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Featured Blu-ray Review: Alfred Hitchcock Triple-Shot: Rebecca, Spellbound, and Notorious

February 5th, 2012

Alfred Hitchcock Blu-ray Triple-Shot:
Rebecca - Buy from Amazon
Spellbound - Buy from Amazon
Notorious - Buy from Amazon

Continuing the Oscar theme today, we have a triple-shot from arguably the greatest director to never win an Oscar: Alfred Hitchcock. A couple weeks ago, Rebecca, Spellbound, and Notorious made their Blu-ray debuts. These are three of his earliest American films and combined they won three Oscars and nineteen nominations. So they were considered classics back then. But do they hold up today? And are the Blu-rays worth picking up?


The movie begins with a dream sequence. Mrs. De Winter, the second Mrs. De Winter, is dreaming of going back to Manderley, the old manor house, which has been reduced to a shell. We then flash back to how she came to Manderley in the first place. She was staying in Monte Carlo with a rich woman, Edythe Van Hopper, working as her assistant, or "a paid companion" as she describes it. There she meets Maximillina de Winter, a widower still grieving from the loss of his wife and he is less than courteous with Edythe or... The second Mrs. De Winter doesn't have a name in the movie. (It's quite conspicuous the number of times her name should have been said, but wasn't.) So to avoid typing I'm going to call her Joan, because she's played by Joan Fontaine. Later he bumps into Joan while the two are both eating breakfast and this time he invites her to eat with him, as a way of apologizing for his previous behavior. He even drives her to the sea so she can draw the countryside. He's still morose, especially after Joan mentions a man drowned there last year. (She find out when she returns to Edythe's suit that the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca, drowned.) That faux pas aside, they do seem to have a connection and over the next few days they spend all her free time together. When Edythe's daughter decides to get married, she and Joan have to go to New York for the wedding. Instead, Maxim proposes to Joan.

Maxim and Joan are married right away and shortly after that they go to Manderley. Joan got a warning from Edythe about the demands of being a lady of a manor, but Maxim says not to worry, as the day-to-day mantainence will be done by Mrs. Danvers. Unfortunately, Mrs. Danvers is the only member of the manor's staff that is not friendly to Joan. When Maxim's sister and her husband, Beatrice and Major Giles Lacy, come for lunch, Beatrice is quite blunt in her warning about Mrs. Danvers. She came to Manderley when the Rebecca was the first Mrs. de Winter and practically worships the memory of Rebecca. (The scene where Mrs. Danvers shows Joan Rebecca's old room is especially creepy in this regard.) As much as Joan tries to adapt to her new home, Mrs. Danvers and the shadow of Rebecca always loom nearby. Additionally, Maxim still tends to be moody and unpredictable at times. She begins to think she will never be able to replace Rebecca in Maxim's heart.

Rebecca was the first of five films to earn Alfred Hitchcock an Oscar nomination for Best Director, which is surprising for a couple reasons. Firstly, it's amazing because it's his only film to win Best Picture. Secondly, it's not his best film of his career. One could argue it's not in the top five. In fact, one could argue it's not the best of the three films in this review. However, this is more to do with the strength of the films Alfred Hitchcock made over the years rather than the weakness of this movie. He sets the mood wonderfully, and the viewers will feel both the romance and the dread of living in Manderley. There's more dread, especially in the end. But we are left wondering about where the film is going. (For instance, we don't know if Maxim is still pining for Rebecca? What was Mrs. Danvers relationship with Rebecca? Will Joan be driven to suicide?) When the big reveal comes, it's very effective. Joan Fontaine deserved to win the Oscar.

The Extras

The Blu-ray is shovelware, but at least it has plenty of extras. Things start with an audio commentary track with Richard Schnickel, a film critic. Like many solo tracks, this one doesn't have a lot of energy, but there's plenty of information. You can also watch the movie with an isolated music and effects track. There is a 28-minute long making of featurette that starts with the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and the producer, David O. Selznick. The Gothic World of Daphne Du Maurier is a 19-minute look at the author of the original novel and her work with Hitchcock. There are 9-minutes of screen tests. There are also hours of audio only extras. This includes three versions of the book done as radio plays and two interviews with Alfred Hitchcock.

