buried in her arms. Something about it, it used to make me a little sad…” –Cornell Woolrich (It Had to Be Murder)

The second of these examples begins to resemble the character of ‘Miss Lonely-hearts’ in the film. However, one can only speculate whether or not the idea was derived from the original story. The short story failed to utilize these characters, and they were only mentioned once more (and only in passing) a few paragraphs later. Hitchcock’s film manages to use the occupants across the courtyard as a comment on Jeff and Lisa’s dilemma. They are not simply there to fill the screen.

“It shows every kind of human behavior – a real index of individual behavior. The picture would have been very dull if we hadn’t done that. What you see across the way is a group of little stories that, as you say, mirror a small universe.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

Instead of an insurance company nurse and a love interest, Woolrich’s protagonist has a houseboy named Sam. It is Sam who goes to Thorwald’s apartment in the book (to mess up his apartment and not to look for evidence). The murderer’s method of body disposal was also more satisfying in the film. Woolrich’s protagonist buried his wife under the floor of a vacant apartment and cemented over her.

Even the story’s climax was changed from the source.

“There wasn’t a weapon in the place with me. There were books there on the wall, in the dark, within reach. Me, who never read. The former owner’s books. There was a bust of Rousseau or Montesquieu, I’d never been able to decide which, one of those gents with flowing manes, topping them. It was a monstrosity, bisque clay, but it too dated from before my occupancy.

 I arched my middle upward from the chair seat and clawed desperately up at it. Twice my fingertips slipped off it, then at the third raking I got it to teeter, and the fourth brought it down into my lap, pushing me down into the chair. There was a steamer rug under me. I
didn’t need it around me in this weather, I’d been using it to soften the seat of the chair. I tugged it out from under and mantled it around me like an Indian brave’s blanket. Then I squirmed far down in the chair, let my head and one shoulder dangle out over the arm, on the side next to the wall. I hoisted the bust to my other, upward shoulder, balanced it there precariously for a second head, blanket tucked around its ears…

 …He was good with knobs and hinges and things. I never heard the door open, and this one, unlike the one downstairs, was right behind me. A little eddy of air puffed through the dark at me. I could feel it because my scalp, the real one, was all wet at the roots of the hair right then…

 …The flash of the shot lit up the room for a second, it was so dark. Or at least the corners of it, like flickering, weak lightning. The bust bounced on my shoulder and disintegrated into chunks.” –Cornell Woolrich (It Had to Be Murder)

After this, Jeff is rescued by Boyne (the police detective named Doyle in the film) and a chase ensues ending in Thorwald’s death.

Hitchcock would turn this enjoyable crime story into brilliant cinema with the help of John Michael Hayes (who would continue to work with the director on his next three films).

“I engaged a writer… John Michael Hayes; and the writing was done in my office – with his typewriter – in my office, and there are many witnesses if you need them. In other words, I dictate the picture. I did not hand that book to the writer and say, ‘Make a screenplay of this,’ which is a custom of the business. But it doesn’t apply to me, because I make a specific type of film, and I dictate to him what I want to go into the story – and just as a matter of interest – the reason that is done is because I want it done my way, in my style, and I would say in that process there is twenty percent Cornell Woolrich and eighty percent Hitchcock.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Court Transcript, May 1974)

The original treatment was much different than the final script. Much of the suspenseful action occurs off-screen in the Hayes treatment. This action is related to Jeff in dialogue (breaking one of Hitchcock’s very strict rules about cinematic storytelling). In the treatment, Lisa follows Thorwald when he leaves his apartment. While Jeff waits for Lisa to return, he notices that Thorwald’s zinnias have grown shorter when compared to a slide that he had taken previously. Jeff is filled in on all of the suspenseful action upon Lisa’s return.

“What did he do? Where did he go? Jeff wanted to know. No place that made much sense to her. He walked to a huge excavation on Martine Street where workers were pouring cement for the foundation of a new insurance company building. He stayed there, watching the work, until the cement was poured and smoothed. Then he went to a nearby bar for a couple of quick drinks. The drinks seemed to relax him, for once he came out of the bar his nervousness was gone and he no longer looked behind himself. Then he stopped in a drugstore for some cigarettes. While waiting for change, he noticed some crime magazines on a stand. Then his face went white. He seemed shaken. He picked out one of the magazines, which one she couldn’t see, paid for it, and hurried back to his apartment.” –John Michael Hayes (Treatment for ‘Rear Window’ – as it appears in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

Another major difference from the finished film is established here. All references to burying body parts on an excavation site that would be paved over are omitted in the finished film. (This is obviously suggested by the renovated apartment building burial in Cornell Woolrich’s short story.) In this early treatment, Lisa crosses the courtyard and enters his apartment to retrieve the crime magazine Thorwald purchased in the drugstore. As in the film, this is the moment that Jeff realizes his immense love for Lisa.

