Overall | The Birds (1963) | Family Plot (1976) | Frenzy (1972) | Topaz (1969) | Torn Curtain (1966) | Marnie (1964) | Vertigo (1958)

The Hitchcock Collection-Volume 2 (Birds, V, etc)

The Hitchcock Collection-Volume 2 (Birds, V, etc)

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Released 26-Sep-2001

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Overall Package

    The Hitchcock Collection Volume 2 is the second of two box sets released by Universal Home Video, each containing 7 DVDs of the great maestro's work. This particular collection of seven films ranges from the 1958 classic Vertigo through to the final film made by the maestro, the 1972 not-so-classic Family Plot. If nothing else, the second collection serves to demonstrate that the serious quality in the output of Alfred Hitchcock was before 1960 - afterwards the films got progressively and obviously weaker. The individual films in the second collection are to be released separately, and to be honest that may be the best way to attack this collection unless you are a die-hard Alfred Hitchcock fan. The reality here is that Vertigo stands so far above the rest that it is not funny, and of the rest only The Birds, Marnie and Frenzy are really worthwhile considering. Unfortunately though, apart from Vertigo, Frenzy and Family Plot, the other inclusions here are not in widescreen format. This is hugely disappointing, especially as the Region 1 releases are in 16x9 enhanced widescreen presentations. Whilst a plausible enough reason was given for The Birds not being in widescreen format, even if it did smack of being cheap, as far as I am aware no reason has been given for the other three films not being presented in a widescreen format.

    Unfortunately, lack of widescreen presentation is not the only way in which these transfers disappoint. Considering that these are more recent films than those contained in the first collection, it is somewhat perverse that apart from Vertigo (a fully restored film), the rest of the transfers look worse than their older counterparts. A consistent problem in the transfers is grain and this is present in various degrees through all the new releases contained in the collection.

    Overall, this is not a great collection either from a film point of view or a presentation point of view. Frankly, there are few grounds upon which I could recommend the entire collection to anyone but the most dedicated Alfred Hitchcock fan - and even then I would be suggesting that looking to Region 1 would be the way to go since the transfers are better it seems. As stated, Vertigo stands heads and shoulders above the other films here and that is the only film that I could truly recommend as being a worthwhile purchase as it is.

    The collection is again presented in a gatefold style package, and having seen the packaging I can only continue to express my disgust at the use of these sorts of gatefold packages. Aside from looking a little cheap, if the disc clips break you are completely stuffed and having seen one on display at a department store, the problems of scuffing and other damage are readily apparent for all to see.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Sunday, October 21, 2001
Other Reviews
DVD Net - Amy F

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Widescreen in r2? No. -

Overall | The Birds (1963) | Family Plot (1976) | Frenzy (1972) | Topaz (1969) | Torn Curtain (1966) | Marnie (1964) | Vertigo (1958)

The Birds (1963)

The Birds (1963)

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Released 26-Sep-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-All About The Birds (79:51)
Deleted Scenes
Alternate Ending
Featurette-Tippi Hedren's Screen Test (9:58)
Featurette-Universal News Reels (3:09)
Gallery-Photo
Theatrical Trailer-1.85:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (5:12)
Booklet
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1963
Running Time 114:36
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (106:43) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Rod Taylor
Suzanne Pleshette
Veronica Cartwright
Jessica Tandy
Tippi Hedren
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Remi Gassmann
Oskar Sala


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
German
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    One of the highlights of the second volume of the Hitchcock Collection would have to be one of the maestro's most technically difficult films in The Birds. Of course, if this were to be made nowadays, it would not be anything like the technical challenge, but in 1963 this was pushing the envelope as far as effects were concerned. Today it would be CGI birds aplenty, and we would barely know the difference from the real thing. In 1963 of course, there was no such thing as CGI and the only way that this could be made was through new-fangled yellow screen technology (using sodium light) coupled with stuffed birds, real birds and just about every other possible technique to populate the film with thousands of birds. The result today is something that lacks just a little in believability, but for 1963 this was top of the effects tree. As Alfred Hitchcock makes very plain, there are over 370 trick shots in the film.

    Even if you have not seen the film, this is such a landmark film that you probably know at least bits of the film. The story is quite simple, as is so often the case with an Alfred Hitchcock film, and it begins in Union Square, San Francisco, with Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) heading for a pet shop to pick up a mynah bird. As she enters the store, she notes the unusual massing of seagulls over the city...

    Whilst in the store, she encounters Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), a lawyer with a streak of humour, who plays something of a prank upon her regarding lovebirds for his little sister. Of course, Melanie does not know who he is yet but using her connections at daddy's newspaper, she soon finds out. Obviously there is enough of a piqued interest from Melanie that she decides to buy a pair of lovebirds and deliver them to Mitch. Upon arriving at his apartment though, she finds that he has gone up the coast to visit his mother at Bodega Bay for the weekend - as he does every weekend. Despite not really knowing the man, Melanie decides to drive up to Bodega Bay to hand deliver the birds. Not knowing where the Brenner house actually is, Melanie heads to the local store to get the information, before heading to the local school marm, Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) to find out the name of the little Brenner girl. Armed with the information, Melanie heads off across the bay by dinghy to reach the Brenner house, where she surreptitiously delivers the birds for young Cathy Brenner (Veronica Cartwright). Deliberately caught in the act by Mitch, he races back to town by car to meet her as she arrives at the town jetty by her little boat. But as she arrives at the jetty Melanie is attacked by a seagull, and the "fun" slowly begins.

    Mitch naturally is somewhat taken by the beautiful Melanie and invites her to dinner, necessitating a slight change in her plans - a change of plans she might yet regret. That change of plans just sets into motion the chain of events that keeps Melanie stuck in Bodega Bay as it is assaulted by wave after wave of birds. Those assaults have a fatal outcome in one instance, but the main result of the attacks is to terrorise this small town.

    As I indicated, this is a really simple story but what makes it work is the characterisation of the main characters. We get a decent feel of what the characters are like and who they really are, and the choice of actors here goes a long way towards making this a distinctive cast, one that by all accounts was very friendly. Obviously Rod Taylor is not the most convincing American on earth, thanks to one of the broadest Aussie accents ever known, but he does a fair fist of the job at hand. The rugged good looks were what probably got him the job and it certainly adds to the romantic aspect of the film. Alfred Hitchcock had a strong preference for striking blondes, and Tippi Hedren is the quintessential Hitchcock female lead. Whilst not quite in the league of the truly gorgeous Grace Kelly, she is certainly a beautiful woman. Not recognised as an actress when she got this role, better known at the time as a model, she was surprisingly effective here. It should be noted however that barring one or two instances, there was not an awful lot of pressure placed upon her acting abilities. The nice surprises here however are Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy. The former is too often remembered for her saccharine roles in Disney films, but this demonstrates the more traditionally dramatic side of her career. The latter of course went through a rather lengthy Indian summer in her career that culminated in an Oscar for her role in Driving Miss Daisy, so it is a change to return to a quality performance from the middle portion of her career.

    But overshadowing the story and the performances are the special effects. To be honest, they are starting to show their age a tad nowadays, but they still remain pretty respectable - especially considering the vast amount of yellow screen work that was involved here. It might not look as believable as modern CGI but personally I think that this only enhances the movie making experience.

    When one considers that this followed (in order) Vertigo, North By Northwest and Psycho, it would be fair to say that this represented a rather obvious purple patch for Alfred Hitchcock - remembering the film was followed by Marnie. Whilst I would be loathe to include this in the maestro's best, as exemplified by the first three mentioned films, it is nonetheless one of his more enduring films. Any representative collection of the maestro would need to include The Birds.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    But, any representative collection would probably need a somewhat better effort than that exemplified by this transfer. First of all, it is not in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, nor in any widescreen format. After comparison between the Region 1 release (which is in the correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1), it would seem that we have a pan and scan transfer, missing plenty of side information. In comparison with the Region 1 release, the picture looks a tad constrained as a result. Since it is a pan and scan transfer, it is obviously not 16x9 enhanced. Presumably, there are some logical reasons why we could not have a widescreen format transfer, but this is really a monumental disappointment within the context of the overall Hitchcock Collection.

    After the disappointment of the aspect ratio however, things do not really get any better at all. Quite simply, this is a very grainy transfer. Now this is a common trait held with the Region 1 release, which presumably means that the problem is source related, but irrespective of where the fault lies, it does make this a less than ideal transfer to watch. However, the grain just serves to compound a somewhat diffuse image and if you pause the transfer anywhere, you will see what I mean. A good example is early in the film when Hitch makes his traditional cameo appearance, walking out of the pet shop with two dogs on leads. If you pause the picture at this point you will note the lack of sharpness in the image and the amount of colour bleed, especially in the facial area. Basically, this is not a great transfer at all and certainly nothing as good as we have seen in films of an older vintage from other sources. Detail is adequate enough although you could argue that it is too good for the film since it does serve to highlight the effects work a tad too much. The shadow detail is adequate enough too, but obviously not a patch upon what we have seen from films even five years later. Since there is such an issue with grain in the transfer, which is most amply demonstrated by the interior scenes in the pet shop, you can pretty well guess that clarity leaves something to be desired. There also appears to be some issue with low level noise, although this may of course be a residual of the grain problem.

    The colour palette is a fairly typical example of the slightly oversaturated look that early Technicolor tends towards. This however is not consistent, and there are at times some feelings of undersaturation in (for instance) Melanie's rather pallid green dress. The exterior scenes, such as the opening scene in Union Square, San Francisco, have a slightly digital look to the colour that contrasts with the slightly smoother look of the interior scenes. Still, I would not really have that much complaint with the colour if it were not for the fact that we have seen much better in the ilk of Vertigo and North By Northwest. This is not what I would call a vibrant transfer, but the colours are reasonably believable. As indicated, there is something of an issue with colour bleed in the transfer. Nothing really serious, but enough to cause the odd double take on what you are seeing. There did not appear to be any oversaturation issues in the transfer.

