Blu-ray Review: Spellbound

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Distributor: MGM Home Entertainment / 20th Century Fox

Release Date: 24/Jan/2012

Region: Region Free

Length: 118 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC, 37.87 Mbps)

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

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 37.87 Mbps

Notes: This title is also available on DVD. It was released individually and as part of The Premiere Collection boxed set (both with different cover art).

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This Blu-ray title is also available as part of a three film set entitled, The Classic Collection. This set has different cover artwork.

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“Selznick thought I only wanted Dali for publicity purposes. That wasn’t true. I felt that if I was going to have dream sequences, they should be vivid. I didn’t think that we should resort to the old-fashioned blurry effect that they got by putting vaseline around the lens. What I really wanted to do, and they wouldn’t do it because of the expense, was to have the dream sequences shot on the back lot in bright sunshine, so they would have to stop-down the camera to such a degree that the pictures would have been needle-sharp, as contrast to the rest of the picture, which was slightly diffused because that was the cameraman’s particular style. But I used Dali for his draftmanship and the infinity which he introduces into his subject.” –Alfred Hitchcock

While the dream elements of the film are certainly memorable (despite being edited down to almost nothing by Selznick), it is probably the on-screen romance between Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck that attracted most viewers upon the film’s release. Modern critics seem to agree that the film is uneven and that the psychological theories the film is based upon are both dated and overly simplistic. That said, it certainly represented psychoanalytical theories of the era and there was a consultant on the set to make sure that the psychology in the film was more or less accurate. (The consultant was Selznick’s own psychoanalyst, Dr. May Romm.)  It seems unfair to judge the film on its somewhat archaic theories when the theories were relatively new at the time of the film’s release.

Spellbound was warmly received by critics. For example, Bosley Crowther wrote:

“This writer has had little traffic with practitioners of psychiatry or with the twilight abstractions of their science, so we are no in a position to say whether Ingrid Bergman, who plays one in her latest film, Spellbound, is typical of such professionals or whether the methods she employs would yield results. But this we can say with due authority: if all psychiatrists are as fruitful as hers are to Gregory Peck, who plays a victim of amnesia in this fine film which came to the Astor yesterday — then psychiatry deserves such popularity as this picture most certainly will enjoy.

For Miss Bergman and her brand of treatment, so beautifully demonstrated here, is a guaranteed cure for what ails you, just as much as it is for Mr. Peck. It consists of her winning personality, softly but insistently suffused throughout a story of deep emotional content of her ardent sincerity, her lustrous looks and her easy ability to toss off glibly a line of talk upon which most girls would choke…

…This story, we say, has relation to all the faith-healing films ever made, but the manner and quality of its telling is extraordinarily fine. The script, which was based on the novel of Francis Beeding, ‘The House of Dr. Edwardes,’ was prepared by Ben Hecht and the director was Alfred Hitchcock, the old master of dramatic suspense. So the firm texture of the narration, the flow of continuity and dialogue, the shock of the unexpected, the scope of image — all are happily here.

But, in this particular instance, Mr. Hecht and Mr. Hitchcock have done more. They have fashioned a moving love story with the elements of melodramatic use. More than a literal “chase” takes place here — more than a run from the police. A “chase” of even more suspenseful moment is made through the mind of a man. And in this strange and indeterminate area the pursuer — and, partially, the pursued — is the girl with whom the victim is mutually in love. Mr. Hitchcock has used some startling images to symbolize the content of dreams — images designed by Salvador Dali. But his real success is in creating the illusion of love… Not to be speechless about it, David O. Selznick has a rare film in Spellbound.” -Bosley Crowther (New York Times, November 02, 1945)

Spellbound went on to receive quite a few Academy Award nominations (including nominations for Best Picture and Best Director), and won the Oscar for Miklós Rózsa’s innovative score. It is indeed interesting to see how many of Hitchcock’s films that were attacked by critics upon their release are now considered classics (or even masterpieces), while many films that were once praised have fallen from grace.

Perhaps Spellbound isn’t among Hitchcock’s best work, but it is certainly solid entertainment.

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The Presentation:

2.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The disc is contained in the standard Blu-ray case with reasonably attractive cover art. It is nothing earth-shattering, but the artwork is more attractive than MGM’s DVD release of the same title.

There is no menu on the disc. To access the special features or change the audio settings, one must do so while the film is already playing. This is rather bothersome and extremely inconvenient. Some people might not mind this issue, but this film deserves a much better presentation.

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Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

This is certainly the best that Spellbound has looked on home video, but one cannot help but be slightly disappointed with this 1080p transfer. There is a fair amount of print damage, shadows are often a bit dull, and there are a few occasions of troublesome edge enhancement. Fortunately, none of these problems ever become distracting. As a matter of fact, the picture exhibits wonderful clarity and remarkable contrast. Grain levels also seem accurate for a film of this vintage.