“‘Oh Lisa darling,’ Jeff says aloud. ‘He’s already killed one woman. I don’t want him to kill you – of all women.’ And Jeff is shocked to learn how much he loves her. He loves you Lisa. Get out of there, and get back to him. You’ve made him understand.” –John Michael Hayes (Treatment for ‘Rear Window’ – as it appears in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

Hayes drew upon his own experiences for Jeff’s realization.

“That came out of my life. Before my wife and I were married, we decided to delay our marriage until I was more successful. We got into an automobile accident and she was thrown out of the car onto the highway amongst the broken glass and metal and everything. But in the brief moment when I saw her rolling down the highway before I was knocked unconscious against the windshield, I said, ‘Oh my God. If anything happened to her, my life won’t be worth anything.’ And I decided I was not going to wait another minute if we ever lived through this thing… So when I came to figure out how we were going to write that scene, I said, ‘That automobile accident.’ He saw her and thought maybe it’s the last he’d ever see of her, because this man is capable of killing and cutting her up.” -John Michael Hayes (as quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

Another difference in the treatment is an altered ending. After forcing Jeff onto the window ledge Boyne (the detective, later re-named Doyle) fires three shots into Thorwald’s chest. It is too late. Jeff falls and breaks his other leg. They are told that Mrs. Thorwald’s head was buried in the flower bed, and Lisa and Jeff come together once and for all.

“Jeff and Lisa come together in love. He tells her what he thought when he was in danger. The experience, she said, awakened her also. But the thing that impressed her most was that melody the songwriter was playing in her moment of greatest horror. It was utterly beautiful and she was determined Thorwald wouldn’t kill her until the song was finished.” –John Michael Hayes (Treatment for ‘Rear Window’ – as it appears in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

Alfred Hitchcock had many ideas for changes to the treatment. As an avid reader of true-crime, the director referred Hayes to two very famous cases.

“…I also included the essence of two famous English cases. One was the case of Dr. Crippen, the first man ever to be arrested by radio at sea. He was uncovered because he gave his wife’s jewelry to his secretary and that was his uncovering. A wife doesn’t go away and leave her jewelry behind. That was inserted into the story. There was also the case of Patrick Mahon. …Patrick Mahon murdered a woman, cut the body up into pieces and threw them out. Carried them in a suitcase and threw them out of the window of a train between Eastbourne and London, but he had a problem with the head. He put the head into the fire and burned it, and the heat of the fire caused the eyes to open, that indicated to me, that whatever this murder may be, the murderer would have a problem with the head. Therefore, I put that incident in and buried the head in the garden. And it was through the dog scratching on the garden where the head was that caused the murderer to kill the dog. That was taken from an actual case.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Court Transcript, May 1974)

While Lisa searches Thorwald’s apartment for a crime magazine in the treatment, the script had Lisa searching for Mrs. Thorwald’s wedding ring (suggested by the Crippen case). This allowed Hitchcock to make visual and thematic allusions to Jeff and Lisa’s problem in the story.

Once the story had evolved into a satisfactory script, Hitchcock ‘dictated’ each and every shot as seen in the film and it was made into a shooting script.

“We sat down in his office and [Hitchcock] broke up all the scenes into individual shots, and made sketches of them, and laid out the picture, which he said is now done. ‘All we have to do is go on the set and make sure they do what we’ve given them.’” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

Hitchcock’s method of shooting a film was different from the standard method. Since he often designed the film in a very particular way, he rarely shot coverage. He shot only those shots needed to cut the film together, and he usually knew exactly where his cuts would be.

“…when this film, Rear Window, was finished somebody went into the cutting room and said, ‘Where are the out-takes? Where is the unused film?’ And there was a small roll of a hundred feet. That was all that was left over.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Take One, 1968)

These hundred feet of film would be made up of several seconds at the beginning and ending of each shot, and any unusable takes taken during the production. In the case of Rear Window, the film was very specifically shot in order to adhere to Alfred Hitchcock’s pre-designed structure.

