ALFRED HITCHCOCK PREMIERE COLLECTION (1927-1947). The home entertainment arms of Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures released their own Hitchcock collections in 2004 and 2005, respectively, and now here's 20th Century Fox belatedly joining the party with their own resplendent box set.
Hitchcock had already directed a couple of films before helming The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), but this is the movie that was commonly called (even by the Master himself) "the first Alfred Hitchcock picture." Among other reasons, it's the director's first thriller (his previous flicks, The Pleasure Garden and The Mountain Eagle, were both melodramas); it incorporates one of his favorite themes, that of a potentially innocent man being hounded for a crime he may not have committed; it features some nifty techniques that would come to full flower in subsequent works; and, as the cherry on top, it features the first of his legendary cameo appearances. This silent feature centers on a serial killer known as The Avenger (though clearly based on Jack the Ripper) who prowls the London streets murdering nubile blondes. The detective (Malcolm Keen) on the case wonders if the killer might be the tenant (Ivor Novello) who's renting a room at the residence of his girlfriend (Miss June).
Based on Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent, Sabotage (1936) gained notoriety at the time of its release for the unthinkable manner in which it kills off a sympathetic character. That sequence remains startling today, as much for the superb manner in which Hitchcock maintains a sense of dread as for the actual death itself. Sylvia Sidney stars as Winnie Verloc, who's married to a terrorist (Oskar Homolka) tasked to set off bombs around London. Neither Winnie nor her little brother (Desmond Tester) know his secret, but an undercover cop (John Loder) who's staking out the neighborhood turns out to be on the right trail. Sabotage should not be confused with Hitchcock's later (and even better) Saboteur, a 1942 American production starring Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane.
Unjustly forgotten among Hitchcock's British-born-and-bred films, Young and Innocent (1937) is slathered with so much humor that it's impossible to feel anything's really at stake for a protagonist who's been wrongly accused of murder – even the cheerful chap (Derrick de Marney) himself seems more interested in flirting with a pretty lass (Erica Burgoyne) than in clearing his name. The fetching woman is none other than the police inspector's daughter, and, as the only person who believes that the young man is not guilty of strangling another woman, she aids in his escape and joins him as he combs the countryside in search of the real killer.
Made under the auspices of producer David O. Selznick (Gone With the Wind), Rebecca (1940) was Hitchcock's first Hollywood movie, and it proved to be a potent calling card. In this adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel, Laurence Olivier and particularly Joan Fontaine are effective as the brooding Maxim de Winter and his timid second wife, but the real show-stopper remains Judith Anderson's formidable turn as Mrs. Danvers. Slinking through the halls of the Manderlay estate like a giant black widow, this creepy housekeeper, still in love with the former, and now deceased, mistress of the house (the Rebecca of the title), does everything in her power to drive the new Mrs. de Winter mad. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, this won for Best Picture (although Hitchcock himself lost Best Director) and Best Black-and-White Cinematography.
Lifeboat (1944) stars stage icon Tallulah Bankhead as a self-centered writer who finds herself stranded on the title vessel after the ship on which she's traveling get torpedoed by a German sub during World War II. The other passengers include seamen, civilians and, most troublesome of all, the duplicitous captain (Walter Slezak) of the U-Boat that shelled them in the first place. Working from an idea concocted by John Steinbeck and scripted by Jo Swerling, Hitchcock and his crew insure that the movie never feels constrictive even though it was all filmed on a single set (a feat he would repeat four years later with Rope). This earned Oscar nominations for Hitchcock, Steinbeck and cinematographer Glen MacWilliams.
A commercial and critical hit in its day, Spellbound (1945) has seen its standing slip in the ensuing decades, as it's never mentioned on any list of Hitchcock's best works. That's a shame, because this fascinating thriller about a psychiatrist (an excellent Ingrid Bergman) who falls in love with an amnesiac (Gregory Peck, emerging as a superstar in just his second year in film) who might be guilty of murder has plenty to recommend it, including a tremendous Miklos Rozsa score (featuring an early use of the theremin) and a superb dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali. Nominated for six Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director), this won Best Original Score for Rozsa's haunting soundtrack.