    There did not appear to be many significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, although there seemed to be a bit of blockiness in the bird cage at 7:25 and in the driving sequence around 11:00. There was also some lack of resolution in the pan shot at 19:14. Film-to-video artefacts were not that prevalent in the transfer and were only obvious in car grilles (15:06 and 18:40) and in roofs (25:29). There were a fair few film artefacts flying around here and this is one area which highlights the lack of a full restoration of the film. None were really intrusive, but the sheer consistency cannot be ignored.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 106:43. This occurs mid-scene and is pretty awful, as it comes just after some motion has started.

    There are a reasonable number of subtitle options on the DVD, and I sampled some of the English efforts. They are not too bad, missing little in the way of essential stuff but struggling to keep up with some of the dialogue. There are fairly well presented and reasonably easy to read.

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

Audio

    There are two soundtracks on the DVD, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and a German Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I stuck with the English soundtrack only.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and easy to understand. There are no significant audio sync problems.

    The original music score is one of the most unusual of any Alfred Hitchcock film and is the work of Remi Gassmann and Oskar Sala. Making use of a new electronic gadget, this is not so much a musical score as an expression of natural sounds in an electronic-sounding way. It is surprisingly effective in its own way and probably adds a little more to the suspense of the film than would have a purely orchestral score from Hitch's favourite composer, Bernard Herrmann.

    There really is not much to say about the sound. Whilst obviously it could have been remastered to better effect, I am guessing that this is very much the original soundtrack - warts and all. One thing that really stands out for me is the lousy Foley work, no better exemplified than by the screeching tyres as Melanie drives to Bodega Bay. It might have been believable - just - in 1963 but sounds utterly ludicrous nowadays. The sound is a tad congested and has no space to it at all - very much typifying an unremastered mono sound in my view. Obviously the action is centre channel stuff and the surround channels and the bass channel are pretty much superfluous here. Thankfully there are no obvious distortions in the soundtrack.

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

Extras

    There is a rather nice collection of extras here, much of which adds quite significantly to the film.

Menus

    Nothing much to bother about, with just the main menu having some audio enhancement - although the rather familiar music becomes a tad grating after a while. Themed in common with most of the DVDs from the first collection, the theming obviously will be carried through into the second collection.

Documentary - All About The Birds (79:51)

    Nothing much wrong with this rather extensive effort! Very much in the mould of the efforts seen in the first collection, this one is elevated by the contributions from Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor. A very interesting collection of interview material with some behind the scenes stuff and excerpts from the film - annoyingly in widescreen! Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The technical quality is good and the content is interesting, making this essential viewing.

Deleted Scene

    Well, not your normal deleted scene inasmuch as it isn't film. The scene itself has been lost and this is a reconstruction using script stills of the scene and photo stills taken during the filming of the scene. Somewhat pointless really but completists will be glad of the inclusion as at least you can imagine what the scene may have looked like filmed.

Alternate Ending

    This too is not your traditional presentation, as this ending was never filmed. It is the original idea as set out in the script and to some extent storyboarded, but which was changed prior to actual shooting. It is a similar presentation to the deleted scene, in that it uses script stills and the original storyboards to illustrate the ending. Interesting enough I suppose, although it duplicates almost entirely a portion of the documentary.

Featurette - Tippi Hedren's Screen Tests (9:58)

    Somewhat interesting, not the least because of the way the tests were done (recreating scenes from three Alfred Hitchcock films) and the involvement of Martin Balsam. Interesting too for the chance to listen to Alfred Hitchcock providing some direction to Tippi Hedren. Presented in Full Frame format, they are not 16x9 enhanced and come with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. As befitting something of this nature, the technical quality is probably best described as adequate, but it is an interesting inclusion.

Featurette - Universal News Reels (3:09)

    Actually comprising two news reels, these are fairly standard "promotional" efforts showing Alfred Hitchcock addressing the national Press Club and Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock doing some promotional work for the film using, obviously, birds. Presented in Full Frame format, they are not 16x9 enhanced and come with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Of marginal value only, apart from seeing a bit more of Tippi Hedren.

Gallery - Photos

    Comprising 85 publicity shots and stills from the film, a nothing extraordinary collection of photos. There are some obvious cross colouration issues in some of the stills towards the end of the display.

Theatrical Trailer (5:12)

    One of the typically different, extended promotional efforts in which Alfred Hitchcock seemed to excel. Done very much tongue in cheek, this is possibly almost as famous as the film itself. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Nothing much awry here and almost priceless in its uniqueness!

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 release misses out on:

    The Region 1 release misses out on:

    Even before we go any further, you can pretty well guess that Region 1 is the preferred version of the DVD. However, let us actually consider the transfers themselves. I did a direct comparison between the two versions for the first twenty minutes of the film, which covers the main areas where I have problems with the transfers (graininess, blockiness, film artefacts, aliasing). After comparing the two, I have to say that the Region 1 release seems to be a little smoother, with the grain being a little less obvious and the blockiness not being so prevalent. Overall, on the direct comparison, I would have to say that I will be keeping my Region 1 DVD and would be recommending it as the version of choice in all respects: proper presentation, marginally but noticeably better transfer, more extras and probably a better cover (the Region 1 Hitchcock films have a much more appealing presentation than that afforded the original Region 4 releases, whose presentation will presumably be continued in this second batch).

Summary

    The Birds might not be amongst the very best that Alfred Hitchcock gave us, but it is still a darn good film. Unfortunately, the transfer has its problems (whether source-related or not) and large screen owners might have significant problems with this effort. The extras package is pretty good though and overall this gains only a grudging recommendation, albeit one tempered by the lack of a widescreen presentation. I cannot help but feel that the film deserves a full restoration that might well produce a much more wholly satisfying transfer in all respects. We can but hope that Universal rethink this one in the future.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Wednesday, September 19, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Amy F
The DVD Bits - Daniel P (If you're really bored, you can read my bio...)

Comments (Add)
Very odd how R4 is pan and scan crap - REPLY POSTED
Mono Sound or ...? - Matthew
Why not widescreen? -

Overall | The Birds (1963) | Family Plot (1976) | Frenzy (1972) | Topaz (1969) | Torn Curtain (1966) | Marnie (1964) | Vertigo (1958)

Family Plot (1976)

Family Plot (1976)

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Released 15-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Plotting Family Plot (48:23)
Storyboards
Gallery-Art
Theatrical Trailer-(2) 1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Booklet
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1976
Running Time 115:08
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (92:23) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Karen Black
Bruce Dern
Barbara Harris
William Devane
Ed Lauter
Cathleen Nesbit
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music John Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
German
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Alfred Hitchcock made fifty three films during his directorial career and whilst not too many could name his first film, I am willing to bet that far more could name his last film. Family Plot is something of an anachronism as a film. For one thing, it demonstrates how much removed from the winds of change in Hollywood Alfred Hitchcock truly was. Remember that Family Plot was released the year before Star Wars: A New Hope and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and the year after Jaws. The era of the nice little suspense film was over and the big blockbuster was now ruling the house. Audiences tastes had changed and Family Plot was not the sort of film that modern film audiences were flocking to see. This is a very sixties film that unfortunately came a decade too late. You could say that if Alfred Hitchcock made fifty three films, perhaps it would have been wiser had he made only fifty two.

    However, nothing the maestro made was truly without merit and at least this last film has far more going for it than say the last, utterly lamentable effort of Stanley Kubrick, and there is no denying the fact that Family Plot to some extent tosses aside a whole bunch of Hitchcock staples: no fish out of water story here, no stunning blonde femme fatale here, no handsome leading man here. Equally however, other staples like a story that keeps you engrossed from start to finish are missing, and the result is such an atypical Alfred Hitchcock film that you would barely recognise it as a Hitchcock film.

    Family Plot is the story of two couples whose lives intersect but for a brief time, but whose impact upon each other in that brief time is quite damaging. In order we have Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris), a charlatan of a psychic medium who is conspiring to rip off a wealthy old woman, Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbit), out of at least some of her fortune. Her partner is George Lumley (Bruce Dern), a sometime cabbie and con man who aids Blanche in her little activities. Julia has a family secret that she wishes to rectify before her death, namely to restore to his rightful rank her nephew, the sole heir of the Rainbow fortune. It turns out that her nephew was spirited off in semi-scandalous circumstances shortly after his birth, and was raised by friends of the Rainbow family chauffeur and his whereabouts are unknown. Julia seeks Blanche's assistance, since she is such a strong medium, in locating her nephew in exchange for $10,000. Trouble is that there is no name, no address, no details whatsoever about the nephew. The other couple happens to be Arthur Adamson (William Devane) and his girlfriend Frances (Karen Black). He is a respectable jeweller but also happens to be the mastermind behind some kidnapping capers that are used to obtain some serious ransom payments - in the form of serious sized diamonds.

    Seen where this is heading yet? With no information at all, Blanche and George manage to come up with a name for the nephew - Edward Shoebridge - and follow the only lead they have, all the way to Joe Maloney (Ed Lauter) in Barlow's Creek, via a cemetery with little apparent joy for them. Turns out that Joe has a secret he has to keep and that raises George's hackles a tad, which would be a lot higher if George knew exactly who Joe went to visit. And as George and Blanche slowly close in on the name under which Edward Shoebridge now goes, so the paths of the two couples slowly come to a four way intersection.

    Like so many a Hitchcock film, the story is quite simple. Unlike so many a Hitchcock film however, the characterisations are not of the highest quality and the castings were not entirely convincing. It should be said though that pitching this as something of a comedic suspense story probably aided the whole film somewhat. Certainly the dialogue has what at the time would have been plenty of titillating double meanings, even though it is now so passé that most will find little of amusement here. With all due respect to the cast, this is pretty much B-grade fare, although the reason for that is well noted in the documentary - after the expense of Torn Curtain, Hitch was not apparently keen on spending big money on leading actors, so consciously went the B-grade route. As B-grade fare, Bruce Dern and Karen Black are decent enough without being spectacular. William Devane was perhaps the strong point of the cast, with a reasonable sort of menace amongst the almost larrikin aspect of the film - nicely balanced too by Barbara Harris, but the film just exudes a feeling that Hitch was perhaps not quite up for the task.