“The rhythm of the cutting in Rear Window speeds up as the film goes on. This is because of the nature of the structure of the film. At the beginning, life is going on quite normally. The tempo is leisurely. There’s a bit of a conflict between the man and the girl. And then gradually the first suspicion grows and it increases. And naturally as you reach the last third of your picture the events have to pile on top of each other. If you didn’t, and if you slowed the tempo down, it would show up considerably.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Take One, 1968)

Color was also an important element of Hitchcock’s design.

“When you come down to the question of color, again it’s the same as the orchestration with cutting. If you noticed in Rear Window, Miss Lonely Hearts always dressed in emerald green. To make sure that that came off, there was no other green in the picture, because we had to follow her very closely when she went across the street into the cafe. So I reserved that color for her.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Take One, 1968)

Hitchcock’s eye for detail extended to the sets built for the film. He wanted it to look truly authentic in every detail.Doc Erickson was sent to New York to take photos of several Greenwich Village courtyards. Joseph MacMillan would then use these photographs to design the film’s wonderful set.

“In the film, the courtyard was modeled after Christopher and West Tenth Streets, between Bleeker and Hudson Streets. The immense set – the largest built at Paramount to that date – was constructed on Stage 18. According to a Paramount press release, the set consisted of structures rising up to six stories, which contained thirty-one apartments, fire escapes, an alley, a street, and a skyline. It took six weeks to build.” –Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock)

Lighting the set would prove to be a herculean chore, but it was all prepared ahead of time. Robert Burks supervised the lighting and photographed test footage ahead of time.

“I went on the soundstage about ten days prior to the starting date. Using a skeleton crew, we pre-lit every one of the thirty-one apartments for both day and night, as well as lit the exterior of the courtyard for the dual-type illumination required. A remote switch controlled the lights in each apartment. On the stage, we had a switching set-up that looked like the console of the biggest organ ever made.” – Robert Burks (as quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

This lighting set-up coupled with Hitchcock’s unusual shooting methods made for an extremely efficient shoot. Production # 10331 started principal photography on November 27 at 9:00 a.m. By all accounts, the shoot went quite smoothly with only a few exceptions. One of these exceptions had to do with unacceptable image definition and detail in certain scenes. Since a lot of the action takes place from across a courtyard, it was sometimes difficult to achieve the level of detail necessary for audience comprehension.

“We had one shot in the picture that was a key shot in the plot… the salesman-murderer is observed by Stewart… going through his wife’s effects during her absence. He takes her wedding ring out of her purse and looks at it. The first time we attempted the shot, we made it with a 10-inch lens. On the screen, it wasn’t clear that the object was a wedding ring. It was obvious that it was a ring, but that was all.” – Robert Burks (as quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

Burks and Hitchcock finally compromised and used a 6-inch lens and moved the camera onto a boom (outside of the apartment window). There were also a few in-camera effects that ate some of the film’s production time. One of these effects was Jeff’s fall from his apartment window.

“The scene showing James Stewart falling from the window was achieved by creating a ‘traveling matte’ shot, which combined live-action with a pre-photographed background. The portion of the shot in which Stewart appears to be falling was photographed on Stage 3 by seating the actor against a black velvet background with a camera overhead. Then while Stewart acted as if he was falling, the camera in fact moved in an upward direction away from him. This image was later superimposed against a stationary shot taken on the actual courtyard set, creating the illusion of Stewart falling into the courtyard.” –Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock)

Hitchcock was wise enough to delete one scene from the film. Following the opening shots of the courtyard and Jeff’s apartment, there was to be a rather pointless scene inside the office of Ivar Gunnison (Jefferies’ editor). In the scene, Gunnison talks to his assistant (Jack Bryce) about a job in Indochina. They both agree that our crippled protagonist is the best man for the job. The scene was not only unnecessary; it would have ruined the brilliant structure of the film. Hitchcock decided against using the scene before principal photography was even complete. One wonders if he ever really intended to use the footage. Frank Cady played Ivar Gunnison in the scene and the husband on the fire escape. It seems unlikely that Cady would be cast in both parts if Hitchcock actually planned on using the scene.

One of the most overlooked elements of Rear Window is the soundtrack. Hitchcock was capable of creating soundtracks that were simultaneously dramatic and realistic.

“Hitchcock insisted that Rear Window be authentic in every way, dictating in a November 5 memo that actual Greenwich Village ambient sound be recorded so that the soundtrack would be as true to life as possible.” –Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock)

The director would also dictate precise sounds for various moments in the film in an astonishing amount of detail. The results are truly incredible. Of course, the same amount of detail went into the film’s music. With the exception of the music played over the opening credits, all of the music heard in the film was diegetic (meaning that it came from a source within the film’s setting). Most of the music heard in the film is played from quite a distance and by someone within Hitchcock’s Rear Window universe.