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Sound Quality:

3 of 5 MacGuffins

The Mono DTS-HD track is also less than impressive. There seems to be a very slight layer of hiss throughout the length of the track and there is also an occasional pop or crackle. These flaws are never distracting and it is perhaps unfair to expect anything better. Milkos Rosza’s score sometimes swallows dialogue, but this issue is obviously source related and should not be held against the actual transfer.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Commentary with Thomas Schatz and Charles Ramirez Berg

Schatz and Berg’s discussion is both enthusiastic and lively. Their commentary often focuses on the structure of the film, but covers other territory as well. The downside of the track is that they also provide the occasional false statement (such as mistaking Saboteur for Sabotage).

Running With Scissors: Hitchcock, Surrealism and Salvador Dali – (SD) – (21:25)

This short documentary focuses on Salvador Dali’s contribution to Spellbound. The dream sequence is discussed at length and experts also touch upon the artist’s background.

Guilt by Association: Psychoanalyzing Spellbound – (SD) – (19:39)

Instead of focusing on the making of the film, this documentary touches upon the influence of psychoanalysis upon the production. Experts discuss some of the reasons that this subject matter made its way to the screen during this particular time. It should provide viewers with information that will enrich their enjoyment and understanding of the film.

A Cinderella Story: Rhonda Fleming – (SD) – (10:10)

Rhonda Fleming discusses how she was discovered and cast in Spellbound. She also discusses some of her more recent charity projects.

Peter Bogdanovich Interviews Alfred Hitchcock – (15:22)

This is a brief excerpt of Hitchcock’s interview with Peter Bogdanovich. The audio plays over a blank black screen. Hitchcock is always interesting and this excerpt is no exception.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (SD) – (2:07)

The Theatrical Trailer for Spellbound is included and is more interesting than many trailers from this period.

1948 Radio Version of Spellbound Directed by Alfred Hitchcock – (59:47)

This radio play is interesting, but it has nothing on the actual film. The beginning of this feature includes a list of credits and then the audio plays over a blank black screen.

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Final Words:

Spellbound is not considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s better efforts, but it is quite charming and certainly worth including in your collection. If MGM’s Blu-ray release isn’t perfect, it is at least an improvement on previous home video transfers.

Review by: Devon Powell

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Blu-ray Review: Notorious


Notorious cover

Distributor: MGM Home Entertainment

Release Date: January 24, 2012

Region: Region A

Length: 01:41:40

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English, Spanish, and French

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 37.39 Mbps

Notes: This title is also available on DVD. It was released individually and as part of The Premiere Collection boxed set.

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This Blu-ray title is also available as part of a three film set entitled, The Classic Collection.

NOTORIOUS

“I was sailing on the Queen Elizabeth and I ran into a man called Joseph Hazen, who was an associate of producer Hal Wallis. He said to me, ‘I’ve always wanted to find out where you got the idea for the atom bomb a year before Hiroshima. When they offered us the Notorious script, we turned it down because we thought it was such a damn foolish thing to base a movie on’ … I answered, ‘Well, all it goes to show is that you were wrong to attach any importance to the MacGuffin.” –Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock was correct. Notorious isn’t a film about uranium ore. It touches on the classic theme of love versus duty but goes beyond that to explore relationship politics and the games that couples tend to play with one another. There is a scene between T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) in which both characters are playing a game of emotional chicken. They love each other, but Devlin does not want to tell Alicia and later find out that she cannot be true to him. He has given Alicia her assignment:  She is to bed a Nazi agent in order to find out secrets about his organization.

Alicia is angry at Devlin for not speaking up for her to his superiors. Why would he not tell them that she is the wrong woman for such a job? The truth is that he did speak up for her, but he refuses to admit this to Alicia. Devlin does not want her to accept the assignment and will not let these feelings be known. He needs to know if he can trust her. Alicia wants Devlin to tell her that he believes in her and not to take the assignment because he loves her. Neither character will budge. They are testing one another and both of them fail miserably. Alicia ends up bedding the agent and Devlin ends up bitterly resenting her choice (even though she is only doing it because she believes it is what he wants). These games intensify later when Alicia baits Devlin by telling him, “You can add Sebastian’s name to my list of playmates.” This leads to the following exchange:

Devlin: I can’t help recalling some of your remarks about being a new woman. Daisies and buttercups, wasn’t it?

Alicia: You idiot. What are you sore about? You knew very well what I was doing.

Devlin: Did I?

Alicia: You could have stopped me with one word, but no, you wouldn’t. You threw me at him!

Devlin: I threw you at nobody.

Alicia: Didn’t you tell me what I had?

Devlin: A man doesn’t tell a woman what to do; she tells herself. You almost had me believing in that little hokey-pokey miracle of yours, that a woman like you could change her spots.

Alicia: Oh, you’re rotten.

Devlin: That’s why I didn’t try to stop you. The answer had to come from you.

Alicia: I see… Some kind of love test.

Devlin: That’s right.

Even Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), plays emotional games with Alicia. At a dinner, Alicia apologizes to Sebastian for her behavior the last time that they were together. He responds by saying, “Well, then I’ll test your repentance immediately.” Sebastian worries that she has feelings for Devlin, and dances around the subject in order to get information out of her. He even pretends at one point to forget the issue and secretly continues worry. His proposal to Alicia is simply a form of manipulation. When Alicia claims that Devlin means nothing to her, Sebastian’s replies, “I’d like to be convinced. Would you maybe care to convince me, Alicia, that Mr. Devlin means nothing to you?