    Whilst the general quality of his metier is without doubt amongst the greatest collection of work ever committed to film, the very last contribution to that collection is not one of the high points. Indeed, amongst the general body of his work, Family Plot would be in the lower echelons to my mind. But nothing that Alfred Hitchcock did is without some sort of merit - it is just that there are plenty of better efforts from the man to collect before this one.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Thankfully, this particular single release from the Alfred Hitchcock Collection Volume 2 is presented in its proper aspect ratio of 1.85:1, as well as being 16x9 enhanced, but that is possibly the very best thing that you can say about the video transfer as a whole.

    The immediately noticeable problem with this transfer is grain. Plenty of grain. Indeed, the grain is such an issue here that it makes the overall transfer look a lot older than it actually is. I have seen films from the 1950s and 1960s that look miles better than this effort from the mid-1970s. As a result of the grain, the clarity of the transfer is very much diminished and the overall look is a little murky. Sharpness is not exactly terrific either, with something of a diffuse edge to the whole transfer. Detail is pretty decent within the context of the style of transfer, but shadow detail could have been significantly better than it is. Not at all brilliant, and not aided by a slightly dark transfer either. There also appears to be some issue with low level noise, although this again may be a residual of the grain problem. The fact that the Region 1 release sounds as if it is virtually identical in the video transfer department would suggest that the problem would seem to lie in the source material and not the mastering.

    The colour palette is decent enough, but there is a tendency to oversaturated colours - mostly the reds, oranges and yellows. At no times is it really distracting, but it is a tad annoying. This is not what you would call a vibrant transfer at all - despite the oversaturated tones, the whole transfer has a bit of a flat look, most noticeably during the indoor scenes. The exteriors are much better looking but still lacking in vibrancy. There did not appear to be any problems with colour bleed in the transfer.

    There did not appear to be many significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. There were however plenty of film artefacts in the transfer, with plenty of noticeable dirt marks to be seen.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 92:22. This occurs mid-scene and is not the best, as it is a bit too obvious. I would have thought that a couple of better places could have been found, notably around 93:34, that would have been feasible in the data department.

    There are a reasonable number of subtitle options on the DVD, and I sampled some of the English efforts. They are very good, missing very little in the way of essential stuff. Amongst the better efforts I have watched recently.

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

Audio

    There are two soundtracks on the DVD; an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and a German Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I stuck with the English soundtrack only.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is easy to understand. There are no significant audio sync problems.

    The original music score is from some bloke named John Williams. Fresh from the success of Jaws, this is hardly in the same calibre at all. Indeed, it seems that Mr Williams perhaps did not understand the film well enough when composing the score and it does show a little. Not the best he has ever done.

    There really is not much to say about the sound. The sound is not exactly brimming with space and certainly is not the sort of stuff I would expect from the mid-1970s. At least it is free of any serious distortions. Obviously there is nothing in the way of surround or bass channel use here at all.

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

Extras

    There is a decent collection of extras here, which at least tries to add something to the overall film experience.

Menus

    Nothing much to bother about, with just the main menu having some audio enhancement - although the rather familiar music becomes a tad grating after a while. Themed in common with most of the DVDs from the first collection.

Documentary - Plotting Family Plot (48:23)

    After the excellent effort afforded The Birds, this is a huge disappointment as it seems to fail to deliver on the guts of the film. Although it contains more behind the scenes stuff, owing to the more recent vintage of the film, there is definitely less illumination about the film itself. Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The technical quality is pretty average though, with obvious issues with moiré artefacting, aliasing, some pixelization in the background at times and some cross colouration issues.

Storyboards

    This is the sequence involving the car problems on the mountain, in all the infinite detail that Alfred Hitchcock used to do. Interesting enough, but because he so meticulously planned his films on storyboard, there are no real surprises here at all. Unfortunately, these too suffer somewhat with cross colouration.

Gallery - Art

    More like a photo gallery than an art gallery, since most of the 80 odd stills are photos, this is a not especially wonderful collection. There are a few repeats from the documentary, and the presentation too suffers from cross colouration issues. A bit of annotation might not have gone astray.

Theatrical Trailer (2:05)

    Presented in a Full Frame format, it is therefore not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. This is obviously a pan and scanned effort since the credits are truncated left and right. The technical quality is pretty shocking, with oodles of film artefacts, a very grainy image and a generally diffuse look. Apart from that, it is okay.

Theatrical Trailer (1:14)

    More like a teaser trailer than a theatrical trailer, it is presented in a Full Frame format, which is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. A much better looking effort overall, although still a tad diffuse. This is a genuine full frame effort, as the credits are not truncated and sit nicely mid-frame.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 release misses out on:

    The Region 1 release misses out on:

    Available reviews of the Region 1 release seem to indicate a very similar quality transfer in all respects (they mention the grain specifically, as well as the lack of definition). All things therefore being equal, there is no preference either way.

Summary

    Family Plot is perhaps the film that Alfred Hitchcock should not have made, and for a mid-1970s film it has to be said that it is terribly dated in most respects. I would really have to be doing something of a Pinocchio effort to be recommending this one. Not the most essential purchase from amongst the films of the maestro.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, September 28, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
The DVD Bits - Dean B
DVD Net - Amy F
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Jeff K

Comments (Add) NONE
Overall | The Birds (1963) | Family Plot (1976) | Frenzy (1972) | Topaz (1969) | Torn Curtain (1966) | Marnie (1964) | Vertigo (1958)

Frenzy (1972)

Frenzy (1972)

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Released 15-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Menu Audio
Featurette-The Story Of Frenzy (44:46)
Gallery-Art
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:55)
Booklet
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1972
Running Time 111:04
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (85:00) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Jon Finch
Alex McCowen
Barry Foster
Barbara Leigh-Hunt
Anna Massey
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Ron Goodwin


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
German
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    If Alfred Hitchcock had made only fifty two films, Frenzy would have been the last of them. Had this been his swan song, then it would have been a pretty good and fitting way of going out. Okay, this is not the Alfred Hitchcock of his prime, where something new in the way of film making was presented. What it is is the maestro firmly in retrospective mood, returning in many ways to his roots in England. This was evident not just in the return to England as a setting, and one that he would know very well since his father was a greengrocer in the east end of London, but also in the return to a very common theme in Alfred Hitchcock films - the ordinary man thrown into an extraordinary situation over which he has little control. Indeed, the whole feeling of the film has more in common with his earlier films than his more recent efforts of the 1960s. But that is not to say that Alfred Hitchcock did not push the envelope here just a tad, for Frenzy sees him attacking certain topics that he had hitherto not really approached - foremost amongst them being rape. The film also saw a deal more nudity than had been seen in his films before this one. Another notable point about the film is that this is a long way removed from his usual casting of femme fatales, for this is a very British film populated with utterly believable female characters in particular, that are as far removed from the likes of Grace Kelly or Tippi Hedren as you could just about get. That is not in any way demeaning to the female stars here, who are far closer to the attractive girl next door than the glossy pin-up girls favoured in Hollywood.

    Set in Covent Garden in London, itself an area that has changed substantially since the film was made, this is the story of one ex-Squadron Leader Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), but that is jumping ahead a tad. Amusingly set up by a crowd listening to a speech about the cleaning up of the pollution in the River Thames (incidentally this is where the traditional and famed cameo appearance is made), the city is in the grips of a serial killer known as the Neck Tie Killer. The killer's latest victim washes up on the river bank by the said throng, with the evidence of the method of murder obvious around her neck. Now we jump to a pub in Covent Garden where barman Blaney is helping himself to a drink. His boss Forsythe (Bernard Cribbins) catches him and sacks him on the spot. Cast out into the street, Blaney heads around to his mate Robert Rusk (Barry Foster) who offers him aid as well a a hot tip in a horse race, but Blaney has no money and misses out on the rewards of the hot tip at the good odds of 20-1, although he does get to meet Robert's dear old mum. Richard is not a happy chappie, and heads off to see his ex-wife, Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), at her place of business, for quite what we don't know - maybe solace, but certainly expecting something else to happen since everything comes in threes. After a marginally heated discussion that caught the ears of Brenda Blaney's secretary, they agree to have dinner at Brenda's club. Naturally whilst there, Richard makes further scenes that catch the attention of a waitress. So, now that we have in place all the pieces of the puzzle, all we have to do is put them together in the right order. Oh, did I mention that the next victim of the Neck Tie Killer is none other than Brenda, whilst Richard's current bird, Barbara "Babs" Milligan (Anna Massey), is also destined to be a victim...

    And that really is all you need to know about the story of the film, for that is all we need to make the fairly obvious deduction of who the Neck Tie Killer is, right? This is precisely the conclusion to which Chief Inspector Oxford (Alex McCowen) of New Scotland Yard jumps. But of course Alfred Hitchcock is not going to let us off that easy is he? No sirree, he is not, so he throws in a couple of little twists to keep us guessing, even right down to the final scene of the film where I can guarantee that most who have never seen the film will incorrectly guess who the final victim will be.

    It might not be classic Hitchcock, but this certainly has more connection with his classics than say Family Plot. For a start, this has a much less simplistic plot, for even though the basic framework is fairly simple, Hitch manages to infuse the simple with enough doubts to keep us guessing throughout the film. Just when you think you've got the killer pinned down, Hitch will make you take a long hard look at that decision. You begin to wonder whether you can pin it all down that easily. Well, you cannot, unless you have seen the film before of course. But beyond the story and the intricacies that Hitch infuses it with, there are the little things that add the spice. A nice little dose of comedy gets thrown into the mix here, most notably in the back of a truck carrying potatoes and in the conversations between the suffering Chief Inspector Oxford and his slightly wacky wife. There are also the harsh realities of psychopathic murderers to be dealt with and Hitch really does a superb job of getting the point across that it is very difficult to distinguish them in everyday life. Nobody gives the Neck Tie Killer a second glance until it is too late. Whilst it is never easy to handle something like rape in film, again Hitch handles the task with commendable judgment and with relative sensitivity - although some comments in the documentary are quite interesting in this regard.