Franz Waxman had worked as the composer on three earlier Hitchcock films (Rebecca, Suspicion, and The Paradine Case), and would work on this film as well. However, the job called for a much different approach. Source music was used throughout most of the film (including such popular songs as “Mona Lisa,” “That’s Amore,” “To See You,” “Waiting for My True Love to Appear,” and “Lover”). With the exception of the opening credit music, Waxman’s task was to write the music being composed by the songwriter in one of the apartments. The song being composed was entitled “Lisa” and the finished composition included lyrics by Harold Rome. (Rome submitted alternate lyrics called “To Love You,” but these obviously weren’t used.)

Hitchcock was never satisfied with the final result of this element of the movie and would always refer to it in interviews.

“There’s no score in Rear Window. I was a little disappointed at the lack of a structure in the title song. I had a motion-picture songwriter when I should have chosen a popular songwriter. I was rather hoping to use the genesis, just the idea of a song which would then gradually grow and grow until it was used by a full orchestra. But I don’t think that came out as strongly as I would have liked it to have done.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Take One, 1968)

Principal Photography wrapped on January 13, 1954 with only a few simple re-shoots left to complete this part of the production. These were shot on February 26. After this, the main obstacle wouldn’t be the editing (since this was all worked out). Instead, Hitchcock would have to wrestle with the Production Code Administration. He had already been warned before principal photography began that certain aspects of the script were “unsavory.”

Joseph Breen would elaborate about his objections to the screenplay’s content. Many of the problems had to do with the character of Miss Torso.

“It is apparent that she is nude above the waist and it is only by the most judicious selection of camera angles that her nudity is concealed… We feel that this gives the entire action the flavor of a peep show.” –Joseph Breen (Memo – as it is quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

It was clear that there could be no implication of a topless ‘Miss Torso.’ However, this was not the Breen’s only objection. The character of Stella also caused complications. He disliked the dialogue, “When General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day, the whole country’s ready to let go.” Breen referred to the line as “potty humor.” 

In addition to these things, the PCA did not care for the sequence where Lisa spends the night in Jeff’s apartment.

“We think the same story point can be carried if considerably less emphasis were placed on the action and display of her underwear, pajamas and other paraphernalia… and it were indicated that she is going to stay there simply because the mystery that has risen at this point in the story.” –Joseph Breen (Memo – as it is quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

In order to distract the production code, Hitchcock shot two different versions of certain Miss Torso shots. One version is as we see it in the film (and how Hitchcock always intended to present her), while the alternate shots obviously implied nudity. When the PCA saw the film with these alternate shots, they forgot about Stella’s dialogue and the sequence where Lisa shows off her nightdress.

“It was common practice that you gave censors bait, which they focused on, and therefore the things that you really wanted to keep didn’t appear as harmful. This was done all the time, not just by Hitchcock. So we threw them some bait with Miss Torso, and they got all in a froth about that.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

When Rear Window premiered on August 4, 1954, it was met with overwhelming commercial and critical success. The critical opinion of the era is encapsulated by William Brogdon’s review for Variety.

“A tight suspense show is offered in Rear Window, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s better thrillers. James Stewart’s established star value, plus the newer potentiality of Grace Kelly, currently getting a big buildup, and strong word-of-mouth possibilities indicate sturdy grossing chances in the keys and elsewhere.

Hitchcock combines technical and artistic skills in a manner that makes this an unusually good piece of murder mystery entertainment. A sound story by Cornell Woolrich and a cleverly dialoged screenplay by John Michael Hayes provide the producer-director with a solid basis for thrill-making. Of equal importance in delivering tense melodrama are the Technicolor camera work by Robert Burks and the apartment-courtyard setting executed by Hal Pereira and Joseph MacMillan Johnson.

Hitchcock confines all of the action to this single setting and draws the nerves to the snapping point in developing the thriller phases of the plot. He is just as skilled in making use of lighter touches in either dialog or situation to relieve the tension when it nears the unbearable. Interest never wavers during the 112 minutes of footage…

…The production makes clever use of natural sounds and noises throughout, with not even the good score by Franz Waxman being permitted to intrude unnaturally into the drama.” – William Brogdon (Variety, July 14, 1954)

There were critics who complained about the film’s subject matter. C.A. Lejeune is probably the most famous example. As a matter of fact, Alfred Hitchcock rarely discussed the film without talking about her review.