The film's audio and video presentation is good, great if you take into account the age of the movie. It's more than 70 years old, so one shouldn't be surprised there's a bit too much grain in some shots, or that there are scenes that are lacking in details, or that there are a few instances of print damage. But overall, the level of details, contrast, etc. are better than expected. The audio track is mono, but the dialogue is always clear while there's no real problems that are distracting. (There's a slight hiss, but it shouldn't distract anyone too much.)


After a not-so-brief overture, the film begins with scrolling text about psychoanalysis. The film takes place in a mental hospital, Green Manors, where we are introduced to Dr. Constance Peterson. The other doctors think she is too cold and clinical to be a good psychoanalyst, but several of them have hit on her in the past. There's a bit of a shake-up at the hospital, as Dr. Murchison, the head of the hospital, is leaving. He had gone on vacation to recover from burn-out, but while he feels he is rested, the board decided they needed a new man in charge. That man is Dr. Anthony Edwardes. Dr. Edwardes is younger than the other doctors expected, but Dr. Peterson had read his past work and is quite keen on working with him. Dr. Edwardes turns out to be a little, well, quirky. That said, his predecessor, Dr. Murchison did have a nervous breakdown and mental health issues are not uncommon among mental health professionals, so quirky is a step up in some regard. He asks her to show him around the grounds and they begin to talk and even grow close.

However, and this is a big however, Dr. Edwardes has a breakdown while in surgery (one of their patients attacked someone and then tried to kill himself). After that, there's a huge revelation, as Dr. Peterson realizes Dr. Edwardes' signature doesn't match the way he signed his book. He then admits he's not Dr. Edwardes, but he believes he killed the real Dr. Edwardes and took his place. Dr. Peterson wants him to stay and figure out who he is and what really happened. Before that can happen, whoever Dr. Edwardes really is takes off, and just a head of the police.

Dr. Constance Peterson chases after him determined to help him remember, no matter what he remembers.

This is a good place to end the plot summary, as we are really entering spoiler territory. While Rebecca was a Gothic horror film, Spellbound touches on themes that were closer to the archetypical Alfred Hitchcock suspense film, including a wrongfully accused man on the wrong. One could argue this is the better film for a Hitchcock film, because these fans will know exactly what to expect. On the other hand, would could argue that Spellbound too close to other, better Hitchcock films (North By Northwest). It does have a lot of the same strengths as the previous film, including a very twisty script. I wasn't quite as drawn in with the central romance, I think because Constance Petersen was too much of a cliché, the cold-hearted doctor that just needs the right man to thaw out. I liked Michael Chekhov as Dr. Alex Brulov, Dr. Constance Peterson's mentor, whom the pair turn to for help. And the dream sequence designed by Salvador Dalí is purely awesome.

Overall, I'm not sure this is top ten material for Alfred Hitchcock's career. It did better at the Oscars that most of his films did, earning six nominations and winning for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. However, since he made more than a dozen other films that were nominated for at least one Oscar, even if it is not top ten material, it's still worth owning.

The Extras

Again, this is shovelware, but there's quite a bit of extras, starting with an audio commentary track with Thomas Schatz and Charles Ramirez Berg, two film professors. It's a good track with plenty of energy and they bounce ideas off each other well. There are two featurettes that are not directly making of featurettes. The first, Dreaming with Scissors, is a 20-minute featurette on the dream sequence and Salvador Dalí­'s career in general. Guilt by Association is a 20-minute featurette on psychological concepts dealt with in the movie. Rhonda Fleming sits down for a 10-minute interview. She plays one of the patients at Green Manors and this was her first named part. There are also two audio-only extras, a radio play version of this movie, plus an interview with Alfred Hitchcock.

