Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955)
Universal Home Video
Being an admirer of Alfred Hitchcock’s sophisticated, educated and intelligent work in the feature film arena, I have always been looking forward to seeing episodes from his TV series "Alfred Hitchcock Presents". Yes, it is true! I had never had the opportunity to watch any of these episodes for the simple reason that as to my knowledge they were never aired in Germany where I originally grew up. I had heard many good things about the series however and was delighted to give this brand-new DVD from Universal a look.
Universal Home Video releases "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" in celebration of the director’s 100th birthday and it is at the same time a painful reminder that this brilliant filmmaker has long passed away. Interestingly, it also exemplifies that there has not been a single director to fill Alfred Hitchcock’s shoes after his passing. As he was 50 years ago, Alfred Hitchcock is still in a league of his very own, unparalleled, unmatched and unforgotten. Simply no one masters suspense the way he did, and the four episodes presented on this DVD are a perfect example for the man’s genius. It is incredible how strong these 30-minute episodes come across, how intense the atmosphere is from the first to the last frame, until ‘Hitch’ releases the tension himself with amusing quips at the end of the show. They have whetted my appetite for more and I can’t wait until Universal starts releasing more episodes from the acclaimed television series on DVD.
The disc starts with "Lamb To The Slaughter", an episode from 1958, starring Barbara "Miss Ellie’ Bel Geddies. It is the tale of a woman whose entire world revolves around here husband. When he decides to leave her for another woman she kills him cold-heartedly with a leg of lamb – actually a VERY big lamb, almost the size of a full-grown cow. When the police investigates the case she’s getting increasingly unsettled and finds a very inventive way to dispose of the murder weapon. The second episode is called "The Case Of Mr. Pelham" from 1955 and is one my favorites of the disc. Mr. Pelham finds out that someone seems to be taking his identity. While he is in one place, the person shows up in another, completely copying his mannerisms and looks. It goes so far that the double is even starting to do his work while he’s out sick or on lunch breaks. Getting increasingly unsettled about the situation, Mr. Pelham desperately tries to find and confront the imitator… and he does!
Following is "Banquo’s Chair", a 1959 story about a murder investigation of a different kind. In order to make a murderer confess his crime, a former police inspector sets up a dinner with a ghostly guest. The guest is an actress pretending to be the ghost of the murder victim. Will the murder show his true color in the face of his past?
The final episode on the disc is again, one of the best ones. Named "Back For Christmas" from 1956, it is certainly the wittiest of them all and carries Hitchcock’s signature all over. From the visual style to the dry humor and the unexpected ending, you will find everything there. An older man is tired of his ever-nagging wife and starts digging her grave in the basement, pretending to work on a wine-cellar. The two plan to leave Europe for a vacation in America and during the farewell party for their friends his plan unfolds. He tells everyone that they might not come back and settle in the New World, to make sure no one is physically missing his wife when he kills and buries her before the departure, while she tells everyone they will be back for Christmas. A secret of hers will eventually bring the husband back for Christmas, indeed!
Some of the episodes have a strong "Twilight Zone" tone, especially "The Tale Of Mr. Pelham". Interestingly, both series use the same device of using a host to introduce every single episode. While Rod Serling was host of the supernaturally charged "Twilight Zone", corpulent Alfred Hitchcock himself was host to his TV series. Universal has nicely preserved the trademark opening sequences from the show and left all of Hitchcock’s commentary intact. As a matter of fact, the episodes would be only half as entertaining without his monotonous, often sarcastic observations.
The idea of having a host for episodes was en vogue at the time and both series cannot deny their influences from EC Comics, who had just established the Crypt-Keeper, the Old Witch and the Vault-Keeper in their many comics, including the now infamous "Tales From The Crypt" series. But not only the presentation, even in regards of the content the episodes of either, "Twilight Zone" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" could have easily been part of some of the comic periodicals in style, narrative flow and the black humor.
The quality of the material presented on this DVD from Universal is good throughout, although all of the episodes show clear signs of age and marks of wear. From graininess and simple dust speckles to scratchmarks and audio dropouts, everything that traditionally happens to a film as it ages is evident on the transfer. Still, the pictures look remarkably good considering that they are over 40 years old, and the artifacts never get overly obtrusive. The compression on the disc is well done without noticeable artifacts, restoring a nicely balanced black-and-white picture with solid blacks and good highlights, while maintaining a good level of detail throughout.
The audio quality varies slightly between episodes. Especially the two early episodes "The Case Of Mr. Pelham" and "Back For Christmas" sound slightly more muffled than the other two. However, in general the quality of the audio tracks in superb considering their age. Unlike most other films of the time, the noise floor on this release is very low, leaving most of the original ambience intact. It is truly amazing, how clear and undistorted the soundtrack still is.
Universal’s release of these episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" on this disc is a splendid selection. It is always great to see these long-gone TV series revived on video and especially on DVD where new generations can explore their beauty. Especially in the case of this release, it gave me the chance to experience the cleverness and quality of this particular show for the first time, and I am utterly thankful for this opportunity. Now I can’t wait to see more of it.