“…Miss Lejeune, the critic from the London ‘Observer’ complained about that. She made some comment to the effect that Rear Window was a horrible film because the hero spent all of his time peeping out of a window. What’s so horrible about that? Sure, he’s a snooper, but aren’t we all?” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

François Truffaut would write one of the more interesting reviews on the film upon its release in 1954.

“…I see when I sum it up in this way that the plot seems more slick than profound, and yet I am convinced that this film is one of the most important of all the seventeen Hitchcock has made in Hollywood, one of those rare films without imperfection or weakness, which concedes nothing. For example, it is clear that the entire film revolves around the idea of marriage. When Kelly goes into the suspect’s apartment, the proof she is looking for is the murdered woman’s wedding ring; Kelly puts it on her own finger as Stewart follows her movements through his binoculars from the other side of the courtyard. But there is nothing at the end that indicates that they will marry. Rear Window goes beyond pessimism; it is really a cruel film. Stewart fixes his glasses on his neighbors only to catch them in moments of failure, in ridiculous postures, when they appear grotesque or even hateful.

The film’s construction is very like a musical composition: several themes are intermingled and are in perfect counterpoint to each other — marriage, suicide, degradation, and death — and they are all bathed in a refined eroticism (the sound recording of lovemaking is extraordinarily precise and realistic). Hitchcock’s impassiveness and “objectivity” are more apparent than real…

Rear Window is a film about indiscretion, about intimacy violated and taken by surprise at its most wretched moments; a film about the impossibility of happiness, about dirty linen that gets washed in the courtyard; a film about moral solitude, an extraordinary symphony of daily life and ruined dreams…

…Hitchcock has acquired such expertise at cinematographic recital that he has, in thirty years, become much more than a good storyteller. As he loves his craft passionately, never stops making movies, and has long since resolved any production problems, he must invent difficulties and create new disciplines for himself to avoid boredom and repetition. His recent films are filled with fascinating constraints that he always overcomes brilliantly.

In this case, the challenge was to shoot a whole film in one single place, and solely from Stewart’s point of view. We see only what he sees, and from his vantage point, at the exact moment he sees it. What could have been a dry and academic gamble, an exercise in cold virtuosity, turns out to be a fascinating spectacle because of a sustained inventiveness which nails us to our seats as firmly as James Stewart is immobilized by his plaster cast.

In the face of such a film, so odd and so novel, we are liable to forget somewhat the stunning virtuosity; each scene by itself is a gamble that has been won. The effort to achieve freshness and novelty affects the camera’s movements, the special effects, decor, color. (Recall the murderer’s gold-framed eyeglasses lit in the dark only by the intermittent glow of a cigarette!)

Anyone who has perfectly understood Rear Window (which is not possible in one viewing) can, if he so wishes, dislike it and refuse to be involved in a game where blackness of character is the rule. But it is so rare to find such a precise idea of the world in a film that one must bow to its success, which is unarguable.

To clarify Rear Window, I’d suggest this parable: The courtyard is the world, the reporter/photographer is the filmmaker, the binoculars stand for the camera and its lenses. And Hitchcock? He is the man we love to be hated by.” –François Truffaut (1954)

One sign of a great film is the ability to see it differently upon multiple viewings. Truffaut would later change his mind about the film’s pessimistic qualities.

“I was still working as a critic the first time I saw Rear Window, and I remember writing that the picture was very gloomy, rather pessimistic, and quite cruel. But now I don’t see it in that light at all; in fact, I feel it has a rather compassionate approach. What Stewart sees through his window is not horrible, but simply a display of human weaknesses and people in pursuit of happiness.” –François Truffaut (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

The Academy honored the film with 4 Oscar nominations (Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Color Cinematography, and Best Sound Recording). However, the film failed to win in any of these categories. Perhaps a better sign of a film’s merit is its ability to impress audiences many years later.

In 1983 Vincent Canby wrote an overwhelmingly positive review of the film after seeing a retrospective screening at the New York Film Festival (it would soon be re-released to theaters).

“…Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 chef d’oeuvre , Rear Window, has reopened in New York to become, quite simply, the most elegantly entertaining American film now in first run in New York or, possibly, in second- , third- or even fourth-run. Its appeal, which goes beyond that of other, equally masterly Hitchcock works, remains undiminished.

Rear Window, which has been out of circulation for a number of years, is the first of five Hitchcock films that will be coming back to theaters in the next several months – the others being Vertigo(1958), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1955), The Trouble With Harry (1956) and Rope(1948).