    Hitch managed to put together what I would consider to be a typical British film cast - none of them are likely to be seen as screen idols but they give you quality performances that bring out the characters of the film in a very real way, and move the story along in a very believable manner. Essentially, you get quality performance over looks. Jon Finch does a good job as the poor sod out of his element as the noose slowly closes around him, although he does not come across quite as the ex-RAF Squadron Leader in the classic. Anna Massey also does a good job as his girl friend and fellow barperson. No classic, stunning beauty in the Grace Kelly mold, but nonetheless your typical attractive girl next door type that keeps the interest level up, especially in the pub. Alex McCowen is terrific as the suffering inspector, and his scenes as he ponders the outcome of the court case with his wife are perhaps the highlight of the film, offering a delightful British humour to the film. He perhaps is just outshone by Barry Foster however, who really does a great job of selling his character. But where the film really shines is in the cinematography - and Hitch manages some wonderful stuff indeed here. Little things like the shot of the street outside Barbara Blaney's office where there is absolutely nothing going on are brilliant. We all know what is going to happen so why show it? Hitch does not and the film is the better for it. Classic stuff. Classic too is the scene as we follow Babs into the apartment then have the silent pull back down the stairs, down the corridor and out into the street where the walk past of a grocer brings the sound back into the film. These sorts of things are really what make the difference here - Hitch knows that the audience does not have to see everything and the strength of the scenes is no less diminished because of it. Hitch was also not afraid to use the wonderful sounds of silence in the film, and these too are extremely effective.

    Certainly not amongst the real gems of Alfred Hitchcock's output, Frenzy is nonetheless still a good film. It shows Hitch harking back to his earlier days and producing a really solid film in every respect. Of his last creative period (say from The Birds through to his last film Family Plot), this is probably his best film since Marnie. It is well worth spending the time to acquaint yourself with this film - even though I doubt that it holds the same sorts of fascinations after a dozen viewings as it does during that first acquaintance.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    After the relative disappointment of Family Plot in the video transfer department, this older film is unexpectedly miles better in appearance. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    The big improvement here over Family Plot is that the transfer is much clearer and much sharper. Indeed, whilst not being super sharp, the transfer has a definitely more modern look in the area of the sharpness and definition. So much so in fact that there is not a single note about any problems in this regard in my review notes. A rarity in itself nowadays. Detail is actually very good and some of the scenes in Covent Garden have an almost documentary look to them, and you could almost be expecting to have some narration voice-over accompanying the images. Grain is not much of an issue here at all and in general clarity is quite excellent. Shadow detail is the only moderate issue in the transfer and this is about the only area where I would say the video is really showing its age. There did not appear to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    The colour is also surprisingly good too. Not that I was expecting, and certainly did not get, oodles of bright primary colours (if you knew London of the late 1960s and early 1970s well enough, you would know that it was not the brightest city on earth). What we do get is a very believable palette of quite vibrant earthier colours and tones, with just the odd bright colour relief here and there. The colour is so reminiscent of the London I knew in the 1960s that I have virtually no complaints whatsoever about what we have here. There are no issues with oversaturation in the transfer, and there did not seem to be any colour bleed problems either. If I was being very pedantic, I could perhaps have wished for a bit more depth to the blacks, but that would be about all I could complain about.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer either, with just a couple of odd instances of aliasing or shimmer in the transfer, such as the tie at 33:21 and the jacket at 35:00. None of these instances was anything more than minor. There were plenty of film artefacts in the transfer, and this is one area where the lack of any restoration work on the source material is obvious.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 85:00. In keeping with the general trend of the releases in the Alfred Hitchcock Collections, it is not a good one at all. It occurs mid-scene as Robert Rusk is walking away from the camera - he pauses for a bit too long and then the scene jumps to a profile-type shot.

    There are a reasonable number of subtitle options on the DVD, and I sampled some of the English efforts. They are possible the poorest I have sampled in the Alfred Hitchcock releases from Universal, with plenty of missing dialogue or incorrectly captioned stuff. Some of the missing or incorrect stuff is crucial as it slightly changes the tone of the dialogue. Not one of the better efforts seen recently.

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

Audio

    There are two soundtracks on the DVD; an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and a German Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I stuck with the English soundtrack only.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is easy to understand. There are no significant audio sync problems with the transfer.

    The original music score is from Ron Goodwin, and a rather delightful effort it is too. It has a distinctly British feel to it, which enormously aids the film in setting the right sort of mood.

    There really is not much to say about the sound. The sound is somewhat congested and really needs more space to allow the sound a little more bloom. The sound is also showing its age a little in that there is some slight distortion of the sound, most notably at 46:38. Obviously there is nothing in the way of surround or bass channel use here at all.

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

Extras

    There is a reasonable collection of extras here.

Menus

    Nothing much to bother about, with the obligatory audio enhancement in common with most of the DVDs from the collection.

Documentary - The Story Of Frenzy (44:46)

    Recapturing some of the form from The Birds, after the slightly less than stellar effort afforded Family Plot, this was an interesting look at the film. It would have been even more interesting if the technical quality was better. The recent interview material is quite grainy and rather poor looking, not aided by some low level noise issues either. There is some obvious aliasing in the transfer, as well as cross colouration and moiré artefacting issues too. If you see how the film extracts look here, you will have a greater appreciation for the quality of the main feature. Presented in a Full Frame format with the film excerpts in their proper ratio, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. What lifts this whole thing though is the content, which is rather interesting. Most notable amongst the content is the fact that Henry Mancini was originally engaged to do the score but was sacked for unspecified reasons (but presumably after turning in what was considered to be an inappropriate score). There is a brief sampling of the opening to the film with his scoring playing over it and it is a much different effort to that from Ron Goodwin - and it has to be said, far less appropriate in my view. Makes you wish that they had given us as much of the Mancini score as possible on an isolated or comparative music score.

Gallery - Art

    More like a photo gallery than an art gallery, since most of the 100 odd stills are photos, this is almost entirely rather mundane. The presentation suffers a bit from cross colouration issues. What lifts this out of the mire though are the photographs that have been unearthed of scenes that never made it into the final film. Now would that be something to see - the deleted footage!

Theatrical Trailer (2:55)

    Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. That is the good bit, for the technical quality is rather charitably describable as very ropey. Indistinct colours, diffuse images and plenty of evidence that it is nigh on thirty years old. In itself it is quite interesting in the usual Hitchcockian way.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 release misses out on:

    The Region 1 release misses out on:

    Available reviews of the Region 1 release seem to indicate a very similar quality transfer in all respects. All things therefore being equal, there is nothing to strongly force a preference in favour of one version over the other.

Summary

    Frenzy is one of the best of the late period Alfred Hitchcock films. Whilst a decided harkening back to his earlier British period films, it shows that even with his powers waning, Hitch could still produce a good film. A pity that he did not finish here though. The video transfer is better than I was expecting, whilst the audio transfer is on the whole serviceable enough. Well worth investigating this one, even if repeated viewings would likely diminish the impact.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Thursday, October 04, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
The DVD Bits - Mark W
DVD Net - Amy F

Comments (Add) NONE
Overall | The Birds (1963) | Family Plot (1976) | Frenzy (1972) | Topaz (1969) | Torn Curtain (1966) | Marnie (1964) | Vertigo (1958)

Topaz (1969)

Topaz (1969)

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Released 15-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-An Appreciation By Film Critic/Historian Leonard Maltin
Alternate Ending-(6:24)
Storyboards
Gallery-Photo
Theatrical Trailer-1.85:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (3:04)
Booklet
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1969
Running Time 136:27 (Case: 147)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (98:40) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Frederick Stafford
Dany Robin
John Vernon
Karin Dor
Michel Piccoli
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Maurice Jarre


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Screen, not known whether Pan & Scan or Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    One of my favourite authors of long standing is Leon Uris and over the years I have read a fair number of his novels, some many times over (notably Exodus). Rather unbelievably considering the number of novels I have read by him over the years, I am a little shamed-faced in admitting that I have never read Topaz. Now whether that is a good thing or not when approaching this film for review, I don't categorically know but I would suspect that based upon readings of Leon Uris' other novels, it was probably a good thing.

    Heavily based upon the Cold War and specifically the lead-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, we begin with the annual Communist display of military power in Moscow for purposes that really have no purpose. We then move to Copenhagen where a top Soviet official is seeking to defect to the United States. Despite the heavy presence of the obligatory KGB agents, the defection is managed out front of a department store through the aid of Michael Nordstrom (John Forsythe), from whence the Kusenov family is whisked away to a waiting DC-3 for transport to Wiesbaden and from there on a C-135 to Washington. But their new prize, safely ensconced in a safe house outside of Washington, is not eternally happy and initially does little to provide information to the Yanks. He does, however, provide some indication of a serious leak in the French Government through which top secret documents are passed to the Soviets. The code name for this little leak is Topaz. Of greater immediate importance, though, is some indication of the purpose of an agreement between the Soviets and Cubans as Soviet engineers start arriving in Cuba in force. That agreement suddenly becomes very important to the Americans, but there is only one copy of it and it is held by the Cuban official Rico Parra (John Vernon). Obviously it is unlikely that he would hand this over to the Americans, but he has a secretary who has a penchant for the greenback - but hates Americans. So Michael Nordstrom enlists the aid of his good friend Andre Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), who just so happens to be a French agent, err, cultural attaché.

    The involvement of a French agent is not likely to go down too well in Paris, but the French connection works pretty well. In fact too well, as Andre finds the contents of the agreement to be very worrisome - and heads off to Cuba to check things out himself. His wife Nicole (Dany Robin) is not that enamoured with this idea, as the diplomatic gossip chain has made it a tad too clear that Andre's visits are not so much to do with work but rather an attractive leader in the Cuban underground movement, Juanita de Cordoba (Karin Dor). But that underground movement can provide Andre with all the information that he needs. Andre leaves Cuba with information, but arrives in Washington to the proverbial manure hitting the fan, but before heading to Paris to face the result of the manure hitting the fan, he gets an audience with the Soviet defector to listen to the details he has provided to the Americans about the extensive leaks in the French Government. So Andre heads back to Paris not so much to face the music of his activities but to uncover the unknown head honcho of the Topaz ring - code name Columbine.

