All but unnoticed in the excitement of the Alfred Hitchcock centenary (marked by his birthday last Friday) has been the revitalization of a few of the director's most significant American works of the 1940s, specifically his four-film partnership with David O. Selznick, the legendary producer responsible for bringing Hitchcock to this country and helping him launch the second and most important half of his illustrious career.
Thanks to Scott MacQueen, Walt Disney's senior manager of library restoration, "Rebecca" (the best picture winner of 1940), "Spellbound" (1945), "Notorious" (1946) and "The Paradine Case" (1947) have never looked or sounded better. In fact, seeing them for the first time in the fullness of their black-and-white glory highlights the formidable artistry at work, as Hitchcock and Selznick, both strong-willed personalities, somehow achieved a dramatic synthesis of their conflicting styles and psyches.
It's like watching two souls trying to take possession of a body, each asserting itself in different ways and at different times. It's safe to assume, though, that Hitchcock was the ultimate victor, judging from the director's amazing ascension in the 1950s, the richest period of his cinematic career.
Los Angeles will get its first glimpse of these stunning new prints between now and October, beginning with a screening of "Rebecca" Friday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
This will be followed by the premiere screening of a new print of "Notorious" on Sept. 11 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to close out "The Slices of Cake" tribute to Hitchcock. And then all four films will play the weekend of Oct. 22 at the Nuart.
And what a treat for fans of both Hitchcock and Selznick.
Fortunately, the films fell into the right hands at just the right time. As a result of Disney's acquisition of ABC, the studio took possession of the Selznick International collection a few years ago. (It was previously stored and maintained at New York's Museum of Modern Art.) The collection includes not only the Hitchcock classics but a dozen or so other titles (including "Nothing Sacred," "Duel in the Sun," "Portrait of Jennie" and the uncut British version of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's "Gone to Earth," which has never been seen in this country).
MacQueen has been progressively preserving each of the Selznick films, concentrating first on the Hitchcock titles for the centenary. This has entailed repairing, cleaning and re-timing, as well as making new printing materials along with several sets of safety masters and duplicate negatives for posterity.
In addition, MacQueen has cleaned and remastered the best available sound elements to restore their original harmonics and dynamic range. Thus, we can better hear the chilling novachord (an electronic organ) in Franz Waxman's underrated score for "Rebecca" as well as the eerie theremin in Miklos Rozsa's landmark score for "Spellbound." (Always the showman, Selznick boosted the dynamic range during the last reel of "Rebecca" and the revelatory ski run in "Spellbound," which MacQueen has mixed for their intended dramatic effect.)
Original Master Found in London
"We've used original negatives whenever possible," MacQueen says. "In the case of 'Spellbound,' the original camera negative is lost because of decomposition. On that film they used DuPont stock, which turned out to be less stable than Kodak stock. We were lucky to have access to the [motion picture] academy's original nitrate release print. Although the highlights were a bit crushed, this provided the best overall results for printing."
For "Notorious," whose negative suffered damage in several reels upon its initial theatrical release, MacQueen was compelled to mix and match several elements. In the middle of his work, however, he fortuitously discovered an original master in London that enabled him to fix most of the damage.
As a result, fans can relish the suspenseful wine cellar episode in a more vivid condition. Most will also be surprised to find a few censor trims that have been reinstated concerning a renowned German industrial company with former Nazi ties.
Other discoveries include Rozsa's original overture and exit music for "Spellbound," which contain melodies not found in the body of the film (a new soundtrack CD is certainly in order), and the experimental red gun flash from the climax, which has been missing from prints for decades.
The original main titles have been restored to both "Notorious" and "The Paradine Case." That's particularly interesting for "Notorious" because Selznick sold the rights to RKO in pre-production and then bought them back in the mid-'50s. Not only is the RKO logo back in place but the skyline at the bottom of the frame is once again a live image rather than a dull still.