Alfred Hitchcock Presents-Season Four (1958)

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Released 28-Sep-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category TV Series Main Menu Audio-Music : Gounod's March of the Marionette
Booklet-12 page : Ep.synopsis, cast. Photographs.
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1958
Running Time 894:33 (Case: 900)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (25:00)
Multi Disc Set (5)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Robert Stevens
Paul Henreid
Herschel Daugherty
Norman Lloyd
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Bette Davis
Barbara Bel Geddes
Claude Rains
Mary Astor
Nancy Olson
Ralph Meeker
Wendell Corey
Gary Merrill
Steve McQueen
Robert Alda
Elizabeth Montgomery
Roger Moore
Robert Horton
Case Amaray Variant
RPI $49.95 Music Charles Gounod


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, In character for many episodes.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Madman is doing us all a favour by continuing to release their excellent Alfred Hitchcock Presents seasons. Recently released is the complete Season Four of that magnificent half-hour series which originally ran in the US from October 1955 through to June 1962, seven seasons with an astonishing two hundred and seventy-three half-hour dramas being produced. Madman have already given us the first three seasons licensed from Universal, and this five-disc set sustains the exceptional quality of those earlier releases. The five disc set contains all thirty-six episodes of approximately twenty-five minutes each, complete with the introductions by Hitchcock himself, as originally telecast in the US from October 1958 through June 1959.

     What a wealth of riches these five discs contain! Alfred Hitchcock Presents remains at the pinnacle of the TV anthology genre. The once immensely popular anthology format gave us either one hour, or half-hour, self-contained stories, in this case being tales of suspense and mystery, frequently coming from the pages of The Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Hitchcock himself was an occasional director, in this fourth season helming two episodes, the season premiere Poison with Wendell Corey and Episode 29: Banquo's Chair with Reginald Gardiner (The Sound of Music), Kenneth Haigh and John Williams, a Hitchcock favourite from Dial M for Murder and To Catch a Thief . That leading man of the forties Paul Henreid,, forever a part of cinema history for his performance in Casablanca, here directs four episodes, one of them reuniting him with his co-star from the classic 40s weepie Now, Voyager, Miss Bette Davis. The only director to win an Emmy for his work on this series, Robert Stevens, a director on almost every TV series from the fifties and sixties, directs seven episodes, Arthur Hiller (Man of La Mancha) scores five and TV veteran director Herschel Daugherty four. Amongst the writers, you will instantly recognize the names Garson Kanin (Born Yesterday) (Episode.13 : Six People, No Music), Roald Dahl (Episode. 1: Poison) and Ray Bradbury (Episode.6 :Design for Loving). However, even though the authors may be unknown to us, the quality of the writing is extremely high. Apart from the two episodes that he personally directed, the stamp of Hitchcock is on each and every episode. This is no doubt due to the master's close collaboration with his long-time producer Joan Harrison, and also with Norman Lloyd, sometime actor (Dead Poets Society), sometime director, here five episodes, and associate producer on the entire series. The consistency of the high quality of every aspect of production is undoubtedly due to these two trusted Hitchcock collaborators. In addition there is the superb photography, most episodes captured by Lionel Lindon with John L. Russell lensing a few. The stories being basically character driven, the close-ups are glorious, especially when the face being captured contains all the subtle revelation of Barbara Bel Geddes, or the bravura of Bette Davis.

     Perusing the cast list for each of the episodes, there are names which will jump out at you. The legendary Bette Davis, the sublime Barbara Bel Geddes, Wendell Corey, Ralph Meeker, Jane Greer, Paul Douglas, Margaret Leighton, Franchot Tone, Claude Rains and Robert Morse, to name just a few. Then there are those here, seen early in their careers, who were later to become major stars on either TV or in the movies. There is Elizabeth Montgomery, Steve McQueen, Roger Moore, Walter Matthau, Leslie Nielsen and Cloris Leachman amongst a host of others. We also have Broadway icons, Marian Seldes (Angels in America) and Richard Kiley (Man of La Mancha), plus wonderful character actors and actresses whose names you may not know, but whose faces you instantly recognize. Usually relegated to perhaps only a few on screen moments in big-screen features, here some hugely gifted performers are given meatier roles than we are accustomed to seeing them play. Two particular ladies are Dora Merande (Episode.12 : Mrs Hermand and Mrs Fenemore) and Ida Moore (Episode.23 :I'll Take Care of You). These two ladies were absolute delights whenever they turned up in a film, whether it was Miss Merande in Sullivan's Travels, directed by Preston Sturgess, or Miss Moore winsomely taking the arm of her dead husband in The Egg and I.