    Whilst heavily based on an historical event that has been the subject of many films and many books and basically has been done to death, the Cuban Missile Crisis is but a loose framework around which to base a not especially wonderful story of the espionage game. Too long and not enough suspense, this is about as obvious as you can get. A decent amount of pruning was made to the film after rather disastrous preview screenings, but these have in general been restored to the film for this DVD release. Compounding the rather mundane story are a whole bunch of relatively unknown actors - at least as far as American audiences would be concerned. About the only "known" name here would be John Forsythe, but that would be a stretch to call him serious drawing power. The rest?

    The lack of serious acting ability is probably what drags this film down somewhat. Frederick Stafford is reasonable enough but is anything but truly convincing when pushed with genuine depth of emotion. Mind you, you could pretty much say the same thing about the entire cast and the more I think about it, the less there is of any real conviction here. Add into the mix a somewhat staid piece of directing from the maestro, and a film that once again relied a tad too much on the old processed shots - pretty darn obvious too in the car scenes from the airport in Paris. About the only thing to lift the film itself out of the ordinary is the use of actual newsreel style footage of Moscow and Cuba.

    So basically as we progress further through the films that make up the Hitchcock Collection Volume 2, we are getting thinner in terms of quality and thinner in terms of desirability. To be blunt, this is not a really desirable title and definitely falls into the category of take it or leave it.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The original theatrical presentation of this film was in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, as exemplified by the excerpts of film seen in the extra package and as exemplified by the transfer afforded the Region 1 release. Read this somewhere before? Yes you have and I shall continue on with repeating myself for this is virtually identical in transfer to Marnie. Universal have again for some reason seen fit not to bless the Region 4 release with the correct aspect ratio and have given us a 1.33:1 aspect ratio transfer. Once again the all-important question is whether this is a pan and scan abomination or not. Regrettably, once again none of the readily accessible sites I checked out could give me any definitive answer in this regard, so I have again had to revert to gut instinct by checking out the excerpts in the extras package and comparing them to the feature transfer. That less than scientific checking would seem to suggest that the format is in fact Full Frame, since there appears to be more top and bottom information than is contained in the film excerpts. However, if someone could give a definitive answer, please feel free to let us know.

    Since the lack of widescreen presentation is in common with the release of The Birds and Marnie, and presumably with the soon-to-be-reviewed Torn Curtain, there is no surprise in that the transfer holds other common factors with those releases. Again grain is quite an issue, although on this occasion some of it is unavoidable if the non-movie footage is from newsreel type sources. What makes the grain a little too obvious is the segments that are virtually crystal clear, as well as being superbly sharp (check out the car scene at around the 16:00 mark). However, the overall extent of the grain is better than in Marnie or The Birds. In general, this is an improved transfer as far as definition is concerned and whilst not really what you would call sharp, it is by no means in the same sort of diffuse category seen in Marnie. Detail is generally good, which highlights the use of processed shots quite obviously and thus is slightly distracting to the DVD presentation. Shadow detail is good. There did not appear to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    The transfer is quite reasonable as far as the colours go, although the blend of genuine movie with news reel type footage is not exactly the best: there are simply too many differences in colour style to make it seamless. The colours are not what you would call vibrant and in some instances are a tad prone to very mild oversaturation, most notably the red dress worn by Juanita. I would have preferred a little more depth to the blacks here, but perhaps the slightly drab look of certain scenes could not have sustained this. The colour is believable enough. There did not appear to be any colour bleed problems in the transfer.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There were plenty of film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, mainly aliasing and assorted shimmer problems in the usual suspects: fences, cars, window frames, furniture, doorsteps. Regrettably, these on occasions do get to be too much to be able to readily ignore. There were a deal of film artefacts in the transfer but in general these were not that distracting to the film.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 98:40. It comes right at the end of a scene and is not at all disruptive to the flow of the film.

    There is unusually only the single subtitle option on the DVD. The English subtitles are good, but do miss a little in the dialogue.

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

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and easy to understand. There are no significant audio sync problems in the transfer.

    The original music score comes from Maurice Jarre. In all honesty I cannot say it did much for me other than the fact that I did notice the sizeable periods of silence in the film. Does that mean the score was good or bad?

    There again is not much to say about the sound. It could have been remastered to better effect, and the continuing use of mono sound in such comparatively recent films always puzzles me. Hitch must have had his reasons, but this is one film where the lack of stereo sound is noticed, as the overall soundscape is fairly flat sounding. At least the sound is not congested and is free of any real distortions.

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

Extras

    This is probably one of the poorer efforts in the way of extras yet seen on one of these releases from the Hitchcock Collection.

Menus

    You know exactly what this one is going to be like as you have seen the same thing about ten times now.

Documentary - An Appreciation By Leonard Maltin (29:24)

    This is a big disappointment - not only does the length get really shortened compared to the other efforts we have seen, but Leonard Maltin is not especially interesting in my view. Oh he knows a bit about films but I just find his clichéd approach to be lacking in enthusiasm and genuineness. Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The technical quality is generally good, although suffering somewhat from aliasing and minor cross colouration. Probably the least essential effort yet seen in the two volumes of the Hitchcock Collection.

Alternate Endings (6:24)

    The film was unmercilessly savaged at preview screenings, so much so that Alfred Hitchcock had to make significant changes to the film. One of the most panned aspects of the film was the frankly appalling ending. The use of the duel as a means of ending the film was possibly the most preposterous thing ever imagined, and quite what Alfred Hitchcock was thinking was anybody's guess. So he shot another ending, the one that is in the DVD version of the film. But even this was apparently deemed unsatisfactory and a third ending was proposed but never actually shot. However, this ending was knocked up from some judicious use of footage from the film and some added sounds. The result was the ending that was used in the theatrical release of the film. So here you get to see all three endings and can compare the three. The big loser is the duel scene, which even today remains an appalling effort. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, they are not 16x9 enhanced and come with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The technical quality is decent enough.

Storyboards

    Talk about a waste of time. This looks at the scene of the Mendozas spying at Variel, and alternates between stills from the film and the storyboards done by Hitch. Unimaginative in its presentation, it adds very little if anything to the understanding of the film, since Hitch was famed for storyboarding a film to death prior to the actual shoot. There are no real surprises here in general, and frankly it is not worth watching. It suffers from some noticeable cross colouration problems.

Gallery - Photos

    Comprised of 37 publicity shots and some poster stills, this is a less than spectacular collection of photos - and one that suffers somewhat from cross colouration issues.

Theatrical Trailer (3:04)

    Topaz did not even warrant one of those droll Alfred Hitchcock efforts, and this is a more conventional style trailer than usual for a Hitch film. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The technical quality is nothing much to jump up and down about and there are plenty of film artefacts to put up with too.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 release misses out on:

    The Region 1 release misses out on:

    You can pretty well guess that Region 1 is the preferred version of the DVD.

Summary

    Topaz is an avoidable late film from Alfred Hitchcock in just about everyway. Were it from any other director, it would probably be panned as B-grade mediocrity, but since Hitch could never descend to that level, it gets called a good film. Good is just a euphemism for an embarrassing Alfred Hitchcock film. There is nothing in any area here that would entice me to recommend the DVD to any but strong devotees of the maestro.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Tuesday, October 09, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
The DVD Bits - Mark W
DVD Net - Amy F

Comments (Add) NONE
Overall | The Birds (1963) | Family Plot (1976) | Frenzy (1972) | Topaz (1969) | Torn Curtain (1966) | Marnie (1964) | Vertigo (1958)

Torn Curtain (1966)

Torn Curtain (1966)

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Released 15-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Torn Curtain Rising (32:25)
Featurette-Music by Bernard Herrmann (14:37)
Gallery-Art
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:57)
Booklet
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1966
Running Time 122:29
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (84:22) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Paul Newman
Julie Andrews
Lila Kedrova
Hansjoerg Felmy
Tamara Toumanova
Ludwig Donath
Wolfgang Kieling
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music John Addison


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Screen, not known whether Pan & Scan or Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    And the review pile finally brings to the top the final new release from the Hitchcock Collection Volume 2. That final release is of course one of Alfred Hitchcock's more "difficult" films. Difficult in that this was by all accounts not an easy film to make, not the least because of the problems with the casting. Indeed, the apparent problems with the leads were to lead to this being the last of the maestro's films to star anyone from what is nowadays called the A-list. Mind you, it would not be just problems with the leads that created issues here. Once again there were problems with the music, with Bernard Herrmann's scoring efforts being given the old heave-ho and John Addison brought in to provide something more acceptable to Alfred Hitchcock. Once again there were some problems with the screenplay. Once again, in the light of thirty odd years of film making since the mid-1960s, we might well conclude why did Alfred Hitchcock really bother? It is not like he needed the money, nor the addition of poorer films onto his extremely impressive curriculum vitae.

    Two films in a row set in the period of the Cold War, the later Topaz and Torn Curtain. Not a good place to start with the rather disappointing Topaz still very fresh in the memory. This effort starts on a cruise ship in the fjords of Norway, and more specifically a gathering of physicists for an international symposium. Unfortunately, the heating on the ship has broken down and it is freezing - which means that we have the obvious introduction of Professor Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) and his assistant Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews). We get to discover that these two are slightly more than co-workers and the mysteries of their relationship are slightly revealed over the course of Act One. We also get to discover that Michael headed a top secret project in the United States that was cancelled by the government and he is not exactly thrilled about it. But why does he deny that radiogram is for him? The action switches to Copenhagen and this is clearly a relationship not exactly based on trust and honesty, and increasingly Sarah becomes frustrated with Michael's secrecy and apparent change of mood. And exactly why is he buying first edition books from bookstores in Copenhagen? And why is he buying tickets from the travel desk at their hotel? And could he not have come up with a better story than the one that he gives Sarah - the one she does not believe, and the one that she sees as the final straw and decides to head back home over?

