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Laughter through the fears

Hitchcock's versatility comes into play in a compilation that spans 19 years of his career.

August 29, 2004|Susan King

'The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection'

Warner Home Video ($100 for the set; $20 each)

The collection features two films by the master of suspense that have already been released on DVD -- 1951's "Strangers on a Train" and 1959's "North by Northwest" -- plus seven that are new to disc -- "Foreign Correspondent," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," "Suspicion," "Stage Fright," "I Confess," "Dial M for Murder" and "The Wrong Man." The DVDs include trailers and terrific documentaries featuring fascinating interviews with Peter Bogdanovich, historian Richard Schickel, Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia, and others.

"Foreign Correspondent"

Hitchcock's first American film was 1940's "Rebecca," which won the Academy Award for best film. Also nominated that year for the best picture Oscar was this, his second Hollywood film, an exciting, romantic war thriller. Set on the eve of World War II, "Foreign Correspondent" stars charming Joel McCrea as a New York newspaper crime reporter sent to Europe to liven up the stories of impending war.

The snappy, sophisticated and funny dialogue was penned by novelists James Hilton and Robert Benchley, who is also in the movie.

"Mr. & Mrs. Smith"

Hitchcock's only screwball comedy is a funny 1941 romantic farce that stars two of the greatest comic performers of the time -- Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery. They play a constantly bickering husband and wife who discover that their three-year marriage isn't legal. And when he decides to drag his feet on a second wedding, she kicks him out of the house and begins dating his stolid law partner (Gene Raymond).


Hitchcock was a busy director in 1941. Besides making "Smith," he also helmed this romantic thriller for which Joan Fontaine received the best actress Oscar as a timid young wife who fears her handsome ne'er-do-well husband (Cary Grant in a juicy dark performance) is trying to murder her. The original ending had Grant doing the evil deed, but it was nixed for a much more romantic, syrupy denouement because the studio didn't think the public would buy the popular actor as a murderer.

"Stage Fright"

This 1950 murder mystery isn't considered one of Hitch's better films, but even mediocre Hitchcock is immensely entertaining. Shot in England -- "Stage Fright" was the first film he made in his homeland after leaving for America 11 years earlier -- the thriller revolves around a young man (Richard Todd) on the lam for allegedly murdering the husband of his lover (a delicious Marlene Dietrich), a prima donna of the London stage. Helping him escape the authorities is a young drama student (Jane Wyman). But nothing is what it seems, and Wyman soon discovers she may have misjudged Todd.

"I Confess"

Considered by the French New Wave critics and theaters as one of Hitchcock's greatest films, this 1953 thriller shot on location in Quebec is certainly one of his darkest. Brooding Montgomery Clift plays a priest who hears the confession of a parish employee who tells him he's committed murder. Because priests can't talk about what they hear in the confessional, Clift doesn't cooperate with the police and soon Clift is being fingered as the killer.

"Dial M for Murder"

A taut, terrifying 1954 version of the hit Broadway play about a former pro tennis player (Ray Milland) who plans the "perfect" murder of his beautiful, adulterous wife (Grace Kelly). Of course, the murder doesn't go according to plan. Hitchcock wisely doesn't "open up" the play for the big screen. Though most of the film is set in the couple's small apartment living room, Hitchcock keeps the camera and the action moving. The movie was originally filmed in 3-D.

"The Wrong Man"

As with "I Confess," Hitchcock takes a walk on the dark side in this 1956 fact-based drama about a man unjustly accused of a crime.

Shot on location in New York City -- it's great to see the Big Apple of 50-odd years ago -- "Wrong Man" stars a perfectly cast Henry Fonda as a financially strapped jazz musician with a wife (Vera Miles) and two small children. When he tries to cash in his wife's insurance policy so they can pay for her dental surgery, the employees at the bank mistakenly identify him as a robber.

Hitchcock didn't want his traditional cameo to detract from the seriousness of the piece, so he simply introduces the film in a stark manner on a dim sound stage.

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