|Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in 1955's "To Catch a Thief."
The legendary Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar as best director, despite five Academy Award nominations during 55 years of filmmaking in both Britain and the United States. Instead, "Hitch" revolutionized the artistry of Hollywood cinema, especially in the thriller genre.
You can now see his deft touch showcased in four of his famous titles, each beautifully restored for recent Blu-ray releases. All four are still deliciously watchable because they are clever, dramatic and worth celebrating. The titles include one of my favourites, the crime-based romantic comedy To Catch a Thief (1955), co-starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment just cleaned it up and released this colour masterwork on a Blu-ray that is fully loaded with excellent bonus materials. You get face time with the droll director and his iconic stars.
The others are among his earliest Hollywood pictures: Rebecca (1940), Spellbound (1945) and Notorious (1946). 20th Century Home Entertainment did their magic with these three black-and-white pictures, giving them a new lustre. Each title is loaded with extras, among them the radio play versions. For the radio version of Notorious, Joseph Cotten and Ingrid Bergman co-star, instead of the Grant-Bergman team from the movie.
Taken together, the four titles give fans an opportunity to relive the Hitchcock experience. Newcomers can look behind the scenes and see why Hitchcock's legend endures and how his fluid style, quick wit and knack for creating tension through his cinematography contributed to that legend.
- TO CATCH A THIEF: Grant is a retired jewel thief forced to return to his trade to clear his name when a new crime wave hits the French Riviera. Aside from the giddy interplay between Grant and Kelly, the movie is a lustrous look at the Riviera of the 1950s, including landmarks such as the famous Carlton Hotel, still part of the scene during the Cannes Film Festival.
- REBECCA: Hitchcock and Alma Reville -- who married "Hitch" in 1926 and was still with him when he died in 1980 -- emigrated to Hollywood from London while the stormclouds of war gathered. Rebecca, set in England and based on the British novel by Daphne du Maurier, was actually his first American production. Co-starring was Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, whom Olivier mistreated because he wanted his flighty future wife Vivien Leigh in the role.
Fontaine plays an emotionally fragile young woman caught up in an impossible romance with the moody Olivier.
Hitchcock is said to have exploited the tension between his stars to create an unease in Fontaine's performance -- perfect for her tenuous character.
Cruel, perhaps, but effective. Both Olivier and Fontaine were nominated for Oscars, as was Hitchcock for best director. Rebecca won the best picture Academy Award, although producer David O. Selznick got that trophy, not Hitchcock.
- SPELLBOUND: Hitchcock earned the third of his five Oscar noms for this psychological drama and murder mystery. Gregory Peck plays a man suffering from amnesia and posing as the new head of a psychiatric hospital. Bergman plays the psychiatrist who treats him, falls in love and then finds herself caught in the murder mystery.
Spellbound is most famous for the truncated yet still dazzling nightmare sequence designed by Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali (who was also working with Walt Disney during this era).
Spellbound is also the first major Hollywood film to treat psychiatry as a serious science.
- NOTORIOUS: Grant and Bergman do a clever dance around a World War II-era German spy ring that is operating in Rio de Janeiro. Mixing romance, intrigue and complex double-crosses, the movie is pure Hitchcock. The background material on Hitchcock is most extensive on this Blu-ray.