In The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, Donald Spoto describes the obvious motifs of bottles and alcohol in the film and then elaborates on Alicia’s habit of using alcohol to mask her emotional pain. Devlin is also protecting himself from emotional pain and this leads Alicia directly into the arms of Sebastian and puts her in danger. Self preservation becomes self destructive in Notorious. Of course, there are many ways to interpret this film. Great films are often rich in subtext and this one is no different. Everything is subjective (especially in a Hitchcock film). There’s more than enough here for a book length dissection, but watching the film is more rewarding than reading about it.

NOTORIOUS (1)

The Presentation:

2.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The disc is contained in the standard Blu-ray case with reasonably attractive cover art. It is nothing earth-shattering, but the artwork is more attractive than MGM’s DVD release of the same title.

There is no menu on the disc. To access the special features or change the audio settings, one must do so while the film is already playing. This is rather bothersome and extremely inconvenient. Some people might not mind this issue, but this film deserves a much better presentation.

 NOTORIOUS (2)

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Notorious went through a digital restoration process to prepare the film for MGM’s DVD boxed set, The Premiere Collection. This Blu-ray contains the1080p transfer of that same restoration, but this high definition disc is certainly a step up from the DVD release.

Anyone who has seen the aforementioned DVD will know before upgrading what flaws to expect from the print of the film (since the same digitally restored print was used for the Blu-ray). There is a bit of flickering and a few instances of dirt on the print. There might also be a few minor scratches. These flaws are minimal and one has to really look for these issues in order to notice them.

The detail quality is quite nice and the contrast is solid with inky blacks and well balanced grays. There is quite a bit of grain, but this would be evident in the source. The picture is much sharper than its previous home video releases thanks to its high definition transfer. Overall, I must say that it is a rather appealing picture that represents the film nicely.

NOTORIOUS (4)

Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Notorious is given a lossless, DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mix. This is probably the best I have heard the film sound. Dialogue is consistent and clear and music seems a bit more dynamic than I have previously heard it. There might be a bit of echo during certain moments of dialogue, but this never becomes distracting. The fidelity is decent for a film of its era and one feels that any issues present are inherent in its source. I did not hear any hiss or any other irritating additions to the soundtrack.

NOTORIOUS (8)

Special Features:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Commentary by Rick Jewell

Jewell’s commentary is what he labels a “contextual commentary.” The track isn’t screen specific and a wide variety of information is discussed. Jewell wrote The RKO Story and much of the track discusses the studio’s history. He does briefly discus the political landscape of post war America. It is an interesting track and certainly worth a listen.

Commentary by Drew Casper

Casper’s commentary focused more on Notorious. His commentary is a little short on facts and instead focuses more on film theory. One might call it an oral essay. He does reveal a few interesting bits of information that most people will find interesting.

Isolated Music Track

This feature allows audiences to experience the film with only the music and sound effects.

The Ultimate Romance: The Making of Notorious – (28:15)

This is essentially a short “making of” documentary. It isn’t a very comprehensive documentary, but the information is extremely interesting. This is probably my personal favorite special feature.

Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Spymaster – (13:09)

Hitchcock’s influence upon the espionage genre is discussed here. Most audiences will find this of interest.

The American Film Institute Award: The Key to Hitchcock – (03:19)

This is an extremely welcome addition to the list of features. It contains Hitchcock’s “thank you” speech and Ingrid Bergman’s presentation of the famous UNICA key to Alfred Hitchcock at AFI’s Lifetime Award ceremony honoring the director.

Hitchcock Interview – Excerpts from the director’s conversations with Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut(16:22)

These interview clips may sound familiar to those who have read Truffaut’s book length interview with Hitchcock, but it should remain interesting regardless. This audio-only feature plays over a blank black screen.

Hitchcock Interview – Excerpts from the director’s conversations with Alfred Hitchcock and Peter Bogdanovich – (02:19)

This is a brief excerpt of Hitchcock’s interview with Peter Bogdanovich. Hitchcock is always interesting and this is no exception. Again, the audio plays over a blank black screen. The interview is not as great (or as comprehensive) as Truffaut’s, but it is always nice to hear Hitchcock discuss his films.

Restoration Comparison – (02:54)

This short piece shows clips of the film before and after restoration (mostly in split screen).

Theatrical Trailer – (02:30)

I am glad that they included the film’s vintage trailer. I always find these interesting.

Complete Broadcast of the 1948 Lux Radio Theater Adaptation (starring Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton) – (59:31)

This radio play is interesting, but it has nothing on the actual film. The beginning of this feature includes a list of credits and then the audio plays over a blank black screen.

NOTORIOUS (10)

Final Words:

Notorious is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s essential films. It should have a place of honor on everyone’s shelf. This recommendation might stem from the excellence of the actual film and not the Blu-ray release. Regardless, this high definition release is an improvement on the DVD (even without a main menu).

Reviewed by: Devon Powell