    So Act One is over and we get to the real guts of the film. That is of course that Michael is not headed to Stockholm as he says, but rather is headed to East Berlin - without Sarah. Of course, that never deterred a woman so she decides to tag along without Michael's knowledge. He is not real happy when he finds out, which is on the plane. The arrival in East Berlin is obviously of import for the government of the German Democratic Republic, since he is even bigger news than a returning ballerina (Tamara Toumanova). Indeed, the announcement of his defection is rather astonishing news, especially to Sarah, and this is emphasised by the presence of high official Heinrich Gerhard (Hansjoerg Felmy). But exactly why has Michael defected? Could he really be that p***** off over the cancellation of a project that by all accounts failed to achieve its aims? And exactly why is he spending his first full day in East Germany visiting a farm and trying to lose his minder, Hermann Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling). And even more importantly - why is he so desperate to work with Gustav Lindt (Ludwig Donath)?

    As you might have gathered, this story is very heavily filled with lots of "why the heck is he doing that?". Unfortunately, they only work once or twice and sooner or later it sinks in exactly where this story is going - the only suspense is really to see if everything works out (and given that it just about always does in an Alfred Hitchcock film, that is no great suspense). In truth, this film really winds up very quickly after taking for ever to get where it needed to get to. Again, this is not that unusual for an Alfred Hitchcock film it seems. But don't get the idea that this is a lousy story - it might not be terrific but it is fairly reasonable and does keep the interest up far more than say Topaz or Family Plot. However, it has to be said that it would have been a lot more intriguing with a slightly better performance from its female lead. This is not really the forte of Julie Andrews and she really lacks a fair amount of believability here and is a weak spot in the film. There is also a lack of real chemistry with Paul Newman, which makes the entire relationship lack in real depth. Some of the other characters are just a little too clichéd and this also does something to drag the film down a little.

    There is also the continuing use of processed shots that Alfred Hitchcock was so enamoured with - but plenty of segments really decrease believability because of the obvious false backgrounds. You might be able to ignore this on the old Very Hazy System but on DVD this becomes completely unignorable.

    So as we come to the end of this voyage through the new release films from the Hitchcock Collection Volume 2, the real quality has long been left behind. This effort really falls into the category of ordinary with a capital O. This is really only for serious Alfred Hitchcock fans only.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The original theatrical presentation of this film was in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, as seen in the excerpts of film seen in the extra package. Yes, I know that this sounds like a bunch of earlier reviews, but since the problem is the same, obviously the description sounds the same. There obviously is some reason as to why so many releases have not been given widescreen releases, especially since the Region 1 releases have, but this really is so very disappointing, and I am still no closer to knowing whether this is a pan and scan abomination or not. Gut feeling based upon checking out the excerpts in the extras package and comparing them to the feature transfer suggests Full Frame but that is definitely unconfirmed.

    Like the previous three 1.33:1 efforts reviewed, grain is heck of an issue here. At its best this is mildly grainy, but at its worst this borders on being really bad and visually difficult to watch. The grain makes this a less than clear transfer in all respects. Definition is not terrific either and there would seem to be some evidence of edge enhancement to attempt to lift the transfer. At times the transfer is really soft, especially when Julie Andrews is on screen - far more so than afforded the appearances of say Grace Kelly in Rear Window. Shadow detail is fairly good, but then again there was little filming here that really brought this issue into play. There appeared to be some instances of low level noise in the transfer.

    The transfer is reasonable in terms of colour - not in any way vibrant and with a rather muted palette that highlights the cliché of the dour nature of life behind the Iron Curtain. How accurate this is I cannot attest to, but it does mean that whenever a bright colour is encountered in the transfer it tends to have some problem with over saturation. Nothing really grotesque but just enough to make the issue noticeable. This is especially so with the dressing gown at 34:45. There could perhaps have been a little more depth to the blacks again, but nothing that bothersome. There is some problem with marginal bleed in the transfer, notably in facial skin tones such as at 40:58.

    There seems to be the odd problem with some pixelization in the transfer such as at 2:10, which only adds to the problems with grain and noise. Because of the relative lack of sharpness in the transfer, there is not much of a problem with noticeable film-to-video artefacts. There are however some obvious issues with film artefacts that do detract just a bit from the film.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 84:22. This is an excellent change as it occurs during an extended shot on a closed door, just before the end of a scene.

    There are six subtitle options on the DVD, and the English subtitles are good, missing a little bit too much in the dialogue for my taste, but nothing that is really essential.

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

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and easy to understand. There are no significant audio sync problems in the transfer. It should be noted though that the scene in the hotel room in East Berlin around the 32:00 mark features some fairly ropey ADR work that sounds decidedly unnatural.

    The original music score comes from John Addison, whose work replaced that of Bernard Herrmann. We get a chance to hear some of Bernard Herrmann's music in the extras package and an interesting enough difference it is. I cannot say that either score inspires me to rapturous delight, but with Alfred Hitchcock being such a brilliant user of the sounds of silence there is probably nothing that much required of the score anyway.

    There again is not much to say about the sound. It could have been remastered to better effect, with a bit more air in the sound, and the continuing use of mono sound in such comparatively recent films continues to puzzle. This one obviously is more of a dialogue-based film though, so the lack of stereo effect is not really noticed that much.

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

Extras

    I think I might have worked something out here - the poorer the film, the shorter the documentary included in the slightly less than stellar extras package. Another of the poorer efforts in the extras department on one of these releases from the Hitchcock Collection.

Menus

    The same as we have seen plenty of times by now.

Documentary - Torn Curtain Rising (32:25)

    Another big disappointment - shorter length again and presented totally in a narrative fashion with no interviews with cast or crew. Not exactly inspiring after some of the terrific efforts seen in the two collections. Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Technically it is quite good, but suffers somewhat from aliasing that at times gets a tad too obvious.

Featurette - Music By Bernard Herrmann (14:37)

    Wherein we get the chance to hear some of the music score composed by Bernard Herrmann for the film before he was sacked by his long term collaborator Alfred Hitchcock. Whilst it is a pity that the opportunity was not taken to play each sequence straight after the same segment using the John Addison score, to make comparison easier, this is a reasonably interesting presentation. Obviously the music plays over the relevant scenes from the film, which are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, not 16x9 enhanced. The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0.

Gallery - Art

    Comprising 133 publicity shots, behind the scenes photographs and some poster stills, this is not really an art gallery but rather a photo gallery. Once again there are some significant cross colouration issues here.

Theatrical Trailer (2:57)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with rather hissy Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The technical quality is fairly wishy washy, of reasonably poorish quality and blessed with some colour bleed issues in the red titles. Nothing especially great about the trailer either.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 release misses out on:

    The Region 1 release misses out on:

    Once again we have a fairly clear preference in favour of the Region 1 DVD.

Summary

    Torn Curtain is a disappointing note upon which to finish this voyage through the collection of films making up the two volumes of the Hitchcock Collection. Another disappointing transfer in many ways, and an extras package that is no better than that.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Thursday, October 11, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
The DVD Bits - Daniel P (If you're really bored, you can read my bio...)
DVD Net - Amy F

Comments (Add) NONE
Overall | The Birds (1963) | Family Plot (1976) | Frenzy (1972) | Topaz (1969) | Torn Curtain (1966) | Marnie (1964) | Vertigo (1958)

Marnie (1964)

Marnie (1964)

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Released 15-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-The Trouble With Marnie (58:26)
Gallery-Photo-(9:01)
Theatrical Trailer-1.85:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (4:45)
Booklet
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1964
Running Time 125:01
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (105:21) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Tippi Hedren
Sean Connery
Diane Baker
Martin Gabel
Louise Latham
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Bernard Herrmann


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Screen, not known whether Pan & Scan or Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    And so we get to what is arguably the last of the great films from Alfred Hitchcock's last purple patch of film making. Preceded by Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho and The Birds, it is somewhat inevitable that comparisons to the stature of those films will be drawn. And to be honest, it is certainly not up to the calibre of the first three from that list, yet the film has more connection to these true gems than it does to the output of Alfred Hitchcock that came after it.

    Another relatively simple story notwithstanding, the maestro certainly delivers a film with a bit of bite. Marnie (Tippi Hedren) is first met as she is walking down a station platform readying herself for a train journey away from her most recent job. Marnie Edgar is no ordinary woman, and her most recent job was apparently managing to rob her employer Sidney Strutt (Martin Gabel) of something in the order of $10,000. And it comes to pass that he is not the only recent recipient of her vocational skills! But this most recent job is slowly going to bring a noose around her.

    Not that Marnie necessarily does these jobs for herself, for she has a slightly invalid mother Bernice (Louise Latham) who lives in Baltimore and to whom she sends some of the money to help her keep on her feet. However, Marnie's visits home are rare enough it seems, and not the least of the reason is the rather cold way in which she is treated by her mother, as if her mother finds her repugnant in some manner... And exactly why the colour red holds such a distinct horror for Marnie is something that she would like to know.

    Marnie soon is in need of a new job and so Mary Taylor finds herself in the offices of Rutland & Co. in Philadelphia seeking a job in the payroll department. Whilst awaiting an interview, she sees someone that she saw at her previous employer - Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), boss of Rutland & Co. and client of Sidney Strutt. Unbeknownst to Mary/Marnie, Mark recognises her as the former employee of his accountant and thus the person he knows is responsible for heisting the ten grand. Intrigued, he insists that the general manager hire her on the spot. And thus begins Marnie's latest job, one that she hopes will net a healthy profit from that rather large safe in the manager's office - a safe to which said manager cannot remember the combination and must continually refer to the cheat sheet kept in the locked drawer of her colleague Susan Clabon's (Mariette Hartley) desk. But things don't quite go to plan as Mark Rutland finds himself really attracted to Marnie despite his knowledge of her history - a history that he is determined to discover more about. Marnie might get the money but she also has to contend with Mark, former employers who keep on cropping up, Mark's slightly jealous sister-in-law Lil Mainwaring (Diane Baker) and the obvious problem with the colour red and something that Marnie cannot remember, even though it means she cannot stand being touched by men.

    Which is a slight problem when Mark has obvious desires for her.