As much as I admire all of these, especially Vertigo,I can’t imagine that any one of them will top the feelings of exhilaration that are prompted byRear Window, this most bittersweet of Hitchcockian suspense-romances. Make no mistake about it:Rear Windowis as much of a romance as it is a brilliant exercise in suspense…

… Ever since I saw Rear Window when it was initially released, I’ve had fond memories of it, but, as rarely happens, those memories turned out not to do full justice to the film I went back to see last Sunday morning at the Cinema Studio. Everything about it is a joy, even the new print, the color quality of which is far superior to that of the 1963 Leopard, also in reissue now…

…However, nothing Hayes did before or after Rear Window quite equals the explosive concision of this possible mainstream masterpiece. In no other Hitchcock film, perhaps, not even in Notorious, do the events of the adventure play such an integral part in the development of the love story…

… All of the film’s production elements are superior, especially the huge set… It represents the best of studio artifice, being a unit that includes the rear of Jeff’s apartment as well as his view of the garden court and buildings that enclose the court. There is one comparatively large, comparatively new apartment building, which is flanked by what appear to be brownstones, one Federal house and other buildings that have been remodeled out of all associations to the past. As lighted and photographed by Robert Burks, this set is as much a character as any of the actors in the film…

… At the time Rear Window was first released, there was a certain amount of self-righteous outrage directed at the film’s seemingly casual attitude toward voyeurism, sometimes called ‘Peeping Tomism.’ I was mystified by those criticisms, then and now, and not necessarily because all of us probably tend to peep at one point or another, given the opportunity…” -Vincent Canby (New York Times, October 9, 1983)

Roger Ebert’s review for the Chicago Sun-Times was no less enthusiastic.

“Now this is a movie. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window develops such a clean, uncluttered line from beginning to end that we’re drawn through it (and into it) effortlessly. The experience is not so much like watching a movie, as like … well, like spying on your neighbors. Hitchcock traps us right from the first…

…What’s interesting is the way Hitchcock spreads the guilt around. Although the man across the way (Raymond Burr) seems to be the ‘worst’ person in this movie, we don’t get to know him well and we never identify with him. Instead, we identify with James Stewart. And because he is doing something he’s not supposed to do, because he is essentially amoral and takes liberties with other people’s privacy, somehow he’s guilty, too…

…Now Sir Alfred has passed away, the estate has been settled, and the movie is back in theaters…

…That’s the best place for it, not only because the screen is bigger, etc., but also because seeing this movie with an audience adds a whole additional dimension to it. We are all asked to join Stewart in his voyeurism, and we cheerfully agree…” –Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, October 7, 1983)

Almost 20 years after this review, Roger Ebert would include the film on his list of 4-star “Great Movies.

“The hero of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is trapped in a wheelchair, and we’re trapped, too–trapped inside his point of view, inside his lack of freedom and his limited options. When he passes his long days and nights by shamelessly maintaining a secret watch on his neighbors, we share his obsession. It’s wrong, we know, to spy on others, but after all, aren’t we always voyeurs when we go to the movies? Here’s a film about a man who does on the screen what we do in the audience–look through a lens at the private lives of strangers…

…Rarely has any film so boldly presented its methods in plain view. Jeff sits in his wheelchair, holding a camera with a telephoto lens, and looks first here and then there, like a movie camera would. What he sees, we see. What conclusions he draws, we draw–all without words, because the pictures add up to a montage of suspicion…

… The remote-control suspense scenes in Rear Window are Hitchcock at his most diabolical, creating dangerous situations and then letting Lisa and Stella linger in them through Jeff’s carelessness or inaction. He stays in his wheelchair. They venture out into danger – Kelly even entering the apartment of the suspected wife killer. He watches. We see danger approaching. We, and he, cannot move, cannot sound the alarm.

This level of danger and suspense is so far elevated above the cheap thrills of the modern slasher films that Rear Window, intended as entertainment in 1954, is now revealed as art…” –Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, February 20, 2000)

Even today, Rear Window stands out as an amazing work of cinematic art. It isn’t merely one of the best films in Alfred Hitchcock’s canon. It stands amongst the best American films ever made.

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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.

collection page

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. Those who opt to purchase the disc individually will not miss out on anything substantial.

