Monday 24 January 2022

On Blu-ray - David Hare welcomes new editions of Hitchcock's STAGE FRIGHT (1949) and RICH AND STRANGE (1931)

The opening credits (above) and first sequence of Hitchcock's long missing 1949 picture, Stage Fright, (below, click on any image for a slide show) now released in a stunningly good restoration from the O-Neg by Warner Archive Blu-ray to kick off the year.

The credits open and roll over a proscenium safety curtain to reveal the devastation of the St Paul's Cathedral precinct of London as it still was in 1949 after being bombed during the blitz. A speeding sports car comes into the centre of the wide shot just on the director's own credit and then in exactly the same frame position four more purely frontal shots later, edited with machine gun precision to two closer shots of the car and then the two occupants, and leading players. Thus Hitch signals a full on confrontation with the audience and a total return to the world of montage and in-the-camera editing that harkens his retreat from the ultra long takes of the previous two pictures, Rope and Under Capricorn

Stage Fright re-announces itself in this gorgeous transfer as a major, major Hitchcock, and it arrives just after an equally rare and underrated 30's picture from the master, Rich and Strange from 1931 which has also been released in another gorgeous transfer and restoration by Studio Canal, licensed to Kino Lorber.
There's something about seeing movies you've forgotten or long ignored because the existing DVD's of both these movies were less than pleasurable viewing experiences. The return of Rich and Strange for instance now reminds me the only outstanding 30s Hitch not yet on Blu-ray is Secret Agent, a superb movie with one of HItch's first major extensions of the transfer of guilt theme, and it makes a fine partner in genre related mood to the first Man Who Knew too Much and Sabotage with Sylvia Sidney and Oscar Homolka.
The only less than effusive note I can signal about Stage Fright is the leading lady, a diffident Jane Wyman who seems to have fought the director's every effort to control her persona by ignoring his directions for wardrobe and hair, and her insistence on more close ups than usual in a movie in which she's competing with a late era but still sublime Dietrich. Every other player is note perfect but Wyman is just plain bad. Still, there's so much greatness going on around her, in mood, mise-en-scene and sharp, nuanced performances by every other cast member down to a completely nuts Alistair Sim and all the bit players.
Stage Fright and Rich and Strange are essential purchases for the New Year.

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