    There is nothing really convoluted about the plot other than the fact that Marnie does not really know how much Mark knows about her and Mark is not entirely sure he has the full story either. Each is determined to rectify that situation to their own ends - which may not necessarily be the same, at least initially. But it is not so much what the story says but the way it is told - and Alfred Hitchcock tells this one marvellously. This is a constant collection of two steps forward then one step sideways as we think we know where this is going, then have that road blocked by a dead end sign. It is simple but it is elegant and no one does it the way Alfred Hitchcock does it! And he basically does it with four characters, of which one is not entirely necessary to the plot but is to the story, if you know what I mean. Since it hangs so heavily on these four characters, their performances are of the greatest import to the film. This is perhaps where the film does indeed fall down just a tad, but not by much. He might still be one of the sexiest men on the planet according to various women's magazine polls, but Sean Connery needs more than sex appeal to pull this role off. I am not entirely convinced that he does, but it is a pretty good fist at it anyway. As the obligatory blonde female lead is the returning Tippi Hedren in her second film for Hitch. Again whilst she makes a fair fist of the role, I am not entirely convinced that her acting abilities did the role the ultimate justice that it needed. I just don't get convinced of her vulnerability at times. Better was the performance of Louise Latham as Marnie's mother with a secret, and she is perhaps the most convincing here.

    To some extent shunned by the public upon initial release, Marnie is a film that has grown somewhat in stature since and represents a fine entry in the oeuvre of Alfred Hitchcock. Unfortunately, like the film that immediately preceded it, the DVD does not do the film the justice that it deserves.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The original theatrical presentation of this film was in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, as exemplified by the excerpts of film seen in the extra package and as exemplified by the transfer afforded the Region 1 release. Unfortunately, Universal have once again seen fit not to bless the Region 4 release with this aspect ratio and have given us instead a transfer in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Now the all-important question is whether this is a pan and scan abomination or not. Regrettably, none of the readily accessible sites I checked out could give me any definitive answer in this regard, so I have to revert to gut instinct by checking out the excerpts in the extras package and comparing them to the feature transfer. That less than scientific checking would seem to suggest that the format is in fact Full Frame, since there appears to be more top and bottom information than is contained in the film excerpts. However, if someone could give a definitive answer, please feel free to let us know.

    Either way, it is still disappointing that we have been deemed unworthy of a transfer in the proper theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 for another release in Volume 2 of the Hitchcock Collection.

    Since the lack of widescreen presentation is in common with the release of The Birds, I suppose I should not be surprised that the transfer holds other common factors with that release. Foremost amongst these is the somewhat grainy transfer that we get here: whilst sometimes quite moderate, there are unfortunately some sections which are heavily blessed with the problem and this detracts from the overall transfer enormously. Now the dumb thing is that the film excerpts in the extras seem to be far less afflicted with the problem, which makes me wonder whether the problem is the result of poor mastering. Adding to the image problem created by the grain is the one created by the somewhat diffuse image that is presented here. Whilst some sections are quite sharp, there are others with some obvious problems with a soft image and when you pause the playback at these points you really get to see how indistinct the image is. Detail is adequate enough although this serves to highlight some of the problems with the lack of using location shooting: the backdrop to the house in Baltimore is so obviously a painted effort it is not funny. Shadow detail is adequate enough, but really the film needed to have more detail here to really make it completely watchable. Obviously we are not talking about a really clear transfer here and there are indications of some low level noise issues in the transfer.

    The colour palette is another fairly typical example of early Technicolor transfers, with a slight tendency towards the oversaturated end of the spectrum without actually getting oversaturated. Once again there is a lack of consistency here. It is not a really vibrant transfer and the lack of full restoration is quite evident. The overall palette is quite believable enough though. There did not appear to be any significant oversaturation issues in the transfer. There were however some issues with colour bleed, most notably facial skin tones against light backgrounds (such as at 99:25).

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There were some apparent film-to-video artefacts in the transfer; nothing really grotesque but just enough consistency to make the problem a tad noticeable. There were a fair few film artefacts in the transfer and this is one area which highlights the lack of a full restoration of the film, even though they were not really disruptive to the film itself.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 105:21. This is an excellent layer change as it occurs during a fade-to-black scene change.

    There are a reasonable number of subtitle options on the DVD. The English subtitles are very good, with very little missing in the way of dialogue, and certainly nothing in the way of essential stuff.

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

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is easy to understand. There are no significant audio sync problems in the transfer.

    The original music score is more work from Hitch's favourite composer, Bernard Herrmann - although it would prove to be their last successful collaboration together. It is a pretty good score but really does not help push the film as perhaps it should. As far as his work with Hitch goes, this is perhaps one of the weaker efforts, despite it being pretty good overall.

    There really is not much to say about the sound. Whilst obviously it could have been remastered to better effect, I am guessing that this is very much the original soundtrack. The sound is just a little congested and has no space to it at all - very much typifying an unremastered mono sound in my view. Obviously the action is centre channel stuff and the surround channels and the bass channel are pretty much superfluous here. Thankfully there are no obvious distortions in the soundtrack.

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

Extras

    There is a rather nice collection of extras here in quality if not in quantity, which adds quite significantly to the film experience.

Menus

    Nothing much to bother about, with just the main menu having some audio enhancement - with the usual, rather familiar music common to all the other new release DVDs in the collections. The theming is also in common with the new release DVDs from the collections.

Documentary - The Trouble With Marnie (58:26)

    And there were plenty of troubles with Marnie. Originally conceived as the follow up to Psycho, with Grace Kelly in the lead, things slowly unwound in just about every way before it finally got made. Very similar to the other efforts in the collection, the contributions by all the main actors apart from Sean Connery is the big plus. There is a lot of background information about the film and especially the gestation of the screenplay, with some notable disagreements it seems over the rape scene (if you really want to call it that). Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The technical quality is generally good, although suffering somewhat from aliasing and minor cross colouration, as well as some Gibb Effect. The content is interesting though, making this essential viewing.

Gallery - Photos

    Comprising some 135 plus publicity shots, stills from the film, behind the scenes photos and some poster stills, this is a decent if not especially extraordinary collection of photos.

Theatrical Trailer (4:45)

    Another one of those different, extended promotional efforts in which Alfred Hitchcock seemed to excel. Done in his usual droll fashion, this is wonderful stuff. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Nothing much awry here and in some ways highlights the comparative lack of quality in the video transfer as the film excerpts included in the trailer are of much better quality than the feature!

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 release misses out on:

    The Region 1 release misses out on:

    You can pretty well guess that Region 1 is the preferred version of the DVD.

Summary

    Marnie is not amongst the very best that Alfred Hitchcock directed, but it is a good film that holds more connection with the films that preceded it rather than the films that succeeded it. Once again though, the transfer has its problems (whether source related or not) and large screen owners might again have significant problems with this effort. The extras package is pretty good though and overall this gains a qualified recommendation. Once again we can but hope that Universal will see fit to rethink this for a future re-release.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, October 08, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
The DVD Bits - Mark W
DVD Net - Amy F

Comments (Add) NONE
Overall | The Birds (1963) | Family Plot (1976) | Frenzy (1972) | Topaz (1969) | Torn Curtain (1966) | Marnie (1964) | Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo (1958)

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Released 2-May-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Featurette-Making Of-Obsessed with Vertigo (29:20)
Audio Commentary-H Coleman (Ass Prod), R Harris (Rest), J Katz (Rest), et al
Production Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer-2 - 1.85:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Alternate Ending
Gallery-The Vertigo Archives
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1958
Running Time 124:15
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (65:44) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring James Stewart
Kim Novak
Barbara Bel Geddes
Tom Helmore
Henry Jones
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $36.95 Music Bernard Herrmann


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Portuguese
Danish
Finnish
Czech
Swedish
Norwegian
German
Dutch
Polish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Trivia buffs will probably know that From Among The Dead was the original title for the film that we now know as Vertigo. It raises the interesting question as to whether the film would have been quite so famous had it kept its original name. For mention of the name Vertigo certainly provokes inevitable images, none possibly more famous than those vertigo sequences. And quite what is that Paramount logo doing there you may well ask? Well, I certainly do not wish to delve into the complexities of the Hollywood studio system here, but yes indeed, this film was originally a Paramount release and since they are one of the two remaining major holdouts against Region 4 DVDs, I thought I might use the logo without fear of confusion.

    As we look back over the history of films during the Twentieth Century, the impact of Alfred Hitchcock is unlikely to be overlooked. Indeed, most Top 100 type lists seem to include a decent selection of his films and I suppose inevitably these boil down to a selection of four or so great films. My most recent look at the Internet Movie Database Top 250 reveals no less than four of Hitchcock's films in their top 50 films - Rear Window, Psycho, North By Northwest and Vertigo. However, there are plenty of other candidates, including Rebecca, The Birds, Strangers On A Train, The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps amongst several other great films, that could be included. If you have never really understood why there is a mystique about Alfred Hitchcock's work, then Vertigo is perhaps the film to turn to for an explanation. Whilst many directors have tried the suspense genre, many have failed because of one simple fact - the twist was about as obvious as an elephant's trunk: there is nothing quite so certain to sink a suspense film than a twist that was obvious from about five minutes into the film. Now take a look at this film, and the major twist comes so far out of left field that you might be excused for thinking that two different films got thrown together in the editing room. And that is not the end of it, by a long shot since this is after all an Alfred Hitchcock film! This film is the one amongst all of his films that really demonstrates Alfred Hitchcock's complete mastery of a genre. All the more reason then that his failure to win an Oscar for Best Director has to be considered one of the most glaring examples of ineptitude from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

    The problem of trying to provide a synopsis of an Alfred Hitchcock film is to do so without giving away the twist. So this synopsis is at best going to be brief and pretty inadequate, but you really need to see this film anyway. John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart) is a detective with the San Francisco Police Department, who during rooftop chase suffers a bout of acrophobia that results in the death of a police officer trying to save him. Retiring from the force rather than suffer behind a desk, he finds himself with with little to do apart from spend time in the company of a former flame in Marjorie "Midge" Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes). So when a former college friend in Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) makes an offer of a job, there is not too much to prevent Scottie from taking it, despite the unusual nature of the job. Gavin is just a little afraid that his rather gorgeous wife Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) is going a tad astray, but not the usual way. He is disturbed by the way his wife disappears for hours on end and is unable to explain where she has been, leading him to believe that she may be developing some sort of psychological disorder. Although Scottie finds the request a little unbelievable, since it lacks any real substance, he nonetheless agrees to follow Madeleine. What follows is a rather nicely crafted leisurely stroll along a story line that leads to a series of rather abrupt and unexpected twists, and nothing really ends up being as it seemed. Suffice it to say, however, that Scottie is unable to resist the obvious physical charms of Madeleine and that forms the basis of much of the twisting and turning in the film.