     As if the episodes themselves weren't enough, we once again have the irreplaceable hosting of Hitchcock himself. The opening musical theme, Funeral March of the Marionette by Gounod, leads into Hitchcock’s brilliant monologue written by James B. Allardice, tailored to the director's inimitable delivery. Always beginning with his trademark "Good Evening", Hitchcock takes pot-shots at the sponsors, his audience and himself, in superbly written gems which emulate the comedic tone of The Trouble with Harry (1956). Occasionally it is simply Hitch in a suit in front of a white screen, but we also get to see him in some very surprising settings and guises. We see Hitchcock tied to a railway track, in a sweat box, trapped in a mid-floor elevator, at the automat, as a cowboy, demonstrating a hula-hoop, playing croquet with a ball and chain, with pith helmet and butterfly net - the list goes on and on. Hitchcock’s appearances were for many the highlight of each half hour, despite the excellence of the evening's dramatic offering.

     The details of the thirty-nine episodes offered in Season Three are :

Disc One :
1. Poison : Wendell Corey, James Donald
2. Don't Interrupt : Chill Wills, Scatman Crothers, Cloris Leachman, Biff McGuire
3. The Jokester : Albert Salmi, Rosco Ates, James Coburn
4. The Crooked Road : Richard Kiley, Walter Matthau
5. The $2,000,000 Defence : Barry Sullivan, Leslie Nielsen
6. Design for Loving : Norman Lloyd, Marian Seldes, Elliott Reid, Barbara Baxley
7. A Man with a Problem : Gary Merrill, Mark Richman, Elizabeth Montgomery
8. Safety for the Witness : Art Carney, Robert Bray

Disc Two :
9. Murder Me Twice : Phyllis Thaxter, Tom Helmore
10.Tea Time : Margaret Leighton, Marsha Hunt, Murray Matheson
11. And the Desert Shall Blossom : William Demarest, Rosco Ates
12. Mrs Herman and Mrs Fenimore : Mary Astor, Doro Merande, Russell Collins
13. Six People, No Music : John McGiver, Peggy Cass
14. The Morning After : Robert Alda, Dorothy Provine, Jeanette Nolan, Fay Wray
15. A Personal Matter : Wayne Morris, Frank Silvera, Joe Maross
16. Out There - Darkness : Bette Davis, James Congdon, Frank Albertson

Disc Three :
17. Total Loss : Nancy Olson, Ralph Meeker
18. The Last Dark Step : Robert Horton, Joyce Meadows, Fay Spain
19. The Morning of the Bridge : Barbara Bel Geddes, Don Dubbins, Patricia Hitchcock
20. The Diamond Necklace : Claude Rains, Betsy Von Furstenberg
21. Relative Value : Denholm Elliott, Torin Thatcher, Tom Conway
22. The Right Price : Eddie Foy Jr, Allyn Joslyn
23. I'll Take Care of You : Ralph Meeker, Russell Collins, Elisabeth Fraser, Ida Moore
24. The Avon Emeralds : Roger Moore, Hazel Court

Disc Four :
25. The Kind Waitress : Rick Jason, Olive Deering
26. Cheap is Cheap : Dennis Day
27. The Waxwork : Barry Nelson, Everett Sloane
28. The Impossible Dream : Franchot Tone, Carmen Matthews, Mary Astor
29. Banquo's Chair : John Williams, Reginald Gardiner, Kenneth Haigh, Max Adrian
30. A Night with the Boys : John Smith, Joyce Meadows
31. Your Witness : Brian Keith, Leora Dana
32. Human Interest Story : Steve McQueen, Arthur Hill

Disc Five :
33. The Dusty Drawer : Dick York
34. A True Account : Jane Greer, Robert Webber, Kent Smith, Jocelyn Brando
35. Touche : Paul Douglas, Hugh Marlowe, Robert Morse
36. Invitation to an Accident : Gary Merrill, Joanna Moore

     If there are names above that are unfamiliar to you, names such as Allyn Joslyn, Biff McGuire, Dennis Day, Joyce Meadows, John McGiver, John Smith and Peggy Cass, I suggest that you do some research. Your viewing of classic films will forever be enriched. Yes, Jocelyn Brando did have a more famous brother!

