|Category||Thriller/Comedy||Biography - Crew
Filmography - Crew
Gallery - Picture
(not 97 minutes as stated on packaging)
Avenue One DVD
Dame May Whitty
|Case||Bright blue Alpha style|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 224 Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||No|
|Theatrical Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||
|Subtitles||None||Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The broad story here is of a collection of diverse characters on a train journey. We start in an isolated village in some nondescript imaginary country in Europe where the local hotel is inundated with guests off a train that has been blocked by an avalanche. We slowly are introduced to the main characters of the story but in such a way as to make it not so obvious of the roles they are to play here. Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) is a governess on her way back to retirement in England, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) is a beautiful young English lady enjoying her last days of freedom tripping around Europe prior to returning to England to be married, slightly unusual couple Mr Todhunter (Cecil Parker) and Mrs Todhunter (Linden Travers) are returning to England from their "honeymoon", whilst Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naughton Wayne) are old school tie types desperate to get back to England before something dire happens. We also get to meet the hero of the show in Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), a scholarly type who is collecting old folk tunes for a book that he is supposedly writing. All are on the train the next day heading west, when things go awry. After an accident before getting on the train, Iris is suffering from a concussion that is the perfect cover for the lady vanishing. Whilst all have seen the vanished lady, all deny doing so for their own self interests. Add into the factor the mysterious, but famed surgeon, Dr Hartz (Paul Lukas) so eager to help prove that there was no lady to have vanished, and things roll along nicely in a typical Hitchcock way. Slowly but surely the weight of evidence turns against the lady having existed until small clues suddenly surface that indicate Iris is right and a lady has indeed vanished. Through the process of elimination, we discover the truth about what has happened upon the train as well as discovering much more about the true characters behind the facades created. All quite entertaining, and subtly amusing stuff too.
It also has to be said that this is in one part a little more risqué than would normally be expected for a film of the era. Nothing much, but beautiful young ladies displaying plenty of leg in the bedroom whilst clothed only in underwear, and Margaret Lockwood displaying plenty more as she was lifted off the table by the servant. Almost the sort of stuff to have the moralistic types rioting in the streets by 1938 standards, although nowadays completely inconsequential stuff indeed. Overall, this is one of the better acted of the pre-war Alfred Hitchcock films in my view, although still a little too over-the-top at times from Michael Redgrave. The film is really carried by the rather wonderful characterizations of Caldicott and Charters as Hitch has a not-so-gentle dig at his fellow English. Despite the obvious budget constraints that are best evidenced by the opening sequences of the model railway passing as a real town, this remains quite a nice little film indeed. Not the very best that Hitch did but certainly not too far short of that sort of mark.
As a film, this is well worth getting your hands on, but as a transfer... Still, anything by Alfred Hitchcock has certain qualities that transcend the likely quality of the transfer that will be afforded these out-of-copyright films.
The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format, and it is not 16x9 enhanced.
Having seen some pretty murky transfers in my time, this is actually a nice change - relatively speaking. Overall, it is a decently average transfer as far as sharpness is concerned, with plenty of good bits balanced of by plenty of not-so-good bits. Detail is also decently average, which means that sometimes the effects are really shown up to be quite poor and at other times quite good. Shadow detail reflects the age of the film and is in general on the poorer side of average - with some places descending to shocking (23:45 is a good example). This is hardly what you would call a clear transfer and there are plenty of instances where mild grain does become an issue. There is however more of a problem with low level noise in the transfer, which at times becomes just a little too obvious..
The black and white is certainly not black and white here, being more tending towards assorted shades of grey. However, since the transfer is generally speaking quite bright since much of the action takes place during the day, this is less of a problem than if the film had been predominantly set at night. Still, The Criterion Collection issue does demonstrate how black and white of this age can look, and it is not the way this transfer looks. However, had I have not seen The Criterion Collection release, then this would have been deemed slightly better than average for a film of this vintage. At least there was a general consistency in the tones throughout the film.
There are no significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There is also not too great an issue with film-to-video artefacts here, with aliasing not being too prevalent and wobble and jitter being kept to a barely noticeable minimum. Even the usual reel change markings were not quite so much of an issue here There was, as to be expected in a 62 year old film, distinct problems with film artefacts in the transfer. However, it should be said that in general I felt this was a little cleaner than I was expecting overall. I am tempted to suggest that whilst I have doubts about the claim that this is digitally mastered from the original 35mm print, the source print was quite a decent one and that perhaps it had had some minor restoration work done on it.
There is a noticeable break up of the picture between
and 6:04 that is either a mastering
problem or the result of a rogue faulty disc. The break up is not pixelization
but more a banding of the film for a brief time. I hope that it is a rogue
faulty disc, but I fear it may be a mastering fault.
There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 effort that is optimistically described as surround-encoded in Michael D's trusty DVD spec sheet. Whilst the bulk of the film is indeed in English, there are portions in a variety of languages including French and Italian, and a smattering of a gibberish language made up for the film. You will just have to live with this, as there are no subtitles to help you understand what is being said - although I doubt too much was pivotal to the film.
Overall, there is not too much of a problem with the dialogue, which comes up quite well in the soundtrack and is relatively easy to understand. Naturally, there are a few sections where concentration is required, but thankfully not too many. There did not seem to be any major issues with audio sync in the transfer, somewhat of a blessing for a film of this age.
The music comes from Louis Levy and Cecil Milner, although it has to be said (and is indeed said in the commentary on the Criterion Collection DVD) that unlike many Hitchcock films, this is relatively devoid of much musical accompaniment. What is there is barely noticed and this is certainly one time when Alfred Hitchcock went in a slightly different direction to achieve an effect.
And so what exactly is this soundtrack like? Well,
I would hardly say it is surround-encoded since the sound is really quite
central. Michael D has described it as a mono soundtrack with the left
and right channels equal and the surround flag set to steer the audio output
to the centre channel. That pretty much describes it, and may partly account
for why this seems to have a little more body to the sound than say that
on Jamaica Inn. However, the
soundtrack is afflicted, most especially early on, with a distinct static
problem that does get just a tad annoying. After about half an hour or
so (the third reel of the film?) this seems to become less of a problem.
Obviously, there is no bass channel here at all. The overall result I actually
cannot really condemn, as the overall body of the sound is better than
I was expecting. The sound has a decent clarity to it and it is less of
a mono sounding effort than perhaps it should be! It very much reflects
the rather primitive nature of sound recording in the 1930s in comparison
to the improvements that came in the 1950s.
|Surround Channel Use|
© Ian Morris (have
a laugh, check out the bio)
26th October 2000
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515; S-video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in|
|Amplification||Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|