The video is not quite as good as the previous film with a little more grain, a few more flecks, some vertical lines, etc. The movie's 67 years old, so I'm not going to spend too much time complaining about these problems. It is certainly a step up from the previous DVD releases and for the most part the clarity and contrast are strong. The audio is again in mono and it is starting to show its age. There's a little hiss at times, but nothing too dramatic. I also thought the music was a little too loud at times when compared to the dialogue, but that might be me.


The film begins with John Huberman being sentenced for treason. However, he's defiant and makes a vague threat of what will come next. Huberman's daughter, Alicia throws a party, because getting drunk with friends is a good way to deal with your father being a Nazi traitor. One of the people at the party, T.R. Devlin, stays after the rest leave or pass out. They go for a drive and when she gets pulled over for drunk driving, he flashes his badge and no ticket. When Alicia figures out her party guest is a cop, she freaks out. One Vulcan nerve pinch later and she's out cold.

When she wakes up, Devlin makes his pitch. The government wants Alicia to fly to Brazil and get involved with the men her father was working for. Her father did warn of something coming, and the government thinks she will be able to work with her father's collaborators and find out what the plan is. It takes more than a week for the Devlin's boss, Paul Prescott, just to give Devlin the plan, and Devlin's not happy. Alicia is to meet up with Alexander Sebastian, one of the leaders of the group, and seduce him. He used to have a crush on Alicia, so he shouldn't be too hard to trick. However, in the week they've been in Brazil, Alicia and Devlin have fallen in love. Alicia takes it pretty hard and tries to get Devlin to tell her not to do it, but Devlin puts country before his heart and Alicia reluctantly begins her assignment.

At this point, we run head first into spoiler territory, so we will end the plot summary there.

Alfred Hitchcock did a lot of films about frayed psychology and innocent people on the run, like Spellbound. He also made a lot of movies about average folks thrown into the world of secret agents, like Notorious. However, while this movie is ostensibly about a Nazi plot to get revenge for World War II, it is more about a romance between Alicia Huberman and T.R. Devlin and how much they are willing to risk to be together. It works in both regards. The Nazi plot is pure McGuffen, but it is interesting enough that it could carry the film if it needed to. We are concerned if Alex Sebastian, or more likely, his ever present mother, will discover Alicia's true nature before she can complete her mission. And if so, will Devlin be able to rescue her. However, the relationship carries far more dramatic weight.

On a side note, Claude Rains is incredible in this film. You actually feel sorry for him when Alicia leaves him and you know his fellow collaborators will kill him for his screw-up. He let genuine feelings for Alicia cloud his judgment, and now he is going to die as a result.

The Extras

The extras here start with two audio commentary tracks. The first is with film historian, Rick Jewell, which pays more attention to other films that this one. I like the second with Drew Casper, who is a little more energetic with his delivery of facts. You can also watch the movie with an isolated music / effects track. The Ultimate Romance: The Making of Notorious is a 28-minute making of featurette, which looks at the script origins, the casting, the romance, etc. Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Spymaster looks at the history of spy movies and Alfred Hitchcock's influence in the genre. Alfred Hitchcock won the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award and there's a 3-minute clip of his acceptance speech. There are some short clips showing the restoration comparisons. Finally there are some audio only extras, including a radio version of the movie and an interview.

As for the technical presentation, I could practically copy and paste it from the above film. It is showing its age with some flecks here and there, the occasional vertical line, etc. That said, it does look a lot better than it has on the home market and it is worth the upgrade.

The Verdict

The Birds, North by Northwest, Psycho, Rear Window, and Vertigo. I would rank those five films as the best in Alfred Hitchcock's career. (That's in alphabetical order, not order of quality.) Rebecca - Buy from Amazon; Spellbound - Buy from Amazon, and Notorious - Buy from Amazon are all vying for spots in the top ten and are all worth owning. They are showing their age, as far as their technical presentation goes, but they've also never looked or sounded better on the home market. All three are easily recommendations to make.

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Filed under: Video Review, Notorious, Spellbound, Rebecca