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

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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 of 5 MacGuffins

The design of Rear Window craves the added resolution of a Blu-ray disc, so it is nice to see that Universal has finally given the film an individual Blu-ray release. Rear Window was the first of Alfred Hitchcock’s films to be projected in ‘widescreen’ format. (Rather, it was the first film of Hitchcock’s to be shown in widescreen in every theatre. Some sources claim that Dial ‘M’ For Murder was projected in widescreen in certain theaters.) The aspect ratio is an important element of this production, because the aspect ratio was chosen to resemble the ratio of some of the apartment windows in the film. The recommended ratio was 1.66:1. This transfer retains this preferred theatrical ratio.

Clarity and detail are both vastly improved over the DVD releases of the film. Audiences can now spy on the neighbors across the courtyard and see details that they have never previously seen. The transfer carries slight grain that would have been evident in the source materials. One does notice a slight amount of DNR in a few scenes, but this seems to have been used sparingly. Instances of dirt and film damage are rare and never distracting. While a few shots appear less clear than the majority of the film, one assumes that this is an issue with the source and not the transfer. Color is well rendered for the most part (although there are a few moments of inconsistency). This is one of the better transfers of a Hitchcock film offered by Universal.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

This two-channel DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix should satisfy even the most discriminating listeners. Dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout, and the amazing ambiance of the neighborhood has never sounded better on a home video format.

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Special Features:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Feature Length Commentary with John Fawell (Author of Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film)

John Fawell’s commentary is perhaps a bit dry, but it does offer interesting analysis peppered with a few interesting production details. Most fans of the film will enjoy the commentary a great deal, and it is certainly a welcome addition to the disc.

Rear Window Ethics – (SD) – (55:10)

Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary about the making of Rear Window discusses the production of this wonderful classic, as well as the film’s restoration. It is one of the best supplements on a disc full of wonderful supplements.

A Conversation with Screenwriter John Michael Hayes – (SD) – (13:10)

John Michael Hayes discusses how he came to work on the screenplay for Rear Window, as well as what it was like working with Alfred Hitchcock. This is a rather detailed program that offers a lot more information than one might expect from a thirteen minute featurette. One may want to watch this featurette before watching Rear Window Ethics.

Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock – (SD) – (23:31)

Hitchcock was such a visual genius that his brilliant use of sound often goes unnoticed. This short documentary discusses the master’s use of sound. This is perhaps not as comprehensive as one might like, but it is an interesting and thoughtful look at an element of Hitchcock’s work that is too often ignored.

Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of the Master – (SD) – (25:12)

Alfred Hitchcock’s work has influenced many filmmakers. In this featurette, several of these filmmakers discuss Alfred Hitchcock’s films and his technique. While this isn’t the disc’s best supplement, it is certainly nice to have it included here.

Masters of Cinema – (SD) – (33:39)

This 1972 program is an incredible addition to an already wonderful disc. We are given two interesting interviews with the master himself (one featuring Pia Lindstrom and another featuring William Everson). Certain sections of the program (including introductions and film clips) are omitted. The feature is available in a more complete form on Criterion’s The Man Who Knew Too Much disc. The picture quality on the Criterion release is also slightly superior.

Excerpts from François Truffaut’s Interview with Alfred Hitchcock – (SD) – (16:15)

These interview clips may sound familiar to those who have read Truffaut’s book length interview with Hitchcock, but it should remain interesting regardless. It is always a treat to hear Hitchcock discuss his films. The interview is illustrated by film clips and promotional photos and artwork from the film, which makes the experience all the more enjoyable.

Theatrical Trailer – (HD) –

In this trailer, James Stewart addresses the audience and discusses his neighbors. It is different than many vintage trailers, but does include quite a bit of footage from the actual film. Fans of the film should be delighted to have it included here.

Re-Release Trailer (Narrated by James Stewart) – (HD) –

This re-release trailer features narration from James Stewart about the re-release of Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Trouble with Harry, Rope, and Rear Window. It is surprisingly interesting, but also incredibly dated.

Production Photographs – (SD) –

This is a gallery of production stills, advertisements, and posters that were used to promote Rear Window. It is nice to see them included here.

Final Words:

Rear Window deserves multiple viewings, and Universal’s excellent transfer offers the best way to achieve this (unless you are lucky enough to see a screening in theaters).