     I can only paraphrase what I have said before. There is only one word to describe this series, and that is "classic". Every episode is a polished twenty-five minute lesson in dramatic structure and execution, with many episodes glittering as true gems. We have here, in Madman's release, transfers which present the episodes looking better than we have ever seen them before, plus an informative twelve-page booklet, with seventeen photos related to these actual episodes. Unfortunately the featurette which is on the U.S. release is not included. It would have been great to have had more background on the series and its creator, but there are many books available on Hitchcock, the best possibly being The Dark Side of Genius by Donald Spoto (1983). It seems undeniable that Hitchcock was indeed a twisted and sadly tormented being, just listen to Tippi Hedren his star of The Birds and Marnie. However, the uproariously genial host seen here belies that sad truth.

     Alfred Hitchcock Presents Season Four and the Season Three set released earlier in the year

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Considering the age of this material, almost sixty years, we have to be delighted with the quality of the images on these discs.

     There is a consistency to the image quality through the four seasons so far available. Only one episode falls below this high standard, and that is Episode 1: And the Desert Shall Bloom. This episode has more grain and does not have the clarity of the other thirty-five episodes. It is passable, but certainly below the standard of the rest of the season.

     The image is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 without enhancement. The quality of the Hitchcock monologues continues to be improved over the first two sets. The artefacts are minor, only some flecking and scratches, which in no way detract from the wonderful content of Hitchcock’s segments.

     Once we begin each actual episode the quality approaches excellence. There is strong contrast, with solid blacks and stable whites. The black and white image is extremely sharp, with detail very good indeed revealing the meticulous attention to set dressing. There is fine, soft grain, giving a totally film-like appearance to the material. The frequent close-ups are often glorious. I was not aware of any compression problems. Film to video artefacts were extremely minor and infinitesimal considering that these discs contain almost nine hundred minutes of dramatic material.

     There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There is a single audio stream on the discs, English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono encoded at 224Kbps.

     If anything, the sound on these discs is even better than that on the previous seasons. The only flaw noted was a drop in the sound level close to the conclusion of the end credits of Episode 32: Human Interest Story.

     Overall the audio is sharp, crisp and clear with dramatic presence and depth. Dialogue is crystal clear and there are no sync problems. There was no background hiss noticed, and crackles and pops were minimal.

     Although mono, the music is always presented effectively. Interestingly, the Gounod end title music at the conclusion of Episode 31: Your Witness is a different version from that used on every other episode.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

     The main menu is virtually identical to those on the first three sets in the series. It is presented 1.33:1 in a 4x3 transfer, accompanied by the famous Gounod theme. Once again Hitchcock is seen holding a widescreen ratio "card" on which is playing a montage of the eight, or four in the case of the final disc, episodes on that disc.

Booklet

     Excellent as far as it goes, this high quality twelve page booklet gives a brief summary of each of the thirty-six episodes, with comments on personnel of interest. Unfortunately the writer's knowledge of most of the actors seems to be limited to their TV appearances, ignoring earlier screen successes and Broadway stardom. Incorporated into the text are some excellent photographs, some framed blow-ups and other publicity shots. Most are thumbnail size, but there are three full-page shots as well, these being of John Smith, Bette Davis and Hitchcock, seated, with skeleton, standing. There is also the Hitchcock cover and back cover reproduction of the famous profile sketch.

     The booklet and amray case are housed in a matching slip-case.

Censorship

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R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region 1 release misses out on the eight-page booklet, although it appears that there are additional photographs incorporated into the US digipac.

     The Region 4 release misses out on English subtitles, and a six minute featurette Fasten Your Seatbelt : The Thrilling Art of Alfred Hitchcock. It seems that this is a discussion by contemporary directors, including John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese and Eli Roth, the material having being filmed for the earlier reissues of Hitchcock feature titles.

Summary

     This is superlative television drama that has never been bettered. Thirty-five of the thirty-six episodes look better than they have ever looked before, and the sound is excellent mono. Here are almost nine hundred minutes of top rate entertainment, seen on some shelves for less than $40. A bargain! We now have a local release of all seasons so far released in the United States. Thank you, Madman!

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Friday, November 19, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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