    This is an absolute classic of a film, seen almost for the first time in many ways in this magnificent restoration job. The quality of acting is brilliant, with James Stewart leading the way as only he seemed to be able to do. Perhaps he did not attain the accolades he deserved during his working life, but one only has to look at his filmography to see the number of true classics listed there. But even he is upstaged here by the stunning Kim Novak, who plays a dual role in the film and excels; the distinctiveness of her performances as the almost split personality in Madeleine, and then as Judy is a treat rarely seen on screen and certainly to my recollection very rarely done as well as here. Add to the mix the wonderful Barbara Bel Geddes and the performances just exude class throughout the film. Naturally enough there are no qualms about the quality of the direction here and you could make very serious claims for this being Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece.

    As much as it pains me to admit it, this is actually the first time that I have ever seen this film in its entirety. I have truly been missing something quite special. Whilst you can argue all you like about which is the best Hitchcock film, one thing is undeniable - this one demands a place in every true film buff's collection. And it certainly does have one of the more dramatic opening scenes in film history. Mind you the film also includes a couple of glaring bloopers, with two scenes where the car is shown as driving quite distinctly on the left hand side of the road! Maybe this was Hitch's English origins coming to the fore.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Interestingly this was released in the same year as the last disc I reviewed, namely The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. It makes a most interesting comparison indeed. It should be noted that this is the restored version of the film that took two years to prepare, the restoration being handled by a team headed by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz. If you recall, Robert A. Harris was the person responsible for the magnificent restoration of My Fair Lady and the eagerly awaited Lawrence of Arabia. By all accounts Vertigo had been poorly done by and the quality of the film stock was very poor indeed. The restoration has fixed nearly all of the resultant problems and the result is a film that probably looks as good as it did on its initial premiere - and maybe even better. However, its transfer onto DVD is a tad problematic.

    The video transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

    Part of the problem here is that the first half of the film, prior to the layer change, seems to be noticeably better transferred than the second half of the film. The bit rate of the transfer up to the layer change seems to be consistently in the lower to mid 9.0Mb/s range, whereas for the second half of the film it barely gets above the 8.0Mb/s range and often is much lower. This is probably indicative of why the second half of the film seems a lot grainier in comparison to the first. The transfer is in general reasonably sharp and very well defined during the first half of the film, but this drops off noticeably in the second half and the last ten minutes of the film are very poor in comparison with an extremely diffuse image that lacks any sort of real definition. How much of this is due to poor compression and how much is due to problems in the source material that could not be rectified by the restoration I do not know. However, if the film was in as poor a condition as indicated by various sources, then even this is far better than we have seen before. The other problem though is the grain, and whilst it was never made the transfer unwatchable, it is somewhat worse than I was perhaps expecting here. The result is that what should have been in general a very nice and clear transfer overall ended up being not so clear in parts. Obviously the restoration could do little about the inherent shadow detail of the film and this in general demonstrates the age of the film, as at times there is something of a lack of good shadow detail. There was also a small patch of rather darkly transferred film, which suddenly and abruptly lightens at about 35:11 as if someone had just turned the lights on in the studio!

    One of the much acclaimed improvements of the restoration is that of the colours, which have been quite wonderfully restored. Quite a number of scenes show a magnificent richness of tone and colour that would rival many a more modern film. There was obviously a lot of work involved in restoring this vibrancy in the colours, even in the grays and darker colours. Whilst I would hesitate to call it a natural looking film, it is a lot closer to being so than previously judging by the before and after shots included in the featurette. Even the "false colour" sequences are handled quite wonderfully and do not descend into being unwatchable: it would be fair to say however that some of these sequences are just on the wrong side of being oversaturated, most notably between 80:30 and 81:30.

    There were no MPEG artefacts noted in the transfer, apart from some minor moire-like artefacting in the opening titles. Film-to-video artefacts were mostly absent from the transfer although there were some hints at shimmer at times, most notably in the columns of the art gallery between 38:50 and 38:58. In general however, these hints did not detract from the film in any great way. Whilst the restoration has removed many of the expected film artefacts, some do still remain although these really were not much of a distraction either.

    The disc is an RSDL format disc, with the layer change coming at 65:44. This is bang in the middle of a black scene change fade and is completely unnoticeable and non-disruptive to the film.

Audio

    Rather interestingly, the restoration work included a complete remastering of the soundtrack in DTS sound. Much to my annoyance, we do not get a DTS sound option here. The remastering of the soundtrack was apparently the most controversial part of the entire restoration - particularly as the foley work was redone.

    There are six soundtracks on the DVD: an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a German Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, a French Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack, an Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack, a Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack and an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 1.0 sound. I listened to the default English soundtrack and the English Audio Commentary, with some very brief sampling of the other soundtracks. Note that the packaging claims that the German soundtrack is surround encoded, but this did not appear to be the case based upon my listening samples.

    Dialogue was clear and generally easy to understand at all times.

    There were no audio sync problems during the film.

    The music score comes from Bernard Herrmann, and is arguably one of the greatest movie scores ever composed. It is no doubt Bernard Herrmann's masterpiece and this film would have been nothing without the score. This is a magnificently evocative score that contributes enormously to the power of the film. This was one of the very best efforts to appear on the famed Mercury music label many years ago, and its compact disc reissue some years back is now quite valuable as it has been deleted by Philips -the rights were lost on restoration I believe and now are held by Varese Saraband, which is why it is a enormous shame that we do not get an Isolated Musical Score soundtrack on the DVD.

    Whilst the English soundtrack is a Dolby Digital 5.1 effort, you would be hard-pressed to notice it as there appears to be no use made of the rear surround or bass channels at all. The overall sound is very much frontally based and even then decidedly central, with minimal use of the front surround channels. This is not necessarily a bad thing as there is hardly a great need in the film for wide dynamic ranges and fully enveloping sound. After all, Hitchcock was the master of understated sound use - his motto must have been something along the lines of less is good. The remastering of the soundtrack has left a listenable soundtrack, free of the constrictions that would normally be expected in a film of this age and almost totally free of distortions too. About the only real problem noted with the soundtrack was some distortion between 101:30 and 101:32.

Extras

    Well, this is a package that befits the status of the film as a true classic.

Menu

Theatrical Trailers

    The first trailer is a 2:19 effort and is the original theatrical trailer, whilst the second is a 1:14 effort for the restoration re-release. Both are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, are not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Obviously the original trailer has some inherent problems due to age, but generally the quality here could perhaps have been just a little better.

Audio Commentary - Robert A. Harris (Restoration Team), James C. Katz (Restoration Team) and Herbert Coleman (Associate Producer) with others

    Even by my low standards for such things, this is not a great effort. Given the fact that it is a true film classic and there must have been enormous problems and delights in the restoration, the fact that the commentary ends up being so d*** dull is a monumental disappointment. Part of the problem is Herbie Coleman, who simply is an uninspiring raconteur even when they could get him to talk. You would have thought that a man so closely associated with some of the great films from Alfred Hitchcock would have been a fountain of wonderful stories, but apparently not.

Featurette - Obsessed With Vertigo (29:20)

    This is a made for television documentary, presumably for a series on cable television, made in 1997. Quite an interesting effort really, with some interesting interview stuff from some of the surviving cast and crew. Presented in full frame, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. A nice inclusion in the package.

Biographies

    The usual comprehensive efforts that we have come to expect from Universal, comprising the five main cast members and Hitchcock himself.

Production Notes

    Again the usual comprehensive effort that we have come to expect from Universal.

Alternate Ending

    Not mentioned on the packaging nor in the menus, this is actually tacked onto the end of the featurette and can only be accessed from the chapter selection listing for that. This was the ending that Alfred Hitchcock hated but was requested to provide by foreign distributors as a way of tidying up the loose ends in the film. Guess what? It didn't and really is an abomination to the film. Still it makes an interesting inclusion here. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Gallery - The Vertigo Archives

    Again not mentioned on the packaging nor in the menus, this is also tacked onto the end of the featurette and can only be accessed from the chapter selection listing for that. This is a rather extensive collection of stills that can be broadly split into five categories:     Quite a few things stand out here. Firstly, the storyboards have detailed notations attached to them (unlike any I have seen before) indicating that Alfred Hitchcock had very definite ideas of the film's construction and composition well before filming began - and there is little variance between the storyboards and the actual film in many respects. Secondly, in general all suffer quite badly from cross colouration, but most especially the photographs and the production notes. The production notes are rendered virtually illegible due to the problem, given that the font is quite small to begin with. Which is a great shame as they are quite clearly enormously detailed. Whilst you can cheerfully keep pushing the skip button or right arrow button on your remote to move onto the next still, this is quite an exercise as there must be about 100 stills. If you feel lazy, don't worry as if you do not do anything the stills automatically flip to the next one after about fifteen seconds. A damned nice inclusion ruined by the cross colouration problems.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 version misses out on:     The Region 1 version misses out on:     This would seem to suggest a no-brainer decision in favour of Region 4, although none of the available reviews of the Region 1 version mention any problems with cross-colouration in the extras.

Summary

    Obviously Vertigo is a true classic film and the restoration has brought the film to an almost better than new state. Universal have given the film a package that is far better than we have any right to expect for a film that is over forty years old and one that was in a pretty poor condition, notwithstanding my qualms about certain aspects of the video transfer. Just get it, as it has never looked this good for years and the film is one that you can watch again and again.

    A good video transfer for its age.

    A good audio transfer for its age

    A very good collection of extras, at least in quantity.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, May 05, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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Comments (Add)
Audio Commentary is Excellent! -