Review by: Devon Powell

3

Source Material:

Cornell Woolrich (It Had To Be Murder)

Review by William Brogdon (Variety, July 14, 1954)

Review by François Truffaut (1954)

Hitchcock/Truffaut (1966)

Alfred Hitchcock (Take One, 1968)

Alfred Hitchcock (Speculation, Channel 28, 1969)

Alfred Hitchcock (Court Transcript, May 1974)

Review by Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, October 7, 1983)

Review by Vincent Canby (New York Times, October 9, 1983)

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, February 20, 2000)

Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock)

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.

collection page

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

Blu-ray Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

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Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: 06/Aug/2013

Region: Region Free

Length: 02:00:18

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC, 23.976fps)

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

Alternate Audio: 2.0 French DTS (24bit, 48 kHz, 448 Kbps)

Subtitles: English & Spanish

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 32 Mbps

Notes: This title has had a number of 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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 “Let’s say that the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.” –Alfred Hitchcock

The main focus of argument concerning this film seems to be whether or not his 1934 British original is superior to this 1956 American remake. Critics and scholars seem to be split on this issue. Donald Spoto seems to prefer the 1956 remake:

“Even a single viewing of each supports the director’s own estimation. Where Man 1 had an easy wit and a kind of grimy nonchalance, Man 2 is everywhere a richer film – not only in technical execution, but also in the complexity of its characters and themes and, most of all, in the depth and directness of its emotion. The fourth and final collaboration with the gifted screenwriter John Michael Hayes, this is one of Hitchcock’s masterworks, impeccably photographed by Robert Burks, with a brilliant Bernard Herrmann score and flawless performances from principals and the supporting players. It also seems to this writer Hitchcock’s warmest film – lacking a major wicked character or situation, and really full of love.” – The Art of Alfred Hitchcock

Patrick Humphries’ opinion is in direct opposition:

“Hitchcock is on record as preferring the later version, citing among other reasons the subtle humor, Bernard Herrmann’s orchestration, the placing of the shots and James Stewart’s performance. It is difficult to imagine just how Hitchcock could prefer the remake. While the 1934 version may be occasionally stilted, the 1956 version is flaccid and overlong. The technical improvements do not compensate for the overall dreariness of the later film, which at times seems like a clumsy parody of Hitchcock; the fight in the taxidermist’s shop, for example, is designed as a set piece divertissement but it comes across as contrived, irrelevant and humorless…

…While the majority of Hitchcock films allow the audience to suspend their disbelief, blissfully unconcerned with the actual mechanics of the MacGuffin, the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much contains more jarring notes than even the most credulous audience can accept…” – The Films of Alfred Hitchcock

Critics arguing both sides usually call upon the same evidence to argue their opinions and in the end no one from either side seems to offer a definitive argument. It is impossible to say which film is the better version because of the simple fact that each film has its own set of strengths and weaknesses (and the weaknesses in both films are directly related to their strengths).

A more interesting debate would perhaps be whether or not Angus MacPhail deserved a screen credit for his work on the film. The disagreement over this issue resulted in the end of Hitchcock’s working relationship with Hayes.

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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.

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.

collection page

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.

menu1

menu2

menu3

menu4

Overall, Universal provides a very nice presentation that should satisfy almost everyone.

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Picture Quality:

3 of 5 MacGuffins

The 1080P transfer is a pretty disappointing. While it features a much more detailed picture than any of the previous home video releases, color pulsing seems to be an issue here. Colors also appear pretty dull throughout the film, but a comparison with the previous DVD of the film shows that this transfer is an improvement over that release. The image on the previous DVD version of TMWKTM looked a bit jaundiced (featuring an unattractive yellow hue). There are quite a few blemishes on the print (such as scratches and grime), but these issues never really became distracting.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The 2.0 DTS-HD audio track is clean and seems to accurately represent the film’s source materials. The film’s music sounds much better than one would expect a 2.0 Mono mix to sound and dialogue is always clear. This might not compete with more modern 5.1 tracks, but this mix certainly represents the audio as it was intended to be heard.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much (SD) – (34 min)

Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary is both informative and entertaining. This one might not be as comprehensive as some of the others, but it is much more than the usual fluff included on so many discs. As a matter of fact, this piece is quite in depth and even discusses the original British film. Fans should be thrilled to see it ported over for this Blu-ray release.

Production Photographs (SD) – (4 min)

A gallery of Posters (from both the original version and this 1956 remake), lobby cards, and “behind the scenes” photographs from the film plays in a slide show presentation.

Theatrical Trailer – (SD)

This theatrical trailer is actually quite interesting. It is different from many other trailers of the period and features James Stewart narrating.

Re-Release Trailer – (SD)

This re-release trailer features narration from James Stewart about the re-release of Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Trouble with Harry, Rope, and Rear Window. It is surprisingly interesting

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Final Words:

This disc’s transfer is a bit of a disappointment, but it is still quite a step up from the DVD transfers.

Review by: Devon Powell

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.